The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
I finally got around to reading this novel that so many had recommended to me (including my wife). The painful story of a fundamentalist missionary family to the Belgian Congo, the Poisonwood Bible is narrated, in turns, by each of four (very different) daughters of fiery (and culturally clueless) bull of a father and a reluctant, conflicted mother (who takes occasional turns at narration also, but from a more current place of retirement, reflecting back). Sweeping and epic, the book covers multiple decades, and plays out the implications in the four mostly divergent stories of the daughters, who all respond in wildly disparate ways (though none, unfortunately, seem to hold onto anything of a Christian faith). The book is both inviting story and a broad-stroke piece of biting commentary on the kind of colonial mentality that has often been the lousy gift of Americans in cross-cultural contexts (missionary or government or business), overtly in times past, and more subtly these days. I almost envision this book as a narrative primer to Dave Livermore’s important non-fiction book, Cultural Intelligence.
No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late, by Ayun Halliday
A frivilous and funny collection of travel tales by a low-budget backpacking lover of off-the-beaten path adventure. Halliday reveals her unfortunate choices, often fueled by a desire to appear to live into her straw-woman concept of the kind of traveler she should be. The results are often embarrassing (which she tells with no-holds-barred) and hilarious. It made me occasionally want this kind of travel, but mostly not. Certainly not a must-read, but fun nonetheless.
The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids, by Barbara Strauch
There aren’t many books I read more than once. But this is my third read of Barbara Strauch’s must-read book for all youth workers and parents. This single book has lead me into more youth ministry conversations in the past 5 years than any other single book. I’ve hosted multiple multi-day retreats with youth workers focused solely on the findings reported on these pages (including one a couple months back, which is what caused me to read it again). But now, as I write this review, I’m in a new quandry: Robert Epstein’s book, Teen 2.0 (which I’m reading right now), counter-punches against many of the underpinnings of The Primal Teen. Epstein doesn’t buy the “nature” assumption that seems an implied foundation to this book (and, more accurately, the research and discoveries of Jay Giedd and other adolescent brain specialist that the primal teen reports on). Epstein’s contention — which he builds very convincingly — is that the issues and implications of new findings in adolescent brain development are a “nurture” issue. In other words, we’ve created them. I still think Strauch’s book is a book every youth worker needs to read, but I’m now viewing it from a more critical place.