Sunday, December 30, 2012

Wrapping Up the Year with a Few Nonfiction Titles

My goal this year was to read 50 books, and I knew I was pushing it when I reached December and had yet to finish three nonfiction titles I was counting on to round out the 50. But I did it. Though each of these probably deserves its own post, I'm going to give myself a break and punch out shorter, but hopefully pithier, reviews all at once together.

One Thousand Gifts
By Ann Voskamp
I started to read this New York Times bestseller around the end of this summer. It was given to me as a gift, ironically enough, and I never would have guessed the impact it would have on me. I found it strange at first when I started reading. It was too poetic, a style of writing that was way over-the-top compared to what I normally read. I don't hate poetry but, you know, it's poetry. Voskamp's book doesn't appear to be poetry, at first glance, and it's not meant to be. It's definitely prose, like most other semi-autobiographical, inspirational, self-help books out there. But the way she writes, the images she uses, the turns of phrase and the word choice, all have a poetic bent to them. It's just how Voskamp is. She's this farm girl with a soul on the lookout for beauty, whether that be through her camera lens or in the very way she sees the world and expresses it verbally. It doesn't make her book easy to read, but perhaps the words stay with you longer. I managed to drag the book out over a third of the year, but it wasn't because it was a bad book. Rather, it was hard to read in more ways than one. I quickly got over the poetic nature of the book; that wasn't even the issue. It was a hard book to read because it made me cry. It challenged me. It met me where my soul was at. The beauty seeker in Ann found a match in me, and I needed time to let her words percolate and dissolve. And time is something I didn't have a lot of this year with two young children running around. That's why I was pushed to get 50 books read, this one included.

So, what is it about this book that gripped me so hard? It's really a very simple message, so simple you'd scoff unless you took the time to read it yourself. It's about giving thanks. It's about how counting the daily gifts God gives you leads to a fulfilled life, even if you are just a busy mother with no obvious "greater" calling from God. Count the gifts, even the ones that don't look like gifts. Realize God is in total control, ordering all the events of your life, the painful ones included. See God's love in it all. Let go. Live. That's what this book is about, and I challenge you to read it, too. As for me, my next goal is to count my own gifts. I believe it has the potential to revolutionize my life.

Night Light: a Devotional for Couples
By Dr. James and Shirley Dobson
My husband and I started reading this book at the beginning of the year. There are only 26 weeks of mostly one-page daily devotionals, but I'm not gonna lie, this was difficult to get through in 52 weeks. Maybe we were too busy. We probably could have taken the time. Instead, we were left to scramble through whole weeks at once in an effort to get this book done this year. Thank you, Nick, for bearing with me through this crazy 50-book goal! But despite the fact that we were busy, I'm going to just go ahead and blame the book itself. It isn't applicable enough. It isn't entertaining enough. It isn't always believable, and the questions are often textbook rather than thought-provoking. I have to confess that my husband and I often have a hard time finding marriage self-help books to be applicable to our circumstances, so where it doesn't match us, it might match you. But I can only tell my own experience.

Each week of this devotional has a theme. Sunday usually starts off with a story, often written by someone other than one of the Dobsons. Monday through Friday, the devotionals are followed by three or four questions and a prayer. Saturday is a recap day of sorts, often with some sort of story or insight from the lives of the Dobsons. This set-up isn't bad, but the content is sometimes filler stuff.

It just didn't always seems that applicable to us, and even when it was, the questions often required regurgitation of the message rather than self-scrutiny and application. Some weeks were better than others, and even some questions were decent. But overall, it didn't impress me.

I also had one other major problem with the stories shared. I wasn't always sure they were real. I am a writer, and there is a practice some writers have of embellishing the truth, especially for devotionals. I hate that practice. If you want to write fiction, own up to the fact that you're writing fiction! Don't pretend a story is true for the sake of a lesson! In this book, I'm not saying stories were made up, but I'm not sure they were always verified true accounts. In one case, the Dobsons make a point of saying they verified the story. But if they felt the need to clarify that in one instance, that makes me wonder how many times they just included other stories that have been passed along by word of mouth. For instance, one particular story they shared was something I'd heard in a different setting told a little differently. Maybe the Dobsons were the ones who had it right, but really, how do you collect so many perfect stories and anecdotes together? I just have that feeling that many of these kinds of stories are only based on truth. It really hurts your credibility if you can't even tell an honest story.

Anyway, I'm not sure my husband and I really gained anything from this book except the awareness that we really do need to spend that quality time together, albeit perhaps with different material.

New Testament (NIV)
It seems like cheating, but I'm counting half the Bible (and not even the longer half!) as one of my books this year. It was my goal to get the New Testament read through this year, and I was planning on counting it as a whole book if I was down to the line at the end of the year. Well, turns out I need it for the numbers. I'm not really going to review the Bible. If my readers don't know it by now, let me just say it straight out: I'm one of those who believes the Bible to be written by God through man, and I believe it's infallible and complete. It doesn't need my review or approval, but I do have an observation to make on my reading this year. Reading the New Testament in a year is easy. It requires five chapters a week. Even so, I had almost more trouble staying on task than I did last year when I read through the Old Testament as well. I guess, last year, I knew I didn't have room to skip. This year, I could read a whole week's worth in a day if I got behind. Granted, I probably needed the leeway this year (have I mentioned how crazy two little kids has made life for me?), but I don't feel like I got as much out of my reading as I did last year. I feel like I didn't spend as much time with God this year because, well, I didn't. I would like to try to read the whole Bible again next year. It's not just the content. It's the time spent. My soul needs both. What about yours? Want to take the challenge with me?

So, that's it then. Fifty books in fifty-two weeks. Next year, I likely won't be reading that many. No goals about it anyway. But I'll still be reviewing what I do read, so stay tuned!

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