Book Review: Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay

“How to manipulate your kids into doing what you want.”

I was trying to figure out how to explain to my husband what Debbie and I had been learning from Parenting with Love and Logic as we read – and that was the best I could do.

The “Love and Logic” parenting style is one in which parents are consultants, establishing options within limits. The practical outerworking of this is that parents set firm limits by giving two options, both of which are acceptable to the parents and which can be enforced if the child decides to do nothing in response. For example, if a child is dawdling over a meal at a restaurant, instead of trying to force the child to eat (or make an ineffective threat “Do you want me to leave you here?), a parent offers the option: “We are leaving in fifteen minutes. Would you like to leave hungry or full?” In this case, the decision is in the child’s hands and the parent is okay with either choice. Furthermore, unlike the threat of leaving the child in the restaurant, the parent can actually follow through with letting the child go to the car hungry. The second part of the parenting style is empathizing with a child when he encounters problems and then handing the problem and its consequences back to the child. For example, when the above child complains later that he’s hungry, mom and dad sympathize “I’m so sorry that you’re feeling hungry. I often feel hungry when I skip a meal. Our next meal is at five, but if you’d like to buy a snack, I suppose I could accomodate that.”

Reading my summary above, the approach seems logical and appropriate. And really, I think there are lots of valuable applications of Love and Logic principles. But I did feel like a lot of the examples given in the book involved manipulating situations to get what you want from your kids. For example, the authors describe a parent who, after months of threatening, actually left his child at a restaurant. He’d planned in advance for a friend to be in the corner of the restaurant descreetly watching the child. And then there’s the parent who dropped her squabbling children off at the corner on the way home from school, insisting that she couldn’t drive with such a racket going on – the kids could either sit quietly and receive a ride or they could walk home. Of course, yet again, the mother had arranged for a friend to travel behind the kids as they walked to make sure they were okay.

The other part that felt manipulative was the prescribed language. According to the authors, Love and Logic parents sound like a broken record, always saying the same things. When they offer choices, they use language like “Would you rather…eat at the table or play in your room? …wear your coat or carry it?”, “Feel free to…join us for dinner when your room is clean.”, or “You’re welcome to…settle this argument yourself or we could draw straws.” When children refuse to make a decision when offered an option, the parents start the “Uh oh” song – “Uh oh, looks like you just chose to to go home hungry” – followed up with “Would you like to go to the car under your power or mine?” and “Uh oh, looks like you just chose to go under my power.” and so on and so forth. When a child defies his parents and the options they’ve given, the parent says “No problem!” (Honestly, I didn’t pay any attention to what comes next because, while I agree that it’s better not to let a child get and be aware that he has the upper hand in a conflict with his parents, I don’t see myself answering defiance with “No problem!”) When a child ends up experiencing consequences from his actions, the parent gives a pat response (that the authors insist cannot be pat but must be truly empathetic) of sympathy, describes how they feel when something similar happens to them, and then asks the child how they’re going to deal with it (or asks the child if they think there’s anything they could have done to have avoided it.)

Of course, I have to admit that the authors put me off in the second chapter and that may have influenced how I read the rest. You see, in chapter 2, the authors describe what they see as two ineffective parenting styles, helicopter parents and drill sergeant parents, before describing their own consultant parenting.

As I read, I was immediately transported to a screened-in awning in a campsite outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Having had a rather unworshipful experience visiting a church during our last vacation (to Branson, Missouri), my father chose to have our own worship service on Sunday during this vacation. He prepared a sermon on lessons he’s learned as a parent – and he shared how he’d discovered that his parenting approach had to change as his kids grew older (lest you get the wrong impression, this was NOT the primary point of the sermon.) He said you have to be a helicopter while your kids are infants, from the time they start rolling around to when they start talking – you spend your time hovering, moving them out of dangerous situations and removing dangerous items from their path. In the toddler years, you have to be a drill sergeant – issuing orders of “Yes”, “No”, “Do this”, “Don’t do that.” According to my dad, reasoning with a child and giving them choices in this stage is silly. But as the child develops reasoning skills, the parent can move towards a consultant role.

In other words, my dad described their ineffective parenting styles as stages of parenting. According to him, it would be inappropriate to continue being a helicopter or a drill sergeant once your child needed a consultant – but it would be equally inappropriate to try to be a drill sergeant with your six month old or a consultant with your toddler.

Now, my father has raised seven children to adulthood – and all of them have turned out rather well (if I do say so myself.) My siblings are smart, respectful, thoughtful, good citizens. They work hard and take responsibility for themselves. Any parent could be proud of them. So having the authors suggest that my dad did it wrong is not the best way to get on my good side.

That said, I feel like the general concepts – of setting firm limits by giving two options, both of which are acceptable to the parents and which can be enforced if the child decides to do nothing in response, and of providing logical real-world consequences when limits are breached – are good. Similarly, several of the “pearls” (short chapters describing how one might apply Love and Logic concepts and techniques to different scenarios) were useful.

Overall, while I have some quibbles with certain parts of the authors’ technique, I’m glad Debbie and I read this book – and I will likely plan on returning to it when our children reach the age to try some consultant-type parenting, probably around late preschool age?

