The Month in Reviews: September 2021

So many good reads this month! I began with a debut novel that combined a riveting plot, a great , collection of characters, and strong relationships. Then I moved on to another Louise Penny. I’ve finished number ten in the Gamache series and they just keep getting better. On a very different note, I found thought-provoking and unsettling a study of American history through the lens of beliefs about human nature. I’ve long loved Seamus Heaney’s rendering of Beowulf. Finally, I read some of his poetry, with all its evocation of Ireland. Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair won a Pulitzer. I have to admit I’m not sure why. Majority World Theology introduced me to so many fine theologians from around the world. I discovered Eula Biss, a fine essayist who wrote about immunology before the pandemic, addressing her fears by understanding the history and science. This was followed by a much-discussed book on how cultural models of masculinity shaped the evangelicalism of the last century. Erik Larson’s intimate portrait of Winston Churchill’s first year as prime minister was a refreshing look at someone about whom I’ve read many books. Art + Faith was a beautiful reflection on a theology of making and The Fire Within a beautiful treatment of the spirituality of sexual desire. Books like these make me wonder why we hide such good things as Christians. In between was a delightful Miss Marple from Agatha Christie. I wrapped up the month with a book on belonging, a former governor offering a distinctive vision for Christians in politics, and a survey of historical and global beliefs about the church.

Raft of StarsAndrew J. Graff. New York: Ecco, 2021. A coming of age adventure story of two friends fleeing down a river after what they think is the murder of the father of one of the boys, and the pursuit to save the boys from certain destruction from a danger unknown to them. Review

The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Gamache #10), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur, 2015. Gamache’s peaceful retirement is interrupted when Peter Morrow fails to return as agreed a year after his separation from Clara and they embark on a search taking them to a desolate corner of Quebec. Review

We the Fallen PeopleRobert Tracy McKenzie. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An argument that we have witnessed a great reversal in American history from an assumption of fallen human nature to the inherent goodness of people, which the author believes could jeopardize its future. Review

Seamus Heaney Selected Poems 1966-1987Seamus Heaney. New York: The Noonday Press, 1990. A selection of the poetry of Seamus Heaney from previously published works between 1966 and 1987. Review

Dragon’s Teeth (The Lanny Budd Novels #3), Upton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published 1942). As Irma’s fortune wanes, Lanny uses his art dealings both for income and to secure release of the Robins, who are swept up in the anti-Semitism of pre-war Nazi Germany. Review

Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global ContextEdited by Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A global collection of scholars discuss the major doctrines of the Christian faith considering the history of doctrines, the scriptures, and cultural contexts. Review

On Immunity–An InoculationEula Biss. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014. A collection of essays about vaccines, immunity, fears, risks, and related concerns about environmental pollutants and other dangers faced by the human community. Review

Jesus and John WayneKristen Kobes Du Mez. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020. A historical study of how the ideal of rugged masculinity typified by John Wayne influenced the evangelical embrace of authority, gender roles, and conservative, nationalist politics. Review

The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson. New York: Crown, 2020. A day to day narrative of the first year as prime minister of Winston Churchill, focusing on the circle around him as well as how he inspired a nation fighting alone under the Blitz. Review

Art + FaithMakoto Fujimura, foreword by N. T. Wright. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021. A series of reflections connecting art and faith in the act of making. Review

The Mirror Crack’d From Side to SideAgatha Christie (Miss Marple #9). New York: HarperCollins, 2011, originally published 1962. A harmless busybody dies of a poisoned drink intended for a famous actress, the beginning of further threats, and murders that follow. Review

The Fire Within: Desire, Sexuality, Longing, and GodRonald Rohlheiser. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. A collection of short meditations on human, and particularly sexual desire, contending these come from God and are meant to draw us to God. Review

No Longer StrangersGregory Coles, Foreword by Jen Pollock Michel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A personal memoir on struggling to fit in and giving up on belonging to pursue Christ, and in the end, finding both. Review

Faithful PresenceBill Haslam. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2021. The former governor of Tennessee makes the case for Christian engagement in politics, using the model of faithful presence. Review

An Introduction to EcclesiologyVeli-Matti Kärkkäinen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An introduction to different historical theologies of the church, contemporary theologies from throughout the world, the mission and practices of the church, and the church and other religious communities. Review

Best Book of the Month: Majority World Theology is a huge work in every sense from size to the quality of the contributions and the wide array of theologians this work brings to one’s attention. One thing I especially appreciated in a work of this size was how readable it was. It was a pleasure to work through.

Best Quote of the Month: Ronald Rohlheiser’s The Fire Within is a gem consisting of short reflections around the spirituality of our sexuality. This quote captures his contention:

“Sexuality is inside us to help lure us back to God, bring us into a community of life with each other, and let us take part in God’s generativityIf that is true, and it is, then given its origin and meaning, its earthiness notwithstanding, sex does not set us against what is holy and pure. It is a Godly energy” (p. xi).

What I’m Reading. Currently, I’m in the middle of Ngaio Marsh’s first Chief Inspector Alleyn book, A Man Lay Dead. I haven’t read the series in order, but the first is among the best I’ve read. Colm Toibin’s The Magician is a biographical fiction work on German writer, Thomas Mann tracing the inspiration of his works, his closeted homosexuality, his difficult relations with his children, and his ethical wrestling with how vehemently to speak against Nazi Germany, from which he and his family had fled. Identity in Action is a book written for students on how excellence in Christ may be expressed through one’s different identities. Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends is a wonderful devotional work pairing Psalms and what the church’s teachers have written on them. Finally, I’m reading Forty Days with a Five, which probably gives away my Enneagram type, if that’s not already apparent to those who study such things.

With the cooler weather of fall, I’m transitioning from reading in shorts in a lounge chair with a cold drink to a comfy chair indoors, a warmer shirt and a hot cup of coffee. The one thing that doesn’t change is the books. Happy reading!

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