Why Are Prisons Banning Used Book Donations?

Prison_library_at_Alcatraz_Federal_Penitentiary_(TK)

Prison Library at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Tobias Kleinlercher / Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

BookRiot reported the other day that my home state of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) is in the process of finalizing a policy that would no longer permit the donations of used books directly to prisoners from non-profit organizations. In advance of this policy implementation, non-profits report that a number of correctional facilities have already returned donations, even though these organizations have been approved in the past and there have been no problems with donated books.

Ohio is joining a growing number of states implementing similar policies. In most cases, the policy permits prisoners to receive new books from a limited number of approved venders including an e-book vendor (with compatible reader), JPay. According to the BookRiot article, the newly appointed director of ODRC, Annette M. Chambers-Smith, previously was a general manager with JPay. In New York state, according to a WNYC article, the selection at one point was limited to five vendors offering 77 books, 24 of which were coloring books! And the books are expensive, compared to the donated books, placing a burden on inmate families.

The ostensible reason being given by states for such ban is security–specifically preventing the smuggling of contraband hidden within books–drugs and weapons. This was the rationale given by the State of Washington when they implemented a similar policy. The Seattle Times requested information about specific instances after the Department of Corrections cited seventeen instances of contraband in books. It turns out that twelve had nothing to do with books and only three directly involved books with contraband, and none of the contraband originated outside the prison.

Books to Prisoners, an award-winning Seattle-based non-profit begun in 1973 contends that the same safety rationale arises in every instance, and yet in their entire history, none of their books have been found with contraband. Books to Prisoners led a massive effort that resulted in rescinding the Washington ban (and similar bans in other states like New York) and is pursuing similar efforts in Ohio.

So why are prisons doing this? It may be that with budget cuts, those tasked with screening books are overburdened, and hence the move to a few “trusted” vendors. Yet we are not talking about individuals mailing books but rather trusted non-profits who have been approved and have clean records going back for years. It is hard not to wonder if there are financial interests involved. Some would go further and argue that with the steep increase in incarceration making the United States the world leader in jailing its citizens, that there is what amounts to a “prison-industrial complex” that depends on a population of inmate labor.

Books are a potent weapon in fighting recidivism, the re-arrest and incarceration of previously incarcerated persons. One program, Changing Lives Through Literature saw a recidivism rate of 19% of people in its programs compared to a control group with a 45% recidivism rate. A Rand Corporation study showed at least a 13% drop of recidivism rates with education programs, 13% higher employment, and that for every $1 spent reduced post-incarceration costs $4 to $5.

Death row exoneree Anthony Graves writes in Infinite Hope about how critical books from his prison’s library were in sustaining hope and fostering personal growth, and he even includes a reading list of books that were formative for him. This is a story many prisoners will tell. Yet funding cuts limit prison library hours, sometimes making them inaccessible to inmates. This is why non-profit books to prisoner programs can play such a crucial role, especially when books become prisoner property rather than prison property.

Some would argue that prisons have an interest in controlling what prisoners read. Many states do ban what prisoner’s can read, examples of which can be found at this page on the Books to Prisoner’s site. I was talking with a friend about this and commented that making Mein Kampf available to prisoners might not be helpful. And then I came across this in the American Libraries Magazine:

“In November 2017, The Dallas Morning News exposed such a list in Texas that included more than 10,000 titles. Books like The Color Purple, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Freakonomics are on the list, but others, such as Hitler’s Mein Kampf and two titles by white supremacist David Duke, are allowed, the newspaper reported. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reviewed the policy following media coverage of those lists.”

Go figure!

Those who have been most concerted in their criticism of prisons have seen them as an effort to maintain a permanent American underclass that sustains the “prison-industrial complex.” The cynic in me sees these baseless bans of books donated by award-winning organizations as confirmatory of such patterns. I’d like to believe we are better than that. If you follow this blog, you probably believe books enrich and transform our lives. Thinking about restrictions on donations of used books to inmates makes me ask whether I want the same for them. I do not think books alone will solve the issues of incarceration rates and recidivism. I do think they can help. Perhaps they may even help enough that some day we will not lead the world in prison population rates.

Seeking the Lofty

Wilder Quote

I came across this quote yesterday, on the birthday of Thornton Wilder, its author. It reflects one of the bedrock ideas of this blog. I am convinced that a life well-lived is shaped by the pursuit of the “lofty.” Any social structure, from a family, to a business, to a country flourishes to the degree that it pursues the good, the true, and the beautiful rather than the tawdry, the base, and the unjust.

