See the (updated) Giant List of What I'm Reading in 2016.
18 The Sacredness of Questioning Everything ** by David Dark (Zondervan, 2009. 272 pages)
Reading challenge category*: a book recommended by someone you just met (the author himself!)
In this book, author David Dark persuades and inspires us to take up the practice of Sacred Questioning. Browse through the table of contents for a glimpse of how far and wide and deep our questions can go: Questioning God, Religion, Our Offendedness, Our Passions, Media, Our Language, Interpretations, History, Governments, the Future.
Back in April, I had the privilege of hearing Dark speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I'm not sure why or how I haven't yet read any of his work. Maybe I mistrusted him because his last name conjured up a Severus Snape sort of image? In reality, Dark is anything but. He is sunny, enthusiastic, loving, and funny. He deftly mixes references of pop culture with teachings from the Church fathers (my favorite sort of convergences) while increasing our imagination for daily actions of compassion and imagination.
Also: he creates wickedly complex, but pithy titles for his books. Next on my list? Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious. Watch for my review here soon.
Here's a random assortment of favorite excerpts:
19 The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Book 1) ** by Alexander McCall Smith (Abacus, 2003. 235 pages)
Reading challenge categories*: a book from the library / a book set in Africa
Once I arrived in Ireland, I realized I'd seriously underestimated the number of novels I'd brought for fun reading. Fortunately, we visited the Paradise of all book lovers in Hay-on-Wye, and I spotted these books on sale. I picked up the first two, and can't wait to add to my collection. (psst - gift ideas for my family, if they happen to be reading!)
Mma Ramotswe has quickly joined my top tier of female mystery-solvers, joining the esteemed ranks of Miss Marple, Nancy Drew and Jessica Fletcher. She is bold, compassionate, quirky and wise. I love the way she is able to see through b.s. (especially from men), but still keep a delightful sense of humor and neighborliness. Her love for her native Africa is infectious, as is her love for her own quirky self. Any book that gives me an interesting plot, a winsome setting and a role model is one I'll read again and again. Sweet!
A couple excerpts to introduce you to Mma Ramotswe and her beloved Africa:
20 Tears of the Giraffe (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Book 2) ** by Alexander McCall Smith (Abacus, 2003. 240 pages)
Reading challenge categories*: a book from the library / a book set in Africa
21 The Prophetic Imagination ** by Walter Brueggemann (Fortress Press, 2001. 151 pages)
Reading challenge categories*: a book under 150 pages
Oh my goodness, why haven't I read this book yet? I've owned it for ages because I saw it quoted often by many of my favorite writers. For some reason, I never cracked the binding until this summer. In the midst of packing our house and preparing for our trip to Ireland I scanned my bookshelves for a few titles to take with us. I'd been asking friends to pray for God to enlarge my imagination for what it means to be a Rector's wife and to be a mom to adult children. Naturally, the title Prophetic Imagination caught my attention, then.
It's the sort of book I'd like to memorize. Brueggemann connects dots for me in an increasing tension I feel to communicate both lament and hope into the world -- and to my own soul. Where we have become polarized, Brueggemann offers prophetic clarity. It is possible to believe things strongly enough to counter culture's accepted wisdom, and to have imagination enough to offer an alternative, hope-filled reality.
As I read, I opened another gift in a corrected understanding of the meaning of prophet. Through his learning of Scripture and its contemporary interpretation, Brueggemann reclaimed for me an understanding of prophet as one whose task is to "nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us." I'd come to believe the script I heard so often from ministry leaders of my past that to speak prophetically is to speak indignant, abrasive proclamations into the congregation and the street corners. Page by page, Brueggemann helped me understand that a true prophet wields words that simultaneously criticize and energize with hope.
This is the language I long to learn. I want to speak it and I want to hear it.
May it be so.
22 Dakota: A Spiritual Geography ** by Kathleen Norris (Mariner Books, 2001. 256 pages)
Reading challenge categories*: a book that's guaranteed to bring you joy
Another book sitting on my shelf far too long, and providentially snatched up for our Ireland trip. I chose it for the following reasons:
* I vaguely remembered that Norris (a protestant) shares her experience meeting and worshipping with a Benedictine community, and we were on our way to do the same in Ireland.
