October began with books encouraging mind-workers to “keep going” and “work clean” (three guesses which titles that might be referring to, and the first two don’t count ;D)
And then, as befits the month of ghosts, October’s reading ended on a rather somber note, with two Holocaust/WWII books (one fiction, one nonfiction), about heroic women who secretly fought against the most notorious regime in modern history.
In between, I also read a book about ancient religious beliefs written by a Canadian missionary, and scanned a book created not by adding words but taking words away…
Here are my thoughts on all of the above 😉
(To learn more about the Tic-tac-TBR Game, join our Brilliant Writer Merry Band and you’ll get access to the game recordings inside our app!)
October 2021 Book Reviews
These are the tic-tac-toe prompts I had to work with for this month:
And here are the books I ended up reading for the prompts:
Review of Books Read
I use 2 criteria to rate every book on a scale of 1–5 stars:
- Content: the ideas in this book are interesting, edifying, and worth learning.
- Craftsmanship: the work is polished, skillful, and well-written.
Key: F = Fiction. NF = Nonfiction.
NOTE: Any spoilers will be marked with a [SPOILER] sign.
“‘This light may not shine in my lifetime, but when it comes, follow it! Follow it!’” — Eternity in Their Hearts
Prompt: 1st book I see on the list
In Eternity in Their Hearts, the author of Peace Child explains his thesis that contrary to popular opinion, several native tribes, even those with zero exposure to Western culture, have long preserved the roots of the Judeo-Christian worldview in their traditions and lives.
Don Richardson mentions by name various tribes and minority groups located in Southeast Asia, China, and even South America who, despite their “pagan, primitive worldview and surroundings,” actually knew about an ancient monotheistic God who seems mysteriously similar to the God described in the Bible…even though these people groups didn’t have Bibles (or people to teach them).
The book is well written, especially in the beginning, and isn’t too long. Besides, Richardson’s theological ideas are fascinating (especially his explanation of what he calls the Melchizedek Factor — general revelation — versus the Abrahamic Factor — special revelation — and the third King of Sodom Factor, which I wish he’d elaborated on more, but ah well)
If you’re interested in what missionaries do, and the little-known religious history of certain non-first-world people-groups living in Africa and Asia, check this book out 🙂
“The only thing we can really control is…what we work on and how hard we work on it.” — Keep Going
Prompt: Less than 300 pages
Keep Going is another fairly typical Austin Kleon book, namely a compilation of good ideas, expressed succinctly, with quote-art in between. Of the three Kleon books I’ve read, this one would not be the best, but it’s not bad, either.
This book came about, Kleon himself admits, because he needed the messages inside it to encourage himself. And I absolutely can resonate with that. Much of my writing is done to encourage myself through hard times, as well.
Sometimes, we all need to be reminded of what we already know.
Keep Going reads like an extended blog post, with interesting soundbytes (pull quotes) from other creators scattered in between, like “trying to be creative, keeping busy, has a lot to do with keeping you alive,” and “Make the most beautiful thing you can. Try to do that every day. That’s it.”
If you are a writer, content creator, artist who needs a little bit of quick encouragement, this is a good book to skim.
“A dilemma of modern man: ‘The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.’” — Work Clean
Prompt: Random book site + a fav’s fav. (I found this book when it was recommended by productivity specialist Tiago Forte)
Work Clean is a book for knowledge workers (which, nowadays, is almost all of us). Based on the author’s close investigation of the inner workings of several great restaurants, Work Clean distills the time-honored chef’s tradition of mise en place into 12 fundamental principles for organizing your workflow and life.
Mise en place is a French culinary term referring to having everything in its place so that chefs can cook cleanly and efficiently.
But according to author Dan Charnas, mise en place is so much more than that. Using eyewitness testimony of the inner workings of various kitchens, and a smattering of chef-related anecdotes, Charnas shows how the philosophy and principles of mise en place can be adapted to improve your life.
I first heard of this book from productivity influencer Tiago Forte, and found the topic fascinating. I like learning about food, and productivity, so mix them together and hey presto — a book I want to read.
You may want to read it too, if you are interested in seeing behind-the-scenes of professional restaurant kitchens, and/or struggle with information overload and distraction/disorganization in your life (like moi!).
“I could never tell my friends how I had bought their safety. Their honor would never allow them to hold me to this bargain.” —In My Hands
Prompt: Coming of age
In My Hands is a heart-pounding, hair-raising memoir of a Polish girl who saved 12 Jews by hiding them in a German officer’s house during the worst of WWII and the Holocaust.
Then when her friends were discovered, she had to sacrifice even more to protect them. She later joined the underground resistance, survived the end of the war AND imprisonment/torture by the new Russian oppressors who marched in after Hitler’s goons left Poland, and, after losing contact with her entire family (for their own safety) moved to California, becoming an American citizen.
Several times while I was reading this book I actually wondered if this story was a novel. But it wasn’t. These things really did happen (Google “Irene Gut Opdyke” and you’ll find out more about the brave woman who inspired this book).
But the reason why this book read like a novel, and the reason why I say the woman who inspired this book, is because it’s actually a ghostwritten memoir. A writer heard about Irene’s story and was so inspired, she came up with 30 pages of interview questions, and then hung out with the elderly Irene at her home in Southern California for a week.
Many aspects of this book would make a thrilling adventure movie, if it weren’t so tragically true. But the part that stands out to me most in the end is not a detail from Irene’s experiences during the war, but something the writer mentions at the end of the book:
She wrote that in spite of Irene’s great suffering during and after the war, all the people and the innocence that she lost, by the time the writer met Irene, she was a content, kind grandmotherly woman, who harbored no bitterness and bore no ill-will toward others.
I think it is this character strength and quality that enabled Irene to do what she did in the first place, risking not only her life but everything precious she had on behalf of others when they most needed her.
“‘My grandfather said that everyone needs to make a conscious choice…if we choose to do nothing, then we’re choosing to be on the enemy’s side.” — Chasing Shadows
Prompt: Random song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Reba McEntire
I had a tricky time finding a book for this prompt. Obviously, Chasing Shadows isn’t set in Georgia. However, the phrase “the lights went out” certainly works for a book about one of the worst wars in modern history.
Chasing shadows follows three women in the Netherlands during World War II: a middle-aged mother and her young adult daughter living apart (one in the country, one in the city), and a young Jewish mother. The story shows how the three lives intertwine during the war, and how the women help each other survive, not just with their lives, but their souls, intact.
The bit that resonated with me the most from this story was the author’s portrayal of what the Nazis did to innocent villagers whenever they were sabotaged. Throughout the war, there were always resistance fighters who covertly did everything they could to make the Nazis’ lives miserable — printing illegal literature, blowing up railway lines, attacking Nazi soldiers, etc.
But what I didn’t know was that whenever a resistance group succeeded in sabotaging the Nazis, the Nazis would take their revenge by randomly seizing innocent locals and shooting them in cold blood.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that such a thing happened, but it was a shock to me, nevertheless, what evils the human imagination can come up with, when given free rein to indulge in hatred, bitterness, and vengeance.
There also was a secondary character whose choices in the book showed how close evil is to every human heart. If you think that the Nazis and their collaborators are evil beyond the pale, that neither you nor anyone you know and love could ever do something like what they did — beware!
Yet at the same time, the redeeming, sacrificial love of mothers and daughters, sisters, and friends as portrayed in this book also holds out hope that even in the darkest times, there are always good people…and you can choose to be one of them, too.
Below are the books on the “penalty list” that I was assigned to read for this month:
I didn’t actually end up reading any of these books all the way through, to be honest. Here’s how I did:
- Seabiscuit: Honestly, I didn’t touch this book at all. Back on the list for a later date!
- Newspaper Blackout: I read the introduction to this book (on how Kleon developed the idea of creating newsprint poems, and the history of the craft, which apparently didn’t begin with him), and then I scanned a few of the poems to see what they were like, but I admit I didn’t read them all.
- Choice Theory: Honestly, I didn’t touch this one at all, either. We’ll have to try again in the future.
- Hatchet: Boy, did this author know how to write an intro! From the description of the circumstances that landed Brian in a plane flying over the wilderness, to his hints of his mother’s dark secret, to the way the pilot keeled over, and Brian’s panicked response…this is definitely one book I’ll need to finish in the future!
Nonfiction: Reading Holocaust memoirs is a heavy thing. I definitely think everyone needs to read one at least once in their lives, but perhaps it’s not always best to dwell on the evil. Don’t ignore it, but don’t focus on it, either.
Eternity In Their Hearts was also a fascinating look into an area of history I’m not as familiar with as I’d like to be.
Fiction: This month, the only fiction book I read through was my favorite writer Lynn Austin’s Chasing Shadows. While this is not my favorite work of hers, I think it was better than her last release, and well-written as usual, with her care for historical detail, her handling of deep themes, and her characterization of so many different yet believable people.
Overall, a somewhat somber but ultimately rewarding reading month!
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