Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “S.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)
This is the first in a four-part series, starting with Part 1 of Stephen Covey’s critically acclaimed bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (1989). I’ll be reading the book with you and walking us through each of the seven habits, which Covey groups into three sections. This series isn’t designed to regurgitate all the lessons in the book (it’s packed full of them) but to encourage you to read the book and consider new ways of looking at the complex areas of your life.
Author and speaker Stephen Covey (1932-2012) tells of a time when his son was struggling in school – academically, socially and athletically. Covey and his wife felt it was their job as parents to “help” him. They tried everything: psyching him up, using positive reinforcement, praising him when he improved slightly, reprimanding others who criticized him. Each of their actions came out of loving motives, but their approach wasn’t working.
At the time, Covey was researching the topics of communication and perception for some leadership development presentations he was doing for business clients.
As he and his wife discussed his findings, they realized that they perceived their son as “inadequate” and had been communicating to him, in unspoken ways, “You aren’t capable. You have to be protected.”
They needed to change their perception of their son before they could truly help him.
PERSONALITY VS. CHARACTER
Covey had been studying the “success literature” published in the United States since 1776.
“I began to feel more and more that much of the success literature of the past 50 years was superficial,” Covey wrote. “It was filled with social image consciousness, techniques and quick fixes – with social band-aids and aspirin that addressed acute problems and sometimes even appeared to solve them temporarily, but left the underlying chronic problems untouched to fester and resurface time and again.
“In stark contrast, almost all the literature in the first 150 years or so focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation of success – things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule.”
“But shortly after World War I the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to what we might call the Personality Ethic. … Some of this literature acknowledged character as an ingredient of success, but tended to compartmentalize it rather than recognize it as foundational and catalytic. Reference to the Character Ethic became mostly lip service; the basic thrust was quick-fix influence techniques, power strategies, communication skills, and positive attitudes.”
Covey realized that he and his wife had been relying, subconsciously, on the Personality Ethic rather than the Character Ethic in trying to help their son. They determined to focus their efforts on themselves – “not on our techniques, but on our deepest motives and our perception of him.” They began to see their son in terms of his uniqueness. They adjusted their approach, accepted him where he was and let him work things out on his own terms.
Thus begins the introduction of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
In the book, Covey takes an inside-out approach to this “personal change,” decrying Band-Aid remedies for deep, complex matters. He acknowledges that some elements of the Personality Ethnic are essential to success. “But they are secondary, not primary traits.”
If there isn’t deep integrity and fundamental strength of character, Covey writes, “the challenges of life will cause true motives to surface and human relationship failure will replace short-term success.”
Next, Covey starts talking about paradigms – our frame of reference, or how we see things. You’ve probably seen his illustration of the young, beautiful woman and the old lady. It has circulated for years and is a fascinating example of how our perceptions can change depending on our frame of reference. This video doesn’t tell the original story (about a class at Harvard Business School) but gives a technological twist on the illustration:
In the book, Covey provides several examples of paradigm shifts, including his own, before giving an overview of the 7 Habits. Part 1, referenced above, is “Paradigms and Principles.” Here’s the rest of the list, which we’ll cover in one post a week for the next three weeks:
PART 2: PRIVATE VICTORY
Be Proactive: Principles of Personal Vision.
Begin with the End in Mind: Principles of Personal Leadership.
Put First Things First: Principles of Personal Management.
PART 3: PUBLIC VICTORY
Think Win/Win: Principles of Interpersonal Leadership.
Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood: Principles of Empathic Communication.
Synergize: Principles of Creative Cooperation.
PART 4: RENEWAL
Sharpen the Saw: Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal.
Stop by Monday, May 11, for Habits 1-3.
Tomorrow: T is for Take Steps and Team Challenge (working to cure Crohn’s & colitis).
Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “L.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spicehere or the Blogging from A-Z pagehere.)
When the world lost renowned author, speaker and university professor C.S. Lewis, the event was barely a blip on the newswire in the United States.
Nov. 22, 1963
As England mourned the beloved creator of Narnia, Perelandra and Glome, the world was reeling from the shock and devastation of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination an ocean away.
(A third momentous death that day: philosopher and author Aldous Huxley’s – also overshadowed by the JFK tragedy.)
I was six days shy of my first birthday on this date, and it would be a quarter-century before I discovered the pleasures and intellectual stimulation of Clive Staples Lewis (known to close friends as “Jack”) and his unique way of expressing theological truths.
I can’t explain exactly why Lewis’ words resonate so deeply in my soul. They just do.
Maybe it’s because he was an atheist-turned-Christian; for me, that gives his words greater weight than those of someone who has never really wrestled with faith issues. Lewis once called himself “the most reluctant convert of all time.” But, despite doubts, he weighed the evidence and came out on the side of God and the resurrected Jesus.
(I, too, struggle in my quest for truth; things don’t always make sense. But I keep seeking, and when I seek, I find. Lewis is one of the ways I find.)
But it’s also because he had a unique way of making complex ideas seem simple, using analogies from the everyday, the common. (A modern-day equivalent is Tim Keller. Apologists like Lewis and Keller help me work through my questions.)
In my opinion, my first Lewis book is still his best. The first time I read it, in my mid-20s, I found Mere Christianity to be complex and deep yet simple, albeit a bit intimidating. I read it again last year and found it to be profoundly wonderful, still complex and yet straightforward and simple all at the same time. (I wish I had his way of making this sound sensible.)
