Quick Lit – August 2016

Quick Lit – August 2016

Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here right around the middle of each month, in the order I finished reading them. I read 11 books this month! I expect that, with a brand new baby at home, next month’s numbers will be much smaller.


1 Sleeping GiantsSleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

This one was so fun. Chose it as my Book of The Month pick for July. Written in epistolary format (a la The Martian), we learn about a giant metal hand found by a young girl, mostly through a series of interviews with an unnamed government official. This was a quick read, and since Micah was interested in it, I even read some of it aloud. There is very little “content” that isn’t suitable for even young kids, so I’d say anyone 12 and up would be interested in this, even though it’s not YA fiction at all.


2 WreckageWreckage by Emily Bleeker

Bleeker’s first novel about a plane crash and the survivors’ time on an island, post-rescue. Right away you know there is lying involved, but it takes the whole book to figure out why someone would lie about what happened on a deserted island! Entertaining and fast-moving.

 

 


3 Year Without a PurchaseThe Year Without a Purchase by Scott Dannemiller

This book is “stunt journalism” (a la AJ Jacobs: The Year of Living Biblically, The Know-It-All, etc), but shouldn’t be discarded even if you think that’s not your thing. Dannemiller and his family tackle the American consumption epidemic in a way that is funny and endearing, and might even inspire you to make some changes in your own life. Be sure to check out my interview with Scott for a deeper look into his life as a writer!

 


4 Teaching From Rest Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie

I have little doubt that this book will become a yearly re-read for me (if not more often!). I read it as part of a local homeschool book club, even though I wasn’t able to make it to ANY of the meetings! The info she presents is so concise and helpful, and, as a mama about to start our second homeschool year, but this time with a newborn, something I definitely needed to hear. I will need to hear it again. If you are on this journey as well, be sure to pick up a copy of her book!

 


5 Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

This novel is beautiful. I listened to it on audiobook, and it’s a long one, but I felt like the narrator did an incredible job really bringing the story to life. It is a coming of age novel about Marion and Shiva Stone, identical twins in Ethiopia. The country faces unrest, the main setting is a hospital, the characters are multi-faceted and engaging. Highly recommended when you have some time to get lost in a novel.


6 ShrillShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

West is laugh-out-loud funny, and uses that humor to tackle some pretty tough topics in her memoir: abortion, women’s rights, body shaming, internet bullying, to name just a few. She is both insightful and real. This was a quick read, also from Book of the Month, and I really enjoyed it, even the parts that made me uncomfortable.

 


7 Storied LifeThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Even though I was sure I would love this one, I took forever to pick it up. Finally found it at Goodwill for $1.99 and decided that meant it was time for me to read it! I’m so glad I did. Fans of Ove and The One-In-A-Million Boy will enjoy this one, as will anyone who has ever wished that they lived in a bookstore… which, isn’t that every reader? 🙂

 


8 What She KnewWhat She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

Snagged this one on a Kindle daily deal on the recommendation of Anne Bogel. A boy and his mom go out for a walk in the woods. She lets him run ahead on the path and he disappears. This thriller may have been a little too much for me when I was 39 weeks pregnant with another boy. I had read too many books in a row about missing boys, boys who had something terrible to them, boys who had died… it was very stressful! That’s not to say that this one isn’t another great one. Just, if you’re already sensitive to that sort of thing, maybe wait a bit.


9 Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

This is one of those books that I NEVER would have chosen for myself if so many people I trust hadn’t recommended it! But, if you are a child of the 80’s or love 80’s culture, you cannot pass this one up! It’s a dystopian novel set in the later 21st century, when almost everyone lives “virtually” in the Oasis, mostly to escape the real world, which has been ravaged by an energy crisis and widespread poverty. The founder of the Oasis dies, and leaves his substantial fortune buried inside the game for anyone to find. To do so, the gamers need to understand his one true love: 80’s culture. References to your favorite movies, songs, and video games abound. Not just for nerds (although they will definitely love it!)!


10 To Capture What We Cannot Keep

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin

NetGalley provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This historical novel is set against the backdrop of the construction of the Eiffel Tower in France. It is packed full of artists you’ll recognize from that time. The main characters, Caitroina and Emile, meet in a hot air balloon and are drawn to each other, but their lives (socially and obligation-wise) won’t allow them to pursue that attraction. I found this novel beautiful in setting, but a bit tiring in plot. I’d enjoy spending more time in historic Paris, but not with these people.


11 Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This one has been HIGHLY critically acclaimed, and for good reason. I was encouraged to listen to it on audiobook (read by the author), and I will definitely endorse the same. Woodson’s poetry about growing up in the South and in NYC during the racial turmoil of the 60’s is beautifully written, and oh-so-applicable here and now as we continue to struggle through some of these same issues as a nation. Please, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the book or audiobook. It will not take much of your time, and you will be better for it.

Author Interview – Scott Dannemiller

family-shotHello Scott! Thanks so much for agreeing to be on the blog. I love getting to virtually meet the authors I’ve enjoyed reading. You have the dubious honor of being the first male author I’ve gotten to interview, so I hope you enjoy that little gold star!

I always start out by asking for the two-minute intro from my authors, along with something that not many people know about you (can be your favorite ridiculous movie that you watch over and over again, the best flavor of ice cream, or your most embarrassing 2nd grade moment, etc)! Tell us about Scott Dannemiller!

Hmmm.  Let’s see.  I’m a writer and a blogger, but I make my living running a corporate training business, LifeWork Associates.  Most weeks I am on the road in some city in the U.S., doing my part to make the corporate world a little more authentic and a little less “jerky”.  My wife says the main reason I do the corporate training thing is so I have a good excuse to stand up in front of lots of people and tell stories.  I plead the fifth on that one.  In truth, I stumbled upon this career that I love after a circuitous career path that includes jobs such as lemonade entrepreneur, camp counselor, skating rink DJ, shoe salesman, construction worker, and promotions writer.  Other than that, I spend my time at home with my super-loud family, trying to be the best husband and father I can be.  It’s a full-time job that is both joy-filled and anxiety-producing.

When I retire, I hope to be in a boy band.

25315107As you know, I first heard of you by reading your book, The Year Without A Purchase: One Family’s Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting. As the title suggests, this book centers around your family’s recognition of the consumerism that drives us and an attempt to reign it in. You and your wife, Gabby, served as missionaries in Guatemala for a year. Then, a decade later, found yourselves stuck in the American spin cycle of “more more more”, when you had seen first-hand how so many people survive on so little. Although you mention it briefly in the book, I’d love to hear any further details about how this challenge that you issued yourselves affected the people around you, or if others have contacted you after publication to talk about the changes they’ve made because of your year?

This book began as a simple challenge for our family to connect with each other and grow in our faith, and I started blogging about it as a way to add a layer of accountability to the whole ordeal, since it would have been very easy to stop.  Once the word got out, it became a hot topic any time we would talk to our friends.  We had two main reactions from them.  Some would treat us like a Catholic confessional, as if we were ordained priests in the church of frugality, approaching us, begging us not to judge them, then speaking in hushed tones about how they got an amazing deal on bedding at Target.  Others said our little experiment made them stop and think before buying stuff at stores.  In the end, our friends were a tremendous help by offering moral support, as well as sharing their own surplus and teaching us about what true community should be.  The family of God.

Since the book has come out, I have been humbled by those who say that our story helped them reconnect with what is important in their own lives.  For some, it is about saving money.  For others, it is about “de-stressing.”  Even more say they simply vowed not to buy anything new as a way to minimize their impact on the environment.  And all of these things, in small ways, help make the world a better place.

As further continuation of the book, I’m curious as to whether or not, since publication, you’ve seen more of that “slipping” that naturally occurs in American culture (or even just middle-class the world over) that has brought you back to where you were before your year-long challenge? Or have you been able to maintain that awareness of purchases, and emphasis on experiences that were so pivotal in the book?

It is a continual struggle.  Not long after the book came out, our family moved to a different part of town and bought a larger home that hadn’t been touched in over 30 years.  We got swept up in the HGTV culture once again, and found ourselves “updating” things that were perfectly functional.  And while we could easily justify these purchases by saying we were supporting the local economy, and taking care of what we have, it was yet one more example of how we still have a deeply-held misconception that what you own says something about who you are.  It’s tough to shake.

At the same time, we have found that our family is much more focused on experiences, and we tend to invest in memories rather than stuff when it comes to gifts.  We have also changed our language around purchases.  When our kids used to ask for stuff at stores, our gut reaction was “That’s too expensive.”  But that taught them that they only needed more money to buy what they wanted.  Now, we say “we don’t need that” and then talk about all of the other wonderful things we do have, and how things don’t actually make us any happier.  Admittedly, this sometime irritates the crap out of them, but it’s a good reminder for all of us.

Even though your autobiographical book isn’t meant to serve as a how-to manifesto, you do give some practical application tips in the appendix for those who are interested in being more intentional with their money, time, and resources. (Our family has already created the “How Does She” family dinner questions jar since I finished the book, and have been enjoying it almost every night!). Ahem… I have a “friend” who is interested in a similar challenge within her own family, but can’t seem to get her husband on board. Any tips for those of us who live in community (a marriage, a family, an extremely-close roommate situation, etc) but might want to go it alone? Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but sometimes a challenge can start with just one and go from there!

So glad you found the dinner questions!  That is still a hit in our house, and now that we’ve moved to a new neighborhood, the kids who come to visit want to stay for dinner just for the discussions!

As for starting your own challenge, the first thing I would say is that the intent is much more important than the outcome.  We noticed how much we beat ourselves up when we “failed”, and that created a lot of negative emotion around the challenge. Perfection became the enemy of the good.  So, we started to focus on why we were doing the challenge in the first place, and celebrated our “wins.”  This helped to put things in perspective.

So, if you’re looking to focus less on stuff, you can always begin with one change per month.  Maybe you start buying experiences for those you love, instead of material things, and revisit the memories often, with photos or stories.  Next, when you donate some of your nice things, donate to a specific person, if possible.  If not, spend time talking about who might benefit from the donation.  Knowing the joy your stuff brought to others only magnifies the satisfaction in your own life.  Just find whatever works for you and build on it.  If it feels like a step in the right direction for you, then it is doing some good in the world.

Along with your book, you are a prolific writer online (your own blog as well as being regularly featured as a contributor to Huffington Post). One could spend HOURS reading everything you’ve written online, and I wanted to feature a few of those articles here as well.

The ONE that went the most viral, as far as I can tell, is this post from February 2014, in which you call for Christians to stop saying they are “blessed,” as we are prone to do. It has received, to date, over 1100 responses on the original post, the HuffPo linkup has been shared on Facebook more than 78,000 times, and continues to garner new comments now, two and a half years later. It’s unlikely that you foresaw the impact that post would have (what makes something go viral??), so I’m wondering if you knew it would strike a chord with those around you… and those around them and around them, or if was just something weighing heavily on your heart? Do you feel like recognizing that phrasing in your own life (and subsequently changing to saying “I’m grateful”) has led to any lasting change or made you more introspective about the “blessings” that others receive?

Oh yes.  Viral blogs.  I had been posting stories and thoughts for a few years before writing the “Blessed” post.  I had no idea it would strike such a chord with people.  It was just something that was weighing on me.  I would like to say that my immediate reaction to the blog’s success was joy or fulfillment, but honestly, it was an initial nightmare. As hundreds of thousands of people read it, and the comments started rolling in, I focused on the negative.  Some people strongly disagreed with me, and didn’t mind telling me so in very creative ways. Calling me everything from a damaged person, to a heretic, to a complete idiot.  You name it. I read all of the comments and internalized them.  For this reason, I was complete wreck for three weeks.  I could barely function.

Finally, in a desperate attempt at sanity, I did the math.  Roughly a million people read the post, and just a thousand or so sent me disparaging comments or emails.  This translates to a fraction of a percent of the population.  Such a small number!  Once I realized this, I could finally focus on the messages from those who said the blog helped to strengthen their faith, or bring them back to church.  But the ones that were most inspiring to me were the testimonies from people who had endured terrible tragedies.  The death of children, the loss of a spouse, debilitating disease.  Each of them taught me so much about what it means to be grateful given unthinkable circumstances.  I have never endured such hardship, and am uncertain I would have the strength to endure like they have, but I keep their messages close by in case storms come, because their perspective on life, faith, and the grace of God is beyond comprehension.

Next, I found this article, also from 2014, particularly timely based on our current political climate and national fears. Even though it was written two years ago, it seems to speak exactly to where we are right now as well as a nation: calling for change, security, black lives matter, gun control, gun rights, border control, amnesty, SOME KIND of control! You ask us, as Christians, to consider that what is legal and above the law isn’t always (or even, often) what Jesus would have advocated. How do you recommend we balance living in a nation that HAS laws that we are bound to follow, legally, and belonging to a holy nation, governed by God’s laws? Or is this more of a “what is permissible under the law might not always be the best way to go, but what is prohibited under the law is definitely a good plan” type of qualifier?

Wow!  You really dig deep for these interviews!  Kudos for finding this article and reminding me how it resonates so clearly with current events.

You raise some incredible questions, and I am not sure I am qualified to answer them.  But, I’ll throw in my two cents with the caveat that I have a biased opinion. toward those on the margins.  And, at best, have limited knowledge of what it is to live their struggle.

Jesus’ command to Christians is to love your God with all your might, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And Jesus modeled his life on sacrificial love.  So, as Christians, we are called to sacrifice ourselves for the good of all God’s Kingdom, especially the stranger and the outcast.

In contrast, the leaders of our country take an oath to protect this nation and its citizens at all costs.  Which is also a good and noble cause. And, if you are accountable to our nation and its laws – a nation that has separated the church and state – then your first call is to serve citizens.

Many people see these two positions in stark contrast to on another and therefore, frame arguments as either/or propositions.  Either we protect our citizens or let all the immigrants in.  Either we let citizens defend themselves or we take away all their weapons.  Either we support our police force or we support the African American community.

Unfortunately, in the halls of power, the voice of the marginalized is often softer than the voice of the majority.

And to this, we have two responses as Christians,

First, we must be the change we wish to see by framing arguments as “both/and”.  There are ways to protect our citizens AND welcome refugees who are suffering the persecution of politics and poverty. There are ways for us to protect the rights of gun owners AND help families feel safer. There are ways for us to support the police force AND recognize that systemic racial injustice needs to be addressed.

Second, as Christians, we must advocate for the voiceless while listening to the concerns of the majority.  Progress requires us to speak for those who have been silenced, but have open ears and hearts for all.

Finally, because I don’t want to take up your whole week, even though I could with all you’ve written, I wanted to touch on this article about protecting our daughters. You wrote it as a father of a daughter, and I am a mother of sons (third one due any DAY now!), so even though it was directed to the counterpart to my demographic, it was VERY pertinent to me as a parent. I’m definitely in step with the “change begins at home” idea in this post, and am wondering if you have other causes close to your heart in which you encourage parents to be the change, as it were? The purchasing decisions? The racial tension in America? The protection of our daughters? We surely have our work cut out for us!

Congrats on the new baby!  So exciting!  I pray for an uneventful delivery, and a happy, healthy, good-sleeping child.

Let me just say this.  If parenting were like any other job, we all would have been fired the moment we left the hospital.  So, I’m not sure I am any more qualified than another parent to answer your question.

With regards to racial tension, I firmly believe that today’s kids know more about equality than we do.  I wouldn’t call them color-blind, but they do tend to see the absurdity of the ways in which we treat one another.  We can certainly do our part to encourage this and speak out for justice, but they will be the ones to lead us.

The bigger issue for parents today is allowing kids to be kids.  I wrote a piece called “Busy is a Sickness” about how we are turning our children into mini-adults.  Our culture is addicted to achievement, and we perpetuate this by over-scheduling our children and pushing them to their limits.  Yet we never ask “what’s the purpose?”  Because if I asked you to name the past five best actress Oscar winners, or the past five Super Bowl MVP’s, or the five richest people in the world, you probably couldn’t do it.

But if I asked you to name the top five people who have meant the most to you in shaping who you are, you could create that list in a heartbeat.

Achievements are fleeting.  We must teach our kids what it really means to make a difference in someone’s life and reinforce it constantly.  And, in doing this, we will have done our job.

Thanks for indulging me today.  It’s been a pleasure.  Peace!

Thank you, Scott! Even without being an “expert” in politics, or parenting, or even spending, you have proven to be a wealth of knowledge. I am SO glad you agreed to an interview and so excited to share this one with my readers. Thanks for your time!

Author Interview – Bianca Olthoff

Bianca3Hi Bianca! Welcome to the blog! I love that I get to interview authors here and think it’s even better when I get to help promote a book before it comes out, so thanks for making time for me!

First, I always ask for the 2-minute intro and a little-known fact about you (your favorite song to turn up REALLY loud in the car, the best food to eat on a winter evening, some weird human trick you don’t share with anyone except those close to you). Tell us about Bianca!

I’m a writer and teacher in love with two men: Jesus and my husband, Matt. [You might not find this funny, but I laugh at myself, so it all balances out.]

I didn’t learn how to read until I was eleven, but now I can’t put down books. I ask questions, but most times I don’t want the answer unless it’s something I want to hear. I believe in a faithful God, even when I’m faithless. I’m a woman who loves God and is committed to speaking truth when it hurts, loving when it’s hard, and living life out loud.

I spend most of my time working as Chief Storyteller for The A21 Campaign, a global anti-human trafficking organization. By day I’m a freedom writer who advocates for justice, but at night I’m a step-mom who loves to have dance parties with Parker, Ryen, and Ricci [aka The Cutest Dog In The World].

Passionate about God’s word, I teach around the globe and blog about life, love, and the pursuit of Jesus. Whether discussing topics from justice to pop culture, I’ve spent ten years building the Church and mobilizing God’s people to action alongside Matt, Lead Outreach Pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, California.

I LOVE hot yoga. Like, obsessed. And if you are thinking I’m all New Age and whatnot, I promise you I’m not. I have injured my back over ten times and this stretching and praying routine has changed my health and relationship with God. 🙂

3 - Play with FireAlright, let’s dive in to Play With Fire first: your debut book, set to hit bookstore shelves on August 30th ! Since this is your first book, I’d love to ask a few of those “writerly” questions that help us see how you crafted this baby of yours. How long did it take you to write this out? The book is much more memoir than how-to guide, so I’m curious as to what that writing process was like for you since you had to get so vulnerable in the pages. Does it look the way you expected it to when you first started thinking about a book?

Well, technically the book took ten years to write because I had to live it before I could write about it. 🙂 But overall, the book took a year to write. I had some complications with my “baby” and it was on life support for about two months (I accidentally deleted my entire edited manuscript two days before it was due. I can’t….)

I don’t really have a method to writing, other than I really wanted a narrative arc that didn’t TELL people what God can do, but rather SHOW them what God has done… and can do.

Next, I first saw you this year as a speaker at If:Gathering and my best friend and I just LIT UP after you delivered your message about Mary and Martha and Lazarus. We spent WEEKS quoting you afterward because your personality just shines on stage. I was so excited to see that humor and wit come through in your written words as well! You seem to be speaking at various events all the time and then writing blog posts constantly for various outlets. How do you keep your stories new and fresh and exciting? I feel like straddling that Bible-scholar/Comedienne line has to be difficult, but you pull it off with grace!

Pull it off with grace? Oh Lawd have mercy, can I hug you?! I think I walk off the platform most times and think, “DID I REALLY SAY THAT?!” Or worse, “Mom will be so mortified I told that story!” But in all honesty, I really pray hard. As in, on my knees and sometimes even with leaking eyes and ask God to show up. No amount of study, prep, exegesis, and notes can do what the Holy Spirit can do through a person who is willing to be God’s mouthpiece.

a21-share-whiteThe other HUGE part of your life is the A21 campaign, where you serve as Chief Storyteller. Tell us a bit more about A21, and how that became such a passion for you (especially since this must have happened after the point in which you decided to end the book, since you don’t go into it in the pages). You also have this series of training videos on RightNow Media (subscription required), the most pivotal of which for me talks about moving from Awareness to Advocacy to Action. It’s a big world out there, fraught with so many problems. How do you recommend that people find the right “niche” passion to pursue and enact the steps you give for moving from awareness to action? I feel an almost decision paralysis on this issue and feel like picking ONE issue means giving up the rest of them! But by not choosing one to focus on, I’m not making progress on any of them!

Oh my word, I can’t believe you found that video. First of all, WHY was my makeup so bad?! Jesus, take the wheel! But secondly, this is a great topic. Passion is often birthed from compassion. The word for compassion is a hybrid of two Latin words, con (meaning with) and passion (meaning burden, or broken heart). So what breaks your heart? What keeps you up at night? What are you so angry or shocked about that you have to talk about it? Once you identify that, you can ask God to give you spiritual wisdom on how to move at a solution.

One of the realms that I feel like I found a lot about you and where you seem to have ministered/written quite a bit is in the area of Christian singleness and waiting for the person God has in store for you. You’ve got these great articles about “It’s Just Coffee” and the “Lonely Hearts Club” in which you speak directly to the single women in the church. How did that become a sort of hot button issue for you?

Well, I was the 30 year-old virgin so I felt like I could speak with authority on singleness. 🙂 But in all seriousness, I love cultural commentary and how the Church responds to issues not clearly defined in scripture. We don’t offer camels for commitments nor are we betrothed at birth, so how do we as 21 st century Christians respond? I don’t like to give prescriptions, but moreso, offer up dialogue so we can rightly divide the Bible and also work out our beliefs (like Paul tells us).

Finally, just a few weeks ago, you published on your own blog about reading The Hunger Games for the first time two years ago. In your signature style, you let us know immediately that even though it seemed silly to read YA at first, within a few chapters you wanted to “change my name to Katniss, date Peeta, and stand in a three finger pose while whistling like a Mockingjay.” Don’t worry, we’ve all been there! 😉 But then you pull it around and remind us that “the attraction to Katniss Everdeen is the reality that she could be you, she could be me. At the core of us is a desire to do what is right, good, true, and just. The sacrifice is big. The risks are daunting. But reward is worth it.” I feel like this is a great reminder for what we need to hear RIGHT NOW with the political, racial, and societal divides in our country. If we do something big and daunting, but aim for good, true, and just, we are maybe going to be able to change the world. Is that something that you’re hoping people take away from your book as well? You have to walk into the fire in order to experience it, and not just admire it from the outside. Our good, true, and just God wants to meet us there, where it burns. Thanks for writing your story, Bianca!

ABSOLUTELY! Change is inevitable, but transformation is a choice. We must CHOSE to do good, CHOOSE to walk into the fire, and CHOOSE to let God have full reign in our lives. My hope is that an ember of transformative faith spark in the hearts of all readers

XO,

B

Oh, Bianca, you are just so much fun! I knew you would be, since I’ve enjoyed your humor ever since seeing you on that big screen in February! But I just LOVE that I got the time to write back and forth with you in person. Thank you so much for your time!