Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Duggars: 20 and Counting:

Raising One of America's Largest Families- How They do It

by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar

Thumb up, thumb down.

A very quick read, this book tells how the Duggar family, profiled by TLC and Discovery Health Channel, live their lives as a family with 18 children (when this book was written- they now are expecting number 19).  Having seen their show a handful of times, I was very curious about not only how they day-to-day handle their large crew, but also how their personal faith shapes their values and behavior.

The writing is very down-to-earth, written in first person from either Michelle or Jim Bob's point of view.  It begins more as a history of the couple and how they started their family and businesses.  It chronicles their many moves and describes their parenting methods and homeschooling curriculum and techniques.  There are little boxes every few pages which have a frequently asked question (via e-mail), with a member of the family answering it.  But mostly, it is sharing their philosphy of servant-leadership and aiming to inspire others to find peace and meaning in their families through that same faith.

What interested me the most was their explanation of their particular branch of Christianity.  I accept many of their choices: homeschooling, no televisions, modest clothing, lack of family planning techniques, delegation of duties including chores for even young children, daily family devotions and scripture memory work.  However, the scripture-based explanations they provide for many of these things confound me.  They choose to follow many Old Testament rituals, even though they describe themselves as New Testament Christians.  In addition to homeschooling, they also have home church.  Their lack of television and the fact that their internet is limited to 70 or so educational or faith-based websites leaves the impression that these children have little outside-family influence.  They do attend a homeschooling conference once (sometimes twice) a year, and their social circle seems to be comprised of friends met at those conferences or family members.

The discussions on their views on letting God choose the size of your family and their commitment to never borrow money but allow God to meet their needs with the resources and opportunities He gives them in His timing are very different from anything you will hear in the secular world, and are worth consideration.  They quote many resources that they have used over the years that have shaped their views, so it is possible to further study the background of their beliefs.

The book is worthwhile to those who would like to have further insight into the specifics of what devout faith-based parenting can be.  For me, it was an eye-opener as to how law-oriented families operate compared to Gospel-oriented ones.  These little ones are taught at an early age how to serve, be kind, be thrifty, be generous, be humble, etc.  They read a chapter of Proverbs each day and try to live out the teachings of that Proverb.   It was hard to read this book without constantly and consciously separating the difference in theologies between my family and the Duggars.  It left me praying that each and every one of these children grow up not only knowing how God expects US to act toward Himself and others, but also how HE has acted on our behalf, and through His grace saves us from sin and loves us whatever our shortcomings.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writing the Lost Generation

by Craig Monk

In Progress

I stumbled upon this book while reading background material on another book I haven't yet finished, Time was Soft There. Craig Monk who writes The Classroom Conservative blog, is a professor of literature at Lethbridge University, in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

Writing the Lost Generation appears to be a collection of writings from those authors collectively known as the "lost generation." Since much has been written about these authors and their lives and writings, Prof. Monk is, I think, trying to let them speak for themselves.

I am having trouble with Prof Monk's writing style. I remember once having been taught that a good writer will strive to use very concise language. I have always remembered that and tried to follow that precept.

But in the context of reading Writing the Lost Generation, I'm altering my opinion. There is a point at which language becomes so full of meaning that the fullness detracts. In such writing, the reader must expend so much mental energy processing the information that the work loses it's draw.

While reading this book, I have to evaluate each word and then phrase and then clause and sentence, paragraph, etc, in order to keep the connections intact. The vocabulary and structure are not difficult in and of themselves. But Prof. Monk has mastered the idea of concise. Each word and even each component of the language is so full of meaning that there are no "breeze through" words to allow a reader processing time.

To put this a different way, I feel like a new reader. I have seen each of my kids go through the stage of having the phonetic ability to read words. But they cannot always remember the beginning of the sentence by the time they get tot the end. So they return to the beginning and have to sound out the words once again, and once again they can't get to the end of the sentence with the meaning intact.

So as an busy adult with lots of demands on my time, I may have to set this book aside simply because of time constraints.

Which brings me back to the precept of good writing being as concise as possible. If the writing style is very concise and the words are strung together in such a way as to say exactly what the author desires in as few words as possible, and yet people choose not to read the book because of the mental exercise involved, is it truly good writing?

If I decide to finish the book, I may write a more traditional review later. But I'm not really very optimistic about it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Christmas Sweater (Part II)

by Glenn Beck

OK, here's the deal now that I've finished reading this. Beck has had a troubled life. His mom committed suicide when he was a teen. Beck later became an alcoholic and drug user. When in his thirties (I think he said) Beck found "faith" and at some point after that had a dream that changed his life.

This book is an allegory aimed at teaching Beck's version of how to thrive in this life even when things are tough. Even when we are broken in spirit. His answer: acknowledge your own worth; grasp the atonement that is there for you. His definition of atonement: peace that comes from forgiving yourself and others.

The story is mostly sweet. It gets a bit hokey just prior to the climax, after which the story rushes to a happy ending.

We all carry around guilt in this life. Some is our own guilt. Some is guilt we take on falsely. By this I mean that we often feel guilty over things that are not our fault. Those of us who are feeling beaten down by this undeserved guilt, might be helped by Beck's allegory. Perhaps. But the true guilt we all have is harder to assuage. The idea that we are "worthy" in and of ourselves and we just need to grasp the "atonement" that is somehow universally available is not a Christian idea. Our true worth comes only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The righteousness God gives us through this sacrifice is what gives us our worth and true atonement. True guilt will only be assuaged by this atonement; and true atonement will give true peace with God and therein lies true wholeness for our brokenness.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Christams Sweater

by Glenn Beck

Thumbs up. In Progress.

This is apparently a fictionalized autobiography Beck has written to help others appreciate the important things in life before it's too late.

Beck tells the story through the narrative of a young boy and series of his flashbacks. The story is compelling and well told. I'll post an update when I finish it.

Prairie Tale

by Melissa Gilbert

One thumb up, One thumb down.

In this memoir by actress Melissa Gilbert, best known for her role as Little House on the Prairie's Half-Pint, Laura, Ms Gilbert lets it all out. She tells of her habit from a young age of denying any feelings or opinions of her own. She relates her struggle to express emotions and to react honestly to reality. She shares her struggle with alcoholism. She tells of her heartaches and joys.

This is a touching story and Gilbert writes with hope for the future. She has finally "found herself" and seems to address other "lost" adults, to share the peace she's found.

Ms Gilbert also shares anecdotes of sexual promiscuity and drug use. She seems to embrace a strange, kind of eclectic spirituality composed of bits and pieces of this and that; whatever has helped her find peace.

The writing is good. The read is quick. Throughout, Gilbert shares "cameo" anecdotes of other famous personalities. If you like celebrity biography and soul searching, this book does it well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Flowers

by Dagoberto Gill

Thumbs down.

I really had to force myself to finish this one, but I didn't feel like I ought to write about it, if I hadn't finished it.

The Flowers is written very stylistically. The plot revolves around the main character, Sonny, who tells the story of his troubled life. Mr. Gill employs a stream of consciousness story telling method similar to that of William Faulkner. A reader almost has to read the entire book before figuring out who everyone is and how they all hold together.

Also distracting is the perpetual, multiple paragraph attempt to show a reader Sonny's daydreams in a metaphor of lights and colors and flashes.

The time setting is unclear; I think it's supposed to be contemporary. But the attitudes of racism displayed by some characters is more reminiscent of the sixties or seventies. Perhaps in a lower income urban neighborhood, those attitudes are still prevalent.

As the story unfolds, the racial tensions mount, culminating in several days of rioting until our hero, Sonny has to rescue the damsel in distress.

Although a few personalities exhibit a glimmer of noble character, a reader is left with the impression that poverty and despair are insurmountable and inevitably lead to a moral vacuum.

There is also the, seemingly prerequisite, graphically described sexuality.