Here is your second installment of my 2016 book reviews. Is there something I could share or comment on that would make these book reviews more helpful for you? Feel free to comment with ideas. Well, here we go. The middle 7.
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf. 1927. 310 pages. **
Fiction. A quirky novel with deeply-developed characters. The main thing I remember were long sections of interior thoughts of a character. As a person who studies personality, motivation, spiritual formation, interior life/work, these parts were interesting to me. Otherwise, I’m afraid they’d be boring. I’m pretty sure this was my first Virginia Woolf novel.
Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene Peterson. 1987. 131 pages. ****
Spiritual Formation. An essential read for any Jesus-follower who happens to be in a full-time ministry job. It reminded me a bit in subject matter of Evelyn Underhill’s Concerning the Inner Life (1926). Classic Eugene Peterson, which is to say: deeply challenging, richly compelling, engaging mind and heart, absolutely excellent.
A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian Maclaren. 2004. 352 pages.****
Dangerous. Just kidding. I mean, I’m kidding. Some Christians aren’t, unfortunately. I used to instantly brim over with a lot of anger, fear, hate, and defensive self-justification just to hear that a book like this got published! But I’ve changed. At least a bit. Rather than burn it (and its author) before even reading it, I’d prefer just read it with a level-head (and no red pen!) and see for myself. I guess I just finally trust Jesus to lead me. I finally believe He’s big enough and strong enough and He’s got me. And, now that I’m in my 30s, I guess I’m just not afraid of letters printed on paper any more. I actually really like to read things with which I might not immediately agree. If you’ve never tried it, you really should. It makes you think and grow and work out what it is that you believe and how that belief is changing your real life. But you have to assume that you must be wrong about something, that you have room to learn and grow. I tend to assume I’m already right about everything, and then of course I’m angry and afraid about ink on paper. Anyway, Maclaren makes you think. Or, perhaps I should say, he lets you think. He lets you ask questions. He pulls back the dusty curtains and opens up a few windows in the stuffy self-righteous house you used to consider your perfectly tidy statement of faith and asks you to think about the how and the way of Jesus, not only the what and the truth of Jesus. He doesn’t make you believe anything. He just shares where Jesus has led him, and I’ll at least listen to his story.
The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson. 2016. 473 pages. ***
Fiction. This was a really good, hard-to-put down novel full of innocent romance, wartime historical fiction, and likable characters.
Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson. 2006. 180 pages. ****
Spiritual Formation. This book was especially inspiring as a writer; it affirmed the importance of reading, spiritual reading, and internalization of reading in a way that is transformative for the would-be Jesus-follower. I think my favorite part was when Peterson said that the flowery, snobbish King James Version was an absolute travesty on the part of biblical translation. He said that the Bible was always meant to be written in layman’s terms, to be able to be easily understood and then [difficultly?] lived out by anyone and everyone. The huge literature snob in me took quite a blow, but the bit of rugged, earthy, human, compassionate Jesus-follower in me agreed whole-heartedly.
Brighton Rock, Graham Greene. 1938. 299 pages. **
Fiction. Even when I don’t particularly like a Graham Greene novel while I’m reading it (this was my first), it still seems to settle well in my guts over time. Weird. Maybe I like Graham Greene too much. Or maybe the main character in Brighton Rock reminded me of my one old boyfriend I actually liked. All I can say is: If you’ve never read Graham Greene, don’t start with this one.
What’s So Amazing about Grace?, Philip Yancey. 1997. 282 pages. ***
Stories. Can you believe this was my first-ever Yancey? I know, I know; I’m so late to the Yancey game. Anyway, I think it’s just because I’m a parent and my heart is no longer confined to my own chest, but I feel like I cried my way through this book. Easy to read, full of whole-hearted and compelling stories, challenging in an encouraging way, Yancey continually turned upside down the ungracious parts of my heart and called me to a more grace-filled, goodwill way of Jesus kind of life. One really interesting thing was noting the undergirding 1990s caustic tone of evil culture vs good Christian sub-culture woven throughout. Man, I’m glad that’s dying.
Stay tuned for my next, third, and final book review post and the 2016 winner of a spot on my “I insist!” Book List.