The Month in Reviews: September 2022

As baseball’s fall classic approaches, my reading in September included essays from Roger Angell bringing back memories of seasons in the early 1970’s and a new biography on the role of faith in Jackie Robinson’s struggle to integrate baseball and in his civil rights activism. I read two more Willa Cather books and marvel at her ability to paint with words. As mid-term elections approach, I read two books on politics, one so important that I selected it as my book of the month. Along with these, I finally got around to reading Richard Weaver’s classic Ideas Have Consequences, about which I had a mixed assessment. Wendell Berry’s The World-Ending Fire, captures the essence of Wendell Berry’s essays, constituting a collection of a number of his best. I also read delightfully informative and well-written books on the history of the Vikings and the making of vaccines. I find myself reading more mysteries of late and reviewed ones by Georges Simenon and Ngaio Marsh (her last, completed just weeks before her death at age 86). Of course there is always the mix of books on theology and the Christian life, ranging from a monograph on Jonathan Edwards, a discussion of four theological views of heaven, how Jesus “fought” peaceably, resisting the powers that be, during Passion Week and what loving one’s neighbor might look like in a metropolitan high-rise.

Five Seasons: A Baseball CompanionRoger Angell. New York: Open Road, 2013 (First published in 1977). Roger Angell essays covering the seasons of 1972 to 1976 that arguably transformed baseball into the sport it is today. Review

Ideas Have ConsequencesRichard M. Weaver. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984 (first published in 1948, link is to expanded 2013 edition). An argument tracing the dissolution of Western society to the abandonment of philosophical realism for nominalism and what may be done to reverse that decline. Review

My Ántonia, Willa Cather (Foreword Kathleen Norris). Boston: Mariner, 1995 (Originally published in 1918, no publisher web link available). Jim Burden’s narrative of his relationship growing up on the prairie with Ántonia Shimerda, one he would live with throughout his life. Review

Maigret’s Pickpocket (Inspector Maigret), Georges Simenon (translated by Siân Reynolds). New York: Penguin, 2019 (originally published 1967). Maigret becomes much more acquainted with a pickpocket than he bargained for when the man contacts him and leads him to his wife’s body, a victim of murder. Review

Four View on Heaven (Counterpoints), John S. Feinberg (Contributor), J. Richard Middleton (Contributor), Michael Allen (Contributor), Peter Kreeft (Contributor), Michael E. Wittmer (General Editor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2022. Representatives of four different views on heaven respond to ten questions and each other’s responses. Review

The Religion of American GreatnessPaul D. Miller (Foreword by David French). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. A conservative’s critique of Christian nationalism, distinguishing it from patriotism, and making a case against it both biblically and as an illiberal theory that is at odds with the American experiment of a constitutional democratic republic. Review

My Vertical NeighborhoodLynda MacGibbon (Foreword by Michael Frost). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. The author’s account of moving from a small eastern Canada town to a Toronto highrise and how strangers became neighbors that she learned to love. Review

Fight Like JesusJason Porterfield (Foreword by Scot McKnight). Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2022. A study of the accounts of Holy Week through the lens of how Jesus chose peace amid his ultimate confrontation with power. Review

The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell BerryWendell Berry, Selected and with an Introduction by Paul Kingsnorth. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2019. A collection of the essays, mostly focused on local culture, the care of places, and the hubris of technological solutions. Review

Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the VikingsNeil Price. New York: Basic Books, 2020. A history based in archaeological research of the rise of the Vikings, their ways and beliefs, and their development as a trading, raiding, and invading power. Review

The Death of PoliticsPeter Wehner. New York: HarperCollins, 2019. A book that explores the noble calling of politics, the causes of the deep divisions reflected in the 2016 election and the years that followed, and what must be restored if the American experiment is to endure. Review

InalienableEric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. The three authors propose that voices from the margins and the kingdom-focused vision of service to the neighbor, even the most needy, may be the voices that bring renewal to the American church. Review

