At some point this past year it occurred to me that reading is good for my emotional well-being. For some reason I just feel happier if I am reading a good book. My all-time favorite is the Bible, and this past year I did a monthly rotation reading through Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. It was so rich, thought-provoking, and life-impacting! As if the everlasting, immutable Word of God could be anything but those things… 🙂 But I also love to read a variety of other books that draw on the experience, expertise, and wisdom of others in different areas. Here’s a list of books I read last year, along with a few of my thoughts on each one:
Madame Curie: A Biography
A search for a new, engaging book to read during my Christmas and New Year’s break led me to the stocked shelves in my dad’s office. A tattered hardback with embossed lettering that read, “Madame Curie,” caught my eye. Not (I’m now embarrassed to say) because I recognized the name, but because I thought perhaps a good story was hidden within its pages. A brief perusal of the introduction and first chapter sufficiently convinced me of the artful excellence of the author, and it became my companion for the next couple of weeks.
It was surprisingly difficult to pull myself away from the bigger-than-life story of a woman I now recognize as one of the world’s most renowned scientists. In fact, this story did for me what no amount of curricula could accomplish growing up – it gave me an appreciation for the study of science! I am more convinced than ever that a curriculum comprised in large part of great books is one of the highest and most effective forms of education.
This extensive biography sketches a fascinating picture of the quiet, unassuming woman who, along with her husband, Pierre, is credited with the discovery of radium. Although she was the recipient of two Nobel Peace Prizes and numerous other awards and honors, the devoted scientist never became enamored with fame or notoriety. In fact, quite the contrary, as she herself expressed in her letters:
“I long for calmer days passed in a quiet place, where lectures will be forbidden and newspapermen persecuted…Always a hubbub. People are keeping us from work as much as they can. Now I have decided to be brave and I receive no visitors – but they disturb me just the same. Our life has been altogether spoiled by honors and fame.”
Numerous other humorous and thoughtful anecdotes are interwoven throughout the book, generously allowing readers an in depth view of this amazing woman. I was inspired in many ways by Madame Curie’s character and the unified vision and life work she shared with her husband. Even though there is no indication that she was a Christian, it’s clear that God used her to fill an incredible role in history.
After soliciting biography recommendations from my friends, this is one of the first that I was able to get my hands on (thanks to the generous loan from the referrer!). Her claim that it was a riveting story held true in every respect! Although I have read numerous accounts of World War II and post-war experiences, I think this is the first story I have read from the eyes of a member of the Russian police.
A man who had attained many of the most coveted honors in the Communist regime and was destined for a high seat of power nevertheless tells of the depravity and emptiness that compelled him to escape. His journey is a long one, with much terror and destruction left in his wake as he resists the pull of God on his life. And even as he fights for freedom – spiritually and physically – in a new land, he remains a fugitive – hunted by a relentless enemy.
The Baroness Orczy
This short novel made its way home with Mom during one of her thrift store excursions. Noticing that it was written by The Baroness Orczy (author of the classic, The Scarlet Pimpernel), I was intrigued. Set on the coast of France in the early 1800’s the story follows the clandestine dealings of one Le Pere Ribot, his daughter, Follette, and an officer of His Majesty (a.k.a. Emperor Napoleon) as he tries in vain to pursue her affections. The not-altogether-unpredictable love story is redeemed in part by the excellent writing of The Baroness, but still falls easily under the category of “fluff” that provides a diversion from reality, but not much in the way of lasting value.
This book was selected for our young ladies Bible study in the spring and was a wonderful tool for instruction in biblical principles and discussion with others over the areas covered. Whether you think you struggle with a fear of man versus a fear of God or not, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll find convicting truths and practical applications that you can apply to your life. Dr. Welch helps readers dig much deeper than a lot of pop psychology seems to so that you can understand the real issues underlying your attitudes and reactions. He doesn’t shy away from some tough issues, but uses lots of illustrations, stories, and steps to help overcome sinful and destructive habits in our lives and relationships. I gleaned many valuable insights from this book that have already impacted my own life and opportunities I have to help others work through difficult situations. I know that will continue to prove to be the case as I refer back to it in the years to come.
One of my dearest friends first alerted me to this book in an e-mail, saying, “[it] is SOOOO good.” Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked upstairs later that evening and saw this very book resting on the dining room table! My sister had just finished reviewing it for a magazine and my mom was making her way through its pages. I quickly took the next place in line and was grateful when my turn to read it came around. After becoming the pastor of a mega-church at a young age, David was challenged to rethink nearly every element of how we “do church” in America. This led to a drastic restructuring of priorities in his life, his family, and his church. Now, with Radical, he challenges other American Christians to embrace a global vision for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. He posits that too often we pass over the “radical” commands of Jesus – like selling everything and giving the money to the poor, or going to the ends of the earth to share the gospel with unreached people, etc. – by countering that God doesn’t call everyone to do that. We forget that sometimes God does still call people to do just that. What’s more, God calls every Christian to make disciples of all nations. We should all be involved in sharing the gospel with people throughout the world in some context. Practical examples give inspiration, but ultimately the reader is challenged to adopt this new perspective and seek God for the particulars of how he can be involved in this global calling. I’m excited about the possibilities and look forward to seeing how God continues to bring growth in my life in this area!
Exposed: The Life and Thoughts of a Home School Graduate
This quick read is a peak into the life of a Southern California girl and her family’s journey in homeschooling. As a fellow homeschool grad, I was excited to compare my story with hers! We had much in common – trading our school room for the kitchen table, involvement in music, memorable travel experiences, teaching businesses, and more. The book is a mixture of Felicia’s reflections and thoughts, with short vignettes of actual experiences woven throughout.
The Family Daughter
The author kindly sent me a copy of her book as a way of saying “thank you” for the assistance I gave her as she was working through the publication process. First off, I have to say that the book itself is beautiful! From the velvety texture of the cover to the artistic use of complementary fonts to the attractive layout of each chapter, this book goes above and beyond in its aesthetic appeal. When digesting the content of the book, it is perhaps most helpful to keep in mind the background perspective that Sarah succinctly lays out for the reader at the beginning of the book. While some might take issue with the specific application of the principles set forth, any young woman is sure to glean practical and beneficial ideas that can be implemented in her own life! I also appreciate the variety of quotes and additional resources referenced at the end of each chapter. The style of writing embodies a spirit of exhortation, and Sarah’s desire is obviously to encourage younger girls to have a heart for their families. They are the demographic that will probably be the most interested in and encouraged by it.
A Collection of Love Gifts
Helen Steiner Rice
This book of poems was a Valentine’s gift from some friends of mine. I had heard of Helen Steiner Rice, but didn’t know anything about her or her work. My friends included a biographical sketch with the book that helped me gain a greater appreciation for the woman who is considered “America’s beloved inspirational poet laureate.” There was nothing especially insightful about these poems, but they were sweet little reminders of God’s love.
Ever since Josh Harris first announced that he was writing this book, I’ve had it on my wish list. I finally treated myself to an Amazon order one day and had this wonderful book read within a week! My introduction to Josh’s writing came years ago when I was a subscriber of his New Attitude magazine. I have read several of his other books and was especially interested in this one because it promised to be a closer look at his background and “the story of how [he] learned to dig into truth and build [his] life on a real knowledge of God.” I love the way he wove his own life experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – with foundational biblical doctrines. Even though I love to study church history and theology, even someone not previously in the habit of doing so would really enjoy the personable presentation of the variety of topics addressed in Dug Down Deep. This approach, along with Josh’s down-to-earth style of writing, makes the book an engaging read while also maintaining a depth of heart and thought in its rich content. I was challenged, convicted, and inspired!
In God’s Image After All: How Psychology Supports Biblical Creationism
Dr. Paul D. Ackerman
A short, but powerful collection of insights from a psychologist who was an avowed atheist. I heard Dr. Ackerman speak at an apologetics seminar and was very impressed by his presentation style and the things he shared. When I found out about this book that he wrote, I was eager to get my hands on a copy. I have never studied psychology, but I find it incredibly fascinating. The illustrations, research, and insights that Dr. Ackerman shares in this book only served to further my fascination with the field! Here are a few of his thoughts that I especially appreciated:
“We fallen creatures, far from being gods, are blown this way and that by subtle features in our surroundings of which we are not even aware.”
