40. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott imparts wisdom and stories about writing. A decent book, but it probably would be better liked by people who actually write, which I don’t. I give it a 7 out of 10.
39. Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent by Anthony Rapp
Written by the actor who played Mark Cohen in the original Broadway production of Rent (and the movie). The book chronicles his experience of being in Rent while his mother succumbs to a long, slow death from cancer. I found it particularly interesting to read the stuff about the early versions of Rent when it was still just a workshop production. I give it an 8 out of 10.
38. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
HBO just made this book into a movie, which I plan to watch. So I wanted to read the book first. It is a chronicle of the relationship between white settlers and Native Americans. It’s extremely sad, and made me very angry at the way the Native American tribes were treated. The white men basically came and stole all their land. The tribes tried to do whatever they could for the most part to still keep their lives to a reasonable degree and still keep peace by giving the white men what they wanted, but time and time again the white men ignored the treaties that they made the tribes sign. Even when the tribes acquiesced and went to reservations with promises of being taken care of, the white men didn’t provide any of the food or supplies they promised. Although I was very disturbed by the stories told, the book itself seemed a bit repetitive because it was just hundreds of pages of the same stuff happening to tribes all over the country, which did wind up making it a bit boring to read. I give it a 7 out of 10.
37. Make Life Work: Putting God’s Wisdom into Action by Bill Hybels
Hybels uses the book of Proverbs to discuss how we should live. It wasn’t really an exciting read, some of it actually was a little boring. But it had a lot of good, practical information in it. I give it a 7 out of 10.
36. Poor People by William T. Vollmann
Vollmann visits “poor people” in various countries around the world trying to get their perspective on why they are poor or if they even consider themselves to be poor. He projected himself more into it than I think he thinks he did. I give it a 6 out of 10.
35. All God’s Children: Inside the Dark and Violent World of Street Families by Rene Denfeld
This book follows one street family in Portland, Oregan. It discusses the dynamics of street families, and the members of this particular family. It also discusses the violent acts that this street family committed. For some reason the book really didn’t grab me though. I give it a 6 out of 10.
34. The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
Yancey examines the life of Jesus based on what we know from history. He has the reader look at Jesus through the eyes of the people who lived at his time rather than the lens of today. I had already been exposed to a lot of what he said through other reading and a class I took in college on the historical Jesus, but it was good to review it and learn a few new things. It’s good to get a different perspective sometimes, and take a look at who Jesus really was in his own time and what that means to us today.
One of the things I found particularly interesting was the idea of the separation of church and state. Yancey discusses the early church and how different it is from the church today. He posits that the difference really came about when Constantine made Christianity the state religion and people were forced to be a part of the church. It changed the way the church was run, and turned the focus from helping the poor, needy, etc. and welcoming sinners to experience forgiveness to a focus on making people follow a set of rules, which eventually led to the shunning of the very sinners Jesus came to save.
He then takes this idea and brings it to today discussing the “Moral Majority” and the Christian Right of politics. He talks about how Jesus did not come here to set up an earthly kingdom, how Jesus never forced anyone to follow his rules, and how Jesus was not concerned with the political goings-on of his day, which is why many people who thought the Messiah was going to overthrow Rome and set up an earthly kingdom did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. I myself have actually thought quite a bit about this same idea, and it is why I can’t stand all the Christian Right political crap. God does not force anyone to do his bidding, although he obviously is powerful enough to do so, so why do we think that it is our responsibility to force people to follow a set of rules that may or may not be Biblically based? It’s why I’m very happy to say that my church does not advocate voting or political matters in any way, but I definitely have had people I know from my church or other churches encourage me to vote in a particular way, and it kind of drives me nuts. It’s a hard line to walk sometimes I think. There is no church out there that is perfect because they’re all made up of humans. So I guess it’s important to find somewhere you can feel the most comfortable and try to ignore or possibly change what you disagree with in favor of what is good there.
33. Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
I did not like this book as much as I liked My Sister’s Keeper. This book is written in the same style, with the story being told from the perspective of many different characters. These are the only two books I’ve read by her, but I’m guessing this is pretty much the style she writes in. At any rate, this story is about a girl who finds out as an adult that her father kidnapped her away from her mother as a child and that she’s not really who she thought she was. Her father winds up going to prison and on trial for the kidnapping. I found a number of parts of the story very contrived and somewhat ridiculous, particularly the scenes of the father in prison. I only give it a 5 out of 10.
32. Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
Another excellent book by Anne Lamott. She basically uses stories of her life to discuss faith and reliance on God. It’s encouraging to read about her struggles with faith and her constant need to remind herself to turn to God for help. She also points out that God’s time and answers are not necessarily what we want, but that doesn’t make Him any less real or it any less important to turn to Him. She’s just a real human being trying to live her life according to God’s plan and not always making it. I can always find something to relate to in her stories. I give it an 8 out of 10.
31. The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by Jonathan Franzen
Franzen writes about periods throughout his life in short narratives each somewhat based around a theme but often jumping around his life. I found the writing style kind of disjointed, and I didn’t always follow what he was trying to get at. Although most of it was decent, some it I just found plain boring like the last chapter on bird watching. I felt like he just brushed on the surface of his life and really never got deep into his life or necessarily followed up on things he mentioned, which was sometimes frustrating and left me wanting something more. I give it a 6 out of 10.