My Challenges (timed)

See my list here
Completed 8 of 9

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Completed 2 of 3

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Completed 2 of 4

See my list here
Completed 71 of 81

See my list here
Completed 9 of 10

See my list here
Completed 34 of 50

See my list here
Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 5

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Completed 3 of 5

See my list here
Completed 5 of 100

My Challenges (perpetual)

See my list of stories read here

See my list of stories read here

See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here


See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here


New York Times Book Review: 6/40
New Yorker: 0/36
New York Review of Books: 0/20
Vogue: 1/16
Email: 841/1373

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-42: Podcasts

This idea comes from Dewey's own Weekly Geek idea list which she shared on her blog, and which I, thankfully, swiped before her blog was removed and can now glean from as I ponder new and hopefully fun Weekly Geek tasks.

Dewey worded it this way, "find and review a link to a book podcast." I'm modifying this just a bit and am asking you to share with us a podcast you love, preferably book related, but not necessarily so. Give us the link, of course, and share with us details about that podcast and why you enjoy it so much. If you have a couple or three favorites, share them all!

Then, as the week goes on, check out every one's suggestions, find time to listen to a few, then come back and let us know what you discovered, and if you've found a new favorite podcast.

If you don't listen to podcasts at all, tell us why, or what it would take to peak your interest in them. Perhaps you could do as Dewey suggests, and do a little research (google book podcasts) and find one, then post on your blog what you discover and if you liked it or not.

Be sure to sign Mr. Linky both for the post on your favorite podcast, and the post on what new favorites you discover this week.

Happy listening!

This subject is right up my alley. I use my iPod daily and subscribe to at least 50 different podcasts, many related to books in some way. There's no way I can pick only one favorite, but I'll limit myself to three recommendations.

First is the Guardian Books podcast, put out by the UK Guardian newspaper. It includes author interviews, book reviews, and various other book-related news and events. Part of the reason that I like it is that the participants are so honest with their opinions -- it's not unusual to hear them say things like, "This book/chapter/whatever is really quite terrible, isn't it?" in that British accent that we Yanks love. This honesty is so refreshing, especially in these days of often hypersensitivity and political correctness. Check out the Guardian's books multimedia page here or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes here.

A second great one is Slate's Audio Book Club. Each episode is 30-60 minutes and consists of three participants (usually editors, writers, or reviewers) discussing a book at length. The book may be modern bestseller, a classic or anything in between (although they seem to focus almost exclusively on fiction). I recently listened to them discuss Anna Karenina and was blown away by how much I got from the discussion. It's kind of like sitting in on group discussion with the best literature professors you've ever met. The participants can occasionally be a little snarky, but not enough to really affect your enjoyment. Check out the full list of Slate's podcasts (not limited to just the Audio Club, so you have to whittle it down) here or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes here.

My last recommendation is PRI's Selected Shorts. This is an hour-long podcast of short stories read by actors live at Symphony Space in NYC and at various locations throughout the US. There's a number of audiobook/story/poetry podcasts out there and this one is by far the best, in large part because the readers are professional actors and therefore know how to read a story aloud. Check out their website here, download it from the NPR site here or subscribe in iTunes here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

TSS - Organization

I feel like I've been connected to my laptop by an umbilical cord this past week. I've been on it ALL THE TIME. Part of that is due to my becoming completely addicted to the Farmville game on Facebook (for which I'm receiving all sorts of gibing from my sisters, but I keep playing anyway). So, I figured that as long as I was on the computer 24/7 anyway, I might as well organize some of my book-related stuff.

I currently have accounts with both LibraryThing (for books I own) and Goodreads (for books I don't own but want to read), as well as PaperBackSwap (nickname: florida-fan) and BookMooch. I was looking around for a place that my son could trade some video games and signed up for Swaptree. This got me thinking about the books I've listed on PBS and Mooch that I haven't gotten any takers on. Maybe I could trade them on SwapTree? But to do this (and for my general well-being), I'd need to organize and update. So that's what I've started working on today. As an irritating aside to this, my computer has decided to run at snail speed, which makes this project oh so much more enjoyable.

My plan of attack is consists of several steps (some overlapping).

1. Search my LT account for books that can be disposed of. I currently own almost 900 books, but I tag them as read and unread, so maybe this won't take too long.
2. Classify books in my Goodreads account by genre and how much I want them.
3. Make sure I don't still have books listed somewhere that I no longer own.
4. Double-check whether my library has a book I want to read before putting/keeping it on a wishlist.

I don't know how long my enthusiasm for this project will last; I'm a great project-starter but not as good of a project-finisher. We'll see. At least it's something to do while my Farmville crops grow.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Alyce of At Home with Books is giving away two copies of In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Contest open to U.S. and Canada through November 22.

Kristi of Books and Needlepoint is giving away three audiobook copies of What the Dog Saw by Macolm Gladwell. Contest open to U.S. and Canada through December 1.

J. Kaye of J. Kaye's Book Blog also has an audiobook copy of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. Contest open to U.S. and Canada through November 27.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Title: Tender is the Night

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

First Published: 1933

No. of Pages: 349

Synopsis (from B&N): "Set in the South of France in the decade after World War I, Tender Is the Night is the story of a brilliant and magnetic psychiatrist named Dick Diver; the bewitching, wealthy, and dangerously unstable mental patient, Nicole, who becomes his wife; and the beautiful, harrowing ten-year pas de deux they act out along the border between sanity and madness.

In Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald deliberately set out to write the most ambitious and far-reaching novel of his career, experimenting radically with narrative conventions of chronology and point of view and drawing on early breakthroughs in psychiatry to enrich his account of the makeup and breakdown of character and culture.

Tender Is the Night is also the most intensely, even painfully, autobiographical of Fitzgerald's novels; it smolders with a dark, bitter vitality because it is so utterly true. This account of a caring man who disintegrates under the twin strains of his wife's derangement and a lifestyle that gnaws away at his sense of moral values offers an authorial cri de coeur, while Dick Diver's downward spiral into alcoholic dissolution is an eerie portent of Fitzgerald's own fate."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: I definitely agree with the statement in the synopsis that this was one of Fitzgerald's most ambitious and autobiographical novels. Whenever I read a novel by an author I've read before, I can't help but compare the works, and I found myself continually comparing this one to The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's most famous work. I didn't love this novel as much as Gatsby, but in some ways it was a better work. You feel the characters' emotions more closely, so that some parts almost hurt you to read. The author gets more into the core of his characters here than he did in other works. Gatsby is a cleaner, more precisely written novel, but this one strikes closer to the bone.

The autobiographical nature of the book also jumps out at you throughout. I've heard that authors are constantly asked how much of themselves they put into their books and often the readers see more than is really there, but in this case you just know that it's not all fiction. I'm very curious to read more about Fitzgerald's life now and to see what critics have said about this book over the years.

I highly recommend this excellent book.

Challenges: 999 ("1001 Books"); (Another) 1% Well-Read; Guardian 1000 Novels ("Love"); Modern Library 100 Best Novels (#28 Board, #62 Radcliffe); Well-Rounded; What's in a Name? 2

(Another) 1% Well-Read Challenge completed

The challenge was to read 10 titles from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list (either the original or revised list). Here's what I read:

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne -- completed 3/21/09; review

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell -- completed 6/7/09; review

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley -- completed 9/1/09; review

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle -- completed 3/15/09; review

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte -- completed 4/29/09; review

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie -- completed 4/18/09; review

Nana by Emile Zola -- completed 10/11/09; review

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen -- completed 7/21/09; review

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- completed 11/8/2009; review

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells -- completed 4/21/09; review

What's in a Name? 2 Challenge completed

The challenge was to read one book from each of six categories. I stuck to my original list of choices for all but one book. Here's what I read, with links to my reviews:

Profession: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester -- completed 3/9/09; review

Time of day: Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- completed 11/8/09; review

Relative: Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country by Joe Queenan -- completed 1/21/09; review

Body part: A Fez of the Heart: Travels around Turkey in Search of a Hat by Jeremy Seal -- completed 8/7/09; review

Building: The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings: Poems, Tales, Essays, and Reviews by Edgar Allen Poe -- completed 1/24/09; review

Medical condition: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling -- completed 7/24/09; review

Sunday, October 25, 2009

TSS - Recent acquisitions

I've been in a reading slump the past couple of weeks, but that hasn't stopped me from adding to my already-overflowing bookshelves. My library had their annual book sale last week; it was the first time I've attended and, although it was CRAZY crowded and therefore difficult to browse, I did end up with 5 new additions. The other newbies I've picked up came from one of our local Goodwill stores. I love book shopping there because you never know what you'll find. Sometimes I walk out with just 1 or 2 items, but other times I get an armload. I like to think of it as a bookaholic treasure hunt.

From the book sale, I got:

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This title was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004 and is on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

On Beauty and White Teeth both by Zadie Smith

These are both hardbacks and appear to be brand new. On Beauty was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and nominated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 2006. Both titles are on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass

Probably the best-known work by Grass, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999. The movie version won a number of awards in 1979, including the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The novel was originally published in German in 1959 and is included on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I got this one from the library a few years ago, but didn't finish it. So many others have read it and loved it, I figured I'd see what all the fuss was about.

The Goodwill produced these gems:

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

The winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1998, this is also one more title from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

One of my favorite Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall movies, the book is (guess what) listed on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Saramago is an author that I've had on my list of authors-to-read for a while, so I was thrilled to pick this one up.

Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor

This collection of short stories was published posthumously in 1965. It's one more title from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz

Another title from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, this book was first published in Arabic in 1947. The Egyptian author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

The Sign of Four and The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I actually already have The Sign of Four as part of another collection, but I was missing The Valley of Fear. For $2, I wasn't going to be picky.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The best-known work by the Nigerian author, this title is yet another from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What are you reading on Mondays? - October 19

I'm in a complete reading slump this week. I haven't picked up a book since last Wednesday. There's still at least a dozen books I need to finish for my challenges but I'm seriously doubting whether that'll happen. I've let the challenges become a chore and I'm not enjoying my reading very much these days, but I hate to quit a project, especially for those that I'm so close to finishing. Maybe if I read something just for fun and cleanse the mental palate (so to speak), then come back to the others? It's an idea.

Recent completions:

Zip, zilch, nada.

Reading this week: (maybe)

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Up next:

Too soon to tell.

Challenge progress:

1% Well-Read: 9/10
Baker Street Challenge: 2/4
Book Awards 3: 1/5
Chunkster: 2/3
Decades '09: 8/9
Elizabeth Gaskell: 1/2
Fill in the Gaps 100 Books: 5/100
George Eliot: 1/2
Guardian's 1000 Best Novels: 8/10
Support Your Local Library: 34/50
Well-Rounded Challenge: 2/5
What's in a Name 2: 4/6

999 Challenge (overall): 70/81

999 Subcategories:
  • 1001 Books: 7/9

  • Booker/National Awards: 6/9

  • Through the Decades: 8/9

  • Dewey's Books: 8/9

  • C.S. Lewis: 5/9

  • Biographies: 9/9 ***complete

  • Travel: 9/9 ***complete

  • Catholicism: 9/9 ***complete

  • Dewey Decimal: 9/9 ***complete

Friday, October 16, 2009


Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit has 1 copy of The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes. Contest ends October 20, U.S. and Canada only.

Julie P. at Booking Mama has 1 copy of The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy by Sara Angelini. Contest ends October 30, U.S. and Canada only.

Julie also has 1 copy of You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Morning by Celia Rivenbark. Contest ends October 22, U.S. only.

J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog has 1 copy of The Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji. Contest ends October 31, U.S. and Canada only, must be 18 years old.

J. Kaye also has 1 copy of Priceless: The Case that Brought Down the Visa/MasterCard Bank Cartel. Same information as above.

S. Krishna's Books has 2 copies of The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl. Contest ends October 26, U.S. only.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What are you reading on Mondays? - October 12

I only finished one book this week, but that finished up two challenges. Yeah, me!

I also dropped Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by William S. Baring-Gould after 50 pages. It was a snooze, too much of a rehash of the Holmes stories.

Recent completions:

Nana by Emile Zola -- review

Reading this week:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

Up next:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Challenge progress:

1% Well-Read: 9/10
A to Z Challenge: 26/26 ***complete
Baker Street Challenge: 2/4
Book Awards 3: 1/5
Chunkster: 2/3
Decades '09: 8/9
Elizabeth Gaskell: 1/2
Fill in the Gaps 100 Books: 5/100
George Eliot: 1/2
Guardian's 1000 Best Novels: 8/10
Orbis Terrarum: 10/10 ***complete
Support Your Local Library: 34/50
Well-Rounded Challenge: 2/5
What's in a Name 2: 4/6

999 Challenge (overall): 70/81

999 Subcategories:
  • 1001 Books: 7/9

  • Booker/National Awards: 6/9

  • Through the Decades: 8/9

  • Dewey's Books: 8/9

  • C.S. Lewis: 5/9

  • Biographies: 9/9 ***complete

  • Travel: 9/9 ***complete

  • Catholicism: 9/9 ***complete

  • Dewey Decimal: 9/9 ***complete

A to Z Challenge complete

One of many awesome challenges hosted by Becky at Becky's Book Reviews. As you would guess, the challenge was to read a book for each letter of the alphabet. You could do it by title, by author, or both. I went with author.

Rather than repost all 26 titles and links to my reviews, I'll just tell you to check out my original post here.

Orbis Terrarum 2009 complete

This challenge was again hosted by Bethany of Dreadlock Girl. You can check out the challenge's dedicated blog here.

The challenge was to read 10 books by 10 different authors from 10 countries (author's country of origin or where he/she lives). Here's what I ended up reading:

The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah (lives in Morocco) -- completed 3/25/09; review here

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (born in New Zealand) -- completed 9/26/09

The Cubs and Other Stories by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru) -- completed 5/3/09; review here

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul (born in Trinidad) -- completed 9/3/09; review

Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism by Muhammad Yunus (Bangladesh) -- completed 3/22/09; review here

Daughter of China: A True Story of Love and Betrayal by Meihong Xu and Larry Engelmann (China) -- completed 7/18/09; review here

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (born in Zimbabwe) -- completed 4/20/09; review here

Nana by Emile Zola (France) -- completed 10/11/09; review

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman (born in Sweden) -- completed 4/24/09; review here

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (Ireland) -- completed 5/10/09; review here

Nana by Emile Zola

Title: Nana

Author: Émile Zola

First Published: 1880

No. of Pages: 441

Synopsis (from B&N): "One of the founders of literary naturalism, Émile Zola thought of his novels as a form of scientific research into the effects of heredity and environment. He created characters, gave them richly detailed histories, and placed them in carefully observed, precisely described environments, and his readers watch as they wriggle and thrash toward their inevitable destinies.

In Nana, the characters are a prostitute, who rises from the streets to become what Zola calls a 'high-class cocotte,' and the men — and women — whom she loves, betrays, and destroys. Among the novel’s many ironies is the mutual envy felt by Nana and those around her. She yearns for their material possessions, while they admire her apparent independence and sexual self-confidence. And despite the chaos Nana causes, Zola imagines her as being essentially 'good-natured,' a stupid, vain but beautiful creature who can’t help drawing people into her web.

Not surprisingly, Nana’s portrait of a decadent world in which a prostitute amasses great wealth and power provoked protests from 'polite society,' and it became one of Zola’s most controversial works. Today it is regarded as his masterpiece."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: I liked this book immensely even though I didn't like any of the characters. They're just so well-written and fully three-dimensional; you can't help being awed by the author's talent, despite the fact that you wouldn't want to spend 10 minutes with anybody in the book. This was hard for me because I always want to like at least the central character, or if not like her, at least root for her. You can't do that here. There's so much wrong with this girl, she's so self-centered and lacking in normal human emotions that you want to slap her. And that makes you dislike the other characters even more when they're fawning all over her.

I can also understand why this book was controversial. Nana sleeps with anyone and everyone, and while the book does describe these encounters per se, it must have been quite shocking to 19th century readers. All of the characters are completely lacking in morals, including the "pillars of society." The author presents an unflattering view of society in general; I can't imagine the author was invited to dinner in certain quarters after this was published.

Challenges: 999 ("Through the Decades"); A to Z (author "Z"); Another 1%; Decades '09; Fill in the Gaps Project; Orbis Terrarum (France)

Monday, October 5, 2009

What are you reading on Mondays? - October 5

Recent completions:

Reading this week:

Nana by Emile Zola

Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by William S. Baring-Gould

Up next:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Challenge progress:

1% Well-Read: 8/10
A to Z Challenge: 25/26
Baker Street Challenge: 2/4
Book Awards 3: 1/5
Chunkster: 2/3
Decades '09: 7/9
Elizabeth Gaskell: 1/2
Fill in the Gaps 100 Books: 4/100
George Eliot: 1/2
Guardian's 1000 Best Novels: 8/10
Orbis Terrarum: 9/10
Support Your Local Library: 34/50
Well-Rounded Challenge: 2/5
What's in a Name 2: 4/6

999 Challenge (overall): 69/81

999 Subcategories:
  • 1001 Books: 7/9

  • Booker/National Awards: 6/9

  • Through the Decades: 7/9

  • Dewey's Books: 8/9

  • C.S. Lewis: 5/9

  • Biographies: 9/9 ***complete

  • Travel: 9/9 ***complete

  • Catholicism: 9/9 ***complete

  • Dewey Decimal: 9/9 ***complete

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ungrateful Daughters by Maureen Waller

Title: Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown

Author: Maureen Waller

First Published: 2002

No. of Pages: 402

Synopsis (from B&N): "British historian Waller reveals how Mary and Anne slipped the English throne out from under their father James II and delivered it to William of Orange while their infant brother, the rightful heir, was still alive, thus replacing the natural order of succession with an elective monarchy."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: I want to find something good in every book I read, but this one put that intention to the test. I love history and, purely by coincidence, this one continues the story told in Royal Charles, which I just finished. But I found this book very frustrating.

The book begins with separate chapters for each of the major persons involved; since their stories overlap, this results in the author repeating information unnecessarily. Next, there is a great too much supposition as to what a person "must have felt" or what "may have been" without reference to historical documents to back up the opinions. There are some quotes from documents but they are limited to mostly unimportant sections of letters full of terrible spelling (the royal daughters did not receive any education to speak of) and the reader has to struggle to understand what was meant.

And then there is the problem of names. The nobility had surnames but then also had their titles; for instance, one of the King's mistresses was Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth. It was common to refer to them by their title; Louise was generally referred to as "Portsmouth." Here, the author continually alternates how she refers to an individual, causing the reader to have to stop and figure out who she's talking about. This is very disruptive and could easily have been avoided by footnotes explaining that "so-and-so will hereafter be referred to as X."

The story itself reads like a soap opera, full of intrigue, deception, and greed. The current royal family have nothing on their ancestors. But while I found the story highly interesting, this book simply has too many problems. My conclusion is that it is just average and I'll be looking at other authors for books in the future.

Challenges: 999 ("Biographies"); Support Your Local Library

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor

Title: A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories

Author: Flannery O'Connor

First Published: 1956

No. of Pages: 276

Synopsis (from B&N): "The collection that established O’Connor’s reputation as one of the American masters of the short story. The volume contains the celebrated title story, a tale of the murderous fugitive The Misfit, as well as “The Displaced Person” and eight other stories."

The other stories contained are: The River; The Life You Save May Be Your Own; A Stroke of Good Fortune; A Temple of the Holy Ghost; The Artificial Ni**er (this is not the actual title, but I will not use that word, even in telling the name of a story); A Circle in the Fire; A Late Encounter with the Enemy; and Good Country People

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: These are not stories to make you feel warm and fuzzy. The overarching theme seems to be "People are no damned good" and each story supports that idea in a different way. This is not to say that the stories are not good -- they're very good, they just don't make you feel good. But they're well-written and solid, and the author does an amazing job of capturing ordinary rural Southerners of the time. I grew up in the South and many of the book's characters could have been mirror-images of some of the old people I knew. Their manner of speaking, the actual words used, the way they carried themselves, everything. It's kind of spooky, actually, how accurate the author was, but that also tells you something of how good a writer she was.

Challenges: 999 ("Booker/National Book Awards"); A to Z (author "O"); Modern Library; National Book Award Project (1956 nominee)

Friday, October 2, 2009


Some current giveaways that are happening:

Alyce at At Home with Books has 4 excellent titles up for grabs in October. Available are Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (paperback advance copy); The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (hardcover); Julie & Julia by Julie Powell (trade paperback); and Alex & Me by Irene M. Pepperberg (paperback advance copy). All are gently used. Contest open until October 29, U.S. and Canada only.

Julie P. at Booking Mama has a copy of The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan. Contest open until October 6, U.S. and Canada only.

Kristi at Books and Needlepoint is giving away 5 copies of Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley. Contest open until October 16, U.S. and Canada only.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My book bucket list

I read about this on Bibliophile by the Sea and loved it! The original idea from Pam at was to list your top 10 books that others should read before they die. Lilly at Reading Extravaganza amended it to list the top 10 books that you haven't read but think you should before you die. I like this better because I cannot limit myself to 10 when it comes to recommending books to others, but I think I can manage just 10 for myself.

My list (three of these are on my Fill in the Gaps project list):

1. The Bible
2. Ulysses by James Joyce
3. the complete works of Shakespeare
4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
5. Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
6. Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
7. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
8. The Histories by Herodotus
9. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
10. John Updike's Rabbit omnibus

Monday, September 28, 2009

What are you reading on Mondays? - September 28

I still haven't had time to write my review for The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, but I got a couple of comments last week about it and wanted to say that I liked it tremendously. I highly recommend it.

Recent completions:

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones -- I haven't written my review yet, but I enjoyed this one very much.

No Greater Love by Mother Theresa -- review

Reading this week:

Up next:

Nana by Emile Zola

Challenge progress:

1% Well-Read: 8/10
A to Z Challenge: 24/26
Baker Street Challenge: 2/4
Book Awards 3: 1/5
Chunkster: 2/3
Decades '09: 7/9
Elizabeth Gaskell: 1/2
Fill in the Gaps 100 Books: 4/100
George Eliot: 1/2
Guardian's 1000 Best Novels: 8/10
Orbis Terrarum: 9/10
Support Your Local Library: 32/50
Well-Rounded Challenge: 2/5
What's in a Name 2: 4/6

999 Challenge (overall): 67/81

999 Subcategories:
  • 1001 Books: 7/9

  • Booker/National Awards: 5/9

  • Through the Decades: 7/9

  • Dewey's Books: 8/9

  • C.S. Lewis: 5/9

  • Biographies: 8/9

  • Travel: 9/9 ***complete

  • Catholicism: 9/9 ***complete

  • Dewey Decimal: 9/9 ***complete

Friday, September 25, 2009

Books available on PaperBackSwap

In an ongoing effort to clean off some badly-needed shelf space, I listed a bunch more books to my PaperBackSwap account today. If you've noticed a book on this blog and thought you'd like to read it, check out my bookshelf at and request it. My nickname is florida-fan.

Here's what I listed:

All I Know About Animal Behavior I learned in Loehmann's Dressing Room by Erma Bombeck

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

The Duchess of Windsor by Michael

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

A Fez of the Heart: Travels in Turkey in Search of a Hat by Jeremy Seal

Geisha: A Life by Mineko Iwasaki

The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

Literary Feuds: A Century of Celebrated Quarrels - from Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe by Anthony Arthur

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener

What Southern Women Know (The Every Woman Should): Timeless Secrets to Get Everything You Want in Love, Life, and Work by Ronda Rich

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No Greater Love by Mother Teresa

Title: No Greater Love

Author: Mother Teresa

First Published: 1995

No. of Pages: 206

Synopsis (from B&N): "No Greater Love is the essential wisdom of Mother Teresa — the most accessible, intimate, and inspiring book of her teachings. Thematically arranged to present her revolutionary vision of Christianity in its graceful simplicity, the book features her thoughts on love, generosity, forgiveness, prayer, service, and what it means to be a Christian. A passionate testament to deep hope and abiding faith in God, No Greater Love celebrates the life and work of one of the world’s most revered spiritual teachers."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: Mother Teresa was truly one of the most humble people in our world. This is evidenced throughout this book, beginning with the first line.

I don't think there is anyone who needs God's help and grace as much as I do.
Imagine Mother Teresa, felt throughout the world to be a saint, feeling that! In some ways, it makes me feel better about myself to know she felt that, but then I must also acknowledge that her feeling differs from mine. I'm not nearly humble enough and when I think or say "I'm so weak, why doesn't God help me?" it's really self-pity working and not true reliance on the Lord. But Mother really meant it. It was never about her, always about God, which is obvious throughout her writing.

Rather than give a more traditional type of review, I thought I'd share some lines from the book that really stood out for me and why.

Perfect prayer does not consist in many words, but in the fervor of the desire which raises the heart to Jesus.
I've always had a problem with prayer, never feeling that I was doing it "right." This statement from someone who knew so much about prayer makes me feel that maybe my desire to pray counts for something, even if I can't come up with the words.

You will learn humility only by accepting humiliations. And you will meet humiliation all through your life. The greatest humiliation is to know that you are nothing.
The greatest mistake is to think you are too strong to fall into temptation. Put your finger in the fire and it will burn. So we have to go through the fire. The temptations are allowed by God. The only thing we have to do is to refuse to give in.
These are two of the hardest for me. I say I want to be humble, but I sure don't like it when I have the experiences necessary to make me that way!

We do not need to carry out grand things in order to show a great love for God and for our neighbors. It is the intensity of love we put into our gestures that makes them into something wonderful for God.
It is easy to love those who live far away. It is not always easy to love those who live right next to us.
The first quote is so important to remember. The big actions we perform are worthwhile, but how we live our daily life is so much more so. For the second quote, how true this can be! I think this is because loving and showing our love for those closest to us makes us much more vulnerable. Also, it can be so much easier to think positively about those far away, while we view those up close much harsher.

We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him right now, to be happy with Him at this very moment.
How many of us say we want to go to heaven, to be with God, but are unwilling to do what's necessary to be with Him today? I know I do. To be with Him now and everyday means giving up my will, my wants, my plans. That's so hard to do!

Challenges: 999 ("Catholicism"); Support Your Local Library

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two giveaways

Teddy at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time currently has 2 fabulous giveaways going.

First, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 through October 15), Hatchette Book Group is giving up to 5 winners a set of 5 books:

Zumba® by Beto Perez with Maggie Greenwood-Robinson
Evenings at the Argentine Club by Julia Amante
Tell Me Something True by Leila Cobo
Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz by Belinda Acosta
Amigoland by Oscar Casares

Second, Hatchette Book Group is also giving away up to 5 copies of Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley.

Both giveaways end October 15 and are limited to U.S. and Canadian addresses only. No post office boxes. Check out Teddy's blog to enter.

What Makes Us Catholic by Thomas Groome

Title: What Makes Us Catholic

Author: Thomas Groome

First Published: 2002

No. of Pages: 299

Synopsis (from B&N): "What makes a Catholic a Catholic? According to Thomas Groome, an expert on the essential ingredients of Catholic Christianity, Catholics share certain vital features of life and identity. What Makes Us Catholic explains and illuminates that character, and invites Catholics of all kinds to connect more deeply and imaginatively with their own culture and spirituality."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: I found this book a bit boring at first, but about chapter 4 or 5 it started to pick up and offered a number of beautiful, soul-affirming sentiments. A major theme of the author is that humans are meant to follow God's will and that His will is for us to love Him and one another. Everything else proceeds from love. The author takes that theme and applies it across human relationships - with our family, friends, coworkers, and the world in general. Each chapter discusses a particular concept and then provides three spiritual practices to help the reader develop more fully in that area. All can be adapted to the individual or replaced with your own.

I found this book uplifting and inspiring, and I felt good both while reading it and after. I'll be keeping my copy to use as a reference in the future.

Challenges: 999 ("Catholicism")

Monday, September 21, 2009

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge

This challenge is a great idea! It's being hosted by S. Krishna at S. Krishna's Books. Here's the scoop straight from the source:

This is a challenge that is aimed at getting through those books that have been sitting on your shelves for months, even years!


Any non-review books that are on your shelves and/or review copies that have been on your shelves for over six months. This means that recent review copies and library books are not eligible for this challenge! However, that doesn’t mean the book has to have been out for six months in order for the review copy to be eligible.

