It’s been quite a year. Despite Covid hardships, supply chain hassles, and anguishes of many sorts, good books have been an inspiration and solace, entertaining and empowering. We thank God for the publishers (some who make me crazy with their terrible packing and unclear paperwork and frustrating customer service) who are, mostly, doing extraordinary work keeping the printed page alive and well in these perilous times. I mean that: we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for publishers, sale reps, publicity teams, and book reviewers who help us in this industry daily; we are grateful.
Of course, none of us in this glorious network of bookies promoting the reading life would have much to do if it were not for the writers. Thank the Lord for those who use their God-given gifts of crafting good sentences to help us imagine a new world. From fiction to nonfiction, poetry chapbooks to formal prayer books, those doing this often grueling, creative work are to be honored. It has been our joy to champion a few good writers and their good books.
I am sure that you, too, dear readers, have favorite books you’ve treasured this year. Why not send a note to a writer you’ve appreciated? Better yet, why not buy an extra copy of a book you adore and give it away? That’s how you best thank an author. From an independent bookstore, of course.
Some authors have become long-distance friends this year; a few this year have even become Hearts & Minds customers. What a privilege to serve folks in this way. It is not lost on us how cool it is that we get to do this kind of work.
Naturally, we’ve helped local folks with lots of backyard customer service. We are taking the pandemic seriously, still, so we remain closed for in-store browsing and we’re grateful for those who allow us to serve them curbside. We’re glad for those who asked us to ship books to their events, who have partnered with us in creative ways to get books into people’s hands.
Our staff remain cheerfully eager to serve one and all, and we’re grateful for their commitments to books and reading and helping our customers and friends. They do a lot in tough circumstances, believe me.
This year we’ve found items to help with weddings and funerals, baptisms and confirmations. We’ve helped children who are reluctant readers find just the right book. We’ve helped those who are struggling with tragedy find resources that have served them well. We’ve helped countless Bible study groups and Christian training classes and Sunday school groups find ideas to pursue. We’ve gotten books to those who were taking up new projects or ministries and needed resources. We helped college and seminary students find needed textbooks; in fact, we’ve helped professors pick their textbooks. We’ve found odd, out-of-print items for desperate readers and saved a few book groups or classes at the last minute when a certain well-known online place let them down without warning. We’ve driven to urgently deliver books out of town and each of our staff have made personal home visits. We’ve served churches of all sorts, of course — what a privilege! — but also colleges, hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, schools and a couple of think tanks. We’ve sent books overseas and we’ve sent books across town. We’ve special ordered books that are so bad it makes us gag and books that are so wonderful they make us weep.
We are touched by the wonderful little notes people send along with their checks in the mail or the email replies we occasionally get when folks read the books we’ve suggested. We’ve taken our fair share of criticism — some of it rude, by people who ought to know better —but some of it frank but fair. Just last week an author we admire wrote to us (having just, we heard, sent a letter moments before to his friend Wendell Berry) and today I was reminded by an established author that since some publishers are doing less and less in terms of marketing, he valued our reviews and announcements at BookNotes. What an honor to know our work is appreciated, even by a few authors.
Some days, though, like at your job, it is stressful and at times anguishing. I cannot pretend that this bookstore biz is a charmed life; many days I want to give up. We are not well off enough to quit, so, there it is. This is not a simple job but it is the work God has given us to do.
It has been especially hard this past year since we say through tears that we have lost customers to Covid, that we have customers who have lost spouses, that some friends may be incapacitated with ill-health for life. There are those who are sick or immunocompromised who feel unsafe and disregarded. I admit that there’s anger that I sometimes feel against those who are cavalier about the pandemic, who have spread the disease, who put their own personal freedom or desires above the common good. And there are all those other losses and grieves we all bear, almost always, it seems.
And yet there are glimpses of glory.
On one song on his Inner City Front album, Bruce Cockburn sings,
Today was a dog licking crap in a gutter in the street/Tonight is a dancer oscillating on weightless feet
Not exactly Dickens’s “best of times/worst of times” but you get the picture.
A favorite quote this year came from the wonderful collection of essays by novelist and bookstore owner Ann Patchett, These Precious Days: Essays. In one wonderful piece she says that Amazon was opening one of their weird, bricks-and-mortar stores near her Parnassus book shop in Nashville. She writes, bluntly,
People ask how we’re doing. I’ll tell you how we’re doing. They are coming for us. They want to kill us. But we will survive.
She’s right. We will survive this.
I love a song Jackson Browne sings where he reassures his lover that he’s not going anywhere.
You think I’m wishing I was some other place
But, in fact, I’m right here
With my shoulder to the wheel, baby,
And my heart in the deal.
Our hearts, too, are in this deal, this bookselling thing, this reading life, this passion for changing the world by spreading good words. We think you are, too, despite the odds. Our shoulders are to the wheel. And our nose in a book, baby.
Welcome to our shout-outs for 2021, honoring some of our favorite books, read and sold. Hats off to these fabulous authors for offering their great pages in this year of our Lord. And to many others I don’t have time or wits enough to tell about here. And hats off to you, our friends and customers. Thanks for being around and thanks for caring. Your orders keep us afloat and your support keeps us going.
I’ve described most of these in previous BookNotes and have reviewed many, some even extensively. Hit our archived BookNotes at the website to see my previous explorations. Months or even more than a year later, these have continued to be fresh in my memory, great reads of 2021. Please order by clicking on the link at the end of the column.
THE HEARTS & MINDS VERY BEST AND THE BEST-SELLING of 2021
Much of what we share here as “the very best” is subjective, of course, and colored by my own memory of what I read a half a year ago, subsequent conversations that helped us realize how certain books struck people, and, I suppose, what people we respect thought about certain titles. And, of course, there is the important question of for whom a book may be “best.” One size doesn’t fit all, and not all books I loved are best for you. And, for the record, as a small shop, when we say best selling, you may want to take that with a grain of salt.
Very soon we will send out another big list, annotating our favorite titles in the arts & literature, devotions & spirituality, Biblical studies, theology, church life, history, cultural analysis & civic affairs, the best books about race & racism, a few academic, scholarly volumes and, of course, our favorite memoirs of 2021. Stay tuned for PART TWO coming soon.
A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson Winn Collier (Waterbrook Press) $ 28.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40
Our review of this one garnered lots of interest and then the ever-gracious author of this great, great story, talked about us at great length at his on-line book laugh party. We listened in as Liz Vice sang, Eric Peterson — himself an author — and Winn talked about the book, and us. Peterson was fiercely loyal to us as his booksellers, and when said people really ought to buy the book from us. And they did, making it our biggest seller of the year. We are deeply, deeply grateful, making this one of the most moving and delicious book selling events of our career.
Beth and I both thoroughly loved the book and we cannot say enough about it. It is amazing because Peterson was a very interesting and inspiring person and his story is well worth telling and well worth reading. But there is something about Collier’s faithfulness to the man, the ethos of Peterson’s gritty, no-nonsense, down to Earth spirituality, that rings so very true. I’ve read a fair number of biographies, and this is truly a masterpiece. What a blessing to have played a small part in getting a few sold. We very highly recommend it.
I don’t usually say this, but I think a precious book like this is worth owning in hardback. It’s at 20% off, so pick it up now. It is being released in a paperback edition which releases March 22, 2022 and will sell for $20.00. Let us know if you want to pre-order any of those.
The Soul of Desire: Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community Curt Thompson (IVP) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60
There is no doubt in my mind that this deserves to be considered one of the very best books of 2021. We congratulate our friend Dr. Thompson, a practicing psychiatrist, a curator and thought leader, and great writer, for this, his third major book about neuroscience and faith. If his must-read Soul of Shame, in a sense, explored one of the great problems of the human condition, the new Soul of Desire explores a fresh and profound solution. Yes, re-ordering, deepening, claiming, our profound yearnings for belonging, for beauty, can help us re-work our broken brains, if you will.
