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University of Oregon Course: Central Asia from Within

The Registan mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The Registan mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

I’m excited to be able to offer a class on Central Asia at the University of Oregon from August 19 through September 6 (2-3:50 p.m., M-F). Yes, it’s short and intense, but those who enroll can anticipate stimulating daily discussions about an eventful period in history and the literature it produced.

In the last half of the 19th century, the Great Game contest for Central Asia was drawing to a close with Russia’s conquest of the present-day “-stans.” A new era was commencing for this region of ancient cultures and empires. Voices, both Russian and Central Asian, were calling for educational, social and religious reform. Continue reading

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2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Somewhat to my surprise (considering the sparseness of my posts over the past three years), Birds’ Books logged about 4,200 views in 2012 from people in 93 countries. Almost half of the Birds’ Books viewers hailed from places other than the U.S., including Indonesia, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Netherlands, and Paraguay. The most popular post was Kite Runner and Persian Folklore, followed by Tea and Trouble Brewing, by Dorcas Smucker, and A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini.

My thanks to all the readers who have checked in here. May God bless you all in 2013.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Tea and Trouble Brewing, passed along

The gift copy of Tea and Trouble Brewing goes, hands down, to the friend of Bertha (see the comments on the post) who lost her 20-year-old son recently. Thank you, Dorcas, and thank you to Bertha for advocating for your friend. And I’m sure that all who read this will wish to say a prayer for Starla and her family.


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Thirty Local Authors Signing Books at Gateway Mall

The Book Nest is pleased to announce that over the holidays we are partnering with local poet and publisher C. Steven Blue (a.k.a. Arrowcloud Press) to host book signings by thirty local authors in the EuGenius Market at Gateway Mall in Springfield. The Book Nest and Arrowcloud Press have teamed up to form The Holiday Bookstore, open for business on Fridays from 6 to 9 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., until Dec. 23. In addition, the bookstore will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving. Continue reading

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The Large Rock and the Little Yew, by Gregory Ahlijian

This remarkable picture book inspires both through its message and through its very existence. Retired arborist Gregory Ahlijian has been volunteering at the Jasper Mountain facility for abused children for several years. The students he has encountered there (ages 6 to 13) inspired him to write this picture book about overcoming adversity. Ahlijian financed the printing, the editing, and the remarkable artwork by Janna Roselund and is now donating the full retail price to Jasper Mountain.

The Large Rock and the Little Yew tells the story of a yew seed that falls into a deep crack in a large boulder. When the seed begins to sprout, the boulder continually insists that it will never survive in the outside world. In the end, the yew overcomes the odds and grows into a large tree with roots that surround the boulder. An actual tree in England served as a model for the story; a photo appears at the end of the book.

Ahlijian draws on his professional knowledge of trees in crafting what is really an extended parable. He also infuses it with the values he works to impart to the young people he mentors at Jasper Mountain: respect, confidence, thankfulness, courage, determination, kindness, generosity. The Large Rock demonstrates that hardships are not just obstacles to be overcome; they provide opportunities to grow and develop strength. The Epilogue points out that were it not for the rock, the yew tree would be just another tree in the forest, rather than an awe-inspiring testimony to the power of nature.

On April 28 from 3 to 5 p.m., The Book Nest (inside Indulge! at 1461 Main St., Springfield, OR) will host a reading and signing with Ahlijian. In addition, we will raffle off an original painting by Springfield artist D. Brent Burkett, the proceeds of which will also benefit Jasper Mountain. More information about Ahlijian’s book is available on his site:

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Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, by Deborah Hopkinson

Last week we had the privilege of meeting Deborah Hopkinson on our way north to visit Mom for spring break. She signed many copies of A Boy Called Dickens and Apples to Oregon for the bookstore (as well as some for personal use). Deborah also was kind enough to give us an early copy of Titanic: Voices from the Disaster,  just out on April 1. (For those who haven’t noticed, April 15 is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.)

