Category Archives: nonfiction

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1945), 160 pages

The narrator boards a bus in a grey, nondescript neighborhood and arrives at the edge of Heaven. What follows is a take on what the afterlife could look like.

I had never been terribly interested in reading this book, because I thought it was nonfiction. Then I saw it referenced by a friend on Facebook a few months ago, which piqued my interest. And when I saw it listed as suggested reading for Hutchmoot, it was decided.

I fear some of the book’s allusions went over my head; Lewis referenced Milton frequently, and I’ve not read Milton. I’d probably also be better off if I’d read The Divine Comedy recently. And when he meets George MacDonald, some of his work is obliquely but specifically referenced, and I’m not familiar with whatever he referred to there, either. I’ve got three MacDonald books to read this month, though …


From the preface, I knew I was going to love this book. It didn’t *quite* live up to my expectations set in that moment, but it was still great.

After reading it, I can now understand why it sometimes gets shelved with the theology books rather than in fiction. The fictional story is more than a frame for Lewis’s What Is Heaven discussion, particularly in that it doesn’t break down and is never abandoned, but in some ways it’s not much more than a frame for that theological meat.

“They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

~The Great Divorce, page 67, George MacDonald speaking

This is a pretty fun book. It took much longer to read than its slight 160-page frame would suggest — it’s dense, not spun sugar — but I can’t hold that against it. It’s a book that made me think. I don’t think The Great Divorce will knock The Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy out of the top spots as my most-loved works by Lewis, but I’m glad I read it.

If you’re interested in Heaven or a fan of Lewis, this is a must-read. Outside of those quite narrow parameters, I’m sure, are many others who would enjoy this book.

Surely I don’t need to tell you about C.S. Lewis, right?

Other reviews
Framed and Booked
Tammy’s Book Nook

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

I checked this book out from the library. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.


Everything Is Broken by Emma Larkin

Everything Is Broken: A Tale of Catastrophe in Burma by Emma Larkin (Penguin Press, April 29, 2010), 288 pages

In May 2008 the massive Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, wreaking untold havoc on a heavily populated delta region. When the international community responded with aid, the ruling military regime denied access.

Going into this book, knowing it’s about a devastating hurricane and its aftermath, I knew it wasn’t going to be fun. I feared it might be incredibly depressing. I also knew I *needed* to read it. Larkin wouldn’t have had to stretch to make the book so, but instead, thankfully, she went another way. Or perhaps, since the darkness in the book wasn’t a surprise, it didn’t hurt me so much to read about it. Regardless, Everything Is Broken is incredibly intriguing, and not in that car-crash-rubbernecker way.

I remember the May 2008 cyclone and when it hit Burma. In my mind I’ve long compared and contrasted this disaster with the December 2004 tsunami that devastated so many Asian countries.

In a nutshell: Everything Is Broken is not a fun book (Hey, consider the topic!), but it’s definitely a good one. Besides great coverage of the hurricane’s aftermath, it has lots of good background information and is very readable. The history was fascinating, to say the least.

Tangent: While reading this book, I was frequently reminded of Kimya Dawson’s song 12 26, about the December 2004 tsunami. Totally different events, and very different responses. But some of the sentiments expressed in the song (Note: At some point I saw the song labeled as explicit, basically because of its depictions of the tsunami. While I don’t think the song necessarily deserves the label, some of the images in the linked video are pretty graphic.)

About the author
Emma Larkin is the pseudonym for an American who was born and raised in Asia and studied the Burmese language at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She lives in Thailand and has been visiting Burma for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of Finding George Orwell in Burma, which I’d heard of somewhere in the blogosphere.

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour stops for Everything Is Broken: A Tale of Catastrophe in Burma by Emma Larkin.

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

I received this book from the publisher, as part of the TLC book tour. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Glue Guru wins

Glue, a browser plugin and website that lets you track books, movies, music, television shows, gadgets, etc., that you’re interested in — and interact with others around these things — recently instituted giveaways. To win an item, one must be the Guru of related items.

My first Glue Guru wins arrived this past week:

Lost and Philosophy: The Island Has Its Reasons, edited by Sharon Kaye
I used to watch Lost, and I minored in philosophy in college, so this looks interesting to me.

Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk
I’ve watched Gary Vaynerchuk’s vlog off and on for years now.

This Is Why You’re Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks by Jessica Amason and Richard Blakeley
I think this book originated from a blog.

One of the things that first attracted me to Glue was that it was a place I could catalog all of my likes and dislikes, not just the books I’ve read in the few years since I started my blog. In this way, my Glue profile is in some ways a bigger picture of who I am than the snapshot here. Another cool factor right off the bat is that users earn stickers — and they’ll even mail you physical stickers corresponding to those you’ve earned on the site. How cool is that?

