Non-fiction book reviews May June 2017

Welcome to my regular book reviews – do follow me on Goodreads if you’re on there, as well. Fiction reviews (five books) following shortly. These were the six non-fiction books I read (plus a few others worthy of mention).

On Feminism and Writing

Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if one is a feminist, or indeed even a woman, one is obliged to have read Woolf’s short but seminal work on equality for women, particularly in the world of writing and academia. It started life as a talk for students, and you can almost hear her voice as she writes these crisp and witty essays exposing the many ways that women don’t start off on the same footing as men, particularly as writers and academics. I underlined anything that seemed particularly pertinent to our culture today – and there was an awful lot of underlining by the end.

Eerily relevant today, it’s highly recommended for female writers and anyone who aspires to be a feminist (and if you’re short of time just read the first chapter and feel good.) Get it for $1.22 from Amazon.com, £0.99 from Amazon.co.uk or £4.25 Wordery.com (free shipping worldwide).

Memoir – Mainstream – health:

Julie Rehmeyer – Through the Shadowlands.

Through the Shadowlands is a fascinating memoir, with a compelling story, nuggets of wisdom, and a thorough survey of the scientific research around ME and mould- based illnesses. It is a science-writer’s personal story of contracting ME – (myalgic encephalomyelitis, labelled as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the US), and how she made a good, though not full, recovery via extreme mould avoidance and psychological ‘brain retraining’. It also covers her troubled upbringing and how her chronic illness impacts on her relationships. For a full discussion, including whether I recommend it for ME patients, please see my full review. Get it for $17.65 from Amazon.com, £13.13 Amazon.co.uk or £15.48 Wordery.com (free shipping worldwide).

Memoir – Christian:

Esther Emery – Twenty Tiny Stories from the Woods.

Esther Emery is like a Christian Annie Dillard or Ralph Waldo Emerson – her writing about nature is phenomenal. This is a short book consisting of twenty blog-sized chapters. They are dreamy, beautifully-written shap-shots of the reality of living off-grid in a yurt in the mountains of Idaho, plus subtle nuggets wisdom about creation and the Creator interspersed.

Only Esther Emery can make you cry at raspberry canes – her writing is magic.

Best of all, it’s FREE when you subscribe to her newsletter here. If you haven’t yet read her amazing memoir, What Falls From the Sky, this is a good place to start for a taste of her writing. Highly recommended for feeding your soul.

Amy Young – Love, Amy: An Accidental Memoir Told in Letters from China.

The subtitle says it all – an accidental memoir told in newsletters from China. This book does double-duty: it’s both a tool for helping cross-cultural workers write better newsletters to their supporters (with tips and tools at the end of each section), but it’s also an epistolary memoir of 9 years of living in China as a Christian. It’s one short newsletter per month, from the late nineties, through 9/11 and SARS, as it happened in real time. Amy demonstrates what makes a good newsletter – honesty, humour, and finding adventure in everyday life.

What makes this special is Amy’s storytelling prowess and her cultural awareness and analysis. We witness not only the transformation and growth of an overseas worker as she overcomes culture shock, battles mice with a frying pan, and is operated on without anaesthetic, but also China itself as grows in prosperity and power.

It’s a must-read for any cross-cultural worker, but you will also love this if you just have an interest in what life in cross-cultural work is really like. Amy is the ideal travel guide: cheerful and witty, with a passion for life – I felt as though I was there in China, and could see it, taste it, touch it.

She’s a born storyteller, and the only ‘preaching’ in her newsletters is her life – but what a powerful sermon. There are no dramatic ‘results’, no great lists of miracles, but after walking with her through nine years of her resilience and dependence on God, I felt challenged to live better.

What I most treasured about this book was the subtle affirmation of everyone’s story, even the mundane – and I came away struck by the the beauty and power of an ordinary life, lived in love. Highly recommended for any Christian interested in cross-cultural living. Get it for $8.04 from Amazon.com, £6.17 Amazon.co.uk.

