A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why (A Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore) – ON SALE NOW

Maybe I shouldn’t care so much what people may think, but I have to admit that I am afraid if I write too much about being thankful it might seem as if I’m immune to the sadness of our world and to friends who even now are suffering; from large scale horrors to personal trauma to the run-of-the-mill daily disappointments that can erode our joy, there is a lot of pain to name, much to lament. Of course we should be grateful, but yet…

The first prophetic task, Old Testament scholar and modern day prophet Walter Brueggemann says in his important Reality Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks (WJK; $16.00) is to name the realities that we must grieve. One cannot find deep, faith-driven hope without a sturdy realism about the hard facts on the ground.

So I’m not always sure that these cute gratitude projects and experiments in happiness are as Biblically warranted as their well-meaning, cheery advocates suggest. Of course the Bible does command us to recount the good things God has done (although, in the Bible, that is less about having a nice house, a good job, an understanding spouse, an award-winning kid, but about God’s liberation from oppression, the community’s rescue from enemies, or Jesus’ saving victory over sin and death, his disarming of the powers.) The “apostle of the heart set free” named Paul teaches us to have joy, but he’s often in prison when he writes his epistles about it. Thanks-giving in the Bible, it seems, is often pretty audacious, a messy, counter-intuitive, bittersweet business.

But then that sounds a bit grumpy to say here on Thanksgiving eve – the Bible says we are to rejoice in all things, after all; this is the day the Lord hath made and we know how we are to respond. We don’t have to sweep our deep brokenness and the world’s great need under the rug to find gladness. Indeed, I’m thankful for that (and for good writers who say such things, which keep me going.) Maybe we should list the quotidian graces we experience, day by day, rejoicing without embarrassment. I have to admit, I appreciate Ann Voskamp in her honest reminders about that. She’s right; there are a thousand gifts. And, as her new one invokes, sometimes we must be the gift.

And, certainly, as I’ve said before, I’m glad for writers, editors, publishers, sales reps, booksellers (including our own staff), reviewers, bookstore lovers, and book buyers — all those who care about the printed page and keep books alive in these digital days. If you’ve been around here much, you know such things makes me want to tell you about books by the wonderful wordsmith Marilyn McEntyre, such as her extraordinary volume Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (Eerdmans; $19.00) and Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice (Eerdmans; $17.99.) I recently again dipped into Wendell Berry’s classic Standing By Words (Counterpoint; $16.95.)  There are so many good voices that remind us of the value of words, lines, paragraphs and pages.

Without it sounding predictable or perfunctory I want to shout out that we are very, very thankful for our customers, who care about words and who care about us. Most know that many indie and family-owned bookstores aren’t doing too well these days, especially those in the thoughtfully religious publishing space, and we realize that our days are numbered. But we have loyal customers, customers who have spent their hard-earned money with us, and have entered into a friendship with our little Hearts & Minds commonwealth here in Dallastown.

We have folks that walk into the storefront here and we are reminded that some of them have been shopping with us for 35 years! Some were in their prime in those early years and now walk a bit slower. Some have aged as we have, and our kids who once played together are now grown and far-flung with kids of their own. Some of our earliest customers were young, inexperienced pastors who now serve with great distinction and – as the best leaders always do – continue to read deeply in their field, studying theology and world and theology and mission. We rejoice in encouraging the maturity and Christian minds of leaders near and far.

We are so very grateful for our on-line (or, as we used to say “mail-order”) customers. Our e-commerce is more than a third of our business and we owe so much to our many phone-in and Facebook friends, those that subscribe to BookNotes, and those out-of-town individuals and institutions that support our ministry here. We wouldn’t be here without you. Some of our most vocal supporters and those who send us the most business are friends we have never met! We love the little notes they send us and the encouragement we get as customers convince folks they know to shift their business away from A-zon and to enter into partnership with us. We are thankful for our advocates.

It’s deeply, deeply rewarding to think we’ve brought the pleasures of books and the insight of important authors to so many. It’s humbling to think we’ve been a conduit of joy and maturity. We are thankful to be able to make a little difference in this world.

I say all this sincerely because, truly, despite life’s personal pains and the public controversies of these hard times, we are grateful. We are glad for the good work the Lord has given us to do and we are really thankful for those who are our customers and our friends.


A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read and Why — A Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore compiled/edited by Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books) $18.99  10% OFF SALE PRICE = $17.09

We are this season amazingly grateful – stunned, actually – with the gift of a book created and published in our honor, just released by Square Halo Books. When they presented it to us a few weeks ago, on an unusually busy Saturday here at the shop, Beth and I both got choked up. It is rare that I can truly say I was speechless, and in that moment I stood there with tears in my eyes, holding Beth’s hand, looking at Ned & Leslie Bustard and Alan & Diana Bauer, the beautiful box of pastries from a classy bakery in Lancaster that they brought for the occasion, and allowed the audacious fact of the matter to sink in.


Yes. In fact, they published a book to honor us, a book of book reviews done by friends and fans of the store. A real book that now we get to sell.

Whaaaat? Oh. Oh. My.

We have always been grateful for the supportive friendship of Ned, Leslie and their girls and they have gone out of their way to bless us. We’ve got Ned’s art on our walls, I’ve got a classy tee-shirt or two made in commemoration of one of their book releases, I’ve even got a Square Halo Books cap which is cooler even than my Calvin Dad one. But more than that, they get what we are trying to do and even when were are theologically or politically a bit different, they have been nothing but supportive, always telling people to shop here, and allowing us first dibs at many of their excellent, small-batch releases. (Although we do, indeed, love promoting the Square Halo Books titles – including the forthcoming Good Posture: Engaging Culture with Ancient Faith by Lancasterian Row Houser Tom Becker – you might notice that there is a link from their publishing website to our retail one; we appreciate this direct partnership that allows us to easily serve their interested readers.) We have diligently reviewed at BookNotes nearly every book they’ve released, and stock all their books, not out of duty or reciprocity but because we really believe in these books. We have always valued their work and we were honored when they published my own edited project, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life (Square Halo Books; $13.99.) Ned did the delightful design of that, the acorns and oak trees thing, the leaves on the inside, which has brought many readers a small, extra aesthetic pleasure.

But this.


A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why —  a Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore! was furtively compiled and edited by Ned Bustard  and released by the respected, boutique publisher, Square Halo Books. It sells for $18.99 — which includes a lot of pictures of a lot of book-covers! although we have it at 10% off.

Unbeknownst to us, Ned talked with a number of folks who know us well and asked them who we might want in a book that would honor our work. Who are the experts and specialists and wise leaders who inquiring readers might consult about this or that topic? Ned called those people and invited them to contribute a chapter to honor us, to create a book of book reviews. A few were unable to be involved but many worked quickly and offered the gift of a new chapter, doing book reviews of the best books they’d recommend to develop a Christian perspective in their sphere or field..

Full disclosure: Ned had often attempted to convince me to publish a collection of BookNotes reviews, a book of my own book reviews, but I have not thought that viable. The Bauers and Bustards, owners of Square Halo, don’t easily take no for an answer, I guess, because they cooked up this other plan, a set of book reviews not by me but by others, in homage.

And what an honor it is! We still find ourselves rubbing our eyes when we look at the stacks of this book sitting here, almost in disbelief.

Ned called up N. T. Wright and he wrote a chapter?

He got the famously hard-to-reach Calvin Seerveld to do a chapter for us?

From best-selling author and ethicist Dave Gushee to beloved writer and literary critic Karen Swallow Prior, Ned got some great people involved and we are now not only grateful to Ned for conceiving and pulling of this daunting project and for Square Halo for releasing it, but to each of the authors who contributed chapters.

We are glad for the serious work these scholars presented, just thrilled with this new, substantive volume, and we think you will be too.

A few extra things you should know.

There is a chapter by me that Ned valiantly transcribed from a talk I gave in 2004 – with notes scribbled on a napkin as I recall – about the power of books. Because it was a surprise, Ned obviously couldn’t consult with me about how best to translate my speaking style to the printed page and I right away chided him about the lack of semi-colons. If you’ve heard me you know I use air quotes and say “parenthetically” too often. I can hardly write a paragraph without dashes. So Ned has cleaned me up a bit but still captures the bluster of my passion, including some erroneous things. (Abraham Kuyper’s deeper conversion did indeed come about after a woman gave him a novel (Yonge’s The Heir of Redclyffe) but it was C.S. Lewis whose faith journey was famously catalyzed by reading a fantasy work by George MacDonald. We’ll blame such lapses on a mysterious gap in the tape, like Nixon’s maybe.)

There are some very nice endorsements about our store written inside the cover by esteemed friends and nationally-known authors such as Os Guinness and James K.A. Smith, Margaret Feinberg and Margot Starbuck, Professor William Romanowski and journalist Jonathan Merritt. They make me blush so won’t quote them here, but we thank those who were so kind  and who understand the importance of our work. We were moved to tears reading these words of commendation and we are so very grateful to those who have offered this support.

A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read & Why is billed on the cover as a “Festschrift Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore.” For what it’s worth a festschrift is a book just like this, often a way to honor a professor who is retiring by compiling a collection of chapters offered in tribute. Beth and I don’t fancy ourselves as professors (even though we push books more than some college profs do!) and we are not retiring. Still, this is a great example of what a festschrift can be, with real specialists offering up their chapters, all taking us by surprise.

Essentially, Ned asked each author to do a BookNotes-like essay, naming the best books in their particular field of expertise, explaining a bit about their topic and why these books warrant being on their list. Each chapter has a similar title, following the rubric of “What History Book Should You Read and Why” or “ What New Testament Books Should You Read and Why” or “What Education Books Should You Read and Why” and so forth.

Each of these chapters deserves a careful reading; you will, as we have as we’ve been pouring over them this week, learn quite a lot. We have Ned himself writing on the arts, the esteemed Joel Belz writing on poetry, Matthew Dickerson doing a great, great chapter about fantasy, Andi Ashworth writing about cookbooks — what a well-written treat! There is the eminent editor of Image Journal Gregory Wolfe doing a wonderful essay naming some of the best creative nonfiction authors and film lover Denis Haack wisely explaining about the best Christian reflections on the movies. Our very good friend from Christian Legal Society, Michael Schutt, has a very astute chapter, dare I say, sagacious, about the law.

Calvin Seerveld has given us a gift of zealous writing as he calls us to study rare and learned books about the Scriptures (ending, though, with why he recommends the gritty Bonhoeffer.) Tom Wright sent his chapter from England, naming those books that have helped shaped his own work in New Testament studies from which we should benefit. I was delighted to see his remarks about Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by our mutual friends Sylvia Keesmaat & Brian Walsh.

Although a few of the authors tell about meeting us or ordering books from us or their appreciation for our bookstore work, most do not. A few good chapters are by authors we do not even know, making this volume even more eclectic and interesting.

At the risk of seeming fussy — for the record, I would love to amend some of these many chapters, listing what I would insist are the most important books in politics or education or science or Bible; I can’t help myself.

This is a book about books and a handbook for being well read and it is a thrill for book-lovers and a boon to those of us who don’t know “what to read next.” From Brad Frey’s really excellent ramble through books about sociology to Tom Becker’s good words on urban planning to Karen Swallow Prior’s inspiring, thoughtful piece about literature to Michael Kucks chapter mostly on the philosophy and theology of thinking well about science, these are informative and helpful guides to significant books in each field. Books for Hearts & Minds (quite apart from the sentimental aspect of it being a tribute to our 35 years of bookselling service) is a resource you should have.

I love that on the back cover of A Book for… it describes my style here at BookNotes. It declares that we have “blessed” our customers, which we hope is so, and then says:

In those reviews, Byron shares colorful anecdotes and passionate arguments for why to read books, and amplified lists suggesting what books to read.

The back copy continues, explaining that in this book, our friends, the invited authors, have:

…adopted the BookNotes model and offer a defense for books in their spheres of interest, along with a number of titles for the reader to consider investing their time in for deeper study.

So many of these chapters would themselves be worth discussing at length — maybe your book club could just talk about the reviews for a few weeks!  But one chapter deserves special mention and not only because it says the most wonderful things about us, but because it narrates the author’s own love of books and the ways in which his personal history of reading influenced him so deeply. It is sweet and significant, by our friend Steve Garber.

Garber’s contribution is the perfect closing chapter even if it does not name the “Best Books About Vocation and Why You Should Read Them.” (Write to me and I’ll give you that list!) Rather, it powerfully makes the case – just by telling his own story so beautifully – that reading matters, that reading deeply matters, that caring about and owning books matters. From Steve’s own early love of adventure stories to trips to the library with his own children, to his becoming a published author with InterVarsity Press, Steve has taken up his own vocation in the world as a lover of books, a teacher, one who inspires others in their own callings and careers, helping them learn about the things that matter most. I hope you know his mature, thoughtful book The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (and maybe even smile when you see the small interview with me in one of the chapters) and his more recent, equally moving, wise, and satisfying, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good.  It is a great, great joy to have his contribution here.

It is interesting to me that Steve mentions a few books that were important to him in his years of emerging adulthood, that I still routinely talk about as well. As a matter of fact, if you read a BookNotes column from a week or two ago you will recall that I mentioned the Dutch, neo-Calvinist philosopher named Pete Steen who in the 1970s stood in the line of Abraham Kuyper and played a significant role in helping his students in Western Pennsylvania develop a socially-engaged, reformational worldview (and helped found the now legendary Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh which for a while Steve directed.) Well, Garber tells of asking Pete what he should read and Steen suggested (among other things I’m sure) the cultural critic Theodore Roszak. I, too, was reading Roszak in those years and still tell of a line from a book of his that was catalytic for me. I didn’t know that Steve was, an hour away from me, reading Roszak and, soon enough, the influential Dust of Death by Os Guinness, a book that figures significantly into my own journey. And now Steve writes of those books important to him, in a chapter honoring Beth and me.

Steve’s piece about reading, about writing, about those books that left their mark on his own life, which turns in a bit of great kindness to Beth and I and our feeble efforts here in Dallastown, is a lovely ending to this collection of chapters about book, all of which encourage reading.

Beth and I love the dedication page, and the winsome quip “what would we have read without you?” Thanks, Ned!

I will admit and even celebrate that God has been pleased to use us, in some circles, to advise folks about what to read, and it sometimes has seemed helpful. But, as this book so wonderfully shows, there are plenty of people left walking this world who promote books. We should listen to them, add other titles to their lists, debate a few of them, and enter this grand conversation about “what you should read and why.” Our role as honored guests in this book aside, A Book for Hearts & Minds: What You Should Read and Why is a handbook you can use for the rest of your life. It can point you to resources that will enlarge your heart and strengthen your mind.

Why not order a few today and spread the word?



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