Tuesday, September 29, 2015

When NOT to Write a Book Review



Believe it or not, there are occasions when writing a review of a book you've just read isn't appropriate.

But that means missing a chance to give your opinion! And some poor, unsuspecting reader might be lured to the pit of destruction if you don't warn them!

No. No, they won't. And I'm sure if you think really hard, you can find something else to give your opinion on. I know I never run out of ideas. :)

Book reviews must always be written with professionalism, courtesy, and kindness: professionalism in evaluating the good and bad without fear; courtesy in giving room to other people's opinions on the matter; and kindness in making sure you're speaking the right words at the right time. If one of these key elements is missing, your carefully written review will accomplish nothing you had hoped it would.

So here are three situations where writing a book review may not be a wise idea:

When the author's been blasted enough.
I once read a book I really didn't like. (Only once?) It was written with good intentions, but the style and execution were far from good. But as I read reviews, I realized the author had gone on to write other books that were better, and everything I would have said had been said multiple times by multiple other people. It would not have been necessary, helpful, or kind to rehash ancient history, and it wasn't a matter of doctrine. So I moved on.

When it would damage a friend's experience.
You'll always be at odds with someone's opinion. As young George Emerson says in A Room With a View, you can't stand where you are without casting a shadow in someone else's sun. But you can do your best not to cast that shadow in an offensive or discouraging way. The book may not have meant much to you. But if, for one of your friends, it was the book, and you know that for sure, then go ahead and refrain. The world will be OK. The church of Christ won't collapse without your review. And you'll have done a good deed, which is much better.

When your own heart is not right.
It is possible to read a book with pre-conceived resentment and dislike; it's not fair to bring that into a review. When you look in your heart, only you know when you have an axe to grind. Don't grind that axe.  I've had various paragraphs I've not included in my reviews that bring up very good points, simply because I can't say them with the right spirit. Also, don't target particular people in your reviews. You can target groups of people who hold to a particular thought, but never just one person. It isn't appropriate to attempt to rebuke or change the heart of a specific friend or author in a public setting. In all these things, God needs a pure and humble heart to work with, not a spirit of intelligent arrogance. Pray and search your heart before you click that publish button.

Book reviews won't be perfect. I know this blog isn't. There have been times where I posted something for the wrong motives, or didn't fully understand a book, or could have been more gracious than I was. And I'm sorry for that. But at the same time, it's OK to have a learning process. We learn kindness and graciousness as we go along. Striving for that professional kindness is the end goal: making these things the Grand Ideal that you don't always hit, but you try to.

Book reviews have power to shape opinions. Use that power wisely. Not every book you read is one you have to write a review about.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Autumn TBR List



Annie Hawthorne wrote out her Autumn To Be Read list over at Curious Wren this week, and I liked the idea so much, I'm going to do it over here as well. Most of these books are new, one is an old favorite--all seem to be perfect for this time of year.


A Cast of Stones, by Patrick Carr

Patrick Carr's thoughtful choice of words and exciting tension-release plotting keep me coming back to this book. I savor the same paragraphs and same characters every time I read it. Errol's journey and coming-to-manhood has the best characterization arc I've ever read.

The Butterfly and the Violin, by Kristy Cambron



I got to meet Kristy Cambron a week ago, and she was so sweet I couldn't wait to try out her book. The main character is a lady violinist in WW2 Germany--that's a recipe for a gripping, and I'm sure, heart-wrenching story.



Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens

I've been waiting on this book for way too long--a couple of years, in fact. It's next in my Dickens pile, and I can't wait to dive into another kaleidoscope of Dickensian twists and vivid characters.

7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas



This book contains Corrie Ten Boom (one of my personal heroes) Joan of Arc (he'd better be nice to John of Bedford), Hannah Moore, and a host of other worthy ladies that are worth imitating. I'm so glad he decided to do a companion book to 7 Men!

Storming, by K.M. Weiland

While this will be my first time with steampunk, from past experience I know that anything by Katie is bound to be good. Can't wait--airshows, red ballgowns, and high stakes for adventure!

Waterfall, by Lisa T. Bergren



At the request of a homeschool mom, I picked up Lisa T. Bergren's Waterfall, the first book in a fantasy series based in Italy. We shall see!

You Never Stop Being a Parent, by Jim Newheiser and Elyse Fitzpatrick



This was a birthday gift. It's got some excellent, Biblical advice for parenting the 18-23 age range, but also I think some reverse advice for living at home during those years. Look out for it on the blog in coming weeks.

Let Me Be a Woman, by Elisabeth Elliot



I've never read an Elisabeth Elliot book. In light of her passing this year, I look forward to soaking in her words of wisdom and learning much from them.


So many books to read, but these are on top of my stack! What's on your TBR list for autumn? Tell me in the comments or post a link to your own blog. I'd love to see your choices. :D

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Happy Birthday, Schuyler + Character Interview


 
Folks, it’s somebody’s birthday!! Lady Bibliophile is turning 21 today! I hope you enjoy this interview that I put together with her characters. :) ~Junior Bibliophile
The Interview:

Me: HEY! Jaeryn, Ben, Terry, I’m glad you’re here!!

Terry: HEY HOW ARE YOU? IS IT SCHUYLER’S BIRTHDAY? That’s so exciting!!

Me *catches Ben with medical files*: BEN. You shouldn’t be looking through those right now. This is time for a nice interview for Schuyler.

Ben *protests*: I don’t have time for this.

Me: Jaeryn, you’re being awfully quiet over there.

Jaeryn *twinkling*: I really have nothing to say.

Me: I’m very sorry, Jaeryn, about how much I’ve teased you. Let’s put it away for one day, so Schuyler can have a nice interview. I’ll even give you chocolate.

Jaeryn: Really now? I bet you won’t be saying that tomorrow. Are you resorting to bribery?

Me *splutters*: Well…*brightens* It’s  dark chocolate—you like dark chocolate, don’t you? And I made you some tea too. TERRY. Wait, where are you going?