My second Lewis book – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Book 1 in “The Chronicles of Narnia”) – was equally wonderful but in a completely different way. The Narnia books have entranced not only me but millions of readers throughout the decades.
His way of expressing theological ideas engaged even young fiction lovers, with whom he corresponded:
“As to Aslan’s other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone in this world who (1.) Arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2.) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3.) Gave himself up for someone else’s fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4.) Came to life again. (5.) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb (see the end of the Dawn Treader). Don’t you really know His name in this world? Think it over and let me know your answer!”
– C.S. Lewis, in response to an 11-year-old girl who had sent him her
drawings and a letter of appreciation for the first three Chronicles of Narnia
Although these two books are perhaps his best sellers, Lewis wrote many others. I haven’t read them all, I confess. A few weeks ago, a longtime friend gave me a copy of Till We Have Faces, which I had never attempted to read. (I wish I had read it before writing this post.) My friend had such an odd reaction, and she was sure that I, too, would think the book extremely strange. So it sits on my nightstand, waiting its turn; I can’t wait to dig in.
Lewis also wrote about his conversion to Christianity (Surprised by Joy, [joy was a topic that came up frequently in his writings]), marriage late in life to Joy Davidman, Joy’s death (A Grief Observed) and heaven and hell (The Great Divorce). Another favorite of mine: The Screwtape Letters, a fictional account of correspondence between veteran demon Uncle Screwtape and his demon-in-training nephew Wormwood.
A movie, Shadowlands, chronicles Lewis and Davidman’s relationship and her death; the theatrical release stars Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger; the PBS version features Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom.
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. Vanauken and his wife, “Davy,” were friends and correspondents of Lewis’, and this book details the couple’s life and love, Davy’s death and some of the letters between them and Lewis. You won’t always agree with their choices, but you’ll gain something from this beautiful book.
Note that I’ve linked you to CSLewis.com for many of the books. I’m sure you can find most or all of them at lower prices at a mainstream bookseller such as Amazon. The choice is yours.
UPDATE: After I published this post, I discovered that my friend Lois at Waxing Gibbous had also written about C.S. Lewis today. And it’s not even his birthday! (She wrote about Narnia. Check it out.)
It was a night for storytelling and books, two of my favorite things.
It was dark, yes. Cold.
And it poured rain. But that didn’t keep a few dozen people – me, a few ladies from my monthly reading group, some bespectacled academics and a handful of students (who weren’t ready to admit they were there by coercion) – from enjoying an hour or so of conversation with bestselling novelist Tom Franklin at Lyon College in Batesville.
Franklin, 2015 winner of the Leila Lenore Heasley Prize at Lyon, read excerpts from a couple of of his books – Poachers (a short-story collection), Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (I’m reading that one, and we had a quiz about the title in a recent post, remember?) – and, as far as I can tell, an anthology that contains one of his stories (“The Safety Man”), before he took audience questions.
Despite fiddling with my camera and two dead batteries for several minutes during the readings, I had thought of a bucketload of questions, but when Q&A time came, this is what I managed to ask:
But, shoot, he had already answered some of my questions as he talked about his books, his writing process, his influences (King among them), his beautiful and brilliant poet wife – the whole writing thing. And I couldn’t think of anything more substantial, more thoughtful – something that made it obvious I had been paying attention.
Afterward, when I stood in line to wait for Mr. Franklin to autograph my books (I bought Poachers and Crooked Letter), I asked my second-most-brilliant question: “What’s your favorite book of your own?”
“Smonk,” he said, without hesitation.
He had sold out of that one before I got up to the table, and I was disappointed. Until he said:
“It’s not for everyone.”
It’s extremely violent and sexually explicit, he said.
His mother cried for three days after she read it.
Well, shoot. I wanted to read all of his books. Now I’m not so sure. I certainly don’t want to make my own mother cry. I’m very curious about this book, though.
It’s not that I’m into extremely violent, sexually explicit fiction (or nonfiction). In fact, just the opposite is true. But I am into good writing. I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to read good writing, especially fiction, in the hopes that it will make me a better writer. Is reading a sexually explicit, extremely violent novel worth it? Will it be helpful? (I ask myself that question a lot.)
I’m going to have to do some praying on that. Yep, some serious praying. I will let you know. (I wouldn’t even be having this conversation – this inner battle – if I hadn’t met the author last night and really liked him. I also am enjoying Crooked Letter, which I’m about half-finished reading. It is not sexually explicit or extremely violent – so far – although I would clean up the language a bit if I were writing it. But that’s just me.) (Update:I’m not going to read Smonk.)
Friends, the weekend is about over, and I’m just sitting down to write the Weekly Wrap-up. I’m staying up past my bedtime just for you. 🙂
I’m trying to read Evernote Essentials finally (I downloaded the ebook in October or November) – so I can make the best use of the awesome productivity tool known as Evernote. I have just scratched the surface.
I thought I was clipping some URLs from websites into Evernote for the Wrap-up, but, alas, I apparently missed a step and will have to rely on the gazillion tabs I still have open in Firefox, the flagged emails I saved in Outlook and my poor, feeble memory. (Uh-oh.)
So here is the week in review:
A few weeks ago I started reading Unbroken before I got sidetracked by some required reading. Now I’m back. When I heard about the movie, and that it was based on a Laura Hillenbrand book about Olympic miler Louie Zamperini, I thought it was going to be about his running career. Wrong. It’s mostly about his time in World War II. (I don’t want to spoil anything, but right now he and a buddy are in the middle of a 40-something-day stint in a rubber raft in the Pacific after their plane went down. And there are LOTS of sharks.)
