Book review: Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is a religious (Christian) story about growing up, faith, and forgiveness.  It is told in the first person from Frank’s point of view, as a memoir of what happened when he was a child.  The story takes place over one summer in a small town in Minnesota.  In this one summer, three deaths occur, each one affecting young Frank, but the last one changing his life forever.

I found the story a bit predictable (I guessed who was going to die and what was happening to this person) before getting to the end, but it was a nice read.  I liked the narrative and I liked most of the characters. I didn’t care much for the mom, the sister, or the sister’s piano teacher.  I found Frank’s younger brother’s character a little hard to believe.  His personality was a bit too mature.

The forgiveness part felt a little shoved-down-my-throat because it is a recurring theme throughout the book and it especially hits you over and over and over towards the end of the book.

It’s an okay read.  It’s not one that I want to read again, but I don’t feel as though I wasted my time.

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Book review: The Seven Good Years

The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret is a memoir.  Keret has written several fictional works, including a collection of short stories.  The title of the book refers to years between when the author’s son was born and when his dad died.  It sounds kind of depressing, but this book was hilarious.

I’m usually not very fond of memoirs (with a few exceptions), but I really enjoyed reading this one.  The book is short and filled with funny vignettes about the author’s life.  I think my favorite bit was when he described how he used to write fictional inscriptions for people at book signings.  He would write things like, “Where’s that tenner I lent you?  You said two days and it’s a month already.  I’m still waiting” and “I don’t care what the lab tests show.  For me, you’ll always be my dad.”  Too bad he stopped writing those kinds of inscriptions at his book signings.  I would have loved to have gotten something like that at a book signing.

It should be mentioned that the author is Jewish and lives in Israel.  This is important to know because some of his stories involve being a Jew.  I loved that he laughs at himself.  For example, he confronts his paranoia in his story about his first trip to Germany.

It’s a short book – you could probably finish it in one sitting.  Read it.

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books so of course I had to pre-order Go Set a Watchman … and then, despite my efforts to avoid reviews of the book, I was inundated with information from social media and television and the Internet about how Atticus was actually a racist.  Okay, I thought, maybe it’s a good thing I heard about this so I can mentally prepare for a story in which one of my favorite fictional characters is a racist.

Then, I finally received my copy and read the book.  I didn’t like the book as much as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but it was still good.  In case you somehow managed to miss it from the media, “Go Set a Watchman” was written before “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but it actually takes place afterwards.

Scout is a grown woman who becomes physically sick and feels betrayed when she finds her boyfriend and Atticus at a KKK meeting in the courthouse.  Like many people, if that’s all you hear – someone attended a KKK meeting, it’s not outrageous to assume that they’re a racist.  This is where my issue with the media-types came in.  I did NOT think that Atticus was a racist, nor did I find that his personality and moral beliefs had radically changed from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Some people hear part of a story and jump to a conclusion.  This is what Scout did in the book .. and I feel that this is what some of the media people did, too, when they declared that Atticus was a racist.  Maybe they just needed something shocking to get people’s attention.  Who knows?  I’ll address some of the possibly racist incidences in the book.

It was explained to Scout that Atticus didn’t believe in what the KKK speaker was saying, but he did believe that he had a right to say it (1st Amendment rights, fitting of a lawyer).  I feel the same way.  I may not always agree with what people say, but they do have a right to say it within reason, as long as they’re not telling people to go out to kill others or yelling fire in a crowded theatre, that sort of thing.  He also believe in keeping an eye on things so instead of having the KKK meeting at some secret location where he couldn’t hear what was going on, Atticus decided to allow the KKK meeting to take place at the courthouse.  This makes sense to me.  If the KKK speaker started saying that everyone should start going to get their guns, Atticus could step in to stop it.  Also, I find it believable that you can sometimes do more within an organization than trying to fight it.  Look at Hitler.  He came to power through legal means. He didn’t have to overthrow a government.  Now, of course, Hitler used his power for horrible purposes so let’s look at some other examples.  How about Oscar Schindler?  He was a member of the Nazi party and, at first, was only concerned about making money, but then used his power within the Nazi party to save thousands of Jewish people.  How about the countless members of the Resistance during WWII in Europe who served as spies?  If they had openly spoken against the Nazis, they would have been imprisoned, but by doing things more covertly, they were able to save lives.  Yes, of course there are people who joined the Nazis who later claimed they didn’t want to join, but based on Atticus’ past behavior (defending a black man accused of rape in Alabama in the 1960s), I’m inclined to give Atticus the benefit of the doubt.

Scout also gets upset with Atticus when he says that the South needs time to give Blacks the same rights as Whites.  I had some problems with this statement because it’s hard to say whether the need for more time is just a delaying tactic.  In the book, Atticus says that Blacks were largely uneducated/illiterate (not through their fault, of course, but because of how they had been oppressed) and he didn’t want someone who was illiterate to vote and decide who should be in office.  He wasn’t against the idea of Blacks being allowed to vote, but he thought it should wait a bit until more Blacks had been educated.  Even though I don’t necessarily agree with this statement, I don’t find it racist and here’s why.  Atticus doesn’t say that Blacks shouldn’t be allowed to vote at all.  It was the illiteracy to which he objected.  This isn’t directed against any particular race.  I don’t think that Atticus would want an illiterate white man voting either (my interpretation based on what he says about Bob Ewell in “To Kill a Mockingbird”).  Now, he could be accused of being classist.

I’m going to apologize ahead of time for this next part.  I lent the book to someone else to read and haven’t gotten it back yet, or I would look up the exact circumstances.  I’m behind with my book reviews and have read several books since reading this one and I’m trying to remember the exact scene int he book.  Scout has a moment in the book where she realizes that she really isn’t any better than Atticus.  She asks Calpurnia, their long-time housekeeper, if she cared for her and Jem.  Scout considered Calpurnia to be a part of her family.  She describes Calpurnia both being disciplinarian and a mother figure and describes her memories of Cal fondly throughout the book.  She knew, but didn’t realize that Cal had a family and worries of her own.  Her dismisiveness of Cal’s life outside of her own was symbolic of the South’s attitude towards Blacks at the time – it was great to have Blacks doing chores and other work, but beyond the services they provided, many white people in the South weren’t interested.

While I disagreed wit the media about Atticus being a racist and while I felt that “To Kill a Mockingbird” was a better book, I found “Go Set a Watchman” to be thought-provoking and insightful.  Try not to read it with a judgmental frame of mind.  Listen to the characters and then decide for yourself.

I plan on giving this book at least one more read to catch more of the nuances that I may have missed on the first reading.

Book Review: Proof of Heaven

Proof of Heaven is a non-fiction book by Dr. Eben Alexander about his near death experience (NDE).  Normally, I’m really not interested in this sort of stuff, but this guy is a neurosurgeon … a scientist who has heard about NDEs and had always been convinced that they weren’t real so I thought I’d give this book a shot.  Plus, it’s a pretty short book.

Dr. Alexander is a decent writer.  His descriptions were interesting to read.  Spoiler alert: he describes a sort-of holding place that was gray and then described heaven.  Heaven is the white light area where you feel love and there is someone there to be your guide.  As I said, I don’t read much about NDEs, but from what I’ve heard/seen/read, that seems to be pretty usual.  He drifted back and forth between the gray area and heaven until heaven shut its doors to him.  Then, he started recognizing faces in the gray area and realized that they were members of his family.  When he remembered his family, he realized that he had something to lose and that was his way back to awakening from his coma.

Dr. Alexander said that he was taught many things by talking to God through his guide, but that since he had to return to his earthly body, he was still trying to process everything and couldn’t teach it all to us.  We are all spiritual beings, but our mortal bodies tend to limit our instinctual understanding.  His message to us is that we try to expand our spirituality by looking beyond the physical world.  I’m not exactly sure how to do that.  I’m not sure how I feel about the message either.  I did, however, like the message that he got from heaven.  The message was (and I’m doing this from memory so it’s not verbatim) that you are loved unconditionally and there is nothing you can do that would change that.  How could anyone NOT like a message like that?

It begs the question, though, what about Hell?  What about the people who do bad things? His descriptions of what happened during his NDE were too vague to understand.  He describes the places and how he felt, but he couldn’t describe what he learned or discussed with God.  The gray area wasn’t really Hell even though at first he felt uncomfortable … to me, it seemed more like a holding place.

I found his description of the rare meningitis that caused his coma more interesting, to be honest.  He certainly has a supportive, loving family who were by his side throughout his ordeal.

I haven’t looked up anything else on this book so I don’t have much additional information.  I know that he spends time going around and speaking about his experience, but I wonder if he ever went back to neurosurgery and how his colleagues feel about his book.

I liked the Burpo book about the little boy who went to Heaven better.

Catching up on my reviews

Yikes, it’s been a while.  I was busy with some work deadlines and then I was busy reading.  There are at least 4 books that I need to review!

The first book that comes to mind is one that I was surprised to find that I liked, namely, Man of Nazareth by Anthony Burgess.  It’s not even in print anymore, but you could visit a library or get a used copy from Amazon.  If the author’s name sounds familiar, you probably recognize his most popular work, A Clockwork Orange.

As an aside, I recently looked up Anthony Burgess on iBooks to see if I could find an electronic version of his books and the selection was pitiful.  It’s so tragic because he is a wonderful author.  I’ve read “A Clockwork Orange” and his Enderby series.  If you don’t know anything about him, you should google something about Anthony Burgess’ life.  He was an amazing man, very intelligent with a gift for linguistics.  I find myself reaching for a dictionary when reading his books.

What separates Anthony Burgess from other authors is that he doesn’t have one “voice.”  With most authors, they develop a “voice” and you hear that voice through all of the books they write.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s much harder to have different voices for different books.  If I didn’t ahead of time who the author was, I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess that “Man of Nazareth” and “A Clockwork Orange” were by the same person.

“Man of Nazareth,” as you may have guessed, is about the life of Jesus.  I’ve read the New Testament a few times so I already knew the story, but the way Burgess tells it makes Jesus and the apostles seem more sympathetic, although sympathetic seems to be a vastly underrated term to describe Jesus.  It’s hard to explain.  Perhaps my feelings are best summed up by saying that I knew how the story would end, but I didn’t want the ending to happen because I cared.

If you’re not religious or if you’re not Christian, it doesn’t matter.  You should still read the book because it was fascinating and well written.

Incidentally, there was a television miniseries in the 1970s created based on this book.  The series was called, “Jesus of Nazareth.”  I haven’t seen it so I don’t know if it’s any good or how closely it follows the book.