March Book Reviews
In March, I decided to focus only on faith-building books. I was seeing a return of anxious thought patterns and wanted to be more intentional about what was coming into my mind and heart. So I decided to make an effort to allow in only things that passed the Philippians 4:8 test: Is it pure? Is it true? Is it honorable? Is it praiseworthy? For me, that meant focusing on books (along with music, podcasts, movies, etc) written by Christian authors who used the Bible as the foundation of their writing. There are plenty of books that have wisdom, depth, adventure, and beauty that are not explicitly Christian but can still be truthful, praiseworthy, and honorable. But slimming down my pickings helped me see this as a sort of fasting during the Lent season. Though there were plenty of books I wanted to get to, I lay them aside in exchange for some books that helped me better understand God's character and who I am as His child. Along with this, I decided to take two weeks off social media at the start of March. These two changes caused an improvement to my thought life. I felt so much peace. Whatever what I was reading or listening to, I was constantly reminded of God's faithfulness, love, and trustworthiness.
Once Lent is over, I hope to be more careful about whatever enters my mind and heart. I will still read books and listen to some artists that I avoided this month, but overall will try to ask those same questions about the truth and praiseworthiness these songs, books, podcasts, and movies present and whether they agree or outrightly disagree with God's truth.
Anywaaaayys, all that to say: Here is what I read in March! :)
Nothing To Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard by Jennie Allen ★★★★☆
I started reading this in February after hearing Jennie speak during the If: Gathering, a conference and community she founded. Nothing To Prove focuses on all-too-common feeling of women that they are unworthy or not good enough and how stuck and broken we feel when we concentrate on trying to measure up or prove ourselves. She invites us to look to the better way: finding our worth and freedom from "trying so hard" in Jesus. Yes, we are NOT enough, but HE IS ENOUGH, and that gives us the ability to let go of our own need to prove ourselves and rest in His enough-ness. She weaves in different stories from the gospel of John to show how different people who encountered Jesus (such as Peter and Martha) were transformed by Jesus. It's a powerful book that deserves to be read slowly to contemplate and journal through the many truths presented. I really liked her questions and challenges at the end of each chapter, which helped her words sink in deeper as I mulled over them.
Reminded me of: What Women Fear by Angie Smith
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry ★★★★★
I have been wanting to read a Berry book for awhile because I kept seeing them pop up on Rachel Dawson's Goodreads and book review blogs. I decided to start with Hannah Coulter because it was the only one I found titled after a woman and I love female-driven narratives. I absolutely loved Berry's poetic, wise, and deeply thoughtful prose as he presented the story of Hannah Coulter. Her loves, her losses, her pain, her struggles, her joys, her strength ... all beautifully shared in the voice of Hannah as an older woman looking back at her life. Whether talking about her love for the farming land she tended for many decades, struggling through her faith, the family and friends she endearingly called "the membership", the grief of losing what and whom you love, or the devastations of WWII, there is wisdom and grit in this woman and I wanted to know more about her once the book was through. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated very well. Now I am trying to think of what Berry book to read next!
Reminded me of: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis ★★★☆☆
The first book written by Lewis after his conversion to Christianity, it has a slightly autobiographical take on his own search for meaning and satisfaction (recounted in his book Surprised by Joy, which is a great read!). It also has obvious inspiration by Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress with Christian replaced by Lewis' John, a young man consumed with the desire to find an elusive Island he believes will give him all the satisfaction and desires he craves. John meets many characters along his tumultuous travels, each reflecting different philosophies and worldviews such as Mr. Enlightenment, Media Halfways, Mr. Humanist, Mr. Mammon, and Mr. Sensible. I found it a bit clunky with so many philosophical, Renaissance literature, and Latin references that I had a hard time following some of his points. Luckily I found an online resource to help decipher meanings behind the allegory. I think he perfected his allegorical style later on with books like The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and of course the Narnia books, but this one was less readable than the latter. Lewis admitted this as well in his afterward of this book, which I thought was interesting.
Reminded me of: As mentioned, Surprised by Joy by Lewis and The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.
His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley, Jr. ★★★☆☆
I definitely liked some of the points Harley made, but I disagreed with a lot of it too. First, what I agree with: I think it is an overall helpful resource for couples to look at what their needs are within their marriage and practical ways to learn to meet those needs. The ten needs that he discusses are affection, sexual fulfillment, conversation, recreational companionship, admiration, family commitment, physical attractiveness, domestic support, financial security, honesty and openness. He has an assessment at the end of the book that helps couples rate their needs in order of importance that I found helpful. I personally liked the chapters on conversation, affection, and recreational companionship. Finding out what needs are most important for you to feel loved in your marriage can be a great tool in strengthening your marriage in a similar way to how the five love languages can also help you better understand your spouse.
What I did not appreciate was his generalization in which of the ten needs are typically the husband's and which are the wife's. Granted, he did preface these generalizations with a reminder that we are all different and these may not be the most important needs for each couple, but even though he said this, I still felt like he assumed all husbands wanted/needed certain things more than their wives and vice versa. I thought was a bit too stereotypical. I also did not like how his book only focused on meeting each other's needs. Well, duh, that's the title of the book, I know. But when discussing the reasons behind why a spouse may have an affair, he typically would only mention that their needs were not being met by their spouse so they sought love elsewhere. I have several problems with this: it places a lot of blame on the spouse being cheated on and it also places too much emphasis on our needs being met instead of desiring a servant's heart within marriage. In essence, I was hearing, "I will meet your needs only if you meet my own." This wasn't an explicitly Christian book so I cannot expect it to fall in line with what Scripture teaches for that reason, but I just kept thinking, this does not line up with what the Bible teaches on love. There was little (if at all) mention of forgiveness, humility, owning up to one's own mistakes and repentance (both to God and to your spouse) for failing in certain areas (I expected some mention of this in his chapter on how to survive an affair). It rubbed me the wrong way that Harley seemed to say that if you excel at meeting each other's needs, your marriage will be affair-proof without mention that at times, we need to lay down our own needs in order to love our spouse better. And this focus on needs can easily become a tug-of-war between spouses that can result in unhealthy habits and indignant responses when a spouse feels their needs were not met to their specification, which at times can lead to unfair expectations. It can also lead to taking love out of the equation and replacing it with a lot of to-do lists. We are going through this book with our Young Marrieds class at church and it's brought up good conversations amongst the group as well as between my husband and I, so it's still a good resource but I had to mention the above caveats because they bothered me.
Reminded me of: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman (which I love)
There's A Snake in My Garden by Jill Briscoe ★★★★★
I first heard Jill Briscoe speak at this year's IF:Gathering and knew I'd have to find something written by this witty, wise, and humble woman. And she has decades of experiences, lessons, and testimonies of God's faithfulness. This little book is a bit of all of that. She focuses on her college years when she became a Christian throughout her adulthood (until her 30s, I think). The symbol of the snake is used in each chapter to show how temptation (whether showing itself as pride, self-pity, legalism, or people-pleasing, to name a few) affected different seasons of her life. She writes with candor as she points to Scripture with each page. Her writing flows like poetry and she's got a good sense of humor. I just adore this woman and am now on a mission to read more of her work.
Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth ★★★★★
Titus 2:1-5 is an exhortation from Paul to the church in Crete to live out the gospel within Christian community. In essence, he is telling older men and women to be mentors who encourage, support, and help train the younger men and women as they all strive to make the gospel known to the world. Nancy digs deep into these verses to excavate timeless truths about God's design for His daughters in the ways we show self-control, in our purity, in our kindness, in our speech, in our relationships at home with our husband and children and beyond, and in our endurance through life's shifting circumstances . . . and explains why intergenerational community (older and younger women) is a God-designed model that is for our benefit and joy. We cannot do life alone. We are meant for community. Older women have experiences and wisdom that can help younger women. Likewise, younger women coming alongside older women can be revitalizing and gives a new purpose for older women who feel their job of nurturing and teaching has passed. Nancy's biblical wisdom and knowledge is coupled with her honesty and humility in how she's still a work in progress when it comes to being a Titus 2 woman. Her writing is easy to follow and thought-provoking, especially with the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
I have the privilege of mentoring a few younger girls, which has been a blessing for me because I think I probably learn as much from them that they learn from me. And I am so honored to have several older women in my life whom I can ask for prayer, encouragement, and advice. This book reminded me of the importance of investing myself into younger women's lives as well as humbling myself to ask older women for their help so I can learn and grow. It also challenged me to take a close look into whether areas of my life reflect the beauty of the gospel.
Reminded me of: Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.
Found: Psalm 23 by Sally Lloyd-Jones
From the author and illustrator from the beloved Jesus Storybook Bible comes this beautifully illustrated and poetically written rendition of Psalm 23 that is easy for children to understand. The board book's thick pages makes it easy for little fingers to grasp. As in the original Jesus Storybook Bible, I absolutely love how Sally Lloyd-Jones translates God's unfailing love as God's Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from BookLook in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.
What did you read in March? Have you read any of these books, and if so, what were your thoughts?