"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Biographies

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted as always by The Broke and the Bookish, is a freebie, so I can choose any theme I want. I decided to talk about biographies.  I know that's not a popular theme for this link-up, as it tends to be focused on fiction and especially a lot of young adult.... but I like biographies, so I'm writing it anyway.  I'm a huge nerd and a former history major, but I've tried not to focus only on historical figures since that might not appeal to a lot of people.  It's not everyone that will not only by a bio of Khruschev on sale, but also give it away to the university used book sale and almost buy it back after spotting it on display.  (Yep, guilty as charged.)  It's worth noting that I don't read celebrity biographies at all, tending more towards historical figures, political heroes,

1.  Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas:  Some hardcore scholars dislike this work as it's not as academic, but I really enjoyed it and was very moved.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my personal heroes, and I loved reading about his difficult, but inspiring life.

2.  Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin:  Amazing read.  I could barely put it down, and that's saying something as it's quite the weighty tome.  I love how Goodwin chose to look not only at Lincoln, but at three of his closest rivals and later cabinet ministers, and show how their lives all developed.

3.  Catherine the Great:  Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie:  A great and readable book about a fascinating woman.  I've got Massie's biography of Peter the Great on deck for this summer.  Fun fact:  When I was in St. Petersburg, I witnessed a drunk man unleashing a tirade of anger at a statue of Catherine the Great.  Apparently he wasn't a fan of her historical legacy, but he felt he knew her well enough to call her "Katya".  Put that in the "only in Russia" file.

4.  I, Rigoberta Menchu:  An Indian Woman in Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchu and Elisabeth Burgos-Debray:  Apparently this book is controversial, but I found it fascinating in the look it gave at traditional Mayan culture in Guatemala (a place I have visited many times), and the awareness of the horrible civil war there.

5.  The Verneys:  A True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England by Adrian Tinniswood:  This book is the story of the Verney family, not overly famous or influential, but members of the English aristocracy.  The interesting thing about the Verney family is that they kept ALL of their correspondence, and even copies of the letters they sent to others, so it tells so much about life during the seventeenth century.  I know, this is really nerdy, but I found this book fascinating.

6.  In No Uncertain Terms:  A South African Memoir by Helen Suzman:  Helen Suzman is not someone many people would have heard of, but she was at one point the only person in the South African parliament who opposed Apartheid, and I found her life very inspiring.

7.  Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore:  An interesting look at the man before he became a dictator.

8.  Persepolis:  The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi:  The only memoir I can think of that is told in graphic novel format.  It's a really creative and interesting look at the Iranian revolution from the inside.

9.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot:  I read this last year for a book club and found it surprisingly interesting and engaging.  Henrietta Lacks was a poor African American woman, whose cells ended up being used for medical science without her consent.  It was written well enough that someone not into science could still understand, and gave a good look at the difficulties that many African American families faced in the middle of the last century (and many still face now), such as poverty and lack of access to education.

10.  A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova:  The memoir of a Soviet childhood, told by a woman who developed an obsession with English at a young age.  Since I too dreamed of foreign languages and travel as a youth, it was especially interesting to me.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list.  Y'all, you have no idea how many unread biographies I have in my shelves:  Books on Vaclav Havel, Fidel Castro, Andrei Sakharov, and Nelson Mandela that I swear, I will read one of these days. 

So, do you like to read biographies?  What are your favourites?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Top Ten Books About Friendship

It's Tuesday again (where does the time go?) and over at The Broke and the Bookish, the topic is Top Ten Books About Friendship.  Here's my list:  

1.  The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton:  This book is about five young married women who meet in the early 1960s and form a deep friendship.  There were some annoying aspects to the book, but I loved seeing how their friendship developed over time and how the characters supported one another.

2.  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes:  A book about developing relationship between Will, rendered paraplegic by a terrible accident, and Louise, hired as a caregiver.  This book left me in a weepy mess.
3.  Attachments by Rainbow Rowell:  There is a love aspect of the story, but I absolutely loved the back-and-forth emails between Beth and Jennifer.  It made me miss my own best friend, because when we worked at the same place, we might have sent quite a few non-work-related emails ourselves...

4.  Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan:  I really liked this book, which deals with a group of jazz musicians during World War II.  It showed the complicated friendships of the men, who are of different ethnicities (German, Jewish, African American), and the impact that the friendship, and then betrayal of the friendship, had on Sid's life.

5.  Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery:  Anne and Diana, kindred spirits forever!  I love how Anne finally finds the bosom friend she has always longed for.
6.  Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck:  The close relationship between George and Lennie.  It's rare to see books that focus on male friendships, and this one is a classic.

7.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott:  Of course, they're sisters, but Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are friends too.  This book is why growing, up, I always wished for a bunch of sisters.

8.  The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng:  The unlikely friendship between a Chinese woman, the only survivor of a WWII Japanese war camp, and a Japanese gardener.

