Late Fall Book Preview 2019


We’ve had our first snowfall already. The leaves are down, it is dark around 5 p.m., and the winds are chill. Christmas is only 37 days away and the formal beginning of winter a few days before that. It’s a good time to curl up with a good book in your favorite chair, perhaps by a warm fire if you have a fireplace. It’s not a bad time to think about books for gifts (or maybe your own wishlist!). Here’s some books that have arrived for review. I won’t get to some of them before Christmas so I thought I’d let you know early if you want to take a look. So, from the top of the pile…

Bowery Mission

Bowery MissionJason Storbakken. Walden, NY: Plough, 2019. The Bowery is notorious as the underside of New York. The Bowery Mission has provide food and shelter for 140 years, and this little book tells the story. Inspiring for anyone considering homeless ministry.

A week in the life of a greco roman woman

A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman WomanHolly Beers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. I’ve loved this series. This volume creates a story around a fictional young wife and mother in Ephesus. All of the books I’ve read so far have shed helpful light on cultural backgrounds of the Bible in an enjoyable read.


The ConscienceEberhard Arnold. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. Arnold, a founder of the Bruderhof, a network of Christian communities, explores how in Christ the conscience may become a valued friend rather than a troublesome voice that we try to placate or suppress.

tending soul, mind, and body

Tending Soul, Mind, and Bodyedited by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. The book is a collection of papers from the 2018 Center for Pastor Theologians conference and “explores the relationship between three fields–theological anthropology, spiritual formation, and modern psychology” (back matter). I’ve been impressed with the high quality of papers from previous conferences.

40 Questions

40 Questions about Heaven and HellAlan W. Gomes. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. In a format where each chapter focuses on one question, the book explores questions related to the afterlife about which many wonder.

unsettling truths

Unsettling TruthsMark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. These two authors dig into the pernicious effects the “Doctrine of Discovery” embodied in fifteenth century edicts had upon settlement of the Americas and the treatment of Native Peoples.

out of darkness

Out of Darkness, Shining LightPetina Gappah. New York: Scribners, 2019. A novel on the exploration of Africa, told by two attendants of Dr. David Livingtone, as they transport his remains 1500 miles for burial.

choosing community

Choosing CommunityChristine Colón. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Dorothy Sayers both participated in and commented upon many communities and this is a study of her writing on this theme.

gospel allegiance

Gospel AllegianceMatthew W. Bates. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019. This is the second book by Bates developing the idea of faith as allegiance to Christ. I liked his Salvation by Allegiance Alone and look forward to seeing how he has developed his ideas.


The Heart of RevelationJ. Scott Duvall. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019. A study of Revelation identifying ten themes outlining what we can know for certain in this often puzzling book.


Evolution, Scripture, and Science, B.B. Warfield, edited by Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingstone. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2019. This is a reprint of a work first published in 2000 showing nineteenth century Princeton theologian Benjamin Warfield’s approach to science and faith, one that did not see these as inherently in conflict.

spiritual warfare

Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of ScriptureWilliam F. Cook III and Chuck Lawless. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2019. The authors outline a theology of spiritual warfare with practical applications.

last leonardo

The Last LeonardoBen Lewis. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019. The story of the last painting by da Vinci, a painting of Christ, searched for in vain, until Christie’s announced they had it, and sold it at auction for $450 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting.

seeking church

Seeking ChurchDarren T. Duerksen and William Dyrness. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A study of global Christian movements using emergent theory that posits that “the gospel is read and interpreted through existing cultural and religious norms” (from back matter).

narrative theology

Narrative ApologeticsAlister E. McGrath. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. McGrath takes an approach to giving a reason for faith from story rather than arguments and talking points.

opening the red door

Opening the Red DoorJohn A. Bernbaum. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. The story of the first Christian liberal arts university, the Russian-American Christian University, from its beginnings with the eclipse of communism in 1989, its rise and partnership with Russia, and the increasing pressures it has faced in the Putin era

I have my stack of books for a cold winter night. Have you stocked up yet, or perhaps gotten an idea for a stocking stuffer? Happy reading!

