Review: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Summary: An argument that we should read what we delight in rather than what others think is “good” for us.

Alan Jacobs is not among the prophets of reading doom. He believes we should actually read what we want to rather than following prescribed lists of “great” books that we ought to read. He argues that the most important reason for reading is that it is pleasurable rather than it being “good” for us:

“So this is what I say to my petitioners: for heaven’ sake, don’t turn reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens, (or shifting the metaphor slightly) some fearfully disciplined appointment with an elliptical trainer of the mind in which you count words or pages the way some people fix their attention on the ‘calories burned’ readout…” (p. 17).

He proposes that we read “at whim,” that is, we read books when we are ready for them. That doesn’t mean we don’t read the great books. It means we don’t read them too soon. He also suggests that when we find works we like and wonder what else to read, that rather than reading books inspired by those books, we read upstream–that is, we read the books that preceded and inspired them. If we liked Tolkien, we should read Beowulf, a recommendation I agree with, especially if it is Seamus Heaney’s rendering! Now a more challenging one is his suggestion that, if we like Jane Austen, we read Hume, as many of her ideas come from him–but only under the sign of Whim.

Jacobs argues that one of the pleasures of reading is responding to the author and he describes the ways readers annotate their works and the value of this (he uses a mechanical pencil for precise underlines and sharpness of notes). Against those who worry that this will slow them down, he challenges the cult of page and book counts, contending that it is what, and not how much we read, that matters. He argues that many books become more boring the faster we read them, and that we ought to allow ourselves time to re-read, because we often miss much in our first readings.

Against those who complain of diminishing attention in an internet age, Jacobs contends that the thing that helped him most was getting a Kindle–it kept him reading, it promoted linearity, and allowed him to concentrate for a long time. Unlike reading on a computer or tablet, there are no notifications and no distractions or temptation to multi-task.

This takes Jacobs into a discussion of attentiveness and he introduces us to Hugh of St. Victor and the counsel of the Didascalion. He advises reading what we can, moving step by step, first cogitating and then meditating on the text, ruminating on it as a ruminant does its food. He contends that we need both the skills of skimming and deep and long attention, depending on the material and our reasons for engaging it.

Against those who want to turn libraries into chat-filled cafes, he argues that silence is often difficult to find, especially for the impoverished, who cannot afford the space. Libraries, or at least reading rooms, can be a place to preserve that. Against the contention that reading is solitary, he observes all the interactive possibilities from our engagement with the author to classrooms to book groups.

He concludes where he began, with the idea of serendip. Very little of our reading journey may be planned, though it may be cultivated, whether through Amazon recommendations, or the discoveries on the shelves of a bookstore or library. While pleasurable reading involves attention and the elimination of distraction, it should not be shaped by the shame or guilt of what one should read.

Like the author, I’ve been tempted at points by reading plans, and still wrestle, as a reviewer, with reading too fast, sometimes robbing myself of the enjoyment of a book. I no longer worry about reading plans, and usually have one book going that I just read for enjoyment. This was one such book, and I would recommend it for any who remember loving books, but for one reason or another struggle to read or get caught up in the tyranny of “should.”

Cozy Mysteries

Cozy mysteries

Screen capture of cozy mystery covers from an image search on Google

I never knew “cozy” mysteries, or “cozies” were a thing until recently. I discovered recently that these are a sub-genre of mysteries/crime fiction that enjoy a dedicated following.

So what characterizes a “cozy mystery” for those of us who are among the uninitiated:

  • Usually, the crime-solver is an amateur sleuth and most often, a woman. Think Jessica Fletcher.
  • Cozy mysteries are usually set in a small town or village. The more charm the better. Think Cabot Cove. This creates a situation where people readily talk to each other including our amateur sleuth.
  • The sleuth usually has a well-connected friend who can help fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
  • Many of these are part of a series, and one of the draws is likable, interesting characters, beginning with the sleuth. Think of the Amelia Peabody stories (I didn’t realize they could be characterized as “cozies”).
  • Often the cozy theme is connected in some way to the sleuth’s job, hobby, or pet, especially cats, it seems. I’ve even found some with booksellers as the sleuth!
  • Cozies assume readers who love to solve mysteries along with the sleuth. You join the sleuth in trying to make sense of the clues while recognizing the red herrings.
  • Generally these mysteries are “gentle” in de-emphasizing profanity, explicit sex, and graphic violence or descriptions of murders. Some more recent cozies do have some profanity and adult situations.

