A Spate of Book Reviews and an Afternoon on the Road

I spent five hours today talking to nice people at the Yakima Farmer’s Market about the importance of shopping at small, independently-owned businesses which was somewhat like preaching to the choir. Most people I talked to were already fans of small stores and farms and realize that the health and flavor of our Valley depend on keeping them healthy.

Then we did something I love to do. There is nothing better than an afternoon drive up to Snoqualmie pass to meander through the brilliant golden tamaracks and red vine maple on the bumpy backroads of my childhood. Jim’s expert driving and great listening skills make reading aloud a joy we can share. I decided when I got home that it was time to write a few reviews.

“A Country Called Home” by Kim Barnes

A fledgling physician and his willing wife move from the east coast to establish a practice and a home in the backwoods of Idaho in the early 60’s. His idealism, endearing at first, but later bordering on dysfunctional laziness, drives his pregnant wife to confront her own significant needs. Beautifully written.
“The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things” by Leighton Ford

This book drew me in because I thought it was a “manual” of sorts about paying attention spiritually, but instead I found a contemplative book from an evangelical viewpoint. Given Leighton Ford’s career with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, I expected a wise treatise on Scripture and prayer, but I was surprised by so much more. This is a deeply personal memoir, interspersed with quotes and poetry by Rilke, Sarton, Eliot, Nouwen and Kenyon.
“Child of Steen’s Mountain” by Eileen O’Keeffe McVicker

I grew up in the mountains and I’m always drawn to books by others like me who enjoyed long, unstructured hours in nature, inventing games, and observing wildlife. This memoir tells the story of a young girl growing up on a sheep rancher’s homestead in eastern Oregon in the 30’s. Eileen tells of the wonders and dangers of having adult responsibilities as a child, taking care of valuable livestock and shouldering a staggering amount of work, and she tells it with humility and humor. I read this aloud to my husband as we bumped along the backroads of my mountain home on a brilliant fall day, grateful for my much less demanding rural heritage.

“Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay

This is an amazing book. Telling the chilling story of a round-up of Jews in Paris in 1942, from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl, this is one of those books that grabs you in the beginning and won’t let you go. The quick transition from a tranquil childhood to the horrors of being mistreated just because you carry a certain label is a theme that I don’t often think about, but millions experienced it during the Holocaust. I’m down to the last few pages and I’m so impressed by the author’s skill in taking me into this little known chapter in France’s history. I can’t wait to finish it.
Published in: on October 20, 2008 at 3:39 am  Comments (1)  

The Man in the Shack

I enjoyed hearing and meeting Paul Young, the author of “The Shack” last week. At a small luncheon, we listened to him tell the story of the birth of his book and the amazing success that has followed. I was impressed by this man’s simplicity, joy and perspective. He gave me a big hug when I told him that our little store had sold 500 of his 3.8 million books.

Paul wrote the book for his kids. He has always written stories, poetry and songs as gifts. He ran off 15 copies at Office Depot. The story was written after he had spent many years in “The Shack” – the place of his own pain, failure, doubt and discouragement. When he emerged from that dark place, his wife urged him to write about his “outside the box” view of God so his kids could benefit from what he’d learned. Since then, the book has been passed from friend to friend and has been on the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for the last 20 weeks.

Based on the positive feedback he had from his close family and friends, he had some friends help him with four major rewrites. They then sent it off to 24 publishers, 12 of which were faith-based publishers, and 12 that were not. It was soundly rejected by all 24 largely because they could not figure out how to market it. So, in May, 2007, Paul and his friends formed Windblown Media, and sent the book off for its first print run of 10,000. The company had an over-run of 1,000. So they began with 11,000 copies.

Paul had three jobs during this time and his friends were also working full time They were selling the books from the garage. By August, they were running out, so they decided to order 20,000. 22,000 were delivered when they had one case left. Within 60 days they were running out again. An interesting side note was that another book by the same name being sold by Amazon had a bump in sales during this time. Paul said that unfortunately it wasn’t a nice book. Barnes and Nobles offered to feature at the book at the front of their stores nationwide and to waive the large fee they normally charge for that privilege. Paul said that all during this time, God seemed to open door after door and they stood back and watched in amazement.

They ordered 30,000 this time and true to form they were delivered along with an overrun of 3,000. Those books were gone in 30 days. They actually sold 1.2 million copies of the book out of that garage with no more than $300 spent in marketing. Paul, truly humbled by how God was blessing said that he told God that he would never ask Him again to bless anything he did, but he said “if you are doing something, and I could be a part of it, I’ll be all over that.” He said it was if God told him that Paul had given the book to his kids, now God was going to give it to His.

Paul said that his favorite quote about the whole phenomenon, and one that surely helps keep him humble, is from a friend of his daughter, Amy. He said, “Amy, this book is so far beyond your dad…”. Paul smiled as he related this, obviously in agreement.

The media, for the most part, has been very good to “The Shack”, not only in the United States, but now all over the world. In Brazil, a news crew shooting footage in a locker room during a soccer room, found their star player reading the book. He held it up, said that he was enjoying it and that everyone should read it. That footage was shown throughout the country, where “The Shack” continues to fly off the shelves. The other interesting thing about Brazil, is that there is a legend there that is basically the same legend as the one about the Princess at Multnomah Falls that is related in the book, so Brazilians could easily relate to it. In China, the book is the rage among university students and it is now available in many other languages

Paul has come a long way from a life obsessed with the frustrating failure of trying to please God and now sees himself as a child who has chosen to trust Him instead. When asked how long it took him to write the book, he says it took 50 years. He did not write it to heal, but wrote it after God had healed him and after he had spent 11 years in a very dark place enveloped by what he calls the “Great Sadness”.

The book continues to sell 84,000 copies per week in the secular marketplace. Some Christians have welcomed the book and others have questioned its orthodoxy. Some refuse to read it which makes an ongoing conversation about it difficult. In the book there is a place where Mack, the protagonist, is told that not all roads lead to God, but that Jesus will walk down any road to find those he loves – the ultimate Good Shepard. For those folks who need a more direct indication of Paul’s own bonafide faith than that, he said “there is a narrow road and the road narrows down to one Person who is the hope for each person and the whole human race – Jesus and what the Trinity accomplished on the cross”. I think that’s pretty clear.

He is often asked if the story is true. He says, “Sure it is true. It just didn’t happen.” That sure reminds me of the storytelling methods of Someone else who told wild tales of needles, camels, pearls, mustard seeds and hidden treasure – earthly stories telling spiritual truths.

Please feel free to comment. If you click on the title above, “The Man in the Shack”, you will link to the author’s website.

Published in: on October 12, 2008 at 9:05 pm  Comments (1)