Monday, October 26, 2009

Book 45: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Title: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Pages: 365

How it was obtained: I borrowed it from my parents. The cool part is that I found the original receipt in the back of the book. One of my parents (dad?) paid $11.39 at Walden Book on September 17, 1977 (the year it was released). This is a first edition hard back I have in my hands.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: A few years. I think I bummed it from my parents when I got married, 5 years ago.

Days spent reading it: 5 days.

Why I read it: I liked The Lord of the Rings (who doesn't?), and my parents had this lying around the house. So I snagged it and figured I would read it one day.

Brief review: This is a difficult book to review. For starters, it is not a novel. It is more in line with ancient epic mythologies. Think Homer or Ovid. So reading it was a beast. Not that exciting. But it is a comprehensive overview of the complex world that Tolkien created. This book tells the tale of the world from its creation up through the events recorded in the LOTR.

The problem is that each tale is told in a very archaic language (thee, thou, etc.). I mean it really feels like you've broken open the 1611 King James Bible, only it is about elves and dwarves. It is hard to explain, but Tolkien makes you think you have picked up a classical tale of the olden days. Too bad it is told as dry as toast.

Plenty is written through the internet about The Silmarillion. It was published by Tolkien's death by his son Christopher. It is probably very different than Tolkien intended, because he died before he completed it. It has received shaky reviews ever since. People cannot seem to agree—is it a work of genius or is it a bloated mess? I would say somewhere in between.

There are glimpses of wonder in this compilation of stories. I loved some of the last tales in the book. The tale of Beren and Luthien was one of my favorites. But other chapters are just plain dull. The problems are numerous. In a work this ambitious, you never really get to know some of the key players in a satisfactory way. Also, for whatever reason, Tolkien gave many of the important (and related) characters similar names. For example, in one of the major families that is used, we have Fingolfin, Finarfin, Finrod, and Feanor. That gets very confusing when you are introduced to all of them in about 10 pages. I never kept them straight in my head and had to constantly refer to the family chart in the back of the book. Thankfully there is a comprehensive index of names and places that gives a brief synopsis of who or what they are.  Ye olde englishe doth not helpeth the causeth either.

I would not recommend this book to just anyone. And even of Tolkien fans, I would only submit this book to the die-hard fans. There were some good pieces in it, but you had to dig through a whole lot. Not for the faint of heart.

Favorite quote: Long was he at work, and slow at first and barren was his labour. But he that sows lies in the end shall not lack of a harvest, and soon he may rest from toil indeed while others reap and sow in his stead.

Stars: 3 out of 5.

Final Word: Dry.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Year in Review

I can barely believe that a year ago I began The Patrick Challenge. It started as a plan to work through all those books that have been piling up in my house for years. And now, I only have a handful left. Optimistically, I hope to be done by New Year's. Realistically, maybe February or March. I have 10 books left to go! I just finished the Silmarillion and will post a review of it soon.

Just for fun, I've been compiling statistics of my reading habits. These statistics are for all the books I read this year (which have all been reviewed on this blog), not just the original Patrick Challenge books. Enjoy!

Total Books Read: 66

Books Read Daily (Average): 0.18

Books Read Monthly (Average): 5.5

Total Pages Read: 21,983

Pages Read Daily (Average): 60

Pages Read Monthly (Average): 1,832

Average Stars: 3.9

Average Book Length: 333 pages

Longest Book: A Game of Thrones at 837 pages.

Shortest Book: Knuffle Bunny at 40 pages.

Least Favorite Book Read: The Fourth Hand by John Irving

Favorite Book Read: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Fun Facts according to Cha-Cha:  

Americans read an average of 11 books a year, while the average Briton gets through eight books. (Crushed those averages this year!)

It takes the average person 7 days to read a 500 page book, but some can do it in 3 days! (Susan can do it in one day, if you leave her alone. Actually Susan tends to only read books in one sitting. I keep telling her she's going to have to change that habit. She doesn't listen.)

Thanks for reading and for celebrating one year of the Patrick Challenge with me! How are your reading lists doing?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book 44: Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Title: Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov 

Pages: 480

How it was obtained: I bought it on

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

Days spent reading it: 2 days.

Why I read it: I wanted to finish the last of the Foundation series that Isaac Asimov wrote.

Brief review: This is the seventh and final book in the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. It was finished just before Asimov died in 1992. In the Foundation chronology it comes just after Prelude to Foundation and just before Foundation. It is really a direct sequel to Prelude to Foundation, but more importantly it is a very gratifying conclusion to the series.

Forward the Foundation chronicles the life of Hari Seldon in 10 year increments. At each decade mark something significant has happened to Hari or his plans for psychohistory. I think this book shines because it reads more like four short novels rather than one long novel (which I've commented on about Asimov's writings before). The character of Hari Seldon is fleshed out a little more, as are many of his associates and family members.

Forward the Foundation is a much better conclusion to the series than Foundation and Earth (the last book in the Foundation timeline). It struck me as almost nostalgic. This is good, because I think that the series really struggled during Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth. I think Asimov really liked the character of Hari Seldon, and so in Prelude to Foundation and this book, we catch a glimpse of a great character during some crisis moments. These crisis moments are my favorite part about the Foundation series.

This was a fitting ending to a fairly solid series. I think it fleshed out Asimov's vision of Hari Seldon who is sure to be a titan among Science Fiction fans for decades to come. Thanks Isaac, job well done. I would definitely recommend this book to Foundation fans, it was worth it.

Favorite quote: "But together…our power is awesome!" (I know, it makes no sense without context, sorry!)

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Final Word: Gratifying.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book 43: The Fourth Hand by John Irving


Title: The Fourth Hand by John Irving

Pages: 352

How it was obtained: I bought it for a dime at the library.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 2 years.

Days spent reading it: 2 days.

Why I read it: I liked other John Irving novels (A Prayer for Owen Meany is incredible). This book was in good shape, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Brief review: Ok, I feel like I need to review this book by saying two things. First, John Irving is an incredible story teller. He draws you right into his world. The narrative is smooth. He is a natural story teller. No doubt about it.

Having said that, the second piece of information about this book is: The Fourth Hand could have been a Harlequin Romance novel. There were more adult situations in this book than I am comfortable admitting I read. I cannot ever recommend this book to anyone based on the content alone.

The main character (his name is Patrick), loses his hand to a lion at the beginning of the novel. He becomes the recipient of a hand transplant, but the oddities increase when the wife of the (deceased) hand donor wants to visit the hand. It could have been interesting. Instead it was trash. Patrick is a jerk that has a ridiculous power over women. They all want to sleep with him, and he lets them. He has no real morals. I'd call him reprehensible. And he does not seem to change very much through the book. Alright, so he does a little by the end, but I don't buy the change. It is forced and not very consistent with the character.

So, what I am basically telling you is avoid this book. Sure, it's well written, but the content is trash. John Irving should know better.

Favorite quote: You can never exactly imitate someone else's love of a movie or a book, Patrick now believed.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

Final Word: TMI.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries

Title: Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries.

Pages: 224.

How it was obtained: I bought it from Amazon.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 2 months.

Days spent reading it: 4 days.

Why I read it: Susan and I saw Mark DeVries at a youth ministry conference. We were really impressed with his presentation (we only had the abbreviated version of it too!). We looked at each other and decided right away that we would be picking up his book. Definitely worth it.

Brief review: Sustainable Youth Ministry is a general guide to the confusing world of youth ministry. Mark DeVries walks his readers through both the abstract and the practical.

DeVries has great organization for this book. He opens a topic and then explores 4 or 5 subpoints for the topic. He covers everything from ministries that are stuck to church politics. I actually finished this book a few months ago. I underlined a lot. As I was flipping through it again tonight, I thought to myself, "it would be good if I read through this book again, at least the underlined points." Why? DeVries covers so much information, it is impossible to absorb it all in one reading. The best part is that so much of this book is practical. It is easy to immediately implement many of his suggestions.

This is definitely a niche book. It's only going to be helpful to people concerned with youth ministry. But for those in youth ministry, I can give no higher recommendation for a book. This is a treasure trove of guidance from a youth ministry veteran. You must read it. Not much else to say.

Favorite quote: Youth workers who don't feel over their heads, who don't feel they're overwhelmed and failing at times, may simply not understand their jobs.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Final Word: Practical.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Book 42: The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum

Title: The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum  

Pages: 646

How it was obtained: Susan and I bought it after we read the Bourne Identity.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 4-5 years.

Days spent reading it: Umm, I first started reading this book 4-5 years ago (was it really that long ago?!?). Then a combination of boredom and school work kicked in, and I put it down. I later picked it up again and read to about the 200 page mark. Was mildly interested, but ended up quitting again. This time I picked it up and skimmed the first 200 pages (that I had already read, twice) and knew I had to power through this time or I would never be able to read it again—I was tired of the opening scene. 3 days was all it took me to finish it this time through.

Why I read it: I read this book to get through the Bourne trilogy. I really liked the Bourne Identity. A few others tell me the third book in the trilogy (The Bourne Ultimatum) is well worth it. So that's the goal.

Brief review: To start with, this book is absolutely nothing like the movie. Where the differences in the Bourne Identity were huge, at least the basic plot and characters were the same. That is not the case with the Bourne Supremacy. So if you liked the movie, I'm glad to hear it. The book is an entirely different experience.

I enjoy an intrigue novel occasionally. This book just bothered me. For starters, it is freaking slow. The reason I had to read the first few hundred pages multiple times is because I got bored over and over again. It does get better in the last 200 pages, but so much of this book was unnecessarily complicated (in my opinion). The reader never has a clear picture of what the heck is happening. I had no idea what was going on during most of the book. There are all of these subtle conversations, and I'm not that subtle. Just tell me what's going on, and get on with the story. The truth is, I cannot even give you a brief synopsis of the plot because it is so convoluted. So some key words that you can put all together and make your own book with: assassins, black ops, China, economics, identity theft, the Canadian Embassy, Charlie-Delta-Cain-Carlos-Jason Bourne. There you go, clear as if you had read it yourself.

Other elements annoyed me about this book as well. The pacing, the confusing as heck plot, the random government officials (their conversations are the worst!), the schizophrenic main character, it all contributed to a book that I would not slug through again. I would definitely skip this experience if I could. But since I'm such a stubborn person, I knew that if I did not finish the book this time through, I would never pick it up again. And I don't like to quit much. So I finished it. It wasn't pretty, but it got done.

So my recommendation, if you are looking for a good spy novel, skip this one. Some enthusiasts will of course read this book no matter what. Heck, I did. But really, it was not worth the trouble. But I do feel great having actually completed it! That was probably the best part of the day. I am hoping the Bourne Ultimatum was worth slugging through this book first.

Favorite quote: "This thing is filled with lousy ducks!" screamed the commando, staring around at the banks of wooden cages on all sides, the odor overpowering, sickening. A particular fowl, in its infinite wisdom, chose the moment to squirt a stream of excrement into the assassin's face.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

Final Word: Slooooooooooooooooooow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book 41: The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins

Title: The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins

Pages: 316

How it was obtained: Christmas present from Rob and Kathy, my in-laws.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 20 months.

Days spent reading it: 5 days.

Why I read it: I read the first chapter while I was in seminary for a class. This book had a lot of "chatter" around it, so I decided I had better pick it up and read it.

Brief review: In The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins gives us a ground-breaking book that will be talked about for years to come. His basic premise is simply this: The heart of Christendom has shifted from the "Northern" hemisphere (think North America and Europe) to the "Southern" hemisphere (think, Africa, Asia, and South America). What is so shocking about this premise is that the Northern hemisphere not only did not see the shift, but we are still in basic denial of the shift. I mean think about it. Picture in your mind, right now, the typical Christian. You're answer is probably something like this: a white middle class male American (or maybe a European male). That answer is wrong, wrong, wrong. Demographically the typical Christian is a lower class, African (or Asian or Latin American) woman living in a village. She is might be from Nigeria (or Korea, etc. etc.). The numbers are there: Christendom in the Global South has re-emerged and is ascending once again as the heart of Christendom. The power shift and especially economic shift have not followed suit yet, but rest assured, they will.

What I loved about this book was Jenkins process. He's a historian and a scholar, so the first few chapters have a ton of statistics. As soon as I'm thinking, "Hey, I wonder who he is including in this 'Christian' number," he has a chapter dedicated to who is included (almost anyone who self-proclaims to be a Christian). Even if I disagree with what numbers he chooses, I recognize the position he is put in as a historian and respect his decisions and thank him for explaining his method.

There are some fantastic issues raised in this book. Jenkins talks about the differences that are expressed in the Global South (by which he means mainly Africa, Asia, and Latin America). As soon as one begins to think, "gee that sounds strange and perhaps syncretistic," Jenkins has a chapter on the idea of cultural adaptation and syncretism. One area that I think Jenkins considered cultural adaptation that I would consider syncretism is in the area of ancestor worship. He never outright said it was good, but he certainly talked about the advantages that were lost to Christianity when the Church ruthlessly refused to accept these practices. But, in general, Jenkins made me think and probe and re-evaluate what I should consider an acceptable cultural adaptation. It is SO difficult to think about Christianity being expressed in a different way from current Western practices. But I accept that it can and should be expressed differently in different cultures. I just fear (like many) the end result down the road. I think all Westerners do. But we have to admit, how we express ourselves today is not how the 1st century church expressed itself. Christianity can change its forms without changing the message.

In addition to these issues, Jenkins also compiles a short history of Christianity in modern Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These chapters give hope to those who are afraid to let go of the controlling grip of Western dominance. Jenkins shows that the views of the Global South will be more traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural than the North. As a case study he simply uses homosexual ordination. While American and European thinkers are crying out for sexual freedom, our Southern counterparts are staunchly opposed. And they are beginning to work together to block homosexual ordination. Interestingly, in some denominations (like the Episcopalians in the USA), individual conservative churches are fleeing their "liberal" overseers and seeking to be led by Archbishops from Africa and Asia. It seems the guardians of the faith are in the South.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the changing face of Global Christianity. It is clear that a watershed event has occurred, and we are just now becoming aware of this change. Also, this is a great resource for missionaries working in these areas. Jenkins has numerous and insightful discussions about what the demographic shift means for Christians who live in or near Muslim nations (which is especially pertinent to Africa and Asia). Jenkins' observations are a welcome check to those who think that Islam is the only global religion that is growing. (See his other work, God's Continent, for more information about Christianity and Islam in Europe and America. I reviewed it here, it was Book #5 on my Challenge List). I would also recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a history of Christianity, outside of the West, over the last hundred years or so.

I thought this book might be difficult to read, but it was not too bad. The first few chapters are statistically heavy, but that dwindles as the book continues from statistics to analysis, narrative, and application of the information. I am sure this book will be used in colleges and seminaries for the next decade. It actually surprises me that it was not immediately made required reading when I was in Seminary—the observations Jenkins makes are that important. Definitely worth reading.

Favorite quote: "If the church had to choose whether to appeal to the Catholics of Brazil or Belgium, of the Congo or France, then on every occasion, simple self-interest would persuade them to favor the burgeoning Southern community. Of course the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are so conservative: they can count.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Final Word: Global.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The PAPA Prayer by Larry Crabb

Title: The PAPA Prayer by Larry Crabb  

Pages: 201.

How it was obtained: It was in my office when I arrived in Thailand.

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

Days spent reading it: 1 week.

Why I read it: My Church is having a Church retreat in November. We are using this book as our theme for the weekend, so I figured I'd brush up on what we will be teaching on during that weekend.

Brief review: In this book, Larry Crabb talks about how we pray. His main premise is that we often approach God only if we want something. We only use prayer to force God's hand in our lives. Crabb thinks this is not only wrong, but a reversal of how we should approach God. Instead Crabb proposes prayer should first be relational. This book does have a "formula," but Crabb is clearly against us using this prayer as a formulaic way of relating to God. I think he understands this model is only one way we should relate to God. It has its shortcomings, but I think it is pretty solid.

Crabb's proposal is to pray using this acronym: P-A-P-A. Present yourself to God (talk to God openly about where you are at in your life). Attend to how you are thinking of God (is He to provide for me like Santa Claus, or like a loving parent who knows what's best for me?). Purge yourself of anything that blocks your relationship with God (basically confession). Approach God as the "first thing" in your life (remove all other idols, and actually take time to relate with God).

The principles are pretty sound. I like Crabb's plea for us to be honest in our prayer walk. I also like the appeal for us to be relational with God, stop viewing Him as a "Cosmic Santa" (as I read somewhere else) who gives me everything I ask for and think I need. There should be more to our prayer lives than just asking God for stuff (even good stuff).

I do not have anything negative to say about the book. I think it was a helpful way to think about prayer. But I just was not drawn into this book completely. I think I simply might not like the way Crabb writes. He's not terrible, I just am not captivated by his writing. Oh well. My only other beef was with the tag lines on the book cover. They are terrible. "You think you know, but you have no idea. The PAPA Prayer. The prayer you've never prayed." It's a little cheesy, and probably not Crabb's doing, so I won't hold it against him—just his publisher.

I would recommend for anyone who needs to break out of their prayer rut of asking from a list, or someone thinking about how prayer can be more about my relationship with God. Definitely worth a quick read.

Favorite quote: Efforts to worship God without first getting to know Him tend to reduce worship to mere appreciation when God cooperates with our agendas.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

Final Word: Amen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don Golden

Pages: 218.

How it was obtained: Susan gave it to me as a Christmas present.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 10 months.

Days spent reading it: 1 day.

Why I read it: Rob Bell fascinates me. He often challenges my view of Christianity. He makes me think about the how and why of Christianity today. And I like his odd writing style.

Brief review: Rob Bell and Don Golden walk through the story of the Bible with a particular eye towards how God frees the oppressed and is opposed to oppressive empires. According to the introduction they take their cue from what is being called the "New Exodus" perspective. Basically, I think they see the Exodus as the primary imagery for salvation in the Bible (almost more so than the Cross, which is slightly disturbing).

There are some creative and good ideas in this book. Bell and Golden made me think deeply about what it means to have power and wealth. Some questions I tried to think through while reading this book included: How have we (Americans) obtained power and wealth? What are we doing with this power and wealth? What can we be doing differently? Is the way that we have obtained power and wealth by oppressing others? And if so, what should we do about that? Is America really an empire? Is it comparable to Rome during Jesus' time? What would Jesus think about America? How would he correct us? How would he commend us?

I appreciate the creativity of Rob Bell. I think this book is an interesting look at the overall story of the Bible. My only problem is that in a book like this, Bell is forced to downplay important elements of the Bible in order to make his point. For instance the title of the book is "Jesus wants to save Christians." But a much better (though less provocative title) would be "Jesus wants to liberate Christians." Salvation in this book is much less about a relationship with Jesus (however you phrase it), and instead liberation from oppression is the driving metaphor. I do not disagree with the metaphor Bell uses, but it leaves the title a little misleading. Of course, Rob Bell would not be Rob Bell if he was not probing and provoking and making the modern Christian rethink how we relate to the post-modern culture. So he has to have a provocative title about Christians being saved.

This is one of those books I would like to read with a group of people. Some who really like the ideas in the book, some who really hate the ideas in the book, and some who fall between these extremes. I think this book would be fascinating to discuss with others who were interested in it. As a theology student, I also think it would be interesting to do a research paper in an advanced theology class comparing and contrasting Bell's views with Liberation theology, or looking at his view of the atonement. There is plenty of material to read through and think about for a paper like that (and countless other papers if one was interested). Bell is not the originator of many of these ideas, but he is a popularizer of ideas. He is a master at presenting ideas. He is very creative, keeps your attention, and he knows his audience.

I would recommend this book to most people, but not everyone. I think it was interesting to read and think through. Not everyone is going to like Bell's take on things (I know I often do not), but at least he makes us think about what we believe. And that is always good in my book.

Favorite quote: At the height of their power, Israel misconstrued God's blessings as favoritism and entitlement. They became indifferent to God and to their priestly calling to bring liberation to others.

There's a word for this. A word for what happens when you still have the power and the wealth and the influence and yet in some profound way you've blown it because you've forgotten why you were given it in the first place.

The word is exile.

Exile is when you forget your story.

Exile isn't just about location; exile is about the state of your soul.

Exile is when you fail to convert your blessings into blessing for other people.

Exile is when you find yourself a stranger to the purposes of God.

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Final Word: Challenging.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Book 40: Life at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse

Life at Blandings (Omnibus) by P.G. Wodehouse. This omnibus contains the books Something Fresh, Summer Lightning, and Heavy Weather.


How it was obtained:
Susan and I bought this at a Borders a few years ago.

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

Days spent reading it:
1 month.

Why I read it:
I enjoy P.G. Wodehouse, I think he's a comic genius. So we bought this book thinking, "Hey, three-in-one, that's got to be good."

Brief review:
Wodehouse is a fantastic comic writer.  His characters are fun and light-hearted, and even his characters are out shined by the incredible comic plots that Wodehouse creates.  The craziest things happen at Blandings Castle.  I've noticed that Wodehouse likes to write about two things:  stolen goods and engagements.  Random objects, like pigs and scarab beetles, are stolen.  Then returned. Then stolen again.  And Wodehouse makes the romantic plots of Shakespeare seem simple and straightforward by comparison.  Wodehouse must think people in love are literally crazy.  And maybe it's true.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a good solid chuckle.  Wodehouse is a master wordsmith.  But you have to get used to the pace and tempo of the writing.  It's quick and witty.

I would say this volume is a great place to be introduced to the Blandings characters, but the size would probably put most people off.  Instead, pick up the single volume copies of Something Fresh or Summer Lightning which are both contained in this edition.  If you enjoy British humor, you won't be disappointed.

Favorite quote:

"When one considers how keenly London, like all large cities, resents physical exercise...if you run because you wish to develop your lungs or jump because jumping is good for the liver, London punishes you with its mockery. It rallies round and points the finger of scorn." -from Something Fresh

"A certain critic--for such men, I regret to say, do exist--made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained 'all the old Wodehouse characters under different names.' He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy." -from intro to Summer Lightning

"This," said the Hon. Galahad, "is the hour of the day that searches a man out.  It makes him examine his soul.  And I don't want to examine my soul.  I expect the thing looks like an old boot.  So, as I say, amuse me, child.  Sing to me.  Dance before me.  Ask me riddles."-from Heavy Weather

4 out of 5.

Final Word: