Books

The Reading List: Not a Fan

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments! 

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the reading list, and I read this book a while back without actually writing about my thoughts on it. It’s unfortunate because I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would love to have had fresh thoughts on it. In the future, I’ll try to be more disciplined with this reading list so you guys get a better understand of where I’m coming from and what I actually got out of all this reading.

Not a Fan is certainly not a book for the faint of heart. It’s a book that basically tells you whatever you’re doing is not enough when it comes to following Jesus whole heartedly. I struggled with my own life decision while reading it, but in a good way if that makes any sense. There are plenty of times when I have been more of a fan than a follower, and I’d argue that it’s more of my baseline than the exception. It’s not that I don’t absolutely believe with 100% of my being that Jesus is the Son of God and the way to a full life. It’s that that way can put you in some really tight spots and as a person that generally avoids conflict, that can be more challenging for me.

It basically boils down to the fact that a fan may throw on a WWJD bracelet (sorry for the 1997 reference), or slap a Jesus fish on the back of their car. A real follower will go to the homeless shelter on weekends, not pass up an opportunity to share the gospel with anyone they find, and do some seemingly irrational things in order to keep themselves in line with what God would have them do.

This probably occurs in America more than a lot of places. I would imagine because we are a country that for whatever reason considers ourselves a “Christian nation.” I don’t really know why, but that’s a topic for another post. We are just pretty happy for the most part going to church services when it’s convenient and acting like we’re doing the right thing just because we say we believe in Jesus. It’s not that we don’t, or we’re going to Hell or whatever. It’s just that we’re not getting all that a life of following Christ can give us. I don’t mean stuff either, for you Joel Osteen fans. That life is a hard one and the fact that we don’t discuss the sacrifice more often is kind of a shame.

Being a follower of Jesus cost early Christians everything. These days, we can just sit around and act like following him will provide all the things we want. This book was all about saying that it might cost you that trip to the beach you wanted or that new car because someone else needed you at the time for some greater good.

This book opened up a whole lot of questions for me and brought a lot of things to light that I had not thought about in a long time. I’m still not in line with where I probably should be, but I’m thinking a bit differently about it. Thinking isn’t going to get me any points at the end of the day, but if I’m a bit more mindful then I can be more conscious of the steps I need to take.

Next up on the list: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Reading List Update

If you follow along with my reading list, you know that I planned to read One Thousand Risks by Chad Johnson. It sounded like a great book about living with less fear because you have Jesus. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Lots of stuff about randomly approaching strangers and praying over their broken leg, or back pain, or whatever ailment they may have.

I’m not down on faith healing or anything. I think I serve an amazing God who can perform all kinds of incredible miracles, but this book was a bit focused on it. I feel like there can be a danger in promoting it all the time. Imagine you’re a person who has just been diagnosed with some sort of illness and you heard tale of a person who was praying over folks and then they found themselves healed. Man, that would get my hopes up for sure. Then, let’s say the guy prayed over my illness and I didn’t get better. What would that do to my feelings about how God cares about me. I think I might feel pretty let down.

Anyway, I’m just not keen on folks acting like prayers are going to save everyone from any ailment they have. It just doesn’t work that way. God isn’t a vending machine. Now, Chad sounds like a wonderful guy who has done and seen some amazing things. I just couldn’t get into the book. It didn’t speak to me. It might speak to you, but I just couldn’t get through it. I rarely intentionally put a book down, but I had to with this one.

In other news, I picked up Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. It’s legit. It’s terrifying. It’s powerful. It’s exactly what I was looking for to dive into a deeper understanding of what a relationship with God should be. I’m enjoying it in the right way. Feeling convicted, and learning how much we can do when we’re properly aligned in God’s will for us. It’s not a self help book. It’s a book about understanding what it means to truly follow Jesus rather than just play by the “rules.”

I’m reading that one if you’d care to continue this reading list journey with me. It’s good. I’m almost done, so I’ll have a full write-up when I am. It’s hard to put down.

The Reading List: John Adams

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments! 

