Well, friends, here it is. I’m writing this in January ’08 but posting it here in the traditional “end of the year” spot. Better late than never, they say. Thanks for sharing your interest in our work here; that you care enough to read my ramblings and reflections on the year’s best books, well, I’m beyond flattered. I think we, together, are generating discussions and forging a movement of thoughtful, faithful readers, those wanting to read widely, but with firm conviction, eager to learn, but not so open-minded as to have no lasting views. You probably have heard of G.K. Chesterton’s famous quip about the point of an open mind being, like an open mouth, to come down on something solid and chew. So, may these books help you on your journey. They certainly are, as I say each year, idiosyncratic, and terribly quirky, mostly likely reflecting my own reading interests this past year. Happy to have you check ’em out and, I hope, purchase at least a few, maybe even give a few away, or blog about “Ëœem yourselves. These are, after all, our picks for the Very Best of a Very Good Year.
And, a year’s end word of thanks to all who have posted comments our the BookNotes blog, who have forwarded my reviews to others, who have sent us orders, or encouraging notes. With the mass marketing of a-zon et al on the one hand, and the silly dumbing down of religious publishing on the other, with Wal-Mart driven price frenzy and publishers who market their stuff–unfairly I think—directly to you, skipping the local merchant, it is a hard and discouraging arena to serve. We are so grateful for your support. To paraphrase what Brooks Williams says about live music, if there no readers, they’d be no booksellers; we want to promote interesting, helpful books, and serve you, our circle of friends and fellow-readers, and if we don’t do that, we have no raison d’ etre. (not to mention any espirit de corps, preventing us from doing the carpe diem thing.)
Our staff here does a stellar job, if I do say so myself, caring about our mail order customers and friends, even as we juggle the needs and joys of our local customers and friends. Without (co-owner and dearly beloved) Beth, and mainstains Amy, Patty, & Kimberly, Diana doing the shipping & Robin cookin’ the books; without the book luggin; help of Brian and the van drivin’ help of Scott, and the webpage help of Rob at *cino–we just wouldn’t be much of anything. This writer thanks one and all.
And so, ta daaa. The envelopes please.
BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
The Way of Jesus: A Conversation in the Ways Jesus is the Way Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $22 This is the extraordinarily written, amazingly insightful, third in this rich, thoughtful, dense series of his spiritual theology books. It is hard to explain why I so love this book, although there is this hint: I have read it slowly, a page or so a day, for the better part of the year. It makes the case that Christian faith is not abstract, but is a way. And ways and means must be consistent. Between the lines are huge criticisms of the ways in which the modern church—I think he means mostly evangelical mega-church wannabees, but if the shoe fits, wear it—has allowed worldly techniques, methods, expectations and goals to distort our experience of the slow, serious work of a Holy God who has revealed Himself through the odd array of characters and episodes in redemption history. True to form, this is profound theology, offering a rich sort of spirituality, based, of course, on Scriptural text upon text upon text. He focuses on lessons learns, about the ways of God and the Way of God, from selected Biblical characters. The final portion examines leadership in light of Jesus’ way and ways. If you don’t have Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places or Eat This Book you owe it to yourself. This third one, though, as the others, can stand alone. Just read it slowly.
Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life Barbara Kingsolver (Harper) $26.95 We’ve long enjoyed Kingsolver’s novels and short stories and many of her essays (she has two collections) are tremendously interesting, wonderfully-written, and very important. I couldn’t wait for this long-awaited first full-length non-fiction memoir. As you most likely know, she tells the story of them leaving the South West (the first few pages are so gloriously written and fun that I dare you to put the book down) to move to an Appalachian farmstead. She and her family had decided to live closer to the land, and experiment with eating only foods that are locally grown, available in season, in perfect ecological balance with time and place. Most of us cannot live like this, but her ruminations are wise and gloriously shared.
Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America’s Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don’t ) Michael J. Gerson (HarperOne) $26.95 It isn’t every day that a Republican close assistant to President Bush gets extolled by Jim Wallis of Sojourners; not every day that highly regarded conservative speech writer take his party to task for such important matters. Mr. Gerson has deep concerns for the poor, is insistent that the Republicans must recapture this Biblically-demanded moral high ground, and here offers his eloquant story of crafting some of Mr. Bush’s finest speeches, and his journey to frustration and protest of the current administration. Agree or not—and most likely, few will agree with him on everything—this is one of the best insider’s tales, a fine call to think faithfully about public life, and an example of his efforts to be the Biblical salt and light within the highest possible levels of government service.
THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BOOK OF 2007
The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for Students Donald Opitz & Derek Melleby (Brazos) $13.95 Most significant? A small paperback for teenagers? I have been thinking about this constantly for weeks, wanting to name this book, but somehow fearing my more academically-oriented readers may not take it seriously. Here is my thinking: there is hardly anything more urgent than for Christians to learn to live out the implications of their faith in every area of life. This is particularly pressing around issues of calling and vocation, the integration of faith and work, all the multi-dimensional aspects of what is often implied by the call to develop the Christian mind and a Biblically-shaped worldview. Indeed, to live Christianly, to make a different in the culture—for the sake of our neighbors, for the glory of God—we must think Christianly. Our “non-conformity” (Romans 12:1-2) must include our resistance to idea and ideologies that are not consistent with a Christian take on the meaning of life and the structures of God’s world. This means we must thinking about the stuff of life, the things we believe about what we do, even in the workworld, and must help college students learn from a Christian perspective. As young adults take up their callings in the world, they must learn to discern, being “in the world by not of it” particularly in their majors and eventual careers.
Outrageous Idea, as I said in the blog when I first prompted it, is both fun and funny. We couldn’t be more impressed. It is serious, well-written, charming and challenging. It does this job—explaining the contours and the importance of a Christian vision of life and learning—as well as any book in print.
I suppose I should confess that the authors are among my best friends, and they have been very, very supportive of our efforts here. Still, that is in many ways beside the point: this book deserv
es to be acclaimed as it will change the lives of those who take it seriously, and could revolutionize the way young adult ministry, campus work, and even high school fellowship groups. It will focus our gaze upon the biggest things of God’s Kingdom, the deepest matters of life, and will clarify just what is expected of mature disciples in these days.
In this fallen and dangerous world, social innovations are urgently needed. We need hope. God is raising up a generation of young folks who very much want to relate their faith to every area of life, their personal and public lives. Hopeful and helpful cultural reformation will come not only from well-intended prayers or more passionate worship; it will not come from proper doctrine or just more passionate commitment. The fruit of these traits–as described in Outrageous Idea…—will be maximized as the ways of God’s people are directed toward faithful living based on faithful thinking. Few, if any, call students to take their faith into the classroom, to capture ideas for God’s sake, to this outrageous idea of making a difference in the years of higher education, for the sake of the world.
This little book is unlike any other, and will make a difference, underscoring a movement of thoughtful Christians relating vocation and calling, work and career, God’s ways in the real world. It may be outrageous to say this, but this thin, fun book, may be one of the most important books of the decade.
THE “LET’S HEAR IT FOR TAKING THE BIBLE SERIOUSLY “Shulchan Aruch”Â AWARD FOR CRAZY MAKING EFFORTS TO BE AN AGNOSTIC FUNDAMENTALIST
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible A.J. Jacobs (Simon & Schuster) $25 This may have been the book I most enjoyed this year. Do you know A.J. Jacobs? He wrote the marvelous, funny and surprisingly popular odd little memoir called The Know It All about his effort to read Encyclopedia Britannica cover to cover.
