A Few Things in May

Every now and then, with absolutely no rhyme or reason to it, I like to make a list of a few things I'm enjoying. Like these:

Things I'm Reading

Not That Kind of Girl: A Memoir

After seeing her speak on a panel at the Festival of Faith and Writing, I was curious about Carlene Bauer, so I checked out her memoir about growing up evangelical and moving to New York City to work in publishing, about virginity and faith and maturity.  I loved the first 2/3 or so - lovely sentences, apt images, strong level of self-awareness and humor.  The final section was much weaker, with too many characters to keep straight (including one never named, but called "my Friend") and a less-interrogated sense of her own self.

Frances and Bernard

I'm happy to say that Carlene Bauer's first novel shone with gorgeous prose and strong characters from beginning to end. An epistolary novel, it tells the story of the relationship between two young writers in the nineteen fifties in New York (inspired, I've read, by the relationship between Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell). This book isn't for everyone, but for people who love books, sort-of-pretentious language, faith, doubt, genius, Catholicism -- highly recommended.

The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for literature last year, and for good reason. Dickensian in scope and character, it's still very much a twenty-first century novel, telling a story about a boy whose mother dies in a terrorist attack on a museum in New York City.  If I say much more about the book's themes of beauty, restoration, fatalism vs. free will, etc., I'll end up with an essay here.  Loved it.

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 1)

The Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny has been my bread and butter this month, though, and they are perfect.  With the caveat that it took me two tries to get into the first one (too many characters introduced all at once in the first chapter, in my opinion), these are readable, addictive, lovely, and willing to engage with the big ideas that the best murder mysteries (like Dorothy Sayer's or P.D. James's for example) deal with.

My To-Read List for Summer


The Empathy Exams: Essays

Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition)

The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (Modern Library Paperbacks)

I'll also finish up the Louise Penny books, hopefully complete some of the nonfiction books that I love (but never seem to choose when I have a fiction alternative), and be reading and re-reading a select list of memoirs and biographies (because...)

Things I'm Writing

- My name, on the third page of a contract agreeing to be represented by

Heidi Mitchell at D.C. Jacobson & Associates

- A book (apparently), especially the first twenty pages or so, which I have to submit to the writer's

workshop I'm attending this July, which is going to be amazing for many reasons, not least among them, 

a room of one's own. No responsibilities but writing and workshopping, for a whole week.

-1500 words on Buzzfeed quizzes.  You'll have to read all 1500 of them to figure out

Which Kind of Buzzfeed Quiz Taker Are You?

-And my name, again, on (talk about burying the lede, here!) a contract for a new position at Taylor, as the Assistant Director of the Honors Program.  I'll be working twenty hours a week beginning August 1, helping to plan the events and programming the Honors program.  And probably going to China with the Honors freshman for two weeks in January (!!!).

Things I'm Watching

Not very much, because the internet out in the country has been almost non-existent, so there's no streaming of anything.  But we're excited every week for new episodes of Mad Men and Orphan Black.

And we watched the movie Philomena last weekend, and really liked it.

Oh, and watching Rosie at ballet, and Owen with his swords.

Michael Rachap of Readeez sent me and the kids a couple of his dvds, too, and they're quite nice.  Simple, whimsical illustrations (sort of in the style of Calvin and Hobbes) accompany fun, catchy tunes, and reinforce word recognition by showing the words on screen, syllable by syllable, as the music plays.  The kids liked them, and the music didn't drive me crazy (big, rare bonus for kids' music). There are also some Bible memory CDs available. You can try some for free just by joining the email list.


Things in my Garden

So many things!  Snap peas, carrots, lettuce, kale, chard, arugula, asparagus, potatoes, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, corn, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries.  

And bees in the hive, and chickens in the coop. 

What are you enjoying these days?

my favorite books of 2013

Not all of these books were published in 2013, but each of them found its way to me this year, and isn't so much of the magic of a book finding the right book at the right time?

