The Month in Reviews: June 2022

One of the delights of this month was to read books for children, for younger readers or that could be read together as a family. I was getting ready for a conference trip, and so some lighter and shorter books were a welcome change of pace. But they were no less rich for that. I also finished the last (at present) Gamache book by Louise Penny, whose books were a great diversion through the last years. I also wrote a post with summaries and links to all my reviews. A few other highlights in this long list were Wil Haygood’s Showdown, describing the courageous life of Justice Thurgood Marshall. Roger Angell’s death in May spurred me to read one of his classics, The Summer Game. Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution is a classic that is still in print. I think it worth a read, perhaps start it on July 4, to understand the ideas behind our origins.

My Body is Not a Prayer RequestAmy Kenny. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2022. A description of the physical, emotional, spiritual, and verbal barriers disabled people face generally, and especially in their encounter with churches and what can be done to make them welcoming and inclusive places to the disabled. Review

Dead Water (Roderick Alleyn #23), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1963). A spring on an island celebrated for its healing powers becomes the site of the murder. Review

Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed AmericaWil Haygood. New York: Vintage Books, 2016. An account of the life of and rise to the Supreme Court of Thurgood Marshall structured around the five days of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Review

The Glory of God and Paul (New Studies in Biblical Theology #58), Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Downers Grove and London: IVP Academic and Apollos, 2022. (Link to UK publisher). A study of the theme of the glory of God in scripture, with a particular focus on the writings of Paul. Review

Racing the StormDavid J. Claassen. Middletown, DE: CreateSpace, 2021. The tight community in a trailer park face the oncoming storm of the sale of their park with no place to move their trailers. Review

The Medieval Mind of C. S. LewisJason M. Baxter. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. An exploration of the great medieval writers whose works helped shape the mind and the works of C. S. Lewis. Review

Confessions of a French AtheistGuillaume Bignon. Carol Stream: Tyndale Momentum, 2022. The story of a software engineer, volleyball player, and musician who thought he had it all until his encounter with a fashion model who was a Christian. Review

The Ministry of FearGraham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (first published in 1943). Just released from a psychiatric hospital for the mercy killing of his wife, Arthur Rowe inadvertently gets caught up in a twisty espionage plot. Review

The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Gamache #17), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2021. A Christmas assignment to provide security for a professor proposing mercy killing leads to a murder investigation in Three Pines. Review

To Open The SkyRobert Silverberg. New York: Open Road Media, 2014 (first published in 1967). Noel Vorst’s new religion sweeps the Earth with its promise of eternal life, but Vorst’s plans extend far beyond Earth or even the near planets to the stars. Review

From Plato to ChristLouis Markos. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A discussion of the most significant ideas of Plato, summarizing his works and the influence Platonic thought has had on Christian theology. Review

Reprobation and God’s SovereigntyPeter Sammons. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2022. A carefully and biblically argued defense of the doctrine of reprobation, dealing with a number of misunderstandings of this doctrine. Review

Land of WomenMaria Sánchez (Translated by Curtis Bauer). San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2022. A rural field veterinarian in Spain gives voice to the lives of rural women and the places they inhabit. Review

The Last MapmakerChristina Soontornvat. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2022. Sai, a girl from the Fens, daughter of a conman, manages to find a place with the last mapmaker of Mangkon just as he is enlisted on a voyage of discovery with great possible rewards, risks, and Slakes! Review

Little Prayers for Ordinary Days, Katy Bowser Hutson, Flo Paris Oakes, and Tish Harrison Warren, illustrated by Liita Forsyth. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2022. Twenty-eight prayers, with illustrations, written for children covering the events of the day from getting up to going to bed and all the ordinary and not-so-ordinary things that can happen in a day. Review

Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy SpiritEsau McCaulley, Illustrated by LaTonya Jackson. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2022. Pentecost Sunday means a trip with dad to Monique’s salon to get Josey’s hair braided, a new red dress, and questions about why her hair is so different from other children’s. Review

The Summer GameRoger Angell. New York: Open Road Media, 2013 (originally published in 1972). A collection of Angell’s essays covering the ten seasons of Major League Baseball from 1962 to 1971. Review

The Year of Our Lord 1943Alan Jacobs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Drawing upon the work of five Christian intellectuals who were contemporaries, explores the common case they made for a Christian humanistic influence in education in the post-war world. Review

The Ideological Origins of the American RevolutionBernard Bailyn. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967 (publisher’s link is to 2017 Fiftieth Anniversary Edition). A study of the ideas conveyed through pamphlets that led to the revolution of the colonies against England. Review

Book of the Month: Once again, I give the nod to a Louise Penny book. This one wasn’t a diversion, exploring an idea mooted during the pandemic, the mercy killing of the elderly. It explores how the right voice can play on the fears and anxieties of our age. Of course it also involves a twisty murder plot and the inner struggles of both Gamache and Beauvoir.

Quote of the Month: This one was striking in summarizing the premise of Little Prayers for Ordinary Days, for the compelling way it conveys a beautiful truth in simple words:

“God always listens. God always loves you.

You can tell God anything.”

What I’m Reading. Seems I’m always reading a Ngaio Marsh mystery. She wrote over 30 of them. This one is Death in a White Tie and is set in the arduous “coming out” seasons in high society of the day. I’ve been working through Discovering Biblical Equality, an extended collection of essay supporting the equality of women in the church, home, and society. Spirituality According to John considers all the books attributed to John, and what it means to abide in Christ. I picked up a free copy of Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be. The circles I grew up in didn’t think highly of Tillich. In this work, Tillich confronts the “age of anxiety” we are in, our fear of “not being” (death), and how then should we live (“the courage to be”) in light of death. Finally, I’ve just begun Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a memoir of his years in Paris in the early 1920’s. It was unfinished at the time he took his life. This edition, edited by a family member, less heavily edited than the edition published shortly after his death. I have a number of books I hope to get to this summer, including my Father’s Day book, Vaclav Smil’s How the World Really Works.

Hope you have some relaxed summer days with a cool drink at hand and a stack of good books at hand!

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014! It’s a great way to browse what I’ve reviewed. The search box on this blog also works well if you are looking for a review of a particular book.

The Month in Reviews: April 2022

This was a month of several firsts. It was the first time to review 20 books in a month (most were shorter works, around 200 pages). So I won’t talk about all of them in this intro. I read my first book by Margery Allingham, one of the four Queens of Crime (along with Christie, Sayers, and Marsh). I’ve read a number of works of the others, but dipped into Allingham for the first time. What is striking about the “Queens” is how distinctive their styles were from one another. On the suggestion of a colleague, I read Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, my first Cather. I work on college campuses and so enjoy campus fiction. I loved the quirky, tongue-in-cheek style of Katie Schnack, a first-time author writing in The Gap Decade about the transition to adulthood in one’s twenties. Glad I don’t have to do that over! I also read my first account of the Afghanistan War, appropriately titled The Long War. I have a reviews here of Susan Cain’s latest, a thought-provoking history of how slaves built many of the great public buildings in our nation, a classic on the intellectual life by Jacques Barzun, and a delightful book by Alan Jacobs encouraging us to read for the sheer pleasure of it. Lots of good stuff here for almost any taste.

When We StandTerence Lester (Foreword Father Gregory Boyle). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. Makes a motivational case for mobilizing with other to pursue follow Christ in the pursuit of justice. Review

Jesus’s Final WeekWilliam F. Cook III. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2022. A day-by-day discussion of the events in Jesus’s life from the triumphal entry until the empty tomb, using a “harmony of the gospels” approach. Review

Black Hands, White HouseRenee K. Harrison. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021. A history of how enslaved peoples played a major role in the building of this country and the need to remember that work in our monuments and by other means. Review

Reformed Public TheologyEdited by Matthew Kaemingk. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021. A collection of 23 essays by leading Reformed thinkers articulating how Reformed theology bears on various aspects of public life. Review

The Long WarDavid Loyn. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2021. A history of the war in Afghanistan from 9/11 until nearly the end of the U.S. presence in 2021. Review

The Paradox of Sonship (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), R. B. Jamieson, foreword by Simon J. Gathercole. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A discussion of the use of “Son” in Hebrews proposing that it is a paradox, that Jesus is the divine Son who became the messianic “Son” at the climax of his saving mission. Review

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?Andy Bannister. London: Inter-Varsity Press (UK), 2021. A comparative study of the worldviews of Christianity and Islam that concludes that the two do not worship the same God. Review

The Way of Perfection (Christian Classics), Teresa of Avila, edited and mildly modernized by Henry L. Carrigan Jr. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2000 (originally published in 1583). [This edition is out of print. Link is to a newer edition from the same publisher.] Teresa’s instructions to nuns on the spiritual life of prayer and meditations on the Lord’s Prayer as a way to contemplative prayer. Review

The House of the Intellect, Jacques Barzun. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959. A discussion of the decline of the intellect and its causes. Review

More Work for the UndertakerMargery Allingham. London: Vintage, 2007 (originally published in 1948). When two boarding house residents from the same family die, Albert Campion is persuaded to become a boarder to discover what’s afoot. Review

Transfiguration and TransformationHywel R. Jones. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2021. “Transfiguration,” referring to Christ and “transformation,” referring to the believer translate the same Greek word, metamorphosis. This work explores both why the difference and what the connection is. Review

The Professor’s HouseWilla Cather. New York: Vintage Classics, 1990 (originally published in 1925). The move to a new home, academic success and his daughter’s marriages, and a deceased former student and son-in-law, precipitate a crisis for Professor Godfrey St. Peter. Review

A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and DesignersEthan Brue, Derek C Schuurman, and Steven M. Vanderleest. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Explores in practical terms the intersection of faith and technology in areas of design norms and ethics and how technology might serve the common good. Review

Following the CallEdited by Charles E. Moore. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2021. A collection of 52 weeks of readings working through the Sermon on the Mount, meant to be discussed and lived out in community. Review

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of DistractionAlan Jacobs. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. An argument that we should read what we delight in rather than what others think is “good” for us. Review

The Gap DecadeKatie Schnack. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A first-person account of navigating the decade of one’s twenties, the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Review

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed #2), Octavia E. Butler. New York: Open Road Media, 2012 (first published in 1998). The growth and heartbreaking destruction of Acorn, the Earthseed community founded by Lauren Olamina, and how Earthseed rose from the ashes. Review

Eyes to SeeTim Muehlhoff (Foreword by J. P. Moreland). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An exploration of how God acts in the ordinary elements of everyday life, the idea of common grace, and how we may be encouraged as we recognize these ways of God at work. Review

BittersweetSusan Cain. New York: Crown, 2022. Describes the state of bittersweetness, where sadness and joy, death and life, failure and growth, longing and love intersect and how this deepens our lives and has the power to draw us together. Review

Enter a Murderer (Roderick Alleyn #2), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2012 (originally published in 1935). Invited to see a play with his sidekick Bathgate, Alleyn actually witnesses the murder he will investigate. Review

Book of the Month: I rarely choose edited collections of articles as best books because most are uneven. I thought the collection edited by Matthew Kaemingk, Reformed Public Theology stood out from other collections due to the consistent excellence of articles from a stellar line-up of theologians as well as the nature of the work, articulating how one might think Christianly about one’s work in the public arena.

Quote of the Month: Transfiguration and Transformation is a wonderful, compact discussion of the connection between the transfiguration of Jesus and the transformation of the believer. Both terms share in common the same Greek work, metamorphosis. I loved this succinct and theologically rich summary by Hywel R. Jones:

The transfiguration of Christ shows how the divine can penetrate the human without destroying it. The transformation of the believer shows how the human can become conformed to the divine without its ceasing to be human. This is the ultimate metamorphosis that is compatible with Christian truth” (p. xvi).

What I’m Reading: I’ve just completed Matthew Levering’s The Abuse of Conscience, a survey of important contributors to Catholic moral theology, tracing what he believes is an increasing over-emphasis on conscience in moral theology. I always appreciate Marilyn McEntyre’s thoughtful consideration of the words we use in contemporary discourse, which I’ve found once again in her timely Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict. Once again, her consistent emphases on clarity, integrity, and civility shine through. I’m about mid-way through Louise Penny’s All The Devils are Here, #16 in her Gamache series. Only one more to go after this. Set in Paris, she once again explores the theme of trust and the secrets those close to us may carry. I’m always torn between reading as fast as possible and savoring her rich psychological plots. Can A Scientist Believe in Miracles? explores this and many other questions on science and Christian faith. The writer, Ian Hutchinson is a plasma physicist at MIT, no intellectual slouch, who argues that faith and science need not be at war. That Distant Land is a collection of Wendell Berry short stories, all centering around Port William–always a delight. Enjoying the Old Testament by Eric A. Seibert addresses the barriers many have to reading three-quarters of the Bible. I’ve just begun this, but have appreciated the awareness of the author of so many of the issues I’ve encountered with friends as we study the Old Testament.

Well, if you have read this far, thank you! On Thursday, I attended the “Celebration of Life” of a friend who was a bookseller and loved connecting both children and adults with books that would enrich their lives. Her example both inspires and humbles me. I hope these reviews serve something of the same purpose and I hope you will feel free to write if you are looking for a recommendation and I’ll try to do my best.

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014! It’s a great way to browse what I’ve reviewed. The search box on this blog also works well if you are looking for a review of a particular book.

The Month in Reviews: July 2021

If it isn’t obvious by now, I love reading a wide variety of books. Science fiction, mysteries, history, literary fiction, regional authors, biblical, historical, and practical theology, sociology, business and economics. My work and my interests touch on all of these and all of these are here. Mayday reminded me of an international crisis of my childhood when we were sheltering under our school desks and school basement in fear of nuclear attack. Octavia Butler’s imaginative scenarios of what happens when different species meet. I’ve mused about why men treat women so badly across cultures. David Buss’s answers weren’t satisfying to me but provoked my thinking. I had good fun revisiting The Scarlet Pimpernel, a great story! I won’t go through all the books here so that you can get on and skim the reviews!

