Book learning

As I’ve been reading and researching information about writing for the web, I realised that it will save me time to find a book on the topic by someone who already knows about it. After a bit of indecision and largely based on reviews on Amazon, I have chosen the book Writing for the Web by Crawford Kilian.

The author of this book spent 40 years teaching at community colleges and from what I’ve read so far appears to know what he is on about. In fact, just reading the introduction I learned a new concept for me, the difference between hypotaxis and parataxis, and the idea that hypertext relies more on parataxis in which ideas stand alone without being linked to the previous idea.

I’m wanting to learn without my existing biases getting in the way so it makes sense to carefully read through this book (and possibly others), putting what I learn into practise and also following through with further reading and research where I can.

More information about hypotaxis and parataxis:

2018 Reading

Updated: 19 Febraury 2018

Currently Reading

These are the books I am reading right now:

  • 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke.
  • Hearing God in Conversation by Samuel C. Williamson
  • River of Blood (Tales of the Waiatoto) by John Breen. My Dad worked with and is good friends with the author of this book so I want to read it partly for that reason and also because it gives the history and lore of the Haast area of West Coast of the South Island.

Slow Reads

There are some books that I intentionally read slowly in order to let their message sink in or to enjoy the experience of digesting smaller morsels that are rich in meaning.

  • Holy Bible (ESV)
  • Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett

The books I have read so far in 2018

This list is in the order that I read these books.

    1. The Freedom Diaries by Mark Holloway. 3/10 Finished 4 January 2018. (ISBN 978-0-473-25184-0)
    2. Big Blue Sky, a memoir by Peter Garrett. 8/10 Really enjoyed this book, well written and about someone I’ve long admired. He manages to make even politics interesting, though confirms that I wouldn’t last 5 minutes in that realm. The Midnight Oil Great Circle tour in 2017 is a fitting way for Peter Garrett to round out his career. Finished 18 January 2018. (ISBN 978-1-76063-274-8)
    3. Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert. 7/10 Finished 22 January 2018. A well written and understandable book about global warming.
      The conclusions of this book are actually quite frightening, especially as we are seeing more extreme weather events every year.
    4. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. 7/10 Finished 22 January 2018. Written as a play/stage production, a format I personally dislike to read. However, the story is reasonably interesting and brings out some more elements of certain characters. (978-0-7515-6535-5)
    5. Breathless by Dean Koontz. 6/10 Finished 23 January 2018. An easy and enjoyable read but I found the story a bit disjointed jumping between seemingly unrelated plot lines which had an implied resolution but were not actually tied together by the conclusion of the book.  (ISBN 978-0-00-790986-5)
    6. Hearing God’s Voice by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby 6/10 Finished 25 January 2018. I enjoyed this book, practical and biblically based.
    7. Praying Hyde by Captain E.G. Carre. 6/10 I became interested to learn more about John Hyde while reading Hearing God’s Voice by Henry and Richard Blackaby. Hyde was certainly an extraordinary man of prayer. Finished 27 January 2018.
    8. The White Notebook by André Gide. 4/10 I began reading this over a year ago and soon tired of the flowery, self obsessed writing. Finally finished it but not an enjoyable read. Finished 28 January 2018.
    9. A Victorian Naturalist, Beatrix Potter’s Drawings from the Armitt Collection by Eileen Jay, Mary Noble & Anne Stevenson Hobbs. 7/10 A magnificent book featuring impressive scientific illustrations of fungi by Beatrix Potter. Her cute animal stories are only the tip of her amazing talents as an artist. Finished 29 January 2018.
    10. Demonsouled by Jonathan Miller. 5/10 I felt like a light read over the weekend and picked this up free in the Kindle store. It fitted the purpose, not especially well written but not bad and the storyline was interesting enough to keep me reading. Finished 4 February 2018.
    11. My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul. 8/10 I loved this book. It is effectively a story about the love of reading and contained numerous reader idiosyncrasies that I could identify with. Kindle version. Finished 18 February 2018.
    12. Spark by Emma Neale Finished 21 February 2018. (see Poems I have read in 2018)

In the Pipeline

Books in my ‘to read’ pile. This stack tends to grow quicker than I can get through it.

