The Month in Reviews: May 2021

I just finished a book edited by Marita Golden of interviews with Black writers discussing the transformative power of both reading and writing. That is what sustains reading and writing in my own life–to share what has been good and even transformative, and to hope I might connect you with writing that will have that effect in your life. That was certainly the case with the books I read this month whether it was a comprehensive study of the doctrine (indeed the wonder) of creation, the theme of rest in the Bible or a classic Octavia Butler work that explores the dynamics of colonization at the level of alien life. Reading Mary Wells Lawrence’s memoir of her life in advertising, which began in my home town of Youngstown was a walk down the memory lane of all those ad slogans that will forever be etched in my mind, and finally, I know who to blame! Walter Isaacson’s The Code Breaker on Jennifer Doudna and CRISPR is essential reading for understanding the coming biotech revolution. Contemporary issues were amply covered in works on sexual abuse in the church, whether we can have a redemptive presence on social media, and how Christians might faithfully engage the news. In the realm of fiction, in addition to the Octavia Butler, I enjoyed a historical fiction account of J.D. Salinger’s war experience and the first volume of a new fantasy series and continued reading my way through the works of golden age mystery by Ngaio Marsh. Take a look through this list and you just might find a few summer reads!

Reimagining ApologeticsJustin Ariel Bailey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A case for an apologetics appealing to beauty and to the imagination that points toward a better picture of what life might be. Full review

Sergeant SalingerJerome Charyn. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2021. A fictional account of J.D. Salinger’s early adult life, centered around his wartime service with the CIC including the landing at Utah Beach, fighting in Normandy’s Hedgerows, the interrogation of German captives, the harrowing fighting of Huertgen Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, and the discovery of a Nazi death camp. Full review

Prayer in the NightTish Harrison Warren. Downers Grove: IVP Formatio, 2021. Both an introduction to Compline and a phrase by phrase reflection using one of the loveliest of Compline prayers. Full review

#ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing, Emily Joy Allison. Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021. An argument connecting sexual abuse and other sexually dysfunctional teaching to the purity teaching upholding an ideal of abstinence until marriage between a man and a woman. Full review

Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About ItDouglas S. Bursch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A discussion of the nature of online media, why it divides us, and how Christians can have a reconciling and redemptive presence. Full review

Candles in the DarkRowan Williams. London: SPCK, 2020. Weekly meditations by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, written for his parish church from March to September 2020, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Full review

A Big Life (in advertising)Mary Wells Lawrence. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2003. A memoir of the first woman to head up a Madison Avenue advertising firm, producing some of the most memorable advertising campaigns of the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Full review

Waiting for the Rest That Still RemainsArie C. Leder. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2021. A consideration of the theology of the former prophets, including the Book of Ruth, considered through the lens of rest. Full review

The Black Coast (The God-King Chronicles #1), Mike Brooks. New York: Solaris, 2021. Former enemies seek refuge with the people of Black Keep against a backdrop of political infighting, intrigue around the succession of the God-King, and the rise of a sinister power. Full review

The Code BreakerWalter Isaacson. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021. The story of the 2020 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, Jennifer Doudna, and the discovery of ways to use CRISPR enzymes to edit genomes, and her subsequent efforts to establish ethical standards for the use of this breakthrough discovery. Full review

Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the NewsJeffrey Bilbro. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A discussion of what Christian faithfulness looks like as we engage the news, focusing on our practices of attention, our awareness of the time we are in, and the communities of which we are part. Full review

Death in Ecstasy (Roderick Alleyn #4), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2012 (originally published in 1936). Nigel Bathgate happens upon the strange religious rites at the House of the Sacred Flame just in time to witness the death of Cara Quayne, the Chosen Vessel, when she imbibes a chalice of wine laced with cyanide. Full review

Adulthood Rites (Exogenesis #2), Octavia Butler. New York: Popular Library, 1988. (Out of print. Link is to a different edition) Lilith’s son Akin, a human “construct,” is kidnapped by resisters and raised in one of their settlements, and realizes his own unique and risky calling. Full review

The Doctrine of Creation: A Constructive Kuyperian Approach, Bruce Riley Ashford and Craig G. Bartholomew. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the doctrine of creation, demonstrating how this doctrine is foundational and related to everything else in Christian theology. Full review

The Word: Black Writers Talk About the Transformative Power of Reading and WritingEdited by Marita Golden. New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2011. Interviews with notable Black writers about formative influences on their reading and writing, significant books and their particular writing callings. Full review

Best Book of the Month. I give the nod this month to Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night. She introduces the unfamiliar to the practice of Compline prayers and reflects chapter by chapter on one of the most beautiful of these and how God meets us in the night in every circumstance of our lives from our joys to our dying. This is exquisitely beautiful and vulnerable writing.

Quote of the Month: I love quotes on reading. Edwidge Danticat, in Marita Golden’s The Word made this striking observation about the importance of both reading and writing, one to which I fully subscribe:

“Reading is important–although we can so easily go into platitudes here–because it expands your mind, your life. It extends your world. It’s traveling without a passport. I feel like there are people in my life I will never know as well as the people in the books that I’ve read. I believe that it’s the duty of every truly free citizen to read, especially to read beyond your borders, to read and read extensively. Writing is our footmark in the world. We’re still looking at cave writings of centuries ago and are asking, what are they saying? It’s one of the most important gifts we leave the world” (p. 72)

What I’m Reading. I just finished Notorious RBG, a somewhat light-hearted biographical sketch of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg written while she was still alive. It ranges the gamut from her legal career and cases involving women’s rights and her dissents on the bench to her jabots, who did the cooking in her household, and the love of opera she shared with “Nino” Scalia. Tons of pictures! I’m into a couple other biographies at present, one of Henrietta Mears, whose What the Bible is all About was a guidebook to me in my early Christian life, and one of Siggi Wilzig, a holocaust survivor who arrived here with a grade school education and $240 and became a Wall Street legend. The book is titled Unstoppable and it strikes me as a somewhat tragic tale of a driven and psychologically scarred man. I’ve just begun Chandra Crane’s Mixed Blessing, on embracing a bi- or multi-racial identity, something true of nine million Americans, and which will only grow in the years ahead. And I’ve just opened Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound. I can’t go a year without reading something of his. In my continuing quest to read through all the Chief Inspector Gamache stories, I anticipate reading #8, A Beautiful Mystery, this month. Her books helped me get through the pandemic, so I’m not giving up now!

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