Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A SHEPHERD LOOKS AT PSALM 23 by Phillip Keller

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (1970) is a devotional commentary on David’s Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller (also known as W. Phillip Keller), who was many things, not least a sheep rancher.

Psalm 23 is a short psalm, and this is a short book – even so, Keller devotes two chapters to each verse. Keller provides shepherding context for each part of the psalm, explaining David’s perspective on the subject matter and adding his own. The reader will learn as much or more about caring for sheep as about the Christian life, and much of this material is interesting in its own right. Spiritual matters are generally addressed at the devotional level (that is, not particularly in-depth), but Keller’s insights provide a fuller understanding of the psalm and food for thought.  

Keller’s writing is conversational and accessible, and the book is easy to read. Overall, Keller’s application of David’s thought to the Christian life is solid, although he makes some biblically valid points that are certainly not what David had in mind (Chapter 9 in particular feels like a reach). The only other complaint with the writing is Keller’s constant incorrect use of the word “literally.”

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 is, on the whole, a worthwhile and illuminating treatment of Psalm 23.


Monday, October 10, 2011

THE MASK OF CTHULHU by August Derleth

The Mask of Cthulhu is a 1958 collection of six horror stories by August Derleth. These include “The Return of Hastur,” “The Whippoorwills in the Hills,” “Something in Wood,” “The Sandwin Compact,” “The House in the Valley,” and “The Seal of R’lyeh.”

All six stories are part of the Cthulhu Mythos originated by H. P. Lovecraft – “The Return of Hastur” is based on Lovecraft’s notes. Derleth says in the introduction to this book that these stories are a tribute to Lovecraft, and that they came about from Lovecraft urging his friends to expand the mythos.

Derleth is no Lovecraft. The elements that made Lovecraft’s stories so effective – atmosphere, tone, mystery – Derleth fails at. His stories are obvious, predictable, and melodramatic – Lovecraft’s lurking horrors don’t lurk here; you can’t go down to the basement without tripping over one. Compounding the problem, these stories have far too much in common with one another. If you’ve read one, you’ve pretty much read all six.

The Mask of Cthulhu might appeal to those enamored with the Cthulhu Mythos, but it just isn’t good horror.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Surviving Your Serengeti: 7 Skills to Master Business and Life is a motivational business fable by real estate expert Stefan Swanepoel. Billed as “a fable of self-discovery,” the book follows a married American couple’s learning experiences over two days in the Serengeti.

Swanepoel covers seven skills for life and business: endurance, strategy, enterprise, efficiency, grace, willingness to take calculated risks, and communication. Each of these he associates with an animal indigenous to the Serengeti.

Most of the information in the book is contained in several-page summaries at the end of each chapter. On the whole, Swanepoel’s message is good, if general. But Swanepoel is a businessman, not a writer, and it shows here. The storytelling is amateurish, the dialogue stilted and expository. There’s not much at all going on in the “story.” I’m not entirely sure why this book was written as a business fable instead of a conventional skills book – perhaps because it simply wouldn’t be book-length otherwise.

Surviving Your Serengeti has as much (or more) to say about Africa as it does about business; it’s obvious that Swanepoel loves the savannah. And there are some interesting tidbits on the subject here. Unfortunately, Swanepoel’s parallels between the animals and business feel forced nearly as often as they work.

Whoever edited this book deserves some criticism as well. Whenever a character’s monologue goes more than one paragraph, the second paragraph of dialogue has no opening quotes (the rule is that the first paragraph doesn’t need closing quotes). This can be confusing.

The end of the book makes something of a big deal about figuring out “what animal you are” – there’s even a website where you can take a quiz – which seems to undermine the book’s previous point, that you should apply as many skills as you can to your life and business.

If you’re looking for business and life skills, Surviving Your Serengeti has about thirty pages of solid material. If you’re interested in Africa, get a book about Africa. While there’s certainly some good stuff here, Surviving Your Serengeti feels too general, amateurish, and shallow, and the union of business and story just doesn’t work well here. You might check it out at the library and just read the summary sections.


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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”