The Month in Reviews: July 2022

Summertime, and the reading is easy. Well, not all of it. I tackled a long compendium of articles from an egalitarian stance on gender roles and a Paul Tillich classic. Other thought-provoking books this month were on the loneliness epidemic, the spirituality in John’s writings, a book that wrestled with how we do Christian history and a book on academic freedom. I actually read two Ngaio Marsh books this month as well as a lesser known (to me) train mystery by Agatha Christie. Then there were a couple books by “proto-Inklings”–a children’s fantasy by George MacDonald and a reflection on the life of St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton. I finally pulled Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft off the TBR–a work that challenges our notions of knowledge work. And I delighted in the full-length biography of Salmon P. Chase, a fellow Ohioan who fought slavery and was an exemplar of public service.

Death in a White Tie (Alleyn #7), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012. At a premiere debutante ball, Lord Robert Gospell’s call to Alleyn about a blackmail conspiracy is interrupted. A few hours later, Gospell turns up at Scotland Yard in the back of a taxi–dead! Review

Spirituality According to JohnRodney Reeves. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Through an imaginative study of the gospel, letters, and Revelation of John, considers what it means to abide in Christ, coming to faith, living communally in Christ, and facing the tribulations of the end of the world. Review

A Moveable Feast: The Restored EditionErnest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 2010 (Original edition published in 1964). Based on the manuscript submitted by Hemingway for publication rather than the posthumously edited version originally published, a memoir of his time in the 1920’s in Paris, his beginnings as a writer, his first marriage, and the circle of writers he worked among, including the previously unpublished “Paris Sketches.“ Review

The Courage to BePaul Tillich. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952 (Link is to the third edition, published in 2014). A philosophical discussion of being or ontology, the crisis of anxiety, and the nature of the courage to be, the affirmation of our being in the face of nonbeing, accepting our acceptance by the God above God despite our unacceptability. Review

At the Back of the North Wind, George MacDonald. New York: Open Road Media, 2022. Summary: Diamond becomes friend with the North Wind, who takes him on many adventures, even while he is a help to everyone he meets and known for his rhymes. Review

Discovering Biblical Equality: Biblical, Theological, Cultural & Practical Perspectives (Third Edition), Editors: Ronald W. Pierce and Cynthia Long Westfall, Associate editor: Christa L. McKirland. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A compendium of scholarly essays addressing gender differences in marriage and the church supporting an egalitarian perspective. Review

Saint Francis of Assisi (Paraclete Heritage Edition), G. K. Chesterton. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013 (Originally published in 1923). Less a biography than a reflection on the meaning of the life of St. Francis. Review

The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot #6), Agatha Christie. New York: William Morrow, 2005 (originally published in 1928). A rich heiress carrying a rare ruby is murdered on the fashionable overnight train to the French Riviera on which retired detective Hercule Poirot happens to be riding. Review

The Shape of Christian HistoryScott W. Sunquist. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. An exploration of how Christian history is written and read in an era of “Christianities” proposing three framing concepts that give coherence to the whole arc of Christian history while respecting the diversity of its expressions. Review

The Loneliness EpidemicSusan Mettes (Foreword by David Kinnaman). Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021. A study of the prevalence of loneliness in America, misconceptions about loneliness, and steps leaders and individuals in the church can take to address loneliness. Review

Versions of Academic FreedomStanley Fish. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. Summary: An analysis of the idea of academic freedom, identifying five schools of thought, arguing for limiting this to the core professional duties of an academic in one’s institution and disciplinary field. Review

With or Without MeEsther Marie Magnis (Translated by Alta L. Price). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2022. A memoir of losing a father to cancer and the loss of faith that came when earnest, believing prayers went unanswered, and the slow journey back. Review

Now and Not Yet (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Dean R. Ulrich. Downers Grove: IVP Academic/London: Apollos, 2021 (Apollos-UK publisher webpage). Summary: A study of the biblical theology of Ezra-Nehemiah that situates the books within an account of redemptive history, emphasizing both what already had been fulfilled and what yet remained. Review

Shop Class as SoulcraftMatthew B. Crawford. New York: Penguin Books, 2010. A philosopher turned motorcycle mechanic explores the nature of satisfying work and the intellectual dignity of the manual trades. Review

Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital RivalWalter Stahr. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021. A biography tracing the life of this public figure who was a contender along with Lincoln for the presidency and who played a vital role in his cabinet, and then as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Review

Tied Up in Tinsel (Roderick Alleyn #27), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (Originally published in 1972). Hilary Bill-Talsman is the subject of a Troy portrait and host of a Christmas house party that includes a Druid Pageant, marred when the chief Druid disappears. Alleyn arrives from overseas just in time to solve the mystery. Review

O Pioneers!Willa Cather. New York: Penguin Classics, 1994 (Originally published in 1913). The first of the Great Plains Trilogy, the story of Alexandra Bergson’s love of the Nebraska hills, the costly choices she made, and the ill-fated love of her brother Emil. Review

Indigenous Theology and the Western WorldviewRandy S. Woodley. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022. A discussion of an indigenous approach to theology that proposes it is closer to both the indigenous traditions and the teaching of Jesus. Review

Book of the Month: It was a toss-up for me between the Chase biography and Esther Marie Magnis’s With or Without Me. I chose the latter because it is a powerful, unvarnished memoir of suffering loss, not only of a loved one, but of one’s faith and her slow journey back as she discovered the inconsistencies and emptiness for her of the alternatives on offer.

Quote of the Month: This month, you get two! I’m just discovering the writing of American plains writer, Willa Cather. I’m not sure how I overlooked her for so long. Here is a passage I really liked from O Pioneers!:

For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman (Cather, p. 44).

Rodney Reeves in Spirituality According to John concluded with a question worthy of consideration of a church seemingly infatuated with almost anything but Jesus:

“The Apocalypse is not only a revelation at the end of the world; it is a revelation of the church at the end of the world. God knew that, as we watched the world fall apart around us, we would need to see our place in a crumbling world. When the earth quakes at the weight of glory, when heaven shakes earth to its core, when idols are destroyed and the kingdoms of men fall, when pandemics threaten humanity, when all creation is purified of evil and all that is left is what God has made, where will the church abide?” (p. 257).

What I’m Reading: I’ve finished three books that I’ll be reviewing this week. One is James V. Schall’s A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning, a delightful little book making the classic argument for a liberal education as well as building one’s own library of significant works, including his own recommendations. Beale and Kim’s God Dwells Among Us is on the theme of the temple, a theme the authors trace through scripture, offering practical application throughout. Jason Cusack’s The Anxiety Field Guide consists of thirty short chapters intended to be practiced over a month, based on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and illustrated liberally by Cusack’s personal experiences of anxiety. A Short History of Christian Zionism is a descriptive history rather than a work of advocacy, tracing the development of Christian Zionism both in Great Britain and in the U.S., the key figures, and they way it has adapted to different theological streams. Bird by Bird is Anne Lamott’s classic on writing, full of her earthy wit that makes you laugh even as it encourages the heart of any writer. I’ve come across various recommendations of the work of Vaclav Smil. His latest, How the World Really Works, explores the reality of energy use and how hard it will be to get to a carbon-zero energy economy. This is not a piece of advocacy but rather a realistic look at present day realities and the alternatives open to us. I’m just starting in on The Power of Us, on the role others play in the shaping of identity. The Psychology of Christian Nationalism is also one I’m just starting and focuses on the roots of Christian Nationalism and how we address both our divides as a nation and our pursuit of justice for all.

