Tag Archives: pete gall

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.

monday morning update, april 13, 2009

paristhe weekend that was: what a weekend! liesl and i are in paris for 6 days, and that’s a pretty hard weekend to beat. we arrived on friday mid-morning, and found our way to our hotel via trains and the metro (the subway). we had a little confusion at one point, because the train into paris was free on that day for some reason, but you need a ticket to exit the train station; so when we got to the station where we had to transfer to the metro, we walked up and down stairs several times (pulling our luggage) trying to figure out how to get out to where we could buy a ticket for the rest of the way (and we couldn’t seem to find any workers who spoke any english).

our hotel is not the ritz. in fact, it’s kinda dumpy. but it’s a great location, steps from a metro station and a short walk to the eiffel tower. after unpacking, and a quick lunch at a cafe, we took a short nap, then walked over to the eiffel. it was a mob scene (which it has been the two other times we went back), with lines that looked to be about three hours long. so we still haven’t gone up it. we wandered over to the sienne river, and decided to hop on a river cruise thing. pretty touristy, but that’s what we are! liesl needed her re-charge time (she’s not a power-through-the-day tourist like i am in places like this). so we walked over to rue cler (a great walking street about two blocks from our hotel) and found another cafe for dinner.

saturday we got going at the crack of 9:30, and made our way (stopping for fresh pastries, of course) to sacre coeur, the beautiful basilica at the top of the hill in montmartre. we were supposed to meet a friend of a friend who lives here, but never did find each other. after touring the basilica with a thousand friends (!), we walked around montmartre, stopping for a crepe, and checking out all the artists working in the street. then we headed down to the louvre. we bought a paris “museum pass”, as our guidebook suggested, and it’s been the single best find of the whole trip. not only is it a good deal, price-wise, it has enabled us to skip the waiting line at every museum, and plenty of other locations, and walk right in. we hit the highlights at the louvre, then went outside and laid on the lawn for a while (it was a gorgeous day, and there were hundreds of people laying around). we made our way down to the musee l’orangerie, a small museum that’s focused on impressionism, and has two large oval-shaped rooms with huge monet water lilly paintings 360-degrees around you. it’s one of my happiest places on earth.

sunday we hit the other two museums on our list: musee d’orsay, and one i’d not been to before, musee rodin. that one was stunning: mostly an outside garden, perfectly manicured, with dozens of rodin’s sculptures all over it (like “the thinker” and “the kiss”). we took a break at the hotel and liesl got some homework done. then we took a long metro ride to a street liesl had memorized a poem about in her french class: rue des gobelins. it was a pretty street, but we found a little restaurant where our waiter talked me into the best burger i’ve ever had in my life (“not an american burger, this is a FRENCH hamburger!”). i couldn’t help thinking of steve martin’s character in the pink panther, trying to learn how to say hamburger (which, i also realized, was funny since hamburgers are on the menu of every cafe we’ve gone to). we’re back at our hotel as i type, and liesl has just gone to bed. our room is on the fifth floor, and has a little balcony on it; so i’m sitting outside enjoying the night while i type.

tomorrow, notre-dame and sainte-chapelle, plus another shot at the eiffel, or maybe the champs elysee and the arc de triomphe. tuesday: versailles. we fly home wednesday.

where i am at the moment: in paris, baby!

on my to-do list this week: enjoy paris with my daughter, fly home, then dive into two days at ys at the end of the week.

procrastinating about: nothing i care to even think about at the moment!

book i’m in the midst of: finished pete gall’s learning my name (i’ll post a review at some point), and still reading the other two i was in the midst of (what would google do, and a richard rohr thing on the enneagram).

music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: nothing really, although liesl and i have both had “sugar, sugar” (that 60s cartoon song) and “we are the grapes of wrath” (from veggie tales) in our heads all weekend. the first is unexplainable, and the second is because liesl’s reading the grapes of wrath for school right now.

next trip: i don’t know, and i don’t care.

how i’m feeling about this week: i don’t know, and i don’t care.

my beautiful idol

my beautiful idol, by pete gall.

spiritual memoirs are a tricky genre — they can be fantastic or horrible. i suppose this is true for all genres; maybe it’s just that writing a spiritual memoir takes a combination of messiness and will that is hard to find. but some of my favorite books fit this description:
dangerous wonder and messy spirituality, by mike yaconelli
take this bread, by sara miles
traveling mercies and grace (eventually), by anne lamott
blue like jazz, by donald miller

yaconelli talked about certain books being his friends. in that vein, these books are my friends.

that’s what pete gall has accomplished with my beautiful idol: he’s crafted a wonderfully written, messy, hopeful, humble, self-effacing, and funny reflection on his own bumpy journey. it’s ghastly at times, and gorgeous at times — just like my life.

gall’s story starts in young adulthood, as a rising advertising star in chicago, livin’ la vida loca. he experiences some great discomfort in the direction of his life, and senses he was made for something more, something deeper. and — at this point — something more grand.

what follows, in the next few years (the book really only covers a few years of his life), gall’s pursuit of jesus, and the calling he senses in his gut, slowly smashes down his grandiose notions about what this more/deeper life will look like. gall painfully acknowledges the idols he worships, deconstructs them, and discards them. of course, that’s never an easy or simple process, and it’s full of set-backs, confusion and waiting.

it’s this waiting that is particularly fantastic in gall’s story. he doesn’t figure anything out quickly, and has a string of jobs and ministry setttings, girlfriends, living situations, and belief sets — with a few a-has along the way.

great stuff. my story is very different than pete gall’s. but, as with all good spiritual memoirs, this book held up a mirror to my own journey.