Tag Archives: Bruce Feiler

Book Review: Abraham by Bruce Feiler (2/5)

11 Jul

This book has been on my shelf for some time. I read Feiler’s book Walking the Bible about four years ago and subsequently had a book club discussion of it and met Feiler himself. I decided to buy this book because I enjoyed Walking the Bible so much and unfortunately it has languished on my shelf ever since. I realized there was an audiobook copy of it narrated by Feiler and was able to enjoy that recently.

Cover image via Goodreads

Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler

Other books by Bruce Feiler reviewed on this blog:

Walking the Bible

Summary via Goodreads:

Both immediate and timeless, Abraham tells the powerful story of one man’s search for the shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Traveling through war zones, braving violence at religious sites, and seeking out faith leaders, Bruce Feiler uncovers the defining yet divisive role that Abraham plays for half the world’s believers. Provocative and uplifting, Abraham offers a thoughtful and inspiring vision of unity that redefines what we think about our neighbors, our future, and ourselves.

I was a little disappointed by this book only because I think Walking the Bible is far superior. While WtB had a journey and that plot dominated the Biblical exploration and enhanced it, I felt Abraham was more of a textbook with references to academics and readings that I hadn’t studied. Even though Feiler was in Jerusalem and other important landmarks, he didn’t write about the experience of being there. The audiobook copy I had contained 40 minutes of WtB at the end, which only reminded me how much more I enjoyed that book.

The many faces of Abraham was a big focus of Feiler’s writing. It made it hard to believe any single interpretation of him because each religion and faction believed their interpretation so vehemently. As a Christian, I’m inclined to believe the Christian interpretation, but that conflicts very strongly with the Jewish interpretations which are hard to reconcile. For a single man, he has a lot of lore and facts that contradict each other.

 

Feiler did a good job working his own disbelief and a bit of his bias into the story. He admits at the beginning to his Jewish upbringing and bias toward the Jewish Abraham. He begins with this man and sets him up as a basis for the Christian and Muslim man to be compared against. I liked that he was open about his own bias due to his upbringing and I appreciated that.

I enjoyed the parts that, like Walking the Bible, were told like Feiler’s journey through the Holy Land. I enjoyed hearing about his visit to the holy sites associated with Abraham. The description of soldiers and travel to these places was fascinating and almost hard to believe by someone who’s never visited the region.

Some of the historical reflection on interpretation textbooks and historical texts bogged the story down in my mind a bit. I felt there was more of this than his travels and it made the book a little slow for me. I was listening to it while cooking and my husband asked me if it was the Bible! I thought that was a good reflection of how little it sounded like a non-fiction book.

Feiler himself narrated the audiobook. I like when authors do this because I think it makes the book sound more ‘real,’ having inflection where it’s intended. I did notice Feiler’s New England accent on a few words which likely wouldn’t have been there with a professional narrator, but it made it more real to me. I think he has a good voice for narration.

Feiler’s purpose in this book was to bring the three monotheistic religions together with their single founding father, Abraham. I’m not sure he accomplished this goal. He found that Abraham was very different depending on who he was speaking with. Some things, such as the son he intended to sacrifice, conflict with each other. There are some things similar between each Abraham, but I don’t think Feiler was successful in identifying a man to unite three faiths, rather pointing out the discrepancies between them.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’ve read a fair amount of non-fiction and this format was one that didn’t work for me. I wanted to read more of a story of Abraham and how he changed but what I got instead was too much of a textbook, quoting scholars and old texts. I was really hoping this book would be more like Walking the Bible and I think that’s part of the reason I was disappointed in this book. It wasn’t what I expected based on my experience with the author.

This book was informative, but maybe overly so. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Abraham Study- week 3 “Birth” | Rev. Sharon’s Blog
Book Review: Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths | Edge Induced Cohesion
‘Abraham’ by Bruce Feiler (Book Review) | Perfect Chaos

Advertisements

WWW Wednesday, 5-July-2017

5 Jul

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: Still nothing with A Son of the Circus by John Irving. I’m hopeful I’ll get back to it soon with my book club being off for a few months and having read one of the future selections for my other club. I want to finish this one soon!
I read a bit of Love in the Elephant Tent by Kathleen Cremonesi during my lunch breaks like I’d wanted to. This one is slow and steady but I’m enjoying it a lot.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith AKA J.K. Rowling has been going well. I convinced hubby to listen to it while we drove to our holiday weekend vacation. I’m about half way now and I still have no idea who the crook could be. I hope to find out soon!

