Here’s a rundown of the 7 books I read in May. It was a good reading month for 2 reasons. One, I devoted a lot of time to reading. Two, I read a couple of great books.
Reading Tip: This works for me and it might work for you … or it might not. I keep multiple books going a time. For example, last month I completed a HUGE biography on Woodrow Wilson. It was a great book but not a page turner. While reading that monster biography I was also reading a few books that show up on this month’s log. A big, thick biography does not lend itself well to a reading during a spare 15 minutes. Yet, a Harry Potter book is great for picking up and finishing 20 pages in 15 minutes. Or after a long day at work you might not be in the mood for an academic work but a gripping novel might be just right. Keeping multiple books going helps me to read more because it increases the chances that I have a book I’m excited to read waiting for me. Happy reading.
Consequence: A Memoir by Eric Fair
Sometimes you stumble onto books and find a real gem. I heard about this book via the New York Times Review of Books Podcast. I’m a faithful listener and was listening to the podcast while mowing the yard one day when this book was featured. I was hooked.
Eric Fair was an civilian interrogator in Iraq. During the course of his time in Iraq he participated in or witnessed a variety of aggressive interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, diet manipulation, exposure, and isolation. While uncomfortable with these techniques during live time, he now calls these actions torture. The book is part reflection and part processing of things witnessed.
The surprising element of this book was the subtle theme of faith that resonates from start to finish. I was ignorant of this theme when I purchased it … it was not mentioned in the podcast at all. Yet, it adds a great dimension to the book. While heading to Iraq the author was also awaiting word on his application to Princeton Theological Seminary. Throughout his time in the war zone, Fair processes interrogation through the lens of one contemplating a call to pastoral ministry. Fascinating.
The book provides no answers – simply honest reflection and emotion.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
I finished this book in two days. It’s a gripping story and worthy of reading for those interested in great memoirs, business profiles, or the sport of running. It is even part spiritual journey.
Knight does a fantastic job of detailing the early days of Nike. Without knowing any of the Nike story prior to this book, it seems brutally honest and insightful. I was struck time and time again about how close Nike was to never getting off the ground or getting off the ground merely to crash back down. You see early troubles with business partners, lack of cash flow, a CIA investigation, and failed relationships with banks. It is a definitely a memoir – Knight offers memories and reflections on events and conversations. He even points out when his memory and the facts seem to be in disagreement. Yet, many lessons can be gleaned for those reading it as a business profile or a source of inspiration. Knight never gets “preachy” – he simply tells the story – but many memorable nuggets shine through.
Some might be disappointed that this book only chronicles the early days of Nike. Reading this book does not provide a glimpse into the sporting good juggernaut that we know and love. Rather, it shows a company scratching to survive.
Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols by Nancy Duarte and Pattie Sanchez
This was another book that I picked up because it was mentioned in a podcast. It’s a fun and helpful read. First, it’s an oversized book filled with graphics. It literally has hand-drawn(ish) images. Second, the content is solid and backed by countless examples and profiles.
The book details the steps towards igniting change: dream, leap, fight, climb, arrive. If an organization is in the dream step, the book provides ways in which to move the organization forward. The authors provide wording and concepts that need to be discussed and included in speeches, stories, ceremonies, and symbols. It does the same through the various stages.
I enjoyed the structure of the book. Thinking of change in terms of stages is helpful to gathering a bigger picture. For example, I love to dream and I could dream for days, weeks, and months. Yet, a time comes to stop dreaming and take a leap. The process of leaping takes a different focus and emphasis. This book provides solid advice.
City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner
I’m a bit of a political junky … but not the type that watches cable news all day.
Rather, I’m interested in how politics can ignite change. I’m particularly interested in the interchange between religion and politics. Or how I would prefer to frame it … faith and politics. Thus, I read political works that dive into these issues. I’m also extremely interested in political/presidential biographies. In these massive volumes you often see how a persons faith or lack of faith impacts political decisions.
I appreciate this particular work for it’s unique angle. This is not the work of academics or theologians. Rather, this is the product of two vocational politicians speaking on matter of religion and the implications of religion on politics. Gerson was policy advisor and speechwriter for President George W. Bush and Wehner served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and well as serving as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush.
There is nothing groundbreaking in this book. Yet, it does provide a helpful framework. It recounts past failures and victories of religious figures and/or movements attempting to impact politics and provides corrective for moving forward. It touches on hot-button issues of today. It’s small size and mere 140 pages make it only a primer to the discussion.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
A modern classic and required reading in many high school English classes. I was never assigned to read this book but read it some years ago with only a vague recollection of the plotline. Reading it again was rewarding and a bit disturbing. As I finished the book, I put it down and stated to my wife, “Well, that will give me nightmares for a few weeks.” I was joking but it is a powerful book.
Many of you know the book is about a group of young boys trapped on an island. They learn to fend for themselves in many ways … some good and many bad. That’s enough of a teaser for those unfamiliar. It’s a powerful book about human nature. As a preacher, this book is filled with illustrations of the power of sin, the brokenness of humanity, our need for Christian community, and the inability of man and our dependence upon God.
The writing is a bit difficult to follow. I found myself rereading passages to make sure I didn’t miss something. Many times I had to work hard to differentiate characters. Often I had to force myself to read slower. Yet, the extra effort is worth it.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
On my quest to complete this classic series for the first time, I’ve now finished the sixth installment. At this point, I believe this to be my favorite volume. I know. I know. Many people hate this book because of how it ends. I liked it. So there.
The pace of this book is much faster than the middle volumes and I feel the plotline and the characters develop in great detail. You get more development of Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Snape and even Harry. You get more of the Voldemort story. Things are getting pulled together.
There are also many strong themes present in the Half-Blood Prince. No spoilers (who hasn’t read this by now but me?) but you see deep themes of friendship and self-sacrifice. This is the real beauty of this series. The plotlines are written to be understood and loved by young readers yet are powerful enough to resonate for kids and adults alike.
Preaching: Communicating Faith in An Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller
This book was interesting bit a bit of a challenge for me. Not a challenge to read but a challenge to think through. Keller is a pastor of a church in New York City and consequently preaches to a New York City congregation. Let me just say … there is a big difference between NYC and Crawford, Texas. While I think the book is solid, the audience Keller stands before each week is vastly different than mine. My group is less a representative of an age of skepticism and more victims of an age of comfort and apathy. My group struggles less with “Is that really true?” and more of “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.” There is ton of useful information here. Like everything – it must be filtered through your particular ministry context.
This book is not a preaching textbook in line with volumes by Hadden Robinson or Fred Craddock. Rather, the title and subtitle truly need to switch places (Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism: Thoughts on Modern Preaching might work).