Over Christmas break, I did two things (other than celebrate the birth of Jesus and spend time with the fam, of course): read books and watch Parenthood. I will save Parenthood for another day. For now, here are some of the books I read in the last few months.
Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard — There are some subjects I simply can’t get enough of and Abraham Lincoln is one such subject. I highly recommend both Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson. I was curious to see what new light O’Reilly and Dugard had to shed on the subject of Lincoln’s death and was not disappointed. Their contextualizing for the reader with the culmination of the Civil War added to my sense of the tragedy of Lincoln’s assassination as well as providing insight into the forces that drove John Wilkes Booth. I found myself actually becoming angry at Lincoln’s seeming disregard for his own safety. Like helplessly watching the horror film character walk, unarmed and alone, into the dark and eerie basement to go “check out the strange sounds,” I wanted to yell, “Forget the theater. Stay in the White House and knit socks, for crying out loud!” I was hoping for more of what the subtitle promised, the impact of the assassination in the broader context of American history and I am not sure I buy the hinted conspiracy theory that involves Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, but I suppose that in Washington DC, anything is possible.
The Hunger Game Series by Suzanne Collins — After taking a hiatus from middle school literature for a while, I was ready to take the plunge again and since these books have been all the rage among our oldest, his friends as well as teachers, I thought I would give them a try. I love the premise (America has fallen into chaos and is now divided into districts which are controlled by a hedonistic and oppressive power known as the Capitol). I also like the main character, Katniss Everdeen, a believable mixture of courage and loyalty as well as stupidity and stubbornness. Like many books written for fifth and sixth graders, though, at times I found the series frustratingly unbelievable. I am not sure that my frustration is entirely fair. Is it a matter of poor writing or just that reading the thoughts of a confused and immature female character can be annoying? Collins is also limited by the reading level and comprehension of her audience. Despite its flaws, the series delivers a great deal of insightful social commentary, and in the end I couldn’t help but cheer for Katniss.
Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller — This book has been highly disappointing. Jim uses one of his texts for a class, and we have used some of Keller’s Bible study guides in the past, so I was looking forward to reading this, my first book by Keller. I am not a fan of imposing feelings and thoughts on biblical characters in order to make a theological point. His conclusions are right on, but I don’t think his ends justify his means. Stick to the text, buddy, and keep your suppositions to yourself.
The Five Love Languages for Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell — I confess that I generally avoid parenting books. After reading most of them and discovering all the ways I am screwing up my children, perhaps even sentencing them to years of therapy, I am overwhelmed with the desire to hide under the bed with the dust bunnies and never come out. (This isn’t exactly practical, however, so I just hide the books under the bed instead.) I had read one of Campbell’s other books and have been devouring this one as well as two others recommended by a friend. The book has left me feeling encouraged (that I know my kids in ways that I would not have been able to articulate otherwise) and inspired to be a better parent. While I take all the psychologizing with a grain of salt, it’s a small grain of salt, and I highly recommend this for parents as well as for adults who are seeking to better understand their own childhood and its impact on their current relationships.