Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris

Synopsis: Kathleen Norris had written several much loved books, yet she couldn't drag herself out of bed in the morning, couldn't summon the energy for her daily tasks. Even as she struggled, Norris recognized her familiar battle with acedia, a word she had discovered in early Church text years earlier. Fascinated by this "noonday demon", so familiar to those in the early and medieval Church, Norris knew she must restore this forgotten but important concept to the modern world's vernacular. An examination of acedia in the light of psychology, spirituality, the healing powers of religious practice, and Norris's own experience, Acedia & Me is both intimate and historically sweeping, brimming with exasperation and reverence, sometimes funny, often provocative, and always insightful. (from the online description)

Review: I understood this book to be about depression and marriage and God. It was so much more. Acedia is not depression; it is much more insidious. Norris once again wields her words with amazing dexterity. I might write ad nauseum about how much I adored this book and home much is helped my understanding of my own struggles. Instead, I offer a selection of my favorite quotes from the book.

"At its Greek root, the word acedia means the absence of care. The person afflicted by acedia refuses to care or is incapable of doing so. When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine; you know the pain is there, yet can't rouse yourself to give a damn." (page 3)

"Whatever age we live in our perspective is always much more limited than we believe, and even as we progress in our understanding, blind spots remain that astonish and appall those who come after us." (page 35)

"“The very nature of marriage means saying yes before you know what it will cost. Though you may say the “I do” of the wedding ritual in all sincerity, it is the testing of that vow over time that makes you married.” (page ?)

"Because we are made in God's image, in fleeing from a relationship with a loving God, we are also running from being our most authentic selves.” (page ?)

"To quote Merton, "It takes real courage to recognize that we ourselves are the cause of our own unhappiness.” (page ?)

"To people schooled in a religon that has often seemed to define sin as a grocery list of dos and don'ts, these monks can seem, as Dominican Simon Tugwell explains in Ways of Imperfection "rather casual about morality". They were not concerned, he writes, "that people should behave correctly according to the rules, but rather that people should be able to see their situation clearly for what it is, and so become free from the distorting perspective which underlies all our sins" (page 135)

"When I saw the film I was reminded of the helpful distinction that Thomas Merton makes regarding Cassian's differentiation between acedia and sadness. Merton comments that the "sadness caused by adversity and trial in social life" generally comes from "a lack of peace with others" But acedia is far more insidious; it is "the sadness, the disgust of life, which comes fro a much deeper source - our inability to get along with ourselves, our disunion with God." (page 148)

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-59448-996-9
Date Finished: 11-15-2015
Pages: 334

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith

Synopsis: "The most valuable aspect of religion," writes Robert Lawrence Smith, "is that it provides us with a framework for living. I have always felt that the beauty and power of Quakerism is that it exhorts us to live more simply, more truthfully, more charitably." Taking his inspiration from the teaching of the first Quaker, George Fox, and from his own nine generations of Quaker forebears, Smith speaks to all of us who are seeking a way to make our lives simpler, more meaningful, and more useful. Beginning with the Quaker belief that "There is that of God in every person," Smith explores the ways in which we can harness the inner light of God that dwells in each of us to guide the personal choices and challenges we face every day. How to live and speak truthfully. How to listen for, trust, and act on our conscience. How to make our work an expression of the best that is in us. Using vivid examples from his own life, Smith writes eloquently of Quaker Meeting, his decision to fight in World War II, and later to oppose the Vietnam War. From his work as an educator and headmaster to his role as a husband and father, Smith quietly convinces that the lofty ideals of Quakerism offer all of us practical tools for leading a more meaningful life. His book culminates with a moving letter to his grandchildren which imparts ten lessons for "letting your life speak." (from the inside of the cover)

Review: This is a pleasing and inspiring book. With simple, home style prose, Robert Lawrence Smith speaks about his faith and family. He doesn't get too deep into Quaker theology, but uses lessons and examples from his own life to illustrate the core tenants of Quaker beliefs. Having little knowledge of their beliefs, I found this an excellent overview and starting point. I'm eager to learn more about the Quakers, and although I don't think I agree with all their theology, I admire them for the dedication they have to their beliefs - in particular, to education and service to the poor and hurting.  I recommend this book as a fine place to start learning about Quakers. It isn't academic or scholarly, and would be a lovely gift for someone looking for inspiration.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-688-15653-3
Date Finished: 11-8-15
Pages: 192

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: The HIIT Advantage: High-Intensity Workouts for Women by Irene Lewis-McCormick

Synopsis: Achieve maximal results in minimal time! The HIIT Advantage: High-Intensity Workouts for Women is the resource for the most research-based, organized, and systematic information available on high-intensity interval training. The HIIT Advantage keys in on specific exercises, combinations, and progressions that will incinerate fat, shape and strengthen the upper and lower body, and assist with core strength for excellent posture and enhanced exercises performance—all written with a woman’s ultimate physique in mind. HIIT protocols pair quick bouts of super-high-intensity anaerobic intervals with shorter, low-effort rest intervals. The HIIT Advantage is the authoritative guide on high-intensity training. Comprehensive yet accessible, it describes how and why HIIT is one of the most effective ways to burn fat and improve performance. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, photo sequences, variations, and recommendations for 74 exercises to define muscles, reduce injury, and increase weight loss. You will learn the proper setup of a HIIT workout, the rationale, and the ratios for rest and recovery. Best of all, you’ll choose from 19 complete workouts consisting of a combination of 20-, 30-, and 45-minute sessions. Finally, you’ll receive exclusive access to the HIIT Advantage video library, including demonstrations of 24 key exercises, as well as an original 30-minute workout. If you’re serious about your workouts, get the advantage of burning more fat, shaping your physique, and improving performance. Get The HIIT Advantage and get results! (from the back of the book)

Review: This is the 4th or 5th exercise book I've read in the last few years. HIIT (or Tabata) is a new-fangled form of exercise that appeals to me - mostly because it doesn't take much time. I was hoping this would be a good starting point for learning about HIIT. Sadly, the book wasn't quite what I was hoping. Lewis-McCormick started off strong. Part I is a densely-packed section full of information about the chemical, anatomical, biological, and kinetic theory behind HIIT. It's techical, particular for your average reader i.e. someone without a science background, but it's not inaccessible. With strong arguments, lots of information, and clear prose, I found this helpful for me to understand why HIIT is so beneficial. Part II is where things began to slide. This is all the HIIT Exercises. It's arranged well, starting with Lower-Body and moving to Upper, then Core, and the book lays open nicely, so you can have it open while you do the workouts. But the exercises. It seemed she tried to stretch how many she added by making up new ones that really should just have been variations on one type. For example, there are 5 types of push-ups listed, each given it's own page and instructions. But at least 3 have no discernible difference, or the difference is so slight it doesn't warrant its own page. Instead, she should have list push-up as one, and then under it, listed instructions for variations so it was crystal clear what you could change to make the exercise different. And while the pictures are helpful, the written explanations are confusing and generic, and in paragraph form, when they should be in list format. But the most frustrating thing about the book was Part III. This is where she gives you pre-made workouts. The issue is, the explanations are awful. She seems to use "Max Intervals" and "Hard, Harder, Hardest" interchangeable, and yet, clearly states they are different. There is lots written about the ratio of times (2:1 or 3:1 etc.) but doesn't actually apply them in a clear format to the pre-made workouts.
In the end, I was hoping this would be similar to Delavier's fitness books and it wasn't. A veteran HIIT practitioner will find it too basic for their needs and a beginner will find it too confusing. Lewis-McCormick has a strong beginning and it's clear she is intelligent and passionate. But the book needs work before it's usable.

Note: I received this book as part of LibraryThing Early Review's Program, in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-4925-0306-4
Date Finished: 11-7-2015
Pages: 183

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Review: The Awful Rowing Toward God by Anne Sexton

Synopsis: Published shortly after her death, the last poems Sexton proofed, this is a collection about her journey to God ad the thoughts and emotion she felt.

Review: In even a brief encounter with famous feminist writers, Anne Sexton's name is always one to pop up. Lumped into the same list as Virginia Wolf and Sylvia Plath, she is considered a genius and someone to laud. I don't. I didn't enjoy these poems at all. Angsty and needlessly neurotic, they hold no clear theme or idea other than her own self-centeredness. True, she struggled with depression and mental illness in a time when mental illness was not understood or socially spoken about. True, she was a writer during a time when all writers were suppose to be emo and existential. But her work doesn't seem to hold meaning. It's just a jumble of disconnected words, as if she intentionally trying to be deep. But trying to be deep is different than being deep. I did think it interesting how she referenced Søren Kierkegaard more than once. An intriguing choice. Granted, he was heavily influential in philosophy, psychology, and religious - all of which Sexton had personal experience with - but it is still choice I wish to understand more. But unless she left some other written words about it, I doubt I will ever understand her thinking. Particular because I find her words overly-dramatic and ego-centric. Clearly, Sexton is not my cup of tea – but I am not surprised by this in the least.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None for this book. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1967 Live or Die.

ISBN: 0-395-20366-X
Date Finished: 11-3-2015
Pages: 85

Friday, November 6, 2015

Review: The Action Heroine's Handbook by Jennifer Worick and Joe Borgenicht

Synopsis: Get Some Action! For every woman who wants to be as tough as Lara Croft, as nimble as the Bionic Woman, and as babe-a-licious as Charlie’s Angels, The Action Heroine’s Handbook shows you the essential skills you’ll need to conquer the bad guys and save the day without breaking a sweat. Find out how the real action heroines do it, directly from a host of experts, including stuntwomen, jujitsu instructors, helicopter pilots, detectives, forensic psychologists, survivalists, primatologists, and many others.
Learn to:
      •  Profile a serial killer
     •  Outwit a band of home intruders
     •  Navigate white water rapids
     •  Go undercover as a beauty queen
     •  Outrun a fireball
And dozens of other Tough Chick Skills, Beauty Skills, Brain Skills, Brawn Skills, and Escape Skills. Special sections and appendices feature the top action heroine hairdos, handbag essentials, and the best footwear for every action situation. With step-by-step instructions and easy-to-follow illustrations, The Action Heroine’s Handbook will prepare you to save the world, one baddie at a time. (from the back of the book)

Review: I have several books in this vein - stunt woman's workouts, handbooks on how to survive in the wild. Some are tongue-in-cheek, some are serious. This is the former. It does have some interesting and helpful advice (How to Out-Drink Someone) and some not-so-useful advice (How to Fend of the Undead). With multiple references to action movies and tons of humor, it's a fun and lighthearted read. Worth reading if you happen upon it cheap, but not worth paying full price for. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 1-931686-68-8
Date Finished: 11-2-2015
Pages: 191

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Synopsis: Sophie Fevvers—the toast of Europe's capitals, courted by the Prince of Wales, painted by Toulouse-Lautrec—is an aerialiste extraordinaire, star of Colonel Kearney's circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover Fevvers's true identity: Is she part swan or all fake? Dazzled by his love for Fevvers, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser joins the circus on its tour. The journey takes him—and the reader—on an intoxicating trip through turn-of-the-century London, St. Petersburg, and Siberia—a tour so magical that only Angela Carter could have created it.... (from the back of the book)

Review: I read this for my Halloween book. It understood it to creep and dark - and considering it about the Circus (which creep me out) - I thought it should be sufficient for a Halloween. I was disappointed. Sort of a bent fairy tale, it contained more magic realism, strange characters, and shocker-value narrative than creepy and dark. I didn't enjoy it. I agree the Fevvers and Walser are complex characters, well-written, and intriguing. But the secondary characters seem built only to shock the reader. They are a mish-mash of cliches and oddities, all the fantastic to be believable. And the magic - a bit is fine, but half the time, I had no idea what happened. It seemed often the magic was used to connect bits in the story instead of using plot. I didn't like that. And in the end, the biggest "hook" of the story - whether Fevvers actually has wings or not - is never answered. It fits with the the book - meaning the reader never really knows what is real and what is not  - sort of like a Circus, I guess - but it wasn't my sort of story. I prefer rational thought.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: 1984 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, 2012 Best of the James Tait Black, winner

ISBN: 0-14-007703-0
Date Finished: 10-31-2015
Pages: 295