Book Reviews for March 2019

“March came in that winter like the meekest and mildest of lambs, bringing days that were crisp and golden and tingling, each followed by a frosty pink twilight which gradually lost itself in an elfland of moonshine.”

-L.M. Montgomery

There’s a quote for March, now here’s a joke:

Q. Why is everyone so tired on April 1?

A. Because they’ve just finished a long, 31 day March

The disparity between these two snippets mirrors the extremes of the month itself. You see?

There are some pretty big disparities between the different books I’ve read in March, too. Let’s get to the reviews.

Spring Season Sale

A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor

I’d read this classic short story on multiple occasions before. At the beginning of this month, however, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a recording of the author herself reading it aloud to an audience at Vanderbilt University.

I had never realized before quite how funny it is. O’Connor’s glorious accent and artless intonation added texture to a story that wasn’t lacking it to begin with.

An utter treat.

A Thousand Miles To Freedom: My Escape From North Korea by Eunsun Kim

This is on the lighter side of the North Korean memoir spectrum (if there is such a thing). Having read a few of these already, I didn’t learn a whole lot that was new to me. Kim’s story- as anyone’s- is of course unique and worthwhile. Her story presented fewer harsh details and descriptions than, say, Escape From Camp 14, or A River In Darkness.

I would recommend this book as a good starting place for those who haven’t read much about North Korea already, and/or those who don’t think they can stomach the more horrifyingly exhaustive stuff.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Escapism of the sweetest, most satisfying sort.

Do kids these days still dream of running away and living in the woods? Man, I hope so.

Trigger warning to those who share my sensitive affection for turtles: The main character eats turtles and uses their shells for dishes, and it will make your tummy squirm.

913ko5iofxlOn Reading Well: Finding The Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior

Books about books are sure to bring a cozy satisfaction to any confirmed bibliophile. “On Reading Well” is no exception.

The author’s tone does, at times, tilt to the the scholarly side. I admit to glazing over at certain passages. On the whole, however, Prior has penned a lovely little book, full of valuable insights into Christian virtue through various works of literature.

I don’t read many books published within the last year or two. Odd as it might be, I found the occasional commentary on our present culture and current events as worthwhile as anything. Then again, perhaps that’s just my pride speaking. Excuse me while I go re-read that chapter on humility and the stories of Flannery O’Connor…
Gay Girl, Good God: The Story Of Who I Was And Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry

“To tell you about what God has done for my soul is to invite you into my worship.”

The title of this book might cause offense to the conclusion-jumping Christian. The premise, on the other hand, will probably offend anyone who holds the opposite worldview. Too bad, on both counts.

Jackie Hill Perry writes her story in a voice that is down to earth and rhapsodic all at once. Her strength and wisdom struck me as beyond her years. The differences between her life and mine are significant, but we share a Savior, and that’s all that really matters. I was very encouraged by her passion and conviction.

This is not a story of guilt and shame (or “praying the gay away”, as some seem fond of saying). Wielders of the rainbow-flag have responded to Jackie in anger, or in pity. But it is really beyond me that anyone could hear/read Jackie’s words and feel sorry for her. She is full of joy and confidence. If that makes you angry, ok. But pity? This woman has no need of it.

Though on the surface, “Gay Girl, Good God” is about the rejection of same-sex attraction in favor of the love and grace and holiness of God, it is really much more than that. Jackie’s is a story of surrendering all, and embracing the truest of true identities. Every Believer has something to learn and benefit from how God has worked in her life.

Whether we’re gay or straight, rich or poor, black or white, we are all sinners. We all have idols, even if we do not recognize them as such. We all hang on to things it would be better we let go of. We all hesitate to offer up every last inch of our lives to God. Jackie’s life is such a beautiful picture of what it looks like to give it all up for Him. It demonstrates how nothing on this earth is better than the One who made it (and us) in the first place. To embrace this as truth is to know ultimate joy, fulfillment and freedom.

Thank you, Jackie, for inviting us into your worship. I, for one, feel like singing.

On top of having written this book, Jackie is a tremendous speaker and poet. I highly recommend checking out some of her videos on YouTube if any of this piques your interest!

The Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee

My tenth DPRK book. Now I can write some kind of serious North Korean top-ten list post. Stay tuned.

This one was really good. Heavier than A Thousand Miles To Freedom, but not as gut-wrenching as A River In Darkness. The style is almost closer to that of a novel than a typical memoir. There are lots of hints and hooks that make the book incredibly difficult to put down.

One thing I’ve learned from my other reading, and that stood out in The Girl With Seven Names, is how sometimes getting out of North Korea is actually the easy part. Lee’s defection could be accurately described as accidental; a rebellious whim. Her subsequent journey to citizenship in South Korea, and her family’s eventual struggle to join her there, were what made this story such a harrowing one.

It is important to note that North Korea is not the only nation with problems. Defectors are anything but safe, even when they make it to China. Many, many of the girls and women who manage to escape do so not knowing that they’re being trafficked as ready-order brides or sex workers. Escape routes to the South through Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, or Thailand are fraught with more dangers and red-tape. Lee’s mother and brother, for instance, spent months languishing in a Lao prison before her unrelenting advocacy, a lot of bribe money, and a miracle or two finally allowed them to continue their journey to freedom. Though they were refugees seeking asylum, they’d still entered the country illegally. People who do this are “criminals”, or didn’t you know?

Things don’t necessarily get better in South Korea, either. Defectors from the North face endless challenges and discrimination, even in this new “civilized” society. Some even choose to go back, knowing that death in a labor camp (if not immediate execution) may well await them there.

It’s kind of a mess. And (in case this much wasn’t obvious) it quite riles me up.
Pray for the people of North Korea, guys. Pray for those who are still living there, and those who are not. Both groups are facing things that you and I can’t even imagine.

y648Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Sometimes, after binging on scholarly literary criticism, deep spiritual issues, and unthinkable human rights violations, you just need something that’s… the complete opposite of all those things.

Agatha Christie fit the bill.

And Murder on the Orient Express was the perfect holiday; a thoroughly compelling mystery classic.

Of course, it is difficult for a book’s twistier elements to keep fresh over the course of 85 years. Knowing “whodunit” beforehand took away a lot of the fun, but I did find plent of enjoyment in the read notwithstanding.

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