Weekend Reading: August 11, 2018

Welcome to the weekend!  I’ve taken a few weeks off since welcoming the birth of our baby girl, Penny.  I haven’t stopped reading, however, and have a few recommendations for you.  I mainly want to focus on books today, since its been a while since I wrote about what I’ve been reading.

I just finished Healthy Plurality = Durable Church which is a book by my friend Dave Harvey.  It is a short, but helpful dive into the a subject that is pretty specialized, and likely not something a wide audience has given much consideration. Thoughtfulness and circumspection are the watchwords of this latest book by Dave. Largely based on a combination of decades of personal experience, and faithful biblical interpretation, this short volume will cause you to think about how a church is ought to be managed, and the difference between poor management and godly management. If you’re a Christian, and especially if you’re in church leadership, this would be a very handy and thought-provoking book to get a hold of.

The War of the Worlds. This was a fascinating, well written, and finely detailed story. Wells’ classic sci-fi thriller is worth the read for anyone interested in good literature, and a classic well-told story. Humanity is under attack by invaders from Mars. The sudden attack has mankind reeling, and their reactions are predictable, yet wide ranging. My one complaint about the book has nothing to do with Wells, but rather with Amazon’s Audible recording of the book, which was muffled at times, and really not great quality. This is unfortunate because the man reading the book was obviously talented, and had a very interesting voice. After several different speakers and headphones, I gave up on any clarity. In fact, I had to “rewind” the book several times to catch what the narrator said.

It took me a little while, but I finally finished Clowney’s The Unfolding Mystery, which is a very rich book full of Old Testament links to the coming of Jesus Christ. If you’ve never explored this kind of book, it would be a great way to begin. Clowney is a well-regarded pillar of the 20th century evangelical theological community, and knows how to write. The book isn’t extremely long – probably only 260 or so pages – but its very powerful.  The kindle edition includes many very thought-provoking study questions at the end of each chapter that I found one of the great gems of the book. This isn’t a book you whiz through and lay aside in forgetfulness. It’s a book you read, re-read, and then pickup again and again for those beautiful turns of phrases and insights that only skilled authors bring to the table.

My family just finished listening to one of the first Sherlock Holmes narratives, A Study in Scarlet.  It is one my my favorites because of how vast and wide-ranging the scenery and characters are.  It is, perhaps, atypical for a Holmes story because of this, but also it is one of his longer narratives, and it makes one wonder why Conan Doyle didn’t write many more of this (or greater) length because this is where his powers of story telling can really be seen and enjoyed. If you’ve never read a Sherlock Holmes mystery, this would be a good one to try.

Last week I finished Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery.  This one I listened to (the Michael Kitchen performance) rather than reading the hard copy or kindle edition. This was my first time experiencing a Crichton book, and I have really mixed feelings about how it was put together. Crichton is basing his novel off a true historical event, and spend a great deal of time explaining the historical nuances of Victorian England throughout the book. This is so much the case that I’d wager fully 40% of the narrative is clogged with little historical factoids. And this is just where I have mixed emotions. I really enjoyed the history lessons, and I could even see how the criminal slang would have needed deciphering, but the result was a narrative that move awfully slow. SOOO SLOW.  At the end of the book, I had to recompile the sequence of events in my mind, trying to sift through all the added fluff, and when I did so I realized that it was a very interesting story – if only it had been told in a way that illuminated this fact. Lastly, as much as I enjoy the somewhat choppy meter of Kitchen’s line reading in Foyle’s War, he is highly irritating to listen to during the course of such an extensive narrative. His intonation is such that one things that a matter of fact conclusion is being reached at the end of every statement. Essentially, you felt as though, as long as the book is, it became even longer with the choppy way in which he intoned every graph.

If you’re in for something out of the ordinary, you might want to skim through Blockchain Revolution. This is a 370 page book that needs to be 220 pages.  You only really need to read through half of the book to get the idea of what the authors are getting at, and you only need to read through about 1/4th of the book to be filled in on how the technology works and might affect other aspects of life. If you’re into technology and enjoy futurism-type stuff, this would be an interesting read for you. The authors are a little over-enthusiastic (as the title betrays) – many times I found myself wanting to say “okay guys, settle down.”  They literally think blockchain technology is the best thing since sliced bread.  That said, it could be a very important part of how many industries protect data and privacy.

