New Books on Christian Living and Spirituality

Hello Readers!  After taking the last several months off to complete two first-draft manuscripts, I’m back to blogging. Now that I’ve come up for air, I’m delighted to report that I’m also back to reviewing new books and sharing my thoughts and recommendations.

I know many of my followers are Episcopalians, and I want to let you know about several new books on Christian living and spirituality that have been published lately or will be published soon. Here are some new titles you’ll want to check out (and possibly use in adult forums, book clubs, or just for personal devotionals):

Richard Rohr, Just This. Highly recommended for fans of Richard Rohr. This book includes brief one-page devotionals; it would be great for daily use or to take on a retreat. I would recommend this for the spiritually mature. For “seekers” or those unfamiliar with Rohr, I would read one of his other books first.

Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Retreat. Highly recommended, especially for retreat leaders, adult Christian formation leaders, and conference or retreat center staff.  This book makes the case for taking quiet, alone time for yourself to discern what’s working (and not working) in your life, what God might be calling you to do, and what you might need to let go. The book covers both the “big picture” concepts and more practical advice for your own retreat. The imagery of this book was particularly helpful.  I appreciated that this book reached out to all Christians. The author includes nods to those in more Evangelical traditions, Episcopalians (including references to the Book of Common Prayer), Roman Catholics, and anyone seeking spiritual growth and refreshment. Liturgies and suggestions for retreat reading materials are included, along with differentiation between silent retreats, “preached retreats,” or purely solitary retreat time in your own space. (Coming in September, available for pre-order now.)

Bob Goff, Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People.  I loved this book. Bob Goff is a terrific storyteller who tells marvelous stories of “becoming love” to neighbors, a homeless guy who shacks up in his truck, and even witch doctors. (Yes, witch doctors. The fingerprints on the cover are from actual witch doctors in Uganda.) Highly recommended for uplifting, inspirational, engaging stories about daily living-out of the Christian faith. Perfect for seekers and mature Christians alike. Great for adult forums, book clubs, and for personal use.

Cynthia Coe is the author of several resources to introduce children, youth, and adults to environmental stewardship. Visit her author page on Amazon here.   

 

 

 

What is it about Paris?

What is it about Paris that makes you want to go there, even if it’s just through the vicarious experience of a book? Certainly, you could have “fun” many places. There are many locations with stunning views, adventures, or new cultures to explore. But there is something about Paris that surpasses all of the usual touristy pleasures and experiences.

Life in Paris is about elegance, quality, and excellence. The climate is just right – not too warm and not too cold. The city is the model of northern hemisphere livability – you can get there easily, there’s plenty of places to stay, and cabs and the metro allow you to move around easily. There’s public places – art museums, in particular – to visit and see, along with plenty of lovely green spaces to get fresh air and pause from the hustle-bustle of city life. And of course, there’s the food. You will eat well in Paris, with quality ingredients, thoughtful preparation, and lovely presentation. But you won’t eat too much – proportions are just right, with none of the overindulgence of many American restaurants.

Paris is culture at its peak – and not just the art, fashion, and architecture. Paris is everyday living at its best. You don’t just have a breakfast of cereal poured in a bowl. You have a scrumptious croissant or pastry, butter served at precisely the right temperature, a perfect cup of coffee, a hunk of baguette baked that morning, and strawberry jam. Simply walking around Paris is a pleasant adventure. Although the city is busy, you don’t suffer the rushed, over-crowded vibe of New York or Amsterdam. You may take your time, enjoying the parks you pass, stopping to browse, pausing to watch river traffic on the Seine. You don’t have to be “doing” something all the time; it’s perfectly acceptable (and highly recommended) to sit in a sidewalk café sipping wine and people watch for a spell.

The architecture of the city lends itself to both feeling part of a grand plan, plus the charm of discovering narrow, quiet streets where you can feel the peace of a small town. You can soak in the artistic masterpieces of the Louvre or the D’Orsay, but you can also take a few moments to eat a delicious but not too sweet cake at a perfectly set table on the roof of the Centre George Pompidou, a piece of everyday art in itself. Balance and harmony are evident everywhere.

Last summer, my family vacationed in Paris, and we loved every minute of it. (I say that now after recovering from the slightly terrifying experience of getting lost in a sketchy neighborhood near Gare du Nord; it’s now a fond vignette in family mythology. Sometimes the memories of a place are more pleasant than the reality.)  I won’t be going to Paris this summer – at least not in person. But I’ll be “visiting” Paris again through the pages of a book, with my toes in the sand and maybe a bottle of French wine in the cooler beside me.

