Saturday, December 27, 2008

Book 10: Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov.

Pages: 494.

How it was obtained: I purchased it from when I started reading the Foundation Series.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 3 years.

Days spent reading it: 4 days.

Why I read it: I started reading the Foundation series a few years ago. I made it through the first 4 books and this was the next book in the series (in order of copyright).

Brief review:
Let me start off by saying, I LOVED the first 3 Foundation books, especially the first one (simply called Foundation). Isaac Asimov creates interesting situations that his characters must resolve, and they usually do so with interesting insights. Asimov wrote the first 3 books as a series of short stories, and they were later compiled into what became the Foundation trilogy. I would highly recommend those to anyone who enjoys a truly unique story.

Having said that, books 4 and 5 were different. Instead of being short stories, they were true novels. They stayed with the same characters the whole time. I personally think the characters are flat and boring. Asimov's strength is not characters but dilemmas. Unfortunately book 4 (Foundation's Edge) does not have enough dilemma in it, and almost turned me off from the rest of the series. I also really did not like how it ended. However, Foundation and Earth returned to Asimov writing more in short story format, even though he stays with the same characters, the story is revealed as they leapfrog from planet to planet in search of Earth.

I will not give away the plot, but it would say it was a decent story. Not the best in the series, but not as disappointing as Foundation's Edge. The conclusion felt a little awkward and forced. Asimov did some strange things with this series as it progressed forward. I think he wanted to make it seem like his writings as a whole were more planned out and connected than he originally intended. In the end it seems gimmicky. I'm sure there are some Asimov fans who enjoy the connections, but I would not number myself among them.

Overall, I would recommend this book to the fans of the Foundation series, but slugging through Foundation's Edge along with Foundation and Earth means reading nearly 1,000 pages of frankly sub-par Asimov. For reader's interested in something truly unique--check out Foundation, it really is superior. But realize that the first book (which is awesome) is the best it gets.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

Final Word:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Book 9: Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus

Title:  Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, translated by James Scully and C. John Herington

Pages:  117 total.  The play itself consists of about 54 pages.

How it was obtained:  I don't remember.  I got it used somehow, from either a library or the used book store in Columbia before we moved.  I think it was the used book store.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:  A year or two.

Days spent reading it:  1 day.

Why I read it:  I actually liked the Greek tragedies we read in High School.  I also think that Prometheus is an interesting character, so I thought this play might be interesting.

Brief review:
I really liked this play.  In the beginning of the story Prometheus is bound by Hephaistos to a rock to serve as his punishment for giving mankind fire.  Prometheus has a number of conversations with people as they wander by in their travels.  These make up the major movements of the play.

The themes of his conversations include:  Suffering, usurping power, tyranny, human culture, hope, civil disobedience, restoration, fate, brute force vs. cunning thought, and a host of other themes.

Some interesting elements about Prometheus in Greek mythology:  

Prometheus is the god who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity.  Fire seems to also include self awareness and human culture, because that's what else Prometheus claims to have given to mankind.  Prometheus also claims mankind once foresaw their own deaths, but that he overcame their visions by giving them the gift of hope.

Prometheus Bound is apparently a part of a trilogy.  We only have scraps from what was perhaps the sequel, Prometheus Unbound.  It is a shame that we will never see the full story arch that Aeschylus prepared for Prometheus.

I enjoyed this short play.  If you enjoy Greek drama, this is a must read.  If you do not appreciate Greek drama, this one will probably not warm your hearts to it.  Further, I appreciated the notes and introduction to this play as well.  I read them after I read the play, and felt like they enhanced my experience of reading instead of bogging it down.  This was one play I am glad I got the chance to read for myself.

Favorite quote:  It's easy enough for the bystander, who's not bogged down in sorrow, to advise and warn the one who suffers.  Myself, I knew all this and knew it all along.  Still, I meant to be wrong.  I knew what I was doing.  Helping humankind I helped myself to misery.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Final Word:  Captivating.

Connecting by Paul Stanley and J. Robert Clinton

Title:  Connecting:  The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life by Paul Stanley and J. Robert Clinton


How it was obtained:  
Ordered from Amazon for my missions course.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:  0.  I had to read it right away to write a report on it.

Days spent reading it:  1 day.  Blitzed through this one.

Why I read it:  I had to read this book for a missions course I am taking.  This book was assigned in regards to the need for people to connect with mentors at different periods in their life.

Brief review:  I have read this book before for another class before, but picked up more from it this time through.  There are two ideas I really liked in this book.

