Helping without Hurting March 25, 2013Posted by mjhoward in Books, Theology, Venture.
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I just finished Miss Willie by Janice Holt Giles for book club. It was a book I honestly wasn’t too excited about: a middle-aged woman goes to take on the challenge of being a a school teacher in the poverty of Appalachia. I feel like I’ve read this book before (Christy, anyone?). But I ended up getting immersed in Giles’s beautiful language and her portrayal of Miss Willie’s realistic inner life. Miss Willie also comes to an epiphany at the end of the novel that coincides with another book I’ve been reading — When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…And Yourself.
This book talks about the best ways to help others, mostly the idea of working with the poor, not foisting our “help” upon them.
Miss Willie comes to a similar conclusion and Giles writes this inner process in such a true way that I will quote it at length here:
“She had come to the ridge thinking: These poor people! They need help so badly. They need me, Miss Willie Payne, so badly. She had been horrified and shocked at conditions, and she had gone about preaching and lecturing. She had known the right way to do all things, and she had never hesitated to say so. She had pitied these people and patronized them. And what people of pride ever wanted pity or patronage!
But she had tried so earnestly to help them! She had tried. The wrong way, maybe. But she had tried everything! Everything? Now her heart told her. Everything…but love! She remembered crying out to Mary: “Where can you start? Where can you start?” You start with the people…and you start with love for the people! ‘The gift without the giver is bare’! And she had never given of herself! Her time, her energy, her knowledge. But not herself! She winced from that thought, but she faced it in all its bitter gall. She had never loved them!
Love was the way. And lovelessness had been her greatest sin. Out of a dim, long memory Miss Willie remembered a text of her father’s. ‘Take my yoke…and I will make it easy.’ The words came back to her now, and repeated themselves over and over. ‘Take my yoke.’ ‘Take my yoke.’ That most perfect One had lived ‘together’ with the people. What did He mean by his yoke? ‘Take my yoke…and I will make it easy.’ Could He have meant — was it possible His yoke had been living and working with people who never understood Him? Common, ordinary, ignorant people, who didn’t listen and who wouldn’t change? People who didn’t want anything better than they had? People who were dirty, diseased, and foul sometimes, and who were clean and noble and fine other times? People who loved and hated, fought and made peace, witnessed against their neighbors and then stood by them? Could He have meant living with them and loving them just as they were, unchanged and unchanging?
Like the eastern sun flooding the sky with light, Miss Willie understood in a flashing, transfiguring moment what it meant. It meant to live together…under the yoke, together! Not one standing above, reaching down to pull the others up! Not one saying, ‘I must help these people’! It meant, instead, the banding and linking of people, one to another, in love and pity and yearning. It meant saying, ‘My people’; not, ‘These people.’ It meant getting under the yoke alongside of people, one with them, pulling the load with them. Not standing aside telling them how to pull! It meant grieving with them, and sorrowing with them, and laboring with them, and laughing with them, and most of all, it meant loving with them. ‘Take my yoke’! He had been yoked with the people. He had meant, then, live with them where they are. Love them as they are. Take the yoke, and life it. All lift together!”
She says it well: words I have thought myself, words I’ve been ashamed of, words of challenge, words of the true Kingdom of God.
Block Party February 26, 2013Posted by mjhoward in Venture.
Part of my year of venturing is getting to know my neighbors. I had met our immediate next door neighbors (after I literally knocked on their door to say, “Hi! I’m your new neighbor!”) soon after we moved in. But I hadn’t met anyone else, and I wasn’t sure how to go about it other than to start knocking on doors again.
So, we decided to throw a party. Problem is — we decided this a year ago and still…no party. After going to a Mission Alive Fundraising Dinner, which is all about reaching your neighbor, I decided to just go for it and have the party that week. Careful planning be damned! I think the idea of the party (which I don’t really enjoy planning) had become so big in my mind that it became this overwhelming monster.
So we did minimal planning, minimal publicity (just flyers in mailboxes), and hoped for the best. We also invited members of our house church that live close by, and that gave me more peace of mind. If no one showed up, at least we could have a nice time with them.
So how did it go? It was great! 7 neighbors showed up for hot chocolate and conversation. Several of our neighbors mentioned how excited they were to get our invitation. I think this world is desperate for community, and most people don’t have a natural way of creating that. Our neighborhood block party was so successful that we have decided to do some kind of get-together every month, to really have a chance to build community.
Reading Lately – Winter Edition February 26, 2013Posted by mjhoward in Books.
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I go through phases where I don’t feel like reading anything. Then, all of a sudden, I can’t read enough and I start five books at once. This winter was a “I don’t feel like reading anything” kind of season. Part of that might have to do with my discovery of all five seasons of Alias on Amazon Prime Instant Streaming. So I didn’t read many books during this season, but here is what I did read and what I thought:
Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
I have read A LOT of parenting books, trying to figure out how the heck to do this thing called parenting. So when I heard about this amusing take on parenting, I thought I’d give it a go. This isn’t so much a how-to as it is a memoir of the American author raising her children in Paris. She lets us in on how the French raise their children, and how, apparently, it is very different from the American way of parenting. They are strict about a few things, and then let their kids explore within these boundaries. They teach their kids to wait — for snacks, for attention. They aren’t so concerned with their kids getting ahead, but are more concerned with teaching their children how to enjoy life. Enjoying life is also a big part of becoming a mother. Motherhood should be balanced between work, home, and play — something their society makes easier by reduced-cost childcare, free preschool, and paid maternity leave. I enjoyed reading about Pamela’s adventures in raising a Parisian child and found some similarities in how I view parenting. There are some positive things I took away — especially the part about letting our children explore at their own rate and not flashcarding them to death. But there are some aspects of French parenting that aren’t all its cracked up to be: they don’t encourage breastfeeding and there is a lot of pressure to lose that baby weight. But for the most part, this was just a fun read, seeing how a slightly different culture raises their kids.
Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis and Beth Clark
This was a book club selection; otherwise, I probably would not have read it. I’m glad I did though because it generated one of our best discussions. We were all in tears at the end! It’s about 19-year old Katie, who has some serious chutzpa, moving to Uganda, starting a non-profit, adopting a bunch of kids, and pretty much giving up her American life. To be honest, I had a hard time with this book, mostly because I felt guilty the whole time that I hadn’t given up my American life to serve in Africa. I know this book is meant to be inspiring, about how one person can do so much, but I just felt disheartened, knowing that I don’t have the faith she has to make the difference she is making. She seems like such an unreal character, this nearly perfect person, with an overwhelming faith in God that my doubting heart just can’t connect with. I would recommend it though for a book club.
O, Jerusalem by Laurie R. King
This is the fourth or fifth mystery novel in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, and I found this one to be a bit of a disappointment. This was less a mystery than it was a traipse through pre-Israel Palestine in the disguise of Arabs, which was pretty enjoyable. I do like me some historical fiction, especially about places and times I know almost nothing about. Seeing Jerusalem before the nation of Israel was recreated after World War II was pretty darn interesting. However, the mystery plot was severely lacking and I just didn’t care. But the relationship between Russell and Holmes makes up for it — almost.
The Wonder Weeks by Hetty Van de Rijt and Frans Plooij
This is a baby book I have been working through since Henry was an infant, and finished at his one-year birthday. I enjoyed this book because it helped me explain those unexplainable and frustrating fussy days (i.e. weeks, months) that Henry would have for no apparent reason. The Wonder Weeks helps you identify what the baby is learning, some new concept or skill that is causing a certain fussy behavior around a certain time frame. I found this to be true with Henry for each of their weeks. The book also gives helpful ideas about games or other things to do to help your baby ease through this transition by practicing the new skills. I’d recommend it, if only for the comfort that you are not alone. Yes, every child does this. And here is why.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
I bought this book on my kindle a while ago because someone recommended it to me and it was a buck. I kinda wish I had my buck back. It is a story told through a dog’s eyes, and while I did enjoy this point of view, it left me distanced from the human main characters. The racing metaphors were a bit heavy handed, and I could see all the plot points coming from a mile away. I liked the character of Enzo the dog very much, but I felt like the story we saw through his eyes was uninteresting and, ultimately, corny.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
The subtitle gives a hint of what’s inside the cover of the book (a cute pic of Rachel sitting on a doll house, hair wrapped in a shawl): “How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master.” Just to stop you right there: no, these are not the conclusions she came to after taking a serious look at “Biblical womanhood.” Most of these actions in the subtitle are exagerrated stunts that highlight how we are all guilty of picking and choosing scripture to live by, and how complicated reading and living by the Bible can actually be. She also highlights how we have used the Bible to silence, to box in. I very much appreciated this thought-provoking look at how we often use the Bible to prescribe what a woman should be, when the results seem more politically and culturally motivated than exegetical. A great read for furthering the discussion of women’s role in the church and in society.
Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card
This is the last novel in what is known as the Ender Quartet. Though there are many more books about the Enderverse, this is the book that brings it most closely to an end. If you haven’t read them, go out right now and buy Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. Ender’s Game is a children’s novel with some really big themes: love, death, xenocide. It’s pretty deep and really good. Speaker for the Dead is even better. As the books in the quartet go on, Card becomes more philosophical, which is okay, except that the philosophizing drags on and on. I still enjoyed the novel, but the main conclusion we have been building to for the past three novels was anti-climactic (probably because it has been going on for three novels). I do enjoy Card’s writing though. I love how his characters read on the page and read each other. He can also turn a great phrase, bringing you out of some sci-fi gobbledy-gook and into real emotion. So though this wasn’t his best, it was still pretty darn good.
Lent Experiment 2013 February 14, 2013Posted by mjhoward in Spiritual Formation, Venture.
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So this year I’ve decided to do something kind of typical, something a lot of other people will be giving up: Facebook (except for posting my blog).
There are several reasons why I’m giving it up:
- I use it to compare myself to others WAY too often
- I end up trying to feel connected to others in this rather disconnected way, by constantly checking status updates throughout the day when I end up alone in my house caring for my small child.
- I stalk Facebook when I should be stalking God. I have a Common Prayer app on my phone that alerts me when to pray the offices of the day. Lately, when the buzzer sounds, I don’t pray. I look at Facebook. I know. Pretty bad.
In the past, I’ve given up things that were much more difficult for me, much more central to my life, like TV and reading. I’ve only been at it for two days, but not checking Facebook hasn’t been that big a deal. It was just a bad habit I was developing, and getting in the way of a more important habit I want to cultivate: talking with real people in my neighborhood in real time.
I figure that the time I spent trying to feel connected on Facebook is time I can use to go walking in my neighborhood, venturing out, nurturing new relationships. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Does my House own my Heart? February 1, 2013Posted by mjhoward in Contentment, Spiritual Formation.
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A few months ago, I had to find the perfect couch for our living room. Any spare moment, I would whip out the ipad and search online. I made pinterest boards. I found other pieces of furniture that we just had to have. I was obsessed.
I was tired of our house looking like a bunch of college guys lived in it: mismatched, hand-me down chairs; ancient tables falling apart; the Kramer on the mantle (though I still think that is kinda fun). I am nearing 30. I have a child. I should have grown-up furniture.
There was a time when I didn’t care about furniture. When we rented our tiny duplex, the mismatched chairs were charming, the ancient table a family heirloom, the Kramer — just a kitschy piece of our personality. If I didn’t have the right curtains or the right piece of furniture there, I didn’t care. It wasn’t our forever home. What we had was good enough.
But as soon as we bought a house, what we had was suddenly not good enough anymore. I spent countless hours online and in Home Depot and Home Goods finding rugs and curtains and couches. I was a bit whiney and extremely agitated until we got the perfect rug or the right couch for upstairs. But it didn’t seem to end.
I was itching for more, until one day I realized that my house had taken over valuable real estate in my heart. I was so focused on prettying up my house that I had no room in my heart for others in need. I was the one who needed…another pillow cushion for the couch. I realized that Matthew 6:21 was right: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I didn’t want to be the kind of person whose heart was focused only on the material. My discontent was becoming all of me.
So I stopped searching on the internet. I started repurposing furniture we already had. I started to see our mismatched furniture as quirks of our personality. I started to be thankful for the fact that we have a house and furniture. Somewhere in all the blessings I was given, I had forgotten to be grateful.
I am grateful now. And ashamed — not for wanting a nice house with pretty things, but for allowing my house to own me instead of the other way around.
I came, I saw, I zumbad (or whatever the past tense of zumba is) January 22, 2013Posted by mjhoward in Venture.
I am not an athletic person. Never have been. When I think of exercise, I think of middle school gym class, being the last to finish my mile. I think of gymnastics classes, not advancing to the next level because I couldn’t do just one pull-up. When I think of coordination, I think of the one and only musical I was in, needing to learn a time step, and only figuring it out after the show was over. Mostly I think of embarrassment, eyes on the girl who can’t run or dance or move in any sort of coordinated fashion.
So when I decided to go to a zumba class at my local Y, I was a little anxious. My usual mode of exercise is walking around my neighborhood cause it’s hard to screw that up and it’s a solitary endeavor. Zumba is dancing and learning steps and in front of a lot of other people.
But I go anyway. I tell the people at the front desk that this is my first time taking a class. They show me the room and also mention that the instructor only speaks spanish. Great. Not only will I need to interpret her movements, but there will be a language barrier as well.
I arrive a little early, and one woman asks me if this is my first time. I must look pretty awkward, not knowing what to do with my hands. She tells me to just keep moving and I’ll do fine.
After everyone arrives, I notice that almost all of these women look like me: fuller around the middle, fitting uncomfortably in their workout clothes. This puts me at ease.
Then the music starts and we’re off. I have placed myself in a position in the middle, with a good view of the instructor, so I can what she’s doing. At first, I do have trouble following her. She doesn’t speak (so the language barrier I thought would be a problem isn’t). She just moves effortlessly, looking natural and sexy and all the things I’m not. I spend a lot of time frantically correcting my steps. In fact, this is what I spend most of the first 30 minutes focusing on. And of course, there is a mirror, so I can see how utterly hopeless my dancing looks.
But at some point, I quit caring. I may not have the steps right, but I’m actually having fun, and I’m moving. And towards the end, I’m catching on and my steps start to resemble actual dance. I look around and see all the shapes and colors of women around me. Some dance like pros and others look more awkward than I do. But no one gives judgmental looks. No one is snickering in the corner. At some point I realize that this is not my middle school nightmare. Everyone is shaking her booty and having a fantastic time. And so am I.
New Year – New Word (2013 Edition) January 6, 2013Posted by mjhoward in Thoughts, Venture.
Well blog, it’s been awhile.
It’s getting a bit late to write about the past year in review and thoughts for the one upcoming, but my new year really started with the birth of my son on January 10th, so I figure I’m still within the limits of reminiscing and forecasting.
Last year was amazing and hard. I figured out how to take care of my sweet little boy pretty early on, but I didn’t know how to deal with the depression and anxiety that unexpectedly followed alongside him. My word for last year was “stillness,” but there is nothing still about anxiety. I wanted to pay attention to those little moments I won’t ever get back again: Henry falling asleep in my arms, his first step, and my favorite, throwing all the books out of his bookshelf to pick just the right one for me to read it him. I did cherish those moments, but I didn’t do so with an attitude of stillness, of letting the Spirit focus me, resting me. I fretted about sleep, about future children, about not doing enough, about doing too much.
Stillness didn’t work out so well for me in the end, and perhaps it was because I was focused on me and mine and not the world at large. This year I want the Spirit to focus me in a new direction: outward. My word for the new year is VENTURE. I want to venture out in the new, the dangerous, the unexpected.
I chose VENTURE because of the risk associated with it, a risk I always need to be aware of while I am trying the hard and the new. I need to remember that I will fall, but like my son learning to walk, cry a bit and steady myself once more to go forward. I will happily toddle on. And I do think this year will be more of a toddle, which works out well since I’m raising a toddler. We can toddle on together to explore this world.
I want this spirit of VENTURE to go with me in everything I do, but most especially the following:
- Write a blog post at least once a week. Part of the reason I haven’t written in so long is allowing a spirit of apathy surround me. No one cares. I don’t care. That kind of thing. I want to venture into revealing myself and writing for the good of others.
- Learn the names of all the neighbors on my block. I am a shy, introverted person who can be an extrovert, but I really have to work at it. I want to be friends with our neighbors and that means getting out of the comfort zone of my house and venturing over to other people’s porches, getting weird looks, and introducing myself.
- Write a story just for me. I haven’t written fiction in a long time. Mostly because of time but also because of fear. I want to venture out here and not write a story for publication or for others, but one that I would like to read.
- Stop comparing myself to others, and venture out to be just me. Since becoming a mother, I am so guilty of comparing myself to other mothers on Facebook and Pinterest and those I actually know in real life, and I always end up feeling like slacker mother of the year. I don’t craft or cook gourmet meals and I tend to read books while my child plays, but I can do a mean hokey pokey and funny voices when required.
- Do a craft with Henry. I know I said I don’t do crafts, but I think part of it is because I’m scared to try. I’ve never been particularly good with glueing cotton balls on popsicle sticks, but for the sake of my child, I want to try something new…at least just once.
- Conquer my fear of the kitchen. Yes, this is a weird fear, but I want to change that. I don’t cook right now because I have an amazing husband who loves to cook. But I also don’t cook because I’m afraid and that’s not a very good reason not to do something. I think I’m afraid of cooking because I’m afraid to make a mistake, not to mention the open flame and sharp knives. Part of venturing out is making mistakes, and I hope I make a bunch (you have no idea how hard that last sentence was for me to write).
- Spend time each day just thinking about another person. This may seem like a small thing, but I’m a big believer that being intentional in your thoughts leads to intentional actions. I figure if I think, and maybe if I pray about another person, that I will think of ways to be better friends with that person, to encourage them, to love them. Thinking is just the first step.
- Exercise…with other people. I have always been a solitary exerciser (when I do it at all). I’m the queen of exercise home videos, but I think, like anything else, exercise works best in community. So I am rejoining the Y, taking a class, and allowing myself to look like a clumsy fool in front of other people.
- Get more involved in my community. Ted and I have already made steps to do this by joining a house church in our neighborhood. We are also looking for a place to volunteer our time as a family. The scary part is that it may not be something that is a “ministry” or “organized.” But many times the Kingdom of God is found in unexpected, improbable, and inconvenient places.
I’m sure there are more ways that I will discover to venture out this year, but this is just the start. I’m excited and I’m scared, but this year I won’t let the fear hold me back.
Waiting for Baby Jesus December 24, 2012Posted by mjhoward in Babies, Spiritual Formation, Thoughts.
Tags: Christmas, Jesus
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This is a post I wrote last year about advent, about waiting. My waiting for Henry culminated in his wonderful birth, his wonderful, happy, silly life. But I also know that there are others whose wait did not turn out as expected or whose waiting came to an abrupt end. My heart goes out to all those tonight who are still waiting, waiting for hope, for goodness, for life. Merry Christmas and enjoy.
This time of advent is a time for waiting, waiting for wonderful miracles, waiting for the Son of God to be born. Being pregnant during advent really brings this idea of waiting into an interesting light. I am eagerly awaiting Christmas, the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I’m also eagerly awaiting the birth of another life — that of my son.
I find it curious that Christmas is more celebrated than Easter (though the cynic in me feels that it is probably because we have attached Christmas to materialism and things). Easter is the holiday where we celebrate the fact that Jesus finished the work he came to do, the work that changed the world. But I also think there is good reason for Christmas to be the “bigger” holiday. It is the holiday of mystery and wonder. The holiday where we celebrate not what Jesus has done, but the holiday where we celebrate hope for what he could do. The baby Jesus is not a symbol of accomplishment, but a symbol of potential, and potential holds a great mystery.
I very much identify with this mystery because I find myself wondering what Henry will look like, whose personality quirks he’ll get, and what kind of man he will grow up to be. I have high hopes for him, and am honored that I will get to watch this little person grow, this mystery unfold before me.
But at this time of wonder, I also feel a tinge of sadness for all those whose mystery has ended. The little girl Ted and I sponsor at the Village of Hope died on Sunday night. Her name was Elizabeth, and she was seven. I met her when she was about five and wanted to be held and carried constantly. I wonder if she still always wanted to be held, but I know for certain that she is being held now.
Jesus’s life was cut short so that he could do his greatest work. I know Elizabeth was not taken away to accomplish some divine purpose. Her death is beyond sadness and sense, but I know God can work miracles through tiny babies, through men laying down their lives, and through seven-year-old Ghanaian girls dying. I don’t know what will come of her death, but I hope, I hope for light to shine in this darkness, just as baby Jesus shined light on the hope to come.
Fall, my Favorite Time of Year October 25, 2012Posted by mjhoward in Theology, Thoughts.
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Fall is my favorite season. Perhaps it’s because all the routines of old seem fresher. Cleaning dishes while looking at a cold, wet sky seems right somehow. Folding laundry when the air is crisp and the towels are fluffy warm feels like home. The tradition of going to the Fair feels more exciting than Christmas. The cinnamon rolls, the corny dogs, that enormous slice of pizza. They all wait around the corner. The blue ribbon jams and jellies, the photo with Big Tex, the ride on the carousel. They are here waiting for me, and will be again next year. Even though we go to the Fair, year after year, eat the same foods, and go to the same events, they always seem fresh, like I’m experiencing them for the first time.
Perhaps Fall is my favorite because it feels like the beginning of something, the way every morning feels full of possibilities. I don’t know if it’s because school has begun anew or because the air seems to have slugged off its weight into cooler temperatures, but the sky is charged with the electricity of the new. I find myself wanting to make resolutions, to finish off old projects, to ring bells that announce the coming of our Lord. It is now that God seems more real to me, more tangible, even if only in the smell of charcoal smoke. To me, Fall comes to remind us that He is here and will make all things new, starting now.
Reading Lately October 15, 2012Posted by mjhoward in Books.
Because the little one no longer naps on me, nor takes long naps, I don’t have as much time to read, but here are a few things I have been reading lately.
This was described to me as “Harry Potter for Adults.” And it definitely is for adults. I was actually a little taken aback by how much cursing, sex, and violence was included, but I am, of course, a self-admitted prude. The story goes like this: Quentin Coldwater is a senior in high school, brilliant, about to interview for Harvard, yet he is not happy or excited. He always feels like there is something more. Enter a strange chance to take a strange exam that turns out to prove him a Magician. He quickly gives up his old life to begin anew at Brakebills. The magic here is actually not very magical. It is about hard work and rules and repetition. And perhaps why this book fell flat to me. Though the students here do end up doing amazing things and venture out to fantastic (in the true sense of the word) places, I just didn’t really care. There was nothing here that made me long to stay in this world. We see the world through Quentin’s eyes, and they are eyes of dissatisfaction. There is another book in this series, but I think I’ll skip it because I don’t really want to spend more time in this version of the magical realm.
These are the next Hunger Games if you want to put it in YA terms. These are the first two of a trilogy, and though not as poignant and relevant as the Hunger Games, it’s still a good, thrilling ride. Ted and I listed to this as an audio book, and I have to say that the reader’s voice fit the character perfectly. Tris Pryor lives in a future version of Chicago where everyone is separated into five factions, based on values: Abnegation, Candor, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless. She has grown up in Abnegation, the faction that prides itself on being selfless, only she thinks she is no good at being selfless. Fortunately, when a member of a faction turns sixteen, they can choose to remain or choose another faction. Which will she do? You’ll have to read it to find out, but it’s a fast-paced story with a teenage romance written in a way that I would have loved when I was twelve, and a pretty fascinating and imaginative future Chicago. It’s worth the read, and I’m excited to pick up the last volume in 2013.
O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling by Jason Boyett
I purchased this book because the subtitle is what I often feel like, and I thought it would be good to read someone with a similar faith journey to mine. And boy, was it. I loved this book for its honesty, humility, and … I feel like I need another “H” word, but instructiveness will have to do. Boyett not only tells you his journey, but how he has used doubt to his advantage and what practical steps he takes to not go over the edge. A must read for doubters and those who want to understand them.
The “Short” in this title must be sarcastic because I don’t consider 512 pages short. I have been working on this book for over a year because it is that kind of book you can read for a while, put down, and take back up and enjoy right where you left off. Bryson takes us through the history of home and houses, room by room, using the rectory he now lives in in Britain as an example. He goes into the purpose of each room and quite frequently takes the tangential opportunity to talk about the history of the spice trade in the kitchen, or the history of electricity in the drawing room. All of it is fascinating and told in Bryson’s pleasant, witty prose. But I’d skip the chapter called The Study, which has nothing to do with books and everything to do with those creatures who might eat them. Yes, definitely skip the chapter on rats and other household vermin, especially when reading at night before bed. You may encounter a brief bout of insomnia. And I may be speaking from experience.