Here are some of my favorite books about Paris. (All non-fiction; my next blog post will feature favorite novels about Paris):

Paris to the Moon– New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik moves to Paris with his family. A wonderful examination of Parisian culture

A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World– a lovely book with illustrations and graphics

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs– a journalist explores her own Parisian neighborhood

A Moveable Feast– Hemingway’s most accessible and joyful book

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris– This short book rambles along through Paris, a good quick read.

Cynthia Coe enjoys travelling and writing about her travels. Her novel Ginger’s Reckoning takes the reader from Houston to Moscow, with stops in KnoxVegas and a couple of interesting cities in Western Europe along the way. Ginger’s Reckoning is now available on Kindle for $2.99; also available in paperback, included in Kindle Unlimited.

Follow this blog or her Facebook pagefor weekly blog posts and news of recent releases and sales on her books.

 

The Continuing Relevance of Anne Frank’s Diary

The Continuing Relevance of Anne Frank and her Diary

Amsterdam, June 2017

A Muslim woman wearing a hijab and long, flowing black clothes stands with her bicycle at a busy intersection, waiting to enter the throng cycling through the city on a Saturday afternoon.  The city is hot, crowded, and filled with cars, motorbikes, and tourists from all over the globe.  Bakeries and small restaurants run by immigrants from Asia and the Middle East line the narrow side streets, while the scent of pot wafts outside the coffee houses.  A party boat carrying barely-clad women cruises a canal, advertising an establishment in the red light district.

And on one of the sleepier canal streets across town, tourists have formed a line snaking around and around an otherwise vacant lot near the bulky brown nave of the Westerkerk, waiting for hours upon hours to get inside the Anne Frank House.  Earlier in the day, tourists who’ve made reservations months in advance climb inside the upper floors of the house-behind-a-house, perhaps taking a moment to notice newspaper photo of the then Princess Elizabeth, still living.  An hour before closing on a late Saturday afternoon, hundreds more hope to get inside before closing time – despite the heat, despite having a plethora of museums, coffee houses, bike rides, and other attractions they could have chosen.

New generations have not only embraced but amplified Anne Frank’s life and work in the 21st century.

A Fresh, Young, Authentic Voice

“Keeping it real,” is a mantra I’ve heard from my young-adult aged children.  “Keeping it real” means telling the truth – being your authentic, God-honest self.  And this is what Anne Frank did as she wrote the diary entries that became the best-selling, beloved Diary of a Young Girl.  Anne by no means sugar-coated her situation, her family, her relationship with the other people hiding in the Annex, and especially herself.  Her diary is raw, brutally honest, and without agenda.  She writes of sexual feelings most of us would never, ever put down on paper.  She speaks ill of the other family who joins her own in the Annex.  She describes her frustration at having to suddenly share her room with a grown man and (bane of all writers) her inability to get the space and time to work on her own writing project.

It’s this kind of voice we rarely hear any more in this world of stage-crafted communications, talking points, and what may or may not be fake news.  Everybody has an agenda, and social media posts and every other communication usually seeks to serve someone’s cause, political views, or self-image.  Anne Frank, at age thirteen, just wanted to survive to live another day.

The Importance of Small Kindnesses (and Cruelties) in Everyday Life

Re-reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl as an adult while in Amsterdam, I was struck by how Anne’s family and co-habitants of the Annex were able to survive so long without having been found.  The story I really wanted to know about was that of Miep Gies, who brought food and other necessities to the family.  These daily, extraordinary acts of kindness – by Miep, by the green grocer who surely knew (or at least suspected) where the food went, by those who helped with ration cards, money, or even by their sheer silence in not letting on what they knew or suspected – kept the family alive.

Small kindnesses matter.  There are things each of us can do each and every day that could benefit someone we know – or even someone we don’t know very well or at all.

The group hiding in the attic is eventually discovered and send off to concentration camps, where everyone but Anne’s father will die.  Who ratted them out?  Walking around the block of houses on the Prinsengracht, I realized it could have been anyone.  Any of the neighbors looking out their windows onto the courtyard could have seen Anne as she looked out at the trees and sunshine from her attic window.  As hunger and even starvation loomed in 1944 Amsterdam, someone – anyone – must have caved to self-interest and sold the secret of the Jews in the Annex to the Nazis.  Giving this information was a small act, likely taking very little time and effort, but one that was deeply destructive to those in hiding.

