About January 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in January 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2011 is the previous archive.

February 2012 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

January 2012 Archives

January 2, 2012

A few notable covers from general market publishers from our shelves

A number of people sent facebook comments, tweeted, or sent emails saying they enjoyed my comments about book cover design and how we showed in our last BookNotes post some jackets that we think worked well.   I chose non-fiction books from Christian publishers; I not only highlighted some good design work and revealed a bit of my own tastes, I guess, but it showed the real variety of publishers we appreciate. And the variety of ways to do book covers well.

There are, as we said, a bunch of "best covers of 2011" lists out there, and some of the mainstream publishers have done stunning work.  You can find those that are widely recognized and hope you do.  Cover art and jacket lettering--and, increasingly, the inside design--is a vital part of the real book experience.  As I've often said, the size and shape and feel of a book matters, too, for a pleasurable reading experience.  Of course the old adage that "you shouldn't judge a book by its cover" remains true, but that is not to say we shouldn't judge the cover.  I sometimes say that whoever coined that truism must never have tried to sell books, because people do.  All the time.  

So, here are  just a few from mainstream, general market publishers that I pulled off our shelves or have stocked at some point this year.  They are a few of my favorite covers this year, mostly non-fiction.  Enjoy.

2.gifSweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country in Between  Jeff Sharlet (Norton) $24.95 cover design by Mark Melnick  Not only is this just about the best-written book I've read all year, I love the cover.  It may seem a bit busy, but on closer look, the rugged terrain and the picture on the billboard just strikes such a chord.


22.gifMy Dyslexia Philip Schultz (Norton) $21.95 cover design by Mark Melnick  I didn't realize it until I checked to type it just now, but this is the same designer who did the Sharlet title.  A very different use of color hue on the typography, very different fonts, an obviously very different feel.  The way the author's name and the notation that he is a Pulitzer Prize winner are all arranged, it almost gives the sense of being dyslexic, but it isn't misspelled, which would have been a too-obvious, cheap move. The upside down title on the spine, though, is a wild touch that really works.  A very, very moving book with a very creative but classy cover.

222.gifHouse of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home Mark Richard (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) $23.95 cover design by Michael J. Windsor Nan Talese's imprint is impeccably prestigious, or so I gather, so the writing would not only have to be top-shelf impressive (it is!) but the cover would have to be excellently executed.  The hectic scribble, the nostalgia of an old photo, the color, the print sizes, the odd font choice all are well suited for this allusive title. What the heck is the "house of prayer no. 2?"  The look is maybe a bit edgy, a bit risky but it works. This is one of my favorite memoirs of the year and one of my favorite covers.

2..gifPeace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories Anna Badkhen (Free Press) $25.00 Cover design by Eric Fuentecilla  I may wax eloquent about this foodie travelogue through war zones later, but the juxtaposition of the worn, soiled hands, those lovely little fruits, and the lacy tablecloth makes this a very evocative cover for me.  Love it!   I wish the back jacket was a bit more interesting, but don't you love that photo by Spencer Platt?  Kudos.

age of p.gifThe Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture Terry O'Reilly & Mike Tennant (Counterpoint) $16.95 cover design by Michel Vrana   What can I say---a perfect cover with the Mad Men allusion, the hip colors.  I don't even know what this kind of high-contrast, silk-screened-like art is called but it is instantly recognizable. Am I wrong? Cool, man.

fair food.gifFair Food: Growing A Healthy Sustainable Food System for All  Oran B. Hesterman (Public Affairs) $24.99 cover design by Brent Wilcox  As I looked through our section on food, sustainable eating, and such, a few really bad ones stuck out.  (One had a pile of dirt on a dinner plate, which made, uh, some kind of point, but it was just weird, as good as the book was.)  This, though, used food in the typography without being corny (sorry.)  I noticed the heft of the book, the good stock on the dust jacket and excellent binding; the playful cover stands out, even on the spine.  Do you like?

boomerang-lewis.jpgBoomerang: Travels in the New Third World  Michael Lewis (Norton) $25.95  cover design by Darren Hagar  When I saw this in the publsiher's catalog it only registered as yet another boring-looking book about economics and public affairs. It's Michael Lewis, though, a fantastic writer (The Blind Side, The Big Short) so of course we ordered it in.  When the book arrived, I looked more closely at the black eye old George was given and it made me laugh right out loud.  It isn't overstated but once you see it, it changes everything.

presentation zen.gifPresentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery 2nd edition Garr Reynolds (New Rider's Press) $29.99  cover design by Garr Reynolds  There was a second edition this year of this classic book on how to use PowerPoint more artfully and effectively and it presented the publishers with a common problem: how to do a 2nd edition? A whole new cover suggests a whole new book.  The words updated or new edition are cumbersome.  I loved the way they used the sticky post-it note here---which certainly fits the genre of a business book.  It doesn't distract much from the zen-like qualities of the cover, but--I'm supposing--they realize it is, after all, a book jacket cover, not a photography for an meditation center.  A nice example of commercial art that is clever, that gets the job done, and remains artful enough.  The author, not surprisingly, by the way, designed the cover.

state of.gifState of Wonder: A Novel  Ann Patchett (Harper) $26.99  cover design by Archie Ferguson  Nate Duval deserves special credit, too, for doing the impressive jacket illustrations.  When an author is one of the most acclaimed of our generation, we would assume there is quite a budget (and quite a struggle) to get the design just right.  From the deckled pages to the warm yellow flyleafs, the whole package is solid and lovely.  But this artwork, the intricate dragonflies (on front and back) and the edging which brings to mind Pennsylvania Dutch fraktur, sets the book apart, especially in a year full of the hip, minimalist, stark, and postmodern.

chicken in every.gifA Chicken in Every Yard: The Urban Farm Store's Guide to Chicken Keeping  Robert & Hannah Litt (Tenn Speed Press) $19.99  cover design by Chris Hotz/Nemo Design  I mentioned that I wasn't sold on the funny cover of the great Joel Salatin book, the one with the chicken next to a giant egg. Great book but dumb cover.  If you're going to use a chicken on a book, I think this one works better--it somehow brings to mind an old union poster with that metal, industrial bridge and gray skyline.  The inside, by the way, is a treat to behold, with art ranging from vintage New Yorker type illustrations to full color photos of the lovely bird in action and bunches of vivid farm scenes.

other walk.gifThe Other Walk: Essays by Sven Birkerts (Graywolf Perss) $15.00  The artsy Graywolf is a perfect publishing home for this eloquent essayist, whose memoir and considerations about print culture and books are essential reading.  The textured cover on this paperback is nice to the touch, and the black and white photo is excellent, even if a bit odd.  The simple text in a line across the top reminds me of old City Lights poetry books.  I suspect it has some allusions to previous publishing looks.

arctic a.gifArctic Autumn: A Journey To Season's Edge Pete Dunne (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) $24.00 cover design by Martha Kennedy  I know it is sort of cheating to choose books with close up nature photos, but this design--a broad horizon scene and a close up of the polar bear is such a nice combo, I wanted to show it. The book is a travelogue, so it has to make you want to go there, or at least read about going there, right?  Further, it is the third in a series, each with uniform covers, and I like those sorts of projects.  The others aren't exactly the same, either, but do stand together, quite nicely. See his Prairie Spring and Bayshore Summer.  Wonder what the fourth will be?  I'm sure it will have a great cover.

pfs.gifPraying for Strangers: An Adventure in the Human Spirit  River Jordan (Berkley) $24.95  Okay, maybe it is just me, but I love the earth tones, the lower case letters in the title, (and the way the words are arranged.)  I guess these dots are blurred headlights, but I'm not quite sure.  There is color, but it is muted, evoking the mystery that is at the heart of this lovely memoir.  It is a slightly smaller sized shaped, too, making it perfect to hold.  Kudos.

joining the r.gifJoining the Resistance Carol Gilligan (Polity Press) $19.95 cover design by Office of Paul Sahre  This is a good example of a minimalist approach; no subtitle, the sans serif font, the singular raised hand.  Notice that it is not in an obvious "speak to the hand" sort of nay-saying gesture, as you might expect, but just raised---making it what Cal Seerveld would call "suggestion-rich."  The designers left most of the back and the back inside flap nearly blank, which I guess was intentional, but seems overly sparse with being striking. Maybe they should have gone the whole way, like the first hardcover all-white edition of Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. Anyway, it is good to see scholarly presses doing creative design along with the heavy prose.

bc new m.gifThe Blind Contessa's New Machine  Carey Wallace (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking) $23.95 cover design by Kelly Blair  I noted in a previous BookNotes column just how lovely to behold this small hardback is.  The paperback is just now out with a great, new look, but the hardcover deserves to be seen again.  The story is about an 18th century Italian woman going blind, whose assistant invents a typewriter.  Ahh, but this allusive, inviting cover says nothing of that.  It still is a grand, artful cover, for a very beautiful novel.

info.gifThe Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood  James Gleick (Pantheon) $29.95 cover design by Peter Mendelsund  What to say about this?  I tend to think that Pantheon has some of the strongest, contemporary covers in the industry, and this remarkably important, master writer has given us another major highly-acclaimed work of brilliant non-fiction.  The cover speaks volumes--although this thumbnail copy is missing an entire column of, well, information, so fails to do it justice, as the words flood over the jacket.  And you should ponder the back, too, which, in a few inches in the upper-right hand corner, offers a hint about the history of print.  Interesting, at least.  What do you think?

lucid food.gifLucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life  Lousia Shafia Ten Speed Press) $22.50   cover design by Toni Tajima  I wish the reproduction here captured how bright these close up photos are.  Again, it is nearly cheating to use close-pictures of food and there are so many truly beautiful covers in the cookbook category (ohh, we should have a category of best cover designs for books about chocolate!)  Still, this eccentric title not only uses great pictures but shows what I think is fabulous book design---the long stems on the right are so properly arranged and their bright color pops and the excellent choice of font and the arrangement of the text.  So intriguing...I had to include it as one great example of many in this genre.  The inside is a knock-out too.  What a treat.

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January 3, 2012

Orders and E-mails from January 2nd and 3rd lost. Help!

Oh baby, what a way to usher in the New Year here at our workplace.  Although we don'tfrustrated.jpg usually answer emails on Sunday (as we say at the website order form page) every other day we always answer each email, promptly and personally, human-to-human, if only to confirm that the order was received. And to offer a greeting and blessing.  Betcha don't get that kind of lovin' from  Amazon.

Alas, on Monday (January 2nd) and into today, Tuesday, we couldn't reply to anyone or confirm any orders because our account at an email server went indescribably bonkers. 

If you sent us any emails from mid-day on January 2nd, until noon on January 3rd, please be advised (he says rather formally) that your communication with us was lost. Gone rogue, AWOL, prodigal, disappeared. Zip.

Please, please re-send whatever you sent I'll be on the edge of my office chair here, eagerly awaiting whatever we missed.

We do hope you will contact us again.  We do, quite humanely, apologize for this dumb hassle.
  And we'll be sure to respond personally, like the good old days of 2011.  Thanks.

234 East Main Street 
Dallastown, PA  17313

January 12, 2012

Hearts & Minds Awards for Best Books of 2011 PART ONE

Book. Of. The. Year.  2011. Nope, not gonna do it.  First, I'm not sure there is such a thing.BestOf11.jpg  Yes, I know we like our lists, like to name stuff. Maybe God gave us humanoids the task to name the animals, but that was before the fall.  And I'll bet there are more new books each year, nowadays, then there were animals in the antediluvian Paradise.  And, anyway, even if there was some One Best Book, I would hope you wouldn't trust me to tell you what it is.  I'm aware of a lot of books and read pretty widely and have tons of opinions (as if you didn't know.) But a Best Book Picker I am not.

So, here are some.  Some. Good. Ones.  We like to talk about awards and winners and best in a category, honoring and celebrating, but do take it with a bit of tongue in cheek.  In case you don't get it, many of my categories are supposed to be a little funny, but my accolades are sincere.  Please do help us spread the word about these lists, because the authors we commend are deserving.  I've pondered this year's great titles pretty seriously. 

You don't know the anxiety creating this list causes me; I esteem our readership and know there are some smart folks out there (not to mention a few authors and publishers---hey, guys and gals. Thanks for being with us, but realize you're making me even more nervous!)  So I guess I have to admit I maybe missed a few that deserve some prizes.  Sorry.  But I do affirm a lot, and this is only the first part of the list. More are on the way. We've got some great books to celebrate, there will some big winners, and a few that might surprise you.

I do work hard to choose important and great titles, and trust that our fans and friends will appreciate it. 2011 as a great year for books, if less so for bookstores.   I don't think we're steering you wrong.  How's that for a grand claim?  

Having said that, here we go.


Pastor Pete.gifThe Pastor Eugene Peterson (HarperOne) $25.99  How can this not be listed, and listed loudly? We have been blessed to tell people about this for almost a year, now, and we remain convinced it is one of the finest books of 2011. (And what a joy to be the booksellers at a large event with him this spring and to chat with him about this writing project!)  Well, as those who know him can attest, Peterson speaks slowly, and writes carefully, often beautifully, usually with great substance--his are not usually books that are read quickly.  This, though, was at times breezy, quite enjoyable as the beautifully-rendered story tells about his journey from Montana son of a butcher to highfalutin' bit city seminary student to lover of literature and suburban church planter as a perplexed, struggling, ordinary working pastor.  Sure, he becomes known for his famous paraphrase of the Bible The Message, and he has done meaty, mature books of spiritual theology in recent years, after a fruitful stint at British Columbia's Regent College.  But the true heart of this memoir is how a call was discerned and embraced by Pastor Pete and his wife Jan.  As a nod to Baltimore novelist Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe, he wanted to call this Pastor Maybe.  It is about being a humble pastor, and that is exactly how he most wants to be remembered.  With this great, sensible book--a delightful read, interesting and no-nonsense--being so widely acclaimed, he just may be most known for esteeming the hard work and vital role of the ordinary pastor in our time.  A big Hearts & Minds shout out for that!


flunking sainthood small.gifFlunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor Jana Riess (Paraclete) $16.99  I loved this book the minute I heard about it, loved it more the minute I saw it, with the cover that still makes me chuckle, and loved it for sure  after having read the forward twice.  (The second time I read it out loud to Beth, admittedly because part of it was about sex, and, well, since it was a Godly book and really funny, I figured I could get away with it.)  By the time I was a few chapters in I knew I had a soul mate, a best book of the year contender, and a title I just had to tell almost everyone about.  As you've surely heard, Riess sets out to read a spiritual classic each month, with an attendant spiritual practice.  Spoiler alert: it does not go well.  It made me laugh, reminded me of myself a bit too often, and shouts that we don't have to take this spiritual disciplines, contemplative spirituality, neo-monastic stuff quite that seriously.  Perhaps God is in our less than stellar efforts, our failures, our human foibles.  We've all got a lot to learn, and it's okay if we're not super-spiritual saints.  Perhaps, you would find this freeing, as did Lauren Winner who called it "surprising and freeing, fun and funny."  The "kinda, sorta, almost" phrase in the name of the award is a joke---can 't award a book about failure now can we?


sanctuary o.gifSanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer  Richard Foster (formatioin/IVP) $13.00  Foster's Celebration of Discipline and Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home are among the most important books in my life, and many others would also testify to Richard's important role in their lives.  I've really like his last three or four, but this is the best little book he's done in a long, long time.  It simply teaches us how to meditate, what that means from a Christian view, and gives some fabulously written examples of times when he found God's presence in immense silence. Need some tender guidance on contemplative prayer?  Ineffable, yes.  


