Book chat: books about prayer, faith, writing and being lost at sea
It’s been way too long since we’ve talked about books! Here are six books I’ve read recently:
1. Adventures in Daily Prayer: Experiencing the Power of God’s Love by Bert Ghezzi
This new book by Bert Ghezzi is a delight. I’ve been a fan of his for a while (his books The Heart of a Saint and Breakfast With Benedict are favorites), so it was great to see something a bit more personal from him. In this part memoir, part how-to format, Ghezzi gives us an intimate glimpse inside his prayer life, then takes a step back to consider what he’s learned, and offer suggestions for how we can apply these lessons to our own lives.
It was refreshing to hear such a respected author admit that he was so devastated after failing a master’s exam that he fell into a deep depression and stopped praying for almost a year, or that he’s experienced times of spiritual dryness. That kind of candor mixed with concrete lessons that I could apply to my own life made this book a spiritual breath of fresh air. I highly recommend it.
2. 10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To by Anthony Destefano
I actually read this book over a year ago, but since I never did a review I wanted to include it in this list since it’s been so influential for me. I discovered 10 Prayers after reading this gripping endorsement from a mother whose only child was murdered in the Virginia Tech shootings. I bought it based on her recommendation, and, sure enough, it transformed the way I see view prayer and God’s will. In particular, it helped me understand the age-old question of “Why does God let bad things happen?” Ever since I read this book I’ve felt less need to fixate on the “Why?” aspect of bad situations, and ask instead, “How is God going to bring good out of this?”
DeStefano writes in a tone that assumes the reader believes in God, so this isn’t a book I’d recommend to someone who’s having fundamental doubts about God’s existence. However, it is an excellent book for anyone who believes but feels like God is silent or distant.
3. Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan
Wow. This is one wild read. It’s the true story of a man who was shipwrecked just a couple days into a solo transatlantic journey, and how he went on to cross the Atlantic by himself in a life raft. It is definitely a page-turner, and I learned a lot. Like, say, it made me realize that I have no interest in sailing across the Atlantic by myself. It made me realize I don’t have a very strong will to live (I would have rolled over and died on page forty). It made me realize that, no matter how bad my day is, I can always be thankful that at least I’m not stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with the awareness that at any moment a Great White shark could come up from the abyss and swallow me whole.
Anyway, you’ll find this book informative and riveting. My only caveat is that I found his agnostic outlook, devoid of any transcendent meaning for this experience or his life in general, kind of depressing; in the end, I felt vaguely sad for him, even though he did survive this incredible ordeal.
4. Perfect Recipes for Having People Over by Pam Anderson
I love to have friends over. I kind of like to cook. But when you combine the two, I usually end up a half step away from a nervous breakdown. I’ve realized that the problem is that I am just not wired for cooking while socializing. (You know how those guys on Top Chef can sautee this and stir that and throw something in the oven and whirl around and chop something, all while carrying on a conversation? Whatever part of the brain it is that facilitates that kind of cross-activity multitasking, I do not have it.)
So anyway, I realized that the key is for me to find dishes that I can make ahead of time, so that I have only minimal hands-on cooking to do after my guests arrive. Enter Pam Anderson’s book. (The author not to be confused with the Baywatch star of the same name.) Though some of the meals were a bit pricey for our budget, it still gave me tons of good ideas. Most of her recipes can be made ahead, and she includes all sorts of tips in each recipe that show that she has actually made this for friends in her own home (e.g. making rectangular pizza dough so you can fit more than one on the bottom rack at once). Combine it with mouth-wateringly beautiful pictures, and this is just the book I was looking for.
5. Word Painting: A Guide to Write More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan
Writing descriptively is not something that comes naturally to me; I tend to focus more ideas than really bringing the reader into a specific moment in time, so Word Painting is just the book I needed. Thanks to McClanahan, I was able to see how to liven up my descriptions without bogging down my prose with a bunch of unnecessary words. I loved what she had to say about the importance of describing characters in motion, and I thought it was great advice when she suggested that writers focus on one detail to deal with overwhelming topics (e.g. she shares the story of a student who wrote a powerful poem about grief by describing the moment she sewed a button on her deceased father’s jacket). This book needs to be on every writer’s bookshelf.
I’ll throw in another writing book, just for fun:
6. Flogging the Quill: Crafting a Novel that Sells by Ray Rhamey
I almost didn’t buy blogger and editor Ray Rhamey‘s book because I had that typical consumer’s bias against self-published books, but I’m so glad I didn’t skip it. Probably more than any other book I’ve read on writing (and I’ve read a lot), this one made me feel like I could truly get inside an editor’s head. Most helpful were the pages at the end where Rhamey reprints actual first pages from submitted books. He first asks you, the reader, to consider whether you’d turn the page if you were to come across this book. Then he shows the pages again, this time with his edits. Having that “hands-on” practice helped me understand these concepts much better than if he’d simply lectured about them. If you’ve ever considered writing a novel, memoir, or any narrative prose, you need to read this.
What about you? What are you reading these days? Read anything particularly noteworthy lately?
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