Book Review

I read What Difference Do It Make a while back and never got around to writing a review, which is bad since I got the book for free if I wrote a review.  I’ve actually done a terrible job writing reviews this year (and blogging in general here). I actually wrote my Amazon review back in November of 2009.

What Difference Do It Make was an easy read that packs a lot of punch.  It is a follow-up to Same Kind of Different as Me (which I haven’t read) and continues the story of Ron Hall and Denver Moore.

What Difference is a very compelling book that makes you re-think some of your beliefs and perspectives. I kept thinking, I’m a nice guy – but Hall and Moore are taking it to a whole new level. This is an easy and fairly short read. I liked how they wrote in unique voices and didn’t let spelling or grammar influence them too much (as you can tell from the title)!

I would recommend this book, it talks about God and religion but doesn’t push anything at you. Hall can come across as a little full of himself – but I think he means well and it fits within the purpose of the book.  Hall is an art dealer who ended up befriending Moore, a homeless man, at the prompting of his now deceased wife.   I was compelled to rethink some of my thoughts and opinions and I’m sure you will be influenced as well.

A Walk in the Woods
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It is a little crazy to attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT).  A good friend of mine completed it last year (see his adventure at and another friend is attempting it this year (follow along here). Both are raising money for charity as a motivation to complete the 2200 mile journey.

Bill Bryson, author of A Walk in the Woods, didn’t have such a noble purpose when he started out on his quest to hike the AT.   His book serves as a motivating point for many people’s attempts to thru-hike the trail and other smaller adventures.  I’ll admit that while reading much of the book this desire crept into my heart as well.  I could probably hike 2200 miles, but that is what the thousands of people who never finish say too!

My favorite parts of the book were the narratives from the trail.  The “story” part of the book.  Bryson described the adventure and it came to life.  While I can’t imagine the views or the pain and agony of weeks on the trail, I do have an understanding of bits and pieces of what he went through and felt like I was with him and Katz as they hiked, somewhat together!

I wasn’t a fan of all of the rabbit trails  or tangents that he took along the way.  Just the like the AT has a myriad of side trails or “blue blazes” Bryson took many throughout his writing! They related to some part of trail history, lore, or some political point he was attempting to make.  While much of it was interesting and much of it sad, it was a little frustrating to “leave the trail,” especially for the more rantish tales.

I enjoyed A Walk in the Woods and appreciated the ease of reading, even the side trails were easy to read.  I would recommend this if you need some motivation or just desire a little adventure.

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What is your deepest fear? We all fear something, tripping while on stage, having food in your teeth, or appearing over eager.  Fear is a normal part of life, but how we react to that fear says much about who we are.  In his newest book, Fearless, Max Lucado has this to say about how we handle fear (pg 5):

Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into prison and slams the doors.

Wouldn’t it be great to walk out?

Yes.  It would be great not to be imprisoned by fear.  This book actually came at a pretty good time – we are in the final stages of buying a house and it has been a nightmare.  Our fears are that we would end up homeless for a short period of time or lose the house and have to find a place to move into mid-month.  Yes, I still am anxious about this problem, but Fearless helped me regain some perspective.

This is another great Lucado book that provides direct application to your life and provides lasting value.  He doesn’t resort to simple platitudes but embraces his own fears while providing opportunities for growth.  Ok, he does throw in a few one-liners that we all probably know, but they felt genuine and thoughtful.  Lucado talks about a variety of different fears that we might be facing.  He develops a case for why we shouldn’t be afraid of those things or how we can see God’s provision through them.

Many people think Christians and Christianity mean a perfect life with nothing bad ever happening.  He quickly puts that to rest with this quote on page 8:

Christ-followers contract malaria, bury children, and battle addictions, and, as a result, face fears. It’s not the absence of storms that sets us apart. It’s whom we discover in the storm: an unstirred Christ.

We face storms in our life.

Like most of his other books, Fearless, provides a section in the back for small group discussion or personal reflection.  My copy of the book from Thomas Nelson also included a shorter version of the book called, Imagine Your Life Without Fear, which also happens to be the subtitle of the book.

I’ll end with this great quote (pg 177):

There’s a stampede of fear out there. Let’s not get caught in it. Let’s be among those who stay calm. Let’s recognize danger but not be overwhelmed. Acknowledge threats but refuse to be defined by them. Let others breathe the polluted air of anxiety, not us. Let’s be numbered among those who hear a different voice, God’s. Enough of these shouts of despair, wails of doom. Why pay heed to the doomsdayer on Wall Street or the purveyor of gloom in the newspaper? We will incline our ears elsewhere: upward. We will turn to our Maker, and because we do, we will fear less.

Do not fear.

