2018 100 Book Challenge Update

Where are you in your 2018 Book Challenge? Join me on GoodReads to track your progress.

To support Henderson Memorial Public Library, I signed up this year for the ICON 100 Book Challenge. Yikes! Posting reviews on YouTube Live kept getting shut down midstream, so GoodReads is the place to follow along.

While nearing the halfway mark, and want to highlight some of my favorites so far (in no particular order):

Thrawn & Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn

If you’ve memorized the original Star Wars movie trilogy, Timothy Zahn’s work is extremely satisfying. He is adept at maintaining a wide range of delightful characters’ voices, while keeping a fast-paced plot moving and tightly focused. Just like with Darth Vader, Thrawn is written as the villain you love to hate: terrifyingly skilled, yet somehow still has a human (Chiss?) heart underneath it all, buried very deep. The juxtaposition of Thrawn with other beloved Star Wars characters such as Padme Amidala and Grand Moff Tarkin is brilliantly written.

I think in some ways, Thrawn is an autobiographical portrait of the author in terms of his ability to outthink everyone around them in ways that are awe-inspiring, instead of condescending. These newest additions to the bookshelves will have even more Star Wars geeks screaming to see Thrawn on the screen.

At one point, a stormtrooper reflects on Grand Admiral Thrawn’s leadership style: “If he lasted long enough, maybe those lessons would someday become the military standard. If that happened, he suspected, the Empire would stand forever.”

The Star Wars Empire, anyway.

Child in the Church, edited by E.M. Standing

This collection of essays documents the early experiments in applying Montessori’s educational methods to catechesis (religious education). The ideas are practical, refreshing, and inspiring. If you’ve participated in formation for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and want to go deeper, I highly recommend this book.

The Story of Job, retold by Regina Doman, illustrated by Ben Hatke

The best commentary on Job & the problem of evil I’ve ever encountered, in a format understandable even by elementary-age children. Read it.

Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Part storytelling, part sociological analysis, Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments are worth reading all the way to the end, even if you come to differing conclusions. If I were forced to recommend just one chapter, I would make “Seven Seconds in the Bronx” required reading. This is one of those books that might actually save lives.

Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful by Donna Bryant Goertz

Montessori children come with the same personalities, challenges, delays, and absurdities as other humans. This book confirms it.

Whether you’re in a Montessori environment or not, this book contains a series of valuable vignettes about developing an inclusive community among children. I have to warn potential readers, though, that the book turns into an argument for Montessori method first and only. If you can tolerate the constant digs against non-Montessori educators, the beautiful descriptions and creative solutions are well worth the read.

Les Miserables: Adult Literacy & Electing a Pope

Les Miserables Book Cover
Get it now from Amazon

There are few books that give me as much perspective on TODAY’s world as it does on history. There are even fewer books on my must-read list, but Les Miserables is something I encourage EVERYONE to dig into at least once. Sure, you can be swept away by the movie or musical and be done in a few hours. The unabridged version of the book took me six months to get through. But it was worth every minute. It is a thousand short stories in one, each character in its own universe, each historical event described in lively detail that surrounds you with the grit and misery and hope. The musical adaptation barely even touches its depths.

For example, did you know that Jean Valjean was in an adult literacy program in his corrections facility? Those are the politically correct words we would use today, but Victor Hugo did not try to gloss over prison life in his portrait of the dirt cheap labor and unchecked violence pervading the only institution where slavery is still legal. (And the U.S. has enshrined this “permanent underclass” in our own constitution in the 13th amendment) Hugo has an interesting description of Valjean’s corrections education:

“At Toulon [the prison] there was a school for the prisoners conducted by some rather ignorant friars, where the essentials were taught to any of the men who were willing. He [Jean Valjean] was one. At forty he went to school and learned to read, write, and do arithmetic. He felt that to increase his knowledge was to strengthen his hatred. In certain cases, instruction and enlightenment can actually work to  underscore the wrong.”

So what’s the solution? Hugo actually calls several times for public education as a solution to grinding poverty, but he makes it clear that revolution or education without God and an ethical concern for the poor is no progress. You see Hugo’s vision very clearly in the first 100 pages of the book, mostly focused on the character of the Bishop of Digne. The movie has just one song from the pious Bishop Bienvenu [“Would you leave the best behind?”], but I can’t get him out of my head lately. I’d love his thoughts on current events, especially the election of a new Pope during March Madness (for example, you can participate by voting in the Sweet Sistine brackets). I just have to laugh to recall how Hugo described the Conclave contrasted with our saintly bishop’s ambitions:

“And as every there are the top brass, in the church there are rich miters. … And then there is Rome. A bishop who can become archbishop, an archbishop who can become a cardinal, leads you to the conclave; you enter into the rota, you have the pallium, there you are an auditor, you ate a chamberlain, you are a monseigneur, and from Grandeur to Eminence there is only one step, and between Eminence and Holiness there is nothing but the smoke of a ballot. Every cowl may dream of the tiara. In our day the priest is the only man who can regularly become a king, and what a king! The supreme king. So, what a nursery of aspirations is a seminary. … Who knows how easily ambition disguises itself under the name of a calling, possibly in good faith and deceiving itself, in sanctimonious confusion.

“Monseigneur Bienvenu, a humble, poor, private person, was not counted among the rich miters. This was plain by the complete absence of young priests around him. … We live in a sad society. Succeed-that is the advice that falls drop by drop from the overhanging corruption.”

Succeed at all costs. Is this the central, pounding drum beat of our education and our religion? Or is there something more to life, some higher calling that asks us to think differently about how society as a whole might progress, especially on behalf of those who are still enslaved in our midst?

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