I know you know what re-runs are. Although with 24-hour streaming services, kids today may not recall the old-school TV phrase.
Or maybe you know them as “encore performances” as they are sometimes called, at least on SNL. Sometimes, we are really glad to see one — the first showing was so good that you want to see it again; or, maybe, the encore/re-run allows folks to see something they missed previously.
With our mention in the last BookNotes or two of my little book designed for those young adults who are transitioning out of college or trade school, or finishing up graduate work, and taking up vocations in the work world (Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life published by Square Halo Books) we have not forgotten that many readers give books to their high school graduates this season, too.
Churches, youth ministries, private schools, moms and dads, godparents, confirmation sponsors, uncles and aunts, older sibs, even — who doesn’t want to honor the twelfth graders who survived senioritis and made it to graduation day?
Our absolute favorite book to give to high school grads who are going off to college is the fine, fine book by Derek Melleby, Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning (Baker Publishing; $12.99 – OUR 20% OFF BOOKNOTES DISCOUNT SALE PRICE = $10.39.) I’ve mentioned it a bunch of times over the last few years, and I even reprised my first review of it once; this is so good it deserves another re-run.
So, without further ado, with only minor editing, here is the “encore performance” of a review I wrote when this book released more than a decade ago. I still stand by every word. Since then, I’ve only deepened my appreciate for Derek as a leader — his involvement in the OneLife gap year program has been extraordinary. And I am as convinced of the usefulness of this book, now more than ever, and know the impact it has made. The publisher has been happy to keep it in print, and it has developed a fantastic reputation. So it deserves this re-run of a review. Enjoy.
And, then, I’ll follow it with a quick review of Mr. Melleby’s other book for collegiates, co-written by another of my best friends, Rev. Donald Opitz, called Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness (Brazos Press; $17.00 – OUR 20% OFF BOOKNOTES DISCOUNTED SALE PRICE = $13.60.) There is nothing like it in print; that it is dedicated to me is a great honor but isn’t the reason to buy it. Okay, it was for my mom, but for most, they should buy the book because it is so interesting, so important, so helpful. I’ll discuss that below.
And then, a good handful of other interesting books for those that don’t need a book about going to college but might appreciate an honoring gift of some good reading.
CHURCH KIDS GROWING UP
It is always a joy to be standing around the church hallway and see some teens sauntering up the stairs to their Sunday school class. Many medium-sized mainline churches don’t have many youth, and it is a blessing that we have a good handful. It was a joy this morning as I was sitting in the back of the sanctuary, noticing a few seniors, students that I have nearly watched grow up. A few I played with in the nursery 15 years ago; my own youngest daughter’s cohort will soon be graduating from high school. Last year this time — well, most every spring for the last dozen years or so, since my oldest was first active in youth group and I knew many of those kids with senioritis—I was in a serious funk about what might become of these older teens.
These were kids I knew and cared about, mostly all heading off to some kind of higher education. Would they get involved in some campus fellowship group when they went off to college? Would they find themselves being followers of Christ in their new places? Would a local church reach out to them? Would they develop good new friends that would wisely assist them in discerning the big questions about their future, their major, their callings and careers, their boy or girlfriends? Would they, like most young adults in what is now called the “critical years”, take up the materialistic and secular values of the American way of life or would they choose God’s Kingdom’s ways — upside down values of service and justice and a deeper purpose better than upward mobility? Would they merely assume the “moralistic, therapeutic Deism” that youth researcher from Princeton Seminary, Kenya Creasy Dean, so compellingly documented? Oh, how we fret about these very young adults.
WHAT MESSAGE DO WE SEND?
Of course, the fretting comes to a head for me when we pray over them (if we do at all) or recognize them in some churchly ceremony. Does your church do something for students graduating from high school? And does it sound something like God’s radical call to them and a profound blessing upon them, or just a religious veneer over the same kind of stuff they hear at their mawkish high school commencements? Do we commission them to a new phase of Kingdom living, with fear and trembling, or do we just sprinkle a little civil religion over the hope they’ll be happy and successful? I hope it is the former.
That is, I hope our churches really inspire our young adults to take their faith seriously, and to move into the next stage of their lives with gusto, intentional discipleship, and a desire to have their lives count. I’m sure many of our churches do.
This concern of what message we send to our graduates really comes to a head for me when we give them some sort of graduation gift. We are asked this in the store each year, too — what do we recommend? In our experience some well-intended folks get students a plaque or pen or gifty type knick-knack. (A Christian tie tack, you ask? How do you ask a customer nicely if they are out of their cotton-pickin’ minds?) Most students find these remembrances pretty boring, I’ve heard, reinforcing their hunch that church is about as relevant to their lives as their great grandma’s gift of a monogrammed hanky.
