Tag Archives: book reviews

four recent reads

How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, by jim collins

5 stars
man, collins has to be one of the best business and leadership writers alive. this short (for collins) book is packed with insight and painful help. so many insights, all backed by research. ah, hubris, the silent killer.

Patrick: Son of Ireland, by Stephen Lawhead

4 stars
i loved reading this fictionalized telling of the life of st. patrick. the historical context was fascinating. my only disappointment was that the book ended just as he was re-arriving in ireland to begin his “st. patrick” life.

Imaginary Jesus, by Matt Mikalatos

5 stars
how freakin’ rare is it that a book (especially a christian book) can make me laugh out loud AND provide such great insight leading to self-reflection. really and truly worth reading, for fun and growth.

Master Leaders: Revealing Conversations with 30 Leadership Greats, by George Barna and Bill Dallas

2 stars
i thought i would dig this book, but i just couldn’t get into it (or through it – i didn’t finish it). it felt like a long series of leadership sound bites strung together without an over-arching point or focus as a thread.

4 books i read in the desert

bookthiefThe Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

theoretically a young adult fiction, but i can’t see why it’s not an amazing book for adults also. set in nazi germany, it’s the story of an orphan girl, into a family who hides a jew in their basement. part coming-of-age story, part adoption story, part holocaust history. oh, and it’s narrated by death. seriously. truly an amazing book, worthy of the accolades and awards it’s received.

succeedAre You Ready to Succeed?: Unconventional Strategies to Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life, by Srikumar Rao

i had big-time mixed feelings about this book. a friend suggested i read it on my trip to the desert as i wrestle with some issues about where i am and where i’m headed. there was some massively helpful stuff (especially in the first 1/3 of the book), particularly the parts about mental models. i found several tools and exercises that will impact me, and journalled quite a bit in response. but other parts of the book were too “buddhism veiled in positive thinking business language” (or maybe hinduism — not sure) for me. some parts i could swap out my own language and make them work, but others i just flat didn’t agree with.

jungModern Man in Search of a Soul, by Carl G. Jung

a collection of Jung’s essays, first translated into english in 1933. interesting from a historical “point of view”. some of the essays had great insights for me and my current situation. other were interesting, but didn’t “speak to me”, per se. and some were just boring. particularly, i found some help in one particular essay where he wrote about the suppression of emotions, which is how i have lived my whole life. it had some great insights that made me think in some new ways.

genAGeneration A: A Novel, by Douglas Coupland

i love coupland’s writing, and have read every single one of his many books over the years. i enjoyed this one, but liked the concept of it better than the actual experience of it. it’s about a 5 young singles from around the world who are stung by bees after the supposed extinction of bees, and the weirdness that brings them all together. the final climax is a bit over the edge, and not coupland’s usual subtlety. but it was still a fun read, and — as an aside — an interesting commentary on the power and role of stories in our lives.

blitzkrieg book reviews, part 2

during my blogging hiatus i still read books! here are the second set of 10 mini-reviews, in no particular order…

Nurtureshock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
a stunning summary of new research about children and teenagers. some of it is truly counter-intuitive and surprising stuff (that still makes total sense as the authors unpack it). a must read for parents and youth workers.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
had heard praise for this book for years, and am glad i finally got around to reading it. a wild crime novel set in a “could have been” current day reality that doesn’t exist, with lots of insights into stuckness, addiction, self-loathing, relationships, power, and tribes.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
massively creative and worthwhile teen fiction, about teenage suicide (on the surface). but really about the horrible way teens can treat each other, and how it feels to be the recipient of that. worthwhile reading for teens and adults who care about them.

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin
the fascinating true story of henry ford’s attempt to create a culturally-influencing utopia in the amazon rainforest, with all kinds of implications for what a friend called “poisonwood business” (really, any exporting of culture, or cultural superiority). a bit long and repetitive at times, though — it would have been a better book at 100 less pages.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose
i found this book thanks to a.j. jacobs’ (the author of the year of living biblically and the know-it-all) recommendation. for those of us who grew up in conservative evangelicalism (and still associate with it), it’s a empathic, human look at our freaky little subculture.

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark
not an easy read, but worth it. dark leads us through a pithy ride of pop culture and high-brow literary references, along with some great biblical framing, on a journey of beautiful, spiritual skepticism.

I Can See Clearly Now by Brendan Halpin
after my 5th halpin book, i think i can say he’s one of my top 10 american fiction writers. this only-slightly-veiled, fictionalized story of the 20-somethings who came together to write the “schoolhouse rock” saturday morning educational bits in the 70s is all i love about halpin: great story, fantastic character building, great pop culture grounding.

