Just for curiosity's sake, I'm going to start tracking how many books I read. David and I read daily to the kids, too, so this isn't an exhaustive list. But I'll only note a children's book here if it particularly stands out to me.
Books of Scripture
Children’s Picture Books
- The Day You Begin
- by Jaqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
- This is the fourth book by Jaqueline Woodson I’ve read, and I’ve loved all four. Written in verse form and for anyone who has felt like an outsider, it encourages children (and adults!) to begin to share their stories and connect to those around them. The pictures are vibrant and expressive.
Books in General
- Professional Troublemaker, the Fear Fighter’s Manual
- by Luvvie Ajayi James
- She is audacious and sassy and had me cackling aloud a number of times. As someone who has been viewed as a troublemaker in more than one church, this book was a balm. Fair warning, there are parts that may be uncomfortable to read if you’re caucasian. Even more so if you’re a caucasian man. If you’re new to Ms. James, start with her viral TED talk.
- The Autistic Brain, Helping Different Kinds of Minds Succeed
- by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek
- Picked this one up by random from the library, and now want to buy a copy to have for myself. Dr. Grandin is considered an expert on autism and is herself autistic. As a non-scientist, I found Dr. Grandin and Mr. Panek’s writing very approachable, even when they write about complex topics like neurology.
- I particularly appreciated Dr. Grandin’s chapter on the strengths common in autistic people, how these strengths are often overlooked, and how autistic people thrive when the focus is on their abilities instead of their deficiencies.
- The first time I heard of the idea that autistic people lack “theory of mind” (the ability to imagine what someone else is thinking or feeling), I was immediately skeptical, based purely on my experiences with actually autistic people in real life. So I found this quote particularly affirming:
- “Over the decades, I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of research papers on whether autistics have theory of mind – the ability to imagine oneself looking at the world from someone else’s point of view and have an appropriate emotional response. But I’ve seen far, far fewer studies on sensory problems – probably because they would require researchers to imagine themselves looking at the world through an autistic person’s jumble of neuron misfires.”
- And as a parent, I found the following quote affirming:
- “Kanner’s [a well-renowned child psychiatrist who practiced during the 20th century] reasoning was probably complicated by the fact that the behavior of kids who are the product of poor parenting can look like the behavior of kids with autism. Autistic kids can seem rude when they’re actually just oblivious to social cues. They might throw tantrums. They won’t sit still, won’t share their toys, won’t stop interrupting adult conversations. If you’ve never studied the behaviors of children with autism, you could easily conclude that these kids’ parents are the problem, not the kids themselves. But where Kanner went horribly wrong was in his assumption that because poor parenting can lead to bad behavior, all bad behavior must therefore be the result of poor parenting.”
- The Last Druid (The Fall of Shannara series, Book 4)
- by Terry Brooks
- Fantasy novels are my guilty pleasure, and I cut my teeth on books by Terry Brooks as a pre-teen. He is one of my favorite authors, though this particular book is not one of my favorites of his (I read the previous three books in this series in previous years, so not included here). Too many loose ends at the conclusion for my taste. But I did appreciate the strong mentor-mentee relationship portrayed between the characters Drisker (father-figure) and Tarsha (young woman), and that Mr. Brooks delivers a plethora of three-dimensional female characters (unlike, say, the original Planet of the Apes, gag-me-with-a-wooden-spoon) and strong male counterparts.
- Lessons from the Least of These
- by Robert L. Woodson, Sr.
- I’d read an article or interview (I forget which) a while ago by Robert Woodson and was intrigued to read more of what he’d written. I picked this book because I like the premise that grassroots leaders can transform lives (I’m a member of a religion whose principal figure is a day-laborer from a rural area of a now-defunct empire), so I was predisposed to agree with him. The book was chock full of inspiring stories, but at the end of the day I was disappointed in it, primarily because it was entirely anecdotal evidence. No research was cited to back up its claims, not even internal research the non-profit organization he founded may have done.
- Banished, Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church
- by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer
- The memoir of a woman (Ms. Drain) who spent her teenage years in what most people consider to be a cult, and how she was kicked out and disowned by her family. This is another one I picked up at random from the library and ended up wanting to buy my own copy. Having had my own experiences with cult-like churches (not to the extreme Ms. Drain went through), some of how Ms. Drain described her thoughts and attitudes as a member were eerily surreal. Despite the clear heartache, the book ends on a hopeful note. I’d totally recommend if you want an insider’s perspective on how cult members think.