These characteristics are not absolute and it seems that what may be “cozy” for one is not for another.

The classic cozy is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Among more recent cozy mysteries are the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton, Lillian Jackson Braun’s “Cat Who” series, and several different series by Rita Mae Brown.

There are some great and far more extensive lists online that go far beyond the few examples I’ve offered. Here are some to get you started if you think you might like to read some cozies, or would like to find a new series:

45 Best Cozy Mystery Novels: Essential 2019 Guide to First Book of a Series

A Guide to Cozy Mysteries

Cozy Mystery List: Most Popular & Recommended Cozy Mystery Series

25 of the Absolute Best Cozy Mystery Series

Looking over this list, I realized I had read and enjoyed and recommended several of these. One page had this statement:

Cozy mysteries have become a booming business. Many cozy mystery readers are intelligent women looking for a “fun read” that engages the mind, as well as provides entertainment… something to “look forward to getting back to.” This is not to say that intelligent men don’t read cozies…they do!

I guess (and hope) that I qualify as one of those “intelligent men!” Sometimes a ” ‘fun read’ that engages the mind” is just the thing.

Regimented Reading


By Nancy Wong (Personal collection of Nancy Wong) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

I came across a post today on Bookriot that I found a bit puzzling. It was titled An Experimental Year with Regimented ReadingThe writer admitted to struggling with a reading slump, which I have to admit to not understanding. A reading slump for me would be like an eating slump. Something would have to be seriously wrong with me! So perhaps I wasn’t the most sympathetic to the writer’s proposed remedy which was a reading regimen, written out month by month, color coded by “too long on the TBR” (green), series books (yellow), new releases (hot pink), and re-reads (blue) with asterisks (*) by the priority reads. The writer has planned this out until January. I would love to hear a report about how this worked.

A list like that might be the one thing to put me in a slump! I have enough else that is planned and scheduled, that scheduling my reading would drive me up a wall. That said, as I reflected on it, I have to admit that there is a certain method to my reading madness that guides my decisions of what I read next. Here is some of what governs my choices. I usually read on my Kindle during morning exercise on the treadmill. I alternate books I’ve purchased “just because” and e-galley’s I’ve requested for review. In print books, I usually have something “Christian-related” I’m reading and, because I review books from a number of publishers, many of these are new releases I’ve requested for review. I try to mix in older “backlist” or classic works, often something our Dead Theologians group is reading. Often my choices come down to what strikes my fancy when I’ve finished one book. Then I have a mix of history, science, current events and fiction that I choose from, usually alternating among these. A gift from my son usually jumps to the top of the pile.

Sometimes, I choose books that are related to something I might be speaking on or is something we are talking about in our organization. Then there are times where I’ve been reading or researching something, and it sparks an interest in something I want to read more deeply about. This happened recently researching posts about my hometown, and the sobering discovery of significant Klan activity in the 1920’s in a northern, industrial town. I wanted to find out more about that as a part of local history that tended to be glossed over.

In making the transition from simply reading to reviewing, I’m aware that some of the choices I make have to do with books I’ve agreed to review or are newly published. I probably get around to these more quickly than I once did, realizing that it’s probably a good idea to write about a book while people are interested in it. Sadly, it also reflects the reality that this is often a very short period. That’s a dynamic I wrestle with–seeing new releases on my TBR pile and hearing the clock ticking. Most of the time though, I’m pretty good at choosing things I enjoy reading. Perhaps it would be good to be more sparing in the choices so that the pile is smaller!

So, I guess I have a bit of my own regimen after all, just not written down. The closest to a plan are a few piles from which I choose my next books. The biggest dilemma is often having to choose among a number of good choices. I guess I’ve never wrestled with slumps because there are so many things I’m curious about, and so many genres and authors I enjoy.

So, how do you choose your books? Do you have any kind of plan? Do you ever get into a reading slump? What helps you get out of it? It would be fun to hear. We really are all different, and it seems to me that reading is one of those areas where there is no single “right” way to go about it. Perhaps that’s why we like it.


