Category: For the Love of Books

Ten Best Books I Read in 2015

books-on-shelves

Here’s an eclectic list of books, varied in subject, genre, and form. I like to find the best in popular books, old and new, and find hidden gems that are less-well known but sometimes even more worthy of being found on a “best-seller” list. Perhaps you’ll discover a new favorite among these:

(In no particular order)

  1. STONE BY STONE: Tear Down the Wall Between God’s Heart and Yours by Jasona Brown (WhiteFire, 2015) – I’m part of a group of prayer ministers in my church. We spent several months this past year reading and discussing this book and praying together over personal issues that came up. Stone by Stone brings to light obstacles in our hearts that hinder us from freely and fully receiving God’s love and living in wholeness, in the joy of the Lord. Topics covered include:guilt, unforgiveness, lies believed, trauma, and unhealed memories. I enjoyed the conversational style of the author, the way she so transparently shared her own story, and the way her compassion for hurting people comes through.
  2. A GUIDE FOR LISTENING AND INNER HEALING PRAYER: Meeting God in the Broken Places by Rusty Rustenbach (NavPress, 2011)  –  As the title indicates, this is a comprehensive guide. It includes personal stories from the authors life and examples from other people’s lives as well. I recommend it to anyone desiring to remove barriers to intimacy with God and to be free of negative emotions that have plagued you for years, to experience release, freedom, and healing of emotional wounds. This book can lead individuals step-by-step in that healing process, and it can equip groups like the one I’m in, to facilitate a listening and inner-healing prayer ministry for the wounded people the Lord brings to us.
  3. THE LANGUAGE OF GOD: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins (Free Press, 2007)  –  Science has not been my forte. But this is a fascinating book.  Like many Christians, I had some skepticism. Can you really believe both science and the Bible? Collins, a pioneering medical geneticist who headed the Human Genome Project presents a clear and sincere personal testimony of coming to faith in Jesus. He also discusses scientific discoveries in an easy-to-follow way that I actually enjoyed. He says we don’t have to choose between science and God. Especially helpful is Collins’ explanation of how and why a Bible-believing Christian may accept the theory of evolution.
  4. SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY: A Woman’s Journey through Poems selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy (Grand Central, 2014) –  I love poetry and have a collection of poetry books. Some are antiques that belonged to my great-grandmother. Some are tomes I studied in college. I turn to poetry in times of deep emotion and it helps me walk through those times. Well, for my birthday last year I received a Barnes & Noble gift card. I decided I wanted a current volume of poetry. I remembered seeing a small “Poetry” section in our local B&N. When I went there, that section had disappeared, but a few poetry books were squeezed on half a shelf somewhere at the bottom of the “fiction” section. Sad. The pickings were slim. But She Walks in Beauty stood out to me. After scanning the topics (“Falling In Love” “Marriage” “Work” “Growing Up and Growing Old” “Friendship” “Silence and Solitude”) I bought the book. It didn’t disappoint. Ms. Kennedy included poems by some of my “old” favorites, such as Frost, Yeats, Browning and also introduced me to contemporary poets. She even included Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila and poetic passages from the Bible. The poems cover nearly every aspect of a woman’s life. To me the best parts, though, were Ms.Kennedy’s insightful, personal, and beautifully-expressed introductions to each subject group of poems.
  5. SOLDIER’S HEART: A Novel by Michele McKnight Baker (Heritage Beacon, 2015) – I read this Civil-War era novel in manuscript form. Many fiction manuscripts have crossed my desk through the years. But few have made as strong an impression on me as this one did. An agent sent me the manuscript. During 15 years of acquiring manuscripts for Cladach, only twice have I failed to win a contract for a book I really wanted to publish. Soldier’s Heart is one of those. The characters, the setting, the time period, the twists of plot, authentic conflicts, and the theme of generational sins and reconciliations make Soldier’s Heart an unforgettable read. What we now call PTSD, often diagnosed in military personnel returning from war, used to be called “soldier’s heart.” If you enjoy Christian historical fiction—read this novel.