In no particular order:

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
A fun, smart novel, this is the story of 15 year old Bee Branch’s attempt to understand what happened when her misanthropic mother disappeared without warning on the day before they were set to leave for an Antarctic vacation. Compulsively readable. (Full review here.)

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher
Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, and part hagiography, journalist Dreher’s book is the story of his saintly younger sister’s untimely death, his return to his small hometown in Louisiana, and his struggle to understand what it means to live a Good Life. (Full review here.)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Remember in highschool how you felt like you were different from everyone, and then you found that group of kids at summer camp who were interesting? Artistic, unconventional, gifted, "on-fire," aspirational, rich - whatever?  Remember how for the rest of your life you were trying to make sure you fit into that group, even at the expense of your own happiness? That's basically what this novel is about.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
This two-part graphic novel tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China, first from a peasant's perspective, and then from a missionary's perspective. So moving and disturbing I had trouble sleeping and then bad dreams after reading it.  Always the sign of a good book, right?

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves
I had always thought first of God as Creator, but this book convinced me to see him first as Father, or as self-giving Love.  I read this with the Taylor freshman in Foundations of the Christian Liberal Arts, and it truly deepened my understanding of the Trinity's importance.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
This was the first of several of Sara Zarr's YA novels that I tore through this year. If you, like me, love good realistic YA with strong female characters and spiritual themes, you need to check her out.  Beautifully written.

The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling or whatever her pen-name was
I'm a sucker for a good British mystery novel, and this was certainly that.

Booked to Die by John Dunning
The other best mystery novel I read this year.  A former cop turns used-bookseller but still gets embroiled in murder investigations.

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
Doubtless this book would not have affected me so much if I hadn't been house-hunting while reading it.  Some lovely thoughts about the ways that architecture can shape our identities. (I wrote quite a bit about it here.)

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate by Justin Lee
Regardless of which side of this debate you find yourself on, you should read this book.   It clears up a lot of misconceptions about homosexuality that are common in Christian circles, and does so winsomely, with grace.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Greene
I think everybody already knows about this book, which is being made into a movie, but if you don't, you should read it!  Unless you don't like to read about kids and cancer. Then maybe skip it.

Previously: my favorite movies of 2013 
and my favorite albums of 2013 
and my favorite tv shows of 2013

Cassie & Caleb (a critical review)

Moody offered me two copies of Cassie and Caleb Discover God’s Wonderful Design to give away on my blog.  You can enter to win one here, where I summarized the book earlier today.  

I have a few reservations about using this book with my family in our context.  Many of its lessons are good - the idea that obedience should be instant and thorough, for example, is a lesson my children and I need to learn again and again. And I love the idea of helping children understand that all of Scripture fits together as a grand story.  I have to admit, though, that some things about this book left me feeling uncomfortable.  While I do believe in gender distinctiveness - that is to say, I believe that God created men and women “equal but different,” as the authors put it - I also believe that there is very little we ought to say about those differences.  

In Karl Barth’s “Man and Woman,” he argued that though God made man and woman different, like the letters A and B, we ought not to subscribe to any particular human definitions of femininity and masculinity.  Rather than trying to systemize gender differences, we are to learn them through relationships with specific men and women.

“It is not for us to write the text [of man and woman] itself with the help of any such system. It is not for us to write the text at all. For the texts which we write, the definitions and descriptions of male and female being which we might derive from others or attempt ourselves, do not attain what is meant by the command when it requires of [human beings] that here, too, [they]should accept [their] being as[human], as male or female, as it is seen by God.” (“Man and Woman,” 151)

This makes beautiful sense to me.  So many of the things I was taught about “men” and “women” have failed to be true in my personal experience.  Harmful gender stereotypes have at times hindered me from seeing men and women as fully human, unique individuals.

