Seven Quick Takes on Summer

1. We went on a Big Trip.

My mom and I took the kids to Williamsburg and Jamestown, which was fun and educational since we had just finished studying the 1700s in school.  We also went up to Princeton for Reunions, which was an exercise in disappointment for me, but fun for the kids so I suppose it was worth it.  On the way back we stopped to visit my great aunt and cousins and my grandmother.  Then we hung out at my parents’ lake house for a bit.

I find that once you’ve made a big drive of over 11 hours alone with kids, you might as well stay a long time and really get the benefit of a perspective shift.

2. We also went to the beach.

I find water relaxing.  So the fact that my parents live right on a lake now is fabulous, and our family trip to the beach was likewise restorative.

Something about being out of our regular milieu and routine is so helpful and promotes clarity.  I made a lot of notes and pondered a lot of things, and I read a ridiculous number of books.  I know, you’re shocked about that last bit.

3. Summer is Guinea Pig Time.

No, we did not get an actual guinea pig.  What do you take me for?!?!  But while we’re on summer break, I have more time to try out new things, like rotating chores (working!), regular morning routines (not working!), and other shake-ups that wouldn’t normally fly while we’re doing school.


4. I’m thinking about who’s at my table.

I recently read that most people explain their lives internally to a small audience.  It’s like you have a dinner party going on in your mind, and you’re constantly interpreting and justifying your choices and actions to a small group of people.  The question is not so much DO you do this, but WHO is at your table and do you really want them there.  Some of the people at my imaginary table are good for me, prompting me to ask if I’m doing my best, choosing worthwhile things, reminding me not to take myself so seriously.  Others are occupying chairs for no good reason, and I’m thinking of ways to give them the boot.  It’s a pretty interesting concept once you start thinking about it.

5. I found a great place to buy and sell curriculum.

I decided to pare down our school shelves to make room for next year’s books, and in so doing decided to let go of some curriculum that just isn’t working for us, is extra, or involves cassette tapes.  :)  Once I got started, I realized that I had quite a lot of things on hand that we don’t really need.  Enter Homeschool Classifieds.  I have sold nearly everything I listed, quickly, for good prices.  In fact, I have now sold enough things to fully pay for our entire next school year!  I also used the site to buy some curriculum for about half what I would have spent on it new.  It’s a great site, and far more lucrative than selling on Amazon or eBay.

6. I’m thinking about planning.

I’m always thinking about planning!  And planning about thinking!  Schedules and ideas and big picture goals are my brain candy.  Anyway, I’m really enjoying this series on planning from Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things.  In particular, I’m putting some thought into organizing our year into terms, designating some sort of time for “everyday learning,” and pondering what it would look like to teach from a state of rest.

7. I feel a burning need for a Big Project.

Periodically I start to feel antsy to embark on a Big Huge Thing.  So I take on a huge thing and either learn it until it’s easy and I get bored, or decide it’s not my thing and jettison it, or move on to the next thing on the list.  I’m at that point in the cycle where I need a new idea.  Should I learn Spanish?  Write a book?  Move to Morocco?  Take over the world?  I’m accepting ideas.

What have you been up to so far this summer?


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Books on Giftedness

The last time I wrote about books on giftedness (in this post and this one), my kids were small.  I had some idea that they were maybe a little different, but mostly I was reading to understand myself and be prepared.  The point of identifying someone as gifted is not to be elitist or puff someone up, but rather to understand that he or she thinks and learns differently so you can help him or her to get a good education and navigate life.  Even as an adult, I find some of the identifiers and strategies helpful.  

As I’ve read and studied about education over the years I’ve become more and more convinced that an individualized education is best for everyone–gifted or not–and that no matter what path of education you choose, parents need to be involved and be strong advocates for their children.  If you do have gifted kids, this is even more important.  I have found that homeschooling issues and parenting issues are closely tied together, and whether you homeschool or choose public or private school, information about how gifted kids learn and think will spill over into how you parent as well.

I recently went on a bit of a tear through books on giftedness, and have provided a roundup below in case this is a topic of interest to anyone else.

In A Love for Learning: Motivation and the Gifted Child, authors Whitney and Hirsch explain that the main point of identifying kids as gifted is to ensure that they receive educational instruction that meets their needs, challenges them, and works with their learning styles.  If you’re a teacher, this book will help you to keep your students motivated as you’re trying to figure out ways to extend or differentiate the curriculum to meet varying needs in your classroom.  If you’re a homeschooler, the book will give you ideas for keeping your kids motivated and help you figure out where you might be pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough.  If you’re a parent with a kid in a public or private school, the book will give you tips on keeping your child motivated and working with the school system to make sure your child is getting what he or she needs.