What to Do If You Are Behind on Your Reading Challenge

reading challenge goalReading challenges like Goodreads Reading Challenge have encouraged many people to set aside more time for something they love–reading. It’s fun to see the numbers add up, especially if you are on, or ahead of pace to meet your reading goal.

But what if you are not? You wanted to read a book a week, 52 in total and here it is, November, and you have read 20. What do you do? Here are some thoughts, facetious and otherwise.

  1. Read and count lots of children’s books. Many for younger readers are very short, and each counts as a book. You could probably binge over a weekend and reach your goal.
  2. Go on an extended reading binge for the rest of the year. Still choose relatively short, page-turners to read. At this point (November 12) you have just over six weeks. Five books a week will do get you there.
  3. Count audiobooks and listen to them while driving, working out, whenever you can.
  4. Re-define “read.” You could just skim these books, read the first sentence of each paragraph and get a sense of this.

I’ll be honest, none of this sounds like any fun, except for maybe the children’s books. Mostly, it feels pretty driven and kind of defeats the purpose of reading, which is enjoyment that grows our minds and view of the world.

I suspect that a better tack might be to look at what has hampered your reading. It might be that life has happened in a big way–an illness, a new job, a break up, or even a marriage, or a new baby. It’s probably best to forget the goals, and live in the change you are in, and be the person you hope to become amid it, which may take work. Start reading when the bandwidth and desire are there. If your are a reader, let me assure you, it’s lurking in there, just waiting for a chance to come out.

A few thoughts for the rest of us who just need to recalibrate our reading goals:

  1. Unless you are close, ditch the goal for the year. You made the goal. You are allowed to change it or set it aside.
  2. Goodreads actually allows you to change the goal. If reaching a goal means something to you, set a goal that is reasonable to reach at this point–perhaps your current total plus two. That will get you started. You might even exceed your goal. Won’t that feel good.
  3. Figure out when you will read. Fifteen minutes a day allows you to read 15 books of average size a year. That should allow you to read at least two books before the year ends. The minute a day of reading per books you want to read each year is a good rule of thumb for setting goals. If you are able to read an hour a day, then you have a chance of making that 52 book goal next year.
  4. Make reading a reward for something, and reward yourself in your favorite chair accompanied by your favorite drink. This isn’t study hall!
  5. Start with books in a genre or on a subject you enjoy, if you are getting back into the groove. That may not be War and Peace, as much as you think you should read it! Pick that up during a year when you are ahead of the pace needed to reach your goal, or after your reach your goal.

Unless you are a student or are doing work related reading, you probably just read for your own personal amusement and enrichment. If reading goals help you be more intentional in pursuing what amuses and enriches you–great! But if the goal is making you miserable, then you either need to get a better goal or just be someone who enjoys reading without goals. Maybe just keeping a tally of the books you’ve read is all you need.

Happy reading, goals or not!


What Happens To Unsold Books?

Remaindered Books

Remaindered Books, Public Domain via Wikimedia

In an ideal book world, every book would find a home in the hands of a reader delighted to find just that book. Alas, we don’t live in that world. While they have to be good at it to stay profitable, publishers and booksellers aren’t always able to perfectly figure out what readers will want to buy. So what happens then?

Booksellers have agreements with publishers and distributors on returns so they don’t bear the cost of unsold inventory. For hardcovers and trade (larger, better quality paperbacks) the general practice is that the actual books are return after a certain period of time. In turn, unsold books are “remaindered,” that is sold off at a steep discount to various online discounters (Hamilton Book and Daedalus Books are examples, as well as third-party sellers on Amazon–but beware of counterfeits!) and discount outlets like Half Price Books. The buyers for these companies purchase books for 20 percent or less of what they think they will sell them for, rarely more than half the retail price and often less. The publisher gets rid of inventory, which can be a tax liability, and while losing money, gets at least something for the book. And hopefully, there is someone out there who has just been waiting to buy that book at a steep discount. Often, about the time I get around to buying a title, I find I can get it as a remaindered book.

Of course, the one thing a buyer has to live with when you buy a remaindered book is that slash of ink on the bottom of the pages that signifies it is remaindered. That is done so that the book cannot be re-returned to the publisher.

