Category Archives: memoir

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Word Lily review

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson, October 2012), 352 pages

a year of biblical womanhood

My first inclination is to say I learned stuff from reading this book. Valuable stuff, even. But after that first inclination is past — when you ask what I learned — I can’t come up with much I actually learned from the book itself.

I learned the labels for things. Complementarian vs. egalitarian, for example. I came to more deeply understand how flawed the idea that biblical womanhood = June Cleaver really is. June Cleaver wasn’t in the Bible, folks. Polygamy was, though.

Reminded again (Hello, philosophy minor!) how vital it is to recognize the bias and assumptions we bring to the table when we approach a text like the Bible. Pulling single verses to make our point(s) is rarely advisable. (context, context, context)

How liberating is it to learn that Proverbs 31, in Jewish homes, is memorized by the men as a way to honor and esteem, praise, their wives, rather than by women as a to-do list! I don’t need to live up to an unattainable, theoretical ideal of a poem; rather, I want to, along with so many others, begin to reclaim this idea and honor women when I see them persevering and doing hard things — “Woman of valor!”

I didn’t actually enjoy the author’s approach. She uses humor, which in theory is good, but which in practice fell flat and/or felt awkward to me at several points. She downplays the work she did and the points she’s trying to make with it, which bothered me. I could never figure out if she assigned herself certain tasks to make a flippant point or to sincerely explore/learn. The brief profiles of women from the Bible felt a little unconnected to the rest of the text. I liked them, and all the other parts, too, but the text overall felt disjointed.

Maybe the biggest thing I gained from reading this book — and it’s pretty big — is some encouragement to keep pursuing the idea that I am an empath/prophet and what that looks like. That my voice is valuable and should be heard. That I can and should speak for the marginalized and wounded. Now if only I could someday figure out what acting on this actually entails …

And now some quotes (without page numbers because I read the book digitally).

“I think this is one of the reasons why, despite the fact that I vote for Democrats, believe in evolution, and am no longer convinced that everyone different from me goes to hell, I don’t mind being identified as an evangelical Christian.

Evangelicalism is like my religious mother tongue. I revert to it whenever I’m angry or excited or surrounded by other people who understand what I’m saying. And it’s the language in which I most often hear God’s voice on the rare occasion that it rises above the noise.”

and

“We cause serious collateral damage to the advancement of our sex each time we perpetuate the stereotype that women can’t get along.”

I liked that she learned (and documented that she learned) things mostly not related to her quest. As she focused on gentleness and silence, contemplative prayer became attractive to her, for example.

A prayer from Teresa of Avila that Evans used:

“Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.”

More quotes:

“Jesus once said that his mission was not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. And in this instance, fulfilling the law meant letting it go. It may serve as little comfort to those who have suffered abuse at the hand of Bible-wielding literalists, but the disturbing laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy lose just a bit of their potency when God himself breaks them.”

and

“As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ. And following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married, or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar.”

Rachel Held Evans is a blogger I’ve followed since roughly the start of this project (so, for several years now). She’s also the author of Evolving in Monkey Town. She lives in Dayton, Tennessee.

Other reviews:
Have you reviewed this book? Leave the link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

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Empaths and prophets

Most of the media experiences (not just books, although mainly books) that really struck me this year have a couple things in common. I learned something about myself, particularly through their confluence. They’re all about being an outsider, working on something that others don’t really understand. And yet this work is something that drives [the person], that it’s impossible to ignore. A calling, even.

Although perhaps not traditional (and certainly not all-inclusive), this is my greatest hits list for 2011.

ANGEL

I think the first one was from the TV show Angel. Along Angel’s circuitous journey, one of the guys who assists in his mission of helping people is an Empath demon. Backstory: The demons in this narrative (that starts with Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are various races and/or individuals with special skills or giftings. Taken as a whole, they use these abilities to further their bloodlust and rage, but there are a few here and there who’ve chosen another path.

This particular Empath demon uses his ability to feel other peoples’ pain to help them. Later in the narrative the gods see fit to give the empath ability to a human, and it very nearly destroys her. (Actually, I’m not sure I’ve seen the end of that story line. I know it comes close, but I’m not sure if it eventually does or not.) She should die because a human can’t bear that burden of feeling so much the pain of others.

THE RELUCTANT PROPHET by Nancy Rue

The Reluctant Prophet illuminated what I’d seen in Angel, if that makes any sense. Allison has been asking God what she’s supposed to do, and when she begins to follow through on what she hears, the members of her church aren’t exactly thrilled. It’s a serious examination — in the form of one fictional woman’s story — of what a life of faith looks like and the risks it entails.

It’s a well-written story that I read at exactly the right time. It rings authentic, and I can’t wait to crack open the next book in the series, Unexpected Dismounts. I’ve also been enjoying Rue’s (@NNRue) blog.

