My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir

thomas-memoir

I updated and reposted this September 2016 review. Considering current events and the surrounding din, a redirection towards the life and memoir of such an accomplished man as Justice Thomas seems appropriate.

My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir, by Justice Clarence Thomas. Originally published in 2007. 304 pages.

Bootstrapping is an unpopular concept today, and My Grandfather’s Son is certainly an engaging, bootstrapping book. However, it is worth reading because in reality, Clarence Thomas understands that his success is as much a testament to his grandfather’s dedicated investment in him as it is to his own hard work and intellect. From that perspective, it is less a story of pulling oneself up by his bootstraps and more about appreciating and capitalizing upon the opportunities that come our way.

While most Americans associate Justice Thomas with Anita Hill and the scandalous nature of his Senate confirmation hearings, there is much more to his life’s story than that brief, unfortunate saga. In fact, the story of his growing-up years was so interesting that I almost forgot about the Anita Hill fiasco that made him a household name to begin with.

The book’s titular reference is to Thomas’ maternal grandfather, who took him and his brother in when their divorced single mother couldn’t give them the life she knew they needed to be successful. Justice Thomas clarifies that in all the ways that matter, he is indeed his grandfather’s son. It was he who taught the boys about life, work, manhood, and rising above their circumstances growing up in the Jim Crow south.

I always found it odd to see Clarence Thomas painted by the media and the left as a man disconnected from and unconcerned with the plight of the people he “left behind” in the black community. I found this odd despite being a very young, idealistic, card-carrying Democrat at the time of his contentious and tawdry confirmation fight. I was interested in politics even at 20 years old, because my parents were interested in politics. I was aware of what was happening and I wondered: How could a man born and raised in Georgia in the 1950s be indifferent to the plight of the people who shaped him into the man he was?

I later learned, and his memoir confirmed, that he was far from indifferent. The problem was that as a thinking person rather than a blind follower he concluded that the politically correct, liberal state-centered solutions being offered were not in the best interest of anyone, least of all black people. That wasn’t a popular position to take and still isn’t. It’s even less tolerable coming from a black person, as Thomas found out the hard way.

He was still quite a young man when he noticed the propensity of the liberals in academia and government to use the policy of appease and agree in response to every demand made by black leaders, even if the demands were illogical and damaging over the long-term. Also, he realized that the soft, paternalistic racism of the left was just as bad, if not worse, than the overt, virulent racism he’d witnessed growing up. At one point he reiterates this by noting that the first time he was called “nigger” he was not in Georgia, but Massachusetts.

The parts of Thomas’ book where he describes his gradual awakening to the reality that liberal policies that purport to help the black community choked the life out of the community, destroyed the family, and discourage self-sufficiency resonated.

If there was one part of Thomas’ story that left me a bit saddened, it was his account of the ending of his failed first marriage. His leaving because he was disillusioned and unhappy signaled that he hadn’t been fully immune to the liberal line of thought which gained its foothold during his coming of age years. That he and his ex-wife to her credit, understood that raising their son and ushering him to manhood was best handled by Thomas himself rather than his ex-wife was the one redeeming element of that period of his life as retold in the book. Like Thomas’ mother understood, they understood that men learn manhood from men.

He and his current wife took on the mantle of his grandfather, who raised Thomas and his brother, by taking in his young nephew from a troubled home and raising him as their own. Thomas clearly understood the challenges facing the young men, and has put his time and money where his mouth is, unlike many of his liberal detractors.

By the time the book gets to the Anita Hill scandal, it is an afterthought. The most interesting parts of Thomas’ life story occurred long before his nomination to the Supreme Court. His version of those events are what many readers are looking for, so he told his side of the story. His retelling is fairly dispassionate, until he describes his return to the Christian faith, guided by Senator and ordained minister John Danforth, as the entire ordeal wore on him and his wife.

As Thomas once again declared his innocence, I recalled the media coverage of the confirmation hearings. When I watched them, I was staunchly opposed to Thomas political views.  At least I thought I was, as this was before I started thinking through the issues. Even then, I remember having a hard time believing Ms. Hill’s accounting of events. I told myself that truth is often stranger than fiction so it was probably true, but I never really believed it. Though his confirmation was successful,  Thomas claims he didn’t  care if he was confirmed. That he stuck it out to clear his name and for no other reason.

One of the standout passages in the book was Thomas’ recounting of a private interview he had with a particularly hostile senator. The only thing that mattered to anyone on the left and most people on the right was, “How’s he likely to vote on abortion cases?” He had no judicial paper trail, so the senators tried to gauge his positions through the way they posed their questions. Thomas’ retelling of one of these interviews was priceless:

Howard Metzenbaum was the other kind of senator, and I already knew how he felt about me. It would have been charitable to call him unlikable, though he went through the motions of civility during my visit. At one point he actually tried to lure me into a discussion of natural law, but I knew he was no philosopher, just another cynical politician looking for a chink in my armor, so all I did was ask him if he would consider having a human-being sandwich for lunch instead of say, a turkey sandwich. That’s Natural Law 101: all law is based on some sense of moral principles inherent in the nature of human beings, which explains why cannibalism, even without a written law to proscribe it, strikes every civilized person as naturally wrong. Any well-read college student would have gotten my point, but Senator Metzenbaum just stared at me awkwardly and changed the subject as fast as he could.

That was a superb response, and one of the things I most enjoyed about this book. It was written by a person who has taken the time to observe and think about the world around him, rather than allowing someone else to do it for him.

It’s a quick and engaging read and offers a lot of insight into the life and mind of one of the most controversial Supreme Court Justices in recent memory.

Grade: B

*This review is a re-post, which sprang to remembrance as election coverage heats up.

Girl, Wash Your Face

girl wash your face

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be, by Rachel Hollis. Published in February, 2018. 240 pages.

This book is burning up the best seller’s list, and a dear friend of mine really liked it, so I decided to give it a read. I figured going in that anything being read in the numbers that this book is would be a fairly quick read, and I was right. I think I read it in about three days.

I did something with this book that I rarely do when I read, but I almost always do when I read something that is current, popular, and marked Christian. I read reviews from other sources, starting with Amazon, and ending with a couple of reviews from Christian websites. Before I delve anymore into the whys and wherefores of that, I’ll preface it and my review with a short description of the book and its author.

Rachel Hollis is a lifestyle blogger turned motivational speaker and guru who savvily used social media to propel her brand into the mainstream. She’s the wife of a Hollywood distributor who recently left that job to run her company, which exploded in 2015. She’s the mother of four children, and is well loved in Christian cricles for her real talk and vocal profession of faith.

Girl, Wash Your Face is equal parts memoir, motivational pep talks, and self help advice. It was published by Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson. This last bit of information sent me looking for reviews from other sources even while I was reading this book, because despite the occasional nod to faith and one or two Scriptures here and there, I wasn’t getting what I was expecting to find from a book categorized by Amazon as “Christian Living”.

None of this is to say that I ddn’t enjoy the book. There were parts I enjoyed quite a lot. Hollis has a funny way of telling her stories and an enchanting tone. There are also a few pieces of advice that I strongly disagree with, but overall, it isn’t a bad book. The problem is that it isn’t, to my mind, a “Christian” book.

I believed Hollis’ Christian testimony, so that wasn’t the problem. Mostly, the problem was that fully 90% of the advice in this book was advice any secular self-help person would dole out, because it put so much of the onus for your success, as it were, in your ability to be the hero in your own story. That was unfortunate, because the lies that Hollis induced women to overcome in each corresponding chapter are actually pretty good lies to be rid of:

  • The lie: Something else will make me happy
  • The lie: I’ll start tomorrow
  • The lie: I’m not good enough
  • The lie: I’m better than you
  • The lie: Loving him is enough for me
  • The lie: No is the final answer
  • The lie: I’m bad at sex
  • The lie: I don’t know how to be a mom
  • The lie: I’m not a good mom
  • The lie: I should be further along by now
  • The lie: Other people’s kids are so much cleaner/better organized/more polite
  • The lie: I need to make myself smaller
  • The lie: I’m going to marry Matt Damon
  • The lie: I’m a terrible writer
  • The lie: I will never get past this
  • The lie: I can’t tell the truth
  • The lie: I am defined by my weight
  • The lie: I need a drink
  • The lie: There’s only one right way to be
  • The lie: I need a hero.

Because this is a memoir, each corresponding lie (chapter) begins with a story from the author’s life, relates it to the things many women similarly struggle with, and follows that with admonitions and advice. The advice is usually along the lines of:

“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”
Or:
“When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t really want something, you’ll find an excuse.”
And ultimately:

Your life is up to you.

If we can identify the core of our struggles while simultaneously understanding that we are truly in control of conquering them, then we can utterly change our trajectory.

God, your partner, your mama, and your best friends—none of them can make you into something (good or bad) without your help.

You need to prove to yourself that you can do it. You need to prove to yourself you are capable of anything you set your mind to. You have the power.

Being a gal who leans more towards duty and a perpetual battle to learn selflessness, it might just be that I was reading the whole thing from a wrong perspective, and I acknowldge that. However you cut it, this falls woefully short of Christian counsel. That isn’t to say there are no gems tucked away in this book, because there are. For instance, this was one of my favorites:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” Let me say that again for the people in the cheap seats.”

And this made me laugh:

“Our society makes plenty of room for complacency or laziness; we’re rarely surrounded by accountability. We’re also rarely surrounded by sugar-free vanilla lattes, but when I really want one, I somehow find a way to get one.”

As far as light reading goes, this was a nice diversion and in some cases, served as a humorous reminder of things I already know. But nothing about it deepened my faith or propelled me to go deeper into the Scriptures. That was the crux of the very few negative reviews this book received; that whatever it is, it’s not a Christian book. Most of the review, however, were overwhelmingly positive which is why this baby is selling like hot cakes.

For entertainment value and cute story telling, I’ll give it:

3 out of 5 stars

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

frederick douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass. Kindle Edition. Original work published in 1845. Paperback edition, 82 pages.

I hadn’t planned to re-read this autobiographical work by the famed orator, abolitionist and escaped Frederick Douglass. It wasn’t in my queue for the fall. However our kids were assigned excerpts from it in a lesson on persuasive literary techniques and in the 20 years since my first reading, there were large portions I’d forgotten.

When unforeseen events found us on a road trip this weekend, I purchased the Kindle version of The Narrative for 0.99, using the travel time to reintroduce myself to Frederick Douglass’ brief but passionate recounting of his life in slavery, from his early years to his eventual escape and rise to prominence as a free man and respected abolitionist speaker and writer. I’m glad I reacquainted myself with it.

For myriad reasons, I long ago made the decision not to expend significant time reexamining nor ruminating on the history of slavery in America. To the extent that we want our children to understand the fruit of human sin as well as the blessings they now enjoy, we teach them the history of their ancestors, including those ancestors still among us who haven’t always shared the freedom they enjoy.

It means teaching the good as well as the bad. Those lessons however, are always balanced with the truth that they have enormous amounts of opportunities available to them as a result of earnest attempts at redress, no matter how imperfect. Their mission, should they choose to rise to the challenge of morality, industry, and integrity, is to seize it.

Frederick Douglass, with no opportunity, and only bitter yokes of oppression somehow seized the reins of his destiny and emerged not only successfully, but triumphantly. He wasn’t content with the achievement of his own freedom. He had a deep Christian faith which sparked in him the desire to see all men be free.

That is the moral of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, alongside his fervent abolitionist message. And his narrative is indeed an excellent example to use as a tool to teach the principles of persuasive writing. To that end, I will keep this short and sweet by ending with a few persuasive and eloquent quotes from Douglass’ narrative.

On how his master unwittingly sparked his passionate desire for knowledge and freedom when he was a young boy between 8 and 10 (Douglass never knew his exact age or birth date). His master discovered that his mistress was teaching him to read:

Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”

These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty — to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained.

On the importance of keeping the mind of the slave in captivity. This quote feels especially apt in our current cultural climate, regardless of race:

“To make a contented slave, you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery. The man that takes his earnings, must be able to convince him that he has a perfect right to do so. It must not depend upon mere force; the slave must know no Higher Law than his master’s will. The whole relationship must not only demonstrate, to his mind, its necessity, but its absolute rightfulness.”

On the unprecedented and unparalleled cruelty of those oppressors who claim to be Christians:

“For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”

Further:

“We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand.”

None of this spoiled Douglass’ fervor for and belief in Christ and the Christian faith:

“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the
corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical
Christianity of this land.”

This indeed is an excellent piece for exploring the power of persuasive rhetoric, and a powerful narrative of an important period in American history. I could go on, but the only other option is to paste the whole narrative here, which I don’t think is feasible.

It’s worth a read.

5 out of 5 stars.

One Beautiful Dream

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by [Fulwiler, Jennifer]

One Beautiful Dream: The rollicking tale of family chaos, personal passions, and saying yes to them both, by Jennifer Fulwiler. Published May 2018. 240 pages.

As I got into this book then did a bit of digging, I realized that its author, Jennifer Fulwiler, is something of a Catholic Internet celebrity and as such, hardly as anonymous to the Catholic faithful as she was to me. I only heard of her because a paleo food blogger I happen to follow on Instagram heartily endorsed the book.

One Beautiful Dream is best characterized as a memoir chronicling Fulwiler’s journey as a mother of six very closely spaced children alongside the pursuit of her dream to make it as a writer. A dream which I hasten to interject, was heartily encouraged by her husband, who repeatedly implored her not to give it up. I instantly liked this woman. She has a wicked sense of humor and a way of expressing it that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I’ve said on numerous occasions that I am a slow reader. Nevertheless, I finished this book in two days. This was partly because the conversational tone makes it easy to read, and partly because rather than do my usual routine of bouncing between books when I have free time, I kept picking this one up, continuing to read it until the end. I found myself invested in seeing how Jennifer’s story would end even as I was turning the pages of its culmination.

There’s another, deeper reason that this book resonated with me, and it was that I appreciated this woman’s gut wrenching wrestling match between pursuing her passion and trying to be a good wife and mother, a juggling act she admittedly bungled more often than not. She often wavered, wondering whether it was fair to her kids or right for a mother to devote large amounts of time and energy to such endeavors.

That was, until she realized with the help of a wise priest’s counsel, that her insistence on compartmentalizing the segments of her life rather than cultivating an integrated life of wholeness was the root of her problem. Her life was chaotic (well, even more chaotic than a life with six kids under 10 is prone to be) because she failed to connect everything together. More than that, she needed to trust God that His will would be done in her life on His timetable.

After nearly a decade blogging in and alongside the Christian/biblical womanhood Internet community before finally realizing the folly of formulaic living, this book was for me, a breath of fresh air. Not because I agree with everything Jennifer Fulwiler believes, does and says –I am a raging Protestant after all- but because she hits at the heart of the matter: She did what she did with the full encouragement and enthusiastic coaching of her husband, the cheer-leading of her children and support of her extended family which meant she did exactly what she was supposed to do, regardless of whether it offends the sensibilities of the “this is the way to be the perfect Christian wife” crowd.

Did I mention that she has a wonderful sense of humor? Well she does, and one of my favorite laugh out loud passages is on page 125, because it is one of the best representations of her story telling prowess. It’s the story of what happened when she was given the opportunity to get a break and attend a ladies’ retreat offered by her church. She got more than she bargained for:

In my rush to get away, I had not looked into the details of this weekend before I signed up. And that, it now occurred to me, was a grave error.

In my defense, I had no idea that Catholics even did retreats like this. I had many Evangelical friends (again, “friends” meaning “people I talked to on my computer from the shadowy recesses of my home”) who described events at their churches as riotously fun gatherings where people sung and waved their hands and used the word fellowship as a verb. I had counted on my Catholic brethren to put together an emotionless, entirely cerebral retreat, and now it seems that they had failed me completely. p.125

When all is said and done, this is a good book because the author shared her story in a funny, relatable, truthful way. She didn’t pretend to be perfect or have it all figured out, but she learned and grew in grace along the way. Which is the best any of us can really hope for this side of Heaven.

4 out of 5 stars.

No content advisory necessary.

The Hiding Place

hiding place cover

The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom. Originally published in 1971. 241 pages.

This review, like the one before it, is of a book one of our kids was assigned as a part of a literature and writing course. I was already very familiar with Corrie ten Boom’s -and her family’s- story. So familiar in fact, that it had escaped me all these years that I had never actually read her story. Her memoir, recounting the story has inspired countless Christians since she originally penned it with the help of authors John and Elizabeth Sherrill, who learned of her while writing about another Dutch Christian, Andrew van der Bijl.

Here is the Cliff’s notes version, for those who may not have heard the story. During WWII Corrie ten Boom, along with her entire family and at great personal risk and cost, opened their homes up as a hiding place for the Jews who were being rounded up after the German invasion of Holland in 1940. As a result of their efforts, they themselves were rounded up, imprisoned, suffered many hardships and suffering. Corrie’s father, and later her sister, both died in German prisons before Europe was liberated and the war ended.

The real story here, for those who’ve read the book (or seen the movie), is the depth of the Christian faith and resolute foundation of God’s word on which the ten Boom family was built long before the war began. It was this faith that permeated the entire story, moved the ten Boom family to compassion rather than hatred of their invaders, and catapulted Corrie and her story into the history books.

Our daughter has decided that Corrie ten Boom is an inspiration and someone whose faith she would do well to emulate. I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiments. However despite the fame and accolades that were poured onto Corrie as a result of her survival and story being retold, there is plenty of faith, love and hope to be found not only in Corrie’s story, but in that of her brother, father, extended family, and most of all her sister Betsie with whom Corrie served most of years of hard labor in the German prison.

It would be nearly impossible for me to do this memoir the justice it deserves in the contest of a 50 word book review, and to add anything more would be to risk politicizing or trivializing a moving and compelling book; one from which the love of Christ, far more important than the details of the occupation, drips from every page. I highly recommend this book, and although I wish I had read it sooner, I’m happy to have read it late than never at all.

 

 

 

Grade: A

 

Hillbilly Elegy

hillbilly elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir of a family and culture in crisis. By J.D. Vance. Published in 2016. 272 pages.

I read this book last summer, have rolled it over in my head plenty since then, but haven’t taken the time to review it for a host of reasons I can’t well articulate. There was one thing I found quite telling. In the aftermath of our country’s most recent electoral circus, plenty of left leaning media pundits have called this book an insightful look into the mind of the Trump voter.   It is not a compliment, I disagree with them, and I never got the feeling that Mr. Vance told his story for his people to be mocked.

A dear friend, of Scotch-Irish descent born and raised in Appalachia who has long since forged a new life and path with her (non-Appalachian) husband and children, invited me to read her copy of this book on the heels of one of our discussions of race and culture.

Despite it being a best seller, I’d never heard of it. It’s a fascinating book and my friend, I suspect, presumed it would get me to *get* the universality of certain experiences in a way that I didn’t, in her opinion.