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Parenting
Synopsis: How to manipulate your child into doing what you want or how to provide limits that help you maintain sanity as a parent – it’s all in how you frame it.
Recommendation: The bones are pretty good, if you can manage to get to them through the psychobabble in the first several chapters (let’s just say I had to re-read the book two or three times and write up some notes while reading in order to get to the concise summary of the technique you see above.) Read it looking for the bones and a few fun features and you’ll do well – don’t think you should implement it all as written.

Book Review: Bottled Up by Suzanne Barston

Of course, Suzanne Barston intended to breastfeed. She intended to be a good mom – and, as the subject of internet-based reality show hosted by, she had incentive to do everything right.

When breastfeeding went poorly and she started supplementing, eventually giving up on breastfeeding entirely, she spent months ashamed over her “failure” before deciding to embrace her ultimate decision as “The Fearless Formula Feeder” (the blog where she can now be found.

Bottled Up follows some of Suzanne’s journey, but it goes far beyond a memoir. Barston argues that breastfeeding is not a good option for many women, does not live up to its extravagant health claims, and is overly politicized.

As an avid breastfeeding promoter (a good portion of my job is helping women understand the benefits of breastfeeding and helping them to successfully initiate and maintain breastfeeding), this book was frustrating, challenging, and sometimes painful – but in a good way.

Barston begins by arguing that breastfeeding promotion is all about fear and guilt: fear that you’ll be perceived as a bad mother (which makes you choose to breastfeed in the first place) and guilt that you weren’t able or willing to breastfeed (when you choose not to breastfeed or end up quitting.) I do not doubt that there is plenty of fear and guilt wrapped up in breastfeeding. There is a lot of fear and guilt wrapped up in parenting in general. But I wonder if this is how the women who enter my office perceive me to be operating. Do they feel that I am trying to use fear to induce them to breastfeed when I tell them about the marvelous immunological benefits of breastmilk and the many childhood ailments that breastfed babies have reduced risk for? Does the suggestion of risk reduction mean fear mongering? Many of these women have no reason to fear postpartum hemorrhage, yet I might still tell them that breastfeeding in the immediate postpartum reduces risk of postpartum hemorrhage. Does this produce fear for an adverse event (hemorrhage) rather than wonder at the marvels of our bodies (what I experience when I think about the effects of the hormone milieu of early postpartum breastfeeeding)? Do the women who didn’t breastfeed or didn’t breastfeed for long with their earlier children feel guilt when I encourage them that every breastfeeding experience is different and that just because they had some difficulties with one child does’t mean they’ll have those same difficulties with the next? Or do they understand that information as I intend it – to empower them to make a decision now unbounded by the fear of past experiences?

Next Barston discusses “lactation failures”, giving herself as a prime example. She started supplementing at two days when her infant had lost 10% of his body weight and was experiencing jaundice from AB-O blood incompatibility. The hospital pediatrician had offered Barston an option: “waiting it out” or supplementing with formula – and Barston chose supplementing, hoping to get herself and her baby out of the hospital as quickly as possible. Based on this experience, and a review of the many medical conditions for which the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine does not feel supplementation is warranted, Barston believes that the today’s medical community is inappropriately disinclined to supplement and does so at the expense of infants – and their mothers. She argues that the common medical belief that only 1-5% of women experience primary lactation failure is scientifically baseless and that a much greater proportion of women are physically unable to breastfeed.

As a breastfeeding advocate, I frequently remind women that most women can successfully produce sufficient milk for their babies. I believe the 1-5% number, despite it being, yes, just an estimate. The simple fact is that there is no way for us to know, of those women who give up breastfeeding or supplement on day 2, how many of those women were incapable of producing sufficient milk and how many simply hadn’t had their milk “come in” yet (It’s a rare woman who has mature and voluminous milk on the second day postpartum – a more typical timeline is 3-5 days postpartum.) The number of women who enter my office complaining of engorgement after quitting breastfeeding because they “didn’t make enough” is astounding. I believe that there is true primary lactation failure. It exists. Other women (like my sister-in-law) experience secondary lactation failure, where their milk supply suddenly disappears due to extreme stress or starting a breastfeeding incompatible form of birth control. But the majority of women, including the ones who come into my office saying they quit because they weren’t making enough, are physiologically capable of producing breastmilk (and in sufficient quantities to meet their infant’s needs.)

