Good times, good books, a retrospective of 2013 — and another list: Books That Made Us Glad. ON SALE

Sorry if some of the pictures here are missing, as they may be.  I’m perplexed

Thanks to the authors, publishers, bloggers and friends who complimented us or shared our recent two-part Best Books of 2013 BookNotes columns (here, here.)  It is rewarding to know that some important folks read BookNotes, of course, but it is most rewarding when our customers pay us the compliment of sending orders our way. We are very glad some think that our reviews are informative or inspiring. That folks from across the theological and P1030042.JPGpolitical spectrum hang in there with us is particularly gratifying, and we thank you all. We’re happy that many agree that books matter, that reading is a spiritual discipline, and that a good bookstore can be an outpost of the Kingdom of God.

There is no time to rest this busy month, but it is nice to pause for a moment and think back about some of the things that rekindled our flames, reminded us why we’re in this crazy work.  Listen in if you’d like…

It’s a lot of fun telling people about books, here at the shop, in personal email correspondence, and when invited to do book announcements at gathering and conferences. That so many groups honor us with the privilege of speaking to their gang is still a little surprising to me, and the goodimage.jpgbyron showing mouw book.jpg feedback we get when I stand up and wave my arms around, laden with titles and blurbs and yellow stickie-notes indicating a good line or two to read is, again, very rewarding.  Thanks for trusting us to help curate for you books that you should know about and thanks to those who value us doing that, here on line, but also at the off site gigs.

We’ve always thought that our business has a role of collaboration, and that is now more evident than ever, the contempo style of many organizations.  This is an important part of our educational/entrepreneurial vocation and we are glad to have it confirmed, and hope it serves you well.  It is, as I’ve said, a lot of fun.

So keep those invitations, and emailed inquiries, coming.  

Sometimes my gushing reviews miss the mark with this one or that, or I irritate folks by pushing an author or perspective for which they don’t share my enthusiasm. Then, I fall back on our only half-joking slogan, nearly a brand: yes, folks, “we have something to offend everyone.”

We had a blast in 2013 serving a wide variety of groups and we put some miles on our van hustling here and there, heading out of state one week, and then to, say, a local hospital or library or parish event here in York the next. We’ve worked late into the night setting upP1030068.JPG displays a real variety of events, from UCC clergy gatherings to the remarkable BLUE conference at Fairfax Community Church to, of course, our beloved CCO and their on-going staff training gigs.  We hosted our second annual Hearts & Minds lectureship in Pittsburgh (with our friend Bill Edgar lecturing on his Crossway book Francis Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality.) We participated at several important theological and Biblical studies educational events at the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore [hint: you should click on this link for a good announcement about a world-famous speaker coming in April] and we sold books with artists at Mako Fujimuro’s IAM conference;  we set up a large book display and I spoke at a youth ministry conference at near-by Messiah College.  

Of course our biggest event of the year is Pittsburgh’s Jubilee and Jubilee Professional (which is coming up again in a few weeks and you should be there!)

Weeverything matters.jpg allowed the staff of the Center for Faith & Work (Redeemer Presbyterian in New York) to talk us into setting up our whole large display right in front of their classy stage (and it worked quite nicely, as you see in the picture) at their big event last fall — certainly one of the highlights of the year for us.

We did a big display for church educators with our friends at Eastern APCE, and event we always love. (What a joy to tell about kid’s books!)  We served Synod level gatherings keller on stage w_ books.jpgwith ECLA friends here in the Susquehanna Valley and an East Coast Presbytery event with EPC. One of our favorite regular events is the Mid Atlantic Wee Kirk (Presby-talk for small church) event held at each year at a lovely Mennonite camp in Western PA. 

We went to a conference on peacemaking at Georgetown (and a book came out of it, Evangelical Peacemaking edited by David Gushee which I reviewed here) and another on creation care (jointly sponsored by an evangelical Baptist and a Lutheran church) at State College. I got to speak there and at a few other places this year (including at Montreat College in North Carolina which was a wonderful experience for me.) 

It is such an encouragement when well-read authors such as Phyllis Tickle say niceFollowing Jesus.jpg things about us (kudos to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania for their good book buying and serious conversations about the church of the future, guided expertly by Mrs. Tickle, including conversations around her new Baker book The Age of the Spirit; we were the first to have it, which was cool, I must say.)

And it was a joy to be with long-distance mentor Ron Sider (at the 30th anniversary conference of ESA) and friends there both old and new.  In fact, a party in honor of Ron’s retirement where we helped launch the wonderful book in his honor (Following Jesus: Essays in Radical Discipleship) was a highlight of our year.  I hope you take to heart my accolades about this.  It really is worth reading!

Speaking of the joy of book-selling and the vocation of curating lists for folks, last summer I was invited to do something that was a hoot, and I really owe my upbeat friends Walt Mueller and Derek Melleby from CPYU for allowing me to talk to their people about books. I did a live, on-line webinar with Derek over at their Elizabethtown offices.  What a joy to get to be interviewed about my suggestions for books for good summer reading – which, of course, are good for reading in any season.  I zipped through 50 books in about an hour and we then offered a free DVD of this online show.  We still have some of these discs and will gladly send one out if you are interested.  (You only have to promise that if you are inspired to buy any of the recommended books that you buy them from us.  It would be cheesy to do otherwise, you know.) You can watch Derek and me on youtube, here.  Or, you can just read about the list here. 

And we enjoy hosting a few events locally, from a reading/concert with Phil Madeira, author of a fine memoir God on the Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savorinphil reading.jpggbyron - phil M.jpg Faith (Jericho Books; $24.99) (congrats on that Grammy picked up by the Civil Wars for a song you co-wrote, Phil) to a great event with Michael Card (another book launch by a sing-song-writer) co-sponsored by IVP and our friends at Living Word Community Church. Michael read from one of his “Biblical Imagination” commentaries on the Gospels Matthew: The Gospel of Identity (IVP; $18.00) and previewed the just-released CD of the same name. Also, we thank LWCC for allowing us to use their good space to host Andy Crouch this fall, who lectured on his new book Playing God (IVP; $25.00.) I guess you know how much we value those works, and how impressed we are with Andy’s smart, warm, articulate presence. It was a real delight that he and his family paid us the honor of a visit here in South Central PA.

We’ve hosted groups in the store, too and we love getting out the coffee pot. Van-loads of students from several CCOshipp gang in store.jpg campus ministry groups from Central Pennsylvania colleges (and, on a lovely summer night, a group of thoughtful mission leaders literally from around the world) made trips here and put up with my preaching about developing the Christian mind and imagining a Biblical way of being in the world by reading widely.  Every group got my pitch for a lovely little book that mentions our store’s resources for just this project – relating faith and thinking, across the spectrum of careers, callings, topics, and social concerns – by Greg Jao (Your Mind’s Mission; $5.00.)  What a joy to get to lead workshops and sell books and run this business with joyful feet of clay. 

It should be said more often that none of this would happen without the commitments of our staff, Amy, Patti, Kimberlee, Diana and Robin, all whose dedication is obvious. (Not to mention a few volunteers that help out here and there along the way.  You know who you are.)  

Beth and I are blessed to be in this biz and hope you join us is giving thanks to God.  We are glad for our many supporters and advocates and friends, those who invite us to events, those who order books and those who send us notes and those who say their prayers.

As much as we get great energy from hanging around writers and by being invited to play a role in significant events, it is still, at the end of the day (and it often is the end of the day) about the books. We are here for the reader who plunks down some of her hard-earned dough to purchase a book, hold it in her hand, glad that they bought it from someplace that cares, and heads off to read it, alone or with others, learning, growing, having an encounter with the printed page that matters. Books that are serious, and some that are not, books that are fiction, and books that are not, all are means of grace, helping grant us the benefit of the moving cry from Psalm 119:32 –  “enlarge my heart.”  

Here are a few books that I didn’t list in the big Best Books list, but that I might have.  These were notable books for us last year, for one reason or another, books that we got a kick out of, titles we enjoyed selling, and sharing about them here gives you another glimpse of our work here, the joys we’ve had talking about odd-ball books and indie presses and in some cases authors who aren’t too famous. Or who are.  Either way, welcome to one more look back at 2013.  It was a good year for books.  Enjoy.

Hholy luck.jpgoly Luck Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $12.00 I have read a few of these (mostly) short poems out loud at clergy gatherings and have found that they work nicely out loud.  They are strong little poems, art pieces inspired by the poetical mind of Rev. Peterson.  Those that know him know he is as comfortable in the outdoors as he is behind a pulpit and he realizes the Bible, too, is, well, grounded, about God at work in the world.  So these poems, inspired mostly by Biblical texts, are still earthy and clear, not too fancy. I’d like to think of him as a kin to Gerard Manley Hopkins (he the namesake of Peterson’s stunningly good work Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, of course) but he just isn’t that fussy.  Maybe he’s closer to Wendell Berry.  Anyway, these are lovely and good, a delight and an aid in helping us draw closer to God and see His world afresh.  The main title, by the way, is from Peterson’s not-too-implausible translation of the idea of “blessed-ness” from the Beatitudes.  Lucky is how The Message puts it, and these poems help say why.  Selling a new Eugene Peterson book is always a great privilege.  Having this handsome, small paperback, nearly a surprise to some, available for us to sell was really fun. Holy luck, indeed.

Ssober m.jpgober Mercies: A Memoir How Love Caught up with a Christian Drunk  Heather Kopp (Jericho) $19.99  I must say I should have said this was a “best book of the year” but I couldn’t think of a category name in which to honor it. It certainly was one of the very best memoirs I read, and it certainly was one of the books to which I was riveted – when they say you can’t put a book down, this was exactly my experience with this. Beth and I were both blown away by the candid story, the artful writing, the pathos, the insight, the humor, even. This is a good story showing what it is like being an alcoholic in recovery, doing so while being a religious leader (both Kopp and her husband had written wholesome evangelical books and worked in Christian publishing) with the consequential shame and self doubt and prayer and faith and expectations and… well, you can imagine.  This is one of the most honest books I have read this year, one that is both painful and truly beautiful.  We talked about it earlier in the year and telling people about it was a thrill. It is great for anybody that likes getting drawn into a good story, who wants to “walk a mile in another’s shoes.” I think it is very good for clergy and pastoral caregivers to learn about this condition, although Kopp is perhaps not like other drunks. But surely it is insightful (and achingly moving) to learn about how this effected her marriage, not to mention a whole other store with her son… and her work… And, oh how I loved getting to know her though this open look into her life.