There were numerous accounts and recollections offered from J.D. Vance’s upbringing that I related to quite strongly.  He offered examples and experiences that I could have written almost verbatim, but for the cast of characters and regional backdrop. This, even though I am as far removed from Appalachian culture as anyone I know.

However what many thought was a revelation of a culture in crisis was to me, more of a family memoir with traces of what can happen to a people whose history and culture are increasingly alienated from the progressive march of the larger society. How to hold fast to the good about your history and culture while simultaneously equipping yourself to move forward id important. Whether or not everyone is able to do that is debatable.

J.D Vance offers a lot of useful insights, realism, and counter cultural ideas for a guy who graduated from Yale Law and lived in one of the most liberal states in the country. Unfortunately he “lost his religion” as he navigated through all the twists and turns of his tumultuous family life. Nevertheless, he wrote a very good book, albeit one not without its critics. I however, am not among them.

Grade: B

 

 

Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice

Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, by Dr. Willie Parker. Published in April, 2017. 224 pages.

I used to have a master list of books I want to read, complete with a timetable for when and how I am going to read them. It never works out however, because I visit the library at least every other week, and every turn past the “featured titles” shelf has me leaving with some title which has piqued my curiosity and gotten me off the planned reading list schedule. This was one of those books.

I don’t even know how to review it because although I find the philosophy, theology, worldview, and conclusions utterly wrong headed at best (repulsive at worst), Dr. Parker is a decent writer who wove together a good story and kept my attention throughout this book. None of that however, diminishes the problems with his logic and processing of the Christian faith.

A black doctor who grew up poor in segregated Alabama, Dr. Parker was a fervent and passionate Christian from his teenage years onward, and still confesses Christ today. He held to Christian principles in practice even after becoming an OB/GYN physician, refusing to provide abortion services even as his compassion deepened for the women seeking abortions who came to the office he worked.

Because his theological and moral defense of abortion is hardly original, I’ll lay it out for you here as well a directing you to an interview Dr. Parker gave to Rolling Stone laying out his case. No need to add to the sales that the pro-abortion/feminist lobby will give to this book. It basically comes down to this:

He has a duty to extend Christian compassion to the women who come to him for abortion services by helping them end their unwanted pregnancies safely, and with little pain and complication as possible. They have as much right as any one else to fulfill their god-given potential and fulfill their dreams without having their lives thrown off track because of one mistake and a legal and societal culture who would judge them for it. Giving them their freedom and acknowledging their bodily autonomy is, in his opinion, the right thing to do.

Of course, as always happens when liberals want to justify the unjustifiable, Dr. Parker repeatedly cites parallels between the freedoms of the women seeking abortions in 2017, and the freedom of the former slaves and black Americans who suffered all manner of indignities in the South.

The first commandment of liberal theology: Every person who wants to do something immoral or unnatural and encounters opposition or delay is experiencing oppression equivalent to the descendants of the transatlantic slave trade. The second commandment is like unto it: True Christian love is demonstrated by a willingness to see to it that everyone has or is able to do what they need to feel accepted and good about themselves.

Like I said, despite Parker’s unassailable way with words and compelling story telling there is nothing new to see here. Gloria Steinem’s rave review does nothing to change that. I did learn more about the medical intricacies of abortion than I ever wanted to know, complete with mental imagery I won’t soon forget. I learned a lot about the legalities of the debate as well.

The most compelling parts of the book were Dr. Parker’s retelling of his life story, family history, and educational development.

 B+ for writing, D for philosophical content.

Final grade: C

Content advisory: In depth details on the procedures, nature, and aftermath of abortion in one chapter.

Little House in the Big Woods

I expect this to be the last post of 2016 so if I don’t get back here, have a wonderfully blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year! And keep reading!

little-house-big-woods

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Originally published in 1932. 256 pages.

