Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Virtual Book Discussion: Cooked January 31, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our virtual book club for January. This month we’re discussing Cooked by Michael Pollan.

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Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few topics for discussion, and you can write your responses about these topics (or others you’d like to discuss) in the comment section.

 

Discussion #1: Cooking with the Elements

I thought the author’s structure for the book was fascinating. I’d never considered how different types of cooking fit into the categories of fire, water, air, and earth, and it made for an intriguing setup. I also enjoyed the way he showed his own progression from kitchen amateur to apprentice to blossoming cook. I felt like I could relate since he didn’t start out as an expert, and I appreciated his willingness to jump in to various types of cooking with both feet.

Did you have a favorite section? Which of the elements are you most comfortable in when it comes to cooking? Which elements are you least comfortable in?

 

Discussion #2: Cooking and Community

I really appreciated the author’s observations about how the way we cook and the way we eat effect how communal we are as a society. I was especially intrigued by his theory that the style of the cooking itself impacts the way we consume meals. When people prepared food around a fire, they cooked and ate together as an entire community. Then when people started cooking with an oven in individual households, cooking and eating became family-centric events. Now, as microwaves and fast food become the meal-prepping tools of choice, the focus is on the individual. One of my favorite parts of the book was seeing how the author’s various cooking experiments brought his family together and resulted not only in edible rewards but also in intangible gifts, such as bonding and conversations with his wife and teenage son.

As our cooking and eating become more individualized, do you think we’re in danger of losing a sense of community and family? Is there anything we can do to promote these values in our own homes?

 

Discussion #3: Intentional Food Choices

One of the things I appreciated most about this book was the way it opened my eyes to the underlying ramifications of the choices we make about food, cooking, and eating. When we mindlessly stick something in the microwave, pick up dinner at the drive-thru, or prioritize other activities over “scratch cooking,” there are consequences—both for us as individuals and for us as a culture. Although I haven’t necessarily revamped my approach to cooking after reading this book, it certainly has made me more aware and more thoughtful about the choices I make to get dinner on the table. I wasn’t nearly as ambitious as the author (no whole-hog barbecue or beer brewing for me), and I didn’t try any of his recipes, but this book did inspire a few modest “from scratch” attempts. My biggest success was my bread-baking adventure (the first time I cooked with yeast!). I wasn’t ambitious enough to make a starter and baby it for weeks like the author did, but it felt like a step in the right direction.

Did this book cause you to reevaluate any of your cooking/eating choices? Have you ever attempted any cooking experiments similar to what the author describes in this book?

 

Rating

I’d give this book 4.5 stars. It made me think about food choices in a new way, and I appreciated the author’s style. He was at once knowledgeable and brilliant (I was impressed with the historical context and scientific background he offered throughout), but he was also accessible and an engaging storyteller.

 

4.5 stars

 

How many stars would you give this book (out of five)?

As a side note, if you liked this book, I’d recommend Bread and Wine, which we discussed here.

 

{Remember: there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}

 

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Virtual Book Club: Wonder January 3, 2014

Thanks to everyone who joined us for our first young adult novel discussion. This month we’re talking about Wonder by R. J. Palacio, which I introduced here.

 

Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few topics for discussion, and you can write your responses about these topics (or others you’d like to discuss) in the comment section.

 wonder1

Discussion #1: The Best and the Worst in People

In this novel, Augie goes through a more extreme version of what everyone experiences at some point—the agony of being different, the fear of not being accepted, the pain of being excluded. Middle school is a crucible that brings out the best and worst in people, and this is even more obvious with someone like Augie, who has a significant physical deformity.

 

We see the pain inflicted by Augie’s classmates who bully him and actively avoid him (claiming he has “the plague”), and we also see the pain inflicted in more passive ways by peers who aren’t mean to him but don’t stand up for him either. But on the flip side, we also see the good in humanity, such as when Jack forfeits his popularity to be Augie’s friend and when Summer sits at his lunch table even though it meant the popular kid wouldn’t go out with her.

 

When you were a kid, where did you fit in the social pecking order? Were you a leader, someone who went with the crowd, or someone who marched to your own drum? How can we encourage kids to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not popular?

