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Measuring My Days

Book Reviews

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Recommended Reading

“Over the years, I have gradually come to realize that the printed book is one of the fundamental human inventions, as useful as the boat, the house, the shirt, and the shoe.  It possesses compactness and physical integrity as a carrier of knowledge and ideas.  Making a book is an ordering process.  The editor must know that a text makes sense without intruding on its individuality, the character and tone of voice of the author.  The book designer looks at a text and decides how best to present it as a printed book.  Design means intention.  If something doesn’t happen by design, it happens by accident.”

          Sinclair H. Hitchings in tribute to

 Freeman Keith, maker of books.
 
Recommended Books
 

Pondering My Passage

My memoir published by American Literary Press (1995) is out of print but available from Alibris.com and other used book sources.

 

Pondering Another Passage

A record of my journey around the world, most of the way via a modern containership, the Cho Yang Atlas, was published by Winepress Publishing (Dec 2000), available at their website in limited copies (WinepressPublishing.com).

 

 

The Desert Blooms -- A personal adventure in growing old creatively

Reviewed by A. C. Gray

 

            I met Sarah Patton Boyle when she was seventy-seven years young and was writing this book.  I was forty-six then and thought that I could fully appreciate what she was writing about – this adventure in growing old creatively.  The time of her life about which she was writing were her years beginning at the age of sixty continuing for nearly two decades.  I am sixty-two now, and reading this book from my contemporary perspective gives me an even greater appreciation for the book.

            This book, too, is about passages, about coping with the changes in her world and there were many.  Her husband had announced quite suddenly one morning that their marriage was over.  She would pull up roots which had grown deeply for forty years and move to the suburbs of Washington, D. C.  Her familiar patterns of living, social circle, church, and theology all would change.  All along she was changing both physically and mentally.  She knew it and this is the record of how she coped with and triumphed over the crucibles she endured.

            Though she was 27 years my senior, she insisted that I call her “Patty”.  That was one of the first lessons she taught me.  I had been reared to address older people as “Mr., Mrs., or Miss.”  But I found out from her that all people, young and old alike, cherish their names and wish to hear their names on the lips of others.  This was one of the many stereotypes about older people that she wished to expose.  So prevalent were the stereotypes, she wrote, that the single world oldpeople had become an ingrained word in modern vocabulary.  A series of chance experiences helped her to realize at sixty that in the eyes of many she was an old person, despite the vigor of her mind, body, and perception of herself as still young.  In the past year or so, similar experiences have helped me to perceive my status in the eyes of younger people.  Patty helps me now to recognize and cope with these perceptions.

            The most valuable lessons gleaned from The Desert Blooms, however, are in the realities of faith, hope, and the energies of love for living out one’s golden years. Patty took each defeat as a challenge for resurrection to regain the old assurances of her faith, her worth as a child of God, and renewed energy to live a meaningful life, giving, sharing, listening, and above all, loving all others.  The practical suggestions she offered for living a full life into old age I have adopted as my own.   A long silence from her prompted me to launch a search wherein I discovered she had died of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of eighty-six.   In the final chapter of this book, she recalled a November night when she awoke suddenly “to find the glory of the Lord shining round me and the sweetness of the Lord like a warm perfume in a cold room…inside, bells were ringing.  “All is well, all is well.”  With wonderful certainty, I suddenly knew that the substance which sustains the world is love.”  That morning, four hours later, she received a call that her mother had died….I knew with certainty that she loved me, which I had not always believed.”

Copies of this now out-of-print book may be found in your library or at abebooks.com.

 

Other Recommendations:

 

The Carpet Wars, by Christopher Kremmer

(Reviewed for Amazon.com by A. C. Gray)
"Anyone interested in the fine art of rug weaving, the cultures in which Oriental carpets originate, the geography of ancient trade routes including The Silk Road, the history, economics and politics of the Middle East, and present day travel through the strife-torn region will find immense treasure in Christopher Kremmer's The Carpet Wars. "The early Muslims inhabited lands where people were born on carpets, prayed on them, and covered their tombs with them. For centuries, carpets have been a currency and an export, among the first commodities of a globalized trading system" writes the author, who has spent ten years in Asia reporting for the Australian press. He uses Oriental rugs as his motif for writing about his travels in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Tajikistan, Kashmir, and the former Soviet satellite countries of Central Asia. {Here, this reviewer admits his interest enfolds some bias because of my own travels through the region as a Peace Corps worker in less turbulent times. Also, I have the good fortune of working in a store where a wide variety of the very finest examples of Oriental carpets are sold.}
In this book we read that second only to oil, hand made carpets are the region's principal export and were so long before Marco Polo made his famous travels along the Silk Road. Carpets created by various quarreling factions from the Middle and Near East are the focus for retelling how the fighting clans have damaged the carpet trade, effectively wiping out the middle and upper class of society, and left appalling poverty and misery in its wake. Kremmer describes how that even in the midst of war and turmoil, a bazaar will spring up during breaks in the fighting and the carpet merchants will quickly resume business as if nothing had happened. A disappointment for me was that the author omits a description of the many varieties and techniques of rug making; he remains focused on his travels through the Islamic world, giving us the benefit of his first hand witness to the misery.
Believing that only Allah can create anything perfect, the Muslim carpet makers often will deliberately craft a minor flaw in their handiwork that only a practiced eye might discern. Also, we learn that many rugs woven by people living under the duress of conflict will reflect their anxieties and turmoil through the symbols of war - airplanes, helicopters, tanks, and guns. But the rugs also will contain symbols of their makers' traumatic lives not altogether discernible or understood. Like the great paintings of the Renaissance, these works of art may never be fully comprehended. It is enough that fortunate owners of hand knotted and woven rugs might appreciate not only their beauty but also how they portray the soulful deeper meaning of the lives of their creators, leaving a legacy for generations to come. This book is an armchair journey of immense interest. Highly recommended."

