Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: What Your Dreams Are Telling You by Cindy McGill

Cindy McGill's book "What Your Dreams Are Telling You," is obviously written to Christian believers and to non-believers, to those who already believe dreams are the language of the soul and to those who are not quite sure. As such, it does as good a job as could be expected for a book that aims to speak to such disparate types of possible readers.

The Hebrew mind, as shown in the Bible, valued dreams. The apostles and the gospel writers also found value, insight, guidance, and prophetic help in dreams.But in the ages after the gospels were written, the church age incorporated the rationalistic values of Aristotle, the specialization of the clergy as the only ones to whom God talks to, and the fear of the supernatural. Thus dreams were either ridiculed, viewed with superstition, or dismissed.

Over the centuries, many books written on how to interpret one's dream or the dreams of others. Some of these books taught dreamers to interpret their dreams with rigid universal and questionable symptoms. This book, however, is not one of those. While it allows for certain universal symbols, it is actually a manual that shows readers how to understand and encounter a dream. So there are common dream themes, but there are also steps and teaching about how to discover the messages in one's dreams.

The book is immensely readable but there are moments when the writer is like a calculus teacher teaching basic math -- McGill often doesn't delve into the process as slowly as she might. There are dreams whose interpretations are given but not thoroughly explained, and there are examples of Biblical and historical dreams that have appeared in other dream interpretation books. It's a hard row to walk, not speaking down to the knowledgeable reader while teaching the new learner. For the most part however, she succeeds.

Review: The Railway Man

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393334988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393334982

  • Book blurb: Here is a remarkable true story of forgiveness--a tremendous testament to the courage that propels one toward remembrance, and finally, peace with the past. A classic war autobiography, The Railway Man is a powerful tale of survival and of the human capacity to understand even those who have done us unthinkable harm.

    The Railway Man is Eric Lomax's memoir of growing up as a lover of trains, railroads and steam engines. It also tells of his imprisonment and later being in a camp.

    First off: This is not a remarkable story of forgiveness. The forgiveness takes place within the last twenty pages of the novel. In addition, the villain -- such as he is-- does not show up until late in the novel. In fact, there really isn't much shown about individual Japanese captors. So if readers expect to see a long series of show-downs between the narrator and any individual Japanese prison guard, it's best to cast that expectation aside. The blurb --about forgiveness, etc-- is misleading. True, the narrator forgives a Japanese prison guard and understands why forgiveness is a healing thing but honestly that Japanese guard hardly matters.

    Secondly: The book is not called "The Railway Man" for no reason. This book is about railways. About an only child's obsession with railways, about a teenaged kid's obsession with trains and engineering and how he and his fellow prisoners of war also ended up being trapped into working on the Japanese dream of a railroad. Again, the blurb hints at heart issues and even of spiritual memoirs. But the book is different. I did perk up when he talked about the self-righteous cultic petty evangelical Baptist Church he got pulled into. But then he didn't talk about it as much as he should have.

    Thirdly: The book is well-written.  Anyone who has ever had a repressed emotion --caused by unspeakable suffering and who has had that unspeakable suffering destroy his marriage should read this book. The sections on the destruction of his long marriage was wonderful. He married a girl he didn't know, one he had become engaged to before the way, but had to leave because of the war. They endured a painful non-communicative marriage because he kept his painful war experiences to himself. But he called her S in the narrative? Who does that? Even for privacy sake? Heck he spent about forty years with the woman! But the emotion in the book is so restrained -- even though the book is supposed to be about the narrator finally telling his heart. Emotion and human connectedness comes too little and too late in a novel where the passion of the author is for railways. And wow, all that passion! I'm easygoing but even I -- who prides herself on being a patient reader of things quirky, passionatem, and obsessional-- found myself skimming. I've read books on rubber, eels, etc. But there was always something that kept me enthralled. I don't know why I wasn't enthralled in this book. It's probably entirely my fault because other people have liked this book. I'm not saying it is a bad book. It isn't. There are some wonderful sections of railway history and British WWII POW history. But somehow...I started skimming around the last third of the book. I was looking for something I didn't or couldn't find.

    Saturday, April 19, 2014

    Review: Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holme

    Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
    Maria Konnikova
    ISBN 978-0-14-312434-4
    US $16.00
    CAN $18.00

    Mastermind is psychological self-help book, a study of the mechanics of thinking, and a literary tour of the stories about Sherlock Holmes. Primarily, it is a book on aspects of mindfulness. Sherlock Holmes is a literary character who is well-known in detective culture and he is always praised for his skills at “noticing everything” and “deductive reasoning.” Konnikova shows, however, that those skills do not fully describe Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. In fact thenway Sherlock is described is often reductivist because those who suppose they understand Holmes are often not really understanding the very character they praise. Using scenes from the stories, Konnnikova shows the reader that thinking like Sherlock Holmes requires a much more complicated mental training and awareness. It is not that Sherlock Holmes notices everything but that he understands the importance of what he notices and understands where he has shelved it in his mind.

    This book is essentially about gaining insight into how to renew one’s mind by understanding how cultural baggage, personal history and the biological neuroscience of the brain works -- sometimes detrimentally-- to mindfulness.

    To explain the art of thinking, Konnikova uses the metaphor of the mind as an attic in which memories are filed away. The metaphor works well. The reader will readily understand that attics contain important and less important memories and that some places in the attic are more accessible than others. There is also the problem of remembering where one has placed certain items -- memory retrieval. But there is much more to learning how to think than how one deals with memories. There is encoding, overconfidence, mindful distraction, the inner storyteller, distancing, probability, appropriateness, adaptability, and observation among other aspects.