Here, he reads the Bible, make a list of all the does and don’ts, and follows them. He’s a skeptical Jew, at best, and writes for Esquire,. which makes for some hilarious stories of him interviewing sexy women celebrities, while attempting not to lust. He travels to Amish communities, hangs out with the Hasids of Crown Heights, goes to Israel, visits the Creationism Museum, attends a snake handling service and reports on the Biblical pacifism of Sojourners. He learns ancient pray practices and reports well as a seeker, immersing himself in the process, and yet candid about his own lack of feeling God’s presence. He learns about dietary restrictions and why even the most conservative Jews don’t believe animal sacrifices are to be done, now. There’s a great scene with a shatnez tester (look it up!) as he works through his “Top Ten Most Perplexing”Â commands. His wife playfully subverts some of his resolve not to touch her when she’s menstruating. Interestingly, he comes to enjoy having a wild untrimmed beard, puts tassels on his clothing, finds it possible to receive the grace of being thankful for all things, and truly struggles to love others.
There are criticism I might make of the book, and certainly some things I wish he would have done in this year-long foray. He attends to questions of hermeneutics, in passing,; much of his point is that everyone “picks and chooses”Â what part of the Bible we try to obey. Still, how many funny books are there that even begin to tackle this thorny thing? His wife and new baby provide a bit of grounding, and by the end, I was shedding tears for their extraordinary year’s project, wishing him well on his quest, and praying for his whole crazy extended family. What a story!
AN ESTEEMED BLUE-RIBBON HONORARY MENTION FOR THE VERY BEST RE-ISSUE OF AN ALREADY FABULOUS BOOK
It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God Ned Bustard (Square Halo Press) $24.99 This really does deserve a top-shelf “Book of the Year”Â award as it is such a new edition: expanded, with new typesetting, tons of new art, several new chapters, even done with new non-tree paper. This isn’t just the best re-issue of an older book, not just the most important anthology for artists and those interested in Christian cultural renewal. This is an important book for us all, for learning to see God’s world in ways that are consistent with God’s own character: God is a creator. God created us in His image. God’s world is colorful, literally and figuratively. Redemption brings, if I might cite Cal Seerveld’s books, rainbows for a fallen world and Christ comes–and we must come–bearing fresh olive leaves for our needy neighbors. This book, edited lovingly and released to great acclaim among those who knew, should be in every bookstore in America, in on your bookshelf.
THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BOOK THAT I’M CONFESSING HERE AND NOW I HAVEN’T READ AWARD (and, also, a winner of THE BOOK WITH THE MOST BREATHTAKING BLURBS I’VE EVER SEEN AWARD)
A Secular Age Charles Taylor (Harvard University Press) $39.95 At nearly 900 pages, this hefty baby deserves every accolade it has received, I’d guess. It won the 2007 Templeton Award, and that is pretty awesome. It is a serious study of the history and rise of secularity, a summation of Dr. Taylor’s very, very important philosophical career, and what many are calling the most significant study of secularization we’ve yet seen. How many books—even in the field of high-octane philosophy—has blurbs by Alasdair MacIntyre? This book is very, very important, striking and learned.
And the second part of the award? Check this out, a blurb by the influential and wise Robert Bellah: “This is one of the most important books written in my lifetime.”Â Wow; even if he’s wrong by half, this would be one of the most important books of the last 40 years! And this, by MacIntyre: “There is no book remotely like this. It will be essential reading.”Â No other books comes close for an award about the blurbs, eh??
BEST MULTI-CULTURAL, INTER-FAITH MISSION STORY
Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths Paul-Gordon Chandler (Cowley) $19.95 Talk about a story of ups and downs, of spiritual seekings, of evangelical faith and missional contextualization! This is the story of Mashar Mallouhi; his wife is the author of Waging Peace on Islam which IVP published a few years back. With endorsements from Philip Yancey, Eugene Peterson, David Neff, Philip Jenkins and a forward by Desmond Tutu, this explores Mallouhi’s journey into Christian faith, and his efforts to be faithful in the midst of a Muslim Middle Eastern setting.
BEST CONTRIBUTION TO BIBLICAL STUDIES
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony Richard Bauckham (Eerdmans) $32 University of Cambridge’s Graham Stanton suggests that Bauckham’s latest book “shakes the foundations of a century of scholarly study of the Gospels. There are surprises on every page. A wealth of new insights will provoke lively discussion for a long time to come.”Â N.T.Wright says that it is “a remarkable piece of detective work, resulting in a fresh and vivid approach to dozens, perhaps hundreds of well-known problems and passages.”Â
FIRST RUNNER UP: REALLY IMPORTANT BIBLICAL STUDIES
Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics Richard Burridge (Eerdmans) $35 This major new work has been called monumental, rare, wide-ranging. Burridge, Dean of the King’s College in London, and with special fa
miliarity with South African theology, offers a narrative-biographical approach. This is, obviously, a study of Biblical ethics, but it is also an argument about the relationship of the life of Jesus and how that influenced the rest of the New Testament, and how this shapes our discipleship today.
A SPECIAL BIBLE STUDY-CHURCH HISTORY-DAILY DISCIPLESHIP COMBO AWARE
The Sermon on the Mount Through the Centuries: From the Early Church to John Paul II edited by Jeffery Greenman, Timothy Larsen, and Stephen Spencer (Brazos) $24.99 Brazos Press released an similar title a year ago, Reading Romans Through the Centuries. Here, we get a glimpse of how various leaders in various places and times, wrote and taught about how to apply the Sermon on the Mount. We get contemporary writers (some of great distinction) writing about, say, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, etc. Where else can you get a chapter on Hugh of St. Victor and, for instance, Stan Hauerwas on Bonhoeffer & Yoder? What are the unique insights of contemporary Catholics (like Pope Paul or Leonardo Boff) or John Stott? And how about this: David Lyle Jeffrey on Dante & Chaucer. Plenty to learn from this most famous of Jesus’ discourses. I don’t know what’s better, learning about these different figures and their view of the Bible, or, specifically, the teaching they do on the Sermon itself.
AN ALARMING, NON-ACADEMIC AWARD FOR BEST BOOK ON JESUS’ TEACHING
Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous: Ten Alarming Words of Faith Joy Jordon-Lake (Paraclete) $15.95 Many of us have read Ms Jordon-Lake in various magazines, in her writings for ESA’s Prism journal, and in her earlier books. Here, she offers musings about Jesus, and his teachings, alarming as they may be. Not only is this little paperback full of solid Bible teachings, the author is equally fluent in the vocabulary of poetry, citing Auden, Wendy Berry, and Billy Collins, novelists, and other upscale writers. Very nicely done.
BEST BIBLICAL STUDIES TEXT WITH THE COOLEST TITLE
Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Diety of Christ Robert Bowman & J. Ed Komoszewski (Gregel) $18.99 This looks to be an excellent bit of Biblical research and serious apologetics, with endorsing blurbs by the likes of Ravi Zacharias, Craig Evans, and Richard Bauckham. A very nicely written forward by Darrell Bock insists that this is both academically excellent and very readable, intellectually stimulating and spiritually beneficial. I had to cite it just for the clever wordplay of the title.
BEST NEW HISTORY BOOK BY A FORMER PULITZER PRIZE WINNER ABOUT THE REVOLUTIONARY ERA
Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different Gordon S. Wood (The Penguin Press) $25.95 I suppose I’m not the best person to make this kind of a judgment, and this year I haven’t read too much on history. Still, this writer is both sane and elegant, gentle and fluent. He is very highly regarded among scholars of the colonial period and here he offers a profound lesson on the moral views and character of these amazing revolutionary men.
BOOM BOOM BOOM AWARD FOR BIGGEST BOMB
Boom!: Voices of the Sixties Personal Reflections on the ’60s and Today Tom Brokaw (Random House) $28.95 Who cares? I’m a sixties kid, and loving reading this kind of thing. TB was a big hit with his Greatest Generation machine. How can I offer this an award, other than to say it’s billing as a “virtual class reunion”Â phenonm and nobody I know read it.