In some ways, Cassie & Caleb Discover God’s Wonderful Design is careful not to be overly prescriptive about gender roles.  On the very first page, we are introduced to Cassie’s group of friends - Kate, who “loves frilly clothes,” Abby, who “never wears pink and loves soccer,” Heather, who is “crazy about books and animals,” etc.  They are “all very different, but...they are all girls.”  In another chapter, Caleb and his father do the dishes while they talk about what it means to be a man, concluding that “being a man or a woman is much bigger than a list of things we do.”

However, there are a few things the book does teach about what it means to be a man or a woman.  Men are to be leaders, protectors, and providers who work outside the home, and women are to be helpers (ezer is given its full, gorgeous meaning) and life-givers.  I don’t fully agree with these teachings (particularly the bit about men working outside the home) or the way Scripture is used to support them.

What worries me more, though, are the descriptive depictions throughout the book of what Cassie and Caleb like, think, and do, and the ways that adults respond.  These seem to follow our culturally instated gender stereotypes quite closely.  Girls make cards and decorate cupcakes, and it is “a very girly afternoon.”  Girls talk a lot, and boys don’t.   Before explaining to Caleb that men and women are equal, his father and grandfather joke that women are “loud” and that men are “better.”  Cassie buys a doll, and Caleb goes to a muscle-car show. When Granny Grace’s laundry room floods, Cassie is in tears because “they don’t have a dad to fix all that stuff.” Boys play baseball, go fishing, and see movies.  Girls shop.  Cassie can hardly wait for her dad to walk her down the aisle because she’ll look like a princess and everyone will be watching her.

Maybe most disturbing is the story where Caleb and his friend, bored, surprise their sisters with buckets of mud.  Wise old Granny Grace laughs it off, explaining to Cassie and Caleb’s mom, “I raised three boys and never did understand what makes them tick, but I know God made males and females to be different so I finally decided the best thing to do is laugh at their adventures -- and make them clean up their mess.”   While I’m all in favor of using humor to disarm, and while I don’t think a mud-attack is a horrible offense, I am concerned by the “boys will be boys” defense of behavior which bothers girls. It’s this very kind of defense that can lead to the kind of rape culture we live in today.

All in all, there is a lot of good theology here and some of the lessons in this book are helpful. For some families, this book will be perfect. But for me, the stereotyped descriptions of boys’ and girls’ behavior is not something I’d prefer to expose my children to in family devotions. If you feel - like the authors - that you live in a culture where gender distinctions have been minimized, then you might appreciate this book.  I, however, feel like the gendered stereotypes offered by Cassie and Caleb are already firmly ingrained in our culture through media representations of masculinity and femininity, so I’ll probably choose other ways of teaching theology to my children.

(Go here to enter the giveaway for this book. Giveaway closes at noon on Friday, May 3.)

the New Sincerity

Last weekend, Jack and I curled up on the sofa to watch “Safety Not Guaranteed,” an indie comedy about three magazine employees who travel from Seattle to the Washington coast to investigate a classified ad.

“Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke,” the ad begins. Jake Johnson plays cynical journalist Jeff, Karan Soni is the detached Indian intern Arnau, and Aubrey Plaza excels as the depressed, lonely intern Darius.  Darius, outwardly hostile and standoffish, secretly wishes time travel were real so that she could go back to the time before her mother died.

I’m pretty much going to {spoiler} the whole movie for you here, so skip this paragraph if you want to, but something kind of magical happens when they get to Ocean Shores, Washington: it’s as if they’ve fallen into a wonderland of sincerity, worlds away from the cynicism of Seattle intelligentsia.  Jeff reconnects with an old flame who bakes pies and rubs his shoulders, and he un-ironically falls for her.  Arnau leaves his books long enough to make a friend.  And Darius grows close to Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the writer of the classified ad.  Even after her trust in him is shaken, she chooses to believe in him rather than to embrace her old cynicism, and it seems that the very strength of their sincere connection is what powers his time travel machine (yep, the time machine works - that's the power of sincerity).