This book was our most recent bedtime read loud and our children enjoyed it immensely. They excitedly looked forward each night to what would happen next in the lives of Laura, Mary, Pa, and the rest of the Ingalls family.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around the reading Laura Ingalls Wilder but I’m very glad that I finally did, and that I get to share it with my children. Children who, incidentally view the life and times of Laura and her family through an extremely idyllic lens. While they find the idea of life in the big woods highly desirable, I could not get past the though of woods and mountain lions right outside our door.

The detail with which Laura Ingalls wilder described all that was involved in making maple syrup, butchering and curing animal meats, harvesting wheat, and other chores that were a common part of 19th century life were also a source of curiosity and research for the kids.

I highly recommend these books for your upper elementary aged child. The illustrations in this particular edition are very well done and the kids liked the artwork as well. Some of the sketches were black and white, others in color, but all were beautiful.

Because of the fascination and interest our kids had with this book, the first in the series which we will be continuing, we have started watching season one of the Little House television series that began in 1974. Because I was far too young to have watched or even remember those first few seasons, it has been an event for me as well. The kids were a little bummed that the episodes they have watched so far didn’t quite match up with the book. It provided a brief lesson on the ways that television shows and movies are adapted from books.

If you haven’t read these books I recommend them. They are great books to read whether you are 12 years old, or 42.

Grade: B+

Food: A Love Story

food-love-story

Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan. Originally published in 2014. 352 pages.

I can honestly and unequivocally say that if you asked me for a genre of book I thought I would never, ever, be bothered to read, I’d probably say one like this: written by a modern day stand up American comedian. I have no idea what possessed me to grab this off the featured shelf of our library on my way to check-out kiosk. Something about the photo made me snicker, curiosity got the better of me, and my state of mind this holiday season demanded that I read something that might make me laugh.

At least I hoped it would make me laugh, and thankfully, there were several moments as I read this book that literally made me laugh out loud. I read portions to members of our foodie household. The funny parts were so funny that I was able to forgive Mr. Gaffigan for the parts that were patently UN-funny.

This is not high brow, not excellent writing, and book snobs need not even bother to crack the cover. I generally consider myself a book snob, but I’m prole enough to be able to kick back and laugh with someone as low brow as I am. I’m not going to even try and discuss this book from a literary perspective because that would mean pretending that it’s literary. The fact that Gaffigan keeps making the best seller list with these books says as much about American reading habits as his books reveal about American eating habits.

So rather than go any further, I’ll just put up some funny quotes:

It would be embarrassing trying to explain what an appetizer is to someone from a starving country. “Yeah, the appetizer—that’s the food we eat before we have our food. No, no, you’re thinking of dessert—that’s food we have after we have our food. We eat tons of food. Sometimes there’s so much we just stick it in a bag and bring it home. Then we throw it out the next day. Maybe give it to the dog.

Indeed:

In America we have gone way beyond sustenance. Eating is an activity.

Gaffigan’s wife is a devout Catholic, who is also thin and pretty (nothing like him) and his five kids are very cute. This irony prefaces a few jokes in the book. This is when reached a point in his life when he decided to stop trying to get into shape, and embrace his reality:

It wasn’t defeat as much as it was acceptance. I figured, I got a hot wife. If she leaves me for getting fat, that means she’s shallow.

On trusting a skinny person’s word on what tastes (or doesn’t taste) good:

I’d still trust an overly fat person over a skinny one any day. The best adviser would have a very specific body type: pudgy or just a little overweight. This makes it clear they have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with food, but not a clinical problem.If they are morbidly obese, then you can conclude that they will probably eat everything and anything and do not have discerning taste.

My favorite part was probably his exploration of how dumb we have to be to have made bottled water into a multi-billion dollar industry. He even notes that Evian is “naive” spelled backwards, which I somehow never noticed.

Recently I tried Smartwater, which has electrolytes in it, and it’s supposed to replenish your body better than regular bottled water, therefore making you, I guess, smarter. I tried it, and it totally worked. I am now much smarter. Now I only drink tap water.

