2016 Books: 2Q

Books read from April through June. Annual running count: 17.

The Accidental Systems Librarian – Nicole C. Engard (2012); Library // Read for work; pretty helpful in taking on additional responsibilities in library systems work.

Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer – Eugene Peterson (1991); Print // Short but really excellent. Down to earth, thoughtful, insightful. Quoted often in Keller’s book on prayer (below), which was fun since, like a hipster, I read this one first.

At the Back of the North Wind – George MacDonald (1871); Print // MacDonald is one of C.S. Lewis’ largest influences, and I finally got around to reading one of his. Pretty good children’s story, though was expecting more depth. Will have to try one of his more famous fairy stories.

Cities of the Plain – Cormac McCarthy (1999); Library // Conclusion of the Border trilogy, and this one was disappointing after how much I enjoyed the first two (especially All the Pretty Horses).

Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the OPC – D.G. Hart (1988?); Print // Read for leadership training. Balanced and honest treatment of the history of the OPC from the perspective of “flashpoints” in its history. Would really like to see an updated edition of this.

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church – John Miller (1986); Print // Read for leadership training for perspective widening (not necessarily as an endorsement). Not balanced or nuanced at all, outdated, and I didn’t find it beneficial at all.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God – Tim Keller (2014); Print // Read for men’s reading group that I didn’t attend. Best book on prayer I’ve read; highly recommended. Comprehensive in scope, including biblical, pastoral, philosophical, experiential, and practical elements of prayer. Well researched and well grounded in Scripture and even the confessions.

The Spirituality of Wine – Gisela Kreglinger (2016); Print // So, so good. Well researched, engagingly written, joyful treatment of wine in the Bible, in the history of the church, in the Eucharist, in feasting, and in life. Echoes the frequent themes of embodiment, earthiness, joy, and presence of others like Berry, Capon, and Smith. Highly recommended.

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit – James K.A. Smith (2016); Print // A condensed version of his Desiring the Kingdom; this was good but not as good.

2016 Books: 1Q

Books read from January through March. Running count: 8.

Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age – Sven Birkerts (2015); Library // Very good collection of essays exploring media/technology, pleasure, and beauty.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown (2014); Library // Meh.

Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry (2004); Print // Earthy, moving fiction centered around place and characters, with little plot. Very, very good.

James: Reformed Expository Commentary – Dan Doriani (2007); Print // Not quite finished yet, but still including here. Pretty good; mostly pastoral/practical rather than scholarly (which is okay by me).

Lest We Forget: A Personal Reflection on the Formation of the OPC – Robert Churchill (1997); Print // Insightful and emotional personal perspective of the OPC’s formation.

Peace at Last: The Third Book of the Dun Cow – Walter Wangerin, Jr. (2013); Print // Conclusion of the Dun Cow trilogy; much shorter and not nearly as good as the first two, but a decent conclusion.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering – Tim Keller (2013); Print // One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time. Biblical, philosophical, practical, comprehensive look at suffering and Scripture. Highly recommended.

Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys – Stephen James (2009); Print // Helpful and enjoyable, especially the sections on neurological and emotional development of young boys.

2015 Books: Annual Report

I haven’t had the time or desire to blog like I used to, but the annual book post must continue!

I read 32 books in 2015, down four from last year mostly due to fewer lunchtime reading opportunities. Each quarter, I publish short thoughts on the books I read; here are the four 2015 posts: Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4. Following the alphabetical list of 2015 books below is some analysis of this year’s reading choices. Happy reading in 2016!

Book List, Alphabetically:

  1. All the King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren (1946); Library
  2. The Bruised Reed – Richard Sibbes (1630); Ebook
  3. The Christian Faith in the Modern World – J. Gresham Machen (1935); Ebook
  4. Christian Pipe-Smoking: An Introduction to Holy Incense – Uri Brito & Joffre Swait (2014); Electronic
  5. Creation in Six Days: A Defense of the Traditional Reading of Genesis One – James Jordan (1999); Print
  6. The Creedal Imperative – Carl Trueman (2012); Print
  7. The Crossing – Cormac McCarthy (1994); Library
  8. The Duties of Parents – J.C. Ryle (1888); Print
  9. Fidelity: Five Stories – Wendell Berry (2002); Print
  10. The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline: Inaugural Address – Geerhardus Vos (1894); Ebook
  11. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (1899); Print
  12. The Joy of Less: a Minimalist Living Guide – Francine Jay (2010); Library
  13. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus – Robert Farrar Capon (2002); Print
  14. A Lifting Up for the Downcast – William Bridge (1648); Print
  15. The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton (1908); Print
  16. On Keeping the Heart – John Flavel (1670ish); Electronic
  17. Peace Like a River – Leif Enger (2001); Library
  18. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg (2012); Library
  19. The Practice of the Presence of God – Brother Lawrence (~1665); Electronic
  20. The Prayer of the Lord – R.C. Sproul (2009); Electronic
  21. A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger than You – Paul David Tripp (2007); eBook
  22. Rethinking Library Technical Services: Redefining our Profession for the Future – Mary Beth Weber, ed. (2015); Library
  23. The Road – Cormac McCarthy (2006); Library
  24. Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness – Eric Metaxas (2013); Library
  25. Silence – Shusaku Endo (1980); Print
  26. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut (1969); Library
  27. Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough – Kevin DeYoung (2014); Print
  28. The Thanatos Syndrome – Walker Percy (1987); Print
  29. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf (1927); Library
  30. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption – Laura Hillenbrand (2010); Library
  31. The Violent Bear It Away – Flannery O’Connor (1960); Library
  32. Young Men in Spats – P.G. Wodehouse (1936); Print


Book Trends

This was the second consecutive year that my fiction reading increased, and the first time it was my most-read genre. Some other annual trends include more older (pre-1899) books, and many more library and electronic books than usual thanks to a shrinking personal book budget. This was the first year in a long time that I didn’t have any re-reads or audiobooks; only one author with multiple books is also an annual outlier.

Books by Year:
0-1899: 7
1900-1949: 5
1950-1999: 6
2000-2014: 13
2015: 1

Books by Genre:
Fiction: 13
Modern theology: 7
Classic theology: 4
Nonfiction: 4
Biography: 2
Practical theology: 2

Books by Format:
Print borrowed: 12
Print owned: 12
Electronic: 8
Audio: 0 (though in October I started listening to the ESV Bible chronologically on my commute)

Most Popular Authors:
Cormac McCarthy: 2
All others: 1

Books Recommended by Friends: 8

2015 Books: 4Q

Books read from October through December. Final yearly count: 32.

Christian Pipe-Smoking: An Introduction to Holy Incense – Uri Brito & Joffre Swait (2014); Electronic // Entertaining, mostly serious, great short read.

The Crossing – Cormac McCarthy (1994); Library // Sequel to All the Pretty Horses, and nearly as excellent. Vintage McCarthy (though not as violent as most of his books). The Spanish in it threw me for a loop, but I somehow kept up.

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (1899); Print // Difficult read, which I found out afterward was deliberate: Conrad wanted the reader’s experience to be akin to an explorer’s in hacking through a jungle.

On Keeping the Heart – John Flavel (1670ish); Electronic // Clear and practical, which is saying something for a Puritan writer.

The Prayer of the Lord – R.C. Sproul (2009); Electronic // Vintage Sproul: expository, relatable, and practical.

The Practice of the Presence of God – Brother Lawrence (~1665); Electronic // Apparently a classic, and about what I was expecting: helpful at times, overly introspective at others. Very little scriptural allusions or quotations.

Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness – Eric Metaxas (2013); Library // Given Metaxas’ reputation and excellent research on his full-length biographies, I was very disappointed by this. It’s seven disparate chapters, each of which reads more like high school book reports.

Silence – Shusaku Endo (1980); Print // Moving and provocative historical fiction about missionary priests infiltrating 16th century Japan and their subsequent capture. A Scorsese-directed film adaptation starring Liam Neeson is being released in 2016.

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut (1969); Library // Vonnegut’s anti-war, time traveling masterpiece didn’t disappoint.

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf (1927); Library // A classic, archetypal  stream of consciousness, modern fiction. Not my cup of tea

2015 Books: 3Q

Books read from July through September. Next reading list viewable by clicking here. Running yearly count: 23.

The Duties of Parents – J.C. Ryle (1888); Print // Handy, encouraging, challenging little volume.

Fidelity: Five Stories – Wendell Berry (2002); Print // Powerful collection of short stories. Some short, some long, all moving and well done.

The Joy of Less: a Minimalist Living Guide – Francine Jay (2010); Library // Meh.

Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus – Robert Farrar Capon (2002); Print // Brilliant, lucid, joyful prose that expounds much treasure in the parables. However, I was uncomfortable with his view of the final judgment/hell, which he was happy to share in nearly every chapter. It is hard to describe, but it at least earns high marks for stimulating much thought.

Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough – Kevin DeYoung (2014); Print // I expected more; turns out it was very entry-level and seemed almost hastily written.

The Thanatos Syndrome – Walker Percy (1987); Print // Finally got around to completing all of Percy’s six novels. Last and least favorite of the sixth, in my humble opinion, but still Percy-esque enough to be entertaining and enjoyable.

The Violent Bear It Away – Flannery O’Connor (1960); Library // Incredibly poignant novel. I had to take a break from reading for a few days after finishing this.

In the Castle Storeroom Long Enough to Get Hilariously Drunk

Thankful for a preacher (and father) that exemplifies the enthusiasm, joy, and wonder Capon describes here:

“There is a lesson in [the parable of the net] for preachers. So often, whether because of thickheadedness, lack of study, scant preparation, or just plain boredom, they unceremoniously heave the treasure of Scripture out of the pulpit as if they were flopping out so many dead fish. There is no fascination in their monologues, no intrigue, no sense whatsoever that the ministry they have been given is precisely that of being major-domo over a house to end all houses. The most they ever achieve is a kind of monomaniacal enthusiasm for the one or two items that happen to suit their own odd tastes: hellfire, perhaps; or their sawed-off, humanistic version of love; of their short-order recipe for siprituality; or the hopelessly moralistic lessons in good behavior that they long since decided were more palatable than the paradoxes of the Gospel. There is nothing that resonates with anything like the enthusiasm of, ‘Hey, look at this fantastic footstool I just discovered!’ or, ‘You’ve simply got to taste this incredible old Port!’ But alas, only that kind of enthusiasm is contagious and joy-producing. We should all pray for them. May God hasten the day on which they will stay in the castle storeroom long enough to get stark staring bonkers about the Word and hilariously drunk on Scripture.”

Robert Farrar Capon in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2002; volume 1 originally published 1985), p. 143

Theology as Wind-Surfing

The last four paragraphs have been about theology – an enterprise that, despite the oftentimes homicidal urgency Christians attach to is, has yet to save anybody. What saves us is Jesus, and the way we lay hold of that salvation is by faith. And faith is something that, throughout this book, I shall resolutely refuse to let mean anything other than trusting Jesus. It is simply saying yes to him rather than no. It is, at its root, a mere ‘uh-huh’ to him personally. It does not necessarily involve any particular theological structure or formulation; it does not entail any particular degree of emotional fervor; and above all, it does not depend on any specific repertoire of good works – physical, mental, or moral. It’s just ‘Yes, Jesus,’ till we die – just letting the power of his resurrection do, in our deaths, what it has already done in his.

My purpose in saying this so strongly, however, is not simply to alert you to some little band of intellectuals called theologians who may try to talk you into thinking otherwise. Such types exist, of course, but they are usually such bores that all they do is talk you out of wanting to even breathe. No, the reason for my vehemence is that all of us are theologians. Every one of us would rather choose the right-handed logicalities of theology over the left-handed mystery of faith. Any day of the week – and twice on Sundays, often enough – we will labor with might and main to take the only thing that can save anyone and reduce it to a set of theological club rules designed to exclude almost everyone.

Christian theology, however, never is and never can be anything more than the thoughts that Christians have (alone or with others) after they have said yes to Jesus. Sure, it can be a thrilling subject. Of course, it is something you can do well or badly – or even get right or wrong. And naturally, it is one of the great fun things to do on weekends when your kidney stones aren’t acting up. Actually, it is almost exactly like another important human subject that meets all the same criteria: wind-surfing. Everybody admires it, and plenty of people try it. But the number of people who can do it well is even smaller than the number who can do it without making fools of themselves.

Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want. Just don’t lose your sense of humor if your theological surfboard deposits you unceremoniously in the drink.

Robert Farrar Capon in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2002), pp. 24-25