Recent Books

I have read a slew of books lately, for which I have Kindle to thank---it really is a convenient way to read, and I even had it read to me on my way back from Ocean City yesterday, where I was attending a presbytery training. Here are a few books I've read or am reading. By the way, for a great blog full of excellent book recommendations and reviews, check out Ex Libris Fides on my sidebar.

The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life by Parker Palmer

I'm a big both/and person when it comes to theology, so I was drawn to this book, an early one by the impeccable Parker Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation and other excellent books. In this one he deals with topics like community, scarcity and abundance.

A favorite quote about the need for nuance: "Next to a Christian eclipsed by theological arrogance, an honest atheist shines like the sun."

Another, on coming to a fuller understanding of the atonement: "I'm a father myself, and sure, in moments of hurt and rage, I've wanted to 'kill' my kids a time or two. But always for their sins, not yours. I don't want a God to whom I can feel morally superior."

And later: "For me, Jesus' death is redemptive not because it fulfills the puppet master's plan or works some kind of cosmic sleight of hand but because it represents God's willingness to suffer with us in every moment of our lives, not least when we are willing to speak truth to power."

Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity by Bruce Bawer

This was the inaugural book for our church's book club, and it definitely got  This book is more than 10 years old and feels like ancient history in a way. Bawer does have an ax to grind, and who can blame him? As a gay person, he's felt the brunt of the rhetoric from far-right Christians saying he is defective, an abomination, something to be "cured," or what have you. Still, some folks in our group agreed with his message but felt that his tone was just as black-and-white condemnatory as the people he was arguing against. Others appreciated such a full-throated articulation of liberal Christianity.

I was struck by how many of the contemporary characters Bawer writes about are still around. Still, I think the boundaries are shifting, and former adversaries are coming together. Many evangelicals (if not true fundamentalists) are joining the mainline "liberal" denominations in caring about poverty and the environment, for example.

Oh God, Oh God, Oh God! Young Adults Speak Out about Sexuality and Christian Spirituality, edited by Heather Godsey and Lara Blackwood Pickrel

Can I say how cool Chalice Press is for their latest marketing approach? They will make books like this one available as a free Kindle download for a very limited time. Smart. People download it, read it, write about it on their blogs or talk about it with friends, and voila, a little bump of interest for a book that's been out for a while.

The book itself is a series of essays and is worth reading, covering topics like pornography, the "true love waits" movements, hookup culture, and more. Each piece is very frank and real in its own way, though Mary Allison Cates's essay on her IVF experience is at the top of the pack in terms of depth and beauty. (And I'm not just saying that because I know her...!) Many of the writers are in their 20s, and I wish I'd had their wisdom when I was that age. Still, the book made me long for a similar volume by folks slightly (or maybe much) older. What does one learn about sexuality after 20 years of marriage? What about folks who've been single that long? How about motherhood? (conspicuously absent from the collection) How have things changed? What about body image and aging? Etc.

The Night Men by Keith Snyder

Keith is one of those strange 21st-century creatures in my life---a friend, even maybe a good one, whom I've never met in person. Keith is an artist, musician and writer of several novels and stories, including this one, recently made available on Kindle. I read it during our Europe trip, and when I finished it I said to Robert, "Well that was well worth $2.99 on Kindle!" Robert said, "OK, but that doesn't exactly come across as a ringing endorsement." Oh, right. What I mean is, folks who don't know Keith or his books should give him a try. Three bucks for a good yarn... since when have you gotten off so easy?

I went into it expecting a traditional mystery (whatever that is) and the book turned out to be more of a coming-of-age story. The book's Amazon page has as good a summary as any: "The friendships forged in the fires of youth are often strongest, and those formed by Jason and Roberto and Martin, three California boys, have survived into adulthood. A call from a gay friend whose newly opened Brooklyn music store has been vandalized spurs Jason to action. And the likelihood that it was a hate crime calls to mind the events that caused three very different high schoolers to bond years ago."

It's smartly written with some very endearing characters. Just get it and read it. It's a page turner clicker.

Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers

I'm still in this one, but it's been a good read. Powers argues that shifts in technology have always required us to reconfigure our lives. In that sense, our digital age is nothing new. He studies some of these periods in history and explores what they might have to teach us. I think where he's headed--- his basic recommendation is that we find spaces and times to unplug---is pretty obvious, but how he gets there is interesting and fun.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

I really love Fadiman. Several of you recommended this one after I reviewed The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. This one is also still in progress---I'm only a few essays into it---but the story about merging her library with her husbands was funny and touching. I'd say this book is aspirational for me; I don't feel nearly erudite enough to relate to her, but it's an amusing, educational ride.

Image: "The Man in the Books" by Andre Martins de Barro