As I was reading about WWII and the warplanes and the pilots and crew, it brought to mind a book I read last year for my monthly reading group. (Actually, I listened to the audio version during my long runs.) This wasn’t a novel I would have chosen, but I like Fannie Flagg so I gave it a whirl. The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion wasn’t at all what I expected. The all-girl part was a group of sisters who worked at their dad’s filling station in Wisconsin (“Hiya, pal!”). But after their brother went off to war, three of the four sisters became pilots – Women Airforce Service Pilots, to be exact – and that’s where it got interesting. It was fiction, but I felt that I learned a little bit about a segment of our nation’s history that I had never studied: the WASPS. I’ll let you read up on that for yourself, here.
I’m also still reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters for another discussion group. We meet at 6:30 a.m. every other Thursday at McDonald’s. I love these discussions! And then there are the two church-group books I’m reading. Those discussions have been great, too, and very thought provoking. Maybe I’ll talk about those two books later.
So that’s the book part. Here’s what I’ve been reading on the Internet:
My friend Alison, whose four kids are hurtling toward adulthood, has a soft spot for babies, and perhaps an even softer spot for struggling moms. Read her story about babies on a plane.
(Sidebar: In a bit of serendipity, I “introduced” Alison to Elissa via separate emails, as they are both expats living in Scotland at the present, and after looking at Alison’s blog Elissa told me they seem to know a few of the same people. I’m so eager to see where this goes!)
Mona Karel took me down memory lane, sharing a few folk songs from back in the day. Are you old enough to remember Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and some of the others who protested war, poverty and a general lack of love and compassion for our fellow human being? This was the music of my childhood in 1960s California.
“At first we hug our boundaries in chains. We think ‘if we tell the girl we like her, she might not like me back.’ We think, ‘If I say I like this candidate, my friends might hate me.’ If I say X, everyone else might say Y. And so on. But more and more we start to feel where those boundaries are and we push them out. We push them further and further away from ourselves. Until finally they are so far away it’s as if they don’t exist at all. You don’t need money for that. Or a big house. Or a fancy degree or car. Every day, just push out those boundaries a little further. … Eventually, the boundaries are so far away we begin to feel the pleasures of true freedom.”
Push the boundaries. I’m workin’ on it.
Altucher wrote a book called “Choose Yourself.” I understand the sentiment: He’s not telling us to be selfish but to stick up for ourselves. That’s one way of looking at it. But Thomas McGreevey challenges us to “Love With Abandon.”
I’ll choose that.
What have you been reading lately? Spill the beans!
A few of us (two dozen, maybe?) are regulars on the Facebook page that was set up during the challenge, and many of them continue to “ship” every day. Every single day. They have caught the bug!
I’ve been a member of another blogger group for a while, but most of those writers are Southern chicks (whom I love), and, while each one offers a fresh perspective not only on what it means to be a woman living in the South (or a Southern woman living elsewhere) but on what it means to be a part of the human race, I wasn’t expecting this new perspective. For these Southern women and their blogs I’m grateful; they bring me joy and inspiration.
But this new group – this “tribe” from the YT Challenge – was an unexpected source of joy and inspiration, too. These writers inspire me from all over the world, all sorts of backgrounds (writers, musicians, martial artists, glassblowers, teachers, scientists, marketing gurus, attorneys, Renaissance men, feminists, home-schoolers … and some of those even come in the same package!), every age and level of life experience. Just … gosh!
So, for the past couple of weeks, those guys are the ones I’ve been reading online. And until some of them get tired of posting every day (not all of us can keep it up indefinitely), I’ll be reading them and sharing some of their posts with you, along with other discoveries that make me laugh, smile, think or do.
Here’s the Weekly Wrap-up for Feb. 7, 2015.
At my monthly reading group this week, I learned three things of note:
I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get into the February book, Swimming by Nicola Keegan. In fact, only one of us read the entire book before Tuesday’s meeting. (I do plan to read it all. Eventually.)
Our March meeting will be a field trip! Southern novelist and Heasley Prize winner Tom Franklin will be in town on our usual meeting night (March 3), so we’re going to hear him at Lyon College. I might even take a super-early lunch break that day and attend the “public interview” with Franklin. And I definitely plan to try out his books (two are available at our county library), as I’d never heard of him until Tuesday. Here’s his Amazon page.
Bonus points if you can tell me where the phrase Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (the title of Franklin’s 2010 novel) came from. (If your mama is from the South, as mine is, you learned this as a child.)
Harper Lee’s first novel, “Go Set A Watchman” (the story that she rewrote that became the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my top 3 favorites), will be released July 14. How in the heck did I miss that? Preorders have already reached No. 1 on Amazon, and Mockingbird orders had reached No. 1 as of Friday. According to The Wall Street Journal article, the news of this long-forgotten manuscript’s release “has captivated and shocked the literary world.” Well, yeah.
Speaking of reading, I was happy to see YTC tribe member Eric’s admonition, Never Stop Reading. In the past year, through my book group and the great suggestions of an author friend, I’ve rediscovered the joys of fiction, although nonfiction continues to maintain its tight grasp on me. But whatever reading you do, keep doing it – and if you’re a parent, teach your kids the importance of reading (teach them to love it by reading to them when they’re young). Eric even offers a suggestion that takes away the excuse, “I don’t have time to read.”
