Reading Reflections: The Crucifixion: Part One

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.indd

I’ve taken a break from reviewing new books I’ve received from publishers for a short while to immerse myself in what may be the most significant theological book published in the last ten years. It was Christianity Today’s Book of the Year in 2017. I thought it appropriate in this season of Lent to finally dig into Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion“Dig in” is not inappropriate for this 612 page (plus bibliography and indices) study on the central event of Christianity. The work is made lighter by Rutledge’s elegant and accessible prose–this is a work of meaty theology meant for those in the pew and not merely the academy. It is such a rich book that I thought I would write several reflections in addition to my usual review to capture, at least for myself, something of the richness of this work. This is on the first two hundred pages, most of Part One of the book.

Right at the start, Rutledge contends for the primacy of the cross, and the challenge Christianity has always faced from various forms of gnosticism, and its devaluation of material life, including the very physical act of a crucifixion in history. In place of an action of the Triune God entering human history to make things right by a gory death, human beings prefer systems of attaining to hidden spiritual knowledge through human achievements, and the devaluation of the body. She notes that Christians have even drawn back, sometimes accepting narratives of the cross as divine child abuse, which she will contend reflects neither the shared will and agreement of the Trinity in the act of the cross, nor the object of the cross, making things right for those under the power of Sin.

She made a statement stunning in its clarity in her chapter on “The Godlessness of the Cross.” She writes in response to those who would ban the cross as a religious object that “[t]he cross is by a very long way the most irreligious object to find its way into the heart of faith.” She then explores at length the horror of the cross as an instrument of torture, degradation, and execution for the dregs of criminal society. the significance of the idea of those who die on a cross being under the curse, and explores the question of why God would choose such a horrific form of death to accomplish God’s redemptive purposes in the world. I’ve often asked the question “why did Jesus die?” What this book is challenging me with is the question of why did Jesus die in this particularly gruesome and horrific fashion?

She begins to explore a response to this in discussing the idea of justice. She notes that “[g]ross injustice demonstrates a basic premise: in our world, something is terribly wrong and cries out to be put right.” She uses the example of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to show that “putting things right” involves something far different from the “forgive and forget” idea we sometimes think of in God’s work through Christ. It involves accountable truthfulness about atrocities, both confessing wrongs and hearing from one’s victims. Yet the object isn’t punishment, which can never be proportional to the offenses, but a new creation. She goes on to explore the biblical word group connected to dikaiosyne, variously translated as “justice,” “righteous,” “righteousness,” and “justification.” She contends that the underlying idea is one of God making things right and suggests that “rectify” in its various forms may be a better English word and uses this in the remainder of the book. She argues that the cross is an apocalyptic event–a divine intervention that makes right what could not be made right by human law-keeping.

One of the striking emphases here that I sense will run through the work is the gracious initiative of God. Later, in a chapter on “The Gravity of Sin” (a topic she admits we have a hard time talking about) she contends “[t]here is no way to help people to the knowledge of sin except to offer the news of God’s ‘prevenient’ purpose in overcoming sin through the cross.” Countering our tendency  to put repentance first, she argues for an order of “grace-sin-deliverance-repentance-grace.” It is in grasping the grace of God revealed in the cross that we understand the enormity of our sin. It is understanding the mighty work of the cross in delivering us from the power of sin that we are moved to repentance and realize the sheer pardon into new life we enjoy by grace.

This chapter also develops an idea she has hinted at, of capital S Sin. We often think of particular acts. She develops the idea of Sin as a Power, a principle of rebellion that holds people captive, that there is a power of darkness over the human heart in all of us that helps explain the horrors of what humans do to each other. And it begins to explain why the Triune God chose the instrumentality of the cross to deliver us from this horrid power. This is hard stuff. It strikes me that this helps explain our obsession with explaining why people commit mass shootings and other atrocities. We look for some “reason,” perhaps because we do not want to face the reality of the reason-defying logic of human evil, and the scary possibility that it is not so far from any of us. Yet there is also the wonder that in the Cross, God, in the innocent Son, becomes the object of human evil to set to rights what was terribly wrong in us that we could not self-rectify.