 

Dove, by Robin Lee Graham

Reviewed by A. C. Gray for Amazon.com

"Lately I've been reading books about great sea adventures, some of which for the second or third time. Among them are Robin Lee Graham's Dove, the story of his journey around the world in a 24 foot sloop begun when he was only sixteen. Also, Joshua Slocum's classic adventure Sailing Alone Around the World. Just now I'm reading Apsley Cherry-Garard's The Worst Journey In the World, named by National Geographic last year as one of the greatest adventure stories ever written. I am drawn to this genre because of my work and travels in more than 80 countries and my journey around the world in 1999, most of the way as a lone passenger aboard a modern freighter. It is to Robin Lee Graham's credit that his book is now still in print for 31 years and that it is among the classics recommended in home schooling for young adults. In the last chapter of the book, still uncertain of his future, he writes that he and his young wife, Patti, begin to read the Bible together: "Our finding a belief in God - becoming Christians - was a slow thing.... We want to work out our lives in the way God intended us to. In reading the Bible together we were fascinated by the prophecies made two thousand years and more ago, prophecies which seemed to be coming true, like the Jews returning to their own country. We have no idea where these new thoughts and ideas and practices will take us.... But we are open to whatever direction God will give us. Our belief is simple. It is the belief that so many of our own generation are discovering - a belief that God isn't dead as some of the older generation have told us. In a world that seems to be going crazy we are learning that Jesus showed men the only way they should live - the way we were meant to live." Graham's voyage brought him immense intangible wealth -- a companion for life and the wisdom of discovering a Shepherd for all eternity. Highly recommended. ..."

 

The Good American

Reviewed by A. C. Gray for Amazon.com

"All whose lives have been touched by the ravages of war bear in their memory forever the grief, losses, and struggles to grasp some meaning for living out the balance of their days. The post-war adjustments for many perhaps never end. Time has a way of mending broken hearts but the wounds and scars of war heal very slowly. We meet people every day whose lives have been changed immeasurably by conflict and many of their stories never get into print. The several life stories that are woven so ingeniously in The Good American are reminders of many who have coped courageously with adversity and found a way not only to survive, but also to use their limited resources and native talents for remaking of an orderly world. Ursula Mandel, who grew up in postwar Germany, weaves a tale of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. The warm German hospitality I found as an American officer stationed in Wiesbaden three decades after World War II had ended grew out of a mutual respect Americans and Germans had one for another. Americans I knew immensely admired the German work ethic and ingenuity, their clean streets and homes, their delicious strudels, their superb automobiles, but most of all their determination to rebuild their cities and lives. Ursula Mandel's book is a benediction and compliment to those Americans and Germans who loved and cared enough to forge a lasting friendship for our two countries. The book has the essentials for a powerful cinema and I hope to see the story come alive on the big screen."

 

 

Who Needs God

By Harold Kushner

Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.  1989

Reviewed by A. C. Gray, October, 2003

Publisher's Weekly points out that the lack of a question mark after the title of this book signals the author's conviction he doesn't ask; he simply states that we all need God.

 

Kushner begins with the Hasidic story of the man who got a telegram telling him that a relative had died and left him some valuable legacy.  His instructions were to contact the rabbi for details, whereupon he did so and was told that the relative was Moses and the valuable legacy was the Jewish religious tradition and not downtown real estate.  The author’s purpose was to show readers how much more fulfilled they would be if they made room for religious tradition in their lives.