I linked to Elissa’s blog last week, and after reading just a few posts, I can already tell I’ll be sharing her with you again. Not only does she express herself beautifully, she writes about things I like to read about (even things I didn’t know I was interested in!). Win-win! This time she asked me (and you, too, by proxy) if I want to get vulnerable, take a risk and join her in a new adventure. Read what she means by Who Wants to Get Naked? I said yes.
Randy wants to inspire the over-50 crowd that it’s not too late to make a difference. As a 52-year-old (who still feels like a 26-year-old, except for those days when my body creaks like it’s 104), I applaud him for dedicating himself to proving that we’re still vital members of the human race and have wisdom, insights and the ability to act on our convictions. From Randy’s About page:
“My goal is to provide a place where we assemble a tribe that invades and conquers life after 50. This is more than surviving. This is about exploring, thriving and conquering.” YES!
The Incognito Blogger finds stories that inspire her (and us) to “Prepare, Go Hard and Don’t Quit.” In this post she asks, What are you willing to go through in order to reach your goals? The words in the graphic at the top of my post are largely the words that popped into my head when I read these stories, and especially when I viewed the short video of James Robertson. Be sure to watch that; it really is short. (And I have a feeling it would inspire Randy Hartman.)
I wish I could share every single good thing I’ve read this week, because there is much, much more (I said that last week, didn’t I?). There are just so many good things out there, if you know where to find them. The Weekly Wrap-up is my way of helping you find them. I hope you enjoy the list.
Today’s post is inspired by The Broke and the Bookish. Here’s my list of the “Top Ten Book Characters That Would Be Sitting at my Lunch Table,” listed in no particular order:
Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. (Does that count as three?) Not only did I read as many of these mysteries as I could get my hands on when I was in grade school and junior high, I faithfully watched the corresponding TV shows in the late 1970s. Remember that? Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew, and the dreamy Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as Frank and Joe Hardy. A weekly must-see TV! Runner-up: Trixie Belden, another girl detective (remember her?).
As Tara mentioned in her Running ’N’ Reading post, Anne Shirley of the Anne of Green Gablesseries. That Anne (“spelt with an ‘e’ ”) sure could get herself into some messes, couldn’t she? (Remember the green hair?) Anne was certainly braver than I was at her age, but I grew into the stick-your-foot-into-your-mouth habit quite nicely, thank you. “But if you only knew how many things I want to say and don’t.” Love that girl! (I still wouldn’t walk the ridge pole of a house, though, no matter who dared me!)
Josephine March of Little Womenand Jo’s Boys. Jo was a tomboy (jumping fences, whistling, running through the woods), but she loved her very feminine sisters fiercely. Her affection for young Beth was heartwarming, and Jo’s book “My Beth” was a big sister’s tender tribute after the family’s loss of the shy and timid “Bethy.” And could anyone forget when she cut off her beautiful long hair to pay for Marmee’s trip to visit the wounded Father away at war? Another girl who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, Jo demonstrated a courage to stand alone in a crowd.
Atticus and Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, I loved Jem, too, but Atticus and his precocious daughter, Scout, really stole my heart (besides, Scout is the narrator). The entire family was colorblind, but the book is really told from 5-year-old Scout’s perspective, so we get more of her courage (again, speaking her mind, but in a more innocent way) and, of course, her observations shined light on the actions of her hero daddy. I love the scene (maybe just in the movie – not sure about the book) where she meets Boo Radley up close, says “Hey, Boo,” then walks over and takes his hand. (Am I getting that right?) I may invite Boo to lunch, too. He was a kind soul.
Cynthia Kavanagh of the Mitford series. She always had a positive attitude. In fact, her husband, Father Tim (a bachelor until he was in his 60s), would often say to her, “Is there anything you don’t love?” I’d delight in having lunch (church potluck, perhaps?) with the entire small town of Mitford, N.C., including Tim’s big ol’ Scripture-loving dog, Barnabus. It’s been several years since the last book in this series came out … or so I thought. While fetching a link for this post, I discovered that a new book in the series became available TODAY! Woot! (Note to husband: My birthday is nearly three months away; you need not wait that long to shower me with the gift of another Mitford book.)
Guy Montag of Fahrenheit 451. Guy was a firefighter who used to seek out and burn books (it was his job), but then he decided to read one, and it changed him – as books tend to do. Once he realized that he’d rather read books than burn them, he became a fugitive. His actions took much courage. If you haven’t read this book, read it. It will make you think.
Lizzie Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. Is it OK for me to admit that I’ve never read the book but have seen at least two movie versions of Pride and Prejudice? (No one said I had to read the book to love the character!) Elizabeth Bennett has been a well-loved literary character for decades … and, gee whiz, I just realized she’s another well-spoken, albeit a quick-to-speak-slow-to-listen chick. I guess I like that type of girl! And, gee whiz, I guess I need to visit the library and get this book! Like, right now!
Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web. How many spiders do you know who would give their lives for a friend – even a pig friend? And Stuart of Stuart Little– a little guy with a big heart. Both of these are E.B. White characters, and if you haven’t read the books, do! The Trumpet of the Swanis good, too, but for the life of me I can’t remember much about it. I just remember that I liked it. It is part of the E.B. White boxed set that includes Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. (Just had to include a plug for the boxed set – even if my memory is terrible!)
The apple tree in The Giving Tree. “Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.” If you haven’t read Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book about the tree that sacrifices itself for a boy’s pleasure, please check it out. I don’t want to spoil the story, so that’s all I’m going to say about it, except this: It reminds me of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us.