What to Read


Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia

In one sense, answering the question of what to read is truly daunting. In 2010, Google ran an algorithm to estimate the number of books ever published in its efforts to develop the capacity to catalog all these books. They came up with the number 129,864,880. That brings new meaning to one of my favorite laments, “so many books, so little time.”

That does make the choice of what we read worthy of some thought. This is also part of the “battle” we readers face. Consider, if we read 50 books a year for 40 years, that is 2,000 books out of all those ever published. This is one of those FOMO (fear of missing out) moments all of us encounter. We will inevitably miss out on many books. For me, the question comes down to what book, or at least what types of books, do I not want to miss out on. Here are some considerations I bring to this question:

  • I want to read books that have stood the test of time–decades and even centuries have passed and they are still influential. I don’t just want to read about them, but want to follow advice Marilynne Robinson gave in a lecture: “Read the primary sources!” I’d class The Bible, works of Shakespeare, Plato, Homer, Augustine, Calvin, Doestoevsky, among others in this category. C. S. Lewis recommended we read one “old” book for every recent book we read in an essay introducing a very good old book, On the Incarnation by Athanasius
  • I want to read the best books I can in genres I’ve found life-giving, which for me ranges from mysteries to presidential and other leadership biographies, American history, and science writing.
  • Finally, I read books related to my own work and calling. In my case, I work in a Christian ministry among graduate students and faculty and hold a Masters degree in biblical studies. So I try to keep up on current literature in biblical studies, theology, and other ministry-related fields, as well as reading books on current developments in the world of higher education.

Your answers to these criteria will be different from mine, but they will help you think with greater discrimination about the books you choose to read, and be able to give better criteria to booksellers and librarians who may help you connect to these books.

There are a variety of reading lists one may find online that may help with the first and, to some degree, the second of my three criteria. For the third, so much of this comes from reading reviews of books in journals related to your field of work, or just going to those sections at a good university library. Here are a few sources of  book lists that I’ve found helpful:

  1. For books that have stood the test of time, the Great Books lists can be helpful, although they may be criticized as Western-centric. Other lists may compensate for that. Wikipedia provides the list of books that comprised the Great Books series as well as a list of universities that still have “Great Books” programs. One of these is St. John’s, which provides PDFs of the reading list by semester through the four years of their program.
  2. There are numerous lists of “100 greatest books,” some which may overlap with the Great Books. Wikipedia has gathered the most prominent of these lists in an article with links, including lists for genres like crime fiction, fantasy, and science fiction as well as more general lists.
  3. For the thoughtful Christian reader, James Emory White at his Church and Culture website, has a wonderful collection of lists including “Ten to Begin With,” “Twenty Five Toward a Christian Worldview,” and a “One Year Reading Program” of 26 books and twelve other topical lists. A personal favorite for discovering thoughtful Christian writing is Byron Borger’s “Booknotes” blog which connects you with his store, where you can order the books you read about, usually at a discount. Byron is one who can listen to you, and on the basis of what you tell him about yourself and your interests can suggest ten books to you–and they will be good suggestions. He typifies what is best about brick and mortar booksellers.

Of course, I hope you will follow Bob on Books if you do not already. Over the course of a year, I will review about 140 books along the lines of the books I like to read and think important, and I hope some of these will find their way into your hands as well. Equally, I hope some of my reviews may help you choose not to read certain books in favor of others more congruent to your answers to the question of “what to read.” That, also, is a good thing.


Don’t Forgive Us Our Transgressions?


Stockholm, Sweden, where much of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes place.  Photo by Hedwig Storch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

One of the ideas that keeps cropping up on several literary sites I follow is that of the “transgressive.” Goodreads defines transgressive fiction as “Books that contain depictions of behavior that violates socially acceptable norms, often involving taboo subject matters such as drug use, violence, incest, crime.” At Goodreads “Best Transgressive Fiction” site, these works are the top 5 in transgressive fiction:

  1. Chuck Palahniuk, The Fight Club.
  2. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
  3. Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho
  4. George Orwell, 1984
  5. J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

One of the others on the list (and hence the image above) was Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I understand includes significant episodes of rape (male and female) and violence.

I have to admit that, apart from 1984 I’ve not read anything of these five. In the extended list are titles like Crime and PunishmentThe Stranger, and Slaughterhouse Five. This suggests a few things about the attraction of such works. One is the acknowledged fact among writers that an evil character generally is far more interesting, and interesting to write, than a good one. Another is that the transgressive often seems to be acting against oppressive social norms or controlling circumstances. In 1984 the transgressive is an attempt to throw off the yoke of oppressive tyranny.

I also suspect that it may sometimes be attractive to explore what it is like to do things we don’t have the courage to do, or would never think of, except in our imaginations. We often wonder why a sociopath, or psychopath does what s/he does.

What troubles me is what seems to me a growing preference for the transgressive over the virtuous, in fiction, and perhaps in life. In matters of sexuality, it seems that the effort is to extend the “normative” to whatever one wants to do, with even consent optional. I understand this is a statement against hetero-sexist hegemony. Yet whether we consider sexuality, violence, substance use and abuse, or criminal acts, one has to ask whether the celebration of crossing boundaries is always a good thing. Are there any reasons for norms beside an exertion of power by a dominant group?

This is something I’m wondering about. I’m not sure I want to say more because I suspect there is much I don’t understand. But I’ve often written about “the good, the true, and the beautiful” and I wonder if making the transgressive to be a kind of good, or truth, or beauty is to destroy the meaning of goodness, truth, and beauty.

Ten Books For Understanding Evangelicalism

The God Who is There.jpg

My copy of Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There, purchased c. 1972.

In a review of Carl F. H. Henry’s classic The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism the other day, I mentioned a conversation in which I wondered aloud how many of those who leave evangelicalism understand the rich, if imperfect, part of the Christian family they are leaving. My own sense is that often, though not always, they are responding to distortions or downright contradictions of historical evangelicalism. I recognize that for some it is a matter of leaving the incredibly painful, and may well be warranted, but I sense for others, it is wondering whether the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I won’t try to answer that, but would propose that it might first be important to appraise the grass on the evangelical side of the fence.

The friend I was talking with asked me about some books he might consider. This is a kind of expansion on my response. I suggest two kinds of books here. Some are histories, which go back to Great Britain as well as our own national beginnings. The others are “classics”–books that for many of us shaped an evangelical outlook. At the end, I provide links to some other lists–mine is hardly exhaustive–but rather a starting point.


David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern BritainLondon: Routledge, 1988. The history of Wesley to John Stott is covered here, as well as Bebbington’s crucial delineation of four evangelical distinctives: biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism and activism.

Donald W. Dayton and Douglas M Strong, Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage, 2nd editionGrand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014. An updated edition of a study of the pre-Civil War nineteenth century roots of evangelicalism in the United States and the combination of piety, preaching, and social reform characteristic of this movement in this period. (From my review).

George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American CultureOxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. This book looks at the retrenchment of evangelicalism into fundamentalism in the U.S. post Civil War, with the rise of Darwinism, European biblical scholarship, and the “social gospel” associated with theologically liberal Christianity. The new edition tracks this movement since the 1970’s in its more politically engaged form.

Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical MindGrand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995. Noll explores the historical reasons for the lack of evangelical influence in the academy, the arts, and “high” culture. This book served as a kind of rallying cry for a group of us involved in launching a national ministry effort with graduate students and faculty.

Brian Stanley, The Global Diffusion of EvangelicalismDowners Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013. This is part of InterVarsity’s “History of Evangelicalism” series (all worth reading) that covers the post-World War II rise of modern or neo-evangelicalism–the evangelicalism of Billy Graham and John Stott, and an increasingly global leadership. Here is my review of the book.

Classic Formative Works:

Charles W. Colson, Born AgainGrand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2008 (revised edition). The biography of White House aide and Watergate conspirator Charles Colson and his conversion to a socially engaged evangelical faith that led to launching Prison Fellowship, and a career as an influential social commentator within the evangelical community.

J. I. Packer, Knowing GodDowners Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993 (revised edition). This was a classic for many of us that explored how we may know God, the attributes of God, and benefits of knowing God. You read a few pages, and then had to stop, think, and worship.

Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who is ThereDowners Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998 (revised edition). Schaeffer was the prophet of L’Abri whose analysis of a culture that had moved further and further from God gave us a framework to make sense of our times.

Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of HungerNashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005 (revised edition). Sider was one of the voices that re-awakened the slumbering social conscience of evangelicals, challenging the privatized versions of the Bible with it social teaching, as well as exposing American Christians to the challenge of global hunger.

John R. W. Stott, Basic ChristianityDowners Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012 (revised edition). This was a book that taught many of us the basics of our faith and how to explain it to others.

The histories, I think, are even-handed, showing both the best and the worst. Likewise, the “classic” works I’ve selected are not without their flaws, but are representative of books that reflect some of the “best” of evangelicalism and were important in shaping the outlook of many of us.

The list is hardly exhaustive. My friend said, “there is only so much I can read. But as I researched this post, I came along a few other lists you might visit:

The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals. A list published in 2006 by Christianity Today.

10 of the Best Books About Evangelical Christianity. I appreciate Kyle Roberts inclusion of Amos Yang’s work and also Soong Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism.

Five Great Books on Evangelical Christianity. Thomas Kidd narrows it down even more and includes Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s Divided by Faith–a very important book!

What all these do is go beyond the media soundbites which rarely do justice to any religious tradition. Whether you are an evangelical or someone diffident about this identity, or you are just trying to understand this group of people who seem to be so much in the news, these lists should help. Happy reading!


A Reading List of Books on Science and Religion


Yesterday, I reviewed Fraser Fleming’s new book, The Truth About Science and Religionwhich I thought a quite helpful exploration of the interaction of science and faith and the important questions to which each contribute understanding. I thought I might follow this up with a far from exhaustive list of the books reviewed on this topic at Bob on Books, and before that in my Goodreads reviews, which might give the interested reader further resources to explore this topic. It is Fleming’s, as well as my own, view that science and faith need not be at war with each other, but rather may be seen as partners in exploring some of the most important questions of meaning and how we understand our place in the cosmos. What follows is a brief list, in the chronological order the reviews appeared, of books I’ve reviewed over the past several years, with a brief summary of the gist of each book.

what your Body Knows

What Your Body Knows About GodRob Moll. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. Explores how our neurophysiology enables us to connect to God and others and how spiritual practices, liturgies, and opportunities to serve enable us to physically as well as spiritually thrive. Review.

Private Doubt, Public Dilemma

Private Doubt, Public Dilemma by Keith Thomson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. This book, drawn from Thomson’s 2012 Terry Lectures, explores the conflict between religion and science through a look at two men who struggled with this conflict, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Darwin, considering how they handled scientific findings that conflicted with their beliefs and the public aftermath and expresses hope for a different engagement in the future. Review.

Minds, Brains

Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods, Malcolm Jeeves. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2013. A discussion, cast in the form of a conversation, of the latest findings in psychology and neuroscience, and their implications for what it means to be human and for what it means to believe in God. Written for the thoughtful undergraduate, it is helpful for students in these fields and others concerned about the implications of neuroscience research for faith. Review.

God of Nature

The God of Nature, Christopher C. Knight,. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007. Develops the idea of incarnational naturalism to explain God’s relation to the world. Review.


God and the Natural World, Walter H. Conser Jr. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1993. This book is a valuable study of a number of nineteenth century American “mediation theologians” who believed it possible to construct a harmonious understanding of the relationship of Christianity and science. Review.


Mapping the Origins DebateGerald Rau. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012. Rau identifies six models of origins in theological and scientific discussion, lays them out considering how each addresses four major aspects of origins, and shows that the differences arise from differing presuppositions. Review.


The Evolution of AdamPeter Enns. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012. Explores the question of reconciling evolution and the idea of a historical Adam. Review.


Minding GodGregory R. Peterson. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002. This book explores the findings of the cognitive sciences and the significance of these findings for our understanding of God, the world, and the nature of being human, including the nature of consciousness, our understanding of human freedom and human fallenness. Review.


Where the Conflict Really LiesAlvin Plantinga. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Plantinga contends that conflicts between science and faith are actually superficial and attributable to methodological naturalism and that in reality there is a deep consonance between science and faith. Challenging going, but probably the most important work on this list. Review.


The Language of GodFrancis Collins. New York: Free Press, 2007. Sharing both his own spiritual journey and work on the Human Genome Project, Collins argues for an end to the “warfare” between science and faith. Review.


The Wonder of the UniverseKarl W. Giberson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012. A good introduction to fine tuning arguments that suggest that the nature of the universe, if not proving God, certainly is consonant with the idea of a purposeful, intelligent Creator. Review.

I would also commend the suggests for further reading and extensive bibliography in Fleming’s book, a most helpful resource for any interested in this topic!


Books That Have Changed Your Life

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of spending a wonderful luncheon with a group of believing faculty and staff at The Ohio State University. What made the luncheon wonderful was not simply the good food from our Faculty Club buffet line. Nor was it simply the charming personalities around the table. It was rather hearing from one another about books that had been formative in our spiritual journeys.  With the organizers permission, I am sharing the list* (to which I contributed a few titles). I’ve added Amazon links so you can learn more about any titles that sound interesting.

Title, Author(s)

Four Portraits, One Jesus, Mark Strauss

Names of God, Mary Foxwell Loeks

Women at Southern: A Walk Through Psalms, Jaye Martin, Alyssa Caudill, and Sharon Beougher (link is to a blog with ordering information, one of our staff contributed to this book)

Tales of the Kingdom, David and Karen Mains

Tales of Resistance, David and Karen Mains

Tales of Restoration, David and Karen Mains

Death by Suburb, David L. Goetz

The Parable of Joy, Michael Card

How to Know God Exists, Ray Comfort

Origins, Ariel Roth

The Radical Disciple, John Stott

Praying the Psalms, Thomas Merton

The Robe, Lloyd C. Douglas

The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken and Gregg Lewis

The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Cross of Christ, John Stott

Knowing God, J. I. Packer

Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoffer

Daring to Draw Near, John White

Life of the Beloved, Henri J. M. Nouwen

The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman

Christianity: The Faith that Makes Sense, Dennis McCallum

The Question of God, Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.

A Skeptic’s Search for God, Ralph O. Muncaster

One of the delights in such times is what you learn about people by the books they share. For one person, it is the chronicle of their seminary journey. For another, their journey to faith. For a third, it is their love for prayer. With another, it was the story of books read aloud to children and grandchildren that had drawn a family into the common narrative of the kingdom.

The other delight of course is having your attention called to books that you might want to read. The Robe is one of those classics I’ve never read. Death by Suburb sounds like it explores the realities we’ve lived with for the last 25 years in suburban Columbus. The Question of God is a book I own but haven’t read that is going to get moved onto the TBR pile.

This is one of the simplest things to organize. You just invite a group of friends to lunch (or brownies, as we did last January, described in my post “Books and Brownies“) and talk about the books that have meant the most to you or shaped your life. It might be that you could gather people around different themes (like “books I’d take on a vacation”, or books I hated as a kid and wouldn’t be without as an adult”).

(Books on this list are not endorsed by the Fellowship of Christian Faculty and Staff or The Ohio State University but simply by those recommending the books!)

What books have changed your life?

*Thanks go to Paul Post for typing up and posting the list!

Teddy’s Rules

I knew that Teddy Roosevelt was a bookworm.  I knew he read at least a book a day and sometimes more (I average about one every three to four days which people think kind of freaky). And he was the President of the United States while doing this!  Bookriot recently posted Teddy Roosevelt’s 10 Rules for Reading. Here they are without the commentary, courtesy of the Bookriot post:


1. “The room for choice is so limitless that to my mind it seems absurd to try to make catalogues which shall be supposed to appeal to all the best thinkers. This is why I have no sympathy whatever with writing lists of the One Hundred Best Books, or the Five-Foot Library. It is all right for a man to amuse himself by composing a list of a hundred very good books… But there is no such thing as a hundred books that are best for all men, or for the majority of men, or for one man at all times.”

2. “A book must be interesting to the particular reader at that particular time.”

3. “Personally, the books by which I have profited infinitely more than by any others have been those in which profit was a by-product of the pleasure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked reading them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment.”

4. “The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be.”

5. “He must not hypocritically pretend to like what he does not like.”

6. “Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls ‘the mad pride of intellectuality,’ taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.”

7. “Now and then I am asked as to ‘what books a statesman should read,’ and my answer is, poetry and novels – including short stories under the head of novels.”


8. “Ours is in no sense a collector’s library. Each book was procured because some one of the family wished to read it. We could never afford to take overmuch thought for the outsides of books; we were too much interested in their insides.”

9. “[We] all need more than anything else to know human nature, to know the needs of the human soul; and they will find this nature and these needs set forth as nowhere else by the great imaginative writers, whether of prose or of poetry.”

10. “Books are all very well in their way, and we love them at Sagamore Hill; but children are better than books.”

What this all boils down to it seems to me is to read what you love, don’t read what you don’t like, and don’t worry about what others think.  It is interesting to me to see his preference for poetry, and especially novels, which many might deprecate as not serious enough for presidential material, yet I think he is spot on in recognizing how critical an understanding of human nature is to leadership. To gain that insight through an enjoyable diversion seems all the better!

I’m not sure I would be as hard on reading lists as Roosevelt is–I just use them as starters in getting ideas of what to read. I would also add that often books lead to books. One book refers to another author, whose book I am then intrigued to read, or to a subject or person or place I’d like to learn about. What I value in Roosevelt’s list is its absolute unpretentiousness! Snobby readers strike me as the greatest hindrance to aspiring readers who don’t share their tastes.

My wife is an artist and we are members of a local art league that has a plein air painters group. My wife loves doing this and I love going with her and sketching (doodling might be more accurate). But I share my work along with the rest and I am so grateful for the unpretentiousness of this group toward one who knows very little about drawing. They seem glad that I would try my hand at this and are kind to this rank beginner.

Perhaps we booklovers need to learn a lesson from my artist friends, and from Teddy Roosevelt. Actually, I suspect the danger for both booklovers and artists is to get caught up in matters of current tastes and styles and other sorts of things to the point that we no longer read or draw or paint for the love of it – but somehow to be “with” it – whatever “it” is. And because we no longer act like we are loving it, those with any sense (particularly the children who matter even more!) will think there is nothing in books worth loving. But to share a book one loves that is appropriate for the age of the child can be magic for both!

Books and Brownies

For a booklover, it doesn’t take much to make a magical evening. Just get together 25 or so friends, bake up some brownies, bring some milk, and spend the evening talking about books that have had an impact on your life and led to greater spiritual understanding. Last night, my friends in the Christian Graduate Student Alliance gathered for just such an evening. Since the stories surrounding the books belong to them, I won’t share them here. But I will observe that when friends share about books, you not only discover books you’d like to read, but you also get to know your friends better. That is part of the magic!


So here is the list, unedited, and in the order they were shared:

1. Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage.

2. David Peterson, Engaging with God.

3. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

4. Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter.

5. Christena Cleveland, Disunity in Christ.

6. National Scrabble Association, Official Tournament and Club Word List(I think this was shared for fun, although as someone who likes Scrabble, I thought it interesting. Turns out it costs a small fortune!)

7. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead.

8. C. S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia.

9. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love.

10. Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell.

11. Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life.

12. Walter Wangerin, The Book of the Dun Cow.  (Available currently at .99 on Kindle)

13. Walter Wangerin, The Book of Sorrows. (I discovered this has been retitled as The Second Book of the Dun Cow: Lamentations).

14. Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender. (Available in various editions and for .99 on Kindle)

15. C. S. Lewis, Pilgrim’s Regress.

16. Wm. Paul Young, The Shack.

17. Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart.

18. Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy.

19. Stephen Prothero, God is Not One.

20. Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do.

21. Paul Babiak, and Robert D. Hare, Sharks in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work.

22. Jean Vanier, Becoming Human.

23. Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun.

24. The Bible.

25. Stormie Omartian, The Power of a Praying ®Wife.

26. Stormie Omartian, The Power of a Praying® Woman.

I’ve included Amazon links to all except the Bible (which is in so many translations, and hopefully already on your shelves).

I learned of some books that I’d forgotten or was unaware of that I’d like to read–Wangerin’s books, Paul Miller’s book on prayer, which is already sitting on my Kindle, the book by Bain on college teachers and the book by Cleveland, whose material I’ve appreciated in blog form.

I’d love to hear about similar nights others have done. As I said, it was a wonderful and enriching way to spend a cold winter’s night with some friends.