The practice is different with mass market paperbacks. What happens with them is that the front cover is stripped off the book and returned to the publisher for credit. The bookseller is supposed to turn the “stripped book” over to be pulped, which allows the paper to be recycled. Perhaps you have noticed a warning like this inside a trade paperback:

NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

Sadly, there are unscrupulous people out there somewhere between bookseller and pulper who sell off “stripped books,” often at flea markets. You get a very cheap book, but you’ve only enriched unscrupulous people.

Less frequently, books are donated. The challenge here is that the cost in time and expense often doesn’t warrant whatever tax benefit there is, and some places, like prisons are becoming increasingly restrictive in accepting donations.

One way around this, primarily of use to online retailers are e-books and print on demand books. The latter may be more costly, but for many indie published books, this limits the loss incurred with unsold inventory.

One other tweek to this system is one Inc. reported on with regard to Barnes & Noble’s new CEO James Daunt. Publishers often pay for placement of books they want to push. At Waterstones, Daunt decided to forgo those payments so that his booksellers could make the decisions about which books they’d feature. He figures his booksellers should better know the interests of their patrons than the publishers. In return Daunt slashed fees charged to publishers for returns, which could be on up to 20 percent of inventory. It will be interesting to see if this reduces returns, and if they use this system in the U.S.

It is sad to think of books being destroyed. Publishers are increasingly skilled at determining print runs. Booksellers are becoming more skilled and empowered in matching inventory to their patrons, and new technologies match books and buyers. There is a robust market for remaindered books. And those that aren’t destroyed can be recycled. It’s not a perfect system. But if anything, it is getting better.


Booknerds are Wordnerds


“Booknerds are Wordnerds,” Photo © Bob Trube

It’s not universal, but if you meet a booknerd (or are one), chances are good that underneath there is also a wordnerd. By that, it means you enjoy learning new and unusual words, or have fun with puns, you like a good turn of phrase or you play word games like Scrabble or Words with Friends, or love to immerse yourself in a good crossword puzzle.

Recently, my “Question of the Day” at the Bob on Books Facebook page was “Curious to see if lovers of books are lovers of word games like Scrabble? Are you?” A number responded and I tallied 109 “yeses” and 22 “nos” to my totally unscientific poll. The number of responses however, and the margin, as well as common sense, suggests there is something to this.

Reading is a celebration of words strung into sentences or verses, paragraphs or poems, engrossing or informing us. Studies such as this one point to a relationship of reading and vocabulary growth. Like many of you, when I came across an unfamiliar word and asked the meaning, a parent or teacher usually said, “there’s the dictionary; look it up.” We do love when authors use words well. Some of us also write, and know the difference between the right word, and the “nearly right” word.

I’ve discovered that the kinds of word games we like to play reflects our personalities. Some of us are much more solitary, preferring word searches, word puzzles, and crossword puzzles. Others of us are much more social and love games like Scrabble or Words with Friends. For some, our love of words spills over into love of facts and we like to play “Jeopardy” or Trivial Pursuit. There are certain games we are passionate about. One person loves to play Scrabble though he rarely wins. Another wrote, “Words with Friends for fun; Scrabble for blood.”

Scrabble was the game most mentioned, which may just be a function of the way I asked the question. Next came crossword puzzles followed by Words with Friends. There were a few other old standards including Boggle (one of my favorites) and Upwords. Bananagrams, CodyCross, word search puzzles, Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy also garnered multiple votes. The most interesting and unusual game was FreeRice, a multiple choice quiz game, that includes a vocabulary version, that donates 10 grains of rice for every right answer to the World Food Programme (this is not an endorsement of the game or organization).

One of my old favorites is Fictionary, because there is no game to buy. All you need is a dictionary that people take turns searching for obscure words that everyone else makes up “fictional” definitions while the real one is mixed in and then people try to guess which is the real one. I’ve gotten hours of laughter from that one!

Not everyone who loves to read loves word games, and that is fine. Some just like reading more and seeing word games competing with reading. The most frequent thing I saw were people who did not feel they were good at spelling. I wonder if there were some bad memories there. I heard someone recently who was a music teacher say that those who thought they couldn’t sing well were often told they couldn’t sing as children. Maybe the same applies to word games.