111.gifThe Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground Chris Webb (formatio/IVP) $15.00  There were so many great books put out on the formatio label this year, it is hard to name only a few. (Formatio is the imprint of InterVarsity Press that does the most consistently insightful, attractive, and Biblically-faithful books on spirituality of any current publisher.) This one, though, doubtlessly moved me, and I found myself inspired and instructed.  Webb tells moving stories of his own encounters with the Word of God, shares much about how to read the Bible devotionally--to hear God speak!---and teaches us about others who have done so well.  I suppose this is a book about how to read the Bible, but it is so gently and evocatively spiritual, it seems to be about prayer.   And so it is.  With blurbs from Eugene Peterson and formatio authors Ruth Haley Barton and James Bryan Smith, this is indicative of the best of evangelical thinkers about the interface of the Bible and spiritual formation.  Very, very good and deserving of special mention in this list of the best resources of 2011.


renovation.gifRenovation of the Church: What Happens When A Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation  Kent Carlson & Mike Lueken (IVP) $15.00  A few, well, a lot of our readers might say "I told you so" but beg you not to be snooty.  This book is about an independent church that grew and grew using contemporary worship, spiffy drama, seeker outreach and very exciting, well, very exciting everything.  They soon realized their growing numbers and large staff and extraordinary effort was not sustainable.  They pastors were burning out.  The community of faith was vibrant but seemed dependent on the sensational and exciting and their faith might have been lacking in depth or maturity.  They did an about face, began to learn about spiritual disciplines, taught a different approach to evangelical faith and, as they deepened, they lost members.  But they nurtured disciples. "This is an honest story," writes James Bryan Smith, "of two courageous pastors who dared to change the ethos of their church..."  Smith describes the shift from "catering to consumers to creating Christ followers." This story of Oak Hills Church is a great example of not only how to get a church started and fired up, but now to navigate consumerism and an unbiblical entertainment ethos, finally pointing the way to resist ambition and embrace a more humble and historic vision of faith formation.  Kudos, again, to IVP for offering these kinds of resources, and kudos to Carlson & Lueken for being honest enough to tell their stories with candor and hope.  (Although I did see this coming, kudos, too, to IVP graphic designer Cindy Kiple for this classy cover design with the pomegranate. It's a photogenic and fashionable fruit, and a fabulous cover.)


You Lost Me small.gifYou Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...And Rethinking Faith $17.99  David Kinnaman (Baker) $17.99  I'm so happy about this book and so glad it was written and we felt so privileged to host David here talking about the book when it first came out. It was one of the highlights of the year for us.  I know others have talked about this topic of young adults leaving church, and several books have been written.  Maybe the goofy name of our award isn't quite right, since this isn't the first person to bring this up, but the Barna Group did do good research on this, and David explored it as robustly and as helpfully as anyone. So this book has become a tipping point of sorts, the conversation has now become, or could become, more mainstream and helpful than just fretful observations and hand-wringing.  Kinnaman documents with solid research the various reasons young adults who are raised in the church tend to leave it, or drift from vibrant faith or renounce belief, and invites us to open-mindedness to hear the voices of those who feel that have to somehow reconfigure their faith experiences in these critical years of their lives.  It has substance and stories, statistic and strategies. This is simply the most useful book for congregations on this topic that has yet been done. It was one of the Hearts & Minds favs of the year!  Hey, the 50 suggestions at the end offered by 50 various authors and leaders are themselves nearly worth the price of the book.  Now let's get busy -- reading, talking, listening, thinking, adopting our ministries in ways that might be faithful and true, helpful and effective. This award really is a heart-felt "thank you" for this important work.


social.gifThe Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement David Brooks (Random House) $27.00; just out in paperback, $16.00  Okay it isn't true literary fiction; the story is mostly a device.  And it isn't quite as clever as his fabulous Bobos in Paradise, which is hard to top.  But, still, this offers so many summaries of research, so much data, lots of learning about human behavior, brain studies, gender, culture, work, sex, religion and so many topics that one simply ought to read it in case you're ever asked to be on Jeopardy.  And, as I've suggested, it is mostly, or at least partially, written as a very interesting novel!  Brooks' major points (which he deduces from the research, but fleshes out in the story) have been so much discussed--including in religious circles--that it deserves an extra award for raising so many important questions about the search for meaning and how people find fulfillment and values, important stuff all in a well-told fable. Part analysis, part story, lots of cleverness and tons of substance.  This was, in Academy Awards parlance, one of the 2011 blockbusters, and on everybody's short list of contenders.  Congratulations.  By the way, the High Calling blog community is having an on-line book study of this.  Check it out here.


Remember that feeling as a child when you were being treated to a rare ice cream cone  and they said you could get an extra scoop?  Well that isn't even half of how I feel announcing two spectacularly great books on the same topic.  Seeing either one come to publication would have made this a stellar year, each vying for a best book award.  And thank goodness, in 2011 we got two scoops!  Try 'em both!  Mix 'em together.  This is almost too good to be true!

kingdom calling.gifKingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good  Amy L. Sherman (IVP) $16.00  Certainly one of the very best books of the year and, if heeded, a game-changing, church-changing, world-changing book.  Written mostly (but, please, not exclusively) for pastors and church leaders, this unique study offers a very astute exploration of work, calling, career, service, inviting us to realize that our gifts and passions and vocations should be offered for the common good.  Not only does she do good Bible study, but she tells good stories, and offers very wise counsel about how to get at least one of four visions of meaningful labor into people's minds.  Her four channels or styles of relating faith, work, and the hope of making an impact in a needy world are excellently described and she offers tons of good ideas.  We couldn't be happier than to give this an award, and to proclaim that it is very highly recommended.

work matters smaller.gifWork Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work  Tom Nelson (Crossway) $15.99  I've been touting this all fall, happy it offers a splendid, rich, wise, account of a Christian perspective on work.   It is, I think, the best book yet written on this topic of daily toil, the joy and purpose of work, and how to see our jobs as extensions of our worship.  Not only are there great stories and illustrations and helpful case studies, it is written by a pastor who has done this well in his congregation.  Nelson tells of many years not inviting his congregants to think about their work-world and he movingly shares how he came to realize that he must pastor his flock in ways that empower them to serve God in their various spheres of influence, careers, and callings.   I could hardly be more excited about a book and we are very sincere in insisting it is one of the most important resources to be published in 2011.  Excellent!


public f.gifA Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good  Miroslav Volf (Brazos) $21.99  This is quite simply the right book at the right time, by a well-respected Yale theologian who draws on some of the best writers among both mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox thinkers, helping us navigate the complex cultural setting of pluralism, resentments about fundamentalisms, theological violence, and--still, at least until people read this book--a quietism that suggest we needn't think much about pubic life.  This is a book about culture, about human flourishing, about politics and justice but mostly is an articulation of and exploration of the implications of the claim that Christ is Lord in the 21st century.  Rave reviews on the back from Nicholas Wolterstorff and Richard Mouw give an indication that this is serious, nuanced, evangelical in the best sense.  Mouw says it is an "important book packed with wisdom!"  Wolterstorff says it is "a wonderful guide. for our times."  I guess I don't have to note the urgency of this topic this year of uncivil politics and renewed discussion about faith in the public square.  Please, give this to anybody you know who is active in activism or public discourse... 


Lang of Sc.gifThe Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions  Karl W. Giberson & Francis Collins (IVP) $20.00  I suspect these guys have felt a bit wounded even as they are insisting to be conscientious objectors in a war they don't believe in--there is no battleground between Christian faith and good science!  Of course, as in any academic discipline, there are questions, tensions, confusions, and they tackled all the usual matters, with clarity, thoughtfulness, and grace.  I honor this not because I agree with every word or because it is the final, best text, but because it seems to offer a comprehensive Christian framework for thinking about science in a way that is simple to understand and very interesting.  One of the very best entry level books in this large, complex field.  For what it is worth, endorsements for the author's BioLogos Foundation come from N.T. Wright, Philip Yancey, Os Guinness, Tim Keller, and more, including many prominent, moderate evangelicals.


!.gifWhere the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism  Alvin Plantinga (Oxford University Press) $27.95  There is little doubt in the rarefied world of the philosophical guild that Alvin Plantinga is one of the most important philosophers writing today.  He is doubtlessly the world's leading scholar on the philosophy of religion.  In this very nuanced and specific book--about the philosophy of naturalism--Plantinga makes a very persuasive case that there is simply no intellectually credible reason to think that religious convictions are at odds with doing science.  If the above books was written perhaps to help conservative Christians grapple with the world of science, this is written to help the scholars of the philosophy of science grapple with differing ideologies that influence the sciences.  This is a very important book and we are sure it will get acclaim from sources more substantial than we.  For now, though, a "brainiac award."  


!!.gifNature as Spiritual Practice  Steven Chase (Eerdmans) $18.00  An award named after the famous Whitman poem?  You're very welcome. You know there are lovely little books of devotional reading or spiritual exercises to use on hiking trips, resources for seeing God in the great outdoors and we stock a lot of them.  This is not altogether unlike those, but yet it is something bigger and deeper: a thick theology of the experience of nature.  It uses the developing language of practices and ponders a remarkable array of ways to be morally and spiritually formed by attending to the rhythms and ways of creation.  We have a lot of books about creation-care, green theology, and outdoor life, and there is nothing like this.  Kudos!  Also, then, when you really do go into the "mystical moist night-air" like the poet says, bring with you the more practical guidebook that Chase also wrote, a fine companion volume that that also deserves honorable mention: Field Guide to Nature as Spiritual Practice (Eerdmans; $8.00.) 


Cron book.gifJesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me...A Memoir, of Sorts  Ian Cron (Nelson) $15.99  I don't think I've enjoyed a book this year as much as I did this one and I don't think I pressed it into so many people's hands, saying "you have to read this, you'll love it!"  And, they do!  This is accessible, funny, moving, insightful, very well written, and just what you want in a memoir---a great story well told, a bit of universal insight, some great laughs and some tender tears amidst very captivating prose.  You won't forget this guy's childhood, his weird family, his hard-earned faith, and his journey to healing and hope.  Not only was it my favorite memoir of the year, it was up there among my favorite books of any sort!   I'll read whatever Ian writes next, guaranteed.  And I bet we'll award it a prize as it, too, is sure to be good, whatever it may be.


!!!.gifHouse of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home  Mark Richard (Nan Talese Books) $23.95  I can't remember how many times I sat this book down to catch my breath.  How many times, lying next to my wife in bed, she'd say "What?" as I sighed or smacked my head or wiped a tear or when I exclaimed "Holy sh....")  Holy shit. Yep, that pretty much sums up this crazy story of a handicapped kid whose life is troubled and graced, who becomes a writer, still troubled, still graced.  Novelist Pat Conroy--no stranger to some heavy-duty, heart-rending stories--says that Richard's prose style is "both hammerblow and shrapnel.  He has written the book of his life." Any Hembel (who says "this is some of the finest writing you will ever read") notes that "in this unconventional memoir, we see the yearning of the artist transfigured into faith---an authentic faith that is both struggled for and struggled against in the midst of ceaseless and necessary doubt."  Stunning.


!!!!.gifA Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny  Amy Julia Becker (Bethany House) $14.99  Sometimes joy shows up when you least expect it, the back cover says.  Andy Crouch--a good judge about good books--writes that Becker "has the courage and grace to tell the truth. Whether you are a parent or not, whether the children in your life are 'typical' or not, this story will shake you, change you, encourage you."  Joni Eareckson Tada, who has written much about the dignity of those with handicapping conditions, says it is "poignant and powerful, the world needs more stories of inspiration like this one."  Lovely.



House with.gifA House With No Roof: After My Father's Assassination, A Memoir  Rebecca Wilson (Counterpoint) $16.95 Two things drew me to this sad story of a girl growing up with a drug dealing, violent brother and a hippie-dippy San Francisco mom: Anne Lamott, who cared for the author's mother in her final stages of cancer, and wrote a remarkable forward, and the fact that it was on the esteemed publishing house, Counterpoint (Wendell Berry's publisher.)  In 1966, Ms Wilson's father, a radical union organizer, was murdered because of his efforts to expose corruption in the local union. How does a kid grow up in the hippy sub-culture of crazy politics and drugs and sex, raised by a mother undone by grief? How does a young adult, years later, cope with family secrets of this sort? She rides horses, becomes aware of the complexities of domestic violence, explores--and disavows religious faith--becomes a writer, and lives to tell about it.  Anne says "I think her story will blow you away."  Then she writes, soberly, "Rebecca Wilson's is a new voice in American letters, at once pure and heartfelt, rough and jaunty.  She's a natural storyteller with an amazing story that she tells with plainness and elegance. I don't quite know how she pulled this off, but I love and admire this book, as I do its author.  I believe you will too."


!!!!!!.gifRaised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics  Alisa Harris (Waterbrook) $14.99  I've reviewed this riveting memoir in several places this year, and raved here at BookNotes.  It is a feisty and fun memoir, by a great young writer, telling the tale---truly fascinating, and quite enlightening---of her being raised among strict fundamentalists of a very politicized, right-wing sort.  As she grows into adulthood she learns some things, unlearns some things, sets out for a new way to more faithfully relate faith and public life.  I grew to care about this story and want to follow this important young voice, hoping she emerges as a thoughtful, balanced thinker about public justice and evangelical social engagement.  A few parts are really funny and a few parts are mouth-droppingly shocking.  Highly recommended.


!!!!!!!.gifTutu: Authorized  Alister Sparks (HarperOne) $29.99  Agree with him on every point of theology or politics or not, there is little doubt that the South African Bishop Desmond Tutu is one of the great world leaders of our lifetime. Tutu rose to prominence in the anti-apartheid efforts decades ago and has grown in stature as an Anglican theologian, global churchman, and pastor, a kindly and joyfully winsome follower of his savior, Jesus the Christ.  This is a riveting (authorized) biography, detailed and complex when it should be, upbeat and inspiring at times, insightful and captivating throughout.  A fine biography, not overly detailed and never tedious, but thorough about his life and times.  Tutu's faith and hope and love are nearly contagious, so reading this will surely be salutary, as a high Anglican might say.  The great cover doesn't hurt, either.  A very notable, long-awaited, heroic, biography.


!!!!!!!!.gifShirt of Flame: A Year With Saint Therese of Lisieux Heather King (Paraclete) $16.99  I was very much taken by the two previous elegant and eloquent memoirs King wrote, Parched and Redeemed,  her passionate story of bottoming out and moving into recovery from alcoholism and its sequel telling of her conversion to Christ and the Roman Catholic church.  So now I'd read anything she wrote.  But a book about her reading a book, the curiously passionate French Carmelite (that Jana Riess so roundly mocked in the beginning of Flunking Sainthood)??  Well, yes, even that. And it is so good.  As one reviewer---himself in gritty ministry in Ramallah, the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories---writes, "This book brings out the grit of sanctity, how it is a continuous, no-holds-barred full-on contact engagement with reality."  This is mostly a quiet book, gentle and very finely written.  Ronald Rolheiser wisely invites, "If you are aching at some very deep places, let this book be  your doctor."  


!!!!!!!!!.gifThoughts without Cigarettes: A Memoir  Oscar Hijuelos (Gotham Books) $27.50 You may know this wonderful Latino novelist, or have heard of his Pulitzer Prize award-winning, best-selling Mambo Kings...(or his wonderful Mr. Ive's Christmas.)  This is his life story, a memoir of growing up Cuban in New York, his immigrant experience, showing how he became the person and writer he is.  Jose Miguel Oviedo writes that Hijuelos "achieves the miracle of transforming ordinary daily events into extraordinary happenings while recovering the lost time of childhood."  I'm drawn to the experience of those coming of age in minority cultures, and more, to those who grow up to become artists.  I'm not only in naming this as one of the great books of the year.


!!!!!!!!!!!.gifThe Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis and the Life in the Kingdom  Jamie Arpin-Ricci, CJ  (Likewise; IVP) $16.00  I mostly love these sorts of books that aren't simple to categorize or shelve because they cover so much territory.  When they do it in a slim, well written volume, that is all the better.  This about intentional community, about what we can learn from St. Francis, and a study of the Sermon on the Mount.  Yes, it is also a memoir, but that wouldn't fit my "triple crown award" designation, and  calling it quadruple sounds dangerous.  Arpin-Ricci and his family--solid, evangelical  folk--end up being called to urban ministry, discover St. Francis who naturally rocks their world, and start taking the Sermon on the Mount as their primary document for living faithful Christ-shaped discipleship.  There are lots of good stories of their journey (and the dramatic stuff that happens in urban ministry) and there are upbeat examples of great joy in the journey.  But, too, this is serious stuff, inviting us--challenging us--to take Christ seriously, as Francis did.  And as do his pals at the Little Flowers community in Winnipeg.  A wonderful example of what some are calling the movement of "new monasticism at the forgotten places of the Empire."   Three cheers.


Taking Every.jpgTaking Every Thought Captive: Forty Years of the Christian Scholars Review edited by Don W. King (Abilene University Press) $ 25.00  I've touted this at BookNotes and in a few other places where I've been asked to submit reviews.  I'm trying to be clever, and in no way intend to demean this fine anthology, to say that it is like a greatest hits album, long enough to be a double album---with year's worth of wonderful cuts, deep tracks, stuff you forgot about, classics. There are older essays, more recent ones, all by leading Christian scholars of the last 40 years, and that have appeared in the important but little known journal The Christian Scholars Review. This includes important essays by Mark Noll, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Ronald Sider, Brian Walsh, Arthur Holmes, and dozens more. Anyone who is a nonfiction book worm, anyone interested in honoring God in the modern academy, anybody interested in learning how to better integrate faith and scholarship, anyone who wants to reflect seriously on the implications of a Christian worldview, simply must get this award winning collection.  Like a good greatest hits disc, you'll use it a lot! Some parts you'll share with others. It deserves a lot of acclaim.  While we're at it, I'd give the producers a 2011 Grammy if I could...


!!!!!!!!!!!!.gifSocrates in the City: Conversations on "Life, God, and Other Small Topics"  Edited by Eric Metaxas  (Dutton) $27.95  Okay, the Yalie has his white ascot-like hanky in the breast pocket of his very Navy jacket making him look oh-so-dapper.  But he's a VeggieTale pirate at heart and just can't help himself. He cracks wise, even when introducing some of the world's smartest people. In the preface he asks why intellectual pursuits can 't be fun.  Yeah, that's what I always say when I'm introducing the founder of the not very funny First Things or a brilliant British theologian like Alister McGrath.  This great book compiles transcripts of lectures given at Metaxas's side hustle, his Socrates in the City lecture series in NYC.  And, yep, there are spectacular chapters here by Sir John Polkinghorne and Jean Bethke Elshtain and Os Guinness. Peter Kreeft and Alister McGrath are here and Francis Collins and more. I love the hint of a sly grin on Eric's cover mug and I like his upbeat opening chapter and the small hints of zaniness as he does the introductions for each eminent lecturer. But that doesn't alone earn a Hearts & Minds accolade.  Oh wait, maybe it does.  Sure this has some of the best arguments for a Christian view of life, for truth and goodness and justice, but, well, who needs sober erudition when you've got Metaxas channeling Socrates in his city?  Ha.  This is a spectacular book on all counts.  Buy two, one for your own edification and one to give away.  I'm not kidding!


!!!!!!!!!!!!!.gifLife in God: John Calvin, Practical Formation, and the Future of Protestant Theology Matthew Myer Boulton (Eerdmans) $28.00  There are lots of good theology texts and we have lots that deserve mention.  This one stands out for being so very interesting, and well written and for insisting that serious theology should matter for ordinary folks.  Erudite and scholarly (this guy knows his stuff, believe me!) it makes the case that Calvin, especially in his famous Institutes, is most interested in the spiritual formation and timely discipleship of God's people.  This is a great example not only of some of the latest scholarly opinion about Calvin and his work but of why good doctrine, then, and now, really matters.  Calvin biographer and director of Refo500 notes that it is "a stimulating and fresh approach... Boulton succeeds in demonstrating that for Calvin doctrine is itself practical---and that Protestant theology today can gain much from reading Calvin."  If that ain't worthy of an award...


!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.gifEvangelicals and Nicene Faith: Reclaiming the Apostolic Witness  edited by Timothy George (BakerAcademic) $24.99  My, my, this should have wide appeal and could be a huge blessing if it were studied and discussed.  Fastidious patristics will love it--it is about orthodoxy and the apostolic faith, and those who wish that evangelicals were more deeply rooted will find this useful, and liberal Protestants who are in need of perhaps insight from both will, also, find this really helpful.  There is a bit of an emphasis, too, on just how the Creed's truths can be lived out -- even in worship and mission and pastoral work.  Authors from a variety of perspectives gathered at Beeson Divinity school for a major conference and this work brings a large amount of insight about historic faith of the 4th century to the 21st century.   The book was dedicated to Jaroslav Pelikan.


!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.gifSalvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace  Howard Synder with Joel Scandrett (Cascade Books) $31.00  There is another subtitle here and it is important to me and important to the thesis of this fascinating, creatively-done work: "Overcoming the Divorce Between Earth and Heaven."  This thought-provoking and well-done book shares much, but adds new vigor to work such as Surprised By Hope by N. T. Wright, Transforming Vision by Walsh & Middleton, and even Creation Regained by Al Wolters, three books I return to again and again.  I have long admired the radical Wesleyan, Howard Snyder who has given us books on the relationship of the church to the Kingdom  such as Community of the King. This recent book has a broad and thoughtful tone, a global vision, and is deeply committed to the Biblical story (I almost thought I should award it in a Biblical studies category.) As David Fitch writes, it "crafts a stunning vision of the breadth of God's Reign in Jesus Christ."  Is the missio dei the restoration of all creation?  Do we need a fuller understanding of the gospel, rejecting the dualism between heaven and earth?  Can the bodily resurrection of Jesus shape our own sense of mission and purpose?  Should sound theology lead to an "ecological worldview"?  This is not arcane, heavy, theology, but it is more than another restatement of God's call to social involvement.  It is a richly develop, artfully produced, mature, provocative formulation of how to think about faith, life, discipleship and the nature of our churches.  Highly recommended.


!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.gifNot Sure: A Pastor's Journey from Faith to Doubt John Suk (Eerdmans) $18.00  I was only half kidding in awarding this the "not sure" award.  I'm not sure what to call this, and I am not sure I want to commend it to all---it is rooted in memoir, thoughts the pastor and CRC church leader and writer had when he went on a year-long cross country tour with his wife in their RV. It is serious stuff, as significant doubt is.  As a learned theologian and a contemporary, philosophical thinker, Suk gives us more than a sentimental journal, let alone a travelogue: it is a critical study of the shift in culture (what some call the postmodern turn) and how religion has been seen in different ways in these days.  And in his own life.  I think it is fair to say that this is a painful book about a church leader owning up to the fact that he didn't believe what he once did.  He's seems now okay with his admission of a Christian sort of agnosticism, and his graceful, poignant telling of the tale is admirable, if a bit troubling.  Cornelius Plantinga writes "John Suk is as honest as the Bible. With an angular, unforgettable voice he joins the psalmists who dare to lament their losses before the face of God because even lament is at bottom an expression of faith. A memorable book!"  Oh yeah, that is putting it mildly.  Nic Wolterstorff calls it a "rich, eloquent, beautifully-written book...seldom has personal story been so imaginatively interwoven with cultural history, analysis, and critique." One sure thing-- this is an award winning piece of work, whatever category we call it.


sweet heaven.gifSweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between  Jeff Sharlet (Norton) $24.95  I think this was one of the most captivating, wonderfully-written, artfully engaging, entertaining, heart-breaking books I've read all year.  I loved it, or most of it.  Sharlet made a name for himself documenting--and overstating, I'd say--the influence of some conservative evangelicals and others in the Christian right.  He has drifted from traditional Christian faith (by his own admission) but can't avoid the big questions, the search for meaning, extreme religious folks, or extremely anti-religious folks.  Drawn as he is to the odd-balls and weirdos, the noble and amazing folk at the fringes, he ends up with a collection of pieces that take you to some places where some sort of faith or faithlessness holds sway (sometimes by a thread.)  The New Republic was right to call him "fearless and fantastically talented" (an assessment that itself is almost award-worthy, given how fearless and how fantastically talented Sharlet is.)  Peter Trachtenberg says "he scours the desert margins of our culture, politics, and religion, training his eyes on outlaws, anarchists, fanatics, and saints. In this way he reveals the unexpected shape of our nation's center, which is to say, our heart."  I sort of hope not.  Still, what a book.  


!1.gifMan Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine  Eric Weiner (Grand Central) $26.99 Well, maybe this isn't the one you've been waiting for, but I've been looking for a book like this for a long time and this one is so good that it wins a coveted Hearts & Minds best book of 2011 award.  Halo or no, this dude is funny, honest, neurotic, and one heckuva writer.  (Do you know his acclaimed Geography of Bliss?) In what ends up being a bit embarrassing, the book starts with Weiner in the hospital, thinking he's dying.  A nurse asks him matter of factly if he has found his God.  His God?  He's smart enough to know that this is sort of odd--God is either the real God or not, not his own personal made-up cosmic friend.  But something about it strikes him.  He's all agnostic and unsure and yet eager and open.  He wants to experience the Real, he's a postmodern Jew in search of the religious experience that William James wrote about so importantly, but never experienced himself.  He is an award winning NPR journalist so has traveled around the world and has friends who are practitioners of every world religion in some pretty exotic places.  He seeks them out.  He tries things out---learning to whirl like a dervish in a remote outskirt of Istanbul, for instance meeting a Rinchope in Kathmandu.  It loved this book which--although I've got less interest in the subject than I should, I suppose--had me up late turning the pages, laughing myself silly, and wiping tears.  And, oddly, longing for my God.


making a diff.jpgMaking a Difference: Christian Educators in Public Schools  Donovan L. Graham (Purposeful Design) $16.95  Those who follow Hearts & Minds know that we love offering resources for professionals who want to "think Christianly" about their callings and careers.  We think the Bible calls us to develop unique and redemptive ways to live in the world, and relating faith and work is urgent.  Alas, there simply have not been many books about serving God as a public school teacher and how to take Biblically-based principle on education, knowing, learning, teaching, and forming communities of character.  This is a wonderful book, head and shoulders above anything else in the field.  Graham has taught in public schools, in Christian schools, and has taught education majors in a college setting.  Get the guy an apple, he deserves it!


!11.gifJustice in Love  Nicholas Wolterstorff  (Eerdmans) $35.00  Try as I might, I can't think of a witty name for this award nor anything to be a wise acre about.  Straight up, this is serious Christian scholarship, written by one of the most imminent political philosophers of our day, addressing themes around the relationship between love and justice.  You may know his significant, truly award-winning book of 2008 published by the prestigious Princeton University Press, Justice: Rights and Wrongs.  This, in a way, is a nearly 300 pages that didn't quite fit the tight format of that magisterial work.  Those of us committed to a Biblical worldview certainly ought to care about the nuances and implications of a Christian view of love, and most of what it written tends towards the devotional or sentimental.  This will give you mature insight, get you thinking more deeply, carry you into months of good conversations and ruminations.  May it help many, even if it is demanding. 


!111.gifWhere Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today Craig G. Bartholomew (BakerAcademic) $29.99   This category had several titles on a short list and there are many who are writing important stuff about our sense of place and why we should care about our locale. This, though, was the hands-down winner. As Bill McKibben writes, Where Mortals Dwell is "a unique book. It takes the deeply biblical identification with place and maps in onto our homogenized world to see what possibilities we have for new depth, new beauty, new meaning."  He exclaims, "I found it unrelentingly fascinating."  Well, so did I, and with blurbs and raves from esteemed cultural critics such as Bob Goudzwaard and Norman Wirzba, I was hooked even before it arrived.  Granted, it is perhaps a bit more philosophical than what most readers will want to wade through, and it covers a lot of ground.  Still, it is very interesting, well written and is delightfully interdisciplinary which should give it a wide appeal. As Duke Divinity School prof Ellen Davis notes, it may well be unprecedented. This is called a "here ya go" award...with the emphasis on here.  But also on why we go. This is one of the most important books of the decade and will only increase in urgency.  Years from now, you'll recall we gave it a holy shout out in 2011.  


!1111.gifBloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian  John Piper (Crossway) $22.99  I have written before about what is in some circles being called a "gospel centered life."  That is, an unrelenting emphasis on the saving grace of the gospel, seen in how God works out our justification through the death of Christ who becomes sin and takes away our condemnation and imputes to us his own righteousness, freeing us to living for God, properly so, now, by making much of Christ who shows us how to serving all with gladness.  Or something like that.  The prolific John Piper is the Patron Saint of this movement, if such Reformed Baptist types had patron saints.  Now, wonderfully, St. John shows how this deeply Christ-centered vision of the gospel effects our own complicity in the sins of racism and how the cross is the only true hope for ethnic and cultural reconciliation.  I am astonished at this book, happy that those who spend sometimes a bit too much time arguing about the details of atonement theories can now see how, in fact, God's good gospel leads us to take a stand for justice, renouncing all that would demean others due to race or ethnicity.  Piper knows the demonic influences of racism in black-and-white issues the best, and he talks about his own racist youthful years, so he mostly speaks to that.  This book has its quirks, as Piper almost always does, but it is significant in so many ways, that it surely is my pick for best book this year about race, best book about the gospel, best book to explain the implications of the gospel centered life.  As Tim Keller notes in the moving forward, this is, ultimately, not a book about social problems, or even a book about sin.  It is a book about moving more deeply into grace.  Kudos.


!11111.gifRock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World  Robin Wright (Simon & Schuster) $26.99  We have learned to be a bit suspicious of books that come out too quickly, rushed to press, to capitalize on a current event or recent trend.  Current events junkies the world over, though, were glad this came out when it did as many are interested in the "Arab Spring" and we needed an insightfu, reliable guide to the various countries and cultures, the diverse ideologies and players, and how to best think about the rage and rebellion that is rocking the Arab world.  Kudos to this world-class, highly regarded journalist for writing a book so informative, so important, and so very, very, edge-of-your seat interesting.  Those who follow these complex and exciting and dangerous things assure us that Ms Wright is singularly gifted to write this book.  I'm very impressed.


!1111111.gifSilenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide  Paul Marshall & Nina Shea (Oxford University Press) $35.00  Okay, it isn't the sexiest category to be awarded.  I tried to not go over the top in finding a clever award title, because this is truly serious stuff. There is amazing research here, deep political analysis, important reminders of how worldviews work, and remarkable global reporting. Much of this is important work is truly up-to-date reporting about the threats to freedom presented by those who want to demolish any notions of religious freedom.  Blasphemy and apostasy laws are not essential to mature Islam, however, as several Islamic scholars write in the guest chapters of this ground-breaking work.  Although the authors are theologically-informed Christian scholars, this is not a general book about Islamic doctrine or world missions, but simply about whether this trend against religious freedom is a threat to the West and what we might do to respond to this nasty new reality.  There are gruesome stories here, and the threat is real, so it is to the author's great credit that they are mostly sober and even gracious through-out, resisting the cheap shot of sensationalism that lesser analysts might offer.  A brilliant book, very urgent, well done.


!!111.gifThe Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John, and Judah N. T. Wright (WJK) $15.00

Revelation for Everyone  N.T. Wright (WJK) $15.00

NT Set.gifWith these two volumes out in 2011 we now have the complete multi-volume set of the "For Everyone" New Testament commentaries done by N. T. Wright.  These have been very helpful for lots of ordinary folks and informed Bible scholars enjoy checking them too for the way Wright offers his own unique translations, does astute Biblical exegesis, and shares lots of great pastoral insights and helpful, teacherly illustrations. We weren't sure when these final two were coming, and this is the year we can shout out Hallelujah for this great gift to God's people.

Well, time for a stretch break.  Operators are standing by if you want to join the celebrations by buying a few of these books.  Buying stuff is sort of like voting: let that invisible hand know you appreciate these kinds of quality titles; your vote in the marketplace is noticed.  Accolades and awards---especially of the sort that comes from a certain book shop in central Pennsylvania---don't pay the publishers bills, and if we want them to publish great books, well, we've got to buy the great books.  These are some of the best of the year, I'm sure of it. 

Tune in soon for the Hearts & Minds awards, Part Two.  There will be announcements; oh my, will there be announcements.  Will Rob Bell make the cut? Will I announce my truly favorite read of the year?  What crazy new kid's book will I award? Might I share what book made me the happiest?  What author might get two big Best Book designations? Should I get cranky and give a few bad book awards?  There's so much more coming.  But first, I've got some reading to do!   

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January 17, 2012

Hearts & Minds Awards for Best Books of 2011 PART TWO

I did my clever little intro in the last post, admitting that I'm not quite able to come up with that One True Best Book Of The Year.  Not even a top ten list.  Yet, I explain, we do want to give honorable mentions---I'd like to think a mention from Hearts & Minds is honorable, but some may disagree about that.  Here, then, is PART TWO of our declarations of distinction for non-fiction books in the year of our Lord 2011.

As you can see at the easy to use links at the end we have these all on sale at 20% off.


4 holy.gifFour Holy Gospels  Makoto Fujimura (Crossway) $149.99  We promoted this several times this year, and had the great privilege of being with Mako at his premier IAM Encounter event early in 2011.  The abstract art is evocative and the illuminations are both ancient and yet very contemporary.  The publisher reports that this is the first time a single artist has been commissioned to do an illuminated Bible portion in centuries.  This deserves awards for the clear and accurate translation of the ESV, the good binding and print job, but mostly for this extraordinarily creative, lavish, and reverent art done in serve of the Word.


22.gifThe Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America Gabe Lyons (Doubleday) $19.99  I must say this is one of the best books of the year for the sorts of things we most care about and the kinds of books we care to promote.  It is easy to read, but not lightweight; it is thoughtful and provocative, but not weird or unusual; it is Biblically-rooted, faithful, and orthodox, but not hidebound or stuffy. This is a book for all kinds of readers and it does two great things.  The first part is a good bit of important "finger to the wind" assessment of our time.  Jesus advises us to be able to read the signs of the times, and Lyons does this well: he notes how the culture wars are nearly over, the notions of a "Christian American" losing cache in even evangelical circles, and how such civil religious assumptions are certainly irrelevant to today's rising generation of Christian younger adults.  He tells stories galore, offers just enough astute scholarship and footnotes, and in a few good chapters brings us up to the minute on where we are culturally.  This itself is laudable--and, on a second recent reading, more important than perhaps I first realized. Great stuff! 

The second half of Next Christians, though, is even better as Lyons shares his sense of how younger Christians see their life and times, what discipleship means these days, how being involved in the real world--living out Christ-like service by making the world a better place--is seen as central.  Lyons is being, I think, a tad proscriptive here, telling us what we ought to be thinking, how faith ought to be construed as we live under the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life and he is spot on.  However, he also is convinced this is the tone and vision of younger Christian folks, it is the heartbeat of the rising generation, the sort of activist folks he mets in his symposiums, his speaking at Christian colleges, those who read his award-winning website Q Ideas, or who attend his classy networking conference, sort of a Christian TED event, called Q.  These specific shifts about which he writes beautifully---embracing ideas of vocation, of lived practices, of spirituality, of being culture-makers (not critics),  of living in community, of making a difference---could largely be summarized by the term "restoration."  Younger adult Christians are taking their cue from some older leaders and edgy new books and the conversations happening all over the country insisting that faith is shaped by the whole story of God--Christ is redeeming His planet---and that influences how we engage the world, as agents of transforming change.  We are called to be signposts pointing towards the restoration God is doing in the world. This is sweet stuff, radical without seeming pushy, exciting without being overheated, hopeful without naivety.

 Do you mind if I shout about this a bit?  This is truly one of the best books of 2011, a Hearts & Minds favorite, and an invigorating wake up call to us all---if this is, indeed, the direction the Spirit is moving (and I attest that it is) we should get on board.  Join us in celebrating this good title, honoring this good work. Buy three: one for yourself, one for your church library, and one for anybody you may think that faith is stuff, out of touch or socially irrelevant.  As your proper mother might say, warmest congratulations.  As a younger reader might shout, "boo-yah!"  Or as the kids say, ridiculous.   No matter your age, you need this book. Buy. It. Now.


222.gifSmall Things With Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor  Margot Starbuck (Likewise/IVP) 15.00  I wrote about this recently, offering a long review gushing about this book, the joy it brings (it is a fun, fun read) and how well Starbuck writes. Beyond the zany tone, though, this is a very serious book, challenging.  It pushes us, calls us, invites us, teaches us, shows us, how to reach out to others, how to see the alienation and poverty and sadness around us and to take up the vocation of being Christ's hands and feet in this world of need.  There is literally something for everyone (young marrieds? She has your number!  Senior citizens?  You can't get out of this. either. Singles, men, women, introverts. left-handed plumbers from Idaho?  (Okay, I made that last part up.)  She has written this to be helpful, offering real insights along with the wit, and it offers such a valuable new vision of taking steps to serve the poor that it simply must be listed in this Best Books of 2011 list.  Ours is a small award, and in some ways, this is a small book.  Written with such great love.  Yes!


22!.gifFolks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World Joel Salatin (Center Street) $25.99  The New York Times called him "the High Priest of the Pasture" (he was featured in several recent foodie documentaries, and was cited in Pollen's Omnivore's Dilemma.)  I think of him and this remarkable book as less of a priest but, rather, as a prophet, denouncing the unsustainable and unhealthy way we think about food and where it comes from and how we get it.  He's a hoot and a half, a vibrant writer that makes very serious stuff very enjoyable to learn about.  One reviewer said it well, that it is "as practical as it is reflective."  Highly recommended for anybody who eats.


22!!.gifIndescribable: Encountering the Glory of God in the Beauty of the Universe Louie Giglio & Matt Redman (Cook) $24.99  This nice sized hardback printed on heavy, glossy paper, offers some of the most amazing photographs of outer space that you will ever see.  Using the latest telescopes of the Hubble spacecraft, this shows the grandeur of the universe, the awesome glory of our home planet--even as it seems like a tiny speck of dust.  Giglio is a passionate preacher, Redman a fine and thoughtful contemporary worship leader.  Together they have given us a book full of theology and science, wonder and delight, a classy gift and a truly God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Spirit-driven look at creation.  God is amazing to create such amazing things, and Christ is to be praised for entering our tiny little world.  This is moving stuff, but alongside the enriching homilies is fascinating data, good stuff about science, and these wonderful, indescribably good pictures.  There is a brief forward by Joe Tanner, one of the most accomplished NASA astronauts (who has logged over 1000 hours in outer space and has done space walks) and Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, an astronomer who is currently the Senior Project Scientist for NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.  Nicely designed, this is an award winner if I ever saw one.  Congratulations to all involved in bringing such a fine book to our coffee tables.


22!!!.gifThe Humane Vision of Wendell Berry edited by Mark Mitchell & Nathan Schlueter (ISI Books) $29.95  Any time there is a new book about Wendell Berry, it is cause for celebration.  We have several good ones about him, a few real favorites.  This could be the very best yet done, it is that good!  It came out just at the end of the year and while we do not hesitate to honor it was our feeble little award, I haven't read all the chapters yet.  Believe me, I surely will---this is a truly provocative and fascinating collection, including some folks who really understand the agrarian populism ideals of Mr. Berry, linking him to a more conservative, Jeffersonian vision and rejecting the notions that only liberals who are against big business, say, should embrace him. (It does seem that conservatives have not paid as much attention to Berry as they might.) As the thoughtful editors of this extraordinarily rich volume note, "Berry's work defies easy categorization and provides an alternative to the hackneyed left-right divide that typifies our national debates. In fact, Berry's clear-eyed and deeply humane view of human existence offers a vision of the good life that is desperately needed in these uncertain and unsettled times."  You won't believe the array of interesting writers, social critics, farmers, poets and theologians who have pieces here--including a few friends of ours! It isn't every day we see Allan Carlson, Matt Bonzo, Anne Husted Burleigh, D.G. Hart, Rod Dreher, Wallace Stegner and Caleb Stegall -- and many more -- all together.  One person quipped this is about conservatism, conservationism, and community.   Anybody who labors to create a book this handsome, with such a range of voices, exploring with such depth, the writings of one of  our greatest writers, surely deserves a distinguished honor.  Maybe some more important source will give them a prestigious prize.  For now, we are among the first to holler out from our small town that that this is an amazing, great book. 


22!!!!.gifLove Wins Rob Bell (HarperOne) $24.99  I don't know if Rob is an agitator, per se.  I don't think that is his intent.  But I hope he'd relishe this award--an agitator in a washing machine does the job of getting the job done, and in this sense, he deserves applause for getting an important conversation started, for stirring things up, for rocking and rolling us all a bit.  It is my belief that some bloggers overstated their criticisms and too many were unkind. I am equally sure that some folks too readily agreed with his position without adequately thinking through all the issues.  But (I hope, I hope) most readers are thoughtful, wanting to be faithful and true, and studied the book with an open heart and critical mind.  Most readers took him seriously, but perhaps with the proverbial grain of salt.  By the way, if anybody out there is giving awards for anything, I think I deserve at least to be a finalist for contributing too many words to the blogging Bellapalloza the week the book came out. I stand by what I wrote---the call for civility, for critical engagement, for wide reading, for placing Love Wins in the context of Bell's other books and the strengths and deficiencies of his brand of hip neo-evangelicalism.  You can read my many posts about the book if you want, but know this: I think this is a great book to read, even if one doesn't agree with it all.  We are happy to sell it, although invite you to prayerful and honest struggle with what the Bible does and doesn't say about all this, reading other resources too.

