Book Review: Middlemarch

I had not heard of Middlemarch by George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans) until the last several years, and whenever I looked at a description of it, it sounded rather vague – something about a community in pre-Reform-era England. That’s like saying Jan Karon’s Mitford books are about a community of people in the fictional town of Mitford, NC. They are, but that’s a pale description of the richness and depth of the characters. Yet it’s hard to know how else to describe the books in just a few sentences to someone unfamiliar with them. As I planned for the Back to the Classics challenge for this year, I decided to give Middlemarch a try, trusting that since I saw it recommended so often, it must be worth reading.

There’s not a single overarching plot to the book: it’s about the journeys of several people in the town. So it might be best to try to describe it a little by discussion some of its characters.

Dorothea Brooke is the main character, a teen-age orphan with her younger sister under the care of a benevolent older single uncle. Dorothea is ardent, serious, and pious. Though wealthy, she dresses plainly and is only interested in wealth as a means of doing good. A neighbor, Sir James Chettam, is very much interested in her, but she’s not interested in him at all except as a potential match for her sister, Celia. When a much older clergyman, Edward Casaubon, takes notice of her, everyone she knows protests against the match, but Dorothea is drawn to the marriage as a means of doing a great good by helping him in his work and a means of growth as she can increase her knowledge by sharing in his. She is sadly disappointed, however, because Casaubon is aloof (on their honeymoon in Rome, he leaves her alone while he’s off doing research for his book: he even suggested that Celia come with them as a companion for Dorothea!) and doesn’t allow her into the realm of his work until he becomes ill later on.

Tertius Lydgate is a young doctor new to the town. He was orphaned and cared for by wealthy relatives, but there was no closeness between them, and they were miffed when he chose a career in medicine, so he’s basically on his own. He’s ahead of his time medically (one source pointed out his use of a stethoscope, which was available but not routinely used at the time), but the older, established doctors don’t like the new guy coming in with new ways, and he unwittingly offends them, so he has an uphill battle starting out. But his success and availability with the people he does treat gives him an inroad into the community.

The Vincy family consists of two parents and four children, two of them grown. The father is the mayor, and he and his wife tend to live beyond their means and spoil their children. They want their son, Fred, to become a clergyman due to the position’s respectability and are paying for his education; however, he has no interest in or aptitude for it, so he drops out. But he has no other talents and is counting on getting an inheritance from an uncle. He’s in love with Mary Garth, but she won’t have him if he goes into the clergy (because she knows it would not be a good fit for him) and if he continues to be idle. The daughter, Rosamond, is beautiful, cultured, proper, genteel, and charming, which over-shadows her thoroughly self-centered nature. She sets her sights on Lydgate, thinking he is wealthy and of a higher social standing due to his family connections. He had not planned to marry for a long while and at first enjoys just flirting with Rosamond, but eventually he succumbs to her charms, and they marry.

Though things start out well for the Lydgates, they soon run into trouble when their expensive habits exceed Lydgate’s income. He insists they should economize, something totally unheard of for her: she insists he should find more or better-paying work or appeal to his family. She finds out he’s not as wealthy or well-connected as she thought; he finds out the selfish core under her beautiful exterior. Her unwillingness to bend and his extenuating financial circumstances set him up for trouble later in the book.

Will Ladislaw is Edward Casaubon’s younger cousin whom he is helping financially. Will is an artist who doesn’t know quite what he wants to do with his life, so he is traveling and painting. At first Will doesn’t like Dorothea, but as he gets to know her better, he’s grieved at her “wasting” herself on Casaubon. Will also becomes friends with the Lydgates, which leads to some trouble later on.

Nicholas Bulstrode is a banker and pillar of the community. He’s quite religious, but in a way that rubs others the wrong way. Much later in the book, an old associate comes to town for other reasons, discovers Bulstrode lives there, and blackmails him with the threat of sharing some shady dealings in his past which would destroy his reputation in the community.

There are multitudes of other characters, but these are the main ones, and their lives and situations intersect at various points. The plot moves fairly slowly by modern standards, though the book does contain riveting moments of suspense in places. But Eliot’s main strength is her pathos in getting into the heads of her characters and sharing their hearts. We know minutely what they are thinking and groan, laugh, or cry along with them.

Multiple themes emerge throughout the book. One of the top ones is marriage. The two main marriages are fraught with trouble, but others by contrast exhibit great sharing and warmth. Those who weathered great trouble on their way to marriage seem to fair better than the ones who encountered it afterward. Another theme is what some sources called “self-determination.” This was an era when there were pretty strict expectations upon people, especially women, and those who bucked the system weren’t looked kindly upon, but in this book those seemed most likely to succeed.

