Here’s a rundown of the 7 books I read in November. It was a great month in terms of volume of pages read AND in quality of pages read. There are a few books in this log that will show up on my favorites for the year.
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by AJ Jacobs
The first Thursday in November I attended my local library book sale. It’s a highlight of the year for me. I show up early on the first day of the sale and pay $10 to get first crack at the rows and rows of books. Like new books are $4. Hardcovers are $2. It’s the Super Bowl for this book lover. You’ll be seeing the gems I picked up at the sale over the course of the next year. Here’s the first beauty of a book that I brought home from the sale.
This is one that has always had my eye put I’ve never pulled the trigger to purchase it or read it. When I saw a beautiful deckled-edge hardcover for $2 I thought, “the wait is over.” I got the book home and began to read it than very night.
This book is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. I love Jacobs’ humor and integrity in going about the project. He reads the Bible and prays everyday. He gets aquatinted with various groups that do the same. He truly tries to live it out bit by bit. Yet, the book is frustrating. Ultimately he takes a few wrong turns and gets some horrible advice from spiritual guides. At one point Jacobs expresses some conviction after a racy interview as a writer for Esquire (Get the book. It’s on page 133). His time in prayer, reading Scripture, and living out God’s commands is having an impact of conviction. The page is filled with my marginal notes of “fascinating” and “how interesting!”. Yet, on the reverse page he seeks the counsel of a professor from a Jewish Seminary and is told that his guilt and conviction is pointless. He’s told that the Bible is not antisex and he should feel free to continue with raunchy talk with celebrities about X-Rated material. He concludes “This is liberating information.” I can still hear my face palm.
Jacobs is officially Jewish but was raised in a secular home. He’s probably best described as an agnostic. The journey of growing his beard, observing food laws, stoning adulterers, and reading Scripture doesn’t change much. Nonetheless, it’s a great read.
John Adams by David McCullough
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for biography. Do I need to say much more?
I recently attended a McCullough lecture at Baylor University. I’ve since become a life long fan. I will devote myself to reading all of his published works. I’ve read a few and have a number of others sitting in my TBR pile. During the lecture McCullough spoke of intellectual curiosity mostly from his book on the Wright brothers. He spoke for over an hour without any notes. He stood in front a packed lecture hall with no podium. I was engaged the entire time by his airtight presentation, infectious humor, and proven mastery of the subject. I would have been wowed if this lecture was given by a 50 year old. The fact that McCullough is 83 left me in awe.
This book on Adams is a great read and a boat anchor. It is nearly 700 pages of actual book. I started and completed the book in the month of November – well worth every minute. It is in-depth but very much engaging. I’ve never read another book on John Adams – but I can fathom another book being any better than this one.
A few things stood out to me in the biography: 1) All that Adams did in the early years of the United States and the little amount of credit he gets from it and 2) The power of an amazing wife such as Abigail Adams.
Allah: A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf
This book is well-worth the read for those interested in the subject. It is well-written, informed, and presents a compelling argument. Yet, I ultimately disagree with the author’s case.
Volf is a scholar. C’mon he’s a professor of theology at Yale! He’s extremely informed, not only in Christian theology, but in Muslim theology. I’ve merely read introductory texts on Islam and in no way claim expertise. Not even close. Volf on the other hand is studied, well-versed, and has engaged with Muslim practitioners and scholars. Here’s Volf’s argument: Christians and Muslims worship one and the same God, the only God. They understand God’s character partly differently, but the object of their worship is the same. He rejects the idea that Muslims worship a different God than do Jews and Christians. I humbly object to this premise of this intellectual giant.
I’ll let you read the book to see how Volf gets to this position. We can have a personal conversation if you want to hear more of my thoughts. Yet, let me offer this: I personally disagree with Volf’s starting point. From the starting line he is looking at the commonalities between Christian and Muslim faith. He diminishes the differences between them later in the book in light of all the commonalities. He is also not looking at the issue of salvation, merely the issue of Muslims and Christians working towards a common good. These pitfalls lead him to a sound conclusion but a misguided one.
I think the difference between Islam and Christianity must be highlighted and ultimately it is in fact a matter of salvation. The difference, however small Volf might count them to be, are tremendously important. They can’t be put at the back of the book and swept under the rug. They need to be brought forward and discussed. Salvation is also too big a subject to ignore as well. I’m passionate about Christianity and I’m interested in a book about Islam and Christianity for the very reason of salvation. To ignore the topic of salvation is to write an impressive book that ultimately misses the target.
John Stott: A Portrait by His Friends edited by Christ Wright
This is another delightful read that I picked up at my local library book sale. Last month John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ appeared on my reading log. With that work on my mind, I was glad to stumble across this gem when searching through rows and rows and tables and table of books at the sale.
This edited volume offers short (a few pages each) essays from 35 friends of John Stott. With touching sentiments, each contributor offers up shared memories and lasting thoughts about John Stott the pastor, author, and friend. His writing and pastoral career were marked with faithfulness and productivity. It is amazing to see the quantity of output even in the later years of his life.
Of course this book is one sided. You hear of all Stott’s greatness and none of his moments of weariness or personal conflict. Yet, you are left with the profound impression of this man’s powerful testimony through his faithfulness to his calling and to the God who called him.
Just Walk Across The Room by Bill Hybels
I picked up this book due to my recents thoughts and conversations on the topic of evangelism. Evangelism has grown to be a dirty word in culture and an abandoned practice by many in the church culture. Bill Hybels has been a tremendous influence through his ministry at Willow Creek and beyond. His book Courageous Leadership is a fantastic resource on the leadership front. It is filled with great principles and insightful illustrations. I was hoping this book would fit that same mold. I hate to say that it lacks principles and is composed of mere anecdotes.
The principle: Walk across the room and share your faith and see what God can do. The anecdotes: story after story of Hybels living out that principle.
For some that might be enough to warrant putting down hard earned cash for a book. I need much more. I agree with the principle. One or two anecdotes were plenty.
One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic Of Harry Potter by Greg Garrett
Ok. Talk about finding treasure. Along with my local library book sale I also benefited this month from a book sale hosted by my local University Press. All books $1. I picked up a pile including this thin academic volume on the Harry Potter series. Yes, you read that correctly. This is a literary analysis of the Potter series with a serious look at the Christian themes JK Rowling weaves through the books.
This book is a worthy read for two different groups: 1) The Harry Potter fan and 2) The Harry Potter critics. The fanatics will enjoy a serious and in-depth analysis of big themes of the seven books. The critics, many of whom have never read the books, will be exposed to the same serious and in-depth analysis of big themes in the story of Harry and his friends and enemies. Many people included in the critic group are Christians who have been told or decided the books are evil due to the presence of magic. Garrett does a fine job at showing that this is a perception is a shallow look at the story. He offers a convincing argument that Harry Potter is less evil and more a Christian depiction of good triumphing over evil.
The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis
With great joy I tell you that I read this book to my 5 year old daughter. Over the course of a few weeks we read this book a chapter at a time before bed. Some nights she was interested. Some nights she feel asleep. Some nights she pleaded to read one of her picture books. Through it all, I think is greatly enjoyed the adventure. She particularly like the idea that she read over 100 pages from a big kid book.
I did not read this series as a chid but as a college student. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to read them to my daughter. I pray that she enjoys them, see Jesus through them, and continues to read and read and read and read and read and read.
The Magician’s Nephew was not the first book published in the Narnia series but is the first in the preferred order of CS Lewis. While I like the other books in the series more than this one, it is still an amazing start to the saga.