I have begun my second book challenge, where I am going through these 5 genres with books suggested by friends and family: Nonfiction, Character Stories, An Unknown Book by a Famous Author, Modern Fiction and Something Unusual. I have 25 books prepared, so I’ll be breaking the challenge up into 5 segments with each genre represented. So here is my blog on the first 5 books!
1. VELVET ELVIS by ROB BELL
(suggested by Hannah Keefer, “nonfiction”)
Rob Bell is notorious for being an author who you either love and he changes the way you view all of Christianity, or you hate because he is clearly a heretic and everything he says is just leading people away from the truth. I have seen several videos of his that I liked, but this is the first book of his I’ve read.
I really should have written this quickly after I finished it, because now I’ve forgotten some of the specifics of what I thought, but I will say that I definitely liked this book. I don’t think I took issue with anything particular that he said, though I’ve heard that this is definitely the most mild of his books with the least amount of controversy. My favorite chapter was the early one about Scripture… and that’s vague to say since it all about Scripture to some degree, and I’m trying to sum up his point in a phrase of my own, but everything SOUNDS controversial. The chapter might’ve been called “tassels”. It was about how the way we receive and interpret Scripture is influenced by other Christians and by our own experiences. The idea that someone can say “I don’t care about this or that, I just do what Scripture says” is absurd to think that you are thus the only one who understands Scripture because you are free of agendas and influenced thought. Scripture is holy and living and active, but even the fact that there was a group of Christians who prayerfully chose which letters and books to count as the 66 books of the Bible meant that we trust the judgment of the Holy Spirit in other Christians. He said it so much better than me, but he said things that I had somehow thought but couldn’t put into words and it just made sense and I liked it.
Other chapters of his (I can’t remember which ones) I didn’t love as much, and sometimes he had a way of saying “this makes sense as a cause and effect, so clearly this is the result” that made me want a little more leeway, and while I trust that he (and people like him) have done thorough and honest research, whenever someone says “this word means this in Hebrew, which meant this in this culture, so obviously that verse meant this and not this”, I have a hesitation in believing it’s completely fool-proof accurate because he doesn’t always cite those types of things. But he’s really good at putting scripture references that he uses at the back of the book, so maybe I just needed to check that out some more,
I would definitely reread this book again, and I will probably search out some more of his stuff at some point just to see what all the fuss is about with what he has to say to Christians. But in Velvet Elvis, I think he had some very good things to say, and I think he did it very humbly and without arrogance.
QUOTE: “At some point we have to have faith… that God is capable of guiding people… that the same Spirit who guided Peter and Paul… is still with us today.”
2. THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE by CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS
(suggested by Calista Kern-Lyons, “character story”)
This is apparently a spin-off to a book by the same author called “Bud, Not Buddy” in which the young girl Deza Malone shows up. This book (sequel-les as far as I know) follows this 12-year-old girl and her family (parents and brother) during the depression. They start off with both parents working and both children in school, but as near-tragedy strikes and jobs are cut, the family end up separated and spend most of the time wandering around the country, trying to find each other while surviving and working towards better circumstances. It was a great book to read for Black History Month, though it was assigned to that month accidentally.
While it doesn’t have a continual series revolving around this character, she is a wonderful person who stands out even in this single book. Deza is bright and energetic, and very dramatic. She is a writer who loves to use big words even when she doesn’t know how to use them. There’s a great scene when her favorite teacher gives her a slightly imperfect grade, and Deza practically has a mental breakdown until she learns that her teacher did it to help her better take criticism and take it seriously, the only way that a girl of her potential will ever be able to grow. Deza keeps talking about her “second brain”; it calls her “kiddo” and tells her to do bad things, like beat people up or jump on them and start biting.
Her family are also distinct and well-written, and the foursome are a special family that have each other’s backs while still having realistic difficulties and fights.
It was a short book, but easy to read and very enjoyable. Another read a year or so down the line will confirm how high this lands as a long-term favorite versus a one-time enjoyment.
QUOTE: “I’m different from most people and one of the mains reasons is I think I might have two brains. Whenever I get angry or scared or upset, I have thoughts that are so different from my normal thoughts that there isn’t any way they could be coming from just one brain.”
3. THE PARTNER by JOHN GRISHAM
(suggested by Travis Bryant, “a lesser known book by a famous author”)
This was a good example of something I enjoyed reading that I probably would never have read outside of this challenge. I feel like a lawyer book would have intimidated me, and it’s not a genre or a book premise that I would’ve jumped at if I had just been browsing my library shelf. But even though it definitely had some politics and lingo that I didn’t completely get, the story and plot was still something I could follow along with. It was interesting, and did a good job of revealing the “past” plot in spacious intervals; we didn’t get it all at once, and there was still enough surprised saved for the end. The main guy was pretty likeable, too.
I am not sure what I thought about the very ending; that’s the one thing about this book that throws me off. I think it worked, but it was still slightly jarring and it wasn’t what I expected.
It was nice to have something that was definitely a new genre that I thoroughly enjoyed.
QUOTE: “Why couldn’t he escape again? A third life was calling, without the sorrow of the first or the shadows of the second. This would be the perfect life with Eva. They would live somewhere, anywhere, as long as they were together and the past couldn’t catch them.”
4. JUST LISTEN by SARAH DESSEN
(suggested by Bethany Morgan, “modern fiction”)
This one was really good. It reminded me of a few other stories I’ve read, but it did interesting things with it. I liked the main girl a lot (I can relate to parts of her personality) and watching the gradual changes between her and the people around her was moving. I liked that her relationship with Owen was real, and seeing them get to know each other in such a weird way was cool. I almost got mad a few times in the romantic drama part, because they almost stooped to this cliché that I hate (when somebody has a right to not tell something, and the other person gets super mad and unreasonable about it because “how could you not tell me?”), but they didn’t quite go there. They had enough of a balance in the conversation and nuance both directions that it did feel like a real argument, and not just a self-righteous guy who gets mad because he’s supposed to and teaches her the lesson. It’s important that a person is allowed the time and space to wait to speak up until they are ready, and when it finally happened it was important and it was right.
I also really liked seeing her family and all their interactions and changes that they went through. Despite the coldness and separation between them in the beginning, by the end you really see that they all have each other’s backs, which I liked a lot.
My one criticism is that the editor needed to do a read-through one more time; I caught between 5-6 different typos in the text, and that feels like a lot for one book.
Overall, this book hit a lot of the right feels for me, so I’m going to have to keep an eye out for this author.
QUOTE: “There comes a time in every life when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn to know the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.”
5. ANCILLARY JUSTICE by ANN LECKIE
(suggested by Jacob Keefer, “something unusual”)
This was definitely an interesting book, and it’s a perfect pick for “something unusual”. The singular-gender thing was quite intriguing, and the entire world felt like it was it really well put-together. It was a world of its own with structures and politics all created solely for this book/series. It’s creative and complex and sophisticated.
The issue is that it was so completely its own thing that it took me a very long time to get to the point where I had any idea what was going on. The author doesn’t strictly explain things; she sort of just immerses you in the world, following the modern time with flashbacks and backstory every couple of chapters, and you have to figure out what’s going on as you read. That meant that it was a lot of mental work, and the first half of the book moved very slowly. About halfway through I started finding my stride with the story and the characters, and the main character is a good one. I enjoyed the progression and the last third of the book.
But even though I understood enough to be able to appreciate the story by the time it got to the end, I still had so many things that I know that I missed about the politics and the motivations and the technology. It’s not a flaw of the book, though; I consider myself an intelligent person, but some of this writing went over my head, and it put a lot of responsibility on the reader to catch on quick and it was not always easy to do.
I’m not sure if I’ll continue the trilogy, but with book 1 out of the way and already knowing the world, I’m sure the next one would be an easier start. But since it took so much effort, it’s not likely that I’ll make it a high priority on my reading list. But I hate to leave a series unfinished, so I imagine I’ll get to it someday. It is definitely a series I can appreciate, I just wouldn’t say it’s one I LIKED.
QUOTE: “I saw them all, suddenly, for just a moment, through non-Radchaai eyes, an eddying crowd of unnervingly ambiguously gendered people… twenty years of habit overtook me, and for an instant I despaired of choosing the right pronouns, the right terms of address. But I didn’t need to do that here. I could drop that worry, a small but annoying weight I had carried all this time. I was home.”