Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Nonfiction of 2014 (Part 2 of 2)

Continuing from yesterday, a look back over the rest of the nonfiction books I read in 2014. Again, my rating system:
***** Loved it, would definitely read again
**** Liked it, would recommend
*** It was OK
** Didn't really like it
* Hated it

Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom - Lisa-Jo Baker****
Really lovely. At least 4.5 stars--maybe even 5. I copied down lots of stirring, poignant quotes from this memoir.

Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God's Image - Hannah Anderson****
Excellent, timely, important. Full review here.

Strength in What Remains - Tracy Kidder (audiobook)*****
Incredible story about an incredible man. I've read several books about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, but had no idea what was going on in Burundi during the same time frame. I spent most of the book listening with eyes wide, shaking my head in horror as I learned about a Burundian medical student named Deo and his journey through the killing, his arrival in New York and his struggles to establish a life there. His resilience, hope, courage, perseverance and commitment to help the poor in his home country are stunning.

Coming of Age in Mississippi - Anne Moody****
I don't know that I can really say I *enjoyed* this autobiography. But it definitely held my attention, and I think it is an important and powerful book, a firsthand personal perspective from the civil rights movement. The tone is very blunt and very angry--often despairing, yet incredibly courageous. Once upon a time, I would have found the blunt anger very off-putting...I count it as a sign of grace and growth that as I read, I was less turned off by her anger and more empathetic: "If I'd been through what she went through, I imagine I'd feel that way and see the world that way, too."

Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament - David Murray****
This is the type of book that needs to be read in small chunks, with pen in hand, and revisited repeatedly. It is an accessible and reader-friendly guide to reading Scripture from a Christ-centered perspective, but it's so dense with lists and sub-points that I found it hard to retain the information. The first half is a compelling apologetic for reading Scripture this way, as the author leads you through his own process of learning and paradigm-shifting. In the second half, he'll repeatedly blow your mind as he helps you see Christ in places you never thought about before.

Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn't Give Up - Larissa Murphy***
I've been blown away over the years by Larissa's heart, her quiet but strong faith in God's goodness in the midst of profound tragedy. If you've not seen this brief film about Ian and Larissa's amazing story, definitely check it out--ten minutes well spent. I will say, however, that I did not love the book as much as other, shorter articles I've read from her. Still, it was challenging and inspiring.

Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way - Shauna Niequist****
Shauna Niequist has a lovely way with words. I underlined passage after passage as she used fresh metaphors and captured familiar feelings/experiences just exactly so. Some of the passages were exquisite. I like the style of her books quite a bit--a collection of related but mostly stand-alone essays, easy to dip in and out of. I enjoyed this one more than Cold Tangerines.

Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions - Timothy Keller*****
This was, as I expect from Keller, wonderful. A combination of compelling apologetic-type arguments (which he is so good at offering in such a disarming way) and moving, worshipful explorations of familiar Bible stories. 

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent - John Piper****
A great little Advent devotional--the readings were short, but substantial. Lots of fuel for hope and trust in the Lord.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration - Isabel Wilkerson*****
Epic indeed. I believe this should be required reading for high school or college American history classes. It gets a bit repetitive, but not enough to bother me much. Wilkerson explains and explores the period between 1915-1970 when blacks left the South in droves and relocated in Northern and Western cities. Her approach to this massive undertaking is unique and compelling. First, she tells the life stories of three people who left three parts of the South for the top three destination cities in three different decades. So the book is essentially three complete biographies, with vividly detailed narratives and fascinating comparisons/contrasts between the three. Interwoven with all this are statistics, sociological research and broader/more public narratives that fill out the bigger picture, giving the reader a better sense of the scope and significance of the migration. I don't know when I've done so much highlighting in a narrative nonfiction history. So much of what I read seemed so important, and was so well told.

Extravagant Grace: God's Glory Displayed in Our Weakness - Barbara Duguid
If the measure of a book is how much it makes you think, how much underlining and starring and scribbling in the margins you do...then this is five stars for sure. It took me six months to get through it because I felt I needed to answer the questions at the end of each chapter, and consider the arguments carefully.

I found so much of this to be rich and helpful. But reading it was also angst-producing, because never before have I read a book that simultaneously resonated so deeply with my experience, yet also left me skeptical of its handling of Scripture. I still can't decide whether my significant concerns and reservations are stemming from the fact that the author has pinpointed my own weaknesses and it is the message I most need to hear but find difficult to rest in, or whether my disagreements are legitimate because I am discerning sketchy theology. At this point I don't think I can recommend it without significant disclaimers/cautions...yet I am not ready to dismiss it for all the value mixed in with the questionable. 

Maude - Donna Mabry****
Whew. It is kind of hard to believe that one person's life could be so very tragic. This gripped me from the opening pages, and held my attention to the end, but the longer it went on, the more painful it got. I wasn't entirely sure whether to feel only overwhelmingly sorry for Maude, or whether to also question her perspective and call her to account for some of the pain that she undoubtedly brought on herself. A fascinating exploration of a real and flawed person whose life seemed almost too terrible to be true, yet held deep joys as well. Worth 99 cents for the Kindle version, at any rate.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas - Ann Voskamp**
I really, really hate to give this a negative review. But it just did not work for our family at all. Full review here.

Behold Your God: Rethinking God Biblically - John Snyder
Our church did this study at the beginning of last year, with videos during Sunday school and a workbook to complete throughout the week. Some of my friends found it to be incredibly edifying; some have gone through it multiple times. Steve and I both chose not to finish it. It just was not the right thing for me in that season, and about halfway through, I finally gave myself permission to stop. It was a relief to resume my own studies in the Word, which I had been previously enjoying, rather than forcing myself to slog through this and feel beat up every morning. As I said, I know several people who think it is just the best study ever; I simply did not care for Snyder's tone/style.

The rest of my 2014 reviews and recommendations:
Fiction: Read-Alouds
Nonfiction Part 1

Comment below with your best-of-2014 nonfiction recommendation!


Rita said...

Do you have a favorite among the 1994 Rwanda genocide books you've read?

Amy said...

One of the first I read was We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, which was definitely worthwhile. Shake Hands with the Devil is from the perspective of the UN peacekeeping commander and also very good. It details more of the apathy and incompetence of the other nations who refused to step in and stop the madness when they could have.

For a completely different angle, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda is incredible—-it details not just the genocide itself, but the aftermath and the beauty God has wrought from the ashes.

faith ann raider said...

Oooh - thank you so much for these recommendations. I will definitely order "bittersweet" I watched Shauna Niquist's talk at one of the women/blogger conferences and fell in love with her style. Now I'm super curious about Extraviganr Grace - I want to hear more of your thoughts about this... but maybe I should read the book first.