For example, say a book came out in July, but you received the review copy in January. That review copy would be eligible for the challenge since it’s been on your shelves for over six months.

EDIT: I want to clarify, because it seems like I haven't been clear on this - only review copies have the 6 month shelf life requirement. Books you have purchased/traded for/etc. and are NOT review copies can be from anytime - even from during the challenge!

Crossover with other challenges is welcomed, even encouraged!


This challenge will run from October 1, 2009 – November 30, 2009. This means that it does coincide with Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, and any books that qualify for this challenge that you read during the Read-a-thon are eligible!


This challenge will work a little differently than other challenges. Instead of picking a set number of books to read during this time period, you will pick a percentage. This means that a certain percentage of the books you read during these two months will have to qualify for this challenge. For example, let’s say you pick 40% and you end up reading 10 books in October and November. 4 of those books would have to qualify for this challenge in order for you to complete it. I am setting a minimum percentage of 20%.

As a result, there is no need to make a list of books prior to starting the challenge, though please feel free to do so if you want to! Your wrap-up post should have a list of the books you read for the challenge, though, so please do keep track of what you read!

I'm choosing 50% as my percentage. Hopefully this will give me an extra nudge on some of my challenges!

What are you reading on Mondays? - September 21

I've been absent the last couple of weeks, trying hard to finish most of the challenges I'm in, although I'm determined not to sign up for so many in the future. I've managed to finish up 4 challenges since my last Monday post, woohoo!

I'm also behind in my reviews -- I was doing well at writing them as soon as I finished a book, but the thought of the last couple felt too much like an English assignment.

Recent completions:

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul -- review

The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Morality Play by Barry Unsworth -- review

Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration by Antonia Fraser -- review

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- review

What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts for Life by Thomas Groome

Reading this week:

Up next:

Challenge progress:

1% Well-Read: 8/10
18th and 19th Century Women Writers: 5/5 ***COMPLETE
A to Z Challenge: 23/26
Baker Street Challenge: 2/4
Book Awards 3: 0/5
Chunkster: 2/3
Classics Challenge: 6/6 ***COMPLETE
Decades '09: 7/9
Elizabeth Gaskell: 1/2
Fill in the Gaps 100 Books: 4/100
George Eliot: 1/2
Guardian's 1000 Best Novels: 8/10
Nonfiction 5: 5/5 ***COMPLETE
Orbis Terrarum: 8/10
Support Your Local Library: 31/50
TBR Lite: 6/6 ***COMPLETE
Well-Rounded Challenge: 2/5
What's in a Name 2: 4/6

999 Challenge (overall): 65/81

999 Subcategories:
  • 1001 Books: 7/9

  • Booker/National Awards: 4/9

  • Through the Decades: 7/9

  • Dewey's Books: 8/9

  • C.S. Lewis: 5/9

  • Biographies: 8/9

  • Travel: 9/9 ***complete

  • Catholicism: 8/9

  • Dewey Decimal: 9/9 ***complete

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Morality Play by Barry Unsworth

Title: Morality Play

Author: Barry Unsworth

First Published: 1995

No. of Pages: 206

Synopsis (from B&N): "A medieval murder mystery full of the wonders of the time — and lessons for our own time — by a master storyteller. The author of the Booker Prize-winning Sacred Hunger turns to 14th-century England with a novel of foul doings. Fearing reprisals by his bishop after he breaks his vow of chastity, a young monk joins a troupe of traveling players. But when they come to a small town in the dead of winter to stage a morality play, the group is soon caught up in a drama of a different kind - one that involves murder."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: I couldn't put this book down. I got so caught up in the story that I finished the entire thing in one day. The author does a superb job of bringing the medieval setting to life, down to the smells one would have found in a common village of the time. The characters are completely believable, even though we're not given much backstory to flesh out most of them. By choosing to set the story in a period so long ago, the reader can't bring as many preconceived notions to it as one can to a modern story; while at the same time, the setting is so different from our own as to be almost a character in itself. The plot is also believable and the author has the acting troupe play the part (no pun intended) of unintentional detective, a way of presenting the story that is both unique and inspired. For one who enjoys murder mysteries, this one is definitely outside the genre norm, while the excellence of the writing will win over even those that would not normally enjoy a mystery.

Challenges: 999 ("Booker/National Award"); A to Z (author "U"); Complete Booker (shortlist, 1995); Support Your Local Library

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nonfiction 5 Challenge complete

Trish from Trish's Reading Nook hosted this challenge. I thought I might not complete this one, but I managed to finish the final book just in time. Here's what I read:

Josephine: A Life of the Empress by Carolly Erickson -- completed 5/21/09; review here

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert -- completed 7/5/09; review here

Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1750-1832 by Stella Tillyard -- completed 5/12/09; review here

Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration by Antonia Fraser -- completed 9/19/09; review

Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle -- completed 7/25/09; review here

Royal Charles by Antonia Fraser

Title: Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration

Author: Antonia Fraser

First Published: 1979

No. of Pages: 524

Synopsis: Charles II of England (1630-1685) was the eldest son of Charles I, who had been overthrown and eventually executed in the English Civil War. Following the death of his father, the country was ruled by Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate until Charles was restored to his throne in 1660. During the Protectorate years, Charles and most of his family were forced to live in exile, virtually penniless and with no guarantee of ever being able to return home. Following the death of Cromwell, the English Parliament requested Charles to return. He did so and continued to reign over the country until his death.

Charles married Catharine of Braganza, daughter of the Portuguese King. The couple had no children. Charles had a number of mistresses over the years who presented him with a total of twelve illegitimate children, all of whom he accepted as his own and cared for, including presenting them with titles. Due to their illegitimacy, none of these children were eligible to succeed the king. Since the king had no legitimate children, the throne would rightfully pass to his brother, James. This, however, presented a problem, as James was Catholic. The country had been beset by internal religious struggles since Henry VIII had broken with the Catholic Church, and discrimination against Catholics (occasionally culminating in hysteria and death) continued throughout Charles's reign. The idea of a Catholic King was anathema to many, and combined with the lack of legitimate children, led to questions of the rightful succession throughout the king's reign.

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: This book was both interesting and in-depth. The author does an excellent job of presenting both the public and private man. On the public side, the book goes into great detail to explain the political situation of the time and the actions of the various important individuals. On the private, the king's relationships with his family, girlfriends, and friends is explored in equal detail. Both his virtues and failings are presented objectively and a well-rounded portrait of a real person results.

Challenges: 999 ("Biography"); Nonfiction 5

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


It's one of the most wonderful times of the year -- Book Blogger Appreciation Week!!

There's currently some 140+ giveaways happening through BBAW. Here's just a couple:

J.T. Oldfield at Bibliofreak is giving away 5 prize packs of book-related goodies, one per day.

Alyce at At Home with Books has 6 different book giveaways happening, including The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose and a combo of Cleopatra's Daughter and The Heretic Queen, both by Michelle Moran (one winner for each book).

Julie at My Own Little Corner of the World is also giving away copies of Cleopatra's Daughter and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran.