The Apostle Paul said something similar:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

I’m struck with Paul’s repeated “whatever’s.” One might most naturally think of sacred scriptures, prayers, or other religious texts. Paul and Thornton Wilder agree. To read, hear, or see great works, whatever they might be, are necessary to “seeking the lofty.”

Implicit in both statements is the idea that there may be other than great things to read, hear, and see and other than lofty lives we might live. We are formed and shaped by what we read, and see, and hear, and think about for good or for ill, every day.

This blog represents my own attempt to curate a reading life around the qualities Paul mentions. As quickly as I read, I can only read in a lifetime a few thousand out of the vast number of books that have ever been published. The real question is, do I want a life that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy? If my answer to that is yes, then why would I read–or for that matter view or listen to–anything lacking in these qualities.

I don’t think this means that we only engage things that look like a Thomas Kinkade painting, reflecting some idyllic world. I would read no crime fiction were that case–nor  the Bible for that matter! Great works often do portray the underside of life, but their effect at the end of the day is not to encourage me to embrace that life, but to strive for something better, to repent my sins, to leave aside meanness and selfishness and small-mindedness.

It does mean that all of us become curators of the material we admit to the museum, the library, the concert hall, of our lives. Every publisher, every librarian, every museum curator, every one who creates a playlist curates. So do the people who feed us the news, whether via social media, online websites, print or televised media. The question is whether we will forfeit the curation of our lives, and the things we see, and read, and watch to someone else. It is an important question if we are “seeking the lofty.”

I don’t want to curate your life. My own is more than enough challenge, one for which I need great grace. I do hope that what I write, and the books I commend point toward some “great work” that may enrich at least some moments of your days. I sometimes despair that our modern world is descending into balefulness, barrenness, and banality. I need voices from beyond the void to remind me of the lofty. I hope in some small way I might be one.

 

Reading Reflections: The Crucifixion: Part Two-B

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWell, I’ve finished The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge. I will be doing a full review of the book tomorrow, but for today, want to capture and share some of my reflections on the last third of the book, leaving discussion of the Conclusion to my review tomorrow.

The last third of the book is a continuation of Rutledge’s discussion of motifs of the crucifixion and focuses on just three of these: the descent into hell, substitution, and recapitulation, with discussions of the first two lengthy enough that she provided an outline at the beginning of each chapter. I will share a few reflections from each.

The descent into hell. It was fascinating that she would embark on such a lengthy discussion of a motif found in but a handful of verses. For Rutledge this serves as the pretext to explore not only the idea of “hell” in scripture and the development of the doctrine throughout church history. Her aim is to take a hard look at the reality of and problem of evil, and how Christ’s death and resurrection have cosmic implications that prefigure the final destruction of the power of Sin, Evil, Death, and Satan and his domain, where the nothingness of these will finally be confirmed in their utter annihilation. Perhaps most striking for me is her assertion that we cannot speak of meaning when it comes to evil, that it is the negation of meaning. Her discussion of the radical nature of evil, that runs through every life sets up her discussion of what she might call Christ’s substitutionary victory (she so closely links these). It gives the lie to any human distinctions of righteous and wicked, and the folly of human pretensions to innocence. She writes: “The unalloyed proclamation of Scripture is that the death and resurrection of Christ is the hinge of history. It is the unique old-world-overturning and new-world-constituting event that calls every human project into question–including especially our religious projects” (p. 461).

The Substitution. This is a marvelous chapter that everyone who derides the idea of substitution should read. Rutledge traces this history of the motif, not going to classic proof texts like 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 but to Romans, to Galatians 3:10-14, and Isaiah 53 and its use in the New Testament. She explores how Christ’s death is both for us and in our place. She surveys the development of the motif in history and the objections that are raised, which often reflect formulations that are problematic, but are not ultimately the underlying reason for rejection of substitution, which she argues reflects our aversion to substitution’s “recognition of the rule of Sin and God’s judgement on it” (p. 506). She turns to Barth and the idea of “The Judge Judged in Our Place” and the idea that the Godhead is the acting subject of substitution, the agent accomplishing this in God’s self to undo the curse of Sin. What is striking in Rutledge is how she develops in all of this an understanding of substitution, not in opposition to the idea of Christus Victor, but as the means of the victory of Jesus, uniting these two motifs in a splendid display of the glory of God.

Recapitulation. This follows from substitution, in tracing the idea that Christ is the second Adam; that his incarnation, baptism, obedience of faith in the power of the Spirit, death, and victory over death recapitulate in a transformative way, the life of Adam, as Christ represents all of humanity as Adam did, but for our redemption. I love her conclusion here:

“This is what Jesus did. He rewrote the book of love. We are the ‘ugly people’ who put Jesus on the cross, but he is going to give us all his riches nevertheless….Because he has rewritten the story, we are no longer prisoners of our worst selves, nor of the evil powers that would destroy us. At any moment of our lives, God may break through with yet another miracle of rewriting. And laughter will resound from the farthest reaches of the created universe: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice’ (Phil. 4:4)” (p. 570).

What all three of these chapters underscore is that, as G. K. Chesterton has put it, we are what is wrong with the world, and utterly incapable of ourselves in setting things to rights, and that God, in Christ rectifies, or sets to right by sheer grace what we could never deserve or accomplish.

Website Review: Thriftbooks

Thriftbooks

Screen capture of homepage, accessed 3/28/19

I generally am an advocate of brick and mortar bookstores, as you may know from following this blog. Where possible, I like to buy new books, which helps support these stores and also the authors, who don’t receive royalties on used books, and rarely on remaindered ones. Brick and mortar stores may not always offer the best bargains, but they enrich the fabric of a community and provide employment and local taxes.

At the same time, buying new books can be expensive. Three hardbacks may cost $100 or more at today’s prices. The book has to be one I want to keep to justify that price. Mass market paperbacks are still generally under $10, and quality paperbacks $15-20 or more, but even those prices add up quickly. Used booksellers can often help take a bite out of this cost, but remember that neither publisher nor author are benefiting from your purchase. One upside–you are recycling!

The other issue is that there are often particular editions you might look for to complete a set, or there are books that are out of print. Here, online booksellers such as AbeBooks or Alibris are good alternatives to that mammoth online bookseller. Recently at the Bob on Books Facebook Page (you are welcome to like us!) I asked people about their experiences of buying used books online and discovered I must be the last person on the planet not to know about Thriftbooks. One person wrote, “Thriftbooks is the bees knees.” With such an enthusiastic endorsement, I could not fail to take a look.

Here’s what I found. The homepage to the website works well to connect one to all the features on the site. There is a search bar that allows you to search by title, author, or ISBN. I found that entering the first part of the author’s name brought up a list that allowed me to search the author’s book quickly. One of the things you will notice is that you are not buying from other booksellers through the site but through Thriftbooks itself. (Thriftbooks also sells through Amazon.)

Just below that is a drop down menu bar that allows you to search by categories, kid’s, young adult, fiction, and collectibles. There is also information about special offers, their phone app (which I haven’t looked at yet), their blog, and information about the company. They’ve expanded from a single warehouse in Washington state in 2004 to warehouses in ten states. They purchase books from charities, which helps the charities, recycle books through sales or sending them to recycling plants, and support various literacy programs, schools, and correctional facility libraries.

They have a sliding banner that features their Thriftbooks deals (an additional 10% off 100,000 titles), a bonus currently on offer for their Reading Rewards program, a feature on women’s books, and a chance to vote in their “novel knockout” program. Below this are featured their bestsellers (all selling from $3.79), trending books, and popular books eligible for their Thriftbooks discount. Between the trending books and the Thriftbook deals is a green bar with links to your orders, your current number of points in your Reading Rewards, and a link to Thriftbook deals.

If you go to the page for any category, you see best sellers, new arrivals, and Thriftbook deals for that category. Under Collectibles, you can see New Arrivals, First Editions, and Signed Books. When you click on a book, you are taken to a page for that book offering various price options for the book depending on hardcover, paperback, mass market paperback, and audio and prices by condition. There is also a link to view all the editions of the book.

It is easy to set up an account, which involves providing your name, email, and a password. Click on the Reading Reward link in your profile to enroll in the Reading Rewards program. It allows you to earn points for each dollar you spend (as well as periodic bonuses depending on how many books you read). When you earn 500 points, you get a free book. Starting out, you get 8 points for each dollar. When you spend more than $100 in a year, you graduate to “Literati,” where you earn 10 points.

So I did try out ordering. I ordered a few James Lee Burke books, and the next couple books in the Wheel of Time series that I haven’t read. It was pretty standard for most websites: shopping cart, provide shipping info, and credit card or Paypal. Standard shipping is free with orders over $10 (within the U.S.). Because they do not do business in my state, they do not charge sales tax (which may be up to you to report). It is supposed to take 4 to 8 business days. We’ll see how it goes. I received an immediate order confirmation via email, as well as a 15% discount coupon code for my next order.

If you want to try them out, here is a link to a 15 percent discount (yes, I do get a discount if you order!). So depending on your budget and book buying needs, you might give them a try.

Summing it all up:

Strengths: Inventory, low prices, rewards program, collectibles, overall ease of navigation and use, and the social responsibility of the company.