There’s a lesson here, too.  Little acts of gossip, bad-mouthing, pettiness, and sheer meanness – even if it’s done for what you think is your own survival – can destroy other people.  In a new culture where we seldom even see our “friends” or neighbors, we might forget that words count.  Words can destroy.

Policies and Agendas Affect Real People

In our current cultural and political climate, the most relevant lesson we can learn from the fate of Anne Frank is that whatever political, corporate, or even personal agenda we might have, real people will be affected.  As I read Anne Frank’s diary and other books about her, I was struck by how utterly apolitical Anne was.  Though her persecution is most definitely an “us against them” agenda by the Nazis, Anne shines through as someone who simply wants to go back to school, have a boyfriend, write, and be able to go outdoors again.

This is what most human beings want – love, purpose, freedom to come and go, and a way forward, whatever that looks like for each individual.  This is what the “us versus them” mentality plows under in its relentless path to make everyone else look, think, and be like you.  This is what killed the fresh, young authentic voice of Anne Frank, now beloved but snuffed out as a teenager.

Cynthia Coe is the author of two novels and “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony in the Everyday World Around Us.”

For Further Reading:

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Miep Gies, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite Books Set in Amsterdam

Hello after a long break, faithful readers!  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on this blog.   I just got back from a much needed vacation to Europe, and I’m finally back in the saddle and ready to write again.

My family and I gleefully jetted off to Amsterdam as a first stop in our latest European adventure.  This was my youngest son’s first European vacation, so we wanted an easy entry point to the continent –  friendly people who spoke American English, lots of charm, and easy to navigate.

Part of a great vacation is vicariously living in your destination through books and travel guides before you get there.  Before we went to Amsterdam (and while I was there), I had the pleasure of reading several novels set in Amsterdam’s golden age of the 17th century, bringing the charming houses along the canals and their inhabitants to life.   Here are my favorites:

The Coffee Trader, by David Liss.  If you like intrigue and financial dealings, this is the book for you.  The scheming was like the Survivor show on steroids.  This novel starts out slowly, but stick with it.  I couldn’t put it down once I eventually got into it.  Set in 17th century Amsterdam, a trader tries to introduce a new drink, coffee, to the Dutch.  This novel also includes an interesting history of the Jewish community in Amsterdam.

Tulip Fever, by Deborah Moggach.  This book is more about romance than tulips, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  A young girl is married off to an old Dutch merchant.  A young handsome painter comes to paint their portrait – the perfect set-up for a 17th century soap opera.  Good light reading.

The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton.  This is a weird book.  I still don’t know quite what to make of it, but the writing was marvelous, and I couldn’t put it down.  Also set in 17th century Amsterdam, also involving a young woman married off to a guy she hardly knows.  The iconic centerpiece of this novel is a dollhouse modelled after the house where the main characters live.  Miniatures of real life people, pets, and objects mysteriously show up on the door step.  Fascinating…but weird.

All these books are about $10 in paperback and also available on Kindle.

Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of the novels Ginger’s Reckoning and Runaway Kitty, along with several books on spiritual formation. 

 

 

 

Considering Birds & Lilies – An Excerpt from my new book

My new book, Considering Birds & Lilies, is now available in paperback and Kindle editions at this link: http://amzn.to/2rjWSnU.

“The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth.”

From “God’s Garden,” Dorothy Frances Gurney

How many of us have found peace, serenity, hope, and a sense of God’s presence in a garden or in a place of beauty in the wilderness?  This sense of spirituality while spending time in nature is nearly universal among humans, both in times past and in our own time.  We often hear friends and neighbors say that the mountains, a beautiful canyon, a vegetable garden, or a forest filled with trees and wildlife is their “church.”  Even those attending church regularly may express a need to go on a hike, work in the garden, or just relax in their backyard as a spiritual need which the walled-in church building cannot meet.

The spiritual need for time in nature is real. Humans feel better, think better, and are emotionally and physically healthier after spending time outdoors.  Time in nature is good for us.

As Christians, our stories are deeply intertwined with nature.  The Bible begins in a peaceful garden where all is right with the world (for a time), then follows Moses into the wilderness as he encounters a burning bush, then on to the ancient Hebrews wandering in the wilderness and encountering God’s grace for survival.  They arrive in a fertile land of milk and honey and seek to establish a home.  After a time of exile, a time in a valley of dry bones, John the Baptist arrives out of the wilderness to announce a new era of good news.