- The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton, Victorian England’s “Scandal of the Century” and the Fallen Socialite who Changed Women’s Lives Forever
- by Diane Atkinson
- Is it too sassy of me to call this a “must-read” for complementarians on the lessons of unintended consequences? David will probably think so.
- Drawing on extensive research, Ms. Atkinson follows the story of Caroline Norton, a woman who was instrumental in bringing justice to abandoned wives, particularly in regards to access to their children. Hardly a feminist (she believed women are innately inferior to men), Caroline Norton nonetheless noted that a man’s housekeeper and apprentice had more legal rights than his own wife, and undertook a 30-year journey to change that, inspired by her husband’s refusal to allow her to see to their young children (while they were still married). Overall, well worth the read, and full of primary source material. My only complaint was that the periodic rabbit trails describing the background (and background of the background) of some of the people in Caroline Norton’s life sometimes made the book hard to follow, but the trails all eventually returned to the main story.
- The Guardian Herd, Stormbound
- The Guardian Herd, Starfire
- The Guardian Herd, Landfall
- The Guardian Herd, Windborn
- by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez
- Loved this young-adult series of four books. Follows the story of an orphaned flying horse who is destined to be either the great healer or the great destroyer. Includes themes of the unlikely savior, forgiveness, love and sacrifice, friendship, betrayal, repentance and redemption, making choices when living with doubt and uncertainty, the power of the individual to choose between good and evil, etc. There are a lot of “fluff” young-adult fiction books out there. This series is not among them.
- Endling, the Only (Book 3)
- by Katherine Applegate
- Another solid young-adult fantasy series (I read the first two in 2021, so not listed here). Follows the story of the dairne (you’ll have to read the books) Byx and her quest to discover if she’s really the last of her kind. Dairnes have been hunted to near-extinction because of their ability to tell when someone is lying. Along the way, Byx manages to befriend creatures of all kinds and her quest grows to becomes a mission to save the known world from two competing dictators. (Apparently, authoritarian leaders fear the truth. There is a good sermon illustration in there, somewhere.) Also follows the theme of the unlikely savior, and reaching past differences to forge new friendships.
- The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (revised)
- by Sheila Wray Gregoire
- I was on the launch team for Sheila’s book The Great Sex Rescue (co-authored with Rebecca Lindenbach and Joanna Sawatsky), and was curious to see how her revised version of The Good Girl’s Guide measured up, in light of her team having done research involving 20,000 (yes, twenty-thousand) evangelical women for The Great Sex Rescue.
- For context, Sheila writes from a Christian perspective. She takes a holistic view of sex, saying that it is more than simply one-sided intercourse. Instead, she defines sex as intimate, mutual, and pleasurable.
- The book was tasteful, compassionate, grace-filled, practical, and evidence based. As someone who worked on the Planning, Research, and Institutional Effectiveness Committee at my old job, let me repeat: evidence based.
- She starts at the beginning with essentials that should be (but often aren’t) talked about in basic sex ed, to fill in any possible gaps. She also covers topics like the sexual response cycle (i.e., libido, how it works and how it doesn’t work), coercion and consent, boundaries in the bedroom, mutuality, pleasure, etc. Land mines like pornography and sexual dysfunction or pain are also addressed and handled with nuance, directing readers with an attitude of hope to further resources for help, while staying away from pat answers. There’s an appendix specifically for engaged couples planning their honeymoon that I thought was particularly well done.
- One caveat – she talks frequently (on her blog/podcast and in her books) about the three different aspects of sex being “physical, emotional, and spiritual.” The physical and emotional I get, but the spiritual always seemed kinda wonky to me. Reading this book, I finally realized that there are two different definitions of “spiritual” wandering around out there.
- The definition I use is along the lines of “things we do to maintain/edify our relationship with God.” Like the whole concept of “spiritual disciplines.” The idea of including marital sex in this context is off-putting, because it implies that singles can never enjoy the same level of spirituality with God as married folks, and that even a married person’s level of spirituality with God can suffer if they are abstaining from sex for health (postpartum, for example) or other reasons (porn recovery, for example).
- Anyway, after reading this book I realized Sheila’s definition of “spiritual” is more along the lines of a deeply, emotionally intimate relationship/bond with another person. (Which for me would just go under the “emotional” aspect of sex, but whatever.) In the “spiritual” section, she addresses things mostly along the lines of faithfulness and commitment, not so much “feeling close to God.” So, just something to be aware of.
- Okay, two caveats. After having read the men’s companion book, The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex (see review below), there are things included there that I wish had also been included in The Good Girl’s Guide. Even though aimed toward men, I think it would be helpful for wives to hear this, too. Easy solution is to just read both books!
