One-Minute Book Reviews

August 17, 2008

Quotes of the Day from Rick Warren’s ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ — ‘The Bestselling Nonfiction Hardback Book in History’

I didn’t see the evangelical pastor Rick Warren interview the presumptive presidential nominees yesterday at his California megachurch, but I was curious about the man who persuaded Barak Obama and John McCain to spend an hour apiece answering his questions. Somebody had stolen my library’s only copy of Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, which the trade journal Publishers Weekly called “the bestselling nonfiction hardback book in history.” But I found the paperback edition in the Christianity section of a local bookstore. Here are some quotes from The Purpose Driven Life.

“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning.”

“God has a purpose for your life on earth, but it doesn’t end here. His plan involves far more than the few decades you will spend on this planet.”

“Temptation is a sign that Satan hates you, not a sign of weakness or worldliness.”

“I once heard the suggestion that you develop your life purpose statement based on what you would like other people to say about you at your funeral. Imagine your perfect eulogy, then build your statement on that. Frankly, that’s a bad plan. At the end of your life it isn’t going to matter at all what other people say about you. The only thing that will matter is what God says about you.”

“Now that you understand the purpose of life, it is your responsibility to carry the message to others.”

“Even many remote villages get email, so you can now carry on “e-vangelistic” conversations with people on the other side of the world, without even leaving home!”

Comments have been turned off for this post. Thank you for not leaving comments about this post here or elsewhere on One-Minute Book Reviews. Many sites welcome comments on The Purpose Driven Life www.purposedrivenlife.com. You can find some of them by searching for terms such as “purpose driven life” and “discussion groups.” You can find a transcript of what Obama and McCain told Rick Warren at rickwarrennews.com/transcript/ and more about their interviews with him here thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/16/tonights-obama-mccain-faith-forum/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 21, 2008

Jodi Picoult’s ‘Change of Heart’ – Looking for Jesus in All the Wrong Places

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:04 am
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Miracles occur in a New Hampshire prison after a man ends up on death row for crimes that occurred when he was a 33-year-old carpenter

Change of Heart: A Novel. By Jodi Picoult. Simon & Schuster/Atria, 447 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

Change of Heart is the best novel I’ve read in a long time about religious gobbledygook. After 15 books, Jodi Picoult still cares enough about her craft to leave most of the Da Vinci Code knockoffs behind in a cloud of incense. She’s a more careful and interesting writer than Dan Brown and at times shows an appealingly droll wit. And she has more substantive concerns than off-the-wall ecclesiastical conspiracies, including the case for abolishing the death penalty. Picoult is also a conscientious researcher. For this book she visited a lethal-injection chamber and, when she needed to learn about the Gnostic Gospels, got private tutorials from Elaine Pagels, one of the country’s foremost scholars on the subject.

But in Change of Heart Picoult serves up characters with some peculiar traits or, rather, non-traits. They live in New Hampshire, but none has a credible New Hampshire accent or other characteristics that reflect the state or even New England — they might as well live in Nebraska. The oddest character is a 33-year-old carpenter who is sentenced to death for murdering a young girl and a policeman, then performs apparent miracles in a state prison. Shay Bourne cures the sick, brings a dead bird to life and feeds seven men with one piece of Bazooka bubble gum. Halfway through the book, you’re wondering what he could do it they ever ran low on the spelt bread and tilapia at Whole Foods. Bourne also wants to donate his heart after his execution to the gravely ill sister of the girl he killed. To do this, he needs to persuade a court that his religion requires such an action. And that effort pits him at different times against the mother of the dead child, a priest who has a crisis of faith, and a female lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union whose only recent dates have been court dates. All of them run a footrace against time his scheduled execution approaches.

Behind all of this lies a larger question than whether Bourne will be able donate his heart to a girl who needs it: What is a religion? Picoult treats traditional faiths respectfully. But one of her themes surfaces in the words of an inmate with AIDS: “Religion was supposed to be a blanket drawn up to your chin to keep you warm, a promise that when it came to the end, you wouldn’t die alone – but it could just as easily leave you shivering out in the cold if what you believed became more important than the fact that you believed.”

Change of Heart has many lines that one that are so vague that they could be used to justify almost any kind of religious hokum. And in age of anything-goes spirituality, that may help to explain why the book sped to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Picoult has cross-bred three popular genres — the courtroom drama, the religious thriller and the romance novel — in package much easier to digest than the arcana of The Da Vinci Code as long as you don’t expect too much plausibility from the plot. A telling scene occurs near the end of the book when a doctor suggests to the priest and the civil-liberties lawyer that they call the governor in an effort to break an impasse in Bourne’s case. When they don’t respond, he says, “Well, isn’t that what happens on TV? And in John Grisham novels?” You might think that Picoult is engaging in bit of self-satire here, signaling her intention to take her plot in a direction Grisham wouldn’t, but two pages later, her characters are breezing through the metal detectors at the statehouse.