One other aspect of this work, in a “bridge” chapter on Anselm, is that she argues that Anselm has been misunderstood as a proponent of penal suffering. She argues that his idea of “satisfaction” is much closer to what she is proposing as “rectification.” It makes me want to go back and read Cur Deus Homo to see if her reading of Anselm can be supported. In the second part of the book she will go on to discuss eight “motifs” for understanding the crucifixion, including substitution. Given her comments on Anselm, and her sensitivities to the accusations against penal substitution, as well as her defense of the death of Christ as a work of love in which the Triune God acted as one, I am curious how she will weight these different “motifs” (she disdains the terminology of “theories of the atonement”) and what she will conclude. Already, it is clear that for her, this will all point to the idea of rectification, of God putting right what was wrong through Christ.

I don’t know whether I will agree with all that Rutledge writes, but this work forces me to look with fresh eyes at what easily becomes too familiar. She helps us to face the skandalon of the cross lost in our back-lit crosses and eye-catching PowerPoints. She confronts us both with things about human nature that are uncomfortable, and the relentless determination of God to address what is terribly wrong with the world and put it right, which is quite wonderful.

On the TBR Pile: March 2019

20190320_1600194415132371421916578.jpg

Yesterday, I featured the books I’ve received recently for review. The books I feature today came from bookstores, sometimes at very good prices from a variety of genres: essays, mysteries, science, history and autobiography. They are not the only books waiting to be read around my house, but some of the next ones. But don’t hold me to this! Something more interesting may come up along the way. Like yesterday’s post, I’ve included a link in the title to the publisher’s webpage for the book. I’ll let you decide if and where you will buy them!

The givenness of things

The Givenness of Things, Marilynne Robinson. I love Robinson’s fiction and have appreciated the wide-ranging character of her essays. This is a collection from 2016 and includes a two-part conversation with President Barack Obama. The book was listed on Time’s Top 10 of 2016.

the bookshop on the corner

The Bookshop on the Corner, Jenny Colgan. I enjoy books with plots that center around bookshops. This one is about a former librarian who moves to a small town, buys a van and turns it into a mobile bookshop, and changes life after life as a literary matchmaker.

robicheaux-9781501176869_lg

Robicheaux, James Lee Burke. A bookseller put me on to James Lee Burke and his detective character, Robicheaux. This is one of his more recent works, in which Robicheaux becomes a suspect in a murder he is investigating.

the-second-kind-of-impossible-9781476729923_lg

The Second Kind of Impossible, Paul J. Steinhardt. This is a kind of scientific quest for a new form of matter by a theoretical physicist. I’m curious to see if he succeeded!

indianapolis-9781501135941_lg

Indianapolis, Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. This book has received a lot of attention, making the New York Times bestseller list. It recounts the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the last month of World War II, the struggle for those who did not immediately die to survive (only 316 out of 1200 do), and the fight to exonerate Captain Charles McVay, who was wrongly court-martialed after the sinking.

i am mulala

I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai. This has been out a while, but I came by it recently. Violence against women is an issue I care deeply about, and I’m also interested in learning more about Pakistan. And I’m drawn by the story of this courageous woman.

presidents-of-war-cover

Presidents of War, Michael Beschloss. The author traces the leadership of American presidents throughout the nation’s history, in leading the nation into war and in coping with the pressures of war, successfully or not. The power entrusted to the American presidency to lead a nation into war is significant, particular in a nuclear era as we face choices about who will fill this office.

No doubt, there may be some here you’ve heard about, or even read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books and look forward to sharing mine over the next month or so. There are so many good things out there to read, aren’t there?

On the Review Stack: March 2019

20190319_1450595557315724539461631.jpg

The current “review stack”

It has been about a month since I wrote about books on my review stack. Since them, I reviewed most of the previous stack with a few “in process.” Meanwhile, a number of new books have come in, and I wanted to offer you a preview of them. I have not read any of them yet, but wanted to let you know about them in case something here speaks to an interest of yours. I also am excited about all these works and happy to give them an early, and extra shout out.  I am just listing the title and author with a link in the title to the publisher’s web page for the book. So here is the stack from top to bottom!

contentment

The Power of Christian Contentment, Andrew M. Davis. This book reacquaints us with a Puritan work from 1643, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, and draws insights to speak to our contemporary restlessness.

none greater

None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of GodMatthew Barrett. The author argues that we have tried to domesticate God, something impossible to do when we consider the perfections of God. We may not be able to tame God, but the author contends that we may find him worthy of our worship.

lost world torah

The Lost World of the Torah, John H. Walton & J. Harvey Walton. Another “Lost World” a book from John Walton and his son, J. Harvey Walton. According to the book description, “The objective of torah was to teach the Israelites to be wise about the kind of order needed to receive the blessings of God’s favor and presence within the context of the covenant.”

savedbygracealonecover2-416x659

Saved by Grace Alone: Sermons on Ezekiel 36:16-36D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I have always loved the expositions of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. He was renowned for taking a year or more to exposit a book. In this case we have fourteen messages on 21 verses in Ezekiel 36 on what seems a New Testament theme–saved by grace. Intriguing!

thegreatawakening-416x632

The Great AwakeningJoseph Tracy. A reprint of an 1842 book on the Great Awakening of the 1740’s during the ministries of Whitefield and Edwards. I have found the history of American revivals fascinating, perhaps in my longing that God would favor us with another such season.

Wolterstorff

In This World of WondersNicholas Wolterstorff.  This is a memoir by the Yale philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, someone who has thought deeply about the intersection of philosophy, the Christian faith, and the world of higher education. He is on my list of “contemporary academic heroes” and so I look forward to this memoir!

handbook on jewish roots

A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faithedited by Craig A. Evans and David Mishkin. Following the “roots” theme, the book is organized in soil, roots, trunk, and branches parts, the book explores “Old Testament background, Second Temple Judaism, the life of Jesus, the New Testament, the early Jewish followers of Jesus, the historical interaction between Judaism and Christianity, and the contemporary period.”

Embracing the other

Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love, Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Followers of this blog will recognize that I have reviewed a couple of Grace Ji-Sun Kim books. As an Asian-American woman, Kim explores a theology of gender and racial justice through the work of the Spirit who restores shalom to the world.

enneagram

Spiritual Rhythms for the EnneagramAdele and Doug Calhoun, Clare and Scott Loughridge. Written by four certified Enneagram instructors, this book offers a number of exercises for each of the nine Enneagram types to lead to greater self-awareness and transformation in our relationships with God and others. I have friends who have worked with one or the other of these couples and greatly appreciate their wisdom.

All of these are theologically-related books. I do read other things as well, and tomorrow, I’ll preview some of the non-theological books I’m looking forward to reading next — works in history, science, essays, and fiction. Nearly all of these are books I’ve purchased. I haven’t cultivated the same reviewing connections with these publishers, and not all the books are current releases.

Happy reading!

 

Digital Distractions?

IMG_2269

My trusty e-reader with a “Vicky Bliss” mystery loaded. (c) 2015, Robert C Trube

Back in 1994 Sven Birkerts wrote The Gutenberg Elegies, which argued the modern life is changing the way we read. Think about it–in 1994, the internet was all text based and most of us who were around them were just discovering it. Cell phones were these primitive brick-like contraptions with an antenna you pulled out that you only used to make phone calls. We bought or rented videos, listened to books on either cassettes or CDs, and watched TV either over the air or on cable.

There have been scores of articles since, including a more recent one touting a new book by Birkerts, still contending that our technology disrupts our reading, and our writing. At least from the side of reading and engaging with books, I suspect the issue is a bit more complicated. A recent discussion at my Bob on Books Facebook page suggests that the advent of various digital technologies have had both benefits and downsides.

A regular commenter said various digital technologies have tripled her reading! A number of people have found e-readers have facilitated their reading. One person, whose husband is connected with the military, found her e-reader helped them meet weight restrictions on their moves. They are also convenient for reading while traveling (another time where trimming weight makes sense). Many use free library downloads to save costs. E-readers make digital text searches easier for research purposes. Some find reading easier on an e-reader, including a person with eye problems, for whom an e-reader is “a real blessing.” Another person, however, thought their e-reader was messing with their eyes, and some still prefer real books to e-readers. However, one person reading an 800 page book wished it were on her e-reader because of the weight of the book!