  • The Loser by Peter Ustinov
  • The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky (ISBN 978-0-374-52617-7)
  • A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver (ISBN 978-0-15-672400-5)
  • Finally Alive by John Piper (ISBN 978-1-84550-421-2)
  • Shakespeare’s Tragedies
  • The Cross of Christ by John Stott (ISBN 978-0-8308-3320)
  • Mr Maui’s Monologues by Peter Bland (ISBN 978-1-877448-27-0)
  • 1 Samuel, Looking on the Heart by Dale Ralph Davis (ISBN 978-1-85792-516-6)
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (ISBN 978-0-00-735084-1)
  • How to Write a Poem by Tania Runyan (ISBN 978-1-943-12012-3)
  • Selected Poems by William Bronk (ISBN 0-8112-1314-5)

Inspiration for this page: Kevin Simler

The Freedom Diaries

This book was recommended to me by someone I respect so when I got the opportunity to read it I did. Even now I’ve finished it I’m still unsure what to think of it. I actively chose to suspend disbelief while reading it and take what I read at face value without over-analysing it (something I’m prone to doing). So I’ve read with as much of an open mind as I can, and also with and open bible because that is the bedrock of my faith.

The basic premise of The Freedom Diaries is that we can have a conversation with God as we would with any other person. The method recommended is to write down a question to God and then start writing the beginning of an answer from God with the expectation that you can just keep writing and God will supply the words. (There is some information on this at The Freedom Assignment.) So the book is laid out as a series of ‘conversations with God’, fifty of them in fact, plus six ‘conversations’ in which God interviews the author!

Because what I’m reading is filtered through the human author as an intermediary, it carries his phrasing and grammar. I also notice that the book is independently published so the editing process may not have picked up some of the grammatical hiccups and oddities that caused me to baulk.

There are themes in this book which cause me concern, in numerous places God is portrayed as saying that sin is not an issue because it has already been taken care of on the cross. Another common thread is that God views church gatherings and small groups as acts of empty religion, in contrast to the strong New Testament emphasis on gathering together as the body of Christ. Both of these themes (and some other dodgy ones) run through the book, causing me to think that these are more likely to be the author’s biases showing through rather than being ideas revealed by God.

The inherent weakness of the prescribed method of conversing with God is that even if God is speaking back to the mind of the questioner, it is all within the mind and body of that person so is very open to interference by the human will, subconscious mind and even conscious biases of the person holding the pen.

Overall, I’m sceptical. I do want to pursue the topic of hearing from God further because it has huge implications for my faith. I don’t want to completely write off The Freedom Diaries as a hoax because god must have spoken clearly to people in order for us to have the Bible, but I cannot embrace what this book claims to say about God, I will stick with the Bible for now thanks.

Relevant Links:

 

More books and writing

Swapping blogs for books

In 2017 I did a lot of reading. Some of that was books, but a large amount was articles and blog posts on the internet. As a result of consuming an estimated 3,650 written articles from the web last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that my time could be better spent reading books instead.

Some of the reasons for this conclusion are:

  • Many blog posts end up repeating much the same information as others (especially anything about how to do something with WordPress).
  • Due to the shorter format of even a long web article, reading off the internet is wide but shallow. Good books enable a deeper exploration of a topic.
  •  Most web articles are not particularly well researched (there are exceptions and I love those).
  • Reading from a computer screen in the evening is detrimental to good sleep, something that is becoming more important to me as I get older.
  • I have a massive list of books I want to read!

Therefore, in 2018 one of my goals is to devote my evening reading time to books rather than web articles. In theory this should result in a jump in the number of books I read, and maybe even see me knock off some heavy duty tomes which I keep putting off diving into despite knowing that I will gain much from digesting them.

More writing

A sort-of related goal for this year is that I want to do much more writing. Last year I spent a lot of time tinkering around with websites. I consider this to have been valuable learning experience and don’t regret the time invested but have realised that I’m unlikely to become a full web developer and want to improve my writing skills in 2018 rather than continuing to focus on web development.

The obvious way to improve my writing is to write more, so expect to see much more published on this blog in 2018 than over the last few years. Not all of what I write will end up here (be glad for that), some will be junk, some will be purely practise and some won’t be stuff I want to publish on the internet.

I do see the potential hypocrisy in wanting to read less from blogs yet intending to publish more on my own blog. However, nobody is forcing you to read my blog and it hurts no-one for posts to sit here lonesome and unread. In the long run if my writing improves any lonely unread posts will have been worth the effort.

2006 Reading

A partial list of books that I read in 2006

  1. The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander, January 2006 ISBN 0-525-45415-2
  2. Golden Deeds by Catherine Chidley, January 2006 ISBN 0-86473-384-4
  3. Backyard Battlefield by Ruud Kleinpaste, January 2006 ISBN 1-86941-691-0
  4. Time Management by Harvard Business School, March 2006 ISBN 1-59139-633-6. Mostly common sense really, not much real depth to any of the topics.
  5. Thriving in 24/7 (Six Strategies for Taming the New World of Work), by Sally Helgesen March 2006 ISBN 0-684-87303-6. All this book really told me is that my own intuition is better than what the life coaches have to say!
  6. Easy Step by Step Guide to Stress and Time Management by Brian Lomas, March 2006 ISBN 0-9532987-3-6
  7. Time Management for Dummies by Jeffrey J. Meyer, March 2006 ISBN 1-56884-360-7
  8. FileMaker Pro 8 The Missing Manual by Geoff Coffey & Susan Prosser, April 2006 ISBN 0-596-00579-2
  9. Too busy NOT to Pray by Bill Hybels, May 2006 ISBN 0-85110-896-2
  10. Brendan Chase by ‘BB’ (with illustrations by D.J. Watkins-Pitchford), June 2006 ISBN 0-416-58830-1

Taking Inspiration from Craig Mod

I stumbled across Craig Mod about five years ago when I read his excellent essay Hack the Cover, which then lead me to another outstanding article, Books in the Age of the iPad and also Post Artifact Books & Publishing.
Then yesterday as I was casting around the web fishing for inspiration for my About page which needs a serious overhaul, I again came across his website and was inspired by both its nice clean layout and his interesting bio page. I also clipped a bunch of his articles to Evernote for further perusal. If any of this results in changes to my own site I will give credit as appropriate.

2012 Reading

Books that I read in 2012

  1. All Blacks Don’t Cry by John Kirwin
  2. edwin + matilda by Laurence Fearnley
  3. I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar by Wendy K. Williamson
  4. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  6. $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
  7. Christians Get Depressed Too by David P. Murray
  8. The Shack by William Paul Young
  9. God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker
  10. The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp by Bernice Koehler Johnson
  11. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  12. Life, In Spite of Me by Kristen Jane Anderson and Tricia Goyer
  13. Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re “Losing It” by Steve Bloem and Robyn Bloem May 2012
  14. I Still Believe: Mental Illness and Suicide in the Light of the Christian Faith by Desiree Woodland June 2012
  15. For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann July 2012
  16. When Darkness Comes: Saying “No” to Suicide by Angerona S. Love July 2012
  17. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett September 2012
  18. The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards August 2012
  19. Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time by Claire Diaz-Ortiz August 2012
  20. Devotional Catalyst, Inspiration For Busy Christians Gary Martin September 2012
  21. How Sermons Work by David Murray September 2012
  22. The Death Of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy October 2012
  23. The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning November 2012
  24. Why We Suffer: A Western Way to Understand and Let Go of Unhappiness by Peter Michaelson November 2012

God in a brothel

There are some books that I don’t especially want to read but know I need to read them. God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker is such a book. My reason for reading it was that if I am to understand the situation for the Shan people of Burma then it is important to comprehend how sex trafficking occurs in South East Asia.
This book is well written and the words are easy to read. However, what the words are saying is not at all easy to stomach.

Daniel Walker is a Kiwi police officer who worked undercover as an investigator of human trafficking in the global sex industry. It is a sickening trade in the bodies and souls of women and children.

I would recommend all men to read this book – it shows the degrading horror of what lust does when indulged without thought to its effect upon others. The darkness of sex trafficking is everywhere, because lust is everywhere and internet porn is feeding its voracious appetite. Daniel Walker describes its effect upon the victims:

I noticed that many of the older girls, twelve and thirteen years old, had lost all life in their eyes. They appeared to be in a trance or under some dark magician’s spell. They moved with a slow resignation; no amount of smiling, warmth or kindness on my part could draw them out. The systematic and prolonged sexual abuse of children and young people is perhaps the very worst crime against humanity because, as I saw day after day, it strips them of their heart and soul. It murders the person but leaves their bodies alive.

…These empty bodies existed in the netherworld of prostitution and in the vacuum of an indifferent world. I met them in every room of every brothel, and they all had the same look in their dark, empty eyes.
God in a Brothel, p89 (emphasis mine)

This man has an integrity, moral strength and toughness way beyond what I have. To face the temptations he did and the suffering he saw without falling down or falling apart is astonishing. He does discuss the issues of what support is ideal for people doing such work in order to maintain their personal wellbeing longterm and is candid about his own failing on one occasion.

He also admits to struggling on an emotional level with wanting to summarily execute some of the “predatory sex tourists, sadistic pedophiles cunning traffickers and greedy pimps” he encountered. He opens that chapter with the following:

It is easy to hate men. Men create the demand for sex trafficking, which the criminals involved in human trafficking are only too eager to supply. Without these men and their personal pursuit of pleasure, the simple fact is there would be no forced prostitution.  God in a Brothel, p79.

Remember this guys – lust is not an innocent desire. Left unchecked it is a selfish, destructive force. When the lust of multitudes of men rampages through a society it is a demonically ruthless force of evil. You cannot stop sex slavery, but you are responsible for killing your own lust.

Slavery can happen here too:

The Malaysian sex worker, who was in New Zealand on a visitor’s permit but has since returned home, told another prostitute there she had been paid $5600 to come to Auckland, and had been made to work 16-hour shifts with few breaks on most days.

Another Malaysian sex worker said she had been lured here with a $4500 cash offer, plus airfares, but was later told that it was a loan she had to repay.

Her passport was also taken from her soon after she arrived.
(NZ’s sex-slave cases ‘slip under radar’)

A case of forced labour in Auckland: Slave labour probe in central Auckland

Relevant Links

The Shack

While on holiday I read The Shack by William Paul Young. I had heard various things about this book, both positive and negative. Personally, I found it to be a thoroughly good read and an excellent work of fiction.
As with any good novel it deals with what it means to be human in a thought-provoking way. Being unable to put the book down, I ploughed through it in two evenings. While it would be very unwise to look to a work of fiction for your theology, it does call attention to some important aspects of how we relate to God, such as coming to God in relationship with Him rather than trying to fulfil rule-based expectations.

I am also glad for the reminder that fulfilling our human potential lies in being and loving, not in doing and achieving. This message has come at me from several sources in the past year so is probably something for me to be considering more deeply and working on.

Overall, I think the strength of The Shack is in it’s perceptive look at the human condition, such things as how we justify telling a lie to ‘protect’ another person from hurt when in fact we are actually protecting ourself from emotional upheaval (see pp 189-190). This in not telling us anything much about God, rather it illustrates common human experiences.

From a Biblical and theological point of view The Shack has some significant weaknesses. It emphasizes the Trinity but in a fairly loose manner. There is also a major lack of consideration of what the cross of Christ means and an implication that there could be many roads to Christ, which I strongly disagree with. I have no problem with The Shack as a work of fiction, just be sure to read the Bible for your theology!

Other views:

Wrestling with an Angel

I want to thank God for an amazing little book I am currently reading. The book is Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disablity and the Lessons of Grace by Greg Lucas, about insights gained as he raised a severely disabled son by the grace of God. It is very well written, humorous and heart-rending.
A commonly used phrase within Christian circles is ‘in the trenches’, meant to refer to people who are serving God in the midst of tough circumstances of daily life. Greg and Kim Lucas have certainly been doing that and what has been distilled from their years of difficulty and love into this 100-page book is like gold. True wisdom that is never easily gained.

I have spent days meditating on the depth of humility displayed in the chapter ‘Opposition|Humility’, and the excerpt below is from the very first chapter, challenging my perception of how big a load God could place upon me:

Break|Equip

I hear religious-minded people say all the time with good intentions, “God will never place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot carry it.”
Really?
My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the weight of your load. All the while He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him. (p14)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

Thank you Lord that You still write wisdom in books by Your servants ( Ecclesiastes 12:11).

Greg Lucas blogs at Wrestling with an Angel