A week ago Beth and I had the grand privilege of visiting Bayview, Michigan, a Chautauqua institution, and a town which is nearly a cross between a quaint, Victorian-era resort and a summer camp for educated adults and their children. Founded in 1875 as a location for religious revival — Methodist camp meetings not unlike what emerged along the beaches of New Jersey and Cape Cod — thousands would arrive by steamship from Chicago or Milwaukee or by train from Grand Rapids or Erie. Before the 19th century was out they had affiliated with the fast growing Chautauqua movement and became legendary for education and recreation and the arts in the context of faith formation. Mostly evangelical Protestant in those days, it is now a thriving inter-denominational (indeed, interfaith) space, with a peaceful community ethos, bringing in world class classic musicians, Pulitzer Prize winning historians, and gifted preachers, standing on the shoulders of others who have lectured there, from Helen Keller to William Jennings Bryan, from Booker T. Washington to E. Stanley Jones. I shuddered a bit when I was in the pulpit there.
If you’d like you can watch my sermon, here. I preached mostly on Colossians 1:15 – 20 hoping to set the stage for my “Faith and Life” lectures that week, informal talks on the power of books and what reading widely can do for us in these complicated days. I think the lectures went okay as I shared stories from our years of bookselling and being a cheerleader for the printed page.
Which reminds me of the joy of many a book lover’s affection, what some might take as an obsession: books about books.
As befitting a sermon for a big group of this sort, I restrained myself from talking myself into a dither as I might otherwise have, preaching up a storm about all this, even if folks said they appreciated by enthusiasm. Reflecting on the sermon and the subsequent lectures, I came to again believe that these books about books are now more needed than ever, vital resources making a case for reading well, reminding us of the value of the reading life, the personal and social significance of the spiritual disciple of study.
In my sermon I paraphrased an episode from a Chaim Potok novel where a wide-eyed Catholic kid watches his friend’s father’s Jewish community dancing in a ritual circle holding the Torah scrolls. Gentile Teddy asks what the heck is going on. “They are dancing with our book,” is the obvious reply. The Jewish kid asks, “Don’t you dance with your book?”
It’s not a bad question, is it?
Jews, Muslims and Christians are considered “people of the book.” Naturally this firstly means we embody a faith that comes to us from sacred Scripture, from the real stories of real history. But in our traditions it has also led to a nearly sacramental view of study, learning, the role of books and reading. We might take off our shoes as we pick up a book, I said, as we are entering holy ground.
Of course one can overdo such talk, and there are downsides to a faith of and for bookworms. But, for better or worse, this is what Christianity is. We should dance with our books.
So, here are a couple of books I highlighted at Bayview and a few I could have. You had to be there, I guess, to see how I used them, which paragraphs I read, how I cited or showed them. Still, I hope you will enjoy this quick summary of some important books about books, inviting us to the joy of learning. Thanks for caring about the reading life and trusting us to help you in that journey. We are honored, truly.
ALL BOOKS MENTIONED ARE 20% OFF AND CAN BE ORDERED BY CLICKING ON THE LINK AT THE VERY END OF THIS COLUMN.
I mentioned, in my second lecture there, that the reading we do is always in a particular time and place, with cultural issues and philosophical assumptions in the very air we breathe. We must read the Bible with the newspaper in the other hand, as is often said, and I reminded folks of some of the complexities of the digital age, some of the data indicating a downside to social media, even neurological research about reading on devices. At the very least, we should be given pause when we realize that our primary source of information gathering comes from something called a browser. It is not the only book to read, but I think Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death remains a must-read classic; the preface comparing 1984 and Brave New World is brilliant.
And, of course, our days are rife with polarization, even as we ponder (and disagree about) mass starvation and war, racial injustice and climate change, threats to democracy from alt-right extremists and, to a lesser extent, in my estimation, Marxian philosophers. I mentioned in passing the stunning narrative of investigative reporting in a book about home featuring four places where the very landscape is changing (At Home on an Unruly Planet: Finding Refuge on a Changed Earth by the exquiste Madeline Ostrander) as an example, so to speak; it is hard to read during increasing floods and fires and rising sea levels. In any case, reading books about the zeitgeist is a Christian duty and learning to walk in the wisdom of the Lord in but not of the culture is essential. We need all the help we can get. Here are a few to set the stage.