Audiobooks are also a favorite for a number, particularly because these make it possible to take in a book while engaged in other activities. One artist friend finds listening to an audiobook helps him focus on his work. In another discussion, a number linked audiobooks and exercise. Nothing wrong with getting physically and mentally fit! Some of us (myself included) exercise while reading on our e-readers.

One of the other ways technology aids readers is in searching for books. Project Gutenberg offers 58,000 e-books for free download. Library websites facilitate searches for books, reserves, and downloads of e-books and audiobooks. The energy savings of not having to physically go to the library in many cases is not to be overlooked. It is now possible to link a local library or bookstore to Goodreads under the “Get a copy” function.

TVs and smartphones can be a problem. One person observed their reading time go way down when they discovered streaming services on TV. One person decided to quit television. Others find social media like Facebook a distraction. They are reading, but…. This can be a problem when you use a reading app on your phone, but get distracted by others apps, particularly if you have notifications turned on for any apps. But there is a problem that once the phone is on, it is easy in a moment of boredom or distraction to check Facebook…or Twitter…or even Goodreads. Fifteen minutes later you remember you were reading. Some admitted that addiction to their phones is a problem that is cutting into their time.

Perhaps for these reasons, or just the love of the feel of a physical book, there are a number who still like to turn the pages, and my observation is that they turn quite a number of pages from the books they report on reading! Unless one is listening to an audiobook, I suspect most of us probably need to put mental or even physical distance between our e-book or physical book and our phone. Dedicated e-readers on which you can only read can be helpful here. Perhaps it can be healthy to have times of the day where we don’t have our phones with us, and reading times may be one of them.

None of this explores a deeper question, and that is whether we engage in the same way a physical book, an e-book and an audiobook. My hunch is that we do not, but we still may attain the same end, whether it is simply diversion, or illumination. I wonder if the issue is not what I’m reading but how well I am paying attention, and how actively I am thinking about what I’m reading. However, I would maintain that reading, in any of these forms is better than not reading, and if any encourage those who might not otherwise read to plunge into a book, that’s a good thing.

Your thoughts?

On the Review Stack: February 2019

20190206_1728441324199508644511912.jpg

My current “review stack”!

I usually have several books going at once and I mention some of these in my “Month in Reviews” post. I thought it might be fun to preview some of the books waiting to be read that are in my “review queue.” All of these have been sent to me by publishers for review. You don’t have to wait until my review to check these out!

modern tech

Modern Technology and the Human FutureCraig M. Gay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. This explores how our technology shapes us, and the theological implications of current trends in technology.

Travel

Travel: In Tandem with God’s HeartPeter Grier. London: IVP Books, 2018. This book looks like a lot of fun. The cover copy says: “Travel is fun – to state the very obvious. But what if it could be enriching, life-enhancing and lots, lots more?”

the common rule

The Common RuleJustin Whitmel Earley. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Earley explores the power of habit, and developing a rule of life to sustain us in modern life.

relationomics

RelationomicsDr. Randy Ross. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Ross focuses on how organizations can develop cultures that promote healthy relationships.

reciprocal church

Reciprocal ChurchSharon Galgay Ketcham. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Young adults are leaving churches in droves after high school. Ketcham explores values and practices that create communities “where faith flourishes beyond high school.”

for the life of the world

For the Life of the WorldMiroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun. Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2019. The authors argue that “the intellectual tools needed to rescue us from our present malaise and meet our new cultural challenge are the tools of theology.”

welcoming justice

Welcoming JusticeCharles Marsh and John M. Perkins. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. A historian and an activist reflect on the pursuit of Martin Luther King’s “beloved community.”

true you

True YouMichelle DeRusha. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. Using the gardening metaphor of pruning, DeRusha shows how we may need to subtract to flourish.

becoming a just church

Becoming a Just ChurchAdam L. Gustine. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Praxis, 2019. Looks at what it means to pursue justice in congregational life.

Carson_BasicsforBelievers.indd

Basics for BelieversD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. A re-packaging of a classic exposition of Philippians on essential disciplines for living the Christian life.

the21en

The 21Martin Mosebach. Walden, NY: Plough, 2019. We saw the images of the 21 Coptic Christians executed by ISIS. Mosebach tells their story and that of the Coptic community from which they came.

sinners and saints

Sinners and SaintsDerek Cooper. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018. First of a four part series on church history, this portrays the highs and lows of early church history from the apostles to Augustine.New CreationNew CreationRodney Clapp. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018. Clapp explores how our eschatology, our beliefs about the end, ought shape our life in the present.

Democracy

Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, Astra Taylor. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019. Explores why a real democracy has never existed and “offers a better understanding of what is possible, what we want, and why democracy is so hard to realize.”

under pressure

Under Pressure, Lisa Damour, Ph.D. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019. Why is there an epidemic rise in reports of stress and anxiety in girls? What are the steps parents and other adults can take to address this epidemic?

Well that’s the stack. There are a number of others (especially fiction and history) that I’ve purchased and will weave in, but you can expect to see reviews on these in the next month or so. I look forward to telling you more about them!

Paywalls

7286865350_463049ac32_z

Image by Ron Mader, [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Remember when the internet was free? I still remember the incredible fascination of discovering the world at my fingertips the first time I got on the internet and found the first primitive Yahoo search engine (before the days of Google and Bing).

There is still an amazing amount of that out there. But increasingly, if you are like me, you’ve run into walls. Paywalls.

The problem? Many content providers from The New York Times to The New Yorker have put up paywalls. Paywalls mean you must be a subscriber to see the content, or any content beyond a limited number of articles per month. Some, at least, like The New York Times, have actually found this a successful strategy.

I understand. Print circulation of many of these content providers is dropping and hardly anyone has figured out how to create a good advertising revenue stream on digital media, particularly with ad blockers (more recently sites have taken to asking you to pause your ad blocker on their site as a partial remedy). Bottom line is that writers and others who make these content outlets possible have to be paid or they will be out of business. The Atlantic, one of the few media outlets without a paywall has a good article explaining how all this works. [In a counter-intuitive move, I decided to subscribe to them because they don’t have a paywall, and I really appreciate many of their writers and articles.]

I also decided to subscribe to one major news outlet with a paywall. I have print subscriptions to a couple of periodicals that allow me access through their online paywalls because I subscribe. But here’s my problem. I’m at my limit of subscriptions. And I probably encounter paywalls on a dozen or more sites that I access each week. Often, I’m referred there via a newsletter only to find either that I cannot access the content, or that I need to use up my allotment of free articles to do so. Often I am at these sites because I curate a Facebook page on books. Truth is, although I do it sometimes, I hate to post material with a paywall for those on my page.

NiemanLab ran an article about this problem and they have come up with a solution that I have wondered about for some time. Perhaps you can guess what it is if you subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime. Create an umbrella subscription that will give access to a number of periodicals and news outlets. By using cookies and some type of user ID, it would seem to be easy to track usage and allocate revenues accordingly.

For the big outlets that have been going it on their own successfully, this might not be attractive. But for smaller content providers that many might decide to pass up, I could see the benefit in enhancing their revenue stream.

In Christian circles, it was once common to use song lyrics at meetings and retreats, and knowingly or not, routinely violate copyright restrictions and rob artists of earnings on their artistic work. In 1988, Christian Copyright Licensing, Inc. was formed. Churches and ministries could purchase an annual license, the fee for which was based on group size, and gave access for noncommercial use to a wide range of music and lyrics. Now, over 250,000 subscribe, enough that their founder, Howard Rachinski, was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2016, a sign of the impact this has had for musicians and songwriters.

A blanket periodical subscription could be offered as a tier of plans based on usage. I think a marketing/usage study might be needed to determine these but I suspect offering multiple price points based on usage patterns would be attractive to many who value the content, recognize the need to these outlets to have revenue, but can’t afford a dozen subscriptions (or don’t want to keep track of that many usernames and passwords). People pay $120 a year for Prime, around $170 a year for Netflix, depending on the plan, $180 a year for the basic Audible plan, and often $400 a year or more for premium cable or other plans, when at one time they got their TV for free, and audiobooks at the library. Might this be a good way to pay for digital print media that we care about?

What do you think of such an idea? How much per month or per year would you pay for a subscription?

