It’s been way too long since we’ve talked about books! Here are some thoughts on what I’ve been reading lately…
The Rosary: Keeping Company with Jesus and Mary by Karen Edmisten
When a former atheist writes a book about the rosary, you know it’s going to have some fresh perspectives. I’ve been following Karen Edmisten’s blog for a long time, so I was excited to read this book. I nodded and laughed at this tale she tells of her early efforts at praying the rosary:
In his explanation of the rosary, a friend had casually said, “Announce the first mystery.” I nodded to mask my confusion, but later dug up some instructions on the rosary to clarify. They said the same thing. So now I had to know what it meant to “announce” a mystery. Did I have to say something out loud? Was I announcing something to God? Was I supposed to pray the rosary only with other people, when things could be announced?
Boy, could I relate to that! From there Edmisten goes on to tell how she got past her fixations on doing it “right” to appreciating the beauty of this form of prayer. She also clears up common misconceptions (praying “to” Mary, vain repetition, etc.) and offers some beautiful reflections and Bible verses for each mystery. I think my favorite part, however, was how upfront she is about the difficulties that many of us face making any kind of prayer — the rosary in particular — part of our daily lives. I perked up at the first paragraph of Chapter 9 when she writes:
Now that we’ve explored every other aspect of the rosary, let’s ask the real question: How do we put this into action for more than a week? It’s a question every serious Christian faces, no matter what the form of prayer is. It’s the question of a realist. We have the noblest of intentions. We mean to go to God every day, to give ourselves to him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But we routinely fall down on the job. How then do we make it happen for real?
Her unflinchingly honest and practical advice on this subject is invaluable for any Christian who wants to pray more, whether it involves the rosary or not. At only 84 pages this slim little book is a quick, delightful read that is sure to leave you more enthusiastic about all forms of prayer, especially the rosary.
The Shadow of His Wings by Gereon Goldmann
Just buy this book. Right now. Click through the link to Amazon, hit Add to Cart, and make yourself a note to thank me later. Dawn of Natural Design recommended it to me in the comments to my last book post, and I’ve meant to thank her profusely ever since.
This true story of a young man in 1940’s Germany whose dream to be a priest was derailed when he was drafted into the Nazi army is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. The stories of how Fr. Goldmann trusted in divine Providence, even when it seemed insane, will leave your mouth hanging open in awe as you read; if this book doesn’t inspire you to trust in God, I don’t know what will. To give you an idea of how good it is: it was my current reading when the baby was born back in March, and I was so into it that I didn’t mind waking up for feedings in the middle of the night because I could click on my book light and get back to reading. Did you hear that? DIDN’T MIND BEING WOKEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. BECAUSE OF THIS BOOK. Like I said, just buy it.
My only criticism would be that the epilogue is a little long. While it is interesting, it goes in a totally different direction than the first part of the book, so that’s kind of jarring. And one other thing: do not read the captions under the pictures — they often give away what happens next in the book! For example, you’ll be immersed in some intense scene, almost sweating with tension as you wonder if he’ll make it across enemy lines, and then you’ll glance at a picture and read the caption which says, “Goldmann with friends after he made it across enemy lines.” Argh!
Other than that it is pure awesomeness. Buy it now.
The Duggars: 20 and Counting! by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar
I was surprised by how much I liked this book. It’s a combination memoir and advice book, and I enjoyed almost every page of it. Interestingly, I was wading through Jean Pierre de Caussade’s classic Abandonment to Divine Providence at the same time as I read this one, and I found that they complemented each other nicely.
The memoir part of the book offers one story after another of how God worked in their lives when they were obedient to whatever they thought he was calling them to do, even when it seemed crazy. For example, Jim Bob writes of spending $110, 000 of their own money on a failed Senate bid, saying, “Strangely…we both continued to feel the same strong sense of peace about the spent money and the failed effort. There was no remorse because we knew we had done what we believed God wanted us to do.” I also loved how they gave specific numbers for many of their big financial decisions — it was interesting to get a glimpse into their financial lives in such detail.
The second part of the book has some great practical tips for how they manage the chaos of day-to-day life with their then-18 children. I think the thing that impressed me most, however, was simply their tone. Anyone who’s read many internet discussions about them knows that some people seethe with hatred at the mere mention of their names, and there have been many unkind things said about them. And yet from the tone of the book you’d think that nobody had ever offered them anything but words of love and blessings; they are not defensive or critical of others, and focus on showing the good that God has done in their lives rather than criticism or telling other people what they should do. A lovely read.
Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck
I’m a sucker for books about food and nutrition, so it’s no surprise that I liked this one. Planck has a particularly interesting perspective because she is the daughter of well-educated parents who voluntarily left the rat race to start a farm. She grew up on the farm but then rejected her parents was of eating for a vegan then vegetarian lifestyle, writing:
In her sentimental book, Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappe argued that modern beef farming was ecologically unsound (it wrecks natural habitats), politically unjust (you could feed more people on the grain cattle ate than on the steaks), and nutritionally unnecessary (we don’t need all that protein. The idea that a vegetarian diet was healthier clinched it for me, and I became vegan in high school. It was perhaps my only act of rebellion against my stubbornly tolerant parents.
Planck then chronicles how eating became an intellectual endeavor more than anything else, and she learned to mistrust her body’s instincts about what to eat. The results?
As for my health, I felt terrible. My digestion was poor, and I was moody, tearful, and tender in all the wrong places before I got my period. In cold and flu season, I got both. I was depressed, too. Partly to stave off gloom, I ran three to six miles a day. On this virtuous regime I also gained weight steadily…Back on the farm in Wheatland, meanwhile, my omnivorous parents were the healthiest people I knew, lean and cheerful as they tucked into friend eggs and pork chops. Something was wrong with me, but I certainly didn’t suspect it was my diet.
For the rest of the book she lays out her own research and personal experiences that led her back to her parents’ way of eating, as well as founding London’s first farmer’s market. Her tone throughout the book is friendly and calm; it reads like a light memoir about food rather than the heavy-handed manifestos that are so common in this genre. A great read for anyone who wants to feel inspired about healthy eating the old-fashioned way.
Lick the Sugar Habit by Nancy Appleton, PhD
Speaking of books that read more like manifestos than light memoirs…this would be one of them. Appleton was motivated to write this book after seeing the tremendous impact it had on her life when she eliminated refined sugar from her diet. All her life she’d been chronically ill with long bouts of pneumonia as well as frequent headaches, colds, flus and fatigue, all the while making sundaes, large amounts of chocolate and other sugary treats a big part of her life. When she cut sugar out of her diet her health did a 180-degree turnaround and she felt better than she ever had in her life. That prompted her to do research into what exactly refined sugar is and how it impacts the body, which she shares in the rest of the book.
I liked it — it was one of the things that inspired me to embark on my own “Saint Diet” which had such a big impact on my life — and, from my personal experience, I believe that some people have a physical makeup that leaves them much more sensitive to refined sugar than others. But she definitely does take an extreme position on the subject, and it will probably seem overboard to some people, especially those who haven’t had personal experience with something like this. If you’re looking for inspiration to cut sugary junk food out of your diet, though, this is the book for you!
Whew! There are my thoughts on a few of the books I’ve read in the past few months. Anyone else have any thoughts on these books? Any other books to recommend? What have you been reading lately?