I encourage women not to supplement – especially not in the first two weeks. I discuss what they can expect in those first two weeks. Baby might be really drowsy in the hospital and then “suddenly” be hungry all the time once you get home. That’s normal and not a sign that you don’t have enough milk. Normal babies have tiny stomachs that can’t stretch – they need to eat 8-12 times a day in those early days. Normal babies lose weight in their first few days of life. This is because they started out with a lot of fluid (even more if you had an IV during delivery), it doesn’t mean you don’t have enough milk. Your milk will start out yellowish and if you tried pumping it, you might only see a few drops in the bottle because the rest is stuck in the tubing. This is colostrum, it’s wonderful and he doesn’t need large amounts at a time (remember how little his tummy is?) What’s more, baby is better at getting milk from your breasts than the pump – don’t try to pump to figure out how much you’re making. Etc, etc, etc. I repeat it at least a dozen times in my “what to expect” speech: “That doesn’t mean you’re not making enough milk.” What does mean you’re not making enough milk? I educate them on that too – and I encourage them to let that be a sign for them to drop by the breastfeeding clinic at the hospital where they delivered. Most of the time, I explain, insufficient milk supply at the beginning is correctable. A lactation consultant (free at the hospital you delivered at in Wichita) can help you troubleshoot what’s going on with yours – they can evaluate latch and see if baby has a tongue tie or is pulling his lower lip in; they can do before and after weights to see how much transfer is actually taking place, they can walk through your breastfeeding routine and help you learn how to increase your supply. If your baby is showing some of the warning signs of not enough milk, don’t supplement, instead get yourself over to a lactation consultant!

In other words, I spout the stuff Barston complains about.

At the end of the second chapter, Barston explains how the seventh lactation consultant she and her son saw finally discovered the cause for the pain she had been experiencing while breastfeeding. Her son was tongue-tied. Barston describes how common this situation is and takes it as another proof that breastfeeding advocates are lying when they say that most women are able to breastfeed.

My chest aches and my eyes fill with tears.

I pray that I am not one of the six lactation consultants who offered ineffective advice without truly discovering the cause of breastfeeding difficulties. I pray I’m not one who tells women to just try harder, just keep going, it’ll get better without addressing their real needs.

Tongue tie is a true breastfeeding complication – but it doesn’t make breastfeeding impossible. A skilled lactation consultant can help the mother of many tongue-tied babies to find a position that allows for sufficient breastmilk transfer and avoids pain for the mother and the child. If the first consultant had discovered the tongue-tie, had helped Barston find a good position that worked for her and her child, would this book exist? Probably not.

Like I said, this book was frustrating, challenging, and sometimes painful.

I’m glad I read it. I feel it has given me much more perspective into how women who have “failed” at breastfeeding perceive our current breastfeeding culture – and how the breastfeeding community has let down some vulnerable mothers. Reading this enhanced my belief that most women know that breastfeeding is good for their babies – they don’t need to be convinced of breastfeeding’s benefits. Instead, they need to be educated regarding how to breastfeed, what to expect, how to know if something’s going well or poorly, and how to get help. And they need to receive careful individualized help when they ask for it. As breastfeeding support people, we need to ask questions, listen to mothers, and determine root causes of breastfeeding difficulties before we start handing out prescriptive advice (breastfeed more, put some lanolin on it, eat oatmeal). And we need to stop making the ideal the enemy of the good. We need to admit that many women are going to supplement even though we know exclusive breastfeeding is the best route – and we need to help them give baby as much breastmilk as they are willing or able to give.

I think this is a valuable book for all of us in breastfeeding support professions.

I do not think it’s a good book for mothers in general. Barston swings so far from the “breast is best” that she calls into question pretty much every bit of breastfeeding research that’s ever been done. Now, it’s true that breastfeeding research (like all research, but especially that sort that deals with human choices) is far from perfect, but the bulk of the evidence supports breastfeeding as the optimal feeding choice for both mothers and infants. The undecided reader of this book (or maybe the one who only knows from her friends who latched their baby on once that breastfeeding hurts) might get the impression that breastmilk substitutes are basically as good as breastmilk. And that just isn’t true. Breastmilk substitutes have been a lifesaver to infants whose mothers have been unable to breastfeed for all sorts of reasons. They are designed by scientists to meet an infant’s needs the best we know how. But breastmilk substitutes are to breastmilk what vegan bacon is to real bacon – an awfully poor substitute. If you can give your child breastmilk, it’s by far the better option.

I realize that this is an emotionally charged issue – and that my unapologetic preference for breastmilk over breastmilk substitutes makes me subject to accusations of insensitivity. Please believe me that I am not judging the women who don’t breastfeed or feel that they can’t breastfeed (and I certainly hope you don’t believe I’m judging the women who actually can’t breastfeed despite their desire to do so!) In fact, I frequently find myself reminding women that every drop of breastmilk their babies did get made a difference – and that they can wear their two weeks of breastfeeding proudly. I cheer for the women whose babies get formula during the day but who breastfeed at night because it’s easier than getting up to make a bottle – Good for them! I sympathize with the women who were told by a doctor or someone else that they needed to start supplementing or else and who found their supply dwindling as a result. And I try to make sure that every pregnant woman who comes into my office has more than just information about the benefits of breastfeeding but the practical help she needs to be successful at breastfeeding – whether that be for the three days she’s in the hospital, for the six weeks she’s at home with baby before returning to work, for six months combined with formula, or for two years with never a bottle to be found.

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Breastfeeding – social aspects
Synopsis: Barston argues against the current breastfeeding culture and argues that breastfeeding is not necessarily the best choice for moms and babies.
Recommendation: Recommended for breastfeeding support people as a call to compassionate care, but not really recommended otherwise.

Book Review: My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Last month’s read for the Reading to Know Classics Bookclub was My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse, selected by Cassandra of Adventist Homemaker.