Young Readers in Love

children-reading-3782456_1920

Children reading, by perfertdaysphotography via Pixabay

The other day, I asked the Bob on Books Facebook Page membership “when did you discover you loved reading?” As of this writing, thirty-six people responded and it was unanimous that they fell in love with reading in elementary school or before. The oldest was in sixth grade. Some always loved reading, enjoying being read to and even learning to read before they went to school. One woman claimed she read at a twelfth grade level in first grade!

There were several things I learned from my informal survey:

  1. Time spent with parents or another adult reading stories contributed to a love for reading for some.
  2. Learning how to read opened up the wonderful world of reading for some.
  3. One reader shared how she didn’t learn to read until sixth grade due to issues related to Aspergers, and how dedicated Special Ed teachers persisted when she started falling behind and resented reading. Now she loves reading and commented, “I enjoy reading so much now and will continue on for more years to come.”
  4. For many, it was a particular book that opened the wonderful world of reading. People mentioned Huckleberry Finn, Charlotte’s Web, the Little House books, A Wrinkle in Time, Nancy Drew mysteries and monster books.
  5. Trips to the library and bookmobile were important for a number of individuals, and getting a library card of one’s own was empowering.

The funniest reply I received was, “When I realized I wasn’t getting siblings, ever.”

Just yesterday, I came across this in How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick:

“Learning to read in first grade is the start of future academic attainment that has significant implications on adult health status. By third grade, students transition from learning to read to reading to learn, meaning that an inability to read hinders learning across all subjects. A study in the Chicago Public School system found that 80 percent of children with above-average reading scores in third grade graduated high school compared to 45 percent of those with below-average reading levels.” (p. 65)

Elsewhere in this book it was noted that life expectancies in the U.S. can differ by as much as 14 years between those who fail to graduate from high school and those with sixteen or more years of education. Often, these differences are associated with zip codes and a complex of challenges.

Years ago, two friends co-wrote a book titled Read for Your Life. I wonder if they realized how literally true their words were. It seems that fostering the skill of reading, and hopefully with it, the love of reading, ought to be a national priority. How I wish a president would be willing to shut down the government for adequate funding to ensure  every child learned to read. God bless the Special Ed teachers of my one respondent who persisted until she learned not only to read but to love reading!

So what do we say for the adults who did not develop a love of reading as children? Actually, I don’t think we are so different than children. We don’t like being lectured that we should read. Far better to read a book on something they find interesting and love that makes them want to read more. Far better to discover that talking about books can be enjoyable (do we need book groups for reading neophytes?). Sometimes there may even be a learning or visual difficulty that has made reading a chore all one’s life. Wouldn’t it be great if employee health plans included help in these areas. I suspect it would more than pay off in productivity.

I do suspect we who have always loved reading need to be careful with adults just learning to love books. We should not intimidate them with an avalanche of book recommendations or be book snobs looking down on choices that we might think are “mind candy.” After all, who doesn’t enjoy candy at times? And as we watch the child-like birth of a love for reading, we may recall our own first love.

 

Sharing What Gives You Joy

50085476_286199468709044_1491318245532106752_n

One of the memes doing the rounds on the internet in the wake of Marie Kondo’s video.

Bookish circles around the internet have been buzzing about the Marie Kondo video about tidying up your books, suggesting you identify the 30 books that give you joy, and dispose of the rest. There has been huge pushback among bibliophiles. One I know said “all my books give me joy!” Another said they had more than 30 books just on their nightstand. I think for some of us, a booklined wall (or walls) brings a feeling of safety. When I imagine a “safe place,” the first image that comes to mind is a book-lined library with a fireplace and rich and comfortable leather furniture.

At the same time many of us have far too much clutter in our lives. I’ve also recognized that a certain amount of de-accumulating of books is necessary at this stage of my life and I regularly donate, re-sell, and gift books, and still truly have more than I need–and they keep coming in!

As I’ve reflected on this idea of keeping books that give us joy, I have found that a corollary is giving books that give us joy, and that giving may even be a deeper source of joy than the books around us. It is interesting that we are encouraged to dispose of the books that don’t give us joy (although they may for someone else). Might a more meaningful gift be to share a book that has given us joy? In some cases, we may end up acquiring another copy, particularly if the book is one we want to revisit!