First, Stanley and Clinton talk about a Constellation Model of Mentoring relationships.  It looks something like this:
You have yourself  at the center.  In your life you should always have an Upward Mentor, someone who is further along in life or ministry who is teaching you and handing skills along.  You should have Peer Co-Mentors.  People who are walking beside you and learning with you.  You should have one who is external to your organization and one internal to your organization.  Finally you should have a Downward Mentoree, someone that you are teaching and training and encouraging who is not as far along in life or ministry as you are.  I liked this idea of different levels of mentoring, and thought it was a helpful model for most of us to follow.

Second, I appreciate how Stanley and Clinton propose multiple types of mentoring.  They have intensive mentors:  Discipler, Spiritual Guide, Coach.  They have occasional mentors:  Counselor, Teacher, Sponsor.  And they have passive mentors:  Model (by which they mean a contemporary or historical figure whom we can model our lives after).

This book was not thrilling, but it does have many insights on mentoring, so it accomplishes its task.  It is fairly easy to read and is well organized.  It is worth picking up if you are looking at developing mentor relationships in your life or in the team you work with.

A quote: Mentoring is a relational experience in which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

Final Word:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book 8: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Pages:  552.

How it was obtained: 2.99 from Goodwill.  Sometimes our Goodwill actually gets in nice looking books.  You have to be there the day they come in though.  Luckily ours is right next door to the video rental place, so I usually drop in to see if any nice looking, net books have come into the store.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:  6 months.

Days spent reading it:  7 days.

Why I read it:  The book looked interesting, I had seen it a few times in the bookstores we frequent, so when I found it for a mere 2.99, I had to have it and read it.

Brief review:
In case you have missed it, I love a unique perspective in a book.  Therefore, when I read the dust-jacket and saw that this book was narrated by Death, I was hooked.
This book starts off a little disjointed, images are flashed quickly, and dropped quickly as Death begins his tale about the Book Thief.  However, as the tale begins to unfold I was sucked in and did not want to let go.

What can I say about this book?  It is a unique telling of Nazi Germany through the eyes of a girl, named Liesel, and her adoptive family who do not buy the Nazi propaganda and help to hide a Jew named Max.  The tale is wonderful, as we see Liesel's life through the eyes of Death.

I must admit, Markus Zusak has entered a very elite group of writers in my life.  I do not cry very often when I read books.  Not even if they are extremely sad.  However a few authors know how to pull my heart strings and make a few tears roll down as I read.  Kate DiCamillo does it to me in all of her books.  And now Markus Zusak.  If you are under the impression that a book narrated by Death about Nazi Germany is going to end with all sunshine and no gloom, look again at the pieces of the puzzle.  

The Book Thief will have you praising the virtues of mankind in the midst of despair, as well as cursing the hatred that mankind also possesses.  I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone.  The Book Thief makes us think about love, war, loss, friendship, and the perseverance of men to bring hope to hopeless situations. And these are good topics to think about and discuss with our families and friends.  This book is marketed to young adults, but once again it definitely transcends that genre and can certainly be enjoyed by adults as well.

One side note--This book truly made me think about the people in Nazi Germany.  I guess in my mind there has always been this monolithic idea that all Germans at that time were compliant and empowered Hitler.  I don't know why I have thought this, but The Book Thief brought a fresh perspective and names to the masses of people who were simply living life in Germany under one of the most evil tyrants in history.  Many were forced into compliance.  Some were killed because they dissented.  I did not cheer when bombs were dropped on Germany in this book, I cried.  And that alone was worth reading this book.  It brought a new perspective of war to me.  The Book Thief reminds me that our enemies are human, just like us.  That lesson is just as pertinent now as it would have been during WWII. 

Favorite quote:  "It kills me sometimes, how people die."  --Spoken by Death.

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

Final Word:  Provocative.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Kingdom Partnership for Synergy in Missions edited by William D. Taylor

A little retro reporting here.  I wanted to share brief reviews of the two books I had to read for my missions course with those who were interested.  Here's the first book.

Title: Kingdom Partnership for Synergy in Missions.  William D Taylor, ed.

Pages: 270.

How it was obtained:  I bought it online for a missions class that I took online.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 0.

Days spent reading it: 2.

Why I read it:  I was offered a free course at Crown College for being a new worker in the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  I decided to take a course called Contemporary Issues in Missions.  I had to read this book for that class.

Brief review:  This book was a series of papers presented at a missions conference in Manila in 1992 that focused on the idea of partnerships.  Essentially it asks the question:  What is partnership in missions?  And then proceeds to answer that question from a number of perspectives.  The best part of this book is its intentional diversity.  Partnerships are discussed from Western and non-Western perspectives.  It talks about the difficulties of forming true partnership and what results can be achieved when two groups work together for the kingdom.

This is not a book for the average reader.  Its not even necessarily for those interested in missions.  It is a technical book about how partnerships work in missions.  Unless that interests you, stay away.  If that does interest you, this book has some great insights about how partnerships can be formed and continued.

Two primary things I learned from this book.  1.  Communication is almost always where partnerships break down, and it is often from misunderstanding the culture of the other party.  2.  An example of that is the word "accountability."  I have always thought of accountability as a good word.  People making sure that other people are following the Lord.  I think of a few guys gathering and praying together, etc.  Accountability in missions is often a code-word for:  "We give the money, and want to make sure you are doing what we want with it."  It has very colonial connotations in its meaning outside of the U.S.  This fascinated me and was a real eye opener for how ideas can express different meanings in different contexts.

Favorite quote:  Do not have one.

Stars: 3 out of 5.

Final Word:  Tedious.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Book 7: The Catcher in the Rye

Title:  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Pages: 214

How it was obtained: I bought it for a dime from our library's used book bin.  It was in good shape.  Not dog-eared or yellowed from age.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 4 or 5 months I think.

Days spent reading it:  4 days.

Why I read it:  The Catcher in the Rye is an American classic and very controversial.  I honestly wanted to see what was so controversial.  Also, it was one of those "classics" that I did not read while in high school.  In researching about it later I read that in 1981 it was the most censored book in US high schools and the second most taught book in high schools.  It was one of the 10 most challenged books in 2005, but it came off the list in 2006. Those are some fun facts for you.

Brief review:  
This book frankly annoyed me.  The writing has very repetitive and had many aggravating sayings in it.  The word "really" is used almost as much as the curse words that are prevalent throughout the book (one reason it is often censored--I would guess that gd appears 2-3 times a page at minimum, sometimes significantly more).  And I assure you, both appear more than they need to, I really mean it.  

Holden Caulfield is the main character.  He is the epitome of teenage angst.  His world is utterly pessimistic.  He sees only the bad in everything except his sister and his deceased younger brother.  He is bright, but is failing out of school.  He is obsessed with sex, but cannot develop a relationship with a girl.  He is active and pursues all the pleasure trappings that a big city have, but has no defining meaning to his life.  

The book covers three days between him being kicked out of school and his untimely return home.  Holden is depressed, hates everyone, exaggerates EVERYTHING (annoyingly so), and seems to have few people skills.  In short, he is the perfect anti-hero and irritating enough that I did not like him one bit while reading this book.

I suppose this book speaks to the hearts of some disaffected youth, but they would have to be interested in drudging through 200 pages of dribble in order to find the voice that Holden ultimately gives them.  

I found little redeeming quality in this book.  I felt like I was being attacked as a reader throughout the book.  The curse words were prevalent.  Holden's judgmental attitude and disquieting assessment that everyone was fake simply unnerved me.  The last 20 pages or so bring a little clarity to the book, but even that is not satisfying.  I read this article in wikipedia and found a little more clarity on the book, but not enough to ever allow me to suggest this to a friend.  I understand why people have tried to censor it (and sympathize with them even if I disagree with them), but honestly if it was not so controversial I think few people would ever pick it up and think "Hey, that's a great book!  Everyone should read this."  

In short, I'm glad I am not Holden Caulfield.  I respect those who relate to him and his story, but his life is from such a different perspective from mine that I never sympathized with the character and ultimately never connect to the book.

Oddly, in reflecting on the book some--the tone, the overall message, the anxiety it produced in me, perhaps I give J.D. Salinger too little credit.  He probably got the exact response that he wanted out of me.  I hate it when that happens.  This is probably one of those books you mull over for a long time and never really like it, because its not fun.  But you can respect it because of the emotions and conflict it produces in the reader.  How interesting--actually reviewing the book in writing has changed my mind regarding my final critique of the book.

Favorite quote: "Girls.  You never know what they are going to think."

Stars: 2 out of 5 (I originally was going to give it 1, but its moving up based on my reflections).

Final Word:  

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book 6: Graceling

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Pages: 472.

How it was obtained: Susan purchased it for herself.

Time spent on "to read" shelf:  A month--I added it as a "to read" when I made this list.

Days spent reading it: 2.

Why I read it: Susan really liked this book, and said I would probably like it too.  Susan has a definite influence on my young teen reader literature.  I read all kinds of things she has liked or suggested, and for the most part also like or appreciate them.  Alas, she rarely reads books that I like.

Brief review:  
This book was freaking amazing!  I read 100 pages one night, and 370 the next time I picked it up.  I read well into the night in order to finish this book.  I just had to know what would happen next.  This book has love, loss, adventure, betrayal, good vs. evil, super powers, fighting, snowy mountain passes, and underwater caves, plot twists and turns, and a gripping climax.  In short, everything that I like in a good fantasy book.

The title "Graceling" comes from a unique element in the book.  Some people in this fantasy world are born with special gifts, "graces", that enhance their abilities in some special way.  Some are graced with fighting, so they fight really well.  Others are graced with some form of mind reading.  Some are born with pragmatically useless (but fun) graces, like tree climbing.  The book centers around Katsa ("Kat" for short).  Kat is graced with killing.  Yeah, killing. And from the first chapter until the last, this author had my complete attention.  

There are great moral questions as Kat begins the book as a thug like character, but who develops a deeper sense of the moral questions before her.  Should she continue to obey her master who demands that she kill or maim people who challenge him?  Does she have a choice in how she lives (and kills)?  Are there ways to combat the evil she is forced to perform?

My only warning for this book is that it would definitely be rated PG-13 for the violence depicted and the cheesy (and thankfully brief) sexual elements in the book.  There is not much described, but it was enough that if it were a movie, I would cover my eyes!

Which brings me to my one concern from this book--marriage and long term commitment are seriously down played in this book.  The main character wants relationship without the commitment.  She sees commitment as being tied down, or stuck in a cage. She wants to roam free, but the conflicting image is that she wants her relationships there when it is convenient for her.   She wants certainty that her love interest is still there when she comes back.  I imagine that the target audience (teenage girls) would hear this message and accept it as a positive way to avoid the commitment of marriage.  If a teenage girl I knew read this book, I would make sure to talk about this particular topic because it is prevalent in the book.

That being said...In conclusion this book was spectacular.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good adventure story.  It is aimed at teenagers but do not let that deter you.  Graceling was a thrill from start to finish.  One of my favorite books of the year.

Favorite Quote:  (Its a little violent, describing the first time Katsa's Grace was revealed--she didn't know what it was, you've been warned) 

"Her hand had flown out and smashed him in the face.  So hard and so fast that she'd pushed the bones of his nose into his brain.  Ladies in the court had screamed; one had fainted.  When they'd lifted him from the pool of blood on the floor and he'd turned out to be dead, the court had grown silent, backed away."

Stars: 5 of 5.

Final Word:  Extraordinary.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book 5: God's Continent

Title:  God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis by Phillip Jenkins

Pages: 340.  (50 being endnotes and an index)

How it was obtained:  Christmas present from my parents in 2008.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:  1 day.

Days spent reading it:  11 months.  I started it right after I received it.  Stopped reading it after I was about half-way in March or so.  I then completed the last half on November 22 in just one day.

Why I read it:  My ordination mentor had me reading a number of books on the recent surge of Islam into western societies, namely Europe.  After reading a number of books on the topic that are all doom and gloom, I heard that Phillip Jenkins was writing a book on the topic.  I also heard it was going to offer a balance to the debate that was not present in other authors.

"Brief" Review:  

Forgive the length of this review, a book like this requires a little background information.

God's Continent is primarily about the integration of Islam into the western world.  A number of books and articles have been written about how Europe is being over-run by Islamic fanatics, and that America needs to be careful or we will be next.  The arguments center around a few points.  My personal favorite on this topic was Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It.  The following is a brief outline of two of the major arguments addressed.

First, Islamic nations are out-breeding Western nations almost 2:1.  Numerically they will overcome their minority status in Western societies in 50-100 years according to the prophets of doom.

Second, Islamic immigrants are not integrating into societies.  There have been enormous obstacles to assimilation.  Islamic followers seem to be creating their own subcultures that are shielded from the values of the nation they are immigrating into.  So most Islamic immigrants see themselves as Muslims first, the country they immigrated from second, and sometimes consider themselves a part of the country they immigrated into.

There are other arguments, but they will take up too much space to recount.

Jenkins book promotes a number of ideas that bring these concepts are not quite accurate.  For example, Jenkins points out that although it is true that Islamic nations have a birth rate almost twice as much as most western cultures, he also notes that African nations that are primarily Christian also have high birth rates, and they too are immigrating into European nations.  He actual contends that birth rates from Christian immigrants might balance out the Islamic population.

Jenkins also makes great points about how laws in European countries that are made to limit the impact of Islam on the secular state can also be aimed at limiting any religion in the country.  Jenkins also contends that this may be the primary goal.  Many European nations pride themselves on their secular governments.  France was his primary example of this kind of secular government.  The question is not just about Islam, then, but about all forms of religion and how they will be incorporated into Western culture.

Jenkins' book does serve as a needed balance to our journalistic guides who think that Europe is a lost cause and that Islam will overtake European nations in a matter of a generation or two.  There are other forces at work, both within Europe and within Islam, that need to be considered before considering Europe an Islamic center.  Sharia is not going to be the dominating law any time soon.  However, there are trends that should alarm us and should awaken the sleeping European nations whose values and beliefs are being challenged by an intimidating foe.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the problems facing Western culture from an increasingly aggressive Islamic culture.  Jenkins presents fair warnings and a detailed analysis of current trends in the current clash of these civilizations.  However, this book is not for the casual reader.  It has a significant amount of research and analysis of current trends.  The first half was particularly difficult to read through.  However, the information that is given makes this book an important contribution to the discussion of the integration of Islam and the West.

