How to Think by Alan Jacobs

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at OddsHow to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds

by Alan Jacobs
Uncorrected Proof, 156 pg.
Convergent Books, 2017

Read: October 3, 2017

I haven’t read any of them, but over the last few years I’ve seen a pretty good number of books about human thinking processes — how it works, how it can/can’t be changed, and how this can/may/should change the way we approach decision-making, etc. (it’s not that I’m uninterested, there’s only so much time). Unlike me, Alan Jacobs has read many of these — and one thing he notes, that while these books are great on the science of human cognition, there’s also an art to it. Enter this book.

The sub-title is “A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.” Now, while it’s clear that our society is quite divided, I honestly don’t think that the world is really all that much more divided than we’ve been before — even in this society. However, I think it’s safe to say that we’re much more open and aggressive about the divisions that exists, and far less inclined to listen to the other side(s). Jacobs’ writing can help his readers bridge some of the divisions with those they interact with (not every one will want to, I’m sure, but they could try if they want to). I almost think that this book could be called How to Disagree instead, because so much of the book (but not all of it) is about how to disagree with others like civil, empathetic, adults, looking to change minds (or have our own be changed); not simply to attack someone or win an argument.

Jacobs begins by showing what strategies, devices, etc. we all already use in our thinking (taken largely from common sense/experience or all the science-y books mentioned above), and then as we’re aware of these, he shows how we can improve them. Building on ideas from one chapter to the next and showing how something we learned already can inform what he’s discussing now, these are not individual essays, but a cumulative case. I find it difficult to give examples for just that reason — his is a carefully laid out argument, and summarizing some of my favorite components would do little justice to those parts and not work that well out of context. So, I’ll keep it vague. He addresses how the idea of “thinking for oneself” is impossible, how it’s problematic to have an “open mind” always, the importance of waiting, of not having to address everything, and how it’s vital to keep a diverse selection of thoughtful people in your life.

Jacobs doesn’t only draw from social sciences and philosophers (but he does, and frequently — in an accessible way), he cites and draws from Robin Sloan, Walter White, C. S. Lewis, George Orwell and many others. He does so in a way that illustrates his points, strengthens and furthers his arguments. (I point this out, because I just finished a book that seemed only to do this kind of thing to lengthen chapters — no light was added, just space taken up). While readers from High School on up can feel as if the ideas are stretching their minds, the writing will not — Jacobs (as always) is good at convincing the reader they can handle bigger ideas.

Frankly, I wish this book (or one much like it) was required reading for anyone wanting a social media account — I’ve been telling all sorts of people to read it for a few days now, and I probably won’t stop anytime soon. How to Think is helpful, insightful, entertaining, wise, and — dare I say? — thought-provoking. Go get it.

Disclaimer: I received this copy from a Goodreads Giveaway.

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4 Stars

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I Am Not Posting About How to Think by Alan Jacobs Today

If I was posting about it, below the pilcrow, you’d see a few paragraphs about the book:

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at OddsHow to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds

by Alan Jacobs

Uncorrected Proof, 156 pg.
Convergent Books, 2017

Read: October 3, 2017


But now, I just can’t. I’m really surprised I read this all in one day, but there’s something very engaging about this book that you can’t put it down. It’s much more fun than you’d think from the title. But one of the things Jacobs stresses is taking time to think — and this is one of those books I have to ponder about before putting down any thoughts.

(which works out nicely, because I’m beat, and this helps to justify taking a night off — but really, I need to think about it).

(and yes, I also realize that this isn’t exactly the point he’s making — but you’ll have to read the thing to see how much I’m twisting his point)

I’ll try tomorrow, but for the time being: go order this before it comes out and give it a read. Whatever I end up posting will be very positive.

The Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job by C. J. Williams

The Shadow of Christ in the Book of JobThe Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job

by C. J. Williams

Paperback, 96 pg.
Wipf and Stock, 2017

Read: August 27, 2017


Just some quick thoughts on a quick read…

Williams begins this brief book with a chapter on typology, what is it and why should we use it. Essentially, his definition of a type is: a living prophecy concerning God’s promised (centering on Jesus) for the benefit of God’s people throughout the ages. Which is a pretty handy definition, made more so by the rest of his discussion.

That accomplished, Williams applies it to the book of Job, and its central figure. Essentially, he gives a chronological survey over 10 chapters showing the typology involved. I found these chapters refreshing in their perspective, and instructive for how to look at other biblical texts in the same light. The last chapter, “What the Book of Job Means Today,” applies it to the Christian reader, what can his takeaway be from the book as he seeks sanctification, which was pretty helpful.

This is not a commentary on Job (I’d love to read one in this vein, especially by Williams), he’s brief by design. I think he could’ve been slightly less brief without making the book inaccessible or too involved. This brevity frequently frustrating — he’ll give an idea in a sentence, or disagree with a thought in a sentence, that could easily have been a paragraph (the latter was more annoying to me). Just a little more development of some of these ideas would’ve greatly improved the book.

A helpful way of seeing how typology can be faithfully utilized, as well as a reminder of the character of our Lord seen in the lives of His saints. A good use of an hour or two of your time.

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3 Stars

Prayer by Ole Hallsby

PrayerPrayer

by Ole Hallesby

Papberback, 176 pg.
1994 (originally 1931), Augsburg Fortress

Read: September 3 – 10, 2017


The section from Calvin’s Institutes on prayer is fantastic, Wistsius’ book is incredibly helpful, Luther’s little A Simple Way is pretty good, as is Matthew Henry’s Method, but none of them have been as much help as this little book by Norweign Lutheran Ole Hallesby (at least that’s my guess, I’ve had years to chew on those others, only a couple of weeks for Hallesby). I heard of the book briefly on an episode of Christ the Center this summer, and then they devoted an entire episode to it later — I was halfway through the book when that second episode was posted, thankfully, they didn’t say anything that spoiled the ending. If not for those podcast episodes, I probably would’ve gone my whole life without ever hearing of this book. That would’ve been a shame.

He doesn’t set out to write a comprehensive book on the subject, or a systematized theology of prayer, but to present “a few simple rules for the benefit of souls who are fainting at prayer.” It’s not much of a rule book, thankfully, as much as it wants to be — more like a collection of helpful suggestions.

Hallesby describes two things that make up the attitude of prayer — helplessness and faith. Faith that Jesus can and will answer our prayers and a realization that we are helpless and need him to even pray. What he writes about helplessness is worth the price of the book alone. I think it’s changed the way I pray already. I would quote a bit of it here — and I started to, but I wasn’t sure where I’d stop. So let me just encourage you to grab the book.

I also really appreciated his discussion of how we “think we must help God to fulfill our prayer,” by giving Him lists of suggestions for how to and times when He can answer us. Instead, we are to faithfully pour out our need to Him, and then trust that He will answer as He sees best. I’d really never thought of it in those terms but we really can end up trying to tell God the best way to go about helping us — which flies in the face of our admitted helplessness in a given situation.

Hallesby covers the work of prayer, the struggles we may have in it, some suggestions for how to learn to pray better, as well as giving some answers to common questions about prayer (that seem to be the same questions I hear others having almost 100 years after this book was written, probably questions believers had 100 years before that, too). Throughout the book, you get a strong sense of a pastoral heart behind the words and advice, which makes it all much easier to heed.

It’s not a perfect book by any means — most of my problems have to do with the fact that I’m not a Lutheran, nor a Pietist. So, anything that leans too heavily on those traditions/characteristics are obviously going to at least raise my eyebrows, but on the whole those aspects of the book are quibbles. For example, his definition of prayer involves letting God help us, or his aversion to pre-written prayers (that one has many allies in my own tradition, so it is more of a note than anything). More substantial concerns are his utter lack of reference to — much less use of — the Psalms or the Lord’s Prayer. A book on prayer that doesn’t even touch on those is mind-boggling. None of these concerns or quibbles detract too much from the book — and they’re certainly outweighed by the help the book gives.

Pound-for-pound, the best book on the subject I’ve read. Easy to read, encouraging, convicting and insightful. Highly recommended.

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4 Stars

Jamarr’s Promise by Kristin I. Morris & Joseph J. Zielinski, Ph.D

Jamarr's PromiseJamarr’s Promise: A True Story of Corruption, Courage, and Child Welfare

by Kristin I. Morris, Joseph J. Zielinski, Ph.D.

ePUB, 160 pg.
Wisdom House Books, 2017

Read: August 31, 2017


Here’s a book that should apply to a wide variety of people — others who believe that Child Protection Services (using that as a generic term for all sorts of states’ services); those who are convinced that the system will work if we trust it and have the right people in it; those who are convinced that New Jersey’s state government is impossibly corrupt; those who like True Crime; and many others. Sadly, what all these different potential readers get is a poor book.

Jammarr Cruz was a nine-year-old whose Division of Youth and Family Services case worker was unable to keep his mother and her boyfriend from exercising their legal right to take the boy home. She fought it as hard as she could, but ultimately she was thwarted by those over her — the boy went home and died a few months later. Kristin Morris, the caseworker, despite a total lack of evidence of her culpability, lost her job because of it. The book details her efforts to clear her name, get her job back, and make changes to prevent this from happening again. Meanwhile her family suffers, her finances suffer, as does her health (mental and otherwise).

Now, I’m supposed to be talking about the book, not about the events in it. Which is a shame, because I’d much rather talk about that.

The book is told in the present tense — which is a choice that I do not understand. I rarely understand that as a choice in fiction, but in a book that is detailing past events in an actual person’s life? It just makes no sense.

The biggest problem with this book is the length — 160 pages is not enough space to do it justice. 260 may have worked, 350 would’ve been better — I’m guessing on page length, but I know that 160 just didn’t do it. Too much of the book has to be told in summary form, where things had to be compressed and details had to be discarded. Sometimes, it made it hard to follow the sequence, sometimes it made it hard to sympathize with her because months would be brushed aside in a line or two. If they’d taken the time to fully explain how things happened, the reader would have a better sense of the chronology after Jamarr’s death, would better be able to understand what she went through, and how this all had a horrible impact on her family.

Oddly, even given space limitation, there’d be a conversation that would recap the narrative we’d just read (or vice versa). Something else that didn’t make sense to me.

Given the lack of details, the who so much is summed up and the reader is left to fill in many of the blanks themselves, this frequently comes across as a series of Facebook statuses from that friend who is always going on about how difficult their life is — not the reasoned defense of actions made my a competent and caring professional — which is what i think the book was intended to be, and I do think that’s what she is. Also, much of what she says seems more open to criticism and doubt since we’re just given a brief glimpse from a pretty biased source.

This book could’ve been so much better. The tragedy it describes, the injustices it describes deserve something more than this. Morris herself should’ve had a better representation to the world at large than this. But all we’re given is this synopsis of a book, not the book itself (or at least what should be the synopsis of the book).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel in exchange for this post, my participation in a book tour and my honest opinion. I think it’s clear that my opinion wasn’t swayed by that.

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2 Stars

Book Spotlight: Jamarr’s Promise by Kristin I. Morris & Joseph J. Zielinski, Ph.D


Check back later for my thoughts about this book.

 

Book Details:

Book Title: Jamarr’s Promise: A True Story of Corruption, Courage, and Child Welfare
​Category: Personal Memoir; 160 pages
​Genre: Family & Relationships / Abuse / Child Abuse / True Crime / Murder
Publisher: Wisdom House Books
Release date: May 1, 2017

Synopsis

A True Story of Corruption,
Courage, and Child Welfare

Jamarr’s Promise is the shocking personal memoir of social worker Kristin I. Morris’ fight to protect a nine-year-old child, Jamarr Cruz, that ended in his tragic murder and New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS)’s denial of its responsibility in the case.

As a caseworker for DYFS, Kristin helped many children and families; it was her life’s passion. Nine-year-old Jamarr was living with his grandparents after his mother’s boyfriend, Vincent Williams, beat him repeatedly. Jamarr told Kristin it was not safe for him to return home. Kristin urgently tried to keep Jamarr safe with his grandparents, but was told by superiors that Latino children are kept in the home at all costs. This time, the cost was Jamarr Cruz’s life. In 2009 after Jamaar’s return to Omayra Cruz and Vincent Williams, Vincent beat Jamarr to death. Not only did Kristin’s superiors at the DYFS block her efforts to help Jamarr, but when he was killed, they blamed Kristin for his death.

Jamarr’s Promise is a call to end corrupt loyalties in New Jersey’s DYFS. It is a call to protect children from Jamarr’s fate and promote child welfare. It is a call for justice for Kristin Morris, who did the right thing and was punished unjustly for it.

The Authors

Kristin I. Morris is an activist who volunteers her time with organizations for women, children and families, including Toys for Tots, She’s Got a Name, and Urban Promise. She has been with her husband Benny since she was nineteen and they have four very active children. She always wanted to help people, by working with the church teaching CCD, pro-life club, soup kitchen, and through charity work.

Kristin earned her bachelor’s in Psychology from Rowan University. After school, she began to work as a social worker for the State of New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency, formerly Division of Youth and Family Services. As part of the child welfare system, she found herself watching over New Jersey’s most vulnerable citizens: abused children. She was extremely excited and naïve, wanting to save the world. Working in the city of Camden among the people that needed the most help was extremely eye opening, but revealed the corruption of the inner systems of the Division. Jamarr’s Promise is the true story of Kristin’s battle with the State over the murder of a child she tried desperately to save.

Kristin’s dream is to open and run a foster care organization as a safety net for abused children, and to eliminate the politics and hidden agendas of larger organizations.

Joseph J. Zielinski, Ph.D. is a New Jersey licensed psychologist board certified in both Clinical Psychology and Clinical Neuropsychology. He completed his undergraduate in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. He has been in private practice for forty years as a psychologist, often working concurrently for public schools in special education, in a headache clinic, and in a management consulting firm. He has published in professional journals. He most enjoys working as a practitioner and seeing patients of all backgrounds and experiences.

For seventeen years, Dr. Zielinski has spearheaded the Committee for Prescriptive Authority, a group of pioneering psychologists, to pass legislation allowing trained psychologists to prescribe psychotropic
medications. This is an effort to help the dire shortage of psychiatrists in New Jersey and around the country. Their efforts to help the people of New Jersey are near to fruition.

Dr. Zielinski has been married for forty years, has two grown children and two grandchildren. He is an avid landscaper and is particularly fond of evergreens. He is a fitness enthusiast and a former marathoner.

He enjoys classic rock and live concerts at local venues and attending professional sporting events with his daughter. He enjoys writing screenplays and has pitched a few to Hollywood professionals.

Luck Favors the Prepared by Nathaniel Barber

Luck Favors the PreparedLuck Favors the Prepared

by Nathaniel Barber

Kindle Edition, 204 pg.
Take the Stairs Publishing, 2017

Read: July 22 – 24, 2017


If the title is true, Nathaniel Barber was/would have been one of the worst Boy Scouts in the world. You don’t have to read many of these non-fiction short stories to decide that luck and Barber are, at best, passing acquaintances. Which is probably good — they make for better reading that way (Barber, might disagree about the “good” there — it is his life).

These stories don’t detail his life, they give you glimpses into experiences that have stuck with him for one reason or another, and largely they resonated with me. For example, his first (disastrous) experience with being a landlord. His goals for it were pretty much what I’d envisioned the time or three I thought about trying it. How it turned out for him, is pretty much what I feared would happen to me. A lot of what happened to him as a band geek made me think of what it was like when I was one (thankfully, it was a little tamer for me). I’ve never had a coworker like Dale Kendrick, but I can name one or two individuals that easily could’ve been.

Not all of his stories are those the reader will be able to identify with — but there’s something in his telling of them that will allow you to see yourself in that situation, and feel the humanity.

There is one important difference between his life experiences and mine — or most readers’ — his are funny. Or at least the way he’s able to present them is (probably more the latter than the former). Not always in a laugh-out-loud way, sometimes it’ll just be a wry smile, or shake of the head. But Barber’s been able to mine the humor in most of these situations — frequently at his expense.

Each story has a different feel to it, so even though they’re all about the same central character, they’re individual stories. They don’t all flow chronologically — he jumps back and forth though his life, you won’t walk away with a “life story” or anything, you’ll just get a good understanding of various points in his life. It’s like sitting around a table with an old friend, “Did I ever tell you about the time . . . ”

Barber’s writing chops are evident throughout this, whether he’s going for economy of words:

Against the advice of my lawyer and stern warnings from my therapist, I accepted Elsbeth’s invitation to lunch.

or if he’s going for a visual that will stick with you:

Mr. Millson was a short, puggish man. He was skinny except for a cantaloupe gut he not only ignored but allowed to lend heft to his wagging swagger. He was short and compensated for this with a simmering, constant temper, always fired up and red-faced. Even when he was just trying to schmooze an extra scoop of Jell-O from the lunch lady. His lips were not lips, but the absence of lips. Sweaty flaps, really. Fleshy bits of face he pursed to a thin, kissy embouchure under a bulbous, alcoholic nose.

you get exactly the idea he was going for — this isn’t some sort of arty-ambiguity here, it’s a precise brushstroke. He wants you to feel what he felt, he wants you to see what he saw — and he wants you to at least grin about it. Sometimes he’s not that subtle; infrequently, he could be more skillful about it — but he’s hitting his targets, he’s evoking memories about embarrassments of our youth, empathy over similar struggles of young adulthood, or a slight feeling of dread knowing that’s exactly how you’d react in that situation. Thankfully, he generally wants that to be followed with a chuckle.

Creative, distinctive, amusing — this collection will leave you wanting to see more from Nathaniel Barber, while being very glad you have this.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and participation in this book tour. I appreciated the book, but my opinions expressed are my own.

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4 Stars