BOOK REVIEW: Picture Perfect Practice

taken from peachpit.comHaha! It has been a long while since I have written a book review. However, I can promise you that I have  been reading–and reading lots. However, I wanted to review this particular book because of it’s pertinence to something I have made to be a hobby of mine–and because it has only enhanced my understanding of the art and practice of photography.

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I will say it right out–Picture Perfect Practice is a fantastic book. Every photographer–aspiring, hobbyist, professional, world renowned (I mean that)–ought to find a place for it on his/her shelf. Roberto Valenzuela posesses the abilities to demonstrate and communicate, through writing and picture examples, what makes his own work so dynamic and powerful, as well as helpfully break down the artistic techniques he faithfully practices into applicable and very doable exercises. But let me get into the specifics on what makes this book so wonderful.

1. Readability. It’s not heavy textually. You won’t feel as if you are reading a textbook. The book shows rather than tells. Every technique is fully explained and subsequently demonstrated with Valenzuela’s own work. Further, and a  huge positive in my opinion, Valenzuela’s tone is down to earth, simplistic, educational–and far from condescending. I feel that he has full faith in the ability and potential of the reader without being assuming.

2. Excellent Examples. Everything in the books demonstrated–and beautifully so. Valenzuela doesn’t give a rule or a suggestion without demonstration from his own work. He’s carefully thought through each practice–and he knows exactly what exercise will hone a specific aesthetic skill.

3. Explains the “Why.”  Let me explain that (yes, yes I know). Many hobbyists (myself included) can take a good picture filled with decent composition, because over time we’ve developed an eye for what
“appears nice” –but we can’t explain why; nor can we explain the technique, nor can we quickly replicate a process or a method of taking a good picture somewhere else in the same way. All we have to go on is “okay, yeah, that looks good right there . . .” But then, stuck in a different situation and we are pressed to compose a good photo (of people or things or places) we can’t find the sweet spot, or it’s laborious, and we don’t know what to do first except trust underlying instincts that aren’t always terribly quick–but yet we know what we’re seeing is going to take a bad picture . . . Okay, now let me explain how Valenzuela expedites the whole trial and error aspect of the “person who only has a good aesthetic eye”. Valenzuela explains and enables the reader, through various exercises, to not just notice aesthetic–but to understand it. And boy, he makes it fascinating.

4. Valenzuela’s photography is gorgeous. If you never fully read the book–but just glance through his photos throughout the book–there is still a lot to be learned. A picture is worth a thousand words–and Valenzuelo’s photos are worth much more than that.

Go, go read it. It’s beautiful.

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The Journible (17:18 Series)

Finally another book review! The lack of one isn’t because I haven’t been reading (school = lots of reading). I just haven’t read anything worth reviewing (as good as my textbooks may have been).

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The Journible (17:18 Series)

I received my first Journible over winter break (1st & 2nd Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews), and it has already proved to be entirely beneficial and helpful. In short, The Journible provides a blank slate in journal form where one can write out personal copies of scripture.  Every other page is blank for personal notes and meditation (with occasional devotional and text related questions) while the page opposite is numbered by verse for the reader/writer to copy down the words of scripture for personal reflection.

I have to say that there is something about writing out scripture that causes one to focus more keenly to the content than when reading. Though I am not very far into my Journible, I can attest to the benefit it has already been in my life. Whether or not you choose to ever purchase a Journible, writing out the scriptures (whether in your own personal journal, or just on the occasion for personal benefit) is a wonderful discipline for the mind and soul in one’s personal study of God’s Word.

“The idea for this comes from Deuteronomy 17:18, where God commands the kings of Israel to hand-write their own copy of the Torah, or book of the law. The purpose of this was so that they would carry it with them always, read it, learn from it, and lead the people accordingly. It’s interesting to note that 3400 years later, educators have been discovering that most people learn kinesthetically, by doing or writing things out for themselves.