Imago (Xenogenesis #3), Octavia E. Butler. New York: Popular Library, 1989 (Link is to a current, in-print edition). The concluding volume of this trilogy explores what happens when human-Oankali breeding results in a construct child that is not supposed to occur. Review

The Problem of the Old Testament: Hermeneutical, Schematic & Theological ApproachesDuane A. Garrett. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An exploration of how and whether Christians ought read the Old Testament, contending that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and that its material still has authority and edifying value for the Christian. Review

Final Curtain (Inspector Alleyn #14), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Felony & Mayhem Press, 2014 (originally published in 1947. While Inspector Alleyn is returning from wartime service in New Zealand, Troy Alleyn, his artist wife is commissioned on short notice to paint a portrait of Sir Henry Ancred, a noteworthy stage actor, meeting his dramatic family, encountering a number of practical jokes including one that infuriates Sir Henry at his birthday dinner, after which he is found dead the next morning. Inspector Alleyn arrives home to investigate a possible murder in which his wife is an interested party. Review

A War Like No OtherVictor Davis Hanson. New York: Random House, 2006. An account of the Peloponnesian War tracing the history, the politics, the strategies, key figures, battles, and how the war was fought. Review

An Impossible MarriageLaurie Krieg and Matt Krieg. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Matt and Laurie Krieg are in a mixed orientation marriage and narrate both the challenges they have faced and what they have learned about God and love as they remained together. Review

Who Created Christianity?Craig A. Evans and Aaron W. White, editors. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. A festschrift in honor of David Wenham focused around the centerpiece of Wenham’s theology, the relationship between Jesus and Paul and Wenham’s insistence that Paul was not the founder of Christianity but a disciple of Jesus. Review

Mayday: Eisenhower, Krushchev, and the U-2 Affair, Michael Beschloss. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published in 1986). A detailed accounting of the shoot-down of a U-2 CIA reconnaissance flight over the USSR and the consequences that increased Cold War tensions between Eisenhower and Kruschchev and their respective countries. Review

Science and the Doctrine of Creation, Edited by Geoffrey H. Fulkerson and Joel Thomas Chopp, afterword by Alister E. McGrath. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of ten modern theologians and how each engaged science in light of the doctrine of creation. Review

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy. New York: Puffin Books, 1997 (originally published in 1905). An adventure set in Revolutionary France as a secret league led by the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues prisoners headed to the guillotine as a French agent ruthlessly seeks to track him down. Review

40 PatchtownDamian Dressick. Huron, Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, 2020. Set during a coal strike in Windber, Pennsylvania in 1922, captures the hardship striking miners faced in their resistance to mine owners, their efforts to form unions and gain better wages for dangerous work. Review

Evil & Creation: Historical and Constructive Essays in Christian DogmaticsEdited by David J. Luy, Matthew Levering, and George Kalantzis. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020. An essay collection considering the doctrine of creation and how theologians and others have grappled with the emergence of evil. Review

The End of the AffairGraham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published in 1951). A writer struggles to understand why the woman he has had an affair with broke it off, discovering who ultimately came between them. Review

The 30-Minute BibleCraig G. Bartholomew and Paige P. Vanosky, with illustrations by Br. Martin Erspamer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An overview of the big story of the Bible, broken into 30 readings of roughly 30 minutes in length, accompanied by charts, diagrams, and illustrations. Review

When Men Behave BadlyDavid M. Buss. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021. A discussion of sexual violence, deception, harassment and abuse, largely on the part of men, grounded in evolutionary sexual conflict theory that helps explain why so many relationships between men and women go bad. Review

PillarsRachel Pieh Jones, Foreword by Abdi Nor Iftin. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2021. An account about how the author’s attitudes both toward Islam and her Christian faith changed as she and her husband lived among Muslims in Somalia and Djibouti. Review

Post-Capitalist SocietyPeter F. Drucker. New York: Harper Collins, 1993. Describes the transformation of a society based on capital to one based on knowledge whose key structure is the responsibility-based organization. Review

Best Book of the Month. This is often a tough one to answer, and no less this month. It is rare that I give the nod to a collection of essays around a theme but Science and the Doctrine of Creation was one of the best. Ten outstanding theologians summarized the thinking of ten of the leading theologians of the last two centuries on the doctrine of creation and how they related that doctrine to science.

Best Quote of the Month: I’ve worked with Muslim students in collegiate ministry and in Pillars, Rachel Pieh Jones put into words what an incarnational ministry among Muslims is like. Here, she talks about the shift that took place in her life:

“I had a lot to learn about how to love my neighbors and practice my faith cross-culturally. I don’t identify with the label ‘missionary,’ with its attendant cultural, theological, and historical baggage, though I understand this is how many view me. I do love to talk about spirituality–and what fascinates me is that the more I discuss faith with Muslims, the more we both return to our roots and dig deeper. As we explore our own faith, in relationship with someone who thinks differently, each of us comes to experience God in richer, more intimate ways. In this manner, Muslims have helped me become a better Christian, though things didn’t start out that way” (p. 49).

What I’m Reading: Louise Penny just keeps getting better. I just finished the ninth in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, How The Light Gets In. Look for my review tomorrow. I’ve also been savoring a Ray Bradbury classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes, a dark exploration of the nothingness of evil and our power to say no to it. Conspicuous in His Absence explores the significance of the two books in the Bible in which God is not mentioned, Song of Songs and Esther. Recovering the Lost Art of Reading is a book about just that–how we might read well and discriminately. I love books about books and reading. Hand in Glove is another Roderick Alleyn mystery by the great Ngaio Marsh. I just had the chance to interview Roger Wiens, one of the NASA scientists involved in the Mars Rover Perseverance mission and have been reading his Red Rover to glimpse the inside story of his work. And in a similar vein, Test Gods is an account of the test pilots who have been involved in Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic’s space company.

We have one more full month of summer (in the northern hemisphere). I hope you have some days in a hammock or lounge chair with a cold drink and a good book. One of the joys of reading are the good things that go along with our good books!

Bob on Books Best Books of 2020

This has been a weird year in the book world as the pandemic has affected our reading habits (for better or worse), bookselling, publishing schedules and authors’ efforts to promote their books. Yet books have been there to inspire, to comfort, and divert. Many of the books here were published in 2020, but a few were such outstanding reads from earlier years I needed to include them. One difference this year is the inclusion of Ohio authors, not only in their own category, but in a few others.