Recently finished: I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig while I was Up North (northern Michigan). It was a good read and I really did like it, despite the time it took me to finish. I’ll likely have a review up next week.
I got through Abraham by Bruce Feiler over the weekend. I didn’t like this as much as his other book that I’ve read but it was still interesting. Another review for next week.

Reading Next: I plan to start Commonwealth by Ann Patchett today. I hope this is a quick one and I’m really looking forward to it because it seems like one I’d really enjoy. Fingers crossed!
I’m also about to start The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. I have an audiobook that’s full cast and only two hours so I think this one will be done by next week.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 28-June-2017

28 Jun

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I’m so sad to say no movement with A Son of the Circus by John Irving. I really want to get back to it soon!
Just a bit of movement with Love in the Elephant Tent by Kathleen Cremonesi. My class if over (!!!) so I can read during lunch again. And maybe outside, if it’s not raining.
Sadly, I did not finish Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig before my book club met on Monday. I’m so upset! It was a really busy time for me and this is what fell by the wayside. I still want to finish it because I do enjoy it but it’s now been ‘spoiled’ for me a bit.
I’m making slow progress on Abraham by Bruce Feiler. It’s a bit heavier than I was expecting and it’s hard to pay attention while cooking and take everything in!
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith AKA J.K. Rowling has been great. I’m three disks into the 15 disk story so I still have a while to go but this one is looking great!

Recently finished: Nothing! Look how long that ‘reading’ list is, can you really blame me?

Reading Next: I’m trying my darndest to get an audio copy of my book club’s next book, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I’d love to have this on audio so I can keep reading Son of the Circus in print. Fingers crossed.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 21-June-2017

21 Jun

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: Still nothing with A Son of the Circus by John Irving. One more book to go before I jump back into it, though! Soon enough I’ll be back on this one.
I got through a bit of Love in the Elephant Tent by Kathleen Cremonesi. I had some technical difficulties opening it on my phone but those cleared up and I’m able to read it during lunch again.
I really pushed to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig this weekend. I didn’t make great progress, but I got through the first 150 pages or so. I think this is a book where if I don’t finish it, I can still go to the book club discussion and not have too much ruined for me. At least I hope it’s one of those books!
I started two new audiobook. The first is one for my phone, Abraham by Bruce Feiler. I heard Feiler speak a few years ago and have a signed copy of this book I haven’t gotten around to. Feiler narrates the audiobook so I’m having a good time of listening to him read it.
The second one is Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith AKA J.K. Rowling. I could only find this audiobook on CD so I grabbed it to listen to in my car. Car audiobooks are usually a slow-go for me so I expect this to be on here for a while.

Recently finished: I finished up Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay on Friday. I really liked this one and I posted my review of it yesterday if you want to go check that out. I gave it Four out of Five Stars.
I forgot this one last week because I was determined not to write a review of it. I had to read a full book for my class so I wanted to count it toward my Goodreads goal for this year. The book was People Analytics in the Era of Big Data by Jean Paul Isson and Jesse S. Harriott. It was well written but doesn’t go along with the theme of this blog so I’ll leave my review at that.

Reading Next: I’m still not making plans! I need to get through what’s already on my plate before I even think of something else. I’m hoping to get back to Son of the Circus soon so I’ll concentrate on that.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Recently Added To My To-Read List (Part 1)

18 Nov

If you are a follower of this blog, it will come as no surprise to you that I added a total of 13 books to my to-read list since I last did an update of this type. In order to get my tired self to sleep sooner rather than later, I’m going to do this in two parts. Here are the first six.

  1. Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody. When I was in Northern Michigan visiting family, my cousins took me to the house where Mahmoody lived in Aplena. I was intrigued and decided that I had to read the book of a woman who was stuck in Iran and refused to leave (you guessed it) without her daughter.
  2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I forget who already, but someone told me I have to read this book. It’s a classic so I completely agreed. Funny enough, one of my co-workers told me I needed to read it last week. I guess I really need to.
  3. Empire Falls by Richard Russo. This book was yet another of the book calendar recommendations that are crowding my list. I saw that it’s an option for my library’s book club packs and the story reminded me just enough of the character I wrote during NaNoWriMo, so I thought I could call it research.
  4. Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham. This was recommended to me by Kristen Lamb when I had trouble understanding the elements of a scene. I hope reading it will help my writing. Thanks, Kristen!
  5. When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan. McMullan is a professor at my alma mater and I thought it would be appropriate to check out one of her books.
  6. Abraham by Bruce Feiler. I did a post a few weeks ago about meeting Bruce Feiler. This is the book I had him sign. I’m unsure if I want to let it out of my apartment!

So there you are, my next six books added and waiting for me to commit to them by checking them out from the library. Any winners on the list? Anything that you think might be a dud? Leave a comment and let me know.

Until next time, write on.

Book Club Discussion and Meeting the Author: Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler

4 Nov

I had a very Bruce Feiler-filled week last week. My book club met Monday to discuss his book, Walking the Bible, and on Tuesday Nicole and I went to hear him speak about his latest release, The Secrets of Happy Families. I’ll cover Book Club first.

I was surprised that many people in our group didn’t finish the book. Because it’s not a work of fiction, this didn’t hinder our discussion too much and we were able to discuss the majority of the text and explain the last 100 pages or so. This was a book that really made us all re-think our religion. One woman in our group is Jewish and she said that learning so much about the ‘stories’ she had been reading since her childhood really helped her connect with them. She’d traveled through Israel as well and had the same feelings Feiler felt, that there was a connection with the physical place. Feiler’s continuation of this journey, into Egypt and Jordan helped us all connect.

One of the greatest messages of Feiler’s book is that the Bible isn’t a bunch of stories; a lot of them happened. What we’re dealing with is history, not fable. He was able to find evidence of many of the events that seem so fantastical at first glance. Water from a rock? Yep, it could happen.

Two of our overall observances were that Feiler was very well received throughout the lands he traveled. Maybe it was his guide Abner, who we all felt was his most interesting acquaintance. Without the formal title of many other people Feiler met, Abner knew more about the desert than (I think) even Feiler expected.

I was able to categorize the rest of our comments into three groups. The first is the amazement of the Bible we felt while reading Feiler’s words.  With all the fact and history Feiler found in the Bible, we were amazed that this history had been preserved for so long. One member of our group pointed out that many people don’t know what happened three generations back in their families because things were not as well recorded before universal education, yet these stories have lasted thousands of years. The animal skins the stories could have been written on have crumbled, but a combination of record keeping and oral history has allowed the stories to last through the ages. Because of the time gap between event and reading, we feel a sense of skepticism that these things couldn’t have happened, but Feiler’s evidence and account of the physical locations makes them seem even more real. It makes one wonder, is being in the desert the only way to fully connect with the Bible? One of our members argued that the topography of the Near East made the stories and their players into who they are. Had the land been a wooded forest, different things would have happened and those of us visiting Northern Michigan would be able to feel the Bible close at hand much easier. The struggles of surviving in a desert are not something many Americans and Europeans can relate to. One story that resonated with many of us was about a woman from New York City who moved her family back to Israel as a part of the Zionist movement. She said that in New York, her children would go on field trips to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. This was how they got a first hand account of their national identity. In Israel, they go wonder the desert for a few hours.

Our next group of comments revolved around what we learned about religion from Feiler’s book. When God reached out to the Israelites, it was the first example of a monotheistic God as the center of a religion. The rules that this tribe followed helped unite them to each other and to their God. Kosher, for example, was a rule that the Israelites followed that God proclaimed and that kept them safe from forborne illness. People would (and still do) look beyond themselves to a higher power to survive. This is highlighted when the Israelites wonder the desert for 40 years. They had to learn to trust in God to reach the promised land. The first generation betrayed God and the tribe had to wait for that first generation to die off before they could get what had been promised to them. Along the way they learned to trust in God. One of our group members said that faith is accepting what you’re taught to believe, that which you are told but cannot see. To be part of the church, you have to succumb to your doubts and believe.

