Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review:Holding Fast - The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy by Karen James

Title: Holding Fast - The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy
Author: Karen James
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, 2008, Hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN-10: 1595551751

As Kelly James lay alone in a snow cave nearly eleven thousand feet high on Mount Hood, he wondered, “Where the h— is Brian? Come on dude.” His climbing partner, Brian Hall and fellow climber Jerry “Nikko” Cooke had left Kelly a few days earlier to descend the mountain in search of help. It was December, and Kelly was stuck on a mountain in Oregon, far from his home in Dallas, Texas. What had started as a quick weekend trip to practice ice climbing in preparation for tackling Mount Everest had turned into a life-and-death situation unlike any that Kelly had ever faced….

So begins Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy by Karen James, Kelly’s wife. It is a harrowing tale, all the more so because we know how it will end. Yet James manages to not only hold our attention but inspire us through her retelling of a mountain climbing accident — and its aftermath — in a fierce winter storm.

The book is divided into four parts. In Part One, “The Man Behind the Headlines,” James starts with her imaginative recreation of Kelly’s last hours in the snow cave. Then she goes back in time to fill us in on Kelly’s life to that point, ending with a description of their happy life together just before the trip.

In Part Two, “The Storm of a Decade,” James details what happened during December 10-17, 2006 in chapters the very names of which tell a story: “The Phone Call That Changed My Life,” Our Arrival,” “Signs from Above?” “Give Us a Break,” and “The Worst Day of My Life.” The narrative in this section is divided by subheadings of date and time-of-day (e.g. Monday, December 11, 10:00 a.m.), slowing the pace and putting the focus on how time is passing as the search drags on without a clue of Kelly's whereabouts. James keeps us informed of the weather, what happened at the daily search briefings, and how the family is handling the wait and the media. It is a roller coaster ride of hope and disappointment.

Part Three, “Putting the Pieces Together,” describes the aftermath of finding Kelly’s body. James is amazingly transparent about her journey through grief. Though the story could easily have bogged down in self-pity here, it never does. Instead, in addition to a moving tribute to an exceptional man, it becomes a journal of grief recovery and a testimony to how faith in God can help one come through the darkest time.

Part Four, “A Legacy of Love,” contains Karen’s tributes to Kelly as her husband. In it she shares poems and letters he wrote her.

The hardback edition I read had a heft to match the mid-book color photo section, printed on heavy, glossy paper. There were black and white photos throughout the text as well. The photos and personal writings made the story and its characters come alive.

Cover endorsements from Sheriff Wampler and Steve Rollins, both involved in the rescue, where James’ description of the events is called “the most accurate I have heard to date,” and “the most detailed and inspiring I’ve heard,” encourage the reader to trust this vivid first-person account. James’ experience as a journalist shines through in her skillful storytelling.

I found Holding Fast a quick, absorbing read. It made me see my family with new appreciation and want to tell them so now, while I still have them. The story also gave me a confidence in God’s presence even in tragic situations when our most earnest prayers remain unanswered. James ends the chapter where she tells numerous incidents of feeling God’s presence (from the message she got in a fortune cookie to the name of the bulbs she was planting on the day she got the phone call from Oregon) with the statement, “I believe now more than ever that there are no coincidences and that there is a grand plan in which we all play a role.”

I recommend Holding Fast for the riveting story it is. But I recommend it too for the aftertaste of hope that lingers even after you’ve turned the last page.

Go to Holding Fast for Purpose to hear the song which inspired the book's title, see more photos, read chapter segments and more.


Book Courtesy Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers program.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Review: Rich is a Religion by Mark Stevens

Title: Rich is a Religion: Breaking the Timeless Code to Wealth
Author: Mark Stevens
Publisher: Wiley, 2008, Hardcover, 192 pages

In Rich is a Religion: Breaking the Timeless Code to Wealth, multi-millionaire Mark Stevens imparts his philosophy of wealth. He likens it to a religion with

"…a view of money that vests it with far more substance than a simple trading commodity. It is a way of thinking about money that has greater connectivity to what most of us place at the top of life’s hierarchy of values: family, friends, fulfillment, enrichment, and independence." (p. 10)

The book is interesting, loaded as it is with stories that illustrate his points. It is easy to understand for even infrequent visitors to the world of finance (moi). And it is to-the-point.

