Monday, May 5, 2014

New Year's Resolution

I've never been one to keep New Year's Resolutions, so I never make them.  This year I decided to keep one.  I made this decision about halfway through January, so I don't know if it really counts as a New Year's Resolution or not but who cares.  It's a goal that I'm going to keep and I'm going to follow.

I will finish 1-2 books a month.

I used to be a rather voracious reader, but in the past few years I've been busy and I haven't made the time to read.  I feel that I've been suffering intellectually because of it, and I think my lack of reading has zapped my drive to write.  But I'm correcting those problems.

And I'm also working on branching out from my typical selection of reading material.  I've pigeonholed myself into a narrow category of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Religious, and Medieval (or older) Literature.  I want expand my knowledge, my interests, and my writing abilities.  And to do that I need I need to bury my nose in a wide variety of books.

So far, I've finished a few and I'm working on more.

Comic Sagas and Tales:  One of my favorite forms of literature are the Icelandic Sagas of the 13th and 14th centuries.  They were a prototype of the European novel.  In some aspects of writing they are quite simplistic yet in others they are complex.

The sagas and tales in this collection (the third such that I've read) were written towards the end of the saga age and are more satirical and shine a light on the downsides of the glorified saga age.

Long story short, the sagas are about medieval action and adventure.  They've served as a source for Tolkien and other writers of Epic High Fantasy.  I don't think everyone would enjoy them, but I think they're a blast.

Youth Ministry 3.0:  I've done youth ministry in different churches with different dynamics.  Currently Destree and I help out with the youth at our church (New Hope) here in Vacaville.  I read the book about four and a half years ago when it first came out, but it was at the tail end of a very rough period of service in ministry.

Essentially the author argues that the way we are doing youth ministry now is outdated and inefficient, which I would agree with.  Very little has changed in the how things are done from when I was a student, but the mindset culture of adolescence has changed since I was that age.  The author argues that students need affinity, contextualization, and ultimately a shared journey for the gospel to take root in a radical way.  So how can we share in the journey with students?  That is the question.  It's something I'm pondering and still trying to live out.

Which President Shot a Man?:  This was a bargain book that I picked up and Barnes and Noble right after Christmas and it was a blast.  The book is a collection of trivia about our presidents, everything from their personal lives, political lives, spouses, children, pets, and much more.  I can only remember a few factoids from the book (Which president shot a man?  Andrew Jackson.  Which president had a parrot who was kicked out of a funeral for cursing?  Andrew Jackson.), but what it did was place within me a desire to learn more about the men who have led America.  Since then I've picked up biographies on Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower.

Erasing Hell:  This is a wonderful book in which Francis Chan tackles the tough question of Hell.  He argues from both Biblical and extra-Biblical sources written during the same era that when Christ and others spoke of Hell they were not referring to figurative state but an actual place.

Unfortunately in this day and age we can easily gloss over Hell and instead focus on "happier" subjects.  We'll still teach morality and serving Christ but rarely touch on Hell because Hellfire and Brimstone have such negative connotations.  Hell shouldn't be the only thing we preach and teach, but it was a part of Christ's message and it needs to be part of ours.  If we truly believe the Bible, then we cannot ignore Hell and the fact that those who do not know Christ will end up there, separated from God for eternity.

Unfinished Tales:  Unfinished Tales is a collection of stories by J. R. R. Tolkien in his Middle-Earth legendarium.  Most of what is contained  there is told, or at least mentioned, in The Silmarillion or the appendices to the Lord of the Rings.  Its stories are by no means polished final copies.  Instead they are works in progress, a climes into the mind and writing process of a literary genius.

Part of what makes Lord of the Rings and other fantasy epics so entertaining is the feeling that there is so much back story behind every action, and it's that back story that Unfinished Tales explores.  It's not as expansive as The Silmarillion, but it's a good, fun read for anyone who enjoys Tolkien's Middle Earth.

Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt:  The first biography I picked up after my interest in American History was rekindled was one on Theodore Roosevelt.  He was a man of many trades and passions.  Through his politics Roosevelt guided America into the twentieth century.  His focus was firmly on the future while he constantly looked at the past, pondering every decision through the eyes of Lincoln, his political hero.

Roosevelt lived a life that seems almost legendary.  Whatever task he put his mind to, he accomplished.  He became a military man, an able politician serving in various levels of government, a businessman, a cowboy, a rancher, a hunter and a conservationalist.  He truly exemplifies what the American dream was a century ago.

The Forgotten History of America:  Most of the focus in an American History classroom is on the mid-eighteenth century onwards, but there are centuries of European history before that.  That is what The Forgotten History of America covers.  Starting with the first Europeans to cross Texas, the founding of St. Augustine, early conflicts between the English and native populations, and the French and Indian War.  By no means was this exhaustive, but it provides a good survey of the centuries of conflict leading up to the founding of America.

Into the Wild:  I had a difficult time putting this book down.  It is the story of Chris McCandless, a young man from an affluent Virginian family who gives up everything for a life on the road.  After graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1990 he surrendered his $24,000 savings account to a charity, sundered the strained ties he had with his parents and assumed the life of a vagabond.  Through journals, letters, postcards and first-hand accounts the author traces young McCandless's two years of travels through Mexico, the U.S.A. and Canada before finally hiking into the Alaskan bush in late April 1992.  In late August several hikers stumbled upon his decomposing remains.  He had died approximately two weeks before.

McCandless certainly could have planned better--he entered the wilderness with dangerously low amounts of food, no map, and no compass.  Had he been better prepared he would have likely walked out of the wilderness with the epiphany he was looking for.

Without romantacizing him, it took a lot of courage for McCandless to spend two years of his life off the grid in a minimalist lifestyle, especially for one who had an easy life ahead of him.  Reading Into the Wild has strengthened my own wanderlust.  If only there was a way to take my library with me...

As the year goes on, I'll keep this list updated   It's been just over two months, so I hope that everyone else is doing well with their New Year's Resolutions!

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