diet of bookworms

What books do you recommend? What genres do you like? What kinds of books are your favorites? What do you think about fiction vs. nonfiction?  

I get these questions -- a lot. So I thought it might be a good idea just to put down some thoughts here. 

Reading is nourishment, the way I see it. You take it in and it affects your growth.  




Above all, we need to be taking in the Word of God. Like water, it's basic to living. I need this. In fact, I can't live without it. It's wonderful and powerful -- and unlike any other book. Definitely in a category all its own and worth taking in every day!

Beyond reading the Bible, I like to encourage people to look at their reading as a literary diet. Just like with healthful eating, it's important to have balance and proportion. 


I tend to treat fiction like the fats and sweets of a healthy diet. And I tend to encourage towards the literary fiction, which is kind of the dark chocolate and coconut oil of the literary food chart. 

I view the classics as fruits. They've earned their reputation. And though sweet, their time-honored value merits approved-treat status. 

Historical narratives are my veggies. Good for us, and helpful to understanding history.

For me, general nonfiction correlates to grains. Knowledge is power. But knowledge also puffs up. So it's important to choose wisely which grains you're consuming. 

And religious nonfiction is my protein. In my eating, I tend to bulk up on protein. And in my reading, I tend to crave this category as well. Obviously not all proteins are created equal, and in this category (as other categories), discernment is crucial. 

I love reading books that help me understand God, His Word, and His created world (including the intricacies of what it means to be human). And I take in each of these categories with that goal in mind. 

You'll find lots of reading reviews on this blog. And I only write about what I recommend. 

If you have questions about specific books or categories, please leave a comment below, and I'd be happy to respond. 

As a note, you do have to find the balance that works for you. Just like some people do best with a ketogenic diet that's high in fat, then protein, and low in carbs, I'm not recommending a right or wrong percentage here. What I am promoting is balance. And no matter what diet you're on, drinking water is non-negotiable. So stay in the Word.  

Also, like the fine print at the bottom of the food plate diagram, it's good to remember: reading is important. But we don't need to be gluttons. In order to be healthy, we also need to be outside, working and getting exercise. We need to keep up with our personal responsibilities, etc., too. Take in. And then go and do! 

What's your balance? What works well for you? 

Multiplied grace and peace, 

michelle

book review: a sweet and bitter providence (john piper)


As providence would have it, the Sunday after I miscarried Kali Grace in 2008, Fred Coleman introduced me to the song "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." Because Kali's name means "rosebud," the stanza that sang "The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower" held immediate and deep significance for me. (You can read more about that here.) 

When I saw John Piper's title A Sweet and Bitter Providence, I was intrigued. And, like my sister-in-law when we were opening Christmas presents this year, I was even more excited when I learned that the substance of the book was the biblical story of Ruth. (It also helps that CBD has had this book on discount for several months, the hardback marked down to $3.99 -- from $17.99!)


Each of us faces different challenges in the sovereignty of God. There are challenges with relationships, with culture, within our own hearts. There is suffering and pain. And there are plenty of unanswered questions and switchbacks (as Piper calls them) where we can't see the path in front of us until we've come around a sharp bend on the mountain road of life. The question that comes to many of us is, "Can I trust and love the God who has dealt me this painful hand in life?

If I were to answer that question with facts and statistics, it may be hard to swallow. But a beautiful story of grace and love and providence -- the biblical story of Ruth -- now that I can take in. Isn't it amazing how geared for story we humans are? And it's especially powerful when we understand the story is true, which this story is. When we realize Ruth and Naomi and Boaz are real people, with like passions and emotions as yourself and myself, who lived during a difficult season of history (the time of the judges) and whose lives impacted down through ages (even to our lives, through Christ) -- that's amazing and worth our time to consider.


Throughout the book, Piper does come back to William Cowper's hymn, weaving the rich theology of that song into the commentary of the biblical text. I say commentary loosely, for this is not a thick academic study (it reads very easily and personally), but it does work through the passage with appreciate interpretation, explanation, and application. And in fact, for the book of Ruth, it's the most understandable and accurate treatment of even the challenging passages that I've heard/read. Piper treats Naomi fairly. He paints the midnight proposal appropriately, underscoring the beauty of purity. He even gets to the hot topic of racial harmony (sadly still a necessary note, but gloriously a possibility because of Christ's work). And he draws helpful parallels to other biblical characters as well as more recent individuals who have walked with faith, hope, love, and strategic righteousness.  

Because the book of Ruth is written down, and we can read the ending as well as the beginning, it helps us see how God works. As Piper points out, "[God] is at work doing a thousand things no one can see but him" (23). And that's true for our lives as much as Ruth's.  

"Like all Scripture," Piper writes, "this story is inexhaustible" (120). But he's done a great job helping us get started and encouraging us to continue our pursuit after God and our ongoing study of His precious Word. 

I have every confidence that no matter how long you've been a believer, no matter what stage of life you're in, and no matter what circumstances you're presently working through, this book will be a blessing and encouragement to you. And I won't be surprised at all if some of you find yourselves buying extra copies to share with those you love. 

Multiplied grace and peace, 
with love,

michelle

book review: humble roots

If we've talked very long recently, you've probably heard me mention something about growth mindset. It's a concept that crystallized for me this summer as I read Carol Dweck's book Mindset, which I reviewed in my last post. And that's been a book I've recommended numerous time this year, typically with a caviat that it's not written from a believing perspective. And I found myself thinking multiple times as I read the book, I wish there were a book that captured these key ideas but was written from a thoroughly believing perspective.
And then I signed up to join a Book Launch team for Hannah Anderson's new book Humble Roots.  
Near the end of my last post, I shared one of my key take-aways being: "Fixed mindset has a huge overlap with pride; and growth mindset strongly corresponds to humility."  
And as I read this delightfully rich exploration of humility, I found myself scribbling "growth mindset" in the margin, and I smiled in awe at the way God had already been working in Hannah's heart to work through this same crucial concept from a uniquely Christian perspective. 

"Humility is accurately understanding ourselves and our place in the world."
- Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots, p. 56

It started with a Facebook post. Long-time friend and kindred creative, Michelle Radford, shared a photo of a watercolor she'd been working on for Hannah Anderson's new book along with a link to join the Moody launch team. 

When my box came with two copies of Hannah's book, a little jar of grape jelly, and the watercolor print of a Red anemone (displayed on the typewriter in the photo above), I was thrilled! And despite being in full swing as resource director and academic coach, I finally sipped enough cups of tea and savored all eleven chapters of Hannah's book

Hannah has tilled the soil, working in the composted nutrients  of thoughts and Scriptures that have already nourished her soul. She has carefully prepared and thoughtfully placed each seed. Like the virtuous woman, she has brought her food from afar, borrowing from classic literature as well as natural history. She has weeded out all-to-common errors and has worked hard to keep her produce pure. And having labored long in love for the rest of us ladies whom she desires not to nourish (because a book this rich doesn't write itself), Hannah has at long last presented us with a beautiful package - like a beautiful Mason jar filled with preserved goodness to share - a book written for us ... and generations yet to be born. 

Hannah is a deep thinker, a theologian, and a lover of beauty. Her book abounds with beautiful metaphors, and she draws on a number of literary passages that are exquisite and classical. I remember wondering at one point if that form facilitated the message, or if some of the literary analogies were a bit lofty for a humility-themed book. But (to reflect on truly classic, albeit children's, literature) Charlotte's Web so kindly reminds: humility means not only humble in character but also low to the ground. And just as flowers push themselves up through the dirt, humility is a thing of beauty - but it takes hard work. So Hannah's quotes made me think, made me dig, made me work - but I truly believe that's a good thing.

And though well-versed in the literary, Hannah is in the end a down-to-earth West Virginia pastor's wife who writes from an honest-to-goodness searching soul. 
"Like many of you, I am in the throes of responsible adulthood - my days spent caring for family, serving the church, and pursuing good work. And ... I often find myself overwhelmed by these good things" (9). 
She has a charming way of connecting earthy realities with eternal truths. 

Largely drawing on her family's experiences in the farming community where her husband pastors, each chapter is an extended metaphor that urges the reader to get back to the root of herself and to embrace what God intended for us as human beings, to depend on and worship God from that freeing place of personal humility.
"Humility frees us to flourish as the human beings we were made to be: to celebrate the goodness of our physical bodies, to embrace the complexity of our emotions, and to own our unique gifts without guilt or feeling like an imposter" (12). 
Each chapter is like a thick slice of homemade friendship bread. Some are served with fresh-sliced tomatoes, some with honey. Others have a gracious plenty of bursting, hard-to-catch-all-the-juice blackberries. Snap green beans, sweet basil. Homemade jam. And fresh wildflower arrangements. And before too many servings, you feel as if you really are sitting across the farm table sharing warm bread and meaningful conversation with Hannah. 