 

Discussion #2: Everyone Has a Story

I enjoyed hearing the different perspectives on the same story—it was a good reminder that everyone has a story to tell. (Although it did get tedious at times when the content overlapped from one person’s story to the next.) Via, the dutiful big sister, is often overshadowed by everything that’s happening to Augie, but when we hear her story, we realize that she’s dealing with challenges of her own too. And while we may be tempted to judge Miranda at first, after we hear her side, we discover that she’s been struggling with her parents’ divorce.

 

Did you like the multiple viewpoints format? Did you have a favorite character?

 

Discussion #3: Loving without Overprotecting

I liked the way the relationships were portrayed in Augie’s family. His parents seemed believable—imperfect but full of love. I imagine that every parent or teacher feels the struggle they felt when they sent Augie off to middle school “like a lamb to the slaughter.” How do you protect your child and still prepare him/her for the real world? How do you know when to let go and allow him fall sometimes?

 

Do you think you would have sent your child to school, as Augie’s parents did? What would you have handled differently?

 

Discussion #4: The Ending

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting for the ending of this book, but I was a little disappointed. It seems like Augie’s award at graduation was supposed to be the climactic moment, but rang somewhat hollow to me. His whole life, Augie has wanted to be a regular kid, like everyone else. He doesn’t want to be different or special or pitied or coddled by adults, so having the principal select him for the award didn’t seem like an apt conclusion. Maybe it would have been more satisfying if the award had been voted on by all his peers—it would have shown how much had changed over the course of the year.

 

What did you think of the ending? If you were writing an alternate ending, what would happen in your version? What do you think will happen to Augie next year?

 

Rating:

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was a little slow at times, and I wanted to skim past some of the tedious fifth grade interactions. But then again, maybe that’s because I’m not the target audience. This book will spark good conversations—for adults and kids alike—and it rings true as a study of the human condition.

 4 stars

 

How many stars would you give this book?

 

{Remember: there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}

 

 

Announcing the Book of the Month Club for November November 5, 2013

First of all, congratulations to Rachel, the winner of the free book giveaway!

 

The selection for November is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Here’s the description of her book, taken from the back cover:

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The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

 

We’ll discuss the book at the end of November—hope you can join us!

 

Announcing the Book of the Month for October October 1, 2013

Congratulations to Marie, the winner of the book giveaway for September! You can catch our discussion about And the Mountains Echoed here.

 

And now, announcing the book of the month for October . . . Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.

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Here’s a taste (pun intended!) of what you’ll get from Shauna’s latest book.

 

As a follow up to her two bestselling books, Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines, author and blogger Shauna Niequist returns with the perfect read for those who love food and value the community and connection of family and friends around the table. Bread & Wine is a collection of essays about family relationships, friendships, and the meals that bring us together. This mix of Anne Lamott and Barefoot Contessa is a funny, honest, and vulnerable spiritual memoir. Bread & Wine is a celebration of food shared, reminding readers of the joy found in a life around the table. It’s about the ways God teaches and nourishes people as they nourish the people around them. It’s about hunger, both physical and otherwise, and the connections between the two. With wonderful recipes included, from Bacon-Wrapped Dates to Mango Chicken Curry to Blueberry Crisp, readers will be able to recreate the comforting and satisfying meals that come to life in Bread & Wine.

 

Hope you will join us! Remember, there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter at the end of October!

 

Book of the Month Club for August August 6, 2013

Filed under: Book Club — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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Congratulations to Kelli for winning the free book giveaway for July! You can read more about our discussion of quirky characters and Seattle and Antarctica here.

 

And now, announcing the book of the month for August: Prototype by Jonathan Martin.

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Here’s the description, taken from the back of the book:

 

Jesus is God and we are not. Most of us get that. But what we don’t always understand is that God loves us just as much as He does His Son. Many times in the Old Testament, God refers to human beings as His “beloved.” But when God called Jesus His beloved, Jesus did something truly remarkable: He believed Him. He lived every moment of His life fully convinced of His identity. And unlike every other person in history . . . He never forgot.

In Prototype, Jonathan Martin creates a vivid understanding of what it means to be beloved by God. To completely trust, as Jesus did, that God loves you. To live life without fear, confident in your identity and purpose. To handle life’s wounds as Jesus did, and to wake every day with a deep awareness of God’s presence.

Martin reveals a startling truth at the heart of the gospel: Jesus is our prototype. And as we discover how the knowledge of being God’s beloved changed everything for Jesus—how it set Him free to live out his purpose and love God, others, and the world—it will begin to do the same for us.

 

I hope you’ll join us!

 

{Remember—there will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}