For many of us, though, our love for books and our love for words and games with words, go hand in hand. Is that so for you?


Are Signed Books Worth More?


My signed copy of C.J. Box’s Wolf Pack. Photo by Bob Trube, © 2019.

I’m not a book collector in the sense of trying to acquire books for their monetary value. I buy books for what is written in them. So what I write here is simply the result of some research on the question in the title of this post, and should not be substituted for expert opinion. What got me curious is that one of the books I’m currently reading, Wolf Pack, by crime fiction writer C. J. Box, has a sticker on the cover that reads “Signed Copy” and does bear a signature that reads “C. J. Box.” I did not pay extra for this book, but in fact bought it during Barnes & Noble’s Book Haul a couple months back at a significant discount. I’ve discovered that Barnes & Noble regularly sells signed editions of books, the current ones of which may be found on their website. I suspect this is simply a strategy to sell more books.

So the answer to my question is “it depends.” The critical factor seems to be how popular the author is, and how many books the author has signed. A book signed by a popular author who prolifically signs books is probably not worth anything more than an unsigned copy of the same book, or only very little. That’s probably the case with my C.J. Box. On the other hand, according to Empty Mirror, Jack Kerouac did not sign many copies of his works. If you have an authentic signed copy of a Kerouac work, it might be worth quite a bit (especially this year, the fiftieth since his death in 1969).

The type of signature also affects the worth. There are several, according to The Books Tell You Why blog, which offers one of the best explanations of the different types.

  • The autopen signed book. Presidents often used autopens, and these have no value.
  • The signed copy. It has only the signature, usually on a blank page. Many people prefer these to books with inscriptions.
  • An inscribed copy has the signature and a general notation, such as “with warmest regards.” Often, books signed at book-signings have such inscriptions. Some think inscriptions increase the value, particularly if not to a person. If you are Joe, who wants a book inscribed to Jane (unless Jane is a very important person)? Those who think inscriptions have greater value argue this on the basis of having more material in the author’s hand, which may aid in authentication.
  • A presentation copy is sent by the author signed and inscribed as a gift from the author. If it is dated close to publication and represents a first edition, this adds to the value of the signature. I have several such books, mostly of value because they were signed by good and cherished friends, but alas, not famous ones.
  • An association copy is one signed and inscribed by the author to either to a notable close person or a culturally significant person.
  • The most valuable signed copy is a dedication copy. Usually, a book is dedicated to a single person, so when the author signs the dedication page with an inscription to the person to whom the book is dedicated, this is a one-of-a kind, hence the value.

If you are purchasing signed books with the aim of collecting, the most important thing is to authenticate the signature. There are websites that provide reference signatures, for example, this one, at The Books Tell You Why. This particular site also links to listings of collectible books by each author. About the only sure thing, when it comes to avoiding forgeries is to have seen the author sign the book with your own two eyes.

Who you buy from is important. Reputable antiquarian booksellers are members of either the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) or the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), or both. Each organization has rigorous membership requirements. In the ABAA for example, “Before being considered for membership, booksellers must prove that they are established, knowledgeable, and of excellent reputation. Prospective members must be sponsored by current members, and undergo a rigorous screening process. The average ABAA member has been in the antiquarian book business more than twenty years.” The association’s code of ethics includes provisions for the authenticity of materials and full refunds if authenticity is questioned or disproven. Of course people sometimes make great finds from other sources, but equally, they may be greatly duped.

So, it all depends. If your object is investment, caveat emptor. But if you like to read an author and are a fan, it can be a fun extra, the icing on the cake of a good book. I love signed books from author friends as a reminder of our friendship. An inscribed book from an author event where you met and talked to an author you’ve admired can be a cherished possession. And if you are a collector who knows what he or she is doing, and has thought about the focus of what one collects, signed copies of book can be both interesting, and financially profitable. But probably not my C. J. Box. But that’s OK. He’s a good read.

Remembering Encyclopedias


By User:SEWilco – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia

I grew up in a house filled with books, perhaps explaining the condition of my own home. One special collection of books was the bookcase of Collier’s Encyclopedias and annual updates. One of my favorite rainy day occupations was to sit or lay on the floor in front of the bookcase and page through a volume of Collier’s. There was a serendipity as one moved from article to article, learning about an aspect of human physiology, a famous person, or a distant country. Perhaps it was this that birthed the never achievable passion of a knowledge of everything that is part of my love of reading.

The word “encyclopedia” literally means “complete instruction.” I found it tremendously exciting, and a bit daunting, that at least a summary of this knowledge could be collected on the two shelves of that bookcase. It turns out that individuals and groups of people have attempted this gargantuan task since Pliny the Elder compile Naturalis Historiae in the first century, publishing a partial version between 77 and 79 AD before the eruption of Vesuvius resulted in his death. Wikipedia, our digital version of an “open source” encyclopedia includes an extensive article on the “Encyclopedia” which I will not replicate here, except to say that ever since Pliny, and in many cultures, encyclopedia making has been a consistent human endeavor.

The Encyclopedia Britannica for many years occupied pride of place among English language encyclopedias, first published in print between 1768 and 1771 and in updated print versions until 2010, which they ceased selling in 2012. Throughout its history, Britannica featured eminent contributors in their respective fields including individuals like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, and contemporaries like Milton Friedman, Carl Sagan, and surgeon Michael DeBakey.

When I was growing up, and even into the early years of our marriage when we were contacted by one, there were encyclopedia sales persons, both door to door or even in mall kiosks. One could buy them on the installment plan, which was convenient for many since the lump sum fee was huge. Sometimes there were specialized encyclopedias. I collected a set of science encyclopedias sold at our local grocery store. Later, during a period when I thought I might be a doctor, my parents acquired a medical encyclopedia. Then there was Collier’s, published by Crowell, Collier, and MacMillan. Colliers was not quite as in-depth as Britannica and deeper than the more popular World Book. Groliers was another popular encyclopedia. It was actually the first go-to source for reports for school, until we got far enough along that we were not allowed to cite encyclopedias.

One of the challenges of encyclopedias was that they went out of date as new events occurred and new discoveries were made. Some of the countries for which there were articles no longer existed as either names changed or borders were re-drawn. Annual updates helped if you could find the updated information. Later, digital encyclopedias, which were less expensive and sometimes bundled with computers were introduced, and these were updated often.

The introduction of the internet spelled the end of the encyclopedia, as a printed book, regularly updated, and even to software versions. As of this writing, it is still possible to purchase print versions of the World Book, and older versions are plentiful in second-hand stores and online. Britannica sold versions of encyclopedias on CD’s for a time, then went entirely online. In 2001, the encyclopedia that is the default for most of us, Wikipedia, was launched. The idea was to create an open source, collaborative encyclopedia to which anyone who is registered can contribute. Many articles approach the accuracy and depth of Britannica, but the user must also beware that articles can reflect the ideological bias of contributors or even “edit wars” between contributors with different viewpoints. It is a non-profit effort funded by the Wikimedia Foundation that accepts donations to defray this effort. Currently, there are 301 language editions of Wikipedia. It is now one of the ten most popular websites in the world.

Today, online encyclopedias with their hyperlinked text, and indeed the internet itself, searched by Google, and browsed from one link to another, are our encyclopedias, putting vast amounts of information, far exceeding a print encyclopedia at one’s disposal, even from the phones in our pockets. If anything, all this even more powerfully feeds the illusion that we can know anything and everything.

While the potential is greater, it is also different from a child in front of a row of encyclopedias. Often, I read an article that interested me all the way through, while skipping the ones that did not. The lacks of links did not take me from one article to another without ever finishing anything. On the other hand, one is much more aware of how our knowledge of one thing is linked to other things. I’ll leave it to others to define which is better. What I offer is simply a memoir of a cultural transformation that has occurred within a single life.

It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books

72592813_409115073084149_4895158919434862592_n“It’s not hoarding if it’s books.” This is a popular saying among bibliophiles with various versions like the above circulating as memes on social media. I’m not so sure if that’s always true. From comments I read, there are a number of us who are book hoarders. Notice that I include myself here. You know you are a book hoarder if:

  • You cannot leave a bookstore without a book, or ten, even if you have stacks at home to read.
  • You would have live at least fifty years longer than most mortals live (and retain your sight) to read all your books.
  • You almost feel a part of yourself is being amputated when you get rid of a book even if you know you will not read, or read again the book in question.
  • You have books everywhere, not just on your shelves–in stacks on the floor, on tables, on furniture, in every room, perhaps in closets.

