Thanks to The Broke And The Bookish who host Top 10 Tuesday every week. This week bloggers are discussing books that break their reading mold. To find out the books that took them out of their comfort zones, click HERE.
I’ll read just about anything. I have a few preferred genres, but by and large I am eclectic in my reading habits. So when I saw this week’s theme, Books That Took Me Out of My Comfort Zone, I drew a blank. That is, until I started looking at the books I have read over the past 8 or so years (that’s when I started recording the books I had read). What I discovered were some books that I enjoyed but were not what I would typically pick up for one reason or another. Reading these books stretched me and exposed me to new ideas and experiences. So here they are —
Books Out of My Comfort Zone
Incredibly Long Classics.
I admit that I shy away from books that will take me at least a month or longer to complete. It’s the So Many Books, So Little Time cliche that rules my reading habits. But when I caught just a few minutes of Bleak House produced by Masterpiece Theater, I was intrigued. I visited the local used book store and purchased the 900+ page tome. I can’t believe I loved this book so much. I thought I was done with Charles Dickens after high school. Will I pick up another by Dickens? The odds are good.
Bleak House is the ninth novel by Charles Dickens and widely considered to be his masterpiece. It was originally published in 20 monthly installments between March 1852 and September 1853 and includes a vast, complex plot that has mesmerized readers for a century and a half. At the novel’s core is a long-running court case which has far-reaching consequences for all involved. The story is part mystery with a complex group of clues, motives, and suspects that readers must sort through and figure out and includes one of the first detectives in English fiction, Inspector Bucket.
Books with Actual Battle Scenes.
I love historical novels, but I usually draw the line at ones that contain battle scenes. I don’t want to bog down in the strategies, the arms used, and long lists of officers. When my son was in middle school, his grade planned a bus trip to major Civil War sites, including Gettysburg. My husband is the one interested in this era, but was unable to participate in this trip. So, I agreed to go. This was definitely a dad’s trip. Only one other mother went. As part of my education, my husband told me Killer Angels by Michael Shaara was a must read. I groaned and put off starting this Pulitzer winning novel until the night before we left. By the end of the trip, I had all of the dads reading this book too. What should have been a reading nightmare for me — a book that is ALL battle scenes — ended up being one of the best books I have ever read. I’ve gone on to read the books that Shaara’s son, Jeff Shaara, has written and enjoyed them too.
In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty were also the casualties of war. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece is unique, sweeping, unforgettable—the dramatic story of the battleground for America’s destiny.
I avoided Amish novels at all costs for years. The first of this genre I ever read was Cindy Woodsmall‘s When Cries The Heart. My book club won this book, along with book 2 in the series, When The Morning Comes. Other members of my book club were not keen on reading this book either, but FREE is FREE! What we found was a new favorite author. Yes Cindy writes Amish, but that is just the setting for well-written and thought-provoking books. We always include her books in our yearly selections. And now I have branched out and include Suzanne Woods Fisher and Tricia Goyer in my must read authors.
Despite being raised in a traditional Old Order Amish family, seventeen-year-old Hannah Lapp desires to break with custom, forgo baptism into the faith, and marry outside the cloistered community. She’s been in love with Mennonite Paul Waddell for three years, and before returning to college for his senior year, Paul asks Hannah to be his wife. Hannah accepts, aware that her marriage will change her relationship with her family forever.
On the evening of their engagement, tragedy strikes and in one unwelcome encounter, all that Hannah has known and believed is destroyed. As she finds herself entangled in questions that the Old Ways of her people cannot answer, Hannah faces the possibility of losing her place in her family, in her community– and in the heart of the man she loves.
Give me a story! I don’t want to read self-help or boring statistics and facts. I am definitely a fiction girl! But I have ventured into non-fiction when the story intrigues me. I actually have two books in this category that merit mentioning. One is the story of faith amidst oppression — Beyond The Rapids by Evelyn Puerto, the other a story of hope in the midst of desperation — The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow. These two are stories you won’t want to miss.
Imagine that you are a believer living in a communist country. You live with the knowledge that at any time you could be imprisoned, tortured, or killed simply because you are a Christian. Beyond the Rapids is the true story of Ukrainian pastor Alexei Brynza and his wife, Valentina, who endured persecution in a culture that was hostile to their faith as they struggled to raise their four children as believers . From the Great Terror of the 1930s to the time when believing in Christ is no longer a crime, this close- nit Ukrainian family quietly persisted through the years, trusting God for everything. The Brynzas’ children, forced to choose between God and the communist system, wrestled with temptations of ambition, popularity, love, and wealth. For periods of their lives, one or more gave in. But God heard the faithful prayers of Alexei and Valentina, and eventually the Brynza family was able not only to survive while serving God, but to thrive. Their son-in-law, Igor Yaremchuk, adds his own testimony of coming to Christ with the help of miracles and atheistic propaganda.
Beyond the Rapids is a story for all believers everywhere. If you’re concerned about the erosion of religious freedom, if you are discouraged because your children have wandered far from God, if you long to stand _ rm in your faith in all circumstances, the Brynzas’ testimony of God’s faithfulness will provide hope and inspiration as you are reminded afresh that God is with you, in every moment. As you sail through the torrents in your own life, God will meet you right where you are and guide you to the smooth water beyond the rapids.