I bought this book a few years ago as I was headed down an educational path to learning about our founding fathers and who they *really* were. I’m aware of the god-like status we’ve given all of them, but I wanted to get down in the weeds with them and figure out what kind of people they really were. What were their flaws? What did they really believe? What characteristics have we ascribed to them that they actually didn’t have? There are a lot of myths we’re fed about these people and it’s important to journey back in time in order to separate the fact from fiction.

I could not have picked a better book to read at this time in our country. We think we’re in a place where our country has never been so polarized. Where news media is hellbent on spreading messages directed at a certain demographic without bothering with facts. We think all this stuff is new. I’ve learned through reading David McCullough’s incredible book that we have not changed in the slightest. The animosity between parties during Adams’ term as president and leading up to it can not be overstated. People were at each other’s throats regarding which president was a secret monarchist, and which cabinet member was going to destroy the new government from the inside. Newspapers sprung up everywhere trying to prove one side or the other, often without any evidence. There were opinion pieces galore trying to influence the population to one side or the other.

Despite all the fuss and fighting at our country’s inception, these folks seemed to build an incredibly strong foundation for government, despite their differences. Adams in particular was one of the strongest voices for independence in the entire continental congress. He was willing to stick his neck out for unpopular opinions, and risk his reputation to ensure that fact and truth ruled above all. We’re talking about a man that actually defended the British soldiers during the trial for the Boston Massacre. The people of Boston wanted to burn these folks at the stake, but Adams insisted that a free people must be a people ruled by laws, and that barbarically putting these men to death without trial would ruin any hope the aspiring nation had. He actually managed to get these men acquitted of wrongdoing in Boston by a Boston jury. “Facts are stubborn things,” was one key quote I pulled from this defense. He was not a loved man after that, but he was a respected one, and I believe it’s this defense that led him to be a representative. He was reluctant, but like many of our founding fathers, found that it must be his duty to perform the task asked of him.

One hero from this tale that shines above so many others was his wife, Abagail. She was a thinker and a fighter in her own right. She spent years away from her husband, raising children and tending the farm. Their letters to each other tell an amazing story of two people sacrificing greatly so that they, their children, and their children’s children could have a future with a secured freedom that they longed for. The way they addresed each other in all their correspondence was so sweet, but even they bickered in letters as they dealt with all the challenges. Adams was away in France for years trying to negotiate deals, and was often too busy to write. Abagail took great offense to only receiving a letter every month or so. She was so frustrated in writing that John Quincy, who was with his father, wrote her to tell her to give his dad some slack.

This is an amazing portrait of life in the 18th century that we should be so thankful to have. In the acknowledgments of the book, I read that there miles of microfilm containing John Adams letters and correspondence. He never got rid of anything, and thankfully we have the privilege of seeing his life through his own eyes and the eyes of those who worked closely with him. The picture you get is of an honor bound, trustworthy, bold, appreciative, kind, angry, vain man, who so aware of his own flaws, tried to be the best he could be. He attempted to give everything he could from his life so that others could have one more fruitful. That being said, he enjoyed his time. After being president, he retired to his farm and spent his remaining days in the quiet. He worked hard, walked three miles a day, and even managed to ride horseback until his early 80’s. I got the picture of a man at peace as I read of his twilight years. He was proud of all he had done, and was able to look forward to the next great adventure. In contrast with Thomas Jefferson, his life long rival and friend, who wanted to do go back and give it another try.

I can’t recommend this book enough. If you aren’t into history, you might want to skip it, but if you are the least bit curious about the life and times of an incredibly interesting man from the 18th century who just happened to be the second President of the United States, then I say give it a shot.

Next up: One Thousand Risks – Chad Johnson

The Reading List: Artemis

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments! 

I was a huge fan of The Martian by Andy Weir. I listened to the audiobook twice. There was something about it that spoke to me. Mainly the engineering aspect of it. It used science to fight back against a planet that was trying to kill the protagonist, Mark Wattney. With every step forward, something would put him two steps back because he had some other thing to figure out. It also followed the skill and expertise of a team on earth that helped get him home. There was a lot of hope involved in that book. Good people trying to save a man stranded on a planet thousands of miles from home.

Artemis is not that story. Artemis is about a smuggler named Jasmine Bashara, Jazz for short. She’s not a good person. You might even consider her a bad person. At the very least, she is a morally ambiguous person who has certain people she cares about but everyone else can die in a fire. 

I love Jazz.

It’s not that she’s horrible, but rather that she’s so fun to read. This whole book is written in the first person, and I’m so glad it is. With that perspective you get every bit of what Jazz is thinking and I love the way her mind works. It’s messed up, but always in a humorous and witty way. Andy Weir is a sarcastic son of a gun, and it shines through so well in this story.

The science is on full display here as it always is with his work. There’s not nearly as much problem solving here, but it’s not that kind of story. Instead you get little tidbits of info about what life is like on a lunar colony. He does a great job of reminding you that this is some kind of outpost in a desolate landscape every so often. The rules for living on a lunar colony are on full display and it’s all about keeping people alive. 

Jazz gets wrapped up in an incredibly believable mob conspiracy, and I have no doubt that something like this might occur if the moon was actually colonized. I’m not going to spoil anything, but there is a money grab involved. There are some fantastic twists and turns as we figure out more about what is going on. 

I hung on to every word of this story. It was sarcastic, funny, smart, witty, and all the things I ever want out of a fully developed character. She makes mistakes, blames others, swindles people, drinks too much, and loves her dad more than she’s willing to admit to herself. She’s amazing and I want to read more stories with her in it.

I might be keeping this one on my shelf for a long time.

Up Next: The Stand …. maybe

The Reading List: Console Wars

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments! 

Oh. My. Word.

I had no idea that the early 90’s was chock full of video game console intrigue. I got my first console in 1989 when I was four years old. It was a Nintendo Entertainment System and it opened my eyes to a world that I would pretty much belong to forever. That wonderful world of video games and the joy that they can bring on a rainy day or when you want to group up with your friends and attack virtual monsters together. I wasn’t just a Nintendo fan though. I was into all the consoles and was one of the lucky kids that had a Super Nintendo and a Sega Genesis at the same time.

I had no idea that those two consoles were probably hurling insults at each other when I wasn’t looking.

Console Wars excellently details the story of the scrappy little company that could, Sega, and it’s fight against the juggernaut that was Nintendo. There were so many shenanigans between those two companies back then. From undercutting prices to social engineering for secret info. Nothing was off the table when it came to Sega’s attempts at crushing Nintendo at its own game. The thing that shocked me the most about the whole story is that Nintendo was a bunch of buttholes when it came to controlling their product. They had licensing restrictions, quality restrictions, and they even made you purchase the cartridges from them at $10 a pop. Now some of this wasn’t such a bad idea considering that the video games industry almost completely fell over. Without Nintendo, it’s likely we wouldn’t have the same landscape we had today. They put in a lot of effort to make sure that no one was sold garbage so they could keep making awesome stuff.

Sega is the main character in this book, at least the way I read it. The book is written as a narrative pieced together over countless interviews. Obviously, Blake Harris wasn’t there when all these conversations were being had, but he put together a realistic and compelling background to each of them so it feels like he could have been. He is a fantastic storyteller and made this a book I couldn’t put down whenever I started reading it. I feel like I know the brave folks at Sega who really pushed the brand forward when it was struggling to find its place. The Sega of America team really knew what it was doing and if Sega of Japan had just gotten out of the way, who knows where they would be now. The Genesis was an amazing system, and I believe the Saturn could have been as well SoJ would have just let SoA make the deals they needed to make.

I highly recommend giving this book a read. It’s easy to read this stuff and think about all the good decisions that were made in order to get Sega over 50% market share, but those decisions were also incredibly risky if you consider them. The folks at Sega were gutsy, and that’s what really made the brand stand out. I actually want to go up in the attic and pull out my Genesis and walk down memory lane. I would also love to know about the “almost” renaissance that was the Dreamcast but the book stops short of that. Either way, it was still fantastic and I’m sure I can do my own research to dig deeper.

Read it!
Console Wars – Blake J. Harris

Next Up: Artemis – Andy Weir

The Reading List (Audio): Make Your Bed

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments! 

I am not worthy.

That’s the way I felt when I finished this one. I think at the end of his days, William McRaven will be able to say that he sucked the marrow out of life. This is a life well lived. Partly because of the things he accomplished, but mainly because he challenged himself to persevere and get through some of the most grueling events that life can throw at you. These were events that he *chose* to participate in. Of course, he’s dealt with bad hands here and there, but he put himself through many of the stories that made it into this book.

McRaven is an inspiration to people everywhere. The lessons that he lays out in this book are things that everyone can use to arm themselves for the challenges they are going to face throughout their lives. These aren’t just lessons that a Navy seal needs. These are lessons that we could all stand to hear, they just hear them louder and more intentional than we will. I have no idea where he got his strength and toughness, but it’s on full display here.

I thought it would be a bit off-putting to begin with because I’m not a military man, and I’m generally averse to some of the voice he uses in this book. He comes across as an incredibly rigid and disciplined man, and I don’t know why that kind of attitude bothers me. It’s so impressive and something to honor for sure, but I have some little piece of me that fights it. I’ve always been that way and I’m not sure why. That being said, it’s something I need to overcome. It’s not a problem with him, but a problem with me.

A few weeks ago, I started making my bed in the morning as suggested as the first lesson in this book. Having not read the book, I didn’t know the reasons behind it, but I knew it was somehow important to an incredibly successful person. It’s honestly changed me. Not just the way my day starts, but also the way my day goes from the morning on. It’s a simple, accomplishable task that you can do at the beginning of the day to get the ball rolling. If you can make your bed, you can make breakfast. If you can make your bed, you’ve already gotten to work so getting to work is less of a slog.

I highly recommend this to pretty much everyone. I think there are sections of this book that resonate more than others for me, but it could be largely different for you. Give it a read and see if it can change you even a little bit. If anything, it shows the limits that a human being can be pushed to and continue moving forward. We all have it in us, we just need to do things that help prove to us that it’s there.

The Reading List: The Big Sleep

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments!

The big yellow button on the Amazon web page was enticing. It pulled me in like a moth to a flame. The name of the book: The Big Sleep. A hard-boiled detective novel by Raymond Chandler. I’d never read his work. It didn’t matter. The premise hooked me. I sat in the dark with my Kindle. The faint glow of the backlight illuminating a world I never got to see. A world of conspiracy, greed, murder, and indoor smoking. I devoured the pages like a lion devours a gazelle. They say words are food for the brain, and I was hungry.

I really hope you read that in a 1930’s mid-atlantic radio voice because that’s how I wrote it. The Big Sleep is considered by many to be the best encapsulation of hard-boiled detective fiction ever written. Raymon Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe is not just a private detective, he’s THE detective. He’s arrogant, smart, confident, and blunt. When you think of a private detective from the 40’s, you’re probably thinking of Phillip Marlowe. He’s the template for every detective novel that comes after.

I’m admittedly terrible at following mysteries. They require a certain amount of thought and investment in “whodunit” and I read like  I watch a movie. I read to be entertained and enjoy, and I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure anything out. I just want to be on the ride. Picking a book like this was unusual for me, but I also love the style of Raymond Chandler’s writing. The way he builds the atmosphere is incredible. He makes sure you have all the details you need to paint the picture he wants you to see, but not so much that you get bored.

One thing that also stood out to me is that he has a limited set of characters that he wants you to know about. There are about ten or fewer characters that have any dialogue in the story, and it really lends to the vibe he’s trying to create. Marlowe only cares about the people that he’s investigating, he’s being paid by, or can help him. There are only so many people that he wants to talk to, so you only have so many people to care about. He rarely describes people on the streets unless they somehow stand in the way of a goal or are critical to the investigation or his observations.

