Book Chat November 2015

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One Step at a Time: A Young Marine’s Story of Courage, Hope and a New Life in the NFL isn’t my typical read, but it was recommended to me as a possible gift idea for my dad, who isn’t a big reader but who occasionally likes the random book. Since my dad is a Colts fan, and is a lifelong Hoosier (as is author Josh Bleill), I thought he might indeed like it. I ordered it, and of course read it first myself!

I’m glad I did; I really, really enjoyed this book. We meet Josh as he joins the Marines in his late 20s, inspired by 9/11. He heads to Iraq, but is only there 2 weeks before an explosive device goes off beneath his humvee. Two of his mates are killed, and he is severely injured, most notably losing both legs above the knee.

Josh writes about the Marine Corps motto, “adapt and overcome.” As he write, “If your gun jams during a firefight, you can panic and scream, ‘Oh my gosh! Why would my gun jam at a time like this?!’ Or you can say, ‘My gun’s jammed, I better tear it apart, unjam it, then put it back together.’ … Accept whatever situation in which you find yourself, and overcome by finding a way to achieve your goals in this new, unforeseen set of circumstances.”

You know, I’m obviously not a Marine, but I had a grandpa who was one, and I think a bit of that philosophy has trickled down to me. I like it — it’s practical, and I think it’s a good way to face life for any of us: adapt and overcome.

I found this book well-written: I enjoyed hearing about Josh’s experience in basic training and then in Fallujah, Iraq. He described his injuries and recovery in a manner that I found interesting without dragging on or becoming overdone. Josh’s positive attitude really came through, and I found myself rooting for him.

Josh tells us that another Marine “thing” is to leave any place better than you found it. With this book, and now with his job as a motivational speaker for the Colts, he is doing just that. I recommend this book to anyone, and especially maybe for that guy on your list who’s a reluctant reader.

*****

The-Heaven-Promise

Heaven. It’s something we all wonder about, especially if we’re Christians. I decided to read The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come to see what author Scot McKnight had to say on the topic. McKnight is a professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary.

This is a hard book for me to review. It begins with several chapters of what I’d call general conversation on heaven, featuring many quotes from great thinkers (C.S. Lewis, etc) on the topic. The last part of the book features several chapters that are themed on heaven questions  that many have wondered — will our pets be in heaven? Who will actually make it to heaven? etc. McKnight discusses some interesting theories on what will happen at the moment of death to those who have never heard about Christianity (perhaps it’s just interesting to me because this is an issue I’ve always wondered about: sure, I believe in Christianity, having grown up with it. But if I’d grown up Muslim, Buddhist, etc., I’m pretty sure I’d be equally assured of their validity. This bothers me).

McKnight uses as a general theory that heaven will be at least as good as earth, in every respect. For instance, if you’re worried about whether there will be animals in heaven, McKnight would suggest that since heaven will be at least as good as earth, then if our animals aren’t there, there will be something even better. This makes sense to me.

What gives me more pause is when McKnight seems to take some leaps that I’m not sure can be scripturally justified: for instance, he writes that in heaven, “the formerly ignored and invisible will be highly visible and impossible to ignore.” Now, this *may* be true, and maybe he’s going on the “last shall be first” verse, but for most of these statements he lists no Biblical reference, and just states them as a matter of fact. It makes me a little nervous that this guy, even though he’s a professor, is stating so confidently things that I’m not sure we can really know. Another example: “Truth will be settled in the first hour (in heaven), and people must be reconciled. If there are tears in heaven, they will occur in the first minutes of the first hour.” Can we really know this?

So, while I enjoyed reading this book, I can’t say I endorse all the thinking behind it.

*****

gsp

I’ve read a handful of books by Hoosier author Gene Stratton Porter over the past decade, as well as visited her Indiana homes. I recently thought I’d like to read a little about the woman herself. I couldn’t find a whole lot out there, but my library did carry a 50-page brief account of her life, based on a write-up Gene herself had done. The version at my library was actually printed in the front of a book she’d written, called “At the Foot of the Rainbow.”

“Why did you want this old book?” my husband asked when he picked up the hold from the library. Indeed, it was a 1916 book and looked quite unassuming. But, I’ve never been one to judge a book by its cover, and I thoroughly enjoyed Gene Stratton-Porter: A Little Story of Her Life and Work.

