I used to love reading. How many wonderful hours were spent reading Goosebumps, or the Redwall series, or—need I even mention it—Harry Potter (I don’t think it requires a link)! But then high school came along, and they taught me to hate reading. Then in college I became an English major and had to read epistolary novels like Desmond, which was an experience like being water-boarded by a book. Luckily, I made it out of college alive, and have since realized that books are great! Books tell great stories and stories make you think. That’s why Jesus told so many stories!
Here in Madagascar life sort of shuts down from lunch to three because everyone takes a nap. Not being a napper, I have instead been able to read bunches of books with my handy Kindle! (I was skeptical about reading on an eReader, but I’ve found it enjoyable, and certainly more convenient than packing twenty pounds of books.) So the rest of this post is just for the curious. If you would like to know what books I’ve been reading and whose thoughts I have been trying to think along with, read onward! And if you have a book suggestion, let me know! I am especially fond of older things, since older things tend to be free or very cheap on Kindle.
The Brothers Karamazov
It’s a long book, but long is good in this case. And it’s free on Kindle! I read it sporadically over a year, and by the end of the novel, I felt like I was leaving a few good friends behind. It’s mostly made up of philosophical conversations between the characters, but it is very good dialog. Dostoevsky writes with incredible detail, and you realize, as the novel comes to a close, that even the most mundane events were packed with meaning. On a side note, I think reading this book inspired my Camp War Eagle morning show character from this past summer.
The Heavenly Man
Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway
This book had been recommended to me by many people. It is a autobiography of Brother Yun, a Chinese pastor who went through incredible suffering for his faith. The story is remarkable and his faith is inspiring, but for some reason this was not a huge fan of this book. I think it was partly that I have no way of understanding this man’s experiences, and his suffering is so pervasive and repetitive in the book it almost (dare I say it) became somewhat dull. I also read it on the ten-hour plane ride to Madagascar, and the unpleasantness of the flight could have been projected onto the novel. Perhaps it would just be best to say that it is a good story, worth checking out, but that takes a little too long to tell.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
This was a fantastic biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. First of all, the story of Christianity in Nazi Germany is fascination, and Bonehoffer plays a great protagonist amidst the unfolding drama. Secondly, and perhaps my favorite part, is that the biography contains a plethora of well selected material from Bonehoffer’s own writing and letters. I thought, “Wow, this guy’s bold, and this guy’s brilliant!”
Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible
If I were to recommend any of these books, it would probably be this one. This is actually two different books, but the version I have here sticks both together. Life Together is a devotional about what Christian community should look like. In five chapters, Bonhoeffer probes the problems that plague community and offers the most Christ-centered vision of community I have ever read. The second book, Prayerbook of the Bible, is a short (I read it in forty-five minutes) meditation on the Psalms. Again, Bonhoeffer has great insights into a difficult part of scripture and makes me want to read and pray the Psalms all the time.
Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice
David Lyle Jeffrey and Gregory Maillet
How should Christians engage the academic world? How can they as Christians, not only participate, but also bring added understanding to scholarship? Those are the questions asked in this series of books, the Christian Worldview Integration Series. The books are targeted toward those in a university setting, and there are books on Philosophy, Education, Business, Psychology, and Communication. There is also this book in the series, regarding the study of English Literature. As a former English major, I really appreciated this book. How should students of literature view their field? How can Christian academics keep their field from going down the sad path of cynicism and ridiculousness (Ughhh!!! Why did I have to read Desmond????)? I really enjoyed this book, especially its acknowledgement that story and literature are incredibly important communicators of truth. Sometimes, literature is able to communicate reality better than a simple statement of the facts. Anyway, if you are involved in academic study, I would recommend taking a look at this series.
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
Why is this C.S. Lewis novel not better known?! My guess is because people are thrown off by the fact that C.S. Lewis is writing about greek gods and goddesses as opposed to Jesus lions. But the book is fantastic. Lewis tweaks a Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche to tell a marvelous tale. The characters are lovable, relatable, and honestly human. It is a book that makes you think, but is at the same time wonderfully entertaining. If you like anything by Lewis and haven’t read this one, be sure to do so. It’s not super long.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Another book that was FREE ON KINDLE! I loved it in all its enthralling and horrifying Britishness. It is one of those fun British society novels where the characters make fun quotable quips that people never make in real conversations. “The thoroughly well-informed man—that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above is proper value.” However, what I especially appreciated about this book is that the fun quotable quips are horrifyingly true. Or rather, they express the ideological reality of the most horrifying parts of our world and society, and in my opinion, are amazingly true for today, 120 years after the book was written.
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
One might compare how much modern scholarship views the Gospels to how we think about Santa Claus. Ask anyone in America, and they could tell you a lot about Santa Claus. He’s old and fat and jolly and lives at the North Pole and has elves and keeps a naughty/nice list and goes down chimneys. Most people might even be able to tell some stories about Santa: “You see he has these reindeer, and there was this one with a shiny nose…” Where did we learn all this? Nowhere specific, it is just a part of the culture. Most modern gospel scholarship assumes that the gospels record what had become cultural tradition in the church, and that these stories had become completely disconnected from those who had known Jesus. Thus, the Jesus of the gospels is not the Jesus of history. It is as though someone decided to write all our Santa traditions. In this book, one I would highly recommend to people who like reading books with lots of footnotes, Bauckham argues that this view is a presumptuous fallacy. The best way to treat the gospels is as the recording of eyewitnesses or those who knew the eyewitnesses. When events are extraordinary, what other means to we have of understanding them besides testimony? Without listening to testimony, we have no choice but to transform the events into something we can understand, and thus we will end up with a perfectly understandable, perfectly normal, “historical” Jesus.
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English
John H. McWhorter
Not everyone would like this book. If you like languages and history though it is great! Plus, McWhorter goes the extra mile to make what could be a dull subject, hilarious. I have not giggled out loud so much while reading a book in a long time. If you enjoy the following, I would recommend the book:
“English is shot through with things that don’t really follow. I’m the only one, amn’t I? Shouldn’t it be amn’t after all? Aren’t, note, is “wrong” since are is used with you, we, and they, not I. There’s no “I are.” Aren’t I? is thoroughly illogical—and yet if you decided to start saying amn’t all the time, you would lose most of your friends and never get promotions. Except, actually, in parts of Scotland and Ireland where people actually do say amn’t—in which case the rest of us think of them as “quaint” rather than correct!