October 21, 2020

Open Forum: What are iMonks reading?


Note from CM: We are devoting this week to reviewing some recent books that have caught my interest and attention. Today will be an Open Forum day for you to share what you have been reading.


What have you been reading lately?

What has caught your interest and attention that you would like to share with the Internet Monk community and recommend to others?

Here’s what I’d like you to do:

  • Give us the name of the book, the author, and the publisher and date.
  • Give us a paragraph giving an overview of the book.
  • Give us another paragraph telling us why you found this book interesting.
  • Rinse and repeat if you want in another comment about another book.

Of course, all are free to respond to the book posts with comments.


  1. Letters to a Beginner: Giving One’s Life to God
    by Abbess Thaisia
    written 1915, published in English 1993

    It is a series of letters written to various inquirers and neophytes to monasticism, gathered and made more more general, then published for those seeking greater closeness to God or considering a monastic vocation.

    The first letter is in response to someone knowing what to do to become a monk, and she takes it the basics for all of us: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself. She doesn’t actually get to the process of deciding to become a monk or not until the very last letter, and everything in the middle is wondefully helpful to any Christian.

  2. Klasie Kraalogies says

    I don’t always get the chance to read anymore, especially as I have to run my own business. I have a couple of unfinished books, chief of which is “The Role of Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age”, by Robert Bellah.

    I have spent a lot of time listening to audiobooks, and I have just finished Stephen Fry’s latest autobiographical offering, “More Fool Me”. And for the last few months I have also been working my way through the entire Discworld Corpus, as well as some of Pratchett’s other works, like “Good Omens”, a hilarious irreverent take on the apocalypse he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman.

    Sorry, nothing very “spiritual”. I think laughter is better for the soul anyway….

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      And I see I didn’t exactly follow the guidelines either…

      Bellah’s book: Published September 2011 by Harvard University Press. The late Robert Bellah was an eminent sociologist who studied religions, their emergence, evolution and influence on humanity. This is an interesting book in that it gives an outsiders ( and scientific/archeological) look at a world I saw from within. A sympathetic look, mind you, but a realistic one. This book will not be a comfortable read to the “True Believer”.

      “More Fool Me”: Published in late 2014, by the publisher Michael Joseph, this is an intereating look at the life of one of my favourite (but very much not angelic) people. As this is not the first of his autobiographical works, it skims over the first parts of his life, except when he details his discovery of literature, especially Oscar Wilde, in his early teens (!). It concentrates a lot on the self doubt and depression (he is very open about his manic depression), his long struggle with cocaine addiction, and the effect of being gay but single during the early days of the aids pandemic. Not for the squemish, but insightful. Couple of really funny stories about some well known personalities….

      Good Omens: Originally published in 1990, I listened to a more recent rendition. Tremendously funny, especially to someone who knows their biblical apocalyptical writings. The four motorcyclists of the apocalypse…. Or how about this description:
      “Many people, meeting Aziraphale for the first time, formed three impressions: that he was English, that he was intelligent, and that he was gayer than a treeful of monkeys on nitrous oxide”.
      Need I say more?

      The Discworld novels speak for themselves of course.

      • I concur about Good Omens — a great book. Phrases from it seem to pop up and apply to my life almost every day. As far as Discworld, I can’t decide if I like The Fifth Elephant, Jingo, or Monstrous Regiment best — but who has to decide. Read them all.

        • I love Good Omens! Neil Gaiman is a genius, second only to Pratchett in his prime. I think I was entirely ruined to comedy writing, because I discovered Pratchett when I was in middle school and nothing ever seemed to measure up.

          For Discworld series, I was always partial to the Death trilogy. Reaper Man (1991) and Soul Music (1994) are perfection.

          I recently read “The Long Earth” (2012, Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter), which is one third a really interesting high-minded science fiction story, one third a kind of middling Star Trek episode, and one third Terry Pratchett insisting on hilarious asides in a otherwise serious story. It was great!

          As for Gaiman, I just reread his Sandman series (1989-1996, published by DC’s Vertigo imprint), and I was astounded how good it still is. Easily the only comic of the 90’s to make it out relatively unscathed.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            Soul Music is also one of my favourites. Others that stand out is Mort, Thief of Time, Guards! Guards! and Reaper Man. I also like the no less funny, but also much more serious Nightwatch.

            I have “The Long Earth” as an audiobook and your summary is quite apt.

            I came to Pratchett late in life, but having had significant Wodehouse exposure earlier was quite prepared. Wodehouse, the master of phraseology.

          • That Other Jean says

            What? No love for Sir Terry’s witches? There is no one on Discworld wiser, or more formidable, than Granny Weatherwax, who defines sin for Mighty Oats in _Carpe Jugulum_ as well and clearly as I have ever seen it done, “Sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.” Or Nanny Ogg, who is the perfect kindly (and rather ribald) foil for Granny Weatherwax’s strict propriety? They are characters in many of the Discworld books, but are the featured in _Wyrd Sisters_ and _Witches Abroad_.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            TOJ, oh I do like them too, lots. It is always the difficulty when picking a favourite, isn’t it – who are you going to exclude?

            Of course, Nanny Ogg might very well be actually be more powerful than Granny Weatherwax, she just wisely hides it.

            And don’ t forget Tiffany Aching whenn discussing witches…

  3. Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More?
    by Wayne Jacobsen
    TrailView Media; First edition (October 15, 2014)

    Jacobsen, formerly a pastor of 20 years, shares his reasons for leaving the “institutional” church. He describes his subsequent journey, what he’s learned, some before/after comparisons, and answers some expected questions from those still within tradition. While Jacobsen does not advocate doing away with institution altogether, he clearly believes Christians will find a more authentic and Spirit-filled “church” by leaving it behind.

    As of this April, I’m a “Done” and came across this book after reading “Church Refugees” by Josh Packard. I still have a strong desire to follow and grow in Christ and I felt this book was a God-send. I really appreciated Jacobsen’s graciousness and conviction. While being able to identify it’s many flaws, I did not detect any kind of bitterness from him about institutional church. I feel I am on a similar path and glad to read someone who has been on it for awhile and is able to clearly articulate the experience.

  4. A Feather on the Breath of God, a novel written by Ingrid Nunez. The narrator, born in NYC to a Chinese immigrant father (who spent part of his childhood in Central America) and German immigrant mother shortly after WWII, explores memories of her ill-matched parents, and the patchwork character of her own identity as it was formed in the web of her familial relationships. Interesting, but definitely a novel written for writers.

  5. Burro [Mule] says

    Rereading The Lord Of The Rings.

    Also Osamu Tezuka’s Message To Adolf

    • I know it’s sacrilege, but I cannot get into the Rings books.

      I love talking about them, I love discussing the characters, cities, battles, relationships, events, lore… It’s the actual reading that I can’t do. I did force my way through them all once though. I remember feeling exhausted at the end.

      I love the Hobbit though. I’ve read that 4 or 5 times.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        A heretic on our midst!! 🙂

      • Crazy Chester says

        I loved the Rings but couldn’t get into the Narnia series, probably for the same reasons Tolkien had problems with C S Lewis’ fiction.

        • But I did love Edding’s Belgariad series (at least the first three books – great character development), and hated (but read them anyway) the ever depressing Thomas covenant White Gold Wielder series…

          • Oh Belgariad was great, read those in high school.

            The Redemption of Althalus was also a great book by him.

      • The character development in the LOTR has always been a strong draw for me…. this was much stronger in LOTR than in the Hobbit. Having read both many, many times I always found the Hobbit’s first chapter to be hard to get through – especially when I was younger and my attention span was not what it is now (although my ability to stay awake is a lot weaker).

      • Tolkien is a good world builder and language creator. He’s not a very good author. Peter Jackson has been the editor he has needed for many years.

        Just my opinion, lol.

    • I read the Hobbit and the Rings trilogy. It was the Silmarillion that defeated me….I don’t think I got through more than 50 pages of that one….

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        The Silmarillion is not a novel, and should never be read as such. It is a grand myth, the equivalent of a national myth of an entire people, as if all Greek myths were penned by one man.

        • Indeed, The Silmarillion is more like the Bible in its scope and approach, and since it’s not the Living Word, it’s not much fun.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            I heartily disagree with the “not fun” part, if by that you imply a modicum of tedium. It is a bit more fun than say Homer for the modern reader in that the pace is. Somewhat accelarated, and the descriptions much more intense. But the depths and intensity of the emotive writing stands back for none – indeed, with a love story like that of Beren and Luthien, the intensity of Feanor or the ultimate tragic hero, Turin Turambar, one cannot but stand back in awe.

            The Silmarillion is the greater of Tolkien’s work, in my honest opinion.

          • Klasie, it’s been ages since I’ve tried it. I’ll give it a go again sometime. I just remember it being a struggle.

          • I might disagree there. It may not be the “living Word” but it is derived, in a way, from it. It reflects the author’s worldview, which is Biblical, and not only does it function like the Bible, I think its overall narrative is very similar.

            It sounds absurd, but I came away from reading it without a shadow of a doubt that Elves really exist. And that their existence has much to teach us about God and his plan.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I very much enjoyed the Silmarillion. One key is to realize it is prose poetry, and read it aloud, epescially the first section. Tolkien maintains a rough cadence for an astonishingly long time. The word “doom” and phonetically near sounds run like a steadily rising drum beat. It is a feature that is invisible when read silently.

          • –> “One key is to…read it (The Silmarillion) aloud…”

            Might one get institutionalized if caught doing so? Or at least be labeled Lord Nerd-Geek to the Tenth Power?

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            Excellent advice.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > labeled Lord Nerd-Geek to the Tenth Power?

            Guilty as charged! 🙂

            But, for the record, this prose-poetry cadence things was first brought to my attention by a female! Times they are a changing.

      • Dude, if you can ever manage, you should muster up whatever resolve you can find in yourself to read the entire Silmarillion.

        Read correctly, it’s one of the best books of the twentieth century. I think Klasie is right though, you can’t read it like a novel, and you can’t expect the equivalent of LOTR. A mistake many readers make with it.

        Also, read it without being too concerned for place names and personal names, as they are numerous and hard to follow. Just see if you can pick out the most relevant/important names and follow their thread.

        That, and also realize that you are reading something positively vast in scope. So it doesn’t and can’t read like a normal story. It’s a work of worldcraft and mythcraft, so detail and description are only rendered sparely, and service to that goal. Hence the rather strange and archaic tone.

        With these in mind, it’s a fantastic read. It can’t really be beat, in the modern fantasy/myth genre, imho.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > Read correctly, it’s one of the best books of the twentieth centur


        • As an avid Tolkien Reader I attempted the Silmarillion in my younger day and definitely enjoyed it more as I got older and dug more into general Lore and History. It is amazing, the world that Tolkien created, the lore, the languages. Also loved the book Unfinished Tales, but unfortunately I lent it to a friend back in the 1980’s….

    • Also trying to carve out time to revisit Tolkien. Some good old fiction is badly needed to give my soul some rest.

      • I try to re-read LOTR and The Hobbit once every year or two. I think I’m up for a re-read. While I do like new fiction, in addition to Tolkien, I try to re-read the Dresden Files, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Space Trilogy regularly. I especially like to re-read the Dresden Files just before a new one comes out. Fortunately, one of my old gaming friends works in a bookstore and gives me the heads up. She’s like a drug dealer, but with sci fi and fantasy novels.

  6. Clay Crouch says

    Rereading Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and Theology for a Troubled Believer by Diogenes Allen. Those books pretty much sums up my situation.

    • David Denis says

      Cormac BT is one of most beautiful lyrical prose I have ever read. So evocative. Perfused with sadness but with an underlying vividness that isn’t really joy (it certainly isn’t happiness), but something that feels more fundamental and true. I’ve done both book and audio. I highly recommend the recording by Bradd Pitt. I return to them every 4-5 years or so.

    • Christiane says

      Cormac McCarthy’s prose is poetic . . . it can be breath-taking in its startling beauty . . . there are times when it brings me to tears

      • Clay Crouch says

        I keep a book mark on the page in The Crossing. I’ve reread the two paragraphs where Billy watches the prima donna take an early morning bath in the river countless times. It has seldom failed to move me to tears.

  7. “Tasting Beer: an insider’s guide to the world’s greatest drink” by Randy Mosher, Stoney publishing 2009.
    Because sometimes you just have to enjoy the fruits -and thier by-products- of God’s good earth. 🙂
    …and also re-reading The Big Book of AA ( no I’m not an alcoholic) because I love it’s wisdom and it’s directions for a way to put the lessons of the Bible into daily action.
    Isn’t this ironic?

    • Dallas Willard used to say that the church would be better for being more like an AA group because of the dedication to rigorous honesty.


  8. “Gluttony” by Francine Prose, copyright 2003. Part of a series on the seven deadly sins sponsored by the NY Public Library and Oxford Press.

    Some quotes from the introduction for a sense:
    “Of all the seven deadly sins, gluttony has had perhaps the most intriguing and paradoxical history. The ways in which the sin has been viewed have evolved in accordance with the changing obsessions of society and culture.”
    “These days, few people seriously consider the idea that eating too much or enjoying one’s food is a crime against God, a profound moral failure for which we will be promptly dispatched to hell.”
    “Meanwhile, the punishments suffered by the modern glutton are at once more complex and subtle than eternal damnation. Now that gluttony has become an affront to prevailing standards of beauty and health rather than an offense against God, the wages of sin have changed and now involve a version of hell on earth: the pity, contempt, and distastes of one’s fellow mortals.”

    • Interesting.

      I’ve always said, I’ll listen to a sermon on homosexuality as soon as one is given on gluttony. It’ll never happen.

  9. Just read this nice little piece of heresy from Richard Rohr:
    “I know many people think that Jung was not a “believer” and others feel that he is saying that the human psyche itself is “God.” These views come from an oversimplified reading of Jung’s work. He did say that the human psyche was the mediation point, and that if God wants to speak to you, God has to speak in words that are first going to feel like your own thoughts. Of course he is right! How else could God speak to you? You have to be taught to honor, allow, give authority to, and recognize that sometimes your thoughts are God’s thoughts. This is the major fruit of training in the contemplative mind. The dualistic or non-contemplative mind cannot imagine how both could be true at the same time. The contemplative mind sees things in wholes and not in divided parts.”
    Sounds like through a process of maturation, (the fruit of training) through fits and starts, we can grow to discern the voice of God. That is good news to me. Now on a somewhat less weighty matter; Go Texas Rangers!

    • Joseph (the original) says


      was this quote found in one of Rohr’s books? I just finished reading this one of his:

      Falling Upward (A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life)
      by: Father Richard Rohr
      Published by: Jossey-Bass 2011

      • No it was from his daily blog, either yesterday or today. I think most of his posts are taken out of his books or various podcasts and so forth though so it may well be from a book.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > How else could God speak to you?

      Burning Bush
      Scrying stones

      • All perfectly acceptable if God has permission to speak ‘off script ‘. Rohr was speaking specifically about discerning the inner voice so from that perspective a donkey or a tornado become issues. To be honest I am hearkening back to yesterday’s post where the concept of communications to and from God was pretty thoroughly lambasted and characterized as delusional, elitest and harmful. Rohr’s timely post was a breath of fresh air. Certainly not to be left out are dreams.

  10. Scott Sprinkle says

    I just wrapped up reading The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie.  This 2003 book, published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, examines the lives of four exemplary Catholic writers of the 20th century.  The spiritual pilgrimages and literary accomplishments of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy are woven around each other, highlighting the convergence and divergence of their lives and works. The book was thoughtfullly written and well researched.

         Though I am not Catholic, the writings of Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, and Walker Percy have been influential in giving shape to my faith.  I have always appreciated O’Connor’s depiction of God’s working in the midst of the south (I live in the mountains of western NC–even though she wrote sixty years ago, her characters have a true resonance).  Merton urged me to look with seriousness at contemplative spirituality, which was so different from the Southern Baptist milieu in which I grew up.  I was a late to read Percy, but have truly come to admire his philosophical and sideways approach to faith.  Again, he wrote many years ago, but he was truly prescient in understanding the spiritual malaise that accompanies modern and post modern life.  I had never read anything by Day, but in reading this book, was amazed by her activism and pacifism.