On second thought, that wasn’t my favorite part. It was this section, which I am going to end with along with an embarrassing confession. Me and my daughters? We are these people. My Benevolent Dictator thinks we are nuts:

Foodies will travel for miles in search of the perfect hamburger. “There is this place in Greenpoint that’s only an hour by train and a forty-minute walk from the subway that has the best burger in town!” It can’t be better than the burger I can get across the street. Mostly, I just want the closest best burger in town.

Yep, we drive for a great…whatever. We even got excited about trying a new local vegan donut shop and we’re as far from vegan as you can get.

Like I said, I laughed, which was the whole point. This book was basically a 300+ page stand up act, with all this implies: Some great hits, and some big misses.

Book snob grade: D

For me, out of book snob mode: Solid B+

Content advisory: The occasional four letter word here and there, but very rare.

I’m No Angel

im-no-angel-book

I’m No Angel: From Victoria’s Secret Model to Role Model, by Kylie Bisutti. Originally published in 2014. 304 pages.

Recent events, both public and not so public, set my mind to becoming curious about what books have been written on the subject of modesty. I don’t mean the kind of dogmatic, rigid approach that presupposes any bit of attractive femininity is sinful. I was looking to see what was written about the convergence of true modesty and feminine beauty in the context of a walk with Christ in the real world.

So I went to my local library’s website for the express purpose of checking out Wendy Shalit’s book, which I have read much about but never read. Somewhere along the way as I clicked, clicked and clicked some more, I ran across Kylie Bisutti’s book recounting her journey from child model to winner of the Victoria’s Secret Angel competition as a young bride of 19, to deciding less than a year later to walk away from it all as she began to realize how her career as a lingerie model dishonored both God and her husband.

I first encountered Mrs. Bisutti’s story in 2012, and even blogged about her at the time, so I was slightly familiar with it. I expected the book to be slog to get through,  but as I was embarking on a project of sorts, I was willing to tough it out even if it turned out to be horrible. Thankfully, it was not horrible and I read through it in three nights online via hoopla since our library system did not have access to a hard copy.

The book was surprisingly interesting. High brow it is not, and I was a little bugged by Kylie Bissuti’s dependence on the teaching’s of Joyce Meyer as she struggled emotionally through an industry that she both loved and felt increasingly out of sorts with.  Nevertheless, she told a compelling story.

The best parts of the book were without question, the behind the scenes glimpses of what life is really like in the modeling industry. After the release of her book, Victoria’s Secret fired back numerous accusations concerning the facts of her story, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from them.

I felt a bit of compassion for 17-year-old Kylie when at 5’9″, 1115 pounds, her agent called her a cow in front of an office full of people and demanded that she come back from her holiday break 8 pounds lighter. I found this particularly shocking, as she realized that her 36-inch hips was relegating her to the designation of curvy, and not it a complimentary way:

Not big hips, mind you- just hips. In the modeling industry, anything over 30 inches is considered curvy, and curvy does not play well on the runway- especially in high fashion, where being rail thin is considered the ideal. Horrifying as it may sound, some models even go so far as to have their hip bones surgically shaved down to reach that precious 30-inch mark. Others have their bottom ribs removed so that they look ultra thin. It just felt like part of the industry to me when I was starting out, but now it breaks my heart to think of girls and young women using surgery to deform the beautiful way that God created them.

With a recounting of her childhood, teenage years, and the very brief courtship she shared with her husband Mike, Kylie Bissuti makes a run at presenting a well rounded recounting of her life. Interwoven within all of it were the numerous moments of nagging doubt that she felt the urge to walk away and didn’t- starting with her HS boyfriend all the way up to the very uncomfortable party after winning the Victoria’s Secret modeling competition.

In the end this turned out not to be a book about modesty as much as it was about one young woman’s struggle to do the right thing. I didn’t come away from it feeling as if it had been a total waste of four and a half hours of my life, so that’s something.

Grade: C