Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#6: When Books Went to War (Molly Guptill Manning)

I decided it was time to read a little non-fiction in this year’s reading adventure. The book’s cover immediately grabbed my attention. A World War II soldier sits in a dirt bunker among heavy vegetation with a moss-covered helmet designed to hide him from the enemy. What is that in his hand? It’s not a rifle or a grenade; the soldier is clearly engrossed in a tiny paperback book.

When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II is a fascinating exploration of the U.S. response to Nazi Germany’s book burnings. Beginning with book donations collected by American librarians, the impact of reading on soldier morale was quickly identified. The only problem was the size and weight of the books. In an unexpected turn of events, the Federal Government stepped in and produced thousands of American Service Editions (ASEs), tiny paperback editions that easily fit in a soldier’s pocket.

ASEs appeared throughout the war’s various theaters….in hospitals, bases, and the front line. Soldiers applauded the representative authors for providing insightful stories that connected them to the home they had left behind. The reader will be surprised by the vast library created by the ASEs and the genres represented in the pocket editions. You will chuckle as you read about the politics that hampered the project throughout its existence. You will be amazed as you visualize men and women escaping into the words of a novel as they face mortal danger.

When Books Went to War is not a typical read for me. Still, it was an enjoyable book that was both entertaining and informative.

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#3: The Practicing Mind (Thomas M. Sterner)

I finished reading this book earlier this month and never got around to writing a blog post about it. Here it is….better late than never, I suppose.

The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life is applicable to all areas of life. With special attention to the study of music and golf, Sterner looks at the steps necessary in “mastering any skill by learning to love the process.” To summarize the book very quickly, Sterner advocates using a DOC approach to practice — Do, Observe, Correct. His emphasis on the observation step and its non-judgmental, non-self-depreciating aspects are extremely valuable to the growing musician.

Written in an anecdotal style, The Practicing Mind is an extremely easy read. Its thought-provoking ideas will challenge the reader in the early stages of the work. As Sterner continues through the book, his prose and ideas become rather repetitive, which I found to diminish the power of the work. (To be fair, the idea of repetition is central to Sterner’s argument and its use in his writing may be intentional. However, the repetition without the addition of new ideas was grating for this reader.)

Will I assign The Practicing Mind to all of my college students? Certainly not. I do think it can be a powerful tool in specific situations and has earned a place on my resource bookshelf.

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#1: Professional Piano Teaching (Jeanine M. Jacobson)

We are ending the third week of 2015 and I am just finishing my first book of the year. I definitely have to get some more reading in or things are not going to be pretty!

I chose to begin the year with Professional Piano Teaching: A Comprehensive Piano Pedagogy Textbook for Teaching Elementary-Level Students now that I have returned to the private teaching studio after a long absence. What I found is that I have good natural instincts as a teacher, but that there are always areas that can be improved. Jacobson’s book was extremely well written and organized in a manner that will make it a resource that I will return to over and over. I especially enjoyed the chapters devoted to teaching technique and musicality to beginning students. The practical tips offered in chapter 11, “The Business of Piano Teaching,” were helpful as I plan for studio growth in the future. All in all, the book challenged me to honestly evaluate my teaching and constantly pursue greater levels of excellence. It was definitely a good place to begin the new year.

For a more detailed analysis of Professional Piano Teaching, watch for the review appearing on my professional blog — Collaborations — on Thursday, January 29, 2015.

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#12: One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future (Ben Carson)

Ever since reading Gifted Hands, I have been very impressed by Dr. Carson’s insight and common sense approach to all areas of life. What I found in One Nation is another example of an intelligent citizen speaking out about the things that are wrong with our country and the steps we can ALL take to correct them. I’m sure the book is not viewed favorably by many in the mainstream media, but I found Dr. Carson’s thoughts challenging, insightful, and firmly based in history as well as Scripture.

