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Notable books

Notable Books | Four noteworthy nonfiction books reviewed by Susan Olasky

Work Hard. Be Nice.

Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews tells the story of Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, two Teach for America alumni who started the KIPP Academies, a promising network of charter middle schools. Mathews gives a lively account of the way two young guys with more passion than knowledge overcame bureaucratic and financial barriers, garnered knowledge from experienced teachers, and made those ideas and techniques core KIPP ideas. Mathews makes his book as entertaining as any novel by weaving personal and professional stories and by surrounding his two stars with interesting characters-kids, parents, principals, mentors, and other teachers.

Christianity Beyond Belief

The typical evangelism question asks if we were to die tonight, where would we go? It makes salvation only about eternal life. But Todd Hunter says eternal life starts now, so he poses a different series of questions: "If we knew we were going to live tomorrow and eternally, what would we do? Who would we follow? Around what narrative would we organize the various aspects of our life?" Hunter's answer is spelled out in four simple phrases that he fleshes out in this helpful book: "God intends for the followers of Jesus to be his (1) cooperative friends (2) seeking to live in creative goodness (3) for the sake of others (4) through the power of the Holy Spirit."

The Book That Changed My Life

Bookseller Roxanne Coady asked writers who have done events in her store to write about one book that changed their lives. The list contains some of the usual suspects-The Catcher in the Rye and Shakespeare, for instance-but also many little-known books. Several writers recalled a particular event or place. Paco Underhill remembers his grandfather reading to him outside, while smoking his pipe, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower: "On that summer afternoon, for the first time in my life, I felt like ripping that book from my grandfather's hands because he wasn't feeding it to me fast enough. It was the magic moment when reading became escape and recreation."

As We Forgive

Catherine Claire Larson traveled to Rwanda to learn about the forgiveness journeys of both victims and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. She tells the victims' brutal stories of murder, rape, and betrayal, and also tells the murderers' stories of joining the killing madness and (in some cases) becoming weighed down by guilt and shame. Larson describes face-to-face meetings between the guilty and the innocent, and how repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation occurred. She sensitively conveys her subjects' stories and pulls from them lessons about forgiveness that all of us must learn.

Spotlight

In Spoiled: Stories (Random House, 2009), Caitlin Macy sketches women trying to sidle into the next social class. Her protagonists are Manhattan Upper East Side women with polished exteriors that mask crippling diffidence, and judgmentalism that fronts jealousy. With a knack for the subtle details that snapshot snobbery, Macy writes of a career woman dealing with the possibility of giving birth to a disabled baby, a stay-at-home wife stealing from her cleaning lady, and a young mom coveting another woman's nanny.

The women in these short stories like to measure richer women's shallowness against their own virtue, but they're really comparing the trappings of social status-where they "summer," whether they rent or own, and where-and displaying an anxiety to have the security these "spoiled" women have. Macy's characters often repel, but when all of us are feeling economic insecurity, their anxiety touches an uncomfortable chord. These women could accept the fixity of their position, strive less frantically, and learn to live with less-but so could we.

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