Book Reviews

Review: Ready or Not (NavPress)

iGgrDwAAQBAJThis book is meant to help twentysomethings as they figure out life and all that lies ahead of them.

Had I read this book in my 20s, I’m sure my life would be completely different from what it is today. However, I’m equally sure that my know-it-all younger self would have scoffed at the suggestion of reading a book to help me figure out life. (I’m grateful my God redeems and blesses even when I choose the less-than-ideal path).

So, as wonderful as this book is, I wonder how many twentysomethings  who need the help and encouragement will be open to reading this book, much less using it.

In nine chapters, the authors treat relevant topics from a practical point of view, using anecdotes, quotes, and research. At the end of every chapter are exercises,  discussion questions, and suggestions on how to apply principles learned in everyday life. The chapter titles are: Vocation, God and Us, Past and Present, Dimensions and Rhythms, Spirituality, Work, Family, Church, and Community. In these chapters a lot is covered—from how to deal with the boring and mundane to what to do when your church doesn’t meet your spiritual needs.

I especially appreciate the emphasis on connecting with and learning from others. For example, one suggestion is to interview someone at least 20 years older and who exemplifies a life of sustaining faith. The authors even give you interview questions that you can build on. They urge the reader: “Surround yourself with people you know and trust to treat your hopes and fears with the best of intentions.”

The more of the book I read, I more realized that it would fit into the curriculum of a Life Skills course or a small group study. Perhaps this type of setting would be a gentle way to force-feed the twentysomethings who desperately need to hear what this book says but who are resistant to anything that even subtly smacks of advice or self-help.

I also think this book is a great resource for older adults—parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, mentors—with a twentysomething in their lives. It has certainly helped me reframe my conversations with young adults.

(Go here for more information about the book and the authors)

FOR THE RECORD, IN EXCHANGE FOR THIS REVIEW I RECEIVED THIS BOOK FROM NAVPRESS.

 

Review: Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid (Penguin Books)

exitwest-200x300From start to finish, the book reads like the rehearsed voice of a news reporter. It’s as if the author is telling you the story in real-time with little backstory or context.

You do your best to weave the story together with the pieces you have, with what’s happening right now, but without details of the past, the whys, and the hows. As a result, there are holes in the story! But that’s okay because you quickly realize that what’s missing isn’t essential to the story. This could be anybody’s story—not just that of Nadia and Saeed.

This is a universal story is about people surviving whatever life throws at them. Who the people are, where the story happens, and even why the events occur are immaterial. The story is about life requiring—no, demanding—that at every turn we make a choice and then face the consequences of those choices. Hence the need for a detached reporter-like voice at every scene merely telling the reader what the choices are, which one the character chooses, and what happens as a result of the choice.

But every now and then, the matter-of-fact voice is broken by profound and painful truths. Here’s an example:

“That is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

As the story progresses, I found the authors’s voice grow tired and cold, like someone who has given up on possibilities. The change is so gradual that you almost forget that this is fiction, that Mohsin Hamid has complete control over the characters, the story, and even the ending. Instead you feel like the author has no choice in the storytelling because it is truth.

The storytelling is simply masterful.

Besides his superb storytelling, Hamid’s treatment of themes in the book—such as the plight of refugees—is raw with universal relevance. The story begins with Nadia losing her family for her independence, and that pattern of losing something to gain something else continues to the end.

“There was no good option for either of them. There was risk to each.”

Hamid’s treatment of life and death is clinical and also matter-of-fact. In the world of Nadia and Saeed, the possibility of death coming through a window is just as likely as death by cancer. Life is really the cancer, the death

Most all reviews of the book include the symbolism of doors. So I’m obliged to include it as well. Everything about the doors represents the uncertainty of life—from the blackness of the door to the fact that there’s nothing on the outside of the door to clue you into to what’s on the other side. There are no guarantees. Not knowing tomorrow from today makes life simultaneously feel like the beginning and the end. To pass from one moment to another is like both like dying and being born.

The book’s philosophical solution to the inevitability of uncertainty is this: With every new beginning, there is loss—and with that loss, you often lose a part of yourself. And if you’re not willing to fill that void with something else, discontentment brews.