At 4:00 am, Leonida Wanyama lit a lantern in her house made of sticks and mud. She was up long before the sun to begin her farm work, as usual. But this would be no ordinary day, this second Friday of the new year. This was the day Leonida and a group of smallholder farmers in western Kenya would begin their exodus, as she said, “from misery to Canaan,” the land of milk and honey.
Africa’s smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, know misery. They toil in a time warp, living and working essentially as their forebears did a century ago. With tired seeds, meager soil nutrition, primitive storage facilities, wretched roads, and no capital or credit, they harvest less than one-quarter the yields of Western farmers. The romantic ideal of African farmers––rural villagers in touch with nature, tending bucolic fields––is in reality a horror scene of malnourished children, backbreaking manual work, and profound hopelessness. Growing food is their driving preoccupation, and still they don’t have enough to feed their families throughout the year. The wanjala––the annual hunger season that can stretch from one month to as many as eight or nine––abides.
But in January 2011, Leonida and her neighbors came together and took the enormous risk of trying to change their lives. Award-winning author and world hunger activist Roger Thurow spent a year with four of them––Leonida Wanyama, Rasoa Wasike, Francis Mamati, and Zipporah Biketi––to intimately chronicle their efforts. In The Last Hunger Season, he illuminates the profound challenges these farmers and their families face, and follows them through the seasons to see whether, with a little bit of help from a new social enterprise organization called One Acre Fund, they might transcend lives of dire poverty and hunger.
The daily dramas of the farmers’ lives unfold against the backdrop of a looming global challenge: to feed a growing population, world food production must nearly double by 2050. If these farmers succeed, so might we all.
Ok, I generally don’t read these books because I don’t think I am smart enough. But C. S. Lewis makes the hard ideas easier to understand. Two of his books, one non-fiction — The Problem of Pain, the other allegorical fiction — The Great Divorce, spoke to my heart and opened my mind to new ideas about God, life and the life hereafter. You just cannot go wrong with Lewis.
In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis, one of the most renowned Christian authors and thinkers, examines a universally applicable question within the human condition: “If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?” With his signature wealth of compassion and insight, C.S. Lewis offers answers to these crucial questions and shares his hope and wisdom to help heal a world hungering for a true understanding of human nature.
C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a classic Christian allegorical tale about a bus ride from hell to heaven. An extraordinary meditation upon good and evil, grace and judgment, Lewis’s revolutionary idea in the The Great Divorce is that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. Using his extraordinary descriptive powers, Lewis’ The Great Divorce will change the way we think about good and evil.
I review quite a few children’s books on my blog, but they are generally storybooks for ages 8 and below. I don’t read a lot of novels written for children because, well, they are for children. I leave that to my friends Tina and Carrie (excellent elementary school teachers). But once in a while I venture out because a few of these books speak to the child in all of us. I have 3 books in this category, Cake by Joyce Magnin, A Chameleon, A Boy And A Quest by J. A. Myhre, and The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers. Buy them for your kids or grandkids, if you must, but make sure to borrow them or make them part of family reading time.
Wilma Sue seems destined to go from one foster home to the next―until she is sent to live with sisters and missionaries, Ruth and Naomi. Do they really care about Wilma Sue, or are they just looking for a Cinderella-style farmhand to help raise chickens and bake cakes?
As Wilma Sue adjusts to her new surroundings and helps deliver “special” cakes, Wilma Sue realizes there’s something strange going on. She starts looking for secret ingredients, and along the way she makes a new friend, Penny.
When Penny and her mother hit a rough patch, Naomi decides to make her own version of cake―with disastrous results. Then tragedy strikes the chickens, and all fingers point to Wilma Sue―just when she was starting to believe she could at last find a permanent home with Ruth and Naomi. Will the sisters turn her out, or will she discover what it feels like to be truly loved?
Mu, a ten-year-old orphan, has lived his entire life in the heart of Africa. For as long as he can remember he has served in the household of a great-uncle where he is unloved and ignored. In his drudgery-filled life, Mu has little hope of happiness, and little hope that anything will ever change.
But one day, everything does change. On his way to draw water one morning, Mu is astonished when a chameleon greets him by name and announces that they will embark on a quest together. And what a quest it turns out to be! Mu faces danger and finds unexpected allies as they journey through a fascinating and ever-changing landscape.
A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest blends magical realism with a compelling story. The exciting story line combines an orphan’s journey to find a home with the plight of child soldiers and the dangers of the Ebola virus and, along the way, highlights universal themes of integrity, loyalty, faith, and love. Written by long-time medical missionary J. A. Myrhe, the artful story is laced with subtle gospel themes and handles cross-cultural issues with grace and sensitivity. Kids will encounter good and evil and learn the truth about hope, happiness, and what it means to be human in this page-turning first book in a new series.
As far back as he can remember, the orphan Grady has tramped from village to village in the company of a huckster named Floyd. With his adolescent accomplice, Floyd perpetrates a variety of hoaxes and flimflams on the good citizens of the Corenwald frontier, such as the Ugliest Boy in the World act.
It’s a hard way to make a living, made harder by the memory of fatter times when audiences thronged to see young Grady perform as “The Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp.” But what can they do? Nobody believes in feechies anymore.
When Floyd stages an elaborate plot to revive Corenwalders’ belief in the mythical swamp-dwellers known as the feechiefolk, he overshoots the mark. Floyd’s Great Feechie Scare becomes widespread panic. Eager audiences become angry mobs, and in the ensuing chaos, The Charlatan’s Boy discovers the truth that has evaded him all his life—and will change his path forever.