* The last time we had coffee, my friend Terri reminded me of the notion of the "geography of the soul", and this book is titled "A Spiritual Geography". I wanted to explore that notion further in between moving from Austin to Fairfield, CT via Ireland.
* I heart Kathleen Norris. Big time.
The book met all my expectations and more. In the wisdom of a humourous God, I happened to be reading the chapter about quirky monks even as I was dealing with one in real life. A monk who had actually made me cry on our first day at the monastery. I'm working on an entire essay about that experience, so I'll keep you posted.
An added benefit was reading the author's astute, yet compassionate, indictment of the difficulties living in small towns. I grew up in a small town, and am still trying to figure out all the ways that geography has shaped my soul. Ms. Norris' insights turned on a lot of light bulbs for me.
Two thumbs up, five stars, read it with a book club, share it with a friend, and all that. This is a keeper.
An example of a small-town insight from Kathleen Norris of Lemmon, South Dakota:
23 Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis ** by J. D. Vance (Harper, 2016. 272 pages)
Reading challenge categories*: a book about a culture you're unfamiliar with
I heard Terry Gross interview this author and immediately ordered the book. I proceeded to read it one long sitting. While J.D. Vance admits 31-year-old is a dubious age to write a memoir (and, occasionally, it shows in his assessment of himself and his experiences) his is a story we all need to know well. Especially now.
For a fair review of the book, I couldn't do better than this one: Culture, Circumstance, and Agency by Aaron M. Renn via City Journal.
I'm working on an essay in response to this reading. I'll keep you posted.
In the meantime, here's an excerpt from the Introduction:
24 An Irish Country Village ** by Patrick Taylor (Forge Books, 2012. 576 pages)
Reading challenge categories*: a book you find in a used bookstore
I sped through the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency novels so quickly, I had to restock my supply when we reached Londonderry. A stumbled on this fun find in a used bookstore/coffeeshop situated atop the 17th-century, city wall surrounding the city.
This book is the pleasant sequel to An Irish Country Doctor which I read back in 2014. Set in Antrim County, Northern Ireland, it was the perfect read for our last week in the country
Taylor's Irish Country novels are described as carrying on in the tradition of James Herriot and Jan Karon. I totally agree. Just plain charming, comfy and fun reading.
25 Reading For The Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish ** by C. Christopher Smith (IVP Books, 2016. 179 pages)
Reading category: reading for book review.
Oh my goodness. Could Christopher Smith include any more of my favorite words in this title? I thoroughly enjoyed this read (much the same as I enjoyed Slow Church by the same author). I'll put up a review soon. In the meantime, download 101 Transformative Books for Churches to Read and Discuss - a free companion ebook for those who subscribe to the ERB email. (You can click here for a sample of the free ebook.)
Perfection, if you ask me.
A brief vision for a church who reads together from the closing chapter of the book:
26 Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People **, edited by Charles E. Moore (Plough Publishing, 2016. 378 pages)
Reading category: reading for a book review
I am loving this collection of 52 essays on the topic of following Christ together in community. I can't wait to share some of my reflections with you in an upcoming post. I've been reading big chunks of it to Brian out on our deck these past summer evenings. And, really, with an anthology of authors like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Joan Chittister, Dorothy Day, Richard Foster, Jean Vanier, Mother Teresa, John Perkins, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, why am I surprised?
I've been enjoying books from Plough Publishing for a while, but didn't really know it. Between an email conversation with one of the editors and snatching up some print copies of their journal at the Festival of Faith and Writing back in April, I've become a diehard fan. The publishers kindly gave me a small stack of books to read and review as I'm able. Expect to hear more soon.
In the meantime, may I recommend you subscribe to Plough Quarterly, their print journal (the first issue is free)? You can read digital selections at their website, and here's a catalog of some of their excellent titles.
A tiny, mind-blowing paragraph from Søren Kierkegaard that Brian and I read by torchlight on our back deck at the end of summer:
* This year, I'm part of two different reading groups made up of friends and sisters. You can find the lists here: Take Our Ultimate Reading Challenge / A Year of Reading the World, & Liturgy of Lifereading group. *
**The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. After blogging about books for ten years, I thought it might be OK to get a little help financing my reading habit. Thank you! **
Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from 2015 and previous years.
Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!