Some Books on Art and Drawing

Until recently, if you had asked me whether or not I’m an “artful parent” I’d have said no. I mean, my kids draw stuff and cut stuff up and tape it back together and whatnot, but I don’t break out the paints all the time, nor do I allow glitter. But one thing I really liked about The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art and Creativity–Includes over 60 Art Projects for Children Ages 1 to 8 was the author’s emphasis on art being more than just making messes.  It is about making messes somewhat, but art is also studying artists and looking at great art, listening to great music, reading great literature, and enjoying nature.

But you probably wouldn’t pick up a book like this if you didn’t at least sort of want to get more into art projects.  While I enjoyed the philosophical bent of the book, the suggestions for further reading (for kids and adults), and thoughts on generally living an artful life, I really appreciated the project ideas billed in the subtitle.

So far we’ve only tried one of the projects, but the kids went to town with it.  We had Katie’s Sunday Afternoon out from the library, so we read a little about pointillism and saw some examples of it.  Then we talked a little bit about the method, and I set out paints and paper and q-tips as suggested in The Artful Parent.  It was really fun, and, more to the point, the kids REALLY got into pointillism and now they are finding examples everywhere.  I made notes of lots of other projects to try, and look forward to building them into our days in the coming months.

As a final note, The Artful Parent gives great suggestions for art supplies–including helpful tips on what things to buy cheap and what to avoid.  If you’ve looked at art supplies, you will understand why this is helpful!  There really is a gamut out there of varying prices and qualities.  I appreciated the insight.

I read about Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in A Whole New Mind, and I was interested to learn more about how drawing techniques can help you to think and problem solve better.  I’ve dabbled in painting and have tried a couple of times to teach myself to be a better artist, but nothing ever clicked.  Many art books present exercises of things you should draw, with a little bit of academic prose on topics like perspective, and then when you can’t automatically do it, the implication is “oh well, I’m just not that good at art.”

This book, however, actually walks you through, step by step, how exactly to LOOK at things, where to put your eyes first, what you’re looking for, how to precisely, exactly, absolutely DRAW.  The author teaches a five day course during which adults who begin the class drawing like five year olds end the class less than a week later drawing better than many art school students.

One thing I particularly liked about the book was the way the author explains how to move from your left brain to seeing with your right brain.  If you’re a staunch left-brain person, this could be a major break-through, but even if you tend to move freely between sides like I do, it’s helpful to realize that there are actual concrete things you can do to break out of a creative block or challenge your own thinking.  The ideas in the book, while presented in the context of drawing, have application in all sorts of creative and problem solving realms.

I also felt like the instructions were so clear that the book could be used with kids.  I haven’t decided on this yet, but I think I might try some of the techniques with my children when we get into our fall term of school.

If you’re interested in reading about art and great artists with kids, we have loved:

  • The Katie series by James Mayhew – A little girl named Katie visits museums with her grandmother and has interesting adventures jumping in and out of famous paintings.  This is a fun and memorable way to learn about different artists, time periods, and schools of art.  
  • The Child’s Book of Art and I Spy books – By Lucy Micklethwait, this series is excellent for beginning to really study detail in paintings.   You can use the books for very small children, or add more depth and detail with older kids.
  • The Mini Masters Board Books about Art for Babies – Even tiny tots can enjoy great art!  And their older siblings can begin to recognize famous works by various artists.
  • The Anholt books – These stories are fictionalized tales about famous artists, incorporating the style of the artist’s works as well as many of his or her most famous pieces.
  • Drawing With Children is supposed to be the gold standard of teaching children to draw.  To be honest, it didn’t resonate as clearly with me as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain did, but it does have very good and clear lessons for beginning to learn about how lines and shapes are formed.  We’ve never gotten much beyond those lessons, but perhaps we’ll get to it this year.
  • Discovering Great Artists has projects loosely based on techniques or forms used by great artists.  So if you’re studying a particular artists, you can look up a project to do that would be a tie in.  They vary in quality, but we’ve done some good projects from this book.
If you like to read about art or do artful things with your kids, what are your favorite resources?


