As regular readers of this blog know, I am at the tail end of a three-month Sabbatical from my ongoing ministry at the First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights in Pittsburgh, PA. In several previous posts, I mentioned that I would provide some sort of a listing of the books that have held my interest this summer. My hope is that you might see something here that strikes your fancy – and if you look at my list and see something missing, I’d love to have some suggestions from you!
Anything by Fredrik Backman I could find. This guy is amazing. Seriously, if you haven’t read any of his stuff, you should. He’s really, really good.
- The Deal of a Lifetime: This brief novella explores the relationship between a father and his son. It raises questions of ultimate worth and value, sacrifice and love. Very thought-provoking.
- And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: Another novella, this one painting an amazingly heart-rending image of the relationship between a boy and his grandfather (who is struggling with dementia). The characters really come to life, and the struggle to maintain connection, love, and a sense of self draws the reader in. I’m not crying, you’re crying…
- Beartown: This is a novel about a town’s hockey team the way that The Old Man and the Sea is a story of a man on a fishing trip. Beartown is a tiny town deep in the forest, and the last few decades have not been particularly kind to this community. One of the things that has held the people here together over the years, though, is hockey. So when Kevin, Benji, Amat, Bobo, and the rest of the young men’s team begin to make a run for the championship, the town goes crazy. And yet something horrible happens – and the town has to think through important questions of friendship and belonging and justice and healing. Decisions are made, and their effects are felt… And Backman captures the struggle beautifully.
- Us Against You is the sequel to Beartown. Here, we see the aftermath of the conflict and struggle that has been so gripping (for both the town and the characters in the book as well as the reader!). Some of the plot lines for this may have been drawn straight from today’s headlines – it is a gripping witness to the power of love and friendship as well as the ways that our communities come to define us.
The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr. This is one of my all-time favorite novels – an allegory to which I return again and again. Chauntecleer is a rooster who rules over his land with wisdom and justice, and he finds that his territory has been invaded by lawlessness and desolation known as Wyrm. It is at once a heart-breaking and heart-warming tale of redemption and hope.
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. This is a laugh-out loud, snarky novel that is comprised exclusively of letters written by one Jason Fitger, a weary and wearisome professor of creative writing and literature at an undistinguished midwestern university. In his letters, we come to know his failed love life, his unwise choices, and his passions. This is a poignant and funny book that won’t take you long to get through.
Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Clay Johnson is in a “beggars can’t be choosers” position when he is downsized from his tech job – and so he finds himself working the overnight hours at a most unusual book store in California. Most of the very few “customers” don’t actually BUY anything – instead, they borrow large volumes from a special section of the store. Clay is intrigued, and so he recruits some of his friends to help him explore and eventually discover the secrets of the store and its owner. This is part detective story, part adventure or fantasy novel, and part ‘rom-com’.
The Bourne Deception by Eric Van Lustbader. Because, well, Jason Bourne.
Brother Odd by Dean Koontz. During my sojourn in Ethiopia, when I was without my own stack of books, I found this one that captivated me. Odd Thomas is a young man with a strange gift/curse, and during his stay at St. Bartholomew’s Abbey he finds himself in a position to use this gift to help those around him avert tragedy. It is a good story and like all good stories helps me to wonder about the ways that I see the world (or fail to).
Rushing Waters and Blue by Danielle Steel. Each of these quick reads is a piece of brain-candy from an author who churns out books seemingly faster than I can churn out sermons. The former is about a group of people whose lives become intertwined when the “storm of the century” floods New York City and forces them to consider what is really important about the things they own and the lives they live. The latter is the tale of a female doctor who repeatedly thrusts herself into war zones and horrifying situations with a group such as Doctors Without Borders in an attempt to escape her “real” life. That is all brought into question when a young homeless boy shows up in her life and calls her to think about who she really wants to be.