    Konnikova has written a witty conversational book that explains the mind. It is conversational and accessible but it is not an easy self-help read. There are mental strategies some readers might not wish to try -- for cultural or personal reasons-- and there is the central issue of Sherlock Holmes. Although Sherlock is everywhere in western culture, some readers may not have read the Conan Doyle stories referenced in these pages. They might find the book is not what they expected or they might think the quotations amount to literary analysis. Yet, although the book references and discusses Sherlock Holmes, it can be a good read if a reader is willing. This book would be a good addition to psychology, creative writing, or criminology courses. It is also a good read for those who love Sherlock Holmes or who wish to understand how the brain works.

    Highly recommended.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    Review: Unseen by Jack Graham

    Unseen, a nonfiction book written by Jack Graham, the internationally known televangelist is a book that shows the Christian Worldview. The Bible declares that God's ways are not like human ways. This, the book concerns itself with showing the ways of God to man, and in showing Christians how Christians believe the world operates.

    It's a perfect book for new Christians or non-Christians. Its doctrine is mainstream, correct, and accessible to all. Most mainstream denominations --with the exception of Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses-- will agree to all its tenets. Roman Catholics might quibble because such Catholic elements such as Purgatory and The Virgin Mary as co-redemptrix are not included. But, for the most part, the book shows the shared theologies of Christianity -- the belief in one invisible God who is uncaused and who caused all things, who works in and with humanity, whose Spirit collaborated with frail holy humans to create the Bible, and who sent his only perfect Son, Jesus Christ to reconcile mankind to God.

    The book tells about Angels, Heaven, Hell, and the power of God. It is a good book, well written but also, curiously, "unnecessary" or even "old." It says nothing new. Neither does it say the old truths in a new way. Often many Christians do not read old Christian writers so perhaps it is a good thing for Christians to write a new book every few years to explain theology to new Christians. But for believers who have read their Bibles, there really is nothing new written in or spoken of or seen in Unseen...and the sections where one reads about the Christian view of salvation through Christ does make the reader wonder whom this book is written for.

    Yet it is a good book and will no doubt bless many. I recommend this book.

    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    Review: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

    The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
    by Sun-Mi Hwang
    $15.00 US, $16.00 CAN, ISBN: 978-0-14-312320-0, 134 pages

    It is no wonder the book The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly became an instant Korean classic and decade-long bestseller when it was first published in 2000.It is philosophical without being preachy, heartfelt without being maudlin or sentimental, challenging without being arrogant or insulting.

    Its 133 pages has a simple plot: Sprout, an egg-laying hen cooped up and past her prime — and suffering from an existential depression because of her childlessness– longs to have a child. It is an improbable wish, of course. Sprout is caged and only one rooster resides on the farm, a rooster who is happily mated. But wishes often come true if fate and a strong will are present.

    After a series of life-threatening incidents brought about by the humans and animals on the farm’s pecking-order, Sprout becomes a mother. But even then, she has emotional and natural challenges to contend with.

    The heroine (who has no name but the name she gives herself) could be a protagonist in a story on slavery, status and restrictions, infertility, adoption, cross-cultural families, committing to a dream, or even animal rights. But while all these are present, the story is much more than all these. That is the power of a fable.

    As is also common in a fable, the vocabulary is accessible and the story is universal. The setting is a farm but not specifically a Korean farm. Although the story is about an isolated female and her wish for even one child, it can speak to old and young and to anyone who has ever longed to do what he thinks he/she was born to do. The story is about greatness of soul, perseverance, parental sacrifice, belonging and purpose. And it is also about fulfillment and accomplishing a dream in spite of the odds.

    The line-drawing illustrations give the book a childlike feel but the story itself has such strong imagery, children will be able to “see” the story unfold before their eyes. However like all great children books — Charlotte’s Web, for instance– this novel transcends its genre. Highly, highly recommended.

    Saturday, April 05, 2014

    Review: Moving Your invisible Boundaries: Heart Physics: The Key to Limitless Living

    Many Christian books are written about trusting God and His promises. These are God centered and their purpose is to tell the Christian that God is worthy of trust. There are also self-help Christian books which are concerned with behavior modification and helping the Christian to change. This book concerns itself with the human heart, the place where God's promises must rest and the place in which God's grace engenders change.
    It is about understanding what has affected one's heart and prevented God's spirit and God's words from changing the believer.

    The Bible often writes about the heart, stating in many verses that human life comes from the heart. In the book of proverbs, the reader is told, "Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it comes the issues of life." In addition, Scripture often uses the idea of the fallow ground as a symbol of the heart, and seeds as God's word in the heart. The parable of the Sower in the New Testament is one such example, and the parable in Isaiah 28:23-29

    However, legalism as well as humanity's fear of God and habit of trusting its own righteousness has affected the power of God's words and God's grace. This book is a manual on how to recognize and allow God to remove the images and emotional pains that have affected one's heart. In so doing, the seed of God's word is enabled to move freely in one's life.

    This is not a new teaching but it is an indepth one that needs to be taught in every generation in the language of all generations. Many theologians --for instance the 19th century pastor William Griffith Thomas in his book, The Prayers of St Paul-- have spoken about loving God, accepting God's righteousness, and about faith in the heart. I feel the need to mention this because many Christians will assume this is a new-fangled teaching and sometimes one has to show that a teaching has been around for a long time and is truly Scriptural.

    Although this book is clear and Biblical, it is a book that has to be read rather than described because many Christians will hear certain words and immediately think they understand the book. This is a book that truly describes the gospel.
    Highly recommended. 

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