Tag Archives: book review

Book Review – Angry Conversations with God by Susan Issacs

Some of you might know, I have a minor hobby of writing book reviews on Amazon.  Hobby is stretching it, because my filter for writing reviews is rather thick.  The first filter is simply how many reviews have already been written and can I add anything.  I’m pompous enough to think I can write a very good review, but if there are already 100’s to 1000’s, why?   In the same way, if it isn’t in a subject from my expertise, why would I comment?  The second layer of that filter is I really only review books where I can in good conscience give five stars or give one star.  I prefer calling out excellent books.  And that doesn’t mean books that I always agree with.  What it means is books that are worth the investment of time.  If I happen to stumble across a book that makes me say “I want that 10 hours of my life back”, I will also write that review.  The last niche is, I guess, because I’ve written enough quality reviews I’ve been included on the Amazon Vine.  If Amazon sends me something for free, I review it.  It is part of the deal.

Susan Issacs BookI don’t always post my reviews here.  Sometimes, like with Pastrix, the review here is a longer or more personal form.  This one is just straight up.

This had been on my radar for a while, and then it popped up on sale for the kindle for $2.99.  As of this writing, it is still at that price, link here.  What follows is my review which I gave a hardy 5 stars.

Susan Isaacs has written a very good book.  It is both an entertaining read and surprisingly deep.  The reviewer’s question is how to describe that.

First the author is primarily an actress or even more narrowly a sketch comedic actress with serious improv skills.  That background is the ground of why this book is so entertaining.  It is not a traditional narrative nor does it have unduly long and introspective sections.  The author’s command of what is the core emotional point, where is the heart-rending funny and quick pacing keep the book moving and entertaining.

The surprising depth comes from two points.  The first is that the author, like any great comedian, is unflinching when going for the jugular.  What makes that amazing is the she is going after God’s jugular and her own.  In mythical language this is a modern day Jacob wrestling with God through the night.  The second depth is that even though this is the tale of “middle-class white girl problems” as the author calls it, they are her problems and they force what Christianity would call a dark night of the soul.  The humor of that juxtaposition is not lost on the author, but she tells her story with such vim and pathos that you recognize the universal condition.  At one point she summarizes her problem as “the man who’s stuck in the desert because God put him there looks exactly like the man who’s stuck in the desert because he’s lost.  And I don’t know which one I am.  I don’t know if I’m here to find friendship with God, or if I’ve been left to die (loc 2924).”

What starts as a potential cliché of marriage counseling with God becomes a lively and deeply honest wrestling.  Does this faith that the author has carried since childhood as a gift from her mother die, or is it cleansed, renewed and blessed?  What emerges from the book is both a picture of a mature and maturing faith and a highly personal and living faith.  And that is hidden in, with and under the form of a funny read.

A Published Book Review (well, online at Lutheran Forum least)…

Willow Creek to Sacred Heart

It is not in ink on paper, but the parson reviews From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart by Chris Haw at the Lutheran Forum magazine website. Head over there if interested, oh, it is a positive review. Thursday Bible Study beware, we might be looking at some snippets in the near future.

Saturday Book – One Thousand Gifts – Post 1

We have been reading this book – One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp – in our Thursday Bible study group. I’m going to kick off a web series for Saturdays with this book. I’m not sure exactly how to replicate the discussion of the live group. So what I’m going to do first week is suggest the book and give my quick review/preview. Then over the following Saturdays post the study questions, themes, discussion starters that I found while reading and used with the group. Maybe give some of my personal musings around those questions. Some books will take longer than other. This particular one is packed full. We seem to be taking 1 chapter a week although I expect to pick up pace after chapter 4. I can’t recommend it enough. But I can say you really should read it with somebody else to share the questions. So here is my review/preview.

There is a surface way to read this book as “one woman’s story”. It is a good book in that sense although stylistic and aesthetic questions to me would just make it a good book on par with many other memoirs produced today. But AV’s one woman’s story is actually a universal story. It is a challenge and a spotlight. As a spotlight it highlights ground that frankly many of us will never walk – the ground being too scary to walk. It gives us a mental picture and some of the emotional experience without the risk. It stands as a challenge to walk there anyway. St. Paul would write in Eph 2:10 that, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10 ESV) We don’t know where that road leads or what those forms the light shines on are for us. AV encourages or invites us to walk anyway.

In that way, in being one woman’s story that is also a universal story, this book stands in a great tradition of mystical yet practical Christian writing. You could say it starts with Augustine’s Confessions, wanders through such works as Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, John Tauler and Meister Eckhardt (the German mystic predecessors to Luther), to the more modern example of Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain or the writings of Henri Nouwen. AV has written a deep book. I’ve read it through now about three times and find stuff each time. I am coming at this from a more Lutheran/Catholic view. If this falls into someone in the Reformed Tradition I’m sure that there are other examples like maybe Oswald Chambers or an older example being the Nevin and Schaff Mercersburg Theology of the sacrament. (AV seems to have a very sacramental view of life and world. That is odd for a Zondervan published work, but hopefully a signal of good things as this is a very popular book.) The biggest accomplishment of One Thousand Gifts, is how deep its roots are in the Christian tradition and how rich the life portrayed is, and yet it is a completely modern work. In a modern world drained of meaning and grace – AV provides a spotlight and challenge for how to live that today. The themes are universal and deeply orthodox; the life is from today.