Book: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Click here to get this on Amazon!
Click here to get Pure on Amazon!

I have always been fascinated by post-Apocalyptic worlds. Whether films, TV or books, I love tales of humanity in a world where we lost it all. But missing from most post-apocalyptic worlds is something basic to human nature: religion. Herschel waxes religious occasionally on The Walking Dead, and Rick prayed once, but other than that, religion plays a minuscule role in these worlds if it’s present at all.

Which always struck me as odd, given how central religion has been to human existence. Where are my apocalyptic stories featuring God? (And I’m not talking about The Road, which is amazing and all about God but where religion still doesn’t feature prominently in the story).

Enter Pure by Julianna Baggott, hailed by many as “the next Hunger Games”.Continue reading

Top 10 Books of 2012

Here are my picks for the best books of 2012, in no particular order.
The titles link to my reviews (if available) or to Amazon :

Selling Water by the River

Selling Water by the River

by Shane Hipps

I haven’t gotten to post my review of this book yet, but it was one of the best surprises of 2012. Shane Hipps is one of the most important, underrated voices in Evangelical Christianity. Selling Water by the River is a fresh look into the heart of Christianity.

It’s a short, fast read, but Shane packs each chapter with thick, insightful metaphors that unlock some rich, complex ideas.

Monkeys with Typewriters

by Scarlett Thomas

I’m only 50 pages into this book, and those 50 pages already made my Top 10. Yes, this book is that good. Scarlett Thomas is one of the most capable fiction authors I’ve ever read (if you’ve never taken a crack at The End of Mr. Y, just trust me: it’s a must read). Apparently, she’s also an English professor. Monkeys with Typewriters is the textbook on creative writing she’s always wanted and finally had to write herself.

If you love writing or even just the art of storytelling, get this book now.Continue reading

Book: Undead by Clay Morgan

Undead by Clay Morgan
Click to check out Undead on Amazon!

Unless you are Amish, you are probably aware that zombies are way in right now. Which is at least slightly weird since zombies aren’t even a little bit sexy. I mean, there’s not much you can do to glamorize the zombie apocalypse.

But Walking Dead is the biggest show on TV. The number of zombie novels might be outpacing teen vampire romance novels. (Also, that those are a thing? Truly horrifying.) Zombies are even getting attention from scholars.

Which begs the question, Why are zombies so “in” right now?Continue reading

Book: The Sword of Six Worlds by Matt Mikalatos

Click to check out Sword of Six Worlds on Amazon!
Click to check out Sword of Six Worlds on Amazon!

The first time I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I was probably 10 years old. I just remember enjoying the story, marveling at the magical world of Narnia. As I grew up, I heard that The Chronicles of Narnia were spiritual allegories, and as I reflected on the plot of the book, I could see what they meant. I didn’t actually reread that first book until college, and the story’s blatant theology caught me off guard (J. R. R. Tolkien famously called the books ‘crude allegory’).

In retrospect, I’m glad college-me was more spiritually perceptive than 10-year-old me.

I would’ve loved the chance to read Narnia with my parents, for them to help me see the biblical themes. I can imagine that such a book would be a useful tool for parents today looking for a fun book to help their kids talk about Jesus and theology at their level.

Enter Matt Mikalatos’ new book The Sword of Six Worlds: a tremendous book and wonderful resource.Continue reading

Top 10 Posts of 2011

2011 was a big year for this blog. Here are my 10 most popular posts by number of visits. Okay, technically eleven, since there was a two-way tie for the 10 slot.

10. 26 New and Improved Reasons I Love My Wife

Click here for the list

What can I say? Everyone loves my wife. So in honor of her 26th birthday, I listed a few of the many reasons I love her. Obviously the masses agreed.

10. The Black Swan Review

Click here for my review

One of the craziest films of 2010, but also a great retelling of the Garden of Eden story. If you’ve never seen an Aronofsky film, prepare yourself. If you have, you have some inkling of the sort of crazy you’re in for.

9. Erasing Hell by Francis Chan Review

Click here for my review

An awful, half-hearted response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. It didn’t perform nearly as well for all kinds of reasons. My review was basically a call to save your money and skip this book.

8. The Fighter and The King’s Speech Reviews

Click here for my reviews

These two movies were basically the same exact story. What separated them out was the incredible acting from the entire casts. They transformed a standard underdog story into something pretty special.

7. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan Review

Click here for my review

One of the best books I’ve ever read, and one that really has its finger on the pulse of our collective consciousness right now. Absolutely outstanding writing, and well-deserving of the Pulitzer it won.

6. A Christian Response to Osama bin Laden’s Death

Click here for my take

The only piece of theological writing to crack my top 10, and again, not a big surprise. I was saddened by much of the celebrating I saw around bin Laden’s death. And while I understood it, I believe Christians are called to be better than that, especially when it comes to how we treat our enemies.

5. Why I Switched from a Nook to a Kindle

Click here for my analysis

A dated post since both Nook and Kindle have newer versions available. But I’m still sticking with my Kindle 3/Kindle Keyboard for the same reasons I listed in this post.

4. The Dark Knight Rises Previews

Click here for my take on the Prologue and the Trailer

No one is surprised that I’m pre-obsessed with this movie. But both of my write-ups on it so far have gotten more attention than most reviews I’ve done of movies that are already out.

3. The Dexter Season 6 Reviews

Click here to go to my review of episode one

Dexter took on God in Season 6, with some surprising results. Though I wasn’t wild about how they wrapped up all the themes they’d unpacked, the writers deserve some major kudos for this whole season. One of the best and most direct treatments of religion I’ve seen on secular television.

2. Love Wins by Rob Bell Review

Click here for my review

No surprise here – this was one of the most controversial books of the decade let alone last year. Dozens of times more ink has been spilt discussing this book than it took to write it. And one (relatively quick) read will show you why: Bell raises questions that need to be taken seriously.

1. 127 Hours Review

Click here for my review

I have no idea why my review of 127 Hours was by far my most viewed post. I did think it was the best film of 2010, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you really are missing out.

Book – Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos

This book is outstanding. We need more totally silly, totally serious theology like Matt gives us. Not everyone will enjoy the monster metaphor, but if that’s your cup of tea, then you need this book. It’ll make you take a hard look at the monstrous aspects of your own soul. And you’ll ache for the same transformation Matt and his band of monsters discover.

Continue reading

Book Review: PUSH (Precious)

PUSH is a punishing, brutal picture of a person who is a victim of the American Dream.  That person is Precious, a sixteen-year-old girl who at the book’s opening is pregnant with her father’s child.  For the second time.  Rather inexplicably because of this, Precious is expelled from her school (during which we discover that she is also illiterate) and sent to an alternative school.  Here she meets Blue Rain, a teacher who sees past Precious’ rough demeanor and begins to mentor her.

The result is a journey out of the night that has been Precious’ life towards a day of possibilities for her.  She begins to read and to evaluate herself and her life.  She learns to see that she is damaged, that the life she is living is not normal or acceptable.  She learns to protect herself from her parents.

And she learns to remember her past truthfully, to see her Self as fully human.

Precious sweeps us along on her journey, touching on the disembodiment our culture creates.  Some of the most painful moments occur when Precious envisions her ideal Self – skinny, pretty and white, and when she escapes her body as her father rapes her, imaging herself far off and away, detached from the prison of her body.

The miracle of the book is the path we discover along with Precious, a path that surprisingly leads towards hope.  She seems like such a lost cause, a victim of a broken, irredeemable system that destroys innocence, that crushes both the victim and the victimizer without respect for any persons.  But through Blue Rain and the community of girls at the alternative school, the system is overcome and Precious steps onto the path toward redemption and healing.

PUCH is cruel and unrelenting; for ever two steps Precious takes forward she is shoved back.  And the end is no fairy tale (:: ahem :: Blindside).  But for those of us who live in a real broken world, hers is the story we need.

Bottom Line: PUSH asks you to consider what hope and healing look like in the real world.  Do you have the courage to introduce yourself to Precious?

Book Review: Columbine

On April 20, 1999, I was a senior with less than a month left of my high school career.  Seventh period had just begun when our English teacher came into the classroom with tears streaming down her face.  “There’s been a school shooting, out in Colorado,” she said.  I didn’t know it then, but Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been dead less than an hour, their surprisingly brief reign of terror over almost before it had begun.

The following days bore the fruits of Eric and Dylan’s attacks: all but two of my high schools dozens of exterior doors were locked, forcing most of us to change our schedules.  We all began giving the ‘goths’ second and third looks, fearing that they might be a part of the dread Trench Coat Mafia.  Bullying of any kind was fiercely punished and any student who’d ever made any sort of threats was suddenly given the attention s/he’d been craving.  And all our churches were abuzz with the story of Cassie the Columbine Martyr, who’d told the killers she believed inEric Harris (right) and Dylan Klebold (left) God, and was executed for it.  But for all the supposed safety measures we’d put into place, the general feeling that last month of school was one of confusion and chaos rather than safety and order.  Because no one could answer convincingly that singular, burning question everyone was asking: Why did Eric and Dylan do it?

It’s been just over a decade since that day, and still the Columbine massacre remains the quintessential school shooting for many of us.  In many ways, it defined my generation as much as (and arguably more so than) 9/11.  And all of us have so many unanswered questions, so I picked up Dave Cullen’s book with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I know what I got:

Columbine is a respectful, fair and comprehensive look at an important, formative moment for my generation.

Eric (in white) and Dylan in the cafeteria shortly before their suicide in the library upstairsI was immediately surprised by how many myths Cullen debunked.  Eric and Dylan weren’t a part of the Trench Coat Mafia.  The killings weren’t retaliation for bullying.  Cassie didn’t stand up for Jesus (she didn’t have the chance; the boys just killed her.  Her testimony actually came from another girl who had already been shot, but still claimed to believe in God.)  Probably most surprising was the profile Cullen created of each of the boys.  Dylan was a sad, depressed loner who – according to his journals – desperately wanted to be loved.  Eric was a clinically-diagnosable psychopath who lied to everyone around him and dreamed of exterminating the entire human race.

What truly made the book so good, however, was Cullen’s treatment of the supporting cast – the parents of the victims, the survivors and the investigators researching the big Why question.  Cullen treats each person fairly, and even the boys don’t emerge in his telling as full-fledged villains (well, Eric is pretty close by the end).  The book opens with the shootings but then splits into two narratives: one beginning two years before the event, tracing the boys’ steps to Judgment Day, and the other following the fallout and healing afterwards.  Cullen weaves the two stories together masterfully, so the effect becomes one of fatalist tragedy running headlong beside hope.  And that is perhaps the greatest miracle of Columbine – that the terror of Eric and Dylan’s choices have passed us by.  In Littleton, Colorado, Columbine is the name of a school again – not a tragedy.

Bottom Line: Columbine reexamines an old tragedy through Cullen’s educated and cathartic narrative.