Books in 2010

Wow. Basically only 2 posts to this blog in 2010 (besides the recap book and sermon posts). I guess Facebook has become the default mode for sharing thoughts. That’s been both good and bad. I’ve shared more small-form thoughts than I ever would have had I felt like they had to get a full write-up in a blog post. I’ve probably been more communicative with friends than I normally would be on a blog (especially since no one reads it unless you post all the time). And yet there’s been the distinct lack of larger, more tangled ideas getting their long-form treatment. My writing has, almost assuredly, suffered.

So in an effort to keep all things long form alive, I’m keeping up the tradition of posting about all the quintessentially long-form things I’ve read this year: books. So here they are, in the order I read them. Continue reading

Book Review: Why Johnny Can’t Preach

T. David Gordon had terminal, stage 3, colorectal cancer and decided it was now or never for him to write the book that had been brewing in his mind for the past 30 years. So his book sounds a lot like a prophet with nothing left to lose. And his topic? The shipwreck that is conservative, evangelical preaching. The cause of this shipwreck: preachers are consuming types of media which deaden their minds toward understanding texts. And this has resulted in two tragedies: preaching that’s done quite distant from the actual words of the text (poor exegesis) and preaching that rarely holds up Christ as the object of our faith, hope, and love.

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Sort of a Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew… and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air.

Barbara Kingsolver

So what happens when a family decides to become die-hard “locavores”—growing or raising all their own food (or buying locally-grown organic items)? That’s the premise of this wonderful book by Barbara Kingsolver.

cover of Animal Vegetable MiracleI’ve had people who, once they saw what I was reading, asked “How in the world do you write a book that big about that?” It does seem like a bit of a stretch, but let me tell you I have rarely enjoyed reading a book so much. Kingsolver is a successful novelist, and if you’ve ever read any of her novels, you’re familiar with her poetic soul, her off-hand way of turning a phrase, or her ability to find beauty in the oddest of places. Those elements are all present here and make what could have been a dry, preachy book into something akin to reading an artist’s biography.

Kingsolver’s lucky enough to own about 100 acres of land in the mountains of Virginia. But she doesn’t live in a mcmansion on those 100 acres. She (and her husband and 2 children) have kept the old farmhouse pretty much as it was for the past 100 years… poorly insulated, wood-burning stove, single bathroom, and, oh yes, gardens, orchards, and livestock. They fed their family of 4 for an entire year by raising a huge assortment of heirloom vegetables and fruits, keeping chickens and turkeys, and visiting their local farmer’s market for anything they couldn’t grow themselves. Along the way, they threw a huge 50th birthday party for Barbara (including dozens of friends from all over the country who were treated to a weekend of locavore cuisine), traveled all the way up to Canada (without breaking their convictions to eat only local food), and survived the winter with the (literal) fruits of their labor stored in jars and hanging from rafters.

But to give you a better feel for it, I’d rather just quote some passages:

Once you start cooking, one thing leads to another. A new recipe is as exciting as a blind date. A new ingredient, heaven help me, is an intoxicating affair. I’ve grown new vegetables just to see what they taste like: Jerusalem artichokes, edamame, potimarrons. A quick recipe can turn slow in our kitchen because of the experiments we hazard. We make things from scratch just to see if we can. We’ve rolled out and cut our pasta, raised turkeys to roast or stuff into link sausage, made chutney from our garden. On high occasions we’ll make cherry pies with crisscrossed lattice tops and raviolo with crimped edges, for the satisfaction of seeing those storybook comforts become real.

Barbara Kingsolver

When I was in college, living two states away from my family, I studied the map one weekend and found a different route home from the one we usually travelled. I drove back to Kentucky the new way, which did turn out to be faster. During my visit I made sure all my relatives heard about the navigational brilliance that saved me thirty-seven minutes.

‘Thirty-seven,’ my grandfather mused. ‘And here you just used up fifteen of them telling all about it. What’s your plan for the other twenty-two?’

Good question. I’m still stumped for an answer, whenever the religion of time-saving pushes me to zip through a meal or a chore, rushing everybody out the door to the next point on a schedule. All that hurry can blur the truth that life is a zero-sum equation. Every minute I save will get used on something else, possibly no more sublime than staring at the newel post trying to remember what I just ran upstairs for. On the other hand, attending to the task in front of me—even a quotidian chore—might make it into part of a good day, rather than just a rock in the road to someplace else.

Barbara Kingsolver

Every gardener I know is a junkie for the experience of being out there in the mud and fresh green growth. Why? An astute therapist might diagnose us as codependent and sign us up for Tomato-Anon meetings. We love our gardens so much it hurts. For their sake we’ll bend over till our backs ache, yanking out fistfuls of quackgrass by the roots as if we are tearing out the hair of the world. We lead our favorite hoe like a dance partner down one long row and up the next, in a dance marathon that leaves us exhausted. We scrutinize the yellow beetles with black polka dots that have suddenly appeared like chickenpox on the bean leaves. We spend hours bent to our crops as if enslaved, only now and then straightening our backs and wiping a hand across our sweaty brow, leaving it striped with mud like some child’s idea of war paint.