Jesus quickly retreats to the wilderness of the desert as he begins his public ministry and often retreats to a quiet place in nature for reflection, prayer, and time with God.  His final evening as a free man is in a garden, and his resurrection takes place in a garden as well.

Despite these deep links with nature, modern churches have all but lost their connections with the natural world.  Look inside most churches, and the only greenery you will likely find are flowers placed near the altar.  There might be a little-used outdoor chapel on the property.  A couple of flower beds may be part of the typical mowed and artificially fertilized landscaping.  Otherwise, the church property may show no sign of connecting – much less embracing – the natural world that feeds us spiritually and physically.

Time in nature is for everyone.  No matter how athletic, outdoorsy, or comfortable with dirt and insects you may be, you can find a sense of peace while spending time in just a part of the natural world.  You might find this sense of peace while hiking the Appalachian Trial, but you can also find a sense of peace and spiritual comfort in your backyard garden or city park.   Nature speaks to everyone, wherever they are.

Copyright 2017 Cynthia Coe.  All Rights Reserved.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming new book, Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us.  Follow this blog or follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sycamorecove/  for news of promotions and upcoming releases. 

Blessings, Cindy

Favorite Books About Russia

With all the talk about Russian intrigues in the news, along with the bitingly cold temperature outside, I’ve thought back on my favorite books about Russia that have come out in the last few years.  Once the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed, a number of both novels and memoirs detailed the hardships of life in Russia behind the Iron Curtain – stories and history lessons we in America are just now hearing.

Like modern Russia itself, many of these stories are rich with drama – but filled with heartbreak as well.  When I first travelled to Russia several years ago, it was described to me as “the wild, wild East.”  Indeed, my travels to Russia were experiences of a lifetime.  Among the crumbling infrastructure and scarcities of many of the common conveniences we take for granted in America, we met many Russians who showed kindness, resilience, and friendliness to us as Americans.  In the Russian Arctic, we found ourselves driven around by a former Soviet fighter pilot who loved to make turns by hitting snow banks at top speed.  We visited a local “mall” that turned out to be not much more than a flea market.  Our eyes widened at the sight of a huge poster of Andrew Jackson on a twenty dollar bill at the one currency exchange outside the one western grocery store in town.  Finding ourselves snowed in at our hotel, we dined old school, with a gourmet meal served on a white linen tablecloth, accompanied by a string quartet so beautiful it made me weep.

We were also told that Moscow is “a country within a country,” and we found this to be true as well.  While Russians in the provinces welcomed us, in Moscow we found ourselves under surveillance at all times.  A hotel manager followed me into a bathroom to watch while I changed my child’s diaper.  The hotel maids felt free to come into our room at any time, without knocking, to check on us.  A restaurant across the street from the US Embassy refused us service.  When politics went really south, I had to get in our guide’s face and yell at him before he would take us to the Delta office to change our tickets.  After leaving our hotel at 4 in the morning, our cab was stopped on the way to the airport for the proverbial check of our “papers.”

We got only a taste of the bare bones existence and the ultra-paranoid police state experienced by most Russians after the Russian Revolution.  For full stories by those who lived or travelled extensively in Russia, here are some of my favorite books about contemporary Russia and its recent history:

Dancing Under the Red Star: The Extraordinary Story of Margaret Werner, the Only American Woman to Survive Stalin’s Gulag, by Karl Tobien.  An American family moves from Detroit to Gorky in the early 1930’s to work in a new Ford factory.  This book shows, from an American standpoint, the ruthlessness of life under Stalin, told by Margaret Werner’s son.

The Bronze Horseman, Paullina Simons.  This novel details the life of a young woman enduring the siege of Leningrad by the Germans during World War II.  One million people died of starvation.  This book has it all – romance, sex, death, suffering.  It’s a little romance-novel-ish at times, but the story of the siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) is one I’ve not read anywhere else (and especially this graphically).

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing, Anya von Bremzen.  This beautifully written memoir is the story of an average young girl growing up in the Soviet Union during the 1960’s era of post-Stalinist Russia.  It gives a superb picture of what daily life was like in the late 20th century, along with the author’s immigrant experience in the United States.  Highly recommended.

Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia, David Greene.  Written by an NPR Morning Edition journalist, this wonderful travel book chronicles the author’s train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railway, stopping to meet ordinary Russians along the way.  This is an insightful look into present day Russia.