Best line: Maggie Bloom notes that having a body wrap requires her to disrobe and pay a stranger to handle her body: “Was it just me, or was there a great deal that spa treatments had in common with prostitution?” Then why have the wrap? “The problem was, you never heard anyone say, ‘Wow, check out the brain on that babe.’”

Worst line: Convicted murderer Shay Bourne explains why he doesn’t go to church: “Not that Jesus wasn’t a really cool guy – great teacher, excellent speaker, yadda yadda yadda. But … Son of God? Where’s the proof?” Later, after a correctional officer survives a deadly assault by an inmate, a priest asks a doctor: “You don’t think it’s possible that Mr. Smythe was … well … resurrected?”

Published: March 2008 www.jodipicoult.com

One-Minute book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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May 26, 2008

The Last Memorial Day – Quote of the Day (Randy Pausch / ‘The Last Lecture’)

Filed under: Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:21 am
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In his bestselling The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch deals briefly with the question: What do you say to someone who is dying and knows it? Pausch says that he heard from thousands of people after he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and gave a lecture about it:

“I heard from a man in his early 40s with serious heart problems. He wrote to tell me about Krishnamurti, a spiritual leader in India who died in 1986. Krishnamurti was once asked what is the most appropriate thing to say to a friend who was about to die. He answered: ‘Tell your friend that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him. Wherever he does, you also go. He will not be alone.’ In his email to me, this man was reassuring: ‘I know you are not alone.’”

From The Last Lecture (Hyperion, 224 pp., $21.95) www.hyperionbooks.com, an essay collection by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. Pausch is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and his book grew out of a lecture he gave there that became popular on You Tube www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQtwEKlUutA.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 17, 2008

Why Is ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’ Such an Important Novel? (Quote of the Day / Doris Lessing)

Filed under: Classics,Novels,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:55 pm
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Alan Paton never won a Nobel Prize for Cry, the Beloved Country, his landmark 1948 novel about a Zulu minister who learns that his son has murdered the son of a white man. But his book may have had a greater impact on the struggle for racial justice in South Africa than any by Nadine Gordimer, who did win. And it has had a strong readership in the U.S. for six decades, bolstered by two movie versions and its selection for Oprah’s Book Club in 2003.

Why was Cry, the Beloved Country so important? Here’s an answer from Doris Lessing, the novelist and 2007 Nobel laureate in literature, who was born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and wrote another book critical of South Africa, The Grass Is Singing, that appeared soon after Paton’s:

“What you have to remember is that the whole of southern Africa was seen as a very happy, fun place full of satisfied blacks…. Cry, the Beloved Country destroyed that vision. Then along came The Grass Is Singing, which helped to break it down even more.”

Doris Lessing as quoted by Emily Parker in “Provocateur” in the Weekend Interview with Doris Lessing, The Wall Street Journal, March 15-16, 2008.

Read a biography of Paton at
www.litweb.net/biography/142/Alan_Paton.html.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

February 7, 2008

Three Great Books About Faith That I Might Have Reread This Week If the Home Team Hadn’t Made It to the Super Bowl

Filed under: Classics,Nonfiction,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:23 pm
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The Super Bowl may have tested the faith of Giants and Patriots fans this week, but it tested my ability to reread some of my favorite books about faith that I would have liked to write about this week. (How often does the home team play in the NFL championship when you live in New Jersey?) The books I might have gotten back to if the Giants had lost in the playoffs include two great novels, Willa Cather’s Death Comes for The Archbishop and Georges Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest, and the spiritual autobiography of the 20th century’s most famous Trappist, Thomas Merton’s The Seven-Storey Mountain. I hope to write more later in the year about these classics, all about clergy who face tests of faith. For now I’ll just note that Cather’s novel recently has appeared in a new Virago Modern Classics edition, which has an introduction by A.S. Byatt.

(c) 2008. Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday Revised Common Lectionary Readings and Hymns

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:49 pm
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If you visit this site regularly, you may have noticed that posts often relate to news events or holidays, usually through a quote from or review of a related book. One of the most popular of these was last year’s Ash Wednesday post (“What do the ashes on Ash Wednesday mean?”), based on Marc Foley’s A Season of Rebirth: Daily Meditations for Lent (New City, $12.95, paperback) www.newcitypress.com, back in the Top Ten today. (It’s beating that Marv Albert Super Bowl quote by the equivalent of a 56-0 postseason blowout.) I couldn’t find a similar book this year, so here instead is a link to Hymn Site‘s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for Ash Wednesday www.hymnsite.com/lection/index.shtml. Click on the “Calendar” page on that site and then on “Ash Wednesday” to get the readings (which you can read or listen to).

One of Hymn Site’s suggested hymns for today is Charles Wesley’s great “Ye Servants of God,” inspired partly by the persecution of English Methodists in the 18th century. I can’t link directly to that hymn on Hymn Site, so here’s a direct link to the version on Cyber Hymnal www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/y/s/yservofg.htm. You’ll hear music as soon as you click on that link. You can find other suggested hymns by searching for “Lent” on Cyber Hymnal.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 23, 2007

Henry Van Dyke’s Christmas Classic, ‘The Story of the Other Wise Man’

A parable about the meaning of  faith that first appeared in 1896

The Story of the Other Wise Man. By Henry Van Dyke. Ballantine 112 pp., $7.95, paperback. Available in other editions, including abridged picture-book versions for children.

By Janice Harayda

What is the meaning of faith? Does it involve saying prayers? Attending religious services? Making pilgrimages to shrines or holy places?

Henry Van Dyke (1852–1933) never raises these questions directly in The Story of the Other Wise Man. But they lie at the heart of this classic parable about the meaning of faith in a secular age.

Van Dyke invents a fourth wise man, Artaban, who trades his belongings for gifts for “the promised one” foretold by prophets:  a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl. Artaban plans to give the jewels to the infant after meeting up with his companions Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who have gold, frankincense and myrrh. But he misses the connection after he stops to nurse a dying man, and later on, he parts with his jewels. He uses the ruby to ransom a child whom King Herod had ordered slain and the pearl to free a girl about to be sold into slavery.

Artaban believes he has missed all opportunities to meet the promised one until, near the end of his 33 years, he reaches Jerusalem just before the Crucifixion. There he realizes that his search has ended when he hears a faint voice saying: “Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.”

On his journey Artaban wrestles with what The Story of the Other Wise Man calls “the conflict between the expectation of faith and the impulse of love.” But Van Dyke resisted appeals to explain what his book “meant.”

“How can I tell?” he asks in his foreword. “What does life mean? If the meaning could be put into a sentence there would be no need of telling a story.”

Furthermore: Van Dyke was the minister at Manhattan’s Brick Presbyterian Church, where he first told Artaban’s story. He later became a professor English at Princeton University and Ambassador to the Netherlands. Van Dyke may be best known today as the author of the text for the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” set to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony. Click here to read Van Dyke’s words and listen to the music www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/j/o/joyful.htm. You will also see a picture of Van Dyke if you click on the link.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

http://www.janiceharayda.com/


December 7, 2007

‘The Supreme Christmas Poem in the English Language’ Is … Quote of the Day (Reynolds Price)

This is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring …

From John Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”

What is “the Supreme Christmas poem in the English language”? This must have been more of a stumper than I thought, because I asked the question Tuesday, and nobody got it right. I may have thrown you off by saying I’d give an American writer’s answer when the poem wasn’t written here. (Oh, sons and daughters of Cambridge! Where were you when a fellow Cantabrigian needed you?) The novelist Reynolds Price argues – and many others would agree – that the poem is John Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” Price says of Milton and his poem:

“The most powerful early component of his genius became visible in December 1629. While on the winter vacation from his studies at Cambridge, he wrote his initial indispensable poem, an ode ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.’ It was, almost certainly, the result – only two weeks after his twenty-first birthday – of his eagerness to exhibit a first fruit of the high calling he sensed within himself. And in the freewheeling rhetorical rapture which pours out memorable phrases in joyous profusion, in its complex musical urgency, and its unquestioned Christian sense of God’s immanence in nature, the ode continues to be the supreme Christmas poem in the English language.”

Reynolds Price in an essay on Milton in the just-published Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature (Paul Dry Books, $18.95, paperback) www.pauldrybooks.com, selected and edited by Joseph Epstein with wood engravings by Barry Moser. Price, the poet and novelist, is the James B. Duke Professor English at Duke University www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reynolds_Price.

The first lines of Milton’s poem appear at the top of this post. You can read the annotated full text in the Milton Reading Room on the Dartmouth College site http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/nativity/index.shtml. Please note that on this template I can’t indent the lines as Milton did.

Did you know the answer to Tuesday’s question? An easy way to become better acquainted with Milton’s poetry is to go to the free site Cyber Hymnal and listen the hymn “Let Us With a Gladsome Mind,” which you can hear by clicking on this link: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/e/letuglad.htm. (You will hear the music immediately when you click.) The words to “Let Us With a Gladsome Mind” come from Milton’s poem with the same title, which he wrote when he was 15. You can read the poem and listen to the music simultaneously at Cyber Hymnal www.cyberhymnal.org, which also offers at no cost the words and music to thousands of other hymns, including religious Christmas carols.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

http://www.janiceharayda.com

December 4, 2007

What Is ‘the Supreme Christmas Poem in the English Language’? Win a Book of Poetry If You Know

Filed under: Contests — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:13 pm
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Later in the week I’ll have a Quote of the Day in which a well-known American writer talks about the poem he calls “the supreme Christmas poem in the English language.” Do you know what it is? You can win a copy of Baseball Haiku: American and Japanese Haiku and Senryu (Norton, $19.95), edited with translations by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura, if you’re the first to answer correctly. Baseball Haiku is an excellent new collection of haiku about baseball that transcends the sport with a long introduction (and commentary on individual poems) that helps to demystify haiku in general www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/.

To enter the contest, send an e-mail message with the answer and your mailing address to the address on the “Contact” page of this site. I’ll send Baseball Haiku to the first U.S. resident who responds correctly by e-mail. If you don’t want to try to win but would like to show people what a genius you are — or nominate the poem that you see as “the supreme Christmas poem” in English — why not leave a comment? The Quote of the Day and answer will be posted by 5 p.m. Eastern Time Friday.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved. Janice Harayda.

November 21, 2007

Listen to Thanksgiving Hymns and Others for Free at Cyber Hymnal — Downloadable for Free, Too, If They’re Out of Copyright

Further update at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 1: The Cyber Hymnal site is back up. I just listened to the Doxology and “The Snow Lay on the Ground,” the carol often used as an anthem (the first I remember singing with youth choir at my childhood church). But I’m leaving up the Nov. 29 update because you may want to use Hymn Site as a back-up if Cyber Hymnal goes down again. Jan

Update at 5:25 p.m. Nov. 29: The Cyber Hymnal site seems to have crashed — let’s hope temporarily — since I posted this. The link worked without problems for days. But at this writing you can’t reach Cyber Hymnal either from here or the link on Google. Until the site is up again, you can hear the music and find the words to hymns at HymnSite www.hymnsite.com. HymnSite isn’t as easy to search as Cyber Hymnal and may have fewer hymns, but has many of the same elements. Jan

Update, Nov. 2010: Cyber Hymnal is now NetHymnal, and the links in this post have been changed to reflect it.

Today I was looking for facts to add to a quote of the day about a Thanksgiving hymn and found a site called NetHymnal that lets you listen for free to the music of more than hymns and Gospel songs.  NetHymnal also has the words and background of tunes, pictures of authors or composers, a few musical scores and more. It offers 29 hymns by J. S. Bach alone, including such chart-busters as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Von Himmel Hoch.” The site is just what its name implies — the online equivalent of a hymnal you might find slotted into a pew except that it lets you listen to the music instead of reading the scores. And you can download for free anything that’s out of copyright.

So this is the place to go if you’d like to hear the Thanksgiving hymns “Now Thank We All Our God,” “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “We Gather Together” (the only one of the three that’s non-Trinitarian in all verses). Cyber Hymnal also lets you listen to Christmas carols and patriotic songs such as “O Canada,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” (the Navy Hymn). And if you’re getting married in a church soon, you can hear any hymn that could be played at your wedding. Be sure to listen to the traditional — and best — version of the classic wedding hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” on Cyber Hymnal before somebody talks you into the alternate setting that has become popular without my consent. (Are you going to invite me to the wedding?)

If you don’t care for Thanksgiving hymns but want to hear to some of the most stirring music ever written, use the title search tool on Nethymnal to look for “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” (the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony), “Thine Be the Glory” (“See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes” from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus) and “Be Still, My Soul” (“The Song of Peace” from Sibelius’s Finlandia). Like the Colorado Rockies, that quote of the day that I planned to post will have to wait till next year, because I’m off to Cyber Hymnal to listen Beethoven’s “The Heavn’s Resoundeth” (“The Heavens Are Telling”), nearly as glorious as the “Ode to Joy.”

The picture above from the old Cyber Hymnal shows Catherine Winkworth (1827-78), who translated “Now Thank We All Our God” (“Nun Danket”) from the German.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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