Monday, March 25, 2019

26 Marathons, by Meb Keflezighi

If you follow road running at all, you know Meb Keflezighi.  He's one of the United States's most accomplished marathon runners, having won Boston, New York, and winning a silver medal at the Olympics.  In 26 Marathons: What I've Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from Each Marathon I've Run, Meb writes about the 26 marathons he ran over his 15 year career as a marathoner. 

For someone who most of us would view as a superhuman, Meb reveals his humanity.  As a recreational runner who has run a few marathons, I could relate to many of Meb's struggles.  Of course, there are differences: he runs a marathon twice as fast as I do, and trains well more than twice as much.  But a big theme of the book is fighting through struggles and overcoming adversity, in racing and in life.  He writes that he runs to win, but points out that "isn't about finishing first, but about getting the best out of yourself." 

As the saying goes, life is a marathon, and Meb's example proves what that saying implies.  For him, life and training and racing is about patience and perseverance.  "Grow your capabilities over time, not suddenly two months before a big race."  He writes that "The people who have long, successful careers in any endeavor are those who consistently work hard but don't push themselves so much that they break down." 

And when you meet your goals, celebrate them.  "Celebrate every personal best, even it's only by one second."  Meb certainly had plenty of personal bests to celebrate.  But he was also realistic.  For each race, he would set a series of goals, for example, first place, top 3, top 10, or simply to finish.  Sometimes during a race, you have to adjust your goals, but can still celebrate.

Meb tells some great stories, and shows why he has become so beloved by marathon fans around the world.  As you read, you'll cheer for him at every race, grieve with him as he fights injury, and celebrate with him as he bounces back.  His is a great American success story.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

We Chose You, by Tony & Lauren Dungy

I know who Tony Dungy is--NFL coach, outspoken Christian--but I didn't know he is the father of 10 children, most of whom are adopted.  In We Chose You, which Dungy co-wrote with his wife, Lauren, a mom and dad explain to their son that they chose him, that God makes all kinds of families.

Calvin came home from school worried about his project for the next day, in which he was going to have to tell the class about his family.  Calvin's mom and dad explained to him that they had prayed and prayed for him, and that God chose him for them, and chose them for him.  Dad reassured him that "Once we became your parents, we all became a family.  You can't un-choose family."

It's a simple message, but one that many adoptees struggle with.  Mom makes it clear to Calvin that even though he didn't "grow in her tummy," they are just as much a family.  I'd be interested to see how the Dungys would address Calvin's questions if he had siblings who were biological children.  I have not doubt that they would assure Calvin that of course they love him just as much as their biological children.  Since the Dungys have both biological and adopted children, perhaps the next book will cover that territory.

This is a cute book with a great message for any child whose life is touched by adoption.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Inherit the Stars, by James P. Hogan

James P. Hogan's 1977 novel Inherit the Stars has one of the great set-ups in sci-fi.  Human explorers on the moon uncover an unusual find: a human in a space suit.  Clearly he's been dead a while, but no group of humans will own up to a missing crew member.  Soon researchers get the most shocking news of all: the corpse is 50,000 years old!  This discovery and subsequent related discoveries spark an investigation into the very origins of human life.

Upon reflection, one interesting thing about Inherit the Stars is that despite its being science-heavy, with lots of conversations between scientists comparing theories, it's very readable.  Also, with much of the text being made up these conversation among scientists, there's not a lot that actually happens, yet it's a fun and entertaining read.  And although it was first published more than 40 years ago, Hogan's anticipation of technological developments (and the fact that tech is not central to the story) has kept the story fresh.

Inherit the Stars, Hogan's first novel, established him as a reliably entertaining writer of hard science fiction.  This is definitely a novel that is worth revisiting.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Big Lie, by Dinesh D'Souza

Dinesh D'Souza has built a reputation as an author, filmmaker, and public speaker for defending conservative American principles against the onslaught of leftism that continues to spread in the U.S.  by exposing the lies and agendas of Obama, the Clintons, and other leftists, he has provided ammunition for people to oppose them.  In The Big Lie: Exposing the Roots of the American Left, he digs into he current expressions of liberal, progressive politics in the U.S. and shows their inextricable link to Naziism.

Does that sound outrageous?  Over the top?  Read the book.  Look at the history D'Souza lays out and judge for yourself.  The left is fond of calling Trump a fascist and comparing him to Hitler.  But what is fascism?  What did Hitler and the Nazi party stand for?  You'll see they have much more in common with modern Democrats than with Trump and the Republicans.  That's part of the Big Lie: using references to mean the opposite of what they actually mean.  A perfect example: Antifa.  They say they are fighting fascism while behaving exactly like fascists of the past and supporting literally fascist policies.