Dear Catastrophe Waitress by Brendan Halpin
i love halpin’s writing and the way he builds characters. this unlikely romance spends most its real estate developing two separate stories, which, in an ending that is just slightly too expected (by the time you get to it), weave into each other. still, great writing and worth reading.

Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age by Ariel Schrag
nice collection of short comics about my favorite group of people: middle schoolers. most of them show the painful side of early adolescence.

Learning My Name by Pete Gall
an excellent, shockingly honest exploration of identity (particularly, identity as a follower of jesus). seriously, no one writes with the level of vulnerability and honesty that pete gall writes with.

blitzkrieg book reviews, part 1

during my blogging hiatus i still read books! here are the first 10 (of 20) mini-reviews, in no particular order…

The Wild Things by Dave Eggers
dark and almost suffocating, eggers novelization of the screenplay based on the classic sendek book (where the wild things are) is brilliant, but not a pick-me-up! i was, however, made continually happy by my limited-edition furry cover edition (never have i so enjoyed petting my book whilst reading it).

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
eggers has been in my top-10 authors, mostly for his not-quite-nonfiction books (like a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, and what is the what); so i was intrigued to read this hurricane katrina nonfiction (without any fictionalizing). it doesn’t have the wit that eggers brings into even dark stories elsewhere. but the story itself is so remarkable, i had to remind myself it wasn’t fictionalized). this is a “how does this happen in this country?” story. i felt like i was exercising stewardship by reading it.

Fool by Christopher Moore
chris moore’s books are always funny, and work for me as stories most of the time (this time included). what a way to tell the king lear story (from the perspective of a twisted court jester, that is)!

This Book Does Not Exist: Adventures in the Paradoxical by G. Michael Picard and M. Hayden Picard
i wanted to like this book. but, man alive, is it ever poorly executed. the writing is boring and repetitive. and the layout has to be, literally, the worst i have ever seen in a book; it’s almost completely unreadable. i gave up after about 8 re-starts (making it about 1/2 way through). new title suggestion: this book shouldn’t exist, but, unfortunately, does.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
i read a good amount of YA fiction to keep current on what teens are reading, and gain insight into their world. and even of the YA books that are well written, many aren’t books i would give to my own 15 year-old daughter. but this is one of those great exceptions: a brilliantly creative story idea, told with craft and great characters, and it brings up all sorts of things to ponder. this is what YA fiction should be like. set in the near future, america has resolved the right to live/choice wars by creating a new “compromise” where life is protected from conception, but that teenagers can be “unwound” — the dismantling of all their parts, every cell of which is kept alive and used for something else. the story follows three “unwinds” as they wrestle with the implications of their impending process.

Motley Rock Stories by Jack Valentine
this self-published autobiography tells the rock-and-roll story of the first drummer to play upside down (long before tommy lee), and played – and lived with – mick mars, who went on to motley crue fame. the writing isn’t perfect, by any stretch (which is often the case with self-published books), and the author seems to still have some issues he hasn’t fully worked out; but it’s a fun insider look at the world of an on-the-brink-of-success rocker from the 70s. and he happens to attend the same church i do, and his kids have all gone through our youth group!

Notes from the Teenage Underground by Simmone Howell
well written and creative, this is one of those YA books i’d wrestle with giving to its target audience (let’s say, 14 – 16 year olds). there’s great realism and a peek into teenage relationships (particularly, girls’ relationships, focusing on an urban-hip girl named gem and her identity seeking). but there’s also a good dose of sex, drugs and alcohol. yup, those aspects can be part of the realism, i understand. but they seemed, at times, more about making the book “sexy” than actually adding to the storyline. still, a very well written book.

Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership by Jud Wilhite, Mike Foster
this little book had so much cool potential, but has understandably caused quite a stir among asian american christians (and others). it gave me flashbacks to the skits that teach episode, even though the content of the books is completely different. and while the writing is accessible, and the suggestions are all good and well, there’s not much new insight or depth. i felt like i was reading something i’d read (and heard) many times before, but in hipster packaging that’s causing massive problems for the authors and publisher.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
while i’d read and loved gladwell’s earlier books, i was reluctant to read this because of all the hype surrounding it. but the hype was accurate, and this book will shape my thinking even more than “the tipping point” or “blink”. we all hold to some myths about success that are so common, we’re convinced they’re fact. gladwell patiently (via reporting on research and great storytelling) turns over rock after rock, exposing the counter-intuitive truth about how and why people succeed (or don’t).

A Tale of Two Youth Workers: A Youth Ministry Fable by Eric Venable
wow! what an excellent little book, written as a fable, about faith development in teenagers. not only should every youth worker (and parent of a teen) read this book, it really has implications for anyone interested in faith development. a quick read, and very well written.