Sometimes folks want to offer something a bit better, so they give them a book, like a faux leather compilation of Bible promises, as if some 18-year old is just dying to do a concordance type study of every listing of every Bible verse around a certain theme. Anxious about leaving home? Wondering what major might make sense or what classes to choose? Sad about leaving your BFF from elementary school? I am not so sure they will turn to that handsome little pocket guide, even if they do deep down want to know what God might say to them. I’ll never forget one kid one June trying to sell such a book back to us; you had to admire not only his ingenuity but his honesty. “I just wouldn’t use a book like that,” he said.
GREAT NEWS: THE BEST BOOK TO GIVE
I am here to announce, as urgently and as plainly as I can, that we have found the best book to give to college-bound high-school seniors and graduates.
Those in the throes of a transition to college or trade school will enjoy this book which is upbeat, substantive, interesting, important, and — and this is important, too — cool looking. It is called Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning by Derek Melleby (Baker; $12.99 — OUR 20% OFF SALE PRICE = $10.39.) As Steve Garber (one who has studied, and studied with, college students as intentionally as anyone I know) writes of it,
Make College Count is just right! What Derek Melleby has done is find a way to come alongside someone on the way to college and offer guidance about things that matter most.” — Steven Garber, author, The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship & Work
THINGS THAT MATTER MOST
There are several very nice books for college-bound students and they have useful stuff about getting along with room-mates, doing laundry, avoiding the college party scene. A couple warn about the atheism of their secular professors which I think is less common and less damaging than some worry about. They almost all admonish youngsters to not have sex, to stay in touch with mom, to study hard. They are mostly fine. And they are almost all cleverly written and still some are pretty inane. This 17 or 18 year old has just completed the first major phase of his or her educational life; it feels (at that age, at that transition point) like one of the most important moments in their whole life, and they are off to one of the most challenging (and expensive) and life-changing, formative episodes of the rest of their life, and we give them a whimsical guide to doing laundry, and one last warning not to have sex? This is the best God’s people can do?? This is all we have to say? I’m sorry to be a tad cranky about this, but, really?
(If you do want to give a seriously interesting and Biblically robust vision of being a Christian on campus — for those who are ready for such a call to whole-life discipleship and formation — I’d recommend Steve Lutz’s King of the Campus, (House Studio; $14.99) a book that has no peer in this genre of honoring the Lordship of Christ in college.) Lutz did campus ministry with the CCO at Penn State University — yep, what we call “Happy Valley — and knows a lot about mentoring students into “in but not of” lifestyles. He cites Melleby (and me) and even has a chapter on “academic faithfulness” as in Melleby’s second book. Nice!)
Mr. Melleby, in Make College Count, thinks more foundationally; basic, I might say. Without seeming at all high-minded or overly serious, he winsomely invites students to think about, as Garber says, the things that matter most of all. It is not preachy, but is written like a pleasant conversation around a late night fire pit or a chat while sipping lattes at a coffeeshop. There are seven questions that Melleby has discovered to be important for students to ask themselves, most usefully, before they get to college. This book is an invitation to ponder these key questions.
There are seven questions that Melleby has discovered to be important for students to ask themselves, most usefully, before they get to college. This book is an invitation to ponder these key questions.
Derek is increasingly known as a national leader on the psychology and spirituality of the college transition and he affirms the research that has shown that college is a time where emerging adults will become the person they most likely will be for the rest of their life. How can they make the most of that time? What might we ask them to consider, to set them in the right direction? What are the things they should wrestle with a bit before they jump into the pace of the collegiate experience this fall?
Melleby is a fine and at times funny writer, and after each chapter, where he takes up one of these basic questions, he does an illuminating interview with a young woman or man who has recently been out of college. He invites them to look back over their shoulder and tell their story, how their identity and sense of calling was shaped by their university years. These are not composites — they are real interviews. I actually know almost all of these recently graduated young adults. Derek is a very good friend and his campus ministry work where he met these students occurred at a campus near here. I can say that nearly all of these students who are now young alum, have bought books from us, have shared some of their stories with Beth and me, and we can vouch for their thoughtfulness and integrity. The interviews in Make College Count are like little sidebars, and they are upbeat and very interesting. And really helpful, helping your high school grad realize they are not alone in their worries and that it isn’t weird to ask “Why are you in college, anyway?” or “What kind of person are you going to be?”
We are confident that this little book offers a way to discover a path to true success at college and beyond (as it says on the back cover.) It is the best thing we’ve seen like this in nearly 40 years of book selling. There is simply no other book that asks these very basic sorts of fascinating questions with such charm and offers such solid counsel about such good stuff in such a brief, colorful, format.