Of course if this habit is compromising your safety by blocking exit doors, or your marriage, or your finances, or your children’s welfare, then it is a serious business and you really do need to get help. What once may have been a healthy love of books is no longer.

For most of us it is not nearly so bad. There are so many good things about reading. It cultivates emotional sensitivity and compassion. At its best, it holds forth virtues to which we aspire. It entertains. It enlarges our vision of the world. It helps form and guide our spiritual journeys. And sometimes, with a hot beverage and a well-made chair, it is one of the most comfortable moments of many of our days.

But why do we buy and keep more books than we can read? Here are a few musings that may reveal some of my own inner monologue in the bookstore:

  • Every book that is at least of remote interest symbolizes the delight we’ve found in many of the books we’ve read.
  • FOMO. We read a review of a book, or hear a friend rave about it and don’t want to be left out of those who have had the delightful experience of reading this book. Even when we have ten such books waiting to be read and are in the middle of one.
  • Enlightenment. What a baffling, puzzling world it is we live in. Books often have illuminated little corners of it, and made it a bit less puzzling. Maybe the book in my hand will do that as well.
  • Books offer a sense of safety and security. Sometimes it feels good to look at that shelf or that stack and think, “I don’t have to worry about running out of things to read” (even though there is a library down the street that dwarfs even my accumulation of books.
  • Sometimes it is the delight of the bargain. There is something about snagging a $50 book for $2, even if you know you won’t soon read it. You can’t let such a good thing go by. There is no “catch and release” when it comes to book bargains.

I could go on. We bibliophiles equally have a hoard of rationalizations! My point is not to heap a guilt trip on anyone. Perhaps it is more personal confession. But I would observe that we humans are collectors. It could be clothes, coins, stamps, dolls, cigar bands, beer cans, you name it! For Jay Leno, it is cars–he has a huge storage building full of them, a “garage” bigger than my house. Probably the one thing book hoarders need to remember is that someone is going to have to get rid of that hoard!

The fact that I have books in my house that are older than I am ought to warn me that apart from fire or mold, books are very durable objects, more durable than I. Since many of them will likely outlive me, perhaps the most loving thing I can do is not keep them, because there is a good chance they might end up in a dumpster if I try to. And while we can get carried away and inordinately love things, a book that represents both work and hours of enjoyment may deserve a good home. Perhaps one way we express love for both books and people is to pass them along to those who will love them while we are still able.

Fall Book Preview 2019

20190912_1912308059462925875403666.jpgAs the calendar has turned over from August to September and students have returned to school, publishers have released a number of new titles, and a stack of those (as you can see) have landed at our door. Obviously, I won’t read this stack in the next week. I have a day job (actually two), but that doesn’t mean I can’t give you a quick preview of these. Some, you may want to read before I get to reviewing them. Others, you will want to be on the lookout for my review. So here’s the list.

a life of listening

A Life of ListeningLeighton Ford. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Leighton Ford has spent a lifetime of speaking for God as an evangelist, but also a life of listening to God, and to emerging leaders. This is his personal account of that life.

Participating in Christ

Participating in ChristMichael J. Gorman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. Gorman traces the idea of “participation” across the writings of Paul and its significance for the transformation of believers through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Holy Disunity

Holy Disunity: How What Separates Us Can Save UsLayton E. Williams. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. Williams makes the argument that it is not unity that we should seek, but engagement with those we differ with, and that this in the end will save us.


Faith for ExilesDavid Kinnaman & Mark Matlock. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. The authors, using Barna Research, identify the factors that distinguish those who sustain lives of faith from those who do not in a time when many are leaving the church.

Becoming an Ordinary Mystic

Becoming an Ordinary MysticAlbert Haase, OFM. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019. We often feel like our ordinary lives are often spiritual failures. Haase offers the hope that we might become ordinary mystics in the sense of learning to respond to grace as we draw close to God.

The Awakening

The AwakeningFriedrich Zuendel. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2000. This is an older book on the confrontation with evil Johann Christoph Blumhardt engaged when he gave pastoral care to a tormented woman; a story that teaches the reality of spiritual warfare.

Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in WorkShundrawn A. Thomas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A business executive shows how people can experience joy rather than frustration in their work.

Make Way for the Spirit

Make Way for the SpiritChristoph Friedrich Blumhardt. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. The son of Johann Christoph Blumhardt discusses his theology of the Holy Spirit, and how it differs from his father’s, shaped by encounters like that in The Awakening (above).

My Life in the Cleveland Zoo

My Life in the Cleveland ZooAdam A Smith. Huron, OH: Drinian Press, 2014. This one was sent to me via a relative of the author. The author worked in the Cleveland Zoo as a tour train driver and eventually as a keeper in the Pachyderm building and offers a memoir of the changes he saw in zoos in the 1970’s ranging from an evolving idea of what a zoo should be to changes in the gender makeup of those who worked there. We used to live in Cleveland in the 1980’s and loved this zoo.

Revolution of Values

Revolution of ValuesJonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. This book argues that the common good, particularly of the marginalized, is a casualty of the religious culture wars and how a biblical faith upholds the value of all people.

Trinity without Hierarchy

Trinity Without HierarchyMichael F. Bird & Scott Harrower, editors. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. In response to complementarian theologians who support their position by arguing for the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, the contributors (both egalitarians and complementarians) argue for a Trinity with no hierarchy of relations between the persons.

Divine Impassibility

Divine ImpassibilityRobert J. Matz and A. Chadwick Thornhill, editors. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. The book explores four positions on the question of whether God has emotions and experiences suffering and whether God changes.

You Throw Like a Girl

You Throw Like a GirlDon McPherson. Brooklyn: Akashic Books, 2019. A former NFL quarterback contends that we often raise boys not to be women rather than to be men, resulting in an unhealthy emotional development, and violence against women. He frames a new way of thinking and talking about being a man that leads to greater emotional wholeness.

The Liturgy of Creation

The Liturgy of CreationMichael LeFebvre. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Looks at the Old Testament calendar including the week of creation through the lens of liturgy.

What you take with you

What You Take With YouTherese Greenwood. Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 2019. A personal account of the Fort McMurray fire in Canada, its impact on a community, the questions of what to take, what to leave, will we survive, and what does it mean to re-build?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Fearfully and WonderfullyDr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Explores the wonders of the human body and the wonder to which our bodies point, of being creatures who image God.

into his presence

Into His Presence, Tim L. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. Rather than mere sentiment or experience, the author proposes a theology of intimacy with God.

Except for one instance, the links are to the publishers, and you can learn much more about the books at their websites. I have my reading list for the fall. Perhaps you might find a few books here that you will want to pick up. If you do, I’d love to hear about it. Perhaps we can read together!

Musings on What We Mean By “Book”


Does this child with a book remind you of any other images of a reading child?

I’ve read several articles recently that have me musing on what we mean by “book,” and why our books are configured as they are.

Tablets and scrolling are not new things in terms of recording human words. Narratives carved in stone of everything from legal texts to grocery lists have survived millenia. At one time, animal skins were sewn together into long sheets on which columns of text were written, and then rolled up in a scroll. (Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on a continuous sheet of paper!).

The book, as most of us knew it growing up developed when those skins or sheets of papyrus were folded and bound into what technically is called a “codex.” This also helps account for why books exist in the rectangular shape they do. A mathematician, Raul Rosarivo studied Renaissance books and came up with a Golden Number of page construction which is 1.5 or a ratio of 2:3 for width:length. “Why are Books That Shape?” goes into all of this at greater length. As books transitioned from large objects read on a table to handheld objects,  the size and shape of books conformed well to the human hand. The article also observes that the ideal number of characters on a line is 66 (and a range of 45-75), which is why magazine formats and some books use columns.

The article also makes the fascinating observation that the transition to handheld e-book devices didn’t change all this. Early Kindles conformed to this “golden number” in its shape. It would be interesting to study our adjustments of font size to see how close they come to the 66 character ideal.

What e-readers did in our time is open the door to the idea that a “book” is something different from the format in which it comes to us. It may be bound, electronic, or audible, and sometimes electronic text and audible rendering may be merged. Another recent article, “Who Has Time to Read? And Where? And on What?” makes the point that our idea of “book” is different than the physical means of engaging an author’s work. I’ve seen some impressive, as well as humorous arguments that listening to audiobooks may even be a superior experience to reading books.

Perhaps there is an analogy with recorded music, for which there are Edison cylinders, 78’s, 45’s, and 33 long play albums, 8-track tapes, cassettes, CD’s, and digital downloads. All of these can be termed “albums” even though the form is different. [By the way, as a lover of vinyl, I remember recordings of books, plays of Shakespeare, etc. on vinyl. Audiobooks have been around for awhile!]

So this begs the question of how we define “book”. offers these two primary definitions:

  1. a handwritten or printed work of fiction or nonfiction, usually on sheets of paper fastened or bound together within covers.
  2. a work of fiction or nonfiction in an electronic format:

The traditional definition here and in several other dictionaries understands book as “codex.” But with the inclusion of electronic formats, the definition appears to be becoming more fluid. I wonder if the day is coming when a more fluid definition of book might exists along the lines of “an authored work of fiction or nonfiction, consisting of words and images conveyed one or more forms of media including printed and bound form, electronic, audio, or audio-visual formats.”

It seems we are a season where these thrive side by side, reflecting different lifestyles and preferences of readers and listeners of books. Just as there is a revival of vinyl and those who prefer its sound, so there are some who still love the printed and bound book, and love to see them on physical shelves. That is one type of aesthetic, which includes the joys of wandering bookstores, booksales, and libraries. For others, e-books fit a lifestyle on the go, a space-conscious living situation, or just the idea of “living lightly.” A third aesthetic may value the spoken word, whether spoken, or even read aloud, perhaps communally, or perhaps during one’s commute or workout in the gym.

The question remains, which one article asks, “who has time to read?” That’s one for another post. My book is waiting…


Do You Ever Read Aloud?


Read Aloud, Photo by Ben Stephenson, [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

You might be surprised to know that at one time, reading and reading aloud were synonymous. It was especially common to read aloud when books were scarce and literacy levels low. There is a sense to this. Books and other forms of the written word are a way of storing human speech, whether it is our stories or our history or our ideas about matters of ultimate concern. Much of the New Testament consists of letters that were read aloud in the churches to which they were written. Likewise, the Psalms were Israel’s prayer and song book.

I posted the question in the title of this post recently on Facebook. I found out that quite a few people read aloud, and for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps the most popular is reading to children and grandchildren, one of my own favorite reading aloud experiences. One person even reads to her dogs (they are in the middle of The Adventures Robin Hood at present!). Others read aloud to children in Sunday Schools and libraries.

Some of our reading aloud is simply to share something delightful we’ve found. My wife certainly has endured that!

There are certain forms of literature that derive from oral discourse. Sermons, sacred texts, lectures, prayers, and poetry are good examples. One person wrote, “I read poetry out loud to myself, especially poems I am working on memorizing.” Several mentioned reading out loud in the context of memorizing.

We read out loud to comprehend. For some, it helps in noisy settings. I find reading dense writing aloud sometimes makes it more intelligible.

Some of us read aloud when we are reading a language that is not our first language. Perhaps it helps with the comprehension, and sometimes for the rhythms of the language.

One of the most delightful practices I read about were adults who read aloud to each other. One couple took turns driving and reading on long trips. My favorite was this one:

I did so as a school librarian, and have read aloud in the evenings to my husband for 44 years. His and my preferences are generally similar, although slogging through the Iliad recently was tough for me, and Pride and Prejudice was enough Austen for him.

I thought that was quite lovely, and loving, that each would work hard to grasp something that the other loved. I wondered if this was what many others did in the days before television and streaming services.

I’m reminded that the rise of audiobooks also reflects that we love being read to, whether we are children or adults.

This leads me to wonder how often writers think about their works being read aloud, about written words becoming spoken words?

Your thoughts?