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Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back by Frank Schaeffer – I found this book in a roundabout way. Someone on last week’s list recommended a book I thought was interesting. I looked it up on Amazon since my library didn’t have it and this book was also recommended. With that subtitle (and it was $0.25 used) I couldn’t resist.

Frank Schaeffer was born in Switzerland after his American parents had set up a Christian retreat in the 1950s. He had three much older sisters and he was an afterthought in his parents’ busy lives. His parents were busy so he just ran wild. No one but his one sister even considered schooling him until he was eleven. Their home was always full of spiritual seekers. His parents’ faith and teaching went through many phases. At first they were socially liberal and intellectually rigorous. As the 1960s progressed their center became a backpacker/hippie retreat with Christian principles. Everyone was welcome.

In the 1970s Frank and his father Francis became famous for two documentaries they made. They started traveling around the U.S. and preaching. Frank convinced his father that they needed to emphasize abortion to galvanize the religious right to political action. Together they helped form the basis for the religious right as it is today. This is what the author truly regrets.

I thought this book was fascinating. He describes growing up with parents who were always “on stage” at home. They practiced and preached compassion but were privately snobs and had an abusive relationship. He discusses the difference between the practical Christianity that he learned at home with the power-hungry preachers he met in the U.S. He seems deeply conflicted about his parents’ legacies. The book is an interesting look at growing up when your parents have groupies who consider them saints. For example, as a teenager he couldn’t get girls to notice him in clubs but had no problem getting the Christian groupies to sleep with him. His mother believed that God would provide for them but she wrote specifically what she needed God to provide in quarterly letters to rich friends of the ministry.

The author isn’t anti-Christianity now but he is deeply against evangelicalism as practiced in the U.S. I recommend this for anyone who has a churched background but who has moved away from it.

The Hot Flash Club Chills Out by Nancy Thayer – And now for something completely different. This is the continuing story of the Hot Flash Club, a group of women from diverse backgrounds in their early 60s. The story assumes that you’ve read the other books but it would be possible to read this one alone. The women are spending the summer helping to care for a house on Nantucket. They are all extremely busy in their regular lives and need downtime to consider what they want to do next in life. I like these books for light reading. I like the fact that the characters are mid-life and some are even, gasp, heavy and that’s ok. What I didn’t like about this book was that they seemed to be getting a bit whiny. There was a lot of “at our age” talk. The sixty year olds that I know are too busy living their lives to sit around and wonder if they should risk trying something new “at their age.”

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley – This is the first of his Flavia de Luce mystery series. Flavia is an 11 year old English girl in 1950 who loves chemistry and has a passion for poisons. She finds a dying man in the family cucumber patch and decides to try to solve his murder.

I find most mystery novel characters incredibly annoying. I wish the police would arrest them for being obnoxious. I didn’t think that about this book and that probably the highest praise that it could get. I like the fact that while Flavia is working on the crime she is still spending time in an ever expanding war against her older sisters. This book has received lots of rave reviews and awards. I didn’t like it that much but it was ok.

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson – I listened to this on CD during a road trip. I like listening to his books that he reads because he gives them wonderful pacing and inflection. In fact now when I read his books myself I hear them in his voice. It can be quite disconcerting. I also have a tendency to start using his phrasing like “quite disconcerting.”

This book purports to explain exactly what we can and can’t know about the life of Shakespeare. The quick answer is that we know almost nothing. The book does go on longer than that explaining why we know nothing and the crazy things that people have done to try to know more. It is a short book but I don’t know that if I wasn’t stuck in a car having it read to me that I would have been able to stay interested. In fact, I think I tried to read this before and put it aside. If you really, really love Shakespeare it would be good to read. If you are casually interested then audio on a long trip is probably the way to go.