I enjoy selling a good book like this in part because when I press it in to somebody’s hands, I know they will enjoy it, and that it will offer a good glimpse of important matters. In a way, with a good book like this, is nearly something sacred, telling one person of another’s story.  Susan Isaacs writes that it is “funny, heartbreaking, compelling and wise.” Rachel Held Evans promises that “this book will challenge and change you.”  Another reviewer even compared it with Mary Karr, and if that is even half right, and it is, it is therefore well worth reading.  And it is worth celebrating, as a victory of the art of memoir, and of a victory of the art of spiritual writing, and a victory of the art of living a redeemed life in a very broken world. 

Ggood god, lousy world.jpgood God, Lousy World: The Improbably Journey of a Human Rights Activist from Unbelief to Faith  Holly Burkhalter  (Convergent)  $22.99  Well, I have to say we haven’t sold this book very successfully, or at least not yet.  I raved about it an a brief review earlier, but had no takers.  But I am enthused nonetheless as it is indicative of a few very cool things.  Firstly, it is one of the first batch of books on a new imprint from a big publisher, an imprint or line of books launched under the publishing house “Convergent.”  Nobody from Crown told us much about these, but one can see that the first batch them are what Phil Yancey recently called “Hip Christian Books.” Perhaps a bit like the Jericho line, Convergent Books are very well-written, honest and raw and real, and perhaps the sort of book that is a cut above what we might think of as typical evangelical fare, a bit less sure about old truths and a bit more open to faith that comes through story, emerging from an engagement with the culture, maybe attractive to young adult readers, or even those who are “spiritual but not religious.”

That this book, by an evangelical, carries a front-cover, top-shelf endorsement from the Washington Post may say something, too, about the respect and credibility this authors carries with her.  This is, I’d say, right from the start, a very impressive author and a very important book.

This is indeed a remarkable story (with a solid foreword by Andy Crouch) about a human rights activist who had worked in the passionate world of NGOs fighting some of the worst evils in the world (such as sexual trafficking.) As the author grapples with huge questions, becoming a heartbroken idealist — witnessing the brutalities of genocide, rape, greed — she comes (to make a complex and wondrous story simple) to a Christian conversion.  These stories of seeking real answers to very tough questions – where is God in all of this? – and how glimpses of God’s Kingdom are breaking in to human history in redemptive ways will inspire you, I am sure. If you know anyone who struggles with big questions or are engaged in issues of social change, or if you know folks whose humanitarianism is admirable, but not grounded in Christian faith, this book would make an ideal gift.  I was so happy to learn of it, glad for the sort of writing the editors of convergent were going to release (if this was any indication) and very glad to have it displayed right insight our door.  

Here is what Andy Crouch said about it – and, again, it illustrates for you why I think it has been a good year for books.  What a blast to get to tell people about books like this.

Holly’s story, from a distance, is absolutely fascinating – one of the world’s top experts in human rights turns out to be a person of deep Christian commitments. But her story up close is even better; by turns laugh out loud funny, poignant, wrenching, and hopeful. I think this is a voice the wider world needs to hear.


C.c s lewis- A Life.jpgS. Lewis: A Life — Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet Alister McGrath (Tyndale) $24.99   It seems that almost every year there is notable Lewis scholarship and we have several important new ones — Don King on Lewis’ poetry comes to mind — but two books on the great Oxford don created quit a stir. McGrath, himself a former Oxford don, is a sheer genius, and any of his many books are worth having. He had a youtube video explaining just why yet another Lewis biography was needed (yes, I was wondering that, too) and he makes a very compelling case that he unearthed new information, and that in his biography he shifts the chronological order of Lewis’ journey to faith, undoing some conventional tellings of his conversion. There is a near consensus that this is one of the best Lewis bios yet done, and it was exciting to be selling this kind of a book, at once charming and interesting and making a viable and necessary contribution to the scholarship.  A good price for a thick hardback, too.  

After releasing this fine biography, Professor McGrath soon released the second part of his big research project, a serious collection of eight important essays dissecting various aspects of Lewis’ literary and and stylistic work. Again, there was sort of a gathering buzz as those who knew about it anticipated reading The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis (Blackwell-Wiley; $32.95.) These are top notch, serious and winsome and a few make truly innovative and new arguments about Lewis’ keen work and should be studied by those how are interested in Lewis.

As fun as it was in the wake of the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ death to anticipate so many good new books, and especially these by Alister McGrath, there is a very special joy in getting to announce a major contribution to Lewis studies that are exceptionally important, but  — ahh — virtually unknown because they are published by an indie press, locally run here in central PA.  You may guess that I am talking about the always remarkable Square Halo Books, which is managed by our friend Ned Bustard (he of the graphic design firm World’s End Images.) Ned and Square Halo released a book this year that was deserving to be well known, one which should be known by anyone with a serious interest in Old Saint Jack. 