The movie is a perfect example of what Jonathan Fitzgerald writes about in his new book Not Your Mother’s Morals (full disclosure: I received a free review copy from Jon, and it's only 99 cents on Amazon right now!).  Fitzgerald, managing editor of, Huffington Post blogger, and columnist at Patheos, argues that in pop culture today, “detached irony and cynicism have ceded ground to an emphasis on sincerity and authenticity.  The ‘too cool to care’ attitude that typifies Generation X has become ‘cool to care’ for Millennials. This New Sincerity has become the vehicle for a resurgence in moral storytelling in popular culture.”

In the short book, which is part memoir, part cultural analysis, and part graduate-thesis, Fitzgerald writes winsomely about his upbringing in a slightly charismatic evangelical culture, its suspicion of everything on the television, and the alternatives created by “Christian pop culture”.  His stories are familiar to any of us who weren’t allowed to watch the Smurfs because of the magic, or who rocked out to Amy Grant, you know, until she went “secular” with “Heart in Motion”.

Putting that critical perspective of pop culture he grew up with to good use, Fitzgerald examines how the moral messages about God, Family, and Country in pop culture have changed over the last sixty years or so.  While some evangelical Christians argue that pop culture today is a moral wasteland in comparison to the squeaky-clean offerings of the 1950s, Fitzgerald disagrees. Offering examples from film, tv, music, and books, he shows that a growing emphasis on being sincere has opened up possibilities for honest discussion of morality within our culture, and that that’s a good thing. If sincerity is "in," our sincere Christian faith can't be as easily dismissed.

The kind of morality ushered in by the New Sincerity isn’t a strict code, he argues, but a moral posture, one that acknowledges that what is “right” looks different in different circumstances. Is he arguing in favor of “situational ethics”? my old evangelical self gasps.  Yes, of course he is.  How can morality exist without a situation?  The best stories are the truest ones, and the truest ones show the complexity of our lives, the complexity of our moral decisions. The New Sincerity lets us tell those stories and offer real, moral conclusions without being mocked.

The book is short, and Fitzgerald’s argument needs further fleshing out to be truly compelling.  There are plenty of examples from pop culture that don’t fit his cynical/sincere dichotomy, and some of the examples he uses don’t hold up under deeper examination.  The tv show Glee, for example, demonstrates the power of sincerity, as he notes; but it also demonstrates the weakness of art turned didactic. In addition, Fitzgerald neglects to address the role that changing media has had in fostering the New Sincerity; Lady GaGa connects to her fans in a way that Madonna didn’t in large part because of new media like Twitter, which demands a level of transparency.

In his conclusion, Fitzgerald contends that the New Sincerity is something to embrace, because it offers the best kind of place to dialogue about faith.  Let’s try, he urges, to “stave off” the (inevitable?) descent back into cynicism.  

Maybe I appreciate Fitzgerald's book, and the film "Safety Not Guaranteed," so much because when I was leaving Seattle, almost three years ago, I wrote that it was time in my life “to move out of cynicism and towards sincerity”. Growing in my faith has meant embracing the discipline of earnestness. For those of us who identify with Generation X, sincerity can be a difficult posture in which to reside, but I think I'm with Fitzgerald here. Let's do something that requires sincerity, and the possibility of failure: let's try, and while we may not manage to build a time machine, maybe we'll find that something a little magical - some deeper, truer, human connections - can exist.

a few things in January

Late December to early January is one of my best chances in the year to read.  (I love working on an academic calendar!) Here are a few things I’ve been enjoying:

The Stages by Thom Satterlee - Thom is a friend, poet and writer in residence at Taylor, and fellow member of Gethsemane Episcopal. It's always nerve-wracking to begin a book written by someone you know, because what if it's awful. This book, though, was truly excellent. Here's the review I left at goodreads: "An intelligently written literary mystery, The Stages tells the story of Dan Peters, an American translator (and Aspie) living in Copenhagen. When his colleague and best friend dies mysteriously and a Kierkegaard manuscript goes missing, Peters seeks to clear his own name in the murder investigation.
With a strong setting, well-developed characters, surprising plot twists, and a solid grounding in philosophy, theology, and language, this book is heads and shoulders above most murder mysteries. Highly recommended. (Currently only available on kindle- and a steal at 2.99!)"