If you’re into detective stories and really want that black & white style, 1940’s vibe, then this is a book for you. I will say that the content of this thing is incredibly dated. The way the women are written is two-dimensional, the language used is offensive at times, and it can be a wild ride into the past. I’ll tell you we’ve made a lot of social progress since 1939. A lot of people want to look back on life back then with rose-colored glasses, but we definitely are better off today than we were then in terms of people and their acceptance of others.

Check it out!

Next up: Console Wars – Blake J. Harris

The Reading List: Robin

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments!

I rarely finish a book in a week. It’s a thing that just doesn’t happen for me mainly because I don’t have the time, and usually because the book doesn’t pull me back in that much. Very few books have ever commanded my attention as much as “Robin” by Dave Itzkoff. To be fair, I love biographies and autobiographies. Some of my favorite books are those about people’s lives. I’m not sure what hooks me. It might be the idea that these are true stories and experiences that we can all learn from or relate to. Robin is no exception to that.

I grew up with Robin Williams. By the time I was watching movies he was all over them. He was the genie in Aladdin, which I’m pretty sure I played enough the tape should have broken. Oh the good ol’ days of Disney’s clamshell VHS cases, right? He became one of my favorite actors when Mrs. Doubtfire hit theatres. It was an amazing movie that had plenty to give to all ages. There were jokes that went well over my head that I now think are hilarious as an adult. He had a gift for entertainment, but it was also a bit of a curse for him.

Dave Itzkoff built an incredible narrative around a very complicated man. He went from an unknown stand up comic in San Francisco to a superstar, but that road was never easy and his success was never obvious, especially not to him. What I learned most here is that he was profoundly insecure about his own fame, success, and even his own ability to make people laugh. He loved to make people laugh, but he would often leave shows wondering if he did a good enough job. He suffered from enough anxiety about it that he would often call people after the fact to be sure he didn’t offend them. He desperately wanted to be loved. Even after reading the book and understanding a bit of his childhood, the book never truly reveals why he may have felt this way. I don’t know that it could if it tried. People are enigmas, and Robin may have been the greatest one of all. He was a comedy genius and a tortured soul all rolled into one.

There were interesting tidbits about his life in this book that never came through with his public image. He was terrified of not being cared about or famous anymore. Not because he needed the fame, but he wanted the love. He wanted to know that he could always entertain people, and I think in the end that’s what ended it all for him. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s he saw the end of the line for what he identified with. His identity was found in his ability to make people laugh. There’s a huge lesson for us all in here. If you identify yourself as something that may be fleeting such as fame, your mental faculties, your strength, and others, you’re going to get to the end of your life disappointed. Cling to something permanent, something immovable so that you can be yourself all the way to the end of the road. Robin didn’t have that and I think that hurt him in the end.

The sad thing about it all is that he did have people that loved him all around, but once his disease took hold, it was almost impossible for him to see it. It was found in his autopsy that he was actually suffering from a pretty gnarly form of dementia. It caused motor function issues, hallucinations, paranoia, and personality changes. These were all things he struggled with and I think it’s safe to say for us that it wasn’t really him who put an end to his life. It was his body, but his mind was well gone by the time he got to that dark place. The Robin Williams we all knew and loved wasn’t going to come back.

I was floored by this book. I couldn’t put it down. It usually takes me a few weeks to get through a biography, despite my love for them, but I managed to read this one in seven days. That’s a record time for me. Especially with a 400-page book. I think the only thing that compares is the Harry Potter series. If you loved Robin Williams, I highly recommend checking this one out. It was a fantastic read.

Next Up: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Reading List: Muscular Christianity

The Reading List is a segment of the blog where I let you know the thing I just read and some thoughts about it along with the next book in my list. Should you want to read along with me, let me know in the comments!

Muscular Christianity was introduced to me by my good friend, Twitter, and The Art of Manliness blog. It’s easily one of my favorite websites for long-form reading on culture and how it attempts to define what a “man” is in today’s world. In this latest ebook, the husband and wife team of Brett and Kate McKay explore the issue of church attendance amongst men. It’s an academic book in a lot of ways but the narrative is strong and it never gets boring. There are statistics galore and a ton of surprises, at least for me.