THE FALLING AWAY by T.L. Hines

The Falling Away is a truly excellent book (it won the INSPY in December for Speculative Fiction).

This quote will, I think, illustrate how The Falling Away fits into my list: “we’re almost magnets for pain and suffering, but because we have ways to control it, there’s a design to it all” (page 97).

WINTER by Keven Newsome

Winter isn’t really of the same calibre as the aforementioned books writing-wise (or editing-wise), but it does dwell in the same vein, of prophecy. Enough so to earn a place here. It may not speak to everyone as it did to me — the appeal of the others is probably more broad — but that’s not necessarily the point of this list. So.


Switching directions a bit, Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances by Kimberly L. Smith (2011 INSPY winner for Creative Nonfiction) also deserves a spot on the list. It doesn’t quite fit with the others in that, while the others taught me something about myself and showed a bit of the way I should go, Smith voiced so much of what I’ve felt leading up to this time. It’s almost like her words were echoing what my soul had been crying out. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been working in Darfur unbeknownst to you, but I did find significant parallels.

Summary: Several books I read in 2011 seemed to coalesce around a theme, enough so that it made me sit up straight and take notice. Through these books, plus the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, God spoke to my identity, my place/role in the Body of Christ. I don’t have it all figured out yet(!), but it was encouraging to learn. One piece: an implementable way to channel my empathy.

So, there you have it. Not a traditional best-of list — I read lots of other terrific books — but the ones that most stood out to me.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

boy who harnessed the windThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (William Morrow, September 29, 2009), 288 pages

William Kamkwamba, growing up in Malawi, tells us his story. He tells us about his family, his friends. A brief history of Malawi. When a severe drought (followed by famine) hits, this country of largely subsistence corn growers is starving. William can’t go to secondary school, although his parents try everything, because all the money that would have covered the fees were spent keeping them alive. Instead, William goes to the new library at the local primary school. He’s surprised by the wide selection of books and is drawn to the science texts, particularly physics.

Taken in rural central Nebraska. Windmills are common sites on Midwestern farmland.

Taken in rural central Nebraska. Windmills are common sites on Midwestern farmland.


He decides to build a windmill, to give his family electricity and later a water pump so they can irrigate crops. He doesn’t have any money, though, so finding the parts he needs is challenging. He heads to the scrapyard and little by little collects all the pieces he needs.

I’m not generally a lover of nonfiction, and certainly not nonfiction about scientific achievements. But this book is amazing.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is inspiring, hopeful, authentic. While I’ve never visited Malawi, some of the aspects of how it’s depicted reminded me strongly of my time in Cameroon. The writing is lovely. I was transported.

A great story, a great book. Besides that, it’s a quick read. I wish everyone would read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (and this is something I say only very rarely).

Kamkwamba gave a brief TED talk earlier this year:

Kamkwamba’s blog and Mealer’s website.

Other reviews:
Bibliophile by the Sea
Bookworm’s Dinner
Starting Fresh
Ramya’s Bookshelf
Sophisticated Dorkiness
Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Creativity yields rebirth

boy who harnessed the wind

“Africans bend what little they have to their will every day. Using creativity, they overcome Africa’s challenges. Where the world sees trash, Africa recycles. Where the world sees junk, Africa sees rebirth.”

—Erik, on page 253, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Review of this incredible book coming soon.

Detectives Don’t Wear Seat Belts by Cici McNair

detectives dont wear seat beltsDetectives Don’t Wear Seat Belts: A True Adventure of a Female P.I. by Cici McNair (Center Street, September 23, 2009, but available now), 368 pages

Before deciding she wanted to be a private investigator, McNair was a journalist (among many things). I had never made the connection between skill sets for successful journalism and detectivery (as she calls it), but it makes sense. I connected with Cici as a character because we have both worked in journalism. It also didn’t hurt that I’ve always been fascinated by spies, detectives, et al.

Here’s how it goes: McNair has had an exciting life, traveling the globe, working various jobs, hanging out with criminals and princes, writing novels. But then she decides she wants to be a detective, in New York City. It’s hard to break into the male-dominated field, particularly with no training and no experience, but she makes it. Stories from her past are interwoven with stories of her life as a detective.

The book is exciting, heart rending, thrilling. I wouldn’t want to live this story; I did enjoy reading it, though.

Detectives Don’t Wear Seat Belts is a well-written memoir about the exciting life of an interesting, strong woman. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in spy craft and/or memoirs.

Cici McNair, aka Clarissa McNair, is a novelist and traveler. She has lived in Italy, Cyprus, England, Switzerland, Portugal and Canada. Her travels include a year in Africa, trips all over Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East. The site for Detectives Don’t Wear Seat Belts.