Torn by Justin Lee I basically want to recommend this to every Christian I know. Whether or not I agree with every conclusion Lee comes to, his poignant, vulnerable story is one that Christians - especially those who have never had a gay friend - need to hear. This book is not primarily an argument for gay rights or gay marriage, although Lee does take a little time to explain how his mind changed on those topics. It is primarily a story, one that you need to read with an open heart, ready to learn from it without simply jumping to find things you agree or disagree with.
Not Your Mother’s Morals by Jonathan Fitzgerald ebook available here - full review coming soon.

A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter I read this because it's free on Kindle, and because I rememberd my mom recommending it to me like 10 years ago.  I absolutely loved it.  Set in Indiana (!) in the early 1900s, it's a beautiful coming of age story that demonstrates so many American cultural values - self-reliance, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, the value of hard work and education. It also has a unique naturalist perspective, and it made me think a lot about humanity, the natural world, and technology. 

As for movies, we really liked Safety Not Guaranteed. Josh Radnor's newest offering, Liberal Arts, was ok, a bit predictable, and really! he's playing the same Ted Mosby role again and again! Jack and I both sobbed through Les Miserables in the theater (and it totally changed his mind about Anne Hathaway - from contempt to admiration), and on Amazon Prime we're watching Foyle's War, which his parents recommended. It's a classic British detective show set in the south coast of England during World War II.

what I'm reading this week

We didn't trick or treat.  It was so wet and cold here, and Rosie was mostly oblivious to the holiday, and we figured it was the last year that she would be, thus the last year we could get out of it.

But here she is in her costume back in September (and here's how I feel about princesses, just fyi).

The sun goes down early now, the house feels drafty, and the blog post I'd been writing in my head seems silly. As Rosie says, it's almost snow time.  What I want is to take a scalding hot bath with a book, and then sleep.
Last week, when it was warmer

Here's what I've been reading this week, along with a stack of research papers to grade:

  • Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear.  The latest installment in the adventures of Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and private investigator in London circa 1930. These historical mysteries are well written, quick reads set just after the time of Downton Abbey.
  • If you're interested in following the whole RHE "Biblical Womanhood" debate, the two best pieces this week were by Rachel Stone and Matt Lee Anderson.

    • Rachel Stone writes about reading with a hermeneutic of love rather than a hermeneutic of suspicion within the Christian community.  I've become increasingly aware of my own tendency to approach people I view as outsiders with suspicion, and people I view as insiders, with grace. Unfortunately, there's a lot of this in the Christian online world, too.  I remember realizing it most vividly when I read Challies's review of One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.  The critical tone of the review shocked me, and it shocked me because he was writing about her as if she were an outsider, when she is clearly not an outsider to the reformed evangelical camp.

      We all do that.  We read and respond to ideas differently if they are coming from people we perceive as "outsiders" or "insiders," as trustworthy or not, and we give so much more grace to people we view as "in our camp".
    • Matt Lee Anderson writes perhaps the best critical, fair-handed review of RHE's book so far.
  • Booked: literature in the soul of me by Karen Swallow Prior.  Last week I tweeted cheekily to Karen that her book had not succeeded in putting me to sleep (she counted it as a review she would always treasure). That was after one chapter.  Now that I'm halfway in, I'm truly finding the book to be moving. Perhaps I'll write a full review when I finish the book, but here's a passage that spoke to me:

    I admit that my relationship with God has been more intellectual than emotional. I used to think this lack of emotional fervor was a mark of sin or, at the very least, some great flaw in my spiritual life.  I thought that it must be a great lack in my faith that I am more emotionally moved in reading literary works like Great Expectations than in reading dramatic passages in the bible or in hearing a moving testimony from the pulpit.  But I've come to realize that my emotional responses to moving works of literature, like the passage above, are the only way I can bear to respond emotionally to God and his love: indirectly.