Hopkinson’s Titanic appears to be written for upper-level grade school and middle school readers. It tells the story of the Titanic’s demise by closely following the first-person accounts of twenty-seven passengers of varying ages and social positions. The book is narrated in the third person, and includes direct quotes. It is complete with vintage photographs and illustrations, sidebars, and memorabilia such as a diagram of the ship, a menu, and a copy of a telegram sent by a survivor. The exhaustive end matter includes a glossary, a timeline, Titanic facts and figures, sources of further information, and an excerpt from the British Wreck Commissioner’s final report, tips on gathering research, a selected bibliography, and sources for direct quotes, just to name a few of the appendices.

The Titanic holds a timeless fascination for young people, and Titanic: Voices from the Disaster is an accessible piece of nonfiction for curious readers. It not only presents the human side of the disaster, but it gives a glimpse of the background work that goes on in the course of researching history.  (Hopkinson seems to have a knack for that. In Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, she provides younger audiences with an entertaining taste of the process a historian might go through in reconstructing an event through oral history and other sources.) I look forward to reading Titanic with my daughter in another three or four years.

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The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis

Reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my daughter recently has reminded me why the covers are nearly worn off the copies I received at age seven. I read them again in my twenties–twice; they are even better this time around.

My five-year-old is just as taken with the fantasy as I was. For days she wanted to play Aslan and Lucy, Lucy and Reepicheep, Aslan and the White Witch. And like me, she wanted to believe it. One day she said, “If Aslan is Jesus, and Narnia is a world like ours, then Narnia is true!”

If Lewis’s intent was to write fantasy that encourages Christians in their faith, he succeeded.

“Well,” a skeptic might argue, “that’s not so difficult.” Wouldn’t we all like to believe that our favorite fantasies are true? What is the difference, after all, between believing in Jesus and living in a world of make-believe?

I do not intend to delve into theology or apologetics here. Interested readers can begin with Lee Strobel’s  The Case for Christ or The Case for Faith, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, or G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Suffice to say that–while it is by no means the basis for my faith–I am encouraged by the knowledge that great thinkers like Lewis and Chesterton can find faith in the Bible not only rational but compelling. And while Lewis was a capable apologist, fiction is sometimes more compelling than rhetoric when it comes to intangibles. Thus the power and allure of Narnia.

In The Last Battle, Lewis describes a group of dwarfs who have stalwartly refused to believe in the lion Aslan. In the end, having entered into Paradise through an ordinary stable door, the dwarfs huddle together in the belief that they are inside a stable. Nothing will convince them otherwise—not a bouquet of flowers thrust into their faces or a feast set before them by Aslan himself. In the end, Aslan says, “They have chosen  cunning instead of  belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out” (p. 148).

Belief in the supernatural has been declining in popularity over the past 150 years or so. Some can only believe in what science can prove. Others are carried along by popular opinion. But what if we choose to believe and turn out to be mistaken? Will it really matter in the end? If it turns out that death is followed by oblivion, who will be there to say, “I told you so”? If the Earth is reduced to ashes and rubble and its population decimated and Jesus still has not returned, the last person left standing is welcome to say with satisfaction, “There—I knew it all along!” On the other hand, I am certain the world at large would not profit by my refusal to believe—quite the contrary! I am a far better person following Jesus, fictional or not, than I would be otherwise.

Is the world, taken in its entirety, so beguiling that we are willing to settle for the material universe? In The Silver Chair, Puddleglum the Marshwiggle and two children, Eustace and Polly, are on a quest to find the lost prince of Narnia. They finally find him deep in the underworld, enslaved by a witch. The witch makes one last attempt to keep her  captive by placing them all under a spell and convincing them that the overworld is a dream and the only reality is her world, deep beneath the Earth’s surface. The children and the prince are about to succumb, when Puddleglum summons the last vestiges of his strength to declare, “All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. … But … suppose we have  only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. … Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is  the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. … I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can, even if there isn’t any Narnia. … We’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say” (p. 159).

These would be find sentiments, even if Narnia and Aslan were only (in Lewis’s fictional world) a dream. But of course they are not, and Puddleglum has a sound basis for his convictions–a wealth of Narnian lore, in addition to his own experiences.

Likewise, while nothing can be proven beyond any trace of doubt, there are sound historical and rational arguments to back up the Bible. But even if the “evidence” proves to be misleading in the end, I’m with the Marshwiggle. I only ask for grace to match his determination to “spend our lives looking for Overland.” Thank you, Puddleglum, for putting it so well. And thank you, C.S. Lewis.

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The Book Nest

After a three-and-a-half year hiatus, I am going to attempt to morph this into a bookstore blog. Morphing shouldn’t be hard; keeping up with it might be.

The Book Nest opened in August 2011–just over five months ago. We are a stall in the Indulge! antique mall at 1461 Mohawk, in Springfield, Oregon. It’s a great venue, with more than 9,000 square feet of artfully arranged antiques, wi-fi, and a cafe with soup/salads/sandwiches, espresso, ice cream, and Sweet Life desserts.

The Book Nest feature a carefully selected collection of used fiction and nonfiction for adults and children, as well as some collectible volumes. Most of the latter are supplied by my mother-in-law, a lifelong collector of fine literature, with more than 5,000 works in her personal library.

We had a very successful book signing in December, with six local authors and an illustrator participating. I hope to post  reviews in the coming months. In the meantime, find us on Facebook for links and brief comments.

Our next scheduled  event is a reading and signing on Feb. 11, 4-5:30 p.m., with local author Shelley Houston. She has written Julia, Coming Home, an adult novel, and Allister, a chapter book for young readers. Read about her books here: Just Dust Publishers.

Check back frequently for more book reviews and events. Coming up soon: reviews of Rebel Bookseller, by Andre Laties, and Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton (any irony in this combination purely unpremeditated).

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Infant Sleep, Part IV: The No-Cry Sleep Solution

I wish I could say that The No-Cry Sleep Solution solved all our sleep problems and we now sleep a peaceful and uninterrupted eight hours every night, while our daughter–now 18 months–sleeps for ten. Unfortunately, that is not the case. But we’ve made some progress from the days when I used to spend about half our nights sleeping on the guest bed with the baby because she woke every time I put her in her crib. Among other signs of improvement, she now takes a consistent daily nap–two to three hours–and I don’t have to rock her for an hour to get her to fall asleep.

I also can’t say how much of this progress is due to Elizabeth Pantley’s advice. But her book is worth perusing by any parent who wants to get more sleep. Above all, I appreciate Pantley because she acknowledges that every child is different and doesn’t expect parents to follow a one-size-fits-all plan. Continue reading

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Kids and Animals and a Free Book

Children seem to have a natural affinity for animals. Nothing excites my daughter more than a bouncy puppy–or a burly lab, for that matter. So far, in her 18 months of life, she has not evinced any fear of dogs, aside from a developing aversion to being licked in the face. (Lately she has shown a greater interest in the hindquarters than in the anterior portions of canines.) Her first word was “Woof!” Followed closely by “Grr!” “Quack!” “Baa!” “Neigh!” “Eee-ee-oo-oo!” (monkey) and “Tch-tch-tch!” (squirrel). She had an impressive repertoire of animal sounds long before she said “Mama” or “Daddy” with any consistency … we’re still waiting for our turn, in fact. We taught and rehearsed these performances in the beginning, but she now generates her own animal sounds based on real-life observations (along with the sound of a drill, sirens, the dryer, and sausage squealing in the microwave…I guess this could be construed as an animal sound in a morbid sort of way). (Keep reading, for an invitation to send in a story and get a free book.) Continue reading

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