Kushner states that the thesis of his book is that there is a kind of nourishment our souls crave; without that spiritual nourishment, our souls remain stunted and undeveloped.  “Religion”, writes Kushner, “has to mean more than a commitment to ethical behavior, to loving our neighbors.  It has to teach our souls how to see the world.”  The introduction poses some universally acknowledged questions about life:  Does the world make sense, or is it all a matter of chance?….Is order the rule and chaos the exception?  Or is chaos the rule and apparent order just a coincidence?…Why is there a world?  Why did the human race come into being?  Why do people have thoughts, memories, longings?  The answer:  “There are no scientific answers to these questions.  There is only the answer of faith:  you become a certain kind of person when you choose to believe that there is a pattern and purpose to the universe, when you learn to see the world through the eyes of faith.”  Written for an ecumenical reader, the author omits exploration of the many avenues to faith.  A rabbi, Kushner gives only a mistaken passing glance to Christian faith:  To an objective observer, the cross is a simple geographic design.  To a Christian, it is a way of capturing the subtle message of sacrificial love and the summons to follow the hard road to salvation.  A committed Christian believer would make a case that the way to salvation is not a hard road at all.  It was hard indeed for a loving God to become flesh, to live among us for a while, and to die in excruciating pain on a hated cross.  But simple acceptance of this belief in a risen Christ and Savior is the easiest and most deeply satisfying and joy filled avenue to faith and peace.  For a Christian even simple acceptance is a gift freely offered.

Reading Kushner was for me nevertheless provocative and life affirming, probably because my faith as a Christian has its genesis (no pun intended) in the Old Testament wherein I find all the promises of a coming Messiah, all the stories of how God has been faithful to His promises to those who claim Him as Lord, and all the affirmation of how He gives purpose and meaning to life.  Having written his dissertation on the Psalms, Kushner quotes them often as illustrations of how we need God in our lives for forgiveness.

Kushner summarizes his thesis by asking:  “What sort of world would it be if there were no God?”  He answers:  “It would be a world where, if we were victims of crime or misfortune, we would curse our luck, and if someone near to us was a victim, we would merely feel relief that it happened to someone else.  There would be no more inspiring goal for out lives than self-interest, amassing as many of the good things of life as we could grab.  It would be a flat, monochromatic world, a world without color or texture, a world in which all the days would be the same.  Marriage would be a matter of biology, not fidelity.  (How nearly does this now describe many marriages?)  Old age would be seen as a time of weakness, not of wisdom.  He quotes one of the brothers in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov:  “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”  Worst of all, in a world without God, we would be all alone, and no one to promise us that, even when it was over, it will not be over. 

The author concludes with good news:  “No matter how hard we may find it to grow a soul, we will not be alone in the striving, ‘for Thou art with me.”  Who needs God in a world that could be so beautiful and holy, in a life that could be so full of meaning and satisfaction, he asks, if we only opened our eyes and knew where to look?  My response: we need only look in the Bible, God’s instruction book for living.

Highly recommended.  The book is available in hardback, paperback, and audio.  It is worth a permanent place on your bookshelf.

 Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power.  Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve.  Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it. 

Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Needed is Not Enough

 

The Grand Weaver, How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives

By Ravi Zacharias, Zondervan, 2007

 

I had Ravi Zacharias with me as a reader’s traveling companion aboard the containership Cho Yang Atlas as I sailed around the world in 1999.  At the YMCA bookstore in Kowloon, Hong Kong, I had bought his book Can Man Live Without God?.  Although I had heard his sermons via radio broadcasts and had admired his deeply felt faith, that book opened my understanding of his ministry, his lucid knowledge, and powerful God-given intellect.  So I preface my comments about his newest book with an obvious bias. Very simply, since that voyage, I consider him a mentor and myself, in some sense, one of his disciples.

            The Grand Weaver opens by considering that the relatively new science proving that one’s DNA is wholly unique to every person is nothing less than God’s imprint on all His creation.  Events in our lives, when examined carefully and understood properly, underscore the marvelous design for every life.  Illustrations and stories drive home the hand of God that gives meaning to all that happens on our journey from birth to the present moment.  For example, the true story is told of a seaman who survives the sinking of the USS Astoria during World War II because he is kept afloat by a narrow lifebelt.  He notes the lifebelt had been manufactured by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio and that it bore a registration number.  On home leave, he asks his mother, an employee of Firestone, the meaning of the registration number and discovers that the number on his belt was assigned specifically to her as an identifier of the one who inspects the belt and guaranteed its good working order.  Zacharias writes:  “I can only imagine the emotions within the hearts of mother and son as they pondered the convergence of responsibility and its impact on life.  The threads had come together in an inescapable way.  The one who gave him birth and whose DNA he bore gave him rescue in the swirling waters that threatened to take his life.”

            In a chapter entitled “Your Disappointment Matters”, Zacharias writes “God the Grand Weaver seeks those with tender hearts so that He can put His imprint on them.  Your hurts and your disappointments are part of that design, to shape your heart and the way you feel about reality….A heart in close communion with God helps carry you through the pain, beyond the power of mere words….The hill of Calvary lies at the center point of the gospel.  All the suffering of the world converged there….There the threads converged in a pattern that seemed so disparate from the world’s point of view, yet they supplied the crimson threads of our restoration to God….The love of God shows us that God alone bridges the distance between Him and us, enabling us to see this world through Calvary….allow God to make your heart tender, strengthen your mind through faith, and make the cross the aortic nerve of your life….You see God’s pattern in you and become the instrument of consolation for those who hurt.”

            Zacharias examines your calling, your morality, your spirituality, and your will, all within the context of God’s design for a life of meaning and joy realized through submission to His greater plan for us.  “The Christian faith, simply stated,” he writes, “ reminds us that our fundamental problem is not moral; rather, our fundamental problem is spiritual.  It is not just we are immoral, but that a moral life alone cannot bridge what separates us from God.  Herein lies the cardinal difference between the moralizing religions and Jesus’ offer to us.  Jesus does not offer to make bad people good but to make dead people alive.

            A theme heard in his sermons and echoed in this book is the importance of worship as the single most essential element  that gives life its meaning.   An investment in this book and the time to carefully digest and apply its wisdom will reap a rewarding harvest.  Reviewed for Amazon.com...acg

 

 

Herewith, a random list of books from my own library shelves to which I have returned often for enlightenment and inspiration.  Out of print books may be obtained via the website www.ABE.com.   ACG

 

Author

Title

Publisher

Several, Inspired by God Himself

The Holy Bible (in several versions)

Gutenberg, etc.

E. Stanley Jones

Abundant Living & The Divine Yes

Abingdon-Cokesbury

E. Stanley Jones

Mastery & In Christ

Abingdon

Henrietta Mears

What the Bible is All About

Regal Books

Paul Tournier

The Adventure of Living

Harper

William H. Armstrong

Through Troubled Waters

Harper

Eugenia Price

What Really Matters

Berkley

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau on Man and Nature

Peter Pauper Press

Malcolm Muggeridge

Jesus, The Man Who Lives

Harper

John Claypool

Tracks of a Fellow Struggler

Word

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Cost of Discipleship

MacMillan

Max Lucado

No Wonder They Call Him the Savior (& Other Titles)

Multnoman

Victor E. Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning

Simon Schuster

Rachael Naomi Remen

Kitchen Table Wisdom

Riverhead

Henry David Thoreau

An American Landscape & Walden

Marlowe & Co.

Leo F. Buscaglia

Living, Loving, and Learning

Fawcett Columbine

Rackham Holt

George Washington Carver, An American Biography

Doubleday

Phillip Keller

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

Harper Paperbacks

Francis Schaeffer

The God Who Is There

Hodder & Stoughton

Jesse Stuart

A Jesse Stuart Reader

Signet

Harold Kushner

Who Needs God

Pocket Books

Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The Blakiston Co.

Beryl Markham

West With the Night

Farrar Straus

Earnest Gordon

Miracle on the River Kwai

Tyndale House

James J. Kilpatrick

The Foxes Union

EPM Publications

Corrie Ten Boom

A Prisoner and Yet

Christian Literature Crusade

Watchman Nee

Changed Into His Likeness

Christian Literature Crusade

E. Stanley Jones

How to Be a Transformed Person

Abingdon

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Signet

Irving Stone

Lust for Life (novel based on the life of Vincent VanGogh)

Doubleday

C. S. Lewis

Mere Christianity

MacMillan

Blasť Pascal

Pense’es  (Thoughts)

Random House

Lin Yutang

The Importance of Living

John Day

Aldo Leopold

A Sand County Almanac

Ballantine

Albert Schweitzer

Out of My Life and Thought

Signet Classics

Sam Shoemaker

Extraordinary Living for Ordinary Men

Zondervan

Sarah Patton Boyle

The Desegregated Heart

William Morrow

Harold Kushner

When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough

Pocket Books

R. C. Sproul

The Hunger for Significance

 

George McDonald  Phantasie

C. S. Lewis          Everlasting Man

G. K. Chesterton   Orthodoxy

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Life Together

Harold Kushner:  When All You've Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough

James Stewart - The Strong Name

Ravi Zacharias - Can Man Live Without God?

Henri J. M. Nouwen -  The Return of the Prodigal Son

Ravi Zacharias -  Cries of the Heart

Dale Turner - Different Seasons

“Let us reiterate it:  we are not building, in our Christian religion, on fancies and the stuff of dreams, but on proved and tested fact.  “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand.”  In Christ, crucified, risen, and alive for ever, God has acted, and still acts decisively; and at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.  This we believe, and this we hold, and this we know; and there are no good tidings in all the world so mighty or so marvelous as this.  Therefore I say, we do not well, if in this day of such tidings we hold our peace!”

                James Stewart, The Strong Name