Books of Inspiration

http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Chaser-Finding-Father-Feet-ebook/dp/B003AVMZAY

To be honest, I didn’t expect to get much from Wisdom Chaser: Finding my Father at 14,000 Feet by Nathan Foster. A loose page labeled “Disclaimer” had been inserted inside. It fell from the book the first time I opened it. I don’t know who wrote the disclaimer, nor how I even came to have the book. One paragraph of the disclaimer stated, “If you are easily offended or would presume that a Christian should never use coarse language—DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.” (Emphasis mine.)

Okay. Why not? Are there truly people so sheltered as to be offended by coarse language? How could a Christian book include such language?

I truly don’t recall any offensive language in the book, just the honest personal struggles of a young man as he strove to find his niche in the shadow of a great father. Some of those struggles resonated with me. I could feel the emotions Nathan described since similar ones had visited my heart at various times.

Turns out, Nathan Foster actually grew up in Wichita—another book with a Kansas connection. However I’ve never personally met either him or his father. His father, Richard Foster, wrote the afterword in the book and affirms his son, Nathan. “Nate’s skills in wilderness survival are exceptional. He has. . .led groups of at-risk teenagers into the wilderness. . .and back again.” Survival in the wilderness is a topic close to my heart.

Some of Nathan Foster’s points resonated with me:

“Pace yourself. Move slowly. Don’t stop.” Good advice as we head into another marathon year of resistance.

“Time, my most valuable possession, is quite possibly my only real possession.” And thus, to share time with another person is quite possibly, “the pinnacle of human sacrifice.”

“Capitalism depends on materialism to survive.”

“Building and cultivating relationships is the most important thing I will ever do.”

Like Foster, I often feel “immobilized by choices.”

And, “Lost potential is the byproduct of every evil in this world.”

Can we begin to measure choices by the extent to which they influence lost potential in ourselves and others?

An inspirational and thought-provoking book, I can recommend Wisdom Chaser by Nathan Foster.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Live-Kevin-Olson-ebook/dp/B00E7V3OTC

Learning to Live With It by Kevin Olson, was another inspirational book that has already been mentioned in an earlier post. (“Considering Heroes” December 7, 2017) I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it again. I am full of admiration for Kevin and others who don’t let the poor hand they’ve been dealt stop them from making a positive impact in this needy world. They are our unsung heroes.

The Moon Butter Route by Max Yoho

http://www.amazon.com/Moon-Butter-Route-Max-Yoho/dp/0970816049

Speaking of comedy, I’ll put in another vote for a historical novel set in prohibition days in southeast Kansas. Topekan Max Yoho spun a good yarn about a boy coming of age during the later years of the prohibition era. The Moon Butter Route follows 12-year-old Wally Gant as he enters his teen years in the 1940’s. His first job was to assist with deliveries for the Strang Dairy, a place that didn’t just deliver milk, but also some of the finest moonshine (Moon Butter) packaged in painted milk bottles.

His adventures amongst the moonshiners and bootleggers—some lovable and some not—follow Wally as he finds love and fortune in a rough part of the state and of history. Told with good humor from Wally’s point-of-view, some of the shenanigans he describes are downright hilarious, which reminds me again how laughter can truly be good medicine for the ills of my soul.

 

Coming next: Books of inspiration

A Flynn McGuin Tall Tale

http://www.amazon.com/Rode-Wigglin-Flynn-McGuin-Memoir-ebook/dp/B074HFKVBC

I Rode for the Wigglin’ W  by L.A. Harder

Early in the year, a soft-spoken gentleman in the Wichita author’s group requested volunteers to test-drive a book he’d finished. I signed up, and promptly got distracted by daily life. The year was half over and I was thoroughly disheartened by the accrued crises before I downloaded a Kindle copy and started reading. I admit, I was dubious about a book titled I Rode for the Wigglin’ W. Some kind of western perhaps? Not exactly my cup-o-tea. But I wanted to support my fellow writer.

It wasn’t long before I wondered why I’d waited so long. Wigglin’ is not just a western, it’s a romantic comedy to boot. Loren Harder (as Flynn McGuin) soon had me laughing out loud—just the lift I needed amongst all the sour news and dire predictions of the year.