  6. ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL by James Herriot (Bantam, 1974) –  One winter day I felt like reading something cozy and familiar; so I perused the well-worn volumes of my personal library and pulled some James Herriot books off the shelf. I first read his warm and wonderful series of Yorkshire-vet tales in the 1980s. The Chicago Tribune (according to the back cover) said this book was “bursting with love, laughter and the joy of life” and a “soul-satisfying autobiographical book. Human beings just naturally respond to a writer as lovable, wholesome, eloquent, humorous and well-stocked with anecdotes as James Herriot.”  I agree. Worth keeping for decades and reading over again.
  7. ALL WE LIKE SHEEP: Lessons from the Sheepfold by Marilyn Bay Wentz and Mildred Nelson Bay (Cladach, 2015) –  I read this book more closely than any other on this list, since I edited it! When Marilyn first sent her completed manuscript, which I had agreed to publish, I had just read a couple of James Herriot’s books. He describes so vividly his experiences with sheep and other farm animals. I looked forward to more such stories from a sheep farmer I knew, right here in Colorado. During the revision process, I asked authors Marilyn and Millie, “Do you enjoy your sheep? Do you love what you do— the farm, the outdoors, the mornings and evenings, the barn, the pastures, etc? Your choices of words, images, vignettes will help me experience the sheep farm vicariously. I want to smell the sweet hay, to hear the lambs bleat, to feel a newborn lamb, the bite of a chilly midnight during lambing season. I want to laugh and cry with you as you deal with rogue dogs and coyotes, search for a lost lamb, watch your flock come running as they recognize your voice.” Marilyn and Millie caught the vision of “creative nonfiction” and accomplished the feat of writing their shepherding experiences as stories with dialogue, sensory details, and emotion. In an entertaining way, the authors “show us” as well as teach us why the Bible says we are all like sheep.
  8. YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction—from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between  by Lee Gutkind (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2012) Speaking of creative nonfiction (as I did in #6 and #7 above)—a style popular in journalism today, and the style I prefer for memoirs and other nonfiction—this is a definitive book on what it is and how to write it. I read this book in preparation for a workshop I presented at the Writers on the Rock conference. A secular, colorfully-written book, by the expert on the subject, that includes many examples and exercises. I read the Kindle version.
  9. THE UNCONTROLLING LOVE OF GOD: An Open and Relational Account of Providence  by Thomas Jay Oord (Intervarsity Press, 2015) –  I have some of my preacher father’s and some of my preacher grandfather’s theology books that were handed down to me. I’ve acquired and studied other, more recent theological books, mostly written from the Wesleyan-Arminian perspective, as well as broader Evangelical and even a few Reformed works. In recent years, have enjoyed books by N.T. Wright and Jurgen Moltmann. I heard about Thomas Jay Oord before I knew of his many books. Since we had mutual acquaintances, I responded to Mr. Oord’s request for readers to review his then-forthcoming book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. I read it in pdf form. This book provokes thought and lays out a convincing case concerning why evil happens even though “God is love.” You can read my Amazon review of the book here.
  10. LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo (Penguin Audio, 2009) I own three video/DVD versions of Les Miserables — an old movie, a more recent movie, and a stage musical production. The story—with its timeless themes of justice, mercy, and redemption—always inspires and the music lifts me. I wanted to read the book, but haven’t yet tackled that thick volume. Instead, I started an Audible membership and downloaded this Audible/audio version of the great classic. My husband and I listened to it on a long road trip and enjoyed this abridged, well-narrated version of the book. An accessible way for tired or busy eyes to devour and relish great literature.

