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.


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.

Combing the Net – 6/2/2012

40 of the Most Powerful Photographs Ever Taken — Lots of a great stories behind these iconic photos. Many of them I already knew, but I’m looking forward to reading Do the Birds in Hell Still Sing?, the autobiography of the man in picture #21. I didn’t know the story behind this one, but it sounds as if it will be a fascinating tale!

Pictures of Beautiful Iran — Many Americans seem to think that Iran is nothing but a vast, arid desert. In reality, it is among the most varied and beautiful places in the world! They don’t call that region the “Fertile Crescent” for nothing…

Lehman Riggs: Cookeville Hero — Here’s a newly written article (penned by our district’s Congressional Representative) about a local hero who was himself captured in some iconic photographs near the end of World War II. In the video linked in the story, you’ll see a brief appearance by our church building, where Brother Lehman still serves faithfully in his 90’s.

What Does Paul Mean By “Able to Teach”? — Thabiti Anyabwile gives 9 considerations for discerning men who are “able to teach”, which is one of Paul’s criteria for selecting elders for the church (1 Timothy 3:2). These considerations are well worth remembering this weekend as our church prepares to call a new senior pastor on Sunday.

The Seduction of Pornography and the Integrity of Christian Marriage — Sadly, pornography is a huge problem among Christian men. Contrary to what many young men believe, the temptation to consume porn does not go away after marriage. Part two of this article is here.

I Can’t Wait to See This Movie — I absolutely LOVE Les Misérables! Both the musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg and the book by Victor Hugo are phenomenal, and the upcoming movie adaptation looks like it may actually do the story justice. They certainly found a great cast: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe… no slouches here! Between this and The Hobbit, I may spend the entire month of December in the movie theater.

Concert DVD Recommendations

One of the best ways parents can contribute to the musical education of their children is through exposure to excellent live performances. Of course, there is no substitute for being physically present at such performances, but for many families that is not always an option, due to the cost of concert tickets and/or living in a place with little access to professional performing ensembles. For this reason, I am a huge fan of concert DVD’s. I believe them to have significant educational benefits over CD’s. There’s so much to learn from watching musicians! Additionally, good video productions give you close-up views that aren’t accessible during a live performance, and some have educational materials built right in.

Here are just a few of my top recommendations (with links to where you can get them):

  1. Sir Georg Solti: The Maestro— This is my very favorite set of DVD’s. It’s might sound expensive ($47.99) but you get four DVD’s in the set, and all are excellent. Most of the music in this set comes from the Romantic Period, which is just fine by me, since that’s when all the best trumpet parts were written!
  2. The Keeping Score Series— For pure educational benefit, I don’t think you can beat this series from PBS. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony perform some of the greatest orchestral compositions in history, while also providing  details about the composer and the historical context and importance of the piece. Each DVD contains a live performance of the piece and a 1-hour documentary. You can watch the documentaries online for FREE here, but the concert is on the DVD only. My personal favorite is the DVD for Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.
  3. The Herbert Von Karajan Legacy Series— Herbert Von Karajan was the long-time conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, and this video series is tremendous. It’s difficult to find videos of this quality at this price! The series includes works from every era of orchestral music, and is a great way to start building a library of good music for your kids to learn.
  4. The BBC Proms— The “Proms” is the greatest classical music festival in the world. Each year, orchestras from all over the world travel to England to perform nightly concerts in a packed out stadium. The production and quality are top notch, and the DVD’s each contain the “best of” each year’s performances. You can also find many Proms performances on YouTube (including some great youth orchestras, which can be especially fun for children to watch!):
  5. Bach Brandenburg Concerts / Freiberg Baroque Orchestra — I can pretty much guarantee that your kids have never seen a real Baroque orchestra, playing authentic Baroque-period instruments! This is the best group of it’s kind, performing a series of concertos that feature some amazing soloists.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be orchestral music to be great! Here is a smattering of DVD’s from other musical genres that may interest you.

  1. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: Live at the Quick — Bar none, this is the best DVD I own. The Flecktones provide a totally unique musical experience, taking instruments out of their traditional contexts and combining several genres of music into something totally new. Each of the musicians is absolutely virtuosic, and a ton of fun to watch!
  2. Harry Connick Jr. – The New York Big Band Concert— Pianist Harry Connick has several DVD’s, and all are good, but this is my favorite. He’s a great showman, and his band is phenomenal. If you like jazz/big band music, this is one to watch!
  3. Les Miserables— This is one of the best performances of one of the greatest musicals ever written.
  4. Metallica S&M— You wouldn’t think a heavy metal band and a symphonic orchestra would have much in common, but this once-in-a-lifetime concert showed that great musicians can play anything! Not everyone is going to like Metallica, but unlike most metal groups, this band contains some incredible musicians. Here is one of the instrumental tracks from the album, written by Metallica and arranged for orchestra by Michael Tilson Thomas, performed by the San Francisco Symphony:
  5. STOMP Live— This is a group of percussionists known for making musical instruments out of everyday objects. Your kids will love them, but I’ll warn you: After watching this, they will probably start banging on pots and pans and garbage lids!

I could go on and on, but this gives you a good start. Feel free to share other favorites you may have come across! Students at the School of Performing Arts can borrow these and other DVD’s from me if you like.

P.S. — YouTube can be a GREAT resource for finding live performances, but there are a whole lot more BAD performances than GOOD ones on there! I encourage our students to explore YouTube to find performances and performers they like, but also encourage them to have guidance from their instructors to point them toward the type of music they ought to be emulating. Two YouTube channels that consistently provide very good performance videos are carosaxone and OedipusTyrannus.

It’s also rare to find a complete performance. I’ll leave you with one excellent exception, a complete performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: