In Their Own Words by David B. Calhoun: Not exactly what I expected, but a profitable read

In Their Own WordsIn Their Own Words: The Testimonies of Luther, Calvin, Knox and Bunyan

by David B. Calhoun


Paperback, 232 pg.
Banner of Truth, 2018
Read: January 13 – 27, 2018

I liked this book — don’t get me wrong. I’d even recommend it heartily to people. But I have some issues with it.

Let’s look at the book blurb, shall we?

           Hundreds of biographies have been written of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and John Bunyan. But there is something unique to be gained by listening to these men tell their stories in their own words.

Right there? I’m sold — great idea for a book. What’s more, this is from Banner of Truth — this kind of thing is in their wheelhouse. Who wouldn’t want to read this kind of thing?

           Here, in In Their Own Words, is a collection of testimonial statements drawn from the writings of Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Bunyan. We see men who candidly confessed their sins and boldly testified to the grace, mercy, and goodness of God to them. Their testimonies illustrate the great truth stated by Paul that ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 5:20-21).

The key word there, is “statements.” I had visions of extended portions of the works of these men. Which seemed odd to me at least in Calvin’s case, as he’s notorious for not talking about his life (as is seen in this book, I should add). But still, that’s what it sounded like to me. But by and large we’re talking a sentence or two of quotation to be followed by Calhoun discussing more about his subject on whatever topic/time period he’s looking at. Sometimes we get a paragraph — sometimes a couple consecutive paragraphs. Sometimes it’s less than a sentence. Really there’s a lot more David Calhoun than I expected. I don’t have a detailed analysis, but I’m pretty sure that the text is 55-65% Calhoun (and a few biographers he quotes), with the remainder by the subjects.

This doesn’t diminish the work by Calhoun — it’s no easy feat finding these snippets and then assembling them into a coherent narrative. But still …

My other issue is the inclusion of Bunyan. He doesn’t fit thematically, or even historically. Also, despite really trying — repeatedly for almost two decades — I can’t muster up that much enthusiasm for him. This is a personal flaw of mine, I realize. But that’s that.

Now, the content of the book? It’s really good — linking these mini-biographies (50-60 pages per subject) to biographical remarks is a great idea, and adds a perspective you don’t normally see. Calhoun is able to focus on the parts of their lives that they cared more about, rather than whatever the prevailing interests of scholars are.

We get good, concise views of their lives, with a lot of flavor of the subjects — their concerns, their thoughts, even some of their personality. A good investment of time — I learned some things, I found some inspiration in some of the words — and relished Calhoun showing the Providential care shown to each of these men.

Read this, think about it — just don’t go in expecting to get saturated by the words of these figures and you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

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3 Stars

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

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Death Valley Superstars by Duke Haney: Cautionary Tales about Hollywood

Death Valley SuperstarsDeath Valley Superstars: Occasionally Fatal Adventures in Filmland

by Duke Haney
Kindle Edition, 306 pg.
Delancey Street Press, 2018
Read: January 2 – 16, 2019

Duke Haney, actor, screenplay writer, novelist, essayist, has delivered a well-written collection of sixteen essays revolving around some of those impacted by, affected by, corrupted(?) by, shaped by Fame — that fleeting authority and celebrity bestowed by a chosen few in the Hollywood system that has captured the American imagination and attention since the 1900s.

The quality of the writing throughout was pretty consistent, as was the voice, etc., etc. But my own interest varied widely from piece to piece. I think that’s largely on me, not Haney. But then again, maybe Haney shouldn’t have picked topics that have been done to death. I’m not sure that the universe needs another essay/reflection/biography/anything about Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald, or Jim Morrison. It certainly doesn’t need any further effort to celebrate Hugh Hefner.

On the other hand, the pieces about Sean Flynn (son of Errol), William Desmond Taylor, Christopher Jones, and other people that I’d never heard of were fascinating. I learned something, I was introduced to people I’d missed out on. They weren’t slightly different takes on worn-out ideas about legends that have had dozens of books written about them.

Better yet were the pieces that were about his life — encountering Elizabeth Taylor as a youth, working on various films, his nude scenes, his crush on (and seen in retrospect, stalking) of a noted actress, the encounter with the lady on the bus talking about the video store they both frequented, even the part of the Jim Morrison essay about his quest to hire a psychic (it shouldn’t be that hard in L.A.) to do a séance in a hotel room Morrison lived in. He’s really his best — and most entertaining — subject (although when the subject of an essay is someone else, Haney tends to talk about himself too much). He doesn’t come across as someone trying to gloss over mistakes, missteps, or embarrassing moves — in fact, he seems to revel in them. These are honest (seeming), frequently funny and charming.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of people out there who will invert my rankings, or dispute them all together. And they’d likely be right to do so (I doubt they’d convince me, but you never know). Most collections I read are pretty uneven. This isn’t the case with Death Valley Superstars, I think the quality is consistent — it’s just my own reaction to the chapters that are varied. I’d wager the same will be true for other readers.

If nothing else, I think the above summary rundown demonstrates the variety of pieces in this collection — and I didn’t make mention of all of them. One thing that is fairly consistent is the takeaway from the collection as a whole — fame is fleeting, but its effect on the lives of the famous (and those near them) is long-lasting, and rarely pleasant or beneficial. Really, the whole book can be seen as a collection of cautionary tales with a persistent message — stay away from Hollywood.

I didn’t love this book, but I really liked parts of it, and am glad I read it. I can easily see many readers wondering what was wrong with me, however, and eating this thing up.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which is seen above.

—–

3 Stars

✔ An essay collection.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Prepping for Success by Anmol Singh

Today we’re promoting Prepping for Success by Anmol Singh. Along with this spotlight post, he’s given me four guest posts that’ll be headed your way. I don’t think anyone would take me seriously if I gave my take on this book, if anyone’s going to convince you to read this book, it’s going to be Singh himself, so I’m going to let him — come back for his posts, will ya?

Book Details:

Book Title: Prepping For Success: 10 Keys for Making it in Life by Anmol Singh
Publisher: Gatekeeper Press
Release date: December 21, 2018
Format: Paperback/Hardcover
Length: 124 pages

Book Blurb:

Prepping for success is a guided journey that equips you with the principles you need in order to take advantage of your innate inner talents to achieve true success.

The 10 keys allow you to not just understand yourself, but they also teach you how to express your best self to others. This enables you to be the best version of yourself.

This book is an inspirational, light-hearted guide to help you put your plans into action. It offers an understandable and relatable step by step approach to discovering yourself and achieving your own personal true success.

In a world where there are so many choices and distractions, this book is dedicated to helping you find a balance through it all.

Are you ready to begin your Journey towards true success?

About Anmol Singh:

Anmol SinghAnmol made his name as a High paid consultant in the Trading and Investing Industry. He launched LiveTraders in 2015 which is now voted the #1 Trading Education Firm for three years in a row. He has coached and Trained over 1000+ Traders and Investors. Some of whom have now gone on to run their Own Hedge funds.

He is considered the leading expert in the Trading Psychology space having helped thousands of traders all over the world dealing with Psychological and Behavioural issues that arise when high stakes on are on the line. He brings a unique view on Sucess and shows how the same concepts that he has used to Help Million dollar traders are applicable to our day to day lives, irrespective of the industry or career they are in. This is not a business book and this sure isn’t a trading book. This book is about achieving Success in Each and EVERY area of your Life.

Currently, he remains an avid Stock Market and Forex trader and spends his day working with Students of his Trading firm Livetraders and continues to Financially back them. He also involved with other Entrepreneurial Ventures and Franchise Stores in Addition to Maintaining a Real Estate Portfolio.

Anmol Singh’s Social Media:

Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ LinkedIn ~ StockTwits

Purchase Links for Prepping For Success: 10 Keys for Making it in Life:

Amazon.com ~ Barnes & Noble

My Favorite 2018 Non-Fiction Reads

Like every single year, I didn’t read as much Non-Fiction as I meant to — but I did read a decent amount, more than I did in 2016-17 combined (he reports with only a hint of defensiveness). These are the best of the bunch.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Lessons From LucyLessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

by Dave Barry

My original post
So, I figured given the tile and subject that this would be a heavier Dave Barry read, with probably more tears than you anticipate from his books — something along the lines of Marley & Me. I was (thankfully) wrong. It’s sort of self-helpy. It’s a little overly sentimental. I really don’t know if this is Barry’s best — but it’s up there. Lessons From Lucy is, without a doubt, his most mature, thoughtful and touching work (that’s a pretty low bar, I realize — a bar he’s worked hard to keep low, too).

5 Stars

 The War Outside My Window The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

by Janet E. Croon, ed.

My original post
LeRoy Wiley Gresham was 12 when he started keeping a diary. LIttle did he know at that point that he was about to witness the American Civil War (and all the desolation it would bring to Georgia) and that he was dying (he really didn’t figure that out until the very end). Instead you get an almost day-by-day look at his life — what he does, reads, hears about (re: the War) and feels. It’s history in the raw. You have never read anything like this — it will appeal to the armchair historian in you (particularly if you’ve ever dabbled in being a Civil War buff); it’ll appeal to want an idea what everyday life was like 150 years ago; there’s a medical case study, too — this combination of themes is impossible to find anywhere else. This won’t be the easiest read you come across this year (whatever year it is that you come across it), but it’ll be one of the most compelling.

5 Stars

TimekeepersTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

by Simon Garfield

My original post
I, for one, have never thought that much about my relation to time, my relation to clocks/watches, etc. I know they govern our lives, to an extent that’s troublesome. But where did that come from, how did we get hooked on these things, this concept? These are brief studies/historical looks/contemporary observations — and I’m not selling it too well here (trying to keep it brief). It’s entertainingly written, informative, and thought-provoking. Garfield says this about it:

This is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to beat it. . . The book has but two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.

He fulfills his intended goals, making this well worth the read.

4 Stars

Everything is NormalEverything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid

by Sergey Grechishkin

My original post
If you grew up in the 80s or earlier, you were fascinated by Soviet Russia. Period. They were our great potential enemy, and we knew almost nothing about them. And even what we did “know” wasn’t based on all that much. Well, Sergey Grechishkin’s book fixes that (and will help you remember just how much you used to be intrigued by “Evil Empire”). He tells how he grew up in Soviet Russia — just a typical kid in a typical family trying to get by. He tells this story with humor — subtle and overt. It’s a deceptively easy and fun read about some really dark circumstances.

4 Stars

Planet FunnyPlanet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

by Ken Jennings

My original post
Half of this book is fantastic. The other half is … okay. It’ll make you laugh if nothing else. That might not be a good thing, if you take his point to heart. We’ve gotten to the point now in society that laughter beats honesty, jokes beat insight, and irony is more valued than thoughtful analysis. How did we get here, what does it mean, what do we do about it? The true value of the book may be what it makes you think about after you’re done.

3.5 Stars

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook)The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne (Narrator)

My original post
This is an enjoyable, amusing, call to re-examine your priorities and goals. It’s not about ceasing to care about everything (not giving a f^ck), but about being careful what you care about (giving the right f*cks). Manson’s more impressed with himself than he should be, but he’s a clear and clever writer displaying a lot of common sense. Get the audiobook (I almost never say that) — the narration is worth a star by itself (maybe more).

4 Stars

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott

My original post
If you read only one book off this list, it should probably be the next one. But if you pick this one, you’ll be happier. This is a collection of correspondence to pop musicians/lyricists picking apart the lyrics, quibbling over the concepts, and generally missing the point. Then we get to read the responses from the musician/act — some play with the joke, some beat it. Sometimes the Philpott portion of the exchange is better, frequently they’re the straight man to someone else. Even if you don’t know the song being discussed, there’s enough to enjoy. Probably one of my Top 3 of the year.

5 Stars

ThemThem: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Hea

by Ben Sasse

My original post
My favorite US Senator tackles the questions of division in our country — and political divisions aren’t the most important, or even the root of the problem. Which is good, because while he might be my favorite, I’m not sure I’d agree with his political solutions. But his examination of the problems we all can see, we all can sense and we all end up exacerbating — and many of his solutions — will ring true. And even when you disagree with him, you’ll appreciate the effort and insight.

5 Stars

Honorable Mention:

Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to AmericaThe Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

by Steven Pinker

I started this at a bad time, just didn’t have the time to devote to it (and the library had a serious list waiting for it, so I couldn’t renew it. But what little I did read, I thoroughly enjoyed and profited from — am very sure it’d have made this post if I could’ve gotten through it. I need to make a point of returning to it.

P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, Maria Beddia: Twisted, Fun and even Educational

P Is for PterodactylP Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever

by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, Maria Beddia (Illustrator)


Hardcover, 40 pg.
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018
Read: December 20, 2018

One of the first books printed in the American colonies was The New England Primer, filled with catchy lines like “In Adam’s Fall / We Sinned All.”

Since that time, many alphabet-type books have been published in the same — or similar — vein. One of the latest is P Is for Pterodactyl, which carries the subtitle, The Worst Alphabet Book Ever which doesn’t seem that complimentary, but when it includes lines like:

” is for Jai Alai.

or

” is for Ewe.”

or even

U is not for You.

and maybe you start to think there’s a little truth in advertising.

It’s actually an amusing book with some examples of the oddities and vagaries of English spelling/pronunciation that will stick with you. I’m not crazy about some of the selections (V’s a good example), but by and large, I really liked each “for” that the authors selected.

The artwork is great — it compliments the text well and will help keep shorter attention spans focused.

For everyone who enjoyed BNL’s “Crazy ABC’s”, this Picture Book entertains as well as educates. I’m not sure how well it’d work for the 7-and-under crowd, but for older elementary kids — and adults who just want a chuckle, this book will be just the ticket. I had a fun time reading it — as did my whole family. Unlike most of the picture books I post about here, you’ll note tat this one doesn’t carry any kind of disclaimer — I bought this one after seeing a couple of pieces about it online, and am glad I did. I imagine you will be, too.

—–

4 Stars

Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal by Ben Sasse: A Profound and Helpful (and Hopeful) Book I Wish I Could Adequately Discuss

ThemThem: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Hea

by Ben Sasse

Hardcover, 288 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2018
Read: November 27 – 30, 2018

I really do prefer to come up with my own synopsis/summary, but I was struggling to come up with one without this taking 3-4 times as much space as I usually do for an entire post. So, I’ll just use the Publisher’s:

           Something is wrong. We all know it.

American life expectancy is declining for a third straight year. Birth rates are dropping. Nearly half of us think the other political party isn’t just wrong; they’re evil. We’re the richest country in history, but we’ve never been more pessimistic.

What’s causing the despair?

In Them, bestselling author and U.S. senator Ben Sasse argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, our crisis isn’t really about politics. It’s that we’re so lonely we can’t see straight—and it bubbles out as anger.

Local communities are collapsing. Across the nation, little leagues are disappearing, Rotary clubs are dwindling, and in all likelihood, we don’t know the neighbor two doors down. Work isn’t what we’d hoped: less certainty, few lifelong coworkers, shallow purpose. Stable families and enduring friendships—life’s fundamental pillars—are in statistical freefall.

As traditional tribes of place evaporate, we rally against common enemies so we can feel part of a team. No institutions command widespread public trust, enabling foreign intelligence agencies to use technology to pick the scabs on our toxic divisions. We’re in danger of half of us believing different facts than the other half, and the digital revolution throws gas on the fire.

There’s a path forward—but reversing our decline requires something radical: a rediscovery of real places and human-to-human relationships. Even as technology nudges us to become rootless, Sasse shows how only a recovery of rootedness can heal our lonely souls.

America wants you to be happy, but more urgently, America needs you to love your neighbor and connect with your community. Fixing what’s wrong with the country depends on it.

Now, a lot of people are talking about/writing about negative tweets, hostility between parties, loss of civility, etc. in our contemporary culture. But most of them are discussing symptoms of something deeper — and addressing the symptoms isn’t going to help much. Sasse wants to focus on the underlying issues and spends a lot of time talking about them before describing how he best thinks we can take care of them (and the symptoms).

I am not entirely convinced that he’s diagnosing the problems correctly — but he’s as close as I’ve seen. In short, we’ve stopped seeing our fellow Americans as countrymen that need to be convinced and compromised with, instead as evil opponents that need to be defeated and humiliated. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking politics, social policy, or people who like a TV show you don’t. The loss of civility, decency and humility in our culture is a clear and present danger to our union.

I’ve got a strong, strong desire to spend a week or two posting about this book — going through it a chapter at a time. But this isn’t that kind of blog — and I just don’t have that kind of time. There are places for that sort of conversation, this isn’t one of them. The books thought-provoking, inspiring, discouraging, and entertaining — not usually at the same time, but frequently within a couple of pages. I took pages of notes — really. Some of them just because I liked his phrasing. Some because I wanted to spend some time thinking about what he said, or doing follow-up reading, Some because I thought he nailed the idea.

Now, while Sasse goes to great pains to keep the book a-political (at least when it comes to specific policies), he correctly sees that politics is one of the main ways we’re separating ourselves from one another — or are being separated by them. So he talks about some of the ways that’s happening, and because he’s more familiar with the antics of the Right, he focuses primarily on them (also, it’ll give him more credibility to beat up his “own” team than the other guys). There are some Republicans that he cites favorably, and some Democrats that he puts in negative light — but primarily, Democrats come out of his book looking a lot better than his fellow Republicans do. I liked that a lot. If nothing else, it shows that Sasse’s willing to practice a lot of what he preaches (maybe all of it, I don’t know).

Sasse writes with conviction and compassion, humor and wisdom, even if (maybe especially if) you disagree with his politics, he’ll win you over with his common-sense realism. Some of his proposed solutions seem very pie-in-the-sky, and those are my favorites. Some of them seem more likely to succeed, but either way, just people talking and thinking about them is a step in the right direction. And I can’t help but imagine just that would be enough to satisfy Sasse. Read this book. Get others to read it. Talk about it.

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5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

The Lord’s Supper as the Sign and Meal of the New Covenant by Guy Prentiss Waters: A Thoughtful & Encouraging Look at the Supper in its Redemptive-Historical Context

The Lord's Supper as the Sign and Meal of the New CovenantThe Lord’s Supper as the Sign and Meal of the New Covenant

by Guy Prentiss Waters
Series: Short Studies in Biblical Theology

eARC, 128 pg.
Crossway, 2019
Read: November 18, 2018

“All the salvation and redemption brought about by Christ for his disciples is founded in the body and blood he gives them to eat and drink at the Eucharist”
                                                                           — Herman Ridderbos

Waters uses that insight from Ridderbos to help explain the significance of the Lord’s Supper in the Christian religion, and thinking along these lines undergirds this entire book — not just that the Supper is something we ought to do, but something it’s vital to participate in — for our own spiritual health.

Waters begins by reviewing the basics of covenant theology — defining covenant and looking at the major covenants and how they point to Christ. Then Waters shifts to looking at the signs and seals of the various covenants — with a focus on the purpose of visible, tangible signs. The third chapter narrows that focus to covenant meals throughout redemptive history. Once the context has been firmly established, Waters introduces the Lord’s Supper with a survey of applicable biblical texts. Finally, Waters considers some practical and contemporary questions and applications. I’m not going to get into any specifics beyond this because what I want to focus on takes a lot of foundation work, and this would stop being about the book and would become a recap of the whole thing.

In a book this short (by design), I’m not sure Waters did his readers any favors by being as thorough in the first two chapters — it will be review material for many readers, and those who aren’t that grounded in covenant thinking are going to need more explanation of the ideas. Still, I appreciated what he wrote.The other three chapters were just great — I could’ve used more of all of them, but that’s not the point of the books in this series. The careful consideration of the Supper in its redemptive historical context is so important and putting these ideas in a size and format that aren’t intimidating is going to be valuable.

I wish I had this book twenty years ago when I started studying the Lord’s Supper, it would’ve been very helpful and would’ve saved me a lot of time. I took a lot of notes while reading this and am going to spend a lot of time following up on them — and rereading this a couple of times. It’s the kind of book you want to hand out to your friends so you can talk about it with them. The last chapter was particularly helpful and encouraging. This would be a great companion read to Letham, Mathison, and Wallace (to be read after Letham, but before Mathison, probably).

Waters is one of the better academic writers the Reformed world has — thankfully, he’s also capable of producing concise and clear works for laity. This short volume demonstrates that well. It’s helpful, encouraging and I have no doubt will strengthen some believers’ in their use of the Supper as it shows others how important it is.

I’d been previously unaware of the series Short Studies in Biblical Theology, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be getting my hands on some of the other volumes. I love the idea behind the series and if they’re all this helpful, it’ll be worth it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Crossway via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 Stars