I Rode for the Wigglin’ W is good, clean fun, a modern tall-tale that you have to read to understand. I’m not going to give away any of its secrets since I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I will say it’s well-written (not a grammatical hiccup anywhere that I recall) and fast-paced. It’s written for folks of my generation, with sentimental clues from our coming-of-age years, but it’s clean enough to share with youngsters. And, it’s hilarious. Thank you, Loren.

 

 

Up next: A “ho-ho” from Max Yoho.

Books to Wake-up and Shake-up, Part II

http://www.amazon.com/American-Fascists-Christian-Right-America-ebook/dp/B000N0WT92

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges

A third book recommended by a friend proved even more horrifying. Written more than a decade ago, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges was more than an eye-opener. Hedges described settings and scenes I’d never dare to experience personally, but they illuminated and explained phenomena I’ve noticed in the growing rigidity and prejudice of many conservative friends and family members. Anyone paying the slightest attention to matters of faith can attest to the truth of his detailed observations.

Today’s most recognized “Christian” community, the right-wing conservatives, are often a far cry from living the teachings of Jesus. When matters of faith fail to uplift and support those most vulnerable among us, but instead attack the differences that make us unique, something has gone very wrong. When those who embrace atheism demonstrate greater generosity and compassion to world inhabitants who are powerless, religion has failed its basic purpose.

A Pascal quote used as the introduction for Hedges’ book put it simply, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

***

None of these wake-up books were written by authors I know personally, nor do they include specific mention of Kansas, but they impacted my personal life and growth in 2017. Each was recommended by vastly different friends and acquaintances. They remain relevant today and I pass them along as worthy books to read.

A comment on an internet article I skimmed recently caught my eye. “For the first time in history, an American president has declared war on the American people.” There are many sides to this complex issue, many concerns. How we respond to the challenge of resisting our leader will determine the course of our future. A logical first step would include defining what America has been in its almost 250 year history, and what America stands for in our own hearts. What would we preserve for the generations to come?

I cherish the beloved words learned in our daily pledge of allegiance when I was a grade school student years ago, a pledge still recited daily in my local schools. The most important thought, and one I think defines what America should be, is its conclusion, “with liberty and justice for all.” We have a long way to go to realize this kind of society, but I cling to the dream these words paint. Liberty and justice for all.

All means “all”.

Not just the 1%. Not white Americans. Not men only. Not only straight people. Not just right-wing Christians.

All means all. And in our diversity, may we find strength.

 

Coming next: COMEDY!!!

Books to Wake-up and Shake-up

http://www.amazon.com/Tyranny-Twenty-Lessons-Twentieth-Century-ebook/dp/B01N4M1BQY

On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder

Early in 2017, I sat in an examine room waiting for a dermatologist to examine a suspicious spot on my nose. To pass the inevitable wait time I had brought along the book I was currently reading. When the doctor finally breezed into the room, I was writing a memorable point from the book in my travel journal. He noticed and he asked about the book. Then he recommended one he’d found of utmost importance, On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder.

I was intrigued, as much by the recommendation of a physician to his first-time patient as anything else. On my return home, I looked it up and ordered a copy. Before the week passed, I had devoured Snyder’s treatise. “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the 20th century,” Snyder wrote in the introduction. “Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”

Using examples from historical incidents within the personal recollection of my elders, Snyder listed steps we should take to stave off a descent into chaos. Among these:

Defend institutions. These include the courts, news outlets, and labor unions. Public schools, libraries and book stores could also make the list.

Beware the one-party state. Become informed. Vote. Run for office yourself.

Be courageous. Stand out. Give courage to others. Set a good example of what America should mean for the sake of coming generations. Hang onto the dream of liberty and justice for all.

On friends: Stay in touch with your neighbors. Make new friends and march with them. Make friends abroad. And keep your passport current.

Defend our language. Refuse to talk like everybody else. Separate yourself from the internet. Read books.

Believe in truth. And search for it. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.

As the events of 2017 accrued, it became clear that we are being led by a tyrant. I recommend Snyder’s book. Read it while it’s still allowed.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Will-Change-Men-Masculinity-Love-ebook/dp/B000FC0Y6S

The Will to Change by bell hooks

Friends recommended other books in my 2017 journey that carried an impact. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks, a black feminist writer, delved deeply into the ills of our society as a paternalistic creation. Traditional roles for women and men thrust upon children at very young ages may have contributed significantly to the simmering rage that fuels white supremism, racism, sexism, and ultimately the climate that leads to mass shootings. Until we can embrace the individual talents of every person, there will be violence in our future. Hooks’ study helped frame much of the tragic headliners of 2017 into a new perspective with increased understanding about how frustrated paternalistic roles have impacted events. We collectively need the will to change our ancient traditions of male dominance into an affirmation of every person’s unique gifts.

Wake-up and Shake-up To be continued. . .

Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols

http://www.amazon.com/Ike-McCarthy-Eisenhowers-Campaign-against-ebook/dp/B01HMXV2KO

Another true historical narrative on my reading list in 2017 was a new release by Simon & Schuster in the early spring. Given the rash of protests regarding the new administration’s reckless policies, there could not have been a more appropriate time for the release of David Nichols’ new study of Eisenhower, Ike and McCarthy.

Having spent time with Nichols talking about writing and sharing family stories, I was humbled to the extreme to read his well-written treatise on the McCarthy years. This infamous time in our history was over shortly before I was born, but the pages of Nichols’ book included names that would become significant players in world politics as I grew up.

What smacked at me most was the uncanny resemblance between McCarthy’s agenda and his tactics, and those of our current president. Most chilling was the realization that Ike, as a rational and intelligent leader, took clandestine steps to prevent a bid to the presidency by unstable extremist Joe McCarthy. In today’s world, the unstable extremist IS our president, and it is yet to be determined how—or even if—his influence will be checked.

We are tumbling into a deep, deep chasm with no end in sight.

Read Ike and McCarthy by David Nichols to gain insight into this repetition of our history.

Up next: Books to Wake-up and Shake-up, Part I.

 

Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

History provides real stories that are filled with suspense and drama, such as that found in Apollo 13. Unlike the previously mentioned books, this one was not written by a personal acquaintance, nor is it a recent book. I’m not even sure how the copy, autographed by Jim Lovell himself, made its way to my bookshelf, but it’s one I’m glad I read. The suspenseful tale of the doomed flight of Apollo 13 held my interest throughout. The real miracle is that its three astronauts actually returned to Earth and lived to tell the tale of their crippled spaceship.

The release of the acclaimed movie Hidden Figures in early 2017 made my reading even more pertinent. The movie highlighted the continued and absurd discrimination against black Americans (specifically black American women) even though their efforts proved to be highly valued—even irreplaceable—by the US space program. The team of black mathematicians was instrumental in aiding the successful return of the stranded astronauts.

Though the authors of Apollo 13 had never claimed Kansas to be home, I was delighted to discover the story concluded in Kansas when the spacecraft itself was delivered to its final resting place in Hutchinson at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. It has found a home since 1995 in the space museum there.

Coming next: Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols

 

Sharon Cranford and Dwight Roth discover a distant kinship

Kinship Concealed by Sharon Cranford and Dwight E. Roth

http://www.amazon.com/Kinship-Concealed-Mennonite-American-Connections/dp/1937952428

The distinguished speaker rose after her introduction, an engaging and unique smile spreading across her African American countenance. With the ease of an experienced public speaker, Sharon Hill Cranford captivated the room’s listeners. She gave a brief history of her writing adventure, which started when she was confronted by a fellow faculty member at Hesston College in central Kansas, Dwight Roth, a white man with an Amish Mennonite lineage. He challenged her claim to the family name of Mast, a Mennonite name. Thus began their journey to discover a family connection through divergent lines of Amish immigrants to the US in the mid 1700’s. These two respected faculty members discovered they are indeed distant cousins.

The result of the research is a book jointly written by Cranford and Roth, Kinship Concealed. On the surface, it is a family story, a study in geneology that involved close examination of documents from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Texas. Deeper down, it is a modern examination of the American drama resembling Alex Haley’s Roots.

I was captivated by the family drama unfolding on its pages. How devout Christians could rationalize the purchase of slaves was horrifying and baffling. I cried with Cranford’s great-great-great grandmother as she was ripped from her infant, a boy fathered by the master’s son. Nika was sold away south and lost in history, but never forgotten.