The last thing I will note here are the facts we learned in Feiler’s book that were memorable to us and that we greatly enjoyed. Translators of the Bible mistranslated the Red Sea (which Moses parts) incorrectly. It is actually the Reed Sea, which does not appear on surviving maps. The body of water many believe it to be is a more shallow marshy land, which may have been parted by a series of waves and tides. (There were many other fun historical facts that Feiler shared and I won’t spoil the story by including them all here.) One member was not very impressed that Abraham’s burial place was known because Cesar’s tomb is known in modern day as well and he lived centuries ago as well. Some of us wondered if the meaning of the word ‘year’ has been changed over time. With Moses’s life span being over 100 years and Sarah giving birth past age 90, maybe a year was measured differently, by cycles of the moon or seasons. Though, of course, these could be divine intervention. Our last point of discussion was on the Bedouin who still to this day life in the desert. With modern conveniences, it’s a conscious decision to live such a lifestyle and in Feiler’s book he makes it clear that for many it is a choice the people are glad to have made. It makes me think how connected they must feel to the desert.

Tuesday I was fortunate enough to attend a speaking event Feiler gave on his latest book, The Secrets of Happy Families. The crowd was relatively small and Feiler chose to speak from the audience level instead of using the stage. I loved the intimate feel. I’ll admit that while what he spoke on was very interesting, insightful, and thought-provoking, I felt like I wasn’t the target audience. My family right now consists of my husband, my turtle and me. I hate to brag, but I don’t have any disciplinary or behavioral problems with my turtle. He has some great advice about raising children from infancy to teenage years. I, however, feel closer to a teen than a parent. (Yes, I know this isn’t true.) So, like any inquisitive mind, I asked a question.

What of your book applies to me?

I told him I was a newlywed and Feiler told me that in his book there’s a section on how to argue. My ears perked up. He rattled off some really interesting facts. Prime arguing time is 6-8 PM so avoid serious conversations with your spouse until after 8. If you’re sitting on a hard surface, you’re more likely to be rigid in your opinions and not come to a compromise. Soft surfaces lend themselves to compromise. Sitting face to face is confrontational while sitting side by side promotes teamwork. When I told my husband he said, “Should we always just argue when we’re in bed right before we fall asleep?” Not a bad idea.

After all the talking and eating baklava (thank you, library!) Nicole and I made our way over to meet Bruce. We waited so that there wouldn’t be anyone behind us so we could ask our question. We introduce ourselves and I might be wrong but I suspect Feiler remembered me from our Twitter interaction (I may have been really excited about this). After he signed our copies of Abraham, we asked our question, “What is your advice to us?” First advice, if you want to be a writer, you have to write. This might sound obvious, but I’ve been given this advice before and it’s not. You need to dedicate time to writing, time to be sitting in a chair. And you have to finish what you start. No one ever published the beginning of a novel; it has to have an end. The other thing he said surprised me a little but the more I think about it, it makes sense. He said to self-publish. Good self-published books can be picked up by traditional publishers and make that jump into print. Even if a book doesn’t, an author’s second novel would have a better chance if it could be shown the first had success as a self-published piece. Feiler recommended publishing on-line to gain followers as well. The site he wanted to recommend escaped him in the moment, but I believe it was Wattpad. This platform gives authors a space to publish their novels chapter-by-chapter and gives them a place to gain a following and get feedback. I’m thinking now I might want to do this with my NaNo!

Feiler had a quote during the night that made Nicole and I look around for pen and paper. It was so beautiful we had to write it down. He said it was the blessing he gave his daughters when they were ten days old.

“May your first word be adventure and your last word be love.”

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler

18 Oct

This is yet another book I never would have picked up if it weren’t for the wonder of book clubs.  I’ve decided to drop out of this one, however, so I can spend more time working on the ever-growing To-Read list.  I’ll read one more book for it in December, but that will be it.  This being said, I’ll be doing a book club review of this book in two weeks so if this review piques your interest, go grab a copy and come join the conversation in two weeks!

