Tri 3 (September-December) 2017 Books in Review

I feel like every time I write my book review blog, I have to make some excuse (largely to myself) about why I didn’t read more. Two reasons. Winter didn’t really come until today, so I had no reason to cuddle up by the gas fireplace (that I won’t light because I’m afraid of it blowing up my house even though it’s safe but it’s because I’ve never done it, but I digress) AND when I first moved in my house I was like level 7 lonely and decided to figure out what all the rage about Netflix was and watched 3.2 seasons of “Call the Midwife” instead of reading. But then I got my life in order and got back to being a reader and here you are, although you’ll notice an unusually large number of these are audiobooks, so I guess I didn’t “read” read as much as I thought. Thanks to this snow day for keeping me in (after shoveling 2 times, of course) so I will blog.

Biography

Alexander Hamilton

By: Ron Chernow

[Audiobook: Good. But legit 29 CDs which equals I don’t know how many Audible credits]

Does Liz like Hamilton? Oh yes. Did Liz rap as Lafayette in a ward talent show reproduction of “My Shot”? Indeed. (Proof below).

Alexander Hamilton. His name is Alexander Hamilton. The rap/musical is so fascinating and cool. Well at least the music is since I haven’t actually seen it yet….Anyway, I do dislike the language in it, and I even bought the “clean” version. I think I need to teach them a few more words that aren’t clean. Nevertheless, this post is about the book, not the musical. The book is detailed, fascinating, instructive, and long. I bought the book soon after hearing the musical, started into it about 50 pages, and it was just hard to move through. So I finally just checked out the audiobook and that got me through.

Hamilton’s biography not only gives us an extremely in-depth look at his own life (please no one write my biography ever, no one needs to know that much about anyone), but also gives context to so many events of the revolution and beginning years of the United States. It was a time filled with turmoil, backbiting, slander, and, I’d say, insanity. It kind of sounds like our political world today. I mean, Aaron Burr was vice president and he was a known adulterer, and he killed Hamilton over years of political disagreements. If that doesn’t sound like political turmoil, I don’t know what does. And that’s literally just the start of the vitriolic politics of that day. Hamilton had amazing power with the pen and could take people down like no one’s business. But he also helped establish so dang much that built our country. I was fascinated by his life. Word to the wise: remember that not everything in theatrical productions is true, so be prepared to learn the actual facts, not the rapped facts of Hamilton. There’s quite a bit that was different.

 

Novels

The Art of Racing in the Rain

By: Garth Stein

[Audiobook: just your average good reader]

This is a book about a family and a dog. Told from the perspective of the dog as he watches his owners encounter significant life changes and challenges. The title was a bit off-putting when it was first recommended to me (race cars??), but it’s really just an attempt to be clever because the dog’s owner is a race car driver and it’s an analogy that you’ll find out about if you read it. The dog’s perspective is clever and interesting. Some swears and mature topics. Mostly I just hated the main challenge in the book and it just made me angry. Still an interesting book.

The Orphan Train

By: Christina Baker Kline

[Audiobook: I liked one of the readers a lot and the other just average]

This book explores an aspect of history I knew nothing about. From the 1850s to almost 1930, “orphan trains” ran from the East coast to the midwest, so called because they put abandoned children on these trains and took them to the farmlands to families who would adopt them. Some gained a life of happiness with their new families. Some basically became servants. The book is an interesting look at fictional Vivian Daly who was sent on the train out of New York City and explores what may have been the life for many of these children. It’s written with a back-and-forth look at her past and her present life, interwoven with a present-day foster care girl’s story. Language and mature topics. I was intrigued by the reflective story, but the present-day story I didn’t love as much.

A Gentleman in Moscow

By: Amor Towles

[Audiobook: excellent]

I loved this book. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that I felt it ended too soon. I wanted to read a sequel!

This is the tale of a gentleman…in Moscow. Count Alexander Rostov is put under house arrest by the Bolsheviks in the Metropol Hotel. His former life of comfort, ease, and aristocracy, is transformed into a cubby-hole room and waiting tables. Then a young girl at the hotel befriends him, altering his existence in an unexpected way. Despite taking place almost entirely inside the walls of the hotel, the book is not confining. It is imaginative, fun, heartwarming, exciting, and endearing.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

By: John Boyne

This is a World War II era book. Bruno is a 9-year-old who moves from Berlin to “Out-With” (Auschwitz) with his family, after his father receives an assignment from Hitler to manage the concentration camp. Bruno secretly befriends a boy who lives in the concentration camp. This was written for tween-age children, but without some context and understanding of the Holocaust, I wonder how much would be missed by a child. I sometimes felt very uncomfortable with the book, likely because I hate that so much evil could be so easily looked over and then I wonder the wrongs that I am oblivious to. I did look at other reviews after I read this, and it has a lot of bad press as well because the friendship would have been almost impossible to occur, there were no young boys in that particular camp, and some have called it “profanation” of a depiction of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, it did cause me to think more deeply about what I stand up for.

Play

W;t (Wit)

By: Margaret Edson

It’s been a long time since I read a play–likely since high school. But this came highly recommended to me. It is a very short read and it is intriguing. However, soon after reading, I found out the play was made into a movie with Emma Thompson in it. I then watched the movie and liked it much better than reading the play (surprise–plays are written to be performed. Plus, Emma Thompson).

The play explores the life of Vivian Bearing, a brilliant English professor, who faces ovarian cancer. As she receives treatment, it brings to light the questions we ultimately face of: How did I live my life? Did I live a life worth living? What would/could I have done differently? And, what do I do now? Interesting to me was also the exploration of medical care providers and their treatment of patients in trying times. So much to learn from this.

