I remember reading Beowulf in high school and really enjoying it, so I decided to read it again. This Old English poem was written between 900-1000 AD, but tells the story of a Scandinavian hero in the seventh century. Heaney’s translation has the Old English on the left page and the English on the right page. The story centers around three battles Beowulf faces, two in his prime and one in his old age, while looking at honor and loyalty to tribe and family. Though it sounds intimidating, it’s really quite an easy read, and the narrative is very engaging.
My sister loaned me Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple after we both enjoyed her other book, Where’d You Go Bernadette? This novel is written in a similar style and tone (though thankfully not written in correspondence) and actually takes place in the same universe as Bernadette. Today Will Be Different is the story of Eleanor, a middle-aged stay-at-home mom and artist. The highlight of her career was working on a popular animated series, and she hopes to publish her memoir, though she can’t seem to get it started. As she feels her life falling apart, she’s determined to be a better person and to make her and her family’s lives better. But she decides this on a day when everything goes wrong. As she tries to make it through the day with her son, Timby, a past she has locked away comes surging back to haunt her. Facing her past and the fears about her future, Eleanor discovers what’s important in life and how to move forward. Semple’s novel is a quick, fun read, though it delves into Eleanor’s dark backstory with humor and empathy. I enjoyed this as a light read and a great palate cleanser after the confusing The Man in the High Castle.
The Man in the High Castle is my second book to read by Philip K. Dick. I’ve watched some of the Amazon Prime series based on the novel, and thought I’d give the book a go. The premise is an alternate reality wherein Germany and Japan won World War II, and America has been split up as part of their territories. The novel follows several characters as they live under the rule of these nations, and looks at the escalating tensions between Japan and Germany. Dick apparently delves into some deeply philosophical issues in this novel, but I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t tell you the purpose of this book – what issues he was exploring or what even his opinions were. It was choppy and written in an odd style. It was a Hugo award winner in 1963, so I expected it to be much more profound – or at least understandable. But it was totally lost on me. If the premise wasn’t so intriguing, I wouldn’t have finished it. All I can say is this book was weird and beyond me.
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke is one of those books I know I should read but didn’t want to cause it’d make me feel bad. But I finally hunkered down and worked through it, and am glad I did. This book is similar to The Shallows in that it discusses the ways technology, specifically the smartphone, changes how we think and interact with the world and people around us. Reinke, though, writes from a Christian perspective and addresses the snares and sins we can easily fall into with the use of our smartphones: loneliness, self-centeredness, pornography and other vices, vapid busyness, loss of literacy, and many others. He also offers the other side, what we as Christians aiming to be more like Christ should be focused on instead – community, God-centered life, holiness, meaningful busyness, the Word of God, etc. I appreciate that his approach is not to denounce the smartphone as evil and convince his readers to get rid of theirs. Instead, he argues for more awareness in how we use our phones because tools in and of themselves are not inherently evil and can be used for the glory of God. But are we careful and thoughtful in our use? Or do they control and fill our lives with emptiness? Reinke pulls in tons of research and experts, which made the book a bit heady, and I had to wade through it slowly, but it’s full of convicting, thought-provoking material. A good and worthwhile read.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng came out at the end of 2017. Since it’s release, I’ve heard a lot of buzz about it, but am very hesitant to try contemporary fiction, especially brand new releases. Finally, I found a couple friends that had read it and one that even loaned it to me. Ng’s second novel, this story is about a family drama in Shaker Heights, a planned community outside Cleveland, Ohio. The Richardson family fit right into the perfectly manicured and designed city – Mr. and Mrs. Richardson are successful and wealthy, and three of their four children are attractive, popular, and successful in school and their activities. But Izzy, their youngest, does not fit into this suburban utopia. The Richardsons’ existence comes to a crossroads when Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl, enter their lives. Ng explores an array of issues in this novel – the unpredictability of life, motherhood, identity and purpose – and I was surprised how nuanced and well-done it was. It’s incredibly engaging and fast-paced, with complex and believable characters. It makes me want to go back and read her first novel sometime.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot sounded like a very intriguing science nonfiction book when I first heard of it. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman in the 1950s who died of cervical cancer. During her treatment, without her knowledge or consent, a doctor took a sample of her cervical cancer cells for research. These cells ended up multiplying and growing in a way never seen before, becoming the first immortal cell line, called HeLa – cells that still exist and are used by scientists today. Her cells helped develop the polio vaccine, and have been used in research on cancer, AIDS, gene mapping, and various viruses. I was very intrigued by the science of this book and surprised that I’d never heard of this very famous cell line (granted, my background is English not science). But the book was different than I expected. While it does give a broad overview of the scientific history of the HeLa cells, the main focus of the book is on Henrietta’s family, particularly her daughter Deborah, who was so young when her mother died she has no memories of her and knows nothing of the HeLa cell line until decades after the fact. The book tells the story of how the author, Skloot, hunts down and gets to know the Lacks family during her research into HeLa. Deborah is driven by a quest to know more about her mother and her immortal cells, and sees Skloot’s research as a way to finally get answers as well as set the record straight to the whole world about who her mother was. This seems more a work about family and identity, revolving around the circumstances of some questionable science practices and controversies. Skloot also ties in some big questions that are still being debated today in the courts about a person’s rights to discarded tissues and cells (essentially, we have none) and rights to profits made off of the commercialization of those samples (again, none). Though not what I expected, it was an interesting look into the life of this family and their difficulties over the years because of these cells, as well as educational about HeLa and cell culture research.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World is Rosaria Butterfield’s third book. I’ve read her other two, and, while I love them all, this is by far my favorite. My favorite chapter in her second book, Openness Unhindered, was about Christian hospitality. Now, she has written an entire book on the topic – and it’s phenomenal. This will definitely be at the top of my favorite books for the year. Interspersed with her own experiences, Butterfield delves into the biblical imperatives for practicing hospitality, as well as the many facets of what it actually looks like. She is clear that hospitality is not just entertaining like-minded people; it’s making the stranger your neighbor, and your neighbor part of the family of God. Not only is this book full of great wisdom and a challenge for the church today, it is also beautifully written. It’s more literary than her others, which feel a bit more academic. I love that all of her chapters begin with a personal story that shows one aspect of hospitality; I would read a book by her filled with just her stories. This book is convicting and challenging, but she paints such a beautiful picture of what the body of Christ could be with some sacrifice, intentionality, and the help of the Holy Spirit, it’s also inspiring and encouraging. Everyone should read this book. Also, I want her to be my best friend. Below is a great video giving an introduction to this work.
A friend recommended On Becoming Babywise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Robert Bucknam and Gary Ezzo as a good primer for feeding routine and sleep training, with the advice to not be too militant about it. As someone starting from knowing nothing, this was very informative – what a normal day for an infant looks like, how to breastfeed, hunger cues, etc. Also, it was helpful having read it prior to baby’s arrival. I didn’t feel bogged down in making sure my life fit exactly to what the book taught, and was able to take in some of the basic, foundational principles: good feedings lead to good sleep, routine is helpful for babies, and eat-play-sleep is a good pattern to follow. Apparently this book is super controversial but I didn’t dig into the differing sides. I found it helpful for me and look forward to implementing some of the ideas with our little one. (I’m 22 weeks – over halfway, and very eager to meet baby.)
A friend gave me Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper last fall, and I’ve been slowly working my way through it since the beginning of the year. Piper essentially writes a plea to his readers to think more broadly about their salvation than themselves and their immediate context. In the first several chapters he lays out his argument that God didn’t save His people for our sakes, He saved us to be part of His grand design that all the world may know Him. We spend a lot of our life focused on our own pursuits and how we can maximize our happiness and ease. But the question Piper asks is, Is this as a primary pursuit in life honoring to the salvation God has given us? Jesus promises suffering for obeying Him; the life of a Christian is not easy. Our primary goal is to delight in God and share that delight with others, which often involves risk and toil. While he does have a chapter on laboring for God in non-ministry vocations, Piper has a strong emphasis on world missions. A lot is packed in to this slim little book and I don’t think I quite got all of it. But of what I did get, it’s very convicting and makes you reassess your life priorities.
Carry On, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse is a collection of stories about the well-known characters of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves – beloved characters of literature for over a century, and of Jeeves and Wooster on the BBC and Ask Jeeves fame. The first story shows how Jeeves and Wooster are put together, when Bertie requests a new valet. Bertie, a London society gentleman who seems to get into an awful lot of trouble for not doing much more than laze about, realizes Jeeves is not only an excellent valet, but a brainy schemer who gets Bertie and his friends out of fixes. Jeeves is often getting Bertie out of engagements he somehow stumbled into, or rescuing a friend being threatened to lose their allowance from their rich aunt or uncle. The book is episodic, with each story as a stand-alone, so an easy read. Wodehouse’s British humor is wry and ironic and even laugh-out-loud funny at points. Written in the early 1900s, he crafts a world of humorous characters and situations, while offering a satire of the declining English aristocracy. This was my pick for my book club (each member picks the book on their month; I had March) and I look forward to sharing it with my ladies. This book was also the first I attempted on audiobook. This particular novel took a while to get used to the British accent of the narrator, but besides that it was convenient to be able to listen while I drove. But overall, audiobooks aren’t for me – I just enjoy the heft of a book in my hand and being able to flip around through the pages.