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Book Reviews Featured

Live Big, Love Bigger

Cover of book, Live Big, Love Bigger

Kathryn Whitaker‘s new book, Live Big, Love Bigger hit shelves yesterday and I couldn’t put it down.

I’ve known Kathryn for probably nearly 15 years now—she was the graphic designer that created most of the paper printed for the University Catholic Center when I worked there. We became friends through her amazing design, my knack for untangling technical issues, and what became our common reality of a lot of kids under one roof.

Even though I know her, Scott, and the family, the book still contained many surprises. Kathryn, in a very real way, discusses her faith life and how, in particular, it was impacted by her fifth kiddo, Luke, who had a pretty crummy hand dealt to him in his early days resulting in premature birth, 40+ days in the NICU, and a litany of post-NICU specialists and surgeries over the last decade.

I gained another commonality with the Whitaker clan when our fourth and fifth kiddos, the twins, were premies and spent time in the NICU. Add on Olivia’s too-frequent hospitalizations for asthma and becoming more familiar with Dell Children’s Hospital than I ever wanted to be, there were a lot of aspects of the book that hit home.

Kathryn’s story with Luke and his medical needs absolutely blow my kiddos’ needs out of the water. Even though I can picture so much of what she describes from her NICU experience from my own and her words bring back a flood of memories, there was never any real mortal fear with our girls after the initial intake. But nevertheless, Kathryn shares her experience in a very real way that definitely led me to closing the book, taking a deep breath, wiping away a tear, then opening it up to keep going.

A returning theme in the book is how trying to maintain the perfect life is often what prevents us from living a perfectly real life. What impresses me with her telling is many of the things her family did in their quest to recenter themselves on things that matter is many of these things I’ve wanted to do myself but have been chicken. It sounds like a great idea to take a semester off from everything to reset, but actually doing so? Ha, I don’t think I would have thought it actually possible if I was being real with myself. But, if they can do it with six kids, well then, maybe so can I.

A small gem—the quotes on the chapter cover pages. The book’s forward was from another friend, Paulist Father Dave Dwyer, and the first three quotes were from Catholic religious figures, so I started to expect them all to be religious in nature. There were a couple that surprised me and reminded me that even the most faith-centered life is not exclusively religious—there is still the intersection with the secular world. And as an aside, one of the quotes is what is inscribed in my wedding band. Spoiler, it isn’t the quote from the BBQ Editor of Texas Monthly.

If you’re looking for a faith-centered but real account of how a family worked through difficulty, critically-sick kiddo, failing marriage, and able to come out stronger on the other side, this is a great read. Without getting too deep or going off into the weeds, the realness of her story makes it accessible.

Note: The links above are affiliate links. While I know the author, I purchased my copy off the virtual shelf like a regular Joe and Kathryn doesn’t know this post is being written, so I’m definitely not being paid or being given other considerations to write it.

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Book Reviews Daddy's Corner Offsite Pieces

Offsite: Daddies Matter Too

Over on the Daddyblog, I posted a review of sorts of Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too, the latest book in the Llama Llama series.

Check it out over at Kraft: In Search of Fatherhood.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Happiest Life

The premise is so good. Solid reminders of seven gifts and seven givers that really matter in life are important and should be conveyed to a wider audience.

The book, too, had a great number of diverse people recommending it in the book’s fodder.

I wanted to write a good review for it. I really did. But alas.

Book cover of The Happiest LifeThe Happiest Life by Hugh Hewitt examines seven gifts that are truly important—not electronics, toys, diamonds, or any of those things, but the genuine gifts that a person can give another person. He follows that up with looking at the seven givers we need to be both receptive of and giving towards—parents, spouses, coworkers, teachers, etc.

On the positive side, I found nothing in the book that I disagreed with. For anyone looking for a reminder of the core elements of life, the book supplied it without trying to throw in (much) ideological mess that is all too common in this genre of subtly-faith-based guides to life.

The author is a radio personality and, I think, crossing the mediums, in this case, did not serve him well. Filling three hours a day of radio is hard, but the same tactics used there shouldn’t be used to fill the book.

The author repeated himself far too often. This isn’t a bad thing if he was driving home a point, but instead, he repeated items that really don’t matter. Without looking, he name-dropped that he used to work in the same office as the now-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at least three times and there’s no good reason to repeat over and over again that the only interview he ran out of film on was with Richard Dreyfuss.

While the core of the book is solid, the 208 pages could have been cut to 75 and not missed anything. For example, the chapter of Coworkers began with a name-drop-a-thon of seemingly everyone the author has worked with in the past whose name might be notable to someone, followed by a brief description of how they’re the most amazing, bestest person in the whole wide world in whatever field. Four or five pages later, the actual topic of the chapter to anyone not looking to read an autobiography begins.

Generally, the author, while conservative and proud, does a fine job of not making the topic too partisan. He digs on Democrats a little, but considering he’s, by his own admission, a pundet, quite a bit less than expected.

For me, I wanted to like the book. If you’re wanting to help someone who would appreciate hearing a biographical telling from someone who has ran in power circles say that money, power, etc aren’t the reason for life, it is a fine book.

The publisher provided me a review copy of the book. I was not required to give a positive review.