Memoir

Option B

By: Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

[Audiobook: good reader]

This is a beautiful memoir from Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg. She explores grief as she encountered the painful experience of losing her husband unexpectedly. The book is beautiful and raw. It doesn’t prescribe any certain way to deal with grief, but rather an acknowledgement that grief exists and that we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge it. We all deal with grief differently and ultimately we can all persevere and even find joy again. It was a touching look at grieving and I’d recommend it to anyone, even if you aren’t grieving, as it provides a good perspective on how to help others through grief, as well as how to get through adversity in general.

Self-Help Books

The Lesson: A Fable For Our Times

By: Carol Lynn Pearson

This book has been recommended to me several times in the past few months, so I felt I must have needed it or others felt I could benefit from it. It’s another short book that can be read in a very short sitting. Written as a fable, this book explores life’s challenges and how we can come to view them in a more beneficial way.

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

By: Susan Jeffers

[Audiobook: Terrible]

Did you see that? I put “terrible” on the audiobook. This is an older motivational book and the audio was recorded with a very old style of narrator and speaking lilt and tone. It drove me so nuts I didn’t think I could stand it, but I put up with it because some of the content was good. It would likely be better just to read this one, folks. Basically this book addresses understanding where our fears come from and pushing through them so that we can move forward in life. It also addresses getting rid of negative self-talk. There’s nothing really earth-shattering, but like most motivational books, sometimes we just need a pick-me-up every once in a while to get moving again.

How Full is Your Bucket?

By: Tom Rath, Donald O. Clifton

A co-worker used some excerpts from this book in our weekly all-staff devotional (yes, working for the LDS Church means that we have a short devotional to start our week). I checked it out and it is a quick, and good, read. I then used it again more extensively in my own team’s meeting. It gave me insights into learning how to understand my employees and how they like to be communicated with, praised, and recognized. I have shifted how I do some of my work because I felt like the principles in this book addressed key leadership areas I feel weak in.

The five strategies they proclaim for creating a more positive organization are: Prevent Bucket Dipping (stop the easy habit of putting others down ), Shine a Light on What is Right, Make Best Friends (friends at work make a huge difference in workplace enjoyment), Give Unexpectedly, and Reverse the Golden Rule (treat others the way THEY would like to be treated). Inspiring and helpful.

Pandora’s Box Is Open Now What Do I Do?: A Parent’s Guide for Helping Children Who Have Been Exposed to Pornography 

By: Gail Poyner

I read this book for work because we are working on new materials to help parents talk to their children about pornography and I wanted to see some different perspectives. In general, this book is good because it helps provide tips for opening up the conversation and not being afraid of the topic. However, it did seem to push the idea (in my own opinion) that once a child has seen pornography, he or she is addicted. There’s a difference in exposure and in compulsive use (as you can read in Elder Dallin H. Oak’s Ensign article: “Recovering from the Trap of Pornography”). However, it is good to see more literature created to help parents discuss this as it is a huge problem that ought to be addressed earlier.

Religious Books

The Cost of Discipleship

By: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In my review last time, I mentioned I’d read the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and found him to be an amazing man. He was a Lutheran pastor in Germany for many years, and opposed the Nazi regime. He was part of several failed attempts to assassinate Hitler. His life is worth reading about. And this book contains some of his teachings. As a Christian, much of what he taught resonated with what I believe. Some of it did not, but I could learn from it just the same. My favorite principle that Bonhoeffer taught was about “cheap grace” as he invites all to experience real grace, which comes as the “cost of discipleship”.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

On the contrary:

“Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'”

I also like this quote: “The community of the saints is not an ‘ideal’ community consisting of perfect saints and sinless men and women, where there is no need of further repentance. No, it is a community which proves that it is worthy of the gospel of forgiveness by constantly and sincerely proclaiming God’s forgiveness (which has nothing to do with self-forgiveness). It is a community of men and women who have genuinely encountered the precious grace of God, and who walk worthily of the gospel by not casting that grace recklessly away.”

That is what I feel a community of Christians is.

The Beginning of Better Days: Divine Instruction to Women from the Prophet Joseph Smith

By: Sheri Dew and Virginia H. Pearce

I like the writings of both Sheri and Virginia (no, I’m not on a first-name basis with either of them, but I can pretend) so this book was awesome. It is an editorialized introduction of how and what we can learn from Joseph Smith’s teachings to women (if the title didn’t already give that away). Much of this has been published in recent years with the Relief Society papers and the Joseph Smith Papers. I must admit I haven’t taken a lot of time to read those voluminous books. But this was shorter and focused and it was inspiring to be reminded of the power women have to do so much good in this world.

The Doctrine and Covenants

In my scripture study, I decided to join in on reading Doctrine and Covenants, since that was what was being studied in Sunday School last year (all four times that I actually went, since I had a family history calling in my old ward so went to that instead and then almost immediately got a family history calling in my new ward. #winning). I love the Doctrine and Covenants because it is a little closer in time to our day and contains such wonderful wisdom from the Restoration. I was particularly touched by a certain passage soon after I moved into my house that comforted me in making such a big decision.

Pearl of Great Price

The best book of scriptures to make you feel good about your study since it’s so short. And so spirit packed. And I love it.

Tune in next time for more!

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One Reply to “Tri 3 (September-December) 2017 Books in Review”

  1. I enjoy reading about what you are reading. I read a lot, but most of it is Curious George, Elephant and Piggie, Kevin Henkes books (he is really popular around these parts right now), Charlotte’s Web, etc. But, I want to read more. I need to pick one of your suggestions and just start getting into it again. I love that you are always growing. I can learn from that. Beijos!

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