    It's like when Moses asked God to see his glory, and God answered, "You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." So God took Moses to the cleft of a rock and covered him with his hand while his glory passed by...Literature is like the cleft of a rock that God has taken me to, a place from which I can experience as much of the glory of God as I can endure.

Have you been reading anything good?

psalms for children and the heavy hearted

I didn’t really have a problem with God until I hit my 20s. Up to then, he had been — like my human father — good, kind, and sometimes inscrutable, but always loving, always approachable, always there.

It wasn’t that I had never questioned him — to be fair, in my teens I had battled doubts about God, but they had been cerebral, intellectual doubts. I read the existentialists, and I studied world religions, and I wondered if all that I understood from the Bible could possibly be true.

But emotional doubts — those I had never encountered. I had never railed against God for his absence and silence; in my sweet, safe, sheltered life I had never had cause to question his goodness. As far as I knew, no one else had either.

So when my world flipped upside down at the age of 23, when God absconded, I lacked the emotional vocabulary I needed to pray through it.

{Read the rest at The Living Church.}

{I promise, I do write things other than book reviews, sometimes.}

In which I take on Trillia Newbell's review of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood"

Trillia Newbell, a freelance writer in Tennessee, wrote an early review of Rachel Held Evans’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood for last week.  She and I have both written for her.meneutics, and I’ve found her pieces there to be interesting.  I was surprised, then, to find that this book review seemed to be more hastily (as a teacher of writing, I found a number of sentences that I wanted to re-write) and perhaps carelessly written than what I had seen in the past from her.

Newbell discovers a number of problems with Evans’s book, and reviews it, she says, with a heavy heart.  In reading her review, it seems to me that she has in several places misunderstood or misrepresented Evans’s ideas.  I’ll re-post key sections from her article below in bold, with my comments following.

As I read the book, it became increasingly clear to me of one theme: God’s word was on trial. It was the court of Rachel Held Evans. She was the prosecution, judge, and jury. The verdict was out. And with authority and confidence, she would have the final word on womanhood. 

This was not a theme that emerged in my reading of the book.  If Evans is putting anything on trial, it’s the notion that any human, herself included, can have the final word on what defines “womanhood”.

Evans makes it clear that although she holds the Bible in high esteem as a historical document, she would warn us to be careful in attempting to use it as a guide for living out the Christian faith. A few quotes explain her stance. {Here the quotes Newbell singles out are in bold and italics}
Despite what some may claim, the Bible’s not the best place to look for traditional family values as we understand them today. (48)

Newbell has removed this quote from its helpful context.  In context, Evans is not arguing that we should avoid looking for principles to guide our Christian faith in the Bible; rather, she is pointing out that the particular version of “modern family values” that many conservatives espouse in America today is not something you find a lot about in the Bible.  You are more likely to read about polygamy than white picket fences, in other words.

I kept digging, and as it turns out, Peter and Paul were putting a Christian spin on what their readers would have immediately recognized as the popular Greco-Roman “household codes.” (216)

Indeed, this is helpful cultural context in understanding the text properly.  You can study historical context and still hold that that the Bible is a guide for living out the Christian faith, believe it or not.  You can admit that the human authors were influenced by the culture in which they lived and still believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

The Bible is a sacred collection of letters and laws, poetry and proverbs, philosophy and prophecies, written and assembled over thousands of years in cultures and contexts very different from our own, that tells the complex, ever-unfolding story of God’s interaction with humanity. (293)

This seems to me to be pretty obvious, and agreed upon by most evangelicals.

