Saturday, 15 October 2016

October Quicklit: Memoirs

Joining the link-up at Modern Mrs Darcy to share quick reviews of recent reads.

I haven't been writing about books here for a long time, let alone participated in link-ups. I have quite a pile of books I've read in the meanwhile, and I'm not even going to attempt putting them all into a blog post.

So, what we get here today is a collection of memoirs I've read in the recent months. As biographies and memoirs are among my favourite genres, it's not surprising I've read a lot of them lately.

First, some World War 2 stories:

Harrell, Edgar: Out of the Depths

The subtitle basically says it all: 
An unforgettable WW2 story of survival, courage, and the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Edgar Harrell, with other survivors of the USS Indianapolis, was stranded in the Pacific Ocean for five days after the ship sank. This is Harrell's story, and also a tribute to God who sustained him and saved him through the ordeal (and to the others from the ship - both those who survived and those who didn't). 
Author's website:

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice:
let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
Psalm 130:1-2 (KJV)

Anita Dittman: Trapped in Hitler's Hell: A Young Jewish Girl Discovers the Messiah's Faithfulness in the Midst of the Holocaust

This story is so amazing that it's hard to describe it. Anita's mother was Jewish, but her father was (Aryan) German, and he left his family when these kinds of "mixed marriages" were attacked under the Nazi rule in Germany. Anita and her mother had become believers in Jesus already before the war, and they had little but their faith and their Saviour to rely on, as their lives became increasingly difficult.
(It's probably not a spoiler to say that Anita survived the war. :) )

Author's webpage:

Leon Leyson: The Boy on the Wooden Box

Leon Leyson was one of the youngest workers on the famous Schindler's list, and this is his memoir. The book appears to be geared towards young readers (perhaps from 11 years up?), because I found it in the children's history section at our library, but it's a good read for anyone interested in this period of history.

Leyson begins with his memories of his early childhood in a Polish village and in Krakow, where the family moved before the war, when the father got a factory job there. Leon turned ten around the time Germany occupied Poland, and so his memories give a child's perspective on the war and the worsening persecution of Jews. It is clear that if Leon's father (and other family members, including Leon himself) had not been hired by Oskar Schindler, the chances of the family's survival would have been extremely slim.

Then moving from World War 2 to other periods....

Ravi Zacharias: Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows

Ravi Zacharias is a famous Christian apologist, though I have to admit his name wasn't really familiar to me. 
However, I really enjoyed this memoir I bought when it was on sale for Kindle. Perhaps my favourite part was Zacharias's description of his childhood and teenage days in India, both before his coming to faith in Jesus and after. Colourful, vivid stories of escapades with friends, problems at school, disagreements with his father, desperation, suicide attempt, and then the change in his life when Jesus became his Lord and Saviour, and the active and dynamic faith life in India with his Christian friends. The rest was interesting, too (his moving to Canada, studies, marriage, God leading him into ministry, etc.), and I'm planning to read more of his writings (apologetics) at some point.

Carolyn Weber: Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

A young Canadian student gets a scholarship to study a year at Oxford, England. There, she goes on a spiritual journey that leads her into Christianity.
I loved many things about the book. Carolyn's student life, the people she meets and the friendship, the conversations, just simply the setting of Oxford with all its unique characteristics and traditions. I cannot read too many books set in Oxford. I love the idea of Oxford, and yes I love the actual place, too, though sadly I've only been able to visit as a tourist. Getting to experience it through a book is some consolation when not able to go there in real life.