C.S. Lewis and the Arts: Creativity in the Shadowlands edited by Rod MillerCS Lewis and the Arts.jpg (Square Halo Books) $18.99 These essays are deep and thoughtful, perfect for those who love the literary and aesthetic insights and style of the great man.  As many sometimes forget, Lewis was not a cold apologist, arguing for rational reasons about God, but used story and myth and imagination.  His vision was, indeed, profound, and some of his best work was in the realm of imagination and poetics.  Not only were we so honored and pleased to be the first bookstore to have this, we were glad that another Square Halo book had been released to add to their backlist of nearly essential books for anyone interested in the interplay of faith and the arts.I hope you read my BookNotes review of it here. Creativity in the Shadowlands — a cool subtitle, eh? And that cover!

By the way, another shout out for Square Halo, even though I already awarded it one of the very best books in our Best Books of the Year awards: you should get It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God (Square Halo Books; $24.99.) I must say, this was one of the top three or four books I was most excited to sell this year, one of our favorite titleIt was Good Making Music.jpgs to talk about, one of the most interesting books I read myself all year.  How can one get too discouraged in these discouraging times when Ned and his Square Haloian elves or hobbits or whatever he’s got over there helping him put out such well designed, amazingly diverse, wonderfully-imagined, unique books like this.  When I heard of this project (years ago, I might note) I thought to myself, I can’t quite this hard business now, I’ve got It Was Good 2 to sell.  I hear he is work on a third installment — maybe on the preforming arts, dance and theater and the like?  Wow, what a job I’m lucky to have, selling good stuff like this. If you order IWG: Making Music to the Glory of God from us, you will literally make me sing! 


I often say how much I appreciate the work of InterVarsity Press.  They have been in the leadership for years of books for serious lay readers, educated, but not necessarily scholarly.  (Their scholarly line, IVP Academic has done brilliant work, too, and deserves its own kudos.) I’m enamored with other good presses as well, but IVP did something this fall that deserves a special kind of award. They re-released two of my all-time favorite books, books that were formative for me decades ago and have been out of print for way too long.  I want to celebrate this publishing event, thank InterVarsity Press, and try to make bringing out these old books worth their while. (No matter how well respected an old book may be, if it doesn’t sell when a publisher re-issues it, they lose money, and the new coat of paint has been practically pointless and a loss of money and moral to boot.)  

So, let’s get excited, Hearts & Minds friends and fans: two of John Stott’s earliest bookJohn_Stott.jpgs are now available again, and they are, I believe, as timely as ever. John Stott, as you may know, was a conservative evangelical who had the ability to present historic claims of the church in fresh ways to a changing world, especially in the later half of the 20th century.  Perhaps not as doctrinally strict as the brilliant J.I. Packer, nor as philosophically-minded as Francis Schaeffer, or quite as socially activist as Ron Sider or Tony Campolo, or as exclusively oriented to worldview studies as early Al Wolters or Brian Walsh or James Sire, Stott was one nonetheless one who brought all these concerns to his writing (and by all accounts, in his life) wanting evangelicals to be missionally-minded, orthodox but contextualized, passionate about the poor, about justice, about creation-care, even as we share the gospel wisely with a skeptical world. From his magnificent book on the cross (The Cross of Christ) to his extensive book The Incomparable Christ to his anthology of thinking about social issues (Issues Facing Christians Today) to his many useful commentaries, his books are reliable, interesting and more than good, they are excellent.

It was Stott, some of you may recall, that a decade ago was honored in a New York Times op-ed by David Brooks who invited journalists and pundits to use Stott as a better spokesperson for evangelicalism in their stories about evangelical religion rather than the unreliable and immoderate likes of Falwell and Robertson.

Stott is, you should know, my kind of guy.  So much so that, in fact, we passed out free copies of his wonderful little IVP book Your Mind Matters to local visitors and new customers during our grand opening 31 years ago. And nearly two years after his death, it is good to see him honored by having these older books re-issued. 

Cchrist in conflict.jpghrist in Conflict: Lessons From Jesus in His Controversies  John Stott (IVP) $16.00  This is a revised version of what was once called Christ the Controversialist which was one of the first serious Christian books I became familiar with in the early 70s.  It is a solid and provocative study of Christ’s controversies.  He was often causing trouble, a habit that some churches, even as they read the gospels, seem to mute or ignore.  In this fine study we learn a lot about the basic message of Jesus, which shines through over and over, and we learn a bit about his strategies and styles.  We are brought into the inner logic of these episodes -Jesus debating the Pharisees, over and over, about the role of Scripture, about the meaning of justice, about his own role, about miracles, about salvation and grace, and so much more. Further, it seems to be Stott’s goal to show us not only the gospel of Jesus, and his controversial (freeing?) message, but also his style.  That is, we can learn how to  “speak the truth in love” in a way that is faithful and consistent with the hard truths we need to proclaim.  Read this to fall in love with Jesus again, to be introduced to some of his core teachings and how they may cause some controversy (even among the religious) and read it to be inspired to be Christ-like in your own methods and manners.

Bbalanced christianity.jpgalanced Christianity  John Stott (IVP) $8.00  This slim, pocket sized book is slightly updated here, and the expanded edition is well worth having.  My, my, how this book was a godsend to many who had fallen off the horse, as they say, on one side or the other.  Stott, in his warm but clear-eyed style, warns against over-emphasizing emotion, or over-emphasizing dogmatism; he invites us to a balanced expression of faith, that is both internal and outward, that is liturgical but not rigid, that is “conservative and radical.”  I think this call to live into tension  — what Mark Labberton described as Stott’s “vigorous act of faithful both/and living” — is ideal for any of us who want to navigate “form and freedom” and is also helpful for those interested in ecumenical conversations.  Many faithbalanced old.jpg traditions and denominations have an ethos or strength that can become unbalanced, so this call to resist the polarization that comes from extremist over-emphasis of one side of faith or the other, is wise and good and helpful.  In fact, Scot McKnight says “In your hands is one of the great tracts of the twentieth-century evangelicalism. Savor it.”

Pproblems of christian leadership.jpgroblems of Christian Leadership John Stott (IVP) $8.00 This is very cool, too — a previously unreleased (in English) book by John Stott.  These were talks “Uncle John” did in Quito, Ecuador, and were previously only available in Spanish, available now for the first time in North America in English.  We know Stott was a world-traveled leader, a leader in the Lausanne missions movement (not to mention an avid global bird watcher) so this shouldn’t surprise us. But, still, I was taken aback when I heard there was a book never translated into English. Wow. (Might there be more?) This is short and sweet, and could be read by anyone, of course, leader or not. He shares his candid observations about discouragement and especially the obstacles faced by younger leaders.  Certainly fans of Stott will want to add this to their libraries.  In keeping with my theme, allow me to say it again: it is a joy being a bookseller in moments like this, when one hears that there is a new John Stott, and that we can carry it. It will be a blessing to the reading public and to the church, and we get to play a part in it. Hooray!

TSecrets-of-happy-families_custom-8118a64a774e239a74862ef2cee8fd1958d0cf64-s6-c30.jpghe Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Tell Your Family History, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More…  Bruce Feiler (Morrow) $14.99 I mentioned the webinar I did with Derek Melleby.  Derek himself had ordered this book from us when it first came out and we agreed it should be one to mention – perfect for parents who like to think about “best practices” of parenting, who like enjoyable writing, who are up for a clever memoir of a family trying to document what really works best.  Feiler is a great writer (maybe you know his memoirs of traveling with a circus, or his book about walking through the holy land as a skeptical, nominal Jewish man, his story about gathering dads around himself as he thought he was going to die of cancer.  He is a fun and funny but also tender writer, and in this recent book, just out in paperback, he walks us through his family’s efforts to do what the parenting experts say to do. There are about 13 chapters here, arranged by three units, the best ideas he’s learned from the research. The first batch of chapters are about “Adapt All the Time” and the second section is called “Talk. A Lot.”  The third unit offers fun chapters about the theme “Go Out and Play.”  I can’t tell you how fun it is to get to sell books as creative and solid and interesting as this.  If you have about five minutes, check out this nice NPR story, and read the little interview.  You’ll know why we enjoy promoting this kind of stuff.

Tchristian parenting handbook.jpghe Christian Parenting Handbook: 50 Heart-Based Strategies for All the Stages of Your Child’s Life  Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller (Nelson) $16.99  One of the great joys of this line of work is the opportunity to get to know people who have great passion for a particular thing, a ministry with others who have certain needs and who have given their lives to share their insight, build their ministry, serving well.

Scott and Joanne have been friends of the store for a long time, and one of their behind-the-scenes staff (Joanne’s husband Ed) has been a very, very dear friend and supporter of all things Hearts & Minds.  We were very pleased to help promote this book with this BookNotes review as it launched last spring and we noted to many that we thought it was very, very helpful.  Funny that there hasn’t been a book with this title before, and I’m glad they named it this, as it is just the kind of reference tool one might imagine with a big title like that.  But, yet, is isn’t dry and it isn’t heavy-handed.  It is nice to have such pleasant, passionate writers who have learned from years of research and speaking and listening, offering the “best of” their research and advice.  They are strong on character formation, helping parents build internal motivation into their kids, using creativity and grace to teach kids spiritual truths.  It is not as strict as some conservative family values types might like, but it is more intensely Biblical than maybe some mainstream authors might be.  We think it has a nice tone, and the way these short chapters offer basic, good stuff across the ages and stages of children’s maturity makes for a very nice book.  We are happy to list it here as one of the happy moments we’ve had this year, telling people about our friends who wrote this very good book.

TStange Death.jpghe Strange Death of Captain John Buckman and Other Obscure Stories Harry L.harry camping.jpg Borger (Sheridan Press) $14.99  I announced this curious book a while back and have to give it another shout-out here.  When I think of what has been special about this year in book-selling, I can certainly say this: it isn’t every year (in fact it has never been a year until now) to sell a book by my older brother. This isn’t the time or place to offer accolades to my bro, but he is known in some local circles – he was a renowned speech and language therapist in the local (Lincoln) Intermediate Unit and an occasional Gettysburg Battlefield guide and has written forewords to books about the paranormal stuff going on there.  He is legendary among his friends in geo-caching and used to organize memorable canoe trips that, well… you’ll have to read his book to learn about some of those wacky stories.  Harry Lee is a born storyteller, and has an amazing curiosity which serves him well. His capacity to learn stuff about stuff is astonishing.  So, naturally, this anthology includes mostly his reports from the field, curious things one might want to know about local history, about the great outdoors, about Americana, about his own eccentric interests and research (and some other random stuff he wanted to publish, re-print or have said.)  I don’t know who wouldn’t get a kick out of some of these short entries, and it is a nifty book to dip into from time to time.  Harry is my only sibling and we have been proud to have his book of “obscure stories” on display here.  You should check it out.

LDVD Love Does.jpgove Does DVD (with participant’s guide) Bob Goff (Nelson) $36.99   You know how we are fans of Bob Goff, and fans of his Love Does book.  Everybody should know this fun collection of pieces about his zany faith and audacious trust which ends up being an inspiring guide to be fun and creative in our living out Jesus’ own love and grace. “Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World” the subtitle reads.  There is good wisdom in this upbeat book, but as easy to read as it is, and as funny as some of it may be, and as touching as much of it is, there is still something about Bob that cannot be captured on the printed page.  Bob is an amazing communicator, the vignettes are so much fun to watch, and they create such great open doors for further conversations about how we are to live our lives, and how to embody the joy of the Lord in our own pranks and projects, that I really want to promote it.  What does it mean to really “do” love, to move from Bible study to “Bible doing”Bob goff.jpg?

  These videos came out just at the end of the year, so perhaps I’ll celebrate in next year’s retrospective what joy they brought us selling them, and how we heard of the impact they made.  Having these and making them available is a perfect reminder that this work can be fun, that we have great resources to offer, including for those who aren’t drawn to rigid doctrinal study or arcane theological debate.  Use this with youth, with young adults, or anybody who needs a playful kick in the pants, a holy invitation to get busy.  We love recommending this.

TThe Impossible Museum.jpghe Impossible Museum: The Best Art You’ll Never See  Celine Delavaux (Prestel) $24.95  There are many, many (many) books of art, collections that are lavish and lovely, coffee table books of nearly any artist, famous or not.  We have highlighted a few from indie publishers, including serious Christian works by painters such as Bruce Herman (we named his fabulous Through Your Eyes as one of the Best of the Year) or Sadao Watanabe or Makoto Fujimura.  This, though, has maybe been the most fun book to show folks, and it is such a cool idea, I wanted to share it here.  What a blast to get to describe a book that makes me say, “Who thinks of stuff like this?” or “Here’s a book that I don’t think has ever been done before.”  Or, “This would make a surprising gift for any serious art lover and I bet they’d be blown away by it; it is that unique and it is that well done!” 

What is this, you ask?

I could tell you about each of the 40 wonders of the art world that this book shows and describes, but the short description is simply this: The Impossible Museum is a compendium of “lost art”  for a museum that could not exist. It takes readers on a journey of missing art objects and explores how art can disappear from our cultural landscape; think of endangered species.  Some of these works are simply missing (da Vinci’s Leda and the Swan or the Romanov jewels.  Others were intentionally transformed such as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, never to be known in the way there were again, or destroyed, like the Buddhas of Bamyan.  Some pieces are hidden away, such as the paintings of Lascaux or the frescoes from the Pompeiian house of Lucretius.  Others were stolen, such as a Stradivarius violin or Jackson Pollock’s Spring Winter and Caravaggio’s Nativity.  As the book notes, “however they disappeared from view, these works represent significant gaps in art history.”  Yeah, and this book represents one very fun way to learn a whole lot about not only important art, but some great mysteries.

Fflip the script.jpglip the Script Christian Acker (Handselecta) $35.00  Talk about one of the great delights of the year – I was seriously jazzed meeting this guy who spent years – years! – following the trail of the unique nuances of graffiti found in major cities in the US.  Sooner or later, the best travel around and tag public spaces in key cities, so, with the expert use of the internet, he invited major players to come forward, to show him their style, to talk about why they do their art in the way they do and to not only learn their stories, but study their fonts.  This script, that font, this flourish, that symbol.  The art of oral history on display here is itself the amazing backstory of this amazing book, and Acker’s fascination with the social history of the rise of typography allowed him to earn the trust of these underground artists.  This book is a showcase of the type fonts invented by these outlaw artists and includes some amazing stuff about how he came to connect with so many of them.  Again, it isn’t every day I can say that I’ve never, ever seen a book like this, and I suspect I’ll never see one like it again.  Christian is a very good guy (and one of the first interns and artistic assistants for Mako Fujimura) and maintains a nuanced and thoughtful Reformed Christian worldview.  His view of the arts is well thought out, and his field work and care for these often misunderstood graffiti guys (most are middle aged guys, by the way) is profound. You won’t find this book in many bookstores, especially outside of New York where Acker lives, and we think it is very neat to carry it. Check it out here, and give us a holler.

PPastrix.jpgastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint  Nadia Bolz-Weber  (Jericho) $22.00  Well, this has certainly attracted a lot of attention this last year — it may have been the most anticipated and much discussed book of the year for us.  This funny, tattooed, ECLA pastor who swears like a sailor and invites the lost and abused and out of it and needy into Christ’s caring community can’t help but create a buzz — she has the liturgical calendar tattooed across her arms and chest and sounds like no pastor you’ve ever met. In the things that matter the most — Christ’s holy death and true resurrection, the Holy Spirit’s ability to enliven us to love, our call to announce gospel good news to the world —  she is orthodox.

There is no doubt that some of this book will be off putting to many, and yet there are parts that are profoundly moving; I was choked up more than once.  We’ll meet her soon enough, and I’m sure it will be a rare experience.  I used to say that the spectacular writing of author Sarah Miles made Anne Lamott look tame. Pastrix nearly makes the energetic writing of Sarah Miles seem like Lawrence Welk, makes Rob Bell, say, seem stylish but conventional.  Between my laughter and hand-wringing and audible gasps, sometimes even while on the same page, I whisper a prayer that God is pleased as folks read and discuss this very unusual and very provocative book.  I say we like to mix it up a bit, so I guess I should be glad for this and the healthy conversations it enabled, even though it is a bit outside my own comfort zone, in more ways than one.  What a job we have, helping folks learn about various kinds of books, read widely and sometimes wildly.

Aafter cloven tongues.jpgfter Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History  David Hollinger (Princeton University Press) $29.95  One of the fun things – maybe it is pride, but whatever -about our work here is the surprise some show when they find books from scholarly, academic presses here on the shelves in Dallastown, PA.  We are not an academic bookstore, but we carry important releases (or at least stuff we think is important) from the likes of Oxford University Press,University of Notre Dame Press, Baylor University Press, or, in this case, Princeton University Press.  We were interested in this assessment offered by this important writer – no less a scholar than Michael Kazin has called him “America’s leading intellectual historian” and this book as “essential reading for anyone who cares to understand the rise, decline, and enduring legacy of what was once our dominant religious tradition.”  James Kloppenberg of Harvard University says “Hollinger’s book will take its place as one of the most important works in modern American intellectual history published in recent decades.”  Wow – read that again!  What bookstore wouldn’t want to carry a book like that?  (Most Christian bookstores, actually, I guess.)  People I respect, such as George Marsden, are less sure this book is right, and you should read Marsden’s informed and fair critique from Books & Culture.  Still, we are thrilled to be able to stock this kind of stuff.  If only we had more customers who cared to buy these kinds of books. 

Kking of the campus_house.jpging of the Campus  Steve Lutz (House Studio) $14.99 I want to give this book a very special shout-out now for a couple of reasons. It was released just at the end of the year and certainly will grow in popularity as the word gets out about it.  I will do a longer review later, but in keeping with my theme of sharing nifty stuff that brought us joy and energy this past year, I can say this much: Steve is a good friend, I got to read a draft of the book before it was released and weigh in with my red pen, and am thereby thanked in the acknowledgements. I’ve got a big blurb on the back cover, too, and while this isn’t reason to crow – Steve wrote the book, not me, and he didn’t even take all of my insistent recommendations – it is great to be involved with writers and leaders I admire. 

Steve works for the CCO and in this fine book he offers some gospel-centered Kingdom vision about how students can say no to the idols in their on-campus lives (as they are revealed through discernment and gospel wakefulness) and come alive to what it means and looks like to honor the Lordship of Christ over all areas of life.  As you may guess, Steve is solid on basic Christian nurture and he brings a lively cultural awareness (he works at Penn State, after all, and some of his anecdotes set in Happy Valley are very moving.) But what makes the book even better is what some call a reformational worldview – unlike any other basic discipleship guide for students he teaches about the need for the development of a distinctive Christian mind and a holy sense of vocation to catapult students towards academic faithfulness and missional visions for the calling of the classroom. And his stuff on partying and pleasure is better than anything like it in print. 

Anyway, it’s really, truly fun to sell books by authors whom we’ve befriended (or who have befriended us.)  To see books which we sold to an author appear in their footnotes kinda makes us proud. We’ve been mentioned in a few other books this year, but none makes us prouder – and none may be as important – as this one. Thanks, Steve! 

Wwriting in the margins.jpgriting in the Margins: Connection with God on the Pages of Your Bible  Lisa Nichols Hickman (Abingdon) $16.99  I’ve already awarded this as a Best Book of 2013, and I assure you it wasn’t because, as I’ve explained before, I got to write the foreword. Still, in this column naming the most fun we’ve had this year in our vocation of book-selling I have to admit to the thrill of seeing one’s own work in print.  A few years ago I had a short chapter – a review of Os Guinness’ The Call – in a book called Besides the Bible: 100 Books (edited by Dan Gibson, Jordon Green and John Patttison, now carried by IVP) and that was a great opportunity for which I remain very grateful. A chapter in a book!  But somehow, this was a bigger blast, working hard to send my piece in to an editor I admire, for a book I believed in, by an author I respect. And it ended up so nicely. The cover is handsome (ahem – was it our feedback that helped them change some things?) and the book is very nicely designed.  We have sold some, and want to continue to promote it.  Thanks, Lisa, and thanks, Abingdon, for inviting me into this important project of yours. It was fearful fun, and a great honor. If you haven’t read my introduction, here it is.  I hope it inspires you to buy it.

Ffeasting on the gospels banner.pngeasting on the Gospels (A Feasting on the Word Commentary)                   Volume 1 and Volume 2  edited by Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson (Westminster/John Knox) $40.00 each. We have been fans and promoters of the 12-volume set of Feasting on the Word commentaries for preachers that in each volume develops four angles on every pericope of the whole three year lectionary cycle, Years A, B, and C.  Many have benefited from these explications of the Scriptures, offered by some of the best mainline denominational voices writing and preaching today.  Edited by Barbara Brown Taylor and others, there is a winsome, literary style to many of the entries and yet they bring top-notch exegetical and theological insight to the texts at hand.

We have also carried the Feasting on the Word daily devotional called Daily Feast (soFeasting Worship Companion Year A 1.jpgDaily Feast A.jpg far they have them for year C and a new one for this year, Year A) and the liturgy-planning resources, Feasting on the Word Worship Companion, now available for the first half of year A, called Liturgies for Year A, Volume 1 also drawing on the same authors and insights as the FotW Commentaries. 

So, we were naturally glad when we heard that the franchise was being expanded with a two volume Matthew Commentary (not following the lectionary, but like any commentary, covering every passage, in order.)

Tfeasting-on-the-gospels-matthew-volume-2.jpghese two new volumes are the same size and shape and format of the previous ones, are fully new, edited in the spirit of the original lectionary-based commentaries, but not only exploring the limited lections from Matthew, but the entire book.  With four angles of vision on each text (exegetical, theological, homiletical, and pastoral) these are still very, very useful for preachers and teachers and I think for nearly anyone wanting a new look at this beloved Gospel.  What interesting, fresh and useful resources these are.  Kudos one and all.

A guide to pray for all.jpgGuide to Prayer for All Who Walk With God  Rueben P. Job & Norman Shawchuck & John Mogabgab (The Upper Room) $32.00 Speaking of a viable franchise or book series that is respected and beloved, this is the fourth one, and there was a notable buzz when a few customers learned of it — some bought it without batting an eye because they found the others so useful and rewarding to use.  The first three are now available in paperback (the first blue one is A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, the next red one is A Guide to Pray for All God’s People, the third is the green one, A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God.) This new one is a rich, deep, black with gold edging and is a very handsome leather-bound volume.  It is a joy to recommend them to those who like this sort of a guide with Scripture, prayers, and planned daily reading for reflection and prayer.

There are so many beautiful and niche marketed Bibles that keep coming out that our feeling changes — sometimes feeling overwhelmed, and sometimes even frustrated that Bible publishers seem to be flooding the market with what some might see as nearly trivial editions and versions that have such a finely tuned niche that one wonders if such an item is really necessary.  Yet, the publishers research these things and are convinced that their offerings are helpful to folks, responding to needs and feedback of what various sorts of consumes want.  I get that, and try not to be cynical, but it is hard to generate much enthusiasm for some of these.

But then there are items I great with great enthusiasm, and that respected friends and good customers seem glad to see.  For better or worse, here are two  study Bibles that were released this year that I got a bit giddy about, eager to show and happy to sell.  One seems to be marketed in mostly mainline denominational circles while the other is aimed at the evangelical, Reformed folks networked perhaps by the Gospel Coalition.  I sort of wish each demographic and constituency might try the one that least appeals to them, just for the sheer fun of it all.  Either way, there is much to learn, and these are fine resources for any Bible readers.

Cceb study bible.jpgEB Study Bible (Abingdon) hardback – $47.99  I talked about these before in a Bible review I did late in the year, but wanted to name this here, since a fully new study Bible is almost always a cause for celebration.  That our friend Michael Gorman does the Romans notes for this is a good indication of how it has drawn on serious scholars that want to serve the contemporary church with thoughtful, somewhat progressive insight.  The Senior Editor was the very well respected Joel Green. This is a upbeat, reliable, and clear, contemporary version, and these study notes are very, very helpful. This comes in a hardback and several leather editions.  Check ’em out here, and let us know if you want to order. Please ignore their links to the chains stores, as if indies don’t exist.  

By the way, here is a line from the PR that explains the translation teams of the Common English Bible. They note that it included “the work of over one hundred and twenty
scholars–men and women from twenty-four faith traditions in American,
African, Asian, European and Latino communities. As a result, the English
translation of ancient words has an uncommon relevance for a broad audience of
Bible readers–from children to scholars.”

Tgospel transformation bible.jpghe ESV Gospel Transformation Bible (Crossway) hardback – $39.99 This may be a study resource that is in some ways limited to those with conservative, mostly Reformed leanings, but I do think it is well worth any serious Bible student’s time — it has notes that show how the Bible is a coherent story, an unfolding drama, with Christ at the apex.  Not only is this historical-redemptive hermeneutic at play here, but there is a clear gospel-centered angle that makes nearly pastoral moves, linking the good news of any given text to the modern need for grace.  Can the Bible be read well, and applied profoundly, with the fruit being Christ-given transforming power? These notes have a certain agenda, but it is one that is close to the heart of the gospel itself — grace for all of life. I think it is very nicely done.  This comes in two different hardback colors and several leather editions, all very nicely made by Crossway.  You can learn about it here; please let us know if you want to order or if we can serve you in any way.


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