Christian living books:

Gender-Aware Youth Work – Confronting Gender-based Injustice with Young People – Natalie Collins.

At just 28 pages, it’s short but powerful – this Grove booklet, commissioned by the Church of England, shows how sexism harms young people – both male and female. It also enables youth leaders to become more aware of the unconscious prejudices they may be projecting in the group, and there are practical suggestions of subtle changes of approach to ensure gender equality. As an expert educator and campaigner on issues of gender equality and violence against women, Natalie Collins is the perfect person to write on this topic.

Only recently I have heard of two church youth groups pitting girls against boys, and favouring a particular gender in the activities to the detriment of all – so this is a timely and important book. (Note: this is about sexism, not transgender issues, though it mentions transgender considerations in passing.) Recommended for church and youth leaders as a thought-provoking start to the conversation. Get it for £3.95 from Grove Books.

Simon P. Stocks – Songs of Suffering – Praying the Psalms in Times of Trouble.

This is a short book designed for those who are undergoing suffering, and has ten chapters that take you on a healing journey through the Psalms. It has much in its favour: it’s short and readable, though there’s plenty of biblical study packed in; the author is sympathetic to those experiencing complex emotions during hard times and does well at making you feel understood; it gives you a great introduction to a wide range of psalms.

Simon Stocks is a seminary/theological college lecturer and ordained Church of England priest, and it’s written with a pastor’s heart, who clearly knows from personal experience what it is to wrestle with God. His doctorate was on the theology of lament, and the sections which advocate complaining and expressing anger to God in times of suffering made me want to cheer.

At times I felt there were too many Psalms per chapter to really focus on, and in a couple of chapters I felt a little rushed to be emerging through the healing journey, but overall this was an excellent read, and very approachable. Highly recommended for any Bible-lover going through hard times and feeling stuck in their relationship with God. Get it for $14.95 from Amazon.com, £10.00 Amazon.co.uk or £10.30 Wordery.com (free shipping worldwide).

Nell Goddard – Musings of a Clergy Child.

I had the privilege of reading an early draft of this and loved it, and it was published this month. This was my endorsement of her book:

Musings of a Clergy Child is essential reading for clergy children and parents. It’s also perfect for anyone who grew up in a Christian home who’s lost their identity or faith along the way. A happy combination of funny stories about clergy life, raw, honest prayers, and pastoral wisdom for fellow clergy children, it’s like flicking through a helpful magazine in a coffee shop with a good friend.

“Nell Goddard’s writing is a rare treat of dry wit, bracing honesty, passion and compassion – a real rising star in the Christian writing world. As a clergy parent, I’m listening intently to Nell Goddard’s wisdom.

“What shines through her writing is the simple beauty of a faith honed by challenge, heartbreak and perseverance. Highly recommended.”

She recently gave a thoughtful and witty interview for Premier Christian Radio – it’s well worth a listen to see life through the lens of a clergy child. Nell is an utter delight. Get it for $8.51 from Amazon.com, £7.99 Amazon.co.uk or £7.57 Wordery.com (free shipping worldwide).

Also: 

  • Currently reading: Ed Cyzewski’s Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God Through Contemplative Prayer. I’m only through two chapters, and I have already cried healing tears about five times. He’s such an encourager.
  • I read an early draft of Mark Meynell’s forthcoming book on depression (IVP 2018) and it is SO GOOD I have goosebumps. Look out for this one when it comes.

Quick Links:

This post contains Amazon and Wordery affiliate links, which means if you click through to Amazon.co.uk  Wordery.com or Amazon.com from this site and buy absolutely anything in the worldyou help this site, at no extra cost to you. I received a free advanced copy of some of the books above in exchange for my honest review, which these all are. 

Over to you: 

  • What non-fiction books have you been enjoying recently?

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  1. Fiction Reviews – May June 2017 | Tanya Marlow - Thorns and Gold - 6th July, 2017

    […] last two months, I ought to be given points for the amount of pages (1150!) Do check out my seven nonfiction recommendations for May/June, if you’ve not already seen […]

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