Favorite Quote:
Europeans of most political shades would now admit that they face a Muslim Problem, in the sense of deciding how to deal with social, cultural, and political views that seem barely compatible with those of the liberal mainstream.  yet perhaps the issue is not so much a Muslim problem as a religious problem, a systematic failure by European elites to understand religious thought and motivation.  In much of the recent discussion about Islam, commentators are understandably anxious to avert the dangers of extremism and terrorism, to persuade Muslims to absorb virtues of tolerance and pluralism.  Yet often the underlying assumption is that religion itself is a problem, at least in anything like its historic forms.  

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Final Word:  Sobering.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Confessions of a Book Addict

This past week, Susan (my wife) and I went to a conference in Providence, Rhode Island.  The conference was for the Evangelical Theological Society.  Susan and I had a great time.  The idea is that evangelical scholars come together and present papers.  I know, it sounds boring.  Sometimes a presenter is boring.  But for the most part, Susan and I were truly stimulated in our thinking by some of the papers.  We went to sessions about creation, universal ethics, New Testament textual criticism, religious epistemology, and christian involvement in politics--to name a few of the nearly 25 papers we attended.

But here's the confession.  At these conferences, academic booksellers bring their publishing libraries and sell them to conference attendees for 50% off.  The reason--if you can get a professor to read your book, he's likely to get his class to read your book.
Oh the books!!  There were THOUSANDS of them.  And I wanted them all.  Every last one of them.  BUT, I refrained.  Recalling my self-proclaimed fast from book purchasing.

However, I could not hold out completely.  I caved.  I purchased 6 books in total.  5 of which I purchased because they looked like good resources for my youth ministry (which they are).  1 of which I purchased because my District Superintendent suggested that I read it (and is being read by many of the pastors in my district).  I believe it may also give thoughts about the direction for our church.  I think these books are all acceptable according to my own guidelines for why a new book would be purchased or added to my list of books to read.  

So what were these books you ask?  Well, since you asked:

I also told Susan which books Santa might be able to work into my stocking this year =)  I had a nice little list for her to work from too.

Next year (if we get to go again), I'll make sure I'm done with my list so that I can go crazy with the 50% off.  Its the deal that gets me.  50%!! I can get twice as many books for the same price!  Expensive commentaries become affordable.  Think about it, a $50 commentary can become a mere $25 commentary.  That is a HUGE difference.  Actually, commentaries and reference works would be excluded from my self-proclaimed book purchasing ban because of their practical application in my ministry.

Working on my next 2 books already.  Reviews coming within the week I hope. Susan and I also started listening to a book on CD that we have in the house.  We only got through a little of the CD, and I liked the book, so I might add it to the list when I hit 25. 
A non-repentant book addict...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Book 4: Alosha

Title: Alosha by Christopher Pike

Pages: 303

How it was obtained: Christmas present from Susan (at least I think it was, or perhaps a birthday present).

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 3 years.

Days spent reading it: 6

Why I read it: I found it at a Barnes and Noble somehow. It had some decent critical praise, and I decided to check it out. Christopher Pike was well known for his cheesy teenage horror novels (i.e. Chain Letter and Chain Letter 2: Ancient Evil). I owned, but never read, a few of his books (including the aforementioned Chain Letter and Chain Letter 2). My parents either still have these books in the house or wisely tossed them.

Brief Review: Alosha is the kind of book that I read the description of and think to myself, "I would like that book." It has a heroine who needs to uncover her secret identity, trolls, elves, dwarves, dark fairies, and "many plot twists and plenty of excitement." However, Alosha falls flat for me. I actually have attempted to read it 2 other times, and never got beyond the 2nd or 3rd chapter. It just takes too long setting up.

And after reading it through, the pace never really seemed to pick up in my opinion. Sure there are things going on--girl buried alive by avalanche, girl thrown into river about to go over waterfall, world about to be invaded by evil elvish army--but for some reason the pacing and telling of this story never reached its potential for me. Additionally one pet peeve of mine is trying to tell a story with some time-travel elements. Very few storytellers do this well. Pike does it less well than others.

I think there is great potential with this story. It had some good elements. I just did not like how it was told. Alosha was a book I intended to knock off quickly, instead it was a chore for me to get through. Although the climax did pick up the pace; it was too little, too late. I would grant that some readers would enjoy this book, I just wasn't one of them this time around.

Which leaves me with the odd predicament of continuing or not continuing the trilogy. If you notice my original challenge list, there are two other books by Christopher Pike on it. They are a part of this trilogy. Right now, I'm leaning towards not reading them. However, Susan liked them pretty well, and I might be willing to give them one more chance. I'll see how I'm feeling when we hit them on the list.