Downsides: Not the place to find newly released books. These are used books in most cases. It does not connect you to or support brick and mortar booksellers, used or new, nor authors.

Reading Reflections: The Crucifixion: Part Two-A

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddI have continued to revel in the richness of Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion. What I so appreciate is the marvelous way in which she draws various aspects of the biblical story together into a coherent narrative rather than as simply disparate parts. One of the passages that reflects this, from the second part of her book, considers the love and wrath of God, and is some of the finest thinking and writing I’ve come across:

“God did not need to change his mind about us on account of the cross or on any other account. He did not need to have his mind changed. He was never opposed to us. It is not his opposition to us but our opposition to him that had to be overcome, and the only way it could be overcome was from God’s side, by God’s initiative, from inside human flesh–the human flesh of the Son. The divine hostility, or wrath of God, has always been an aspect of his love. It is not separate from God’s love, it is not opposite God’s love, it is not something in God that had to be overcome” (p. 323).

The focus of Part Two of the book is on motifs of the crucifixion. This reflection will cover the first half of Part Two up through the motif of the Apocalyptic War. In an introduction to this section, she summarizes these motifs under two categories:

  1. God’s definitive action in making vicarious atonement for sin. In this section, this included chapters on the blood sacrifice (6) and ransom and redemption (7).
  2. God’s decisive victory over the alien Powers of Sin and Death. The chapters that would fall here are those on Passover and Exodus (5), the Great Assize (8), and the Apocalyptic War (9), the later two being closely related for Rutledge.

Rutledge challenges our thinking at every point. Her chapters on blood sacrifice and ransom and redemption get at our squeamishness about the imagery of blood and the idea of a price being paid, which sounds like Jesus paying a price to change God’s mind, justifying the charge of divine child abuse. Instead, Rutledge defends the idea of redemption as deliverance by purchase–that the focus of Christ’s death, as in the quote above, was not on changing God, but on addressing our quandary, but at a cost that involved God investing God’s self.

Likewise, in the chapter on blood sacrifice, she notes the pervasiveness of blood and sacrificial imagery in scripture, but challenges our literalism, that we do not grasp the metonymy in which the term blood stands in for its effect, God’s provision for human restoration. She explores the idea of sacrifice in the Old Testament, and the superiority of Christ in every way, including his self-sacrifice, in Hebrews. In this chapter she also folds in discussions on scapegoats, the lamb of God, and the binding of Isaac, one of the passages I’ve always wrestled with. She notes how Abraham is the only one ever asked to give up a son, and that God himself does what Abraham does not do because of the substitute provided.

I have to think more about her chapter on the Great Assize. She helpfully notes our fears of judgment excluding some and not others in an era where the watchword is inclusion. Her contention is that the biblical narrative proclaims all under judgment–that there are no “good” or “bad.” She also notes the communal nature of judgment–peoples, tribes, nations, societies will be judged. She argues, however that this is not a mere forensic situation but rather one in which people are held in the power, as well as are under the guilt, of sin. Rutledge makes an argument here that to make people right, it takes both an apocalyptic deliverance from the Power of Sin that holds people in bondage, as well as justification, which she translates as “wording people into righteousness” — a vivid picture of the power of God’s saving word to effect what it declares, through Christ.

This leads to her chapter on the apocalyptic battle and the theme of Christus Victor, first developed by Gustav Aulen. I have to be honest and found Rutledge far more compelling than at least what I remember of Aulen. The basic focus here is that in the cross, God acts in Christ to decisively defeat the Enemy and break the Power of Sin and Death in the death and resurrection of Jesus, bringing about new creation, both already, and to be fully revealed.

As I reflect on all of this, it is making me re-examine my almost exclusive focus on substitutionary atonement and the forensic aspects of justification, or as Rutledge would describe it, rectification. What I find heartening is that Rutledge does not join those dismissive of substitution or the forensic aspects of justification, showing how these motifs are indeed important, even essential, to our understanding of crucifixion. At the same time, she challenges me to think about the victory of Jesus over the power of sin, death, and Satan, in the cross and resurrection. I think of this pastorally. I find people, myself included, wrestle as much with the power of sin as they do their guilt before God. A work of the cross that addresses both is indeed critical, it seems to me, for truly setting to rights our human condition.

I feel I’ve only scratched the surface in these reflections–there is so much more here than I’ve been able to capture including her discussion of the passover and exodus, her discussion of the place of reconciliation, and how one may both embrace pacifism and yet draw great hope from the apocalyptic war of the Lamb. Perhaps the mentions of these things and my brief summary of this part of the book may whet your appetite to dig into it yourself!

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!