Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007

Advent greetings to you! We hope that this finds you well and that you have had a good 2007. The highlight of our year was our tenth anniversary in May. Since we’ve not vacationed much since the kids came along, we celebrated with a weeklong Hawaiian cruise! We went to five ports on four islands and visited landmarks like Volcanoes National Park, Waimea Canyon and Pearl Harbor. We tried every shipboard restaurant and Al snapped over 800 pictures. We were told, “You don’t look old enough to have been married ten years,” which we took as a compliment.

We both continue our work at InterVarsity Press, Al as an acquisitions and development editor, Ellen as rights manager. This month marks Ellen’s tenth year at IVP. We’ve done the usual mix of conferences and travel, including things in California, New England, Atlanta, Madison and Ellen’s fifth trip to Germany for the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Al did some speaking around the themes of his book The Suburban Christian, including workshops at the National Pastors Convention and the Willow Creek Group Life Conference. He also spoke at Homecoming at our undergrad alma mater, Crossroads College in Rochester, MN, and we had fun reconnecting with friends and faculty. Al has also been invited to be a regular columnist for Christianity Today in 2008! No, he’s not bumping Chuck Colson or Philip Yancey off of the back page. Al will have a one-year stint with a bimonthly column, “Kingdom Sightings,” with a general theme of looking for signs of the kingdom of God at work in culture and society. Look for his first column in the February 2008 issue.

Ellen started blogging regularly and has claimed our family blog for herself. See teamhsu.blogspot.com for her posts, many of which relate amusing episodes with our kids. She continues to lead and plan worship at our church and now also uses sign language for the lyrics to the weekly liturgical songs. She also coordinated a fair trade Christmas shopping event at Ten Thousand Villages, to provide a living wage and dignity to global artisans. We’ve also gotten into Facebook, Scrabulous and Blokus this year.

Josiah is in kindergarten now, which he enjoys thoroughly. His main hobby this year has been building with LEGOs, especially Star Wars kits. The playroom train table is now covered with minifigures and vehicles galore, from A-wing to X-wing. For his sixth birthday we went to the Star Wars exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Elijah is now two and is a happy and healthy toddler. He loves his Signing Time and Blue’s Clues DVDs. He has a vocabulary of at least a hundred signs and is also starting to vocalize words, including the whole alphabet. His therapists are happy that he is developing well, and he no longer needs physical therapy. Elijah had minor surgery to replace the PE tubes in his ears and to open his tear ducts. We were very pleased that his neurologist gave him a clean bill of health with no ongoing worries or concerns.

On to our annual book recommendations. In fiction: We both appreciated A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants was an engaging historical read about life with a traveling circus. Ellen (who has been identified as a “warrior princess”) resonated with the soccer-mom-meets-Lord-of-the-Rings fantasies The Restorer and The Restorer’s Son by Sharon Hinck. She also read several Anita Shreve novels. Al was entranced with the “new” J. R. R. Tolkien book The Children of Hurin and got a kick out of superhero homage novel Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. And of course we were both up into the wee hours of the morning to finish reading J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (A blog post Al wrote about it ran as an article on ChristianityToday.com.)

In non-fiction: Microtrends by Mark Penn identifies fascinating new subcultures and cultural shifts. Al got into economic issues via The Small-Mart Revolution by Michael Shuman, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli and The Sushi Economy by Sasha Issenberg. The World Without Us by Alan Wiseman explores what the planet would look like if people disappeared. One Red Paperclip is Kyle Macdonald’s amazing journey trading his way up from a paperclip to a house. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath shows why some ideas are sticky and others aren’t. The Myth of the Perfect Mother by Carla Barnhill is a healthy corrective to evangelical assumptions about motherhood, and Gary Thomas’s Sacred Marriage is likewise a helpful resource. Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives is a moving compendium of real-life portraits. And The Making of Star Wars by J. W. Rinzler is a terrific behind-the-scenes look at the original film.

Most notable of this year’s religion books is D. Michael Lindsay’s Faith in the Halls of Power, an amazingly well-researched and comprehensive study of how evangelicals have become influential in elite circles of government, academia, arts/media and business. Kevin Vanhoozer’s Everyday Theology provides an introduction to cultural studies and theology of culture. Hanna Rosin’s God’s Harvard gives an inside look at Patrick Henry College’s conservative Christian subculture. David Kinnaman’s unChristian is a revealing portrait of negative perceptions of evangelical Christians. The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs is a laugh-out-loud funny chronicle of one man’s attempt to follow the Bible as literally as possible. John Swinton’s Raging with Compassion is a pastoral reconsideration of suffering and evil. While not likely to appear on any bestseller lists, Theology and Down Syndrome by Amos Yong is a landmark contribution to disability studies and theology of disability. And two IVP books received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly – Tim Stafford’s Shaking the System on social reform movements and Gerald Sittser’s Water from a Deep Well on the history of Christian spirituality.

Our favorite children’s book this year is The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones; it’s a very thoughtful, kid-friendly narrative theology that’s engaging for parents as well. We were happy with Mo Willems’s new Elephant and Piggie series as well as his sequel Knuffle Bunny Too. Not a Box by Antoinette Portis and 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental were clever and fun. The Giant Leaf by Davy Liu is a surprising retelling of a familiar Bible narrative. Sometimes Smart Is Good by Dena Luchsinger is a bilingual story of disability and inclusion. And Josiah could not stop laughing when he first read the Sesame Street classic The Monster at the End of This Book.

That’s it for this year. The Lord bless you and keep you and grant you his peace. Shalom!


Chloe Papke said...

I'm excited to have made the family blog, under "Scrabulous"! :) Thanks for the book recommendations -- I've been hurting recently for a good fiction book. Nothing has caught my fancy since Harry Potter...sigh. Have a wonderful Christmas Hsu family! -- In Christ, Chloe

A.J. Jacobs said...

Hi Al -- It's AJ Jacobs, author of the Year of Living Biblically. I just wanted to thank you for your thoughtful and wonderful coverage of my book this year. Have a merry Christmas and an enjoyable Scrabulous game.