My Glue profile: WordLily

Do you Glue?

National Grammar Day: Grammar books

Today is National Grammar Day! Hosted this year by Grammar Girl, aka Mignon Fogarty, hopefully the discourse this time around will be more civil — productive, even? As Fogarty says, “Language is something to be celebrated, and March 4 is the perfect day to do it. It’s not only a date, it’s an imperative: March forth on March 4 to speak well, write well, and help others do the same!” (My post from 2009.)

This year, I thought, rather than simply announcing this great day here (I have no reason, really, to get involved in a discussion about the pros and cons of grammar) I’d do something different.

So, without further ado, a list of grammar books (and no, these aren’t exactly textbooks, although I could perhaps make a list of those too, hmm …):

Grammar books I’ve read:

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

Grammar books on my wish list:

On the Dot: The Speck That Changed the World by Alexander Humez and Nicholas Humez

Things That Make Us (Sic): The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar Takes on Madison Avenue, Hollywood, the White House, and the World by Martha Brockenbrough

I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar: A Collection of Egregious Errors, Disconcerting Bloopers, and Other Linguistic Slip-Ups by Sharon Eliza Nichols (I think I’m still a member, albeit inactive, of this Facebook group)

The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty
I used to listen to Fogarty’s podcast.

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty

The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing by Bonnie Trenga
Good title, right?

Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner

Have you read any grammar books?

NOTE: I’m using a broad definition of grammar here. Punctuation may not exactly be the same thing as grammar, but it’s close enough.

If you’re more a person of action, John McIntyre has a list of tasks one can undertake in honor of National Grammar Day.

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang translated by Bao Pu, Renee Chiang, and Adi Ignatius (Simon & Schuster, May 19, 2009), 336 pages

Zhao Ziyang was China’s premier during the Tiananmen Square protests. He acted to prevent the massacre and was forcibly removed from power — and lived the rest of his life under house arrest — because of his actions. He was also instrumental in choreographing and instituting economic reform in the years leading up to what he calls the July Fourth incident. Zhao grew to believe that continued economic reforms and success required political reforms and further openness from the government, in addition to a free press.

In these secret journals, which he recorded around 2000, he not only recounts these events and his economic and political strategies and actions, he also addresses misconceptions and misinformation and accepts responsibility for his own mistakes. The journals were uncovered after Zhao’s death in 2005.

I haven’t read a book that had the word bourgeois in it so many times in a very long time, certainly not since college. I was struck by the huge challenge attempting reforms and instituting a free market would be where the other leaders don’t speak freely to each other.

I was glad for an excuse to learn more about this period of China’s history. I don’t remember the Tiananmen Square massacre (I was still a child), although I’ve heard them referenced probably ever since they first happened.

For a book about economics and politics, I really enjoyed this book. The writing is not overly academic (I’m guessing the conversational tone is because the book is translated from oral journals.) but rather quite approachable. My love for all things China may have smoothed my path through the book, though.

I would have loved to read more about the (notably absent from this book) cultural and religious elements of the story. I would also have loved to read about leading up to and during/after the Beijing Olympics.

I read this book as part of a collaborative effort on the part of many bloggers to collective read and review all 50 of the books Newsweek listed as Books of our Times. The list as a whole was daunting, so we split it up! Great idea, Amy! All 50 books were claimed pretty quickly, and many of the titles have more than one person reviewing them.

The epilogue argues that the China portrayed in this book is today’s China. Whether that’s the case or not, this book is certainly relevant to us, today. China is growing so quickly, in so many sectors. We must pay attention.

See other reviews of books from the Newsweek list.

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

I checked this book out from the library.

My best 2009 reads

I went through and sorted out which books I’ve read (so far) this year that were actually published this year (in the United States, anyway). I was surprised to find that a little over half of the books I’ve read this year were published in 2009, so I had a lot to choose from!

1. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (nonfiction, memoir, international, cause)
2. Saints in Limbo by River Jordan (Christian fiction, magical realism?)
3. Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart (YA literary fiction)
4. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (fiction, international)
5. The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry (fiction, mystery)
6. Lost Mission by Athol Dickson (Christian fiction, faith)
7. The Only True Genius in the Family by Jennie Nash (fiction)
8. Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum (nonfiction)
9. Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall (fiction, southern)
10. Faces in the Fire by T.L. Hines (Christian fiction, suspense)

Books I haven’t read yet, but think might make my list: The Help. I’m inching up the wait list at the library, but I don’t know if I’ll get it finished in this calendar year. I’m sure there are others, but this is a big one, and I’m not thinking of other titles.