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What Should I Do With My Life?

You should know up front that What Should I Do with My Life? isn’t going to tell you what to do with your life.  It won’t even give you a clear-cut, step-by-step workbook for attempting to figure it out.  Instead, it will introduce you to a lot of people–some of whom seem to have their lives figured out and others of whom clearly don’t–whose stories may help you by illustrating fears that are holding you back, behaviors that are sabotaging you, or attitudes that aren’t serving you well.

The author notes that some people seem to be born knowing what they want to do with their lives, and then they do that.  Others don’t seem to care about the question, and happily go along doing whatever with nary a thought about it one way or the other.  But if you’re the sort of person who sees a title like What Should I Do with My Life? and thinks “Ah!  Will I come to an answer at last?” this book will probably interest you.

I am the sort of person who loves the idea of reinvention, of changing directions, and of trying new things, so I imagine I will always be asking this question and uncovering different answers for it.  I enjoy reading about how other people answer the question, deal with fears and setbacks, and remake themselves.

But the concept that really jumped out at me from this book is one that the author borrowed from C.S. Lewis (from this article, I think) about how we have a tendency to work toward an inner circle, holding up our choices and accomplishments to the judgment of a group that may or may not have our best interests at heart or even be aware of being on our pedestal.  Bronson brings this concept up several times in the book, and I found it interesting to consider who is sitting at this imaginary table in my life and if they belong there.

What Should I Do with My Life? may not be the most helpful book of its kind, but if you enjoy self-discovery books, or if you need some inspiration for retooling your purpose, this book may be for you.


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2nd Quarter in Books, 2014

Lots of reading this quarter, buoyed, no doubt, by the fact that we were traveling for several weeks.  In April – June of this year I read 44 books, plus 18 read-alouds to the kids.  Here are snippet reviews by category, with links to my longer reviews:


  • A Place of Greater Safety – Amazing author Hilary Mantel’s historical novel of the French Revolution–hard to untangle at first (much like the real thing!) but worth it.
  • The Wandering Falcon – Set in Pakistan and Afghanistan, this novel is built on lovely storytelling but lacks somewhat in redemption or conclusion, which is probably on purpose and a metaphorical statement about the region.
  • The Paris Wife – Based on the life of the utterly abhorrent and despicable Ernest Hemingway, the novel brings an epoch and location to life.
  • The Swan Thieves – An engrossing novel of art, madness, painting, and love.
  • Brideshead Revisited – I feel guilty when I dislike classics, but there it is.  I didn’t like this book, didn’t care for the characters, and thought the underlying theology was lacking.
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – This quick beach read is cleverly structured with bookstore type book reviews between the chapters, but the second half felt contrived.
  • The Fault in Our Stars – If you like YA you might like this cancer-crossed-teen-lovers story.  I don’t like YA much so I didn’t love it.  It is what it is.
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – This interesting science fiction story tackles big questions like the definition of life and which lives need or deserve protection.
  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker – In spite of a killer premise and wonderful subject matter, this book fell flat and succumbed to anachronism too often for my taste.
  • On Such a Full Sea – This crazy-amazing novel combines an engrossing story, fascinating characters, and commentary on society and community.  A must read.


  • Holy is the Day – Carolyn Weber’s follow-up to Surprised by Oxford deals more with motherhood and the need to see conversion as a lifelong process not a one-time event.  I didn’t like it as much as the first book, but it was still good.
  • My Beloved World – A fascinating memoir by Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, including her challenges growing up and how her good attitude and work ethic pulled her through difficult situations.
  • Something Other Than God – A funny conversion memoir of how an atheist Texan became a dedicated Catholic.  It was interesting to read how the author’s initial stumbling blocks led her to different theological conclusions.