I appreciated the time the authors devoted to describing gifted personality traits.  It helped me to read that gifted kids are often intense, sensitive, passionate, and constant talkers.  For some reason it really helps me to know that these are not problems, but rather tendencies that can be positively directed.  I also think the authors did a great job of highlighting areas in which a gifted kid can and should be taught differently than his or her peers.  I did find it funny that the authors opined that homeschooling is incompatible with working, since I work and so do many other homeschooling mothers I know.  We make time for things that are important to us, I guess.  Overall, I thought A Love for Learning: Motivation and the Gifted Child was very helpful and definitely recommend it.

Parenting Gifted Kids focuses less on teaching and more on the day to day aspects of living with and raising a gifted kid.  In addition to learning differently, gifted kids just think differently, and so sometimes the parenting tactics you read about don’t work as advertised (at least that has been my experience).  Delisle offers a lot of help in that area, both in unpacking common tendencies and characteristics of gifted kids, and in giving practical advice for how to handle things.

I particularly liked his explanation of different types of intensities in gifted kids–the idea is referred to as “overexitability” in the literature–and I found Delisle’s take on the types of overexitablity insightful.  Personally I don’t like the word overexitable, because it implies that it’s wrong to be intense about things and I don’t think that’s the case.  I do think it’s necessary to help kids navigate their intensity and channel it though, and this book is helpful in that regard.

Guiding Gifted Readers is a fantastic book for understanding how gifted kids think, the challenges they face, and how books can help.  I previously read the updated version of this book (Some of My Best Friends Are Books) and think both versions are helpful, just with different book recommendations.

Reading this book years ago helped to shape my views on literature and literature-based education, particularly the importance of reading GOOD books, not just twaddle.  This is important for everyone, not just gifted kids, and I think the suggestions for how to help kids develop a sense of literary taste and how to discuss books with them would be helpful for all parents and teachers.

This book (in both of its versions) is another I would highly recommend.

Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers is an older book, but a helpful one.  Again, you’ll read about the characteristics and challenges of gifted kids, and also gain practical tips for handling those issues.

The book is a good balance between big picture ideas and practical tactical help.  For example, I got great insight on the importance of flexible structure and child-directed goal setting, but also practical advice on when the kid just needs a snack.  I also thought the guidance on how to help kids learn to channel intensity was great.  The authors write that gifted kids often have a hard time “behaving in calm, civilized, well-modulated ways” and note that “this intensity can be a great strength, but it can also be a child’s undoing.  He needs to develop tolerance for both his own limitations and the limited capabilities of others.  To do this requires self-discipline and self-control.”  I really appreciated the practical applications on channeling intensity through building habits of self-control.

Raising Gifted Kids: Everything You Need to Know to Help Your Exceptional Child Thrive was not my favorite book on this topic, and not only because it failed to deliver on its hyperbolic subtitle (I loathe hyperbolic subtitles).  Mostly I disliked the tone of the book.  The author wrote in a condescending fashion and I often felt bludgeoned rather than instructed.

There was not a lot of unique insight in the book, and I disagreed with the author’s approach and conclusions in several spots, but I did get one interesting tidbit from the volume so it was not a waste.  In pointing out that gifted kids often struggle with perfectionism, which may lead them to avoid attempting things that seem hard at first, the author suggests that music lessons can be an ideal antidote.  Because learning an instrument requires hard work (unless the kid is also a musical prodigy, in which case you need a different outlet!) but doesn’t leave behind visual evidence of mistakes like art or writing do, it often helps children learn that it’s worth it to work hard at something even if you’re not automatically awesome at it.

A friend of mine whose daughter is gifted remarked that when she reads about giftedness she is often surprised to see things about herself.  Gifted kids often have gifted parents so it makes sense that information about gifted kids rings true for us as well.  Issues of how you relate to others, process information, and navigate life don’t just go away because you finished school.  Reading Gifted Grownups was incredibly helpful to me, because it not only pointed out things I know about myself, but gave strategies for dealing with them as an adult.

If you see yourself reflected in the books about gifted kids, I’d highly recommend this book–many of the characteristics and issues are similar, but the way they play out in adult life are different and you might find the strategies for addressing them tremendously helpful.

If you have gifted kids, what resources have you found most helpful?


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A Whole New Mind

In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink looks at trends in history, technology, and business to suggest that to succeed in the future businesses and individuals will have to add right brain functions (like synthesis, big picture thinking, ability to craft story and meaning) to left brain tasks.

Since what I do for my job is basically to help companies solve problems, synthesize information, see big picture strategies, and create compelling narratives I naturally loved this book!  Hooray, I’m going to be successful in the future.  :)  However, even if you don’t work as a consultant or creative, the book would be helpful to challenge your thinking and give you ideas for how to prepare yourself or your kids for the kind of jobs that won’t be easily outsourced or rendered obsolete in the future.

Pink spends the first half of the book making his case and the second half giving concrete examples for how to build the skills you’ll need to stay relevant and employable.  I thought the case-making was strong and compelling, but some of the ideas for building the skills Pink advocates were a little weak.  It might be a good start though, if you’re really deeply lacking in one or more of these areas.

A Whole New Mind is a well-written and interesting book, and would be relevant for people in all sorts of professional fields, as well as for parents.  I’d recommend it.


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On Such a Full Sea

In On Such a Full Sea Chang-rae Lee–who, in my opinion, is one of the best writers currently living–writes a richly imagined, deep, compelling, yet utterly readable novel about a young girl’s quest that becomes part of the defining mythology of a community.

Lee is a literary master, but his work is never precious or pretentious.  Rather, his skill is in crafting writing that reminds you of a Swiss watch–so many perfect pieces working together so exactly that you could overlook the intricacy because the whole thing is so elegantly and precisely designed.  In On Such a Full Sea, Lee weaves together themes of identity, class, society, purpose, social mobility, community, individuality, and achievement in the context of a richly imagined, fast-paced story set in a dystopian American future.

Lee’s previous books were set in the past or present, but what the imagining of a future world does is free the author to express his views and work through his ideas of human nature and meaning without the constructs and blindspots of a contemporary or historical setting.  Futuristic settings allow authors to imagine where our current trajectory might take us, and so offer comment on ideas and philosophies that might not grab us if they were in a more familiar context.  Even if you don’t normally go in for dystopian futures, the novel is so well written and the story so gripping that you would probably enjoy it anyway.  But if you do like reading for themes and ideas, this would be a great book to try.  

Apart from Lee’s amazing prose, I thought the choice of narrator was amazingly conceived.  The book is told in the voice of a community, and I was often reminded of the chorus in a Greek play.  The voice is also mirrored by the fish the main character works with–if you read the book you could spend some time considering how Fan’s relationship to the B-Mor community parallels her relationship to the fish.  Because Lee chose to tell the story in the community voice, you also see as you read that Fan’s story is becoming part of the community’s mythology, and shaping it’s understanding of itself.  So as you read you see Fan changing and the community changing in response, or perhaps it’s the community changing and trying to understand itself by creating and embellishing Fan’s story.  What seems lost on some Amazon reviewers is that the frame for the story is the community–and when a community tells a story it’s told as a means of understanding and identity and putting meaning and context to events more than as a just-the-facts narrative.

There is so much going on in this book, and yet it’s such a highly readable and well-paced story, that I’m still marveling at Lee’s accomplishment. On Such a Full Sea is definitely going on my top fiction picks for this year, and I highly recommend it.


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A Neglected Grace

In his excellent and helpful book A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home, Jason Helopoulos describes how Christians who understand their need for corporate worship and private worship (quiet times, devotions, whatever you call it) often neglect family worship, and how we can reclaim the practice.

But wait, you say, surely all Christian parents read the Bible and pray with their children, right?  I think that’s probably true in one way or another.  However, what I think Helopoulos does a wonderful job of doing is describing how the mindset and framework of worship can benefit a family and bring glory to God.

Currently at our house we have morning Biblestudy (using Training Hearts Teaching Minds to read the Scripture proofs for catechism questions and memorizing them) on days we don’t have to be anywhere first thing, and then we have Bible reading and/or a Bible story, sing hymns, Psalms, the Doxology, Gloria Patri, etc, and pray before bed.  In one sense, that sort of covers the “family worship” ground, but what I think we were missing was the intention and framework of worship.  I’m still thinking about worship and liturgy months after reading Imagining the Kingdom and Desiring the Kingdom, and reading A Neglected Grace helped me to flesh out what that would look like on a family-by-family basis.

First of all, A Neglected Grace is a short, very accessible book. Helopoulos begins by making the case for family worship (solidly) and then moves into very concrete and doable ideas for making that happen in your actual, real-life, made-of-fallible-people-including-children family.  I thought the organization of the book was helpful, and a perfect mix of theory and practical help.  You’ll find explanations of how to do worship with little kids, a mix of kids, as a single parent, if your spouse is not a Christian or not on board, if you don’t have much confidence in your ability to teach your family, and lots more.

I so appreciated the way that Helopoulos tied family worship into a format that trains children in corporate worship, but also maintains the joy and anticipation that worship should give us.  This is not a weigh-you-down book, and you won’t feel burdened by yet another thing you have to do as a parent.  Rather, the simple ideas really lend themselves to joyful implementation.

Reading this book inspired me to suggest some changes in our family’s approach, mostly in standardizing our practice (building the idea of a family liturgy) but also in thinking through how we pray together as a family.  Helopoulos challenges readers to teach children about different formats and types of prayers, which is something we have not done other than haphazardly.  We could stand to do a better job of praying for our world, our country, and our church, not just needs of those close to us as they come to mind.

Helopoulos asks readers to consider what our children will remember as the center of our life together.  Will they grow up knowing that worshipping God is central to us?  Is that part of our family identity?  The way that we habitually spend our time, the traditions and habits we establish, the schedules we keep, make up who we are as a family–in other words, our family liturgy really is our definition.  We can say whatever we want, use whatever adjectives, even write out mission statements, but in the end what we actually do it what speaks loudest.

A Neglected Grace is at once thought-provoking and eminently practical, and I highly, highly recommend it.


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Made For More

Made For More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image is an excellent, thought-provoking, theologically sound exploration of the problem of identity and how to ground yourself in who God made you to be, so that you can uniquely reflect Him and bring Him glory.

At first I was afraid that this would be another pink-and-purple, God-lite style devotional book, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it deep, meaty, and challenging.

I thought the author did a wonderful job of using Scripture to find what the Bible says about identity and reflecting God’s image, rather than having an idea and then searching for Scripture to back it up (a subtle distinction, but an important one).  I had never considered metamorphosis as a theme in the Bible, but this book helped me think about the Bible in light of how God changes people, and I loved seeing that layer applied.

I also appreciated how Anderson emphasized that God created us a certain way, and that we reflect and glorify Him when we’re doing the things He made us to do, using the gifts He gave us, and being the unique person we were created to be.  Anderson really unpacks the difference between self-esteem and identity grounded on external factors and identity grounded in who we are as a unique creation.

Related to that point, and perhaps the most profound section of the book (and I hope the author writes more extensively on this topic in a future book, because I think she nailed it) is Anderson’s description of integrated identity.  That is, rather than chasing the have-it-all thing, or attempting to compartmentalize different facets of our identity, Anderson advocates a convergence and flourishing that comes from seeing our different callings and roles–from personal to professional, expressing our giftedness to accomplishing mundane tasks–as a chance to be the hands and feet of Christ, and to reflect the unity and wholeness of the Trinity.  And, she writes, when we love God with the fullness of our identities, and seek Him in every aspect of our lives, we will enjoy His peace and see those seemingly disparate parts of who we are “work together in beautiful coordination for our good and His glory.”  I love the way she puts this:

The fact that I am a woman, that I am a mother, that I am a writer—even where I live—all work together to enable me to image God in a more complex, more brilliant way than if my identity were simply one-dimensional.  So even as we strive for wholeness, we do not reach it by diminishing the multidimensional nature of our lives.  We find it through the complexity of them.  We find wholeness as each facet is cut to capture and reflect the radiance of Christ Himself.

I am not doing justice at all to Anderson’s argument here, but the whole section is so well thought out, so well written, refreshing, and encouraging, I would recommend the book if only for that part.

But really the entire book is excellent.  I got so much out of it and think it may wind up making my best of 2014 list.  I also think this would make a great book study for a group.  While it’s not structured as a Biblestudy, it could be used as one if you looked up all of the references and tailored it for your group.  I could see using it with high school girls or an adult women’s study.  Even if you don’t get a chance to read the book and discuss it in a group, it’s a wonderful book for personal reading, and I highly recommend it.


Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book, but the opinions contained in this post are my own.  This post contains affiliate links to Amazon–I’m grateful for your support of A Spirited Mind!

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Fascinating Books About Missions in China

After reading City of Tranquil Light, I was inspired to track down other books about missionaries in China.

First, I read The Small Woman, a compelling and utterly fascinating biography of Gladys Aylward.  Aylward was a 26 year old parlormaid in England when she felt called to become a missionary to China.  Told by a mission board that she didn’t know enough theology and was too old to learn Chinese properly, she saved up her own money, took a train overland to China through Russia, escaped a bad situation in Russia by boat to Japan, and finally wound up in a remote area, helping an elderly widow missionary in a town that hated foreigners.  In spite of her total lack of official preparation, Aylward not only learned Chinese, but became a Chinese citizen and had an astounding and profound impact on the area of China where she served.  

I loved reading about how Aylward became like the Chinese–eating what they ate, living how they lived, and so forth–taking the culture on its own terms, but bringing the hope of the Gospel.  She had an especially deep impact in the lives of women and children.  At one point, she saved over 100 children from the advancing Japanese army, by single-handedly taking the entire group over mountains and across a major river.  I will never again complain about traveling in a van with four kids! I enjoyed this book so much and talked about it as I read that Hannah got interested and asked to read it too. I’m looking forward to a good discussion with her about it.

Beyond the Stone Arches: An American Missionary Doctor in China, 1892-1932 is a bit different in style than The Small Woman, but likewise fascinating.  Beyond the Stone Arches was written by a son about his father, who was a missionary doctor in China in the years before Gladys Aylward arrived.  I thought the fact that the book was written by Bliss’s son really brought the man to life–you get so many glimpses of his humor and personality as well as insight from his letters and writings.

Like Aylward, Bliss loved the Chinese people and was determined to bring them help without trying to Westernize them or treat them like lesser humans as did many Western privateers in that era.  Bliss served in a region that had no modern medicine prior to his arrival, and people were dying of totally preventable diseases.  Bliss not only saw a staggering number of patients per day, but also trained Chinese students to practice medicine.  The team he worked with also helped boys and girls (unusual at that time) get educations, and prioritized helping people with food production and clean water.

I loved how both of these books emphasized caring for the whole person, because there is so much more to the Gospel than Sunday Schools.  Nothing wrong with Sunday Schools, but these missionaries gave their lives to serving the physical needs of the people, and in so doing really maximized the spiritual impact they had as well.  The impact that both missionaries had was really amazing from every standpoint.   I also enjoyed learning about Chinese culture and seeing China through the eyes of people who had such a deep love for the country and the people.

While I don’t, at this point, feel called to serve in China personally, I found both of these books inspiring as they really brought home to me how much of an impact even one person can have when they obey God’s calling and selflessly love and serve others.

If you have any favorite missionary biographies, please let me know in the comments!  


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In a Pit With a Lion On a Snowy Day

I almost didn’t read In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day because based on some reviews I thought it was going to be an overblown prayer-of-Jabez-y gimmick book.  However, when Crystal recommended it so highly I decided to give it a go and I’m glad I did.

The premise is a little bit of a gimmick (but it makes for a catchy title, no?) based on a short biblical reference to one of David’s mighty men, but the rest of the book draws on plenty of other Scripture references and is soundly thought out, well-written, humorous without being flippant, and inspiring.

I wound up getting a lot out of the book–six single-spaced typed pages of notes, to be exact–on a range of topics.  I found food for thought about how faith helps us to see and seize opportunities, the role of prayer in opening our eyes to opportunities God puts in front of us, how steeping ourselves in Scripture helps us to put on the mind of Christ from a neurological standpoint, and reminders that early Christians were known for what they did do as much or more than what they did not do.

What the book does NOT do is help you to figure out exactly what it is that God is calling you to take a risk and step out in faith to do.  My problem is not so much reluctance to take a risk or seize an opportunity, but rather the paralysis that comes from seeing such a huge range of opportunities and not knowing which one to seize when.  I’m still thinking through how the book’s encouragement to deeper prayer could help with that, and since reading this book I’ve been specifically praying that God would give me clarity on what opportunities I should focus on.

Surprisingly, what’s been coming out of my reading this book and attempting to think it through and put it into practice is reminder after reminder that risks and opportunities are not always big.  In the book, Batterson points out that God is not four-dimensional–nothing is too big OR too small.  For example, when I’m awakened at 5am by a certain very chatty and high energy five-year-old who wants to discuss the pros and cons of each and every breakfast option and ask me eleventy-hundred times if she can wear her flowered swimsuit when all I want to do is literally bathe in the liquid sleep replacement otherwise known as coffee, I have the opportunity to enjoy her and show her love, rather than impatience and tiredness.

Whether you’re in need of a serious plan to tackle a big, risky leap or to be faithful in small, daily opportunities, I think you’d get something out of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and I’d recommend it.  It’s easy to read and entertaining, but also thought-provoking and encouraging.  You probably won’t agree with the author on every point (I didn’t), and may find the framing of the book overplayed, but it’s worth pushing through to the gist of the material because Batterson has some excellent points and the book is really good overall.


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Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

Good historical fiction weaves intense research in with excellent characterization, so that the reader not only gets historical facts, but also the flavor of what life was like and a sense of the people who inhabited the era. Unfortunately, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker doesn’t even come close to doing justice to a fascinating time period, characters, or historical issues.

The book is set just before the Civil War up through the later 1800s, and purports to tell the story of a former slave (and actual historical figure) who had purchased her own freedom, built a successful dressmaking business, and wound up creating the gowns of Jefferson Davis’s wife before the War and Abraham Lincoln’s wife during it (plus dressmaking for lots of other important people).  The subject matter is rich–I would have thought this novel would practically write itself–I was looking forward to really getting a feel for what life was like for freed slaves in Washington, DC during the Civil War, how that status, plus being a woman, influenced and impacted the main character’s entrepreneurship, what the relationships were like between high status white women and the dressmaker, details about fashions and the art of dressmaking at the time, and insight into Mary Todd Lincoln, who was an interesting and somewhat notorious figure.

Sadly, and incomprehensibly, the novel doesn’t go into any of that.  The characters remained two dimensional (if that) throughout the book and the first three-quarters of the book was almost purely a data dump with a light overlay of pasted on bits about the dressmaker or the other figures.  It read like an elementary level history textbook, and not a particularly well written one at that.  The author gave the main characters anachronistic views and actions, credited them with having knowledge they almost certainly would not have had for the sake of dropping in more historical information, and completely skipped anything that might have offered insight into the characters or issues or details of the era.

I read this book on in Kindle format, and by about 20% in I wanted to quit.  However, one of the book clubs I’m in is reading this book for July so I pressed on.  Mostly I watched the percent counter eke upward, longing for the book to end.  Finally it did, to my relief.

To be honest, I’m perplexed about this book.  The author has written some 20 other novels, which are reported to be good.  The subject matter is rich, the premise excellent, and the title intriguing.  However, the book completely fell flat in my opinion and I would not recommend it.  If you’ve read the book and felt differently, please feel free to chime in and let me know what I missed, or, if you have other favorite historical fiction with a similar subject, please share your suggestions!


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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

As I was reading an article in Smithsonian Magazine recently (I don’t read many magazines, but the Smithsonian is invariably fascinating) I saw a mention of a course at MIT that uses science fiction works as a springboard for discussing the ethics of technological advances. I read about that aspect of science fiction as literature in Wired for War but hadn’t exactly known where to start to dig into the concept. With a little help from Google, I managed to track down the syllabus to the course and decided to embark upon reading some of the selections.

First up, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  This novel, written in 1968, deals thoughtfully with the question of what, exactly, makes us human and which life is worth protecting.  In the late 60s robotics were far from lifelike, but nowadays, apparently, artificial intelligence technology is not too far away from the dystopian future the author imagined.  If robots (androids) can be made smarter and smarter, given ever more exactly calibrated responses, and made exceptionally life-like in appearance, where does the line of humanity get drawn?  The author artfully contrasts humans who are less fertile, less intelligent, or less apt than others with the nearly superior intelligence of the androids to set up this question.  And, in using a made-up religion, the author also explores whether the true kernel of humanity is in the ability to comprehend eternity, feel empathy, and share in the joys and sufferings of others.

I think these ideas are important in our culture, perhaps because robots will eventually get to this point, but more precisely because even now we have significant disagreement on what life means and whose life deserves protection.  Absent any agreed-upon standard outside of ourselves, our definition of life really is left to whatever best suits us and our interests.  The question of how to frame morality and ethics apart from external authorities impacts the possibility of reasoned debate on issues of life and death, as the author of this book references by having the tests for human life change and become obsolete with technological advances.  As a Christian who does believe in biblically-based moral and ethical standards, I found the themes of this book thought-provoking although I wouldn’t say I reached any new conclusions about how to have big discussions and debates with people who disagree with my framework.

Apart from its philosophical merits, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was also a really engrossing story, and I’m thinking of reading other books by the author to see if I like those as well.

If you like science fiction, what are some of your favorites from the genre?  


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Posted in Reading, Week in Books 2014 | Tagged , , | 2 Comments