There was an article I read yesterday about physician burnout and how reading helps doctors replenish the emotional tank. We have a primary care doc who we really like, and, over the years, I’ve gotten a sense for the books he likes and I periodically bring one in when I have an appointment. Little did I realize that I might be helping avert burnout, but sharing joy may amount to the same thing.

I take for granted the ease with which I acquire books. Through interactions on this blog and on Facebook, I’ve discovered that this is not the case in many parts of the world, or even in some parts of our own society.  This has led me to begin exploring various ways to respond including donations of theological books. One place I’ve found that accepts scholarly theological works published after 1980 is the Theological Book Network that has shipped books to 1400 schools in the global south.

Prisons are another place often in need of books. The American Library Association publishes a list of secular organizations that accept donations of books. Among Christian ministries, Christian Library International serves over 1,000 prison facilities in the US.

Of course, one of the simplest things we can do is ask the question as we read a book that we really like is to ask who else would like it. One of the delights in sharing books is that when our friend has read the book, we can talk about it, and it adds to the things we share in common.

Of course, there are a number of other ways to share books and bring joy to others. Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist has a great list of twenty places to donate books. He thinks of all the places I know of and many more. Often, it is simply a matter of collecting books in a box and hauling them to a nearby local location. Others provide help in preparing books for shipment.

What I’m proposing is that a joyful life is a giving life. As joy-giving as great books are, finding ways to share those books offers the chance to enhance that joy for ourselves and to bring joy, knowledge, diversion and all the things we love about our books to others. That, it seems to me, is the prize beyond book lined walls and tidy shelves.

Reading By The Numbers

Goodreads see what your friends are reading

Accessed 12/25/2018 at 8:20 pm ET

Yesterday, I wrote about reading resolutions. I noted that of all the reading resolutions shared with me, none had to do with numbers. Nor did mine. Yet numerical reading challenges are a big deal among many bibliophiles.

The most famous is Goodreads’ yearly reading challenges. You have to have a free Goodreads account. Each year, you can set your own challenge goal beginning a few days before January 1. People set a variety of challenge goals from reading one book to hundreds. As you can see from above, the average is 60, a healthy goal of more than one per week. Your home page will show a progress bar, and whether you are ahead, behind, or on track to reach your goal. All your friends can see how you are progressing as well. You can also see how many pages you’ve read and compare your statistics to past years, what reading you’ve done in various categories and more.

LibraryThing also offers challenges at different levels (50, 75, etc.) and allows you to join groups and post what books you are reading. People make up a variety of creative challenges of reading different genres, reading through the alphabet (each book title starts with a successive letter of the alphabet), and a variety of other creative challenges.

Other groups I’ve seen offer monthly challenges. These involve the whole group reading a different type of book each month: eg. science fiction one month, a book about presidents the next. I know one group that is trying to read consecutively biographies of each U.S. president. I could see such challenges building a sense of community–physical or virtual.

I think if this sort of thing is fun and life-giving and occurs in the context of reading that enriches your life, then there is no harm in this, and even positive value in encouraging you and others in your challenge to read, and maybe get exposed to books they might not otherwise read. Personally, it is not something I pay a great deal of attention to. For the fun of it, I always set a goal on Goodreads, but it is a low one for me. I don’t want my reading driven by one of these goals.

It is interesting to me to see how people actually do on Goodreads in comparison with goals. For example, people pledged to read an average of 60 books. So far this year (as of the evening of 12/25 when I’m writing this), they’ve actually read just under 13, a bit over one a month. More striking to me is that slightly less than 0.7 percent of people have completed their challenge with a week to go. Maybe there will be a spurt in the last week. I wonder how many will read a bunch of really short books to reach their goal (I’ve heard of people doing this).

This suggests to me that this reading challenge thing isn’t working for quite a number of people. I would propose, instead, thinking about the number of minutes a day you want to read and figuring out where you will set aside that time in your day. A rough guide is that for every minute you read, you will read that many books in a year (15 minutes, 15 books; 60 minutes, 60 books; etc.). That might vary based on length of the book and the type of book.