I’d already read everything my old local library had by Wodehouse (therefore closing him out in my “Read through the Library” challenge), so I wasn’t entirely certain if I’d be reading along here in April.

But when I looked through the list of what I had already read, I didn’t find My Man Jeeves within it – and it so happened that my new local library had an audio version (but not a printed copy.) Considering that the audio was only 4-6 hours long (I don’t remember how long exactly), I figured I might as well play along.

Once I started listening, my first thought was that I had heard this story before. Did I read it in the past and just not log it? I let the CD continue to play and paid it no more mind, listening as the stories became increasingly unfamiliar.

And yes, they are stories with an -ES. I expected this to be somewhat like the other Jeeves and Wooster tales I’ve read, quick-to-read novels with a defined story arc that carries through the entirety. This was not that.

Instead, My Man Jeeves is a collection of short stories about Jeeves and Wooster – and also about Reggie Pepper and his man. The stories were originally written for magazines and then compiled into this volume – and Reggie Pepper was an early incarnation of the man who would be Wooster, the not-so-smart-but-friendly chap who narrates the Jeeves books.

Each story follows a similar plot: Wooster (or Reggie) or one of his friends gets into some sort of scrape, often a love affair or a threat from a wealthy relative to cut off his allowance, which Jeeves (or Reggie’s man) helps extricate him from. Generally, things get worse before they get better, in a comedy of errors that Jeeves almost always anticipates.

But what makes these simple tales shine is Wodehouse’s characteristic wit. He writes in a down to earth style, full of slang (which is sometimes not that comprehensible since it’s from the 1910-1930s and possibly British in origin) but completely delightful. I never fail to laugh at Wodehouse’s descriptions and narratives.

Another delightful aspect of Wodehouse’s style, which appears liberally in My Man Jeeves is his attention to style – that is, to men’s clothing. In almost every one of Wooster’s escapades, Wooster happens upon an article of clothing (or sometimes a way of wearing his facial hair) which he considers all that but of which his dignified valet disapproves. When Jeeves expresses his opinion (always subtley, of course), Wooster bristles and tries to assert his authority – only to find that he’s now getting the cold shoulder. Jeeves still does his job, of course, but Wooster relies on him for much more, such that the cold shoulder is unbearable. Often, once a predicament is resolved through the brilliant ministrations of Jeeves, Wooster rewards him by discarding the offending article.

Listening to my review, I realize you could easily feel that Wodehouse is a tiresomely repetitive writer. And honestly, there is rather a lot of repetition in this particular volume. But, if you’d rather do short stories instead of a full novel, this is a good intro to Wodehouse. (I ended up enjoying the short stories because it meant I didn’t have to remember much of a plot line between ten minute segments of listening!) On the other hand, if you’re up for a little longer read (although still short compared to most novels), you might jump right in with some of the later books about Jeeves and Wooster. Carry on, Jeeves is a more fleshed out version of one of the early stories from My Man Jeeves (the reason it had seemed so familiar when I first started listening) – and that would be a good start for someone who’s wanting to try some Wodehouse.

I’m awfully glad, though, that I read (er, listened) along this month – and am grateful to Cassandra (and her late father-in-law) for suggesting the title. Check out what other readers are saying about Wodehouse at the Reading to Know Classics Bookclub round-up post.

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Comedic short stories
Synopsis: Bertie Wooster (and his literary progenitor Reggie Pepper) gets into a series of scrapes from which his loyal manservant saves him.
Recommendation: If you’re looking for an introduction to Wodehouse that you can easily read in small chunks, check out this collection of short stories. Otherwise, you might as well go for one of Wodehouse’s excellent novels starring the same characters (well, Wooster and his man Jeeves, anyway.)

Book Review: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

It’s not that I don’t like poetry – I just like clarity more.

And Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts is long on one and short on the other.

Having read a few of Voskamp’s blog posts, I was familiar with her style – sentence fragments, simultaneous run-ons, metaphors that carry through paragraphs and suddenly morph. I knew already that I could only handle her in rather small doses, but that when I did read a dose, I was often encouraged.

If I’d have been expecting a Christian living book, a how-to of some sort or a theology, I’d have been sorely disappointed. Because One Thousand Gifts is neither of these. It is a memoir, written in free verse, of a woman whose life was transformed as she began to practice “eucharisto” (thankfulness).

As such, it is lovely. It is a meandering book, best read slowly over the course of many weeks. I took the full three months the library allowed to read through it. I savored pretty turns of phrase and reflected not on the thoughts conveyed but on the gratitude displayed.

So long as I did that, I loved it.

The problem came in whenever I tried to think about it.

Having read One Thousand Gifts, I have no idea what Voskamp’s theology really is. I know that she quotes some people I respect greatly, theological giants – but she also quotes mystics whose connection to Biblical Christianity is questionable at best. Voskamp hints at some understanding of the cross, of God’s sovereignty – but she spends much more of her time discussing the mystical idea that eucharisto somehow makes things happen.

Yet I’m not sure if it is a mystical idea to her, or if I merely perceive it that way because of the poetical writing style. Does she really believe that eucharisto is some sort of lucky charm, that entices miracles into being (as she seems to suggest when she repeatedly references Jesus giving thanks and then feeding 5000)? I do not know.