Other reviews:
Lesa’s Book Critiques

Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add it here.

Night by Elie Wiesel

nightNight by Elie Wiesel (originally published in 1958; translation by Marion Wiesel published 2006, with a new preface by the author), 120 pages

Night describes Wiesel’s experience during the Holocaust and being imprisoned in several concentration camps. The book opens Wiesel’s hometown of Sighet, Transylvania.

A very quick read.

This book had been on my shelf for months and months. I knew I wanted to read it, but I had delayed digging in.

It was not as bad as I expected, somehow.

Although I hadn’t read Night before, I was certainly familiar with what it contained. I toured the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC in 1999. I remember the 2006 Oprah episode showing Wiesel revising Auschwitz. I’ve read other books about the war and its atrocities.

While it is not a fun book, it is an essential read.

Night is the first in a trilogy, and now I want to read Dawn and Day.

I was at least in part prompted to read this book because it appears on the Image Journal list, which I’m still intent on completing, some day.

Wiesel is prolific; he’s written 57 books. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

Other reviews:
Trish’s Reading Nook
Grasping for the Wind
Things Mean a Lot
Semicolon
Book Addiction
The Written World
Bogormen
ReadingAdventures
Book Nook Club
Embejo Etc.

If you’ve reviewed this book, let me know and I’ll add your link here.

What’s your — favorite I hesitate to call it favorite, but I’m not coming up with a better word choice and anyway, hopefully you know what I mean — Holocaust book?

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Reading via laptop part 2

This series of posts is about my experience reading a book on my laptop, for the first time.

Start with part 1 to know fully what I’m talking about here.

I was surprised how slow it seemed that I read on screen. Perhaps it’s that I don’t get to physically turn pages that I was missing? While reading with the laptop not plugged in, my standard screensaver / battery saver options didn’t work well; I wouldn’t get through a whole page before the screen started dimming, so I had to move the cursor around, which effectively pulled me out of the story.

While this could be easily remedied (and I may), this was part of the experience for me.

Eyes often tired enough (I look at a computer screen long enough while working, blogging, twittering …) that I found myself putting off this book in favor of a paper book.

Another obstacle: I filed it away. Put it in a folder, with other e-books. Logical enough, but once it got closed, I wasn’t reminded to read a page or two when I was sitting at the computer trying to remember what I came there for (or whatever).

My progress on this book is very slow. When I scheduled this post, I was on page 47 of 246, and I’d already been “reading” it for a month.

Any questions?


Don’t forget about my first ever giveaway! It’s only open for a few more days.

Reading via laptop part 1

I’m making my first attempt at reading an e-book.

Back story: Device-wise
I’ve nabbed a few e-books when I’ve seen them and thought I might be interested over the past year or two, but none of these has enticed me to actually attempt to read them onscreen. See, I have no e-reader. No Kindle, no Sony Reader, no iPhone (alas). While I may not be entirely happy with this situation, it appears to be part of a larger situation that we’re still collectively waiting to see how it unfolds.

I’ve written before (more than a year ago now) about how (free) e-books are great publicity for the author and the title but aren’t necessarily read much. My thought process goes something like this: Great, a free book! Ugh, I don’t really want to print this tome. Besides, even if I did — well, first it wouldn’t actually be free anymore — do I really want to read a finished book, which I’m not marking up, in unbound galley form? Not the most pleasant reading experience. Then again, neither is reading an entire book on the computer, either. This, for the reader, is an impasse. That free book doesn’t really do anything, except take up hard drive space.

Back story: Book-wise:
Just recently, though, an e-book found its way onto my hard drive that I decided I’d at least attempt to read. This is the first post in my ongoing attempt to chronicle this effort.

The book: Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson, 2006), 246 pages

Although this book was published in 2006, I don’t recall hearing anything about it — at least not anything that made me think the book might be for me (That is some subtitle, though, isn’t it?) — until February 2009. In February, while preparing for my writing hermitage, I asked for suggestions of books to read. This book was recommended over and over, by a barrage of friends, readers and non-readers alike. When I came upon an email offering me a free e-book of it a week or so ago, I decided to give it a shot.

Reading experience:
I started reading right away, and I made it to page 14 of the 246-page PDF document in the first day. I read that page count spread out over the course of the day, some while sitting at the desk and some at the couch, where I’d taken the laptop for that purpose specifically. The story pulled me right in.

After looking at the screen all day, though, I was happy to switch out the e-book for a different title, this time in real-life book form.

This is the first in what I’m planning to be a series of brief (much shorter than this!) journal-type posts about my experience reading an e-book. On a laptop. Hope you enjoy it. I’d love feedback.

Anything you want to know?