Here’s a rundown of the 6 books I read in March. The log is late and short because it has been a hectic month. March included a vacation to NYC and preaching in view of a call at the First Baptist Church of Sulphur Springs, Texas. I finish this log surrounded by my library packed in U Haul boxes. Happy reading!
HERE IS NEW YORK BY E.B. WHITE
Yes, this is E.B. White from Charlotte’s Web fame. I first read this book after my trip to NYC during for my doctoral work two years. Earlier this month I took the book with me to NYC on vacation with my wife. I read it aloud to her each night before bed. I love ending the day by reflecting on the days’ events and reading White’s reflections.
This slim volume is White’s reflective essay on the ever~changing New York City. Published in 1949, the references are dated but the sentiment portrayed in the prose still resonates. In a mere 7,500 words, White provides a running commentary on restaurants, neighborhoods, people, lifestyles, and small things like a tree in a garden. The prose is a bit majestic. Here’s a taste:
“New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gifts of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser gail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”
Crawford, Texas is a far cry from NYC. Yet, I love such an insightful look at one’s own context. Now that my time in Crawford is coming to an end, perhaps one day a slim volume will contain my rambling thoughts on the Western White House.
Dogmatics in Outline by Karl Barth
I read this book mostly on the subway in NYC. It was appropriate for such a venue. It is dense and needs to be digested in small chunks. Plus, its easy to carry!
I’m a bit ashamed that I’m just now getting around to reading Barth. Somehow through my seminary education, both M. Div and D. Min, I was never assigned Barth. I’ve purchased numerous Barth volumes over the years but have failed to put them at the top of my reading pile. I was eager to pack this one on the trip to the Big Apple.
Published in English in 1949, these 150 pages contain Barth’s concentrated essentials of the Christian faith. He accomplishes the task by providing reflections the Apostles Creed and corresponding foundations of Christian doctrine. The work began as lectures given in 1946 and reads with a bit of oratorical flair. It is a bit of fresh air in the world of theological tombs. Here is a scholar of the highest caliber and also a loud proclaimer of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.
The Christian Doctrine of God: Dogmatics Volume One by Emil Brunner
Sometimes your reading plan appears systematic even when its haphazard. While I think through my reading schedule, I did not give much thought to packing Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline and Brunner’s The Christian Doctrine of God for my trip to NYC. Yet, they made great companions.
While this is a tremendous work, I most loved Brunner’s reason for putting pen to paper. Brunner writes,
Dogmatics is not the Word of God. God can make His Word prevail in the world without theology. But at a time when human thought is so often confused and perverted by fantastic ideas and theories, spun out of men’s own minds, it is evident that it is almost impossible to preserve the Divine Word without the most passionate intellectual effort to re-think its meaning and its content. The simple Christian may, it is true, understand and preserve God’s Word without theology; but for those Christians who are involved in the thinking of their own day, and who, as children of their own day, are deeply influenced by these currents of thought, an all-inclusive and thorough effort to re-think what has been “given” to faith is absolutely indispensable. This is particularly true for those whose calling it is to proclaim this faith to others.
This volume is near the very top of my favorite volumes of systematic theology. Brunner, much like Barth, is described as a proponent of neoorthodoxy. They reject the liberal portrait of Jesus as a mere walking metaphor in favor of preaching Jesus as God in the flesh and the way of salvation. I’m eager to read more of Brunner. I’m extremely thankful his The Misunderstanding of the Church. I return to it often.
The Prince of Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards offings A Year In Iraq by Rory Stewart
I loved Stewart’s book The Places in Between, it was a previous book of the year for me. The moment I concluded that volume I was ready to pick up The Prince of Marshes. At the age of 30, Stewart was appointed deputy governor of Amara and then Nasiriyah in the marsh regions of southern Iraq. This book documents his experience at attempting to bring peace and unity to an area wrecked by war and corruption.
You’ll find nothing more than a detailed example of the complexity of war and intriguing character studies of Stewart and the many people he encounters along the way. You’ll find humor and human interest stories as Stewart attempts to do his job among among fifty-four political parties, twenty major tribes, and numerous militias. Amidst the chaos, Stewart emphasizes rebuilding schools, putting Iraqis to work, and convincing the local population that the coalition was actually improving their lives.
This is one of those books that desperately begs for a happy ending. Yet, one does not arrive. The memoir (seems like an inappropriate genre title for this one) ends in an OK Corral-like shoot out in Nasiriya, where Sadrist forces attack coalition offices.
Where Men Win Glory by John Krakauer
This is another volume in my quest to read through the work of Krakauer. Just one more to go. The title, Where Men Win Glory, conceals the fact that this is the story of Pat Tillman. You’ll likely remember when Tillman walked away from a multimillion dollar NFL contact to join the Army after 9/11. He became the poster boy for patriotism in light of the US war on terrorism. Tillman’s legend grew to icon status when he was killed in Afghanistan two years later.
The book, through massive amounts of research and interviews, reveals reports that conclude Tillman was killed by friendly fire. Krakauer also documents how this information was routinely distorted my military and elected officials to promote a positive narrative that aided the PR campaign for an expensive and lengthy war. Krakauer has taken a lot of heat for his reporting on Tillman. Yet, the book does not read like a grinding axe but sincere investigative journalism.
Like other Krakauer works, this book displays his gifted writing ability. Through the first half of the volume, Krakauer weaves Tillman’s civilian life timeline with developing political and social events in Afghanistan. When the timelines meet, Krakaur has engaged the reader in a story that is a page turner in the sense of the phrase.
Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis
This was a very intentional read for me. When I was in NYC two years ago I read Lewis’ Elmer Gantry, a tremendous story about a huckster preacher. A year or so after that trip I found Kingsblood Royal in a antique shop in little Crawford, Texas. I saved it for my return trip to NYC. My copy is old and brittle. I nearly destroyed it carrying it around subways, airplanes, and NYC bagel shops.
Kingsblood Royal is brilliant. Neil Kingsblood, a white middle-class man, finds out that distant relative is African American. A provocative premise for a novel published in 1947! Kingsblood loses his fancy banking job, loses his high rolling friends, and is no longer welcomed in his neighborhood. All because he’s now considered 100% negro. He was white and welcome one day and black and despised the next. In a climactic scene, based on the real life Ossian Sweet incident in Detroit in 1925, a mob of neighbors comes to force the Kingsbloods from their home. It is an autopsy on racism.
I wish the ending came to a tighter conclusion but I dare not cast a stone at this book. It is a powerful cultural critique for those willing to listen. Its power pulses from the pages 72 years after it publication date.