In our area, it looks like we might have some hot weather coming–a great excuse to find a cool place, a comfortable chair, a cold drink, and a good book. As always, I’d love to hear what you are reading!

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: 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: May 2022

Each month, I choose a book of the month. It is often a tough choice, partly because I try to select noteworthy books to review. Here are some of the others that stood out. I would commend anything Marilyn McEntyre writes and her Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict is not about making “nice” but rather speaking truthfully with civility, even where we differ sharply with others. Matthew Levering’s The Abuse of Conscience explores the proper place of conscience in moral reasoning. Work Pray Code by Carolyn Chen discerns a growing trend to import religion as well as other communal structures into the work place, at least in Silicon Valley. Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land is a collection of most of his Port William short stories arranged around the chronology of the longer novels. “Fidelity” is quite wonderful. Nothing is Impossible by Ted Osius is a story of restoring trust between the U.S. and Vietnam. He exemplifies what I think is some of the best in diplomacy and the work of an ambassador, of both faithfully and firmly representing one’s own country and entering deeply into the life of his host country. Finally, Unforgettable by Gregory Floyd spoke deeply as the memoir of a man recounting his spiritual journey and how God speaks in our memories. I found myself remembering along with him.

I had an odd experience this month of people arguing with me about several of the books I reviewed. It wasn’t that they took issue with the review, but with the author’s ideas. Sometimes I wonder if they read beyond the book’s title. I found it odd, because as a reviewer I am trying to represent what the author says, not defend it. In one instance, I even suggested taking up questions with the author, an acquaintance, who I knew would be glad to discuss the person’s questions and objections to his ideas. On the other hand, I was pleased when one author wrote and said I’d gotten what she was trying to say. That’s my goal, to summarize accurately, and offer my own brief appraisal without arguing with the author, so that readers can decide whether they want to acquire the book. So here are the books I reviewed this past month. Can you guess which ones people argued about with me?

Speaking Peace in a Climate of ConflictMarilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020. Engaging with the works of contemporary writers, discusses how our care for words that are clear, gracious, and truthful is vital to the pursuit of peace in a contentious world. Review

The Abuse of ConscienceMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2021. An analysis of the moral theology of twenty-six recent theologians tracing the rise of conscience-centered moral life, considered problematic by the author. Review

Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles? Ian Hutchinson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Veritas Books, 2018. A collection of responses to questions about God and science asked by students at Veritas Forums on university campuses throughout the country. Review

All the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Gamache #16), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2020. A family visit of the Gamaches to children in Paris suddenly becomes an investigation into the attempted murder of Stephen Horowitz, Armand’s godfather, and the murder of a close associate, and will put the Gamaches in great peril. Review

Enjoying the Old TestamentEric A. Seibert. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Seibert deals with the confusing, troubling, or uninteresting experience of many, suggesting the value of reading the Old Testament, and reading strategies for engagement with the text bring life and interest to the Old Testament scriptures. Review

Heinrich Heine (Everyman’s Poetry #28), Heinrich Heine (Translated and edited by T. J. Reed and David Cram: London: Everyman/J. M. Dent, 1997. A collection of translated poems of Heinrich Heine. Review

Work Pray CodeCarolyn Chen. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. A sociologist studies how Silicon Valley tech firms bring religion into the workplace, replacing traditional religious institutions, blurring the line of work and religion. Review

Playing FavoritesRodger Woodworth. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2021. All of us prefer the company of those like us while the gospel bids us to engage across cultures, with those unlike us, challenging us to stop “playing favorites.” Review

That Distant Land, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2004. A collection of short stories about the Port William membership not part of the longer novels. Review

Beyond Racial DivisionGeorge Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. Proposes as an alternative to colorblind or antiracist approaches, one of collaborative conversation and mutual accountability to overcome racial divisions. Review

What Are Christians For?, Jake Meador. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. An argument for a Christian politics that recognizes the goodness of all creation including all peoples, that rejects the manipulation of people and places and our own bodies that disregards their nature. Review

The Rule of LawsFernanda Pirie. New York: Basic Books, 2021. A four thousand-year history of the ways different cultures have ordered their societies through various forms of law. Review

From Judgment to HopeWalter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. A survey study of the prophets centering on the movement in these books from judgment to hope. Review

Nothing is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam, Ted Osius, Foreword John Kerry. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2021. A memoir by former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, describing how a former enemy became one of America’s strongest international partners, and the important role diplomacy played to bring that about. Review

The Space Between UsSusan Wise Anderson. [No publisher information], 2020. An argument for a Christ-rooted civility in our politically and culturally polarized climate. Review

The Vicar of WakefieldOliver Goldsmith. New York: Penguin Classics, 1986 (originally published in 1766). The “memoir” of the vicar, who experiences a series of financial and family disasters, ending up in prison, and how matters resolved themselves. Review

UnforgettableGregory Floyd. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2022. Through remembering his life of faith, the author remembers the working of God in all of life’s seasons, giving hope for the future. Review

The Everlasting People (Hansen Lectureship Series). Matthew J. Milliner, Contributions by David Iglesias, David Hooker, and Amy Peeler, Foreword by Casey Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A series of reflections upon the writings and life of G. K. Chesterton and how they fostered an appreciation of the art and history of the First Nations peoples of the Midwest. Review

Book of the Month. This month I gave the nod to Louise Penny’s All the Devils Are Here. All her novels are exquisite in plotting, characters, and the milieu, including the food they eat! This one had an exceptionally twisty plot and deftly explored the issues of trust, and who one can trust, even between family members and in long-abiding friendships. Personally, if we could nominate a fictional man of the century, I would nominate Armand Gamache.

Quote of the Month. I mentioned Unforgettable above. Floyd’s casting himself into the arms of God reminded me so much of a night on a hillside in West Virginia where I surrendered my life to God:

“…in my senior year of high school, I heard his voice. Not audibly, but an impression on my heart, a word pressed into it: Jump. I woke in the middle of the night to a voice that said: ‘Jump, and trust that I will catch you.’ Somehow, I knew this was God speaking, and I decided to jump. If I was correct, I would find myself in the arms of God” (p. 30).

What I’m Reading. It’s a dangerous thing when friends send you their books but I am thoroughly enjoying David J. Claassen’s Racing the Storm, a fictional account of trailer court residents about to lose their homes when the court owner decides to sell the land. The ensemble of characters is what makes this book–I like them so much I want to see if they manage to keep their homes and stay together.

On a very different note, My Body is Not a Prayer Request, is a hard-hitting account by a disabled Shakespeare scholar of what it is like to be treated as a problem to be fixed instead of accepted for who one is. Amy Kenny writes about the physical and attitudinal barriers that prevent disabled persons from being fully included in the church and in society. I’m doing a live interview with her on Thursday, so message me if the topic is of interest to you.

The Glory of God and Paul is a study of the theme of God’s glory, especially in Paul’s writing. Columbus native Wil Haygood’s book Showdown is on the nomination of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the contentious hearing process before his final confirmation. It reminds me of the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson and makes me wonder how far we’ve come on matters of race. I’ve just finished Ngaio Marsh’s Dead Water concerning a spring with reputed healing powers, at least until its leading promoter is found floating dead in it! This had one of the more exciting endings in Marsh’s stories. And I’m just starting Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear. I first encountered Greene in college (The Power and the Glory) and think him one of the under-rated novelists of the 20th century.

Hope I’ve helped you find one or two things for your summer’s reading list! Happy reading!

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: March 2022

It’s always hard to sum up a month’s reading. One thing I noticed was that I didn’t read all new stuff–a philosophy of walking from 2014, a Ngaio Marsh from 1941, Anne Lamott from 2018, Braiding Sweetgrass was from 2013, a story about a famous mathematician who never was from 2006, a Wes Jackson essay collection from 1996, and a Thornton Wilder classic that goes back to 1924. Not everything that interests me was written in the last year or so, just the books publishers and authors want one to review. In addition to my “book of the month,” a few that stood out were Michelle Van Loon’s Translating Our Past on understanding our lives through our family histories, Rob Dixon’s Together in Ministry on how men and women may collaborate well in ministry, and Korie Little Edwards and Michelle Oyakawa’s , Smart Suits, Tattered Boots on the expressions of civil rights leadership among contemporary Black clergy. A particularly appropriate book for our times was Michael Ignatieff’s On Consolation (although I found Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything, which touches on similar themes, more helpful!).

A Philosophy of WalkingFrédéric Gros, translated by John Howe, illustrated by Clifford Harper. Brooklyn: Verso, 2014. An extended reflection on the significance of walking as part of the human condition, consisting of short chapters interspersed with accounts of walking philosophers. Review

Lead Like It Matters to God, Richard Sterns. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. In contrast to many leadership books that outline steps to success, describes what it is like to give value-shaped leadership in both for profit and non-profit settings. Review

To Build a Better WorldPhilip Zelikow and Condoleeza Rice. New York: Twelve, 2019. An account of the period from 1988-1992 and the transition of states, economic systems, and military alliances, reflecting an emerging post-cold war world. Review

The Cross-Shaped LiveJeff Kennon. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2021. A practical exploration of what it means to be made in the image of a God who died on the cross, to have the cross shape and form the way we live. Review

Death and the Dancing Footman (Roderick Alleyn #11), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012 (originally published in 1941). A staged house-party amid a snowstorm consisting of mutual enemies ends in a death and a suicide that Alleyn must sort out. Review

Translating Your PastMichelle Van Loon. Harrisburg: Herald Press, 2021. A guide to making sense of one’s past and how our family history, traumas in previous generations, our genetic makeup, and for many, how adoption help us understand our lives and place in the world. Review

George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles (The Ken and Jean Hansen Lectureship Series), Timothy Larsen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018. Three lectures on the works of George MacDonald with responses that focus on the miraculous in these works, particularly with regard to the incarnation, faith amid doubt, and the re-enchantment of life. Review

The Samaritan Woman’s StoryCaryn A. Reeder. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022. Challenges the view of the Samaritan woman as a sexual sinner, considering how this has been read in the church, and the realities of the life of women and marriage that points to a very different reading. Review

The Last ProfessionalEd Davis. Tijeras, NM: Artemesia Publishing, 2022. A young man trying to find the tramp who assaulted him as an adolescent catches a freight and meets an old hobo running from a killer and the two form a friendship around the lure of riding the freights. Review

Almost Everything: Notes on HopeAnne Lamott. New York: Riverhead, 2018. A series of “notes” or essays on hope, especially amid disturbing times. Review

Braiding SweetgrassRobin Wall Kimmerer. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013. A collection of essays centered around the culture of sweetgrass, combining indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge. Review

Together in MinistryRob Dixon (Foreword by Ruth Haley Barton). Downers Grove: IVP Academic/Missio Alliance, 2021. A field research-based approach to mixed-gender ministry collaboration identifying ten attributes for healthy partnerships. Review

The Artist and the MathematicianAmir D. Aczel. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006. The story of the Bourbaki, named after the greatest mathematician who never existed, who led a revolution in the emergence of the “new math,” introducing a new rigor into the field. Review

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder with Foreword by Russell Banks, Afterword by Tappan Wilder. New York: Harper Perennial, 2015 (originally published in 1927). A friar witnesses the collapse of a woven rope bridge with five people falling to their deaths and tries to discern some reason why, in God’s providence, each of them died. Review

Smart Suits, Tattered BootsKorie Little Edwards and Michelle Oyakawa. New York: New York University Press, 2022. A study, using interviews of Black Ohio religious leaders and research studies of mobilization efforts to explore whether Black religious leaders are still able to mobilize civil rights efforts, and if so, how, when, and why they do. Review

On ConsolationMichael Ignatieff. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2021. On how significant figures through the ages have found comfort amid tragedy and hard times, enabling them to press on with hope and equanimity. Review

Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars KnewHans Boersma (Foreword by Scot McKnight). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. In an effort to foster understanding between the two disciplines, a theologian outlines five areas for biblical scholars to understand about theology as it bears upon the Bible. Review

Becoming Native To This PlaceWes Jackson. New York: Counterpoint Press, 1996. Six essays advocating agricultural practices that reflect close attention to the character of a particular place. Review

A Better Man (Chief Inspector Gamache #15), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2019. Gamache, Beauvoir, and Lacoste are together again, searching for a missing girl amid rising floods and a flood of social media attacks against Gamache and the art of Clara Morrow. Review

Book of the Month. Books really can change and challenge us. Caryn A. Reeder’s The Samaritan Woman’s Story did that for me. I always thought (and taught about) her as a loose woman. Reeder challenged me to find that in the text. And I discovered that I was finding it in my assumptions, leading to self-examination of why that was and did this reflect a narrative about women that comes from somewhere else than the Bible. The book changed a lot more than my view of the Samaritan woman.

Quote of the Month: It seems that everyone finally discovered Braiding Sweetgrass and the wonderful collection of reflections Robin Wall Kimmerer offers bring science and indigenous wisdom together. I was particular taken by her discussion of the Honorable Harvest and her articulation of the principles that reflect indigenous wisdom:

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.
                                        --Kimmerer, p. 183.

What I’m Reading. I just finished Terence Lester’s When We Stand which talks in the most encouraging terms of the multiplication that occurs when we mobilize for some cause with others. I’ve been reading David Loyn’s The Long War, an account of the Afghanistan war, America’s longest war. I’m struck that I really didn’t pay attention, except that we were still in Afghanistan. Loyn explores the reasons, going back to the war’s earliest years why this was such a long war that ended so badly not only for us but for Afghanistan. Reformed Public Theology is a wonderful collection of articles on how Reformed theology helps the writers think through various issues of public concern. The Way of Perfection is Teresa of Avila’s counsel on prayer. William F. Cook III’s Jesus Final Week uses a “harmony of the gospels” approach to look day by day at the week between the Triumphal Entry and the Resurrection. Great reading as I approach that week in the church year. Finally Black Hands, White House is part history, part memorial, and part advocacy for a monument on the Washington Mall that recognizes the slave history that built our capitol city and much of our country. She recounts the skilled work of many enslaved Blacks by name, including the man who played the instrumental role in the Statue of Freedom’s placement atop our capitol building.

Thanks for reading along, and I hope you’ve found something of interest!

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014!