Oh, of course, it isn’t that simple, and Thompson offers no simple answers. But in the exercises he explains, here, and the case studies he offers, and the almost audacious proposals he makes — sit in silence before a painting (and he has some full color reproductions in the book!) just for instance — The Soul of Desire becomes one of the most wonderful books I’ve read in years.
Somehow, folks liked our early review in BookNotes and word got out that we were a place that had it, believed in it, wanted to promote it (and had it, as we still do, at our 20% off discounted price) and it became one of our best sellers for 2021. We still have plenty here and we are grateful for those who ask about it. What a joy to have this exceptionally thoughtful Christian leader sharing the serious work he does, the art and science, of being a Christian healer of hurting souls. Kudos to IVP for doing just a quality job of it.And kudos to Jubilee 2022 for having Curt Thompson as one of their main stage, keynote speakers later this month.
Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty Ken Starr (Encounter Books) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
Think what you will about Mr. Starr’s investigation into the Clinton’s corrupt Whitewater stuff or the infamous Starr report exposing the former President’s dishonesty under oath, Starr has been a fair and kind man and has earned the respect and even friendship of those on various sides of various aisles. (He was friends with RBG, for instance.) We respect Ken and he has encouraged many of his listeners at social media workshops and his virtual book tour to support us, making this another 2001 best seller for Hearts & Minds and our little store here in the Keystone state.
(That line was an homage to Ken, by the way, who seems to know the nicknames and mascots for every one of the fifty states. He’s a clever and colorful writer as his work in Religious Liberty shows.)
Some knuckleheads use free speech and even freedom of religion for purposes that are not guided by charity or justice; the common good and public health seem not to be the driving motivation of some who insist on their freedom of speech and their freedom of religious practice. For the record, we disapprove of many who make unjust public stances in the name of Jesus. And, given how worldviews work, shaping our deepest held convictions, all sorts of wacky stuff can be considered religiously-based. And guess what? The genius of the First Amendment includes this freedom for all, not just for those who we like or who are guided by the best lights. I appreciate conscientious objection and I am glad that there are court rulings that support freedom of conscience for those who may be religious minorities. And in this book, Ken Star offers a introductory class on the history of these court rulings on these very matters, from the freedom of those who are pacifists and oppose conscription, to the Amish and their school practices, to rulings about certain Bible study groups on college campuses that were forbidden to use classrooms that other student groups were allowed to us.
Starr knows the U.S. Constitution, of course, but he also knows the history of rulings (the circuit courts and the appeals) on these matters and, as I explained in a previous review, he explains well the uniquely American quandaries and struggles, laws and court rulings, that have shaped our social fabric, especially regarding religious freedom issues. It’s a terrific read and covers so much of American legal history and we are glad to name it as one of the more interesting books out this past year.
Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
This is certainly one of the most moving books Beth and I have read this year, a clearly written, eloquent at times, very thoughtful guide to praying during hard times. Tish, of course, is an Anglican priest and very good wordsmith and here she is doing two or three things, nicely mixed together amidst memoir-like storytelling and vulnerable candor about her own life and faith.
Firstly (as we described in greater detail at a BookNotes review last winter) she is literally inviting us to the Book of Common Prayer’s language of prayer during the evening prayer time (known to those who follow the daily offices, as Compline.) Those who work, watch, and weep are mentioned in this nearly timeless prayer book and she shares it helpfully with those of us who aren’t schooled in that liturgical tradition. It is rich and solid stuff.
Secondly, she is exploring “night” not only literally (as in evening-time prayer) but, obviously, as a metaphor for all of us in the various dark times of our lives. She not only explores how to pray in the complexities and sadnesses of our times, but explores a bit of basic theodicy theology; that is, “where is God when it hurts?” as Yancey put it in his famous book. Prayer in the Night is a cherished modern classic and it is rewarding to get to send it out from time to time.Thanks be to the God who works, watches, and weeps with us, and for His servant Tish Harrison Warren who with vulnerability and charm shares from her own life how prayer in the night works.
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation Kristen Du Mez (Liveright) $18.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16
Howdy pardner! Yee-hah! This book, which has very little to do with John Wayne, actually, does use the strong, cowboy, and, then, film star Army man, as an iconic symbol of American rugged individualism, macho-man / tough guy stuff, gun-totin’, flag-waving, commie-fightin’, civil religion and how that ethos shaped an evangelical industry which came to be nearly a stand-in for American evangelical faith. This toxic masculinity and the right wing politics that went with it became a social phenomenon and a sub-culture as much as a faith experience; or, conversely, the faith experience of many who grew up in this wild West, macho-manly subculture was significantly compromised as they took their cues more from that worldly posture that became an ideology, more than from Jesus.
She traces this with John Wayne nearby, of course, but it isn’t about him. Her vivid early description of the vigor and handsomeness of the early Billy Graham (and how much was made of his manliness in those years) and Graham’s desire to reach those in political power was brilliant. Long before he was embarrassed by his unfortunate approval of the dirty dealings of foul-mouthed Richard Nixon, he wore his up-to-date suits and colored socks into the White House with Ike.
Her opening, though, with candidate Donald Trump at her own alma mater and hometown, at Dordt College in Iowa, was breathtaking.
As a historian at Calvin University, Du Mez is a fascinating scholar and has given us here the best overview of the evangelical subculture of the last 50 years that I think I’ve ever seen. This is the story of the subculture we have drifted in and out of, never quite a part of it, but clearly in the air of the Christian Bookstore marketplace we’ve been in for the last 40 years. It influenced our faith to some extent, our customers, our parenting, for better or for worse. So I loved this book, read it feverishly, with gladness that she named the dysfunction and unbiblical screwiness of it all — books by the law breaking liar Ollie North who raised money for death squads in Nicaragua, published by a Southern Baptist mission publisher, for crying out loud; Focus on the Family ending up becoming known more for being anti-gay than pro-family; Wild at Heart guy John Eldridge mocking Mother Teresa and evangelical leaders honoring him for it, the unhealthy fetish about sexual purity, the odd embrace of evangelicals of a President who famously described with glee his gross machismo and vile strategy for sexual assault.
Du Mez is a careful and thorough historian and explores this macho side of militaristic white evangelicalism in such a way that it puts pieces of a puzzle together, helping us see the back story of much that has occurred in the last few years. It’s a great read and important: I do not think one can understand August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville or January 6, 2020, without this book.
By the way, we first reviewed this at BookNotes when it was out in hardback. We list it here because it came out in paperback in 2021 and continues to be a Hearts & Minds top seller and personal favorite.
The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth Beth Allison Barr (Brazos Press) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
Again, this was a good seller for us, largely because of the review we did at BookNotes and the impressive social media presence the author had. Many, many, have joined our early review and discussed The Making of Biblical Womanhood in greater detail than we did, and she has become a bit of a controversy online. The short version is that she is a PhD scholar who knows medieval church history and shows that the fairly recent lingo about “Biblical womanhood” is not faithful to the Biblical interpretation of most Christians down through the ages. Her look back as a historian (and her ecumenical study as a Baptist) is exceptionally interesting and, I believe, very helpful. It’s a very unique book and very, very good.
Her husband lost a job as youth worker at a Southern Baptist church in part due to his, and, curiously, Beth’s moderate, evangelical views on gender equality; for anyone who has experienced anguish at their own local church, this book will be a much-needed companion. Her story became emblematic of much that is wrong with conservative views of gender; the horribly mean push-back she has gotten almost proves the point. In any case, we are glad that people can read the book and learn for themselves what the fuss is about. We are glad for each and every person who ordered it from us.
We here have read a lot of books on evangelical feminism, egalitarian perspectives, gender justice and the like, so, to be honest, I wasn’t expected to be so blown away by this very interesting book. Highly recommended.
