Well, friends, welcome back from the awards show intermission. We hope you
had a good stretch. Thank your seat fillers, and settle in for the second part
of our 2009 ceremony. It will be an exciting time, without commercial breaks. We
think you will enjoy it. Thanks for joining us for the remainder of our
celebration. Let’s bring on the dignitaries, and break out the award medals.
Figuratively speaking, that is.


Every year there are many good books on books on writing, on words, and on
the meaning of language. This year, there were three that stood out, one a
sure-fire award winner, and two honorable mentions.

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
(Eerdmans) $18.00 Talk about a wonderful, elegant book! This is beautifully
written, very inspiring, truly thought-provoking, deeply faithful to the
Christian tradition, and yet readable by nearly anyone with an eye for good
writing and decent values. Yes, she frets about things: “Like any
life-sustaining resource,” she writes, “language can be depleted, polluted,
contaminated, eroded, and filled with artificial stimulants.” And she is wise
and right to remind us of the dangers of the mis-use of words, speech, language.
This isn’t a jeremiad, but rather a lovely rumination, especially on the written
word. What else would you expect from a renowned Christian poet? One of the best
books of this or any year.

The Power of Words and the Wonder of God John Piper, Justin Taylor,
editors (Crossway) $15.99 Yes, there is a dramatic cover with an allusion to the
blood of Christ, and they do make the firmly evangelical connection between our
speech and the glory of an exalted God who is savior and redeemer. Yet, this is
more than a call to be clear about faith, to proclaim with grace and wonder the
good mercies of God. This book includes wise counsel about communication with
others (Ted Tripp) about the glory of stories (Daniel Taylor, in a truly
wonderful essay), words that we sing (reflections on hymnody by Bob Kauffman),
stuff on cutting words (Mark Driscoll), and an interesting panel discussion with
some give and take between the preachers, poets, and writers. Scottish
theologian Sinclair Ferguson’s solid exegesis of James 3:1-12 illustrates that
these folks mean business relating Biblical teaching to this matter of our

In The Beginning Was the Word: Language, A God-Centered Approach Vern
Poythress (Crossway) $25.00 Is it fair to give an honorable mention to a book I
neither finished nor fully understood? Oh yes it is and here’s why: I know
enough to know that this is absolutely brilliant. In my college years, as a
speech and language therapy major, I followed some of the debates arising over
the seminal work of the linguist, Noam Chomsky, now more known for his left-wing
politics, but still a professor of linguistics at Harvard. Asking how the human
brain works, where language comes from, how a theistic worldview affects our
presuppositions about deep and thorny topics in disciplines like
linguistics–these are the very kinds of research questions every academic
discipline needs. For a conservative Calvinist thinker to engage this topic with
such seriousness is a gift indeed. It seems to me that this is a fascinating
inter-disciplinary work, not just a study of linguistics, but a theological and
Biblical study as well. Some reviewers have suggested that understanding this
will enable us to more deeply understand the Triune God of the Bible. In a world
where even the possibility of meaningful communication is derided, this work is
a blessing.


Rouault, Fujimura: Soliloquies Thomas S. Hibbes, Makoto Fujimura
(Square Halo Books) $19.99

I admit that I am not well aware of the biggest things happening in our
world. Although I am a moderately interested observer, I will quickly admit I’m
pretty ill informed about the most important occurrences in the world of serious
high art. I’m sure there were modern art exhibits in London and treasures
uncovered in Vienna and extraordinary new installations in Santa Fe that I know
nothing about. Still, I want to celebrate that we were the first bookstore to
acquire a book that coincided with one of the truly great art exhibits of 2010.
I know enough to be confident of this event’s importance.

Our friends at the ever-resourceful Square Halo Books published a beautiful
little paperback with artwork of the famed French impressionist, George Rouault,
and the contemporary New York abstract painter, Makoto Fujimura. A troubled
Catholic and a serene Calvinist; early 20th century European and
early 21st century New Yorker; the differences between these two painters are
evident. But what is extraordinary is their similarities, their over-lapping
influences and common visions. As we described at BookNotes when
Soliloquies was released, the book includes a smart piece by
Fujimura, and an extended essay by art critic Thomas Hibbes. Most delightfully,
Soliloquies includes some previously unshown work of Rouault, and
some new work, inspired by Rouault, by Mr. Fujimura. This beautifully designed
book is the text that accompanied the historic showing at The Dillon Gallery in
New York last fall. We celebrated it then, reviewed in carefully (, and now remind you that our shop is one of the very few places to get
it, a service we are thrilled to provide, worldwide. This was, indeed, a
successful exhibition (can you imagine getting rare works from the Rouault
estate into New York on a small budget?) This classy project was a labor of
love, as the best labor always is. So was the design and publication of the
book. I wish we had a true gold medal to award this fine little work. I wish we
could have the project heralded far and wide. I wish Square Halo and Mako all
the best. Congratulations on our little award, this affirmation that
Soliloquies is truly a historic release, one of the most important
books of the past year. May critics and patrons more important than us take


I’m being a bit sneaky, since I awarded a theology Book of the Year
previously (in Part One.) I’m calling this category “The History of Theology”
showing that it is less about theology, per se, and more about
intellectual history. Anyway, how could I not give a proper hat-tip to our man
Alister McGrath, one of the smartest guys, and most prolific theological
scholars, on the planet? He’s a fine gentleman, very British, and you should
read his books. Especially this one. It may seem a tad arcane, but it is not.

Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth Alister McGrath (HarperOne)
$24.99 This was released late in the year, allowing it to be added to our
late-in-coming awards list. Of course, he doesn’t need our puny
publicity; he is, as we’ve noted, an esteemed and prolific writer. He does what
we think is just fabulous: a very solid thinker, who has written laudably for
the guild, translates his or her academic work into ordinary prose that any
interested reader can appreciate. And, further, when an evangelical thinker who
stands firmly within historic Christian orthodoxy is utterly fluent and friendly
to everyone across the theological spectrum, that, too, is a beauty to behold.
In this fascinating work, Dr. McGrath (he has degrees in both science and
theology) surveys the meaning of the notion of heresy, and gives a helpful and
interesting overview of the major controversies throughout church history. Some
have studied theology in this way, and it is a great way to both appreciate
church history and a way to learn what doctrines are essential and what
orthodoxy means.

Justo Gonzalez (the author of the excellent two volume The Story of
and the briefer Essential Guide to Church History) says,
“Not only a riveting story of ancient controversies, but also a much-needed and
timely correction to the commonly-held notion that heretics were mostly free
thinkers who challenged a narrow and closed orthodoxy.” Another feature of this
fine work is the spiritual reflection on the very attraction we have to heresy,
to the nature of the human soul that too often craves invention and illusion,
over truth. Dallas Willard applauds it for just this: “…helps us understand what
heresy is and why it exercises a powerful attraction upon the human mind…full of
illuminating insights into the motivations that lead people to adopt heresy as a
style of life and a personal demeanor.” Three cheers!


We are happy to bestow an award for another book of history, a book I have so
enjoyed dipping in to, even when I have reason to think some chapters may,
themselves, not be the final word on a subject. Of course any contemporary
telling of any historical tale is biased, and the worldview and assumptions of
the authors color how they see things. And this is part of the fun of this
brilliant book. Great intellectual history, offering insights about the faith
and science conversation.

Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths About Science and Religion
edited by Ronald Numbers (Harvard University Press) $27.95 My goodness
did I learn a lot by perusing these interesting chapters. Numbers is well known
as a historian of the faith and science controversies (having won several
prestigious awards, especially for his meticulous history, The
.) I am not so sure that this book settles everything, and it
would be fascinating to hear rebuttals to these myth-breakers. Still, we are
happy to award a book that offers such balance, and so many authors, writing in
ways that are helpful and illuminating. Did the medieval church suppress the
growth of science? Did Rene Descartes originate the mind/body distinction? Is it
true, as is often reported, that Huxley defeated Wilberforce in their debate
over evolution and religion? Or that the church denounced anesthesia in
childbirth on Biblical grounds? How about Myth # 16: “That Evolution Destroyed
Darwin’s Faith in Christianity—Until He Reconverted on His Deathbed.” Or, the
one about Einstein believing in a personal God? One chapter explores why it is
wrong to say that “Modern Science Has Secularized Western Culture.” On and on
they go, doing their best to expose myths, explain the truth, bring clarity to
the conversations, counter dis-information. Interestingly, some of these
truth-tellers seem to be frustrated with how some in the conservative faith
community have spun things; others are exposing the falsehoods perpetrated as
part of a secular party line. In all cases, they are trying to bring insight and
clarity and do so with historical explanations and much good writing. Our friend
Ed Davis, who does extraordinary work fostering these kinds of healthy and fair
conversations here in Central Pennsylvania (and who teaches at Messiah College)
has a chapter, too, which is quite an honor for him. The myth he tries to
clarify? “That Isaac Newton’s Mechanistic Cosmology Eliminated the Need for


All Marketers Tell Stories Seth Godin (Portfolio) $23.95 I really
enjoy Seth Godin, even if some of the time I have little idea what he’s talking
about—purple cows, meatball Sundays, idea viruses. Well, actually, I get that
part–be extraordinary, do something memorable, change your world, form networks
of friends who believe in what you’re doing, go viral, shake it up. When he
starts talking about start-ups of high tech services, and prototypes-types and
whatzits, and how easy it is to connect with everybody anywhere on line, I roll
my eyes. I just don’t get out much, I admit. Okay, nonetheless, hipster, upscale
iPad-toting business geek or not, this guy is important to follow, and
inspiring. I think most H&M fans will appreciate him. And this one is the
one of his I’ve enjoyed the most. It’s winner.

There is a bit of a story, too. The short version is that the first edition
was called All Marketers Are Liars. That is, they tell stories, and the
listeners determine if it is true for them. Serious epistemology aside, we know
this is true. If some high-end wine glass manufacturer convinces high-end wine
drinkers that their custom-made glass makes the wine taste better, it really
will. Those tasters really do have a better experience, and they are passionate
about it, so skip the science, and let the folks enjoy their better-tasting wine
in the (storied) new glass. The change – a real change, Seth insists – in the
experience doesn’t come from the data about the glass, it comes from the
perception, which comes from a story. Framing details by a
meta-narrative is the way to do evangelism – whether for a business, a product,
or a movement. He’s right, and I’m in.

Well, when the lying line backfired (or was that part of the plan all along,
a part of his own story?) the publisher re-launched a new version of the book
with the phrase “Are Liars” scribbled out with a Sharpie and “Tell Stories”
scribbled overtop. The new preface (about the irony of Seth not telling his
story very well, with this unfortunate word choice for the title) is itself
really quite fabulous. The heart of the book explores in fun detail this notion
that the most successful businesses are those that know, dream, live, are
passionate about, and do a good job communicating their story – and this is a
lesson for nearly all of us. From small businesses to non-profits, from
idea-entrepreneurs to pastors and ministry leaders, duking it out over who is
most right (or the cheapest for the mass market) is the way of the
not-so-successful past. The way of today, the way of fruitfulness and lasting
impact, he insists, is to tell the better story. And to invite people into that

Godin reminded me of things Beth and I used to say to each other (and anybody
that cared to listen) 30 years ago as we dreamed up this third place of books
and friendship, ideas and God, culture and social change, reading
Biblically-informed stuff together with friends of all sorts. Our story led us
to create this place, and our books are part of the story. Our good staff are
part of that story, as is our extended family and our very best friends. Our
readers and supporters and network of authors and book-buyers are the heart of
it, especially as they/we grow and learn about the reign of God in our lives,
and work for social renewal, inspired by the ideas generated by the books we’ve
read. The sales and profits are clearly not the point (what a bland story that
would be.) This is stuff we intuited when we chose not to put our inventory on
line, but instead invited people to chat with us – old school small-town
businessy relationships on line, resisting the false gods of efficiency, speed
and the reductionism of the faceless movement of units of product. That’s part
of our story, but we don’t tell it very well. And I spend more time complaining
about amazon (even in a note to Mr. Godin, who nicely wrote back a firm reply)
than I do saying and showing why we have a storied thing going on here.

So this book got me thinking, oddly, or maybe not so oddly, about another
“Book of the Year” selection, Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand
In it, Miller describes a fabulous guy named Bob Goff who, in ways
that are hilarious and crazy and world-changing (uh, like becoming a judge in
Uganda in order to expedite justice in that forlorn land), teaches Miller that
the point is not just to tell a better story, but to invite people into a better
story. This marketing book with the odd title change reminded me of all that.

I think it deserves some little award from our corner of the Internet,
celebrating it as one of the year’s best books in this genre, in a year where
there were oodles of just such stuff. (New Community Rules: Marketing on the
Social Web
or Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest
Businesses Grow Themselves
, etcetera, etcetera.) All Marketers Tell
has this on the front cover: “The Underground Classic That
Explains How Marketing Really Works – And Why Authenticity is the Best Marketing
of All.” I’m not sure how authentic the “underground classic” line is, but I
trust this straight-shooting genius who is willing to take some risks, and may
be one of the most celebrated business speakers of our generation. He’s already
got an action figure of himself. Now he has an award from Hearts & Minds.
What a story!


This is a no-brainer for us, and I will be honest. Beth and I read this
massive volume in a pre-pub edition because we were interviewed by the author as
he was researching it. It is a major volume, named by lots of prestigious
sources (New York Times, Wall Street Journal and so forth) as one of the
best books of the Summer of ’09. We’ve followed the author’s research, played a
small hand in helping him around our town as he was writing a portion of the
book here, and the bookstore is mentioned in passing. Of course we were
intrigued, and it was fun to see friends’ names in print in a prestigious
serious hardback. Because of our interest in the topic, we were eager to learn
more, and we loved every page of it. However it could have been a flop. I would
not award it if it didn’t deserve the honor. It deserves much, much more than
our feeble applause. And it has gotten, it, too. This is certainly one of our
favorite books of the year!

The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the China Underworld and the American Dream
Patrick Radden Keefe (Random House) $27.50 This was one of the
surprisingly much-discussed books in the policy world of think tanks and pundits
this year, and it gained a following among all sorts of folks. The
brilliant young author deserves all the acclaim he has received. This is a
riveting and magisterial work on the Chinese crime underground, the massive web
of human smuggling, and the grand human rights efforts offered here in York PA,
when a group of Chinese immigrants were detained in York County Prison for years
on end in the 1990s. The book chronicles the harrowing journey of Chinese
immigrants on the decrepit ship, the Golden Venture, which, after months
at sea, finally ran aground in New York. The passengers were arrested and were
dispatched to the prison here in York PA. I reviewed this book in the summer
when it came out, and we celebrated the book launch with our friends from the
Golden Vision support group, and some of the Chinese guys from the GV
ship. This is an amazing book, an amazing story and we are honored to know
first-hand much of a portion of it. Go back and read our full review, follow the
link to the author’s video clip, and you will want to pick up this complex and
well-written book. It is a page-turner of a read which combines the thrill of
true crime, the insight of social and cultural history, the inspiration of an
overcoming-the-odds adventure story, and the faith-based advocacy of creating a
world of care and justice for all. Wow.


Ignore history and you’re doomed to repeat it. We’ve all heard the statement,
but it hasn’t compelled our customers to buy many history books, which is a
shame. History is important. Nearly all of the best intellects, leaders, and
preachers I know recommend dipping into the past and they regularly cite history
books. There are so many good ones (and, around here, near Gettysburg, there is
a solid cottage industry of books about that infamous battle and about Abraham
Lincoln, many of which earn prestigious awards. We should be proud. Avoiding
Lincoln, though, here are a few we feel deserve some accolades. I will name a
few that I have not read fully, but that I know deserve mention—there have
been some truly exceptional works published this year. Hang on ’til the bottom
of this section, and we’ll announce the most popular among our customers, in
that sense, truly the best of the year.

The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the
Tom Holland (Doubleday) $30.00 I think I discovered Holland late,
when I was preparing for a book display not long ago about Greco-Roman culture,
and learned about his altogether excellent, exciting, important, Rubicon.
I realized he is highly regarded as a very trustworthy scholar (with degrees
from Cambridge and Oxford) and yet writes with verve and panache. Here he
explores the meaning of the 11th century: yes, the year 1000. As the
British Evening Standard put it, Forge of Christendom is “a
superb, fascinating, and erudite medieval banquet of slaughter, sanctity, and
sex, filled with emperors, whores, and monks.” And people don’t want to read
this stuff? Upon being awarded a scholarly prize in England, the Daily
wrote “In the year 1000, Western Europe was no more than a primitive
and fearful region in the shadow of Byzsantium and Islam. Yet as Tom Holland
demonstrates in this fascinating history it was also the crucible of the
creation of the Europe we know today.” Another reviewer writes,

As if in defiance of all those humanists who condemn or, worse, patronize the
early Middle Ages, Tom Holland shows a humble and humbling insight into the
agonies and complexities of that time…As a stirring, vivid, and formidably
learned analysis of the events surrounding the millennium, this will hardly be
equaled. Extraordinary insights and lapidary phrases abound.

And I don’t even know what lapidary phrases are. Still, we want to honor

Five Cities That Ruled the World: How Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and
New York Shaped Global History
Douglas Wilson (Nelson)
$14.99 What a great idea this is, and how very useful! This offers for the lay
reader a long chapter overview of each of five main cities in the history of the
West, and what each contributed to the unfolding of our civilization. I am not
astute enough to know if I agreed with all of these grand claims, and the author
himself admits that such a project is an interpretative leap; no one city can be
so pigeon-holed, of course, so his method may be madness. Still, I loved it,
learned a bit, was thrilled with the way the author did make a good case
for each strength offered by each good city. As for his angle, it is wonderful
to see an obvious Christian doing thoughtful history, celebrating the good, the
bad, and the ugly, knowing God desires us to attend to the realities of the real
world. Nothing super-spiritual or sanctimonious about this at all.

is a summary, from the back jacket:

You’ll discover the significance

  • Jerusalem’s complex history and its deep-rooted character as the city of
    freedom, where people found their spiritual liberty.

  • Athens’s intellectual influence as the city of reason and the birthplace of

  • Rome’s evolution as the city of law and justice and the freedoms and
    limitations that come with liberty.

  • London’s place in the world’s history as the city of literature where man’s
    literary imagination found its wings.

  • New York’s rise to global fame as the city of commerce and how it triggered
    unmatched wealth, industry, and trade throughout the world.

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 Gordon
Wood (Oxford University Press) $35.00 At 750+ pages, this magisterial text is
considered, by those in the know, to be one of the finest such works ever done.
The series of which it is a part, “The Oxford History of the United States,” is
unsurpassed. Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review of Empire…
declared, it to be “A triumph of the historian’s art.” Another reviewer
noted that Wood’s “pitch perfect erudition is legendary.” There is little doubt
that Professor Wood is the preeminent scholar of the American founding for our
day and perhaps of all time. This is one of his luminous, crowing

The American Future: A History Simon Schama (Ecco) $29.99 Schama has
earned many awards, not the least of which is the National Book Critics Circle
Award for Rough Crossings. I happened upon the PBS documentary he did on
art and immediately rushed to order the book for our shop—it is a large-sized
companion to the DVD, but a rich, insightful, fascinating study of art works and
what they tell us about history. I knew, then, that he is a master storyteller,
and promised I would become more familiar with his work. This new release is a
bit of popular analysis of the modern culture wars and, as the dust jacket says
rather glibly, “Schama looks back to see more clearly into the future.” By
“looking back” he offers visions and voices to help us with four multiple crises
besetting the United States, musing on “how these problems look in the mirror of
time.” He explores the matters of war, religion, race (and immigration) and the
relationship between natural resources and prosperity.

This blurb from The Financial Times may not endear all BookNotes
readers to Mr. Schama, but it is fun to quote:

Only now…has Kerouac found a worthy heir. Yet this road trip is also an
inspiring and illuminating work of history, a reflection on the essence of
America with a bedrock of deep knowledge behind the bebop prose…The author’s
genius lies in the way he uses micro-historical, human-scale narratives to make
his big analytical points. I hope Obama will have this book on his bedside
table. A more inspiring evocation of the spirit of liberal America—past,
present, and future—does not exist.

Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin Bill
Kauffman (ISI Books) $25.00 Sometimes I say I will read anything by a given
author of whom I’m fond, and Bill Kauffman has been on that short list. He’s
something like a “crunchy con” and as an anti-war conservative and “front-porch
radical” he seems part Wendell Berry and part Dorothy Day, a bit of a
hell-raiser, with down-home values of care and earnest patriotism of the sort
that wants big government (and big anything) out of his beloved neighborhood.
Whether it is his book about coaching little league, or his anthology of
like-minded localist anarchists, I truly recommend his work. I so love this
guy’s wild prose with an attitude, and think he’s nearly right. So when a new
book came along – about one of the more colorful voices in the drafting of the
Articles of the Confederation, and the Constitutional debates, a guy I never
heard of (thank you very much – I was, shall we say, under-committed and less
than thrilled. Yet, I have said I will read all Bill’s books, so by golly, read
it I did. What a weird and interesting and somehow important little story, this
verbose, Maryland prophet against big government. If you’ve watched the
outstanding John Adams DVDs (or, better, read the big book) you may have
had a glimpse of the Jeffersonian angst against big money aligned with big
power. Brother Kauffman loves the Anti-Federalist tradition, and tells us all
about one of America’s biggest losers, Luther Martin, and his futile work
against the Philadelphia Constitution. Wow. I don’t know how to honor this, with
what sort of award. “Best book about an unknown drunk who had a peculiar name
and even more peculiar political philosophy, told by a modern-day character
himself who shows that the gracious curmudgeon was maybe almost right?” “Best
Book You Most Likely Never Heard Of Award?” How about “A Solid Thank You to
Clever Writer and Regular Guy Bill Kauffman for Once Again Bring Sanity to This
Power-Crazy World Through a Detailed Work of Mostly Untold History”?

It Happened in Italy Elizabeth Bettina (Nelson) $24.99 When a new
author with a degree from Smith shows up, telling moving stories of how untold
numbers of good folks in Italy defied the horrors of the holocaust, resisting
Hitler by saving Jews, one ought to pay attention. Kudos to Nelson for
publishing this admittedly obscure bit of 1940s research. Some of you no doubt
adore what is one of my all time favorite books, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed:
Le Chabon and How Goodness Happened There
, and if so, this is a similar sort
of book. Granted, it would be a rare work that matched Lest Innocent
… for sheer beauty and narrative force; this book, though, has merit in
its simple clarity, in the tale Ms Bettina tells as she uncovers these untold
stories from her home town. One can dip in to this at nearly any point and be
immediately intrigued and surely moved. From sleuthing down the narrow
cobblestone streets of Campagna, Italy, to her Park Avenue private audience with
Pope Benedict, this story unfolds in breezy fashion, almost belying the horrific
background of her discoveries.

This surely deserves acclaim not only for her own dogged exploration, but for
bringing to light resistance to oppression in a part of the world that we often
do not associate with Nazi repression. May she be blessed.

1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the
Gavin Menzies (William Morrow) $26.95 I don’t know if this
is award-winning caliber, but it deserves a Hearts & Minds honor because it
is surely one of the books we talked about most this past year. Beth read his
previous 1421 this summer and truly could not put it down. She
would exclaim something remarkable every few moments for days as she zoomed
through this story of Chinese navigation. Menzies makes it undeniably clear that
the Chinese visited both the East and West coasts of North America long before
any Europeans did–as early as 1423, when the great Chinese navigator Admiral
Zheng He circumnavigated the globe. (The Chinese had discovered longitude and
latitude, and had accurate clocks, enabling them to map most of the world;
their excessive flotillas sent to the seven seas recorded copious notes, and
their interaction with indigenous peoples in Africa, South and North America are
very well documented. They arrived in Florence and met with Pope Eugenius IV,
leaving behind a mass of knowledge, including maps, astronomy, mathematics, art,
architecture, and printing!) Because it was brand new to us, 1421
was, admittedly, more exciting, but 1434 has its payload
of surprises, too. (Did you know that in 1490 Leonardo da Vinci studied a series
of Florentine drawings of machines and engineering that may have been copied
from the “Nung Shu” which was a Chinese treatise printed in 1313? And that
Columbus himself had been given (in the 1480s) a map of the Americas by Paolo
Toscanelli, who admitted that it had been gleaned from the “great men of
learning” who had come to Florence from China in 1934? World maps appeared, says
Menzies, including geography that no European had ever seen (like the Strait of
Magellan), in the early 1500s. Yep, they got ’em from the Chinese back in 1434.
This good sequel to a fantastic previous book deserves mention. Award for most
provocative, most fun, most discussed history book in our household in years.
Thanks for reminding us of the joy of learning, the thrill of

The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer That Changed the
Stephen Mansfield (Nelson) $24.99 This started out on a whim, as
historian Stephen Mansfield was tired and frustrated after being hammered for
having done two consecutive biographies, one called The Faith of George W.
and another called The Faith of Barack Obama. As former pastor
and Bible teacher, this trained historian and journalist had been doing
political research for years, and wanted to refresh himself with a quirky, small
project. Little did he know just how amazing the legendary Arthur Guinness and
family is, and how remarkable the Guinness corporation. From impeccable
manufacturing of quality products to serious involvement in creative
philanthrophy, from generous commitments to workers to generous investment in
world missions, this rare brew of a book tells it all, very, very nicely. As one
reviewer noted, “Mansfield makes a quietly serious case for the essential role
that faith has played not only in the Guinnessses’ success but also in the
evolution of democratic capitalism.” Eric Metaxes (author of a definitive book
on Wilberforce, and a forthcoming book which will surely be definitive on
Bonhoeffer) writes that it is “frothy, delicious, intoxicating, and
nutritious!…an absolute inspiration.”

Yes, you guessed it—a clink of the steins and a “bottoms up” to you if you
did. This is our winner for most popular history book, in our store this year.
In deed, maybe in 20 years. God. Guinness. It’s a winner in any category.
Congratulations to Mr. Mansfield, and kudos to Thomas Nelson for braving the
criticism in religious publishing for daring to do a book on beer.


My, my, what a complicated topic, what a rich field from which to choose, and
what a subject matter, finding books that deserve special accolades because they
are sure to deepen nearly any reader’s soul. We have many to celebrate, and we
review them here with some regularity. After much prayer and discernment (I’m
joking) I have concluded that we need to honor a few very special books this
year. Serious writers about Godly spirituality wouldn’t be proud, though, so
they really don’t care. The rest of us should.

Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion Richard Foster
& Gayle Beebe (IVP) $25.00 This may not glow in warm prose the way the
writing of some writers of the inner life does, but it is solid, helpful,
important. There are few resources that bring together such a nicely wide
diverse group of mature Christian writers, and here, Foster and Beebe share the
stories of many guides and pilgrims who have come before us. Each of the seven
paths is illustrated by the brief bibliographies of key writers or thinkers who
have much to teach us about that path. So, for instance, we learn about
Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux and Pascal in a conversation about the right
ordering of our love for God. On recovering true knowledge of God (in a fallen
world) we hear from Aquinas, Luther, Calvin. Some authors are less known
(Benedict of Nursia, Gregory the Great) and others most have heard of, but
perhaps never read (Julian of Norwhich, George Fox, Thomas a Kempis.) With
chapters on our experiences of God, the relationship of action and
contemplation, and intimacy with Jesus Christ, and more, there is enough good
stuff here to last a year. One can learn about great saints of the past, learn
about the rise and history of various ways of devotion and discipleship,
and–their ultimate reason for writing–can learn from these practices to come to
know God more deeply (and serve Christ more faithfully.) Take up and read.

Picturing the Face of Jesus: Encountering Christ Through Art Beth
Booram (Abingdon) $14.00 This is a quiet little book, brief, plain, released
without any big roll out or PR campaign. I was immediately drawn to the simple
idea – using classic reproductions of 8 artists who have painted their
imaginations of Jesus – and using this as a devotional guide. Many have loved
(and we are glad there is a paperback re-issue) Frederick Buechner’s
Faces of Jesus, although his is a theological, writerly
rumination. Booram’s book is truly a handbook for one’s devotions, a touching
book to draw you closer to the Master (complete with verses to look up, journal
questions, and such.) Of course there are full color plates of the paintings she
uses. Carol Kent notes that it is “unlike any book you have read on Christ.
Through the poignant use of imagery, biblical storytelling, and visionary
prayer, Beth Booram brings the character of the Savior into clear focus.” I
liked her earlier book, The Wide-Open Spaces of God which tells of using
various geographic settings for spiritual reflection. She actually sets up these
“places” in the workshops and retreats she does, inviting people into these
different holy grounds. Here, she uses art to point us to Jesus, and we want to
honor her with our little affirmation. Well done, good and faithful

The Sacred Meal Nora Gallagher (Nelson) $24.95 This was an autumn
release in the ongoing “Ancient Practices” series. We have read them all, and
speak highly of each, each in its own way. This, however, is the best yet, and
deserves to be considered one of the standard books in the field, a lovely and
touching and insightful work. Here is what the always-astute Lauren Winner says:
“Nora Gallagher is a writer I’d follow anywhere, but is a particular thrill to
follow her to the Lord’s table. I know of no contemporary writer whose insights
about the Eucharist match hers.” Rousingly endorsed by wordsmith and Episcopal
priest Barbara Brown Taylor, it is clear that this is a book about which you
should know, a book we should be enjoying, discussing, and from which we should
be learning. We are happy to honor it as one of the best religious books of the

Holy Available and Pure Pleasure Gary Thomas
(Zondervan) $14.99 each The first is a reprint of an earlier book I adored,
The Beautiful Fight, which is all about becoming holy, allowing God’s
character to be formed in us. The other one Gary released this year is about
exactly what it sounds like–pleasure. It asks on the cover, as a sub-title,
“Why Do Christians Feel So Bad About Feeling Good?” Between these two books,
Thomas has used his joyful stories, his deep knowledge of the literature of
spiritual formation, and his evangelical passion to help ordinary people become
deeper, truer, more Christ-like and, finally, more human. A double-decker award
for him, an honor that, were he to ever hear about it, we hope would give him
some holy pleasure.

Great Prayers of the Old Testament Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $16.95 It
seems to me that any spirituality that claims to be Christian must, among other
things, attend to two important matters. Christian spirituality must be Biblical
(that is, grounded in the details of the text) and it must be earthy. That is,
it cannot be Gnostic, merely internal, private, super-spiritual, or overly
subjective. Other than the Biblical text, Christians have no inside knowledge of
the holy, but all can experience God as He is revealed in the pages of Holy
Scripture. Yes, the living Christ and the Holy Spirit abides, but our
understanding of this must be mediated by the Bible. And that Scripture is,
oddly, messy, complex, down-to-earth, and tells of pray-ers that were very, very
real. And so, we award a Hearts & Minds best book in the category of
spirituality to the esteemed Old Testament scholar Walt Brueggemann, who I once
heard preach up a storm from Isaiah on the holiness of God and end with a moving
excerpt from Grapes of Wrath. Bible and life, just like that. By studying
some of the prayers of particular chosen people, we can, today, come to grips
with a similar faithful encounter with God. Does it surprise you that he
includes laments, prayers that may seem untoward, and in the discussion
questions, invites us to similar authenticity as we reach towards what he calls
“Holy Mystery and Holy Ultimacy.”? Brueggemann on prayer. Thanks be to God.



Wow. Again, we are putting ourselves out there, trying to name one book that
stands out. Of course, there are many good ones and no one book alone can lead
anyone into pure and effective Christian living. Quite a few deserve special
commendation, but we are just listing one. Take a deep breath, offer a drum
roll, and get a little wild.

ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church Michael Frost &
Alan Hirsch (Hendrickson) $19.95 If you follow religious publishing at all, you
have heard of these two, known as leaders in the missional movement. Like Aussie
Blues Brothers, they are on A Mission From God, and it may cause some mayhem.
They’ve written a few books together, and they’ve each done a solo project. They
are back together again–imagine if Lennon and McCarthy did a joint project in
’74, at the top of their games. This is about the missional conversation, and
about Jesus, and about the Kingdom, and about social trends and big risks, and
serving the world in Christ-like ways. It is about how to (and, because it needs
to be said, why) “reinstate Jesus as the central focus of our spiritual lives –
both as individual disciples and as communities of His people.” They expose
distortion and misrepresentation, they offer a Christ-centered view of the
Biblical narrative, and they call us (theologically, and practically) to be
clear about the mission of God in Christ. One of the great pleasures of this
text is that it has some crazy-wild illustrations, it has a few side-bars
explaining folks they think we should know about (from Jean Vanier to William
Wilberforce to Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and there are even a few full-color pictures
to enjoy and ponder. (Spoiler alert: they criticize a few famous depictions of
Jesus, calling one a “bearded lady” Jesus.) There are just a few too many charts
for my taste, but some readers will love that they are citing poets and using
art and history, and then kick in to some teacherly outlines and very clear
summaries of their major points. This is a great book, and it could make a big
difference for anyone willing to rethink the nature of a whole-life
discipleship. It is worth having, worth being open to, worth talking about. I am
not sure how you say “hip hip hooray” in Australian, but these guys deserve more
than a goofy H&M Award. They deserve to be taken seriously, so Christ can be
exalted, not by pious talk, but by creating authentic communities that bear not
only His name and His image, but His very way of being.



Well, this is one of our bookstore’s strong suits, a category that is way too
broad, and with too many extraordinary winners. We have blogged long and hard
about social justice resources, about books that offer insight about the trends
of our time, about globalization and public theology. We hope that at the start
of a new year and a new decade, you might browse through our humble suggestions
of months past, and find resources that help you live lives of Christian service
“in, but not of” the world around us. Best book? Even the thought is a joke.
We’re glad that so many recent books are calling folks to action, to serve a
broken world. We rejoice in the great books, only wishing they’d supplant the
best-selling nonsense, the mean ones, the shallow ones. Please, stop complaining
about the diatribes (on Fox News or CNN or on Christian broadcasting) and get
some good books into local book groups. We can change the conversation, I think,
by sharing the better books, rather than complaining about the bad ones.

And so, an honorable mention or two, great titles to affirm with great

Christian America and the Kingdom of God Richard Hughes (Illinois
University Press) $29.95 I wish this were on a more popular publishing house,
but this is a prestigious one within the small world of academia. And I wish it
were not so expensive. Still, this is one of the best books of the year, a
remarkable study of this vexing matter of church and state, of Christ and
culture, of the uniquely American ways we’ve too often confused God and country.
No lesser scholar than sociologist Robert Bellah writes of it, “A powerful call
for truth in the muddled world that confuses Christianity and American
nationalism.” As Brian McLaren says in the forward, after describing his love
for our land, and his choking up singing about it, sometimes, “It’s easy to
demonize, and easy to lionize. In between comes the hard work of sober
judgement, and Richard Hughes is one of the best people alive to help us in this
national task.” As Dr. Hughes – a dear man if ever there was one – patiently
develops, the Kingdom of God means very certain things in the Bible, and it has
been applied in history in very peculiar ways. As a historian, he carefully
explores all this—I kept thinking of a famous book called The City of
that asks similar questions – in ways that are trenchant and
informative. Martin Marty says that it “is to be located in the fist rank of the
many newer debates regarding the nexus between religion and

And, while I’m celebrating this fine work, how about another
little award? I think this has about the best back jacket blurbs, certainly from
the widest array of scholars. He’s got raves from the late Howard Zinn, the
evangelical historian Mark Noll, mainline churchman Martin Marty, and the
recently acclaimed journalist and blogger, Diana Butler Bass.

Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community
Andrew Marin (IVP) $15.00 While at a very well known, conservative and
respected evangelical institution of higher learning, Marin had several good
friends come out of the closet, sharing with him that they had concluded they
were irrevocably homosexual. This rocked his conservative culture and theology,
and, as you can imagine, caused no little discomfort. Alas, to make a very long
and tenderly told story short, Marin started to do some research on the gay,
lesbian, and transgendered community, eventually creating what may be the best
research to date on religion in that community. More importantly, perhaps, he
and his wife moved into a predominantly GLBT neighborhood, learning to become
friends with those many consider outcasts from the church. As one reviewer put
it (David Roberts, of Ex-Gay Watch) Love Is an Orientation “is a book
unlike any other on the debate about homosexuality in the church. Marin
establishes a new starting place for us all – a definite must read.” We applaud
how he has attempted to elevate the conversation from “genetics to gospel” and
builds a bridge between evangelicals and GLBT communities. There are those who
are convinced that Christian faith puts them squarely on one side or another of
this controversy. I know we risk alienating both gay and straight customers and
friends by celebrating this book. Its heart, though, is clear: we must love, we
must talk, we must accept one another, despite deep and abiding differences in
what we believe faith demands. Most urgently, we must talk about the good news
of Christ Jesus. As Shane Claiborne puts it, this is “a fresh, gracious,
innovative voice in the dialogue.”

Here is an excerpt from the forward, which illustrates why we want to honor
it on our “best of the year” list.

When you come to the last page, Andrew won’t ask you to agree with his
opinions about the gay orientation or lifestyle. In fact, he won’t indulge in a
lot of opinion polemics. Instead, he will try to help you understand what he has
learned by listening with an open and compassionate heart to gay women and men.
And he will try to help you respond to gay people in your world in a more mature
and compassionate way, too. And in the end, he’ll ask you to agree with him on
one main thing: that the orientation and lifestyle of love is the right and only
way for true followers of Jesus.


Once again, there are several really, really fine books on race relations, on
faith-based work towards reconciliation and ethnic tensions. We have a large
selection, and read in this field pretty regularly. There are others we could
celebrate, but we want to affirm one for its groundbreaking insights and solid,
Christian perspective.

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural
Soong-Chan Rah (IVP) $15.00 This stimulating and broad work
expands and builds upon the vital contributions about global Christianity coming
from the likes of Philip Jenkins, Lamin Sanneh, or the recent scholarly release
of Mark Noll. This author stands firmly among the evangelicals who have done
such good work on issues of racial reconciliation. IVP is to be applauded for
its long-standing efforts to publish such work. Still, unlike those who are
documenting the rise of faith in the global South and Far East, and the good
books about the multi-ethnic call of the gospel, this book seems aimed at those
of us in the white status quo of the American church, and it asks some rigorous
questions. Rah insists that the future is now. Just as global Christianity is
shifting away from the West to the South and East, so too is the North American
church diversifying in terms of race, ethnicity, and culture. How has
globalization’s shift to increased mobility and immigration affected local
churches in North America? How can we resist the cultural captivity that keeps
us from being able to change around issues of culture, class, and race? African
American leader John Perkins says it is “powerful, prophetic.” Harvey Cox of
Harvard Divinity School asserts that it is “the best and most balanced treatment
of the subject now available.”

I like Scot McKnight’s colorful endorsement: “The Next Evangelicalism
reminds me of July 4: there’s plenty to celebrate and there are fireworks going
off in all directions! Sit down, open this book, and get ready to duck.” For
this very reason – its celebration and it’s fireworks – we wish we could send up
some fireworks ourselves, celebrating God’s work in our midst, illustrated by
scholar-activists like this.

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story and Where Do We Go
From Here? Chaos or Community
Martin Luther King (Beacon) $14.00 each
Sadly, and quite oddly, this first book of Rev. King, Stride Toward
has long been out of print. It is a riveting read about the
1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, King’s rise to leadership in the church and the
movement, and remains one of my all time favorite books. His struggle with the
philosophy of non-violence, and the training of these early civil rights
protesters, makes for very instructive reading. It is a vital part of American
history, a grand moment in the history of the church, and a great example for
anyone wondering about how the church might involve itself in movements of
social change. The new introduction is by Clayborne Carson (who edited the
famous multi-volume collection of King’s papers). Happily, Beacon has also
reissued the last book written by King, again, one that is as urgent and vital
as when it was written in 1967. The brief forward that Coretta wrote – the book
was published shortly after his murder – remains, but this new edition has a
moving, poetic tribute by Vincent Harding, and has been released with a uniform
cover to match Stride… These may be marked “African American
Studies” in the category listing on the back, but they are much more than that.
If you have not read King, these two are excellent introductions to his work.



Seems to be a perennial topic, and there are many good ones from a variety of
authors, for all ages.

There are two that came out, from the same publisher, about the same time.
Both are deeply thoughtful, very much worth reading. Funny, these don’t sound
all that titillating, but for serious Christian ethics, they are very highly

The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life Dennis
Hollinger (Baker Academic) $19.99 I think this is an excellent book, carefully
considered, Biblical, wise, and rooted in conversations about a Christian
worldview, a way of being in the world that is faithful, and, as Richard Mouw
puts it, “a rare combination of theological-philosophical expertise, cultural
savvy, and pastoral sensitivity.” Our pal Walt Mueller of the Center for Parent
and Youth Understanding (CPYU) says, “I’ll be recommending it as a must-read for
all pastors, parents, youth worker, and young adults.” I might not expect
everyone to work through such a thoughtful study, but I do hope at least some
heed Walt’s call. We need to clarify “the meaning of sex” if we are going to go
beyond some of the debates and controversies. Highly recommended.

Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationships Beyond an Age of Individualism
Dale Kuehne (Baker Academic) $19.99 When University of Chicago political
science Prof. (and historian, and film buff) Jean Bethke Elshtain does a forward
to a book, you know it will be wise, serious, and important. We are thrilled at
the interdisciplinary, ecumenical – and, finally, very, very useful – nature of
this wide-ranging book. James W. Skillen, retired from his lifetime as director
of the Center for Public Justice writes, “Kuehne has done a remarkable thing in
this book. His concern is with human love, marriage, family, the care of
children, the unfolding generations, the quality of society and political
community, and the character of the church. Considered in a broad historical
framework and with sensitive Christian understanding, homosexuality and other
hotly disputed issues of our day become clearly illuminated. Take the time you
need to read and reflect on this book. The payback will be tremendous.” Ron
Sider (of Evangelicals for Social Action) says that it is a “very important book
– clarifying complex issues, jolting us out of complacency, and demanding
action.” Stanton Jones of Wheaton College declares that it is “a superb
accomplishment.” I suppose finally this is a book about the very nature of the
human person – and the ways in which our individualistic culture (can anybody
say John Locke?) has deformed our understandings and our practices. We live,
sadly, in an iWorld of autonomy and contracts. Kuehne boldly and freshly asks us
to think more deeply and live more radically, into a rWorld (relationship
world) of mutuality and covenant. This is slow sledding at times, but hardly
anything could be more urgent.


Oh my, psychology majors, pay attention. Also, anybody who smirks at the
phrase “self help” as I usually do. We are happy to honor these authors for some
of the very best titles this year. These really are interesting, and we wish we
could award them in person, like a real award show would. I’d love to hear their
lovely acceptance speeches, caring folk that they surely must be to write this
kind of good stuff.

Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality Gareth Brandt
(Herald Press) $13.99 Don’t let the fact that this is a Mennonite theology prof.
and spiritual director, publishing on a Mennonite publishing house, dissuade
you. Menno-friendly or not, this is great, great, stuff, and we want to shout
out how glad we are to find a resource like this. Forget the Wild at Heart
macho stuff. This author is a poet, yet grew up with fairly ordinary men,
rural farmer guys who didn’t worry about what their masculinity meant. He argues
here that the warrior imagery is not useful as a Christian metaphor for men’s
spirituality – especially in a time of increased global and local violence. From
jihadists to religiously motivated domestic violence, it seems to me that we
have to get to new ways of thinking about masculinity and violence and power.
Without being weird or deep, this plainspoken guy lays it out for us. By using
the Joseph stories of Genesis, he roots his understanding of gender in the
Biblical narrative. There is some poetry, some good pop culture stuff, and he is
conversant many good writers, from Eldridge to the Promise Keepers gang, through
Richard Rohr, Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, and Donald Miller’s book To Own
a Dragon.
I like that in the forward, Arthur Paul Boers cites Bruce
Cockburn, and Brandt himself quotes the Lost Dogs tune, “Real Men Don’t Cry.”
Yeee, ha! This book deserves an award, and I’d backslap him if I

I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life Gregg A. Ten
Elshof (Eerdmans) $15.00 Eerdmans as a publisher is increasingly known for
groundbreaking (and, sometimes, budget-breaking) tomes that make significant
contributions to the worlds of Biblical studies or theology. They don’t do
little self-help books often, but when they do, they are nearly always
outstanding – rich, thoughtful, beautifully written, mature. I was drawn to this
by the exceptionally impressive forward by Dallas Willard, but was happy to see,
when the book arrived, it has extraordinary quotes by my friends James K.A.
Smith and David Naugle, both who write wisely and deeply about the interface of
faith, worldview, character and culture. Smith says I Told Me So is “a
wonderful example of philosophy serving spiritual discipline.” Naugle exclaims
that it is wise and well crafted, and “To tell me the truth, I’m glad I
read this book. You will be too–I promise.” I think Willard is correct that
small groups and congregations should grapple with it, but I suspect that most
will read it quietly, carefully, allowing its erudite prose to search our own
deceptive hearts. This is good, meaty stuff, beautifully done, urgent, even.
After a quick skim, I intend to work with it very slowly.

A Peaceable Psychology: Christian Therapy in a World of Many Cultures
Alvin Dueck & Kevin Reimer (Brazos) $24.99 This is a big, serious
work and it deserves more accolades than I can bestow. This is a broad moral
critique of Western culture, a thoughtful engagement with the ideas that have
shaped us, and a truly innovative contribution to reframing things. It is
asking, to put it simply, what the implications might be for Isaiah’s vision of
a peaceable Kingdom for those who work in psychology, counseling, therapy, or
mental health work. Donald Capps from Princeton Theological Seminary notes that
these authors “challenge the empire mentality of Western psychology through
learned but accessible discussions of the inevitable conflicts between object
science and indigenous religious traditions.” This is iconoclastic, radically
Christian scholarship seeking a renewal of the very foundations of the
discipline. Dueck is a professor at Fuller, and Reimer is a professor at Azusa
Pacific, and their knowledge is remarkable. Their vision is audacious. This book
is extraordinary. Hauerwas calls it “landmark.” It is thick, in more ways than


The best? Come on, we ain’t no Pulitzer Prize committee here. And we already
told you how much we loved Michael Perry’s Coop, his blue-collar rural
memoir about “pigs, poultry, and parenting” and that’s about the best story
we’ve read all year, even if it is mostly true. Still, we want to offer some
sort of incentive for publishers to send us a few free books, so we’ll name a
couple of my favs this year. Of course there is a new Barbara Kingsolver, which
I’m sad to say I haven’t opened yet. Everybody talked about Olive
and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and The Help. The
American Book Award winner was Let The Great World Spin, a fictional
account of that tightrope walker between the old WTC towers; we adored the
documentary made about him (Man on Wire). Our friend Daniel Nayeri
released an awesomely mind-blowing juvenile fiction story Another Faust.
Our “one community one book” choice this year was People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks, a novel about the Sarajavo Haggadah–a book about a book!
Beth liked The Time Traveler’s Wife, read after a sweet customer returned
it due to the course language and nudity. Beth usually hates such stuff, but
found the book hard to put down. We both agree the best novel we’ve read in
years, was The Story of Edgar Sawtell, the mystical novel about a mute
boy and his well-trained dogs. A remarkable, powerful piece of serious fiction!
For a lovely story, our staff loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie

Here are a few you may not have considered.

June Bug
Chris Fabry (Tyndale) $13.99 Okay, I admit I haven’t read this yet. I
really want to. I loved his book Dogwood (and the fact that a Jackson
Browne concert figured into the plot just clinched it for me.) This is,
amazingly, a retelling of Les Miserables, and the hard-to-please
Publisher’s Weekly declared it “a stunning success.” June Bug and her
daddy travel around in a RV and often sleep in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart.
One day, as she walks past the greeter, her eyes are drawn to the pictures of
missing children…Charles Martin has won the coveted Christy Award (he wrote
Where the River Ends) and says it is “masterful.” You know, I wanted to
read an award-winning novel this week, so maybe I’ll start this one.

Clutching Dust and Stars: A Novel Laryn Kragt Bakker
(*cino) $16.00 Rob and Natalie are expertly drawn hipster young adults,
twenty-somethings who have been out of school for a few years and are “charting
various paths of downward mobility.” This is set in Bellingham, Washington, in
the early years of 2000s, where Natalie’s art studio behind the thrift shop is
her place of canvas and paint. I can tell you ten things I liked about this
well-written drama, and while not every reader will love every moment, this is a
first novel by a very thoughtful Christian writer, published by an indie company
that we are close to. I don’t award the book because of that, but thought you
may know their e-zine (catapult) and may have seen it serialized there. We’re
pretty excited to carry this book, with its allusive title drawn from The
Kabbalah, despite its raw tale and deep struggles about faith and
justice…no, it is because of this that we so affirm it. As the author
puts it, “the story follows the tensions between various poles: dust and stars,
apathy and idealism, love and sadness, disbelief and faith, graffiti and art,
Rob and Natalie.” Best first novel, 2009!

The Passion of Mary-Margaret Lisa Samson (Nelson) $14.99 I know, I
know, this is really chick-lit, but I found it very hard to put down. Perhaps it
is because I respect the talents of Ms Samson – and her commitments to live in
an missional community in a rough part of their city – or perhaps it is because
it is set on a fictional island in the Chesapeake Bay, not that far from us,
with references to Baltimore and other mid-Atlantic spots. Or maybe it is the
way an evangelical writer, on a largely Protestant publishing house, has drawn a
very believable novel set in a Catholic retreat house, with most of the
characters (who we meet in a series of flashbacks based on found letters) are
nuns. This is a very moving story about forgiveness, the relationship between
past and present, and the longing for reconciliation and love. I know theses are
the themes of many contemporary novels. This one weaves faith throughout in
poignant and reasonable ways, touching down in the art world, local sewing, the
seamy world of burlesque, mission work in Africa and, oh – Ocean City. That
deserves an honor itself, no? Yes!

Bo’s Café John Lynch, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol (Windblown) $13.99 I
want to give this book an award for being – for better or for worse – this
year’s The Shack. Minus the big sales and hoopla and controversy, that
is… It is not sophisticated fiction, and the authors don’t fancy themselves
called to do major literature. I’ve met them and like them a lot. (They wrote an
extraordinary book on leadership, and TrueFaced, a very, very good book
on honest and caring relationships. They are solid Bible teachers and passionate
about their efforts to help church folks experience genuine community.) Bo’s
, like The Shack, seems to me to be a parable; it clearly
has a message and it’s written as a story in order to communicate that message.
The moral to the story? Grace. Community. Care. Authenicity. Real relationships.
Gerry Breshears (a Ph.D. and serious writer) says, “If you are blinded by
success or weighed down by life, the place to linger, learn, and live, is Bo’s
Café.” Dan Haseltine, the lead singer of Jars of Clay, calls it a “signpost
directing men and women to a place of freedom through community and honest
relationships. It is the story of what happens when we lay our defenses down and
embrace the fullness of grace in the face of our secrets and pain.” Many solid
counselors and writers about relationships (like Les and Lesley Parrot) have
moving tributes to this lovely little story. It is quite a ride, a lovely place,
caring, and safe, to work through some of the deepest issues in our lives. Kudos
to the guys for taking their non-fiction work, and telling a tender, colorful


It is no new news that the Zondervan Corporation has been a premier book and
Bible company, dating back to their travelling Bible sales around Grand Rapids
over 100 years ago. Theologically conservative, culturally middle class,
primarily white and evangelical and Republican, this publisher has done fine
work representing the fairly traditional end of evangelical publishing. They
have done their share of truly bad books in past decades, and their books
speculating about the end times soared in the 70s along with other loony stuff
from the Jesus people days. As the Christian Right heated up, they did their
share of weird stuff there, too, and yet there have been important books, great
writers (Phil Yancey comes to mind, as does Walter Wangerin) and very, very
moving stories. They never did much in racial justice issues (even the
conservative Moody Bible publisher has an African American imprint) although
they did a devastatingly important book by Bill Pannell in the 80’s. It didn’t
stay in print very long.

Their Biblical scholarship grew to be very interesting, and I’ve stood up for
their integrity and seriousness among more mainline folks who don’t yet trust
them, thinking that they somehow were akin to Tammy Faye or Pat Robertson types.
Still into the new century, as the Spirit shaped them and new editors became
involved and times changed, they began to show signs of willingness to publish
less safely traditional material. Voices like Miroslov Volf, Brian McLaren and
Shane Claiborne appeared, and I some days did cartwheels celebrating the
oddities of our times: authors with footnotes from radical pacifists and
Catholic Workers and scholars like Jacque Ellul end up in books with the
Zondervan logo. I didn’t even agree with all of Jesus for President, but
was overjoyed to see a book like this appear and be discussed within mostly
evangelical circles. This year they did a new book by the brilliant David Dark
(with a blurb on the inside by yours truly) called The Sacredness of
Questioning Everything.
It’s remarkable, fluid, careening off into
fascinating ruminations, deconstructing safe idols and risking asking the
biggest questions. The footnotes themselves are an education – and it seems to
me to be an example of the fresh winds blowing through evangelical publishing,
winds that are good and faithful, reliable and orthodox, but creative and
open-hearted. Greg Boyd recently wrote the provocative Myth of the Christian
, a follow-up to his critique of nationalism. Zondervan has also
released DVDs of Andy Crouch and thoughtful Reformed folks like Timothy Keller
who encourage us towards not only solid theology, but a care for our urban
areas. Of course they do the Nooma DVDs of Rob Bell, and his last great book,
Jesus Wants to Save Christians is a Biblically-rich call to resist
Empire, and allow Christ to shape us to see His redemptive hand in the world. A
book like that simply wouldn’t have been published by an evangelical press
twenty-five years ago (trust me, I know this.) It wouldn’t have been published
by Zondervan five years ago.

As a younger generation of readers and missionally-minded folks grew
interested in social justice, creation-care, and fair trade, perhaps because of
the work of Shane and Bell and others (especially IJMs Gary Haugen, whose work
against sexual trafficking put human rights concerns on the map for young
evangelicals), Zondervan ponied up and published some great resources. Three
this year stand out, and they deserve our respect, admiration and gratitude. I
am thankful to God for whoever is behind this stuff. Thanks to all the Z staff
who have the courage to do these fine publications. We honor them for a variety
of books – and there are quite a good handful – but celebrate these few from
2009. You have given me much hope and made my book selling job that much more
joyful. Thanks.

The Poor Will Be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of
Peter Greer & Phil Smith (Zondervan) $19.99 I did a nice
announcement of this when it arrived this fall, and celebrated not only the
excellent writing, but the moving photography. It seems to me that somebody in
headquarters chose to get behind this, giving it an extra bit of class,
investing in a risky publishing venture – a full color hard back about
micro-financing, with a blurb by Rob Bell. Good on them, as they say, as this is
righteous stuff, Biblically based and truly effective – it a book that deserves
to be honored. More, the vision and work of HOPE International should be known
and supported. Thanks to Zondervan for getting the word out in such a lovely,
powerful manner.

Zealous Love: A Practical Guide to Social Justice Mike and Danae
Yankoski (Zondervan) $16.99 At least two other evangelical publishers have
released very useful handbooks to social activism, and they each have a built-in
market, connections with kids who care. Zondervan, with its formerly stuffy
image and relatively conservative clientele, may not naturally know how to
market a book for young activists. Still, they forged ahead, creating a
top-notch guide book for anyone who wants to take next steps in the hard work of
ministering to the whole person, doing cultural reformation, social protest, and
political initiatives around causes such as creation-care, HIV/AIDS, clean water
or sexual trafficking. This is not only a useful guidebook, a wonderful and
up-to-date, relevant resource text, it is inspiring and – get this! – fun. It is
witty and sharp, and designed with a full color appeal, using little icons, and
sidebars, perfect for a generation raised on Facebook and edgy magazines. This
must have been a large undertaking, and, again, those behind it deserve our
prayers, support, and gratitude. Somebody’s life will be better because of this,
and evangelicals with a clear sense of the glory of God seen through the cross
of Christ need to be encouraged to live out their gospel lifestyle with these
kinds of next steps for justice and peacemaking. Spread the word!

Start: Becoming a Good Samaritan DVD hosted by John Ortberg
(Zondervan) $24.99 I have said in an earlier blog, and at several clergy and
campus ministry retreats this fall, that this is the very best video curriculum
I have ever seen. From the classy production, the pace, the caliber of the
interviews, and the aesthetic richness, this is easy to watch, interesting to
study, and inspires viewers to further action. I did not find it guilt
producing, but stimulating. With a cast of characters as diverse as Philip
Yancey, Joni Eareckson, Brenda Salter McNeil, Jim Cymbala, Shane Claiborne, and
Chuck Colson, this really does cover a lot of ground. Hear Jim Wallis or Eugene
Peterson or Kay Warren, all on deeply Christian ways to respond to this beloved
Bible teaching of Rabbi Jesus. Co-produced by World Vision, I cannot tell you
how appreciative we are to be able to stock such a fine resource. Look for the
book, too, coming later this year. Thanks, Zondervan.


I actually only have my tongue half in cheek for this. As one who does these
kinds of fairly brief, pithy, passionate, blurbs, I realize it is difficult to
be interesting, say something of worth, and be honest about things. How to say
that a book has fabulous content, but maybe drags a bit? How to push a title
that is gloriously written but has a chapter or two that are just off-base? Can
we encourage you to take interest in something that is important, without coming
on too strongly? More difficult, how to truly exclaim with enthusiasm and gusto
without just gushing? Ahh, it is a challenge, to do this well.

And, this year, there were a few truly thrilling back cover blurbs. Barbara
Brown Taylor said something very lovely about Nora Gallagher’s Sacred
book, but I loved Lauren Winner’s endorsement (that I cited above.)
Lauren also helped us sell a few copies of This Odd and Wondrous Calling
by Lillian Daniel & Marty Copenhaven, a book I earnestly honored in Part
One of this award list, when she said that “my dictionary does not have enough
adjectives to tell you how much I adore this book.” Now that is a killer

But for our winning exclamation, we choose the always eloquent and truly
insightful undertaker and poet, Thomas Lynch (whose new collection of short
stories and poems, by the way, should be out shortly.) About Accompany
Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral
by Thomas Long (WJK; $24.95)
the good man wrote:

To a culture accustomed to ‘obsequies-lite,’ Dr. Long prescribes a
full-bodied liturgical and community theatre – funerals equipped for the heavy
lifting of Christianity – acting out our faith and humanity, bearing our dead to
the brink of real and eternal life. Accompany Them With Singing: The
Christian Funeral
is an indispensable and luminous guide for clergy,
families, funeral directors – all home-going pilgrims – on how we ought to cope
with death by dealing with our dead. I think it will be the text of record on
this subject for the next fifty years.

And that is how it’s done. Quiet applause for this fine art, so well done
here by Lynch. And, importantly, I believe he is probably right. But suppose he
is wrong by half, making this the “text of record” for only the next twenty-five
years? I think if you have any reason to be involved in funeral planning or
leading in the next decade you may need this resource. Studying that rich blurb,
though, gets you part-way there.