THE “GIVE-THE-GIRL-A-CHANCE”Â MOST UNDER-RATED BOOK BY SMART, COOL REVIEWERS
Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes To God Kay Warren (Zondervan) $21.99 I’m not sure what audience will buy this—Rick Warren has become a symbol of mass marketed mainstream light-weight books, which is, I think, mostly unfair. Or, for some, he’s become a symbol of former evangelicals that are now inviting Bono to their church and have embraced a charitable, socially-engaged missional view, which they find suspect. My hunch is that more thoughtful journals just didn’t give it a chance, and it wasn’t promoted for fear of looking like it was just a puff piece about the wife of a mega-church superstar. Still, mega-church or not, Ms Warren has quite a story to tell, tells it beautifully, and has the admiration of many among fellow Christian authors. (Heck, Shane Claiborne is her friend.) One blurb says it “should come with a warning label—“Ëœflammable'”Â¦Books this raw and real don’t come along often”Â¦read it at your own risk.”Â Lynne Hybels, a very thoughtful speaker herself (and author of the powerful little memoir Nice Girls Don’t Change the World) says, “Kay’s book forced me to clarify my calling and grapple with how much I’m willing to pay to follow it faithfully. I needed to read this.”Â Me too.
THE “WHAT A BLESSING TO KNOW THIS ABOUT HER”Â AWARD FOR BEST BOOK ON SPIRITUALITY BY A TV STAR
Sister Wendy on Prayer Sister Wendy Beckett (Harmony Books) $21.95 Well, I cheat a bit on this award, since this TV super-star is, in fact, a conservative contemplative nun. Yes, she wears a full habit (and shaves her head under it.) Yes she lives in a little cloistered trailer, and prayers, when she isn’t under the glow of the BBC or PBS cameras, for six hours at a time. “Prayer,”Â, though, she insists, “is for all of us. God wants to love us and to give himself. He wants to draw us to himself, strengthen us, and infuse his peace. The humblest, most modest, almost imperceptible running of our fingers on the door and it flies open.”Â Sister Wendy is an acclaimed art historian, and she, of course, has some meditations on art pieces, here. But mostly, she shares from her deeper places of silence what she’s learned about the wonder of prayer. She packs quite a lot of wisdom and quite a lot of stimulating reflection in 125 pages. Kudos!
THE TRIPLE PLAY TRIFECTA AWARD: THREE WONDERFUL BOOKS RELEASED IN ONE YEAR BY A WONDERFUL AUTHOR
Compass of Affection: Poems New And Selected Scott Cairns (Paraclete Press) $25
Short Trip to the Edge: Where Earth Meets Heaven–A Pilgrimage Scott Cairns (HarperOne) $22.95
Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life Scott Cairns (Paraclete Press) $21.95
Oh my, thank goodness for this sturdy man, his serious mind and crazy-good Orthodox pen. He’s known mostly as a poet, but this year, besides the handsome anthology of poems released, he has a memoir about his journey to a Mediterranean monastery and a thoughtful and helpful overview of the mystical traditions of ancient saints. Any one of these would be deserving of special notice, and all deserve to be on your shopping list. But three in one year. Okay, I’ll admit, the poetry volume came out at the end of 06, but I didn’t read it then. And some were previously published on older volumes. So he’s not superhuman. Still, I just had to honor this prodigious output.
THE SWEET AND SOUR AWARD: TWO DIFFERENT RESPONSES TO THE NEW ATHEISM
The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine Alister McGrath & Joanna Collicutt McGrath (IVP) $16
The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail: The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith Becky Garrison (Nelson) $14.99 We loved displaying The Dawkins Delusion, truly a little gem, for a variety of reasons; McGrath is a bone fide genius, with PhDs in science and theology. There is this killer quote
by Michael Ruse on the cover: “The God Delusion [by Richard Dawkins] makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGrath’s show why.”Â McGrath is philosophically minded but readable, fair, but insistent, honest and devasating. It is the best point-by-point reply to the popular (and best-selling) Dawkins’ book.
The New Atheist Crusaders, though, is something else altogether: funny, snide, wide-ranging, very casually-written, Ms Garrison makes her reply to the anti-God gurus with feisty and fun rebuttals. As editor of The Wittenburg Door satire mag, she’s honed her nearly gonzo style, and is ceaselessly interested in exposing fraud, haughtiness and religious mania; now she’s turned her investigative zeal against the fraud, haughtiness and (secular) religious mania of Hitchens, Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc. Her approach and her perspective is different than the Oxford-trained and restrained McGraths. Together, they make the perfect sweet and sour reply to what some have thought to be the biggest trend in religious publishing, the new militant and best-selling atheists.
THE “I WROTE THIS FOR ATHEISTS”Â BUT WE HOPE BELIEVERS AND AGNOSTICS READ IT TOO RUNNER UP AWARD FOR BEST BOOK IN APOLOGETICS
What’s So Great About Christianity Dinesh D’Souza (Regnery) $27.95 Okay, I don’t have time for a major essay, but people I respect think this is brilliant. I have some concerns about his political ideology and his natural law perspectives make me worry, I think. He is very thorough, drawing on deep wells, from Aquinas to Leon Kass, from Pascal to Lewis. He is very fluent in the recent literature of atheism and knows more about science and biology than a social scientist should. Plus, how many Christian books of apologetics have endorsements by Robert Schuller and Stanley Fish? (Yes, you read that right: isn’t that alone worthy of some commendation?) More reliably, how about rave responses by evangelical scientist Francis Collins, or historian Paul Johnson? This is more than a defensive critique of the new atheists, and is obviously eloquent and very wide-ranging and sophisticated.
THE “HEY, THAT’S JUST YOUR OPINION”Â AWARD FOR BEST BOOK ON CONTEMPORARY APOLOGETICS
Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend edited by Ravi Zacharias (Nelson) $24.99 This is a great collection of essays compiled by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, with contributors such as Alister McGrath, John Lennox, Amy Orr-Ewing, Joe Boot, and an array of global writers of international distinction. They cogently address difficult questions, address deeper matters (one section is called “Addressing the Questions Behind the Questions”Â) and there are some articles on “internalizing”Â the truth. One excellent closing piece is on living out the truth in daily life. One need not agree with every detail of this very thoughtful collection, but we would be remiss not to celebrate it’s significance, and study it’s approach. At it’s heart, it maintains throughout, that it is most urgent to win people, not just arguments, and that apologetics must be rooted in building caring and authentic relationships.
SING IT OUT NOW: THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR ON MUSIC AWARD
Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music Jeremy S. Begbie (Baker Academic) $22.99 This much anticipated serious study is worth the effort to study carefully; Begbie has written much about aesthetics, about a Christian view on the arts, and, specifically, about music. His experience as one of Britain’s leading classical conductors and his mid-career conversion to Christ has made him a very strategic spokesperson and thinker. Here, he gives us a major, thoughtful study (but, to be honest, much more readable than his exceedingly complex Cambridge text, or the demanding Voicing Creation’s Praise. As Rowan Williams writes, “Very few new books in theology or religious studies show this level of freshness and imagination. Nicholas Woltersdorff has opined that this is Begbie’s finest. John Witvliet writes, “Begbie’s thinking emerges out of a fusion of the best musical thinking about theology and the best theological thinking about music. The resulting text is charged with energy and insight—and not just for musicians and theologians. This vital work is poised to energize and strengthen the entire Christian community.”Â Well, not if it isn’t widely sold and read. So we do our part by honoring it with one of our musical awards.
THE “ISN’T THIS IRONIC”Â AWARD PROMOTING A BOOK AGAINST CONSUMERISM, AND GIVING AWARDS OF SKETCHY WORTH TO A BOOK WHICH RAILS AGAINST THE IMPLICATIONS OF SUCH MARKET-DRIVEN TENDENCIES
Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole Benjamin R. Barber (Norton) $26.95 Mr. Barber is a very big cheese (you should know his Jihad vs. McWorld, at least.) He turns his brilliant mind, passionate convictions, and lucid writing towards this huge question of how consumerism reduces our deepest ways of being citizens, and erodes sustainable values. As the ever-brilliant and important Jackson Lears notes, “In this powerful and disturbing critique, Barber takes dead aim at a fundamental fallacy of our time: the equation of capitalism and democracy”Â¦.No one who cars about the future of our public life can afford to ignore this book.”Â We agree, and hope our honoring it makes a difference. And, no, it isn’t ironic. This is marketing to save the world. Buy this book, and think deeply.
THE MORE IS NOT BETTER AWARD (OR: A DEEPLY DESERVED DECORATION FOR HELPING DISCERN THE DANGERS OF DEEP DOO DOO.)
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future Bill McKibben (Times Books) $25 McKibben is our kind of guy: he’s a fine writer, luminous in his prose at times, and passionate. He’s a man of many talents, and writes widely—about creation, about nature-writing, about backpacking, about consumerism; he’s got a book on Job and he’s done a book on the dangers of genetic engineering. Here, he offers his best insight about the nature of local economies, how to understand sustainability, what stewardship means, and how to build a culture of “depth”Â and care. Like his breathtaking Hope Human and Wild this offers hope, named here as a “durable future”Â that is not in the grip of the idols of growth. That it is dedicated to Wendell Berry makes perfect sense, and I am sure Mr. Berry is deeply honored. McKibben won’t even know about this little award, but we offer him our most sincere gratitude.
THE PORT WILLIAM MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD: A TIE!
Wendell Berry: Life and Work edited by Jason Peters (University of Kentucky Press) $35
Conversations with Wendell Berry edited by Morris Allen Grubbs (University Press of Mississippi) $20 What a great year, to have two new books about Mr. Berry. Both are extraordinary, highly recommended, and we simply couldn’t imagine not awarding the both of them. Life and Work is a fine collection of essays, bound into a lovely, stable hardback, essays which study both his fiction and nonfiction, his literary contributions and his daily work as Kentucky farmer. His friend Norman Wirzba is the editor of this series of books called “Culture in the Land”Â which is a series in the new agrarianism. Any number of these chapters are well worth the price of the book; there are pieces by Bill Kauffman, David Kline, John Leax, Allan Carlson, Bill McKibben. Wes Jackson, Sven Birkerts, Gene Logsdon, Barbara Kingsolver, and others. I am confident to say this is the best b
ook about Berry yet done, and it is glorious. Still, Conversations With”Â¦ is equally a spectacular thing to dip in to, to read on occasion, to ponder. It is, literally, a collection of nearly 20 long interviews, republished with permission of as many magazines and newsletters where they first appeared. Here is the great interview from the old The Other Side magazine; here is a 1973 interview from the old Mother Earth News; and there is one from Orion, and one from The Progressive. Some are mostly about his literary contributions, his views on novels and poetry. Others are on his faith, several on his politics. The Christian Century interview is here, as is the one from Sojourners done in 2004. He was a gracious interviewee in most of them, and his literary insight, public concerns, and humble common sense make this a truly remarkable collection.
Well, I’m just getting warmed up. I most sincerely honor (most of) the above authors, whose books have meant a lot to me this year. More personal stories, quirky awards and earnest honors galore coming up soon in the January column.
I’ll post a link at the blog as soon as it’s ready. Hearts & Minds Best Books of the Year 2007 Awards, Part 2, coming soon.