Interpreting Your World: Five Lenses for Engaging Theology and Culture Justin Ariel Bailey (Baker) $21.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59
We stock a huge amount of books about, to use Richard Niebuhr’s old phrase, “Christ and culture.” How do we discern the assumptions and philosophical architecture of the world around us? This guide is a tad heady but is really, really good, by a fine professor at Dordt College.
“Bailey offers readers a profound gift. With clarity and skill, he introduces us to the dynamic ways theology and culture intersect. Rejecting simplistic and reductionistic Christian understandings, this book introduces us to the complex field of human action and divine grace that we call ‘culture.'”
— Matthew Kaemingk, Richard John Mouw Institute of Faith and Public Life, Fuller Theological Seminary, author of Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Neil Postman (Penguin) $17.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60
I said a bit about this in my Bayview lectures, and while I might bring some critique if we had the time to talk, it nonetheless is a must read. I cherish the short time I spent with him before his death, walking around a nearby college campus. Don’t miss this profound study of the Lincoln Douglas debates of the 19th century, say, and, before that, the 18th century preaching of the Great Awakening, and our shift to news as (or in the context of) entertainment. Astute and, happily, not utterly pessimistic.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains Nicholas Carr (Norton) $17.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.36
Few books have informed my recent concerns about our digital age than this. The famous “Is Google Making Us Dumb” piece was expanded into a groundbreaking book, nominated and on the shortlist for a Pulitzer Prize. A must.
Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other Sherry Turkle (Basic Books) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
This has been called many things (including, I might say, heroically hefty.) Vivid, passionate, engrossing, personal, fascinating, urgent, lurid, savvy, insightful.
In this beautifully written, provocative and worrying book, Turkle, a professor at MIT, a clinical psychologist and, perhaps, the world’s leading expert on the social and psychological effects of technology, argues that internet use has as much power to isolate and destroy relationships as it has to bring us together. ―Financial Times
The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World Andy Crouch (Convergent) $25.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00
Over and over I describe this, trying to convince readers that it is a masterpiece, a gem, a treasure. Andy is a generative and creative thinker, a wise guide, inviting us to ponder things in fresh ways. You’ve not read anything like this, and, more than even his other good books, he has written elegantly and artfully. One of the best books of recent times.
Untrustworthy: The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community Bonnie Kristian (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
Who doesn’t worry about fake news and why some of our fellow citizens fall for conspiracies and truly odd-ball stuff. (Yesterday, a fellow in town abruptly reported that the tragic submersible that imploded was “woke.”) Bonnie is a good writer, a feisty journalist, a wise and informed Christian. Without getting into the philosophical weeds, she knows that beneath our polarizations about news sources is, in fact, a “knowledge crisis” and we must work to understand how it is eroding much we take for granted. There are other books. Start here.
Your Minds Mission Greg Jao (IVP) $8.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $6.40
I so enjoy quoting a long paragraph where Greg mentions a worship experience in a science class and how his science textbooks became for him almost like prayer books. This is the most succinct and yet quite powerful introduction to the topic of the Christian mind that is short enough to be read by anyone, with implications for everything. I enjoyed reading this out loud to our friends at Bayview and suggested, at least, that they buy it for their children or grandchildren in college. Kudos.
A Mind for God James Emery White (IVP) $17.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60
There is a page or two here I like to cite in my workshops about the White family each reading under an umbrella at DisneyWorld and how astonishing it seemed to some. He continues on why we should read, how to choose and schedule time for good reading, and how such study can enhance the consistent Christian mind, so we might be wise salt and light in our serious times. A lovely, small book, which I have read over and over, perhaps because I need it, but also to remind me of our holy calling here at the store. Nice.
Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life Makoto Fujimura (IVP) $20.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00
One can hardly overstate the glories of this fine collection of essays about caring well for the culture in these times of anxiety and anguish. Mako is, of course, largely a visual artist and he knows well that the contemporary high art scene has an antipathy to the language of beauty. So do some Christians, many who fear the world of the ineffable and sublime. Yet, this is not a high-brow exploration of aesthetics but a down-to-Earth call to be generative, to invite a flourishing of our common life, viewing culture “as a garden to be cultivated.” He writes with compassion and courage and grace.
By the way, for those most interested in Mr. Fujimura’s literate side, see his powerful book SIlence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (IVP; $30.00) about the novel Silence by award-winning Japanese novelist, Shusaku Endo. Mako’s book explores the backstory of that novel, his own moving engagement with it, and even tells a bit of his being a consultant to director Martin Scorsese as he produced the film version of Silence.
God The Bestseller: How One Editor Transformed American Religion a Book at a Time Stephen Prothero (HarperOne) $32.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $26.39
For the diverse crowd at Bayview I was sure that some would love this book about the influence of a Harper editor named Eugene Exman. I explained it here at BookNotes a month or so ago, saying how fascinating it is that the author, Stephen Prothero, was asked to look over a barn-full of old books upon the death of the owner. He wasn’t thrilled, he admitted, but upon finding them he realized he had happened upon a goldmine of first editions, personal notes, handwritten letters from some of the most important religious luminaries of the 20th century. How did this one person — who, we discover in this biography was a fiery evangelical turned mainline liberal Protestant to deeply spiritual interfaith mystic — come to know so many authors, from Martin Luther King to the Dalai Lama, from Howard Thurman to Dorothy Day, from Harry Emerson Fosdick to C.S. Lewis to Jaroslav Pelikan to Albert Schweitzer to the founder of AA
Like a Zelig of modern religiosity, Prothero explains how Exman and the books he got published shifted the public understanding of religious publishing from largely sectarian and dogmatic to experiential and even mystical. With Eastern or evangelical, the shift is evident, even now, in the religious section of any mainstream bookstore and the social imagination of most who think about religion in our times. I admitted to misgivings about this very shift, but, man, this describes in page-turning detail, how Exman came to know (and listen to and pray with and take consciousness-raising drugs with) people all over the world. What a story.
Reading Evangelicals: How Christian Fiction Shaped a Culture and a Faith Daniel Silliman (Eerdmans) $27.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.39
If Exman and the shift he created in general market books about religion is important, so is this, in some ways the evangelical flip side of American reading about religion. It is an excruciating story, in some ways, and is, in some ways, the biography of our professional life here (yes even here.) If on one hand Hearts & Minds has promoted authors that Exman (we only now realize) discovered — King, Day, Thurman, and others in the line of William James book on the experience of faith — we are evangelicals and as a Christian bookstore, necessarily carried Janette Oke, Frank Peretti, the Left Behind novels and movies. Our biggest in-store event (topping our back yard N.T. Wright event) was the novelist of good Amish stories, Beverly Lewis. Reading Evangelicals is a study of this influential sub-culture that shaped how millions of religious readers came to understand the world, for better or worse. To think that these books were mere fiction and for conservative religious people is to underestimate them, and those readers. Silliman does a lot of social analysis, connecting dots, explaining other figures and movements leading up to, well, today, with too many white evangelicals still expressing support for the corrupt former President Trump. It’s a fascinating study of books from the aforementioned Bev Lewis to The Shack and more. But he does the background stuff, opening up evangelicalism’s history (bringing to mind a bit of, say, Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne, a must-read of recent religious history.)
The book ends, as it opens, pondering Silliman’s visit to a large, evangelically Christian book and gift store that was going out of business. Man, does he connect some dots and help us understand our times and our faith. What a read.
PRE-ORDER The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis Karen Swallow Prior (Brazos Press) $26.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.59
NOT YET RELEASED / AVAILABLE EARLY AUGUST 2023
I did not mention this in my Bayview lectures but I should have. I just finished my early manuscript and it is a stunning — hefty and serious but pleasurable to read, a very, very interesting overview of the social imaginary of evangelicalism, and how the roots of that particular faith tradition — now itself part of the social imaginary of much of the West, a lamp and a mirror — are rooted, often unknowingly, less in a truly Biblical worldview (like we claim) but in the beliefs, customs, habits, metaphors, and visions of Victorianism (and, then, the broader British Empire.) Part history, part public theology, part mea-culpa on behalf of many who have too often been an uncritical part of a nearly moribund and now Trumpian fundamentalism, The Evangelical Imagination is a terrific, thoughtful, book for our times.
The cover is pretty kitchsy, but, I suppose, that’s part of the point, eh? I loved that she wrote wisely about sentimentality in religious art, even drawing on the great Oxford book from several years back, Good Taste, Bad Taste, & Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life by Frank Bruch Brown. It’s a good chapter.
Karen is a clear-headed social critic and thoughtful evangelical schooled in, and for much of her professional career a professor of, classic Western literature. She loves her Brit lit and we learn so much about our times by seeing how she relates much of the Western canon to faith, and to the secular age in which we live and move and have our being. But in this one she covers more than just the role of books an authors, meandering through a good handful of themes, topics, features of the modern, evangelical worldview. It is so good and important that I will review it again more extensively, later, but you can pre-order it now, at our 20% off. I’m confident that we will have it before the release date of August 8, 2023.
BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS AND THE READING LIFE
On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books Karen Swallow Prior, with art pieces by Ned Bustard (Brazo Press) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
I like the comment of Gina Alfonzo (who wrote a great book about the friend of Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis and is herself a learned aficionado of Charles Dickens) who said “Read this book. You’ll find that there is a lot more to morality than most of us ever realized — and that it’s more attractive than we ever knew.” Indeed, as Valerie Weaver-Zercher wrote in The Christian Century, “Prior makes us hunger for a literature — and thus a life — of the good, the beautiful, and the true.” My friend Jonathan Merritt noted that it is such an engrossing work that it will “appeal to book nerds and casual readers alike.”
Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
Want to learn to read as a Christian? My, my, this is learned, thoughtful, interesting, Wilson is a very wise guide. Between the remarkable chapters about bookish culture of the past, she has sections on how other great saints have read and what we can learn from them. Indeed, four of the chapters are “Reading like Augustine”, “Reading like Julian of Norwich”, “Reading like Frederick Douglas” and “Reading like Dorothy Sayers.” The first few pages offer a fun and serious survey asking “What Kind of Reader Are You?” The appendix is a fascinating case study of reading a short story by Flannery O’Connor.
Not exactly like Adler’s beloved How to Read a Book, really, but there are overlaps. Blurbs on the back of this one include rave comments from Beth Allison Barr and Tish Harrison Warren. Jessica Hooten Wilson has a PhD from Baylor University and now teaches at Pepperdine. You should order this book today — it is really a remarkable resource. Maybe you could do a book club on it?
The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints (Brazos Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
I adored this book and have highlighted it more than once at BookNotes. Can reading great literature be a spiritual discipline? Can we truly become more holy as we engage the art and minds of classic authors? Certain, yes. The great Karen Swallow Prior (see above, author of On Reading Well) says:
“Our imaginations will be formed by the stories we see ourselves in, and we see ourselves according to the stories we are most surrounded by. In these pages, Wilson serves as a good guide to good stories that can form our imaginations towards greater holiness and humanity.”
In my opening sermon preached at the Bayview Chautauqua last week (see above) I quoted the first century Bishop, Saint Irenaeus, who said that the glory of God is seen in “a human being fully alive.” Hooten gets this and believes that our holiness can be enhanced by great reading. The great writer and editor Lauren Winner says, like the best fiction, it “opens out. It exceeds itself.”
Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith Jennifer L. Holberg (IVP) $25.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $20.00
I had this in my bag during my four lectures and it was all I could do not to just talk about it each session. I had my outline, my points, my teachings, honed over months, curated from other stuff I do in workshops and talks. But this was a game-changer for me and lovely sections of its lively prose will be finding their way into my seminars and sessions, for sure.
It is in the IVP Academic line so I suppose it could be adopted as a college text but, please, don’t let that worry you: Nourishing Narratives, as I explained in a previous BookNotes column when I first announced it, is lively and fun and inspiring, full of stories. As you might expect.
Alas, not every book about the narrative nature of our storied lives is that full of stories or even that interesting. This excels in teaching about how humans are “story-shaped creatures” (much of this is solidly fresh from her perch as professor at Calvin University and chair of the English department there, but it won’t be missed on most BookNotes fans that she is a colleague of James K.A. Smith. His work on imagination and the storied nature of our lives is evident.)
Jennifer loves literature but she loves the Bible and she loves her own life, with stories aplenty about her parents, her own faith formation, her scholarly career, and her ordinary, daily life. It is vulnerable and intimate and informed by the best critical scholarship, even if she writes with a light touch on that score. Yes, there is plenty about Dante and Gerard Manley Hopkins and Flannery O’Connor and Marilynne Robinson and Mary Oliver, as you’d want, but there are fabulous excursions into the lives and works of lesser known poets. It is an invitation to learn, to read (as Smith put it) “as if our faith lives depend on it.” It’s a wonderful book about writing, about reading, about authors, about the life of a Christian who is a teacher of fine literature, old and new. It’s a personal favorite new book! I hope you order it.
