2011 Reading books reading

March 2011 Reading

April 3, 2011

(Note: Titles are hyperlinked)

Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton) (audio, narrated by Stephen Gammond)

Orthodoxy is Chesterton’s 1908 addition to an earlier work, Heretics, and was also written in response, according to Chesterton, to Mr. G.S. Street. It is his self-acclaimed essay on how he came to believe the orthodoxy of the Christian faith (specifically, he converted to Catholicism later in life), tracing the path of his searching for the meaning of life and realizing the answer had been answered again and again throughout the history of the church. Much of this work and his accounting for his own thoughts is portrayed in metaphor, which I really enjoyed in this work. He also refers to many of his contemporaries and their specific practices/beliefs, which is an aspect that can be somewhat confusing if the reader is not aware of their backgrounds and the teachings tied to their names (such would be the case for myself, with most of the names). Although he attacks reformed theology, seems to view some races as being superior to others (although he repeatedly attacked evolutionary thought), and has other issues I disagree with, I found this book is very mentally and spiritually stimulating. Earlier this month, I mentioned a quote from this work here.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (Frederick Douglass) (audio, narrated by Walter Covell)

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a memoir of Douglass’ life from being born into slavery in Maryland through the first years of his live as a freed man. Although Douglass had to teach himself to read and write, it is very clear that he was a brilliant man and skilled in writing, which is remarkable considering that Douglass wrote the book when he was in his twenties.

Douglass was a child of a Harriet Bailey, a female slave, and was fathered (in the biological sense of the word) by a white man who was unknown, but suspected to be Aaron Anthony. He did not know his mother, who died when he was seven years old. He was transferred from plantation slavery to city slavery, living with Hugh and Sophia Auld. It was there that Sophia began teaching him the alphabet, but that was put to an abrupt halt when her husband demanded that she cease for fear that an educated slave would realize his pitiful condition. (It was against the law, as well, to teach a slave to read.) After that, Sophia grew to be more brutal toward Douglass, though never nearing the plantation and deep-south brutality and atrocities. During his time in the city, he was exposed to opportunity and education, but was for a brief time sent back to the plantation, at which time he was whipped and observed further atrocities upon other slaves. From there, several more transfers were made, including some even after he was again sent back to live with the Auld family. He eventually escaped, seven years after learning about the abolitionist movement. (Interestingly, he seemed to be opposed to the Underground Railroad system, though he still encouraged that slaves should escape.) He was assisted by abolitionists following his escape, at which time he was also married. He began speaking on behalf of enslaved black Americans, and this is where the narrative ends in his life. I posted quotes from this work here and here.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Douglas A. Blackmon) (audio, narrated by)

This book was an atrocious account, but an an incredible read, recounting the indentured servitude of blacks in the South after Civil War. The book opens describing the life of Green Cottingham and his indentured service in a mine in 1908. Blackmon uses the history of the Cottingham family and their various ancestors and descendants to paint the main picture of life in the South. This covers the historical period from the Civil War up through World War II. Around this time, the lawless practice of unofficial slavery was finally acted upon legally in a way that sent a message that such slavery was unconstitutional behavior for the states participating in this heinous act. (World War II and the Japanese equating America’s treatment of blacks with Germany’s treatment of Jews was a catalyst in the realization of and cessation of this horror.)

During the Reconstruction, black Americans living in the South actually had hope of opportunity and civil rights. They were able to vote and began to have other liberties previously unknown. But after the federal government withdrew (both in presence and policy), the atrocities towards blacks began to rise. Blacks were often arrested randomly (sometimes on official charges like vagrancy: not having a job; but any black out and about during laboring hours could be arrested on these charges regardless of his reasons for doing so; other times, there were no official charges, but when one could not afford to pay court fees, he had to “sell himself” in order to pay for his fees, whether he was guilty or not). So, the blacks were “sold” to both individual plantation owners and to corporations, mills, and factories. Often a sentence for six months was given, but then the “slaves” would be charged for the equipment they wore out, food and water, shelter, etc…, and the slavery went on and on. There was no way out, because it was often the justice system and officials participating in the buying and selling, as they received fees for every man sold. Both men and women were sold, as well as children. The brutalies and physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse committed with no regard to the lives of these men and women are shocking.

As hard as this was to read, it is a part of our nation’s history, and it does us no good to gloss over it. I found this quote at the end of the book to be helpful:

When white Americans frankly peel back the layers of our commingled pasts, we are all marked by it. Whether a company or an individual, we are marred either by our connections to the specific crimes and injuries of our fathers and their fathers. Or we are tainted by the failures of our fathers to fulfill our national credos when their courage was most needed. We are formed in molds twisted by the gifts we received at the expense of others. It is not our “fault.” But it is undeniably our inheritance.

Organized Simplicity (Tsh Oxenreider)

Organized Simplicity is one of the better “home-organizing-books-geared-for-women” I’ve read. I think part of that is due to the fact that, in an interesting twist of irony, so many of these organizing books are quite unorganized and cluttery in appearance themselves (and make you feel guilty if you don’t use their specific methods and become organized within 24 hours of reading the book). Oxenreider’s book appealed to me aesthetically for that very reason: it was a simple, modern, spiral-bound notebook. The first half of the book focuses on a general matrix for simplicity in the home, and the latter half of the book provides practical guides for organizing a house, as well as various appendices on homemade cleaning solutions, helpful checklists, and similar.

Revolutionary Parenting: Raising Your Kids to Become Spiritual Champions (George Barna) (audio, narrated by Scott Dente)

Those familiar with the name George Barna will know that he is renowned within Christian circles for founding The Barna Group, a research group that focuses primarily on studying, surveying, and researching statistics within the American Christian subculture. In keeping with this, Barna’s book focuses on the researching the crucial aspects of parenting that correlate with what he calls “spiritual champions.”

Barna begins by stating that in the mass of parenting books available, he really does believe his is necessary to write and add to the pile. Indeed, this book is different than many books that focus on what parents should do in parenting, and instead focuses on what things parent did or didn’t do as they parented and what seemed to be the common factors in parenting in homes that had children who are now “spiritual champions,” which is why he believes his book to be necessary.

The book includes many statistics, but also include anecdotes and quotes from parents and teens/young adults who participated in the survey. In my opinion as a reader who wished to be more informed, it would have been helpful to have better information about the specifics of what denominations and parts of Christianity these “spiritual champions” were coming from, as well as a more precise definition of a “spiritual champion,” beyond distinguishing him/her as being actively involved in church ministry and outreach and having a walk with the Lord.

The book makes several false dichotomies, for instance the premise of the book: there are kids who turn out to be “spiritual champions,” and then there’s everyone else, and there are the parents who raise “spiritual champions,” and then there is everyone else. For the most part, Spiritual Champions is not a how-to book of parenting, but rather a broad survey of a survey. The book does end with Barna unleashing a flurry of isolated Scripture verses, interspersed with hermeneutical leaps and random parenting advice eisegeted into the lives of Old Testament heros, mingled in with a few truly Biblical exhortations for parents. I found this to be somewhat confusing, and left me slightly more disappointed with the book than if this latter segment had been left off altogether. (Some of it even conflicted with conclusions made earlier in the book.) Still, I found it an interesting book, and it does give an idea of what many presumably conservative (both politically and religiously, it would seem), Evangelical Christians are doing to expose their children to Biblical, spiritual training.

Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University (Kevin Roose) (audio, narrated by Kevin Roose)

After his first semester at Brown University, Kevin Roose made special request to do a unique study-abroad at Liberty University. He received permission to do so, and then was accepted into Liberty University. His goal was to see what life was like in an ultra-conservative Evangelical University. For the most part, he was able “learn the language” and culture and attend without drawing attention to his real mission: to document his time there. He grew to love the people at Liberty, though he did not come to embrace faith in Christ. He also saw many of the logical leaps and some of the Pharisaism going on among some of the teaching and practices.

The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast (C.S. Lewis) (audio, narrated by Ralph Cosham)

One of C.S. Lewis’ classic works. (Or aren’t all his works?) I’d only read parts of Screwtape Letters before. The Screwtape Letters is Lewis’ satirical masterpiece of what correspondence between demons working to tempt humans might write. Screwtape is the seasoned demon, writing to his apprenticing nephew, Wormwood. The letters take place in Britain during war-time. I found this to be a very helpful and convicting book, but wonder if in some parts of Screwtape Proposes a Toast, Lewis spiritualized some of his rants of his own opinions.

The Richest Man in Babylon (George S. Clason) (audio, narrated by Richard Ferrone)

In essence, this book is a Dave Ramsey of the 1920’s crossed with a historical fairy tale. Most of the book is written in a King-James/Shakespearean style of English, with a few random insertions and commentary in then contemporary English. Though most of the book is written in a parable-like story recounting the financial and economic lessons surrounding Babylon and Arkad, the fictional “richest man in Babylon.” It is basic, but still very helpful.

The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky) (audio, narrated by Simon Vance)

(Sadly, I realized I listened to the abridged version, rather than the unabridged. But not so sadly, I realized the audio for the abridged was only 19 hours long, while the unabridged was a whopping 36+ hours. :)) The Brothers Karamazov is the tale of three Russian brothers who have the same father (two different mothers), and are very different young men. The story fills out their lives and characters, and then their father, Fyodor, is brutally murdered. The final part of the story follows the trial of the suspected murder and the revelation of what really happened. But the weight of this book is in the sociopolitical and religious dialogues, monologues, and other speeches intricately woven into the story.

Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (Daniel Goleman) (audio, narrated by Barrett Whitener)

This book has been referenced in several of my recent readings, most recently and notably in Nurture Shock, which I read last month. Goleman presents of research and the conclusions that emotional intelligence is just as important as the intellectual quotient in discerning a person’s over-all ability to function within society. Thus, it is also important to hone in on the emotional development of children. The scope of what emotional intelligence affected ranges from parenting, racisim, poverty, education, job-training, and everything in between. An enlightening read.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner (audio, narrated by Stephen J. Dubner)

Many people think only of finances when they think of economics, but Freakonomics uses the matrix of economics to explore…well, the hidden side of many things. Some things may be commonsense, like the fact that owning a swimming pool is statistically more dangerous than owning a gun. (But how does that cause you to react to a gun vs. a swimming pool?) Other fascinating topics were how the name you give your child can affect him/her, the role a real estate agent can play, the KKK, Babywise and other parenting methods, crime rates, and drug dealers. Perhaps the most controversial issue in the book is the link between legalizing abortion and the resulting lowered crime rates. While this does indeed make sense given the facts and data presented in the book, I don’t have to accept that as a reason to believe abortion is ever right, and rather to realize the failure to make changes in other areas that would help those seeking abortions also heavily plays into this factor. Overall, this was a wonderful, stimulating read. I posted a quote from this book here..

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