“Any ‘meaningful self’ we attribute to ourselves is dependent upon God. God has life in himself (John 5:26), but we have whatever life he chooses to give and maintain in us. We need God.”
“Confidence in contingency-design is an important and practical part of our faith in the kindness, mercy, and provision of our heavenly Father. If there is a problem, there must be a solution.”
This book gave me a greater appreciation for God as our Creator and the many aspects of His creation that function beneath the level of customary observation or awareness. It is both useful and awe-inspiring!
Talent to Treasure: Building a Profitable Music Teaching Business
Marcia K. Washburn
A second-generation piano teacher with many years of experience, Marcia Washburn sets out to help aspiring music teachers get started on the right foot. Many of the tips and principles she shares are ones that I had to learn the hard way! Although every teacher will have different approaches to the way they run their studio and do their teaching, Marcia’s book is sure to help new teachers think about issues that are all-too-often completely overlooked.
She covers a wide variety of topics, including: evaluating your motive for launching a music teaching business, preparing for the practical side of running a studio, establishing appropriate policies and practices, learning how to communicate effectively, and some of the nuts and bolts of what and how to teach. This is a great starting point for a teacher, and even experienced teachers will probably take away a few new ideas, tips, or insights that will help them become better teachers and business owners. I know I sure did!
The Messianic Character of American Education
Rousas John Rushdoony
An interest in education in general and American education in particular prompted me to travel through the pages of history contained in this eye-opening book. Rushdoony spends the bulk of the book sketching out the lives of those people most responsible for the establishment and development of our government education system as we know it today. This approach was incredibly effective as it allowed the reader to dig deeper than a mere collection of historical facts to unearth the philosophies and methods of these educational masterminds.
Perhaps the thing that struck me the most was how much the motivation of those highlighted in this book parallels what I have heard for years from leaders in the homeschool movement. Here’s an example: “Education, in its enlarged sense, is the disciplining, cultivating, and furnishing of the man, as a man, and for the particular position which he is to hold.” (Henry Barnard)
Or consider this description published in the NEA Journal in 1895, “The ideal school is an ideal community – an embryonic democracy. We should introduce into the school what we must have in the state, and this is democracy in its pure sense. The child is not in the school to learn, not in there for mere knowledge; but he is in there to live, to learn to live – not in preparation for life so much as real living. The pupil should in school learn to live. He should there learn to put himself into life. The teacher is the leader in this community life. Self-government is the only true government. A child should be taught to live for others. We are too apt to ignore the divinity of a child.”
The school was thus made the center of life, the training ground to prepare children to be servants of the State. Education was promoted as the savior that would enable society to become essentially a utopia. Pioneers in the homeschool movement understood this undergirding philosophy and how diametrically opposed it is to a Christian worldview where the Lord Jesus Christ is the center of our lives. God designed the family to be the primary transmitter of true knowledge as parents train their children to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
Many home educators and government school educators have the same goal in mind – to train the whole child and be the primary influencer of his thoughts and behaviors. It’s obvious from Rushdoony’s extensive research and documentation that the latter are working intentionally and determinedly to accomplish their goal. It would behoove us, as Christians, to understand what’s really at stake and to work tirelessly to impart God’s ways to the next generation!
The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit
The title of this book immediately appealed to me. Who doesn’t want to embody a meek and quiet spirit? In case the desire is not already present, Matthew Henry spends the first half of the book painting an image of the nature and excellency of meekness and quietness of spirit. The more I read, the more eager I was to get to the application part where I was hoping the author would show me exactly how to attain these qualities in my own life. Even the style of writing itself seems to carry an aura of the meekness and quietness of spirit that is being discussed. It reminded me in some ways of John Bunyan’s much-loved “Pilgrim’s Progress” with the effortless and insightful interweaving of Scripture after Scripture to construct each point.
As one can imagine, the practical application didn’t consist of a neat “5-Steps to Meekness” approach. Instead, Henry exposed attitudes and behaviors that reveal a lack of meekness, challenging the reader to repent and seek meekness. Indeed, that is perhaps the thing that was most impressed upon my heart: meekness is not something to be attained, but something to be sought. “Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth; Seek meekness” (Zephaniah 2:3). The author comments, “Though they were meek, and were pronounced so by him that searches the heart, yet they must seek meekness.” There were many other nuggets of wisdom to be gleaned from the pages of this book and I find myself already turning back through the pages for reflection and assimilation into my own life.
Lord, Send Me (now Send Me, Lord Jesus)
A sweet friend of mine sent me this copy of her first published work of non-fiction – an account of her experiences serving as a missionary in India. It’s always exciting to get to know friends in a deeper way through their writing, and I appreciate Christina’s open and gracious spirit that comes through her writing. Any romanticized views of missionary life in India were quickly overshadowed by some of the struggles she faced. In particular, it was eye-opening to see how much the people you work with as fellow missionaries can impact your entire experience. For Christina, the impact was a less-than-positive one, eventually resulting in her return to America. It seems clear that God has given her a heart and passion for the people of India, though, so perhaps He will one day soon send her again, this time with more experience, discernment, and wisdom “under her belt.”
Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope
Mary Beth Chapman
I remember hearing about this book almost as soon as it came out and have been eagerly anticipating reading it ever since. Having heard of the tragic accidental death of the Chapman’s little adopted Chinese daughter when it happened, I knew the Mary Beth’s story would be heartfelt and insightful. I was not disappointed on either count. Mary Beth’s style of writing is very real and personable. It has you laughing one minute, gasping the next, and then wiping tears from your eyes. But in it all, she points the reader continually to Jesus Christ and His sufficiency in every situation.
The aspect of the story that was mostly indelibly impressed upon my heart was the emotional openness that the Chapman’s exhibited, especially in regard to their son, Will, who was responsible for the accidental death of his little sister. They didn’t downplay it or sweep it under the rug, assuming he would get over it on his own. Instead they talked about it openly, encouraged the support and prayers of friends, and acknowledged how incredibly difficult it would be for him to get past the experience. In a day when so many Christians plaster on a smile and pretend like everything is okay, it was both refreshing and convicting to see the value in an emotional openness that is honest about our deep inner struggles. For in the vulnerability of this openness, we are also enabled to receive the comfort, love, and support we need from the Lord and His people.
Everyday Life in Ancient Rome
This book first intrigued me several years ago when I came across it while browsing the shelves of a local bookstore. My upcoming trip to Italy this summer was the impetus I needed to order it and work my way through it. As you read it, you are transported to the streets of the center of one of the most powerful empires the world has ever known. The author discusses a variety of topics and includes illustrations and quotes to make the ancient world come alive to the modern reader. There was a bit of redundancy between chapters, but I enjoyed the history gleaned from the book and made sure to jot down the places that I wanted to visit!
Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story
Lang Lang with David Ritz
A fellow piano teacher recommended this autobiography of world famous pianist, Lang Lang, at a music teachers association meeting. It was a quick read, but wow was it fascinating! I had absolutely no idea the kind of dedication and work that lies behind some of the young prodigies that emerge on the world scene. According to Lang Lang, in China it is everything to be Number One. Propelled by his father’s obsessive drive and his mother’s enduring love, that’s the pianist that Lang Lang was destined to be ever since winning his first competition at the age of five: Number One.
As a piano teacher, it was interesting to read of the different personalities of Lang Lang’s teachers and how they impacted him – either positively or negatively. Even in the cruel, critical world of competitive piano playing, Lang Lang blossomed and enjoyed music the most when his teacher, while highly qualified, was encouraging and cared about him as a person. Even though Lang Lang suffered at times because of his father’s indefatigable pressure to be Number One, I appreciated his desire to honor him and reconcile their differences. He also acknowledges that he wouldn’t be who he is today were it not for his father. Lang Lang’s story paints a vivid picture of what it looks like to be wholly devoted to a cause. Even though I love playing the piano, I am mindful that ultimately my cause is Jesus Christ. I am inspired to make my devotion to Him more of a living reality every day.