As you open the book, you will see chapter and verse numbers on the right-hand pages. These are conveniently spaced according to the length of each verse. However, these pre-formatted lines are left blank for you to hand-write your Journible™ book of yourself.

From these two ideas together then, comes the conception of this series of books: The 17:18 Series. As you look at the left-hand pages, the lines are left blank for personal notes and comments on the text. There are also some questions scattered in light print throughout these pages. These questions are meant to guide you in thought as you study the books of The Bible and to help you understand the types of questions you should be asking of the text.”The Journible

Daphne Oz’s National Best Seller: The Dorm Room Diet

Book description: Figuring out how to eat right and stay healthy on your own can be hard! Here is help from someone who’s been there. Like many girls, Daphne Oz struggled with her weight as a teenager and hated the extreme restrictions of fad diets. She wanted to find a healthy lifestyle solution that would let her enjoy a full college experience without packing on the proverbial Freshman 15. But could it be done?” (as found at the book’s site)

Yes. It can be–as proven by Daphne Oz herself.  I picked up this book from B&N this past week. It was my Dad who actually came across it somewhere . . . on Amazon? Not exactly sure; and it was Mom who let me know about it. My parents know I love to read–especially nonfiction–especially national best sellers–and especially national best sellers that are right down my alley. Yep–as a female college student, living in the dorm, interested in healthful/healthy living–this book had my name written all over it.

Now, no. I’m not a freshman this year (I’ll actually be a senior), but I am the next best thing: I’m an RA. And you know what that means don’t you? Yep. I’ll now have, thanks to this book, the healthiest hall of girls on campus . . . well maybe not quite. But you can be sure I’m going to make this book readily available to my hall (a schnazzy hall library of . . . 1; well, I may add others). And why not?

Here’s why I like it:

1. It’s pink (elaboration not needed).

2. It’s written by someone who’s “been there done that”–the whole college diet/exercise/discipline struggle “thing”.

3. It’s researched. No fad diet here. In fact, the healthy lifestyle advocated in this book should take one far outside the dorm room and outside of college.

4. It’s full of random facts and tidbits well worth remembering. I mean, I didn’t know that green tea was a hunger suppressant–and I love green tea. Now I know what to do when I’m hungry.

5. It’s actually fun to read. I didn’t feel as if I were reading some science health manual; it was conversational. Yep, conversational reading, if there even is such a thing.

6. It’s incredibly motivational. Diets are usually discouraging and often seem impossible and not even worth the effort. This one, though never claiming to be easy, certainly capitalizes on how possible it is; it’s actually encouraging.

7. It not only tells you what to do–but how to do it. It also provides the encouragement you need when you get off track. Guidelines are a good thing.

8. Personal testimonials/stories throughout. I already mentioned the author–but she’s not the only one. Meet others throughout the book that share the same diet/motivational/exercise struggles as you. It’s good to know you’re not alone.

9. The “Dorm Room Diet Tip[s]”–you’ll find them in the light pink boxes throughout the book. Those alone are worth the cover price and just the application of those will get you well on your way to a healthier you.

10. Easy recipes for the dorm room. Yep they’re there and they’re easy (although, I’ll admit to not having tried any–yet).

Things you can expect to find in the book:

–An easy to follow 10-step program

–The “5 Danger Zones” and how to avoid/ “surive” them

–Exercises that can be easily executed in your very small dorm room

–Information about choosing the right vitamins, nutrients, food groups, and advice on calorie intake . . . etc.

–Easy recipes . . . but I’ve already mentioned that

You can already assume I highly recommend this book. I do. I only have one disclaimer: it’s not a Christian book. Oz does mention the benefits of having a religious faith–but she includes all faiths. Her point is that we are happier when we live and believe in something outside of ourselves. This is true. But only a faith in Jesus Christ can bring true and long-lasting (which is forever) happiness.