Whole Hearted Faith Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu (HarperOne) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
That the late Rachel Held Evans’s last book would be a big seller this year and that many had pre-ordered it should come as no surprise. We met Rachel a time or two and she was a dynamo. Her books were interesting and well written, her social media and conference ministry catapulted her into a major voice in the religious landscape. People loved her, and said that her progressive and open-minded post-evangelical faith saved their own faith (and in some cases, their very lives.) Her Searching for Sunday, a memoir about finding a church and way of worship and being community that is rooted and solid, gracious and kind, open and inclusive to those with doubts, remains a powerful example of many young adults who emerged out of legalistic and sometimes toxic fundamentalism. She was a rock star, and died very suddenly in the Spring of 2019 after a fluke illness that turned deadly. She left two young children and an adoring husband in grief.
Whole Hearted Faith is the book that was created, at her husband’s request, out of a manuscript she was working on. Her friend Jeff Chu — a good writer and collaborator with Rachel — was a good choice to cull through some drafts, add some previously unpublished articles and pieces, and weave together a coherent volume that is her last, posthumous, book. It is bittersweet reading it for those of us who had met her or for those who feel connected to her work. It is good knowing that even after her death her writing ministry endures, and we’re glad that Chu picked up the challenge. This book is well worth having, even if it is with a heavy heart that we celebrate its importance.
Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
This, too, was a favorite read — a real personal favorite for me for a bunch of reasons — and one that sold well for us this past year. I think it appealed to two or three sorts of folks. I suppose it is mostly those in mainline denominational people who know Diana, who is Epsiopalian, from her previous work on congregational health, the practices of smaller, ordinary churches, and her recent wonderfully written book about gratitude and, Grounded, her book about down-to-Earth faith. DBB is a historian and cultural critic and a good friend of those who want solid research and astute historical insight shaping our conversations about the tone and texture of contemporary faith life.
A second sort of audience, I think, for Freeing Jesus, might be those who have been on a faith journey for decades now, and may have somewhat of a similar tale to tell as Diana does so well in this book, about the shifts and developments in that faith journey. It is somewhat of a memoir of her own faith journey, the iterations of discipleship for her and what that looked like, using the lens of how she viewed Jesus in various seasons of her life. The subtitle is wonderful, isn’t it? And unless you are some ecumenical genius with a superpower of transcending your own time and place and church and your own mind, you, too, have fallen prey to this very understandable foible — you have seen God, and the whole Christian experience, in light of who you most consider Jesus to be and what that evokes from us. That big question — “Who do you say that I am?” — remains one of the important questions any human can seek to answer.
As she explains in Freeing Jesus, earliest religious memories was of Jesus as a friend and as a simple moral teacher. Ahh, that brought memories back from my early Sunday school lessons. In one later season of her life — she’s almost old enough to know the Jesus People movement first hand — she viewed Jesus as the savior of souls and, of course, that meant doing evangelism, even pushy evangelism. (Now that’s an image, isn’t it. Diana on the street passing out gospel tracts.) At another point in another season she passed out Sojourners, maybe, instead of Four Spiritual Laws booklets as she proclaimed the reign of God, knowing Christ as Lord of a broken world, bringing a transforming Kingdom of justice. Yet again, later, she came to know Christ as “the way” which calls forth spiritual practices. You get the picture.
I simply do not know any book that is as candid, as insightful, as interesting, and as near to my own various sorts of understandings of Jesus, as Butler Bass enumerates in this 2021 book. That Jesus might want to be set free from these boxes we put him in — nothing surprising there, either. That is, by the way, the starting point not only for her vivid story in the prelude,. (It is also, by the way, the starting point for the beloved book and DVD curriculum by Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, who shows old movie clips to help us realize just how we’ve developed versions of Jesus in our mind’s eye that may need to be reconsidered.)We do have this Nazarene in a box, quite often, and Freeing Jesus will help us see Him afresh. One needn’t have gone through all the stages of faith Diana has to appreciate her project and your various conceptions of who Jesus is may differ. One doesn’t have to agree with her assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each, either (although she makes often compelling observations Biblically and theologically of her picture of Jesus during each era of her life that are surely worth pondering.) I reviewed this at great length before and we’re glad for those who found the idea intriguing. I am happy to share that it was one of my very favorite books of 2021.
The Power of Place: Chasing Stability in a Rootless Age Daniel Grothe (Nelson Books) $25.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79
We love the topic of this book and Grothe’s Power of Place may be one of the very best overtly Christian books yet on a sense of place, a commitment to staying put, and what the Benedictines call “stability.” Naturally, he draws on Wendell Berry, and the monastics, a bit, but also so much more; in a way, this book is not just resisting rootlessness, but about finding contentment. As Rich Villodas says, “As a pastor in a busy city, I desperately need this book to help me remain fully present to the gifts already before me.” Enjoy!
As Sharon Hodde Miller, the fine writer of Free of Me, writes:
It is difficult to overstate the importance of this message for our culture right now. The nearly ubiquitous, frayed edges of our souls reveal that we are a profoundly uprooted people… My sincere hope is that Christians will read this with the urgency it warrants.
And, on top of that, it is fun, uplifting, a good, good read, as we say. Enjoy! It is absolutely one of our favorites of the year.
In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World Padraig O’ Tuama (Broadleaf Books) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
We were proud to carry this book in an older, imported edition; we loved his poetry and admired his peacemaking work in Northern Ireland through the ministry of Corrymeela. In early 2020 Padraig became widely known by many in North American as he hosted “Poetry Unbound”, an NPR poetry podcast and this eloquent rumination about finding “home” instantly sold out everywhere. How glad we were when we heard that Broadleaf was going to do a very elegant, compact paperback, fully realized with some new content.
This recent US edition of In the Shelter not only evokes a gospel sense of shelter from the storms, but is one of the most handsome paperbacks released this year. Kudos.
Hear this remarkable claim from the foreword by Krista Tippett, creator and host of On Being:
To say that it is one of the most beautiful and quietly necessary books of our young century is a sweeping assertion, but I will make it. . . .An exquisite work of spiritual autobiography.
When Everything’s on Fire: Faith Forged from the Ashes Brian Zahnd (IVP) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
I could not put this down and although it released late in the year, Zahnd’s good words on keeping faith even amidst what some call “deconstruction” have catapulted to the top of my “must read” suggestion list for those who want a artful, honest invitation to consider faith anew. I suppose it is about doubt and grief, an apologetics book, as they say. But he spends a lot of time with Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard (and Derrida.) He reminds us that sometimes we do need a renovation of the language and understanding of our faith, but even if we have to remove a wing or two, we surely don’t have to demolish the whole building. There is very much I could say about this moving, edgy, clear, wise book and we are sure it’s one of the best of the year.
Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace John Mark Comer (Waterbrook) $25.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00
I like John Mark Comer a lot. His Garden City is a gem — easy to read, upbeat and conversational, a more theologically reliable and evangelically-rooted Rob Bell. His insights about this cultural moment are spot on and he reads more widely than most. I liked God Has a Name. Two years ago I named his The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry as one of the best books of the year, good for any younger adult, for sure, and for those needing to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, being transformed by Him, from the inside-out. There he channeled John Ortberg and Dallas Willard for a new generation.
When this new one, Live No Lies, came out late this fall I was sure I’d want to read it — again, I love this dude — but figured I understood his cool teaching style and predicated what he might say about “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” And I was wrong. Or at least underestimated it. It is not only reliably good and lots of fun to read and a helpful overview of Christian growth, but it is very, very good. Amazingly so. It is even more thoughtful than I expected, intriguing, stimulating, convicting, reassuring, helpful. Some have said it is his most important book yet.
I clearly want to promote this and we’re excited to name it one of my favorite books of 2021. And, I’m sure, of 2022.
Pointing to the Pasturelands: Reflections on Evangelicalism, Doctrine, & Culture J.I. Packer (Lexham Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
J.I. Packer has been a major influence on a certain sort of mostly Reformed evangelicals, shaping several generations of thoughtful and good leaders. Agree or not with every nuance of his Puritan-influenced Anglican theology, most who know him, listen to him, read him, agree that he is not only important but wise, influential and gospel-centered. Some of his books are meaty, but for ordinary readers and a few are fairly serious theological works. We usually carry them all.
Pointing to the Pasturelands is easy to describe: this is a nice hardback collection of a series of columns he wrote in CT (back when it was more formally known as Christianity Today) about Christian life, thinking and doing, prayer and politics, Godliness and holiness and cultural renewal. These are short, well written, and many pack a real wallop. He’s a fine writer — clever and gracious, usually — and this book is a wonderful way to dip into his wisdom, over and over.
You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World Alan Noble (IVP) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
Our friend Alan Noble is a fascinating character and we are so grateful for his voice in the publishing world. He is all over social media, edits a journal called Christ and Pop Culture and speaks at events (such as the CCOs annual Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh.) He became nationally known with his highly regarded and much discussed 2018 book Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age which the publisher described thusly:
What should Christian witness look like in our contemporary society? Alan Noble looks at our cultural moment, laying out individual, ecclesial, and cultural practices that disrupt our society’s deep-rooted assumptions and point beyond them to the transcendent grace and beauty of Jesus.
You Are Not Your Own is not a sequel to Disruptive… but it is happily more of the same— readable but very well informed cultural criticism and solid, but flexible, evangelical theology, applied to daily Christian discipleship for thoughtful followers of Christ. He both warns us about the ethos of the culture and reminds us how we may have unwittingly carried worldly baggage into the Kingdom of God and helps us rethink and discard what isn’t appropriate.
In YANYO (am I the first to call it that?) he refutes the idols of individualism, self sufficiency, that silly bit about being the captain of our fate. He very nicely replaces that tired and dysfunctional ideology with the warm insights from the Heidelberg Catechism — we are not our own but belong, body and soul, to our Lord and Savior. Many have said before; nobody has said it so profoundly with such interesting and accessible prose. Surely a “best book” of 2021.
Mere Evangelism: 10 Insights from C.S. Lewis to Help You Share Your Faith Randy Newman (The Good Book Company) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
I suppose I could nearly do a category of the recent books about C.S. Lewis and his Inklings. So much continues to be done — sharp, thoughtful, fun studies. (I do hope you know the second installment in the extraordinary biography of Lewis written by Harry Poe.) I wanted to list this, though, not only as a fresh way to dip into Lewis, again, but as a very helpful guide to contemporary evangelism. Of course there are many well-intended folks who give evangelism and bad name, but it is my sense that, on the other hand, many just don’t take sharing the gospel in an intentional, effective, and faithful way all that seriously. We need all the help we can get, and our shelves on this topic here at the shop are overflowing. This is one of the best news ones and we want to honor it here.
Those who follow BookNotes may recall that we have celebrated Randy’s other good books on the topic, especially his 2020 research-based book Unlikely Converts where he tells the stories of those who came to faith and how that happened for them. His Questioning Evangelism (and its great play on words with that double-entendre) explained his own shift to a more nuanced, perhaps nearly postmodern view of engaging in spiritual conversations with seekers.
Here, Newman offers one of his very best books, which starts out in the first chapter telling of his own journey (raised in New York as a secular Jew) to Christian faith by way of reading C.S. Lewis. Lewis, of couse, has his own conversation narrative as one of the 20th century’s most famous converts from atheism to agnosticism to “mere Christianity.” Could Lewis’s own story provide insights for now conversions happen and generous, gracious strategies for helping people alone the way as they consider the case for Christ?
Newman is a close reader of Lewis and draws on all genres of Lewis’s body of work and scours his letters and journals, poems and prose, fiction and nonfiction, for clues to how best to engage the modern heart, mind, and imagination. His principles gleaned from the great thinker who used his imagination, the “romantic rationalist” (as one biographer called him), are put together cogently for anyone wanting a clear-headed guide.
There are bunches of books — some fairly basic, some profoundly deep — about Lewis’s vision of things, his epistemology, his imagination, his redeemed view of reason, his artful collaborations, and more. All are worthy as Lewis remains a key public intellectual of the last 100 years. But no books that we know of does what this does, drawing on his life and work, and offering 10 succint, beautiful, practical principles for sharing your faith with others. This is a great little book, helping you “draw those around you into the great story of the gospel, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
We offer this a dual award as it is one of the best introductory books about C.S. Lewis published this year and it is one of the very best evangelism books released this year. Here, here.
Randy Newman is the Senior Fellow for Evangelism and Apologetics at the C.S. Lewis Institute, serving out of their offices in the Washington DC area.
Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter Timothy Keller (Viking) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60
I think this book snuck out without much ado, and the reference to Easter in the subtitle caused some to think it was too seasonal to be of lasting interest. Forgive me if I pull in the Apostle Paul to remind us all that if the Easter resurrection did not happen, then we are to be pitied. Which is to say, this book is perennial and you should overlook the publisher’s strategic error of pitching it as a holiday title.
Look: Keller is coping with a life-threatening form of serious cancer. He has struggled to be a person of integrity and care, perhaps too conservatives for our progressive activist friends and, curiously, has been criticized for decades by some in his PCA denomination and beyond. My respect for him has always been high and as he has navigated his illness, his politics, and his shift from pastoring to a broader role in resourcing churches (through Redeemer’s City-to-City movement) our appreciation endures. And this book is one we need, that is helpful and inspiring. It is intelligently written and well informed by excellent scholarship, but Keller is a preacher and writes with a pastor’s care for real people and their real, daily concerns.
There are several things going on here in Hope in Times of Fear and to say it explores the vast implications of the “great reversal” of things inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection is really to say too little. But in this short space allow me to just assure you it is a vital, solid, reasonable and faithful book, good for skeptics, for those unsure of the gospel-centered goodness of the Christian faith, and for anyone who needs to plumb the multi-faceted implications of the hope we have in the resurrection. Even for those going through painful times.
I grinned when I read the first line of the preface:
When I had thyroid cancer in 2002 I read an eight-hundred page masterwork, The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright.
I suppose we know his love language: books! He gets a cancer diagnosis and dives into a huge, dense, theological tome. Ha!
It was not only an enormous help to my theological understanding but, under the circumstances, also a bracing encouragement in my face of my own heightened sense of mortality. I was reminded and assured that death had been defeated in Jesus, and that death would also be defeated for me.
Now, nearly twenty years later, I am writing my own book on the resurrection of Jesus, and I find myself again facing a diagnosis of cancer. This time I have pancreatic cancer, and by all accounts, this condition is much more serious and the treatment a much bigger challenge.
He also notes, of course, that he is writing in the midst of the worst world pandemic in a century, in New York, no less. This, friends, is how it is done, preaching good, good news with realism and clarity. You may not even have heard of it, but Hope in Times of Fear is surely one of the best books of 2021.
NATURAL HISTORY and CREATION CARE
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest Suzanne Simard (Knopf) $28.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.16
This is one of those books that I feel like I just have to list even though I have not read it cover to cover (yet.) It was a much-in-demand title a few months ago, on all the major best-seller lists. It received rave reviews from sources as unique as The Wall Street Journal and Kirkus Review, from Michael Pollan to Kristin Ohlson. You may know Dr. Simard’s name as she had a small piece in the amazingly beautiful Secret life of Trees that revolutionized forever how we consider the social ecology of trees and forests.
Professor Simar is a biologist and professor of forest ecology in the renowned British Columbia’s Faculty of Forestry. She may be a science scholar but writes gorgeously and loves her subject; the book has been called “intimate” and “absorbing” and “galvanizing.” The sturdy, wonderfully hefty book (with deckled pages) is an indication of how special this good volume is. It may be a sensation for its provocative and glorious thesis, but it is just lovely and wondrous, too.
For anyone who simply enjoys a walk in the woods and wonders what makes the forest work. — Thomas Horton, professor of mycology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural, Cultural and Personal History Cindy Crosby, illustrated by Peggy Macnamara (Northwestern University Press) $24.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96
I loved this book and, as I explained at BookNotes last summer, I first wonder, as I sometimes do, if I liked the book so much because I sort of know the author. I’ve admired her other work, so maybe I was just eager to appreciate this one. It is about dragonflies, a topic I knew little about and perhaps cared even less. But is that not the sign of a great book, when it can mesmerize you surprisingly. I was only going to skim this. It has become one I tell others about, hoping they will love it as much as I did. It’s one of my favorite reads of 2021. Here is a bit of what I wrote about it:
This lovely book was one of my absolute, favorite reads last summer as I sat outside reading day by day, late into the dusk. If it were not for the demands of our mail order business in the worst of the pandemic I would have dedicated a long review just to this, so taken was I with it. It is interesting, informative, funny, and at times so moving I had to wipe reluctant tears. I recommend it to anyone who cares about the outdoors and obviously to those who love the lovely little insect-like creatures.
Dragonflies are considered beautiful – and, in some places, considered fearsome – the world over. We all know that there are birdwatchers and most know there are those who are dedicated to tracking butterflies. Honeybees are now so endangered that folks follow them. Who knew that there are clubs and groups and scholarly researchers – including what Crosby calls “citizen scientists” – who painstakingly track these beautiful little creatures called odes?
Crosby is a good and honest writer and she says, without sentimentality, that “dragonflies changed by life.” The story is one she unfolds as she speaks about her depression, her faith, the solace found in nature. (Indeed, she wrote a stunning book decades ago about prayer practices as she worked to replant prairie grasses.) She writes well about her sense of self and her sense of place. As a workshop leader and teacher on natural history in the Chicago area she has honed her communication craft and as a coordinator of dragonfly monitoring programs at the Morton Arboretum and the Nachusa Grasslands, she has deepened her uncanny ability to see, to really see, and to invite others into wonder.
Chasing Dragonflies does wonderfully what many books like this do less well; she weaves mythology from around the world with science bits; she tells of her own journey into the study of natural history with glorious details of her work and advocacy. She offers lots of fascinating facts about the little critters and draws us into her gentle but adventurous storytelling of her kayaking and canoeing journeys into streams and swamplands. The rhythm of the book is excellent, the pacing and balance between passionate eco-writing and heart-felt personal revelations and hard science and great life lessons – it all just works so delightfully well. Chasing Dragonflies is a book I want to tell others about and yet fear it will seem to obscure, too dainty. Trust me. This is a great read. Get it, give it, talk about it, and – who knows – maybe you’ll be inspired to, as one reviewer put it, “get up and get out there.”
Our Angry Eden: Faith and Hope on a Hotter, Harsher Planet David Williams (Broadleaf Books) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
I hope you saw our quick review of this last summer. I have read maybe too many books about climate change and plenty of books about creation care, stewarding well our fellow creatures, being wise as we trek on God’s good but hurting world. Call it Christian earth-keeping or eco-theology or creational stewardship, there are vital and seemingly never-ending layers of Scripture and theology to unpack to help us care for our groaning planet.
And so, I wasn’t much in the mood to read yet another book, but the title was so intriguing. Is creation mad at us? Is that a biblically faithful way to think? And, if so, where is the hope in that? I started Our Angry Eden one Sunday afternoon sitting by our big back tree and long after dark was sitting by lamplight, unable to stop turning the amazing, well-written, even funny pages. I loved this author and found out that he is a fairly ordinary small town pastor of a fairly ordinary Presbyterian church. And, he’s a novelist of an amazing speculative fiction book we carry; why I hadn’t connected that David Williams (author of When the English Fell on the prestigious Algonquin Books) with this David William, is beyond me. Once I pieced that together, I loved the book even more.
Yes, this explains a bit about our “hotter, harsher” planet. And yes, he offers good, Christian common sense, rooted in faith, hope, and love. Yes, it is serious business, and, counterintuitively, perhaps, the book is a real pleasure to read. One of our favs, for sure!
Saving Us: A Climate Scientists Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World Katharine Hayhoe (One Signal/Atria) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60
It isn’t every day a respected world-class scientist who is an outspoken evangelical Christian gets to do a major release on a large, secular publishing house. She shares her faith, her Christian philosophy of science, her passion for the virtues that allow us to steward well God’s good creation and work for the common good. Saving Us is a grand and good book and we want to recognize it.
We actually heard Dr. Hayhoe, years ago, and carried her earlier book about “global warming facts and faith-based decisions” that even in 2009 seemed groundbreaking. That it went quickly out of print was tragic and spoke volumes about what that evangelical publisher was able to do to get her good work out.
Now she shares her hope and her call to be agents of healing and care in this broader venue (the publisher is owned by the bigger Simon & Schuster) and carries endorsements on the back from Academy Award-nominated actor and UN Environment Program Goodwill Ambassador Don Cheadle and Alan Alda, Abby Maxman (CEO of Oxfam) and young but significant global health advocate Chelsea Clinton.And so many more. For instance, read this:
I’ve seen Katharine speak in person and it was electrifying and probably the most powerful moment I’ve ever experienced in the climate movement. This book will be worth every second you spend reading it. — Kawai Strong Washburn, author, Sharks in the Time of Saviors
Saving Us is a uniquely hopeful approach to the conversation on climate change. Katharine Hayhoe’s expertise is on full display both in the way she talks about the science, and in the wealth of ideas she offers for how we can overcome divisions, but her core argument is simple: we need to talk more with each other.—Thomas Shirrmacher, Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance
Everyone Must Eat: Food, Sustainability and Ministry Mark L. Yackel-Juleen (Fortress Press) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
As we have often said, we have a good number of books offering a theology of land use, farming and faith, sustainable and regenerative agriculture. We have books about the spirituality of food, eating, cooking. Sometimes they overlap, and we wonder if they are more about growing food or eating food, about farming or feasting. And, always, about those who do not have enough of either. Is that not a central subtext of all we do, that some are dying of starvation?
Well, add to this matrix yet another aspect of the topic — Everyone Must Eat is about food and farming, working and eating, sharing and caring, but get this: much of this happens in rural areas. So this book is actually also about small churches, often in rural areas or small towns. The author’s passion for rural ministry is palpable, his practical tips for such ministry (as Ryan Cumming, director of hunger education for the ELCA, puts it) “brings readers into the lives and histories of rural communities that are too often overlooked.” He says, “Everyone Must Eat should be required reading for anyone passionate about food, hunger, the environment, and the future of the church.”
So there ya go: a multi-dimensional book connecting the Scriptures and classic theology to life among those who work the land, showing God’s presence and abiding faithfulness to the creation, and to the churches who ministry among those in small places who are often overshadow (and sometimes harmed) by the big corporations running the food production biz in North America. We stock this book in three places in our store— food/eating; farming and sustainable land use; congregational life. Yackel-Juleen is the director for Small Town and Rural Ministry at the Center for Theology and Land at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. As ordained Lutheran pastor, he is also the founder of Shalom Hill Farm.
Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside Nick Offerman (Dutton) $28.00
AUTOGRAPHED – while supplies last OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40
Not going to lie. This made me laugh more than any book this year, but it also has some serious insights. Offerman is maybe our leading public figure who promotes the work of Wendell Berry and his profound insight about conservation — not to mention fooling around in the great outdoors — is enchanting. Did we mention we have some autographed ones? At least for now … while supplies last, as they say.
Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Our True CallingDan Allender & Cathy Loerzel (Zondervan) $28.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19
We reviewed this at BookNotes and it is clear that the topic touches a nerve and, also, that Allender rightfully has a huge following. We are grateful — we respect him so much. This is powerful stuff, informed by trauma studies and profound, cutting edge counseling studies, and a deeply Biblical sensibility. Thanks be to God.
Here is how the publisher describes it:
Tragedy and pain inevitably touch our lives in some way. We long to feel whole, but more often than not, the way we’ve learned to deal with our wounds pushes us away from the very restoration we need most. Renowned psychologist Dr. Dan Allender and counselor and teacher Cathy Loerzel present a life-changing process of true connection and healing with ourselves, God, and others.
With a clear, biblically trustworthy method, Allender and Loerzel walk you through a journey of profound inner transformation–from the shame and hurt of old emotional wounds to true freedom and healing. Drawn from modern research and their pioneering work at The Allender Center, they will help you identify your core trauma in one of the three outcast archetypes —t he widow, orphan, or stranger — and chart your path of growth into the God-given roles of priest, prophet, or leader.
Faith, and Showing Up for One Another Carrie Hill Byron (Herald Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
This is a smaller paperback but incredibly rich, informed by a great grasp of the current literature on trauma and other hard times, and a first-hand awareness of the experience of chronic mental illness. The author is active in her New England Lutheran parish, volunteers in various health care organizations, and is a respected speaker and teacher in NAMI and other such mental health support organizations. Drawing on her own history of mental health problems and her experience as a teacher and lay counselor, Byron “offers words of hope for those who struggle as well as practical insights to equip congregations to better support those who are suffering in their midst”. Not Quit Fine is helpful, well informed, earnestly written — a practical guide for people who care.
Carlene Hill Byron wants the church to know there are a whole lot of us sitting in the pews dealing with mental health challenges. Her warmth, insight, and call to mature faithfulness will encourage every one of us to be more fully present in community, just as we are, even when we’re not quite fine. — Michelle Van Loon, author of Translating Your Past: Finding Meaning in Family Ancestry, Genetic Clues, and Generational Trauma
When I was asked to write an endorsement for a book about mental health for Christians, I admit I was a little nervous. But within a few pages, author Carlene Hill Byron put my fears to rest. With humor, empathy, and determination, Byron presents her own struggles and experiences, along with those of others, and gives practical guidance on how to not only support those with mental illness but also recognize the unique gifts that they bring to Christian community. Not Quite Fine should be required reading for pastors and all churchgoers. — Jessica Kantrowitz, author of The Long Night: Readings and Stories to Help You through Depression
Dear Doctor: What Doctors Don’t Ask, What Patients Need to Say Marilyn McEntyre (Broadleaf Books) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
Even before reading this I was sure I’d love it; I knew it would be one of our “Best Books of 2021.” McEntyre is one of our favorite writers and she works teaching the humanities to med students. She understands the interface of good words and big truths and transformed dispositions so she teaches fiction and memoir and poems to those who are soon to be doctors.
And, as it turns out, she is a patient, like any of us. Her health care providers may not know that she trains doctors for a living; they may not know what sort of a person they are interacting with, but, wow. She is fiesty and fair, honest and understanding, funny and unrelenting. All the things most of us wish we could be when we’re wishing those who are attending to us would attend just a bit more.
This book is simple and eloquent and wise and very interesting. It is nearly an open letter to doctors so they might understand how to best live up to their high callings and to all us, sore patients that we are, wanting to be clear about who we are and what we need. This book is a surprising little gem, very highly recommended.
This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks into Our Darkness Sarah Clarkson (Baker Books) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
I have found myself quoting this more than most books this past season, even reading from it out loud in an adult ed class we did at our church this fall. It finally dawned on me, given how much I was talking about it, that I was deeply touched, myself, by this study of depression and struggle and the longing for goodness, for beauty, for wonder and joy. Can quotidian joys — reading a novel, enjoying a colorful tablecloth, watching children play — be agents of common grace for our healing and the world’s good?
Yes, yes. Sarah Clarkson knows, she writes about it beautifully, and we are sure this is one of the great books of this last year. Thank you to those who told us how much it meant to us, and thank you to Sarah for her vulnerable, eloquent prose.
As we explained in some detail in a previous BookNOtes review, J.S. Park is a hospital chaplain and teaching pastor. He has served as a counselor and caregiver at one of the largest nonprofit agencies on the East Coast, a homeless ministry in Tampa. In this book he explores the many voices that shape us, the different memories and aspects of our lives that guide us, and what to do about that. He is well informed in evangelical theology and pushes here behind the traditional limits of “Biblical counseling” and shows us how to discern God’s voice amidst the noise of the culture and the noise of our own voices. It is an fabulous project.
J.S. Park has experienced a lot in his ministry and even more in his chaplaincy and counseling work, and to be honest, from his experience growing up as second-generation Asian American. As it says on the back cover, “ In The Voices We Carry, J.S. invites you on his own journey and presents the Voices Model to help you recognize, wrestle, and even befriend the voices you carry so that you can find among them your own authentic voice.” Fantastic.
Why Do I Feel Like This? Understand Your Difficult Emotions and Find Grace to Move Through Peace Amadi (IVP) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
Perhaps you are not like many of us and you know well the inner goings-on in your own heart? Maybe you are clear about your emotions, about your reactions to things? I am not, always, and just the other day, I said to Beth, while involved in a fairly important Hearts & Minds project, I really, really feel something right now, but I just don’t know what. I was both glad and yet ill-at-ease, excited and fraught, bittersweet about new beginnings and significant losses. Okay, maybe I do know what I felt, but it wasn’t simply. It made me recall how much I liked this book earlier this year. Oh yes, it’s a good one.
Here is some of what I wrote when we were inviting folks to pre-order.
Almost all of the books on creativity and many books on personal growth talk about getting over the hard stuff, the blocks, the dip, the hurdles. Hard feelings and difficult emotions are obviously part of that; it comes with the territory of being human, but is especially urgent for leaders, it seems. There are too many books that are too dismissive of serious pain (even trauma) and I suppose there are some that are too tediously detailed in examining every psychological nodule of one’s interior life; most of us don’t want or need that. As we sometimes warn, too, some books are almost too religious, using faith as some kind of blessed token to protect us and free us from the hurts of our fallen world. Dr. Amandi Peace avoids all of these pitfalls and here gives us an interesting, positive, realistic study. (Okay, it’s what one reviewer called “bracing.”) She shows exactly how to move through complicated feelings. It’s something I know I need. Maybe you do, too. Why Do I Feel Like This? is written as a book for women, addressing women’s particular anxieties and stresses.
Here is how the publisher describes some of her project:
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all sorts of conflicting, difficult emotions. But psychology professor and personal development coach Dr. Peace Amadi can help you navigate the complexity of your emotions and live through them in healthy ways. With insights from both psychology and Scripture, this book offers you a clear plan to get your peace back and find your joy again.
Better, here are some high raves from reliable women, raves that drew us in, and now make us want to honor it as a significant and favorite book to promote in 2021 and beyond.
Few bridges have been built to connect scientific psychological research and practice with spiritual faith communities. Dr. Peace Amadi’s book builds this necessary bridge. It offers tangible tools, helping those struggling with mental health difficulties to better understand how to improve their mental health. This is a gift to the Christian community.”–Jenny Wang, clinical psychologist and founder of the @asiansformentalhealth community
It comes naturally to avoid what we don’t want to feel–especially if we believe we can’t heal, that we can’t survive the journey into our own pain. Yet I’ve learned that difficult emotions don’t go away–they just go underground. And there they undermine our foundations until finally we must turn our attention their way. In this book you’ll find tools for acknowledging complex emotions, bringing them into the light, and welcoming God’s healing work. — Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious
For Shame: Rediscovering the Virtues of a Maligned Emotion Gregg Ten Elshof (Zondervan Reflective) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
I wasn’t sure what I’d think of this, even though I thoroughly respect and appreciate the concise writing of this clear-headed author. (You may recall us talking about his fabulous book on self deception, I Told Me So.)
This reflective book has been called “brilliant” and “engaging” and “cogent” and even though it is less than 150 pages it is thorough and breaks some new ground, or so it seems to me. I cannot do it justice with this brief summary, but it strikes me that what the good professor — he’s a philosopher, mind you — is doing here is taking up a project counseled by, for instance, Al Wolters, in Creation Regained, when he invites us to see the difference between a good and healthy (God given) aspect of creation, and the dysfunctions and distortions our sin and bad thinking about it can bring. Some call this the difference between “structure and direction” and others just use the common-sense phrase of “not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” That is, yes, Ten Elshof, suggests that shame is not, necessarily, a bad thing. Brene Brown: call your office — this is a news flash of the first order.
“Have you no shame?” The book asks on the back cover. “Then you might have a problem.” Yes, as Dr. Ten Elshof explains, shame can serve a good function and, yes, some things are shameful. In our cultural moment, it seems, we have perhaps overstated the harm of shame and in our righteous concern against inappropriate shaming, we have embraced an amoral shamelessness.Could this be so? Might we need to re-think all this, distinguishing shame from embarrassment and guilt. He asks about all this for our human well-being and personal flourishing, but he is quick to also note how a proper understanding of these matters can be useful for a well-ordered society.
Ten Elshof teaches philosophy at Biola, a fairly conservative Christian college, and is the founding director there of their Center for Christian Thought, so he is overtly Biblically oriented. Interestingly, though, he has also published books on Asian Confucianism, showing an interfaith and cross-cultural sensitivity. This is a great little book, bringing something fresh and helpful to the conversation and for that we are happy to highlight it as a favorite of 2021.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals Oliver Burkeman (FSG) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60
Oh my, I wouldn’t have known of this if several customers hadn’t ordered it.Soon enough, we realized there was a buzz on this, and that people we like loved it. Hmm. I hate time management books, and really don’t like those that make extraordinary promises. One big “faith leader” has a system saying you can work less if you just follow his simple system and buy his notebook to write down goals or whatever. I don’t know: it never rings true to me, and most such sexy programs are a bit light on the facts of the human condition. One doesn’t have to be a Calvinist theologian to know things are not as they are meant to be and that we all have foibles and failures.
And so, along comes Oliver Burkeman, who starts with the Big Truth: we are all mortal. We’ve got, maybe, about four thousand weeks, and we are going to squander a lot of it. Okay, this guy had me hooked from the first paragraph.
After a page or two on the central reality of our limited amount of time with this mortal coil, he notes that time management, in a way, is all life is. Fair enough.
Yet the modern discipline known as time management — like its hipper cousin, productivity — is a depressingly narrow-minded affair, focused on how to crank through as many work tasks as possible, or devising the perfect morning routine…The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our genetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.
The world seems to be heading to hell in a handcart — our civic life has gone insane, a pandemic has paralyzed society, and the planet is getting hotter and hotter — but good luck finding a time management system that makes room for engaging productively with your fellow citizens, with current events, or with the fate of the environment. At the very least, you might have assumed there’d be a handful of productivity books that take seriously the stark facts about the shortness of life, instead of pretending that we can just ignore the subject. But you’d be wrong.
And for that, we wanted to give a shout-out right here, naming Four Thousand Weeks as a deserving book for a Heart & Minds favorites list.
Robert E. Lee: A Life Allen C. Guelzo (Knopf) $35.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00
Dr. Allen Guelzo is a remarkable Christian man, a keen scholar, an excellent teacher, and, heretofore was known mostly as a Lincoln man. He has done several award- winning books on Abraham Lincoln and a major work on the battle of Gettysburg. (He also did a very good one on the reconstruction years.) So this recent release on Lee came as somewhat of a surprise, although it makes sense.
There are a number of reasons the best scholars honor Professor Guelzo’s work; words being used about Lee include magisterial, compelling, definitive, and expert, judicious, splendid. Other Robert E. Lee scholars insist it is one that will last. It is doubtlessly important to anyone interested in Civil War era American history.
One of the reasons I want to honor his work as one of the important books published this year is because this is not an obvious tirade, a politically or even morally motivated expose of the man who led the fight for slavery. As a full biography, it is not primarily about that (the way, say, the excellent Robert E. Lee and Me by West Point historian Ty Seidule is.) Yet, as a careful historian, he tells of the man (in over 600 pages!) and convinces any reader with an open mind, that his role in the Confederacy was disloyal to the United States, tragic, and morally bankrupt. As one reviewer put it in the Wall Street Journal:
In Robert E. Lee, Allen C. Guelzo punctures the Lost Cause mythology without indulging in culture-war polemics, and he examines Lee’s life and moral culpability with a judicious eye.
Listen to the always snappy and sometimes wise George Will, writing in the Washington Post. Don’t miss his second to last sentence:
Allen C. Guelzo, an eminent Civil War historian, has now published exactly what the nation needs as it reappraises important historical figures who lived in challenging times with assumptions radically unlike today’s. Robert E. Lee: A Life, Guelzo’s scrupulously measured assessment, is mercifully free of the grandstanding by which many moralists nowadays celebrate themselves by indignantly deploring the shortcomings of those whose behavior offends current sensibilities. But by casting a cool eye on Lee, Guelzo allows facts to validate today’s removals of Lee’s name and statues from public buildings and places… Guelzo’s biography is necessary.
With these sorts of superlative endorsements, about a book written by a scholar whose work we follow closely, we, naturally, have to offer our exclamations about the importance of this major release. Consider this:
Allen Guelzo confirms his place in the top rank of Civil War historians with his masterly biography of Robert E. Lee. Well-researched, well-written and captivating, it will stand as the definitive single-volume life for decades to come. Guelzo’s judicious comments on Lee’s ‘crime and glory’ might be a good place for America to start healing her present-day wounds — Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story created by Nikole Hannah-Jones & The New York Times Magazine (One World) $38.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $30.40
I do not need to say too much about this. It has been aggressively maligned by some who know nothing about it and some who have willfully misconstrued what it does and does not say. We honor it as an important and long-awaited historical reflection on what is just common sense: 1619 was a critical, essential date and enslaved people have a specialized history when thinking about the early days of democracy and how that, the legal facts about race, determined so much of black history in the U.S. This thick book tells us why. You should know it; I think you should honor and celebrate it, but at least you should know it.
Importantly, I will explain this: The 1619 Project book that we here honor is, in fact, a major contribution in one big volume towards black history. That is, it is more than the historical research around Jamestown and slavery and material already well-documented and well-known for those paying attention in important books like Before the Mayflower by Lerone Bennett, Jr. (We’ve carried that book since our early days in the 1980s.) No, this is an artfully designed, very handsome book of poetry, essay, history, personal reflection, scholarship, and testimony, complete with nice graphics and black and white photographs. It traces black history in light of that “White Lion” ship of enslaved Africans that landed in 1619 and moves forward, piece by piece, topic by topic, up until the final poem, “Progress Report” by Sonia Sanchez, earmarked for May of 2020. Following that there are 100 pages of footnotes and documentation, making this a valuable, weighty resource.
Here are just a few of the topics and contributing scholars in this big volume:
Nikole Hannah-Jones on origins, democracy and justice; Dorothy Roberts on race; Leslie Alexander and Michelle Alexander on fear, Matthew Desmond on capitalism, Martha Jones on citizenship, Bryan Stevenson on punishment, Anthea butler on church, Wesley Morris on music, Kevin Kruse on traffic, Ibram Kendi on progress. There is more, much more, with fiction and poetry by many authors, some of whom you may know, from Robert Jones to Tracy Smith, Rita Dover to Jesmyn Ward, Yaa Gyasi to Terry McMillan. Much of the archival work for photographs was curated by Kimberly Annece Henderson.
The Words That Made Us: America’s Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840 Akhil Reed Amar (Basic Books) $40.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $32.00
Is it fair to award a book I have not read? Is it fair to honor a book I am not sure I fully have the capacity to understand or debate? I have dipped into this, I have skimmed the footnotes, I have googled the author, I have researched his work, his fans, his detractors. There is no doubt that this constitutional scholar (and potential Supreme Court nominee, some day) is one of the leading public intellectuals of our day, and certainly one of a handful of top their constitutional scholars. There is every reason to respect this magisterial achievement, to honor this important scholarly study, to promote as a major work this 832 page tome. We joked when we were sending one out to a learned customer that it may be the fattest non-Biblical book we’ve shipped all year. So there’s an award for Akhil!
More seriously, Akhil Reed Amar, PhD., who teaches political science and law at Yale University, has here given us a major work showing how the early Republic was shaped by the conversations and debates, the framing of and by the framers. Here he shows the history of the development of those dialogs and debates.
Here is the publisher’s marketing information that seems to say it more succinctly than I am able:
Constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar tells the story of America’s constitutional conversation during its first eighty years —f rom the Constitution’s birth in 1760 through the 1830s, when the last of America’s early leaders died. Amar traces the threads of Constitutional discourse, uniting history and law in a narrative that seeks both to reveal this history anew and to make clear who was right and who was wrong on the biggest legal issues confronting early America. Amar provides an essential history of the Constitution’s formative decades and an indispensable guide for anyone seeking to understand America’s Constitution and its relevance today.
Here it is explained again:
When the US Constitution won popular approval in 1788, it was the culmination of thirty years of passionate argument over the nature of government. But ratification hardly ended the conversation. For the next half century, ordinary Americans and statesmen alike continued to wrestle with weighty questions in the halls of government and in the pages of newspapers. Should the nation’s borders be expanded? Should America allow slavery to spread westward? What rights should Indian nations hold? What was the proper role of the judicial branch?
In The Words that Made Us, Akhil Reed Amar unites history and law in a vivid narrative of the biggest constitutional questions early Americans confronted, and he expertly assesses the answers they offered. His account of the document’s origins and consolidation is a guide for anyone seeking to properly understand America’s Constitution today.
I will admit that heretofore my favorite book on the whole ratifying the constitution thing was by the ever feisty Bill Kauffman (of Poetry Night at the Ballpark) who wrote the fabulous little biography of the anti-federalist Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin. Professor Amar mentions him only twice.
Law & Liberty is a blog I try to read some weeks but it is serious, conservative cultural criticism and usually in-over-my-head jurisprudence. They, curiously, I thought, raved about this, saying:
The best book on the subject in many years…. A fresh look at the ideas that shaped the Revolution, constitutional framing, and early republic… A book both popular and learned… a book not only of a scholar but a patriot. If widely read, it may make the difficulty of finding appropriate professional historians to teach our children less of a threat to our common future.
Bonhoeffer’s America: A Land Without Reformation Joel Looper (Baylor University Press) $49.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $39.99
Ever since Eric Metaxas’s engaging biography of Bonhoeffer drew much heat from Bonhoeffer scholars for making such a big deal about Bonhoeffer’s disapproval of much of the religious sentiment at Union when he studied there in the 1930s (and his religious renewal while worshipping among blacks at Abyssinian Baptists in Harlem) I have waited for a serious Bonhoeffer specialist to give another account to Bonhoeffer’s New York years. I apparently was not alone — another historian wrote that, “This is a book that has long needed to be written.” Lori Brandt Hale, Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Augsburg University notes that “this fills an important gap in Bonhoeffer studies.”
As an outsider to America, Bonhoeffer saw things that many missed. As a German Lutheran, he came to value some things that other US mainline denominational Protestants did not. Is this so? What to make of Bonhoeffer’s reflections of America?
One reviewer (Jack Miles) said, “Bonhoeffer’s America has some of the deep, engrossing appeal of Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America, written almost exactly a century earlier.” Fascinating, eh?
Let’s let Mark Noll explain why Baylor’s Joel Looper has made such a valuable contribution:
Historians and theologians have known about the two trips that Dietrich Bonhoeffer made to the United States in the 1930s, but no one has examined what he said about American Christianity and American church life as insightfully as Joel Looper in this book. Bonhoeffer’s America is particularly compelling on why Bonhoeffer differed so fundamentally with Reinhold Niebuhr and how his worship with African American Baptists in New York City may have affected his impression of America. The book is excellent theological history that includes a sobering word for our own times.
The Land Is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Sarah Augustine (Herald Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
It seems that for many books that are mostly about history, except for exceptionally specialized studies on scholarly presses, most people know something about what the topic is about. The fall or Rome, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, the Civil War, the depression, the ’60s, post-9-11 — most folks at least what those words or phrases or eras mean.
Not so with the “doctrine of discovery”, an important historical doctrine that catapulted an era, a tragic movement of conquering, genocide, exploitation, and abuse, the implications of which remain with us in North America to this day. It is a historical document that is increasingly being written about and a vital key and interpretative framework for understand the American experience.
This “doctrine of discovery” that is named in the subtitle of this stunning recent book is described on the back cover. As they say, it “comes from a set of laws rooted in the fifteenth century that gave Christian governments the legal right” (and moral, so they said) “to seize lands they “discovered” despite those lands already being populated by Indigenous Peoples.” The laws (depending on who you read) emerged from or were at least legitimized by the church (justified, often, by a crass misreading of Scripture.)
These Papal Bulls from the 1400s were used favorably in a US Supreme Court ruling in 1823 and continues to be consider in the United States and international law today; it has been cited as recently as 2005 in the decision City Of Sherrill V. Oneida Indian Nation Of N.Y.
One of the great Christian scholars who has written about this is Mark Charles, co-author of Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery and Charles, who himself is Navajo, wrote the very moving foreword to The Land Is Not Empty.
He warns that the journey Sarah Augustine is taking us on in this book may be uncomfortable. It is a warning worth noting. But he also notes that it is beautiful. I agree.
We honor this book and confidently name it as one of the most important books of 2021. We applaud the author and the Mennonite publisher for doing this hard, beautiful work. I could explain my own interest in this, which I suppose for a white guy of my age on the East coast, isn’t uncommon. But I know I was deeply, deeply haunted by the sorrows of the Native People groups in the American SouthWest the only time I visited there. I know how I felt hiking in Appalachia as a youth and learning about the Trail of Tears. I know I can even be choked up reading, for instance, the names of the original landholders when they are mentioned in passing by well-intended speakers or writers. (See, for instance, the incredibly moving preface to Lisa Sharon Harper’s Fortune.) White settlers saw land for the taking and they sinfully hurt the people who lived there. Most of us concede that. Most of us don’t know what to do about it, now, today.
Sarah Augustine is cofounder and cochair of the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition and executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima and Kittitas Counties in Washington. She is a Pueblo (Tewa) descendant and knows more about colonization and the devasting impact of such a legacy has had on indigenous cultures than can fit in one book. You can just tell she is passionate, prophetic, but a patient teacher, helping us all learn about what a right relationship with God through Christ would mean as we live on stolen land. As she assures us, “the good news of Jesus means there is still hope for the righting of wrongs.”
As Nathan Cartagena, a race scholar and professor at Wheaton College says of The Land Is Not Empty, “A tremendous, liberating work full of love for God and neighbor.” Now that’s the point of a good history book, isn’t it? To learn from the past in a way that deepens our love for God and our service to our neighbors. As the final chapter of this amazing, stimulating, informative, and creatively written book puts it, “People of faith, rise up!”
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