I hope you enjoy these marvelous books on cold winter nights!

Happy New Year, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is a writer and author of two novels, based in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ginger’s Reckoning – About This Book

Of all the writing projects I’ve done, Ginger’s Reckoning is my all-time favorite.  This book recalls the early days of my marriage, when we had the time and the money to travel, enjoy life, and look forward to a bright future.  Things didn’t turn out quite the way we imagined.  The investment bank my husband worked for went under, leaving us with an income of exactly zero at one point.  We faced the heartbreak of infertility.  I hated my job practicing law.  Eventually I left the practice of law to do what I always wanted to do – write novels.  Ginger’s Reckoning was written during that time.

I’m often asked of my fiction, “is this a true story?” This book is really and truly fictitious.  There are, of course, similarities between my life in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. But as the novel developed, my fictional characters eventually found their own lives. Portions of this novel are set in the Fort Sanders neighborhood, where I lived while a student at the University of Tennessee. The characters who lived in my fictional Fort Sanders started out based on real people I knew or observed back in the early 1980’s, but they also became their own people.  (My husband thinks one of these characters deserves his own novel. I’m mulling that over.)

The portions of the novel set in Berlin, immediately after the Wall came down, are absolutely sights and circumstances I personally experienced in the late summer of 1990.  It was a great time to be an American in Berlin.  Berliners greatly appreciated what Americans had done to keep them in the Western Bloc since the last days of World War II and throughout the Cold War.  Cab drivers really did turn the meter off when they heard us speaking American English.  The hotel where we stayed insisted on giving us a free upgrade to Berlin Philharmonic conductor Herbert von Karajan’s suite.  East Germans, “Osties” lined up to gawk at the live eels, the wall of mustards, and over-the-top bounty of the food gallery of the KaDeWe department store.

The scenes set in Moscow are, oddly enough, realistic as well.  I originally wrote these scenes based on an old tourist guide to Russia I found in a used book store.  I had, at that time, never visited Russia.  When we eventually visited Moscow in 2005, I was astonished to find that the scenes and circumstances described in Ginger’s Reckoning were actually fairly true to life.  The hotel where we stayed was actually much worse than the hotel described in my novel.  We felt relieved to get out of there, much like Ginger and Steve so many years before us.

I hope you enjoy reading Ginger’s Reckoning as much as I enjoyed writing it and then re-reading and polishing it for publication.  It’s available in both print and Kindle editions at http://amzn.to/2hwtxTi .

Blessings, Cindy

 

 

 

 

Wild Faith – About This Book

Making a direct connection between spirituality and the natural world is new for some of us.  And sometimes, we need a field guide when discovering or exploring a new feature of the natural world.

In my book Wild Faith, I’ve tried to provide a practical, “hands-on” field guide to exploring the deep connection between spirituality and nature.  For some people, this connection is obvious.  For others, you might have suspected that going outdoors and finding spiritual peace must be connected somehow, but you might have not quite put your finger on how nature and spirituality is connected.  For yet others, you might have previously thought of “spirituality” as something you only did in church buildings or via other more “traditional” routes.

While working on this book, I discovered that the connection between nature and spirituality is actually quite ancient and well established.  Moses found his calling while out in the wilderness by himself.  Jesus went out for a wilderness experience in the desert immediately after his Baptism.  Early Christians, the “Desert Fathers and Mothers” found deep spirituality by leaving the cities, leaving their church communities, and going to live in the wilderness by themselves or in small communities of like-minded spiritual seekers.

I’m currently working on a book about this deep connection between nature and faith – and how it is more relevant today than ever.  But in the meantime, I invite you to take a look at Wild Faith, a collection of prayers, liturgies, meditations, and activities to help you lead young people in discovering the link between faith and nature for themselves. 

To download the Kindle edition of Wild Faith, please go to: http://amzn.to/2fyTiy5 .  (If you don’t have a Kindle e-reader or tablet, you can download the Kindle to your laptop or other device; it’s free as well, easy, and quick.)  A print edition of Wild Faith is also available of this book and available through Amazon, B&N, and other distributors. 

Please visit my website, www.sycamorecove.org and “like” my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/sycamorecove/ . 

Blessings, Cindy

Spirituality in the Wilderness – A Practice of Early Christianity, More Relevant Now Than Ever Before

In my book Wild Faith, I encourage people to get out in the woods to work on their spiritual lives.  Seemingly, this is a rather new idea.  In my years of teaching Christian formation, most programs I encountered involved “programs” set up inside church buildings.  With the exception of church camp programs, the idea of simply going outdoors by yourself is not one of the spiritual disciplines the church has encouraged in recent times.

But in reading up on the history of ancient spiritual practices, I find that going outdoors to be by yourself in relative silence is actually a very old and revered spiritual practice.  In fact, the early Christians who were most serious about their spiritual lives were the “Desert Fathers and Mothers” who left the city, went out into the wild, and lived very simply, quietly, and either alone or with a few other similarly-minded souls.

As I work on an upcoming book on Faith & Nature, I’m wondering if this practice of going outdoors by yourself for “alone time” will become more the norm than the exception of Christian spirituality.  With all the constant, unrelenting disruptions and interruptions of all our devices, I’m wondering if all of us need a little time in nature (if not the wilderness) to clear our minds, relax, and unplug.

Here are some of the books I’ve just finished reading as I write this new book:

Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  This little book is an oldie but a goodie.  As always, Nouwen says a whole lot with only a few words.  Highly recommended.

Brett Webb-Mitchell, School of the Pilgrim: An Alternative Path to Christian Growth.  This book tells of the history and nature of pilgrimages in Christian spirituality, with vignettes of his own pilgrimage experiences.  Excellent.

Peter H. Gorg, The Desert Fathers: Saint Anthony and the Beginnings of Monasticism.  I read this for a nice history lesson on the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  It’s a good little paperback for church history nerds.  (Translated from the German, and no my computer doesn’t do umlauts.)

Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality.  It took me a long time to get through this book.  It is excellent, but it is slow going.  The author combines his primary topic with a parallel story of his mother’s slow death in a nursing home, which I wasn’t expecting and (quite frankly) didn’t appreciate.  As a mountain girl, I did appreciate Lane’s inclusion of the forests and mountains in his discussion of “fierce landscapes.”  This book would be terrific for a seminary course on this subject, but for more casual readers, I really liked Lane’s Backpacking with the Saints quite a bit better.

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.  I read this for devotional purposes, but I found it had quite a bit of wisdom on spirituality in nature as well.  Isn’t it funny how we often stumble upon exactly what we need to read, without even trying?

Stay tuned for news of my new book!

Blessings, Cindy

Bestselling Novels – Is There an Algorithm for That?

A Review of The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers

What makes one book “take off” and sell a zillion copies?  If you love novels (or write them), you surely have pondered this question.  But is it possible to answer the question of what makes a bestseller using science and a computer?

Yes, it is.  In their new book, The Bestseller Code, Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers have done just this.  It’s all about pattern recognition, which computers do quite well.   The authors, a former editor and an English professor, fed the manuscripts of 20,000 contemporary novels into a computer program and came up with commonalities of books that “take off” and become bestsellers.

Proof that their algorithm works?  The two authors the computer targeted as most likely bestsellers are two authors who are very famous and household names.  (I won’t spoil the book by telling).  Many of the books ranked highly by the computer are indeed bestsellers, including the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey.  (Love it or hate it, you probably need to have read this book – and other recent blockbusters – to fully appreciate this research.)

As a writer myself, The Bestseller Code gave me very valuable insights as to “what works” and what I need to avoid in my writing.  I was thrilled to find that books with characters who are “femme noirs” are likely sell lots of books, at least for now.  I wonder if this research will need updating in future years.  But for the meantime, this book gives writers truly valuable information to use in their work, along with interesting information for bookworms and those who just plain love to read. The tone is conversational and easy to read.

Does The Bestseller Code give us all “the secret” or “the code” for writing a surefire winner of a novel?  I’ll have to say no to that one.  The book the computer picked as most likely to be a bestseller is a novel I had never heard of, though by a very fine writer you probably have heard of.  (Again, no spoilers here.)  The book is certainly not one I’ve ever heard anyone rave about.

This leaves me with the assurance that there is still a certain “magic” to the art of writing.  No matter how much you meet the criteria of good technique, careful plotting, and lovely language, there is still something indefinable about a really good novel that makes you say “I love this book,” that makes you never want it to end.

Cynthia Coe is the author of several nonfiction books and the author of the upcoming novel, Runaway Kitty.  Her blogs are www.sycamorecove.org and www.spiritualearthed.org . Her author page on Amazon.com is: http://amzn.to/2d0TV2g