For additional information visit: dormroomdiet.com

Book Review: Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Biblical Doctrine

Book by Wayne Grudem (There. I didn’t want to fit anymore into the title–it was long enough).

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It’s about time I wrote another book review. The idea has been nagging at me for awhile. I have been reading–I promise; and reviewing my textbooks from this past semester seemed like a terrible idea since the reviews would probably reflect a negatively biased view. Even the most avid of readers don’t like required reading.

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Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem is a textbook (I know what I just said, but I thought it best to throw it out there and be honest). However, it wasn’t a textbook for any of my classes (how is that for qualifying myself?).  I bought it on my own accord. Why? Well . . . there are several reasons. But I am not going to get into those, because this review is about the book’s content–not why I bought it.

First off, GO. BUY IT (and then I recommend that you actually use it). It doesn’t matter who you are, you absolutely need it on your shelf. Here is why:

1. The book is Doctrinally Sound–meaning, Grudem believes in the Inerrency of the Scripture, the Deity of Christ, Salvation through Christ . . . etc. Of course, you might not agree with Grudem’s opinion on everything. But again, when it comes down to the Key Doctrines–Grudem is right on.

2. For a Systematic Theology textbook, this book couldn’t be any more easy or enjoyable to read. It’s not John Owen (John Owen is enjoyable–just not easy).

3. As easy as it is to read, it will not risk insulting your intelligence. It’s a great favorite of lay people, theology students and pastors alike.

4. Grudem treats differing views fairly. When he expresses his personal view and opinion, you will know, but you will also know it’s his opinion and that he isn’t going to die for it.  He doesn’t support or seclude his view with a scripture basis while leaving the others bare; rather, he presents everything as clearly as possible with respect to all differing views. In other words, he still presents the validity of other opinions and interpretations.  You can’t help but appreciate his research.

5.The book is saturated with scripture. Granted, it’s a theology book, but for sure, there is nothing liberal to be found with in it. Everything, when possible, is measured by scripture.

6. Very clear application.  Grudem clearly states that true theology should be applicable to life–and he presents clear application throughout and always finishes off each chapter with specific “questions for personal application.” Though not a devotional book, you could very easily use this book as a tool with your own personal devotional study; and I highly recommend that you do.

7. It’s fascinating. I already mentioned above that this book is enjoyable. I meant it.

8. The chapter “follow ups” and appendices are full of great helps.  Each chapter is accompanied with an appropriate hymn for worship. I love that. Of course, like most doctrinal textbooks, there are countless memory passages.  In the appendices you have a good compilation of the Historic Confessions of Faith (such as the Apostle’s Nicene, Chalcedonian and Athanasian Creeds, Westminster Confession of Faith, and the New Hampshire Baptist Confession among others). Also, Grudem gives an extensive annotated Bibliography for further reading. This I found very helpful.

In general, the book is quite thick–a whopping 1291 pages. It’s not a book you sit down and read through, although you can (and undoubtedly you would enjoy it), it’s a book you use and refer to. It’s a reference book. I will readily admit to not having read the entire thing cover to cover.

The edition I have is the newest printed version. There is newer one for Kindle (2002) and an even newer mobile download version (2008).  The Bible References are from the rather reliable translations of the RSV, NASB and NIV. I expect, however, if any further editions are printed, that at least the RSV translations will be updated to the ESV considering Grudem’s help in the translation of the English Standard Version and his oversight of the ESV Study Bible. The mobile download for purchase of this book has already been updated to the English Standard Version.

Again, I strongly urge you to purchase this book for your own spiritual benefit and enrichment. It has been a great help to me.

Within the Frame by David DuChemin

Picture 2Photography, more than ever, is becoming just as much a hobby as golf, scrapbooking, stamp collecting or even guitar.  With all the newly added features to standard digital cameras and the uprising of inexpensive photo editing software, photography has hit a boom in the modern world. Even with the help of Adobe and expensive cameras, it’s all the professionals can do to stay a step ahead of the rest of the world. Professionals know that if the general public is equipped with the ability to take and make fabulous pictures, clientele is sure to disappear.