We have four or five books that are written in contrast to Rob's book, including Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell's Love Wins by an author I very much respect, Michael Witmer (Edenridge press; $14.00)  Mark Galli's God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News is Better than Love Wins is a good reply, too, and I'd highly recommend it.   There is a discussion guide in the back of that, too.


22!!!!!.gifThe Love Wins: A Study Guide for Those Who Want to Go Deeper (HarperOne) edited by David Vanderveen $13.99  I hope you don't mind my goofy analogy: yeah, it is clever to say we need an agitator in a washing machine (and how Bell's book served as that agitator.)  Get a whole bunch of machines together and it is a communal place for lots o washing, a laundromat.  This study guide is kind of like that.  (Okay, maybe it isn't, but I'm in my awards show mood here, so bear with me.)  As we said when we first got it in this volume offers overviews of each chapter of Love Wins, study questions, Bible verses, things to ponder, and excerpts of articles or chapters of books by others, like having other folks walking with you through each chapter.  There are pieces included by creative types like Anne Lamotte and Fred Buechner, excerpts from theological straight arrows like Pope Benedict and Oswald Chambers, solid, contemporary voices like Richard Mouw and N.T Wright. There are great creative writers like Cathleen Falsini and edgy thinkers like David Dark and Peter Rollins. This study guide is worth having just for this handy anthology of these short chapters and articles.  Add an interview with Bell, follow-up exercises, group activities and an appendix of quotes from some church history greats and you have one fabulous resource.  In many ways, this chapter by chapter supplement is a model for what a study guide can be, and curriculum writers and other authors or publishers of Christian growth books should take notice.  Best study guide resource just isn't as much fun as a laundromat award, though, is it?  


20!.gifWisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art  Abraham Kuyper (Christian Library Press) $14.99  I suppose you know the current hip phrase, popular among emergents and missionals and all sorts of serious types wanting to go back to older ways in order to move faithfully into our own upcoming times --- "ancient/future", get it?   Well this is just that, the fresh translations of newspaper columns--deep theology by our standards--written more than a century ago in Holland about common grace, about how the creation can sustain science and art, as we approach our involvement with wisdom and wonder.  This is not the place to explain the significance of Kuyper's serious, dense ideas, nor why both liberals and conservatives ought to familiarize themselves with the contours of his arguments.  But this well designed book, with nice editing and some modernizing of the text, brings a sort of theological muscle that is going to be increasingly needed as Christians who may be unmoored to the deepest theological traditions (or coming out of dysfunctional or unhelpful ones) are yearning for a comprehensive, foundational worldview to sustain their efforts for cultural restoration.  Dr. Kuyper's old-fashioned voice is important these days, his neo-Calvinist legacy extraordinary, and this book is the first new Kuyper work to appear in English in decades.  Kudos to the team that did this and the good folks at the Acton Institute who are enthusiastically promoting it.


20!!.gifChristian Peace and Nonviolence: A Documentary History  edited by Michael Long (Orbis) $40.00  This is the most comprehensive and diverse survey of two thousand years of Christian voices for peace that we have ever seen and I was excited as I described in a day or so after Christmas in a BookNotes listing about peace resources.  I suppose most people don't think about this much but, given the visions of Scriptures, the commands of Jesus and the horrific needs of the world for peacemakers, we should.  Who knew that the peace witness has been so deep and diverse?  In this book you will learn that there is more to the story than the pacifism of the first centuries and the peaceable witness of the Anabaptist and a couple of cranky prophets of the Catholic left.  As this book remarkably shows, there are sermons and letters and studies and stories in every century, and some are very persuasive.  Some could have been written last week.  A labor of love, documenting so very much from our past, this work is not the only resource for fully faithful overview, but it is a part of the story that has not been told as well as it may have been.  I am personally glad and trust this will help those who want to deepen their discipleship to take up their places as ambassadors or reconciliation, agents of grace, peace-builders, citizens of shalom


20!!!.gifPeace Be With You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror Filled World  David Carlson (Nelson) $15.99  This book works on several levels and I've read much of it twice or thrice.  Carlson sets off to visit monasteries--some of them pretty out of the way and off the map (if you get what I'm saying) to see if those schooled in silence and the rhythms of prayer had insights about how to think about the tragic crimes of 9-11.  Of course, those schooled in silence often don't have much to say, so his anxieties about getting these monks and nuns to open up are in almost every chapter.  (Can't say I blame him.)  This is a book about monastic wisdom for daily living, about how the soul gets shaped, about the authors own self-discovery as he visits these places that seem out of touch with the haste and violence of modern life.  There is no simple spoiler, but he does find that those called to the monastic life are, like any other grouping of people, hold various sorts of political views and some knew people who died in the attack on the WTC. Many were quite aware of the pacifist notions of their brothers and sisters but not all shared the same sort of biases.  One important thing is how most had desires to truly allow God to shape their hearts and how Christ-likeness and the Spirit's work in their lives, even on these questions of politics and war and tensions with Muslims, was evident.  There is much to learn in this story, much to enjoy, and, as Phyllis Tickle writes, this is "one of the richest, most insightful, and most instructive books I have ever read."  Gee, I almost ought to give that an award for best blurb of the year!  Yay.


20!!!!.gifBeauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age Gregory Wolfe (ISI Books) $29.95  Okay, first this: forgive me for being inhumanely ideological here, but I'm convinced this line in the title is unhelpful, at best, and I don't care if Dorothy Day loved it.  Yet, I'm also convinced that one bad line (even if it is on cover) doesn't preclude a great book from being award winning.  And this is a great book!  BWStW just shouts a Hearts & Minds Award: ahh, but what category, really?  It is more than a study of the arts and isn't exactly about aesthetics, or not only about aesthetics.  It includes social analysis by one of our most astute advocates of Christian thinking about culture (Greg Wolfe edits the brilliant, serious Image journal) and in many ways this book is a broad, rich, conversation about what secularization means, what cultural renewal looks like, how a faith-based vision of the imagination might counter the reductionistic and inhuman consequences of modernity,  why people of faith should encourage mature and nuanced thinking, seen, especially, in the work of artists.  By way of serious exploration of particular contemporary Christians who are commendable in their use of imagination, Wolfe points us towards a Christian humanism, inviting a new renaissance.  The first half include a lot of Greg's own story away from culture wars and towards a deeper less polemical view of the imagination, and that alone is award-winning stuff; just wonderful, and so well written!  The last half about six writers, three artists and four men of letters is a book itself, packed with insight and inspiration.  This is a remarkable book, important, valuable, morally serious and a true blessing.  It may not save the world, but it sure will help.  Kudos!


!!!1.gifThe Best of the Reformed Journal  Edited by James Bratt & Ronald Wells (Eerdmans) $20.00  I love how this cover looks just like the old classic b/w covers in that font that Sojourners used to use that immediately caught my eye when my Reformed Journal used to come each month.  Two things you should know: first, this is not fire-breathing arguments about predestination or exclusively the sorts of Puritan stuff when one things of the recent interest in Calvinism among the young, passionate set.  (No, sorry, but film critic Roy Anker and South African freedom fighter Allan Boesak and C.S. Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog and poet/essayist Virginia Stem Owens  most likely don't read John Piper or have any hip "Jonathan Edwards is my Homeboy" tee shirts.  I don't mean to suggest this is a more intellectual sort of Reformed view (not at all, since you don't get much brainier in American history than Jonathan Edwards.)  No, this is more worldviewish, a broader, more nuanced, sometimes a less confident, Dutch sort of neo-Calvinism than the strict and more narrowly focused Piper, Sproul, or Grudem sort.  Published by Eerdmans from 1951 through 1990, this has been a vehicle for the voices of the likes of Lewis Smedes and Nicholas Wolterstorff and Bert DeVries.  Poet Lawrence Door and Roderick Jellema are here, so are literary types like John Timmerman and Henry Zylstra.  I read anything by Cornelius Plantinga and Richard Mouw, and of course they are here in all their Kuyperian glory.  There are pieces about politics and science, gender and prayer and worship and great books and film reviews. This is like spending a few hours rummaging through my old copies--what a great resource, a fine collection for inspiration and learning and worldview formation.  What a great gift!  Highly recommended for anyone who likes thoughtful, shorter pieces, quintessential essays, articles that speak in a robust, Reformed voice, about God's rule and grace in a fallen world.  A few non-Reformed contributions are here, too. Award winning, for sure!


!!!11.gifSurprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis  Terry Lindvall (Nelson) $16.99  I've reviewed this elsewhere so won't go on and on which wouldn't be becoming when awarding a book about a demure, dignified Brit, a scholar and a gentleman.  Although, maybe he wasn't always that demure---this book makes the wonderful claim that Lewis had a good sense of humor and that he often used a bit of "comic relief" as he himself put it.  This is a studious book (pushing 480 pages), and altogether good, quite enjoyable, noting that, for C.S. Lewis, "merriment was serious business."  Lindvall has worked on this for years (and, I admit, this is an older book re-issued.)  Hahaha, I'm awarding an old title as a new book.  This isn't funny or ironic, just true: this mirthful book unlocks insights about Lewis that we should appreciate, and that will warm the heart of any serious Lewis fan.  Hip, hip!


Scandrette-Cover1.jpgPracticing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in The Kingdom of Love Mark Scandrette (IVP) $15.00  I'll admit it: I wasn't sure about this.  (Sorry Mark.)  It is a little odd.  He talks about his "experiments in truth" (and no credit to Gandhi?) such as the cool effort to use a martial arts center's style of training (called a dojo) as a way to do disciple-making; he calls it the Jesus Dojo. I don't get that, but I've never karate chopped anything in my life.  There are nifty little bicycles on the cover, which I don't get either, although I guess it comes from the good story on page 84.  Debbie Blue is an amazingly creative writer and bohemian preacher so when she said it was "immensely practical" I figured I should take that with a grain of pink Himalayan salt.  But you know, I just came to love this book, realizing it has some creative thinking, some hipster vibe, and, yet, at the end of it all, is offering much needed help in forming community, in loving like Jesus, in being disciples actually formed in the practices of Christian living.  It covers so many topics and, without being pushy, it does offer very good guidance on how to initiate and move towards greater faithfulness in daily living in the ways of Christ.  Grandpappy of the hip missional movement, Aussie Michael Frost, says this book "gave me goose bumps just thinking about the possibilities that could arise if a group of people really did find a space where they could work out the vision and teachings of Jesus in real life."  Scandrette is cofounder of ReIMAGINE, a center for spiritual formation, and his poetic, artsy and socially progressive approach make this a rare and important contribution.  You know what? I think there are enough basic boring books on discipleship.  I'm awarding this a Best Book distinction for how rowdy and compelling and inviting it is, calling us to stake our lives on this good, good news we call the gospel.  


I have to explain this.  There are books I am so glad to see I almost pee my pants when theysnoopy_happy_dance.jpg arrive.  I'm like a kid in candy store some days (and I am sad to say it doesn't keep me from being cranky about too many bad books, or books that come wrongly, but that is another story.)  Happy.  Happy making.  Great gladness.  I hope you know that at my best, through God's mighty grace, I live for Christ's Kingdom, and will not be truly glad to see a book that I think is not good, that doesn't advance the reputation of God and help bring healing to this broken world.  I like a lot of books, but only a few fill me with great joy.  Not every really good book makes me fully happy, giddy in my bones.  It may be, as you will see, that I have a particular connection to the book or the author or topic.  It may be a special alchemy of cover and title, of author and topic, of need and hope.  If the world doesn't need this book, I suppose I wouldn't be so jazzed, no matter who wrote it.  These, then, are beyond my personal favorites of the year, but they stand out as the ones that I truly was most excited about.  Any one of them would remind me why I got into this business and why I still count it as an important ministry.  These are books that made me happiest this year.  Rejoice!

!!!1111.gifMake College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning  Derek Melleby (Baker) $12.99  You know how we celebrated this, how we pushed this, and if you didn't give this to your college-bound graduating high school students this year, I trust you will consider doing so soon.  It is without a doubt the best book for students heading off to college; many have found it helpful even once they get to school.  This makes me happy mostly because of the glad collision of two important things, and a minor third: Derek is one of my best friends and Beth and I think he is one of the finest young Christian leaders we know. Secondly, he knows what he's writing about and this fine, little book came from his well-respected, practical work of the CPYU's College Transition Initiative--he has done excellent research and gleaned the best information, putting together a book unlike any other.  The minor bit? Hearts & Minds BookNotes is mentioned, and I'm thanked, which is nice, even though the book would have been fine without my opinionated input on everything from the cover to the books listed in the resource section.  Derek is the man, this is a great book, it ended up being a work of graceful substance, small enough to be read, and serious enough to be truly helpful.  So few students have a book that they will read that will help them grapple with the biggest questions of who they are and why they are in college.  This is a book we've needed for decades, and once it came out, and saw how cool it was, and realized how it would help, I almost cried tears of joy.  Hooray!

!!!11111.jpgArt That Tells a Story: The Gospel Through Shared Experience  compiled by Chris Brewer (Gospel Through Shared Experience) $24.99  You may know of our involvement in this genius project, a collection of modern art that walks viewers through the unfolding meta-narrative of the Bible.  That is, there are moving, modern art works here that explore the goodness of creation, the facts of the fall, the gift of salvation, and the promises of new creation.  Each art piece is briefly highlighted or described with an accompanying note or verse or poem.  Each of the major sections are introduced by Michael Witmer, who gets the full-orbed, creation-being-restored, Kingdom vision of the Bible as well as anyone.  The hope is that the art will invite pondering, conversation, transformation.  The coffee-table sized paperback gift book is artfully formated by an excellent art critic and graphic designer and achieves its goal of being a suggestion-rich, allusive invitation to think about the fullest implications of the core gospel message.  To see our name affiliated it is certainly one of the great privileges we've ever had in our 29 years of working in the book world.  Thanks be to God for art that makes me smile deep down.