“I can’t remember the last time I read a book that made my heart sing along as this one did. Nourishing Narratives will open your eyes, grow your faith, and feed your soul.” — Karen Swallow Prior, author of the forthcoming The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, & Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis
Subversive Christianity Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $27.50 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.00
I know I don’t have to explain to most of our BookNotes readers who Eugene Peterson was or our connection to him. I suspect you know many of his fine, mature books (and perhaps enjoy the creative paraphrase of the Bible, the sturdy edition called The Message.) In any case, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that there are several chapters in this miscellaneous collection (of various essays, talks, reviews, poems, studies, and interviews) that I often quote, reading out loud to let folks hear Peterson’s apt description of certain books, and perhaps, most famously, of how reading James Joyce helped him figure out the significance of his pastoral calls, which he wasn’t that fond of, coming to understand the calling to serve in ordinary, mundane, pastoral ministry and, for that matter, the beauty of a common-place spirituality of the ordinary.
Peterson names the page of Ulysses, the “meander of a narrative” where “an earthquake opened a fissure at my feet and all my assumptions of ordinariness dropped into it. All those routines of pastoral care suddenly were no longer routines.”
This is a great, under-appreciated Eugene Peterson book in any case, but the few chapters on novels and poetry made it perfect to use in my class, and perfect to recommend here on this list.
Reading Black Books: How African American Literature Can Make Our Faith More Whole and Just Claude Atcho (Brazos) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
I waved this around in one of my presentations at Bayview as well. The audience was mostly white and I’m guessing mostly liberal or progressive, culturally and socially. I felt compelled to say that this amazing introduction to reflection upon great black literature — “centering the black experience in Christian reflection” one might say — was by a solidly evangelical Anglican Church planter. That is, he isn’t mostly an activist or black lit scholar, but a pastor. Actually, he has taught African American literature at the collegiate level (and I think I first learned of him at the “Christ and Pop Culture” blog and podcasts.) In any case, he’s a hero of mine, a fine theological voice offering a wise and urgent invitation to read The Invisible Man (in light of the theology of being made in God’s image) and explore the nature of sin Wright’s Native Son, and study God as found in Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain. Atcho carefully reminds us of the importance of Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen and more. From Margaret Walker’s “For My People’ comes an essay on hope and a heavy chapter looks at Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
There is more. We all should know this stuff. Kudos to Atcho and his publisher for doing this kind of amazing work. It makes me glad to be a bookseller, getting to offer wise and Godly insights into this important stream in the flow of American literature. That he does it as a Christian, weaving together insights of theology and congregational life, is beautiful to behold.
Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists Cornelius Plantinga (Eerdmans) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
You know how I love this book. I’ve raved about it here and there since it came out a mere decade ago. I think it is classic and commend it, certainly, to preachers and teachers but also to anyone involved in church life or Christian ministry. I assure you that it is entertaining and informative and inspiring and will make you more discerning about good books (and offer great justification for your budget committed to book buying.) Yay.
The Pastor’s Bookshelf: Why Reading Matters for Ministry Austin Carty (Eerdmans) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
I’m telling you, seriously, really: get this book for every church leader you know. The title is a bit off-putting for those who are not pastors, but they will love it from the first page on. The author was a contestant and short-lived TV star (on a season of the epic show Survivor) and is a heck of a nice guy. And wise, good pastor. And a very accomplished writer — how could he not be having absorbed so much good writing over the years. No matter how busy you are, or you think you are, or you think your church leadership team is, reading is not something that should be squeezed in on the run. It may feel hard to justify, but it will make you a better person, a more dedicated and accomplished leader, and, yes, a more wholistic, visionary, faithful Christian.
This book is a lot of fun, and it is really important. As Jamie Smith says,
“In this warm and wise book Austin Carty invites pastors to develop capacious reading habits, as wise and curious and wonderful as the world in which they serve.” James K.A. Smith
Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind Alan Jacobs (Penguin) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80
I hope you know the many books of Alan Jacobs, a stellar example of a thoughtful Christian writer, nearly a public intellectual, offering books such as How to Think and The Pleasures of Reading in a Digital Age (which, naturally, I took with me to show off at my Bayview lectures.) This one, too. It is rich and deep and thoughtful — not too hard, but not simplistic or breezy. Except that there are times that his writing is so smooth that it just propels readers along, thinking as we go. What a great writer of an important book.
There are at least two important things to note here. Firstly, he wrote the book out of his love for young adults (he is a college prof, after all) who, they tell him feel anxious, ill-at-ease, distracted. But there is more to it than just being unable to focus (a la the concerns documented in The Shallows or Alone Together) and he wonders if, in fact, reading older books just might scratch this very modern itch. Can we live less anxiously in the now, embracing what Thomas Pynchon called “personal density”? That’s Jacobs’s project, helping tease out what that density is, and how reading old books can help us embody it.
Secondly, he is right in suggesting that we moderns are not the first to grapple with big questions. As it says on the back “What can Homer teach us about the use of force? How does Frederick Douglass deal with the massive blind spots of America’s Founding Fathers? How can Ursula K. Le Guin show us truths about Virgil’s female characters that Virgil himself could never have seen?” Breaking Bread with the Dead (a line from Auden) offers wisdom beyond what contemporary writers can offer. Although, for those reluctant to dive deep, this book about those older authors is the next best thing. Tolle legge.
Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life Zena Hitz (Princeton University Press) $16.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56
I did not mention this at Bayview but if time permitted I might have. It is an invitation “to readers from all walks of life to rediscover the impractical splendors of a life of learning.”
It is a luminous book, a memoir, really, of a scholar exhausted by our overloaded and superficial technological world who sets out to find the gloriously impractical role of high learning. She studied at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, where she is now a tutor. She lived in a monastic community for a while, serving the poor with her hands. She needed to walk away from elite university life “in search of greater fulfillment.”
Lost in Thought is an amazingly erudite book, serious, rich, eloquent, and poignant. At times a bit funny, even as much of it is pretty deep.
Interestingly, she draws a lot from Augustine and moves gracefully from Goethe to Saint John of the Cross to Philip Steiner’s daunting but important book, Real Pleasures. She quotes the Greeks a lot — the playwrights and the philosophers — and an author I had not heard of, Elena Ferrante. Whew.
Reading Through the Night Jane Tompkins (University of Virginia Press) $19.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96
I picked this up solely on the title, hoping it was, in fact, about reading straight through the night. In a way, it really is. But, of course, it is more, expressing what reading really is, what it can really do for us. As one advanced note put it, at Booklist, it is “a disarmingly intimate chronicle of reading…”
The author is a celebrated literature professor (with another memoir under her belt called A life in School: What the Teacher Learned) who fell ill to a debilitating illness. She read by day and through the night because it really was all she could do. “She learns, as if by accident,” the back cover explains, “that when you pay close attention to your reactions as you read, literature can be a path to self discovery.”
Since reading is now all she can do, she takes on newer authors and older ones (including the lovely Ann Patchett.) She studies Alain de Botton, Anthony Trollope, and, yes, the aforementioned Elena Ferrante. This is a book about the reading life, about becoming upset by books, about loving books, about being sustained by books, about being transformed by it all, gaining “the entanglement with life” that she mentions.
In Praise of Good Bookstores Jeff Deutsche (Princeton University Press) $19.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96
I need to have at least one book about bookstores in this list and while this one is more heady than I’d wish (and his famous Chicago store is very different from our own small town shop) it is considered a modern classic. I reviewed the book for Christianity Today last year, and while I warned a bit of a certain ideological tone and a certain sort of elitism that annoyed me. Still, this is a mostly thrilling read about good books, reading widely, and shopping promiscuously in a real store. Yay.
Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish C. Christopher Smith (IVP) $16.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.80
This is one of my all time favorite books by a fabulous guy who helped found the widely-respected Englewood Review of Books. Chris wrote the wonderful Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus and a book that is more important than it sounds (now more than ever) How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church. Both of these emerge from a strong ecclesiology and from the experience of holding book clubs and book-ish classes in his church and community. Reading for the Common Good is, I would say, one-of-a-kind, magnificent.
Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson edited by Timothy Larsen & Keith Johnson (IVP Academic) $28.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40
The title’s allusion to the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson is obvious in the title but what doesn’t come across is just how eloquent and lively and interesting all of these many authors are. The chapters emerge from the live proceedings at a conference held at Wheaton College that included Rowan Williams and Lauren Winner and Timothy Larsen and Joel Sheesley and Patricia Audio — and Marilynn Robinson herself. There is the transcript of a great conversation between Rowan Williams and Ms Robinson, the transcript of an interview with Robinson by the college President Philip Ryken, and there is the closing address of the conference by Robinson herself. Over a dozen chapters, all sweet and intelligent and a great introduction for anyone who has read the Gilead quartet (or other books by Robinson.)
(By the way, if you are in the York area, our church, First Presbyterian Church of York, is hosting its second summer “Third Thursday” outdoor book club on July 20th and we will be informally discussing Gilead. All are welcome, even if you haven’t yet read the thoughtful, slow, moving story.)
Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls Mitali Perkins (Broadleaf Books) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
We like this author a lot and she writes a variety of children’s and YA books, but this one is for adults, inviting us to read children’s stories. She is not the first (and neither is C.S. Lewis, although he perhaps said it best) to remind us that good children’s books are, well, good books, and if they are great, then certainly they will appeal to adults as well. She has a lovely introduction making a sensible case for revisiting some of our treasured youthful reads and then walks us through doing just that with fabulous reviews of a handful of classic YA stories. It’s a lovely, insightful, fun read and you shouldn’t miss it.
As I read an excerpt of this to our Bayview class partipants, I highlighted a great chapter called “Reading Kate DiCamillo” in the fabulous collection of essays by Ann Patchett entitled These Precious Days. I adore that book her the great novelist and bookstore owner narrates her own first encounter (as an adult) reading through the many books of Kate D. What a story! Patcheett is an excellent essayist and storyteller and it just reminds me of how ery important Mitalie Perkin’s lovely compact-sized hardback is. Buy a copy of Steeped in Stories today.
Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children edited by Leslie Bustard, Carey Bustard & Thea Rosenburg (Square Halo Books) $29.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99
I will not go on and on about this since I’ve highlighted it several times. But in the category of “books about books” Wild Things and Castles in the Sky is like none other. Granted, it holds a special place in our hearts since we know two of the three co-editors and several of the many writers (one, a dear friend who recently died, the other, her grown daughter who works with kids in New York City.) Still, our loyalty to this central Pennsylvania indie publisher aside, this is simply an amazing book loaded with lovely testimonials of parents and teachers (and others) who have fallen in love with using books with children. They tell stories of books and reading and helping kids grow to appreciate the very best stuff. There are dozens and dozens of age-specific and theme specific lists, too. This book is a treasure-trove, a resource for anyone interested in quality kids books ,especially those of Christian faith who understand the role of books in the lives of young covanant children. Hooray. Please, be sure parents and teachers and grandparents in your circles know about this. They will thank you.
Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies Marilyn McEntyre (Eerdmans) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
I ended my lectures at Bayview highlighting the good work of author (and poet) Marilyn McEntyre. I had already cited a paragraph from her amazing book When Poets Pray so I hope they recalled that gracious, eloquent writing.
The Princeton lectures once given by Abraham Kuyper (who I quoted in the sermon our first morning together), I explained, were called “The Stone Lectures” and they still are offered most years at Princeton Theological Seminary. A good number of years Marilyn McEntyre got to give those lectures and they, naturally, became a book. Her thesis and format were both radical and sensible: we are made by God to steward things in God’s world and, like with natural resources, failing to do so conscientiously can be disastrous, as water and air are fouled and life is endangered. Similarly, she notes, we can suppose that language is a gift of God that we are called upon to steward well. If we don’t, things can get toxic, quickly.
It was somewhat of a big ending. I read to them out loud her table of contents — stewardship strategies, she calls them — as somewhat of a benediction. I leave them with you here, now:
- Love Words
- Tell the Truth
- Don’t Tolerate Lies
- Read Well
- Stay in Conversation
- Share Stories
- Love the Long Sentence
- Practice Poetry
- Attend to Translation
- Cherish Silence
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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown PA 17313
Sadly, as of June 2023 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is bad. It’s important to be particularly aware of how risks we take might effect the public good as those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks among younger adults.) It is complicated, we understand, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, staff, and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise.
We will certainly keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager, but delayed, for now.
We are doing our famous curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help, so if you are in the area, do stop by. We love to see old friends and new customers.
Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere.
We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST / Monday – Saturday. Closed on Sunday.