And that’s the difficulty with reviewing this book.

It’s not that I don’t like poetry – I just like clarity more.

And Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts is long on one and short on the other.

That said, I think it is worthwhile to note that reading this book has inspired me to take more notice of the gifts God has given me throughout the day to day. For that, I am thankful.

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Spiritual Memoir
Synopsis: Ann Voskamp is transformed as she begins living a life of eucharisto, listing the gifts God has given her.
Recommendation: If you like Voskamp’s style, it’s worthwhile to read and be reminded to be thankful. If you don’t like her style or know that you’ll be frustrated by theological ambiguity, go ahead and skip it.

Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

August Pullman has only ever been homeschooled, with only a few friends outside of his family. So when his parents decide it’s a good idea to send him to a local private middle school for fifth grade (go figure), he’s understandably nervous.

Except August isn’t just nervous because he’s a sheltered homeschooler. He’s worried because…well, his face…

August was born with a rare genetic anomaly (never given the name Treacher-Collins in the book, but that’s what it is) that resulted in a slew of “craniofacial abnormalities”. That’s the nice way to say it.

Most kids just call him “freak”.

My church’s book club selected this book for their February discussion, so Daniel and I listened to an audio version on our way up to and back down from Lincoln this last weekend.

Let me tell you first that the women in the bookclub were almost unanimous in loving this book. I felt a bit like a sore thumb, as the newest member of the group (it was my first discussion with them) and as one who just wasn’t crazy about Wonder.

It was a nice story. It was cute. It was the first book I’ve read in which the main character had craniofacial abnormalities. But it wasn’t great.

The story was told from the perspective of a half dozen kids, alternating narrators every few chapters (with a bit of overlap on key scenes). I liked seeing from multiple limited viewpoints. But the kids all sounded alike (that is, there wasn’t anything in the writing to make them different–the voice actors were VERY different.) A couple of high schoolers who gave their perspectives added elements I didn’t like, that I thought were too mature for a novel about a fifth grader.

Furthermore, I felt like both the story and the characters were there to serve a moral. The author was trying to make a point first and the story was just there to make that point.

I feel bad, writing such a negative sounding review. So many others loved this book–and I concede that it’s not a bad book.

But my perspective is likely clouded by my experience reading Tony Abbott’s Firegirl (link to my review). Like Wonder, Firegirl is a middle grade novel about a child with a “deformed” face. Both are told from a child’s perspective. Both have a moral of sorts. But Firegirl outperforms Wonder in every way (assuming my memory of Firegirl is accurate.)

Firegirl is very suitable for a middle grade audience, with little besides necessary discomfort with the topic to give any pause. Firegirl has dynamic, well-formed characters. And Firegirl doesn’t make obsessive mention of popular culture, making it suitable for more than just the next two years (I got so frustrated with the “product placement” in Wonder. Just off the top of my head, we’ve got mention of an iMac, an X-box 360, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Star Wars, some brand name jacket/hoodie, and a cartoon I didn’t recognize. And that’s with me not being a detail person–especially not when listening versus actually reading.)

So, yeah. Um.

Read Firegirl.

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Middle Grade Fiction
Synopsis: Fifth Grade August Pullman, whose face is disfigured by a rare congenital condition, goes to school with other kids for the first time.
Recommendation: Clearly not my favorite book. It wasn’t awful, but Tony Abbott’s Firegirl did a much better job with a similar story.

Book Review: “The Language of God” by Francis Collins

Do science and faith conflict? Does being a scientist preclude being a believer? Can you be a Christian and a Darwinian evolutionist at the same time?

These are the questions Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, seeks to answer in his book The Language of God.

The book starts with Collins’ personal testimony from atheism to belief (his testimony involves C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and, more specifically, Lewis’s moral argument for God). In the second chapter, Collins addresses some common rationalist arguments against belief.

Having answered some fundamental objections, Collins jumps into his argument for the compatibility of science and faith. He begins with Big Bang cosmology, a hard science which (I feel) offers compelling evidence for the God of the Bible. Collins’ argument here is straightforward and rather common (among Bible-believing Big-Bang theorists). The Big Bang insists that the universe had a beginning and therefore it needs a beginner; the anthropic principle shows that the universe is finely-tuned as though it were built with man in mind.

So far, I’m in complete agreement with Collins. The moral argument for God is a good and rational argument. Science and faith are compatible. The Big Bang testifies loudly of the God of the Bible. The anthropic principle indicates the personal nature of the Creator.

And then Collins loses me.

Because what comes next is an argument for the compatibility of Darwinian evolution and historic Christianity.

In short order, Collins debunks the argument from design (er…tries his best to debunk), derides the “God of the gaps”, and discounts the Cambrian explosion as a challenge to Darwinian evolution. But really, Collins’ argument boils down to this statement he makes in the middle of chapter 4:

“No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvelous complexity and diversity of life. In fact, the relatedness of all species through the mechanism of evolution is such a profound foundation for the understanding of all biology that it is difficult to imagine how one would study life without it.”