For several years now I’ve wanted to read Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage, and it did not disappoint. If you’ve read about Nixon or Eisenhower individually, then you know a little about how different they were. They came from different generations, they grew up in different circumstances, and they were just wired differently. Yet these two men were thrown together in a way that forced them to rely on each other politically and career-wise for decades. The most interesting thing from this book is how it soured me on Eisenhower’s personal relational and leadership abilities. He had his own style, to be sure, but its a style that had I had to serve under him, I would likely have despised. Nixon, in turn, seems like the battered wife, unwilling to leave the relationship at first out of political necessity and admiration, but feeling more and more stifled and frustrated by the slights and passive-aggressive comments to the press.  It’s a strange thing to read about, but very interesting and insightful because it tells a part of each man that may not be very familiar to most people.

If you have a slow Saturday or Sunday in the near future, and feel anxious and on edge about your life or things swirling around in your life, then I would highly recommend Thomas Watson’s classic The Art of Divine Contentment. I read this entire book on a recent Saturday, and felt it was a fantastic reset to my thinking about priorities, life, work, and others. Watson’s style is a like many puritans, didactic and inquisitive – with every question preceding a thoughtful answer. But the probing nature of the questions he asks almost don’t require an answer because at their comprehension there is recognition of how far out of line our perspectives can wander if not checked. Watson wants to have us realign our perspectives according to Biblical principles, and a reality that isn’t so self-centered. This isn’t a guilt trip, or a fiery sermonizing, but a lovingly strong and often cutting series of points and questions designed to bring us back to reality in a way that causes us to enjoy and be thankful for what we have.

Speaking of classics, I got to read The Scarlet Pimpernel for the first time recently, and really enjoyed it. Honestly I didn’t know what I was getting into here. I had purchased the book with a bunch of others, knowing it was a classic and that I ought to read it. What a pleasant surprise! This is simply a great story, and were it not for the unfortunate name of the book, I’d think it would have been made into a more modern movie. The plot is set during the French Revolution, and several plot twists, along with good literary tension, make this book worth checking out.

I have enjoyed the writing of Tony Reinke in years past, and so I had planned on reading 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You for quite some time. He certainly had some good insights and questions to ask ourselves. Some of his insights were historical and interesting, and worth contemplating. I think Reinke is a good one to write a book like this because he’s not a technophobe by any means, and yet he has a perspective that is very grounded in Christian principle and Biblical theology. His approach was certainly humble, and it was good enough that my first listen through the book might need to be accompanied by a second listen along with the hardcover and a highlighter.

Is it worth even mentioning the latest Grisham I’ve read?  Grisham novels are sort of like chocolate at the end of a day, they aren’t necessary, but they’re nice anyway. I read his 2011 book The Litigators, and definitely laughed a lot more than I would usually laugh at a Grisham. It was probably one of his better attempts at writing and wit, and yet it wasn’t terribly interesting from a plot perspective. Not one I’d recommend to someone aching for a great story, but one I’d recommend to someone looking for an enjoyable page turner with no value other than to relax the mind and bring out a chuckle or two.

Finally, I wanted to write about Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis. This book was really phenomenal.  I’ve been made aware of some snarky comments online by reviewers who say Ellis’ writing style is way too highbrow and hard to comprehend. But I beg to differ.  In fact, I mentioned to my mom that writing in any lesser style with a smaller vocabulary would be too blunt of an instrument for the topic.  One of the things that makes Ellis so good is his suspicion of veneration.  He is able to get at the interactions between these men in a way that I’ve only seen from Ron Chernow to date. And he’s the first person who made me think that perhaps Hamilton wasn’t the spawn of Satan (a magnificent literary feat). Most importantly, he has some wonderful insights into Jefferson, which has led to me put his larger work on that man (American Sphinx) on my list of to-read.

That’s it for now!  I hope you took some good ideas away from this recently list of completed books, and that if you read any of these that you’ll please send along your thoughts!

PS – if you have never read The Religious Affections, you should jump on over to ChristianAudio.com and download the free audio version performed by Simon Vance.  This book by American theologian Jonathan Edwards is one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Have a great weekend!

PJW

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