Book Review: On Writing

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy, quick read

Summary
The book is broken up into two main parts, C.V. and What Writing is, Toolbox, and On Writing, plus a longish post-script chapter, which is followed by two more short post-post-script chapters, which King calls ‘And Furthermore’, parts 1 & 2. Throw three different forewords and there is a good deal of interesting and helpful material.
C.V. is basically a brief auto-biography.
What Writing Is, Toolbox, and On Writing, is the part of the book where he explains his writing process as well as tips and procedures to follow in writing fiction.
The first post-script ‘On Living’ is the story of him being struck by and van and his subsequent recovery.
The final two chapters are, first an example of editing a first draft and writing a second, and second, a recommended reading list.

My Thoughts
I love the feeling of King’s book, I felt the tone was, you know, it’s hard to describe. Just kidding, that’s a joke. Read the book, you’ll see, it’s funny.

His second foreword, pretty much sets the tone for the book – “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.” His one exception to this is Elements of Style, which Mrs. MMT actually gave me before we were even married, but I haven’t read it yet. Continue reading

Book Review: Meditations – A Short review, for a short book

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

My Rating – Pass

Level – Short, writing can be long and choppy, knowledge of history and philosophy would be helpful

Summary
Basically random thoughts from a guy who thought he was going to die. Most ideas are a reflection of the time in which he wrote as well as stoicism.

My Thoughts
The story of how/why he wrote the book is probably the most interesting aspect of the book. There is not systematic organization to the book, so writings seem unorganized and disjointed and occasionally repeat themselves.

If you have any familiarity with philosophy, any religion, any famous idioms or maxims, you will not get much from this book. You could probably save yourself the $1 (Dover Thrift Edition all the way) and just google Marcus Aurelius quotes and find the good parts.

 

Book Review: The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards

The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (A Long Line of Godly Men Profile) – Steven Lawson

My Rating – Put it on the list

Level – Easy, Medium length

Summary
The first chapter is a short biographical stretch of the man many consider to be the greatest American Theologian of all time. The rest of the chapters are devoted to Edwards’ construction of his ‘Resolution.’ Unfortunately, as Edwards didn’t order or systematize his Resolutions, the book seems to jump around a bit as Lawson attempts to categorize the list. However, the book does an excellent job of spelling many of the resolutions and giving us the story or reasons behind them. Many of the most interesting parts of the chapters has to do with how the Resolutions affected Edwards’ life.

In the appendix of the book, you can read the entire Resolutions.

My Thoughts
The best use of this book is to view it not as a biography, but as a commentary on Edwards’ Resolutions. The strength of the book isn’t so much it’s info on the life of Edwards, but instead it’s interaction with the Resolutions and different points of his life, or how his resolutions affected his life.

I personally found some of his attempts overwhelming, bordering on unnecessary. Obviously, Edwards is much more pious and disciplined than me and most people. However, his limited the amount of food he’d eat so as not to waste time or enjoy food too much just seemed extreme and unhealthy.

This book is well written and will challenge you. Lawson does a good job of posing questions at the end of each chapter. Anyone interested in spiritual disciplines or Jonathan Edwards needs to put this book on their reading list.

 

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review (see more in my about page).

Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney

My Rating –Put it on the List

Level – Not very readable, seems longer than it is

Summary
The book is exactly what you think it is based on the title. He jumps straight in with the first chapter explaining what he thinks (based on scripture) the spiritual disciplines are and why they are important. There are 10 disciplines and he devotes two chapters to the first, and then one each to the others – Reading the Bible, Prayer, Worship, Evangelism, Serving, Stewardship, Fasting, Silence and Solitude, Journaling, and Learning. He wraps up the book with a chapter on ‘perseverance in the disciplines’ and the importance of making them habits.

I assume most are quite familiar with the first five, and likely stewardship as well, however he has a bit of a twist. When most people here that word in context of church, they think money (though, presently, some may start to associate it with the environment), but he talks about time as well. I think this is an interesting point, that I’ve never really heard discussed. Often in the American church it’s about what not to do, as in, avoiding sin, not instead, focused on what to do. Don’t spend your time getting hammered. Makes sense, that’d be a sin. However, what if you spent 12 hours on Saturday watching college football? Not a sin, but…is it really the best use of your time? Are you really being disciplined, are you gaining from that? Obviously, this hit home for me.

The others, many people are familiar with, but in the American Evangelical church, things like fasting and solitude sound a little too Catholicy, so I’ve never really heard them taught. I was especially intrigued with fasting. It is abundantly clear in scripture that this is something we ought to do. But, I’ve never in my life done it. I’ll admit, though he says you really aren’t supposed to ever tell, but I tried fasting based on this chapter and bits of Piper’s A Hunger for God, on Fridays during lent. I’ll write more on that later, but the book is probably worth the price just to read that chapter. Continue reading

Book Review: How Would Jesus Vote?

I’m excited to post my first advanced review of a book. The book goes on sale May 17th, so check out my review and then go buy it (from the link below). It is a must read for anyone interested in current political issues.

How Would Jesus Vote?: Do Your Political Views Really Align With The Bible? by Darrell L. Bock

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Fairly Easy, moderate in length

Summary
The book seeks to look at broad topics in American politics and see what we can determine about them from the Bible. Bock does this mostly by listing verses and how they can apply. Along with an intro and concluding chapter, he writes 13 chapters:

  1. Principals that built America – interesting chapter on the point of religious freedom as the founders saw it.
  2. Loving your neighbor – obviously a major point for Jesus, not only was it the second greatest commandment, but gave us the famous story of the Good Samaritan. Bock points to this idea as our starting point for looking at issues the way Jesus would.
  3. Big or Small Government – brief overview of the pros and cons of each. The best take away is more his point that we needed to realize we can’t have everything and need thoughtfully seek a balance.
  4. Economics of Poverty – he continues the balance idea from the previous chapter and extends it to balancing helping the poor and personal responsibility.
  5. Health Care – this is a tough topic, as there is nothing in the Bible about healthcare. He does a great job pointing out the massive failures of our current system, but doesn’t really say much as to how Jesus or we should vote about it.
  6. Immigration – you really forget how much about immigration there is in the Bible, especially the OT. This seems to be an ancient problem that has affected most societies. Due to this, he takes a stronger stance in this chapter as to which way we should vote and consider this issue.
  7. Gun Control – similar to the health care discussion, there isn’t much in the Bible about guns, as, you know, they didn’t exist yet. He summarizes the horrible impact of our gun violence, but isn’t willing to go as far as saying we should vote to curtail it.
  8. Foreign Policy and Globalization – this chapter explores National Interest or Common Good, the latter being international good. Not much from the Bible here either, but interesting overall and a good general analysis of how the issue impacts America.
  9. War and Peace – looked at the ideas of ‘Just’ War or Pacifism, tracing the concept of a ‘Just’ War (as in justified) to Augustine and the idea of Pacifism to the Bible. Not many policy implications outside of war as a means of last resort, and some questions regarding whether preemptive war counts as justified.
  10. Race – great chapter to take on this issue. Walks a nice line between looking at race and realizing there are real differences and problems as well as clear historical issues, all while reminding us to look past race in the sense that all are created in God’s image as well as tying everything back to ‘loving your neighbor’. He also calls on Christians to care about these issues and to acknowledge there is an issue.
  11. Education – obviously an important topic that is not discussed as much as it should be in our society, but again it felt more like some of the other chapters where he points out how poorly we are doing without really taking up one policy or another.
  12. The Family – one of the stronger chapters as far as policy goes, there are two aspects focused on in this chapter. One is the problem of single parent households and the other is gay marriage. He points to the damage and disadvantages of growing up in a single parent household and focuses on how Christians should seek to strengthen families. He views gay marriage as unbiblical with clear scriptural proofs, but then seems to tie it to the family issue, without discussing the fact that a child could be brought up in a two parent household this way.
  13. Abortion – pretty clear here. He never points to an exact time in which life begins, admitting that we really don’t know. However, it is certainly sooner than 12 weeks. Most Christians will not find anything new in this chapter, but it is a compelling reminder of the issue, nonetheless.

My Thoughts
My only disappointment in this book is he never really states how he thinks Jesus would vote. He usually has a heading at the end of each chapter that asks what would Jesus have to say but never goes as far as picking a side on many of the issues or even alluding to which party may be better than the other on a particular topic. That likely has to do more with the title the editors gave the book than what Bock intended to do.

This is a very important book for people curious as to how their faith should interact with politics, especially in our current political climate where each side, at different times, claims Christ and disparages the other party as the unbelievers. People should take the time to read through the issues and really think about the verses listed.

Book Review: The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

I’m very excited to post my first review as part Reformation’s Trust Publishing (the publishing arm for Ligonier Ministries) blogger program. I received this book for free in exchange for posting a review. I look forward to reviewing more from RT, especially in the Long Line of Godly Men Profile series.