Lesley at Falling Into Words is giving away My Name is Will by Jess Winfield.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

If God Were Real by John Avant

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

If God Were Real: A Journey into a Faith That Matters

Howard Books (July 7, 2009)


John Avant is the author of Passion Promise and Authentic Power, as well as numerous national articles. A pastor of a 7000-member Baptist church, he has served as vice president of the North American Mission Board and has been deeply involved in missions and church development around the world.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Publisher: Howard Books (July 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416587799
ISBN-13: 978-1416587798



If God Were Real ... the Illusions of Ordinary life Would Be Shattered

We all need illusions. That's why we love movies.

Monica Bellucci

Shattering the Illusion That Christian Life Is Boring

Who doesn't love a great movie? All of the most exciting and wonderful parts oflife are right there on the screen to be enjoyed. Romance? Just come to my house anytime my wife, Donna, is watching television, and there's a pretty good chance she'll be watching Sleepless in Seattle. I thought the movie was kind of touching the first time I saw it. But Donna still cries, even now that she has the lines memorized.

As for me, I'll take a movie with raw, masculine courage every time. Nothing beats Gladiator or Braveheart for making you glad to be a man. Or how about pure adventure, like the Indiana Jones films? What could be more cool than watching Indiana get out of every trap-and along the way eat monkey brains, defeat evil, and get the girl?

Yes, movies are one of life's pleasures-even though we know that what they show us are just illusions. Could it be that we love movies because they allow us to experience, if only for a little while, what we'll never really have? Or what we aren't sure we can ever really be?

But what if life is meant to exceed even the best of what we see on film?

What if we are meant to live out the greatest romance of all?

What if we are designed to be powerful and courageous?

What if life could actually be filled with suspense and adventure and we really could live happily ever after?

Well, shouldn't we expect all these things to be true if God is real? If the One who created this vast universe with a word really did come and live as one of us, die and rise again for us, and promise to fill us with his Spirit, why would we not expect all that and more? Especially since Jesus himself said he carne so that we "may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

Yes, things don't always go smoothly in the movies. In fact, a movie with no tension is boring. As Christians, we know that we won't live happily ever after until we get to heaven. In this world we will have pain and difficulties-but not boredom! Not if God is real.

The movies that seem so exciting to us might be boring when compared with the real lives we are meant to live.

If we actually lived as though God is real.

My friend Gary Witherall calls this kind of life "adventuring for God." Gary is one of those Christians who really believes in God. He has definitely traded in practical atheism for authentic faith. Gary and his wife, Bonnie, put their authentic faith into action as missionaries in Sidon, Lebanon. Regardless of the personal risk involved in taking their Christian witness to a place where many are hostile to Christianity in general and especially missionaries, Gary and Bonnie sought to show God's truth through their authentic, caring lives. They deeply loved the Palestinian people they served.

The following was written on the website of Operation Mobilization, the mission agency with which Gary and Bonnie served: "Some people talk about being on the cutting edge; some actually live there. Fewer choose to live on the bleeding edge of humanity, where nothing is humanly certain except great need, where risk defies other definitions, where light shines the brighter for the enveloping darkness. Sidon in Lebanon is such a place, and Bonnie and Gary Witherall were some of those few."

Gary's belief has been tested in the most extreme ways. In fact, Gary and Bonnie's life should be made into a movie. It already has been written as a book. Total Abandon is the story of Bonnie's murder. Bonnie, a nurse, was shot by a terrorist as she entered the clinic where she cared for Muslim women. The authorities quickly got Gary out of Lebanon. Less than a month after Bonnie's murder, Gary wrote the following in his journal: "Nothing remains and yet I have everything. I lost my wife, my ministry, my beautiful apartment overlooking the Mediterranean, my friends there, my Arabic classes, and three classes a week studying Islam. The little Honda we drove on the bumpy roads through the crazy traffic. The warmth of Bonnie lying quietly asleep next to me. I was robbed but have been found today steadfast, strong as a piece of steel yet completely broken. Lord, sustain me."!

Those were not just words in a journal. Since those days of crushing loss, Gary has returned to Lebanon many times, including once with my own daughter. He has stood in front of the place where Bonnie was murdered and preached forgiveness and love to the same culture that killed his wife. And then he sang with my daughter and the others there, ... "Blessed be the name of the Lord ... You give and take away ... My heart will choose to say, ... 'Lord, blessed be Your name.'"

Those who know Gary watch him live in boldness, forgiveness, joy, and service to others-even to those who would kill what he loved most. Who lives like this? Only those who believe God is real!

That's what it's like to believe in God. Gary is living, breathing, weeping, laughing evidence that God is indeed real. If God does not exist, Gary has done an incredible job of inventing God's impact in his life!

I've gotten to know Gary well since Bonnie's death. I have laughed and cried with him, counseled him, and received counsel from him. And I had the privilege to help officiate his wedding to Helena, his beautiful new wife (and the granddaughter of a martyr).

God is real to Gary. This man believes it-and then actually lives as though he does. This has not led to an easy life, but it has led to the adventure of real life. Gary has known passionate love, tragedy and heartbreak, terror and suspense, renewal and new love, courage, danger, and adventure. All of the things we flock to see in the movies are his in real life.

Living for God shouldn't be boring. When we live as though God is real, the true adventure begins. So maybe, after all, living a boring Christian life is a conscious choice, not an inevitable state. Perhaps for most of us the issue is not whether God is real but whether we really want the life that results from living like he is. Perhaps "adventuring for God" is a little too dangerous and risky for most of us. So the question may be, is it worth it to live as though God is real?

Shattering the Illusions of Religion

I've served as a pastor for twenty-seven years and served in a mission agency for two years. I have had the opportunity to see many lives like Gary's-enough to convince me that only God could be responsible for what I have seen in them. But I have to admit that I've also seen a lot of the opposite-lives of those who believe in God, who love Jesus, but who have just settled into lives that are nothing like the adventure of following the real God. Most of these are not bad people. They love their families and friends, try to live decent lives, and serve in their churches. But something is missing. Many of them are just overwhelmed with the stuff oflife. They're too busy trying to figure out how to afford a third car payment or how to get their son's grades up to think much about such "deep" things. They may never have stopped to wonder if there could be something more to their experience of God-something that could dramatically impact those allconsuming daily struggles.

Now, living a life of adventure is not, in itself, evidence that God is real. Some people live lives of reckless adventure without God. But my point is that if God is real, there's no need to live a boring life! We are meant for more. You can live a life of temporary adventure without God, but you cannot be an authentic follower of the real God without adventure. And why would you want to?

Many people do want very much to experience more than what they currently know of God. Every pastor hears regularly from those folks who want to "go deeper." I want a deeper knowledge of God too. In fact, I can't think of anything I want more. But my experience has been that many who want to go deeper are actually afflicted with an insidious spiritual disease I call Deeper-Sleep Syndrome. They make the mistake of thinking that going deeper means getting more knowledge about the Bible, having more Bible studies or worship services, or learning some spiritual mystery that they've somehow missed all these years. But as they dive into these things again and again, they're in danger of going so deep that they end up in a deep spiritual sleep, unconscious of what God really wants. That's DeeperSleep Syndrome.

The cure is actually quite simple. If God is real, surely he wants us to know him and to know him deeply. In fact, he says he has already told us all we need to know. "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3). Knowing more about God is a good thing; but acting on what we know is the real answer. James 2: 17 says, "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

So if we were to begin to really live out the teachings of Jesus, we would find ourselves in the middle of an incredible spiritual adventure.