There are some important and troubling historical ties to support D'Souza's claims.  As the Nazi's were taking over Germany, they wondered about a method by which they could segregate a whole class of people within their own nation.  They looked to the example of the policies established by Democratic politicians in the U.S.  The second-class treatment of blacks in the U.S. and the displacement of Native Americans both provided great inspiration to the Nazis.  The concentration camps (the work camps, not the death camps) were like Southern plantations.  D'Souza attributes these policies to the Democrats who established them, and draws a line to modern-day Democrats.

It's amazing to hear how enamored American Democrats and liberals were with Hitler and Mussolini in the years leading up to World War 2.  Thank God that war exposed and defeated the evils of Nazism and fascism.  But the love of their political and social principles lives on in the Democratic party.  Thank God D'Souza is doing the good work of exposing the history behind the current political environment, and thank God Trump is working to defeat it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Gospel at Work, by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert

For Christians, especially lay Christians, I'm not sure we can talk enough about how our daily, secular lives should reflect the gospel.  In The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Meaning and Purpose to Our Jobs, a pastor and a businessman team up to guide Christians who have one foot in the world and one foot in the Kingdom (that is, all Christians).  Sebastian Traeger is a businessman and entrepreneur, and Greg Gilbert is a seminary graduate and pastor.  Together they help the reader realize that no matter what you do with your life and career, Christians have one boss: Jesus.Edit

Most of us navigate between the two extremes of idolatry and idleness.  You may make an idol of your work.  If your identity is tied up exclusively in your job, or the time commitments of your job prevent you from doing anything else in your life, or if  you find yourself valuing job status or rewards over relationships, you are probably on the "idol" end of the spectrum.  On the other hand, your problem may be idleness.  This includes literal idleness, which needs no explanation, but on a spiritual level, Traeger and Gilbert mean "when we fail to see God's purpose in our work. . . . when we neglect our responsibility to serve as if we are serving the Lord." 

That is really the key: no matter what you're doing, whether full-time ministry or a secular job in the marketplace, work as if your boss is Jesus himself.  Accepting that fact will shape the way you work and live.  I was convicted by their points on a number of levels.  Representing both the business world and the professional ministry world, the authors are careful to emphasize that full-time ministry is not a superior calling to business or secular labor.  In fact, they point out that given a normal work week, less than half of our waking hours are spend in a job.  God is just as concerned with how we spend the other 65% of our days, with family, church, service, and leisure.  As a seminary graduate who struggles with the fact that I am working in the secular world, this reminder is a great encouragement and challenge to me.

Traeger and Gilbert offer a refreshing perspective on work and calling.  Jesus is our boss, whether or not we are in full-time ministry.  We shouldn't get hung up on what we are "called" to do, but pursue what we desire, are gifted in, and have opportunity to do.  Above all, no matter how we spend our days and make our living, we must simply  "Follow Jesus and bring him glory."  Amen, brothers.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Right Hand, by Derek Haas

Derek Haas has made a name for himself in movies and TV with his screenplays and shows like "Chicago Fire" and "Chicago PD."  Turns out he can write a decent action novel, too.  In The Right Hand, he delves into territory familiar to fans of Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne.  Haas's hero, Austin Clay, works on his own, checking in with his handler, but outside of much structure and accountability.  He's on a mission to rescue another agent, and find Marika, a young lady who has information about their Russian foes.  Of course, things go off the rails when the other agent gives up all he knows, and Clay decides that Marika is worth saving rather than using her as a pawn.

Haas keeps the action going at break-neck speed.  He gives some glimpses into Clay's background and childhood, but the focus is on the chase.  Like any action hero worth his salt, Clay is adept with weapons, evasive driving (car or motorcycle), spycraft, and killing.  Especially killing.  He leaves quite a wake of bodies.  But it's not his fault!  The bad guys just keep coming after him, and his survival instinct kicks in.  I like this about him, too: even though he could get the girl, he turns her down, keeping her best interests in mind.  A real gentleman.

The Right Hand doesn't try to make any big geopolitical points, although the plot has plenty of international intrigue.  Haas focuses on the action, the characters, and the body count.  This is, in my mind, what a fun spy thriller should focus on.  Haas may not measure up to the great writers of spy fiction, but he certainly can tell an entertaining (and cinematic) tale.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons, ed. Bob Eckstein

If you are an avid reader or book lover, you will relate to the cartoons that Bob Eckstein has collected in The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons by the World's Greatest Cartoonists.  Eckstein features several dozen cartoonists whose cartoons have appeared in various publications.  The New Yorker magazine is where most of these originated.  If you have an idea of the style of the cartoons they publish, then you have an idea of this book.

Several themes show up throughout the book.  The quirky interactions of author appearances and book signings.  The loss of the traditional bookstores, either to online retailers or to "bookstores" that sell all manner of things besides books.  The struggles of the lives of authors and editors.  The lifestyle of someone who simply likes to read.

As Eckstein writes in the introduction, "Long live books, bookstores, and cartoons!"  Book lovers understand.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!