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Inland

InlandInland by Téa Obreht
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two narratives of the American west, one a little more traditional though still unique and the other quite original. The more traditional story is of a mother in Arizona enduring a drought and trying to defend and provide for her family and homestead. This narrative occurs over the course of one day, but with many backstories to explain the myriad characters of this small town going through change. There are ghosts, visions, and fears of a wild beast, so this story has its features unique to a Western.

The other story is about a Middle Eastern immigrant who becomes involved in the Camel Corps of the US Army. This story draws upon a historical reality, but an unfamiliar one. While a Middle easterner on a camel riding the West is unique, there are traditional elements in this story--the lawman spending his life hunting a criminal, the woman who provides comfort and refuge for a time, journeys across the varied landscapes. At least one violent section of this story resonates with something out of Cormac McCarthy.

I found the novel enjoyable and marvelous. A fascinating perspective on a traditional American genre written by an immigrant from Yugoslavia.

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Conscious Uncoupling

Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even AfterConscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After by Katherine Woodward Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Life has broken you open and it is violently, mercilessly forcing you to evolve, to develop, and to grow."

I saw this book linked in an article last week, ordered it, and then read it in one afternoon and evening. I only wish I'd read it two months ago.

When we first decided to divorce I was intent on making it a good and healing process. I felt alone in that idea. It was so refreshing to realize that there is a body of work trying to help make that more of a common reality.

There is much that I identified with in this book. Much that I found helpful. And some stuff that is really challenging. Now I'll have to go back through and work with the questions and exercises it offers.

If your relationship is having serious difficulties, if your relationship is ending or has recently ended, or if you are still grieving a painful ending, I recommend this.

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Music: A Subversive History

Music: A Subversive HistoryMusic: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really fun read. Gioia advances a few key theses in this history of music--that music is deeply connected to magic, that music is deeply connected to violence, that musical innovations are created by outsiders and eventually mainstreamed by the power structure. The latter means that he doesn't accept some of the standard histories that claim some prominent political or church leader introduced some innovation and he goes looking for where the ideas really came from. He's got a thesis as to why drums were not prominent in early country music, and it ties back to the prehistoric move from hunting to herding cultures. He defends universal aspects of music (arguing with ethnomusicologists) and often the common thread that connects geographically diverse cultures with similar music is the animals they kept. This is full of fun, provocative ideas and stories.

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Rising Strong

Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and LeadRising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing my Season of Grieving, Healing, and Growth I decided to finally read this book. I had planned to for a long time mostly as an academic exercise in order to understand why it was so popular and what people were finding in it. Now in my own period of relationship breakdown, I read it as part of my grappling with what has happened and what I need to do going forward. In that it was quite helpful in compelling reflection and giving some tools I need.

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The International LGBT Rights Movement

The International LGBT Rights Movement: A HistoryThe International LGBT Rights Movement: A History by Laura A. Belmonte
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Laura Belmonte when we were both LGBT rights activists on the front lines in Oklahoma in the Aughts. She was a professor at Oklahoma State University who helped organize advocacy organizations in Tulsa and statewide, while I was a pastor and activist in Oklahoma City. She's now the Dean of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech.

This book is the first international history of the LGBT rights movement. And Laura does a marvelous job of covering all the major movements, turning points, and trends. I can imagine she had material for a much larger book than the editors and publishers provided, and that would have been engaging as well.

I've always been very focused on local activism wherever I've lived, rarely engaging much in larger national efforts. So it was insightful to see how the work I've done has participated in and been influenced by these global efforts.

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Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw EmotionsUnglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recommended to me a couple of weeks ago when I was in the midst of a depression over my divorce. There are aspect of the book I had to filter. For example, it's written more for a suburban wife audience. And the piety isn't mine. But I found some really helpful discussions in it of expectations and creating a reaction plan for the types of things that normally upset one.

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Dangerous Religious Ideas

Dangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and IslamDangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Rachel S. Mikva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Associate Pastor Katie Miller had Rachel Mikva for a seminary class, which was my connection to finding out about this excellent volume. And excellent it is. Mikva argues that any religious idea can be dangerous. Religious ideas have great power to help and bring meaning, but they can also be used to exploit, divide, and cause violence. And it isn't just the ideas of religious extremists, even the ideas of moderates and liberals. So what to do?

We must cultivate self-critical religion. And fortunately Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all always had self-critical aspects to the tradition. And Mikva highlights those in this book.

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The Satanic Verses

The Satanic VersesThe Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I started reading Rushdie in my young adulthood in the nineties and have enjoyed many of his novels. He used to be one of the few writers whose new books I would buy in hardback when they were released (in a period where I didn't spend money on books like I do now). But I had never read this notorious novel. Last year I saw a copy in the church book sale and finally picked it up.

But I must say it is a disappointment. It's too long. Too rambling. Too disjointed. It's highly ambitious and succeeds in parts but not in the whole.

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