Spinning in the Old Way by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts, part of the Green Books Campaign

Green Books, button by Susan NewmanI talk about books here all the time, but I don’t often talk about the paper those books are printed on / consist of. This review is part of the Eco-Libris Green Books Campaign.

spinning in the old waySpinning in the Old Way: How (and Why) To Make Your Own Yarn With A High-Whorl Handspindle by Priscilla A. Gibson-Roberts (Nomad Press, 2006), 176 pages

Spinning in the Old Way is an introductory guide to making yarn. Gibson-Roberts focuses on high-whorl handspindles, as the tool of choice, for a number of reasons. She delves into the history of spinning and gives clear, step-by-step instructions for the beginning spinner.

One of the first things I learned in this book is that my spindle (my one and only spindle) isn’t good for much. Just one example: My spindle weighs 42 grams (1.48 ounces), less than the 2 to 2.6 ounces recommended in this book. While this makes me a little sad, I didn’t spend much money on it and I do most of my spinning on a wheel. I also knew I wasn’t a top-of-the-line spindle when I purchased it — I just wanted something to play around with, that would allow me to try my hand at spinning.

The book is good at explaining the myriad vocabulary of the craft. It’s also good at giving tips to allow the reader to maintain proper body alignment and thus prevent injuries. It’s optimized for easy reference, with subheads and summaries in the outside margins, as well as lots of illustrations. The history of spinning and knitting Gibson-Roberts uncovered through her research is fascinating.

Overall, though, it wasn’t as helpful to me as I hoped it would be. I think I encountered this book at the wrong stage of my spinning journey. I’ve mostly moved past spindling to using my spinning wheel, and while this book tempted me to give spindling a try again, I wasn’t ready to buy a quality spindle just to try it.

Nomad Press is part of the Green Press Initiative. They honor this commitment by using paper that contains at least 30 percent recycled fiber and is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (simplified: Not from endangered forests or an area of social conflict and doesn’t result in native forests being turned into plantations; designing for efficient use of inks and papers; printing their books in North America; planning to minimize use of energy in transporting books; and making decisions about everyday practices that minimize consumption of resources.

About the author
Priscilla Gibson-Roberts discovered high-whorl handspinning after she had used spinning wheels for years. She has opened the way to the craft and artistry of fiber for many thousands of spinners and knitters; she’s the author of Knitting in the Old Way; Simple Socks, Plain and Fancy; and Ethnic Socks and Stockings.

Other reviews

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

Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 books printed in an environmentally friendly way. This campaign was organized by Eco-Libris, which is working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. See here for more Green Books Campaign reviews.

More information about green printing and the publishing industry.

Earlier this year I reviewed Only Milo, which also meets the standards of the Green Books Campaign.

I received this book from the publisher.

Unfinished: Shadow Government by Grant R. Jeffrey

shadow governmentShadow Government: How the Secret Global Elite Is Using Surveillance against You by Grant R. Jeffrey (WaterBrook Press, October 6, 2009), 240 pages

Publisher’s Summary
Security cameras, surveillance of private financial transactions, radio frequency spy chips hidden in consumer products, eavesdropping on e-mail correspondence and phone calls, and internet tracking. No one is protected, and privacy is a thing of the past.

An ultra-secret global elite, functioning as a very real shadow government, controls technology, finance, international law, world trade, political power, and vast military capabilities. These unnamed, unrivaled leaders answer to no earthly authority, and they won’t stop until they control the world.

In Shadow Government, prophecy expert Grant Jeffrey removes the screen that, up to now, has hidden the work of these diabolical agents. Jeffrey reveals the biblical description of Satan’s global conquest and identifies the tools of technology that the Antichrist will use to rule the world.

Readers will have their eyes opened to the real power that is working behind the scenes to destroy America and merge it into the coming global government. Armed with this knowledge, readers will be equipped to face spiritual darkness with the light of prophetic truth.

Why I abandoned the book
I didn’t get very far into this book. I read the introduction and the first chapter, plus the end notes that were cited in these pages. I did read more than 10 percent of the book before giving up. Although I read many things I don’t agree with in this book, perhaps my biggest complaint is Jeffrey’s treatment of his reader. I found him making outrageous statements without backing them up; telling me what I think and assumptions I make; and even worse, telling me that if I don’t understand (or, implicitly, agree with) him, I’m wicked (page 9). These kind of tactics are not OK with me.

I could say more — I took several pages of notes while reading — but I think this enough. This book may be more well received by people very interested in the End Times. I myself may have been able to finish it if it had been released when I was in high school, when I was obsessed with all things Revelation.

The cover is cool. It looks quite Matrix-y, doesn’t it?

A quick look at reviews
Amazon has 2 reviews, both 5-star ratings.

This is the first time I’ve published a post about a book I didn’t finish reading. This isn’t a full review, but I did want to talk about why I didn’t like this book and couldn’t keep reading it. I’m following the excellent mini-review format Beth Fish Reads uses for unfinished books.