I struggle to find any truth in your lies.

My favorite song, “Awake My Soul,” by Mumford & Sons begins this way:

“How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes / I struggle to find any truth in your lies / And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know / My weakness I feel I must finally show”

Sometimes, I look at the people around me and wonder what kind of lies they’re believing. I think about the depth of my inner thoughts, and I recognize that, at any given moment, one of my beloved friends could be fighting an inner battle about which I know nothing. I wonder if their battles are like my own. Are those battles also buried so deeply, entrenched in years of self-doubt, that escape seems improbable–or impossible?

I’ve found that, even in all the end-of-semester busyness, I’ve been experiencing a bit of dissatisfaction lately, and I can see throughout patterns in my life that this dissatisfaction lies in years of self-doubt. What truly amazes me, however, is how absolutely pervasive this self-doubt can be.

One bad class period in which my students don’t respond to any of my instruction. One plagiarized essay. One student who turns in a late assignment. Any one of these incidents brings up questions that I hate to realize I’m asking myself: Do I really want to teach? Is this actually my calling? Am I making any difference? Why am I working so blasted hard for students who clearly don’t care?

This self-doubt leaks over into my own academic life. The grading scale at Gardner-Webb is strict; if I make anything below a 97 in a class, I lose my (pridefully-held) 4.0 average. A 96–a very honorable grade–will earn me a 3.66 in a class, which is bordering on unacceptable, at least to my perfectionist nature. After taking a midterm exam a few weeks ago, I walked out of my professor’s office thinking I had just blown my GPA. I didn’t feel as though I answered the questions thoroughly, and I did not feel as if I adequately expressed my knowledge of American Renaissance literature. Two weeks later, when my midterm was returned to me, I was astounded by my grade–a 99–and my teacher’s comments that the test was clearly too easy for me. I was also a little ashamed of the flood of relief that passed over me as I realized that I still, in fact, have an excellent chance of making above a 97 in the class as a whole. Just days before, I had followed the slippery slope of self-doubt down to questioning my entire future. If I don’t make an A in this class, I’ll lose my 4.0, and I won’t get accepted into grad school at Baylor (where I’m seriously considering entering a Ph.D. program). My pride as an exceptional student is constantly at war with my perceived identity: though I rarely voice the idea, I often feel that if I’m not a perfect student, then I have completely failed at life. I don’t feel as though I’ve ever been good at anything other than academia, and making less than an A clearly means that I’m not even good at that. See? Lies.

The worst part, however, is the lies of my perception of relationships:

The reason you’re approaching 26 and still single is because no guy could ever be interested in you.

That guy you’re interested in? He doesn’t care about you at all. Other girls are so much better.

That girl? She’s only talking to you because she needs something from you.

Your best friends? They think you’re annoying and you talk too much when you drink too much coffee. You should stop that. Don’t do that anymore. You’re always wrong.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

But so comfortable, too. The lure of lies is that they appeal to my selfish nature. When I believe these lies, I’m in control. Yes, berating myself is difficult, but it’s also very powerful. When I blame myself, I’m buying into the lie that I’m actually important (in some negative regard). It’s easier to believe that I’m single because I’m not good enough than because God has some greater plan. Because when I recognize God’s purpose, I have to let go of my own mindset. And letting God love me can be even more difficult than hating myself.

The truth is that I far too often believe the lies. I do not often enough grasp the Truth. This dissatisfaction serves a purpose, however. I recognize the self-doubt, and I begin to actively fight against it. I read Psalm 139 and remind myself that, even in the trenches of self-doubt, I cannot flee from my Father’s presence. I remind myself that truth is found in the cross on which my Savior died, not in my job or my academic career or my relationships with others. I write on my blog because that’s a little easier than saying the words face-to-face. And I listen to Mumford & Sons’ song and I hear the hope at the end: “Awake my soul / For you were made to meet your maker.”

I’m not sure of Mumford & Sons’ intention in those lyrics, but I know Who my Maker is, and I know that He doesn’t want me believing the lies. And I finally find the courage to fight against them and turn to the Truth once more.

A Bibliophile’s Lament

Okay, I get that e-readers have enormous potential and are very popular right now. I have friends who have tried to convince me to buy a Kindle, and all along, I’ve declared that e-readers just aren’t for me. I love holding a book in my hand; I love browsing shelves of books–new or used, library or bookstore; I love the smell and feel of old books and discovering a really pretty copy of a favorite book on a used bookstore shelf. However, there’s one aspect of book-reading that I never even considered that I would miss with an e-reader: page numbers.

I don’t own an e-reader yet. But for simplicity’s sake (and cost-effectiveness), I downloaded the free Kindle application for my MacBook. The book I’m reading for class this week, called The Hidden Hand by E.D.E.N. Southworth, apparently only exists in current print in one edition that costs $26. Rather than buying a copy through the university bookstore, I decided to download the free copy for Amazon’s Kindle. Though it’s a bit inconvenient to have to read off my computer screen, that’s preferable to paying all that money for a book I’ll probably only read once anyway.

Still, I lament the loss of page numbers. In digital form, I have to measure my reading progress by a bar on the bottom of the screen, not the thickness of the pages still left. I also find that I like to know how many pages are in a chapter before I commit to reading it. It’s not as much fun push a button on my keyboard as it is to flip the pages in a book.

I really, really, really love books. And while it’s entirely plausible that I will one day in the relatively near future own an e-reader for the simplicity and convenience, I also know that I’ll never, ever give up my book-owning fanaticism. Or my love of page numbers.

I Am Number Four

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book–not because I haven’t read some review-worthy books, but because I haven’t had time or haven’t been able to figure out how to accurately summarize my thoughts.

However, I’ve got one for you now. I Am Number Four has received a lot of attention in the young adult realm lately–mostly because it’s just been made into a film. And, like the good reader that I am, I promised myself that I would read the book before seeing the movie (even though Civil Twilight’s song “Letters from the Sky” is on the soundtrack!).

All right, the premise: it’s science fiction (yay!). The title refers to the novel’s protagonist. He is an alien from a planet called Lorian. He and eight other children, along with each of their Cepans (like Watchers…sort of) and the pilot of the spacecraft, managed to escape Lorian during a global war in which the Lorians’ enemy, the Mogadorians, killed the Lorians to take over their planet. The Mogadorians had used up all the resources and their own planet and needed a new home.

The novel follows the fourth child and his Cepan, Henri. Every few months, Four and Henri move to a new small town in an effort to keep Four’s identity secret. Four changes his name each time (he goes by John Smith during the events of this novel). The numbering of each child is important. The Mogadorians have come to Earth to track down the nine children. Once they kill the nine, they can then begin to take over Earth (a planet much larger and more suited to the Mogadorians’ needs). But there’s a curse on the children for their protection: the Mogadorians can only kill the children in order of their number. (I don’t recall whether the number represents birth order or something else. That wasn’t clearly explained.) Every time one of the kids dies, each of the remaining nine gets a ring burned around his or her ankle as an alert that one of their number is gone. The novel opens with Three’s death, which is why Henri and Four must move yet again.

They arrive in Paradise, Ohio, where John soon meets a beautiful girl named Sarah and befriends a sci-fi geek named Sam. From there on out, it’s just what you’d expect from an alien-pretending-to-be-human, coming-of-age tale. John’s in love for the first time, has a best friend for the first time, experiences the arrival of his Legacies (his special abilities as one of the nine–he’s fireproof and able to employ telekinesis), and struggles to decide how to tell both Sam and Sarah about his true identity. And, of course, the Mogadorians find him. Fighting ensues. People discover his secret. Enemies in his high school become allies in the fight against the Mogadorians.

I expected this book to be epic. My favorite parts of this book, as I also expected, were the backstory: how Four and Henri arrived on Earth; why they left to begin with; folklore, history, and tradition associated with Lorian. In general, what I love most about science and/or speculative fiction is the ability of an author to create another world. And Pittacus Lore (a pseudonym that I’ll discuss more in a moment) sets up an interesting world.

But the execution of this story was merely good. I expected something phenomenal, and I didn’t quite get that. At times, the dialogue seemed a bit off, a bit too adult-trying-to-be-teenager. At other times, minor details in the story weren’t explained enough, and in science fiction, the beauty is in the details. For example, when the Mogadorians arrive, Four flees his school and goes back to his house. His girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend Mark (and, therefore, Four’s high school enemy) is sitting at his kitchen table on Four’s Cepan’s computer. It’s never explained why he’s there or how much he knows, but suddenly, Mark is fighting alongside Four and his friends. I was seriously bothered by the inconsistency in Mark’s attitude.

Nonetheless, the story kept me (mostly) interested. I read the book in a few days, and I’m looking forward to the movie. It may be one of those books that works better visually than textually. And I’ll definitely read any sequels that come out. But I’m not dying to know what happens next, as I did with the Hunger Games trilogy or the Chaos Walking trilogy.

One last thing about this book: Pittacus Lore is a pseudonym (obviously). The name will somehow come into play with the history of Lorian–there are references in this first book. I assumed, at first, that Lore was a new author on the scene and just established a pseudonym to go along with the content of the book. However, I searched him on Google after I noticed the first textual reference to a character named Pittacus, and I discovered that Pittacus Lore is actually a collaboration of James Frey and Jobie Hughes. (In fact, in the book, Henri creates new documents for Four to use in the future. Two of those names are “James Hughes” and “Jobie Frey.” Clever.) James Frey is the author of A Million Little Pieces, the “memoir” that Oprah chose for her book club several years ago that was later revealed to be a total fabrication. Frey had written a novel and published it as a memoir, sparking loads of controversy in the publishing world. It turns out that not only is Frey still publishing under his own name, but he’s also working on tons of projects using a variety of pseudonyms. Pittacus Lore is just one of those. This discovery about the real author may have had something to do with my disappointment with the book. I despise a lack of integrity, and no matter how great the writing or the story is, I already had a bad opinion of Frey.

All this to say, I would recommend this book. Just know that it has a few issues, and I wouldn’t rank it among the absolute best young adult novels I’ve read.

Here’s the trailer for the film. I’ve already spotted some differences between the book and the film, but I’m looking forward to seeing it nonetheless: