Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Book Log: February 2016

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them.

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

6) 2/4: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
My husband read this book a few years ago and recommended it, and now that we activated our Family Sharing Library, it was easy to get access to his Kindle copy and read it.

Wow. This is a detailed account of what led to the financial crisis and the recession that followed. I'm not sure I could accurately explain, without this book in hand, all the nuances (credit default swaps, subprime loans, toxic assets, the credit rating agencies, etc), but trust me that it's a fascinating read and Michael Lewis is thorough. There were a small number of individuals who foresaw the way the markets were going and made out like bandits. Lewis tells the stories of how they figured out what thousands of others missed (in one case, Asperger's helped).

I know hindsight and all that, but it's staggering to read this and learn how the wool was pulled over everyone's eyes; no one even considered the housing industry would lose value nationally at the same time, even though people were buying homes they couldn't afford without being asked to provide income documentation (there's an account of a migrant worker with an annual income of $14,000 given a loan for a house over $700,000).

7) 2/5: Crazy Love by Francis Chan (as well as the accompanying workbook, Living Crazy Love by Francis Chan)
These books were for a book study I did with a handful of friends.

First, a tangential story. In college, a mentor was sharing how he read a book that transformed his life. He bought numerous copies and gave them away to friends and family. A few months later, when he followed up, he was typically faced with two responses: either they hadn't gotten very far into it because it was a bit too academic, or they acknowledged it was a decent read, but not as earth-shattering as it had been for him. That's when he realized he just happened to be in a place where that book could reach him, but for others, it might have no lasting impression, and yet another book might speak to them.

So back to this book. It provided a lot of discussion in our group, which I especially valued, but I feel like I wasn't bowled over by anything I'd read in it - I've encountered similar ideas in other works over the years. I really enjoyed the accompanying videos, though - Chan's intensity and passion come through and they're engaging.

8) 2/6: Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
I don't have much to say about this one - it was a brief read before bedtime after some headier stuff. I read the first one, and this embraces more of the Gothic novel, with a murder mystery.

9) 2/15: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This book runs about 450 pages. Read on the heels of last month's The Goldfinch (which was nearly 800 pages), as well as some other longer books I am juggling, it appears this year may be the year of lengthy reads. It has over 19,000 reviews on Amazon, and it's at an impressive 4.8 stars. I didn't know those staggering stats when I picked it up (at a friend's recommendation), but I'll add my praise.

It is centered in France during WWII. We focus primarily on two sisters and how they survive the war years. I've read other war literature, but this one struck me with the specific details; the author doesn't try to rush past what daily life would feel like; it might not be new information, but you dwell on it more, so it makes more of an impact. With rationing in effect but goods in short supply, hunger was prevalent. Nazis forced citizens to house them, punishing defiance (whether confirmed or suspected), confiscating radios, crops, furniture, artwork.

It led me to pause and think how quickly everyone's lives changed. How devastating to be raising a child during that time while you are living in fear and compromising so as not to bring attention or harm onto yourself or your family, or working in secret for justice (how to explain to a child why the Jews were the ones singled out in the beginning, friends they lived and played alongside suddenly being taken away?). It's a worthy read.

10) 2/24: A Mystical Heart: 52 Weeks in the Presence of God by Edwina Gateley
This fall, I heard Edwina speak. I didn't know of her or her work before, but it was a moving time. She is passionate and shared how she, as a layperson, was convicted to live her life serving God. Her life story, full of social justice, is powerful. I selected this book for purchase that night (and others in the coming days).

This one is a selection of 52 reflections/poems with a challenge for each week and sometimes an accompanying sketch, but I devoured them much more quickly than that. I set it aside at one point after realizing how quickly it was going (I think unconsciously I didn't want the book to end).

Here is one from Week 10:

Often we anxiously seek the will of God,
as if God had gleefully hidden dreams for us
deep in unfathomable places.
As if it were God's intention
that our whole lives be spent
in endless searching for signs and directions
buried in obscurity.
The will of God is that which brings us
peace and fullness of life.
The will of God is the seed of our dreams
ever gestating with possibility
and longing to leap forward
scattering new and surprising blessings
in our gray reality.

Here is one of the free-form passages, from Week 41, made especially poignant as I read it when the Syrian refugees (and the warring opinions on them) were center stage in the media:

We build walls around our hearts, around our land, around our borders to keep out the strangers, the different, the other; to protect ourselves from getting hurt or from having to share our space with others. We guard our hearts, our land, and our country with great vigilance until the very guarding obsesses us and we become so outwardly focused and defensive that we lose touch with ourselves and our humanity. In our efforts to protect and defend we become disconnected and fragmented.

God, who will have nothing of walls and barriers, is like the Great Illegal Immigrant -- ever looking for cracks in our walls and defenses, seeking vulnerability so that She might slip through our barriers to convert and to transform us. God, in great longing for wholeness, constantly invites us to dismantle all that is exclusive. We cannot be whole until we come to embrace all that God has made and to share all that God has given. In matters and issues of exclusion we may be sure that God is always on the outside with those very people whom we do not accept. We diminish ourselves and we diminish God until we break down our walls. All of them.