Every year, I am less and less ambivalent about the much-talked about Hearts & Minds holiday gift list. I used to use half the space bemoaning the commercialization of the holy days, warning against consumerism and materialism. I would suggest that book-buying and moderate gift-giving is a good thing.
We still strive towards a non-commercial, liturgically-shaped celebration
of the season; everywhere and always we talk about an environmentally
sustainable lifestyle (a Christian duty, as we see it). I occasionally
worry about my "you gotta buy this!"Â rhetoric in this column,
even if it is earnest.
It is clear to me, though, that giving books is a good and life-changing, normative practice. Books are great gifts and we truly love telling folks quite sincerely which titles we think are important.
These cultural artifacts--binding, paper, words, art, ideas--are
essential items and we ought to buy and gift and share them. As
Medieval character Erasmus once said, "Wear the old coat, buy the new book."Â May your holiday gift-giving be life-giving and fruitful. Happy Christmas.
Perhaps our vote for the gift book of the holiday season is an intriguing first book of a great series: Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, edited by Gary Schmidt & Susan Felch (SkyLights Paths, $21.95). Skylight is a unique and creative indie press that we have supported since their inception as an inter-faith, spiritually-oriented division of Jewish Lights (another very cool publisher whose books we routinely stock). Winter is edited by two well-respected Calvin College literary profs and it is safe to say that there is nothing quite like it in print. The editors pulled together an anthology of excellent writers ruminating on the deeper meaning of the season of winter.
A few contributors are somewhat expected--Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez. And then there are writers like Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Jamaica Kincaid, Ron Hanson. (That many of these authors networked at the prestigious Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing will come as no surprise.) From Hebrew poetry to translated Sanskrit, from evangelical vision to the liturgical nuance of Kathleen Norris, from the upscale essays of John Updike to the haiku of Asian poetry, this is a wondrous, wondrous collection. It invites readers to share the recognition of winter's hardships and celebrate the glory of the season as a spiritual gift--a quiet time in the rhythm of life, a time of thoughtfulness, of looking forward, of unexpected hope. It cries out to be shared, to be given; it is itself a gift.
Certainly any new edition from the works of C.S. Lewis deserves to be celebrated, and this lavish new hardcover would be on some folks' wish list if they knew about it. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics is a compilation of seven (count "Ëœem!) of his most well-loved nonfiction books. Included in one coffee-table format volume (HarperCollins, $49.95) are Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, A Grief Observed, and The Abolition of Man. A full index will prove very, very helpful as well. Gratio.
Speaking of gifts that are beautiful to give, we love the lavish, old
illustrations of the company Laughing Elephant. Long known for doing children's
books (that seem, actually, designed for adult collectors), it is a labor
of love by a team who obviously care about art nouveau, the "golden
age"Â of children's illustration and vintage books. A new one
which is splendid is entitled Song of Creation: Saint Francis of
Assisi and is a full-color collection of a variety of art pieces
and illustrations set to one of the most famous of Francis' poems
(sometimes known as "Brother Sun & Sister Moon."Â) Written
late in his life, it is a plain tribute to the glories of creation and
with these diverse illustrations becomes a strangely moving rendering.
Another small book with deep colors and classy illustration is Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter by J. Philip Newell (Eerdmans, $18.00). In giving voice to the intuitions and years that are common to the human soul, this draws on insights of ancient Irish traditions, but includes new and original prayer for each morning and evening of the week. The Celtic tradition has long emphasized the essential goodness of creation and the human body. Illustrations from Hebrew manuscript art provide a rich setting for these prayers.
A prayer book and collection of devotions that has been a staple of our recommended paperback list has been Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions published by the staunchly Calvinist Banner of Truth. This wonderful aid has recently been published in a compact-sized, black cabra bonded leather, with gilded pages and ribbon marker. The Puritans--those of deep faith and serious action for rigorous cultural reformation--thought prayer to be too important to let it to our spontaneity. Here are old, solid and very expressive prayers.
Daily devotionals are often given as Christmas gifts--this time
of year is the season when folks make new promises about devotional habits.
Morning By Morning: Daily Meditations from the Writings of
Marva Dawn (Eerdmans, $14.00) is one of our favorite choices. It includes a variety of excerpts from Marva's diverse and splendid biblical study, very intentionally chosen to follow the flow of each week. Not a random or haphazard selection, these really hang together, establishing a weekly flow from her mighty and caring pen. Highly recommended. (The royalties to this book, by the way, like all of her book sales, go to a project doing ministry in Africa amidst the AIDS crisis. An explanatory paper comes with it which can be shared, adding extra purpose to this as a gift.)