The Month in Reviews: February 2022

I count it a privilege to review so many good books. And there were a lot of them this month. I finally discovered Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and his thoughtful writing about how our food comes to our table. Breaking Ground is a stunning set of essays for anyone thinking about how we come out of the pandemic and deal with the divided state of so many of our nations. Bridget Eileen Rivera’s book, Heavy Burdens, is a must read for anyone who cares about inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church, no matter your theology. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. offers a wonderful overview in The Black Church of its history and importance in sustaining America’s Black community. I found Samantha Power’s memoir, The Education of an Idealist a riveting and inspiring account of her life so far and, in this Irish immigrant, a reminder of what immigrants have added to American life. If you are tempted to surrender hope that we can do anything meaningful about climate change, Katharine Hayhoe’s Saving Us is a breath of fresh and enlivening air. There’s so much more I can say, but much of it is in the reviews, so I’ll let you get at them!

The Doctrine of ScriptureBrad East (Foreword by Katherine Sonderegger). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. A concise exploration of the doctrine of scripture focusing on the church’s joyful and thankful confession, “this is the word of the Lord.” Review

The Omnivore’s DilemmaMichael Pollen. New York: Penguin, 2007. An examination of the American way of eating, considering our industrial food chain and how it has affected our diet by contrast with organic and hunter-gatherer food chains. Review

Cradling AbundanceMonique Misenga Ngoie Mukuna with Elsie Tshimunyi McKee. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An autobiography of a lay leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, describing her work with women addressing their education, helping them develop usable skills, and addressing the gender violence and health issues they face. Review

Having and Being HadEula Biss. New York: Riverhead Books, 2021. A collection of essays on the occasion of the author and her husband buying their first house, considering the nature of capitalism, consumption, work, and class. Review

Breaking GroundAnne Snyder and Susannah Black. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing 2021. A collection of essays written through four seasons beginning in the summer of 2020 on what it might take to restore common ground for the common good in a society deeply divided by the pandemic, race, economic, and political divisions. Review

Faithful AntiracismChristina Barland Edmondson and Chad Brennan, foreword by Korie Little Edwards and Michael O. Emerson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2022. Drawing upon the Race, Religion, and Justice Project, offers biblical and practical recommendations to engage racism personally and with one’s faith community. Review

Welcome, Holy SpiritGordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Beginning with the metaphors for the Holy Spirit, articulates a theology of the Holy Spirit that spans theological traditions and invites readers to be receptive to a deeper experience of the Spirit’s work. Review

Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the ChurchBridget Eileen Rivera. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021. Rather than an argument about what the Bible says about LGBTQ persons, a discussion of the ways LGBTQ Christians, regardless of their beliefs, have suffered under heavy, and the author would argue, needless burdens. Review

Ready Player OneErnest Cline. New York: Broadway Press, 2012. A virtual world quest created as the last act of a gaming programmer in which a real prize of $240 billion is at stake pits Wade Watts and a rag tag group of “gunters” against a ruthless corporation. Review

A Grave Mistake (Roderick Alleyn #30), Ngaio Marsh. New York, Felony & Mayhem Press, 2016 (originally published in 1978). A wealthy widow in a small English village dies of an apparent suicide at an exclusive spa, but clues point to murder with a circle of suspects with motives. Review

The Manifold Beauty of Genesis OneGregg Davidson & Kenneth J. Turner. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2021. A layered approach to the meaning of Genesis 1, focusing on what this reveals about God and God’s intentions for the flourishing of his creation and the human beings created in God’s image. Review

The Black ChurchHenry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Penguin Press, 2021. A companion to the PBS series on the Black church, surveying the history of the Black church in America focusing on why the church has been central to the life of the Black community. Review

American Diplomacy, Expanded Edition, George Kennan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. (Link is to in-print 60th anniversary edition, 2012). A compilation of Kennan’s six Charles R. Walgreen lectures, two articles on US-Soviet relations originally from Foreign Affairs, and two Grinnell lectures. Review

The Journey Toward WholenessSuzanne Stabile. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2021. Draws on the wisdom of the Enneagram to help focus on our responses to stress, both as they reflect our dominant and repressed centers of intelligence intelligence. Review

Piercing Leviathan (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Eric Ortlund. Downers Grove and London: IVP Academic and Apollos, 2021. (Link for UK publisher). A study of the book of Job that focuses on the second of the Lord’s speeches to Job, focused on describing Behemoth and Leviathan. Review

The Education of an IdealistSamantha Power. New York: Dey Street Books, 2021. A memoir on immigrant-American, war correspondent, human rights activist, and diplomat Samantha Power. Review

Centering PrayerBrian D. Russell. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. An introduction to the practice of centering prayer with practical helps and theological basis, by a practitioner who found the practice transformative. Review

Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Gamache #14), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2018. Gamache, Myrna, and Benedict, a young building maintenance worker who hopes to be a builder are named as liquidators of the estate of a cleaning woman while Amelia Choquet, caught with drugs, is expelled from the Academy to the streets as a powerful and lethal drug is about to hit. Review

Saving UsKatharine Hayhoe. New York: Atria/One Signal Publishers, 2021. A discussion of both the urgent challenge of climate change, and the difference we can make in both action and conversations. Review

Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians KnewScot McKnight, Foreword Hans Boersma. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. In an effort to foster understanding between the two disciplines, a biblical scholar outlines five areas for theologians to understand about biblical studies. Review

Best Book of the Month: I loved Brad East’s The Doctrine of Scripture. Reading his theology reminded me why I love the Bible, what we mean when we speak of it as “the word of the Lord” in our worship. He speaks of scripture’s source, nature, attributes, ends, interpretation, and authority. I wrote, “This was not a book of same old, same old verities but a thoughtful framing of the doctrine of scripture that avoids the de-supernaturalizing tendencies of modern scholarship and the extremes of bibliolatry while at the same time upholding the wondrous reality of hearing the Word of the Lord together as the people of God.”

Best Quote of the Month: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., I thought, summed up well the meaning of the Black Church in this statement:

“It’s that cultural space in which we can bathe freely in the comfort of our cultural heritage, and where everyone knows their part, and where everyone can judge everyone else’s performance of their part, often out loud with amens, with laughter, with clapping, or with silence. It’s the space that we created to find rest in the gathering storm. It’s the place where we made a way out of no way. It’s the place to which, after a long and wearisome journey, we can return and find rest before we cross the river. It’s the place we call, simply, the Black Church” (p. 219).

What I’m Reading: I’m ready to review Frédéric Gros’ A Philosophy of Walking, a series of reflection on this basic human activity that includes profiles of a number of walking philosophers! I’ve been delighting in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and am persuaded that our Native Peoples have more than a few things to teach us about tending the garden and how we may both give to and receive from the other creatures of the earth. To Build a Better World, by Condoleeza Rice and Philip D. Zelikow, looks back to 1989-1990 and the seeming end of Communism and the new order that emerged. I’m curious if it will explain the origins of our current disorders. Lead Like it Matters to God is written by the head of World Vision, the largest Christian aid agency, and explores value driven leadership. I just began reading Jeff Kennon’s The Cross-Shaped Life, one of my Lent books. Drawing on Michael Gorman, he argues for and outlines what a cruciform life looks like, one shaped by Jesus and what he has done. Finally, I’m just starting out another Ngaio Marsh book, Death and the Dancing Footman. Love the title, hope the book is as good! And I hope you find some good books to read in March, whether from this list or not. I’d love to hear about them!

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014!

The Month in Reviews: December 2021

It’s been a busy month at Bob on Books! I reviewed 18 books this month from T. S. Eliot to Louise Penny. Reviews ranging from children’s to crime fiction, from devotionals to memoirs, a couple books for Christians in higher ed, Revolutionary war history, evolutionary neurophysiology, natural ecology, and more!