         This may not be the book for everyone, but Elie does a nice job showing how the lives of these people shaped 20th century Catholicism and, even more, giving a glimpse into their private lives and spiritual developments.  If these writers have been staples of your library, this book is a must.

    • I read this book over the summer, coinciding sadly with the Charleston shootings. It made a good companion to things that had been on my mind for some time, regarding the U.S. South. (Obviously the Flannery O’Connor part, but also the rest of it.) I highly recommend it.

      Another book I read along these lines recently was “Jesus and the Disinherited,” the 1949 book by Howard Thurman, current edition available from Beacon Press. The book greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the Civil Rights movement. It still feels fresh and quite relevant today, sadly. It is very much worth a read.

      • Clay Crouch says

        Vera, Jesus and the Disinherited is on my reading list for a course I’m taking this year. Really looking forward to it.

  11. David Denis says

    Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence
    Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
    Moody Publishers 2015

    “Poverty is complex. So is poverty alleviation. When low-income people seek help, they usually need more than just material goods; the need lasting change. This book helps you address both….this practical toolkit contains principles for poverty alleviation in the local church context…Designed for groups directly engaged with people seeking financial assistance.”

    About a year ago, I read Corbett and Fikkerts “When Helping Hurts.” And while I agreed wholeheartedly with their conclusions (summary: throwing cash is a band-aid, the larger solution is ‘community development) I felt quite frustrated, feeling that I had no capacity to implement their solution. Therefore it felt a lot like no solution. Nevertheless, I subscribed to their emailings and have been reading and exploring their website for the Chalmers Institute and I really like what they are doing. When I heard that this book was coming, I pre-ordered immediately. It specifically addresses situations like mine: small church in small urban setting in state capita with significant populations of homeless, near-homeless, mentally ill, struggling small families and single parents, and ex-inmates. Fielding several calls and drop ins per month, but lacking resources and pathways.

    I’ve done an initial overview of the table of contents and gotten into the first few chapters. Basically, we need to set up a structure process for intake and relationship building — not taking the easy way out of only giving out gift cards and cash. I believe our congregation is called to this ministry by virtue of our location. So I’m praying that God will call members of our congregation into this ministry. We’ll see what God does.

  12. My daughter was born just over a year ago, so I have read nothing all that recently! Where did my time go 🙁

    I’m trying to catch up on my comic collection. Right now I’m reading Saga (Brian K Vaughn, Image Comics). Its really good, a Star-Wars-y kind of space opera. The artist (Fiona Staples) is outstanding at drawing emotive faces.

    I’m also reading Sandman Overture (Neil Gaiman, Vertigo Comics). It is a prequel to Gaiman’s Sandman run. While I don’t think it quite hits the heights of his 90’s run (which is unreal – Sandman blew me away when I first read it, and I believe it is absolutely the best ink ever put to paper), it’s a lot speaking to a friend you haven’t talked to in years. Gaiman’s prose is matured, but is still has all the same eeriness and poignancy.

    • Burro [Mule] says

      Gaiman’s Sandman run cannot be praised highly enough. I’ve read nearly everything else he’s written, but Sandman is his absolute best.

      My favorite issues are, in reverse order

      #37 “I Woke Up and One of Us Was Crying” [Murphy Rolls Up Dreamland]
      #50 “Ramadan”
      #75 “The Tempest”
      #19 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

      My least favorite arc was the one concerning Delirium and Destruction.

    • All of this. Sandman will always be my favorite comic series of all time, although New Teen Titans Wolfman/Perez run comes up a close second.

  13. “Dead Souls” by Nickolai Gogol.

    Thanks to the advice of Gogol’s personal mentor, an Orthodox priest, he burned the second half of the book.

    Thanks Russian Orthodox church. Thanks a LOAD.

    (P.S. You can take Tolstoy out from under excommunication whenever you want. Or maybe don’t: Seems like being on the s@#$ list of the Russian Orthodox church is the mark of literary greatness.)

    • Not to mention Kazantzakis. Has he been reclaimed yet?

      • Burro [Mule] says

        I believe Kazantzakis died in communion with the Church. It’s hard to swallow for “twitchy” fundamentalist-style Orthodox, but the Greek Church never excommunicated him. He even has many defenders. If you want to read a masterful Greek writer who is Orthodox to the marrow, I would recommend Alexandros Papadiamantis. I have a short story collection by him, Tales from A Greek Island.

        As far as Tolstoy, I think the subject of his posthumous reconciliation is floated from time to time, but the writer’s family remains convinced that Tolstoy would not want to be reconciled to the Church, as it has yet to address the issues that led to the excommunication.

        • Burro [Mule] says

          One of my favorite quotes concerning writers and the Church comes from Oscar Wilde, who allegedly said “It is important that I die a Catholic. Heaven knows I could never live as one.”

          When someone pointed put that there was no possible way that Oscar Wilde could have believed the entire panoply of Catholic doctrine at his deathbed, someone [I believe Al “The Pontificator” Kimel] said; “Anybody who says he believes everything the Catholic Church affirms is either a liar or a saint. Wilde was neither.”

          • Christiane says

            someone once said at our Newman Club at university that ‘you Catholics know how to party’ . . . and we were being supervised, too 🙂 At the time, I took it as a compliment. That’s how little I knew about the dour side of the family (fundamentalist-evangelicals).

            I’ve wondered is fundamentalist-evangelicals REALLY hold to the Bible being ‘the Word of God’ and ‘inerrant’ all the way through . . . Reason? . . . I was thinking that, If they did, there wouldn’t be so much of the scandalous Pharisee-type finger-pointing and labeling going on. At its most extreme, the contempt for ‘those other sinners’ gets so bad that it really makes you think about Westboro as being a big influence, even though most fundamentalists decry the Westboro folk as ‘brothers’ in the faith

            I wonder if any of us Christians have ever one-hundred percent lived the faith as we hope to do ? And, even if we could, how the world would see our witness then?

    • petrushka1611 says

      Ok, that explains a lot about Dead Souls.

  14. Chronicles
    Bob Dylan
    Simon & Schuster 2004

    Never have been a Dylan fan and never understood the adulation, but since he is about my age I found his take on the early sixties of high interest. He thought of himself as a folk singer and fiercely resisted the pressure to become the Moses of his generation, just wanted to live a quiet life with his wife and kids. Many snapshots of other musicians and notables he interacted with. He has a keen eye for details and a great memory.

    Still don’t want to listen to his music, but his musical thinking was highly interesting to me. Mostly I read this to listen to him as a writer and learned a lot there. His writing is as distinctive as his musical style. I kept wondering how much an editor influenced the book, if any, and I didn’t see anything I would change until the very last line, which I thought belonged several sentences earlier and made enough difference to delete a star.

    This book is called Volume One and could well be all she wrote, but if Volume Two ever comes out I will definitely read it. Still won’t be buying albums, not my cup of tea, but what an interesting guy. I would rather listen to musicians talk than anyone else.

  15. Catching up on the stuff I didn’t learn enough of in seminary:

    The Minister’s Guide to Psychological Disorders and Treatments
    by Brad Johnson

    Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel
    by David Benner

    Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-Term Structured Model
    by David Benner

    For the good of my soul:

    The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life
    by Craig Barnes

    Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God
    by Dallas Willard

    For fun (and the good of my soul):

    Wool Omnibus Edition
    by Hugh Howey

    • Well, I clearly didn’t follow directions.

      The top 3 are pretty much what their title implies.

      Hearing God is Dallas Willard’s gentle, pastoral approach to hearing God in prayer. It’s Willard at his finest, in my opinion. Deeply personal, challenging, and enough theological & philosophical rigor to dispel common assumptions and fears when it comes to pursuing God in this way. I’d hand this to any evangelical who is skeptical about spiritual formation.

      Wool Omnibus Edition is a collection of short sci-fi stories published together to make up a whole story. Life as it is known in the future only exists in underground silos. There is myth surrounding why the earth became uninhabitable, and those who question the social structure in the silo are threatened with being sen outside to “clean” — that is, wiping down the camera lenses that provide the only picture of the outside world, only to die moments later from the toxic surroundings.

      • “Wool Omnibus Edition” sounds fascinating! I’ll have to check it out!

        • If you have Amazon Prime & a Kindle, you can borrow it for free! Same case with the sequel, which I’ll be getting too shortly.

          • What, you think I’ve joined the 21st century AND sold my soul to the evil beast? 😉

  16. Currently reading “Surprised by Hope” by N.T. Wright, copyright 2008, published by Harper Collins.

    The book is about the ultimate hope found in and through Jesus Christ: the hope for salvation, resurrection, eternal life, and the new creation and how hope in future event plays out for believers in the present. At the center of these future events lies an event in the past–the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Bishop Wright gives an overview of why it is reasonable to believe the resurrection occurred and then attempts to clear up misconceptions that many Christians today have of the after life before moving into what implications these beliefs for our conduct in this world.

    I’m still in the middle of reading “Surprised by Hope”; though I’ve read of and read reviews of many of N.T. Wright’s books I’ve always been a little intimidated to actually take on one of those tomes fearing it may be too academic and in depth for my shallow mind. I’ve been pleasantly surprised (no pun intended!) to find that Wright’s style is very engaging and accessible–so much so that I’ll probably tackle “The Resurrection of the Son of God”. Many of the arguments supporting the Resurrection I have heard before and, likewise, the future bodily resurrection of believers and the new kingdom but Wright gives an importance and emphasis to these doctrines that make them not just some far off, pie in the sky hope but demonstrates that this future hope leads to our present hope; he writes:

    “…a proper grasp of the (surprising) future hope held out to us in Jesus Christ leads directly and, to many people, equally surprising, to a vision of the present hope that is the basis of all Christian mission. To hope for a better future in this world–for the poor, the sick, the lonely, the depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful and wounded world–is not something else, something extra, something tacked onto the gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is a central, essential, vital, and life-giving part of it.”

    • Been too busy to read much, even internetmonk, sadly.

      I read N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope last spring, found it refreshing and intelligent and downright “biblical,” although that word has undergone inflation recently.

      I picked it up again this fall, got 2/3 of the way through a re-read, then started Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace. Also refreshing; I’ve always liked Yancey.

      But now I’ve put Yancey’s book down 2/3 of the way through that (I’ll get back to him) and picked up Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, which I read last year. Pope Francis’s endorsement inspired me to get back into Merton, and he’s a good morning read.

      I guess you’d call this the layered approach to reading. Or I could be ADD.

      I need to get back into a novel. Winter’s coming, lots more time then.

      • The chapter “The Moral Theology of the Devil” from Merton really stuck with me.

        • Absolutely. And it’s available online in a google search. The book is a compilation of essays, so probably other chapters are available too. I’m indebted to Headless Unicorn Guy for quoting from that chapter—it got me interested in Merton initially.

          A similar chapter is “Union and Division,” about pride and selfishness.

          Another good one is “The Root of War Is Fear.” No, you don’t have to be a leftist to appreciate this. It sounds like a few things the Hebrew prophets might have said. Oh… Were they leftists?

          And a chapter called “Sentences.” These are one-liners or paragraphs, a collection within a collection.

      • I have gotten nostalgic and am rereading Roger Zalazny’s Amber series. I have been stuck in history mode for about 30 years and going back to the books of my earlier adulthood. I tend not to read contemporary spiritual stuff unless it is Merton or Ray Brown… sticking more to the mystical Christian Literature (peudo-Dyonisis/John Cassion/Maximus/John of the Cross etc) unless t’s scripture – probably limiting myself….

        • I started re-reading the Amber series a couple years back, too. I got partway through, then stopped. I need to pick them back up again.

    • I read that last year for the first time. Being pretty familiar with NT Wright’s speaking over the last few years, I didn’t find anything in there that he hadn’t talked about in the various speeches at universities and seminaries I’ve heard, but it was nice to see it all in one place. I really thing Surprised by Hope is Wright at his best.

  17. Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome
    Reba Riley
    Howard Books 2015

    Subtitled a Memoir of Humor and Healing. The author’s first book, I was impressed with the blurbs including Brian McLaren and William Paul Young. The story line is of a young woman of 29 who has been traumatized by her Evangelical upbringing and is given the assignment of visiting 30 different religions before she turns 30. The book tells these stories one by one and they cover a wide range of religions.

    Not a book of whining and bashing, but of rescue and overcoming and healing, with many pitfalls along the way and no easy answers. I thought the book got off to a lame start but it kept getting better and better all the way thru. Should be of interest and inspiration to many here who have suffered at the hands of the church.

    • Great title. Sounds interesting!

    • I’ve really been debating this, just bought some kindle books two nights ago, but passed on this one. I’m worried it’ll end up with the author “rediscovering” God, deciding church is a-ok after all, and she just had some bad moments in a bad church environment.

      No thanks. That’s not good news for me at the moment. I want a book with a title like that, but with the author realizing she’s best away from church, that she doesn’t need church or God, and that life is not over, she can rebuild and have a better life free from God and free from church and christianity. No “but it’s all ok now” ending, more “it’ll be all ok because i’ll make it ok”. No god, know peace.

      So that’s what’s keeping me from reading it.

      • She never gave up on God, just the church. Her search was after truth wherever it took her, so if you require an ending according to your specs, probably better to write your own. But for anyone wanting to read about visits to a Buddhist Temple, a Wiccan Gathering, an American Indian sweat lodge, a Spiritist meeting, a Muslim Temple, and dozens more, I don’t know where else you are going to find it in one book. Probably not for the cynical.

        • To be fair, I haven’t given up on God either. I deliberately use loaded language, tho. The biggest question now, is who is God? Because I know what he’s not. Hence, I don’t want to read some story about someone leaving their fundamentalist church and finding God in evangelicalism, because just because they listen to rock music and drink beer, it’s still the same conservative fundygelical God they grew up with, just now with nicer trappings and people around.

          Makes sense?

  18. “A God That Could Be Real” by Nancy Ellen Abrams
    Beacon Press, May 2015

    Interesting take from an atheist who had to reconcile her beliefs with needing a higher power to deal with addiction.
    Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote a “Forward” for the book.

    I’m only part way into it, so I’m sure there will be much to which to react. But I find the perspective very interesting. It’s absolutely a polar approach to the young earth creation perspective by a woman whose husband is a leading cosmologist.

  19. “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel.

    Very well-written and crafted post-“virus kills off most of the world” book (I’d loosely call it sci-fi). One of the best books I’ve read in a long time, St. John Mandel does a marvelous job of jumping around in time to show the impact of the virus as it begins and then twenty-five years later. The novel mostly follows a group of musicians and Shakespearean actors as they travel the Great Lakes area to bring a bit of joy to those still alive.

    Highly recommend.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      This book was featured by our local library – they gave us free archery lessons! My wife already read it and said it was a blast. It is certainly on my short list to get to.

    • I got it on Kindle recently for very cheap, it’s on my to-read list shortly after I finish Wool

    • Sounds interesting since I was a big fan of Niven and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer…..

      • You just reminded me of “The Mote in God’s Eye” !!! I’ve got that in my library somewhere. Need to pull that one out again.

  20. “Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace” by Anne Lamott.

    Lamott is one of my favorite writers. Witty and self-deprecating, she has a wonderful way of weaving heart-breaking moments with moments of laughter and grace. A few highlights:

    1) She describes how her pastor says that God is constantly telling us to rejoice, but to do that, to get our ‘joice back, we need to have had joy before, and that joy has never been as needed as much as it is now, when the world is hurting so badly, because “joy is medicine…Don’t worry! Dont be anxious! In dark times, give off light.”

    2) In speaking about forgiveness, she writes, “I have sometimes considered writing a book called ‘All the People I Still Hate: A Christian Perspective’.” Her chapter on forgiveness is wonderful. She doesn’t tell YOU how to forgive, she just shows how difficult it is for HER to forgive, in this case her father for something she found AFTER HE’D DIED.

    3) Her chapter on her experience with Match.com is pure gold. Funny, funny stuff.

    She’s about as liberal a Christian as you’ll find, but man o man…she brings it all back to Jesus and his grace.