In the nine chapters that comprise the main part of the book Stevens extends the religion metaphor (e.g. chapter titles like “The Vision,” “The Congregation,” “The Atheists of the Religion of the Rich,” and “Metamorphosis”) and gives instructions on how to convert. Despite the religious symbolism, he does not advocate the worship of money but rather a relationship with it that resembles one’s relationship with religion – one made up of deeply held and faithfully followed convictions. To the brotherhood he promises at least an improvement in financial position if not outright wealth.

Some of the tenets of Stevens’ religion of the rich include the need to respect money and handle it with discipline and a sense of fiduciary control. He eschews using money and what it can buy to impress others (“Don’t care whether you are perceived as being rich or poor” p. 40). He warns against greed and taking undue risks with one’s livelihood and home. He recommends simplicity, contentment, humility (“Recognize that the most important money you have is the money no one can see” p. 158), smart management (“I have learned to make money while I sleep” p. 61) and realistic caution (“Never bet the farm” p. 101).

And to what end do we gain this wealth? “…To maximize the gift of life” p. 5, to achieve contentment (“The most rewarding achievement in life is to be content” p. 16), “…to extract the maximum pleasure from life…” p. 84. If there is anywhere I would quibble with Rich is a Religion's ideas, it would be in these regards. For though this is a book that gives wise advice about how to accumulate wealth for one’s time on earth, it lacks an eternal perspective on riches. As I read it, I kept thinking of the words of Jesus: “Do not lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20). It’s not that this book is against these things. Stevens just never mentions them, leaving it for the reader to make their own connection. I suppose the astute reader will, though it’s awfully easy to lose sight of that perspective in the midst of all the motivation to gain material wealth for the here-and-now.

Stevens has earned his reputation as an expert by reason of his experience and success. His father died when he was a teenager, leaving the family with the grand total of $84. The fact that he came from that to his current multi-millionaire status and position of CEO of MSCO -- a results-driven management and marketing firm — by using the principles he explains in Rich is a Religion: Breaking the Timeless Code to Wealth, speaks eloquently of their power. More of his advice is available through other books he has authored (Your Marketing Sucks, Your Management Sucks, God is a Salesman) and via his Unconventional Thinking Blog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Poem - perseverance

American Life in Poetry: Column 202


David Wagoner, who lives in Washington state, is one of our country's most distinguished poets and the author of many wonderful books. He is also one of our best at writing about nature, from which we learn so much. Here is a recent poem by Wagoner that speaks to perseverance.

The Cherry Tree

Out of the nursery and into the garden
where it rooted and survived its first hard winter,
then a few years of freedom while it blossomed,
put out its first tentative branches, withstood
the insects and the poisons for insects,
developed strange ideas about its height
and suffered the pruning of its quirks and clutters,
its self-indulgent thrusts
and the infighting of stems at cross purposes
year after year. Each April it forgot
why it couldn't do what it had to do,
and always after blossoms, fruit, and leaf-fall,
was shown once more what simply couldn't happen.

Its oldest branches now, the survivors carved
by knife blades, rain, and wind, are sending shoots
straight up, blood red, into the light again.

- David Wagoner

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)2008 by David Wagoner, whose most recent book of poetry is "Good Morning and Good Night," University of Illinois Press, 2005. Reprinted from "Crazyhorse," No. 73, Spring 2008, by permission of David Wagoner. Introduction copyright (c) 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Rituals for creativity

Do you need some routine and ritual to give rhythm to your life? Writer, photographer and artist Sarah Rehfeldt tells us about hers in Productive Rituals that Lead to Productivity: A Daily Discipline for Writers and Artists

They're obviously working, for her creativity flourishes. Read her poems The Third Day and Leaving Penuel, then feast your eyes on her stunning photography and mosaics - linked here.

And my latest Poet's Classroom article went up on February 1st! Read Poetic Voice Lessons - Lesson 2: Expand your range.