Devoted: Great Men and Their Godly Moms by Tim Challies is a slim little collection of mini-biographies about great men of the faith and the influence of their mothers. Covering men of church history, past and present, Challies looks at the role their mothers played in their salvation and spiritual development. It was an easy, enjoyable read with meaty though short chapters you can read through real quickly. Each chapter also points out some practical lessons we can learn from these women of the past in how we nurture those God has placed in our lives. I really enjoyed this and got a ton of book recommendations out of it.
Grendel by John Gardner tells the story of Beowulf from the famous villain’s point of view. This novel provides a backstory for the monster leading up to his battle with Beowulf. It’s an interesting take on the story, lending some sympathy for Grendel. Gardner also uses this point of view to provide an outsider’s view of humankind, looking at some of its worst aspects. It was an interesting book, though some of it was pretty heady and philosophical, and over my head. Not one of my favorites.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is book one in the trilogy of the Themis Files. On Rose’s eleventh birthday she rides her bike into the woods only to fall into a large hole and land in a large metal hand. Later, body parts are discovered throughout the world. After assembling them all, a team scrambles to figure out what the giant is, where it came from, and what its purpose is. The premise is interesting, though overall it’s not a great novel. The characters are flat and the format doesn’t serve the story well – it’s written in a collection of interviews, correspondence, bulletins, etc. I probably won’t bother reading the rest of the trilogy.
We read The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung for a book study this year. This was a reread for me, you can see my original write-up here. It was a good refresher on important material, and I enjoyed going through it as a study group and working through the discussion questions. I’m interested in reading more on the subject of holiness in the Christian life with some books that go a bit deeper, but this is a great starter for any level, especially if theological books intimidate you.
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 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. I think what I found most compelling about this novel is her look at the many facets of motherhood and its difficulties: biological, adoptive, emotional, and abortion. 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.