Each month, I choose a book of the month. It is often a tough choice, partly because I try to select noteworthy books to review. Here are some of the others that stood out. I would commend anything Marilyn McEntyre writes and her Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict is not about making “nice” but rather speaking truthfully with civility, even where we differ sharply with others. Matthew Levering’s The Abuse of Conscience explores the proper place of conscience in moral reasoning. Work Pray Code by Carolyn Chen discerns a growing trend to import religion as well as other communal structures into the work place, at least in Silicon Valley. Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land is a collection of most of his Port William short stories arranged around the chronology of the longer novels. “Fidelity” is quite wonderful. Nothing is Impossible by Ted Osius is a story of restoring trust between the U.S. and Vietnam. He exemplifies what I think is some of the best in diplomacy and the work of an ambassador, of both faithfully and firmly representing one’s own country and entering deeply into the life of his host country. Finally, Unforgettable by Gregory Floyd spoke deeply as the memoir of a man recounting his spiritual journey and how God speaks in our memories. I found myself remembering along with him.
I had an odd experience this month of people arguing with me about several of the books I reviewed. It wasn’t that they took issue with the review, but with the author’s ideas. Sometimes I wonder if they read beyond the book’s title. I found it odd, because as a reviewer I am trying to represent what the author says, not defend it. In one instance, I even suggested taking up questions with the author, an acquaintance, who I knew would be glad to discuss the person’s questions and objections to his ideas. On the other hand, I was pleased when one author wrote and said I’d gotten what she was trying to say. That’s my goal, to summarize accurately, and offer my own brief appraisal without arguing with the author, so that readers can decide whether they want to acquire the book. So here are the books I reviewed this past month. Can you guess which ones people argued about with me?
Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict, Marilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020. Engaging with the works of contemporary writers, discusses how our care for words that are clear, gracious, and truthful is vital to the pursuit of peace in a contentious world. Review
The Abuse of Conscience, Matthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2021. An analysis of the moral theology of twenty-six recent theologians tracing the rise of conscience-centered moral life, considered problematic by the author. Review
Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? Ian Hutchinson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Veritas Books, 2018. A collection of responses to questions about God and science asked by students at Veritas Forums on university campuses throughout the country. Review
All the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Gamache #16), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2020. A family visit of the Gamaches to children in Paris suddenly becomes an investigation into the attempted murder of Stephen Horowitz, Armand’s godfather, and the murder of a close associate, and will put the Gamaches in great peril. Review
Enjoying the Old Testament, Eric A. Seibert. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Seibert deals with the confusing, troubling, or uninteresting experience of many, suggesting the value of reading the Old Testament, and reading strategies for engagement with the text bring life and interest to the Old Testament scriptures. Review
Heinrich Heine (Everyman’s Poetry #28), Heinrich Heine (Translated and edited by T. J. Reed and David Cram: London: Everyman/J. M. Dent, 1997. A collection of translated poems of Heinrich Heine. Review
Work Pray Code, Carolyn Chen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. A sociologist studies how Silicon Valley tech firms bring religion into the workplace, replacing traditional religious institutions, blurring the line of work and religion. Review
Playing Favorites, Rodger Woodworth. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2021. All of us prefer the company of those like us while the gospel bids us to engage across cultures, with those unlike us, challenging us to stop “playing favorites.” Review
That Distant Land, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2004. A collection of short stories about the Port William membership not part of the longer novels. Review
Beyond Racial Division, George Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. Proposes as an alternative to colorblind or antiracist approaches, one of collaborative conversation and mutual accountability to overcome racial divisions. Review
What Are Christians For?, Jake Meador. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. An argument for a Christian politics that recognizes the goodness of all creation including all peoples, that rejects the manipulation of people and places and our own bodies that disregards their nature. Review
The Rule of Laws, Fernanda Pirie. New York: Basic Books, 2021. A four thousand-year history of the ways different cultures have ordered their societies through various forms of law. Review
From Judgment to Hope, Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. A survey study of the prophets centering on the movement in these books from judgment to hope. Review
Nothing is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam, Ted Osius, Foreword John Kerry. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2021. A memoir by former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, describing how a former enemy became one of America’s strongest international partners, and the important role diplomacy played to bring that about. Review
The Space Between Us, Susan Wise Anderson. [No publisher information], 2020. An argument for a Christ-rooted civility in our politically and culturally polarized climate. Review
The Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith. New York: Penguin Classics, 1986 (originally published in 1766). The “memoir” of the vicar, who experiences a series of financial and family disasters, ending up in prison, and how matters resolved themselves. Review
Unforgettable, Gregory Floyd. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2022. Through remembering his life of faith, the author remembers the working of God in all of life’s seasons, giving hope for the future. Review
The Everlasting People (Hansen Lectureship Series). Matthew J. Milliner, Contributions by David Iglesias, David Hooker, and Amy Peeler, Foreword by Casey Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A series of reflections upon the writings and life of G. K. Chesterton and how they fostered an appreciation of the art and history of the First Nations peoples of the Midwest. Review
Book of the Month. This month I gave the nod to Louise Penny’s All the Devils Are Here. All her novels are exquisite in plotting, characters, and the milieu, including the food they eat! This one had an exceptionally twisty plot and deftly explored the issues of trust, and who one can trust, even between family members and in long-abiding friendships. Personally, if we could nominate a fictional man of the century, I would nominate Armand Gamache.
Quote of the Month. I mentioned Unforgettable above. Floyd’s casting himself into the arms of God reminded me so much of a night on a hillside in West Virginia where I surrendered my life to God:
“…in my senior year of high school, I heard his voice. Not audibly, but an impression on my heart, a word pressed into it: Jump. I woke in the middle of the night to a voice that said: ‘Jump, and trust that I will catch you.’ Somehow, I knew this was God speaking, and I decided to jump. If I was correct, I would find myself in the arms of God” (p. 30).
What I’m Reading. It’s a dangerous thing when friends send you their books but I am thoroughly enjoying David J. Claassen’s Racing the Storm, a fictional account of trailer court residents about to lose their homes when the court owner decides to sell the land. The ensemble of characters is what makes this book–I like them so much I want to see if they manage to keep their homes and stay together.
On a very different note, My Body is Not a Prayer Request, is a hard-hitting account by a disabled Shakespeare scholar of what it is like to be treated as a problem to be fixed instead of accepted for who one is. Amy Kenny writes about the physical and attitudinal barriers that prevent disabled persons from being fully included in the church and in society. I’m doing a live interview with her on Thursday, so message me if the topic is of interest to you.
The Glory of God and Paul is a study of the theme of God’s glory, especially in Paul’s writing. Columbus native Wil Haygood’s book Showdown is on the nomination of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the contentious hearing process before his final confirmation. It reminds me of the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson and makes me wonder how far we’ve come on matters of race. I’ve just finished Ngaio Marsh’s Dead Water concerning a spring with reputed healing powers, at least until its leading promoter is found floating dead in it! This had one of the more exciting endings in Marsh’s stories. And I’m just starting Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear. I first encountered Greene in college (The Power and the Glory) and think him one of the under-rated novelists of the 20th century.
Hope I’ve helped you find one or two things for your summer’s reading list! Happy reading!
The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014! It’s a great way to browse what I’ve reviewed. The search box on this blog also works well if you are looking for a review of a particular book.