As a photography hobbyist myself, I was curious to know what kept the really big guys ahead (“big guys” meaning those super schnazzy photographers who get hired by the schnazzy paramount magazines such as National Geographic and the like). What keeps them ahead of the pack, and not just ahead–what keeps them actively leading the pack?  Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision a newly published book written and compiled by David DuChemin gave me my answer.

DuChemin, the author, is one of those “big guys” that leads the pack in the professional photography world.  He made his point clear–the professional photographer has vision when it comes to capturing photos; the photographer captures more than just a photo–he captures an essence, a moment, a feeling that is going to move the viewer.  He explained that the best photography is more than great colours, brilliant effects, artsy angles and aesthetic composition–a good photo must say and communicate something that will resonate with its viewer.

The great thing about this book is that DuChemin, not only tells us what the best photography is–he shows us.  The book is full of lush photographs–worth the list price on the cover all by themselves. However, this book is not a “how to” for great photography, even though DuChemin kindly relays helpful advice (especially inter relational) to those who could never aspire to capture anything as motivational as he has.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

outliersAfter meaning to read this book for the longest time, I finally did. Barnes&Noble has, more or less, become the team hang out while on the road. So one morning, when we had some good time to spend there, I pulled this book from it’s shelf in the front of the store (that’s where the bestsellers are) and began reading. I read nonstop for about an hour or so–knocking out about 117 pages. Because I found the book to be so fascinating, I returned in the evening for about another hour until the store closed and read the rest minus 20 pages and then the store closed–making me feel like a failure since I couldn’t even successfully finish a book, even written on success, in one day. However, I soon returned within the week and happily finished.  But more to the point, the book was worth the read and I am just about to tell you why.

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Gladwell, already notable for his bestselling books, Blink, and The Tipping Point scored another onto the national bestseller list with Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers is nonfiction, but being so doesn’t keep it from telling some great, and better yet, true stores of real people who “lucked” out–almost literally.  Gladwell didn’t write this book to be a guide or manual for success, rather this book was written to show and even explain, with even a scientific approach, how success comes about.

Pleasantly, Outliers is an easy read.  The book’s content is intellectual, but the style is accessible for the average, used-to-entertainment, everyday, reader. In other words, Outliers is sophistication made simple–even fun. While reading, I felt as though I was learning much, not only about success, but about modern society, culture, and worldview.  Gladwell clearly brings a fresh approach to the way the world should properly view financial success.

You’ve probably wondered, at least once in your life how Bill Gates became who he was and why more have not become the same.  Gladwell addresses and thoroughly answers this question (and it’s broad equivalent) in his book.  You’ve probably also wondered why the Asians seem to be so much more disciplined and far beyond America in it’s approach to technology, math, science . . . and seemingly, just about everything else. Or, have you ever pondered how your heritage still affects you today and even your success? Outliers is full of musings and answers to the idiosyncrasies of our modern day society. Little did I know how rice patties, family feuding of olden days, Jamaican prejudices,  Asian communication, and Canadian hockey teams display so much insight into success within the mainstream today.

Practicality and application, however, do not escape this book.  Yes, this book is full of interesting little known facts about our world and how it runs, but at the very same time it gives you a new perspective on your own life in our current society–where it fits, and where it’s currently or potentially headed. Gladwell inspires you to ponder your future and your potential, and not only your potential. This book calls to action–to prepare, to cultivate, to practice, and to plan.

Finally, I will add, this book, though not written from a biblical worldview, does not lack in it’s honesty. What you see is what you get; and more to the point: what Gladwell sees is what you get. Truly, as Christians, coming away from a book, such as this one, we can see that the greatest need of our very success crazy, culturally confused, world–is Christ alone.