Collins unpacks his support for Darwinian evolution as he explains the genome and his work on the Human Genome Project. Collins refers to DNA as “the language of God”–“the DNA language by which God spoke life into being.” Honestly? I can’t say I disagree with him on that point. DNA is a marvelous thing, and it is the language that “tells” living things to carry out the functions of living. But then Collins tells us that most of God’s language is gobbledy-gook. He makes his case for evolution based on the similarities between the DNA of all living things (and the ability to create a phylogenetic tree) and on the prevalence of so-called “junk DNA” (DNA that has no known function.)

The difficulty I have with the “junk DNA” argument, in particular, is that, after deriding a “God of the gaps”, Collins now finds it completely reasonable to introduce an “evolution of the gaps”. We don’t know of functions for this DNA so it must be junk–and therefore must have come about by evolution rather than design. The evidence suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, many scientists who hold to this belief have abandoned the search for function in the “junk DNA”–but those who have continued to study junk DNA have found that there’s much less “junk” than they originally thought.

Part 3 of The Language of God turns again to science/faith conflict. Collins issues a warning by hailing back to Galileo–reminding believers that their interpretations have been wrong before, and that holding too tightly to a wrong interpretation can result in damage to the faith. Now he moves on to what he considers to be the four options in dealing with science faith issues: atheism and agnosticism (where science trumps faith), creationism (where faith trumps science), intelligent design (when science needs divine help), and “Biologos” (where science and faith are in harmony). “BioLogos”, of course, means theistic evolution.

This section was a mixed bag. I agreed with Collins’ point in the chapter on atheism. Science can not be used to discount the existence of God, especially since science cannot account for morality. I agreed with many (but not all) of Collins’ arguments against intelligent design, especially his argument that intelligent design does not offer a predictive (that is, testable) scientific model.

But Collins’ chapter on creationism seems to me to be setting up a straw man of sorts by focusing on Young Earth creationism. It is true that to hold that the universe is less than 10,000 years old means discounting the evidences of multiple branches of science (geology and cosmology primary ones, but analysis of prolific Chinese genealogies also suggests that humanity itself is older than Ussher’s date for creation.) But does this mean that the Genesis accounts are not to be taken literally and that Darwinian evolution should be accepted?

I don’t believe so. Collins completely ignores what I feel to be the most Biblically- and scientifically-faithful alternative: old earth creationism, particularly the (non-Darwinian) creation model set forth by Reasons to Believe. Reasons to Believe has a high view of Scripture AND a high view of science, believing both to be books written by God to display Himself.

The difference between Collins’ approach and RTB’s is marked. Collins says “Since the common interpretation of science and the common interpretation of Scripture are incompatible, the interpretation of Scripture must be wrong.” Unfortunately, Collins does not offer any alternative exegesis in support of theistic evolution. On the other hand, Reasons to Believe says “Since the common interpretation of science and the common interpretation of Scripture are incompatible, we must examine both carefully to ascertain what God is really speaking through the two books of general and special revelation.” Reasons to Believe offers a legitimate alternative exegesis of Genesis 1-2, as well as other creation accounts in Scripture–and offers a legitimate scientific model that has explanatory power for the observations Collins sees as irrefutable proofs of evolution.

Ultimately, I think that Collins is well-meaning in his writing and is a sincere believer in God–but I think he has more in common with a liberal branch of theology that discounts Scripture as truly inerrant than with historic Christianity (which has upheld a high view of Scripture). He made arguments for evolution, sure, ones that different individuals may find more or less convincing (I am less convinced). He made arguments for faith from outside the realm of science. But despite stating that science and faith are compatible, Collins failed to make any good arguments for how science and faith are compatible.

I’m glad I read The Language of God, and I’m thankful to Janet for drawing my attention to this book. Clearly, though, I was unconvinced by Collins’ arguments for theistic evolution (what he calls “BioLogos”).

Rating:3 Stars
Category:Science and Religion
Synopsis:The head of the Human Genome Project attempts to make a case for the compatibility of Christianity and science, particularly Darwinian evolution.
Recommendation: A thought-provoking book, but ultimately unconvincing. I recommend it for critical readers, not so much for those who aren’t able or willing to think critically as they read.

Book Review: “The FitzOsbornes in Exile” by Michelle Cooper

This time around, I was determined to end up with the real Cybils nominees, so I compiled my list and checked what the library had prior to taking my trip into Lincoln.

Either my technique was completely wrong the last time I went, or my library is better at having new YA than Middle-Grade fiction, but I ended up with a treasure trove this visit.

Which didn’t mean that I didn’t spend some time second-guessing myself once I got into The FitzOsbornes in Exile.

“I thought that all the YA I’d gotten this trip was Cybils nominees–but this can’t be a Cybils nominee, can it?”

It’s not that The FitzOsbornes in Exile is bad. In fact, it’s the sort of book I really enjoy reading. It just isn’t, well, it isn’t very literary.

The book is written as the diary of teenaged Princess Sophia FitzOsborne of Montmaray. She, her brother and sister, her cousin, and their retainer (who happens to be the illegitimate son of the late king) managed to escape to England after the Nazi takeover of Montmaray–thus the “in exile”.

Sophie is a rather ordinary girl–but the rest of the family is quite extraordinary. Her cousin, the late king’s daughter, is a strident Bluestocking and socialist whose beautiful face and figure makes her seem the perfect debutante, but whose unregulated tongue often creates trouble at dinner parties. Sophie’s brother, the new king, is a rather worthless chap who cares nothing for his studies–and nothing for the many women his aunt keeps throwing at him. Henrietta, Sophie’s little sister, is a perfect hellion, causing even the sternest governesses to pull out their hair.

The plot, I suppose, is about how the children try to get the British government to assist them in getting Montmaray back. But the plot takes back stage to the gently-moving anecdotes of crazy cooks, deranged would-be-assasins, red journalists, and nervous ladies maids.

Like I said, it’s not very literary. It is neither plot-driven nor character-driven. I’m not sure that it’s driven at all. Instead, it’s a meandering float through appeasement-happy Britain in the calm before the storm.

I enjoyed it, but it’s nothing particularly spectacular. I’m still rather surprised that it was nominated for the Cybils.

**Content Note: The young king of Montmaray is a practicing homosexual, which plays a rather significant role in the interpersonal relationships within the story. Nevertheless, there is nothing sensational or explicit about the discussion of homosexuality–or anything else–in this novel. The most “YA” part of the novel is when Sophie has tea with a newly married friend and is invited to ask whatever she wants to know. The record of the conversation is as follows: “Well! Thanks to Julia, I now know how married women avoid having babies. Suffice to say it requires a round rubber object that one has to obtain from a doctor, except doctors refuse to hand them over or even discuss the issue till immediately before one’s wedding day. The whole business sound horribly messy, not at all romantic.” So, yeah, not much on the racy front (which is a great relief to this particular reader!)**

Rating:3 Stars
Category:YA Fiction
Synopsis: A mostly-teenaged royal family attempts to interest the British government in intervening in continental affairs after the Nazis take over Montmaray.
Recommendation: A fluffy sort of novel almost reminiscent of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries, only vastly cleaner and with a bit of pre-WW2 history thrown in. A good choice for light reading.

Book Review: “Beaten, Seared and Sauced” by Jonathon Dixon

Martha Stewart, The Cooking Channel, and Food Network have made foodies of us all.

Okay, so we haven’t all become food snobs, but the ranks of food-o-philes have certainly swelled.

For many of us, that means we salivate over cookbooks, avidly watch cooking shows, and indulge our imaginary gluttony via online recipe blogs. Some of us clip those recipes and give them a try in our own kitchens, purchasing flavored vinegars and exotic spices, trying new varieties of vegetables and grains; while others of us only dream of the luxuries of saffron and quinoa and goose.

Jonathan Dixon has been a foodie for years, enjoying cooking in the privacy of his own home while passing through a collection of dead end jobs. He dreams of being a better cook, and even takes some cooking classes; but he’s still pretty discontent with his life.

Then a family friend urges him forward. Why not enroll in chef school? Why not just do it?

And so, on the cusp of his thirty-eighth birthday, Jonathan takes the plunge and enrolls in the prestigious Culinary Institute of America.

Beaten, Seared, and Sauced is Jonathan’s memoirs of his experience of becoming a CIA chef.

This book appealed to my inner foodie and made me itch to go back to school myself-except not.

I loved hearing all about how the student chefs learned to cut a perfect dice and make a perfect bechamel. I loved reading of how they learned to tell by touch whether a roast chicken was done. I loved that they learned how to determine when a piece of produce is perfectly ripe.

I want that knowledge. I want those skills.

But I definitely don’t want to go to culinary school.

Dixon’s memoir makes that perfectly obvious.

Culinary school is a mess of sleeplessness, yelling instructors, and hard-to-get-along-with class/work-mates. It’s intense.

And this girl is reaching the age where she’d fit the “non-trad” bill–and Dixon’s difficulties with his (younger) fellow students and with assimilating rapid-fire data already start to hit home. I’m too old to go back to school–at least, too old to go back to that sort of school.

So I’ll indulge my fantasies vicariously, through Dixon’s memoir–and keep dreaming of someday embarking upon a self-study program to give myself even just a fraction of the skill Dixon describes.

As a food person, an avid learner, and project memoir junkie, I greatly enjoyed this memoir. My guess is that fellow foodies and/or project memoir lovers will enjoy it as well.

Rating: 3 stars
Category:Project Memoir
Synopsis:38 year old Jonathon Dixon chronicles his experience of becoming a chef at the Culinary Institue of America
Recommendation: If you’re a food junkie and/or a project memoir lover, you’ll probably enjoy this title. If neither of those is quite up your alley, this book probably isn’t either.

Book Review: “Love at Last Sight” by Kerry and Chris Shook

“I think it’s wonderful–love at first sight,” Alice exclaims with youthful longing as Millie and Adam stand before the parson to be wed in the classic musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” Adam and Millie had known each other for barely an afternoon.

Love at first sight is a thing of dreams, of romance novels and chick flicks.

Love at last sight is an art that requires hard work.

Or so Kerry and Chris Shook posit in their book Love at Last Sight.

I was initially drawn to this book when I read that it was not just about romantic relationships, but about all relationships. I’m somewhat of a lone ranger and I think relationship skills are one of my hugest weaknesses. So I was excited to have a chance to learn some valuable information about building lasting relationships.

What I didn’t bargain on was that the book would assume that you already have some pretty deep long-ish term relationships. In the opening chapter, the authors ask the reader to think of three “key” relationships:

“Now I’m not talking about business acquaintances, casual or distant friends, fourth or fifth cousins. We all have a lot of relationships in our lives–maybe too many–but quite frankly, not all are created equal.”

The problem is, I had a hard time coming up with three “key” relationships–which meant that I also had a hard time following the “30 challenge” aspect of the book.

Because this book is set up to be read in 30 days: 1 short chapter every day. At the end of each chapter, there are questions to journal about and challenges to take to help deepen your closest relationships.

I think this format is likely fantastic for people who can automatically think of at least one or two close relationships that they want to strengthen. The book is divided into four weeks, each with their own theme:

  • Week 1: The Art of Being All There
  • Week 2: The Art of Acting Intentionally
  • Week 3: The Art of Risking Awkwardness
  • Week 4: The Art of Letting Go

To be honest, the writing style in this book reminded me of the relevant-fluff preaching style of many of modern evangelical pastor–which I suppose isn’t really surprising since Kerry (and Chris?–I couldn’t tell if she calls herself a pastor too) is a modern evangelical pastor.

The information is good–and I found some of it quite useful on various occasions (even though I didn’t do the whole “program” as it was intended). For someone who can easily identify their own “key relationships”, I’m sure this book will be even more useful.

A few examples of the Shook’s writing style (and things that stuck out to me):

“The truth of the matter is that being all there is not very efficient….If you’re the type of person who tries to make every minute and second of your waking hours productive, then the relationship work of stopping, focusing on another person, and giving them your time and attention will feel uncomfortable and even wasteful. But if you long for a friendship or marriage where you can share rich memories, secret dreams, and bellyaching laughter, you need to know that this is what it takes. Being fully focused in your relationships isn’t efficient, but here’s the great news: it’s stunningly effective.”
~page 26

“The most important thing to remember in planning activities to implement your vision is that they must be steps into another person’s world. Many people want to be closer to someone in their life, but they’re not willing to move out of their own comfort zone and into the other person’s world to engage in something that person would enjoy.”
~page 86

“First, if you’re the one going through the in-between, you may think, I don’t have much faith, so it’s hard for me to see that I’ll ever be out of this place. Jesus taught us that it’s not the amount of your faith but the object of your faith that matters.”
~page 107

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Relationships
Synopsis:A 30 day program to enrich your closest relationships.
Recommendation: Nothing particularly profound, but I have little doubt that when used as intended (working through day by day with your “key relationships” in mind), this could be life-changing.

**I received this book as part of WaterBrook Multnomah’s Blogging for Books Program. Apart from the free copy of this book, I have received no compensation for my review. All opinions expressed are my own.**

Book Review: “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger

How would you introduce yourself to someone you’ve known almost your entire life, if they’d never met you before in their entire life?

Such was the predicament in which Clare Abshire finds herself in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

I know, I know. You’ve all read the book–or at least seen the movie. All this is old news to you.

I had done neither, and it was certainly not old news to me. Not having seen the movie or heard a plot summary of the book (or been a fan of science fiction), I found the entire premise of the book (apart from the hint that is the title, that is) to be completely novel.

The novel follows Clare and Henry (the time traveler) in their various interactions with one another, jumping back and forth from time to time.

Clare simply moves in a linear fashion through time, meeting a middle aged Henry while still in elementary school. Henry, on the other hand, travels spastically through time, turning up (completely nude) in all sorts of places.

So the middle aged Henry might be time traveling to a certain time and meeting the young Clare, while at the same time his young self is going about his day to day life completely unaware that the time traveling older Henry is also on earth at that specific time.

It’s a bit to wrap the mind around (at least for me).

Anyhow, at some point, Clare and Henry actually meet in “real time”–not as a freak accident of Henry’s completely unplanned time travels. When they meet, they have sex. Lots and lots of sex.

Which brings me to the major drawback of this novel. It is absolutely stuffed with sex (I can’t decide whether it’s gratuitous or not. Certain scenes seem to play a role in the development of the characters and plot, but others just don’t. Not that the sex is particularly graphic–it’s just omnipresent.)

If it weren’t for that, I would have completely loved this book.

The story was engaging and well-told. The characters were interesting. And the occasional metaphysical questions the characters raised (such as: can a person traveling into the past change the present and the future? Is the universe determined or chaotic?) were intriguing to this particular mind. But the sex. I’m just not sure if I can really recommend the sex.

Rating: 3? stars
Category:Women’s Fiction
Synopsis:Two people, one a time traveler and one not, find their lives inextricably intertwined–although somewhat oddly, since their life experiences (even of each other) rarely match up.
Recommendation: If it weren’t for the voluminous sex, I’d give this five stars hands down. It’s a well told story. However, I have to urge readers to exercise caution. Know your boundaries when it comes to gratuitous sex and decline if the ever-present sex in this novel is going to cause problems.