One of the striking things that I learned from this book is that men’s participation in the church has been an issue since as far back as the Puritan era in America. You’d think that every man in a village would have been in church during that time, but you’d be wrong. The women in a congregation outnumbered the men nearly 4 to 1. That’s incredible to me considering how patriarchal Christianity seems to be at first glance. Since the beginning of American church, it’s just been hard to drag men into the place. It’s not for lack of trying either. As we delve deeper in we find out all about the many attempts to make church attractive for men, and how some succeeded and some failed.

There was also a point in history when the sermons simply began targeting women because they were the ones in attendance, and largely the responsible one at home when it came to the family’s spiritual health. Some of this was because of the industrial revolution and men leaving home to work and pursue earthly goals. The woman was left at home to see that the children were brought up with God in their lives. I found this to be very interesting because in a lot of ways we still do this today. Both parents are typically working these days, but the men seem to still rely on their wives to make sure spiritual needs are met at home, or they simply don’t care if they are or not.

All in all, there were some great things to learn here. As a husband, father, and Christian, I found a lot of lessons to be had and actually discovered some things that had been eating at me that I had not considered. Like the regard of an intimate relationship with Jesus rather than one of admiration for his power, principles, and whip-cracking spirit that is as visible in the Bible as his squishy side. Modern church tends to focus so much on the squishy Jesus that the one that knocked over tables and spoke hard truths gets forgotten or lost in the messages.

I definitely recommend this read. Even if you aren’t a Christian, it’s an academic exploration that at least might be of some interest to you. You can grab the ebook from Amazon: amzn.to/2lM5Gip

Next Up: Robin by Dave Itzkoff (https://amzn.to/2KsYLcQ)

Manvotionals

I picked up a book the other day called “Manvotionals” by Brett & Kate McKay. Those are the folks who write The Art of Manliness blog. I learned about that blog from my buddy, Josh, and every now and then I will pick up something incredibly profound from it.

Since I’m well on my way to becoming a father, I thought I would pick up this book and really study on the things in it. I’m going to be responisble for raising another man in this world and I want to make sure that I exemplify the values that man should live by. It sounds pretty high and mighty, but it’s really not. It’s really about humbly taking on the task of being the man I should be. It’s about character and actions.

Anyway, there have been several passages in this book that really grabbed my attention. Some of them are quotes, and some are lengthy stories. This morning, a short paragraph got my attention and I’ve decided to paste it here so I can come back someday and remember what was so special about it.

The Hunter and The Woodsman
An Aesop’s Fable

A hunter, not very bold, was searching for the tracks of a Lion. He asked a man felling oaks in the forest if he had seen any marks of his footsteps, or if he knew where his lair was. “I will,” he said, “at once show you the Lion himself.” The Hunter, turning very pal, and chattering with his teeth from fear, replied, “No, thank you. I did not ask that; it is his track only I am in search of, not the Lion himself.”
The hero is brave in deeds as well as words.

^ Doesn’t that just grab you! It’s the simplest illustration of a very important point. I know I’ve been guilty of this at least one time, or at least had that moment of, “Oh crap, I just found what I was looking for and now I’m not sure I want it.” The instinct to preserve self is a powerful one, and that’s where courage comes in. Are you willing to throw caution to the wind in the name of some action that is greater than you? Maybe that’s not always the case. It’s not life and death that we typically deal with, but there are moments when we are called upon to step up and put ourselves second in favor of the greater good. This often requires a huge amount of courage.

I’m learning a lot from digging through this book and trying to take the many passages to heart, study on them, and reflect on how I pursue the character of ‘manliness’ in my life. There are seven virtues promoted here, and they all play a role in a persons character.

I highly recommend picking it up if you’re into these sorts of books. It’s also free on the Kindle Lending Library, so it’s at least worth a look. I’m truly getting a lot out of it.

Until next time!