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.

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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.

2014 Books: Annual Report (List and Stats)

I read 36 books in 2014, up one from last year’s 35, but still well shy of my record of 53 set in 2012. Last year’s trend of reading more fiction continued into this year, and I was successful in addressing last year’s trend of reading fewer old books and biographies. I also consciously read fewer books published in 2014, especially ones centering on passing theological trends and/or controversies. Life’s too short. Similarly, a greater proportion of the “theology” books I read were of practical nature compared to years past. Each quarter, I publish brief thoughts on the books I read during that season; you can find the four 2014 lists here: one, two, three, four. After the alphabetical list of 2014 books below you can find some statistical analysis.

  1. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture – Ken Myers (1989); Print
  2. The Bondage of the Will – Martin Luther (1525); Print
  3. Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food – Wendell Berry (2009); Print
  4. Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us – Murray Carpenter (2014); Print
  5. The Christian’s Great Interest – William Guthrie (1668); Print
  6. The Closer: My Story – Mariano Rivera (2014); Library
  7. The Complete Short Stories – Flannery O’Connor (1971); Print
  8. The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1937); Audio
  9. Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money – Dave Ramsey (2012); Kindle
  10. Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss (2006); Print
  11. Empire of Bones – N.D. Wilson (2013); Print
  12. The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family – Martha Peace & Stuart Scott (2010); Print
  13. God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World – David F. Wells (2014); Print
  14. The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis (1945); Print
  15. The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-blood of the Christian – David McIntyre (1913); Audio
  16. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902); Print
  17. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison (1952); Library
  18. J.C. Ryle: That Man of GraniteEric Russell (2008); Print
  19. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened – Craig Evans & N.T. Wright (2009); Print
  20. The Last Gentleman: A Novel – Walker Percy (1966); Print
  21. Letting Go of Legacy Services: Library Case Studies – M. Evangelist & K. Furlong (eds., 2014); Library
  22. The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage – Paul Elie (2004); Library
  23. Money, Possessions, and Eternity – Randy Alcorn (2003); Kindle
  24. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (1838); Print
  25. Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis (1938); Print
  26. Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship – Robbie Castleman (2013); Print
  27. Perelandra – C.S. Lewis (1943); Print
  28. Picadilly Jim – P.G. Wodehouse (1918); Kindle
  29. Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope – Keith Mathison (1999); Print
  30. Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis (1958); Print
  31. Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life – R.C. Sproul (2009); Kindle
  32. A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997 – Wendell Berry (1999); Print
  33. True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia – Jerry Bridges (2012); Kindle
  34. The Truth of the Cross – R.C. Sproul (2007); Kindle
  35. War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles – Paul David Tripp (2007); Print
  36. Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education – Doug Wilson (2013); Print

Books by year:
0-1899: 3
1900-1949: 7
1950-1999: 7
2000-2013: 15
2014: 4

Books by genre:
Modern theology: 11
Fiction: 10
Nonfiction: 5
Biography: 3
Classic theology: 3
Marriage & family: 3
Poetry: 1

Books by format:
Print: 23
Kindle: 6
Library: 5
Audio: 2

Most popular authors:
C.S. Lewis: 4
Wendell Berry: 2
R.C. Sproul: 2
All others: 1

Books also read in previous years:
All God’s Children (2006, 2011)
The Great Divorce (2007)
Out of the Silent Planet (2008)
Perelandra (2008)

2014 Books: 3Q

Books read from July through September. Next reading list viewable by clicking here. Running yearly count: 30.

