Summer Summaries – 2017 Reading Project

Playing catch up again with reviews of books I’ve read for the 2017 Reading Challenge. Summer has been great for providing reading time but not so much with writing time. But here’s where I’ve had my nose buried lately!

“Onward” by Russell Moore

Book 25: A book about Christian living

Dr. Moore is a truly prophetic voice in our generation, and this is among his best work. As usual, his writing both challenges and convicts as he calls Christians to engage the culture winsomely but effectively. To do this, we must “keep Christianity strange,” avoiding the temptation to become conformed to a world that is increasingly antagonistic toward our faith. But we must also avoid the opposite error of conflating the gospel with either social justice or political action. For many, the first introduction to the leader of our denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was his outspoken criticism of then-candidate Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. His rhetoric is often biting, and certainly a departure from that of the “Moral Majority” that defined conservative evangelical political activism for a generation. Yet every word he said during the campaign is consistent with what he had written in this book about the importance of character, integrity, and gospel clarity trumping (no pun intended) whatever social/political goals we may have. I, for one, believe that the trail Moore is blazing for the future of evangelical cultural engagement is exactly what we need to succeed in post-Christian America, despite the toes which may be stepped on along the way, and I highly recommend this book for all believers. Pick up your copy here.

“Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand

Book 26: A book about the second world war

The first time I encountered the name Louis Zamperini was several years ago while reading George Beverly Shea’s 1968 autobiography Then Sings My Soul, in a list of notable converts from early Billy Graham crusades. This biography of the former Olympic athlete and Army Air Force veteran is one of the greatest stories I’ve ever read. Zamperini’s life contained more than enough tragedy and suffering to break nearly anyone. He truly endured some of the worst depths of depravity of which mankind is capable, and yet emerged “unbroken” though not unscathed. While his sufferings took him to the brink of sanity, his encounter with the Gospel bought his redemption, and led to a long life, lived well. I understand the movie based on this book is excellent, though I’ve heard it downplays the religious elements of his story. I’ll be checking that out soon, I hope. And I hope you’ll check out this former #1 New York Times Bestseller here.

c10832“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Book 27: A book for children or teens

Nate and I are continuing to work our way through the Chronicles of Narnia this summer. It’s such a joy to watch him learn to love these books that I’ve enjoyed so much over the years. Thus far, this has been his favorite book of the series, as it remains mine.

By the way, though the edition we’re reading together (we LOVE this complete collection illustrated by Pauline Baynes) has the stories in chronological order (with The Magician’s Nephew first), we’re reading them in the order of publication, which I still stubbornly insist is the proper way to read them.

“13 Hours” by Mitchell Zuckoff

Book 28: A book based on a true story

This “inside account of what really happened in Benghazi” is a fascinating and excellently written retelling of the events of September 11, 2012, at the U.S. diplomatic consulate and CIA Annex in northeastern Libya. While the CIA, the Obama administration, and the Hillary Clinton campaign have vehemently denied the veracity of this book, it definitely seems to have the ring of truth. Zuckoff cites many sources, nearly all of whom are decorated heroes who have gone on record stating their name and reputation on the testimony contained in this book, as well as in Congressional hearings. Their detractors don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to telling the truth, either… Regardless, it was an enjoyable read. I watched the movie as well, after finishing the book. As usual, I greatly preferred the book (get it here), though I did appreciate the visual reference of the appearance and layout of the compounds.

“Watchmen” by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons

Book 29: A graphic novel

Chalk this up as a book I definitely would have never read had it not been for my goal of reading more broadly by using the categories provided by Tim Challies in this year’s reading challenge. Having never read (or even though about reading) a graphic novel, I didn’t even know where to begin. When I googled “best graphic novels of all time”, this one was near the top of every list I saw. I also learned it was the only graphic novel to have been included in TIME’s 100 best novels of all time. When the blurb/endorsement on the cover from a prominent reviewer read “if you’ve never read a graphic novel, start here” I figured that was me, so I did. And while I can see why this book is so well regarded—Moore’s character development is truly brilliant, and the story is very unique and well told—I can’t say that I really enjoyed it. Not to take anything away from the enjoyment of others… it’s just not my cup of tea. If this is the “best” the genre has to offer, I probably won’t be spending much more time in the Graphic Novels section at McKay’s.

“Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain

Book 30: A memoir or autobiography

I’ve always been a lover of Twain’s writing. Years ago I gobbled up all his novels I could get my hands on, and later learned to love his satirical writing as well. But I’d never before read this account of his early life spent as a steamboat pilot navigating up and down the Mississippi River, which became the source material for a lot of what he wrote in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. While the writing is perhaps not as polished as his later work, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read on a hot summer’s day.

“131 Christians Everyone Should Know” ed. by Mark Galli

Book 31: A book about church history

There is a lot to like about this book. The short (2-3 pages each) biographies of so many different people makes each entry a quick easy read… pretty much an ideal “bathroom book”. The timeline in the front of the book helps to place each historical figure in context. I learned a lot of interesting facts about some of the more obscure figures, and even a few new things about some men and women about whom I’ve read and studied much before. But that also leads to the book’s weaknesses. It sometimes makes me nervous to “learn” new things about people I’ve studied before, particularly when nothing in the book has citations which would allow me to verify and learn more about those things which most interested me. Still, despite some shortcomings, this book will be a good reference book and introduction to history, and will come in handy in the homeschooling of our children, particularly as the Classical Conversations method which we use is so heavily dependent on timelines. It’s no substitute for more scholarly and detailed works of Christian history, but is a great introductory book. Grab yours here.

Several Short Book Reviews

Well, I’ve been doing a lot better at keeping up with the 2017 Reading Challenge than I have been keeping up with the blog. I’ve done a lot of writing in the last month, but much of it has been offline (though my biggest recent writing project will make an appearance here very soon). My original intention had been to review all or most of the books I’m reading this year, so in order to catch up here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

lesmis“Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo

Book 10: A book more than 100 years old

I’m a bit ashamed I hadn’t read this book before! I’ve seen several different movie and stage adaptations, and read an abridged version many years ago, but this was my first time tackling the “real deal.” It’s so, so good! Not that I expected anything else. It’s one of the greatest stories ever told, and hopefully one I’ll have the opportunity to re-read several times in the future.

51-2b3wjprhl-_sx331_bo1204203200_“Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris

Book 11: A book about theology

Speaking of re-reading books… this is a book I read when it first came out in 2010, and it quickly became one of my top recommendations for young readers first starting their study of theology. I’ve bought and distributed many copies over the year, but decided to re-read it in its entirety this year when I assigned it to my three worship interns, so I could participate in our book discussions having seen it with fresh eyes. Still as good as I remember! You can read my full book review here.

c10832“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and “Prince Caspian” by C.S. Lewis

Book 12: A book of your choice
Book 13: A book written by an author with initials in his name

These are books I’ve read many times, but I’m more excited than ever to be reading them now with my 7-year-old son. His eagerness to devour these books (he’s asked to start going to bed earlier so he can wake up earlier and read with me before his sisters wake up) makes my heart so glad! I love seeing my children learn to love the things I love, and having the opportunity to introduce such beloved characters and stories to him—seeing them for the “first time” again through his eyes—is a great blessing.

By the way, though the edition we’re reading together (we LOVE this complete collection illustrated by Pauline Baynes) has the stories in chronological order (with The Magician’s Nephew first), we’re reading them in the order of publication, which I still stubbornly insist is the proper way to read them.

book-stateoffear“State of Fear” by Michael Crichton

Book 14: A novel by an author you have never read before

Having seen and enjoyed several movies based on Crichton’s books, I thought I might as well try out one of his novels. This one sounded intriguing, particularly the author’s statement that it’s the book he least wanted to write, and one which he felt could actually put his life in danger.

While I’m not sure about that last part, I can definitely see how he could face a lot of opposition because of the content of this novel. The characters (and Crichton himself, in an appendix that is well worth reading by itself) in this thriller challenge the status quo of “settled science” in the debate on global climate change. He writes a compelling and plausible story in which scientists and educators who dare to push back against the notion that man-caused global warming is a grave threat requiring massive government regulation & investment are ostracized and persecuted by peers, press, politicians, and celebrities.

While I wouldn’t call it a great work of literature, the audiobook was an enjoyable distraction over a few weeks’ worth of driving.

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I’ll try to get back to writing more detailed book reviews going forward! I’m reading several more books right now that are really terrific. Here’s a preview of what’s on the horizon:

  • The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk — Definitely a long-term reading project… I’m slowly but surely making my way through this massive survey of conservative thought. It’ll probably take me a few more months at my current pace.
  • Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles — I’ve actually already finished this one and written a review that will be published Monday. Excellent read on customer service, with broad application in ministry as well.
  • Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura — Probably my favorite book of 2017 so far, it focuses on how Christians can steward and cultivate creative gifts, harnessing the great power of beauty to reform and renew our culture.
  • The Whistler by John Grisham — Just started reading the latest in a long line of Grisham’s NYT bestsellers.