    • Christiane says

      I love Anne Lamott! When my good father went blind before he died, she was one of the authors I chose for him to listen to on ‘Books On Tape’ . . . I wish some of my other choices for him had been as praise-worthy. 🙂

  21. Book group is reading Peter Enns’ “The Bible Tells Me So” (HarperOne 2014). This is one I’m just going along with; I’ve been convinced of his premise (the subtitle says it all: How defending scripture has made us unable to read it) for a long time. Enns has gotten a lot of airplay here, and deservedly so, because of his engaging writing style and how his ideas resonate with those of us who have been in the wilderness. Interestingly, the bulk of our group conversation so far has been about historicity/facticity. Nobody believes that scripture is like a video recording, but most are somewhere on the scale of “there has to be some element of history about it.”

    I am near to finishing F. Mathewes-Green’s “Welcome to the Orthodox Church” (Paraclete 2015). It is a basic introduction to Orthodoxy, organized around the physical space of the church building, the liturgy, and parish life events. She is a thoughtful writer, makes you want to keep turning the pages, and sprinkles in some humor. I think this is the best basic introduction to the Orthodox Church for people first encountering/exploring it that I have ever read – very user-friendly, with pointers to more theological works if one wants to follow up in that direction. If someone I knew was seriously interested in Orthodoxy I would give him/her this book and Met. Kallistos Ware’s “The Orthodox Church,” and advise them to read Frederica’s first.

    I am about to start “The Grace of Incorruption” by Donald Sheehan (Paraclete 2015), late poet, professor (U. Chicago & Dartmouth) and translator. It’s a book of essays on life, literature and holiness, and Orthodox poetics and the Psalms, esp Ps 119 (118 LXX). I read one of the included essays on line following links somewhere, and it seriously piqued my interest. I’m interested in exploring the literary and poetic connections with Orthodox life that are described in the blurbs. Being a literature and poetry professor, he knew how to turn a phrase – when I read the essay on line, I was struck by the beauty in the way he uses language in his prose, and the clarity of his expression that made me want to keep reading. I also have his translation of the Psalms, and really like it.


    • I read Enns’ “Inspiration and Incarnation” several years ago. Having been in a mostly fundamental atmosphere throughout most of my Christian life, it really opened my eyes to different viewpoints; I’ve been indebted to him ever since. “The Bible Tells Me So” is on my short list–I’m interested in your take on it.

      • We’re only in ch 3, Scott. Like I said, I’m convinced; gave up the doctrine of inerrancy years ago. I don’t see this book making a great change in my life now, but if I had read it 15 years ago, it may well have sped up my trajectory…


      • I’ve been putting off Enn’s Genesis for Normal People for a few months now. Not really in the mood for christian works, and frankly, I don’t need to be convinced of what he’s saying.

  22. “Church: Is There an App for That: Exploring Authentic Christian Community” by Dan Rutherford.

    I met Dan at a conference in Cannon Beach a few years ago and enjoyed hearing his story of church issues (he was a pastor who was in the process of being booted out of his church). As someone, then, who might have reason to write a book about the problems with church, Dan has done just the opposite: he’s written a very deep and well-researched book on the importance of the church to Christians and the community/world. I initially thought more time would be spent on “what’s wrong with the church,” but Dan keeps his focus on what he feels Jesus wants and expects from his followers, making it a very positive experience. Dan supports all of what he writes with tons of scripture and quotes from many good sources. If you want to read a book that explains why church is important to followers of Jesus and get an idea of what a Jesus-shaped, healthy church might look like, I encourage you to try this one. Some of you here might bristle at the idea that church is important to your Christian walk, but there’s a lot of depth to it that I’m still mulling on.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Interesting, this dove tails with other reading I have done recently. Added to the list.

  23. Title: The Human Face of God
    Author: John A. Roberston (also authored “Honest to God”
    Published Date: 1973

    I don’t have the book in front of me. I had a quote from the book I hoping to find a opportunity to share. I will add it later today. It basically gives a middle view of Jesus apart from the historical Jesus movement of centuries ago and the literalism of fundamentalism.

    • That’s next up on my list.

    • “As a radial American writer [N.Q. Hamilton from Jesus for a No-God World] has put it: ‘One mistake the liberal tradition has made has been to wish too fervently that the biblical writers might say exactly what needs to be said today. It is the same error in reverse of the traditionalists who wish too fervently that the biblical message might be the exact word we ought to pronounce now. It is the hermeneutical mistake of expecting simple correspondence between the biblical good news and the good new for today’. Yet our first preoccupation cannot be to ask, Are we saying the same thing? It must be, Are we saying our own thing? Are we really attending to our authentic questions? If not, the answers may have orthodoxy but they will not have integrity. They will be empty shells, echoing the ‘fear, deep in all of us’ of which Sebastian Moore as spoken, ‘that there may be nothing human inside the great dogmatic assertion of the divinity of Christ.’ “

    • “For men today, myth is equated with unreality. The mythical is the fictional. But in fact myth relates to what is deeper in human experience, to something much more primal and archetypal and potent than the intellect. Psychologically and sociologically myth has been the binding force holding individuals and societies together. The loosening of it has had the disintegrative effect on our culture of the kind that Shakespeare envisaged following the loss of belief in ‘degree’. Until relatively recently myth was taken quite realistically (which is not to say literally) as the framework of all life.”

  24. The Arthurian Saga, by Mary Stewart, may she rest in peace. The first four were published between 1970 and 1983, the fifth and last was published in 1995, William Morrow Company.

    I’m on book 2, “The Hollow Hills.” She has got to be one of the best, if not the best, of the modern writers who have tried to recreate the Merlin & Arthur legend. There are several others I have yet to read though, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, so I can’t make that call yet.

    All I know is that reading her books, I truly get a sense of the magic and mystery of living in 5th or 6th century Britain, with the Roman empire having pulled out, and the pagan world still maintaining a frontier with the Christian world. It’s told rom the POV of Merlin, who is a brilliant character, more the wily Kingmaker than the Wizard of lore, but with a legendary reputation that builds up around him. The series doesn’t commit one of the most common fatal errors of medieval/myth & fantasy genres: too much magic (or too profligate in its usage). The supernatural is there, but it’s very spare, and very veiled. It’s more about politics than fantastical elements. The mythic strands from the Arthur legend are woven seamlessly into it as a historical narrative.

    I happen to have a penchant for Arthurian retellings, and this one is really gripping me. She does not waste a word. I haven’t even met the adult King Arthur yet, but the characters are very compelling and plausible. Merlin is the main character, and from his youth to young adulthood, he develops in a very believable way as an independent, introverted loner who learns how to get what he wants by taking the lower position- by a type of shrewdness and cunning. While not an evil man, he’s not entirely heroic either, he’s simply a very intelligent pragmatist with a flare of supernatural awareness about him, and who is bent on the success and safety of Britain and its Crown.

    I believe Ms. Stewart was an expert in medieval literature celtic/briton mythology, or something like that, so she leverages her considerable knowledge for these books. But not in an overly academic or stiff way at all. The read is very natural and smooth, and entirely believable. If there’s anything that might keep away a 21st century reader, it’s that the plot develops rather slowly, and points of high drama and action are few. It’s very character driven, at least in the first two books. This shouldn’t keep anyone away, as Stewart’s considerable talent as a writer carries the reader along very well.

    Anyone else ever read these? I’m curious to hear what others think.

    • These are great books, Nate, although I haven’t read the most recent. Far superior to Bradley, I think.

    • Read the first three ages ago, didn’t know she’d gotten up to five. I may have to start the series again. I remember them as being very vivid and well-done, and I liked the Merlin POV.

    • I read the series twice. Must return to it. (I like re-reading books I greatly enjoyed in my teens and 20s, and the more years that pass, the more I bring to the reading for greater understanding.)

      I was a huge Mary Stewart fan – read nearly all her mysteries when I was a teenager (a combination of mystery and chaste romance – very literary and also characater-driven, miles above the stereotypical “romance novel”). One of the few Disney treatments that actually was faithful to its book source was the adaptation of Stewart’s “The Moon-Spinners.” The Merlin series is very different from her other books. It’s easy to get the idea that she was an expert in medieval English history, but her degree was actually in English literature. That’s how compelling and thoughtful her writing is. Merlin’s contemplations and and experiences beg large questions regarding the metaphysical, but not by means of cheap use of “magic.” I also would recommend the series very highly.