Preparing to Be a Help Meet
I don’t even remember what prompted me to pick this book up to skim through it one night because I don’t usually read marriage-centered books, but I was immediately captivated. So much so that I ended up staying up well into the night reading through almost the whole book. As my sisters and I traveled out of town the following day, I read them a chapter and other portions of the book that I found particularly inspiring. Even though I question some of the author’s points, I finished the book feeling both a renewed anticipation at the prospect of marriage and a vision for using the single years I have to fully invest myself in the work the Lord has given me to do. Perhaps more than anything, Mrs. Pearl’s insights and stories have compelled me to pray more faithfully for the guys in my life, upholding them before the Lord as a sister who wants to see them rise up to be godly husbands, fathers, and leaders in the world.
Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will or How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc.
Three friends and I read this book aloud together as we traveled through Italy this summer. To be honest, for the first four chapters I was appalled at the statements the author was making. They seemed to fly in the face of everything I’ve ever believed about praying and seeking God’s will for important – and even not-so-important – life decisions. But as we read chapter five, the proverbial light bulb came on in my mind. In reality, Mr. DeYoung was advocating a biblical truth that I believe with all my heart, but he applied it to this topic of following the will of God in a way that was quite enlightening. The truth? It’s neatly summed up in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Instead of defining the will of God by the external path we take in life, it is more biblical to pursue the will of God as a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ that transcends every choice we make. Rather than being caught up in making the “right” decision, we should invest our time and energy into seeking the Lord with all our heart, knowing that to the extent that our relationship with Him is right, the path we take in life will also be right.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
A friend of mine was reading this book and kept expressing how much he loved it, so as soon as he finished I was eager to read it for myself. I was not disappointed! This is a masterfully written biography of arguably one of the most important Christian thinkers/writers/activists during World War II. The author’s tendency to reference future events sometimes seemed like a bit of a spoiler, but I can appreciate what a monumental task it is to weave so much information about the subject, his family, and his time in history into a cohesive and captivating story. I loved reading more about Bonhoeffer’s early family life, and, as a musician myself, it was neat to read of his appreciation for the arts and music. Bonhoeffer’s views and words have often been taken out of context over the years, as Mr. Metaxas makes clear. Even though it seems like sometimes the picture he paints of Bonhoeffer is a larger-than-life image, I thoroughly enjoyed reading much of Bonhoeffer’s original writings and seeing the depth of thought and biblical analysis that he put into understanding what was going on in the world and determining how to respond to it. It’s a bit lengthy, but this is one of my favorite of Bonhoeffer’s quotes from the book:
“‘Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ is a saying of Jesus (Matt. 10:16). As with all of his sayings, it is he himself who interprets it. No one can look at God and at the reality of the world with undivided gaze as long as God and the world are torn apart. Despite all efforts to prevent it the eyes still wander from one to the other. Only because there is one place where God and the reality of the world are reconciled with each other, at which God and humanity have become one, is it possible there and there alone to fix one’s eyes on God and the world together at the same time. This place does not lie somewhere beyond reality in the realm of ideas. It lies in the midst of history as a divine miracle. It lies in Jesus Christ the reconciler of the world.”
When a Man’s a Man
Harold Bell Wright
A quick, fiction read, this story is set in the Old West and extols the virtue of true manhood and womanhood. The context is a mysterious stranger who shows up to work at an Arizona ranch and continually leaves the more experienced hands astounded at his willingness to take on the most difficult exploits for the sake of proving his own character. The truth about his past and his real identity is gradually exposed, but not before he is forced to endure the hardest test of all – sacrificing his own reputation for the sake of those he aims to honor and protect.
This Great Salvation
Robin Boisvert and C.J. Mahaney
This brief study was the selection for a fall Bible study in which one of my sisters and I participated. The authors do a good job of using personal illustrations, biblical insights, and a variety of quotes to cover the topic of justification. Chapter titles include: This Great Salvation, Does Anyone Believe in Sin?, The Holiness of God, The Wrath of God, Justified by Christ, and The Fruits of Justification. Each chapter concludes with a list of discussion questions, and there are several additional study suggestions within each chapter for those who want to dig a little deeper into each topic that is covered.