Stars: 2 out of 5

Final Word: Disappointing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Book 3: Psmith in the City

Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse

Pages: 158

How was it obtained: 50 cents from a book warehouse that appears in our mall every now and then. Usually they just have junk. I picked up this book and God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallis (which I haven't read yet either, it evades this list because its at the office. I don't even want to think of all the books at the office that I need to read! I'm sure it surpasses the 55 of this list.).

Time spent on the "To Read" shelf: Under a year.

Days spent reading it: 4.

Why I read it: P.G. Wodehouse makes me chuckle quietly to myself a lot. I enjoy his wit and humor, even if I have to concentrate to be entertained. I have read a few of his Blandings adventures, and enjoy the TV versions of Jeeves and Wooster.

Brief Review:
Right ho! This was a jolly good tale of Psmith and his friend Mike as they have to briefly leave their lives of idyllic freedom and enter the workforce in order to relieve financial hardship on Mike's family. Wodehouse is the master of making a dull situation hillarious. His characters (Psmith in particular) are able to create elaborate plans about their futures and pull them off with humorous results. Psmith is a little more mean than say Jeeves and Wooster (in this short novel he blackmails, stalks, and harasses a manager), but he pulls it off with an attitude of complete civility, in a classic Wodehouse manner. He even explains how his mean actions are simply misunderstood (although clearly they are not, he is offering a humorous counter interpretation to his actions to get off the hook). It amazes me how Wodehouse has these crazy characters doing insane things, and it still comes off as light, good spirited fun. We need a little more Wodehouse in today's society.

Back to the story--Psmith is a smooth talker. He could, as the saying goes, sell ice to an Eskimo. For the most part, Psmith simply uses his powers of persuasion to slack at his job in the bank. Classic. I highly recommend Wodehouse. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this particular book, although there were plenty of chuckles along the way. Definitely check out Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie (of House fame) as Bertie Wooster in the BBC's 4 seasons of Jeeves and Wooster. One word for them: genius.

Favorite quote from the book: "I shall toil with all the accumulated energy of one who, up till now, has only known what work is like from hearsay."

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

The Final Word: Psmart.

Book 2: The Chosen

Title: The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Pages: 271

How was it obtained: I actually don't remember. I either "borrowed" it from my parents' collection, or purchased it cheap at a used bookstore. Something like that. However, the version I actually completed was a book on CD I checked out from the library!

Time spent on the "To Read" shelf: 2-3 years I think.

Days spent "reading" it: 10.75 hours in a car (more like "listening" to it).

Why I read it: One friend of mine recommended Chaim Potok to me a long time ago. He actually read My Name is Asher Lev. I thought the premise for The Chosen sounded interesting enough, so I picked it up somewhere.
For those of you paying attention, you'll notice on my book list that The Chosen was book 51! So why the heck has it been read already? Well, the same attentive reader will notice I listened to this one on CD. I started it during a 5 hour trip to Willard, OH for a Bible Quizzing trip. I made the kids listen to it. They hated it. Except one of them, and he only tolerated it. I finished it up this week as I traveled back to Willard for a youth pastor fellowship.

I count listening on CD as qualifying for completion of the book, although I will note that it was not read by me, rather it was read to me. I know, I know--Patrick you have the stinking physical copies of the books, you need to read them yourself. Well, I bought most of the books because they looked interesting. I want the content of the books, how I get that content is of little importance. Fortunately it will not be an issue for most of the books on this list. I'd typically rather read them myself anyway. But if a good audio book is an option, I'll take it on occasion.

Brief Review: OY VEY! During the first 3/4 of this book I was not sure if I liked it or not. The first chapter was a never ending baseball game described in too much detail. That same sort of problem occurs occasionally through the book. However, there are many great elements in The Chosen as well.

The Chosen revolves around the friendship of two boys--Danny and Reuven--who meet because Danny drills a baseball into Reuven's eye during this epic baseball game. There are wonderful themes of friendship, father-son relationships, struggles with growing up, struggles with tradition, struggles with God. The time backdrop for the book is from World War II to the creation of the physical nation of Israel (another interest of mine).

The cons: extensive discussions on Freud (Danny is interested in psychoanaylsis) and that interminable baseball game.

The pros: Danny and Reuven's relationship, Reuven's relationship with both his own father and Danny's father. I personally enjoyed the multiple discussions about how the Talmud is analyzed and argued by the students. I also love stories about prodigies, Danny happens to have a photographic memory, this fascinates me to no end. I think I wish I was a prodigy (sometimes I imagine I am!).

One thing about listening to this book (instead of reading it), was that during the climatic scene between Reuven, Danny, and Danny's father, I felt like I was actually listening to the conversation. I felt like Danny's father was talking to me. That was very powerful moment (and worth wading through some of the book to reach).

I ended up really enjoying this book. The characters are lovingly portrayed. There are complicated characters (like Reb Saunders, Danny's father, who is an Hasidic Rabbi and can be overly criticial), there are compassionate characters, like Reuven's father who helps Reuven and Danny through their difficult friendship. I loved the themes in this book. I loved the way I was drawn into this jewish community and all of its idiosyncracies. There were moments that were boring or drawn out, but in the end I think this book delivers, and would recommend to many readers with the caveat that it can drag and may not be for everyone.

Favorite quote from the book:
'Reuven, do you know what the rabbis tell us God said to Moses when he was about to die?'
I stared at him. 'No,' I heard myself say.
'He said to Moses, 'You have toiled and labored, now you are worthy of rest.' . . .
'A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.'

3.5 0ut of 5.

The Final Word: Kosher.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book 1: Cold Sassy Tree

Title: Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

Pages: 391

How was it obtained: Over the summer my family had a great vacation.  A book exchange was proposed as a part of the week.  I walked away with Cold Sassy Tree.  I think the book is from Liz's library.

Time spent on the "To Read" shelf:  5 months.  Not too bad.

Days spent reading it: 15 days.

Why I read it:  This book was the catalyst for the Patrick Challenge.  I was wondering to myself if Ben had read the book he took from me at the exchange.  Naturally I thought it was so cool, he should have read it by now.  (Better get on it Ben, I expect a full report after Christmas)  Then I thought, well heck, I haven't read my book exchange book yet.  Maybe I had better get on that.  And maybe I had better start reading all the other books I should have read by now.  So I started with Cold Sassy Tree.

Brief Review:  Boy Howdy!  'Hit sure were somet'in to read 'dis here book!  Haw!
Set in Northeast Georgia around the turn of the 19th century, Cold Sassy Tree follows the exploits of Will Tweedy during a unique year of his life.  The book starts with his grandma dying, and his grandpa marrying 3 weeks after the funeral--to the great scandal of the family and town.  Will is a detailed observer of this quirky town.  He reflects the thoughts of a souther town where everyone knows everyone else's business.  

I am conflicted in my appreciation of this book.  One the one hand it was difficult to read the dialect, and the truth is a small town is sometimes boring.   On the other hand, the character of Will Tweedy makes this tedious lifestyle exciting.  Olivia Ann Burns created a great character in Will, who is able to make trouble and to explain the scandals of the town. He lets loose rats at a Christmas play, he spies on his family, he nearly gets killed by a train while walking across train trestles.  I enjoyed this book, but also found it laborious at times.  

What kept me going was my connection to the geographic location--the town of Cold Sassy is modeled after Commerce, Georgia--which was about 30 minutes from where I went to college for four years.  I knew all the sights and towns mentioned in the book.  I think readers who enjoy southern small-town life would enjoy this book.  It is full of quirky characters, gossip centered events, and a lot of soul.

Favorite quote from the book:  The fights were embarrassing to the family but real entertaining to the Baptists, for he would stand up at the next Wednesday night prayer meeting, in the testimonial and confessing part, and tell the Lord all about it.  One Wednesday night he ended a long prayer with "Lord, forgive me for fittin' thet man yesterd'y--though Thou knowest if i had it to do over agin I'd hit him harder."

Stars: 3 0ut of 5.

The Final Word: Soulfully-southern.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Still Working on Book 1

Its been a few weeks since I unveiled my plan.  The truth is, I wanted to be done with a number of books by now.  Well, that hasn't quite happened.  The reason--I've been reading books not on the list!  I had to read two books for a class I'm taking online.  

Book 00

Book 000

These books total for a little over 500 total pages of reading.  What a bummer.  But the majority of reading for that class is over, and perhaps now I can cruise to an easy victory over my first few books.

In related news, I have been to two bookstores and have yet to purchase a book for myself!  Good job Patrick.  Stick to your goals.  It can be done. (That's what I have to say to myself as I walk away from all the books I want to buy.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Book 0: Anathem

Title:  Anathem by Neal Stephenson.

Pages: 937

How was it obtained:  Online from Barnes and Noble.

Time spent on the "To Read" shelf:  About 2-3 days.  That's why it is Book 0--I owned it and started to read it before my challenge came to mind.

Days spent reading it:  Around 3 weeks.

Why I read it:  Honestly--The cover looked really, really awesome.  So I read the inside flap and thought it sounded interesting.  I have read Neal Stephenson before (Snow Crash, The Diamond Age) so I thought I'd enjoy reading another.

