My Bad Habit

Friday, February 27, 2015 0 ,


I used to think that the stack of books on my nightstand, all bookmarked in various places, was a bad habit.

Shouldn’t I be able to finish one book before starting the next? I obviously cannot answer that. But I certainly don’t feel compelled to break my multiple-book-reading habit when I come across something in one book that feels eerily similar to a passage in another book.

Having a pile of books that you are in the middle of is like having coffee with a few good friends, instead of just one. The conversation often benefits. And one person’s ideas inspire a similar thought from someone else–and the ideas keep building.

Books, of course, cannot hear each other speak. So when two quotes from two different books overlap so beautifully, it seems almost magical.

So I won’t break my habit. Not as long as my books are able to maintain a civil conversation.

cs-lewis-quote-jeneric-generation-jefferson-memorial-washington-dc copy


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phases of our lives

Thursday, February 6, 2014 0 , , , ,


“Hi, I’m Jenny and I will be your server this evening. Can I start you off with something to drink?” That’s how I started off a lot of my interactions with people in college. It felt like I would be saying that line forever. I had no concrete plans after graduation and thus the future was as foggy as the iced tea I had just placed in front of a customer, suddenly destroyed by the contents of five packs of a sugar substitute. As they stirred and looked over the menu, I dreamt of the day when I got to come home from work not covered in the scent of Italian food. Or Chinese food, depending on the year.

I’ve always been a dreamer–sitting in a coffee shop early in the morning, doodling on my notebook before I delved into the final hour of studying before a test. But I am still fighting that temptation. The future is always tugging at me, trying to convince me that it is the ultimate. My life now, in this moment, is good. There are things I hope change one day, but many things I don’t want to change, that probably will change.

Because, all the cliches: it’s the little things, be present, focus on the here and now, tomorrow will never get here, the future is not a guarantee…they are cliches because the future is not a destination. We will never, ever get there. I’ll be thinking about that.

More about right now


Book (ish) review: The Problem of Pain

“I loved this book so much! Read it!” I can’t tell you how much I wish that would translate to you all I want to say about this book. As with any book that nourishes your soul, the daze in which you are left upon its ending is one that is actually saturated with perfect clarity until the ugly moment you attempt to articulate your thoughts. 

While reading The Problem of Pain, I felt that so many of my recent questions were addressed. It’s funny how a thought-provoking book can categorize your inner dialogue like that (and it is such a treat!). When I am in a good habit of continually reading, I sometimes marvel at the supposed coincidence of my book choices that correspond so well with my latest plaguing thoughts and questions. But I don’t think it is a coincidence as much as it is that the discipline of using your brain sharpens your thought patterns and gives names to some that may have slipped by unnoticed had they not been ensnared by the net of a good a book.

It is no secret around these parts that C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors. Before reading this book, The Screwtape Letters was my favorite of his books. This book has not changed that, but it is now vying for first place. It is the kind of book you don’t want to end not necessarily because you are enjoying it so much, but because you don’t want the effect it has on you to go away. As is to be expected with all Lewis books, he is a master of making difficult or troublesome topics easily grasped and almost simplistic. 

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis attempts to explain how pain and suffering logically fit into God’s plan for the universe. Addressing every age-old objection with grace and humility, he makes you wonder why you hadn’t thought of these ideas yourself in the first place. I found his final three chapters particularly enlightening and a perfectly satisfying conclusion: Hell, Animal Cruelty, and Heaven–with Heaven moving me profoundly. 

I don’t think I could write a truly helpful review on this book-one that does justice to Lewis’s thoughts-without reading it several times more, but if you are the type of person who is quite trusting of the endorsements of a passionate person possibly blinded in their love (me), then I hope you will read this book if you have not yet. 

I will say this: that if you have ever wondered why there is pain in this world, why its presence should not be dismissed, or why some suffer more than others, you should read this book. You may possibly, as I did, realize that there is more to the topic than you first thought, and that its significance touches every aspect of life. For in so proving that pain is indeed for our good, Lewis lays the groundwork for seeing the world in an entirely different light: a world where God’s sovereignty is not merely a concept to accept, but an ever-present reminder that we are His beloved.

While I hesitate to quote Lewis in this book especially (context is everything here), I leave you with this one quote, in hopes to intrigue, and possibly convince you, where I have failed to do so:

“…for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.”

And thus the question: if we have a problem with pain, should we not first seek to understand what we mean by a righteous and loving reality? And if we do not think we have the assurance of an ultimate reality that is righteous and loving, why do we have a problem with pain? (hint: this book would be helpful on your quest)

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Tell me what else I should read this year in the comments!


Reading lately

To lessen my seemingly unremitting feelings of bibliogret, I made a goal this year to read 15 books. Not that many considering that means just over one book per month, but: life and stuff, you know? But life feels lacking when I am not deeply engrossed in at least one book, so this goal was a top priority for me. I have so much fun scouring (want to be friends?) and adding to my ever-going list that feels less overwhelming when it is visual, and getting excited about a book that may hold some insight into a current life question I am pondering. 

So, I thought I would give a brief synopsis of some of the books I have read this year in case you share my enthusiasm. Now tell me, what book should I add to my list, and why? Convince me. When one has only one life to live, one cannot be too picky.