In addition, Fieler will be speaking in my area at the end of October and I’ll be writing up a summary of what he says about writing as well as picking up a signed copy of one of his books.  I’m a sucker for autographed books.

Book Cover from Goodreads

Book Cover from Goodreads

Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land through the Five Books of Moses by Bruce Feiler

Bruce Feiler reminds me of one of my favorite authors, A. J. Jacobs because of his immersion journalism and a style that makes it flow without bogging the reader down in minutia.  This book has been turned in to a series on PBS and this book is considered the companion it is based off of.  I haven’t seen the show, but I doubt it could live up to the imagery of the book.

I hope potential readers will not be turned off to this book from it’s title.  I will admit I am a religious person (practicing Catholic) and it’s hard to deny that the Bible is a central character in Feiler’s book.  However, what really fascinated me was the science and archeology behind the book.  The dating of small burial huts to before the time of the Israelites was fascinating.  If you’re interested in ancient history, this book will interest you for that reason.

Feiler himself is Jewish and grew up in a Jewish household without ever attaching himself to the Jewish Bible.  When visiting Jerusalem, he was shocked by being able to see the physical locations where so many stories from the Bible take place.  That experience inspired him to take the journey through the five books of Moses.

Feiler and his guide, Avner, travel through Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and other lands of the Near East that I can’t recall.  They visit as many confirmed biblical locations as possible and some suspected sites.  Along the way, they will read aloud the passages of the Bible applicable to that place.  Feiler comes to find an appreciation of the desert and his faith grows stronger within himself.

Feiler’s talent for detail and imagery made this book worth reading every word.  I felt like I was in the desert on a camel with him.  I could see myself walking deeper and deeper into the pyramids of Egypt.  His description of Petra had me renewing my vow to see it before I die.  And throughout the text, I was able to renew my faith in the Old Testament.  Giving the stories a physical location makes them seem even more real.  Hearing the archaeology behind the sites and locations made me feel like I could reach out and touch them.

Making the Bible tangible was part of Felier’s motive.  I spoke with a woman who has heard him talk before and he was given a large advance from his publisher to make this book happen.  (My jealousy starts now.)  This was a dream Feiler had and he was lucky enough t have the resources to make it happen.  Through the process, he was able to make it real for me as well.

One of the biggest questions that Feiler explores is this, “If these places existed, does that make the Bible true?  If they didn’t exist, does that mean the Bible is lies?”  The analogy used is from “an archaeologist I met in Jerusalem who said to me, ‘you know, Americans seem to think if you can prove that two screws existed, you prove the entire machine existed'” (taken from an Interview found on PBS).  Feiler feels this pull of reasoning a few times through his journey.  If someone has the remains of Noah’s Ark, the floods happened.  If soil evidence of the period shows no record of being underwater, it didn’t happen.  It’s black or white, no grey in between.  The one point where Feiler starts to feel that not everything will be proven with science is while wondering the desert, trying to figure out if God could have sent quail to the wondering Israelites.  This is evidence of large numbers of quail falling to the desert as they are off of the migratory path, but the area where they fall is outside the area where the Israelites were traveling.  It would have taken divine intervention to push the quail off of their course to feed the 600,000 people.  There’s the science and the divine and Feiler is able to combine the two for the first time.

This book really resounded with me.  I realized I didn’t know as much about the Old Testament as I should and this was a very modern refresher course.  I liked Feiler’s approach and I found the text easy to relate to.  For anyone who thinks their OT knowledge is lacking, I highly recommend Feiler.

Writers Takeaway: I don’t know if I’ll ever write non-fiction, but if I ever do I want it to sound like Feiler’s.  As I said before, his does a great job of taking the reader along with him on his journeys.  I would compare this book to A.J. Jacobs, Laura Hillenbrand, or Erik Lawson for its ability to read almost as fiction while at the same time presenting facts.  Very well done.

Recommended for anyone remotely interested in religion or archaeology.  Four out of five stars.