Theology and Spirituality
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans. Evans is a remarkable author and a significant influence on me in recent years. She writes with sincerity, humility, and approachability about the difficulties we encounter when we try to read the Bible literally – but about the joy and wonder that these same stories can bring us when we are able to see the mystery of God’s redemptive work in the world. I’d buy anything she’s written!
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene Peterson. This is a collection of 49 of Peterson’s sermons that demonstrate how this pastor caught the imagination of his congregation in Maryland by telling them the heart of the message of Scripture. There are seven sections demonstrating how Peterson preached in the company of Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and John of Patmos – working his way through the entire Bible, yet pointing to One Story. I don’t usually like books of sermons, but this one was, well, on fire.
A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovitz. I’ve read this guy’s blog a lot, and he always makes me think. This book is no different – it offers his very cogent reflections on how, frankly, the organized church is so apt to act in ways that would probably mystify Jesus. He calls his readers to explore notions of radical hospitality, authenticity, genuine diversity, and a dream of community. This man tells the truth.
Everyone Belongs to God: Discovering the Hidden Christ by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt. This work is a collection of letters written by a 19th century (and early 20th century) pastor to his son-in-law, who was a missionary in China. Writing before the “War to End All Wars” and the cosmic events of the last century, this man offers some incredibly sage advice to his son-in-law on being more concerned with following Jesus than in propping up an institution or corporation (such as the church or the German Culture, each of which he had been commissioned to represent in China). Blumhardt’s thought is free, it is godly, and it is inviting as we consider just how wide and deep the Gospel really is.
Spiritual Economics: The Principles and Process of True Prosperity by Eric Butterworth. This was sent to me by a dear friend from High School, a man whose leadership abilities and passion for learning I really respect. I was suspecting that this would wind up to be a “prosperity Gospel” book, but it wasn’t. Butterworth builds on the principles espoused in the Unity Church and New Thought Movements with which he was deeply associated. If I were to categorize this volume in a single genre, it might more likely be “self-help”, because Butterworth really attempts to coach the reader through seeing “abundant life” in their everyday existence.
Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life, and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough. I have long been an admirer of our nation’s 26th President, and to be honest, I thought I was going to be reading a biography of that guy. But subtitles matter, and I quickly realized that this was a biography of the boy who would become that president. This lengthy and well-documented work (David McCullough, anyone?) covers only the seventeen years from 1869 when little “Teedie” is ten years old to 1886 where the future president returns from his time in North Dakota as a genuine “cowboy” – ready to pick up the pieces of his shattered life, move through his grief, and take hold of that which was to come. I was drawn into many aspects of his story, not the least of which is McCullough’s long exploration of Roosevelt’s severe asthma and its possible causes and the affects that this disease had on him and those around him. It is a well-written social history, a compelling story, and a richly-researched peek into the life of this world-changing man.
The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher L. Heuertz. This is a verrrrrry deep work – I have to read and re-read these chapters slowly – that explores an ancient conception of personalities and the ways that we are “wired”. He does so in the clear and consistent posture of one who wants to follow Jesus. I’m working through this book with a group of pastors and of all the ones on the list this summer, this is the one that feels the most like work to me. But I’m learning… so there’s that!
From Brokenness To Community by Jean Vanier. This is the only book I had with me for five days while my luggage was misplaced in Ethiopia. It is a book that has had a deep, deep impact on my life over the years. Vanier lectured to students at Harvard about the improbability of him – a seasoned Navy Veteran, a doctor and student of Philosophy, and an intellectual’s intellectual – being called to care for and learn from those who have been deeply wounded in this life. Vanier left his posts in academia and the military to go and live with, serve, and learn from a community of people who were profoundly disabled. Most could not move or speak, and yet Vanier found there a path to discipleship that was truly surprising to him and to anyone who thinks that Jesus always wants us to be on top and first and “successful.”
I hope that taking a peek at my list might help you to think about what you’re reading that has gotten you interested, or passionate, or wondering… Happy Reading