Charley Mast, Nika’s infant son, lived to be emancipated. He passed along his stamina and the desire to excel to his children. Highly educated, Cranford’s family members have earned distinction in today’s world as leaders in their chosen fields. Cranford’s speaking engagement detailed her own experience growing up in Texas during the Civil Rights awakening, the outright prejudice and obstacles thrown in her path by white people in positions of power. Yet she endured and has become an icon to her family.

That these two distant cousins could find it in their hearts to undertake such a personal examination of the sins of our fathers and reunite as kin, signifies a hope that the rest of our society might one day reconcile. The events of 2017 painfully confirm we have a long way to go. But, as Cranford writes in her prologue, “If this story encourages any portion of our society to reexamine its heart, it can play a pivotal role in breaking down the barriers of distrust and prejudice that years of pain and hypocrisy have bred,. . .”

We are, after all, one big human family, built on the same foundation. If we listen to Cranford and Roth, perhaps there is hope yet for our shared future.

Coming next: Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

 

Gloria Zachgo’s Suspense Novels

http://www.amazon.com/HUSH-GIRL-Its-Only-Dream-ebook/dp/B072XWVQMM

Gloria Zachgo’s award-winning books The Rocking Horse and Hush Girl: It’s Only a Dream were written by another new writing friend, a leader in the Kansas Author’s Club. Hush Girl, her latest novel, received the 2017 J. Donald Coffin award that my two books received the previous two years. Eager to read another award-winner, I was excited when the first sentence pulled me into the drama. It didn’t let go until the last page.

http://www.amazon.com/Rocking-Horse-Gloria-Zachgo-ebook/dp/B005MKKMVA

Told through the agonized confusion of a young woman in therapy, she reveals long-suppressed memories of her traumatic childhood while fighting present-day attempts to stop her efforts. When at last the truth becomes evident, she finds herself alone, facing an insane acquaintance in a death-dance to save her daughter.

 

Like Hush Girl, Rocking Horse explores an unwelcome truth hidden in the past. Each book follows the private conflicts of a child who witnessed violence and was a victim of abuse. As adults they struggle to reveal the past in order to face a brighter future. Down deep, each narrative is a story of desperate maternal love, sometimes reaching from beyond the grave. Broken families, mental health issues, abusive husbands, alcoholism—the ills of our ailing society are thrust upon innocent children. How they manage to overcome their past makes  suspense-filled rides through the pages of these novels.

If you need an escape from your own reality, Zachgo’s novels will transport you into another world in which you’ll find yourself cheering for the mistreated heroines to the very satisfying end. I recommend them as entertaining reads and look forward to more from this talented writer.

 

 

Taking Back the Bullet by Jim Potter

http://www.amazon.com/Taking-Back-Bullet-Trajectories-Self-Discovery/dp/097906970X

One of the best things about 2017 was expanding my circle of writing friends. Ex-cop Jim Potter is one of the most recent. He contacted me in October regarding the possibility of including his new release in the annual bookstore at the Kansas Authors Club convention. I met him in November during my presentation to the writers meeting in Hutchinson and found him to be outgoing and friendly. He enthusiastically endorsed my suspense novel and I found time to read his debut novel as the year drew to a close.

Taking Back the Bullet is a literary and contemplative sequence of character sketches in which a botched bank robbery changes the direction of each life.  Bullet is a drop from our collective society. Under a microscope, the drop reveals characters who represent a variety of today’s ills. In the book we encounter prejudice toward obesity, prejudice toward those struggling with mental illness, race related prejudice, particularly as it affects native Americans. We encounter issues faced by those with albinism as well as the LGBTQ community. Indeed, policemen, as much as teachers, medical personnel—and writers—see it all and gain insight into the many issues  our country faces.

Bullet is, as Potter explained, a wake-up call for today’s world.

The story is open-ended without a resolution to these issues, but it leaves the reader with hope when the main characters take steps that lead them in new directions.

One of the most fascinating features of Potter’s book is the section of character illustrations at the end. His wife, J. Alex Potter, an accomplished sculptor and art instructor, crafted a series of busts to bring many of the book’s characters into clear focus. Being married to a sculptor/art instructor myself, the photographs of her creations were especially meaningful to me.

I recommend Taking Back the Bullet: Trajectories of Self-Discovery as a revealing snapshot of the mosaic of ills we face in 2018. I hope that Jim Potter will write more, following these characters into their brave, new future, with hopeful and positive results.

Coming next: Gloria Zachgo’s award-winning suspense novels.