Books for Living Will Schwalbe (Knopf) $25.95 Oh my, I’m so excited about this. It releases today! I hope you know the name of this author as he wrote the wonderful memoir The End of Your Life Book Club which was about books he read together with his mother as she was dying. What a mother he had, and what a book he wrote, a combo of a story of dying well, of grief and loss, and the life-giving power of reading together. It would simply not do it justice to say it was a bunch of book reviews although perhaps that was the narrative structure. I loved that book and recommend it.
This brand new one, it seems, is in a similar vein, reviews of about 25 books — from Stuart Little to The Girl on a Train, from Bird by Bird to Death Be Not Proud. There are a few old classics (The Odyssey, David Copperfield) and some fairly modern ones (the must-read Reading Lolita in Tehran.) He has a certain lesson gleaned from each and I am eager to see how he shows us how reading brings life, is for life, how books are our companions as we travel through life, such as it is.
There are some great and classy endorsements on the back of this handsome hardback, blurbs from the likes of Nikki Giovanni, Elizabeth Alexander, Thomas Foster, whose book How to Read Literature Like a Professor I enjoyed a lot.
Here is wonderful Mary Oliver:
Books for Living by Will Schwalbe lives wonderfully up to its title. He offers an easy tone, sections chapter by chapter of his chosen stories and their affiliations to our own lives. He reminds me of a diviner who walks the open fields, taps, and reveals something rarely talked about, or perhaps never noticed, in one story or another, but is important. That’s a thrill! I can’t imagine a person who loves books not being grateful. Any season of the year, this book is a gift.
And the always fun A.J. Jacobs says, seriously,
I very much enjoyed it . . . inspiring and charming . . . Books, to Schwalbe, are our last great hope to keep us from spiraling into the abyss. It’s an old-fashioned thesis that this ancient medium can save civilization but I happen to agree. Books build compassion, they inspire reform. They remain, Schwalbe writes, one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny. And man, do we need bulwarks right now. Lots of bulwarks . . . Read Schwalbe’s book.
Roots to the Earth Wendell Berry, wood engravings by Wesley Bates (Counterpoint) $26.00 How did we not know this was released just a bit ago? How glad we were to display it last week! It is a handsome oversized art book illustrating a few of Wendell Berry’s poems that are most obviously about farming. (Ahh, yes, reading about farming is good but Eugene Peterson has said that perhaps Berry’s books about farming could also be read to be about church life. I like that line that notes how off it is to suggest that Moby Dick is “about whaling.”) But, yes, these poems and engravings are, at least, about farming.
The publisher tells us the backstory:
In 1995, Wendell Berry’s Roots to the Earth was published in portfolio form by West Meadow Press. The wood etchings of celebrated artist and wood engraver, Wesley Bates, were printed from the original wood blocks on handmade Japanese paper.
In 2014, this work was reprinted along with additional poems. Together with Bates original wood engravings, and designed by Gray Zeitz, Larkspur Press printed just one hundred copies of this book in a stunning limited edition.
Now it is with great pleasure that Counterpoint is reproducing this collaborative work for trade publication, as well as expanding it with the inclusion of a short story, The Branch Way of Doing, with additional engravings by Bates.
In his introduction to the 2014 collection, Bates wrote:
As our society moves toward urbanization, the majority of the population views agriculture from an increasingly detached position In his poetry [Berry] reveals tenderness and love as well as anger and uncertainty The wood engravings in this collection are intended to be companion pieces to the way he expresses what it is to be a farmer.
A Well of Wonder: Essays on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings Clyde S. Kilby edited by Loren Wilkinson & Keith Call (Paraclete Press/Mount Tabor Books) $28.99 I suspect that anyone who cares much about the Inklings will know well the important role Wheaton English professor Clyde Kilby played in promoting their work in the mid-to late 20th century. Would we know or care as much about Lewis and Barfield and Williams and Sayers and the others if it weren’t for the beloved Kilby (1902 – 1986) and his editing, compiling, teaching, and, finally, founding the premier Lewis collection at the Marion E. Wade Center? I had reason to hear about this marvelous anthology of Kilby’s essays more than a year ago and I’m delighted — thrilled, even — to get to announce it to you here.
The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics Clyde S. Kilby edited by William Dyrness & Keith Call (Paraclete Press/Mount Tabor Books) $28.99 This book is not even here yet although we expect it later this week. What a beautiful companion to A Well of Wonder. Here is what the publisher says about it:
Dr. Clyde Kilby was known to many as an early, long and effective champion of C. S. Lewis, and the founder of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL, for the study of the works of Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other members of the Inklings. Less known is that Dr. Kilby was also an apologist in his time for arts, aesthetics and beauty, particularly among Evangelicals.
This collection offers a sampler of the work of Dr. Clyde Kilby on these themes. He writes reflections under four headings: Christianity, Art, and Aesthetics; The Vocation of the Artist; Faith and the Role of the Imagination; and Poetry, Literature and the Imagination.
With a unique voice, Kilby writes from a specific literary and philosophical context that relates art and aesthetics with beauty, and all that is embodied in the classics. His work is particularly relevant today as these topics are being embraced by Protestants, Evangelicals, and indeed people of faith from many different traditions. A deeply engaging book for readers who want to look more closely at themes of art, aesthetics, beauty and literature in the context of faith.
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Visual Arts in the Worshiping Church Lisa J. DeBoer (Eerdmans) $24.00 We stock anything we can from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and this is another in their serious-minded Liturgical Studies series, edited by the brilliant and significant John D. Witvliet. This new one has already been called “wise and wonderful” and “indispensable” (by Robin Jensen) and, in the words of W. David O. Taylor (editor of For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, a collection which I happen to love) “her study of the visual arts in worship is both concrete and illuminating, and points to a fruitful way forward.” DeBoer is an art history prof at Westmont College but has spent time in congregations all over, and has been in dialogue with some of the finest practitioners around. It includes a very impressive foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff who has, I trust you know, written deeply about worship, liturgy, and also about justice and aesthetics.
Wolterstorff says of DeBoer’s book, that she uncovers,
…how actual congregations in different traditions do in fact engage the arts and why they engage them as they do. It’s a groundbreaking approach, full of fascinating details and perceptive analyses.
God Neighbor Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good Walter Brueggemann (Baylor University Press) $24.95 I announced this last week but also said we didn’t have any in stock. The academic press who published it must have run out right away — before they even hit all the stores. (There was that huge Society of Biblical Literature Conference, after all.) So, for us, this is brand new — wow!
This one is truly new and substantial, not like the other two releases by Dr. B this year — one a collection of previously published scholarly pieces, the other a very short set of meditations both which are themselves pretty great. But a brand new work like this by Brueggy just makes my year, and here we go. What an amazing, serious, evocative book. Not utterly new ideas, of course, but new texts, new messages, new connections, new challenges to embody the prophetic imagination in our times.
These lectures were first delivered at Fuller Theological Seminary and Brueggemann’s fluency in the Biblical text and evangelical faith commitments are on wondrous display. The forward is by Tim A. Dearborn — when I first met him I think he worked for World Vision, so knows a thing or two about passion for the oppressed and the hard work on the ground inspiring church folks to care about global justice. Now Dr. Dearborn is the Director of the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching there at Fuller. It is a wonderful piece setting the stage.
Walt’s chapters are rich and dense, as you would expect. His assigned topic was to relate Justice, Grace, Law, and the Mission of God. Yeah, just that. And yet through it all, there shines a beauty. Tremper Longman notes “his deep love of God, Scripture and humanity reverberates throughout this incisive exploration of God’s excessive faithfulness.”
After a very lengthy and learned introduction, Brueggemann sets out these four presentations, each which are substantial.
The Nature and Mission of God
Irredacibly, Inscrutably Relational
From Zion Back to Sinai
The Inexplicable Reach Beyond
The Summons to Keep Listening
Created & Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture William Edgar (IVP Academic) $24.00 I gave a quick shout out about this last week when I was doing those epic “something for everyone” book lists. I still haven’t had time to look through it much — it’s been on the shelf about a week and I look at it longingly as I zip by a twenty times a day. It really is brand new and very, very significant. And, I think, will be a popular resource for Hearts & Minds loyalists.
You may recall that Beth and I hosted Bill and his wife at an annual lecture we sponsored out in Pittsburgh a few summers ago. Bill had just released a very interesting book about Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality and how Schaeffer’s cultural engagement, relevant, thoughtful theology, and moment-by-moment trust in Christ inspired him in his own work as jazz musician, justice seeking urban dweller, and professor of apologetics. Back then Bill told us he was working on a major work on our own cultural engagement — in but not of the world — and our very essence as humans made in God’s image, culture formers that we are? Just the title alone says so much and hints that it is going to be a very wise and insightful book.
His colleague K. Scott Oliphint, professor of apologetics and systematic theology, at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia says what many of us who know Bill surely think: “I have been waiting for this book since I first met Dr. Edgar.”
I can count on one hand the people who are qualified to write such a work, and Bill Edgar is at the top of the list. He is a Christian theologian who is also an expert in cultural studies. This should be the first volume one reads when questions of Christianity and culture are broached.
Or, as Tim Keller put it,
Anything from the pen of Bill Edgar is profitable to read, but this subject is in Bill’s wheelhouse. An important book on a topic that, for Western Christians, has never been so crucial.
The publisher explains more, even as they promise some forthcoming resources for teaching Created and Creating:
By exploring what Scripture has to say about the role of culture and by gleaning insights from a variety of theologians of culture — including Abraham Kuyper, T. S. Eliot, H. Richard Niebuhr, and C. S. Lewis — Edgar contends that cultural engagement is a fundamental aspect of human existence. He does not shy away from those passages that emphasize the distinction between Christians and the world. Yet he finds, shining through the biblical witness, evidence that supports a robust defense of the cultural mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). With clarity and wisdom, Edgar argues that we are most faithful to our calling as God’s creatures when we participate in creating culture.
Restored: Finding Redemption in Our Mess Tom Berlin (Abingdon) $15.99 Perhaps you
need a book to just help you get back on track in this new year. Perhaps you need basic, clear, convicting good news. Tom Berlin is an upbeat, good writer, not much fooling around but some great examples, good stories, inspiring stuff. Although simple and clear he is not simplistic — he draws on everybody from St. John of the Cross to Evelyn Underhill, Augustine to Dallas Willard (via Bill Murray, but that’s another story.) He’s a United Methodist pastor who has written some very popular books about congregational health and finding big faith. (One book studies various ways people encounter God — fascinating.) I love the idea of this book; God redeems the mess of our lives, that salvation is goodness restored, health, healing, hope, meaning even amidst the junk. Far as the curse is found, you know. Transformation. Restoration. Berlin is an obviously good pastor, a sensitive shepherd and knows well the messes we make. And he cares enough to show us a way out, based on the work of God the restorer.
As Brenda Birton-Mitchell (an inductee into the Martin Luther King College of Preachers at Morehouse College) puts it,
Pastor Tom Berlin has written this book through the eyes of the his heart. I could see the handiwork of God in every chapter.
Or listen to Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli, Senior Pastor of the famous Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington DC:
In Berlin’s capable hands, a dog with a mouth full of couch cushion, a poll on stink bugs, and an intrusive vine in a neighbors yard all become occasions for exploring the gap we create between ourselves and a God who is always reaching out to love us.
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