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February 24, 2013

VASICEK: Very good reads, both secular and spiritual

These book topics range from self-control to cliquishness

— Years ago, one of our relatives was taking college classes at the local community college. In one class, he was required to read a number of fiction books of his choice and write a report (this was before the Internet). In a few instances, he made up titles of books and wrote fictitious reports. He got away with it, believe it or not. Nowadays, some students cheat by printing off book reports from the Internet. Often, however, these schemers are caught because shrewd teachers are Internet-savvy as well.

When it comes to reading, most of us prefer to set our own agendas. I do not like it when people hand me books to read without asking first. I have stacks of books waiting for me, and another sort of “invisible stack” on my Kindle. Some books have been waiting for me for so many years that they are now out of date and irrelevant!

Much of my reading is in the Bible, obviously. I have my nose in Bible commentaries, theology books, and types of books many readers could not imagine (one of my favorite two-volume sets is titled, “Justification and Variegated Nomism”). I also read (simpler) books about ministry, devotionals, missions, counseling, preaching, leadership, etc.

Then there are secular books. When I am in the mood, I devour mysteries (probably the only fiction that interests me). I tend to read in popular sociology — and in other genres as well. Today, I would like to share some summaries of recent reads.

“Willpower” by Roy Baumeister is a New York Times Bestseller. I have known about Baumeister for two decades, and repeatedly quoted a previous work in some of my columns. What is particularly interesting about this volume is its discussion about what increases and depletes our self-control. Much I would label as common sense. When we sleep well, do not let ourselves get too hungry, avoid making too many decisions, avoid stress, and do not have unfinished tasks haunting us — we are likely to control ourselves successfully. Anyone who has raised children has observed this: If the kids are hungry, they are grouchy; if they are sleepy, they are grouchy; if they have unfinished tasks hanging over their heads, they are grouchy. Grouchy kids are more prone to misbehave. Now the scientists are finally catching up: Adults work the same way. Interesting read.

“Quiet” by Susan Cain is subtitled, “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” In this book, Cain makes a distinction between the shy (which is really about fear) and those who simply prefer quiet and solitude. She documents that many introverts have succeeded in every way, and argues that society should stop pressuring introverts to act like extroverts. Worth reading. If you are introverted, this book will help you fight back.

“The Shallows,” by Nicholas Carr, is subtitled, “What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” Let me share one quotation: “The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds form thinking either deeply or creatively. Our brains turn into simple signal-processing units, quickly shepherding information into consciousness and then back out again.”

The last book I will mention deals with why religious people can appear snobby and cliquish to others (even other religious people). It is titled, “Accidental Pharisee” by Larry Osborne, and is a simple, easy-to-understand book that I would recommend to every churchgoer. Osborne suggests that when we have been touched by a movement, a speaker, an experience — we tend to huddle with those of like mind. Without conscious intention, we look down upon those outside our sub-group. Osborne writes:

“I have noticed one more thing about arrogance. It’s the ultimate blind spot .... The fact is, the more we know, the more we’re tempted to look down on people who don’t know what we know ... One of the first signs of legalism is a heightened emphasis on the implications of Scripture rather than the explicit commands of Scripture ...”

I hope you enjoyed at least one of these reviews. Read on!

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@att.net.

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