Helen Russell: The Year of Living Danishly

When Helen Russell's husband gets the job offer of his dreams at Lego Company(!), Helen agrees to move to Denmark for a year. One of the things she finds out about Denmark in advance is that it is often ranked as the happiest country in the world. This gives Helen, a journalist, an idea for a research project for her Danish year: why, exactly, are the Danes so happy, and what can she learn from them and apply to her own life?
I like reading memoirs about moving to a different country, and here the personal story is combined with "happiness research" and interviews with specialists in different areas of life. This combination works very well. Yes, Danes are happy for a lot of reasons, and yet Russell does not gloss away the hard and not-so-happy parts of Danish life, either.
The premise was somewhat reminiscent of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, but I found Russell's story easier to relate to - and maybe funnier, too, with all the additional elements of navigating a new culture. Russell is British, and Denmark is not very far from Finland, both geographically and culturally. (Though I'm sure I'd have my share of culture shocks if I were to live in Denmark - there are plenty of differences, too.)
Author's webpage:

Monday, 11 July 2016

That's Not English

Erin Moore: That's Not English. Britishisms, Americanisms and what our English says about us

To put it in British terms, this book is not bad at all.
If I say it's quite good, I mean it the American way.
If this confuses you, just read the book. :)

This is recommended - might even say required - reading for everyone who loves the English language and comes into contact with both British and American usage.

It's especially useful for someone like me. I'm not a native speaker of any variety of English and thus I often find it hard to get all the nuances and subtle differences. With all my experiences of cross-cultural communication, there are still more pitfalls for me to discover... I'm so thankful that I can read books like this and learn about at least some of them without having to embarrass myself.

When reading this book, I realized that I tend to use certain expressions in the American sense and others in the British sense, unaware that they're different in the other.  A good example is the first chapter: "Quite", with this subtitle: In which we find out why Americans really like quite and the British only quite like really.

This book is both informative and humorous. Moore doesn't just discuss the differences in vocabulary and grammar, she also explores cultural differences. An American Anglophile, married to a British-American family and living in the UK, she has a pretty good grasp on both cultures and also the culture shocks that one enounters when moving from one to the other - despite speaking the 'same' language.

I put this book on my To Be Re-Read list immediately after finishing it.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Not just five conversations...

I have been writing down my thoughts on books I've read but not getting around to putting them on the blog. I'll try to get round to posting about other books later - but here's the first.

Vicki Courtney: 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son

I think a more accurate title would be "five conversation topics" - we are not talking about five big talks, but rather five issues that need to be discussed. Talking about these issues takes some deliberate effort, too - sometimes, the conversations begin or turn to these questions naturally, but sometimes you need to be aware enough to seize the moment.

I tend to agree with Vicki Courtney on most of the essentials she talks about in this book. I'm paraphrasing the conversation headers here - and rather than write a book review, I'm writing about what the book made me think.

Conversation one: Don't let popular culture define manhood for you.

Courtney seems worried that current American culture makes men look/feel/act too wimpy (and there's a backlash of machoism coming up). In Finland, too, many comedies get laughs on the stereotype of "stupid men" as if men are only to be expected to act immaturely. Yet, I don't think that is the only image of manhood that the culture is offering - there are a lot of stereotypes around, for both men and women.

So, I agree that we should talk with our boys about the ideas we got from books, films, people's comments and attitudes, etc. Sometimes it even may be a healthy influence, a good role model considering the talents, interests and personalities of our boys - and let's talk about that too.

Conversation two: What you don't learn to master will eventually master you.

Self-control. Oh yes. As Courtney points out, the key to real efficient "self-control" is knowing God and asking for His help in this area. Being able to "stop, think and pray" when faced with a temptation is a good life skill for anyone. 
This section also has lots of sobering - well, frankly, frightening - statistics about pornography. Which takes us to the next section...

Conversation three: Get the sex facts straight.

Courtney advocates straight talking, starting early and having many conversations along the way. Yes, I agree. It's important that home is a safe place to talk about these issues, that we parents overcome our own hangups about discussing the subject, and that we make sure the kids get the facts from us first.

Easier said than done, though. My 11-year-old son is not terribly keen to discuss puberty, let alone sex, with us parents, and I don't want to force him - but I want to keep the conversation line open. I want him to know that it's OK to come to us with any questions - especially if he sees or hears or reads something that confuses him.

Conversation four: Do become an adult.