9.  The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin:  I can't help myself!  I loved these books growing up.  I was a bit disappointed that turning 13 didn't exactly render me as grown-up as it seemed it would from the books, and that I never developed a group of friends as tight as Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey, Dawn, Mallory, and Jessie. :)
10.  MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche:  Not a novel, but a book about friendship itself, and one woman's search for a new best friend when she moves to Chicago.  I loved the snippets of research on what makes friendships work, as well as the reminder that close friends don't always just drop out of the sky; sometimes you have to go looking for them.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Do I Trust God?

2014 been a difficult year so far.  It's been good in some ways, but also difficult.  I feel like I've been in a holding pattern for a while now, wanting to move on to something new, but held back by a myriad of different factors.  If I'm honest, it has been a year in which my trust in God has been challenged and, I hope that when we come out of this phase, I will find it has been strengthened.  I have been asking myself recently if I really trust God.  I'm a Christian; I work in a church and lead at a Bible study, so it's really easy to say that I do, right?  When the going gets tough, however, so often I find myself wondering why it's so hard, and whether God is really working in this situation at all.

The big question is:  How do I know that I trust God?  Is it a gut feeling?  That doesn't seem right, because trust isn't all about feelings.  I don't get into an airplane with an overwhelming "feeling" of trusting the laws of aerodynamic.  The fact that I got into the airplane at all is evidence that I trust the plane will take off, travel, and land without risk to my life.  I don't have a gut feeling that I trust my husband, but show that I trust him by sharing my life with him without fearing that he will take advantage of me or abuse me or be unfaithful.

So how do I know that I trust God?  It's not about putting myself into dangerous situations and knowing He will protect me (although it's possible that He will require me to go into dangerous situations).  He's not the Edward Cullen to my Bella Swan, after all. ;)  Part of it is obviously obedience:  I trust God by obeying His commands, without worrying that I'm being deprived in some way.  Maybe in part, it's also a bit like trusting Gil.  I share my life with God, through prayer and Bible reading (slacking a bit on that lately...) and being mindful of Him at all times, and trusting that He will use that for my good. 

Today I planted our vegetable garden.  After our my attempts last year did not yield much, I decided to skip seeds and plant seedlings this year, seeing as our growing season is so short.  I guess that planting seed(lings) is a bit like trusting God.  You do what you can, knowing that the real "work" of growing is out of your hands, dependent on weather and sunshine and the neighbour's dog not getting into our yard.  Will I trust that God is working under the surface of my life, even if I don't know whether I will get a handful of cherry tomatoes or a bountiful harvest, but that I can trust that the growth is good?

I've been reading the book of Ruth over the past few days, and am reminded once again how the most difficult ordeals can ultimately end well.  It doesn't negate the difficult part or mean we have to pretend it was all easy, but it does mean that I can be confident that God is doing *something* through this lean year, even if that something leads to a path I hadn't anticipated.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Top Ten Tuesdays: Books I Almost Put Down (But Didn't)

I've been on a blogging break lately, but now I'm back for another link-up.  This week's topic for Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish is "Top 10 Books I Almost Put Down (But Didn't)".  This is a bit of a mixed bag list.  It's rare that I don't finish a book, especially fiction. Some of the books are ones that I ended up enjoying, while others I basically just pushed through to say I'd finished them.

1.  The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov:  I actually quite like this book, but it's really, really strange.  There are talking cats and trips back in time to Pontius Pilate.  The first time I read it, I just couldn't deal with the wackiness, and the second time, I had to force myself to get into the story, but I'm glad I did.

2.  2666 by Robert BolaƱo:  This book has several different stories, and I was a bit hazy how they all connected.  To be honest, I think I finished this book because I'd paid for it and it was really long, but I didn't like it at all.

3.  Vanity Fair by William Thackeray:  I got into this at first, but to be honest, I didn't really like any of the characters.  By the middle, I was really tired of Becky Sharp's manipulation and Amelia's lack of personality, but I had to finish to see just how things would end up.

4.  From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming:  I read this thinking that it would be a fun spy novel, but actually, it was kind of boring.  James Bond doesn't even make an appearance into nearly halfway through the book, and the misogyny was enough to make my head spin.  I think I only finished because I'd blogged about how it was on my spring list. :)

5.  The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien:  I know, right?  I actually DID put this down.  It was my third time starting the series when I actually managed to complete it.  Don't get me wrong:  The books are fantastic, but very long, and all the poems and songs did me in.  (True confession:  I skipped through all the songs.)

6.  The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman:  I just read this last month for my book club, and enjoyed it, but I nearly set it down partway through.  I don't want to give any spoilers, but the book centres around a major deception, and I have trouble reading about that kind of thing.  I'm glad I did finish it though.

7.  The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro:  I've mentioned this before, but I didn't like The Unconsoled at all.  There is no plot.  I kept reading just to see if it would finally come together and make sense.  Nope.

8.  Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella:  I read this during my breaks when I worked at a large book store, and at first I just couldn't understand how Becky could be such a moron.  I kept at it and ended up enjoying the book a lot, though it's not generally my style.