The velveteen rabbit from The Velveteen Rabbit. Again, a story about an inanimate object (or is it?) that loves a boy, even when the boy grows too old to play with it. “ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’ ”
I guess I got a little mushy toward the end of my list, eh? 🙂
Update 9/3/14, honorable mention: As I made my Top 10 list yesterday, I wanted to include one of my childhood favorites, A Dog for Susie, but I couldn’t remember the dog’s name. But as I ran this morning, I was listening to the last few chapters of an audiobook that I was supposed to finish for book group this week. Wouldn’t you know, in the last 2 minutes of the book, the main character’s husband brought home a great Dane, a rescue dog named Rufus.
“RUFUS!” I said to myself. “That’s the dog for Susie!” In fact, in the book, Susie had the same reaction when she finally came up with a name for her own “rescue dog” (a mutt she stumbled upon): “RUFUS!” So Rufus from A Dog for Susie gets an honorable mention, but if I had remembered his name sooner he would have been in the Top 10. 🙂
What book characters would you love to have at your lunch table?
I discovered a neat website this afternoon, just in time to participate in Top Ten Tuesday. Here are my Top 10 Favorite Classic Books:
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. This nonfiction book, about a father and his two adult daughters sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their home in Holland, haunts me. I’ve “loaned” out several copies and ended up telling the recipient, “Keep it or pass it along to someone else.” The book’s message – God is good, even (no, especially) in the midst of suffering – is one I want everyone to grab hold of, and one I continually need to remind myself of. My favorite quote: “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This one seems to make a lot of people’s top-10 lists. And the movie (starring Gregory Peck as the quietly heroic Atticus Finch) is just as good as the book. It’s a moving portrayal of the effects of racism in the Depression-era Deep South.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. My first “favorite book,” before it got bumped from the top spot by “To Kill a Mockingbird” a few years ago. I guess I’m a sucker for a family story, and the March family – Marmee, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Father (who’s off fighting in the Civil War) – demonstrates what it’s like to be loyal, charitable and hopeful even in hard times. (I’ve also seen almost every movie version made. My favorite: the 1949 one with Janet Leigh as Meg, June Allyson as Jo, Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, Margaret O’Brien as Beth and Peter Lawford as Laurie.)
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Lewis’ writing causes me to think. He had a way of describing things in ways beyond my imagination (probably why his Narnia books are so popular). A former atheist, he wrestled with faith and made it OK for me to admit that I wrestle, too.
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. My Uncle Bill gave me my first copy as a college graduation present 25 years ago, when I visited him in Arizona on my way to California for my first full-time newspaper job. This was the “classic” version (archaic language), and now I also have an “Updated Edition.” This is another book I’ve given as a gift many times. I like it like I like C.S. Lewis’ writings: Chambers has a way of making me think hard about my faith, what it means in my own life, and what it means in the world.
The Shining by Stephen King. This may not be a classic in the strictest sense, but I read it when I was in 10th grade (my first King novel), so to me it’s old enough to qualify. This book creeped me out! But it got me hooked on Stephen King novels, and I read them for the next decade. I believe I stopped with Misery in the late 1980s. I also got over my need for horror movies, although I still love a good mystery (Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew 🙂 ). REDRUM.
A Dog for Susie by “Nordlie R”? OK, this one is a classic only in my own mind, but I really loved the book when I was a child. It speaks to Suzy the dog lover and Suzy the book lover. I got it at the used-book sale at school. In fact, I think it was free. (Even better!) I have it in one of our many bookcases, but I can’t find it at the moment or I’d grab it and tell you the correct name of the author.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I re-read this a couple of years ago. There’s a reason it’s a classic. I think I like it for some of the same reasons I love “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It reminds me of the dangers of small-mindedness. Read it to find out the meaning of the title.
The Holy Bible. The best classic book of all time, of course, is God’s inspired word, one of His primary ways of communicating to the world. The version I’ve been reading for the past six or seven years is the New Living Translation. I’ve read through the entire Bible maybe three times, and this year I began a chronological reading plan for the first time. It’s helping me see parallels I hadn’t noticed before.
As books tend to do, Altar Ego: Becoming Who God Says You Are by Craig Groeschel came at just the right time for me. When I received an email from the publisher describing the book, I had begun a time of seeking: God, what do you have in store for me? How are you looking to mold and shape me so that I can carry out Your mission? What is my part in Your plan to make Your name great among the nations?
In part, the publisher’s blurb said: “Discover how to trade in your broken ego and unleash your altar ego to become a living sacrifice. Once we know our true identity and are growing in our Christ-like character, then we can behave accordingly, with bold behavior, bold prayers, bold words, and bold obedience.”
My ego (pride, holier-than-thou attitude, judgmental spirit) tends to get in the way of a lot of things, but fortunately God has been working on it through the years. (He has a big job!) So this book was one more step toward my being molded in His image.
The book has three parts:
Part 1: Sacrificing Your False Self for Your Sacred Identity in Christ.
Part 2: Sacrificing Cultural Relativity for Eternal Values.
Part 3: Sacrificing Self-Justification for Passionate Obedience.
Part 1, while completely relevant, seemed like yet one more recitation of things I already knew: “You are God’s masterpiece,” “You are God’s ambassador,” etc. I appreciated the lessons but didn’t get as much out of it as I did the two other parts.
Even Part 2 was more or less a rehash of a lesson on proper living (things my ego tells me I already have a handle on!). So, again, relevant but not as compelling as Part 3.
I highlighted many passages in all three parts of the book, so it would be unfair to say that only the last section spoke to me.
But finally, in Part 3, the author gets to the meat I’m interested in chewing on: “Bold Behavior,” “Bold prayers,” “Bold words,” “Bold obedience.”