Several topics appear throughout the book. Most notably are Carson’s views on education, political bullies, and the health care abomination known as Obamacare. While expressing his opinions on the topics, Carson continually emphasizes the responsibility of the individual citizen to be well-informed about the important issues facing the nation. Part of his approach to understanding today’s world is through the examination of the past.  Carson states, “Many people find history boring and think that pop culture is much more relevant to citizens today. There certainly is nothing wrong with being up to date on the current social issues that affect our lives, but in order to have the proper perspective on current events, we need to know what happened in the past.” (Carson, 43) Success in life, according to Dr. Carson, stems from a solid education. By extension, a secure nation is maintained by an educated citizenry. It is only when we are informed that we are truly relevant. Notice this powerful passage from the chapter on “Being Informed”:

Today I frequently find myself reminding young people to expand their horizons of knowledge and not listen to those who tell them to limit their interests to things that are “culturally relevant.” I tell them that if you want to be relevant only in your household, then you only need to know the things that are important in your house, and if you want to be relevant in your neighborhood, you need to know what’s important in your neighborhood. The same thing applies to your city, state, and country. And if you want to be relevant to the entire world, program that computer known as your brain with all kinds of information from everywhere in order to prepare yourself. (Carson, 125)

Perhaps most interesting are Carson’s views on taxation and the health care system in our nation. Carson bases his approach to taxation on the Biblical principle of the tithe. (Throughout the book, Dr. Carson refers to Scripture as a foundation for many of his opinions and is especially fond of the book of Proverbs.) Just as the tithe is 10% of income with no regard for the individual’s wealth or poverty, Carson argues that an equal percentage paid in taxes ends the punishment of the wealthy while reinstating the dignity of the poor by allowing them to contribute from their means. Dr. Carson advocates the use of health savings accounts (HSA) that are created at the time of birth and receive an initial deposit from the government. Future deposits would be made by employers, charitable organizations, and the individual. As Dr. Carson explains, such a system — while not perfect — places much of the responsibility back in the hands of the patient while once again creating a free market in our nation’s health care. I have to admit that I find the concept very interesting.

Do I agree with everything Dr. Carson has presented? Certainly not. I do think that he has raised issues that are important to our national dialogue. It’s time that “we the people” once again begin discussing the issues and making sure our elected officials are aware of our wishes. After all, they are to be our representatives — not the puppet masters.  One Nation is an excellent book that will challenge you to think critically about America’s current situation and our hope for the future.

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#1: Seven Things That Steal Your Joy (Joyce Meyer)

January is almost over and I’ve gotten behind in posting here. That will explain why two posts will appear in two consecutive days. (I wish I would finish a book in less than 24 hours!)

The year began with reading Joyce Meyer’s Seven Things That Steal Your Joy. In this Biblically based book, Meyer explores those things in our lives that steal the joy that comes from our relationship with Christ. Thankfully, Meyer doesn’t stop there; after each joy-stealer, she presents a chapter on how to reclaim the stolen joy. This isn’t a book that I would normally gravitate to, but thought it would be a good reminder to start the year off on the right foot. I’m glad I read it and plan to be on the lookout for Joy-stealers lurking around my life in the coming months.

In case you are curious, here are the Seven Joy-Stealers that Meyer identifies.

  1. Works of the Flesh
  2. Religious Legalism
  3. Complicating Simple Issues
  4. Excessive Reasoning
  5. Ungodly Anger
  6. Jealousy and Envy
  7. Habitual Discontentment

 

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#37: Prayer – Does It Make Any Difference? (Philip Yancey)

It’s not often that I pick up a book on a subject like prayer and read it from cover to cover. I’m so thankful that I did just that with Philip Yancey’s book on the subject. My prayer life has improved while reading it and I have begun to understand prayer more intimately.  If you’ve been reading my personal blog, Livin’ Life, recently, you’ve seen how the book has touched me. (You can check out the posts related to prayer here and here.)

If I had to pinpoint the one point that most spoke to my heart, it would definitely be this truth:  prayer is not an activity we engage in out of duty or because God needs it. Prayer is authentic, real, honest communication with the Living God! It’s all about relationship. That’s such a basic concept of the Christian faith, but I think many of us miss the boat when we view prayer as a laborious duty we need to fulfill. I found Yancey’s closing of the book exciting and inspiring. While thinking about Heaven as described in the book of Revelation, Yancey has this to say about prayer:

Prayer itself will necessarily change [in Heaven] — not end, exactly, but realize its rightful place as conversation. Prayer now is a kind of awkward rehearsal, like talking on a mobile phone to someone in Africa, the connection garbled and staticky, the English broken and accented. God “has never acquiesced in the break which was brought about in Adam,” wrote Jacques Ellul. Indeed God has not. The entire Bible chronicles God’s effort to renew what was lost on that day in the garden when Adam hid and no longer conversed with God as a friend. One day we will all have that chance.

Sometimes I think about my first face-to-face conversation with God. I have so many unresolved questions, so many laments and regrets. Where should I begin? Various openings play out in my mind, until I remember with a start whom in fact I will be talking to, the One who spun out galaxies and created all that exists. Objections fade away, doubts dissolve, and I imagine myself falling back on words akin to Job’s:  “Oh, now I get it.” And then the conversation resumes.  (Yancey, 327-328)

Did I enjoy this book? Yes.  Do I agree with all of Yancey’s arguments? No. I especially have issues with his statements about Divine healing. Have I been challenged and experienced growth while reading it? Most certainly. It’s not important that we all agree about every aspect of prayer; what is important is that we pursue a conversation with the Father that daily becomes more and more intimate.

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#33: The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry (Barry Green)

Barry Green’s book The Inner Game of Music was one of the best things I read during my graduate work. The Mastery of Music did not let me down either. Green examines characteristics that are important to every musician (and many other professions as well) by examining the performers of specific instruments that exemplify that quality. Who can doubt that a trumpet player epitomizes confidence? Filled with wonderful stories and honest reflection, The Mastery of Music is a book that should be read by every musician.

For a more detailed review of the book from a musical perspective, check out the post on Collaborations on Thursday, July 18, 2013.

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#31: Music in the 18th Century (John Rice)

Obviously this book is not recommended for everyone. A volume in the new Norton History series Western Music in ContextMusic in the 18th Century addresses the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. In an interesting approach, Rice groups music of the era geographically, giving major attention to the cities of Naples, Vienna, and Paris as well as others. A large amount of discussion is given to the historical and political events that shaped the music. A companion anthology is also available for each volume in the series.

I found Rice’s text to be extremely readable while maintaining its scholarly status. However, I did find the use of theoretical terms developed by Robert Gjerdingen (2007) to be unnecessarily confusing to the text. I found it humorous that Rice defends his inclusion of the material with the following statement:  “Readers need to keep in mind, however, that this terminology and the theory on which it rests are quite new and their usefulness still subject to debate.” (p. 35) That red-flag statement seemed to say, “I’m not sure there’s any validity to this discussion, but I’m going to include it to show how smart I am.” When Rice strictly spoke from a historical and musical point of view, the text was strong and filled with lots of insightful commentary; the theoretical discussions should have been avoided in the present text.

I look forward to reading the remaining volumes in the series that is edited by Walter Frisch. I’ll just need a little time to recover before diving into Joseph Auner’s Music of the 20th and 21st Centuries. A more thoroughly review of the present volume will appear on my professional blog, Collaborations, on Thursday, July 11, 2013.

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#21: Malibu Nanny: Adventures of the Former Kardashian Nanny (Pam Behan)

I have very little interest in the lives of the reality stars known as the Kardashians. Honestly, I probably couldn’t pick their pictures out if I was asked. I read Malibu Nanny because I know the author and felt our friendship deserved giving the book a read. What I thought was going to be a typical “tell-all” turned out to be a beautiful memoir of mistakes, loss, and love.