The Mighty Weakness of John Knox – Douglas Bond

My Rating – If You are Looking for Something

 Level – Short, easy

Summary
It’s difficult to write a summary of a biography. The book itself is a biography of the life of John Knox. To hit some high points: Knox was friends with John Calvin in Geneva, preached to an English speaking church in Frankfurt, help occupy a castle and endured a siege, was on a slave galley (rowing for a ship) for 18 months, preached before kings and queens, and helped write the Scots Confession.

Bond’s central theme for this short biography is contrasting Knox’s physical weakness with his spiritual might. Apparently, Knox was small and frail and suffered lasting injuries from his time in the galley. When first asked to preach/teach during the castle siege, he ran away crying. However, once he gave in to God’s call, he preached like a trumpet blast and produced many writings as well.

The end of the book also contains the Scots Confession, which is a short (25 articles) confession that is well worth reading.

My Thoughts
This is my first encounter with the ‘Long Line of Godly Men Profiles’ series and will likely not be my last. I knew basically nothing about Knox, other than he was Scottish and was responsible for the Presbyterian Church. His life was interesting enough, and the author wrote well with a clear passion for Knox.

However, one thing I did not like was how often it seemed that Bond was being defensive of Knox. Maybe it is because knew very little of him, but Bond was constantly raising criticisms and then almost too briefly dismissing them. Maybe the legacy of Knox is questioned or viewed negatively, I couldn’t say, but this aspect gave the book an apologetic tone.

Overall, if you are looking for a biography on someone from the Reformation, this is a good start. John Knox led a very interesting life; but if you already know a decent amount about him, there are probably better biographies. This book has piqued my interest in him enough to search out a more in-depth biography.

Updated Reading Challenge

My 2016 Reading Challenge

Through a quarter of the year, I’m on pace to reach my goal. So far, I’ve read 11 books, which would put me on track to read about 44 this year, easily meeting my challenge of 31. I doubt I’ll actually keep this pace, but it’s a nice thought. I’m geeking out a bit with the Goodreads tracking function, because it allows you to order the books by page numbers (as in below, with the exception of Tyndale) and also tells you the number of pages you’ve read (0f books you’ve finished). I’m at 2,163 in case anyone was interested. Actually, it looks like they are only counting eight books in that number, not sure why.

Books so far:

  1. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
  2. Pirate Latitudes
  3. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
  4. A History of the World in 6 Glasses
  5. Four Views on the Historical Adam
  6. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible
  7. How to Read Genesis (How to Read Series How to Read)
  8. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will
  9. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity
  10. Meditations (Dover Thrift Editions)
  11. 1 Peter (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)

 

I’m currently reading Bavinck, Crime and Punishment, Thinking Fast and Slow, The American President, and The Last Girl, as well as Morning by Morning.

A few more on my list (whether I get to them this year or not):

  • Novels – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Hyperion, Girl on the Train, and probably some free kindle stuff.
  • Christiany books – Don’t Waste Your Life, Disciplines of a Godly Man, Radically Normal, Lost World of Genesis 1
  • Bible Study – pretty much all the Minor Prophets, using the New American, Tyndale and Word Biblical Commentaries.
  • Non-fiction – Misbehaving, Jimmy Carter’s Reflections at 90, Sapiens

Book Review: Pirate Latitudes

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

My Rating –If You are Looking for Something

Level – Easy & quick, medium length

Summary

It’s about pirates. If you are like me, what more do you need? Actually, it’s technically not about pirates, it’s about privateers and they are very particular to make it clear that they are not pirates. Anyway, if follows an English privateer in Port Royal (like, from Pirates of the Caribbean) who has a chance to attack a Spanish fort, that is considered impenetrable, to get to a Spanish Galleon that he hopes is carrying lots of gold.

He assembles his core team, which is of course a color, ragtag bunch, as well as a few dozen other unnamed crew members and sets sail. With storms, other ships, and of course, a kraken, the mission takes on almost an “Odyssey” feel. There are number of interesting twist and turns as the adventure takes much longer than expected. Read it and decide if it has a happy ending or not.

My Thoughts

I’m a fan of anything pirates or Michael Crichton, so I wasn’t disappointed. The book is a little long, and meanders a bit at the end, before finally concluding. I’m also a big fan of the ‘round-up.’ The part where the protagonist sets off to assemble is crew. Crichton does a great and entertaining job of this, early on in the book. If anyone cares, I’ve read that this book is incredibly accurate in regards to maritime history, but, obviously, I can’t confirm that.

There are parts that are predictable and cliché, and an anti-climactic dual that was disappointing, but overall, if you are heading to the beach and want a fun book to read, this is a great option.