And you see it most clearly in Evans' conclusion.
For those who count the Bible as sacred, the question when interpreting and applying the Bible to our lives is not, will we pick and choose? But rather how will we pick and choose? We are all selective in our reading of Scripture, and so the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we reading with the prejudice of love or are we reading with the prejudices of judgment and power, self-interest and greed? (295)
And later:
This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not, what does it say? But what am I looking for? I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (295)
Throughout A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Evans works to prove that the Bible is not without error and therefore cannot be applied literally — and in some cases cannot be trusted (as we see by the implications of Paul’s and Peter’s motives, she says, to keep their culture in the Scriptures)…

Yes, I too take issue with some of Evans’s conclusion.  What is clear, though, is that she wants us to admit that we all come to the Bible with our own sets of blinders and biases, and that these need to be humbly examined.  We should examine ourselves as we examine the text.

But she in no place says that the Bible is full of errors, as Newbell implies.  Her claim that the Bible (as a whole) cannot be applied literally is one to which most Christians assent. And the fact that she takes cultural context into consideration when seeking to understand God’s word shows how deeply she values its true meaning, not that she thinks God’s word is untrustworthy.

But while the book is engaging, her methods and her conclusions on womanhood are confusing at best.
If you go to Evans’s book looking for a systematic theology of womanhood, then yes, you will be confused.  But if you go looking for that, then you have misunderstood the project altogether.  The book is a record of  a performance art project intended to demonstrate a couple of truths: First, that any contemporary American definition of “biblical womanhood”  is necessarily selective in which Biblical references it uses; second, that the cultural context in which people read the Bible influences their interpretation of it.  Those two conclusions are fairly clear.

And this is largely because she selectively decides which Scriptures apply to women and which ones do not. She spoke with men and women from a full range of backgrounds and faiths and then attempted to apply them to evangelical Bible-believing Christianity.
Actually, she does not decide which Scriptures apply to women and which don’t.  She studies how professing Christians of a variety of stripes, as well as Jews, have understood Scriptures that refer to women, and then “tries on” their interpretations. She does this to demonstrate that "selectively deciding" which Scriptures apply to women, and how they apply,  is something that everyone does, whether they admit it or not, whether they have good (theological) reason for it or not.

Oh, and by the way, a “full range” of backgrounds and faiths would include more than white, professing Christian, Catholic, and Jewish.

The majority of her quotes and references from complementarians aim to show complementarianism as foolish and dated. Strangely she more often cites authors with a more traditionalist orientation (and less truly complementarian) and only one or two of the more biblical moderates.
I actually agree with you that in relying heavily on Debi Pearl in one chapter, she does create something of a complementarian straw woman.  But I’m surprised to hear you taking issue with the complentarians she cites, because she cites Piper and Grudem, arguably the leaders of the movement, a number of times.

Evans claims to be caught between conservative and liberal theology. She believes in the physical resurrection of Christ, and she believes in evolution. But in seeking to bridge conservative and liberal theology in this book, she invests so much time explaining what she does not believe, that readers will be left wondering exactly what she does believe.
I, for one, was not left wondering what she believes.

Part of this comes down to widely differing worldviews. To understand womanhood, Evans blends Eastern practices and mysticism, with a few selected Scripture quotes. For me to properly understand biblical womanhood, I can only finally return to God’s sufficient word…

I was really astounded to read this criticism.  I can’t think of any “Eastern practices” Evans practiced… unless Newbell is talking about Jewish traditions she tried?  Evans does write a bit about centering prayer and the discipline of silence, both pretty standard Christian practices, not some far out mysticism.

To understand womanhood, Evans didn’t blend “Eastern practices and mysticism, with a few selected Scripture quotes.” To understand womanhood, Evans spent a year reading, meditating on, researching, practicing, and writing about the Bible.  About everything the Bible says about women.  To me, it appears that Evans relies upon God’s word, just as Newbell says she herself does.  What Evans questions are her own interpretations, and the point of this project is that while God’s word should be our guide, we need to be more careful to understand it correctly, approaching it with humility, interpreting it rightly, and not using it prescriptively in ways God never intended for it to be used.

Read my full review of Evan's book here.