The real point is figuring out where in your life you will make space for reading, if you share my belief that reading is a valuable, life-enriching activity. It might mean something as simple as deciding to read a book for the twenty minutes of your mass transit commute each day instead of flipping through your phone. I get 30 minutes of reading in on my Kindle each day while on my treadmill. Hopefully some of your time is in a comfortable chair with your favorite beverage.

Mortimer Adler is reputed to have said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” It seems to me that the only benefit of any of these number games is to set us up for books to get through to us. If that isn’t happening in our number games, it might be better to abandon them, or at least ask ourselves why we are reading. What good is it to read 52 books if we can’t express what the value of any of these was to our lives? By the same token, a single book that changes our mind, that captures our imagination, that informs a critical choice, that gives us hope, or that inspires by example counts for more than all those forgotten books.

What it comes down to for me is that I don’t want to read more; I want to read well. I hope that for you. My reviews started and continue to function as a way of helping me read well, by trying to capture the essence and significance of a book. At least some times, that seems to be helpful for others, in figuring out what is worthy of their time and attention.

So, my hope for all of us in 2019 is that we read well, however few or many books we read. It seems to me that this is what the precious gift of literacy is all about.

 

Reading Resolutions for 2019

resolutions

Over at my Bob on Books Facebook page, I asked followers what their 2019 reading goals are. Here are the responses, in the order received:

  • Read read read read
  • I’d like to branch out and try new authors and writing styles.
  • I have set the goal that I will spend 2019 reading only from my own stacks. No library books (unless needed for a class) and no new purchases. It won’t be easy.
  • To read more. And get a job at the library (for real).
  • Just to read…
  •  I’d like to read at least 2 nights or more a week. I have enough books to last a lifetime and want to get enough for 4 to 5 lifetimes so I need to catch up.
  • Read more bios and autobiographies.
  • Not to feel obligated to finish every book I start. Start more, finish the good ones.
  • Reduce my bought-not-read shelf by 5 and read a book in Spanish.

I loved every one of these goals! I identify with those whose goal is “just to read.”  I’m not sure I have much more of a program than that. It also makes good sense to read the books we already have and our families, and the family budgets probably appreciate this. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to work at a library. I hope the person who shared this goal lets us know how it goes if she gets the job. I know I’d probably be broke if I worked in a bookstore. I think the aim to read more diversely, which shows up in several goals, makes sense. I like the idea of reading a book in another language to brush up one’s knowledge of the language. Perhaps I should dust off my French…

Compulsiveness can kill the joy of reading. That’s why I like the idea of not feeling obligated to finish every book we start. If it’s not working, move on. Likewise, I noted that no one set a numerical goal for the number of books they would read. This is a big deal on Goodreads. I always set a low one for me so I don’t stress out about it and can get the nice badge!

So, my reading resolutions for 2019?

  1. I want to grow in what I would call “attentive reading,” where I’m actively engaged in thinking about what I read, why I am reacting as I do to it, and what I want to carry into my life from what I want to read.
  2. I want to read at least one more book from my “Ten Books I Want to Read Before I Die” list. Leading candidates right now are Chernow’s George Washington, and Taylor’s Secular Age. Both are tomes, so if you see a drop in the number of my reviews, that’s probably why (unless I’m reading another big book).
  3. I’d like to read at least one collection of poetry this year. I have them in my TBR piles, and one on my “Ten Books…” list above.
  4. I like the idea of reading a book in another language. It had better be French, and even this is pretty dusty. Any suggestions, from those who know French literature, of something that is not too demanding?
  5. Finally, I want to be more selective in the books I request for review. Any book I request for review, I feel I need to read. In particular, I want to ask, “am I really interested in this?” and “is this saying something fresh, or is it just a repackaging of old ideas?”

I better stop there. I will probably break at least one of these resolutions as it is. And more might be an exercise in compulsiveness. It’s not a good thing to start hating something you love!

The only reason I see for reading goals is they bring focus to what gives us joy. As frustrating as it is to admit sometimes, we can’t read everything–not even everything we think we’d like. If goals can help us think about what we really want to read, what will be life-giving and world-enlarging, then they seem a good thing. If not, then just “read read read read.” As someone has said, “the way is made by walking.”

Happy walking and reading in 2019!