Brief Review:  Ok, this book was huge.  My first comments would have to be, Neal Stephenson needs a real editor.  This book needed to be about 300 pages shorter, maybe even more.
Stephenson drops you into a world called Arbre.  It is similar, but disimilar to our own.  The first 175 pages are spent dropping new words and vocabulary as if Stephenson was speaking a foreign language I was supposed to understand.  Once I got acclimated to his language, the book became a fairly good read.  Stephenson is prone to talk about esoteric ideas, and integrate them into his plot as if they make sense.  Maybe Stephenson is smarter than I am, but I spent a good part of the book saying, "That's sounds interesting, but I don't understand the point."
When Stephenson was actually moving the plot along, instead of having two or three of his characters in a strange Dialog about these bizarre ideas, the book was really cool.  It would be difficult to give a synopsis of the plot without having to explain a billion terms, but the general idea was cosmological theoreticians are assembled to figure out how aliens have arrived at the planet Arbre.  Great and strange events follow.  A good overview is given here on the wikipedia page made for Anathem.  
Not for the faint of heart at 937 total pages (45 being appendices), but not a waste of time for the dedicated.  One of the things I love about sci-fi is an author's freedom to explore interesting ideas about religion, politics, science, etc. without having to fit into a set of rules.  Stephenson definitely exploits these freedoms to their max.  I don't regret reading it, but if I had known how difficult it was going to be, I might not have started it.

Favorite quote from the book:  "Do you need transportation?  Tools?  Stuff?"
"Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs," I said.  "We have a protractor."

Stars:  3.5 out of 5.

The Final Word:  Extensive.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The List

Here is my list.  This is also the order I plan on reading the books in as well.  I'm almost done with Book 0 by the way.  What's your list?  Are you joining The Patrick Challenge (but with your own books)?
  1. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
  2. Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse
  3. Alosha by Christopher Pike
  4. God's Continent:Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis by Philip Jenkins
  5. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  8. Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov
  9. Oedipus the King by Sophocles
  10. The Jesus Creed:Loving God, Loving Others by Scott McKnight
  11. Ruler of the Realm by Herbie Brennan
  12. Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus
  13. Wyrms by Orson Scott Card
  14. Faerie Lord by Herbie Brennan
  15. Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends ed. by Kevin VanHoozer
  16. The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve
  17. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
  18. Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
  19. Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson
  20. Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers by Alan Storkey
  21. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
  22. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
  23. The Shaktra by Christopher Pike
  24. Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  25. Gracias!  A Latin American Journal by Henri J. M. Nouwen
  26. The Yanti by Christopher Pike
  27. The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake
  28. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  29. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  30. Creating Community: Five Keys to Creating a Small Group Culture by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits
  31. The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum
  32. The Fourth Hand by John Irving
  33. Metamorphoses by Ovid
  34. Maximum Ride: School's Out-Forever by James Patterson
  35. Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy by Shlomo Ben Ami
  36. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
  37. Peter and the Secret of Rundoon by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson
  38. Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  39. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  40. Youth Culture 101 by Walt Mueller
  41. Life at Blandings Omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse
  42. The Dark River by John Hawkes Twelve
  43. The Simarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
  44. Hunters of Dune by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert
  45. The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldridge
  46. Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Paterson
  47. The Sandworms of Dune by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert 
  48. The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum
  49. Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap into Vision by Donald Stephenson
  50. Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership by Don Howell
  51. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  52. Maximum Ride: The Final Warning by James Patterson
  53. August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  54. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins
  55. John Adams by David McCullough

Friday, October 24, 2008

Day 1--Get all my books in order

Welcome to The Patrick Challenge.
The problem:  55 books that I have "been meaning to read" sitting around my house.  I keep moving on to new and different books.
The solution:  Create a list of all the books I want to read.  Do not buy any more books until they are finished
The Rules:
  1. I am allowed to skim books if I desire (I have difficulty skimming though, I usually get drawn into the text and forget to skim).
  2. If I do not like a book, I am allowed to move it to a later position or remove it entirely. There is freedom in this list to scrap junk books.
  3. I am a fiction junkie. So to keep myself straight, I have 1 non-fiction book for every 4 fiction. That still may seem like not enough non-fiction for some of you, but that's how I roll.
  4. I am allowed to introduce a new book if it pertains directly to youth ministry or performing my job better. I tend to read these at the office, but have been making them home reading as of late (I'm just so dang interested in modern movements and youth movements)
  5. 25 is the initial goal. After 25 I can revise my list to introduce a (small) handful of new books.
  6. My own initiative to not purchase books does not apply to my loving family who likes to feed my book addiction, I'll just add the books to the end of my list...
The Books: (Don't be offended if I have not gotten around to that book you gave me two years ago.  I really DO want to read it, that's why I made this challenge!)
I'll post the list soon.  I have to finish my "Book 0" first.
Book 0:  Anathem by Neil Stephenson.  (937 pgs).  I have 250 to go!  Wish me luck!