Best of the Year:

A Promised Land, Barack Obama. New York: Crown Publishing, 2020. I delayed this post to finish this book. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, the disciplined and flowing prose offers insight not only into the events of his rise and presidency but his thought processes, his conception of and respect for the office, his vision for the nation, as well as insights into his family life. Review

Best Memoirs:

Sex and the City of God, Carolyn Weber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. I wrote about this book: “This skillfully written narrative, punctuated with poetry and Augustine, invites us into the the aching wonder of human love shaped by the growing pursuit of the City of God. We are left wondering if God has something better on offer, even when it comes to human sexuality.” Review

Answering the CallNathaniel R. Jones. New York: The New Press, 2016. Nathaniel R. Jones was a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and former general counsel of the NAACP. His memoir reflects a single vision to answer the call to use the law to fight for equal rights for Blacks. Jones was not only an Ohio author but from my home town of Youngstown. He died this year. Review

Best Biography:

His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of HopeJon Meacham (Afterword by John Lewis). New York: Random House, 2020. Meacham gives us an account not only of the events of the late Congressman John Lewis’s life but also the faith that sustained his efforts and the non-violent methods of his resistance. Review

Best History:

City on a Hill: A History of American ExceptionalismAbram C. Van Engen. New Haven: Yale University Press, Forthcoming, February 25, 2020. Van Engen traces the history of John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon that included the phrase “city on a hill” and how this became a metaphor for American exceptionalism. Review

To Think ChristianlyCharles E. Cotherman (Foreword by Kenneth G. Elzinga).  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. This is a well-researched and written account of the Christian study center movement beginning with Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri. I wrote: “It also reminds me of the great debt of gratitude I owe to the places and people Cotherman chronicles–from Francis Schaeffer and how he first helped me think Christianly, to Jim Houston and the influence he and Regent had on a close ministry colleague, to the vision of the doctrine and life that I acquired through Ligonier, and the vision of campus engagement Ken Elzinga and the Center for Christian Study has given so many of us.” Review

Best Graphic non-fiction:

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, Derf Backderf. New York: Abrams Comicarts, 2020. Backderf is an Ohio native and in this graphic novel, he traces the last days of the four students who died at Kent State on the fiftieth anniversary of the shootings. He captures the setting, the swirl of events and the tragic moments on May 4, 1970, as well as any I’ve seen. Review

Best Ohio Authors: (In addition to those elsewhere in this list)

Goshen RoadBonnie Proudfoot. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press, 2020. Bonnie Proudfoot is a first time author from southeast Ohio whose lean yet descriptive prose narrates the lives of two sisters, their husbands and families making a go at life in rural Appalachia. Review

Barnstorming Ohio To Understand AmericaDavid Giffels. New York: Hachette Books, 2020. Akron native spent a year traveling around Ohio, which he describes as “an All-American buffet.” He proposes that Ohio is a political microcosm of the U.S. political landscape, with which I would agree. His rendering of Ohio is one I recognized as ringing true. Review

Best Books on Race:

The Cross and the Lynching TreeJames H. Cone. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2013. Black theologian James Cone’s reflection on the parallel between the cross and the lynching tree, the perplexing reality that this has been missed within the white community, and how an understanding of this connection and the meaning of the cross has offered hope for the long struggle of the African-American community. Probably one of the most powerful books I read in 2020. Review

Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and IdentityRobert Chao Romero. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the five hundred year of Latina/o Christianity and its resistance and response to colonialism, dictatorships, U.S. imperialism, and oppression toward farm workers and immigrants. The author refutes the idea that the Latina/o church was an instrument of oppression, but rather sustained the resistance to oppression of the Latina/o community. An interview I did back in June with the author was one of the highlights of this year. Review

Best Essays:

UpstreamMary Oliver. New York: Penguin, 2016. These are exquisitely written essays on both nature and literary figures by poet Mary Oliver. Oliver is another Ohio-born author, growing up in Maple Heights, Ohio, where we also lived for nine years. Review

Make A ListMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. McEntyre explores the human phenomenon of why we make and like lists, how we can turn lists into a life-giving practice, and a plethora of ideas for lists we might create. Review

Best Theology:

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of CreationGavin Ortlund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Ortlund discusses how Augustine approached the Genesis accounts of beginnings and suggests his approach may be helpful in our present day origins controversies. Review

Best Books on Existential Issues:

Companions in the DarknessDiana Gruver (Foreword by Chuck DeGroat). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Biographies of seven Christians in history who experienced depression and the hope we can embrace from how they lived through their struggle. The author skillfully interweaves her own experience with depression with those of whom she writes.

The Lost Art of DyingL. S. Dugdale. New York: Harper One, 2020. Dugdale is a physician on the front line of treating COVID patients. She challenges our over-medicalized treatment of the dying, advocating a recovery of the “art of dying,” which also makes it possible to live well. She draws on ancient texts known as the Ars Moriendi and recovers their wisdom at a time when it is greatly needed. Review

Best Fiction:

The Great AloneKristen Hannah. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. A family moves to the wilderness of Alaska, hopefully for a new start for Ernt Allbright, a former POW in Vietnam, only to discover that in a beautiful and dangerous wilderness, the greatest danger may lay in their own cabin. Hannah evokes the terrible splendor of the Alaskan wilderness and the fine line between love and peril in this troubled family. Review

A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith. New York: Harper Perennial, 2018 (originally published in 1943). A coming of age story told through the eyes of Francie Nolan, about a girl’s life and ambitions in a struggling family in Brooklyn. I finally got around to reading a classic which was among the most popular books among soldiers in World War II. Smith draws us into a Brooklyn setting of the past to tell an ageless story. Review

I realize this is a bit different list than some years. More books that touch in some way on the experiences of people of color. It has been that kind of year. Books on serious questions like depression and death. I have less fiction than usual. I did read other fiction, more in the diverting rather than great category. The exception perhaps is that I began reading the Chief Inspector Gamache books by author Louise Penny. I’m only three books in but am taken with Gamache and the people of Three Pines and the deeply insightful writing of Penny on the human condition. I’ve begun reading some Octavia Butler and Georges Simenon. All have been quite good but somehow didn’t fit this list. At any rate I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my choices, and feel free to let me know your “best books” choices as well. So many good books!

The Month in Reviews: October 2020

With the cooler weather, I think I’m catching up on the books I didn’t read early in the pandemic. In this month’s reads, there are a couple books about relationships and marriage, a senator’s conversion to activism against gun violence, an exciting rescue, Marilynne Robinson’s latest, some good theology, a profound book on suffering, and a wonderful book about political and civic engagement that renewed my hope.