Terry: I was getting bored without Acushla. *puppy dog eyes*

Me: Boys, just give me a few minutes of your time. Please. We have to pull this together.

Ben: Alright, but we only have a small amount of time. I have to go to a patient’s house in ten minutes.

Me: We can work with that. So, first question. What do you think of Schuyler as an author?

Terry *mournfully*: I wish she was a little nicer to me.

Ben: I don’t agree with all her choices, but overall, I’d say she’s nice to give me Charlotte.

Jaeryn: I’m not very concerned about what she does in the future. I can handle her.

Me *chuckles*: We’ll see about that.

Jaeryn *eating chocolate*: I thought we were supposed to be friends for the day, little Rascal.

Terry: Can I have some of that chocolate?

Me: Terry, chocolate isn’t the purpose of this discussion. We’re talking about Schuyler.

Terry: How about we talk about Acushla instead? She’s really nice, you know.

Ben: No, Terry. We ought to be considerate even with a renegade author.

Me: I am NOT a renegade author. 

Jaeryn: *mutters something about renegades*

Me: Okay, we got off topic again. How does Schuyler keep you all straight?

Jaeryn: She doesn’t. Trust me, she doesn’t know what to do with us.

Me: Then how does she keep me straight? Anyway, next question. What would you wish Schuyler on her birthday?

Ben: I wish that she wouldn’t do so many bad things to my life.

Me: No, I meant, what’s a birthday wish you would wish for Schuyler? Like ‘Many happy returns’ or something like that.

Terry: I hope she lives a nice long life and gets to publish lots of books. And maybe lets me kiss Acushla.

Me: *facepalm moment* What about you, Jaeryn?

Jaeryn: I think you’re downright friendly to me right now. What’s up with you, little Rascal? Let’s see, I hope her dreams come true, and that she always remembers the love of Ireland.

Ben: Junior B. likes you calling her a little rascal, you know. I hope Schuyler always has good family relationships, enough money to pay the bills, and abundant knowledge of Christ’s love.

Me: Those are lovely birthday wishes, boys. One other question to wrap this interview up: What are you giving Schuyler for her birthday?

Jaeryn: Chocolate.

Terry: A BIG HUG and loads of Irish smiles.

Ben: I’ll give her a Dicken’s book. She seems to like that sort of thing. By the way, I have to get going now for that patient call.

Me: THANK-YOU, boys. You are all so nice to work with. I hope you have a lovely rest of the day, and you’re welcome to stop by for cake and presents later.

Ben: Happy Birthday, Schuyler. *disappears*

Terry: Can I bring Acushla when I come visit later?

Me *beams*: You can bring Acushla.

Terry: YAY! Thank-you, Carrie-Grace!!!! I’m going to go and get Acushla and we’ll be back for the chocolate cake! *dashes off*

Jaeryn: I’d better be going too. Thank-you for the chocolate, Junior B. It’s been a nice interview with you. *flashes smile at the blog readers* Goodbye, everyone!

Conclusion:

There you go, girlie! I hope you enjoy the boys’ efforts to pull it all together. Ben is paying a fortune for the Dickens’ book and Jaeryn buys premium dark chocolate, so you’re in for a treat. But maybe you’re looking forward to Terry’s hug and Irish smiles more. :)

I hope you have a wonderful year full of rich blessings. Thank-you for being such a sweet sister. < 3
 

 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. ~Jude 24-25
 
Happy Birthday!! < 3
~Junior Bibliophile

True Woman 201, by Nancy Leigh Demoss and Mary Kassian

I'm sitting here, trying to figure out how to condense God's goodness over a whole six months into words. It's so hard to put feelings on paper. I think I would almost get closer playing a heart-stirring piece of music instead.
 
But I am a wordsmith. So I must try.
 
This spring, we had the opportunity to be part of a live audience as Nancy Leigh DeMoss recorded radio sessions for Revive Our Hearts. It was a blessing to meet her and be a part of that day--not once, but three times. Her teachings on the Hallel psalms, Balaam, and ten personal prayers left their mark on each of us. 
 
The first day, though, I was on a mission. At the back of the room they sold books from the ministry--books like Lies Women Believe, Lies Young Women Believe, and Girls Gone Wise. And at that time, they had just released a brand new 10 week Bible study for women: True Woman 201, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian.
 
I bought True Woman 201 and brought it up to Nancy to sign. I thought that was pretty cool. What I didn't know was that it would have a profound impact on my life. 

The Book
[From Amazon] Having a talented designer come in and create a new look for a home is a popular topic of TV reality shows. These shows are a great illustration for the object of this study. The Lord is the ultimate Designer, and He has a divine design for womanhood. He wants to come in and do a radical renovation of your heart. He wants to change you from the inside out. If you let Him, He’ll give you an extreme makeover... a brand new interior design.

In 201, Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian take you through the book of Titus in the New Testament to focus on some important elements of redeemed womanhood. Each week of this True Woman 201 study examines one of the ten “design elements” of womanhood drawn from Titus 2. The weeks are each divided into five lessons, leading to a group time of sharing and digging deeper into God’s Word.

Dive into this study, embrace God's design wholeheartedly, and just watch beauty fill your heart and flood out into your life and the lives of others.

My Thoughts
Mary and Nancy take Titus 2 and work through it one phrase at a time, one phrase per week. Short of Bible Study Fellowship, I don't think I've been so changed on a weekly basis.  Each week was full of eye-opening, mind-blowing, heart-changing truth--and each week I felt God's grace and the Holy Spirit working in my heart. This study is an extremely joyful work. A lot of it is convicting, but at the same time, it's like two older women are taking you by the hand and saying "You have things to learn. It doesn't mean you're failing. It just means you have more to grow in. Let us teach you God's Word."

And I grew. I learned a lot about what slander is, and how much I've allowed in my life that I need to
get rid of. I learned that reverence is making much of Christ, and the opposite of reverence is self-indulgence--making much of myself. I learned that self-control literally means 'reigning in my mind to sane thinking'--and I've been trying to reign in that thinking ever since. (Easier said than done.) I learned that God is the Father from whom all families come, and so when we are indifferent to family, we're really blaspheming the earthly representation God has provided of Gospel--bringing us into His family. I learned that every woman of Christ should have spiritual family--a legacy she's passing on. And I learned that work is not about being cookie cutter women, nor about choosing what we think will fulfil us, but choosing that which most glorifies our Heavenly Father at this season of our lives.

Just wow. I can't say much, except that this summer has been one day after another of sweet fellowship with Jesus. I come to him and drink. He gives freely, and I am satisfied. And He is enough, and He is good. As one of my BSF leaders taught last year, "I can be most satisfied when God is most glorified." I feel like that's the heart of this study. When we set aside all the messy junk of what each of us have imposed on womanhood, and seek to obey God as he lays it forth in his Word, doing it for His glory--then we are beautiful, and we are fulfilled.

These lessons stuck with me in the days and weeks afterwards. I thought over them and applied them. I love how this isn't an empty, shallow, feel-good study. It's meant to change you--to show you how to walk out God's Word. Each lesson contains paragraphs to read, verses to look up, questions to answer of both Bible comprehension and personal application. Each daily lesson takes a consistent 20 minutes a day. And at the end of the week, Nancy and Mary have a twenty minute video you can watch as they bring the elements of the lesson into one comprehensive whole. For me, I rarely sit down and watch long teaching videos. To watch ten of them throughout the summer was a first time record.

Another thing I learned in this study was the power of writing out prayers. I never wrote out prayers before this--but each study had a prayer prompt, and I decided to write out my responses to the prayer prompt in my notebook. There is something tangible about writing out a thoughtful, brief prayer--a connection to God that I definitely want to continue.

God used this study to change my life. I know He can use it to change yours. It's about letting God redesign your heart, mind, and priorities. If you're ready for a wow glimpse at the love of God and a deep hunger for growing to be more and more like Him, then this is a book you should get. True Woman 201, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian. Learn more at www.truewoman201.com

Friday, September 18, 2015

(Guest Post) How Anne of Green Gables Changed My Perspective on Pretty Much Everything

Hanna from Book Geeks Anonymous, kindly offered to stop by My Lady Bibliophile and guest post for me while I was gone travelling! When I realized she loved L.M. Montgomery, I asked her if she could share a little of that love in an article with us. I know you'll enjoy her thoughts on Anne of Green Gables as much as I did. :)




Hello, everyone! First, I'd like to thank the lovely Miss Schuyler for inviting me to guest post on My Lady Bibliophile. I hope this post will be as interesting and edifying for you as her posts have been for me!

I begin with a quote from an author whom I've come to admire, Neil Gaiman:

There are authors with whom one has a personal relationship and authors with whom one does not. There are the ones who change your life and the ones who don’t. That’s just the way of it.

Today, I'd like to talk about one of those life-changing authors and how her book, which I first read nearly ten years ago, has continued to influence me even to this day.

When I was about eleven years old, my grandmother gave me a copy of L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables for Christmas. After reading a few of the other books I had received that year (I'm a bit of a nerd ;-)), I finally started on Green Gables, but with something of a skeptical eye. History had been my main passion for as long as I could remember, and I found it hard to believe that imagined stories could be anything other than entertainment for me. I didn't think fiction could impact me as deeply as the stories of those who had actually lived.

I would like to take this opportunity now to eat my words publicly.

I suppose what drew me into Anne of Green Gables in the first place was how similar the heroine was to me. She was curious and I was curious. She was forgetful and absent-minded and I am the same. She loved to read and so did I. I was sure I could get on with this character.

But what kept me interested in Green Gables long after finishing the book was how different Anne was from me. Upon first reading the book, Anne seemed downright weird. She liked trees, for one thing. For another, she would go into raptures over wildflowers. She believed that stories and imagination are worth pursuing for their own sakes, and to top it off, she had an unmistakable affinity for poetry.

None of this could be said about preteen me, to whom nature was a backdrop for things that mattered, imagination was fun, but in a guilty sort of way, and poetry was alien. I wasn't a stone-cold realist like Marilla Cuthbert: rather, I had just never learned to look at things the way Anne does. By the sheer exuberance this character showed for the world around her and her imaginary world, she made me wonder if I had been missing out on something grand all this time. I started to think, Maybe nature is more important than I once supposed. Maybe it's not just the here-and-now that matters: maybe make-believe can be a help too. Maybe there is something to poetry and stories after all.

I started wondering. And then I started seeing, thinking, and reading.

The rest is history.

First, Anne of Green Gables helped me to appreciate nature for what it is: a meaningful expression of God's providence, his character, and his creative power. It's not something to be overlooked: it should be wondered at, as Anne does, because it is art on the grandest scale imaginable, and by the greatest artist who ever lived.

As those of you who have read the book might remember, Anne of Green Gables is awash with references to literature and poetry. Just as the example of Anne's enthusiasm for nature sparked my interest, her devotion to poetry and story started me thinking of how these things work in people. Without Anne, I might not have discovered just how meaningful and powerful literature really is. And without that, I would be missing one of the great loves of my life. :-)
~
It was not just the character who left a mark on me, but her creator as well. Whether it was through the characters that I loved so much or through her distinctive writing voice, L. M. Montgomery was the first author to make me take notice of her writing itself. It seemed as if it must be fun to be able to write like that, to command words in a way that was beautiful, but also seemed nearly effortless. I think it's safe to say that Anne of Green Gables gave me my first ideas of being a writer.

Or, I thought, if I couldn't create things as wonderful as this, I could at least let others know that such things already existed. I felt that, since L. M. Montgomery has long been dead, the only way I could repay my debt to her was by spreading the word about her. The same, I found, could apply to all of the other authors whom I loved and who had shaped me in profound ways. So I suppose L. M. Montgomery is one of the reasons why I blog and write book reviews as well.

I have read many books by many different authors since I was eleven, but of very few can I say that they changed me in so many ways. Anne of Green Gables happens to be one of those books and L. M. Montgomery is one of those very special authors whom I found just when I needed her. If you haven't already read this delightful book, I recommend you do so and soon. Let me know in the comments if you plan to read this book or, if you've read it already, tell me what you think of it!

Hanna is a reader, writer, amateur critic, and classic film enthusiast living just outside New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a creature of odd passions, chief among them being history, language, violin music, and the works of Ray Bradbury. She blogs on literature and other such topics at Book Geeks Anonymous.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Book that Taught Me to Love the Home (The Franzon Trilogy, by Thyra Ferre Bjorn)

I grew up knowing that the family unit was designed by God for a special purpose: to be a unit of parents training children, and everyone working together to bless their community. The home is a precious place of growth, refuge, and character development. And girls, especially homeschool girls, are raised knowing that being a wife and mother is a beautiful, God-given thing.

It was hard to feel that way as I grew up, though. To connect the head knowledge of God's Word to the heart knowledge that I just wasn't there yet.

I've always loved academics; I think God has gifted me in English and writing areas, and he wants me to use those gifts. But I didn't want to ignore the verses in the Bible about God's heart for women: treasuring family and keeping the home. At the end of the day they left me kind of indifferent. I was OK with getting married, if God wanted that, but I felt there was a lack of passion that should be there. I knew I wanted to change, but I didn't know how.

So I waited.

One of the biggest mistakes I've made in the Christian journey is to think growth is instant. I see a lack in myself and I panic, thinking I'd better fix it right now or else. Slowly and painfully, I'm learning that growth is a process where God lovingly leads his children one step at a time. I knew that this was an area the Lord wanted to work in me, not something he wanted me to work in myself.

With the love for family, he led me first to a study called True Woman 201. I'll be reviewing it next week. The authors gave a beautiful explanation of the varied and beautiful ways God calls women to serve him. All women are commanded to love the home, husbands, and children with a phileo love--a love that genuinely enjoys those things, not a sacrificial, teeth-gritted duty. But women can still use their talents for other areas while loving the home. That showed me that the two loves I had, while I thought they were so separate, can actually be joined together to make one powerful mission focus: working in the areas God has called me to glorify him, while having a passion for the family unit he has put me in.

The real moment of revelation was another book. Three books, actually. I've had a hardbound trilogy sitting on my shelf for two or three years now, waiting to be read. On a whim (what I thought was a whim) I picked it up this summer. It's a trilogy by Thyra Ferre Bjorn about a mother and daughter: a real life Swedish pastor's family that immigrated to America. The picture of family was so homelike that I couldn't get away from its pages. It held simple charm, ambition, and trust in God's goodness. Just a childlike faith, and deep love for taking care of husbands, children, and grandchildren that one woman passed on to all her daughters.

And I got it. I got it. The heart connection always comes for me through a person. A story about a person in the Bible, a fictional character, or a real-life person. Through the people in this story it clicked, and the love came in. I wanted the picture of family they gave. I loved it, and I saw how family was precious. This story didn't really stop to teach anything. It simply demonstrated how family and children and the routine tasks of keeping the home are an act of worship and blessing from God.

Here's are the three books, and what I learned from them.

Papa's Wife
Sixteen-year-old Maria gets a job as a housekeeper for a middle-aged Swedish pastor. But she doesn't just want to be his housekeeper. She wants to marry him. In a startling turn of events, in which Pastor Franzon isn't quite sure whether he proposed or she did, he finds himself with a wife at the parsonage, and a baby on the way. The first baby has red hair, which horrifies his proper, starched-up heart. The second baby has beautiful golden hair but cries throughout the night, a further exasperation to his nerves. But as each baby comes, his heart slowly relaxes and softens. Maria is good for him. Family is good for him. And her example of respect mixed with spunk is a humorous and encouraging look at the joy one woman took in raising eight children as a minister's wife.

But eight children aren't quite enough for Maria's ambitions. She wants them to be well-educated, and what better place to educate children than that beautiful, far-off country, America? So in another whirlwind that leaves Pastor Franzon just as bewildered, they transplant to the land of the free. As her children grow and leave the nest, she maintains a deep love for serving her family. I've never seen a woman so fulfilled and delighted in the home as she was.

Papa's Daughter

Button (Thyra) Franzon, Mama's oldest daughter, had a rockier path to happiness than her mother. Her childhood was filled with terrible mischief; her girlhood with secret meetings with a local boy by moonlight. When she moved to America, it took her a long time to settle in and learn the English language. When she grew up, her parents wanted her to marry a pastor, but (with their blessing) she chose to marry a quiet, unromantic mechanic instead. At first her marriage was happy, but as her daughters grew she sank into a depression it took five years to discover a cure for. To be honest, I get depressed reading books about depressed people. But this book held more than that: Button's depression was because her life wasn't complete. God had given her the ability to process thoughts and emotions through writing (sounds familiar) and for years she had forgotten or ignored that call. When her life felt grey and worn-out, it wasn't because she had drifted from God. It was because there was a lost love for writing in her heart waiting to be released. I read eagerly as she learned to write again, finding healing and fulfillment through that writing, and waiting for the glorious day when her first book would be released. It was a precious tale.

Mama's Way
This last book is less a biographical story and more a collection of reflections on the power of prayer throughout Button Franzon's speaking tours. She tells stories about prayers for safe travel, for the lives of people she impacts, and from her personal diaries. She keeps it simple: not a theological treatise, but just story after story about how God has cared for and answered her on things big and little. She calls it Mama's Way because she learned it from her mother. Maria Franzon prayed over everything from people's lives to asking God to help the bread rise properly. It's a way of prayer familiar to me. I pray over everything from people's spiritual struggles to asking God's help as I make a left turn on a busy street. This look at prayer will give you encouragement to view it as an intimate and precious conversation with your Heavenly Father. I know that's what it did for me.

These books meant a lot to me because they combine three of the elements that I consider most important: family, writing, and prayer. It's almost as if God had those women live such beautiful lives and write such beautiful books to feed my soul all these years later. Maybe he did. But I know I'm not the only one they could impact. I think these simple stories would do a lot more for homeschool girls than all the (admittedly wonderful) nonfiction books about contentment. We need real examples to imitate. This book contains the legacy of Titus 2 lived out in a natural, beautiful way. I promise, as you read these pages, you'll feel loved and nurtured. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Bibliophile Tabletalk #1 (An Interview With Collin McConkey)



As writer's conference prep hurtles forward, I have a couple of bloggers who have kindly offered to help me out with guests posts for the next two Fridays. I'm excited to host new voices here on the blog, and today I have a fun reading interview for you all. My all-around awesome brother is a bibliophile just as dedicated as I am, and I asked him some questions about e-readers, book lists, and reading habits that I thought you would all enjoy from a guy's perspective. So without further ado, I'll hand you over to Collin.

Schuyler: Tell us a little about yourself. Hobbies? Education? Family? Favorite food?

Collin: Hello, Schuyler. I’m glad to be writing for your blog. I happen to be your oldest sibling, and currently am still living at room while transitioning from college life. I graduated from Thomas Edison State College in February of this year, where I earned a BSBA (Bachelors of Science in Business Administration) in Computer Information Systems. After finishing work for Grainger Industrial Supply, where I worked for over two years, I am currently looking to put my education to work in my career. During my free time, I enjoy playing and listening to music, powerlifting, and spending time with family and friends.

Schuyler: What are you currently reading? And what do you think about it so far?

Collin: Currently, my reading has been an assortment of various theological books, as well as a concentration on the raging same-sex controversy in the United States. Within the last few weeks, I’ve focused heavily on reading about the homosexual agenda and the Christian defense and articulation of biblical marriage from the Scriptures. The last few books I’ve read in this category have been The Bible and Homosexual Practice by Dr. Robert Gagnon, What Does the Bible Really Say about Homosexuality? By Kevin DeYoung, Can You Be Gay and Christian? By Dr. Michael Brown, The Same-Sex Controversy by Dr. James White, and am finishing up Outlasting the Gay Revolution by Dr. Michael Brown, which I would heartily recommend to all those desirous of standing firm on Christian conviction in Christian love during our time.

Schuyler: Do you keep a list of the books you’ve read every year? How many books are you up to currently?

Collin: Yes, I have kept a list of books over the last few years for each year. Currently I am very close to 40 books for the year. While not as high as others, the bulk of my reading is on scholarly books that are a few hundred pages in length. But I also intersperse them with shorter books on non-fiction subjects, too.

Schuyler: I know you’ve mentioned using a website to catalogue the books you own. Tell us a little bit about it.

Collin: I use LibraryThing.com in order to catalog my books, however, as I own close to 1,200 books I have yet to catalog them all. Currently I have 542 of them cataloged. LibraryThing.com is free, and it provides good tools for locating, cataloging, and tagging the books in your personal collection. You can easily add books by ISBN number and see how many other members also own that book. You are also able to see your most popular authors, with John Calvin being the author I have the most works by. Two other top authors in my library are John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul. There are many other great features for readers to use on this website, as well.
Schuyler: You’re primarily a non-fiction reader. What are your favorite aspects of nonfiction, and why would you recommend including it in a balanced reading diet?

Collin: Growing up, I would generally read more fiction than non-fiction, with strong penchants for mysteries, science fiction, and—of course—historical fiction. As I got older, however, I developed a thirst for knowledge that drove me to read largely non-fiction. In some years, I have not read any fiction. While fiction is certainly a valid genre with much to offer, I rarely read for entertainment, but purely for education.

My nonfiction diet consists of a constant stream of topics related to Christian apologetics, particularly in terms of biblical worldview analysis on current cultural threats. I also read many books about the Bible in order to equip me to be a better servant of the Word. However, I also endeavor to read history, as well. Reading about theology and history are two very valuable avenues of a literary diet for the life of a Christian.

Schuyler: You also like reading a lot of e-books. What are some aspects of reading on an electronic device that you find better than using a print book?

Collin: I prefer to read printed books, for, as you would well know for your own books, the ambiance of a printed book that you can hold in your hands and put on a shelf with other books warms the heart of a reader more than pulling up a book on a digital device. However, since I have more books on Kindle than I do in print, I have found that reading Kindle books provides more cost-effectiveness and can far more easily be transported when you wish to read away from home.

Schuyler: I know you’re one for finding some great book deals. :) How do you find them? Any websites to recommend to our readers?

Collin: I have subscribed to Tim Challie’s blog for about the last three years, and each day in his “A La Carte” emails, he provides a list of the daily kindle deals. I have found this to be invaluable in growing my own Kindle library, as he always recommends excellent books that are on sale for excellent prices. Sometimes he even locates free deals for that particular day.

The other website, familiar to those who study Reformed theology, is Monergism.com. Every book they produce is free for digital download in multiple formats, and they continue to add new works as time goes by. This website is a great way to procure the writings of the historic theologians and authors in Christian history. I remember reading some of the papers Augustine wrote against the Pelegians while en route to Vancouver Island in June of 2013, for example, as Monergism offered them for free.

Schuyler: And lastly, I know you’ve read your Bible extensively, to the point where you’re now reading it every 90 days. Why do you consider the Bible the most important book you’ve ever read, and what tips would you have for someone just getting started in daily Scripture reading?

Collin: I began reading the Bible at the age of 7, and readers interested further in my story of daily Scripture reading over the last couple decades can visit this post here. For ten years, I read through the Bible in the New International Version, completing 10 times through Scripture. When I was closing in on age 18, I switched to one more yearly Bible reading plan that went in canonical order, but after that, I switched to reading through the Bible in 90 days in the English Standard Version. The Scripture alone has the divine power to convict us of sin, encourage us in obedience, and ultimately let us hear for ourselves the words of the living God. Nothing is more important in the life of the believer than hearing the voice of God, and God’s voice is none other than the written words of Holy Scripture.

For a beginning reader, I would recommend finding a plan that works through the Bible in a year. Find the time in the day when you are most alert, whether that be morning and evening, and consistently stick with your plan. While my current reading speed now allows me to read through 1-16 chapters in an average of 8 minutes, I certainly didn’t start out that way, and the beginning reader of Scripture can read through the Bible in one year with an average of 20 minutes a day. Finally, reading and sharing thoughts with a reading partner is a valuable way to stay accountable and motivated.

Wasn't that fun, folks? Check out Collin's corner of the web at International Christian Bible Fellowship, where you can learn more about his weekly online Bible studies, catch up on past study notes, and check out his articles on cultural and Biblical commentary. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Collin is a 22-year-old college graduate who earned a BSBA in Computer Information Systems through Thomas Edison State College. He has studied Christian apologetics for several years with an emphasis in presuppositional apologetics. He enjoys discussions regarding theology, biblical worldview, and biblical political theory. In 2011, he joined the group of teachers with the former Theological Discussion Group (TDG) of CollegePlus before starting the ICBF in January of 2012. He enjoys playing sports and trains in powerlifting. He enjoys mathematics and science, as well as music.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

6 Ways to Pray for Writers (For All Non-Writing Friends)


Over the years, a lot of people have prayed for me as a writer. I can't express how grateful I've been. They've prayed for wisdom, courage, being able to meet deadlines, and that I would pretty please find that proposal that I lost somewhere on the computer. They've rejoiced over answers to prayer, hugged me while I wept, and texted smiley-faces when I reached another finish line.

Sometimes, I asked them to pray for me because I couldn't pray for myself. I was so exhausted, worried, or focused that I knew I needed that outside prayer intercession from someone not in the thick of the fight.

It's been amazing.

In this series, I'm endeavoring to explain the writing process to non-writers. We've talked about questions writers like and don't like, as well as the writing process and how you as a non-writer can help. Today, I want to talk about a simple yet vital part of the writing life: writers need prayer. And even if you're not a writer, there are lots of ways you can pray for them. One simple way is to email them and ask. They'll always have something. But if that's a bit scary, I have six requests here to get you started that every writer will appreciate.

1. Pray that they would make Jesus the reason for their work. 
I started my book when I was 15, just having a good time and wanting to have a lot of fun with some characters. I don't even remember when the dream of publication came, or why. Most days I'm not sitting down thinking how I can bring the Kingdom of God to its full fruition by my little book. I'm just doing the best I can to write something that people will deeply love.

But in spite of that, I want my work to be God-glorifying. God intentional. It may not have begun with a blinding vision on the road to Tarsus. It was just always there, stories and me, and I'm growing into a realization of how God is bringing my two loves--stories and Jesus--into one focus. I've always taken comfort in the fact, that even though I don't always know what I'm doing, I can trace his hand of guidance throughout the whole process, answering prayers again and again.

In light of that, this prayer would be good for any writer--that the Lord would bring them to a realization that He is beginning, center, and end of their work.

2. Pray that they would write stories that honor the Lord and bless his people. 
Some writers come to their book with a specific message they want to teach: bringing awareness to sex trafficking, or foster homes, or church splits, or family brokenness. Some writers just want to write a good story and join the other literature they already know and love. Both kinds of writing can honor God and bless his people.

But writing has a challenging side: every time a writer starts a new story, they try to include something fresh and new. Sometimes that fresh and new pushes the boundaries of wisdom to including risky plot lines for the sake of excitement. It's a temptation every author faces. I just wrote a short story in which I removed one plot line, because I didn't feel that it would bless the audience intended to receive it. So pray that as you friend writes, they would always, always have the glory of the Lord and the edification of his people as their main focus.

3. Pray that they would persevere through the difficulties of achieving technical excellence. 
Writing takes time to perfect. Neither fiction nor nonfiction is simple. There are rules, skills, art--not only grammatically, but also structurally. There is no shortcut. Writing takes time logging in hours doing it, sometimes getting things right, sometimes getting things wrong--learning new skills and putting them to use the next time. Then there are the skills of networking and publication, a whole new ball game. Most writers bail out before they get to the end. They're not willing to put that much work into it. If you have a gifted friend with a strong writing vision, pray that they would grow and endure through the learning process.

4. Pray that they would find vibrant writing community to nurture and mentor them. 
Writing is a specific skill set that requires specific teaching and encouragement. Encouragement can be found from outsiders, but even so, encouragement from someone who has experienced the difficulties writers face is vital too. Not all writing communities are the same. Some are for non-Christians, some for Christians. Some are for non-fiction, some for fiction. Some contain mixed ages, and some are age-segregated. Pray that your writer friend could find a good niche; some deep kindred spirits to swap encouragement and advice along the way. Pray that they could find a writing mentor who's further down the road and can offer them good direction. I know personally that's something I'm still looking for.

5. Pray that the Lord would open the right doors at the right time for publication. 
Publication is not an easy road. There are a lot of technical documents that have to be put together in a professional way. You have to meet the right people--sometimes paying a lot of money to do so. You wait--a lot. You try to explain to everyone who knows you write why you're waiting. It's hard.

Pray for patience for your friend--that the Lord would help them to be faithful and trust, even when they don't know how long it will take. Pray for favor in the eyes of agents and editors as their work goes before publication boards. Pray that the Lord would open the door at just the right time--whether that's sooner than later or down the road.

6. Pray that they would be content in the writing season the Lord wants them in. 
Writing has different seasons. Some writers are ready for the career--to be published. Other writers use pen and paper for personal reasons--to grow spiritually and work out some things in their life that they don't intend anyone beyond friends and family to see. Sometimes the Lord calls them out of the career season into the personal season--or vice versa. Pray for your writer friend that they would discern and trust the Lord's will for them--and be obedient to his calling. Every writer grapples with content in whatever their season is. Some writers can't even think about publication yet. Others want to be published, but don't have the right connections. Others are published, but need to sell a certain number of books to get their next contract. There is always more to reach for. Pray that they would embrace the journey. The Lord's timing is good--but sometimes they might need to be reminded of that.

If you have no idea how to relate to a writer, then just a simple "How can I pray for you?" will make all the difference in the world. I can say again that I've lived on the prayers of writing and non-writing friends when I had no faith, no hope, and huge deadlines. Prayer matters. Prayer moves mountains. Thank-you from the bottom of my heart to all the prayer warriors that have lifted my writing journey to the throne of grace. Your writer friends will count it a huge blessing when you are willing to join in prayer with them.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Why Every Bibliophile Should Leave a Legacy


Think about your circle of acquaintances for a moment. Family. Friends. Church. School. In all that circle of acquaintances, can you name someone younger than you?

Fantastic. You'll need them for this post. This might be the most important post I've written here.

Throughout the summer I've been studying True Woman 201, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian. The study is packed with one subject after another pertaining to woman: work, reverence, kindness, submission (oh dear) and self-control.

This week I'm studying about legacy--how important it is to pass on what you know about God from one generation to the next. It's a command of God. And it's the sole most effective way for teaching others about Jesus--by reaching out to those in your direct sphere of influence.

As I finished it today, I considered how legacy connects with reading. And I got to thinking, how many people am I teaching how to read?

Someone taught me how to read. They patiently worked with me to sound out the letters and words in simple books. But I'm not merely talking about sounding out letters. I'm talking about how to read discerningly. It's an art. It requires study and thought. Many people don't know how to begin.

We can read discerningly. That's great. But if we only read discerningly ourselves, all that knowledge lives and dies with us. Writing discerning reviews is a good way to pass a legacy. You're thinking for someone else, raising issues that they might never consider on their own.

But it's not enough.

We shouldn't just hand people these reviews and tell them to think exactly how we think. We should train them to pick out these themes and issues for themselves, whether or not they have a review to refer to.

It's like the story of Joash and Jehoiada in Scripture. While Jehoiada was alive, Joash followed the ways of the Lord. he did everything Jehoiada directed. He had someone to point out the way for him. Then Jehoiada died. Joash didn't have a godly counsellor to do his thinking for him anymore. So he got an unwise counsellor and did what he said instead.

We can give people good book reviews. But if that's where it stops, we're not really doing our job, are we? We're teaching them to depend on our wisdom. They're not making it their own.

How many people am I teaching how to read?

That's a question I'd like to ask you today as well.

How many people are you teaching how to read? How many people are you helping choose books, and helping think through them? Some books I would never have figured out how to think discerningly about if people hadn't taken the time to think through them with me. And I can guarantee there is someone in your life who loves to read, but who mindlessly fills their time with stories, unsure of how to get to a deeper evaluation level.

Cue panic mode. "I'm not sure that I know how either!" "I'm not good at teaching people!" "I don't write blog posts!"

Don't worry. You don't have to write blog posts. And you don't have to be good at teaching people. You get good at it with practice. Practice starts somewhere.

Start by thinking of someone you'd like to mentor. Preferably start with someone who actually enjoys reading. That's going to make your job a lot easier starting out. You can save the reluctant readers for a little bit later.

Got that name? Good. Here's how you can mentor them:

How to Mentor Thinking Readers 

Train them to read their Bibles. 
This might seem like a simple step. It's not. Unless you read your Bible, you won't have a standard of truth to evaluate by yourself or help someone else evaluate with. The more we read the Bible, the more effectively we can discern wisely. Get that person you're mentoring into the Word of God first so the Holy Spirit can start moving.

Train them by what you pick out and why. 
 My mom taught me about so many stories during family reading time. That, whether she planned it or not, was legacy time. Most of her legacy was simply what she chose. I get my love of L.M. Montgomery from her. I like Bob Cornuke's biblical archaeology books because my mom read them out loud to us. I know it's important to read a non-fiction now and then because my mom never modeled a straight fiction habit. I read Steal Like An Artist because she checked it out from the library. Most times she picked out the book and read it to us without much commentary or explanation. Most of her teaching was in the kinds of books she chose. If she had brought us up on Twilight and Betty Neels that's probably what I would be reading. But she taught us to choose worthwhile books to fill our time.

Mentor people by making good choices. Sometimes you can tell them why: "We need to read a nonfiction" "I like the way this story teaches about family relationships". Simple reasons. You don't have to submit a 3 page paper to your protegee explaining why. Just pick it and read it. They'll pick up a lot subconsciously.

Train them to look at endorsements when they pick books for themselves. 
This is not a sure-fire guarantee. But it's a start. When I'm picking out fiction and nonfiction, I look at endorsers. I look at endorsers on the cover and on author websites. I look at if my friends have read it on Goodreads, or what other Christian bloggers think. This isn't for a crowd-following mindset. I don't go into a book thinking it will be awesome because So and So liked it. I simply think that based on the enjoyment of people I respect, it's worth taking a peek and seeing if my opinion lines up with theirs. I look at the lives the endorsers have. If my life lines up a lot with theirs, I think we'll see eye-to-eye on a lot of theology. If I see an endorser I don't respect, that warns me to take caution.

Train them to think about what the author's trying to say. 
Every author has something they want to teach. That's my mantra around here. The simplest and most effective way to teach someone how to read discerningly is to teach them that truth. What is the author teaching through the character actions? Through the ending? Through the overall tone of the story? Don't worry. It takes time to get good at it. A lot of my early judgements were hasty and harsh; that's just a sign of growing maturity. But the more practice, the more effective those judgments will be. After your protegee evaluates what the author's trying to say, ask them "Do you agree or disagree? Why?"

Train them to talk about what they're reading. 
Here's where legacy gets most important, but too often bungled. Talking should be about 1/3 lecture and 2/3 listening. The lecture time tells your friend what you think about the book, and gently and winsomely guides them to wise conclusions. The listening time tells you where they're at. Just listen. Engage kindly. Evaluate in your mind where they need to be, but don't try to force-feed conclusions instantly. Instead, take the gaps and look for more books to teach them in those gap areas. Why? Because if you always tell them the way they should think, they'll only think what you tell them to. Instead, you should give them resources to guide them to self-discovery of the truth you want them to learn. That doesn't mean you should never teach. It just means you should mostly listen, and tailor your choices according to what you hear. They'll love you for listening.

Mentoring has two benefits. First of all, it keeps us accountable. It's easy by yourself to slip into lazy or faulty mindsets. When you're helping someone else think, it will expose gaps in your own thinking. But it doesn't only help you. It equips another person, who will hopefully equip another person, who will hopefully equip another person.

If you love to read, you need to use that skill to help others read well. You don't need a fancy degree or classes or training. All you need is a love for reading, a love for Jesus, and a willingness to ask questions.

That's all. I promise. I'd love to see email/Twitter/blogging/Facebook/in-person reading groups start up all over the place. I know that I want to be a lot more intentional with legacy in this area, and I hope it inspires you as well. Don't forget to drop me a line and tell me how you're trying to pass on your love for reading to someone else. I'd love to hear from you. :)

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children— 
~Deuteronomy 4:9

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The First World War, by Martin D. Gilbert

Reading is like a muscle. The more you read, the more strength you have to read faster. The longer books you read, the greater your ability to make it to the end of a long book. The more scholarly books you read, the more you're able to persevere through the challenges of a dense book.

Martin D. Gilbert's The First World War is a beautiful, but dense book. It will take perseverance and time to get through. But those two qualities are not unattainable by modern readers, and this book is well worth the effort it takes.

In fact, I think this book is essential.

The Book 
Martin D. Gilbert takes the sprawling, majestic history of 1914-1919 and turns it into a rich and comprehensive history. Dealing with the politics of the various governments, the causes of the war, the causes of the prolongation of the war, and a poignant look at life in the trenches, his view captures the most hard-headed analysis and compassionate humanity I've read so far in a history book. He covers the major battles on all the fronts: France, Russia, and Italy--as well as the building of the armies, and the various revolts among the populaces. He even touches on the Irish draft once in a while. His honesty and artistry give an educational look at a war so little known, that shaped the culture of our modern society.

My Thoughts  
I didn't realize how many times the West lost to Germany. That really surprised me. From beginning to end, Germany was stronger, better, more strategic. Throughout the book I knew the end result, but I was constantly biting my nails, despairing over poor battle tactics, waiting for it all to turn around. In the end, it's not about the strongest. Just about who God wants to win. I still can't quite pinpoint how the tables all turned. The Americans helped, certainly, but they didn't help as much as I thought they did. In fact, once the Americans showed up, their cocky, crude swearing showed just how uncivilized we are compared to our European cousins. As one reviewer said on Amazon, Also, if you are American (like me), you'll wonder if we did anything in the war besides blunder around and die of Spanish Flu.
Another thing that surprised me was the amount of tactical errors on the part of the Allies. France was all right as far as fighting went, but England had a lot of errors in their battle plans that cost us good men and good territory throughout the war. Especially on Gallipoli in the Mesopotamian Front. Most of those errors were due to a refusal to adapt and change on the battlefield. This book is a monument to many things; one of them to what happens when grey-headed commanders insist on unwise offensives, no matter the cause. (I know, I know. It's complicated. And a twenty-year-old homeschool graduate still wet behind the ears has no right to criticize.)
Winston Churchill cut a fine figure in Gilbert's pages. Younger than a lot of his peers, he was the voice of common sense and reason that was always squelched and sent back to the battlefield. "This will be disastrous." "This will needlessly sacrifice good lives."--such sane and sensible remarks had no bearing in the Cabinet discussions. When he resigned in frustration from the government, and went off to the front, they lost one of the best voices they had for planning the war. I'm kind of surprised he wanted to come back. With the way he was treated, Britain really didn't deserve his help in World War Two.
Another factor Gilbert highlighted was the toll the war took on soldiers. Lots of Victoria crosses were given out. Many acts of bravery. But this was the biggest war England had known for years--or at all--and war is no little thing. Facing 15,000 shells of mustard gas a morning compounded the horrors. Men lost their eyesight--saw comrades die grisly deaths (Gilbert doesn't spare the details) and sometimes came back from the battlefield after having lost over 10,000 of their comrades in a single day. I don't think we have any idea how to begin to imagine death on that scale. Lots of soldiers struggled with depression. Many of them wrote poetry, expressing the depth of the hell they were enduring--few of poems that Gilbert included mentioned thoughts of home. They were all focused on the battlefield. Letters had a sense of desperation. Men were shot for deserting. The Russians gave up first, slaughtered and taking prisoner by the millions. Pacifists on all the home fronts fought against the war and went to prison for refusing to enlist. They urged the German and British governments to make peace. If only it were that simple. The few personal stories Gilbert chose to highlight put faces to the anonymous casualties, and made it all the more real.
Gilbert's maps in the back of the book are essential to follow for any kind of picture of what's going on. When you're in the thick of the pages, you have no idea where things are geographically. (Well, I didn't. Judge me not.) His maps are set up chronologically throughout the war, and have lots of clear labels and battle line markings. I strongly urge the reader to make use of them.

Why should you read this book? On an intellectual level, it's a great one-time book to give you an idea of what we're actually remembering in the 2014-2017 centennial. But more than that, it's a tribute to the human toll our great-great grandfathers offered willingly so that we could be free. And even more than that, it's a sobering look at the fact that God draws the boundaries and battle lines of our world. But for him, America might not be here today.

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