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken (five stars)

One of the best books I have read in a long time. The true story of a man who endures the terrible grief of losing his wife too soon, Vanauken leads us through their love story from beginning to end. The end of their love story is not the end, however, as much as it feels like it when you are reading it. And because Vanauken and his wife were good friends with C.S. Lewis, we get to read his wise words through his letters to the author. A beautiful story full of rich insight and comfort to anyone who has ever lost a loved one, or suffered any amount of hardship in life. 

Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor (two stars)
I picked up this book randomly in a book store and when I read the back cover and realized it took place a mile from our home, I purchased it. She is a first time author, too, which always intrigues me. Unfortunately though, I could not finish it. I gave it the old college try, I did. I found the dialogue to be rough and unnatural. The story was somewhat interesting, but the beginning was too slow to keep my interest. I wasn’t even curious to know what happened, and it was supposed to be somewhat of a mystery. I wanted to like this book–simply finish it–but I just couldn’t. Life is too short.
Tess of the D’ubervilles by Tom Hardy (three stars)
I wanted to read this book because it is a classic, and because I enjoy Victorian novels. I did not realize though, that it is a tragedy. I won’t give anything away, but a lot of bad things happen to Tess, and Tom Hardy has some strong views about women during this time period that were very modern for his time. For example: women who are taken advantage of sexually should not be scorned by society. It is hard for me to imagine living in a world where women are commonly treated as lesser beings for crimes committed against them. 

This book was scandalous during its time because Hardy dares to even reference the harsh realities of poor women in the 20th century. The shocking part to me was that I didn’t see anything scandalous about it, as a 21st century woman. I didn’t agree with Hardy’s entire commentary (in particular his skewed view of Christianity–although he got some things right), and I am not even sure why I liked this book so much as it is very sad and depressing most of the time. I think what I enjoyed about it was the historical context, and reading it through the eyes of someone living over one hundred years ago. In that sense, it was very enlightening.

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss (four stars)
I had already read this book twice, but reading it for the third time was like reading it for the first, in a lot of ways. This is a beautiful book with a cheesy title. It is the fictional diary of a flawed young woman recording her Christian walk from the time she is sixteen. Reading how she changes, and how she doesn’t change, is so encouraging, and so relatable. Her struggles are so familiar and her realistic, frequently humorous attitude toward life is so refreshing. This is one I plan to keep reading every few years.

Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin R. Stapert (four stars)
If I told you I am listening to Handel’s Messiah as I write this post, would that tell you how much love I have for this piece of music? “A phenomenon with no parallel in music history”, I wanted a book that would give me an even better appreciation for Handel and The Messiah, and this book was exactly what I was hoping it would be. The first half of the book gives the history of Handel and his coming to write The Messiah, as well as the impact it had/has on the world, while the second half goes through each scene, giving musical and theological commentary. I came away with an even greater amount of gratitude that The Messiah exists today, for our comfort and edification. I understand this is kind of a niche book, but if you have any interest in Handel, the history of music, or just history or music in general, I highly recommend this book.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (three stars)
There are a few books penned by L.M. Montgomery left in the world that I have not read, and this was one of them for a long time. The story of Valency, a twenty-nine-year-old who has lived a life of caution all her life, but is suddenly liberated by life-altering news and proceeds to live her life exactly as she likes–is funny and delightful. Blue Castle has all the charm one expects from Lucy Maud, but this book does not come close to Anne of Green Gables or Emily of New Moon. Still a lovely book and beloved by many of her fans, this is not one I foresee reading again and again.

Blog, INC.: Blogging for passion, profit, and to create community by Joy Deangdeelert Cho (four stars)
If you have any interest in blogging at all, this book covers everything from the basics to the complex. From advice on starting a blog, to figuring out the tax part when your blog starts making money, this book is packed full of helpful advice and inspiration. The perfect handbook for anyone trying to master the sometimes very specific and art of blogging.

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis (three stars)
As a huge Lewis fan, I have been reading his books for years, but had not read the closest thing he wrote to an autobiography until this year. While I enjoyed his telling of his conversion story, and his thought-process along the way, I was hoping for a little bit more. I had read a biography on him before this, and was hoping Lewis’s own story would answer a few of my questions. But it left me wanting. Perhaps it was my own fault for thinking of it as an autobiography when he gives no pretense that it is any such thing. This book just felt like something he wanted to write to have on the record, and lacked a little bit of his usual passion and wit.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (five stars)
From the author of Sea Biscuit, this is one of those books that if I could strap down everyone I know, prop their eyes open and make them read it, I would. Okay, not everyone I know. But, if you like history, biographies, WWII, the Olympics, track, running, Italians, or just plain downright absolutely moving true stories, I recommend you drop what you are doing and read this book. Without giving anything away, this is the story of an Olympic runner, Louis Zamporini, who joins the military during WWII, and survives the most unthinkable odds. I am not going to tell you this is a nice easy read, because it is not. It is super stressful at times. But Louis is an amazingly inspiring person and his story is just…stranger than fiction. To say the very least. He is still alive today, too. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.

There are a few books left that I am dying to talk about, but they are stand outs in their own way, and I plan on dedicating entire posts to them. Stay tuned, my book-loving friends!