My Life with the Great Pianists
Franz Mohr with Edith Schaeffer
This book is a natural appeal for pianists, but I think it would be equally inspirational for anyone who is devoted to maximizing their impact in their given field for the glory of Jesus Christ. Some of the finer details about pianos and tuning may be lost on the non-musical reader, but the real message from this concert technician is how one person, by being skillful in their field, can gain an audience with many to make an eternal investment in their lives. I was reminded often of Proverbs 22:29, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” I loved the little anecdotes from Mr. Mohr’s interaction with pianists Horowitz, Rubinstein, Cliburn, Gould, and others, and I came away from the book with an even greater appreciation for the beauty of this instrument – the piano – that occupies so much of my life!
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski
I confess that I put off reading this book for quite a while because there was such a craze surrounding it that I was reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. Nevertheless, when a friend gave me her copy to borrow, I couldn’t resist. J The book was a challenging parallel to many of the things that God has been impressing on my heart this year. In a nutshell, it could probably be described as an extension of the response of Simon Peter, James, and John when Jesus called them to exchange their fishing trade to become fishers of men – “they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). So, too, should be the response of every one of us when Jesus calls us to follow Him.
It’s Not That Complicated: How to Relate to Guys in a Healthy, Sane, and Biblical Way
Anna Sofia & Elizabeth Botkin
My friend sat down across the table from me at a local restaurant. We exchanged a few pleasantries before I broached the subject that had prompted the day’s lunch meeting. “How is the situation with your guy friend going?” She looked at me, raised her eyebrows, and began, “Well…it’s complicated.” My mind immediately drifted to the ingeniously titled new book by sisters Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin: “It’s Not That Complicated.” I hadn’t read the book yet, but by the end of our lengthy conversation – one of many I have had this year with various friends going through relationship challenges – I couldn’t help but wonder, “What world are they living in?!” My own previously-held view of uncomplicated relationships took quite a beating this year, so I was eager to get my hands on a copy of this new book and find out what the authors had to say.
Anna Sofia and Elizabeth are just 25 and 23 years-old, but they write with the wisdom and maturity that can only be gleaned from hours of studying Scripture and its application to life. They have an acute sense of cultural influences and address those influences with both wit and biblical truth. I especially appreciate their emphasis on cultivating the right attitudes and desires in our own hearts as a basis for maintaining appropriate and virtuous behavior toward the guys in our lives. Along with this is the essential truth that our hearts are deceitful and wicked, with no hope of righteousness apart from Jesus Christ. Even though the authors’ perspectives will resonate most with those who come from stable Christian families, I think any young woman will be encouraged and inspired toward godly relationships if she reads this book with an open mind and a teachable heart. Since I interact quite a bit with girls from non-Christian families and/or rough past relationships, I really appreciated this point:
“Some girls fear that they will have permanent scars from mistakes they have made. They fear that part of them is gone and they can never be made whole again. But the concept of inner purity deals more with the present state of the heart, the mind, and the affections than it does with the past. What we need to be doing is developing a state of heart and mind that is self-controlled and faithful to one man. It’s never too late to repent and do what’s right.”
Another helpful feature of “It’s Not That Complicated” is the candid commentary offered by various guys throughout the book. It’s encouraging to know that there are young men passionately serving the Lord and committed to pursuing young women who are doing likewise. I hope and pray that this book will serve as another excellent tool to inspire young people everywhere to keep their eyes on Jesus Christ, build strong friendships, and be “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
One of our Adventures In Character (AIC) staff members recommended this book to me after we discussed our mutual vision for make the Gospel our emphasis in next year’s program. It is a short, but rich and power-packed 97 pages. It is best summed up in the author’s own words in his introduction: “God did not give us His gospel just so we could embrace it and be converted. Actually, He offers it to us every day as a gift that keeps on giving to us everything we need for life and godliness.” This is something I am coming to realize and appreciate more fully every day!