Sex and the City of God, Carolyn Weber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A story of how the decision to choose “the city of God” transformed love, sexuality, and relationships for the author. Review

The Violence Inside Us, Chris Murphy. New York: Random House, 2020. A Connecticut Senator describes his own awakening to the scourge of gun violence after Newtown, and explores the causes and remedies for this uniquely American problem. Review

Sarah’s Laughter, Vinoth Ramachandra. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Langham Global Library, 2020. An exploration of suffering, whether through illness or physical decline, human or natural evil, and the embrace of grief, lament, doubt, questioning and more, and what it means to hope amid our struggle. Review

The Lost Get-Back BoogieJames Lee Burke. New York: Pocket Star, 2006 (first published 1986). On release from prison, Iry Paret leaves Louisiana for Montana for a new start with his prisonmate, Buddy Riordan, only to find he has landed in the midst of new troubles. Review

God in Himself: Scripture, Metaphysics, and the Task of Christian TheologySteven J. Duby. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of what may be known of God in God’s self rather than in God’s external relations to the world and the role that scripture, metaphysics, natural and supernatural theology, and the use of analogy all play in forming this understanding. Review

Compassion (&) ConvictionJustin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler, Foreword by Barbara Williams-Skinner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A handbook for better political and civic engagement, overcoming the highly polarized character of our current discourse and the unhealthy assimilation of the church into politics. Review

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer TeamChristina Soontornvat. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020. An account of the rescue of the Wild Boars boys soccer team describing the engineering and diving efforts, and how the boys endured this experience. Review

Good ManNathan Clarkson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. Goes beyond the stereotypes of what a “real man” is to explore the character of a good man and the journey of discovery this involves. Review

Friends DividedGordon S. Wood. New York: Penguin Books, 2018. An account of the sometimes troubled and unlikely friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Review

JackMarilynne Robinson. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020. The story of an inter-racial love affair between Jack Ames Boughton and Della Miles, and Jack’s struggle to find grace. Review

Blessed Are The NonesStina Kielsmeier-Cook. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A memoir of a Christian woman coming to terms, with the help of some Catholic nuns, with her husband’s de-conversion. Review

Tales of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York, Open Road Media, 2016 (first published in 1922). A collection of eleven short stories, the most famous of which is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Review

Leading Lives That Matter (Second Edition), Edited by Mark R. Schwehn and Dorothy C. Bass. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020. An anthology on what the well-lived life looks like exploring four important vocabularies and six vital questions through a range of religious and secular readings. Review

Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy, Reid Forgrave. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2020. The account of Zac Easter, who grew up in the football culture of small town Iowa and his family, played hard, until he began to experience the consequences of repeated concussions, when his life began to unravel. Review

Best Book of the Month: Compassion (&) Conviction is a timely primer on practical and effective political and civic engagement built on a biblical framework that moves beyond the binaries that have so deeply divided us. It was so refreshing to read a book taking both a strong pro-life stance and a strong social justice stance.

Best Quote of the Month: Carolyn Weber is a gifted writer whose work I’ve previously enjoyed, but I thought she soared to new heights in Sex and the City of God, a book on singleness, courtship, and marriage as a young Christian. This quote is one of many I could have pulled:

Sex as the template for genealogy is important because sexuality is a reflection of God’s relationship with us. Our relationship to sex speaks of our relationship to God. And because our relationship to God must precede our relationship with everything else, including our own selves, working from this first relationship changes everything. As a result, more often than not in a culture that neglects our dignity as spiritual beings, pursuing this foundational relationship can feel countercultural, though it is God’s norm, for in becoming children of God we become who he intended us to be (p. 63).

What I’m Reading: I have three books ready for review this coming week. Rhythms for Life helps connect spiritual practices to the kind of person you are. Live Not By Lies is Rod Dreher’s sequel to The Benedict Option. Having studied the Communist governments of eastern Europe and talked to Christians who bore faithful witness under totalitarian regimes, he offers a warning of the coming of a soft totalitarianism, and what Christians must be prepared for. Nicholas A Basbanes A Gentle Madness was written in the 1990’s and tells the stories of those obsessed with book collecting, a very different group, I found, from those who love reading.

I’m in the middle of several other books right now. All I Did Was Shoot My Man is my first dip into the crime fiction of Walter Mosley, the dean of Black crime fiction writers. Olive Kittredge is an older work, a collection of stories set in a coastal New England town around the formidable title character. Craig S. Keener’s Between History and Spirit collects a number of journal articles by Keener on the book of Acts. on which Keener wrote a four volume exegetical commentary. Finally, Aida Besancon Spencer’s Commentary on James is just that–a careful exegetical commentary that draws out James on faith and works, money and speech.

Writing from the United States, it appears with the spike in COVID-19 cases that I will be sheltering in place for a good while yet. I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, collaborating with colleagues and connecting with friends via video technology. I’m also quite grateful for the literary companions with whom I have the chance to keep company. I hope this time affords you that opportunity as well. Stay safe, my bookish friends!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

Bob on Books Best Books of 2019

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.indd

With a few weeks left in the year I’ve reviewed 175 books in 2019. The list that follows is my judgment of the best of many good books I read during 2019. Many of these were published in 2019 but some in earlier years. One unusual category I included this year is books on writing because of two standout books I read in this category. With that, here is my list:

Best of the Year:

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.indd

The CrucifixionFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017. Fleming Rutledge wrote a long, deep book on the meaning of the death of Christ that I read through the season of Lent this year. She distills it to two critical truths: 1. God’s definitive action in making vicarious atonement for sin and 2. God’s decisive victory over the alien Powers of Sin and Death. This book is both one of the most well-written and theologically profound books I’ve read in the last ten years.

Literary Fiction:

The dearly beloved

The Dearly BelovedCara Wall. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019. This was a debut work reminiscent of the writing of Marilynne Robinson about two pastors and their wives who share in the ministry of a New York City during the turbulent Sixties, the different ways each approaches their faith, and the challenge of coming to terms with their differences. Review

a world lost

A World Lost, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2008. (no publisher’s webpage available). I’ve long been a Wendell Berry fan, and this book only confirmed my appreciation for his work, as he explores how a family, including a young boy, comes to terms when a family member is suddenly and violently taken away from them. Review

Crime Fiction:

This was the year I discovered writers of crime fiction I really liked: James Lee Burke, and C.J. Box, and their characters Dave Robicheaux and Joe Pickett. Different characters, vastly different settings, but great reads.

wolf pack

Wolf Pack (Joe Pickett #19), C. J. Box. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. A pack of four contract killers from a Mexican drug cartel threaten to take over Pickett’s town in pursuit of a former kingpin now in witness protection. Review

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Robicheaux (Dave Robicheaux #21), James Lee Burke. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. Robicheaux tries to navigate his way through grief from the tragic death of his wife, his friend’s debt issues, a mobster wanting to make a movie, a demagogic politician and a serial murderer, while trying to clear himself of suspicion in the death of the man who killed his wife. Review

Memoirs:

Educated

Educated, Tara Westover. New York: Random House, 2018. In last year’s version of this list, I predicted that this would be on the 2019 list. Like many others, I found riveting Westover’s memoir of growing up with survivalist Mormon parents in rural Idaho, suffering abuse from other family members, and her passion to learn that took her ultimately to Cambridge. Review

perfectly human

Perfectly HumanSarah C. Williams. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. A professor and her husband face a pre-natal diagnosis of fatal birth defects, decide to carry their daughter to term, describe their discussions with family and friends, and the larger issues their decision raised for them. Review

Biographies:

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of FreedomDavid W. Blight. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. This was a magnificent biography of an escaped slave who relentlessly fought for the freedom of his people. Review

the good neighbor

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred RogersMaxwell King. New York: Abrams Press, 2018. After reading this account of Fred Rogers, I wrote: “King’s book, and this story in particular, suggests to me that Rogers was a modern St. Francis. He came from wealth, and yet lived simply. He pursued a calling, a ministry with a singleness of vision that seemed strange to some at times, and yet had its own peculiar power to form the character and self-worth of children. He sang and spoke through puppets, fed fish, and met us on screen in homely cardigans. To read about him is to be elevated, and to ask oneself, ‘am I a good neighbor?’ ” Review

History:

the impeachers

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just NationBrenda Wineapple. New York: Random House, 2019. Wineapple’s careful historical account of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson demonstrates why impeachment is as yet unproven as a remedy for removing presidents accused of abusing the powers of their office. Review

indianapolis-9781501135941_lg

Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent ManLynn Vincent and Sara Vladic. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. This is a wonderfully told story of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine at the end of World War Two, the five day struggle for survival that took the lives of nearly two-thirds of those who made it into the water, and the fifty-year effort to exonerate her court-martialed captain. Review

Science-related:

Yancey

Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image (Updated and combined edition), Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Brand explores the wonders of the human body, and parallels these wonders with the body of Christ. Review

Losing Earth

Losing Earth: A Recent HistoryNathaniel Rich. MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019. Nathaniel Rich reminded me that we’ve long known the science of climate change, that at one time political parties agreed on the need for action, but allowed fossil fuel interests to polarize the parties and the country. Rich traces that history. Review

Higher Education:

religion in the university

Religion in the University, Nicholas Wolterstorff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. Wolterstorff proposes a cogent argument that in a pluralist university public square, religious perspectives ought be welcomed along with others. Review

fundamentalist u

Fundamentalist U: Keeping Faith in American Higher EducationAdam Laats. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. A study of eight flagship fundamentalist/evangelical institutions over the last century, their evolution, and the outsized influence they have had on American society. Review

Writing:

Write Better

Write BetterAndrew T. LePeau. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A former editor describes the craft, art, and spirituality of writing well, or at least better with wit, examples, and practicality. Review

Working

Working: Researching, Interviewing, WritingRobert A. Caro. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. A writer of magnificent biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson describes his practices of research and writing. Review

Theological Works:

the violence of the biblical god

The Violence of the Biblical GodL. Daniel Hawk, foreword by John Goldingay. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2019. Hawk takes on the hard question of the involvement of God in violence, listening to the different voices in scripture to arrive at a singular proposal. Review

the gospel according to eve

The Gospel According to EveAmanda W. Benckhuysen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Benckhuysen collects the writing of sixty women from the fourth century to the present on Genesis 1-3, and some of the distinctive contributions they make on how women and men ought live together. Review

Devotional Works: 

Inexpressible

InexpressibleMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. Card studies the use of the Hebrew word hesed, often translated as lovingkindness. In my review, I wrote:

To read this book was to allow God to thaw my heart, reminding me of the everything I have so undeservingly received. To read this book was to clear the fog from my eyes, to give me at least a glimpse of the inexpressible beauty of the God of hesed. Finally, to read this book was to stir my will, my hands, my feet, to think about the places where I might repair the world through the loving-kindness of hesed.  Review

Three Hours

Three Hours: Sermons for Good FridayFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019. Seven short sermons on the seven last words of Christ on the cross. I read this on Good Friday of this year, a profound reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ last words on the cross. Review

So there is my list. It reflects that I work in collegiate ministry, write, love history and biography, and a good story. I think those of you who follow this blog have similar, but not identical interests. Picking these out of the 175 was a challenge. I could have included so many others. Even the 175 is but a tiny fraction of the books published this year. I’m aware that there were a number of other outstanding works. These were works I found life-giving, informative, and diverting by turn. I think you will as well.

Overwhelmed with Booklists?

Booklists2An hazard of being a bibliophile is being overwhelmed with booklists. I confessing to contributing to this feeling for those who follow my blog and social media. This time of the year is the best, or worst, depending on your perspective, as a number of outlets publish their “best of the year” lists. In the next weeks, I’ll be doing this myself. And I’ll be posting others.

Today, I came across a most impressive list–all the books NPR has reviewed since 2013, organized as NPR’s Book Concierge, which is quite elegant as a book site. The list is tabbed by years, with access to their reviews by cover images or lists. You can search by your favorite genre. In all, there are over 2,000 reviews.

So how do I avoid being overwhelmed? Here are some things I find helpful:

  1. I pay attention to what sparks curiosity or interest. It might be a favorite author, or a cover, or a subject I’m interested in.
  2. I notice books that keep coming up in genres I’m interested in.
  3. I look for lists in subjects I’m interested in. I like Five Books because they post five books by an informed expert on a variety of subjects. Some awards, like the Hugo Awards (science fiction and fantasy) are genre specific.
  4. I read a number of religious books, and Christianity Today’s Book Awards each year is one list I pay attention to. If there is a topical area you are interested in, finding out what the flagship publication in that area is, and learning if they publish a list of books helps.
  5. Some of the most famous lists also reflect a particular literary culture. If you like the reviews you see in a particular outlet, the list may be helpful. If you tend to check out when you read the reviews, the list might not do much for you either. I don’t feel compelled to read what the literati think I should read.
  6. On the other hand, some lists may be useful if you want to branch out and read in an area different from what you usually read. For example, if you want to read more books by international authors, searching international book award lists may be helpful. Wikipedia, has a great list of these.
  7. Often, these lists have a latent effect on me. I may notice a book, perhaps multiple times and move on. Then I come across the book in a book store, and it just seems the right moment to pick it up.
  8. A special form of booklist is a bibliography, usually in more academic books. Sometimes, when I’m researching a topic, there will be a reference to another book, sometimes multiple ones, that tell me that the referenced book is really the one to read on the topic.
  9. Some of the best book lists come from other bloggers who are readers. One from the Modern Mrs. Darcy site is a compilation of 52 lists this blogger has posted over the years.
  10. Finally, when I’m tempted to become overwhelmed and shriek “so many books; so little time,” it helps to remember that most books are actually meant for others, and that the joy of perusing lists is looking for that book that was meant for you.

For me, the “Best Books” lists are my adult equivalent to the release of the Sears Christmas catalog, the “Wish Book,” when I was kid and I could leaf through the pages and make my Christmas wish list. Those are long gone. We bibliophiles are more fortunate. I suspect these lists will be around as long as there are books.

Readers Choice: Bob on Books Top Ten Reviews of 2018

CanoeingLast week I posted my list of “best” books of the year. It is always fascinating to me that rarely is there a relationship between my “best” books and the books followers of this blog are most interested in. Of the 174 books reviewed to this point in the year, here are the top ten according to the number of views their reviews received on the blog (as of 12/19/2018–some were close). The choices were heavily weighted on the religious end of spectrum, which reflects the following of the blog. I do hope those who read theological books also explore other genres! I think this enriches our imagination, our understanding of the world, and of what others who may or may not share our beliefs are thinking. So, here is the list:

Canoeing the Mountains

  1. Canoeing the MountainsTod Bolsinger. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press – Praxis, 2015. This book explores leadership in uncharted territories using the journeys of Lewis and Clark. This didn’t get a huge number of initial views, but steady traffic throughout the year. ReviewLittle Fires Everywhere
  2. Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. This was on my “best books” list as best literary fiction. Here’s my synopsis: “When Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl rent a duplex apartment from Elena Richardson, the matriarch of a successful Shaker Heights, Ohio family, it sets in motion a series of events, “little fires” that culminate in a fire that burns down the Richardson home, and transforms the lives of both families.” This has been neck and neck with #1 all year. Reviewwhite fragility
  3. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About RacismRobin DiAngelo. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018. Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” in 2011 to describe the discomfort whites often experience in discussions of racial issues. She both describes this, and better ways to engage. ReviewTwelve Lies
  4. Twelve Lies That Hold America CaptiveJonathan Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, Forthcoming January 8, 2019. This book hasn’t even come out yet! It discusses twelve cultural myths that form a kind of American folk religion that are in conflict with the hope we find in the gospel and the vision of the kingdom of God. ReviewThe Lost World of the Flood
  5. The Lost World of the FloodTremper Longman III & John H. Walton (with a contribution by Stephen O. Moshier). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. One of the “Lost World” series of books, all of which seem tremendously popular, this one on the flood narratives of Genesis 6-9. ReviewHusband Wife Father Child Master Slave
  6. Husband, Wife, Father, Child, Master, Slave, Kurt C Schaefer. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018. The author argues that the household codes in 1 Peter are actually a subtle satire opposing the norms of the Greco-Roman culture of the day. ReviewWater at the Roots
  7. Water at the Roots, Philip Britts (edited by Jennifer Harries, foreword by David Kline). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. This also was on my best books list as an account of the extraordinary life and the writings and poetry of Philip Britts, a leader of the Bruderhof community that migrated to Paraguay. Reviewwashed and waiting
  8. Washed and Waiting (revised with new Afterword), Wesley Hill. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 (originally published in 2010). This is the narrative of a celibate, gay Christian man, including thoughts about the recovery of the place of celibacy and the importance of spiritual friendship in the church. Dr. Wesley Hill is a professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. Reviewbiblical leadership
  9. Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday LeaderBenjamin K. Forest and Chet Roden, eds. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017. This is a study of leadership in the Bible, book by book. Reviewthe lost world of the israelite conquest
  10. The Lost World of the Israelite ConquestJohn H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. The second “Lost World” book to make this list. It explores the Canaanite conquest and argues that this was not a divinely commanded genocide or Holy war. Review

Looking over the list, several of these books were “near misses” on my best list and two made it. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me, but a number have an element of controversy, dealing with issues of race, Christianity and American culture, social roles, sexuality, the Flood narratives, and the Conquest narratives. It is also striking to me that two deal with the issue of leadership, including the book that was tops in views.

Looking over these statistics reminds me that each of these views represented a real person interested enough to visit my blog and read at least some portion of the review. TI love connecting people and good books, but that only works when people visit as you did this year. Thank you!

Bob on Books Best Books of 2018

Grant

It’s the time of the year when numerous publications post their best books of the year. That has been a tradition at Bob on Books as well. A friend I was meeting with the other day described my reading tastes as “eclectic” and I suspect you will find that true of this list. It spans quite a number of categories, and probably leaves out categories you might find on other lists. Many but not all of these works were published in 2018. What qualifies them for this list is that I read and reviewed them in 2018. You will find that I have divided my list into two broad categories: books for general audiences and books primarily for Christian audiences. As always, I’ve included a link to the publisher’s website in the title of the book, and a link to the full review.

First of all, though, my Best Book of the Year:

Grant

GrantRon Chernow. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. This was also the longest book I read this year. I wrote: “It is rare to come to the end of 960 pages and wish there were more.” Grant was a bundle of contradictions, who could identify battlefield opportunities and frame grand strategy, yet who made poor choices in his closest associates and struggled with depression and alcoholism. Chernow captures all of this in flowing prose. Review

Best Books: General Audiences

Little Fires Everywhere

Best Novel: Little Fires EverywhereCeleste Ng. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. I wrote, “I was drawn into this book with its interesting portrayal of people trying to do good, to keep the rules, to find and make homes and do good work, to make their way in life, and the catalytic moments when it all goes awry.” A bonus for me was that this was written by an Ohio author! Review

Leonardo

Best Biography: Leonardo da Vinci, Walter Isaacson. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. I loved everything about this book from the quality of the paper to the generous quantity of images of Leonardo’s work to Isaacson’s portrayal of da Vinci’s insatiable curiosity. Review

Leadership

Best Leadership Book: Leadership in Turbulent TimesDoris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. Doris Kearns Goodwin went back to all her work on four presidents (Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and Lyndon Johnson), and drew out what we might learn from how they led in pivotal moments of American history. This is not a rehash of earlier work but a different lens on these four men. Review

On Reading Well

Best Book on Books: On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2018. As a bibliophile, I love books on books and reading and Karen Swallow Prior gives us a great one that not only explores great books, but how reading them can be transformative in our lives. Review

race on campus

Best Higher Education Book: Race on CampusJulie J. Park. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2018. Because I work in collegiate ministry, I read books related to higher education studies. This one uses data to dispel a number of myths about race on campus. Review

The Cloud of Unknowing

Best Translation: The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous (translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher). Boulder: Shambala Publications, 2018. I commented that “Butcher’s translation strives for a simplicity and informality of conversation between a spiritual director and a directee, and this is one of the most winsome aspects of this work.” Review

Educated

I still have Tara Westover’s Educated on my “to read” pile. I had the chance to read some preview passages and from these and other reviews, this would probably have been my choice of “Best Memoir.” I’ll let you know when I read it.

Best Books: Christian Audiences

love big be well

Best Christian Fiction: Love Big, Be Well, Winn Collier. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2017. A fictional dialogue in letters between a pastor and congregation, ending with “Love Big, Be Well.” I found myself again and again catching my breath at the beauty Collier sees in “ordinary” church life freed of “flaming visions.” Review

Best Theology Books: There are two works that are a “tie” in my mind, so good I have to include both.

delivered from the elements of the world

Delivered From the Elements of the World, Peter J. Leithart. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. This was actually written a couple years back and is a refreshing exploration of why Christians claim the death and resurrection of Jesus is the decisive event in human history. Review

Dying and the Virtues

Dying and the VirtuesMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. Levering explores nine virtues in scripture and contemporary scholarship, and their relevance to living and dying well. Review. Interview with Matthew Levering: Part One; Part Two

The Lord is Good

Best Biblical Theology Book: The Lord is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Christopher R. J. Holmes. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. This is a study of what we mean when we say that the Lord is “good” focused in the Psalms. I noted that “Holmes is a pastor-theologian and brings to his readers both the carefulness of a scholar and the passion to lead us to more deeply love the good and beautiful God.” Review

Darkness Visible

Best Biblical Studies Book: Darkness Visible (Princeton Theological Monograph Series), Karlo V. Bordjadze (Foreword by R. W. L. Moberly). Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2017. A study of Isaiah 14:3-23 considering the history of interpretation of this passage as portraying the fall of Satan, or a Babylonian king. I summarized this work “as a delightful model of rigorous biblical and theological scholarship in service of God’s people.” Review

The Kingdom of God Has No Borders

Best Christian History: The Kingdom of God Has No BordersMelani McAlister. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. A study of the American evangelical missions movement over the past fifty years and the important questions that international missions raised for evangelicalism in the United States. Review

Invitation to Retreat

Best Spiritual Formation Book: Invitation to RetreatRuth Haley Barton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2018This is perhaps the most helpful book I’ve ever read on the why and how of taking retreats, full of practical wisdom. Review

Best Spiritual Biography Books: Two books, both published by Plough Publishing rose to the top, for their subjects, the judicious choice of writings, and artistic excellence characteristic of the graphical work in each book.

Water at the Roots

Water at the Roots, Philip Britts (edited by Jennifer Harries, foreword by David Kline). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. Brits was a kind of British Wendell Berry, who helped lead the Bruderhof community in Paraguay. The work narrates his life, incorporating verse and essays. Review

the scandal of redemption

The Scandal of RedemptionOscar Romero (edited by Carolyn Kurtz, Foreword by Michael Lapsley). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2018. We glimpse the courageous life and death of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero through nine homilies, and the prayer spoken at a funeral mass, moments before his assassination. Review

the myth of equality

Best Book on Justice or Social Issues: The Myth of Equality, Ken Wytsma. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. A white pastor addresses the need for an honest conversation about white privilege in America. Review

If you’ve made it this far, I commend you for perusing a long list. One of the things about reviewing is that it has given me an appreciation for the magnificent writing, thoughtful commentary, and careful scholarship that I encounter in so many of the books I read. Hopefully, there is something you can put on your own wishlist, or give to someone you care about this holiday season.

 

The Month in Reviews: October 2018

Paul

October was the month I spent nearly the whole month (and the latter part of September) reading The Origins of Totalitarianism. Perhaps it is no wonder I had to read a book on the aging brain! In biographies, my reading spanned from the biblical era (Paul) to current politics (Elizabeth Warren). A couple of books explore the ways we self-deceive and are deceived. I read a couple good books in Christian history, on American Revivalism (1740-1840), and on the history of evangelicalism from 1900 to 1940. There were a few scholarly works in there on the oral tradition behind the New Testament, on the Wisdom literature, and the theology of middle knowledge. Both Quit Church and Healing Our Broken World explored practices that renew the church and make a difference in the world. Finally, I reviewed a recent book by Parker J. Palmer on aging. No fiction this month (although I spent a good part of the month reading Cloud Atlas).

The aging brain

The Aging BrainTimothy R. Jennings, MD. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2018. A discussion of the causes of aging and brain deterioration and the lifestyle measures that can be taken to avert or delay dementia. Review

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth WarrenAntonia Felix. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2018. A biography of the Democrat U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, from the financial struggles of her family, her academic life and the research that changed her life, and her work protecting consumers that led to her Senate run. Review

On the Brink of Everything

On the Brink of EverythingParker J. Palmer. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018. A series of reflections on aging, living with grace and vitality as we age, and facing our deaths. Review

interpreting old testament wisdom literature

Interpreting Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Edited by David G. Firth and Lindsay Wilson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A collection of articles on the wisdom literature of the Bible, discussing each book as well as recent developments in Wisdom literature scholarship. Review

From Good News to Gospels

From Good News to Gospels David Wenham (Foreword by Donald A. Hagner). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018. Explores the role of oral tradition as a source for the written gospels. Review

Twelve Lies

Twelve Lies That Hold America CaptiveJonathan Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, Forthcoming January 8, 2019. Discusses twelve cultural myths that form a kind of American folk religion that are in conflict with the hope we find in the gospel and the vision of the kingdom of God. Review

Paul

Paul: A Biography, N. T. Wright. New York: Harper One, 2018. Wright translates his scholarship that gives a “new account” of Paul’s life into a popular biography, tracing the life and thought of the apostle through the letters he wrote and narrative of his journeys. Review

theologies of the american revivalists

Theologies of the American Revivalists, Robert W. Caldwell III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. A study, not so much of the history, as the theologies underlying the different revival movements in America from 1740 to 1840. Review

Quit Church

Quit ChurchChris Sonksen (Foreword by Dave Ferguson). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018. A challenge to quit a half-hearted commitment to church for lives of discipleship in six areas. Review

Democracy Hacked

Democracy HackedMartin Moore. London: Oneworld Publications, 2018. An inquiry into the ways individuals and states have influenced democratic governments, how web-based platforms have made it possible, and some of the alternatives for the future. Review

middle knowledge

Middle KnowledgeJohn D. Laing. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2018. An exposition and defense of the doctrine of middle knowledge, also known as Molinism, and arguments for why this best addresses other theological issues. Review

Healing our Broken Humanity

Healing Our Broken World, Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill (Foreword by Willie James Jennings). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018. In a world with deep racial, gender, national, and political divides, the authors propose nine formative practices churches can pursue enabling the church to have a healing presence in the world. Review

the origins of totalitarianism

The Origins of  TotalitarianismHannah Arendt. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1968. A work tracing the rise of totalitarian governments in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to their origins in racism and class warfare, reactions to imperialism, and the mechanics that distinguish totalitarian states from other kinds of states. Review

the disruption of evangelicalism

The Disruption of Evangelicalism (History of Evangelicalism Series, Volume 4) Geoffrey R. Treloar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Countering the existing narrative of evangelicalism at its zenith before World War I followed by a great reversal, this work argues a more positive assessment of evangelical response to the disruptions of war. Review

Best of the Month: This month the award goes to N. T. Wright’s Paul. Wright has been studying Paul’s life and work for decades and distilled all this scholarship into a biography that is at once engaging, concise (for Wright), and full of fresh insights about the apostle, his ministry, and his writings.

Quote of the Month: Parker J. Palmer’s wonderful little collection of essays on aging, death, and living generatively had this quote that I have been musing on most of the month:

“What can we do with our pain? How might we hold it and work with it? How do we turn the power of suffering toward new life? The way we answer those questions is critical because violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” 

This has been especially on my mind this past week as we witnessed a spate of mail bombs, the random killing of two blacks in a Kroger’s and the killing of eleven Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. It makes me wonder and pray about the pain of those who perpetrated these acts, and how the families of victims will hold and work with the pain they bear.

Current reads: I’ve just finished a delightful book on reading, I’d Rather Be Reading, by Anne Bogel, a kindred spiritI’m nearly through Cloud Atlas, a chiasm of linked stories, and a better read than I expected. I’m reading a couple of science and faith books, Cosmology in Theological Perspective by Olli-Pekka Vanio, and Creation Care by a father and son team, Douglas and Jonathan Moo. I’m just starting in on Ashley Hales’ Finding Holy in the Suburbs and am intrigued to see how she will address the realities of suburban life. Soon to come are The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, and Julie J. Park’s new work, Race on Campus. I also will be reading a modern classic, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart with my reading group this month.

If you have read any of the books I mentioned here, or read them as a result of my reviewing them, I’d love to know what you think. Reading is social, as we share the good we find in books with others. I’d love to hear what you are finding.