I'll share a sampling just to whet your appetite: 

1. Red anemone. Rest vs. anxiety. "I had no large looming problems, only small ones that felt large. ... I was stressed and unhappy with a very normal life" (21). "Jesus understood this. He understood that small things can unsettle us more than large things; so when He called the people of Galilee to leave their anxiety - when He calls us to do the same - He does so in context of very mundane, very ordinary concerns. 'Do not be anxious about your life,' He assures them, 'what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on' [a quote from Matthew 6]. It's striking, really. Here, in the middle of arguably the greatest sermon ever, Jesus talks about our daily worries. ... He doesn't shame us for worrying about them. He doesn't tell us to just be grateful, to remember how much better we have it than other people. He doesn't tell us that we simply need to be more productive or to work harder. Instead, He asks whether our worry is actually accomplishing anything. ... He calls us outside our current perception of reality to remember who really cares for us" (26-27). 

2. Forsythia. Come to Me and find rest. "And suddenly trying to change the world - and seeing it stay very much the same - feels like nothing other than the weigh of the world resting on your shoulders. ... Pride convinces us that we are stronger and more capable than we actually are. Pride convinces us that we must do and be more than we are able. And when we try, we find ourselves feeling 'thin, sort of stretched ... like butter that has been scraped over too much bread' [A Tolkien quote]. We begin to fall apart physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the simple reason that we are not existing as we were meant to exist" (40-41). 

3. Wild grape. Identity. "If phylloxera was the cause of the blight, then growers had one option: a radical solution known as 'reconstitution.' In order to save their vineyards, some of which had been passed down through generations, they'd have to graft their healthy vines onto North American rootstock that was immune to the attack of phylloxera. The vines would retain their individual identity, but the roots would be foreign. To some growers, this suggestion was a greater offense than the blight itself. [Insert margin scribbling: fixed mindset.] In their pride, they convinced themselves of the sufficiency of their own roots and continued to use insecticides and other treatments to fight the symptoms. But the vines continued to die. And suddenly we begin to understand what's at stake in our fight against pride. What's at stake is our own sense of identity" (55). 

And Hannah sweetly leads us to John 15 and directs us to abide in Christ. "We too must be grafted. If we are to find rest from our stress, if we are to have any hope of escaping our pride, we must be grafted onto the one who is humility Himself. We can no longer simply be content to attempt to imitate Him; we must become part of Him in order to reflect Him" (57). 

4. Apple tree. Multi-generational impact.

5. Honey. Purity produced by humility.

6. Healing herbs. Emotions. "Humility brings rest to our internal life" (104). "I'm free to see the world from a perspective larger than my own heart" (106). "When we finally learn that God is greater than our heart ... [w]e are free to enter into our emotions, letting them do what God intends for them to do: draw us back to Himself. ... Humility does not shut down your inner life; humility redeems it" (114).

7.  Tomato. Wisdom ... and waiting. "Humility teaches us to forgo prepackaged, cellophane wrapped, artificially ripened answers to allow faith to develop naturally. ... to be less concerned with knowing the answers and more concerned with learning the answers" (129). "Easy answers aren't sustainable" (131). "Humility teaches us to wait" (133).

8. Milkweed. Gratitude and resourcefulness. "Humility teaches us that all is gift" (142). And though she doesn't quote Ann Voskamp here, this chapter reminds me of One Thousand Gifts. "God intends for you ... to become a humble, resourceful person, first by receiving His gifts with gratitude and then by cultivating them for the good of those around you" (152).

9. Green beans. Dreams and plans ... and trust. 

10. Blackberries. Hard things ... and goodness. "Blackberries with their prickly canes and lush fruit embody God's grace in the midst of our suffering. Even in the brokenness, there is life ... goodness ... hope. The humble person doesn't deny the pain  ... but ... she continues to forage for the sweetness that God has promised" (188). 

11. Crocus. Death and resurrection ... and rest. 

Humble Roots is a timely encouragement to flourish and find rest. And I sincerely hope you'll claim your own copy, break open the seal, and "taste and see that the Lord is good" and that His plan for humility is the most healthful and hopeful way to live. I think you'll also really enjoy Michelle's artwork. (Watercolor prints available at a 20% discount now through December 31, 2016. There are notecards too. Enjoy!)

And I'd LOVE for you to share how God uses this book in your life in the comments below. :) 

Multiplied grace and peace
 - and Merry Christmas! - 
with love, 

michelle