  • When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers – Geared toward teachers managing a classroom full of students, this book does have good tips for managing goals and combatting perfectionism in gifted kids.
  • A Love For Learning – Helpful tips for keeping gifted kids motivated, with applications for classroom teachers, homeschoolers, and parents.
  • Parenting Gifted Kids – Mostly geared toward parents, this book has particularly helpful explanations of the “overexitability” types, which I wish were labeled as “intensity” since the word “overexitable” sounds pejorative to me, but anyway.
  • Guiding Gifted Readers – An exceptionally helpful resource for parents and teachers of gifted kids, this book has lots of book recommendations and helps for discussing books, but also great insight into how gifted kids think.
  • Guiding the Gifted Child – This book has a great balance between big picture ideas and practical applications when it comes to how gifted kids are wired and particular issues they face.
  • Raising Gifted Kids – If you only have time to read a few books on giftedness, this should not be one of them.  Not a total dud, but not that great.

Life Hacks

  • The Paradox of Choice – A bit long for what it is, this book illuminates…wait for it…choices!  Including a helpful framework for understanding whether you’re a satisficer or maximizer and what to do about it.
  • Take the Risk – This book presents a helpful framework for making decisions using risk assessment, with examples from the author’s life and also helpful hints for teaching kids to assess risk.
  • The Family-First Creative – I pre-bought a book just to get this e-book free, and I don’t regret it.  If you balance multiple roles this book would be helpful and inspiring.
  • The Early To Rise Experience for Moms – This motivational e-book contains the author’s main get-up-early arguments (he has another book about it, not geared just to moms) and then lots of essays from mothers in various stages and circumstances offering tips and encouragement for how to manage your mornings.
  • A Whole New Mind – Based on research and trend analysis, this book looks at how our current economy and future jobs will depend on integrating right brain and left brain abilities.  Interesting, and also includes ideas for building your brain.
  • Gifted Grown-Ups – Issues related to how you think and deal with life don’t just go away when you graduate.  This book offers great insight and ideas for how gifted challenges apply in adulthood.  Highly recommended.


  • Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages – An interesting and compelling evidence-based set of tips for how to be happy in your marriage.
  • Love and Respect in the Family - A helpful framework for communication in families.
  • The Whole-Brain Child – Excellent ideas for helping kids (and parents) learn to control emotions and attitudes.
  • Hints on Child Training – Written in the 1800s but surprisingly fresh with ideas on cultivating a calm and supportive household.
  • Wild Things – Helpful developmentally organized hints on how to raise boys.
  • Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids – The first half of this book is helpful, but I disagreed with the conclusions in the second half.
  • The Key To Your Child’s Heart - This book is not that great in the sea of parenting books, but there was a good tip about figuring out how to help your kids with their goals and interests.
  • Hands Free Mama – A blog-post-style manifesto about putting down the phone and enjoying your blessings.  I thought I would love this book, but didn’t wind up really connecting with it.

History and Sociology

  • The Worst Hard Time – A truly shocking account of the Dust Bowl that goes so far beyond what you probably learned in high school history.  I was floored by this book, and can’t imagine how people lived through this dreadful, decade-long event.
  • City of Tranquil Light – I’m not sure if I should put this in history or fiction, since it’s a sort of historical fiction account of the author’s grandparents who were missionaries in China.  In any case, it was touching and interesting, although somewhat lacking in depth of insight at places.
  • The Next America – This fascinating, evidence-based look at generational differences and how our society will have to restructure as Baby Boomers age and birthrate falls is well-written and non-partisan.  Good food for thought.
  • Elizabeth of York – A readable, well-researched account of Henry VIII’s mother.  Alison Weir always delivers.
  • The Small Woman – A wonderful biography of Gladys Aylward, a missionary to China in the early- to mid- 1900s, which also gives great insight into the cultural and political changes ocurring at that time.  It’s amazing what one person can do, even if she’s not well prepared, as long as she’s willing to risk in order to be obedient to her calling.
  • Beyond the Stone Arches – Taking place in the late 1800s to early 1900s, this book likewise tells the story of missionaries to China and gives insight into cultural and political change.  Although the focus is a little different, it’s still fascinating.


  • The Hole in Our Holiness – An excellent and readable account of holiness and how to get there (starting with the problem that often we don’t really want to be holy in the first place).  This book points out our many cultural blindspots and manages to be convicting and encouraging at the same time.
  • In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day – This is kind of a faith/life hacks hybrid book, as the author draws on Scripture and spiritual things to present ideas about how Christians can see and seize opportunities, have more robust and vibrant prayer lives, and live free of fears.  Very helpful and highly recommended.
  • Made for More – A thoughtful and nuanced look at what our faith means for our identities.  Perhaps the best discussion of “balance” and “having it all” that I have ever read.  Highly recommended.
  • A Neglected Grace – Highly readable and short, but full of information and challenge, this book offers great help and doable suggestions for incorporating family worship into your home.

Health and Fitness

  • Lose Your Mummy Tummy – Thoughts and tips on how to heal the diastasis in your stomach muscles that you probably got while pregnant.  This book would almost certainly be more helpful if I regularly took its advice.


Kid chapter books read aloud or listened to in audio book form, or that I read so I could discuss them with kids who read them independently (I can’t read everything they read, but I do aim for a sampling!):

What’s the best book you read this quarter?

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June Read-Alouds

The months seem to be flying by–once again it’s time for a monthly read-aloud round-up! Many of these books were audio versions this month due to long car trips, but a few were read by me. While I’m not against audio books, I do sort of prefer when I do the reading since I can choose whether or not and how to do the voices!

Of course we’ve seen the Julie Andrews movie version of Mary Poppins, but I had never read the book before. In the book version, Mary Poppins has a lot more detail and some differences in adventure, as well as some differences in the characters.  First off, the Banks family has four children rather than two!  The book includes twin babies John and Barbara in addition to Jane and Michael.  I also thought the character of Mary Poppins herself was a bit different than Julie Andrews’ version.  The book reminded me a bit of the Nurse Matilda series–fanciful imaginings, a nanny who comes out of nowhere and doesn’t stay, children who wind up changed–but felt less formulaic.  We enjoyed the story.

Having seen the Disney movie and the play, I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the book version of Peter Pan.  The version we read was published in 1911 and is very close to the play, and is very funny in parts, but as a read aloud it just seemed a bit clunky to me.  The story is so much better as a play.  However, if you’re a big fan of Peter Pan or have only seen the Disney version, it might be fun to interact with the tale in a different way.

Then There Were Five is the third book in Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy quartet.  In this book, the Melendy kids befriend a boy who lives with his dreadful uncle, have their usual more-than-fair-share of adventures, put on a huge carnival for the war effort, and ultimately wind up with a new sibling.  These books are so fun and present a realistic but happy picture of how siblings get on each other’s nerves and bicker but still love each other and are best friends.

Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze departs from the usual format of the series, as the youngest two Melendy kids are left at home with the big kids off at boarding school.  Bereft without their older siblings, Randy and Oliver begin receiving mysterious clues and undertake what becomes a year-long scavenger hunt until their family returns home.  the mystery aspect was great fun but we all missed Mona, Rush, and Mark, who only made short appearances in this book.  Most of all, we were sad to see this marvelous series come to an end!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fun and zany book to read aloud and the kids quite enjoyed it.  We listened to it on audio book as a matter of fact, but I wish that I had done the reading because I did not always love the narrator’s choice of voices.  However, the story is funny and I got past the voice thing eventually.  Note that this book is free on Kindle at the time of this writing, so if you were thinking of procuring it, now would be a good time!


What has your family been reading aloud this month?


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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?


For more 7 Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary


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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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