Category Archives: Literature

AGGRESSIVELY HAPPY

I almost did not read this book. The cover made me think it was going to be another one of those fluffy, feel-good books. You know, the kind in the end that leave you more convinced that Christians just can’t write honestly about the human condition.

Well, I am here to say that Joy’s splendid book is hardly spiritual pablum. Joy just finished her PhD at St. Andrews, she knows suffering firsthand, and yet she maintains a gritty confidence in Jesus Christ.

When you are my age (sixty-four, by the way), have a strong theological education, and constitutionally have a honed radar for drivel, you are ready to be disappointed by “popular” Christian books.

I was not disappointed!

The writing is beautiful, the insights are fresh, and the storytelling, even about the author’s own life is wonderful. Talking or writing about yourself is fraught with all kinds of potential hazards, but Joy avoids them. She is the winsome, fellow-traveler you would like to have as a guide and friend.

I usually read (meaning careful highlighting and note-taking) 50-60 books a year. I peruse hundreds of others. Aggressively Happy will definitely make my favorite book list for 2022, but now I feel another category needs to be added: Books that pleasantly surprised me.

I would love to open a bookstore someday. Well, not quite. Since my own teaching and writing makes that impossible, I would love to be the person who picks what gets stocked. If and when that happens, you can be sure to find this book on the shelves.

A RUDDERLESS PROFESSOR

Not just professors are rudderless morally. All kinds of people who do all manner of jobs are rudderless. Highlighting the moral vacuity of a professor is not meant to say the whole profession is rudderless. Hardly.

Here first is Harvard’s Louis Menand:

Reading Weinstein and Montás, you might conclude that English professors, having spent their entire lives reading and discussing works of literature, must be the wisest and most humane people on earth. Take my word for it, we are not. We are not better or worse than anyone else. I have read and taught hundreds of books, including most of the books in the Columbia Core. I teach a great-books course now. I like my job, and I think I understand many things that are important to me much better than I did when I was seventeen. But I don’t think I’m a better person.

And here is Alan Jacobs commenting on Menand’s essay:

Menand is so transparently impatient with the arguments of Montás and Weinstein that he gets similarly confused at several points in his essay. For instance, to Montás’s claim that Nietzsche is “Satan’s most acute theologian,” Menand replied that “Nietzsche wanted to free people to embrace life, not to send them to Hell. He didn’t believe in Hell. Or theology” — or, presumably, Satan. But maybe Montás believes in Satan, which would, surely, be the point.

The chief point I’m wanting to make here is simply this: There’s something rather peculiar about a scholar who proudly disavows using professional teaching and study for personal moral formation and then says, as though he’s clinching a point, that his professional teaching and study have not contributed to his personal moral formation.

 

EDEN’S OUTCASTS

I am writing a book on Ralph Waldo Emerson so I am very interested in his cadre of friends. Bronson Alcott and his more famous daughter Louisa are numbered among the stellar group.

Matteston’s book is fast-paced, well-written, and does a great job in describing two of the indispensable figures of nineteenth century America.

Highly recommended!

THE PEOPLE OF CONCORD

https://www.amazon.com/People-Concord-Paul-Brooks/dp/1555914691/ref=olp_product_details?_encoding=UTF8&me=

I have a keen interest in Ralph Waldo Emerson and those in his orbit, so it was natural to pick this book up.  I read it on a recent trip.  It is better than I imagined.  Wonderfully written and peppered throughout with fascinating details about Concord, Massachusetts during the 1840s. 

If you have any interest in Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, et al. this is a terrific read.

GIVE A GIFT TO YOURSELF!

This is the third book I’ve read by Tim Larsen. I interviewed him on the other two books.

There is so very much to like about this book. I will simply list out four of my favorite things about the book:

Some shorter books like Larsen’s pack in plenty of content. If a lecture series becomes a book (as is the case with this book), there is a better than average chance that the smaller size book will have great content. You can see this with books (from another lecture series) like Andrew Delbanco’s fascinating, The Real American Dream. Larsen’s book does not disappoint as it offers the reader plenty of material.

Even though there is much content, the writing is lucid and engaging.

Larsen is an eminent historian of nineteenth-century Britain. You can always count on him to do careful archival work and know the primary sources. This book showcases those strengths.

Larsen is sensitive, as was George MacDonald, to Christians who struggle with doubt. As one who knows firsthand these struggles, I greatly appreciate Larsen’s treatment in this book.

Perhaps it is too late for a Christmas present, but how about a present for yourself for the new year?!

I interviewed Joe Loconte on his terrific book.  You can find it here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/10/03/tolkien-lewis-loconte/

Now the book has been made into a documentary.  Wonderful to see!

DISRUPTIVE WITNESS: SPEAKING TRUTH IN A DISTRACTED AGE

Seven things I appreciated about Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble:

The writing is lucid and compelling

Terrific illustrations are peppered throughout

Teases out some practical implications from the writings of Charles Taylor

Focuses on major issues all Christians should agree upon

Good unpacking of how lethal distraction and the never-ending choices are in the modern era

Noble has a gracious, but candid style…not an easy combo!

Noble does not just complain, but offers some practical suggestions for us to adopt

Quote to consider: “The challenge for Christians in our time is to speak of the gospel in a way that unsettles listeners, that conveys the transcendence of God, that provokes contemplation and reflection, and that reveals the stark givenness of reality.”