!!!1111111.gifKicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination  Brian J. Walsh (Brazos) $18.99  I did a short review of this earlier, explaining that folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn is one of my all time favorite performing artists and that I own every one of his 30 some CDs; his songs and voice have meant more than me than I can say here.  It should also be known that Brian Walsh is a friend of mine, a good friend.  I appreciate his work, agree with almost everything he says--don't ask me what I don't agree with as that changes each time I read his stuff, which is regularly and often.  One of the things about Brian's several important books that means the world to me is how he uses lines from Bruce Cockburn to illustrate his points, how he ruminates on Cockburn's allusive rock poetry and sees his songs as a part of his own passionate and prophetic writing. Years ago, Brian said he was going to write a book about Cockburn's music, putting his lyrics and vision into conversation with the Bible.  It was on-again and off-again, and when I was sent an almost finished manuscript to scribble on and offer feedback, and then was asked to do a blurb for the back cover, well, I was feeling as blessed as can be.  What a gift to have even a tiny hand in something I was so interested in, something so important to me, a book I  believed in.  Of course, this may sound a bit obscure, and as a bookseller I had to wonder about the fiscal viability of this book.   Would those who don't follow the Canadian folk-rock star care about this book?  Will those who found  Brian's books a bit heavy be willing to go with him on this journey through Cockburn's work, discussed in the context of our anguish about a hurting, dislocated world?  Well, call me naive or idealistic, but I think yes. Yes!

This is an amazingly rich and thoughtful book and to hold it in my hands for the first time, was a true blast. How fun it was to see good friends cited and important authors endorsing it (Richard Hays, New Testament scholar at Duke? Bible scholar, cultural critic, liturgical leader and church lady Marva Dawn? Who knew they were Cockburn fans?)  This is certainly, without a doubt, one of my own personal favorite books. Ever.

A.K..gifAbraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction Richard Mouw (Eerdmans) $16.00  I wrote about this at great length at the website, a heart-felt, two part explanation of why this means so much to me.  Mouw has been influential in my life and part of why I adore him (which I explained in a bit greater depth) is because of his being so influenced by this late 19th century, early 20th century Dutch statesman, a pastor who became political activist and eventually Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper.  He had some very distinctive idea that I can only summarize like this: because Jesus is Lord of all creation and the unfolding of history, we should be grateful and involved in society, bringing faith to bear in every zone of culture.  However, to do this wisely, we have to think through what each sphere of life is to be about: what is the task of the state, after all?  What is the relationship  of education, say, or sports.  Should businesses be regulated by governments?  You know, that sort of thing, the big questions about what we believe God intended for each thing in life.  Mouw explains that so clearly, and so helpfully, it makes you want to have a third way political party, like Kuyper started in Holland, that is neither left wing or right wing, but is somehow uniquely normative.  Anyway, I was so glad to finally have an upbeat and clear and brief overview of this still virtually unknown Dutch neo-Calvinist, the grandfather of the movement we now called Kuyperianism.  Many of the places for which I write (Capitol Commentary, Comment) have Kuyperian roots and our bookstore simply wouldn't be here today doing what we do if we hadn't read Mouw, I'd say, or hadn't heard of Kuyper.  Wanna see what we're all about?  This book is a good indication, written by a man who makes us  glad to be a Presbyterian, about a leader who makes me glad there is some Dutch heritage somewhere in my long-lost family tree.


!!!11111111.gifRumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing  L.L. Barkatt (T.S. Poetry Press) $15.00  I've mentioned this a time or two before and couldn't wait to announce that we think it is truly one of the best little books of 2011.  It is an indie press, so may not be as known as it deserves, but it is a hidden treasure!  Barkatt is a devotional writer, a memoirist, a poet, and involved in a number of blogs and social networking sites that help on the art/faith interface. Here, she offers lovely little glimpses of insight about the creative process, about paying attention and writing well. I hope you believe me: this is a great read, a fine resource for creative living, whether you are an artist or not.  Maybe especially if your not. I love Leslie Leyland Fields ringing endorsement: "The real beauty of this book is the truth it teaches slant: good and beautiful and honest writing comes from a life that pursues the same. This is not just a book about writing well, it's a book about living well."


!!!111111111.gifThe Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God Tim & Kathy Keller (Dutton) $25.95  There are wonderful books in this category although there is no doubt in my mind that this is the best one in years.  It's strength, and what catapults it to the award-winning category, is how it is so reasonable, teacherly, theologically-based, clear-headed about, well, the meaning of it all.  I suppose there are some folks who need even more basic, simple steps to recovery from years of tragic dysfunction in a bad marriage.  But for most of us, frankly, I think we would do well to explore the deeper essence of this mystery, pondering well how to get the most foundational things right.  My wife and I do not share all of Tim and Kathy's convictions (we are more egalitarian than they, although they qualify their views of headship so much it doesn't seem to offer much particular daily difference in how they live their lives.)  I loved this sober book--although a few of the stories about their own troubles were touching, and a few made me chuckle.  If one of the great Christian writers of our time and most effective and balanced pastors can be such a goof, well, there is hope for all of us.  Highly recommended.  By the way, how about that sub-title--"the complexities of commitment."  

1 Chronicles 12:32 names the legacy of the sons of Issachar. They "knew the times and knew what God's people should do."

!!!1111111111.jpgThe Crisis and the Kingdom  Economics, Scripture and the Global Financial Crisis  E. Philip Davis (Cascade) $18.00  I must admit that I am ill-equipped to vote for the best book about global economics and high finances.  Still, there are simple very few books which have--out of an intentionally Christian, deeply theologically and wisely Biblical starting point--analyzed the great financial collapse of a few years ago.  Donald Hays (who wrote about Christian views of economics years ago) says Davis is "careful and judicious" and affirms the insight of his Biblically based critique.  (I was glad that somebody I trusted said that "it would be hard to find someone better qualified" to do this kind of a book.  Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury has a blurb on the back, again, affirming that the importance of this uniquely Christian voice about the global financial crisis.  David is Senior Research Fellow at the UK National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a Professor of Economics and Finance at Brunel University, London, and a Pastor of Penge Baptist Church.  He has two scholarly books on finances on Oxford University Press.  Not too shabby.  We say, he deserves an award, just for showing up with Bible in hand and these good notes.  I am sure there is more to be said.  Serious Christian thinkers, though, will have to at least start here.


!!!!1.gifGod Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China Liao Yiwu translated by Wenguang Huang (HarperOne) $25.99  I am not the first to name this as a significant work (the prestigious Books & Culture named it the Book of the Year!)  Those who know China know that Yiwu is a known literate figure, a dissident, and a person who does not call himself a Christian.  Yet, this is one of the best accounts of the extraordinary work of the Spirit (and the suffering of the people) in mainline China.  This work is beautiful, and has been acclaimed by the likes of Liu Xiabo (2010 Nobel Prize Winner) and scholar of the global church, Philip Jenkins. The texture of daily life is shown, the stories of ordinary religious folk, the drama of the explosion of faith amidst the communist repression.  Perry Link, professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton offers a tremendous endorsement when he notes that "Humanity oozes from every vignette, and every detail rings true."  Congratulations for an excellent book which is both a page-turner and heart mover.  I invite our readers not only to support this important book but to pray for the courageous author.


!!!!11.gifLaying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses  Philip Jenkins (HarperOne) $26.99  I do not think I would have written this book quite in this way.  I'm still pondering it, long after having read an advanced copy a half a year ago.  Nonetheless, when one gets rave reviews from liberal Episcopalian Diana Butler Bass and evangelical Methodist Bible scholar Ben Witherington and kindly, activist Muslim peacemaker Eboo Patel, you know you are on to something big. And this is big--tackling what is obviously one of the hardest aspects of Biblical hermeneutics: handling the violence and brutality in Holy Scripture.  This is interesting--and gutsy, too--in part because of how Jenkins does some "compare and contrast" work with Islamic texts as well.  Surely there is direct commandment in the Koran to murder infidels.  The even more gruesome texts in the Bible are equally disturbing but one might say they are mitigated by the fact that they are usually historical narratives, not ongoing commands to be obeyed today, and they are mitigated by powerful counter-texts, most obviously the ones that call for justice and mercy, even nonviolence.  So both sets of Holy Books are troubling on this score and it simply will not do to be simple-minded about the damage such violent texts can wreck.  Jenkins is a world-renowned historian, scholar of religion, and here his looks "unflinchingly at biblical stories of mayhem, murder, genocide and war" (as Butler Bass puts it.) This is provocative, it is serious, and, oddly, pretty darn interesting.  It offers a hopeful vision for how religions can grow from terror to mercy.  We can't help but be impressed with the tone and approach of this audacious project and want to give Dr. Jenkins a holy shout out.


!!!!111.gifA Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors James Houston & Michael Parker (IVP Academic) $24.00  For starters, just know that gray heads are usually good things in the Bible--a sign of wisdom, worthy of respect.  This book is full of wisdom, worthy of respect, big time, as the kids say.  There simply isn't any book that has even come close to the depth, insight, theological soundness, and usability as this great, great resource.  Houston has a stunning breadth of knowledge about spiritual formation, drawing on his evangelical roots and his wide, wide, reading in the spiritual classics.  Parker is a professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine & Palliative Care and Center for Aging at the prestigious University Alabama.  This is one of the most urgent and un-discussed topics in the church today and this theologian and gerontology prof remind us that seniors aren't the problem, they are the solution.  There are hard, even painful, matters, though.  (This book not only includes serious thinking about all manner of things, but has about 40 pages worth of appendices, practical sheets, hand-outs, surveys and such.  Very useful.) If you are a pastor or educator or church leader and don't read this--or something like it--you will regret it soon.  


!!!!1111.jpgAmazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion Mark Pinksy (Alban Institute) $18.00  Released just under the wire at the end of 2011, lie those great movies being released for holiday enjoyment, this book ought to be a blockbuster.  But let's face it, it won't be.  But it ought to be.  It is well written, the author is a hoot (you know him from, for instance, The Gospel According to the Simpsons and other thoughtful, zany works on the interface of faith and American culture.)  But beyond how lovely it is to read, how many inspiring stories are so nicely told, this speaks powerfully to our fast-paced and idolatrous culture that values efficiency and strength and success; to make room for others, in this case, those with disabilities and difficulties, is a counter-cultural, nearly prophetic act.  Those in this little book, though, may not see all the political implications of their choice to be welcoming to those who are different (although some surely do) as they are just being busy caring for those with lupus, or chronic pain, or traumatic brain injury or mental illness.  Three big honorably cheers for this great reportage of churches and synagogues and mosques who create space for those with handicapping conditions, who show love in action.  Bravo.


!!!!11111.gifThe Story of God, The Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible  Sean Gladding (Likewise/IVP) $17.00  Oh my, how I resonated with this, how I loved his creative retelling of the stories of Israel and church, how he offered this edgy, energetic vision of how getting lost in this story is the way to life.  As missional hipster Alan Hirsch says, it is "as artful as it is significant."  Fresh is an overused word, so is creative.  So is pointing out he has a uber-cool uber goatee or chin beard.  And that the DVD curriculum to go with it is a hoot and a half, a very creative documentary of his realizing this story has coherence, from a garden to a city.  This is cool, insightful, wise, and very helpful for those who don't mind a bit of drama.  Literally.  Gladding should get an award for best screen play.


!!!!111111.gifWelcome to the Story: Reading, Loving and Living God's Word  Stephen J. Nichols (Crossway) $15.99  Nichols is a fine writer, prolific, and very knowledgeable, with seemingly endless imagination and energy.  He has nice biographies of a handful of Christian leaders, he has a book on the earliest church creeds.  He has written about the academic shifts in evangelical views of the authority of Scripture and he has a great kids book, one we often show as it is illustrated by Hearts & Minds pal Ned Bustard (Church History ABCs.)  He has a big book on how Jesus has been seen in American popular history.  He has a book about the blues. I make my point;  he has the ability to craft good books about any number of things. The reason this one wins an award is simple:  I think it may be the best single book about the Bible that is not too much over 100 pages, adding in a few chapters on how to read, how to apply, and how to live the Bible. (Ahh, the chapters "Loving the Story: What the Bible does To Us" and "Living the Story: What the Bible does Through Us" are great.) This is delightful, solid, a bit playful, uses some nice literary quotes, and deserves great accolades.  Cheers!


!!!!1111111.gifOld Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction  Craig Bartholomew & Ryan O'Dowd (IVP Academic) $30.00  I have told groups throughout this spring and summer that I read the first 30 pages of this and was so moved, I read 'em again.  This is a splendid example of what a serious Biblical commentary can do, and how can be so good to have such a commentary at your side from time to time.  You may not zip through this like a page-turning memoir, but I assure you it is award-winning caliber: we honor Bartholomew & O'Dowd for being so very Biblically-wise--the whole story of God just seems to be in their bones and their detailed study of any given piece of wisdom literature is shaped by their deep worldview (even as they contrast certain ideas with contemporary philosophy, another field in which they are particularly fluent.)  Further, they have this fabulous way of showing that they have one foot solidly in the academy (oh my do they know their stuff!) and yet desire for ordinary church folks to be shaped by the truest truths of the God of the Holy Scriptures.  Interestingly, God teaches (also in the wisdom literature) that God speaks through creation, so these master exegetes keep an eye to the night sky, too.  I commend this book (that carries ringing endorsements by the likes of Bruce Waltke, John Goldingay, Jamie Grant and Tremper Longman.)  


!!!!2.gifDisruptive Grace: Reflections on God, Scripture and the Church Walter Brueggemann edited and introduced by Carolyn J. Sharp (Fortress) $35.00 Yes, this is a book by Brueggemann, and yes we award something of his every year; he publishes a lot!  Admittedly it is sort of a greatest hits album, an anthology of great and helpful, fairly academic pieces.  But it is more, much more, and it deserves special commendation here.  Carolyn Sharp (who teaches a course on Brueggemann at Yale Divinity School) has chosen to guide us through some illustrative pieces of Brueggemann, describing how they fit into his bigger project.  That is, it is a guided tour---arranged in four main sections.  She shows how he handles Biblical texts from the torah, from the prophets from the writings, and, lastly, about how he relates these questions of canon to churchly life.  It is helpful to have a Brueggemann scholar explain a bit what to look for, name the importance of these themes, and select key chapters, essays, magazine pieces, or scholarly journal articles, showing why they are emblematic of this world-famous, prolific scholar's overall project.  


