For my quick takes this week, here are some short reviews on books I’ve read lately. Please forgive the uneven font size. ‘Can’t figure out how to fix it.
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The Spear by Louis DeWohl:
This panoramic novel of the last days of Christ ranges from the palaces of imperial Rome to the strife-torn hills of Judea-where the conflict of love and betrayal, revenge and redemption, reaches a mighty climax in the drama of the Crucifixion. For this is the full story of the world’s most dramatic execution, as it affected one of its least-known participants-the man who hurled his spear into Christ on the Cross.
This book gives a lot of insight into the political and sectarian circumstances surrounding Jesus’ life. Fictionalized but (I think) historically plausible. A real page turner.
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Biting the Dust: The Joys of Housework by Margaret Horsfield:
Horsfield, a reporter for BBC, CBC, the Guardian and the Independent, uses her journalistic skills to investigate not only how, but why, we clean. Using historical, literary, psychological and personal sources, she traces the long and tangled evolution. . . . In the late 19th century, the germ theory of disease scared women onto a new plane of anxiety about the cleanliness of their households. With the introduction of soap around the same time, the media turned method to madness by establishing standards of cleanliness that were suffocating, imprisoning and impossible to live up to. Bringing her subject up to the present, Horsfield blames people like Martha Stewart for perpetuating a kind of “domestic pornography” that encourages women to fight a losing battle by creating yet another impossible, media-fueled ideal. Horsfield couldn’t take a more ordinary subject and make it more interesting.
This book came to mind when I attended recentsales parties for Arbonne cosmetics and Norwex house-cleaning products. I’m sure these products are fine in themselves. I do question their marketing messages, which rely on vague but alarming statements about the dangers of “chemicals.”
In centuries past, people believed that sickness was caused by bad air, hence the old warning against letting in the night air. Those notions went by the wayside as germ theory developed. Later on, triclosan was added to anything and everything. Now we realize that killing any and all germs and bacteria isn’t such a good idea.
I wonder, then: are “chemicals” just the current boogeymen that we’ll laugh at decades later. Surely, some are bad for you. Dousing the earth in DDT in the mid-20th century turned out to be not such a hot idea. But some chemicals are naturally occurring. Some are harmless. Many are harmful only in small quantities. I’m certainly no expert. But do we think about these nuances before paying a pretty penny for products claiming to be “green” or “chemical-free?”
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Splendors of the Rosary: A Celebration of the Mysteries of The Rosary through Art and Meditation, from Magnificat Press. A really beautiful collection of artwork and meditations for each mystery of the Rosary. I imagine this would be great for older children; it certainly is for adults. (Gift from my mom–thanks Mom!)
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I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith:
. . . tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has “captured the castle”–and the heart of the reader–in one of literature’s most enchanting entertainments.
Beautifully written. Sad, but ends on a hopeful note. Hard to believe it was out of print for many years.
What is it about these coming-of-age, first-love stories that leave me a mushy, sentimental mess? It’s like this:
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Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculée Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin:
Immaculée shares her miraculous story of how she survived during the Rwanda genocide in 1994 when she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor’s house for 91 days! In this captivating and inspiring book, Immaculée shows us how to embrace the power of prayer, forge a profound and lasting relationship with God, and discover the importance of forgiveness and the meaning of truly unconditional love and understanding—through our darkest hours.
It took me a while to get to this. It’s rare that I wake up in the morning thinking, “What I really want to do today is read about genocide.” But this book isn’t really about genocide, although of course that’s the central event. The book is about hope, forgiveness, and God’s miraculous sparing of the author’s life.
It’s interesting to read how specific the author’s hope is, as opposed to a cautious, “I’m sure God will work everything out somehow.” It’s inspiring and yet, is this bordering a bit on the “name it and claim it” prosperity Gospel line of thought? Also interesting is this book’s description of the powerful role of the media in furthering the Rwandan genocide.
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Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath:
Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? Chances are, you don’t. All too often, our natural talents go untapped. From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to fixing our shortcomings than to developing our strengths.
Okay, I actually haven’t read all of this. I got a used copy from Paperback swap. Turns out the book is mainly a discussion of various “strengths” but you have to take an online test to see what your individual strengths are. Each copy of the book has a unique code that only can be used once. Because I got my copy used, the code doesn’t work any more. Bummer. The introduction does have some interesting ideas about the benefits of building on our individual strengths rather than focusing on our weaknesses.
Just reading the introduction, though, got me thinking: what about strength-based parenting? How can I help my children develop their unique strengths and avoid fixating on overcoming their weaknesses? Does anyone know any good books on this subject?
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Speaking of children, my four-year old girl has been loving these ballet books lately:
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