"Failure to launch" is a real issue in our Western culture today. I think in Finland it's always been an issue for some - and yet, the normal process is for young people to move away from home by the time they're in college/university. A huge drive for independence can be a good thing - or not so good. It's healthy to become a responsible adult, to start making your own decisions, handling your finances, etc. But is the young person actually desiring to be responsible or just craving freedom from the parents' control? We parents, too, need to learn how to let go in a good way.

Conversation five: Dare to be a godly man.

I think at the end of the book Courtney nails it. We are not aiming to make our sons into just nice young men with nice behaviour and nice manners - it's not the outside that counts as much as what is in their hearts. If I see my son, in ten years time, a follower of Jesus, that'll be the result I hoped for. He may make mistakes. Well, let's be realistic, he will make mistakes of some kind. The measure of a man is what he does with his mistakes. Will he repent and deal with the consequences? Will I do that when I make mistakes?

Only by the grace of God.
Whatever I discuss with my son, I can't (and mustn't try to) make his choices for him. He needs to choose Jesus himself. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

So much to read (and so little time)

Around the end of December, I got into a reading/writing slump. I've managed to read a few books since January, but I haven't had the time and energy to write about them.
I'm beginning to recover, though. At least I'm getting back into reading, as evidenced by this huge (for me) pile of books I've added to my TBR stack within the last month.

Library books:
W.G. Sebald: Saturnuksen renkaat

Originally written in German (Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine englische Wallfahrt) and published in English as The Rings of Saturn. I didn't know anything about this book but saw the keywords 'Britain,' 'walking,' and 'travel,' and so borrowed this on a whim. Looks like it's more literary/highbrow than the travel books I typically read, but I'll see how I like it when I get to it.

Daniel Coyle: The Talent Code

A re-read, because I want to remind myself of the principles of deep practice.

John Gottman: Sju gyllene regler för en lycklig kärleksrelation

This is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work in Swedish, because my library only had this version of it. I'm interested in getting the information and the principles from this book, but it's rather heavy going in Swedish. I can read Swedish almost fluently, but one part of my brain is trying to re-translate the text into English or at least guess what the original says, while another part is trying to process the information into my mother tongue so that I could apply it to my life and marriage. And I constantly feel like I'm missing something...
Should I persevere with this or switch to the same author's 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, which is available in the library as a Finnish translation?

Timothy Keller: Kuninkaan risti

Finnish translation of King's Cross. I got this because I really liked The Prodigal God by the same author; it was one of the few books I managed to read during my January reading slump.

Christopher McDougall: Natural born heroes: the lost secrets of strength and endurance
* ebook borrowed from the library

I rather enjoyed McDougall's Born to Run, even if I didn't buy into it wholesale. (I don't eat chia seeds daily and I definitely don't run ultra distances...) That's why I picked this ebook when it happened to be available in the library system and I was looking for something to read.

I'm only about halfway through so far, so I'm not giving a final verdict yet, but I'll say it's not as easy to get into as Born to Run. It seems a mishmash of WW2 history and ancient history (in Crete/Greece), human potential for endurance and heroism, plus a bunch of other stories, and I'm still looking for the thread that will bind everything together.

Kindle purchases:

I also went a little bit crazy with Kindle daily/monthly deals (all of these books were between $1 and $5 when I bought them). I'm certainly not going read all these in March, but some day...

Vicki Courtney: 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son

I have a son who'll be turning 11 soon. I have a fairly good idea of what I want to discuss with him as he's growing up, but this book looks like a good reminder of certain essentials.

Doris Pilkington: Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

Sounds like an interesting story.

Anita Dittman: Trapped in Hitler's Hell: A Young Jewish Girl Discovers the Messiah's Faithfulness in the Midst of the Holocaust

Another story that sounds interesting :)

Michael P. V. Barrett: Beginning at Moses: A Guide to Finding Christ in the Old Testament

I want to find out more about this topic.

Helen Bryan: The War Brides

Some fiction for a change - having read a bit of the sample, I wanted to read more.

Carolyn Weber: Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

Spiritual discovery and Oxford. With those keywords, this ought to be my cup of tea :)