 

Joy in the Journey ~ Favorite Photos #1

sage and deer at fence

Photo © Gayle M. Irwin

Are you experiencing joy, even when your path may lead through trials, disappointments, and losses? This kind of joy is infectious. With this joy you can “brighten the corner where you are.”

As a young teen in my father’s church I remember one old lady who stood in every testimony service to give an account of all her woes. Then in a mournful voice she would conclude, “But the joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Although my generation never thought we’d get old, the thought must have crossed my mind: “Is that what I have to look forward to, when I’m a ‘mature saint’?”

Since then I’ve met truly joyful elderly Christians who inspire me to focus on the gifts of each moment and on our abounding hopes for the future. Likewise, I’ve met Christians of all ages with disabilities who focus on their abilities and using with abandon the gifts they have (I had a wheelchair-bound friend who both painted and played basketball). I’ve met young mothers and fathers who have lost babies, or who face the fatality of serious cancers, but focus on unseen hopes, on loving and enjoying loved ones while they have life.

I’ve also witnessed this kind of God-created joy in nature. As children, my sister and I had a little dog named Buster who joyously followed our escapades in the neighborhood and in the vacant lot near the parsonage. Whether we were running, skipping, skating, riding bikes, walking on stilts … Buster was there. But trouble lurked in stickery patches where goatheads pierced his little paws. He never cried or stopped. Just kept running on three legs. More than once I saw him holding up a second paw and running on two legs! We hurried to his rescue and removed the thorn(s). But I do believe that, if he had stickers in three paws, he would have tried his best to hop along on one leg. It wouldn’t have surprised me—much—knowing Buster.

Nature—including our pets—can speak to us about the Creator’s ways and His provisions. We are drawn to nature photos for their calming, inspiring effect. These—and other types of photos—can add zing to blog posts and books. For instance, visual treasures—both of nature and other subjects—reside within many Cladach books.

In the next few weeks I’ll dig for these treasures and share my favorites here.

Today I present two black-and-white photos from Walking In Trust : Lessons Learned with my Blind Dog by Gayle M. Irwin (above and below). These photos show the joy of a dog named Sage as she experienced life and navigated her environment. Blindness didn’t stop her—or her people—from adventures (that you can read about in the book).

Who would think—from these photos—that Sage the Springer Spaniel was totally blind?

Sage inspires us to live fully, this moment, in the joy of the Lord.

Photo © Gayle M. Irwin

Poetry, Art, and Books—Between the Generations

Here I am with one of my granddaughters. She’s a creative girl who likes to study nature, write poems, and draw pictures.

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I started writing poems as a girl, myself. Here’s one I wrote in my youth, about BOOKS.

My granddaughter drew the picture below, to illustrate this poem.

A Book

If I’m reading a book
It is my whole world.
It’s my magic carpet,
And away I’m swirled—
Off to places unknown.
And I find myself
Living in a strange realm—
This book off the shelf.

©Catherine Lawton

Bre-book

You can tell by the picture that my granddaughter likes to read as well, and that she has experienced books that:

  • help her imagination and heart “take flight” like the bird she drew.
  • provide adventure and new perspectives like the hot-air balloon in her drawing.
  • sweep the reader into other places and times and even into imaginary worlds.

Some of God’s best gifts in this life: grandchildren, poetry, art, and books!

Hot off the Press

Freshly-printed copies of the newest Cladach book arrived today! We never get over the excitement of opening a carton and holding a new book in our hands. It looks exactly as we planned and hoped it would when we sent the book files to our chosen printer/book manufacturer. Beautiful inside and out.

4-book 5-books 7-Ch18-Back-cover3-cartons

 

The new book feels good (smooth cover, touchable pages), smells good (fresh paper and ink), sounds good (leaves rustling), “tastes” good (I haven’t eaten a book yet, but in the story the author mentions food often!).

Everything I Need to Know About Publishing I Learned from my Preacher Father

My father preaching on the radio around the time I was born

Practically being raised on a church pew helped set me on this bookish course, I think. I remember singing with gusto the gospel song, “Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace; tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.” During my growing-up years as my father’s daughter, watching him and my mother minister in many churches, I learned:

The potency and potential of a book.

In our denomination decades ago, we were people of two books: the Bible and the Hymnal. Every church service began and ended with the hymnal, a wondrous heavy book which, during congregational singing everyone held or shared with the person next to them. The hymnal united us as we raised our voices in lilting melodies and straight-forward harmonies accompanied by my mother’s lively piano playing, often eliciting “amens” of blessing. All the symbols to make so much music resided on the pages of that book, all the words to elicit such response, blended in heart-stirring, mind-engaging, and soul-satisfying rhythm, sense and rhyme. Then there’s the Bible, which actually comes first. In every meeting the Bible was opened and revered. Individuals were urged to read and ponder it daily. The congregation would stand for “the reading of the Word.” With a reverent, sonorous, unctuous voice, the preacher read a passage from the Bible, then exhorted from its inexhaustible storehouse of truth, wisdom, and life application. I saw evangelists hold their big, black, leather Bibles aloft in one large hand and exclaim something like, “The Word of God is alive! It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing enough to reveal your sin.” And I quaked. I also learned young that real comfort could be experienced from those pages. No mere words on paper. But alive! Jumping off the page and into the mouth of the preacher, into the mind and heart of the reader or the listener. Quickening!

The joy of writing, printing, and disseminating words on paper.

I sometimes watched my preacher father as he typed the church bulletin—and perhaps a newsletter—during the week on his old black typewriter (I loved hearing the keys click and watching the little hammers hit the paper resulting in words appearing and forming themselves into sentences that said something and that people would read and use to plan their week). On Saturday Daddy would crank out maybe two-hundred copies with his mimeograph machine. I can still smell the ink and hear the sheets of paper swoosh round the rollers and shoot out onto the pile of materials ready to be folded and stacked, then handed out and read—to inform and influence—to be published!

The importance of getting the word out.

Twice a year when the church had extended revival services with itinerant evangelists, Daddy would mimeograph a flyer about the week of meetings. I remember a few times when he paid my sister and me 5¢ per city block to take the flyers door-to-door and invite people to the services. (I hesitate to say city block—these were rural towns in agricultural areas.) We learned the importance of overcoming our trepidation, knocking on doors, and getting out the word (much like the publicity side of publishing).

The value of reading and sharing books.

I didn’t have a lot of toys and few of the types of entertainment children have today. (We got our first TV when I was 11 or 12). But always there were books. Books lined the shelves in my father’s study. He took my sister and me to the public library regularly, encouraging us to browse and check out books that interested us. My sister read every horse book she could find, especially those by Walter Farley. I read all the Louisa May Alcott books. And when we brought books home from school or library, our mother often read them too, and we all enjoyed discussing together the stories. In fact, my sister and I always told each other the stories we read. As a result, I felt I’d read the Black Stallion books even though I never did. And she knew the characters and plots in Little Women and Under the Lilacs even though she never read them herself. She didn’t have to. That ability to vicariously experience the stories really helped, because there were so many more books to discover! (A side note: When I was a girl I’d hear people argue their point in conversation by saying, “I know it’s true. I read it in a book!” Whether people were readers or not, most had a sort of reverential awe of books.)

The importance of knowing your readers, your audience, your market.

My father made it a practice to call on his flock in their homes regularly and also to be there whenever trouble hit a family. He would stop by their businesses, farms, and work places to have a friendly chat. When he stood in the pulpit to preach on Sunday, he knew those people. He knew their families, their joys and sorrows, the challenges they faced. He also knew their interests, their hobbies, what made them laugh or cry.

How to recruit, train, and encourage workers.

The work and mission of the church needed people of all abilities and ages (and still does). I saw discernment in operation, encouragement expressed, and responsibilities entrusted. Organizing, scheduling, holding meetings were necessary. But loving God and loving people mattered most. Whether or not I heard that expressed in so many words, I definitely “caught” the mindset. As a publisher I want to see sales and increase distribution. I want well-edited and designed books, I want engaged authors, reliable print providers, and enthusiastic book reviewers. I want customers to buy our books. But most of all I want to experience God’s presence in all we do. I want to always remember that, as a Christian publisher, what we publish truly is “glad tidings.”

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