Eliot’s vast knowledge in a number of areas shows up here, mainly in literary references but also in politics and science. There are quite a number of biblical allusions throughout: I read in one source that Eliot started out as religious but “lost her faith” after reading about “higher criticism” of the Bible.

I think my favorite character is Dorothea. She seems a little stiff at first, but eventually she grows into the warmest, most human person in the book. Another favorite is Mr. Garth, Mary’s father, whose kindly and wise ways permeate all his actions, and I enjoyed the warmth of his family’s home scenes. The one I sympathized and ached with most by the end was Lydgate, but I can’t say why without revealing too much.

One source said that the book was kind of an anti-fairy tale, that the characters didn’t ride off happily in the sunset with all problems solved like many other books of the era. But I disagree: several found some degree of happiness, though they still had problems. Another said that Dorothea never reached her full potential, but I disagree again. In one of my favorite quotes of the book, Eliot seems to me to be saying that though some of the characters wanted to do “great things,” they found instead greatness in the “little things”:

Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

A few other favorite quotes:

It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.

And certainly, the mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it.

What we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.

We are all humiliated by the sudden discovery of a fact which has existed very comfortably and perhaps been staring at us in private while we have been making up our world entirely without it.

Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.

A prig is a fellow who is always making you a present of his opinions.

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self—never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.

‘You must love your work, and not be always looking over the edge of it, wanting your play to begin. And the other is, you must not be ashamed of your work, and think it would be more honorable to you to be doing something else. You must have a pride in your own work and in learning to do it well, and not be always saying, There’s this and there’s that—if I had this or that to do, I might make something of it. No matter what a man is—I wouldn’t give twopence for him’— here Caleb’s mouth looked bitter, and he snapped his fingers— ‘whether he was the prime minister or the rick-thatcher, if he didn’t do well what he undertook to do.’

I feel like I am not doing the book any justice, but I hope I have given you a little picture of what it’s about. I listened to the audiobook, superbly read by Juliet Stevenson. Later on I got the corresponding Kindle version, and some of the notes there would have provided me with more detail, especially to Eliot’s literary allusions, if I had been reading it all along, but I wouldn’t trade it for the experience of listening to Stevenson’s narrations. Her voice for each character as well as her intonations and expression truly enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

I’ve spent over 35 listening hours with these characters, and I am going to miss them.

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Book Review: Snapshot

SnapshotThe story of Snapshot by Lis Wiehl is fictional, but it grew out of reality. The picture on the front is actually of Lis when she was a little girl. Her FBI father had taken her with him to a civil rights march where Lisa and the little girl made friends with each other immediately. Lis grew up to be a federal prosecutor and eventually a legal analyst on NBC News, NPR’s All Things Considered, Bill O’Reilly’s programs, and others. Her father was a part of the investigation into JFK’s assassination.

In the story, Lisa Waldren was a four-year-old girl taken by her FBI father to a civil rights March, where Lisa made friends with another little girl. But at the March, civil rights leader Benjamin Gray was shot and killed. A man was arrested in connection with the shooting, but 50 years later, with his execution date looming, he reaches out to Lisa’s father, James Waldren, asking for his help to exonerate him. James had thought all along that the man, Leonard DuBois, was innocent, but he had been “shushed” and demoted for trying to clear him earlier. Now retired, James feels compelled to do everything he can to clear Leonard, and he asks Lisa for her help even thought they’ve been estranged for years.

Among the leads they try to trace down is the name of the other girl in the photo. The way she is facing indicates that she might have seen the shooting. By some miracle, they do find her, though she doesn’t remember seeing anything. But she joins them in the search, which leads them to a mystery involving Bobby Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, and James’s partner’s suicide. As the search continues, an enemy who does not want the truth to be known tries to hinder them: when every effort fails, his pursuit of them becomes increasingly more dangerous.

This was a fascinating story in itself, but the tie-in with history made it even more so. There is an interview with Lis’s father at the end of the book as well as an afterword from Bill O’Reilly (and a note that a reporter in the story who helps James is fashioned after O’Reilly).

There’s also an essay at the end by Juan Williams, a journalist, news analyst, and author of a book about civil rights talking about the book in connection with the civil rights and racial context of the times.

I had thought when I bought this that it was a Christian fiction book, but there’s not much along those lines except for one character. But as historical fiction, it was quite good.

Genre: Historical fiction
Potential objectionable elements: The bad guy does bad guy things, namely murder, but it’s not gratuitously described.
My rating: 8 out of 10

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Book Review: Spiritual Mothering

Spiritual MotheringWhen our pastor’s wife announced that the ladies would be going through a study of Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Design for Women Mentoring Women by Susan Hunt, I was a little wary at first, because in reading a few of Susan’s other writings, I thought she came across as clinical. I’m happy to say, though, that that’s not the case with this book, and she comes across as much more warm and personable. This edition is a revision of a book she wrote about 25 years ago.

She begins by noting that Titus 2:3-5, the instruction about older women teaching younger, is not to be taken in isolation or out of context and only read during women’s ministry functions. It fits within the broader framework of our Lord’s command to make disciples, and the function of the church as a whole, and the context of living life for God’s glory.

To glorify God means to reflect back to him the glory he has revealed to us (p. 53).

No earthly relationship will meet all of our needs. Fulfilling the purpose for which we were created is he only way we will experience wholeness. Mary focused on glorifying God. She did not speak of Elizabeth as her only source of help; spiritual mothering is not a cure-all for the older or the younger woman (p. 52).

[Re giving birth in a stable]: [Mary] exercised the discipline necessary to move beyond disappointment and distractions and to carefully think about the thing that really mattered–God’s glory (p. 56).

Mary could adjust to these extremes [angels and stables] in her life because she saw them from the vantage point of obeying God’s will, not from the perspective of her expectation or preferences. In defining herself as a servant, she had relinquished control to God. Her purpose was not her convenience but God’s glory (p. 57).

Susan defines spiritual mothering thus: “When a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman in order to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory” (p. 36). Her main Biblical models throughout the book are Elizabeth and Mary, and my first thought was that I don’t think that’s primarily what the passages that speak of them are there for. But she draws out many applicable principles from their time together and draws from other relationships as well (like Ruth and Naomi). However, she points out that the principles of spiritual mothering can be seen in and drawn from many passages where God compares His care of His people to a mother’s love. And because we draw from His example and because He equips us, spiritual mothering has nothing to do with having biological children or even being married: God calls each woman to nurture in this way and enables them to do so. Usually we’re in the position of an older lady to some and a younger lady to others.

It would be easy for some women to quickly disqualify themselves by saying, But I don’t have the gift of teaching.” Sorry, that won’t work! A closer look at the word translated “train” will render that reasoning invalid. The Greek word is sophronizo and denotes “to cause to be of sound mind, to recall to one’s senses…the training would involve the cultivation of sound judgment and prudence (p. 72).

The popular concept of mentoring and coaching suggest some degree of structure and formality. Spiritual mothering may involve mentoring and coaching, but it is broader. Nurturing seems to be more compatible with what Paul is advocating in the Titus command (p. 72).

Before reading the book, I was a bit afraid that Susan would be pushing a formal and structured relationship, which can too easily seem artificial. She does share ways that can be implemented. But overall she advocates this type of nurturing in connection with other interactions, activities, and ministries, which I’ve always felt was a more natural way to go about it. “Spiritual mothering has more to do with demonstrating ‘the shape of godliness’ than with teaching lesson plans” (p. 93).

She discusses characteristics of the relationship and sprinkles many examples from modern life throughout the book, as well as opening each chapter with one woman’s story. Each chapter ends with a challenge of meditating on a specific passage of Scripture and taking definite steps in regard to the chapter’s subject matter.

Other quotes that stood out to me:

Servitude is not easy. Obedience is not a one-time decision. Obedience is a lifetime discipline. But it does bring a simplicity to life because it settles the issue of who is in control (p. 59)

This command [Titus 2:3-5] is sandwiched between the exhortation to “teach what accord with sound doctrine” (v. 1) and a statement of purpose: “that the Word of God may not be reviled” (v. 5). Sound doctrine must be the basis for the older-woman/younger-woman relationship and honor for God’s truth must be the goal of the relationship (pp. 65-66).

A reverent life is the product of a reverent view of God (p. 69).

Resentment erects barriers that cause older and younger women to miss each other. Resentment is a product of a self-centered approach: unless you are doing and being what I want you to do and be I am offended. Living for God’s glory frees us to value and appreciate rather than resent one another. We can appreciate our diversity of temperaments, life-stages, life-situations, abilities, and callings from God. We don’t have to be or do the same thing. In fact, there is no real unity without diversity. Two of the same things don’t need to blend to become one (p. 131).

There were just a few places where I agreed with what Susan was saying but didn’t feel that it quite came from the passage she was using for its basis, and one or two places where I felt she was wrong. For instance, on p. 52 she says, “Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms how to glorify God: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4, NIV). Completing the work he assigns us – joyful obedience to his will – is the way we glorify him.” It is a way, but not the only way. A couple of other ways: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23, ESV); “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8, NASB).

But overall I thought this was a good and helpful book and I gleaned many good things from it.

The ladies at our church who were studying the book met every other week to discuss a couple of chapters at a time, and I am sorry I missed that, because I think it would have reinforced the principles and truths brought out in the book. I did hear that they also had some panel discussions with some older ladies, which I would have loved to hear, and paired up an older and younger lady for some one on one time. I’ve been meaning to ask some of them how that went but haven’t thought of it while at church.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday)

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What’s On Your Nightstand: March 2017

What's On Your Nightstand

The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

Usually I have my Nightstand post prepared ahead of time, but the last Tuesday of the month snuck up on me! So here goes:

Since last time I have completed:

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, reviewed here. Its main strength was bringing out the particulars of studying the different genres in Scripture. Good.

Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson, reviewed here. A task force studying cold cases begins work in a small town with two heartbreaking cases. The suspense is in the puzzle-solving of examining leads and finding connections. I always enjoy Dee.

The Ringmaster’s Wife by Kristy Cambron, reviewed here, traces the path of two women on different trajectories who end up a part of the Ringling Brothers circus family. One was a real person, one was fictional. An enjoyable read.

Uncle Tom or New Negro?: African Americans Reflect on Booker T. Washington and UP FROM SLAVERY 100 Years Later edited by Rebecca Carroll, reviewed here. I stumbled across this while looking for Washington’s Up From Slavery. This book contains that text as well as commentary from 20 modern-day African Americans on Washington and his legacy. I had no idea until seeing this book that there was any controversy about him. Quite an enlightening read.

I’m currently reading:

Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Design for Women Mentoring Women by Susan Hunt

A Place of Quiet Rest by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up by Jamie Janosz

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Snapshot by Lis Wiehl

Up Next:

The Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

Waiting for Peter by Elizabeth Musser.

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More by Karen Swallow Prior and Eric Metaxas

Eight Women of Faith by Michael A. G. Haykin

Or any of a number of choices from my reading plans for the year.

I think that about does it for now. What are you reading?

Book Review: The Ringmaster’s Wife

Ringmaster's WifeKristy Cambron’s The Ringmaster’s Wife is set in the 1920s Jazz Age. Mable Burton came from humble beginnings on a farm in Ohio. She wanted more out of life, so she went to work at the Chicago World’s Fair, carrying with her a cigar box of clippings she had collected to inspire her dreams. She met John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers circus, and eventually they married.

Lady Rosamund Easling was an earl’s daughter whose life was more or less arranged for her without consultation as to her desires. Her parents were arranging and preparing for her engagement and marriage to a man she didn’t love, and worst of all, her father was selling her beloved horse, Ingenue, a gift from her deceased brother. When offered a chance to travel to America, Rosamund took it, eventually becoming the star bareback rider for the circus.

It’s interesting that the two women came from opposite ends of the economic and social spectrum, so to speak, but both were motivated to break out of the life that was expected of them. Mable and John were real people; Rosamund and Colin, the man in charge of everything under John, were fictional. Mable didn’t set out to become rich, but she adapted well to her new lifestyle without letting it go to her head. She and John loved Venice, so when they built their home, Ca’ d’ Zan (House of John), in Florida, Mable oversaw every aspect of it and included a lot of Venetian inspiration. They had grand parties with guests like the mayor and the Ziegfelds. After I read the book, I went back to reread Susanne’s review, and saw a comment there that Kristy had a video of a tour of the house, so I looked and found this. (That’s just the first floor: there is another for the second floor and one for the circus train cars I haven’t watched yet) It was fascinating to see, having just read the book.

In the book, though, Mable was known more for her quiet wisdom. She didn’t “dip her oar” in John’s business, but she extended her influence when she thought it appropriate, like accosting the boy who pickpocketed her husband and, seeing the potential in him, encouraging him to work for the circus (I don’t know if the pickpocket incident was real). Likewise when Rosamund was “just” a beginning performer, Mabel took time to encourage her.

I wondered what inspired Kristy to write about Mable and this era (both her previous books were set in WWII, but this and the next one are set in the Jazz Age). I didn’t find anything on that exactly, but in trying to find that out I did find this interview with her about the book.

There were a lot of behind-the-scenes looks at how a circus works, and a lot of mention of the circus workers as a family. Every family will have its squabbles, though, and there is some dissension among some on a couple of issues. But I think the main thrust of the book is the sacrifice and joy involved in chasing one’s dreams.

My only criticism was that the back-and-forth timelines got a little confusing at times, even though the date is at the beginning of every chapter.

My favorite line: “Home can move. As long as your heart goes with it.”

Genre: Historical inspirational fiction
Potential objectionable elements: None
My rating: 8 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday) and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth

In How to Read the BibleHow to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart attempt to help the reader understand and interpret the Bible with particular consideration of the genre of each book. They explain that the “Its” of the title is deliberate, rather than “It Is,” saying, “‘Its’ is a deliberate wordplay that works only when it appears without the apostrophe; and in the end our own emphasis lies with this possessive. Scripture is God’s Word, and we want people to read it because of its great value to them. And if they do it ‘for all it’s worth,’ hopefully they will also find its worth.”

The first chapter covers general principles for reading and understanding the Bible: exegesis, “the careful, systematic study of Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning,” which involves learning “to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions of the text,” questions of context (historical and literary) and content; interpretation, and hermeneutics, learning “to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different contexts of our own day.” They insist, several times over, that we must understand what the text meant to the original readers before attempting to apply it to ourselves.

The concern of the scholar is primarily with what the text meant; the concern of the layperson is usually with what it means. The believing scholar insists that we must have both. Reading the Bible with an eye only to its meaning for us can lead to a great deal of nonsense as well as to every imaginable kind of error—because it lacks controls. Fortunately, most believers are blessed with at least a measure of that most important of all hermeneutical skills—common sense.

Whether one likes it or not, every reader is at the same time an interpreter. That is, most of us assume as we read that we also understand what we read. We also tend to think that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent. However, we invariably bring to the text all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understandings of words and ideas. Sometimes what we bring to the text, unintentionally to be sure, leads us astray, or else causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text.

Let it be said at the outset—and repeated throughout—that the aim of good interpretation is not uniqueness; one is not trying to discover what no one else has ever seen before. Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to “outclever” the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). Unique interpretations are usually wrong. This is not to say that the correct understanding of a text may not often seem unique to someone who hears it for the first time. But it is to say that uniqueness is not the aim of our task. The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text.”

Because the Bible is God’s Word, it has eternal relevance; it speaks to all humankind, in every age and in every culture.

The second chapter deals with the different translations of the Bible. You may not agree with the one they feel is best (I later learned one of them was on the translation committee for it), but this chapter will help you appreciate the difficulties involved in translating and the reasons there are so many translations, but will also reassure you that we have a few today that are especially accurate and trustworthy. There are a number of considerations, but the main differences in translations are those which use formal equivalence, “the attempt to keep as close to the ‘form’ of the Hebrew or Greek, both words and grammar, as can be conveniently put into understandable English”; functional equivalence, “the attempt to keep the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek but to put their words and idioms into what would be the normal way of saying the same thing in English” at the time of the translation, and free translation (or paraphrase), which is more concerned about translating the ideas rather than the “exact words of the original.”

The problem with a “free” translation, on the other hand, especially for study purposes, is that the translator updates the original author too much…On the one hand, these renditions often have especially fresh and vivid ways of expressing some old truths and have thus each served to stimulate contemporary Christians to take a fresh look at their Bibles. On the other hand, such a “translation” often comes very close to being a commentary, but without other options made available to the reader. Therefore, as stimulating as these can sometimes be, they are never intended to be a person’s only Bible; and the reader needs constantly to check particularly eye-catching moments against a true translation or a commentary to make sure that not too much freedom has been taken.

The rest of the book’s chapters discuss the different genres of literature in the Bible: epistles, narratives, Acts, the gospels, parables, the law, the prophets, the psalms, wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon), and Revelation.  They apply the principles they discussed in Chapter 1 to each and also discuss their forms and the particular difficulties or concerns in reading and interpreting each one. For instance, concerning the epistles, the authors  “offer the following guidelines, therefore, for distinguishing between items that are culturally relative on the one hand and those that transcend their original setting on the other hand and are thus normative for all Christians of all times.” Of the OT narratives, they say:

Our concern in this chapter is to guide you toward a good understanding of how Hebrew narrative “works,” so that you may read your Bibles more knowledgeably and with greater appreciation for God’s story. Unfortunately, failure to understand both the reason for and the character of Hebrew narrative has caused many Christians in the past to read the Old Testament story very poorly. If you are a Christian, the Old Testament is your spiritual history. The promises and calling of God to Israel are your historical promises and calling. Yet, in our experience, people force incorrect interpretations and applications on narrative portions of the Bible as much as or more than they do on any other parts. The intended value and meaning are replaced with ideas read into rather than out of the text.

Old Testament narratives are not allegories or stories filled with hidden meanings…[and] are not intended to teach moral lessons. The purpose of the various individual narratives is to tell what God did in the history of Israel…

However, even though [they] do not teach directly, they often illustrate what is taught explicitly and categorically everywhere.

One crucial thing to keep in mind as you read any Hebrew narrative is the presence of God in the narrative. In any biblical narrative, God is the ultimate character, the supreme hero of the story.

Even though the chapters on the different genres make up the bulk of the book and I have multitudes of places marked in them, for the sake of space and time I’ll stop there.

They have an appendix for “The Evaluation and Use of Commentaries” and their recommendations for good ones.

Overall, though I would not agree with every little point, I found the book very helpful. Though there is value in reading it through as a whole, I think there would be more value in reading the chapter on a particular genre just before reading that genre, and I may try to do that, or at least refresh myself on some of the applicable points, on starting a new genre in my own reading.

The authors are scholars who try very hard to make their points readable and understandable to the average layperson, and they mostly succeed. I don’t know if this is a book I would give to a brand new Christian right off the bat, though. It might be overwhelming, like trying to get a sip from a fire hydrant. But maybe not. Maybe it would help people get off on the right foot.

One frustration was that the authors often referred to what they called “How to 2” for further reading or for information they evidently didn’t want to reprint here. Since this is a third edition of the book, I thought they were referencing the second edition, and wondered why they didn’t just include that information here. But as I reread the first part, “How to 2” is referring to a different book of theirs, How to Read the Bible Book by Book.

I got this book on a Kindle sale because I had seen it referred to often, and it happened to be the third edition, which apparently is no longer available in the Kindle format. There is now a fourth edition, though, available both for print and ebook form.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: Traces of Guilt

Traces of GuiltIn Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson, Evie Blackwell is an Illinois State Police detective helping test out the possibility of a new task force dedicated to reexamining cold cases. To that end she comes to small town Carin. The disappearance of a policeman and his family  as well as the disappearance of a small girl have been unsolved for years. A fresh pair of eyes and an objective point of view should aid in coming up with new angles and questions and hopefully new trails of evidence to solve the case.

Evie’s primary contact is Gabriel Thane, Carin’s sheriff. He makes sure she has everything she needs, from case files to work space to food, answers questions, and considers possibilities of the cases with her. He loves his job, the town, and his close-knit family.

Meanwhile Gabriel’s brother, Josh, receives news that an old friend – in fact, the only girl he ever had feelings for – is coming back to town and will need his help. Learning what she needs and the reason for it is gut-wrenching, but he and his whole family are willing to help, and he hopes he can begin to reestablish a relationship with her.

Ann and Paul Falcon of Dee’s earlier book Full Disclosure make appearances here: Ann is something of the connector for various people in the story. I don’t remember if Gabriel was in any of Dee’s earlier books or not, but here they have a full-fledged working relationship and history. A few other characters from Dee’s most recent books are referenced as well.

The suspense in this story is not that of mile-a-minute action or edge-of-your-seat expectation: it’s more the suspense of puzzle-solving as Evie tugs on different threads to see which one unravels the case.

An attraction is growing between Evie and Gabriel, but they wonder if any kind of romance can thrive between a self-professed “woman of no small ambitions” and a small town sheriff committed to the area.

I always enjoy Dee, and this book is no exception. The cases themselves were intriguing, and I imagine a real-life cold case investigator would have to do much of what Evie did, examining evidence, coming up with and running down leads  that don’t end up anywhere but that tip off other details or questions, before something leads to the right outcome.

I appreciate that the Christianity in the book is neither subtle or blatant. Characters do normal Christian things like pray and talk about spiritual issues, but they don’t preach at each other or the reader.

Evie receives a tantalizing offer near the end of the book, one that contributes to fulfilling her ambitions but does nothing to resolve her personal life. But this book is evidently the first in a series, with a sequel due out in May, so we’ll see where her next steps take her.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, and and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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