Also, it was the time of the year to pick my Best Books of 2021 as well as the Top Viewed Reviews of 2021 (no overlap, by the way!). It was a great way to look back on my year of reading reviewing, 198 reviews in all! So here are the books I read as 2021 came to a conclusion.

The Idea of a Christian Society, T. S. Eliot. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014 (First published in 1939). Three lectures given in 1939 putting forth Eliot’s ideas for a Christian society in the light of rising pagan, totalitarian governments in the pre-World War 2 world. Review

Beyond the White FenceEdith M. Humphrey. Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2021. A group of cousins visiting “Gramgon” and a neighbor boy have a series of adventures in which they meet their patron saints, passing through a portal just beyond the garden gate. Review

From Pentecost to Patmos, Second EditionCraig L. Blomberg and Darlene M. Seal with Alicia S. Dupree. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2021. A New Testament Introduction covering Acts through Revelation, with introductory material and commentary, review questions and bibliography for each book, useful as a textbook or reference. Review

A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Gamache #12), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2016. Gamache returns to the Sûreté as Commander of its Academy, and finds himself at the center of a murder investigation of one of its corrupt professors. Review

Struggling with EvangelicalismDan Stringer, Foreword by Richard J. Mouw. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. Traces both the author’s personal struggles with evangelicalism and a four step process of healthy struggle involving awareness, appreciation, repentance, and renewal. Review

The Parables: Jesus’s Friendly Subversive SpeechDouglas D. Webster. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2021. A study of the parables of Jesus, why he used them, how they conveyed his message and what that message was, and what they mean for our preaching. Review

The Haygoods of Columbus: A Family MemoirWil Haygood. New York: Peter Davison Books/Houghton Mifflin, 1997 (The link is to a different, currently in-print edition). A memoir of Haygood’s growing up years in Columbus, his extended family, the glory and decline of Mt. Vernon Avenue, and finding his calling as a writer. Review

Thriving With Stone Age MindsJustin L. Barrett with Pamela Ebstyne King. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An examination of the ways evolutionary psychology and Christian faith intersect in understanding what sets us apart as human beings and how human beings may thrive. Review

With Fresh Eyes, Karen Wingate. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2021. Sixty reflections of a woman born legally blind, who gains significant sight in one eye, seeing not only the world, but also the world’s Creator with new eyes. Review

Abundance: Nature in RecoveryKaren Lloyd. New York: Bloomsbury Wildlife, 2021. A collection of essays describing both the loss of and recovery of abundance in the natural world, where people have caused harm and brought renewal. Review

Absence of MindMarilynne Robinson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. The text of Robinson’s 2010 Dwight Harrington Terry Foundation Lectures on Religion in the Light of Science and Philosophy, challenging “parascientific” explanations reducing the mind to nothing more than the physical brain. Review

A Sacred JourneyPaul Nicholas Wilson. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2021. A practical description the journey toward faithful Christian presence in secular institutions. Review

The British Are Coming (The Revolution Trilogy [Volume 1]), Rick Atkinson. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2019. A history of the first two years (1775-1777) of the American Revolution, discussing the causes, personalities, and key battles. Review

Finding Your YesChristine E. Wagoner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. An exploration of what it means to listen for God’s invitations and say “yes” to them. Review

Singing in the Shrouds (Roderick Alleyn #20), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2014 (originally published in 1958). Alleyn joins a ship bound for Cape Town seeking a serial murderer, one of nine passengers. Review

Riding High in April, Jackie Townsend. Phoenix: Sparkpress, 2021. A freelance writer faces some crucial life choices as she joins her software entrepreneur partner of fifteen years in Asia as he tries to launch an innovative open-source platform. Review

Refuge ReimaginedMark R. Glanville and Luke Glanville, Foreword by Matthew Soerens. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A case for welcoming refugees based on the biblical ethic of kinship, and the responsibility of kin to provide a home for those who have none, with applications to the church, the nation, and the international community. Review

The Vocation of the Christian ScholarRichard T. Hughes, Foreword by Samuel L. Hill. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005. An account of the calling of a Christian scholar, emphasizing drawing deeply on the theology of one’s own and other faith traditions, and living in the paradoxical tension of one’s faith and one’s disciplinary scholarship. Review

Best Book of the Month. I consider Dan Stringer’s book, Struggling with Evangelicalism, an extremely important discussion. So many of those I know who would identify in some way with this religious stream within the American church have wrestled with whether to stay or leave. Dan has as well and shares his process. He distinguishes between “brand” and “space” in a way that is helpful to me. There is so much with the “brand” I cannot embrace, but the core convictions and values have shaped me, and I won’t leave that space, even as I’ve learned to value other streams. This book gave me language for my own struggle.

Best Quote of the Month. Karen Wingate lived most of her life legally blind until eye surgery vastly improved the vision in one eye. I loved how she described in her new book, With Fresh Eyes, the moment she came to grips with the change this would mean for her, which her doctor described as “better than ever”:

“Despite low vision, God had given me all I needed. I could fill pages with stories of how God provided me transportation to travel all over the country even though I don’t drive. A Bible seminary that didn’t have services for disabled students recruited undergrads to read textbooks to me. At every point when work and my poor eyesight collided, computer technology took a leap forward, relieving the strain of seeing. I had an education, a family, a career, and a good ministry. God had answered my childhood prayer to help me live my life despite poor eyesight. I had learned to be content and grateful for the vision I did have.

And now this. Better Than Ever” (pp. 36-37).

She offers sixty reflections on seeing the world better than ever and the spiritual lessons that came with this improved vision.

What I’m Reading. This week I’ll be reviewing Os Guinness’s new The Great Quest (and interviewing him on Wednesday!), as well as a Graham Greene classic Orient Express and an award-winning collection of essays by Eula Biss, Notes From No Man’s Land. Over the holidays, I decided to tackle several longer books that I have long wanted to read: Raymond E. Brown’s magisterial study, The Birth of the Messiah, David Wenham’s Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity, and Louis Menand’s The Free World, a sweeping survey of the intellectual history of the twenty years after the end of World War 2, when I was born and growing up. Finally, I’m taking a dip into a Heinlein novel I never read, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and just starting a book by a good friend and former colleague, Robbie Castleman, Interpreting the God Breathed Word. It is on how to read and study the Bible–something I always hope to grow in even as I teach others.

Well, there you have it! Maybe these offer some ideas for what you might read in 2022. And if you need more suggestions of reading goals, check out my Bob on Books 2022 Reading Challenge. Happy reading!

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014!

Bob on Books Top Viewed Reviews of 2021

A few weeks ago, I posted my Bob on Books Best Books of 2021. One of the interesting things I noticed as I compiled this post is that none of the books on that list are on this list (although The Lincoln Highway lost out by a whisker to The Four Winds for best literary fiction in my opinion). What this list records are the interests of those who visit this blog. As I look over the list of my most viewed reviews, I see some great books, some well-written works, and important books. Here’s the list:

10. Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land. I think many, like me, eagerly awaited his follow-up to All the Light We Cannot See. It’s a layered story occurring in three different time periods. I thought he pulled it off well.

9. Review: The Western Canon. This one surprises me. I didn’t expect so many to be interested in Harold Bloom’s defense of the Western Canon

8. Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. I had a mixed assessment of this book, appreciating the intellectual tour de force of Carl Trueman’s exploration of the expressive individualism at the heart of the modern view of the self, but not the polemical tone of the work, which I believed would be off-putting to all but those already persuaded of his thesis. Clearly, a number were interested in this book, or at least in what I had to say.

7. Review: A Gentleman in Moscow. I was fascinated with the premise of this novel, a political detainee sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a Moscow hotel. Perhaps it is the feeling that all of us are living this life to some degree that made this such a fascinating book.

6. Review: The Nature of the Beast (second reading). This is the eleventh book in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series. It was the first of her books I read, then I realized this was one series it was best to read in order. And so I have, and when I got to this book, I re-read it and reflected on how much richer the re-read was for having read the first ten. I was surprised so many others liked the idea.

5. Review: Bury Your Dead. This was the other Louise Penny book to make this list. It follows a volume in which Gamache and Beauvoir solve murders separately while dealing with the trauma following an ambush in which both nearly died, and several other officers did. I explored the process of healing and growth Penny develops in this book.

4. Review: Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James show how we often misread the Bible which was written in a collectivist society when we approach it individualistically. I appreciated the nuance that saw both the good and the faults in each approach while showing how our reading could be enriched as we see that salvation is about “we” and not just “me.”

3. Review: Jesus and John Wayne. Kristen Kobes Du Mez explores the develop of the rugged masculinity typified by John Wayne, and traces how this shaped evangelical religious and political culture, and created a culture in churches often abusive or at least hurtful to women. This book has been discussed a great deal in circles I work in, perhaps accounting for the interest.

2. Review: The Hidden Wound. This is an extended essay from Wendell Berry written in 1968 on racism in America, our collective attempts to conceal this wound upon American life, and its connections to our deformed ideas of work. Berry’s analysis of the wound of racism in our national life seems as relevant today as in 1968, because we still are trying to conceal the wound. I hope it wasn’t only Wendell Berry fans who read the review!

1. Review: Lincoln Highway. This is the second Amor Towles book to make the list, representing my discovery of this author (I also read Rules of Civility). I suspect the popularity of the review was that it came out soon after the book. I described this as “one of the best road novels I’ve ever read–leaving Kerouac’s On the Road in the metaphorical dust.”

Even though none of these made my “best books” I like the choices of my blog readers. I was struck that both Louise Penny and Amor Towles had two books on this list. The Louise Penny choice is easier. I’m sure that a number of views are thanks to the Louise Penny group in which I post. Amor Towles is more interesting–the only reason I can think of is that many others are also discovering this author. I will likely buy his next book, as I will Penny’s as well.

I also realized that this list reflects the particular audience of my blog as well as the books I chose to read and review. It’s an interesting snapshot. I’ll leave it to you to analyze the picture, since I’m part of it. What I do want to say above all is how grateful I am for everyone that follows, who reads, and comments, and even buys some of the books. I hope you liked them and I look forward to another year of talking books!

The Month in Reviews: November 2021

Looking through this month’s reviews, I’m struck by how different these books are from one another. A children’s story for Christmas and graphic non-fiction of George Takei’s experiences as a child internee during World War 2. Dark crime fiction, classic mystery, and cozy mystery. A book on “biblical womanhood” and narratives of “power women.” Short stories set in fictional Port William, Kentucky and essays from the streets of New York city. Chicago features in a couple books, one from the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the other inspired by the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. One looks at America’s role in the world while another focuses in on a homeless ministry in the small college town of Athens, Ohio, nestled in the foothills of Appalachia. One considers evangelism through American history, another religion departments in colleges turned universities, and a third on a missional theologian. And to top it off, I traveled the Lincoln Highway with four young men both pursued and pursuing their dreams.

After the ApocalypseAndrew Bacevich. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2021. An argument that 2020 represented the final unraveling of the United States’ post-Cold War superpower status and that U.S. policy must change, reflecting its changed status in the world and changing priorities at home. Review

Good Works: Hospitality and Faithful DiscipleshipKeith Wasserman, Christine D. Pohl. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2021. A profile of the key themes that have shaped the hospitable community of Good Works, Inc., a ministry providing shelter and support to people in rural southeastern Ohio. Review

The Making of Biblical WomanhoodBeth Allison Barr. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2021. A study of women in church history and the construction of the idea of “biblical womanhood which underwent a series of developments from the Reformation to the present. Review

The End of CollegeRobert Wilson-Black. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2021. A history of the creation and development of religion departments between 1930 and 1960 as a shift occurred from church affiliated colleges to research universities on the German model, with different aims serving a wider constituency. Review

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Gamache #11), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2016. A young boy from Three Pines, prone to fantastic tales, reports seeing a big gun with a strange symbol, and then is found dead, setting off a search for a murderer, and an effort to thwart a global threat. Review

T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian (New Explorations in Theology), Joseph H. Sherrard, Foreword by Alan Torrance. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An examination of the contribution Thomas Torrance’s theological work makes to the church’s understanding of missiology, particularly centered around his understanding of the Godhead, the person of Christ, and Christ’s threefold offices and the church’s participation in them. Review

Power WomenEdited by Nancy Wang Yuen and Deshonna Collier-Goubil, Foreword by Shirley Hoogstra. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Fourteen women who are both mothers and academics write about how they navigate these callings as women of faith. Review

They Called Us EnemyGeorge Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott. Illustrator: Harmony Becker. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2019. A graphic non-fiction account of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War 2, through the experience of George Takei and his family. Review

The Devil’s Star (Harry Hole #5)Jo Nesbø. New York: Harper, 2017 (originally published 2003). Detective Harry Hole, still in turmoil over the unsolved death of his partner, is spiraling downward to termination, until asked to work on the case of a serial killer. Review

God in the Modern Wing (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Edited by Cameron J. Anderson and G. Walter Hansen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Ten Christian artists offer reflections on different pieces of modern art found in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, considering both the faith of the artists and what one might see in their art through the eyes of faith. Review

Watch With Me: And Six Other Stories of the Yet–Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née QuinchWendell Berry. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2018 (originally published 1994). Six short stories and the title novella centered around the Port William resident, Tol Proudfoot and his wife, Miss Minnie and their life on a rural farm, part of the membership of a rural community. Review

In the Shadow of King SaulJerome Charyn. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2018. A collection of eleven essays spanning nearly thirty years of Charyn’s literary career, on the New York in which he grew up, his family, other authors and celebrities. Review

The Lincoln HighwayAmor Towles. New York: Viking, 2021. A westward trip of two bereaved brothers to start a new life is interrupted when two prison friends of the older brother turn up and hi-jack their plans. Review

A History of Evangelism in North America, Thomas P. Johnston, editor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2021. An account of the history of evangelism in North America through a compilation of articles on key figures, movements, and organizations from the colonial period to the present. Review

Died in the Wool (Roderick Alleyn #13), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2014 (originally published in 1945). New Zealand member of Parliament Flossie Rubrick is found dead, concealed in a bale of wool from her farm, and Alleyn, working in counter-espionage during the war, comes to investigate because of secret research on the farm. Review

Saint Nicholas the GiftgiverRetold and Illustrated by Ned Bustard. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2021. A retelling in verse of the story of the life of the real Saint Nicholas and why he is associated with the bearer of gifts that arrive under our trees on Christmas Day. Review

Thirsting For Living WaterMichael J. Mantel (Foreword by Richard Stearns). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. How a young executive left a promising position to pursue the adventure in faith of providing both clean drinking water and the living water of Jesus throughout the world. Review

The Devil in the White CityErik Larson. New York: Vintage Books, 2004. The story of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago juxtaposed with that of a psychopathic murderer, H. H. Holmes, pursuing his sinister seduction of young women within blocks of the fair. Review

Best Book of the Month. Amor Towles The Lincoln Highway was a delight. The relationships, especially of the two Watson brothers and the aspirations of all of the main characters in the story. As different as they were, I came to like them (in contrast to a few less likable characters). In this case, switching from character to character in the narrative just worked, as did the sub-plot of Ulysses. As I commented in the post, sometimes you have to go to New York to get to California!

Quote of the Month. I loved Ned Bustard’s new Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver, retelling the story of Saint Nicholas and how he became associated with the gift giver of Christmas eve:

Nick cared for the church,
serving as their bishop:
he shared with God's people
both the Word and the Cup
And in thanks for grace
from God Almighty,
he gave gifts to the weak,
the sick, and the needy.

This is a wonderful story for Christmas eve and I could see the reading of it becoming a family tradition. I loved Bustard’s woodcut artwork as well.

What I’m Reading. I’ve just finished reading T.S. Eliot’s The Idea of a Christian Society. In briefer form, it strikes me as a societal version of John Henry Newmans The Idea of a University. I’m also looking forward to Edith Humphrey’s Beyond the White Fence, a Chronicles of Narnia type story in which a group of children are transported to meet the saints for whom they are named. From Pentecost to Patmos is a New Testament Introduction to the books of Acts through Revelation. This is a BIG book but full of insight as well as the latest biblical scholarship. The Parables is a study of all of Jesus’ parables, grounded in careful exegesis and yet written plainly and applicatively. A Great Reckoning is Book 12 in the Gamache series. We knew Armand would not remain retired. Now we find out what he decided to do next. Rounding out my current reading is Rick Atkinson’s The British are Coming, on the early years of the War for Independence from 1775 to 1777. I hope the holidays ahead bring both rich times with family and quiet times for reading and reflection–and some new books!

Look for posts this month with my choices of Best Books of the Year as well as my 2022 Reading Challenge.

The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014!

The Month in Reviews: October 2021

There were so many kinds of books I delight in reading in this month’s selection, and at least one wonderful find, Patricia Hanlon’s Swimming to the Top of the Tide, is right up there with the best of nature writing. I read a couple of Ngaio Marsh mysteries, always a great diversion and two literary fiction works that have been getting some attention, The Magician and Cloud Cuckoo Land. I enjoyed a marvelous little devotional on my Enneagram type as well as one designed to take one through the Psalms with writings of Christians through history. John M.G. Barclay’s Paul & The Power of Grace is a significant contribution to Pauline studies. Racism and patriarchy are two sins both in the culture and the church explored in three of this month’s books. Book Row was just fun, making me wish I could have visited this mecca for booklovers in its heyday.

The MagicianColm Tóibín. New York: Scribner, 2021. A fictionalized biography of German writer Thomas Mann, his bourgeois beginnings, his lifelong homoeroticism, his rise as a writer, flight from Germany, ambivalence about denouncing Nazism, and alienation from his children. Review

Identity in ActionPerry L. Glanzer. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2021. Addresses the various different identities college students must negotiate and proposes a model of Christian excellence in these various identities. Review

A Man Lay Dead(Roderick Alleyn #1), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2011 (originally published in 1934). Sir Hubert Handesley hosts one of his famous weekend parties and Nigel Bathgate, a young reporter is invited to join his cousin Charles Rankin for the weekend’s entertainment, the Murder Game, which becomes serious when Rankin turns up the corpse–for real! Review

Swimming to the Top of The TidePatricia Hanlon. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2021. A memoir of spending a year swimming the creeks and waters of the tidal estuary near her West Gloucester home, a portion of the Great Salt Marsh, and the critical role played in the Earth’s ecosystem by these places where land and water meet. Review

Forty Days on Being a FiveMorgan Harper Nichols (Suzanne Stabile series editor). Downers Grove: Formatio, 2021. Forty short reflections with prayers and questions for those who are Enneagram Type Fives. Review

Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends (Sacred Roots Spiritual Classics #1), Carmen Joy Imes. Wichita, KS: TUMI Press, 2021. A collection of readings for all the Psalms drawn from the writings of Augustine and other classic spiritual writers from Origen to Calvin. Review

Every Leaf, Line, and Letter, Edited by Timothy Larsen, Introduction by Thomas S. Kidd. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A collection of articles in honor of historian of evangelicalism, David Bebbington, exploring expressions of the “biblicism,” in Bebbington’s definition of evangelicalism, known as the “Bebbington Quadrilateral.” Review

The Coming Race WarsWilliam Pannell. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A new edition of a book first released in 1993 following riots in Lost Angeles, calling the evangelical church to address the issues of racial justice in the country. The new edition shows the prescience of Pannell’s observations and the even greater urgency of coming to grips with our racial transgressions. Review

Getting to the Promised Land Kevin W. Cosby, Foreword by Cornel West. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021. An argument for the use of the Nehemiah narratives rather than Exodus to ground the appeal by American Descendents of Slaves (ADOS) for restitution for the centuries of abuse they and their ancestors suffered. Review

Book RowMarvin Mondlin and Roy Meador. New York: Skyhorse, 2019 (originally published in 2003). A history of Book Row, a collection of used and antiquarian bookstores along and around Fourth Avenue in New York City. Review

Paul & the Power of GraceJohn M. G. Barclay. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2020. Looks at the theology of Paul through the lens of grace, an unconditioned and incongruous gift for Jew and Gentile alike, personally and socially transformative. Review

Cloud Cuckoo LandAnthony Doerr. New York: Scribner, 2021. A story of five characters living in three time periods, whose lives are tied together by the story of Aethon the shepherd written by Antonius Diogenes. Review

Aging FaithfullyAlice Fryling. Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2021. An exploration of the questions that come with the changes of growing older and the invitations of God in those changes. Review

Worshiping with the ReformersKarin Maag. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A survey of the various worship practices of Reformed church bodies, revealing the diversity of practices and the reasons for those differences. Review

Killer Dolphin (Inspector Alleyn #24), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1966). Through an accident, a playwright realizes his dream of a renovated Dolphin Theatre, with packed houses for one of his plays, until a murder occurs and a boy actor is badly injured in a botched theft. Review

Women RisingMeghan Tschanz, Foreword by Carolyn Custis James. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021. A global mission trip awakens the author both to the injustices women face throughout the world and the patterns of subjection she learned in childhood that held her back and which she learned to name and use her voice to speak against. Review

Best Book of the Month: I found Alice Fryling’s Aging Faithfully to be an honest, spiritually perceptive and practical book that was right on target in exploring the questions I ask as a sixty-something about what Christian faithfulness looks like in the later seasons of life.

Best Quote of the Month: I loved Swimming to the Top of the Tide by Patricia Hanlon. I wrote to introduce a quote from the book:

“The writing at times gave this reader a sense of floating along with them, carried by the tide, taking in the meeting of sea, land, and sky.

We were floating barely forward, watching the flecks of marsh grass and air bubbles on the water’s surface slow down and finally pause. All but the top foot or so of the marsh grass was flooded. The stillness pulsed with life sounds normally too faint to hear; the beating of birds’ wings, the drowsy hum of a jet, the slight tinnitus that has been with me as long as I can remember, a mind event that skates the edge between real and unreal‘ (p. 43).”

What I’m reading. Waiting for review: Andrew Bacevich’s After the Apocalypse, arguing for an end to American exceptionalism, and Good Works, a narrative about a hospitality ministry in nearby Athens, Ohio that I’ve admired for many years. Beth Allison Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood looks at the history of women in the church and the cultural forces that have shaped conservative complementarianism in the last century. The End of College explores the rise of Religious Studies programs in the transitional period from church-related colleges to large secular universities. I’m re-reading Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast, number eleven in the series, that I had read out of order. It’s much richer knowing the backstory. In the Shadow of King Saul is an essay collection by the writer of a book on J.D. Salinger earlier this year, Jerome Charyn. T.F. Torrance as a Missional Theologian is a deep dive into Torrance’s theology, influenced by his mentor, Karl Barth, and its contribution to thinking about the mission of God and the church. And if you’ve read my book previews of recent weeks, you can see there are lots more to keep me engaged on the cold winter nights ahead. Happy reading, friends!

The Month in Reviews: August 2021

The last full month of summer was full of good books. I roved the Red planet, went to space with Virgin Galactic, revisited Malabar Farm, remembered the life of one of my spiritual mentors, and witnessed a most wicked carnival! I remembered the past year of the pandemic, learned the rules of civility and retraced the history of the religious order that built the University of Notre Dame. I read about God’s agency, the two books in the Bible where God is not named, seven books at the end of the Bible that ought be read together, the theme of the servant that runs through the whole of scripture, and the emotional life of the ultimate Servant. Of course, I threw in a few mysteries as I continue to read through the Gamache series which just keeps getting better and another Ngaio Marsh mystery. I read about artful reading and hope I engaged in it. I’ll let you be the judge as you read the reviews!

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Press, 2013. The murder of the last Ouellet quintuplet, a former client and friend of Myrna’s brings Gamache back to Three Pines which serves as a hidden base of operations as Sylvain Francoeur’s efforts to destroy Gamache comes to a head. Review

Conspicuous in His AbsenceChloe T. Sun. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Adopting the approach of theological interpretation, explores through various lenses the significance of the absence of mentions of the name of God in Song of Songs and Esther. Review

Red RoverRoger Wiens. New York: Basic Books, 2013. An insider account of over two decades of space exploration culminating in the Mars Rover Curiosity mission. Review

Recovering the Lost Art of Reading, Leland Ryken and Glenda Faye Mathes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021. An invitation to artful reading, considering its decline, different kinds of literature and how we read them, and the art of reading well to discover goodness, truth, and beauty. Review

Hand in Glove (Roderick Alleyn #22), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2015 (originally published in 1962). An April Fool’s scavenger hunt organized by Lady Bantling ends badly when a body is found under a drainage pipe in a ditch. Review

A Burning in My BonesWinn Collier. New York: WaterBrook, 2021. The authorized biography of pastor-theologian and Bible translator Eugene Peterson. Review

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Green Town #2), Ray Bradbury. New York: Bantam Books, 1963 (Link is to a currently in print edition). A carnival comes to Green Town out of season and two boys, Jim and Will fight to escape the clutches of the sinister carnival master Mr. Dark. Review

Test GodsNicholas Schmidle. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2021. An account of Virgin Galactic’s effort to become a space tourism company focusing on the intersection of Richard Branson’s vision and the work of test pilots and engineers to make it work. Review

Perhaps, Joshua M. McNall. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. Advances the idea of “perhapsing” that allows for the exploration of the space between doubt and dogmatism through close reading of scripture, asking hard questions, exercising imagination, and the practice of holy speculation. Review

Love in the Time of CoronavirusAngela Alaimo O’Donnell. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. A collection of poems written over the first year of the pandemic exploring the pilgrimage of those confined to their homes, exploring the ways we come to terms with endless days, the small gifts of love, and moment of hope amid the horror. Review

The Servant of the Lord and His Servant People (New Studies in Biblical Theology #54), Matthew S. Harmon. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of the application of the term “servant” to a number of key figures in scripture culminating in Jesus, and the way these were used by God to form a servant people. Review

Rules of CivilityAmor Towles. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. The year that changed the life of a young woman in New York, remembered when photographs trigger a flashback twenty-eight years later. Review

Letters for the Church: Reading James, 1-2 Peter,1-3 John, and Jude as CanonDarian R. Lockett. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. A study of the catholic epistles, arguing that they ought be read together and exploring their shared themes and particular emphases. Review

The History of the Congregation of Holy CrossJames T. Connelly, C.S.C. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020. A history of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, describing its beginnings, its focus on education and missions, its approval in Rome, the succession of Superiors General, and the growth of the Congregation until Vatican II and decline in more recent years. Review

Passions of the ChristF. Scott Spencer. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021. A study of the emotional life of Jesus in the gospels, drawing upon both classical thought and emotions theory. Review

The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food RevolutionStephen Heyman. New York: W.W. Norton, 2020. A biography of novelist, screenwriter, and sustainable farming pioneer Louis Bromfield. Review

Leadership, God’s Agency, & DisruptionsMark Lau Branson and Alan J. Roxburgh. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. Argues that “modernity’s wager” has shaped the leadership practices of church leadership, leading to a reliance on technique-driven strategies rather than responding to God’s agency. Review

Best Book of the Month: Winn Collier’s biography of Eugene Peterson, A Burning in My Bones captures the character and congruency of Peterson’s life, thought, and ministry. He was not a perfect man, and perhaps his growing awareness that he was but a man called to follow in the “long obedience” that made it possible to speak to so many of us.

Best Quote of the Month: Joshua McNall proposes that a stance of “perhaps” is an approach cultivating the imagination of faith that lives between doubt and dogmatism. He cites Luther as an example when he ascended the steps of Santa Scala, to pray for his father in purgatory, troubled by doubts about the steps, the power of relics, and even the reality of purgatory. He observes:

“Luther’s attitude is one of obedience. The question does not lead him to depart for a weeklong bender in the Roman brothels. Nor does it correspond directly to a repudiation of church tradition. This shift would come later through his outrage at indulgences, and by reading Paul. At the moment, Luther simply walks down the stairs. He descends Santa Scala–because a willingness to walk and wait and pray is the best response to doubt” (p. 126).

What I’m reading. Once again I’m thoroughly engaged in a Louise Penny novel, The Long Way Home. Gamache is retired from the Surete’ and living in Three Pines. But his sleuthing days are far from ended. I just finished Raft of Stars by Ohio author Andrew Graff. An edge of the seat story with a satisfying ending. I’m also working my way through a really long book, really six books combined into a single volume, Majority World Theology. It is a delightful dialogue of theologians from throughout the world on the major themes of Christian theology. I’ve just begun Robert Tracy McKenzie’s We The Fallen People. He proposes the thesis that our nation was founded on the premise of human fallenness, but a shift to a belief in the inherent goodness of people actually imperils democracy. I will be interviewing him later in September and look forward to seeing how he develops this thesis. After a long hiatus, I’ve returned to Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd series, reading #3 in the series, Dragons Teeth. Not sure where this one is going yet or why it won a Pulitzer. Finally, I’ve at last dipped into a collection of Seamus Heaney’s poetry that has been on my shelves for some time.

I hope you will stay safe as the pandemic rears its ugly head once more. In most parts of the northern hemisphere, there is still time to enjoy a good book outdoors, or an outdoor gathering with some friends, maybe with conversation about the good books we hope to curl up with as the weather cools toward winter. If you check out one of the books here, I’d love to hear what you think, and tell me about the good books you’ve enjoyed. Blessings!

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