!!!!22.gifSimply Jesus: A New VIsion of Who He Was, What He Did, And Why He Matters (HarperOne) $24.99  Not to many people agree with me, I've heard, but I think it is an excellent practice to commit to reading (at least) one new book about Jesus every year.  For those who claim he is there best friend, their living Lord, their cosmic King, there graceful savior, their wise teacher, geesh, you'd think we'd want to know as much about him as we can.  Okay, enough with the guilt-tripping---this is an awards show, right?  We'll let's bring N.T. Wright up yet again; he's on the top of our list most years, and I do not tire of saying it.  Wright brings some of the most balanced and insightful work to bear on his task of calling church folk to take Jesus more seriously, to know Him as the restorer of creation, the long-awaiting Messiah and Risen One.  Can we, as the back cover puts it, "unleash the full story of Jesus?"  A few friends get hung up on some small thing they don't like about Wright and give up on him (and on us since we endorse his work.)  A few folks think he's too conservative and fail to see the radical, transforming vision of His work.  To one and all I say, enjoy this basic, introductory book about Jesus and see if it doesn't ignite your faith, enhance your commitments, deepen your discipleship.  I'm giving it the Best Book in this category for 2011.  I'll give ya your money back if you don't agree.


!!!!222.gifThe King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $19.99  Look at it this way: N.T. Wright is about the most important Bible scholar and pastoral leader on the planet. He writes a book about Jesus, he wins the award.  So, having said that, Mr. McKnight's fine book is just about the best book; maybe I should call this the best book on the gospel's outside of N.T. Wright. Ha. I think McKnight's good gift is to take his scholarly mind (he reads about as much as any scholar I know) and re-tells what he learns in ways that less academic folks can appreciate.  I don't mean he is a cheap hack who dumbs everything down; not at all.  Dr. McKnight is an original thinker, too, and a fine writer in his own right.  But this really is a summary of much of the best thinking about Jesus these days (the duel forwards by N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard seem to illustrate this.) I like what Wright writes: "Once, long ago, I heard John Stott say that some people had been talking about "the irreducible minimum gospel."  He dismissed such an idea. "Who wants an irreducible minimum gospel?" he asked. "I want the full, biblical gospel." Well, hold onto your seats. That's what Scot McKnight is giving you in this book.  And for that, he deserves a very dignified Hearts & Minds honor of recognition.  Thanks, Scot!


!!!!2222.gifJesus Has I Loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity J.R. Daniel Kirk (BakerAcademic) $21.99  There is much knee-jerk blather about the so-called "New Perspective on Paul" and there is also some very astute critiques of various versions of this newer perspective.  I hope nobody distrusts this book because of any assumptions that it is connected to a controversial school of thought (let alone because of the unique title.)  This is a fine, fine, book, award-winning, if you ask me.  You want a storied gospel, shaped by a view of Jesus' coming Kingdom?  Then you'll  want a narrative understanding of Paul, too.  Some scholars perceive a tension between Jesus and Paul, and this book puts that to rest, but yet continues to press the need for seeing Paul in his place as architect of the storytelling of the meaning of Jesus for the early church.  Listen to this blurb by New Testament scholar Michael Gorman of St. Mary's Ecumenical Institute of Theology, "If a book about Jesus and Paul could ever be a page-turner, this is that book....if we listen to his wise counsel, we will  become more faithful communities of the cross-shaped life-giving gospel."


!!!!22222.gifJesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright  edited by Nicholas Perrin & Richard Hays  (IVP Academic) $24.00  This rewarding book includes the transcripts from an extraordinary conference held at Wheaton College in 2010 which brought together amazing, important scholars to discuss (and offer friendly critique) to the famous Rev. Wright.  The first day was dedicated to unpacking and doing some incisive evaluation of his work on Jesus; the next offered evaluations of some specific aspects of his work on Paul.  After each days' panel, Wright responds, and it is all here.  What a great way to learn, what a model of gracious conversation and discussion, even when the conversation turned a bit blunt (Sylvia Keesmaat is a very close reader of Biblical texts, and she and her husband Brian Walsh--both good friends of Wright---not only tangled nicely with his interpretation of a text or two, but called him to follow his more recent work in making social justice an increasingly clear aspect of his ringing call to Biblical faithfulness.) Other good folk are here---Edith Humphrey, Richard Hays, Marianne Meye Thompson, Kevin Vanhoozer, Jeremy Begbie and more.  This is a very important book for several reasons and I want to invite others into the conversation about Wright's project by naming this as one of the best books of the year.  


paul through med eyes.gifPaul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians  Kenneth E. Bailey (IVP Academic) $30.00 There are many workable Bible commentaries, some that sing, some that are beautiful, some that are deserving of accolades.  I don't know much about the heavier ones, but I know when a deep Bible commentary has "genius" written all over it, when the author is an elder statesmen in the global Christian community, and when a work is so insightful that it can be easily called a "must read" resource.  Yes, this fits Ken Bailey's new book, the first he has written on Paul, somewhat of a companion to his fine collection of pieces, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.  This, though, is a straight study of 1 Corinthians, bringing all of Bailey's cultural insights to bear on the text.  This is over 550 pages, and is simply in a class by itself.  I don't want to scare the casual reader away, but to underscore that I'm not just making this up because I know Dr. B, listen to Gary Burge, "Bailey's work opens a new genre in the rhetorical analysis of this famous and difficult letter. Bailey uses tools unavailable to the average NT scholar: ancient translations of 1 Corinthians in Arabic, Syriac, and Hebrew, as well as commentaries as far back as ninth-century Damascus. This book is a gold mine of astonishing new discoveries and will inevitably join the ranks of the great and important books on this epistles."  Told ya so.  


theo turn.gifThe Theological Turn in Youth Ministry  Andrew Root & Kenda Creasy Dean (IVP) $18.00  Okay the classic Byrds song has the phrase turn turn turn, and the word turn is in this book.  Clever award, eh? No, I'm not grasping at straws here: it is a song from Ecclesiastes and the reminder that there is a "time" for new things is vital: we simply can't do outreach, youth ministry, even church life, necessarily the same old way, generation after generation.  There is a turn afoot; we may be in a season of new views of faith and theology and the nature of our time.  Is this a trendy book just hopping on some emergent bandwagon?  No.  Is it arcane and deep, something ordinary youth workers maybe needn't take time to wade through?  Again, no.  Mike King, himself an important voice in youth min circles, says "I am euphoric over this book.  It is a seminal work that will stir up the prophetic imagination of youth workers. Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (perhaps the West coast counterpart to the justly famous Ms Dean of Princeton) say that it is "a practical theology winner" and notes it's "masterful synergy of breadth and depth."

If the thesis of Christian Smith's important work (Soul Searching, upon which Dean built her famous book Almost Christian) is true--namely that churches are not doing a very good job helping youth name their spiritual yearnings or giving them categories to think theologically about life and discipleship--then this is a rich and vital answer, to that strong critique of our thin approaches.  Can youth be practical theologians?   Can we shift in our approaches, turning towards a more "rigorous and meaningful" youth ministry, one that is theologically grounded and engaged in and with the work of the church?  The time for this is overdue, my friends.  It is the least we can do to give it a very honorable mention, awarding it the Best Book in this field in a long, long time. By the way, I hope to review this in greater detail soon, but you should know that as serious-minded as this it, it is fun to read, and hugely helpful--there is a chapter about outdoor trips. There is a chapter about mission trips.  There is a chapter about adolescent hormones and sex. There is a chapter about summer camp, a theological piece about confirmation (and doubt!)  I'm telling you, this is one of the best books of the year.  If you are not in youth ministry, buy it for somebody who is.


lost in T.gifLost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood Christian Smith (Oxford University Press) $27.95  Okay, I admit, Seth Rogen doesn't come up in this book.  Although I trust you get my drift. In Part One of our Best Books post we celebrated the great book You Lost Me based on research done by the Barna group on young adults who have drifted from the Christian faith.  It is a must-read for anybody who cares about the church or has young adult friends in their lives.  This more weighty, academic treatise is based on very rigorous research by one of the best social scientists writing these days, published by the world's premier scholarly press, so we need to pay attention to it, too.  Tim Clydesdale (whose First Year Out is the best book on following what happens to teens their first year out of high-school) says it is "public sociology at its best." Jean Twenge, a very important cultural critic and author of Generation Me says it is "groundbreaking, compelling, and deeply necessary...courageous, nuanced, deep-dive look at today's youth."  Think she likes it some?  We do too.  Not unlike last year's must-read book by Kendra Creasy Dean (Almost Christian) this shows that there is widespread moral relativism, ethical confusion, and spiritual hunger that does not bode well when one considers the striking problems older youth are now facing. Based on well-researched surveys with 18 to 23 year olds, who almost uniformly like the raunchy vulgarity of Rogen, Apatow, et al.  Could this book explain why?  Granted, it isn't very funny, but we are happy to award it a Best of anyway.


grace for the journey.jpgGrace for the Journey: Practices and Possibility for In-Between Times  Beverly Thompson & George Thompson (Alban Institute) $17.00  We remain grateful for all the good resources published by the Alban Institute, a primary source for books that are professional in nature, mostly for pastors and leaders in mainline denominational churches.  Here, two esteemed pastors tell of their own journey towards joy as they trust God in the midst of congregational difficulties.  Every community of faith journey's through periods of transition, they tell us, and this wonderful little book invites congregations to open themselves to the possibility of knowing God more deeply in these periods "between the times."  It has good Biblical study, lots of contemporary stories and seems to me to be helpful for those who realize that many congregations are in times of transition.  What does it mean to be the people of God in a place? How can we develop deeper spiritual disciplines, offering practices of attentiveness to God's Spirit and what might need to be discerned within the congregation?  I like how Joanna Adams notes that this is a "refreshing alternative to anxiety."  Endorsements from Alban leader and respected scholar of congregational change, Alice Mann, assures us that his is a gem.


collected sermons.gifThe Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann  (WJK) $30.00  WJK has a few other volumes in this uniform set of great sermons by leading preachers of the 20th century (William Sloan Coffin, Fred Craddock, Will Willimon, for instance.)  Gathering messages from this prolific and active preacher was a blessed chore, I'm sure, as they had several volumes worth from which to chose.  So, it could be said these are the cream of the crop, the most prophetic, the most imaginative.  You get my point.  Agree with him all the time or not, appreciate fully his cadences and rhetoric and vocabulary or not, he is a master of the language, a student of the text, a fearless teacher of gospel truth to today's church.  Anyone who cares about the breadth of their library of theological and religious books should consider this ample, first-rate collection.  Oh, maybe we could consider living into this vision, too---say a prayer, read them aloud with your friends or small group and hold on for dear life.  We offer our little award with hope, believing this stuff matters.  Kudos.


preaching god's transforming j.gifPreaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year B, Featuring 22 New Holy Days for Justice  Ronald J. Allen, Dale Andrews, Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm (WJK) $50.00  Okay I know some of our readers don't preach; a few don't care in the least for this sort of stuff.  But I am convinced this is a bold and helpful move by this publisher, offering lectionary based Bible studies that show how to bring justice issues into sermons and preaching.  Nobody suggests that preaching should always be about social justice or that economic injustice is always in the Biblical text or that we always have to be direct in talking about racism or sexism.  But it is true that these things come up in the texts fairly regularly, and few commentaries emphasize them faithfully, or all that helpfully.  This book not only offers socially-engaged ways of thinking about issues of race and class, poverty and power, justice and hospitality, and the like, it offers ways to celebrate justice and social righteousness within worship services and other congregational events.  Key figures are held up (Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, etc) and reminds us of holidays that may be worth noting---Juneteenth, Earth Day, World AIDS Day and the like.  Besides the essay for each lectionary entry there are contributions by homileticians, pastors, biblical scholars, theologians and social activists.  Wow, this surely deserves some kind of award, and we are happy to honor it.  As Walter Brueggemann says of it, "The book surely holds promise of transformative energy for preaching, teaching, interpreting work of the church. Welcome indeed!"  


straw house.gifStraw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow: Four Novellas  Daniel Nayeri (Candlewick Press) $19.99  Okay, I got me some 'splainin to do.  This is over 400 pages (written entirely on his iPhone, but more on that later.)  It is a quartet of four YA novels, so it isn't for little kids.  It is demanding, each story written in a particular style, a genre, if you will.   Some of the PR pieces for this intriguing, ambitious work, says each chapter is a "riff on classic genres" and it introduces readers to a broad range of writing styles.  Oh yeah, that's putting it mildly.  The first chapter is a sizzling suspense story, a cowboy story, really, complete with a showdown at high noon (and a sheriff) but it's a bit odd since the setting is a farmer who grows living toys (and rather soulless humans, I think.)  The second section (Wood House) is a science fiction tale, and if the first story was a bit eccentric, this one is even more complex--a roadtrip story with a teenage girl who must save the world from a technological revolution thing going down. (The big bad corporation is called ReCreation. Ha!) Brick House brings us a detective story, set in the author's current home town, the big, bold New York City.  (He is, interestingly, a Reformed evangelical, now on staff working with youth at Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church.  He is also a fan of hard-boiled detective fiction.)  Did I mention it is creative?  Written on an iphone? A whole lot of genres?  This third piece takes the cake with the "wish police" but I can't say more; it is morally serious, important, even.  Blow?  Well, that one is funny, in an old Woody Allen sort of way, where the narrator of the tale is Death himself. It's nearly Shakespearean.  I like what it says on the jacket about the handsome and charismatic hero " who may steal your heart in more ways than one." Uh huh.  There is a bit of spicy language here (although nothing that unusual) and there is a deep moral center to the whole affair.  There are universal themes, as in any good children's work, and Daniel reminds us that these stories include themes such as identity and belonging, betrayal and friendship, love and mortality.  For those who have ears to hear, as another great storyteller once said, there is immense truth here.  SH, WH, BH, B is a wild ride; I read a bit of it out loud, just for the fun of it.  It is imaginative (obviously) and giddy as it plays with words, images, ideas, and perhaps some interlocking relation between the four stories.  The characters are inventive and it surely deserves honors for sheer creativity and playful energy.  It isn't immediately clear how all four hold together (except maybe the epigram from the Three Little Pigs before each chapter.)  It isn't for the squeamish, those who want obvious religious symbols, or tidy stories that they think are safe against the big bad world.  This takes you into the big bad world, in a clever and whimsical and sometimes even scary and disturbing way, and says, blow.

Daniel is a sweet, sweet guy, besides his church work, he works in publishing, and knows books extremely well. He'sDan N.jpg a fascinating fellow with very wide interests. It is wonderful to know of such a thoughtful person so fluent in the world of contemporary literature who is also a thoughtful, happy Christian. He loves his iPhone and, as we said, used an early Notepad app to write this large work. He was the first to do this, it seems, inspired by how some critics were dismissing the now-famous teenage girls in Japan who were doing short serial stories on their cell phones. Serious critics were all alarmed that this medium would ruin the idea of the novel, so he wanted to work in this form that some saw as transgressive.  I told you he's a smart guy, and, no matter how gentle, a thoughtful artist, doing serious work.

For anyone who wants to learn more about this, by the way, here is a great interview with Daniel done by our friends at the International Arts Movement. Do give it a listen.

Don't miss it when Christy Tennant of IAM asks Nayeri if there is theology in the book,which leads to a brief discussion of Tolkien and allegory, and a David James Duncan quote (and the possibility of misinterpretation.)  She notes that there is no fear that his is a "shallow river."  Nice.

You can scroll down his blog a bit to find four trailers for the book. Very cool.

Here is a discussion guide that is very helpful in using the book in groups, in families, or for your own reflection.  Check it out:

You may know how much we esteem and enjoy the Newbery Award winning children's author Gary Schmidt, whose wonderful follow up to the fabulous Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, is certainly one of the finest books of the year, has said this about Daniel Nayeri,

Whenever we invoke this title -- Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow -- let us breathe this word soon after: virtuosity. In a remarkable collection of four novellas, Daniel Nayeri plays a modern Lewis Carroll, pulling us down rabbit holes where the world is cockeyed -- disturbingly cockeyed -- and anything at all can happen. In one, toys planted by an absent creator are left to fend for themselves when evil arrives; in another, the very air we breathe has been infected with a technology that allows us to create our own reality--or others to create it for us; in another, the narrator Death is moved to play the jerk by powerful love. With characters deft and real, with language quick and clever, with insight deep and full, these stories lead the reader to wonder, Is this possible? Whatever is going to happen next? And then, incredibly, it is possible, and it happens. Dare to read this


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January 27, 2012

Uh-oh. Yep, Best Books of 2011 PART THREE. A few more award winners.

I hope you read our fun list of awards for the Best Books of 2011. (See PART ONE and PART TWO.)  Thanks to those who re-tweeted them or posted links at their facebook pages.  We can't tell you how grateful we are, and glad that our mix of titles and perspectives, celebrated authors and awarded titles seems to resonate with many contemporary religious readers.  This was a stellar year for interesting and edifying books and it was fun naming our favorites.  (And thanks to the authors and publishers who noted our little kudos.  It's really nice to be noticed.)
But then -- horrors! -- the other day, while waiting on a customer, out of the corner of my eye, I saw propped right up at a prominent place in our shop a title that is surely one of the most significant books in a number of years.  In its particular field--a field I care deeply about--it is vital. I had raved about its significance when it was released months ago.  And I didn't name it in my Best of 2011 lists.  I might have gasped out loud and a poor shopper must have thought she did something to offend me.  On no, not at all, it's me. My bad.  My Big Sad Omission.

Which got me thinking.  And it didn't take too long until I saw another stray would-be winner displayed finely on a side shelf. Oooo, I loved that book!   Coulda shoulda woulda.  If only.  You see where this is going.

Ladies and gents, a sincere mea culpa for the cruddy offense of failing to name these properly when the two-part Hearts & Minds list was first released.  Here's a "Better Late Than Never Award" for a few more good ones.  It makes me look bad, but I hope it makes them look good.  For these few more, I simply have to do a Best Books of 2011 PART THREE.  Please note that most of these are offered, for the next few days, at 30% off.  

110911_1133_JesusChrist1.pngJesus Christ and the Life of the Mind  Mark A. Noll (Eerdmans) $25.00  I raved about this when it first came out, explaining that although it is somewhat of a sequel to the justly famous and very important Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, bringing the conversation about Biblically-informed scholarship in the arts and sciences up to date a bit, it is much, much more.  This surveys how our Christology---a high and orthodox regard for the person and work of Jesus Christ--effects our intellectual pursuits.  As one of the great scholars of our time, David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University puts it, ""By drawing constructively on poets, theologians, philosophers---and especially on the great historic creeds and confessions of faith---he has crafted a challenging, inspiring, christological philosophy of Christian education for the twenty-first century. This is a major contribution."

If you know any scholars, any college professors, teachers, campus ministers who are to encourage Christian thinking, any life-long learners, or renaissance women or men who read widely, this book is very, very important and a great, great read.  David Gushee notes that "this may be one of Noll's most important scholarly contributions."  And that surely makes it one of the very best of the year.

Product6559_Photo1.jpgWhat Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith  Thomas G. Long (Eerdmans) $25.00  I will be honest.  I did not award this a Best Book of the Year award because I wasn't sure.  I hadn't finished it, was in a terribly busy season (Christmastime in retail land--yikes!) and I needed to ponder this a bit.  Books on theodicy are a dime a dozen and good ones are not uncommon.  Great ones, though, are rare.  I wasn't sure this was great, although it certainly was good.  Certainly one of the best of the year.  I've thought about it more, studied it a bit.  Not sure I agree with it all, but you know what?  That doesn't matter.  It has made me think, inspired my own heart, brought joy and sadness and pity and insight to me as a reader.  Here is one of the reasons it deserves special commendation:  as Rev. John Buchanan writes, "Long pushes beyond the conventional notion of God's presence in the midst of suffering to a startling concept of God as warrior, going to combat with evil and suffering. This helpful book should be read by every pastor who lives daily with the mystery of theodicy---and by anyone who ever has pondered and asked 'Why?'"  It is in conversation with serious philosophers (Charles Taylor, Alvin Plantinga) and deep theologians (John Douglas Hall, David Bentley Hart) so it isn't simple sledding or a tender book of  nice consolation.  Nonetheless, this is a very helpful book and certainly an especially notable book.  I should have awarded it sooner.

revoltionary Yoder.jpgRevolutionary Christianity: The 1966 South American Lectures  John Howard Yoder (Cascade) $22.00  Part of my own journey that was formative, at least as I recall it, was sitting in a night class for weeks on end, maybe in 1974, with a Dutch Reformed Kuyperian named Steen studying a Mennonite named John Howard Yoder, whose book, The Politics of Jesus sounded Kuyperian to me, even though I eventually realized that Kuyper was a Calvinist Prime Minister (of Holland) and Yoder a pacifist who most likely wouldn't have voted for my hero.  I didn't realize the differences were so sharp and, now, years later, I'm less sure of the profundity of their differences. Well, these newly printed lectures by the Christ-centered revolutionary J. H. Yoder were first given in the dramatic years of revolutionary violence (which he opposed) in South and Latin America.  One doesn't have to be a Yoderian to appreciate these vintage pieces, pieces that shaped a generation of peaceful protesting Protestants and socially engaged evangelicals. (The early days of Sojourners, for instance, then called The Post-American, included similar pieces by Yoder and his students.)  I simple must award this collection of talks, expertly turned into a very coherent, readable book, since they are a major contribution to Cascade's important project of issuing all of Yoder's extant work.  People who are to this day heroes of mine---evangelical leaders like Ron Sider and Samuel Escobar--have been influenced by these incisive lectures given during this period of terrible social turmoil. As Michael Cartwright puts it on the back cover, "Readers should marvel at John Howard Yoder's capacity to speak a fresh word then and now."  Maybe we should award this for best reprint of the year, but it never was formally published and it all seems so fresh and relevant, of more than mere historical interest.  The dashing cover gives it extra oomph.  Maybe give it an "OWS" award or a book to be read in what Time dubbed "The Year of the Protestor."
**this one is not available at the special 30% discount.  We will offer a complimentary 10% discount on it.

surprised by oxford.jpgSurprised by Oxford: A Memoir  Carolyn Weber (Nelson) $16.99  I have to admit, again, I intended to award this, but felt like I was naming too many memoirs.  The one's I picked were especially enjoyable, often high-octane, full of passion and fury and hints of grace amidst colorfully detailed hurt.  This is a book penned by a writer of a different sort; gentle and literary and very smart.  The elegant look, the cover art and the french folded flaps, give it a classy feel, and the fine writing deserves such nice touches.  The word from the publisher's promo was that it was akin to the wonderful Girl Meets God.  Well, yes, in a way---it is the conversion story of a fascinating young woman, who comes to faith amid the fancy buildings and deep ideas of the world's most prestigious university.  After earning her PhD from Oxford, Weber served as the first female Dean of St. Peter's College there.  She currently is Professor of Romantic Literature at Seattle University and a Visiting Professor at Westmont. (Does this suffice as a hint of the book's literary merit?)  This savvy, beautifully-written book follows the calendar of the academic year, as the author narrates her year, her large questions, her unique journey of faith, and her glorious resolution as she discovers (and explains to us) a very credible, Christ-centered conversion to orthodox, historic faith.  There are wonderful memoirs of all sorts and I love stories of people's lives.  Authentic and thoughtful accounts of Christian conversion are harder to come by. This deserves a very honorable mention!  I think many will enjoy it, by the way, and some will share it with intellectual types, skeptics or secular professors or free thinkers who need an example of the way God works, even in the academy.

themindandthemachine.pngThe Mind and the Machine: What It Means to Be Human and Why It Matters  Matthew Dickerson (Brazos) $19.99  How could I forget this?  Being human, perhaps.  Guffaw, chortle and slap your thigh--I know.  Yep, I just forgot how much I loved this when it came out early in 2011.  It is quite memorable, and, in fact, the notions of memory even play into this remarkable study of neurology, brain chemistry, asking the question if we are more than biochemical machines.  Dr. Dickerson (PhD from Cornell) is an interesting bird: he teaches computer science and environmental studies at Middlebury College (where he is also active in campus ministry work, I gather.)  He is a great lover of mythic literature has written books on Harry Potter, Tolkien, and a brilliant book called Narnia and the Fields of Arbol about the environmental vision of C. S. Lewis.  As with his mentors (people like Peter Kreeft, Tom Howard, and Dick Keyes to whom the book is dedicated) this illustrates his robust and deep thinking (it is a "model of interdisciplinary inquiry" says C. Stephen Evans) and his willingness to tackle a hugely important topic: "what does it mean to be human?"  I like Quentin Schultze's crisp endorsement "I highly recommend this engaging critique of how contemporary popular culture and techno-gurus reduce human beings to machine-like creatures supposedly in the name of progress."  I should have remembered how important and good it is.  Whether you like psychology or technology, science or theology, this is a fabulous study.  Congratulations, for a book we should all know and remember! 

creator-spirit.jpgCreator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human  Steven Guthrie (BakerAcademic) $24.99  No excuses, friends: I should have named this but wasn't confident of my own expertise in this deep field.  Theological aesthetics and pneumatology---heavy philosophy and theology in conversation with the arts.  A wonderfully glowing forward by the world-class scholar and musician Jeremy Begbie assures us that Gurthrie is a first-rate teacher and "a theologian who can bring clarity out of confusion without ever stifling a sense of openness and wonder."  This is true--the book is not as daunting as it may sound. Pentecostal scholar Amos Young says that the study of the Holy Spirit "takes a quantum leap with this book...and participates in the re-creative work of the Spirit."  Marva Dawn calls it "brilliant" and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary's Edith Humphrey similarly raves.  James K.A. Smith celebrates it with a long endorsement, summarizing that, because of this book "I have a new appreciation for the Spirit's work and a new excitement about the arts." The Calvin Center for Christian Worship's Director John Witvliet says it "stands out as a leading voice in this field."  "One of the best" says William Dyrness.  We agree.  How can we not add our Hearts & Minds voices to this stellar chorus of affirmations? A hearty, spirited, artful award--congratulations!

pleasures of reading.jpgThe Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction  Alan Jacobs (Oxford University Press) $19.95  I tried to wax a bit eloquent when I reviewed this, explaining why it was so very, very good, so wonderful to read, intellectually stimulating, enjoyable, virtuous.  Jacobs is a wonderful, clear writer of elegant prose, and to read him on anything is a joy.  (He has three or four collections of random essays, all excellent.) Here he makes a case that one of the great values of reading is pleasure, and it is a fine and vital contribution to the discussions about the role of the book, the demise of the bookstore, e-reading, the shallowing of our attention span, how reading on-line differs from long-form book reading.  All of those much-discussed matters in our shifting cultural moment come alive here, but mostly he brings us an astute reminder of the joy of reading.  Yep, an Oxford University Press serious book by a brilliant Wheaton College professor, waxing about books, telling you to have some fun with books you enjoy.  This was a very important book for me, a work that altered some of my own thinking and the public speaking I do about this topic.  I can't believe I didn't lead off my 2011 list with this as it is certainly one of of my favorite memories of the year, carefully reading every sentence with wonder and delight and great, great gladness.

symphonycity.jpgSymphony City/Music Is Everywhere illustrated and written by Amy Martin (McSweeney's McMullen's) $17.95  I honestly don't know where to begin.  All of us here are astonished by our discovery of this book, which has sparse text and very contemporary graphic design, showing how music blasts out across a city and the impact it so joyfully makes as a little girl follows the sounds.  The publisher, as you may know, is terminally hip.  The heavy stock dust jacket unfolds to be a large, two-sided poster, and the hardback book itself is engraved. Very cool.  The color is muted yet bold, the silhouettes of random people playing various instruments utterly striking.  I don't know if this is really for children---the fonts and stylized design scream indie rock aesthetic, which is fine, of course, but seems oh so trendy. (Let it be known, too, that the artist has not only done graphic design work for indie, edgy journals, but also for Death Cab for Cutie and Band of Horses.) This is more than delightful and visually exciting and hip, it is a really, truly, wonderful picture book about the goodness of music and the transformation of the urban landscape; without a doubt one of the best of 2011. Caldecott may have missed it, but we did not. 

ilaymystitchesdown.gifI Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery  Written by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood (Eerdmans) $17.00  Do you mind if I repeat some of what I wrote last December when this striking, wonderful book arrived?  

Some children's picture books are so very breathtaking and rich in content that they are doubtlessly a wonderful gift for an adult.  This collection of poetry is serious, harsh, and deeply beautiful. The book is done as a series of quilts, and includes poems from around the country.  There are informative descriptions in lovely sidebars that explain allusions or lines (for instance if a poem quotes an old black spiritual or if a quilt shows a particular symbol.)  We really appreciate great beauty in kid's books and the quality of this design, the fabulously rich colors, and its storied topic, certainly points toward the ways of redemption. There is no doubt that this is deserving of many awards and we commend the author, artist, and the good eye of the editors at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers who almost always do excellent, high-quality work.  They outdid themselves this time. Congratulations!  Why not join us in spreading the great news of this book by donating it to your church or public library?  It deserves it!


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