I finally had some downtime last month, and was able to make some good progress on my #Read2017 challenge by reading — or completing — 8 books. Several of them had already been started earlier in the year, so don’t think I spent all my time reading the past two months (I wish!). And several of those were fiction, which I always devour rather quickly!
I’m almost finished with reading through every category on my list at least once, and am starting to think about challenges for next year. I’ve been considering a few different ideas, including either a “curiosity” challenge or a “tackle the reading list” challenge. Any suggestions? I’d love to hear what you’re interested in reading next year!
Here’s what I read in July & August (contains affiliate links):
City of Tranquil Light, by Bo Caldwell
Category: Book recommended by a friend
This was recommended by a friend and fellow blogger, and I’m so glad I was able to find it and read it. It’s a novelized adaptation of 2 real-life missionaries to China from the early 1900s, and it overflows with poignant testimonies of God’s faithful goodness and mercy, not only in their two lives but throughout the city where they ministered for almost 25 years. The narrative alternates between the husband’s point-of-view and his wife’s journal entries, which was not as distracting as it sounds, and actually presents a clearer picture of missions work in that time and place than you would get with just one narrator. Reading both of their perspectives on various life events helped paint a broader picture of their struggles in general, which most of us could relate to whether we’re on the mission field or not! So much was memorable in this book (and some of it even made me cry!), but I was especially moved by the wife’s thoughts on infertility, their comments about leaving their hearts in China, and the way God worked in the bandit king. Plus, I could relate to so many aspects of their missionary journey!
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
Category: Classic novel for children
I had a difficult time picturing things when I was a child, unless I had seen those things in person or on a television screen. As much as I enjoyed devouring fiction, my enjoyment was limited to the linguistic aspects (plot, rhythm, syntax, phrasing, etc.). I didn’t know how to cultivate my imagination to allow further exploration. But as I’ve experienced more of life, watched a broad variety of movies, and simply learned to slow down in my reading, I find myself more able to picture the settings, the people, their expressions, their motions and emotions, and even hear their voices as I read their words. So, with this newfound ability, I decided to reread an old classic which I had never been able to picture (other than what I’d seen on a screen). It was fun to imagine the grayness of Kansas, watch Dorothy interact with new acquaintances, explore the path to the Emerald City, and wonder about the identity of Oz, the Great and Terrible. And of course, re-reading it as an adult, I picked up on many unwritten nuances and deeper meanings that enriched my enjoyment of the story.
I Know a Secret, by Tess Gerritsen
Category: Mystery or suspense novel
Anyone else a fan of the tv show Rizzoli & Isles? I am, partly because I grew up near Boston and partly because I enjoy the books that the show was partially based upon. This is the newest book in the series — just published in August — and I was lucky enough to score a free advance copy, thanks to a Goodreads giveaway. It was another classic “whodunit” story, although some of the events seemed to be described a bit too graphically at times (more so than previous books), and for that reason I’ve lowered my rating a bit. However, plot-wise, it held my attention and even surprised me a few times; I thought I had figured things out about halfway through, only to be stumped by the events of the final few chapters. I also enjoyed the extra layers of religious history and medical expertise that the author is known for including: it turns a pulse-pounding thriller into something a little deeper and slightly more intellectual. For me, a book like this is pure entertainment; but it also deepens my understanding of the interaction between police and the public at large (a critical issue these days), informs me of anatomical intricacies, and gives me a glimpse of what other families and occupations might be like. Would recommend, but with discretion — and would also caution that this particular book probably makes more sense if you’ve already read earlier books in the series.
Empire of Shadows: the Epic Story of Yellowstone, by George Black
Category: Book about history
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this foray into reading actual history (not historical fiction). It recounted events from 1805, when the first “white men” discovered some of Yellowstone’s wonders, to the late 1870s, a few years after President Ulysses S. Grant designated the land as America’s first national park. We were just able to spend several days exploring the wonders of Yellowstone in early July, so the timing of this book was rather fortuitous. I was able to recall many of the sites mentioned — and after living in Wyoming for a year, I could certainly relate to the rather harsh descriptions of winter weather! Much of the narrative focused on the troubles between various people groups in the region (trappers and traders, official explorers, Army soldiers, Indians, and Mormon pioneers), and a whole section dealt with the settling of small towns in Montana, just north of the current northern park entrances. While some of the details of those events felt a little tedious and perhaps irrelevant, it was generally helpful to see how they shaped and led to the park’s formation. It also followed the journeys of several official exploratory parties, with names recognizable by any Yellowstone visitor (Hayden, Washburn, Moran, Everts), and explained the stories of how some major landmarks got their names (Old Faithful, West Thumb, Dragon’s Mouth Spring). I expected it to delve more into the actual planning of Yellowstone’s boundaries and roadways (why a figure-8 road? why place the entrances where they are?), and perhaps go beyond the first few years to explain the Army’s management of the park; as long as it was, it felt like some relevant information was overlooked. But overall it was an interesting book, written in an engaging style, and I’m glad I took the time to read it!
Echoes of Elkol, the Story of a Western Coal Camp, by Dorothy Wright
Category: Book about a specific region
A lot of the land around southwestern Wyoming is seemingly empty of anything other than sagebrush and dirt, but there are underground oil tanks, open pit coal mines, and freight train stops scattered around the countryside. So every time I passed the sign for Elkol just 4 miles outside our town of Kemmerer, I figured it referred to one of those things. Come to find out, it used to be a little mining town of around 200 people, incorporated in 1908 and inhabited until the late 1950s. The Elkol mine (named after the “Elk Coal” company) was one of the largest and safest open pit mines in the country while it operated. Now it’s been merged with the Kemmerer mine (the largest open pit mine in the USA), the buildings and landmarks have been completely erased, but the stories and memories still remain. Many of those memories — firsthand accounts of working at the mine, keeping a home, or growing up in the middle of nowhere — are contained in this 200 page booklet. With personal interviews, photos, maps of the town, and a myriad of story-snapshots of everyday life, it’s almost like a museum in a book. The writing style isn’t the most polished, but the content was definitely interesting!
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick
Category: Book about current events
This is not a book I would ever have picked up, if it weren’t for having a current events category in my reading challenge — but I’m glad I read it. I’m not a fan of political or economic tomes; but thanks to some recommendations on Facebook, I realized “current events” could cover many more topics and genres. I discovered a few titles that sounded interesting, and this was the only one available at our small library. It shares the stories of a handful of North Koreans from their slow descent into poverty and helplessness, their utter dependence on the government to supply every need, and their enslavement to extreme Communist propaganda, to a gradual awakening to the freedom available in the nations around them, and eventually their journeys to freedom. It was eye-opening and, at times, heart-breaking to realize just how dark the country still is — it’s the sort of book you read, thinking it happened decades or centuries ago, and are continually shocked to remember that it’s still happening today. North Korea is an unbearably dark nation, both economically and spiritually. Most of its citizens are enslaved and impoverished, too afraid of those in power to live as humans created in God’s image. There is no beauty, no laughter, no individualism. And I couldn’t help but wonder as I read of their bondage . . . are there any Bibles publicly available? Any Christians at all? Any understanding of God’s light and love in a nation that doesn’t let you think for yourself? North Korea is a truly dark land that desperately needs our prayers!
How to Read a Book, by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren
Category: Book about a hobby
This is one of those books that I started several months ago, and finally just finished. It’s an extensive guide to reading almost any kind of book — including fiction, poetry, science and math, philosophy, social science, history, and other practical books. Perhaps the highest praise I can give it is that I’ve already been putting its principles into practice (which, as they tell you in later sections, is the only appropriate response to an intelligent reading of a practical book). The authors’ writing style is conversational, though on a more intellectual level, and it is chock-full of practical advice, easy to follow steps, and immediately applicable tips for reading more deeply and intentionally. It’s definitely a book I will be returning to in the future, especially as I do more “syntoptical reading” (e.g., reading through a long list of books for a broad overview of a topic) for future book projects, or start reading more in unfamiliar genres like math or history. Side note: if you decide to read this, go ahead and buy a copy rather than borrowing it. You will definitely want to take notes, underline, highlight, or otherwise mark it up!
Judges for You, by Timothy Keller
Category: Bible study book
Here’s another book I worked through over a period of several months. I picked this up when we started teaching through Judges in our children’s ministry, as I thought it might offer some helpful perspective on some passages that are challenging to teach (especially to kids!). It did help me understand the historical context of the various events, and connected some dots between Old Testament deliverers (i.e., judges) and our eternal Deliverer. It was heavy on application, which was the author’s intention, but at times the speculation about motive or connections to the present-day church felt a little contrived or off-focus. It also felt like he could have delved a little deeper into the theological context of some of the narrative. It would not be my first recommendation for Bible study; however, it did helped me understand the everyday actions of an idolatrous nation who still paid lip service to God (sound familiar?), and just how “normal” doing what’s right in your own eyes can seem, even among Christians.
Currently in progress: The Story of Christianity (Justo L. Gonzalez); Voices from the Past, Vol. 2 (Richard Rushing); Gospel Primer (Milton Vincent); The Silmarillion (J.R.R. Tolkien)
What is the best book you’ve read lately?
PS. Find me on Goodreads to share your favorite titles and discover what else I’m exploring for #Read2017.