- In The Good Girl’s Guide, women are encouraged to try out their husband’s hobbies as a way to build the relationship. While helpful at face-value, this is the same advice given in other marriage books by other authors that place the entire burden for maintaining a relationship on the wife and none of it on the husband. So it was easy to tune out. To be fair, in The Good Guy’s Guide, men are told to try out their wives hobbies, as well. I think it would be more helpful if spouses were told jointly that they should be trying out each others hobbies. But this is a minor quibble.
- My less minor quibble is that, in the section about boundaries in the bedroom, there is only a rah-rah attitude toward lingerie, with no note that it’s ok to refrain if it’s something you’re simply not comfortable with. But The Good Guy’s Guide finishes (it’s literally on the last two pages of Appendix 1) with a story of a husband-to-be saying he didn’t want his wife wearing the lingerie she’d been given at a shower because it wasn’t “her” and he knew it made her uncomfortable. I think this “you do you” message could have been a little more explicit in the women’s book, too.
- The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex
- by Sheila Wray Gregoire and Dr. Keith Gregoire
- The men’s companion to the aforementioned “Good Girls’ Guide to Great Sex,” written by Sheila and her husband, Keith (a pediatrician by day). Even though I’m not a man, it was well worth reading as a complement to the woman’s version. I was also super excited to see it endorsed by Sam Powell, whose blog I highly recommend.
- Written in a similarly approachable tone, the book is mostly in Keith’s voice. It starts by dismantling messages men may have received from both culture and the church that can negatively impact his view of sex and his relationship with his wife. Like “The Good Girls’ Guide,” this book is also evidence based, which I find makes it that much more credible. Many of the themes and topics are similar to “The Good Girls’ Guide,” which I’ve already talked about, above, so I won’t repeat that, here. It’s simply looking at these same themes from a different angle. Like “The Good Girl’s Guide,” difficult topics like pornography are handled with nuance, compassion, and a path forward to healing for both spouses.
- Like “The Good Girl’s Guide,” I have one caveat – how being overweight is handled. The rest of the book was spot-on; I just wish I could white-out these handful of pages.
- I do appreciate that they point out what is often a double-standard when it comes to men and women in this category. I also appreciate that they point out unrealistic standards often placed on women after pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.
- However, based on my own anecdotal evidence (they’re not my stories to share, so I won’t), for people on the obese end of the spectrum, weight management is a lot more complicated than the Gregoires’ “two things: how much goes into the body and how much you burn with activity.” It’s kinda like telling someone with anorexia to “just eat more food.”
- Also, telling the non-obese spouse to take your obese spouse for walks every night after dinner and to take it upon yourself to cook healthy meals is setting the couple up for failure. The obese spouse is likely not stupid, will realize what is happening, and will feel manipulated. The non-obese spouse will be frustrated that their hard work and concern is being rejected and is not working.
- So, bottom line, if obesity is a part of your marriage, just skip pages 75-77; there are better resources for weight-management specifically out there. But do read the rest of the book; it’s well worth your time.
- On the Incarnation
- by (Saint) Athanasius of Alexandria
- Athanasius was an Egyptian man (possibly of Greek lineage, though that’s uncertain) and a church leader in the 300s. I’ve been convicted to start reading more works by early Christians, since they were closer to the time and culture in which Jesus lived. And since this is the time period I studied in college, I don’t really have the excuse of it being “outside my wheelhouse.” I started with Athanasius because David already had a copy. The version I read had an introduction by C. S. Lewis, which I also found particularly insightful.
- For such a little book, I’m embarrassed to admit this took me four months to finish. I flew through the first half, which Athanasius spends primarily on the concept of the Word (God) being made flesh (Jesus), dog-earring pages as I went. One of my favorite passages in scripture is John 1:1-14, with its heavy emphasis on the image of Jesus/the Trinity as the Word (logos), and the implications of that for humanity. And this book is rich in its exploration of that concept.
- Then I hit a rut with Athanasius’ more apologetics-type sections, where he defends Christianity against the pagans (people who were unfamiliar with scripture) and the Jews (people who were familiar with scripture, specifically the Old Testament). Maybe apologetics just isn’t my thing. But I’m also uncomfortable with the “this is just so logical, everyone else must be stupid who doesn’t agree with me” undertone. It (a) undermines the humanity of the people being argued against and (b) doesn’t actually work when trying to convince those you’re debating with.
Total (General) for Quarter One – 14
Total (General) for Quarter Two – 9
Total (General) for Quarter Three – (forthcoming)
Total (General) for Quarter Four – (forthcoming)
Anyone else read any of the above?