      • Dana, I agree about Mary Stewart. I’ve read her romance/suspense novels about twice a year since I was young. BUT . . . I thought the Disney movie was terrible. The plot was substantially changed, and not for the better, and the Greek was wrong. Don’t let me interfere with your enjoyment, though! 🙂

        • Well, it’s been a long time since I read the book and saw the movie – memory could be a little off 😉


    • Also read those! Great books.

    • The series doesn’t commit one of the most common fatal errors of medieval/myth & fantasy genres: too much magic (or too profligate in its usage).

      Somewhat agree with these books, but I want some books like that in my life tho. I’m tired of magic being used sparingly or with great responsibility. Give me wizards throwing fireballs every which way because they can, none of this stupid AD&D “magic missile now i need to go lie down” crap.

      It’s my one issue with Game of Thrones. GIVE ME MAGIC. GIVE ME CGI. I want epic lightning and storms and fire and wizardry!

      Yet it seems everyone is on an anti-magic kick lately.

      I blame Tolkien. Overrated firstcomer.

    • stupid moderation

      The series doesn’t commit one of the most common fatal errors of medieval/myth & fantasy genres: too much magic (or too profligate in its usage).

      Somewhat agree with these books, but I want some books like that in my life tho. I’m tired of magic being used sparingly or with great responsibility. Give me wizards throwing fireballs every which way because they can, none of this stupid AD&D “magic missile now i need to go lie down” crap.

      It’s my one issue with Game of Thrones. GIVE ME MAGIC. GIVE ME CGI. I want epic lightning and storms and fire and wizardry!

      Yet it seems everyone is on an anti-magic kick lately.

      I blame Tolkien. Overrated firstcomer.

    • Stewart’s Merlin books are marvelous.

      Have you tried Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset? That’s Arthur, but not the Arthur of medieval tales. Sutcliff wrote mainly for young people, but this book was intended for an older audience. Very gripping, imo.

  25. I’ve read “The Doors of the Sea” by David Bentley Hart twice in the last 6 months. Short book, but not a fast read. Best read as an eBook with a dictionary feature because DBH’s vocabulary is quite……extensive. And he has a proclivity to randomly insert other languages into the middle of a sentence. But the book is simply fantastic. It’s about “theodicy”, but it necessarily touches on so much more. It’s specifically discussed in the context of the 2004 tsunami (and the Lisbon earthquake in 1755), but it’s the Nepal earthquake (and some of the “Christian” explanations and responses to it) that made me want to read this book.

    It’s really hard to grab any one quote because they all find their significance in the context of his overall argument:

    Near the beginning:

    “The ocean breaks from its confines with annihilating power, and God – it seems – does not stay its waves.”

    Near the end:

    “Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces -whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance -that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. And we are not only permitted but required to believe that cosmic time as we know it, through all the immensity of its geological ages and historical epochs, is only a shadow of true time, and this world only a shadow of the fuller, richer, more substantial, more glorious creation that God intends; and to believe also that all of nature is a shattered mirror of divine beauty, still full of light, but riven by darkness.”

    Next up on my reading list:

    The Human Faces of God: Thom Stark
    Her Gates Will Never Shut: Brad Jersak
    The Love That Matters: Charles Featherstone

  26. Marcus Johnson says

    Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011)

    In a couple hundred pages, Mueller presents the history of olive oil, a substance that has been the core essence of history and civilization, particularly in the Mediterranean, since ancient times. There’s scandal, chemistry, history, economics, character profiles. I’m past the halfway point on this book (it’s my airplane read), and currently out of extra virgin olive oil at the crib, and yet now I know enough about what real olive oil is (the smell, the taste, the texture, its preparation) to know that the oil I’m going to find at the grocery store is a laughably pale comparison to what olive oil should actually be.

    Weirdly enough, this book is affecting more than my cooking. According to biblegateway.com, the Bible mentions “oil” about 200 times, and “olive” about “150” times (in comparison, the phrase “born again” is only mentioned 3 times…just sayin’). Ancient Mediterranean cultures were sticklers for quality olive oil, and producers who tried to increase their volume by mixing their olive oil with seed oil or other substances were heavily penalized (check out the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16, in which olive oil fraud is part of the manager’s scheme). Even in recent history, people have gone to jail, been sued, and suffered financial ruin because of olive oil adulteration. As the centerpiece of civilization, olive oil earned a sacred place across cultures: as lubricant, medicine, currency, offerings for gods, etc. Yet, to mass market it to a larger consumer base, we have entered an era in which olive oil has been mixed and diluted and deodorized and robbed of its pungency and natural bitterness, for the sake of mass appeal.

    There’s an obvious allusion to be drawn from this, but y’all are smart folks; you’ll figure it out.

    • I’ve written it down, Marcus. It sounds wonderful.

    • I remember you mentioning this book in a recent post. Thanks for sharing your take on it. Sounds interesting.

    • Think I used to have that on my wishlist for years. Cleared the whole thing out and started fresh a few months ago. May consider readding it.

    • This sounds strangely interesting; I’m putting this one on my list, too (I’ll never get to all the books I want to read!). All this talk of olive oil reminds me of “The Supper of the Lamb” by Robert Farrar Capon, first published by Doubleday in 1969. It’s essentially a cookbook but oh, it’s so much more. Interspersed with honest to goodness recipes are ruminations on how onions prove the possibility of heaven to the glories of wine to cures for heartburn and “the higher distress for which earth has no cure–that major, vaster burning by which the heart looks out astonished at the world and, in its loving, wakes and breaks at once.”

      A truly delightful author and one with whom I would love to share a lamb supper and glass of wine; I wept when he died.

  27. Crazy Chester says

    The Good Lord Bird
    James McBride

    Set in the 1850s, a young slave boy, Henry Shackleford, gains his freedom and ends up traveling in the company of John Brown, who mistakenly thinks he’s a girl, and his ragged band of abolitionists. The novel, which won the National Book Award, follows Henry’s adventures, including encounters with Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, all the way to the Harper’s Ferry raid.

    Although the underlying subject matter is a bit grim, this picaresque-like novel has a somewhat humorous tone, and I found it a fast read. The book both entertained me and stirred me to educate myself on the historical figures depicted in the novel, especially John Brown.

  28. Currently reading C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. Enjoyed the first one. Mostly enjoyed the second – a bit wordy at the end. (Although given the words, I feel a bit guilty being bored with it.) About to start the third. I had bought all of them for my kindle a few years back – Amazon had a good deal – and forgot about them until stuck on some long airplane trips recently.

    Right before that I read (another Kindle deal) Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim. It was greatly entertaining (although it presented a completely different worldview than the Space Trilogy). Premise is that a dead guy comes back from Hell to avenge his and his girlfriend’s deaths. Fast paced and fun. (And rather heretical if taken seriously)

    • Crazy Chester says

      I read the Space Trilogy in college out of a sense of duty. I was disappointed that it didn’t wow me. I later discovered other science fiction-fantasy books that I enjoyed a lot more — e.g., Riverworld series, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Foundation series, Amber series, anything by Jack Vance. I’m figuring that those pulpy science fiction writers are better at their craft than the mighty C. S. Lewis.

      • Yeah. Wasn’t wowed either. Had a moment or two in the second book, but that third book…atrocious.

        • Stuart – you took the words right out of my mouth re. That Hideous Strength.

          • I loved That Hideous Strength! Action-packed.

            But Perelandra, the second book, is probably better. Slower going, fewer characters.

          • I first read that in Jr. High and really couldn’t get into it, especially That Hideous Strength. I didn’t re-read it again until three or four years ago (mostly out of obligation) and found that my take on it had completely reversed. That Hideous Strength is now one of my favorite books, especially the way Lewis brings in Arthurian mythology into it.

      • C S Lewis’s space trilogy mirrors exactly the three seasons of the original Star Trek TV show. The first book has all the good stuff. The second is so so. The third one is not very good.