Barbara Kingsolver

Emily and I have always loved to garden, but reading this book has infused me with big time plant lust. I’m serious. Kingsolver talks a lot about heirloom variety vegetables—older vegetable and fruit species which have retained the oddities of flavor, color, and shape that grocery store varieties have had bred out of them (it’s more important to grocery stores that your tomato can survive a trip from New Zealand and 2 weeks on the shelf looking perfectly round, red, and spotless than that it taste good). Just look at some of these amazing varieties available from the Seed Saver’s Exchange:

Tomatoes

green sausage, wapsipinicon peach, striped cavern, and lemon plum tomatoes

Greens

five color silverbeet, Reine des Glaces, Red Velvet, and Red Leprechaun lettuce

Watermelons

sweet siberian, blacktail mountain, golden midget, and Van Doren Moon and Stars watermelons

Potatoes

purple peruvian, german butterball, all blue, and la ratte potatoes

With all the wild varieties available, it makes you wonder if “tomato” denotes as wide a variety of flavors as, say, “candy” or “soup.” I feel like someone who’s rejected coffee all his life because he’s only tasted coffee crystals. Now I’m looking through the equivalent of a Gevalia catalog, trying to restrain myself from ordering everything in it.

So, if you’ve got a little plot of land in your back yard, read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, order some seeds from the Seed Saver’s Exchange catalog, and have fun watching plants grow.

Book Review: Who Really Cares? The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism

After my post about giving, I was very interested to read this book. I’d just been through Randy Alcorn raking Christians (who tend to be conservatives) over the coals for their lack of interest in giving; I was wondering what recent statistical evidence says about giving patterns among conservatives in particular and Americans in general.

Who Really Cares book coverWho Really Cares? The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism may sound like a book exposing the failure of the American right to live up to their talk about being the ones who really care. It’s actually the opposite. But, thankfully, it’s not written by someone with an axe to grind against liberals. It was written by Albert Brooks, the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University. He’d been interested in charity research and, through his research into giving patterns, moved from being a liberal to a conservative and a Christian.

Defining “charity” as both monetary giving and volunteering, Brooks cross examines all kinds of data trying to figure out the question “What American demographic is most charitable?” His answer: religious people. It doesn’t matter much which religion, but religious people give far, far more in both money and time to charitable causes. And religious people strongly tend to be political conservatives. But let me just go through some comparative data: Continue reading

Book Review: Influence: Science & Practice

I might make this my most fascinating read of 2007. It’s a book I picked up a while ago when I was reading a bunch of books on business, leadership, and management but I never actually got around to reading it. I’m glad I finally wised up.

cover of Influence by Robert CialdiniInfluence: Science and Practice began as Dr. Robert Cialdini’s attempt to write a textbook, then turn it into a readable paperback, then just combine the two. Cialdini worked as a researcher into “compliance methods” before beginning his professorship of psychology at Arizona State. In his remarkable book, Influence, he explores six areas where people become incredibly compliant. They obey what he calls the click, whirr response: in response to certain stimuli, the tape clicks on, and the actions automatically play out.

For instance, the mortal enemy of the turkey is the polecat. Polecats steal turkey chicks and, if a mother turkey sees one, she’ll chase it down and tear it apart if she can. Researchers tried putting a stuffed polecat in the middle of some turkeys and the mother turkey instantly tore it to pieces. Next, they tried putting a stuffed polecat into the middle of the same group of turkeys with one difference: they put a tape recorder inside the polecat which played the cheep-cheep of the turkey chicks. The mother turkey accepted the polecat and even pulled it underneath her. When the tape recorder ran out of cheep-cheep sounds, the mother turkey instantly turned on the stuffed polecat.

The mother turkey exhibited an automatic response to a certain stimulus: when the cheeps happen, you nurture whatever is making the cheep sound. Cialdini contends that there are many things that trigger people’s automated responses as well—not with the perfect consistency of a turkey, but with astounding patterns. Cialdini divides these triggers up into six broad categories, each of which I’ll list here with a small sampling of the ways the book claims the principle shows up.

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Books I have known in 2007

I did a post last year where I listed the books I’d read in 2006. It’s that time again…

These are in order of when I read them. And an asterisk indicates it’s one of my “top reads” of the year in terms of effect it’s had on my life, not necessarily literary quality.

  1. 1776 by David McCullough
  2. Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
  3. Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley
  4. Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. How to be a Gentleman by John Bridges
  6. *Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
  7. *Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the Struggle for the Soul of America by Fergus M. Bordewich
  8. *The Church at the End of the 20th Century / The Church Before the Watching World by Francis Schaeffer
  9. Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet by Elaine Feinstein
  10. Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent
  11. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  12. Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian
  13. H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick O’Brian
  14. Thermopylae by Paul Cartledge
  15. The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges
  16. The Virtues of War by Stephen Pressfield
  17. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
  18. He is There and He is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer
  19. The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian
  20. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
  21. Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian
  22. The Fortune of War by Patrick O’Brian
  23. The Automatic Millionaire: Homeowner by David Bach
  24. Hondo by Louis L’Amour
  25. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
  26. *Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would by Chad Thompson
  27. The Surgeon’s Mate by Patrick O’Brian
  28. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
  29. The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian
  30. It Pays to Talk by Carrie Schwab Pomerantz & Charles Schwab
  31. Treason’s Harbor by Patrick O’Brian
  32. The Far Side of the World by Patrick O’Brian
  33. The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
  34. Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud
  35. The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian
  36. Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal by R.A. Scotti
  37. The Infinite Book by John D. Barrow
  38. Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian
  39. The Thirteen Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian
  40. Telling the Truth by Frederick Beuchner
  41. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
  42. On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo & Robert Bucknam
  43. Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian
  44. *Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn
  45. *Safely Home by Randy Alcorn
  46. *Brothers, We are Not Professionals by John Piper
  47. The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism by Craig Brown
  48. The Triumphant Church by Richard Wurmbrand, John Piper & Milton Martin