Here is a part of the table of contents:
- What Kind of Person Do You Want to Become? Following Jesus During the Critical Years
- Why Are You Going to College? Finding Your Place in the Story of God
- What Do You Believe? Taking Ownership of Your Faith
- Who Are You? Securing your Identity in Christ
- With Whom Shall You Surround Yourself? Connecting with the Christian Community
- How Will You Choose a Major? Putting Your Faith into Action
- How Do You Want Your Life to Influence Others? Leaving a Legacy
And, happily, Melleby selected a few key books and websites that he suggests as “resources for the road ahead.” He names that great college conference that we help with, the CCOs annual Jubilee Conference, and, yes, he mentions Hearts & Minds BookNotes. How cool is that?
Derek has worked in athletic ministry, was on staff with the CCO and used to work with Walt Mueller at the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding. He loves students, he has expert gifts in coming along them as they discern their own sense of meaning and purpose, faith and vocation. And while he writes and speaks with a light touch, he really gets the life-changing trajectory of both spiritual formation and a Kingdom vision of “all of life redeemed.”
Importantly, before moving to OneLife, he co-wrote (with Donald Optiz) my favorite book for college students [that I mentioned above] about taking a faith perspective into the classroom. It is under-appreciated and should be widely read — I’m sure of it.
Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness Donald Optiz & Derek Melleby (Brazos Press) $17.00 – OUR 20% OFF BOOKNOTES DISCOUNTED SALE PRICE = $13.60.)
This is a must-have resource for serious students, although even though it’s got tons of stories and is pretty funny, it may presume a somewhat more intentional reader who wouldn’t be put off by this project of integrating faith and learning. Why should we be in college and what’s the point of learning? Does God care about the arts and sciences, computer studies and health care, business and engineering? Can the Bible really shed light on the stuff we study at college?
The book illustrates the broadly evangelical perspective that the authors hold as it is embodied in a worldview that sees no dualism between the so-called sacred and the seemingly secular. We can find God in the study, on sports teams, in the library, in the workplace. God sends young people to study well and Learning for the Love of God delightfully invites young collegiates into this missional perspective concerning the use of their minds and the influence of ideas and habits of learning as young scholars.
What does discipleship have to do with learning? How do I follow Jesus as a student? What does the Lord require of me at university? This marvelous book answers just these sorts of questions. It’s one of a kind, an expansive vision of Christian learning written not for professors but for students. Best of all, this is a book that can profit students in any educational context, secular or religious. Buy a box of these and give them to every high school senior you know. —James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; author of Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation
Learning… is a book that means a lot to us and we recommend it for any bright student heading off to university and to any second or third year student with a year of reading under her belt. It is an exceptionally thoughtful approach Melleby and Optiz brings —all offered with an upbeat tone, alongside funny stories, great interviews, not unlike Make College Count. Some energetic parents have gifted both to their ambitious young ones. Like Jamie Smith said, “give them to every high school senior you know.”
As much as I love Learning for the Love of God, Derek’s first, Make College Count, is a book you can give to any college-bound student with great confidence, knowing that it will be appreciated. And I doubt they’ll try to sell it back to us, disinterested.
You know the old story of Goldilocks’ bears? Some books for graduates are too this, some are too that; some too long, some too short, some too heady, some not heady enough. I can hardly name any that are truly “just right.” Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning is the prime example, perfect in tone, fabulous in content, great in appearance and price. We cannot recommend it any more highly; we think it will be used in the lives of emerging adults at this key transition point in their lives.
Here is a simple video clip of Derek talking about the book, noting some initial feedback he has gotten from young readers, explaining just what he was hoping he would accomplish by providing a resource like this. It is low-key and a great illustration of Derek’s clear, kind, and insightful style. I love that short clip and hope you enjoy it. And then I hope you buy a boat-load of the book. From us, of course, at our discounted price. We told the publisher we would get behind this, and we look forward to promoting it anywhere we can. Won’t you help us?
If this impresses you as it does us, if you are eager for the high school grads that you know who are heading off to college or trade school to have an opportunity to reflect on these basic matters — who they want to be, what they feel called to do, with whom they will be involved and the like — why not forward this review to whoever it is at your church who buys the gifts for the graduating seniors? If you have a relative or friend heading off to college, buy the book yourself.
Thanks for helping us spread the word. We think it can make a difference. We are glad for those that get the importance of this, honoring our grads in ways that are meaningful and have the possibility of really being helpful. We are very glad for any orders you send our way — but if you don’t know any senior high kids heading off to college, just say a quick prayer for the next generation of the college-bound, their unique time in history, and the call for them to ponder deeply “the things that matter most.” That, with God’s help, and the help of others, they learn to make college count.
BOOKS FOR GRADS NOT GOING TO COLLEGE
Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World Bob Goff (Nelson) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.20
This is one of the most upbeat and fun books we know and it works even for those who aren’t big readers. If they will give it a try, it is terrific, engaging readers with stories of whimsy and courage, some almost unbelievable, about Goff sharing God’s love with others. It is light hearted with great, great stories, but it is a very substantial, gospel-driven message. He inspires people to get out there and do something, with God’s help, loving others. He’s tired of “Bible studies” and wants some “Bible do-ings.” Ha! And boy can he tell a tale, waving his hands — you can see it in your mind — as he narrates funny, crazy stuff that he does with abandon and whimsy and joy. He’s truly one of the most amazing people I know, clearly following Jesus. This book is showcases lives of caring, risking all sorts of stuff just to love others in Jesus name. The sequel, by the way, is just as good with more stories of this “secretly incredible life.” It’s called Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People (Thomas Nelson; $19.99.) Either would make a great gift to a young person.
Dream Big: Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You’re Going to Do About It Bob Goff (ThomasNelson) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.80
I love this book about ambition and going after your biggest dreams. As with his best-selling Love Does, Goff knows how to tell a story and invites people to do it! The sequel just came out not long ago and it is Undistracted: Capture Your Purpose. Rediscover Your Joy. Good inspiring but pratical stuff from an amazing life coach.
Navigate Your Stars Jesmyn Ward (Simon & Schuster) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80
Many years astute publisher reprint in a handsome gift book style a commencement speech from the previous year. (Yeah, kind of like what I did with Serious Dreams.) This small hardback is loaded with full color, swirly graphics and hip design, but the heart of it is the great speech given by novelist Jesmyn Ward. Her novel Sing, Unburied Sing won the 2017 National Book Award and she is known as a powerful African American voice, also having edited nonfiction work. We appreciate her very much and this commencement address, while given for college grads at Tulane, still would be nice for high-schoolers. It is about hard work and self respect and other standard themes, delivered in a lovely, inspiring cadence. She honors the blue-collar labor of her parents on whose shoulders she stands. Nice.
Say Yes: Discover the Surprising Life Beyond the Death of a Dream Scott Erickson (Zondervan) $25.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.79
I realize that the subtitle and theme of this is a bit of a “downer” to give as a gift celebrating a graduate, but hear me out: there are some who wanted to go to, oh, some college or training program or had some job lined up or intended to Do Big Things and for whatever reason (perhaps the pandemic) it just fell through.They were going to join the service or start a band or move someplace crazy with some pals. This amazing book — really edgy in tone and with the hip art illustrations — offers reflections about this exact thing. It is raw and honest and not simplistic. Perhaps you know Scott the Artist and his work with Justin McRoberts in Prayer: Forty Days of Practice and May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer (either of which would be fabulous gifts, by the way) and Say Yes has his signature graphic design. He tells more of his own story, here, and he wants to invite folks to live into this space where dreams seemed to have died, but offee new hope. Say yes, indeed!
Say Yes is inspiring, but the kind that offers freedom, not fluff. If your life’s purpose needs a metaphorical kick in the pants, this book will do it in the kindest ways. — Kendra Adachi, author of The Lazy Genius Way.
One.Life: Jesus Calls We Follow Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
There are lots of sides to and aspects of the life that Jesus calls us into — work, wisdom, peace, church, justice, relationships, etc. There is in this very readable paperback a good emphasis on the Kingdom of God and living an integrated life in the real world. I think it is excellent — Scot McKnight is an upbeat writer and a highly regarded NT scholar. There’s a foreword by Gabe Lyons from Q.
Mark was the Presbyterian youth pastor of Sam, Anne Lamott’s son, if you happen to know her books. This is a very moving, evocative book of meditations and reflections, with lots of daily poetry, verse, inspiration, prayers. 10 good chapters. Pretty powerful stuff.
This slim book is enhanced with black and white graphics, a bit of grainy photography and very cool prayers and meditations. A daily devotional written by the late, great Yaconnelli, a free-spirited evangelical known for founding The Wittenberg Door, it does invite people to personal faith and a wild obedience. The moving cover that has wooden crosses on a clay wall, might seem resonant with the images of a more liturgical faith, and I’ve sold this well at Episcopal and other such events. This is about following Jesus, and I respect it a lot.
Living Unafraid: Lessons on Hope from 31 of the Bible’s Most Loved Stories Adam Hamilton (Convergent) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
The Invitation : A Simple Guide to the Bible Eugene Peterson $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
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