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10millionwords

January 23, 2010

Over at 10MillionWords I’ve been working hard, reading all of the New York Times bestsellers that have been on the list so far this year. Just yesterday I posted a review of one that I found particularly interesting because it deals with a topic that is innately theological. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert is a book about marriage.

At the end of her bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe. Four years later she returns to tell their story. Having fallen in love with this Brazilian man, Gilbert began to build a life with him. But before long the Department of Homeland Security intervened, deporting Felipe for spending too much time in the United States despite not being a citizen. The only solution, the only way to gain his citizenship, was for the two of them to marry. Yet both of them, scarred from prior divorces, had no desire at all to marry. In fact, they had both sworn off marriage, vowing to remain together, but unfettered by that age-old institution.

“…I was not convinced that I knew very much more than ever about the realities of institutionalized companionship.” says Gilbert. “I had failed at marriage and thus I was terrified of marriage, but I’m not sure this made me an expert on marriage; this only made me an expert on failure and terror, and those particular fields are already crowded with experts. Yet destiny had intervened and was demanding marriage from me, and I’d learned enough from life’s experiences to understand that destiny’s interventions can sometimes be read as invitations for us to address and even surmount our biggest fears.” Yet the reality was that if she wanted to live her life with Felipe, she would have to marry him. “Within one year—like it or not, ready or not—I had to get married. That being the case, it seemed imperative that I focus my attention on unraveling the history of monogamous Western marriage in order to better understand my inherited assumptions, the shape of my family’s narrative, and my culturally specific catalogue of anxieties.”

This book, half travelogue and half sociology, follows her as she and Felipe travel through Asia while they wait for the U.S. government to grant him permission to enter America and get married. As she travels she researches marriage, trying to get to the bottom of what it is and why it is so fundamental to humanity. Committed is, then, a book about marriage. In its own way it is pro-marriage, I suppose, though only if we grant quite a wide understanding of what marriage is.

You can read the rest of the review at 10MillionWords

*****

Here are a few other books I’ve reviewed recently:

January 03, 2010

Two days ago I officially began 10MillionWords. This is a year-long project in which, for 2010, I am going to read all of the New York Times bestsellers (non-fiction, that is). The purpose of the project is something that has maybe evolved a little in the months since I dreamed it up. It began as a kind of culture or worldview study in which I would learn about life, North American life, at the dawn of a new decade. After all, there is a lot I can learn about the culture through its bestselling books. It has also turned into something of a personal challenge in which I want to see just what I can learn from all of these books, what patterns I can detect in them, and what themes arise. The amount of reading I intend to do this year is, well, intimidating. Yet there are few things I love more than reading and I do anticipate enjoying myself a good deal.

Anyway, if you have not yet heard of this project, I’d encourage you to check it out. There are fifteen books on the list at any given time which means there were fifteen there as of January 1. I’ve already reading thirteen of them and will be finishing up the other two in the days to come. Through it all I will be keeping tabs not only on the books but on the process of reading and attempting to digest them all.

You can read the first couple of posts at 10MillionWords.com or subscribe via RSS.

November 02, 2009

Seven years into blogging and six years into daily blogging, I’ve decided to try something, well, completely different. Today I want to introduce to you a new blog I’ve begun. It is called 10MillionWords.

10MillionWords

First, though, let me say that, as far as I see it, not much is going to change here at challies.com. I intend to continue to blog daily in much the same way I have been doing for all these years. I love what I do here and don’t intend to change things up anytime soon. This blog is still my priority when it comes to writing and, I hope, will always be so.

Having said all of that, let me tell you about my new project.

A few months ago I found a site that provides archived lists of all the New York Times bestselling books from 1950 to the present. I began browsing through the list and was struck by the great diversity in the books that make their way onto the list. They really do run the gamut, touching on every genre, covering the spectrum from left to right, from Christian to atheist, from one extreme to the other. I found myself wishing that I had been able to read more of these books over the years. What a well-rounded, interesting view of culture and worldview they would give me. To read these books from any given period, whether the 50’s or 60’s or today would be to learn something about the culture. It would be a snapshot of the people, of what they are thinking about, of what they are learning, of whom they are learning it from.

From there I began to wonder if it would be possible to read all of the bestsellers over the course of a period of time. I began to run through the archives, trying to figure out how the list works, how many books are added, how long they remain there, and so on. When I had done the quantifying and qualifying I realized that I could probably read all of the bestsellers for a year and do so without completely neglecting all of my other responsibilities in life. When I did the math I found that all of the words in all of those books would probably come in at somewhere around 10 Million Words.

You can see where this is going. In 2010 I intend to read all of the New York Times bestsellers. I will qualify this by saying that I’ll be reading all of the hardcover, non-fiction bestsellers. Fiction has little appeal to me and does not offer as valuable a snapshot of the culture as does non-fiction; the softcovers have generally already been released as hardcovers. So it made sense for me to focus on just that one list. There are fifteen books on the list and it is updated once weekly. On average there are three or four books added each week. Some weeks there are as few as one new one added or as many as seven. In any case, I am going to attempt to read them all. My intention in all of this is to find in those books lessons on culture and worldview.

Through the rest of 2009 I will be reading as many of the bestsellers as I can and trying to “find my voice.” I will be trying to find the best way to seek out and communicate the lessons about worldview and culture that will be the heart of this project. I may also try to focus some attention on books dealing with reading better, reading faster, increasing retention, and so on.

So I am going to encourage you to visit the new site, 10MillionWords.com. There are already quite a few reviews over there of some books you may enjoy. The site is hosted at Gospel Coalition. I mentioned the site to them and, for various reasons, we felt it would be a good idea to “park” the site for the year. You may like to subscribe via RSS or subscribe via email. You might also like to follow 10MillionWords via Twitter or join the Facebook group. At the very least, visit the site, bookmark it, and drop by a few times. I think (and hope!) you will find it an interesting and valuable stop on your online travels in the months to come.

10MillionWords