        Try Lewis’ last novel, TIL WE HAVE FACES, a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. His best work I think and my own favorite.

        • Crazy Chester says

          One C.S. Lewis book that did wow me was “Preface to Paradise Lost.” It’s fairly unique in Miltonion criticism since it’s a great literary analysis and also written from a Christian POV. That’s an example of C.S. Lewis writing from his area of strength.

        • I’m told that Lewis considered Til We Have Faces his best work. I read it in my 20s, didn’t get much out of it then; again in my 30s, liked it better; now that I’m pushing 60 it’s time to read it again. It really is well written, as I remember.

          • Oh, it’s great! Raises some great questions that never fully get answered in the book. A year or two ago at an annual Anglican academic conference in the Dallas area, the theme was the Inklings. The main speaker gave a great talk on Till We Have Faces. I think it can be viewed on Anglican.TV under one of the Anglican Way Institute sections.

          • I 1st read Til We Have Faces when i was about 20, and loved it. Still do, even with its failings. The Fox and Bardia are wonderful, as is his reworking of the Eros and Psyche myth.

            I used to try to get people to read it, back when, but nobody else seemed to like it. I think the book is one of those love it or hate it sorts…

    • I first read Lewis’ Space Trilogy as a teenager, and I have re-read it dozens of times since. I’d have to say my favorite of the trilogy is the one I happen to be reading at the time. I also really like that fragment of a fourth book — The Dark Tower — though it’s terribly frustrating that it will never get finished. I really wish Lewis had found a way forward with that one before he died.

  29. The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher, just released and only arrived today in the mail. The first two chapters are gripping sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk, with a little more leisure for character development but all the energy and humor of his earlier books. In fact, why am I reading iMonk when I could be reading my new book?

    • I’ve only read the first Dresden Files book by Jim Butcher, and at the time (10-15 years ago) thought it was a poor man’s Anita Blake…little did I know how that series would go.

      Worth getting back into Dresden or Butcher as a whole? I tried the TV show, that was a mistake.

      • I don’t like his Dresden files much, Stuart, but I enjoyed the Alera Codex books much more.

        • Been meaning to catch his foray into Steam Punk. Haven’t read the Alera Codex books, but I love the Dresden Files. The TV Series is no good, but the novels are some of my favorites. I really like his fantasy world, and the noir style of storytelling with it. I tend to re-read them just before a new novel is released. What I’ve realized, though, is that the earlier books in the series are not anywhere near as good as the later ones in terms of the quality of writing and storytelling. If memory serves, those were his first published books, and the first few in the series began as college writing assignments. And truth be told, they read like newbie novelist books.

          • I’ve heard Summer Knight is the make or break book.

            Idk. I want to get into reading fantasy, scifi, fiction in general again. But it’s just so…Idk. I can’t bring myself to do it.

            I do really want to finish the last of the Magicians series. That one I actually want to finish, instead of “want” in the sense of obligation, like keeping with a long running series like Shannara…

  30. When the Church was Young: Voices of the Early Father by Marcellino D’Ambrosio

    ….a ‘Readers’ Digest’ look at the chronology of the early Church, with both the Saints and heretics voices noted. A great introduction to underpinnings of theology, with just enough biography to make each of these men understandable as they lived in their own day and time. (Some are even likeable!) For me, it isn’t an insight to faith or belief, but rather a look back at where the Truths of the Church were assembled under the Light of the Holy Spirit and the brains and souls of those who first believed and tried to understand the individual who was fully human and fully divine.

  31. I’m doing the vast majority of my book reading from titles that are part of larger series: Curios George, Babar the Elephant, Dr. Seuss, Little Golden Books, etc….

    And apparently I’m reading them all wrong.

    Considering picking up a copy of “Nobody Poops But You, You Disgusting Little Freak.”

    Actually, most of the books I’m reading right now are in languages I cannot even speak, let alone write. Seth is teaching me, among many other things, how to BS my way through Japanese mostly picture books, which is way more fun than actually reading them, because the story changes every time! I feel like the Peter Enns of children’s books right now – learning a new way to read and look at these stories. 😛

    • I must have read Where the Wild Things Are a couple of hundred times to my youngest daughter (now nearly 25) before she could even talk (oh, she could say, “REEEEED!!! alright, dragging the book over to my chair).

      I never said no. I think it’s one of the few perfect stories ever written.

      Oh, and come to think of it, she got her degree in English literature. WTWTA may have had something to do with that.

      • Our current favorites are “The Hungry Caterpillar” (in Japanese) and a children’s Bible he demands we read halfway through in one sitting.

  32. Jazziscoolithink says

    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It’s intimidated me for years, and I finally decided to take the plunge…

    • Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand…

      • Jazziscoolithink says

        Aaand…I’m 45% of the way after a few months. It’s incredible and exhausting and difficult to describe. I highly recommend it, but you almost need some sort of calling before diving in.

  33. Back in March, I threw away 85-90% of everything that I owned. Books since childhood, college books, things that I had been collecting just to collect…all gone. Deleted my “favorite books of all time list” on Goodreads, reevaluating a lot. Mostly read non-fiction now, anything to help me learn and grow and not escape into fantasy or sci-fi like I did in my childhood and early adult life.


    Just finished –

    Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr, 2013, Oxford University Press

    Educational and incredibly fun to read, I love reading about things people consider bad or wrong and discovering the history behind them and whether or not they are actually wrong. In this case, Mohr goes through the history of swearing and profanity and showing how various combinations of the sacred, the profane, and the common have given us all our swear words and curses. There is even an entire chapter devoted to swearing oaths that the Israelites employed in the Old Testament. Well worth reading just for that. At times it can be a bit overwhelming reading so many “bad” words over and over again, but the author has fun with it.

    Currently reading –

    This Will Never Happen Again by David Cain, 2013, Thought Catalog.

    Recommended by my gym trainer’s wife, I’ve been reading his essays for the last year, and finding him speaking straight to my soul as a 30 year old man. The book is essentially a repackaging of some of his best essays, but I’ll happily read them again. He’s helped me break through some long habits, establish some new ones, realize some important things about myself, forcing me to confront a lot, and fix myself. Probably also has been instrumental in helping me embrace minimalism and declutter and reduce the sheer noise and volume in my life.

    Here’s an example essay. http://www.raptitude.com/2015/03/how-to-get-yourself-to-do-things/

    Also reading – the last published David Weber Safehold book. Started it a year ago. I can’t bring myself to read it. Maybe a chapter every two or three months. It hurts me to leave it unfinished, OCD or something, but I’ve been confronting that need and making peace with it.

    I think I’m just done with the book/series, and while I’m interested in where the story goes…it just keeps going and going and going every few years with no ending. (Kind like Terry Brook’s Shannara, my absolute favorite series growing up…I’ve got three of his latest on the shelf, and all the internet and utterly no interest, even hatred, of wanting to read them.)

    The Safehold series was instrumental in helping me see just how religious dogma and propaganda can be formed almost overnight to suit someone’s views, how it can be so pious and ‘biblical’ sounding, and even doctrinally sound, yet used in the service of pure evil and hatred. I owe the series that debt, and I’d recommend it to people. But I just can’t seem to finish it. It’s a “before” book, before my life changed.

    • Here’s another one. I’ve been blessed by this guy and he’s really helped a lot.


      The question of “Do I like who I am when I’m doing this?” is a different question from “Do I like doing this?” You might find some gratification in arguing online, or overeating, or staying home Saturday nights, but that doesn’t mean that you feel great about who you are when you’re doing them. We’re all very complex, and certain activities reward the avoidant or argumentative drives in us, while other activities reward our compassionate, wise and helpful sides.

      We can easily fall into habits of doing any of these activities, so long as there’s some kind of reward for them. Years can pass before you notice something’s wrong; you’ve followed the wrong trail of breadcrumbs, and you don’t feel good about where it’s led you.

      And another – http://www.raptitude.com/2012/04/you-cant-really-know-what-you-want-until-you-know-you-dont-know-what-you-want/

      I hope your biggest revelation this year is that you don’t really know what you want.

      We grow up thinking we know what we want, but we’re wrong. We all start with the wrong idea about it. Your whole life, society has told you what you want. Others know what they want you to want. Your family, your religious institutions, your politicians and your retailers know exactly what they want you to want. You’ll get everyone’s idea but your own, but these foreign ideas will accumulate, and in the absence of your own they get you chasing things.

      And you’re not born knowing what you want, either. People assume they ought to know automatically what they want, which tends to be whatever the convention it is in your culture. For some that means marrying off to “a good provider”, for others it means achieving a senior managment position, for others it means a Personal Relationship With Jesus.

      Then we become adults and, if we’re lucky, slowly learn that nobody can teach you what you want. You stumble upon it. But only if you do a lot of stumbling. Your parents didn’t know what you want, they figured it’s the same as what they wanted. The only ideas they can give you of what you ought to want are the wants they can identify with. Advertisers don’t know what you want, they fish for it. The only idea they can give you is what they hope you want, which is to buy something from them.

      Your own idea appears only when you have the actual experience of what you want. You can’t know until you taste it. We all start with a false idea of what we want in life, inherited from others during childhood, before we gain any perspective about life. The false idea has to be given up and the real desires have to be discovered. They may make others uncomfortable. They may make you uncomfortable at first, because in inherited your comfort zone from others.

      You will either recognize this and overcome it, or you will always pursue what other people want you to want, convinced it’s what you want.

    • Your own idea appears only when you have the actual experience of what you want. You can’t know until you taste it. We all start with a false idea of what we want in life, inherited from others during childhood, before we gain any perspective about life. The false idea has to be given up and the real desires have to be discovered. They may make others uncomfortable. They may make you uncomfortable at first, because in inherited your comfort zone from others.

      You will either recognize this and overcome it, or you will always pursue what other people want you to want, convinced it’s what you want.


  34. Richard Rohr’s final paragraph today in his daily meditation:

    “We are finding it is almost impossible to heal isolated individuals inside of an unhealthy and unhealed culture and inside of a Christianity that is largely about exclusion and superiority. The individual remains inside of an incoherent and unsafe universe and soon falls back into anger, fear, and narcissism. I sadly say this after 46 years of giving retreats, conferences, and initiation rites all over the world. Only those who went on to develop a contemplative mind had the skills to finally grow and profit from the message that they heard. For the others, it was just another consumer experience for their spiritual résumé.”

    To me, that paragraph is more valuable and relevant and insightful than any single whole book mentioned here today, including my own contributions.

  35. Brianthedad says

    Late to the game, but here I go.

    How we got to now: six innovations that made the modern world
    Steven Johnson
    Riverhead books

    Johnson explores the history of invention and innovation over time of six things: glass, cold, clean, light, sound, and time, not necessarily in that order. His thoughts on how ideas develop along with parallel invention is interesting. He states that people may have the idea of an invention for some time, but the technology doesn’t exist to make it happen. Then some other invention or technology appears and the ability to adapt it or use it allows the creation of the thing the person had been imagining. He calls it the hummingbird effect. To explain: for untold time, the evolutionary dance between flowers and bees went on, with developments in each species creating more and more complex features, pollen, nectar, colorful petals, bee wings, tongues for extracting nectar, etc. Then, all of a sudden, evolutionarily speaking, the hummingbird appears, ready to take advantage of the flower. Inventions occur similarly. Something else develops along to a point that another person can ‘exploit’ the technology and create something new. An easy, fun read. The flow of the writing mimics the spoken word of a storyteller. Makes sense since I’ve heard it was developed from the NPR series that he wrote and narrated. One of the funnier things was how the development of glass and handheld mirrors led to the first selfies in medieval Europe, as pilgrims posed so they could see themselves with the relics they had come to visit.

    All the light we cannot see
    Anthony doer
    An moving novel about the lead up to and time during World War II from the eyes of two children as they grow up in France and Germany. The magic of radio is woven throughout, with one child listening, and another developing the skills to build and broadcast radio. He is caught up in the fervor of pre-war Germany and ends up in the wermacht. She is a curious, intelligent, French girl who is blind and likes the world brought to her by the radio. I don’t do it justice. The ending surprises me, and it doesn’t. It seemed very sudden, like it was wrapped up too quickly, but in a way it was fitting. Not really a war novel, but it is truly a human novel with war as a backdrop. It illustrates the effort taken by humans to do both terrible and good things to each other. Mr Doerr’s writing is full of detail. It’s both depressing and encouraging, but highly recommended.

    Here’s a quote I thought to write down while reading:
    “We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us.”

    • I’d like to second your recommendation of “All the Light We Cannot See.” I don’t have the words to do it justice. it’s stunning, really, and completely captivating.

  36. Moby Dick.
    Herman Mel… Oh, like you don’t know.
    Public domain.

    Finally, in my mid-40s, I’m reading this classic. I came to it a bit circuitously, however. While rereading a non-fiction book about Henry Hudson’s epic voyages (“Fatal Voyage,” Peter C. Mancall, Basic Books, 2009 — a nice, if not uniformly gripping, read) I had also pulled out some poetry of Hart Crane for reasons unknown.

    Poking around the interweb a bit more, I found that the great literary critic Harold Bloom had been gobsmacked by Crane’s poetry as a teen. He also considered Moby Dick to be the apotheosis — along with Whitman’s verse — of American letters. I endorse his description of the book as a masterpiece of prose poetry (echoing Adam T.W. above) rather than a “mere” novel.

    In any case, it is certainly more interesting than the technical PowerPoint presentations I really need to be working on instead at this later hour…. (“Was it for PowerPoint that the clay grew tall?”)

  37. Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning, I just finished re-reading John Bunyan’s The Pilgrims’ Progress. Well, the first volume, anyway. I’m debating whether or not to continue with “Part the Second” or whether to re-read some Tolkien or Lewis.

    • Obviously, you need to read the “The Pilgrims’ Regress” next, if you can find a copy. Make sure to read the introduction, it defines the key term in the book.

      • +1

      • Y’know, that’s one of the few Lewis books I haven’t read. I’ll see if I can get it on my iPad. Heck, it might be there already when I did a big multi-volume Lewis purchase a few years back.

  38. Where’s Headless Unicorn Guy’s list? I need my fanfic.

  39. The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth, privately published in the UK in 2014, long-listed for the Msn Booker Prize, and recently released here (not certain of publisher, but Amazon.com will have that listed).

    Centered around a very small band of outlaws attempting to carry out guerilla raids on the Normans, in the years right after the conquest of England. Fascinating, though intimidating at 1st, as it is written in a blend of modetn English and Anglo-Saxon, with words thst only come from Anglo-Saxon, Welsh or Danish. Once you get into it a bit, it’s easy to follow the language.

    Classic unreliable narrator. Anything more would be a spoiler, so i won’t go thete.

    • There is a glossary, which is hugely helpful. Anyone familiar with either Tolkien or Beowulf will recognize many words right off the bat.

    • Oh, Numo, you got me. My last name is Norman French, shortened version. An ancestor came over with Bill the Conqueror and at Hastings advised Bill to retreat, according to Ranolph Fiennes the famous explorer, a cousin of sorts. The world would be noticeably different today had that advice been followed, not sure for better or worse. I just ordered the book and expect to be reading it identifying with both sides at once, life lived on the cusp as usual.

  40. Hi, I am new.

    I will only write a little bit because I have a headache.

    On the weekend, I will read Mark A. Noll’s book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, which is published by the The University of North Carolina Press. It is the paperback reprint edition from 1 February 2015.

    I think the book will be interesting because I do not know much about American Christian history. I also may write an essay that uses this book as a source.

    • Ah I forgot to add a brief summary.

      Well I think it is basically about how American Christians who were pro-slavery or anti-slavery tried to use the Bible to support their views.

    • I have not read that one but Noll is a good one to go to.

    • Zelea, welcome! I’ve been wanting to read that one as well. I have the feeling it speaks volumes to many issues we try to solve today by being “biblical”.

  41. Old Buzard says

    The Shape of Death
    Jaroslav Pelikan
    1961 Abingdon Press

    In the process of reading, so no full summary. Pelikan utilizes geometric shapes as a conceptual framework for what the early fathers taught/believed about life, death and immortality.