Pam Behan and I were both students at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where we studied music. Pam was a year ahead of me, but we got to know each other since we were both majoring in piano performance. I always knew Pam’s schedule was hectic because she was a full-time student, waited tables at a local restaurant, and was a nanny for the Jenner family (as in olympic gold-medalist Bruce Jenner), but I had no idea HOW crazy Pam’s life was. Now that I’ve read her memoir, I am shocked that Pam ever had time to complete her degree and maintain a semblance of sanity. Pam later becomes employed by the Kardashians when Mr. Jenner and Kris Kardashian marry.

Malibu Nanny is full of funny stories of the family as you would expect. The central character in the saga, however, is Pam herself. As readers, we watch as this young woman from Minnesota copes with the fast-paced, materialistic southern California society while trying to maintain her Midwestern values. Along the way, Pam faces the challenges associated with attempting to establish a career and start a family. Her difficulties with men throughout her life are tragic and explain why both Bruce Jenner and her father hold such important roles in her life.

As Pam’s journey takes her away from the craziness of Hollywood to Jackson, Tennessee and Aberdeen, South Dakota, Pam finds herself on a spiritual journey as well. Due to troublesome circumstances, Pam finds herself running to the God of her childhood and finds a renewed faith that is based in an authentic and personal relationship with a loving Savior. Pam tells the story of her life with such grace and honesty that her testimony of faith doesn’t feel preachy and comes along rather unexpectedly in the book. I have always known Pam to be a warm and loving person whose smile is infectious. It’s wonderful to see that the smile has grown because of Jesus.

Several passages in the later portion of the memoir spoke to my heart. In one of my favorite passages, Pam is reflecting over mistakes she has made in the area of relationships.  Pam states, “I reflect on some of my poor choices in men, and the years of heartache it caused. Yet, even the worst mistake of all — my choice to stand by Terry — was an integral part of the plan….God specializes in redeeming bad choices.  Now I look at all that pain, and where I am now, and I say this is why! Every bit of that horrible pain was worth it to have this most precious gift.” (p. 175) Isn’t it thrilling to know that “God specializes in redeeming bad choices?” Like Pam, I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes. I’m so thankful that they have been and continue to be redeemed by my loving Heavenly Father.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever wondered where their life was taking them. While Malibu Nanny shares some stories about the famous people Pam has encountered over the years (including the time Pam was dating mega-star Sylvester Stallone!), the memoir is really one woman’s story of finding herself while chasing her dreams and ultimately finding herself in a place of perfect peace.

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#20: Do Yourself a Favor…Forgive (Joyce Meyer)

Being on sabbatical from the church job has been a good time to begin looking honestly at my life. I’m learning a lot about myself — both good and bad — and the things that are shaping my emotions. One thing that I have been forced to admit to myself is that I continue to harbor some anger and resentment against people who have hurt me over the years in my ministry role. Some of the attacks were vindictive, aggressive, and intended to destroy me personally. People knew what they were doing and willingly chose to become the very embodiment of evil. In other cases, the pain came from a thoughtless word or action that the person didn’t even realize had cut me to the core. I can’t change the fact that I have been hurt, but I can deal with my feelings after the fact. I suppose that’s why Joyce Meyer’s audiobook on forgiveness jumped out at me. It wasn’t an enjoyable read, but it was something I needed to begin addressing this week.

In Do Yourself a Favor….Forgive, Meyer begins by examining the characteristics of anger. Why does anger appear in our life? Is anger ever justified? Through sharing of personal stories, Meyer presents a clear portrait of anger that is honest, yet is completely non-judgmental and encouraging. In the second half of the book, Meyer speaks about the importance and freeing effects of forgiveness. Again Meyer’s stories (both humorous and life-altering) are coupled with Scriptural instruction that provides a clear map through the journey to forgiveness. Through all of the reading and powerful statements that were expressed, this simple truth was the most powerful for me:  “As long as we are talking about our wounds, we haven’t gotten over them.”

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