Editor’s Note: This is a sequel to Byron’s “A summer feast of books,” published here two weeks ago. Enjoy this second dose of summer reading suggestions!
Online journals like Comment are a splendid medium for ideas and reading. The easy availability and quality writing found online should gladden the hearts of readers everywhere. Still, there is something about a book in the hand. Summertime may be a time to borrow and buy, hold and ponder these squares of paper and print. Here are a few that you may want to pick up.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Matthew B. Crawford (Penguin Press). From the moment I heard of this book I thought of friends at Cardus and Comment, friends who care about work and who understood that knowing is more than holding facts in the brain—that what one does with one’s hands allows for authentic insight. Crawford trained for the information age, got a Ph.D., learned a certain kind of abstract scholarship . . . and hated his think tank job. He wondered why his love for fixing things and working with his hands had been discouraged throughout his high school education—indeed, why shop classes were in fact being discontinued. This is a wondrous, thoughtful reflection on craftsmanship, on, as one reviewer put it, “the morality and metaphysics of the repairman.” When social critics such as Jackson Lears and Albert Borgmann rave, we should take notice. Rod Dreher writes, “Everyone once in a great while a book will come along that’s brilliant and true and perfect for its time.” When a writerly motorcycle mechanic tells his story like this, some may be apt to “go and do likewise.” Well, even if you don’t intend to open your own mechanic shop this summer, you should tinker with your hands. You’ll know better about what it all means as you read this unusually wonderful book.
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, by Alain de Botton (Pantheon). This author became a hero for many of literature lovers when he wrote about How Proust Can Change Your Life; others found consoling the Consolations of Philosophy. His splendid Architecture of Happiness offered his important and elegant contribution to how our built environment contributes to human joy. Here he wanders through various jobs and careers, from cargo ship spotting to biscuit manufacturing, from those who work in accounting to those who work in the quintessential modern job, rocket science. This is beautifully done, evoking what makes jobs either fulfilling or soul-destroying. Speaking of the feel of a book—this was produced with heavy stock, bound tightly, and includes photos and some nice graphic touches. Kudos to the workers who made this book. It is a joy even to hold, and certainly to read.
Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (Riverhead Books). To hear an evangelical Christian on NPR is a treat, and to see Ms. Hagerty now published by the prestigious Riverhead—writing elegantly on the mysteries of brain studies, neurology, and the nexus of faith and science—is tremendous. How interesting to see rave, rave reviews from both Cokie Roberts and Donald Miller.
Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail, by Margot Starbuck (InterVarsity Press). I had a hunch that the publisher thought this was going to be one of their best new books (perhaps especially for younger adults) when they had an online vote to choose the cover (and both options were very, very good). A gimmick, perhaps, but it created an expectation and buzz around this new author that is very well deserved. I was hooked at the first page; it seemed to convey gravity and joy, a light and charmed touch with some immanent surprises. Fine young writers like Patton Dodd and Shauna Niequist and Lauren Winner have raved. This is a lovely journey of an adopted girl searching for a father, and the Father. Fun, funny, thoughtful and thought provoking, this is a memoir that allows the reader more than enjoyment. He or she will be blessed.
One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World, by Gordon Hempton and John Grossman (Free Press). Some books carry such an earnestness and plainspoken honesty that the reader can’t help but appreciate the author’s tale. Hempton is the world’s leading environmental audio recorder, carrying his high tech recording gear into the most remote places on Earth. This book tells of his road trip in an old Vee Dub (as he calls it) bus across the U.S. measuring decibel levels (often surprisingly high) in even remote national forests and parks. He meets with others who resist noise pollution, carrying his campaign from Olympia National Park to Washington, D.C., where he presses his case for control of flight patterns over wilderness areas. This is road trip, a journey of discovery, nature writing and down-home conversations with an eccentric cast of characters along the way. In a moment of great irony, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, he cannot hear the solemn instructions to keep silent, because of a teeth-rattling jet zooming overhead. Abraham Kuyper famously spoke of Christ’s redeeming claim over every square inch of creation. Surely at least one of those square inches should be utterly silent.
Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting, by Michael Perry (HarperCollins). We love telling about this grand, good writer whose book about rural life, Population: 485 and Truck: A Love Story captured the affection of so many. In this new book, Perry tells of his current life in a rickety Wisconsin farmhouse, in over his head with pigs, chickens, a wife, and child on the way. It may not be adequate to suggest that he is a blend of Wendell Berry and Red Green, a blue collar Garrison Keillor, but he is a very funny guy and very good writer. It seems as if he is a good man, too, which makes reading him a true delight.
Culture Making, by Andy Crouch (InterVarsity Press). Mr. Crouch has written for Comment and this book is one of the most celebrated titles in our circles; if you haven’t read it yet, pull up a chair and get busy. This is a fresh, fun take on the “foundational command” and a helpful reminder of what it looks like to be committed to human flourishing. Be prepared to agree, to disagree, to delight, to think, to ponder and maybe to dream up some new, generous endeavors. Very highly recommended.
The 100 Best Business Books of All Time: What They Say, Why They Matter and How They Can Help You, by Jack Covert & Todd Sattersten (Portfolio). I might think that some Comment readers will know many of these titles well. Others may be immune to the ubiquitous call of these self-help stories of leadership, management, vision and achieving success. This is a very interesting way to dip in to this vast genre—a genre laden with hype and dross—and see what we might learn about a well-lived, culturally-fruitful life from books that have become famous, and some you may never heard of. These guys are candid and opinionated (for a great turnaround story, they say, skip the popular Jack Welch memoir and pick up instead Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance by the CEO who reinvigorated IBM.) They include 25 works of fiction and 10 movies that can inspire and illuminate.
Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits, by Jack Murnighan (Three Rivers Press). When A. J. Jacobs says something is “ridiculously entertaining,” I take notice. Gotta love a book which says, “Feel bad about not reading or not enjoying the so-called great books? Don’t sweat it. Did anyone tell you that Anna Karenina is a beach read, that Dickens is hilarious, that the Iliad‘s battle scenes rival Hollywood’s for gore . . .” I’m not sure that this author, who has a Ph.D. in medieval and renaissance literature, offers the best crib sheet, but it is a hoot, and would be a sure conversation starter, at the beach, lakeside or pool. His “what to skip” section may be debatable, but his quirky facts and “best lines” are great.
The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama, by Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen (Faith Alive). Many have found these friends of Comment to be amongst our most reliable guides to the Biblical story and how it shapes a transforming worldview. This is a significantly edited version of their extraordinary Drama of Scripture complete with discussion questions, pull quotes, a nicer typeface and a very cool cover. Ideal for younger readers, this is the most accessible introduction to the Bible in print. Kudos to the publishing wing of the Christian Reformed Church for bringing us this slimmed-down version of a serious classic.
Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion, by Richard Foster & Gayle Beebe (InterVarsity Press). Summer’s pleasant mornings and occasional un-rushed evenings make for good and profitable times of solitude and silence. With a little focus, one can dig deeper into one’s soul, and recommit to practicing classic spiritual disciplines and prayerful reading. This grand collection offers robust and mature guidance into spiritual formation by way of highlighting the insights and advice of saints from earlier eras. From Bernard of Clairvaux to John Calvin, John Bunyan to Julian of Norwich and so many more, this collection offers a spectacular array of voices and suggestions. As John Piper is quick to remind us, knowing God for His own glory is a great, great pleasure. Enjoy!
Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World, by N. D. Wilson (Nelson). This is a weird bit of writing from a distinguished young Reformed scholar (an editor at Credenda/Agenda) who has written a book that itself a tilt-a-whirl ride, fast-paced and dizzying, crazy-making with prose that shimmers and skips, drawing attention to the good and evil we find in daily life. This world is beautiful but badly broken, a story not stuck in one place. Like every good story, he says, there are questions to explore, and an Author to the Story. In the beginning was the Word. What a tribute to the wackiness of life!