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Book Reviews

The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant

legend-monk-merchantThe Legend of the Monk and the Merchant by Terry Felber is an interesting parable about how to be a faithful businessman, practicing Christian principles while in the pursuit of profit.

The story is a grandfather telling his grandson the story about him and his business mentor. Every three years, the mentor and the grandfather would meet to catch up and for the mentor to share another “key”, or two or three, to help direct your business affairs well.

Frankly, the book just isn’t it. It starts with a weak theological concept that we’re to be either “priests or kings”, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the book. While I can support the idea that if you work hard, take care of your family, and offer your fruit to God, the notion that doing so as a casual relationship with financial prosperity is misguided.

Sure, if we do those things, riches may come our way. There are plenty of jerks out there making a lot of money too. In the end, the principles we put in place to guide our lives shouldn’t be directed toward financial goals, but toward finding fulfillment. In Christian thought, that fulfillment is in Christ.

The book, though, makes financial gain an end goal through spiritual talk.

Beyond the lessons taught in the book, the structure of a grandfather telling his grandson throughout the book of conversations and experiences between him and another person made it harder to follow than it needed to be.

Positively, the book’s setting of Rome before the Reformation was smart, as it allows it be accessed as a Christian work while completely skirting the vast majority of the denominational questions (the Great Schism being the only one, really, by that time).

In the end, I’d skip this book. There are more interesting, more thought-provoking books on how to live a principled life in business.

I received this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was not obligated to give a positive review nor did the publisher review this review prior to publication.

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Book Reviews

Book Review – Redemption

I recently read Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold by Bryan Clay, which struck me in light of Lance Armstrong and, to a point, the Manti Te’o girlfriend developments.

Redemption by Bryan ClayClay is a gold-medal decathlete, winning in Bejing in 2008 and released this autobiography prior to his 2012 Olympic attempt. While I often have issues trying to read books by athletes, Clay’s book kept my attention and made me into a fan. He explains the decathlon enough to bring me up to speed enough to follow along and additionally helped me care about the outcome of this event.

In listening to the talking heads debate Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah last week, a common thread was the reminder that athletes are not role models. Lance has done great things with LIVESTRONG and had to worked hard for those Tour victories (as everyone was using PEDs, so he still had to beat other cheaters along the way). Nevertheless, he cheated. Likewise, there are plenty of athletes who stellar performance on the field was not dependent on illegal drugs, yet personally throw their money away on pointless, fruitless work that helps no one.

As a decathlete, Clay doesn’t have the fame of Lance or virtually anyone in the NFL. Save for the trials and the Olympics, his only chance for television is likely on ESPN8. There aren’t lines of folks waiting for his shoes to go on sale. His story, though, is inspirational as a story of someone who found his passion in athletics, worked hard, and rose to meet his goals.

[Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the book for free in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive or negative review and the opinions stated herein are completely my own. Being given the promotional copy of the book had no influence on this review.]

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Book Reviews

The Challenge: Why Men Hate Going to Church

I have a confession to make about Friday’s post.

I had just finished reading Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. In his recent second edition, he postulates that the reason the gender gap is increasing in many Christian denominations is that many churches are overly feminized. Yes, the vast majority of pastors in Christian churches (and all ordained ministers in Catholic churches) are men, but the participants and those involved in lay leadership are majority women across the American Christian fold. Further, the lack of male participants will result in the death of a church, citing statistics that the higher the gender gap, the quicker a church’s attendance declines.

I found his book extremely interesting. Murrow connects today’s praise and worship music and the phrasing of having a “relationship” with Jesus Christ as one “male repellant”. His reasoning: What man wants to have a “relationship” with another man? Do men talk like that to each other? Did Jesus talk like that to his own Apostles? While we are called to an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, can’t we find a different way to phrase it, at least some of the time? The book has many examples and his reasoning for how they came about.

He cites that, while we shouldn’t go fire and brimstone exclusively, much of our discussion of Christ is based on Jesus the Lamb while viewing Jesus the Lion (e.g. throwing out moneychangers in the temple) as the anomaly of Christ. Murrow’s claim is that Jesus was “a lion” as much, if not more, than he acted as a “lamb” and that the overall Christian church has decreased that message to, for some, a footnote.

Murrow’s solution isn’t to make churches a den of masculinity, but to reduce the “repellent” aspects some and increase opportunities for men to feel useful. Men like to work with their hands and do stuff. For many churches, the only ministry some men feel useful is the usher or parking lot attendant. (I’m not saying women don’t like to work with their hands. I’m not trying to make any inference about how women feel included in the church community; just my thoughts on getting men more active.)

This book was written for the broader Christian church, so many aspects of it aren’t applicable across the board. From the Catholic position, many of his points about worship services simply don’t apply to Mass or, if they do, aren’t things we’ll change as they’ve been like that for hundreds of years if not thousands. Nevertheless, many of his points do make sense to me and could be applied to the Catholic practice in some way.

As I mentioned in the comments of Friday’s post about chicken broth, sometimes being Catholic is a bit too easy. When looking at the guidelines of excluding meat on Fridays (and Ash Wednesday), if the sacrifice is easy, what’s the point? Yes, there is something to be said to be reminded of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, but as a penance, is it effective?