Thursday, November 1, 2012

Books for October 2012

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My son Jack is, of course, no stranger to Harry Potter, even though he has never read the book(s) nor seen the movie(s). From his friends at school, the Lego catalog and video game, and simply the world around him, he has picked up a surprising amount. Still, he can be sort of a fearful kid, so we’ve been hesitant to set him loose with these books, which contain some pretty intense and frightening moments.

Still, it would be a shame to deny him the pleasure entirely, so I promised him that I would read it TO him after he turned 10 — which he did in September. One of his presents, in fact, was a copy of the book wrapped up; not HIS copy, but the family’s, and yet he understood the idea.

It was great fun to read it to him. Rowling’s ability to create a complex yet consistent world is a rare and wonderful talent, and she introduces children (and adults) to that world magnificently. Every time Jack would ask, “what is that?” then the next paragraph would contain a definition or explanation far better and simpler than I could have offered.

Book #1 in the Potter series is probably the one I’ve read least, since I actually saw the movie before reading the book on that one. Actually, Marcie and I weren’t really that interested in them until my sister coaxed us into going to the first movie with her. From there, we were hooked— like most of the rest of the world, I guess.

Women's Ministry in the Local ChurchWomen's Ministry in the Local Church by J. Ligon Duncan, III

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As church ministry goes, my experience has been that women’s ministry tends to be one of the more difficult areas of church life to approach in a healthy, biblical, and dignified manner. I’m sure that is why Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt set out to write this book together. They clearly want to lay out something of a philosophy of ministry for women’s ministry in the local church, and overall they haven’t done too poorly at it (though there are differences that I might highlight).

As I read it, I was struck by several observations, some of which the book addresses better than others. They include:

Why “women’s” ministry? A lot of the sentences in the earliest chapters of book, which begin with something like, “healthy women’s ministry is…” or “good women’s ministry must include…”, could just as well have been written without the “women’s” in there. So why is it needed? If good MINISTRY can be described in exactly the same way, why qualify it as women’s ministry at all? This brings up a parallel point…

Why not “men’s” ministry? So many of the reasons given for women’s ministry in this book stand just as strongly as a rationale for a good men’s ministry, too. Where is the emphasis on that? The same people who are going to say, “we must have a strong women’s ministry” should then argue just as emphatically for a strong men’s ministry as well. But we never hear that — not even in this book, not even mentioned.

The importance of womanhood The real strength of this book is its thorough development of a rationale for women’s ministry based on the need for dealing with womanhood in healthy, godly ways. This is a real truth that I think is overlooked (as is the counterpart of biblical manhood, since the best it seems to get is the Mark Driscoll testosterone-fest) too often in the church. But this also raises an earnest question: if the main and best reason for women’s ministry is so that we can have a context for women to discuss, learn about, and deal with issues related to womanhood, are we consistently employing that? Are our women’s Bible studies, for example, focused on one or more of these issues? Or are they simply gender-segregated studies that have no justification for the segregation (except perhaps to give a woman an opportunity to teach, but we’re skittish about letting her teach when men might actually be present)? There is very little acknowledgement of this in the book, even in the appendix on evaluating Bible study materials.

Big churches only? A lot of the practical implications of this book suggest a structure that works very well for big churches, while the mileage may vary, as they say, for smaller ones. Because most of the book is a philosophy of ministry statement, this isn’t as much the case as I feared it might be when starting into it (since both Dr. Duncan and Mrs. Hunt are in larger congregations). Still, there’s not much help for “scaling” this down to a small congregation’s purposes, and that would be of great benefit — especially since more than 90% of the churches in the country are less than 100 in membership!

Overall, I don’t have any great problems with what is presented in this book. It doesn’t read easily, and at times feels a bit forced (usually in trying to accommodate both Dr. Duncan’s and Mrs. Hunt’s views at the same time). But the content is solid, and their ideas are good ones overall. Local churches will still have a lot of work to do, in trying to determine HOW to take this philosophy of ministry and apply it in their context.

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1)The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Molly was a bit jealous that I was reading a book to/with Jack, so after finishing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with him then I started into this one with her. It’s much shorter, of course, and intended for a younger audience (even though Molly is reading at the same level with Jack) so it went a lot faster!

I thought the book was a good read for us. It is indeed a well-named series: the entire book is, with a few exceptions, a series of unfortunate events. What I liked about it were the following…

It handles the unfortunate events with care, gentleness, and grace, without making them seem less unfortunate. Children will be introduced to the realities of life’s misfortunes in something of an age-appropriate manner, but with seriousness and in a way that dignifies them.

It offers the hope of enduring through misfortune without unrealistic expectations or fantastical solutions. Rather, the kids in the book face their misfortunes with what they have, which is their commitments to each other, their intelligence, and the ability to look to others for help.

It teaches vocabulary very intentionally throughout the book. Clearly the author hoped and intended to build up the readers with a deeper love for reading.

Overall, I think these are good ones. I look forward to reading the next with Molly soon.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another one that I read to Jack. I think, of all of the Potter books, this one is my least-favorite. It’s not simply because of my fear and hatred of snakes(!), but also because I think this is one of the weaker stories in the series.

Jack liked it, though, and I’ve been really grateful for the time to read to him.

The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #2)The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second in the series maintained the pace and train of thought established in the first volume. The story was not dissimilar, yet it wasn’t dull repetition of the first tale — it had a fresh take on similar themes.

One thing I like about this series so far is that it is well-edited: the author doesn’t (or isn’t allowed to!) stretch out his stories to a tedious length, nor introduce too many new themes or ideas at any one point. It’s definitely written with a clear concept of a certain level reader in mind, and they do a good job of hitting the mark. (It helps that Molly is pretty-well right in that target audience range!)

Another thing I like about this series is that there is a didactic quality about the books. In terms of vocabulary, for sure (as I believe I mentioned in my review of the first volume) — but also in terms of things like facing disappointments and even pain in healthy, measured ways; when proper manners are appropriate and when they sometimes get in the way of important things; and how people can be well-intentioned but still unhelpful. These are things introduced without fanfare or hyperbole, so they seem like a perfectly natural part of the lives of the main characters — which is itself a didactic approach.

I’m looking forward to continuing these with Molly.

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