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I have to say that this is one of the oddest books I’ve read in awhile.  While I think N.D. Wilson had a plan with a coherent story line, Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl reads more like a ADHD reader’s dream.  Just as I start to track where Wilson is making a point he jumps to a related storyline from earlier in the chapter. Then just as it starts to make sense BAM you are back somewhere else.  I think he made some good points and had many great stories which brought forth God’s plan for our lives – I can’t recall them.

He uses the four seasons and the rotation of the earth as the basis for his points and stories.  Many of these stories are from his own life – chasing waves at the beach, trying to work on the roof of a house before the storm hits.  I appreciated those but was overall disappointed by the content.

This book has gotten some great reviews, but I’m not a fan.  If you are up for an interesting ride give it a shot.

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Want to travel to Italy but don’t have the time or money?  With John Grisham‘s recent Playing for Pizza you’ll get to experience the food, wine, and scenery of Parma, Italy.  All from the guise of a washed out NFL quarterback playing football americano in the Italian NFL. Parma Panthers are a real team, here is their website.

A great piece of fiction, Playing for Pizza is based on the facts of Italian life and its small football playing crowd.  The Italian players play for the fun of hitting people and free pizza and beer, while the American’s tend to be not quite up to NFL playing and get paid a decent salary.

This is a fairly quick read and just like most Grisham novels does have lawyers (and even a judge) thrown in for the fun of it.   Don’t worry though this book is mostly about having fun in Italy and playing football.

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A challenging story of how a successful Christian, CEO answered God’s calling reminds us that sometimes we have to do more than just sit in a pew.  Rich Stearns, is the current President of World Vision and is well respected within the international development community.  I had never heard his story before, but am amazed at how God worked in his life.

The Hole in Our Gospel, is more than just an autobiography though.  He critiques the modern church for missing a large part of the Gospel message Jesus shared.  Stearns sacrificed his lifestlye as the CEO of a chinaware company to become president of World Vision.  It is a cool story and one you should read.  But as he makes clear in this excerpt, he is not calling us to get rid of everything in our life:

However, I don’t want to also suggest that all true followers of Christ must forsake everything to bring comfort and justice to the poor. I
only propose that genuine concern for “the least of these” that finds tangible expression must be woven into the pattern of their lives and faith. That expression might involve small but regular gifts to compassion ministries, advocating on behalf of the poor to government representatives, or regular volunteering at a soup kitchen, the local nursing home, or the Ronald McDonald House…. Even Jesus did not spend every waking hour helping the poor.  He dined with the wealthy, celebrated at weddings and feasts, taught in the synagogue, and perhaps did a bit of carpentry.  Still, there is no question that His love for the poor found consistent and concrete expression in His life and ministry.

Yes, this book contains numbers and statistics that are overwhelming, even to me.  But his focus is more on telling the story about how God redeems us and redeems our brothers and sisters around the world.  Stearns will not allow you to get bogged down in the numbers, but will help you remember that each number represents a living person that Jesus died for.

Pick it up, read it, discuss it, share it with a friend.

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Here Comes Everybody
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A little book club of non-profit emerging leaders I’m involved with picked Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody as our latest book.  The subtitle is very intriguing – The Power of Organizing without Organizations.  With this intriguing title and Shirky’s well-respected background in social media, it was odd that most of us were disappointed (with one exception!)

I won’t try to summarize the other’s positions at all,  however, I think the exception to being disappointed with the book is this: A person who truly geeks out regarding social media, social theory, and information will probably enjoy this book.

In fact that summarizes the book.  Shirky takes well-known social theories such as the power distribution law and applies them to social media outlets like Flickr, Wikipedia, and Meetup.  If you are looking for concrete steps on how to create social change without creating a new organization – this is NOT the book for you.  If you want to think and be academic about the idea in vague terms this IS for you.

Much of what was discussed throughout the book was either common knowledge or intuitive.  Another large portion is highly unlikely to happen due to the special circumstances surrounding the event.

One problem with books about social media is that they quickly become outdated.  This book published in 2008, barely mentions Twitter (at the end he confesses that it just started becoming big while writing the book).  I’m sure he would have written about the power of Twitter in the Mumbai bombings and more recently the Iranian election.  In his defense on this section, Shirky created a blog to continue the discussion.

Finally, I found it a little dull overall.  I enjoyed the stories, but some of the social theory stuff was hard to get through.  I would not rush out and purchase this book, if you’d like my copy let me know!

Note: I didn’t realize until I was at the book club (only 2 people had read the book cover to cover) that my copy was an unedited manuscript.  It was clearly marked “not for distribution” but somebody dropped it off at Goodwill where someone found it for $3.99 and turned around and sold it to me for $8.99 plus shipping.  I felt a lot better after discovering that it was unedited because there were a lot of grammatical errors and random double words or words omitted!

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