The Not-So-Simple Life

Mixed Media
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Perhaps you’re like me. You think everything is interesting. You always need to be doing not one thing but many things to be happy. You had trouble deciding on a college major, and now your garage fills up with uncompleted projects and your resume with unrelated jobs, while exasperated friends tell you to “knuckle down.”

Well, the self-help industry has finally noticed us. In the past year it’s offered us two intermittently useful books: Margaret Lobenstine’s The Renaissance Soul (Broadway) and Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher (Rodale). Both authors agree that far-flung interests are good, on the whole, and that the culture’s prejudice against them is a holdover from the time when one could expect to work at the same job for decades.

Both books recommend that you list your potential interests—all of them—which I found to be a very revealing exercise. They offer tips to help you pick a handful on which to focus without feeling like you’ve made a cast-iron lifetime commitment. Both are helpful in countering discouragement, disorganization, and financial anxiety. Both feature the limp, exclamation-ridden prose, glib tone, and vast oversimplification typical of self-help literature. Because it is more detailed, I appreciated Refuse to Choose the most.

But after reading two consecutive volumes in a genre that is, more or less, all about me, me, me, I longed for something ampler. I was glad to discover Tom Montgomery-Fate’s lovely memoir, Steady and Trembling (Chalice), about navigating the conflicting demands of life as an author/parent/activist/teacher.

Theologian Marva Dawn offers similar clarity in The Sense of the Call (Eerdmans). Her wise, though occasionally shrill, book explores keeping the Sabbath, observing your true vocation, and distinguishing the work that we need to do from the plethora of tasks that beg to be done.

Perhaps most needed, Dawn reminds all busy, distracted, guilt-ridden overachievers that spiritual discipline is not another killing obligation laid on top of the workload under which we all struggle. “If we lack prayerfulness,” she writes, “the solution is not to hammer ourselves with guilt that we are so bad at it, but to engage in practices that help us know God.” 

www.librivox.org

reviewed by Otto Selles

Are you interested in the “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain?” Or to rephrase Librivox’s slogan, would you like to obtain audio versions of classic books for free? And how about participating in the recording of books for the site? Begun in August 2005, Librivox already offers over 100 complete recordings of works by authors ranging from Austen to Wilde. While the readers are not professionals, the quality of the recordings is excellent. The site is easy to navigate, with short introductions and useful links for each work. Like Wikipedia (free encyclopedia) and Project Gutenberg (free e-books), Librivox is a marvelous example of a nonprofit, community-based Internet enterprise.

Organ Music of Alice Jordan

by David Pickeringreviewed by Randall Engle

Given that female composers of organ music are rare, finding one from Iowa is a downright anomaly. But David Pickering has done just that, and he is bringing the work of Alice Jordan into a deserved spotlight. Beautifully played on the large 1993 Casavant pipe organ of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral Church in Des Moines, Iowa, Pickering reveals Jordan’s abilities as a composer. The well-crafted free compositions and hymns are arranged in varying styles. Jordan’s poetic delivery is impressive with each note, rhythm and timbre played with precision and perfection. If you love organ music, this is a CD worth looking into. (www.ohscatalog.com)

Sheep

by Valerie Hobbsreviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Blackie, a border collie, knows that his purpose in life is to herd sheep. In fact, he thinks, “When the sheep were right, you had that deep down good feeling that you were making a difference.” However, tragedies and obstacles crush his dreams until he’s convinced that he’ll never regain his purpose in life. When all hope seems lost, he meets an orphaned boy who needs a home and love as much as he does. Hobbs’s heartwarming story—by turns humorous and sad, profound and lighthearted—probes the desire of each creature to pursue the purpose for which he or she was created. (Farrar Straus Giroux)

www.languagemonitor.com

reviewed by Ron VandenBurg

Based in San Diego, The Global Language Monitor (GLM) analyzes the impact that trends in word use and word choice have on culture. GLM tracks how the government, entertainment business, youth culture, and the workplace—among others—change language for various political or marketing reasons. For instance, the BBC used “misguided criminals” as a replacement for the word “terrorists,” while a school system came up with the euphemized term “deferred success” as a substitute for “failure.” With this website, average citizens can get a clearer sense of the spin that the media and others can put on language.

Crunchy Cons

by Rod Dreherreviewed by Robert N. Hosack

How’s this for a subtitle? How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party). Not only cute but informative, it hints at Dreher’s revelation that his family’s countercultural lifestyle, while conservative in practice, was not “a good fit for either the mainstream left or right.” Dreher’s work explores “crunchy cons,” those who are conservative by conviction but don’t buy into the American individualist mainstream. Invoking guardians of “the permanent things,” like “crunchy” saints Russell Kirk, G. K. Chesterton, E. F. Schumacher, and Wendell Berry, Dreher argues for a sacramental approach to life—“a cultural sensibility, not an ideology”—that recognizes faith and family as core values that can overthrow the consumerist mentality that has made the Democrats the “party of lust” and the Republicans the “party of greed.” (Crown)

About the Author

Phil Christman teaches English at the University of Michigan and attends St. Clare's Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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