Things I found interesting:

  • Gene was named Geneva, and was the youngest of 12 children born to her parents. At the time of her birth, her mom was 46 and her dad was 50.
  • Gene did not have many books as a child, as was common for the time. “Books are now so numerous, so cheap, and so bewildering in colour and make-up, that I sometimes think our children are losing their perspective and caring for none of them as I loved my few plain little ones filled with short story and poem, almost no illustration,” she wrote. If she felt this way in the early 1900s, what would she think today?!
  • She relates a remarkable tale that occurred when she was in high school, and was assigned to write a paper about a mathematical topic and then read it to an assembly of students. She had no interest in the topic, and refused to write the paper. Instead, she wrote a paper 10x the assigned length, about a book she loved. When the time came to present her paper, she admitted to the assembly that she knew nothing about her assigned topic, and so she had written this instead. She began reading, and after the first page, the principal left to find the superintendent, who then came to listen to her recitation. “For almost 16 pages I held them, and I was eager to go on and tell them more about it when I reached the last line. Never again was a subject forced upon me,” she wrote. From then on, she was hooked on writing.
  • Gene was definitely a “different,” quirky person. “Unlike my schoolmates, I studied harder after leaving school than ever before and in a manner that did me real good … the others of my family had been to college; I always have been too thankful for words that circumstances intervened which saved my brain from being run through a groove in company with dozens of others of widely different tastes and mentality. What small measure of success I have had has come through preserving my individual point of view, method of expression, and following in after life the Spartan regulations of my girlhood home.”
  • Gene was quite secretive. Even after she was married and had a daughter, she did not tell them she was writing for possible publications in magazines. She took things so far as to rent a box at the post office “so that if I met with failure my husband and the men in the bank need not know what I had attempted.” She felt driven to accomplish on her own: “I argued that if I kept my family so comfortable that they missed nothing from their usual routine, it was my right to do what I could toward furthering my personal ambitions in what time I could save from my housework.”
  • Gene’s first love was nature, and she really preferred to writing about natural topics rather than fiction. However, her publishers were always wanting more human interaction in her books. Some have criticized Gene’s characters as being unrealistically “perfect” (I had that thought myself while reading “Laddie”). However, she did this on purpose: “I prefer to describe and to perpetuate the best I have known in life; whereas many authors seem to feel that they have no hope of achieving a high literary standing unless they delve in and reproduce the worst … reading (my books) can make no one worse than he is, while they may help thousands to a cleaner life and higher inspiration than they ever before have known.”
  • Gene spent as much or more time in nature than she did actually writing. When she was unable to find a moth specimen she wanted to write about, she decided to raise her own. She kept the cocoons in her bedroom, and when they were close to hatching, she laid them on the pillow next to her so that, should the moths emerge during the night, she would hear them and wake up.

Very interesting read!

*****

ter

Because of Mr. Terupt is a children’s/YA novel about a classroom of 5th graders and their teacher, Mr. Terupt. I’m going to divide my thoughts up, because I feel I want to review this one both with my own observations but then also the observations I feel like its intended audience (kids) would have.

Thoughts, as an adult:

First thing I noticed was that John Irving wrote the foreward. Wow! Not sure what the connection is there, since Irving is definitely not a children’s author, but it’s impressive.

This book is told through the perspective of various children in the classroom. I found these kids pretty stereotyped (the nerd/smart kid, the mean girl who of course wears “Princess Pink” lip gloss, the fat girl, etc), and there were various PC elements that are crazy-making to me (the kids do a huge project on … wait for it … Ramadan. The “bad guys” in the book are pretty much one girl’s parents who “are pretty old-fashioned and religious.”).

Thoughts, as a child:

I think kids at about a 5th grade level would really enjoy this book (indeed, it was my 6th grade niece who recommended it to me). What strikes an adult as heavy stereotyping may not come across that way to kids. This book has the drama, tragedy, and emotion that I can see tweens getting into. It’s well-written. In fact, I can see it being a Bridge to Terabithia for the current generation of young-ins.

 

6 thoughts on “Book Chat November 2015

  1. Your books are quite diverse as they should be. With each book you read, you are expanding your mind with knowledge. Read on!

  2. An eclectic mix of books! I think Porter’s desire to have characters who inspire others by their example was common in a lot of classics, but I don’t think ti would go over for modern writers. Today people want to see flawed characters (because aren’t we all) who overcome. But I do like the idea of having the goal that no one will be worse for what I wrote.

    The first book sounds quite inspiring. I like adapt and overcome as a motto – rather than panic or fret first and then adapt and overcome, as seems to be my wont.

    I would share your reservations about the book on heaven. I do like the idea that whatever we like here that we wonder whether it will be in heaven, whatever is in heaven will be better.

  3. I love Josh’s philosophy about the jammed gun: we can question it and complain, or we can deal with it and move forward. Wish I could always live that way!

    Glad to read your review of McKnight’s book. Sounds interesting.

  4. Interesting book choices! I enjoy reading thought-provoking books on occasion and your first two certainly fit that category – will have to add them to my long reading list.

    I read one of Gene Stratton-Porter’s books a few years ago – A Girl of the Limberlost. Such a lovely story. Thanks for sharing those interesting tidbits about her life!

  5. Hi, it is Emily. If you did’t like the first book I don’t recomend reading the others…
    I asked for the third book for my number 1 thing in my b’day list…. I’m sorry you did’nt like Because Of Mr. Terupt.

  6. I have an early edition of LADDIE which my mother bought from Gene’s home. It was Christmas time and the curators let her play Gene’s piano! She was so far ahead of her time – her observations about education are so beyond the current fad, and well understood by people who’ve been in the classroom.

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I enjoy hearing your thoughts.