Can it be that simple? After all, isn't that what Christians are already doing? Or at least something close to it?

I'm not so sure. When I examine my own life, I wonder how much I'm really seeking to follow Jesus, to do exactly what he said. Am I just a part of a church system that does its best to reinvent the words of Jesus to make what he said more palatable for our modern sensibilities, more in sync with the ways we really want to live? Maybe the nineteenth-century philosopher S0ren Kierkegard had it right: The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. ... My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I get on in the world?

Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.2

Wow. I don't think I would be quite that hard on scholarship, but he has a point. If God is real, he has told us what we need to know and what we need to do. Could it be that it's time to take what we know ... and do it?

I think we need to be prepared for the ramifications of this. We could be talking about a complete reshaping of how we have "done" our faith. But wouldn't that be worthwhile if it resulted in the kind of movement that changed the world, the very course of history, through a little group of peasant nobodies in the first century?

So where do we start? First of all, start with hope-wild, fan-tastic hope that your life could be worthy of the big screen. That all that captivates us while we sit with our popcorn and Cokes may not be just an illusion.

It is time to be "dis-illusioned."

I stumbled upon a website that fascinates me. It's called "The Joy of Disillusionment: A Resource for Those Leaving Christianity,"3 and it chronicles the journey and the thoughts of David P. Crews, who has moved from being a committed Christian, a selfprofessed believer in the God of the Bible, to being an atheist. Crews says, "This site is primarily directed to a select group ofpeople-those who are somewhere in the process of leaving their Christian beliefs behind them and moving forward into an unknown realm of rational, non-theistic thought and life."4 In other words, he writes to those who once lived as though God is real but now are on a journey to live as though he is not. I found that ironic and intriguing, since I'm writing to people who may not live as though God is real but are on a journey to live as though he is.

I find Crews' writings to be honest and fair and even instructive in a strange, backward kind of way. He writes: "For those of us who have come out of a religious life to the acceptance of disbelief and of a rational world view, the word disillusionment is uniquely appropriate, but in a new and positive way. In fact, it is the perfect term for us. When we dissect this word, the root is, of course, 'illusion.' To be 'dis-illusioned,' therefore, is to not be deceived by the illusion. Finally, it is to reject the illusion in favor of what is real."5

Strangely enough, I find this to be a great description of how Christ followers need to live if we believe God is real. We must come out of the current religious life we've been languishing in. We must "disbelieve" it. It is not a rational worldview to live in bland uniformity and creative vacuity if we believe what we say we believe. It is time to leave behind that illusion-to reject it in favor of what is real, the God on whom we have staked everything.

Crews goes on to give us a good prescription for living the "disillusioned" life. "When we replace illusion with reality, we step out of our cavern of myth and take a deep breath of the air outside-brisk and with a tang of scents unknown. It is the real world we are inhaling and it enlivens us to move forward and to value who and what we truly are."6

Yes! This atheist has just about nailed what life as a Christ follower ought to be.

But I don't know what I find sadder, the fact that David Crews has concluded that God is an illusion or the fact that we so often and so tragically live as though he is. It is time for us to step out of our cavern of myth-in which we live as though we were godless-and breathe the air God made in the same awesome, exhilarating way he made us to breathe it. Or else get honest and follow Crews into a life of less hypocrisy that simply discounts God altogether.

If you're ready to be "disillusioned"-if you are determined to live a life that is genuine, a life that embraces the reality of God rather than the illusion we seem to have made him-I affirm your path. I respect David Crews. In fact, I suspect I would like him. But I believe he is wrong, and desperately so. Our hope is valid. It's intellectually defensible. It's philosophically sound. But it's rarely lived.

So let's begin to live! All the romance and adventure of the most thrilling movies may actually be your birthright as a child of God. The curtain could be lifting, and the screenplay of your life could be about to come alive in a way that would make every flick you've ever seen a B film that can't even begin to measure up.

Shattering the Illusion That Hollywood Must Be Our Enemy

If we truly lived adventurous lives that reflect the reality of God, maybe Christ followers would make all the movies. No, I'm not talking about some battle plan to boycott Hollywood until the purveyors of on-screen smut go broke and Christians take over. (The fact that some have tried things like this fits the sad caricature of Christians the world thinks is true of all of us.) I'm saying that if we made movies that resembled the lives we are actually meant to live, the movies would be so good that everyone would want to see them!

All right, I know I'm being naive. We would leave out the sexual content that draws many people, and not everyone would flock to see our films. But the fact is that many of the best movies actually are about spiritual truths. It almost seems that the world is trying to write our stories for us. I am astounded at the prevalence of spiritual searching evident in movies today. Sometimes the world seems more interested in the wonders and possibilities of God than his followers are.

Tom Hanks seems to bring elements of the gospel into just about every film he stars in. He's the one who lays down his life for another in Saving Private Ryan. He's the simple man, Forrest Gump, who just can't get away from the amazing plan and purpose woven throughout his life. Gump is a simpleton, yet he confronts the atheist with a profoundly faith-filled statement: ''I'm going to heaven, Lieutenant Dan." And then he witnesses Dan's transformation. Hanks is the lost man in Cast Away who experiences the worst we might imagine life could offer and, in the end, sees that there's a plan by which all things work together for his good.

You just can't get away from God and his mysteries in the movies. And even when it's not blatant or intentional, many films seem almost like a retelling of the gospel.

I recently saw the blockbuster movie I Am Legend, starring Will Smith. When the film ended, I walked out of the theater thinking, Well, they did it again! They just made a film that directly parallels the gospel, and they probably had no idea! (Spoiler alert! If you haven't seen the movie and don't want to know the ending, you might want to skip ahead to the next paragraph-or better yet, go see it and then keep reading.) A man-made virus has virtually destroyed humanity. Those not killed by the disease have been devoured by the horrific creatures that those infected by the virus became. Will Smith's character is a doctor, the only survivor in New York City. He spends his days seeking a cure that will transform the monsters mankind has become back into what they were created to be. At the end he sacrifices his life to save others and, ultimately, the entire world. And what is the means of this salvation? Blood.

Hello? Does anyone have any trouble seeing the gospel reflected in this story? A savior comes and sheds his blood to save and transform the human race, which has been infected by sin. It seems that God's plan is so hardwired into our souls that it leaks out everywhere, even when it may not be intentional.

Does it not seem strange and sad to you, though, that many people who claim to be Christians spend most of their time fo-cusing on the internal issues of church life that almost no one outside of the church cates about, i.e., the style of music and minor doctrinal disputes, while the world scrambles to write our story? And when the creative work of a follower of Christ actually does make the screen, most of the time the world flocks to see it! Films based on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy and C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Natnia ate perfect examples.

The bottom line is, followers of Christ have a compelling story to tell. In fact, if we live like God is real, we have the story of all stories to tell! And we are made to tell it. The foundation of all our stories is that we were made in the image of God-in the image of the Creator. So we were designed to create. The spatk that lit the match of the universe ignites our souls.

Yet we seem to think that being a good Christian means pouring water on that spatk so it doesn't flame up and get too wild. After all, we have to be reverent, don't we?

What does that even mean? I've heard the "irreverent" criticism used hundreds of times to justify the squelching of creativity within the church. The critics don't always use the words reverent or irreverent. They may just criticize the music for being too loud or worldly, or the methods of the church too contemporaty. But it all seems to come back to the same thing: they want their Christianity to be neatly packaged, safe and quiet-reverent.

My problem is that Jesus' behavior as recorded in the Bible doesn't seem all that reverent to me. He condemned the teachers of the law and Phatisees-the most reverent of Jews-called them names like snakes and vipers, and chose to spend most of his time among big, loud crowds of peasants. He chose rough fishermen and embezzling tax collectors for his followers. He ran those in the religious business out of the temple with a whip.

Jesus calls us to passion, not boredom. Maybe it is time to reject cold "reverence" and join a "wild" crowd. And tell a "wild" story. My "wild" daughter is a theater actress in New York City. Maybe she can help us understand the story we are meant to tell; the real-life adventure we are meant to live; what the screenplay can look like when we choose to follow Jesus with passion in the real world.

Acting Out God's Love


Rehearsal studios in Manhattan commonly smell of sweat and bare feet-not an altogether appealing aroma, but one I am familiar with nonetheless. Actors file into this pungent building, chatting excitedly. We are in the ensemble of a play going up at a rather prestigious off-Broadway theater. None of us has any lines. We sing only one song in the show. Nevertheless, we are buzzing like honey-starved bees, knOWing that after this production, we can place the name of this theater prominently on our resumes.

We hope the next casting director we see will observe this credit, jump for joy, and call us in for every project he has. Most likely, this will not happen; but we hope. After all, we are a people of crazy hope, illogical dreams, and gritty passion. An average person may go to five or six job interviews in a lifetime; we go to five or six a week. If one produces any results, even a follow-up phone call, we celebrate. Halfway through rehearsal, a presence enters the room, and all eyes turn in her direction. Dressed head to toe in the quintessential New York hue-black-the acclaimed playwright has joined the lowly ensemble players. In the middle of the room, she stands on a chair and warmly greets us. "I grew up in a strict evangelical home/' she says, "then I went to Berkeley, and I began to accept what is so acceptable today-that evangelicals are morons, idiots, and that they are ruining our world. However, after I moved to New York, I began to realize that to lump all of these people together is abit simple-minded. I decided to do an experiment, to write the church service-and the characters in that service-that would interest me as an atheist; and that is the history behind the show you are in." If I was buzzing before, now I was spinning out of control with anticipation. The only thing I love as much as singing or delving into an intriguing character is working with and knowing artists who are aggressively, and in this case publicly, searching for truth. Creative people, whether or not they follow Christ, have tapped into the remnants of God left in every human heart, and I absolutely love surrounding myself with that.

For two years I have been here, pursuing this absurd profession alongside New York's progressive and wonderful culture. I have had the privilege of performing allover the United States, even in Alaska. Every day is not a good day. Some days I feel like I have been thrown into a boxing ring, gloveless and in five-inch heels, and been pitted against a heavyweight champion. On those days I focus on the relationships I have developed that would never have taken root within the walls of a church. Although my friends are very spiritual, they tend to fall somewhere along the playwright's path. Either they have been wounded and are angry or they simply feel that the Christian church is irrelevant.

Often the church has not helped matters. Sometimes the church sings "Just As I Am" and then demands that others be just as she is.

Every day I pray that I can be a part of reversing the tragic flow that has left the state of the Christian church such that this is its impression on the world-or at least that I can follow Jesus Christ closely enough to heal the pain people feel.

Eric Bryant, one of the pastors at a "flow-reversing" church in Los Angeles, says that "Love is the best apologetic." After all, was it not love that drove Jesus Christ to hell and back on our behalf? No other force is powerful enough to turn the tide, and as ambassadors of that love, we have an amazing opportunity to alter the future.

Perhaps I'll never grace a Broadway stage or a big screen. Perhaps I'll never again get paid to do what I know I was born to. These thoughts are paralyzing sometimes, but all adventures come with great risk. In the end, the faces of my friends who have allowed me to share in their spiritual journeys are what matters. It is not the grandiose feats you accomplish but the people you actively and intentionally love who will take you on the great adventure available to every follower of Christ. If you restrict your love to those like you, those you understand, those who make you feel comfortable, you will be pretty bored. If you dare to open your life to one person who needs a friend, you just might find yourself in an adventure of eternal proportions.

Since we have the most compelling and interesting story to tell, and since it seems even those who don't believe our story want to tell it for us, maybe it's time that we actually begin to tell it ourselves-and even more important, to live it ourselves. To live like God is real.

The screenplays of the movies of our lives will be full of emotional ups and downs, joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. Like Gary and Bonnie Wither all's missionary service in Lebanon, like my daughter Christi's missionary service in the theater district of New York, authentic life in Christ will not always be easy, pleasant, or predictable.

But it will always be an adventure.

Trading Illusions for a Compelling Faith

I walked past the television the other day and stopped in my tracks when I heard a voice say, "I have been told you will not have a person of faith at your house .... Is that true?" The voice belonged to talk-show host Glenn Beck, and his question was addressed to comedian and illusionist Penn Jillette, who is well known for his controversial atheistic ideas. Jillette confirmed that Beck was correct and went on to explain why he would not allow Christians or other people of faith to visit in his home. He said that he did not use alcohol or drugs and would not allow people who did into his home to influence his children. He also did not want what he had seen in Christianity to influence his children in any way.7

Is it possible that while we Christians have been busy fighting the culture war and protecting our families from evil influences, we have done such a poor job of living out an intelligent, provocative, and compelling faith that people like Jillette now feel they must protect their children from us? Mter almost thirty years of ministry, I'm not sure he has it wrong. I've been fortunate to spend my ministry among loving people who helped my children to grow up seeing much of the good that is the church. But honestly, I've seen more children alienated from God and from the church by the actions of Christians than by anything atheists have done. I've lost count of the number of pastors I know whose children want nothing to do with the God of their parents, because they watched what people who claimed to love God did to those parents. Even I want to protect my children from some Christians.

In a different interview, with NPR, Jillette said, "Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O, and all other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have."8 Now that's funny. And also profoundly sad. For I believe the responsibility lies squarely at the feet of the church for allowing an illusionist like Penn Jillette to spend his whole life seeing only an illusion of what it means to follow Jesus, never the real thing. For offering so little ofJesus to the world that a man like Jillette can really think that all those things he mentioned, from his family to his Jell-O, are better off without God, without purpose, without hope of anything except utter annihilation, and without any contact from Christians. It's time that we change that, for Jillette's sake and for millions of others'. It's time to become the kind of people everyone wants to have over to his house-if nothing else, just to hear our stories, to explore the mystery of our lives, to try to understand what it is about us that draws them to us, even in their disbelief It's time to get the messed-up movie we've made of Christianity out of the theater and put a new show on the screen.

One that is worthy of the Producer.

So take a step toward that hope's becoming reality. Decide to take the risk of living like God is real, whatever that may mean and wherever that may take you. Perhaps the only way you'll be sure that God is real is to live as if he is and then watch what happens. Get ready, though. In the next chapter we'll see just how enormous that change may be.