  • The Bondage of the Will – Martin Luther (1525); Print // I honestly put this one down less than halfway through. Between Luther not being the most gifted writer and this being a verbose response to an Erasmus work I have no interest in reading, I just didn’t want to waste the time and effort it would take for this.
  • Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food – Wendell Berry (2009); Print // Many of these essays were over my head because of technical descriptions of farming processes, but interspersed were reflections on the philosophy of farming and agricultural principles applicable to all of life. Great to also read an essay centering on the Lapp farm in Lancaster, PA.
  • The Closer: My Story – Mariano Rivera (2014); Library // Very glad I read this autobiography of the greatest closers ever, who built an incredible career off of one accidental pitch. A faithful Christian, Mo is incredibly humble throughout, though I also enjoyed his more candid discussions of A-rod and other problems in his career.
  • The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family – Martha Peace & Stuart Scott (2010); Print // Not bad, though there are much better and less baptistic child rearing books out there (Tripp, Wilson). Impoverished view of covenant children left much to be desired.
  • The Last Gentleman: A Novel – Walker Percy (1966); Print // A typical Percy discovery/existential novel, though still packed with his typical wit, philosophical insight, and twists. Not my favorite Percy work, namely because of an odd but jarring change in protagonist two-thirds through the book.
  • Perelandra – C.S. Lewis (1943); Print // A re-read, and a favorite of mine; the gem of Lewis’ unheralded but very enjoyable Space Trilogy. Takes place at the creation of Venus and its creation’s subsequent temptation.
  • True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia – Jerry Bridges (2012); Kindle // Bridges challenges the Christianese buzzwords of “fellowship” and “community” as more than merely baptized terms for hanging out. He examines their true meanings in Scripture: sharing (especially possessions), partnering, co-laboring, serving, and even suffering together. Well done.
  • Picadilly Jim – P.G. Wodehouse (1918); Kindle // A rollicking good story of mistaken identity. A little more heady and reflective than the typical Wodehouse.
  • The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1937); Audio // Better than expected. Bonhoeffer’s impassioned plea to the church to stop peddling cheap grace and truly die to self.
  • Letting Go of Legacy Services: Library Case Studies – M. Evangelist & K. Furlong (eds., 2014); Library // Very helpful treatment of the prevalent problem of “legacy” practices in libraries: practices frequently clung to from a bygone era.
  • The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage – Paul Elie (2004); Library // Biography/light criticism of 20th century Catholic writers Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor. Less than halfway through I ended up skipping the sections on Day and Merton. Not bad, but verbose and betrays a haloed perspective of 20th century American Catholicism.

Political Brain Disease and Actual Thinking

Wendell Berry in a rare moment of biting sarcasm, in an essay on the dangers, fallacies, and atrocities of factory farming.

“Animal factories ought to have been the subject of much government concern, if government is in fact concerned about the welfare of the land and the people. But, instead, the confined animal feeding industry has been the beneficiary of government encouragement and government incentives. This is the result of a political brain disease that causes people in power to think that anything that makes more money or ‘creates jobs’ is good.

“We have animal factories, in other words, because of a governmental addiction to short-term economics. Short-term economics is the practice of making as much money as you can as fast as you can by any possible means while ignoring the long-term effects. Short-term economics is the economics of self-interest and greed. People who operate on the basis of short-term economics accumulate large ‘externalized’ costs, which they charge to the future – that is to the world and to everybody’s grandchildren…

“If the people in our state and national governments undertook to evaluate economic enterprises by the standards of long-term economics, they would have to employ their minds in actual thinking. For many of them, this would be a shattering experience, something altogether new, but it would also cause them to learn things and do things that would improve the lives of their constituents.”

-Wendell Berry in “Stupidity in Concentration” (2002), collected in Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food, p. 12-13

2014 Books: 1Q

Here are the books I read from January through March. My next quarterly reading list is available by clicking here.

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss (2006); Print // Fun, insightful look at the history and usage of punctuation. Less a user’s manual and more an interesting collection of reflections on colons, commas, dashes, semi-colons, periods, and all other punctuation marks. My only gripe was her lack of respect for the Oxford comma.

Empire of Bones – N.D. Wilson (2013); Print // Third installment of the Ashtown Burials series, and possibly the best of the three. Loads of fun, suspense, action, and bravery. Here’s to hoping there’s a fourth!

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902); Print // Read mainly because of our obsession with BBC’s Sherlock series, and it’s about time I read Doyle. Very enjoyable, witty, and smart. Wish I had read him sooner.

J.C. Ryle: That Man of GraniteEric Russell (2008); Print // Decent biography, if a bit long winded. Heavy on facts, light on analysis or engaging storytelling, unfortunately. Good to learn about Ryle’s life and ministry, but this was on the dry side.

Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis (1938); Print // A re-read for “book club;” Lewis’ Space Trilogy is still among my all time favorite series. Looking forward to reading the next two this year also. Interesting that Lewis thought this series was among his worst writings, though Tolkien liked them. I’m with Tolkien.

Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship – Robbie Castleman (2013); Print // I was hoping for more, though my high expectations were perhaps a bit unfair. The principles and theory discussed were good, but I was really hoping for more practical insight. Where’s the easy fix for my kids when I need it?!

Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope – Keith Mathison (1999); Print // Very good, and now my go-to recommendation for a defense of postmillennialism. It is balanced, biblical, fair, thorough, and engaging. He helpfully devotes many pages to arguing for an early dating of the writing of Revelation, which further bolsters the preterist aspect of his arguments. I’m honestly not sure how a Christian could not be postmillennial after reading this, but that’s easy for me to say.

Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis (1958); Print // Glad I finally got around to reading this. Lewis explains that he wrote this collection of essays as an amateur writing to other amateurs. In that regard, it was very good. Chapters on praise and prophecy in the psalms were especially insightful. Some of Lewis’ slightly unorthodox leanings are evident, but not troublesome for me.

A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997 – Wendell Berry (1999); Print // Excellent collection of poetry by Berry. A collection that spans such a long period of time is fascinating, as it gives a glimpse into Berry’s ongoing maturity as a poet and thinker. He does not claim to be a professional poet, but merely an amateur writing these poems in conjunction with his weekly Sunday walks. Earthy, profound, understandable, and really, really enjoyable.

Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education – Doug Wilson (2013); Print // Short, almost pamphlet-sized work defending a Christian education for Christian kids. Goes to the foundational reasons for a Christian education rather than refuting the surface/practical arguments of the other side. In that regard, it was very helpful.

The Field is Tilled and Left to Grace

beetsIn light of winter’s slowly loosening grip, I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems (collected in A Timbered Choir). Poem X of 1979 (p. 18) is especially beautiful :

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

I have always liked to think that there is something magical about gardening and farming, but Berry describes this magic in a more romantic way: the field is tilled and left to grace. Isn’t there also something magical, fantastical, about grace? Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, one plants, another waters, but God gives the grace for growth, and we are God’s field. Like Jesus says in Matthew 13, seed is sown in faith, but in God’s mysterious providence the good soil is all that produces good fruit. It’s not surprising that Paul and Jesus use agricultural pictures for the gospel. The hand aches and the face sweats as the Word is sown and hearts are tilled, watered, and ultimately left to grace. That we may reap, great work is done while we’re asleep.

Magic is all around us. Whether it’s in God’s special grace or common grace, it is inescapable. To relate it to another recent read of mine, this was one of C.S. Lewis’ purposes with his space trilogy: there should be an aspect of romance and magic in science. Lewis’ work in part was a criticism of the cold, hard, distant scientism of his day, which has only since strengthened. Science isn’t (or shouldn’t be) cold and hard; because it is sustained and ordained by a personal, loving God it is warm and wonderful and and magical. Like Robert Farrar Capon described the magic and grace of wine: “Sugar in the grape and yeast on the skins is a divine idea, not a human one. Man’s part in the process consists of honest and prudent management of the work that God has begun.”

Berry views the science of agriculture from a different viewpoint than magic: that of grace. Grace can be magical, but grace trumps magic because grace comes from somewhere, Someone.