And, while I’ve heard over and over that we are to be bold for Christ (if you don’t believe me, read the Book of Acts – 28 chapters of boldness), it’s a lesson I can hear every day and not get enough of.
By nature, I’m an introvert, and I used to be excruciatingly, painfully, embarrassingly shy. I would beg God silently to send people to me – rather than me to them – to be my friends, to pay attention to me (even though I hated being in the spotlight!). I had a screwed-up idea of how human interaction is supposed to work, especially for one who claims Christ as Lord and Savior, someone who’s supposed to share the Good News with everyone.
At some point, I realized that I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and do some work. I started allowing God to put me in situations where I was uncomfortable, where I would be forced to put myself out there, meeting people, talking to them, actually interacting. In other words, being vulnerable. To be honest, I still don’t like it, but I’ve gotten used to it and now seek out situations where my human-interaction muscle can stretch and grow stronger, little by little. It’s a circle: As I step out, my faith grows. As my faith grows, I’m more willing to step out.
So the section of Altar Ego on boldness really hit home with me. Like I said, nothing too new – although said in a new way with illustrations unique to the author – but a challenge to continue building on the foundation God has laid for my life.
My life is not my own. I want to lay it on God’s altar, and I must – every day, every hour, every minute. Only He knows the perfect plan for my life, and yours. Let’s allow Him to lay it out for us, and then grab His hand as He leads us on the great adventure.
Let us be bold.
“ ‘And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness” (Acts 3:29-31, NLT).
This review is part of my agreement with Thomas Nelson through its BookSneeze project. It allows me to get free books in exchange for my honest review, whether I like the books or not. To learn more, click here.
I must have been tired, busy, distracted or just cranky when I started reading the biography J.R.R. Tolkien last year. I just couldn’t get into it. And when I picked it up a few weeks ago to try again, it still seemed dry and uninteresting.
But I had to finish it, because I had agreed to review it (more on that below). And I’m happy to say that, in the end, I liked this book.
Part of my interest in this fantasy writer and poet stems from the fact that my husband reads Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy about once a year; and my brother, who usually is too busy living life to read much, read The Hobbit once upon a time – one of the few books he has ever read – and loved it.
Also, when I heard that Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (my favorite author) were friends (wow!), that sealed it for me. I had planned to read the Hobbit books for years (even before the movies of the early 2000s) but never had gotten around to it. And when I ordered the biography last year, I debated about whether to read it first or read the fantasy novels first. Will the biography help me enjoy the novels more, or will starting with the novels help me appreciate the bio more? The debate lasted so long, it took me months to get around to reading the bio (I finally decided to read it first, and I think I chose correctly).
So here we are at long last: I’m ready to share my thoughts on the biography.
The prosaically titled (and, at times, prosaically written) volume, written by Mark Horne as part of Thomas Nelson’s “Christian Encounters” series, begins with a tale of a 3-year-old John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (or, simply, Ronald), a tarantula bite and a quick-thinking nanny to the rescue. Giant scary spiders would figure into stories he wrote for his children, and longtime Tolkien fans will recall their presence in the Hobbit stories. But not because he remembered the tarantula – this was not a case of art imitating life. He later said he didn’t recall the tarantula bite as part of the incident – he simply remembered the heat of the day and running in fear through the tall, dead grass.
In other ways, though, the difficulties of his life did inform his writing. While he was still a child, he endured the deaths of both parents, and several resulting moves because of financial necessity and educational needs. His mother’s family ostracized her because of her Catholic faith – a factor that contributed to her death, in her older son’s opinion, and which may have strengthened his resolve to remain true to the faith.
Tolkien was born in South Africa, where his parents had relocated from England for financial reasons. When he was 3, his mother took him and his younger brother to England for a visit. The plan was for the boys’ father to join them later, but it was not to be; he developed a brain hemorrhage and was buried before his wife even received word that he had died.
Ronald’s diabetic mother died when he was 12. She made arrangements in her will for her friend and spiritual helper, Father Francis Morgan, to be her two boys’ legal guardian. Tolkien’s faith played an important role in his writing, even though he at one time said he preferred not to write overtly Christian stories but “to let readers make their own choices.” Still, his faith in God was communicated throughout his works of fiction. “Having written an epic of good versus evil, Tolkien left readers free to make up their own minds how to apply his fiction,” Horne writes.
Although his works portray the battle of good vs. evil, they also portray a world in which there is much beauty “and where there was true courage to do what is right even at great cost.” Even though I haven’t delved into his books yet, I’ve seen the first two movies in the LOTR trilogy and can attest to that point. “Tolkien portrayed a fantasy world that could not only entertain us but could also challenge and inspire us.”
Entertaining and inspiring stories aside, the area where I most identified with Tolkien – besides his love of languages and linguistics – was his perfectionism. I call myself a “recovering” perfectionist, but, oh, how I understood his extreme difficulty in letting go of a manuscript. He kept revising, changing, modifying and tweaking his stories. He never thought one was good enough to be published and was surprised at his novels’ success. (Similarly, it takes me forever to write a blog post, and once I’ve published it, I’m still not finished with it!) One theory for his procrastination problem was that Tolkien avoided completing a project “because doing so would mean that he was no longer being creative.” Maybe. But as a fellow sufferer of the disease of perfectionism, I doubt that was the main reason.
And then there was his obsession with The Silmarillion, which gives background and history to some of the people, places and things in his Hobbit books. The Sil seemed to be his pet story – or, as his biographer put it, “his life’s work” – but it’s one I have been advised by fans of his to save until later because of its dense history and similarity to the Old Testament! And, even though I rather like the OT, I’m taking the advice of my husband and my friend’s Facebook friend, with whom I got into a conversation about Tolkien and his works. I’ll start with The Hobbit.
I am leaving out major pieces of Tolkien’s history in this already-long post: his friendship and, later, break with fellow Oxford professor and fantasy/sci-fi writer C.S. Lewis; his service in World War I; his marriage; his children; his death; and so much more.
But any good writer should know when it’s time to shut up, and that time is now. I’ll leave you with this:
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Excuse me now – I have some Hobbits to get acquainted with.
I’ve been a part of Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze project for nearly three years. It allows me to get free books in exchange for giving my honest opinion, whether I like the books or not. If you’d like to get in on this sweet deal, click the link above.
I suffer from attention deficit disorder. If I wasn’t certain of it before, I am now. Technology has propelled me toward this official self-diagnosis.
My book collection not only clutters my house; it’s beginning to clutter my electronic bookshelf.
When we finally sold our house in North Little Rock a year ago, we made a small profit and indulged in some techy stuff. Two days before my birthday, I got a smart phone. A few weeks later we got an iPad, and a couple of months after that we got a new laptop. All Apple products (yes, we’re “Mac snobs” and have been for years).
All these electronic devices now “sync” with one another. That’s a good thing and a bad thing.
One good thing is apps.
Another good thing is the Cloud.
When you have three complementary electronic gadgets, all from the same brand, apps and clouds can be a lovely thing.
It means you can load up with BOOKS. And read them anywhere.
Have I mentioned that I LOVE BOOKS? Not lately, but, yes, I have mentioned it. Unfortunately a bunch of Suzy & Spice got wiped out a few months ago, so some of my book-loving references have gone away. Poor you. Because some of them were book reviews. About books I got FREE just for writing reviews about them. (One really cool thing about that is that a couple of these books’ authors posted thank-you comments at Suzy & Spice. And another one saw my previous reviews and wrote me a letter asking me to review her new book. So I did.)
But back to the book clutter.
Bruce Oakley and I (I’ve begun calling him “Bruce Oakley” since he got his own Facebook page; if you FB much, you’ll understand) … well, we love books.
This can be a dangerous thing.
Our house in North Little Rock, the one we sold because we moved to Batesville, had wall-to-wall built-in bookcases in three rooms. It’s basically what sold us on the house 13 years ago, especially for Bruce Oakley, who never met a book he wanted to give away.
That’s not entirely true; he has managed to part with several items from our vast collection before and since we moved from a 2,600-square-foot house to a 1,740-square-foot house.
But, golly, do we still have lots of books! We even have boxes of them that we still haven’t unpacked 2½ years after moving.
I’m working on that. Got it down to just a couple of boxes now. Cookbooks, classic books, running books, gardening books, financial stewardship books, you name it. Books, books, books.
If you’re a true book lover, you understand how hard it is to part with a book – or to pass up a free book on a give-away table. (Many of our books were acquired when we worked for “the state’s largest newspaper” – books from the food editor’s table, or the religion editor’s table, sometimes even the travel editor’s table [even though I don’t really enjoy reading “travel” books]. Heck, we even got some of the books from the book editor’s table! Imagine that.)
We’ve acquired a couple more bookcases in the past several months. We have one still in the box – we’re still trying to decide where to squeeze it in (we bought the bookcase for my mom, but she changed her mind and we decided to keep it). We recently hung shelves in the office/sewing room to store non-book items so we could be a little more organized. This has meant some of the boxes on the floor under the table in that room have been emptied onto the bookshelves and other things have taken their place. (Sounds contradictory and counterproductive, but organizing clutter is a process, people!)
Nevertheless, we have given away a few dozen books in the past couple of years. I’ve donated several to our “church library,” which doesn’t really exist except for a small collection of books that I donated in the hopes of someday having a real church library. Our church here Batesville is a lot smaller than our church in North Little Rock, and I realize that when and if I decide to push for a “real church library,” I no doubt will be elected its first librarian. (Be careful what you wish for.) And we sent a bunch to a friend’s son who’s in the Peace Corps in Rwanda. He lives in a house with no electricity and has to read books with a headlamp. Does that make you more fully appreciate your books, your good lighting and your ability to read? I hope so. It does me.
But back to the electronic techno-gadget-thingie stuff.
Paring down our collection of physical books has been a good thing, spacewise, but now … I have discovered ebook readers! (Discovered is not so much the word as now have access to, on all my cool electronic devices.)
And what’s even better (or worse, depending on your perspective) is that you can obtain books with “1-Click” ordering, and many of these ebooks are FREE!
Did I mention that I love FREE?
And here’s where the ADD admission comes in: Just like with my physical stack of books and magazines on the nightstand, and on the floor by the bed (and in the tote bag I carry to work every day), I have a virtual stack of books that is beginning to pile up in my electronic cloud. (A cloud means you can access the same stuff from different devices by being signed in using the same username and password. It even remembers where you are in your book, magazine or newspaper so that when you’re on a road trip with your iPad, say, you can pick up where you left off reading on your laptop back home in your cozy chair. A virtual bookmark.)
But here’s the really embarrassing part: The reason there’s such a pile is that I start a book and don’t necessarily finish it right away. Right away meaning within the next couple of years. And then I pick up a different kind of book and don’t finish it, either.
Here’s an example, and why it can be so embarrassing: A friend and former colleague of mine from 20 years ago wrote a novel that has been quite well received. It has gotten some really, really good reviews. Right after (or maybe right before) it hit bookstores two years ago, I mentioned it to Bruce, who emailed my author friend and said he’d like to buy an autographed copy for me for our anniversary.
Well … my friend wouldn’t let Bruce pay for the book, promptly shipping us a copy along with a note saying it was good to reconnect after losing touch.
I emailed him to say thanks, and that since he wouldn’t let Bruce pay for the book, we donated $25 to Heifer International in his honor. And then we got to talking about the past few years.
Some history: He and I worked together at a newspaper in California. He was my supervisor, and I was the first babysitter of his first child. I really liked his wife, and in fact I still have a photo on my wall of her standing next to me, both of us smiling as I proudly hold their new baby girl. I house-sat for him and his wife for a week (someday I’ll tell you about having to crawl through their doggie door when the garage-door key wouldn’t work). I swam in their pool, loved on their pets and ate dinner with them once or twice. That was pretty much the extent of our socializing. (It’s hard to socialize with someone you work with when you’re both on the evening shift and have different nights off.) We were friends but not BFF’s, you know what I mean?
So when I moved away, and then he moved back to Seattle, we gradually became the kind of friends who only exchange Christmas cards, except that I am terrible at sending Christmas cards. It was kind of one-sided. I enjoyed seeing the kids age as the years passed, but it wasn’t enough to prompt me to get off my duff and actually send them a card.
One year I noticed that the Christmas cards were signed with only his and the kids’ names. No wife’s name. And since it’s not the sort of thing you write back about and say, “What, did you get divorced or something?” I simply wondered what had happened.
A few years later the cards stopped coming. Can’t say I blame him, I thought. I never send them a card.
So it was one of those wish we hadn’t lost touch kinds of things. Someone you really like and admire but no longer know much about.
And when we started emailing two years ago, my friend shared some of what had happened in the intervening years. Yes, they had split up. She moved away, and later was killed. To honor his privacy, and since I haven’t read all the book-publicity interviews to know how much he has shared publicly, I won’t say more than that.
But he told me that’s where the book came from. This experience of losing this woman he had loved, the mother of his children.
The book’s main character is a teenage boy who has lost his twin brother, so the circumstances are different, but you can still feel the pain and grief as my friend fictionalizes this horrific and life-altering thing that happened to his family.
The book is really, really good (except for the occasional foul language, which offends me on one level but remains true to the teenage character).
And two years later, I still have not finished reading it.
But let me defend myself just a little. For the past four years, I’ve been in school at night while working full time during the day. Because of Bruce’s disease, I’m now the main breadwinner. I was trying to get a second degree because of my midlife career change, which happened out of necessity (it allowed us to move to Batesville, where the job opportunities are far fewer).
I was crazy half the time, trying to keep up with it all. This past spring, I decided not to return to school in the fall. I regret that I couldn’t finish what I started, but it was the right decision for my family.
And I’m just now catching up with my life. And my books.
In the spirit of decluttering our house, I was overjoyed to be able to start obtaining virtual books. I have a couple of snob friends – or really just one snob friend who has several snob Facebook friends – who wouldn’t be caught dead with an electronic book reader. They are old-school when it comes to books. They prefer to read them the old-fashioned way – on paper.
Too bad for them. There are so many advantages to ebooks. (Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the list today.)
And then, a few weeks ago, while I was jogging with a couple of friends, one of them mentioned a book she got from Inspired Reads, a service that offers free (did I mention I love free?) and very inexpensive books for your Kindle. Well, I was all over that. I found the website, signed up for the daily emails and began amassing my collection of books for Kindle. (Did you know you can download a free Kindle app and not have to purchase the actual Kindle device? So then you can download free Kindle books! I also have iBooks, but the Inspired Reads selections are for the Kindle.)
And the books you can download (free!) aren’t just stupid, crappy books that no one wants to read. There are some good, thoughtful reads out there. They’re “the best Christian Kindle Books on a Budget.”
In the Inspired Reads daily email, you first have to wade through the list of Christian fiction, most of which doesn’t really light my fire, but then you get to the non-fiction, which has some good titles. You should check it out. Most days I just skim the list and delete the email because, even though they’re free, I simply don’t need to download every single free book out there. When I said I had begun “amassing my collection,” I didn’t mean that quite as literally as it sounds. I’m building my electronic library slowly, trying to be selective while also taking advantage of some of the books I otherwise would pass up. Because they’re FREE.
And I know of another great way to get free books.
If you’re a blogger, check out BookSneeze, another site with Christian books. BookSneeze will send you a book (physical or electronic) just for agreeing to review it on your blog and post the review on a book-related website (such as Christianbook.com or Amazon.com). I’ve obtained several free books from BookSneeze, and most of them are really good. Book Sneeze doesn’t require you to write a positive review – just your honest opinion.
So … back to the ADD thing again. (See what I mean?) I start reading a book, life gets busy, I stop reading the book, and I pick up a different book and start reading that one. Then life gets busy and the cycle starts all over. I have several unread books, just waiting to be loved.
But I’m turning over a new leaf, so to speak. I’m not going to start reading any new ones until the previous pile is finished.
Notice I didn’t say I would stop obtaining new books, just reading new ones. After all, who can pass up a free ebook?
I should be finished with Adios Nirvana within the next week.
What books are on your nightstand and piled next to the bed? What books do you need to finish before adding more to your stash? Tell me, tell me!