Here are a few things I read in August:
This month was full of Young Adult books. I’ve been reading to my kids in the evenings for years and I’m always trying to find the right balance of books they’ll like and books I like. If I don’t like it, I put it down, even if we’re a ways in, even if it leads to wailing and gnashing of teeth (they can still read it on their own later).
#1 My Side of the Mountain. This book was kind of like Hatchet, but very different in the sense that it seems much less realistic in terms of what it actually takes to survive alone in the woods. This book makes it sound like every little thing a 15 year old boy tries (like training a hawk) works out perfectly the first time through. In a matter of months he’s mastered every possible survival skill known to man, like how to make perfect pancakes from freshly ground Acorn Flour. No way this happens unless you grew up studying nature survival every day and practicing it (which, he didn’t). I still recommend it though – a fun read and a great conversation starter full of ‘what ifs.’ Be aware that the story is about a boy running away from home to fulfill this dream, and the success of the main character may lend approval to such a move.
#2 Al Capone Does My Shirts – A fun story about a boy who lives on Alcatraz and encounters all kinds of adventures. Though the story is fiction, the author attempted to set much of it in historic details (families of guards really did live on the Island). I think there are more in the series. I didn’t read this one aloud to the kids, though I think they would enjoy it.
#3 96 Miles. Another ‘survivor’ story, touted as being for ‘fans of Hatchet.’ This book was so interesting. At every turn I thought, “this book really could be five times longer than this.” It’s not often that I want a Young Adult book to be longer, but the author did such a good job setting up the scenario (national blackout that forces two boys to go in search of help since their father was away on business). Along the journey the meet up with other kids in need. The main character is constantly leaning on the character of his father to guide his decisions and to lead his friends well. It’s a great study in leadership, character, putting others first, making hard decisions. And theres a surprising twist near the end. I didn’t read this one to the kids either, but I would have no problem doing so, (except one might find the prospect of being on their own like this too frightening).
#4,5,6: I put down Bark of the Bog Owl and Brave Ollie Possum after a few chapters. The kids didn’t want me to, but I couldn’t continue. I picked up The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander on the recommendation of a good friend (who absorbed the series as a kid) and have enjoyed it so far. My youngest BEGS me to read it at night. The similarities to the Lord of the Rings make me a little uncomfortable, with a clear Gollum type character, Orcish beings, and a terrifying flying spy. Did he steal from the great Tolkien? They were written at similar times, so it might be a coincidence.
Moving on from Young Adult books:
#7 The Path Between Us: I resisted reading anything about the enneagram for years. In general I’m not a fan of the personality studies genre. But I’m reading it at my wife’s urging. The last time she asked me to read a book, I put it off too long, which did not sit well with her, nor do I blame her. To rub salt in the wound, when I finally did get the memo and read How We Love, it became a really important book for us and for my own growth. Now I can’t stop talking about it. More confession: I found a few of the opening chapters of The Path Between Us soooo dull. But then guess what… I happened upon the chapter that seemed like it described me, then I was REALLY interested. Narcissistic? Perhaps…. or just a normal self-centered human.
#8 Technopoly: I can’t recommend Neil Postman enough. Everyone should read his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. This one is just as important, but I don’t think everyone will like it. His premise: no technology is neutral, yet we live in an age where the prevailing assumption is that all technology is inherently good, and new technology is always better. Pushing back against this premise at even the slightest level is like proclaiming heresy in the cathedral. Postman makes a solid case for his argument (all technology has good and bad ramifications) and might even peel back a few layers on your world view. I started with a plan to read it in a few days, but it’s too good to rush through. Simply nibbling a few pages a day.
#9 Zen in the Art of Writing: Ray Bradbury wrote my favorite novel, Fahrenheit 451. This collection of his essays on writing is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read. It’s not a technical book – i.e. how to get the grammar right – it’s much more about how to be continuously and purposefully feeding and nurturing the soul so that ideas will grow, and then how to harvest those ideas. He shows his commitment to the craft that lead to much success: “Starting at twelve years old, for ten years I wrote a thousand words a day…. I wrote at least one short story a week.” Put in the reps.
Miscellaneous: Finished this biography on James Michener. I can’t seem to get enough of reading about him or his books these days. I find everything about him so inspiring. In that bio he referenced knowing Hemingway (barely) and appreciating The Old Man and the Sea. It’s short, so I read it as well. Not my fave Hemingway. Finally finished up reading What the Bible Says about How to Know God’s Will by Wayne Grudem. I read a few pages a day to the family over a meal and discussed them. Such a great resources, and very short (it’s a chapter from his much longer work on Ethics).
READING TIP: Now that school is gearing up and the temp is beginning to drop, and it’s getting dark earlier, it’s a great time to start making some plans for reading this month. Try picking a family reading night where everyone gathers in a central room with a book of their own choosing and reads for a set amount of time. An hour is great, but maybe start with 15 minutes if you’ve never tried it before. It’s also a great way for you to get some reading time. Make sure to remove or turn off all devices/distractions. I’ve found that even though I like to read and try to read a lot, if I don’t plan to read, then I don’t read nearly as often as I’d like.