Making Time for God: Daily Devotions for Children and Families
Share by Susan Garrett and Amy Plantinga Pauw (Baker, $16.99). Holy smokes--how can I express our excitement about this new work? 366 daily readings, with a prayer and closing thought, all based on a specific biblical text. To suggest that this is the most substantial book of its kind might get at why we like it so. Both authors are Presbyterian USA seminary professors and mothers, and they obviously have great sensitivity for their topic. (Even the introductions--one for children, another for parents or caregivers--illustrate their deep awareness of and commitment to the Scriptures.) Making Time for God generally follows the church year and liturgical calender, but also relates to important secular holidays (Martin Luther King Day, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day,
etc.) That they thanked Fred Rogers & Katherine Paterson--two heroes in our books!--speaks volumes of their care for children, families and a deep and nuanced vision of faith.
A few months ago, we formally announced what we called the publishing event of the year--the release of the full edition of Eugene Peterson's contemporary and well-respected paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. Selling for $39.95 in a solid hardcover and for $79.95 in a gorgeous, burgundy leather bound edition, if you order 'em here, we offer a 20% discounted price; If you don't know what to give someone on your list, this is surely a safe bet. Who shouldn't enjoy Peterson's vivid paraphrase? Who doesn't need to have access to the Bible in fresh and reliable words? Because it is a rather unique and quite modern paraphrase, it takes the imposing edge off of giving a Bible as a gift...I think many nonbelievers would appreciate it much. (Of course we have the New Testament in hardback, paperback and leather and each of the various books previously published in hardcover--the Pentateuch, the Prophets, The Historical Books, etc.) Any of Eugene's fine books would also be a wise offering--perhaps start with Long Obedience in the Same Direction in paperback (IVP $12.00). We have some audio tape sets of his, too, that would make special presents for that hard to shop for friend...
Another immensely significant publication this fall in the world of Bible
scholarship is the newly revised and updated NIV Study Bible
(Zondervan). The text, of course, is the standard and familiar NIV, but the extraordinary and copious notes, character studies, maps and footnotes are now even better than ever! We've said it before: there is simply no study edition in print with this many good notes, no Bible edition with such academic rigor, balance and thoroughness in the introductions and study aids. (Call us if you want our evaluation of other study editions or other translations.) The newly updated NIV Study Bible is available in several editions--hardback ($39.99) and a sticker-priced, top-grain, genuine leather on sale for $63.99 (which is usually $79.99, making it less expensive than the cheaper quality of bonded leather!). It also comes in a somewhat smaller personal-sized, selling for $34.99 in hardback and $24.99 in paperback.
Speaking of the NIV, despite all the controversy, readers of this column know that we have endorsed and are happy to promote the revised translation of the NIV, which has a relatively small amount of changes ("cloak"Â becomes "coat,"Â for instance) to reflect common usage around gender--humankind is used instead of the dumb " mankind."Â It uses "everyone"Â if that is what the text means, rather than the (inaccurate) rendering "all men."Â That revised NIV--known as the RNIV--is only available in a New Testament, in either hardback or paperback. It is worth having, we think, and using to compare various renderings.
For complete Bibles that use the current custom of gender accurate language,
see the New Revised Standard or the very interesting and
well-done New Living Translation. For those who want to revert to an
older, more classic usage, the English Standard Edition--with a resonance something like the old RSV, it seems--has now come out, and we stock that in several editions as well. Published by Crossway, it is getting great attention in certain circles and may become a standard
translation for some.
While recommending Bible stuff, we would be remiss if we didn't say (or shout!) that we now have found a source for the anxiously-awaited, British imports of N.T. Wright New Testament commentary series. Not all of the New Testament is done, but we've got an assortment of "Ëœem, each selling for $13.95 in good, uniform paperbacks. Shaped and packaged somewhat like the well-known Barclay series, these may be the best non-scholarly set of commentaries in print. Hoorray!!
And if you want to give a really special gift to an N.T. Wright fan, Volume X in the magisterial New Interpreter's Commentary Series (Abingdon) includes Wright doing Romans. It regularly sells for $79.99 and we have it for 20% off that steep price. For what one gets, though, these hefty and handsome volumes are a good investment , and this is the only sustained place so far where we get Wright's significant insight on Romans. It is a true find, an important contribution to contemporary biblical scholarship and serious students will wish they had it.
Although we raved and reviewed here in our October column the remarkable
memoir Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner (Algonquin of
Chapel Hill, $24.99), it deserves another mention here. What a great
gift to anyone interested in spiritual memoir, a delightfully captivating
story on the process of a young, thoughtful woman coming to Jewish faith
and then discovering Christ. This would be a much-appreciated gift for
anyone who has liked book such as Anne Lamott's Traveling
I have so appreciated two recent books of delightful
essays, both originally columns in a newspaper or journal, one
newly issued in paperback, the other a handsome and pricey hardcover that
would make a very special gift. Birdbaths and Paper Cranes: A Family
Tale is a collection of pieces by nationally syndicated columnist
(Plume, $12.00). We carried this when it was independently released, telling many about the quaint, lovely little essays that packed such a wallop--small-town life, ordinary stuff, common ground. Happily, a major publisher has picked it up and is describing it "a joyful tribute to the human spirit told by a master storyteller with a flair for the wry one-liner."Â
Perhaps more edgy and thoughtful is the new anthology by Vickie Covington. She may be known to readers of our reviews as she appear in the Hearts & Minds all-time-top-ten memoir Salvation on Sand Mountain by her husband Dennis. Her co-written work with him about their struggling lives and marriage was a haunting and exceptional gut-wrenching work which I have oddly cherished. She has written several novels that have gotten critical acclaim. Now we are delighted to promote her collection of miscellaneous observations, columns and articles called Women in a Man's World, Crying (University of Alabama Press $29.99). Anyone who cares about a good, good writer, about holding deep and honest thoughts, who appreciates something of Southern culture and modern life--anyone who just wants a really good book should consider this reflective work. Each chapter tells a different story, ruminates on a unique problem and, with deft hand and good eye, reports on the landscape of her life and time, the state of her soul. We are drawn to this writer and are hoping to find others who appreciate her good work.
Most readers of this column know of our great appreciation (some might
say fanaticism) for Bill Romonowski's Eyes Wide Open: Finding
God in Popular Culture. For those just tuning in, Bill is an old
college bud, a CCO superstar from the 1970s and, now, an award-winning
(Eyes won a "Gold Medallion Award"Â from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association; his earlier and more substantial Pop Culture
Wars was also very well commended.) Eyes Wide Open is a very accessible, very interesting and very important little book on how Christians can approach popular artwork (movies, VH1, advertising, videos, TV, etc.). His overarching theme is so rooted in his "all-of-life-redeemed"Â vision of reformational, whole-life discipleship that it is a great primer to basic Christian living. It is published by the ever-interesting Brazos Press ($12.99).
I remind you of this book to say that we not only stock it (and it is itself a tremendous and unique gift), but to announce again that we also stock his award-winning, three-hour video series of the same title. Filmed on a studio lot in Hollywood with over 150 video clips, this guided tour of "Finding God in Popular Culture"Â is certainly recommended. A great study guide comes with it, the videos are handsomely packaged as a companion to the book and sell for $125.00. Here at Hearts & Minds, we have a special you may request: buy the video and we will add in a complimentary copy of the book with your order.
Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, the Simpsons
and Other Pop Culture Icons by David Dark (Brazos, $13.99). For
those looking for a somewhat similar brand new book (which Professor Romanowski
has blurbed on the back with a great endorsement) we are exceedingly excited
to recommend David Dark's new book, Everyday Apocalypse. This
is one incredible piece of work!
Dark has had parts of this book appear in ESA's Prism magazine and the buzz has made this a truly anticipated book. It is a stunning bit of cultural criticism and reflection, wide-ranging, philosophical and yet immensely helpful. Not many authors can move fluently and coherently between Beck and John Donne, from Homer to Homer Simpson, but he is more than adequate for the task. Nearly brilliant at times, Everyday Apocalypse is theologically and morally astute, solidly biblical and a heck of a wild ride.
We have often cited the major work by our good friends at the minor publisher Square Halo, And It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God edited by Ned Bustard. This may be one of the very best books for Christians in the arts, with original chapters about just how various artists, writers, musicians and other creative folk do their work (each presupposing a Christian worldview that values the arts, so they don't rehash that ground.) This book is not widely distributed or stocked in many stores (sadly!), but we are always telling folks about it. It has full color-plates, is quite nicely done (the compiler is also, conveniently, a top-notch commercial graphic designer) and makes an extremely nice gift.
At last, a new book has come out from Square Halo, entitled Objects
of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith by James Romaine ($19.99).
Brand new, this is a glorious, hip, well-produced, insightful and altogether
spectacular contribution to the advancement of the Kingdom of God in the
field of the arts. It is a uniquely Christian contribution to the art
world and I don't think it is an overstatement to term it nearly
Objects of Grace has James Romaine (an ultra-cool, young art critic in NYC--a man to watch, it is said) doing interviews with a dozen working artists, who, alongside fabulous full-color plates of their work, talk about what they do. And why. Painters, sculptors, a videographer--each are expertly invited by Mr. Romaine to talk about that which matters most in their work. These energetic conversations illuminate not only these fascinating folk and their faith-filled aesthetic, but show ways to embody one's faith in a concrete career.
Every career should be so fortunate as to have such an important array of good voices attempting to make sense of their work in light of God's wondrous grace. Three cheers and more not only to these artists, and James Romaine, but to Ned & Leslie Bustard and the other square halos for bringing out this treasure chest of a book and for supporting Christians in the arts. Now, if only the book-buying public (that would be you, dear reader) would buy the book. Otherwise, already nearly starving artists, visionary Christian publisher and faithful Christian retailer all get stuck with said treasure--stacks of "Ëœem to be precise.
So buy this book. Give this book. Buy more of this book. And give thanks to God for His grace and for those who embody it.