The Federal Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Studies in Historical and Systematic Theology), Gilsun Ryu, Foreword by Douglas A. Sweeney. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2021. A study of Jonathan Edwards federal theology, forming the basis of a theology of the history of redemption in three covenants, with a focus on Edward’s exegetical approach to this theology. Review

Death Comes for the ArchbishopWilla Cather. New York: Vintage Classics, 1990 (first published in 1927). The story of two missionary priests from France and their labors over forty years to establish an archdiocese in the American Southwest. Review

Seven Brief Lessons on LanguageJonathan Dunne. Sofia, Bulgaria: Small Stations Press, 2023. Explores the spiritual significance embedded into the letters, sounds, and structure of our language. Review

Light ThickensNgaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2016 (originally published in 1982). Set once again at the Dolphin theatre as Peregrine Jay stages Macbeth, a play surrounded by superstition, a production plagued by macabre practical jokes, and the real murder of the title character discovered just after the play’s climactic scene, with Alleyn in the front row. Review

Strength for the Fight (Library of Religious Biography), Gary Scott Smith. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2022. A biography on this pioneer Hall of Famer who desegregated Major League Baseball, devoted his post-playing years to civil rights activism, all sustained by his active faith. Review

How To Make A VaccineJohn Rhodes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021. A concise handbook discussing the science behind vaccine development, including an explanation of the different types of vaccines, including the various COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Review

Book of the Month. I chose Paul D. Miller’s The Religion of American Greatness because of the singular contribution it makes to the discussion of Christian nationalism. It is written by someone who easily could have been an exponent of Christian nationalism, having worked in the George W. Bush White House, served in Afghanistan, and the CIA. The book is not a progressive screed against the opposition but a scholarly work that seeks to appraise the appeal of Christian nationalism in terms that its partisans would agree with while taking issue with it as both a betrayal of the American experiment and of the kingdom vision of scripture in its reduction of God to a tribal god. I had the privilege of interviewing Paul Miller and hosting a lively online conversation with him recently. You may view it on YouTube.

Quote of the Month. As I mentioned above, I’ve reveled in Willa Cather’s writing. I love this quote from Death Comes for the Archbishop capturing both the beauty of the American Southwest and the missionary passion of the Archbishop:

“The base of the hill before which they stood was already in shadow, subdued to the tone of rich yellow clay, but the top was still melted gold–a colour that throbbed in the last rays of the sun. The Bishop turned away at last with a sigh of deep content. ‘Yes,’ he said slowly, ‘that rock will do very well. And now we must be starting home. Every time I come here, I like this stone better. I could hardly have hoped that God would gratify my personal taste, my vanity, if you will, in this way. I tell you, Blanchet, I would rather have found that hill of yellow rock than have come into a fortune to spend in charity. The Cathedral is near my heart for many reasons. I hope you do not think me very worldly.’ “

What I’m Reading. There are two books I’ve finished, awaiting reviews: Catherine Ceniza Choy’s Asian American Histories of the United States, telling the story of multiple groups of Asian American and pivotal events for those communities through the stories of individuals, and Resisting the Marriage Plot, a study of four characters in Victorian literature who don’t conform to conventional expectations of marriage, and find strength for their choices in their faith. I’m enjoying Oliver Sacks Uncle Tungsten, describing his boyhood fascination with chemistry. Andrew Meier’s Morganthau chronicles four generations of this business dynasty and politically-connected family. After reviewing Reading Black Books, I picked up Richard Wright’s Native Son, which includes his essay on the inspiration for Bigger Thomas. Lore Ferguson Wilkins A Curious Faith is about living the questions God asks of us and we ask of God. Agents of Flourishing builds on Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling, getting very practical about how agents of the kingdom pursue flourishing in six areas.

At this time of the year, I delight in watching the squirrels gathering acorns from our oak tree for the winter ahead. I hope this list suggests some books you might squirrel away for the cooler weather and the long winter nights coming soon. Happy reading, friends!

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.

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