Monday, October 27, 2008

Catching Up On Books

Seemingly endless homework (oh, the joys of grad school) precludes focusing much time on one book more than others as well as plenty of non-school reading that I'd love to be doing. (I can't seem to fix that sentence.) So, while normally I'd like to be providing adequate, full reviews for the great books I am plowing through, in the circumstances I thought I would do a quick catch-up. I'll run through everything since mid-August, around when school started.

(Key: FS = "for school"; FF = "for fun".)

Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas (FF) -- A small book of a series of sermons Hauerwas delivered on Christ's last seven words from the cross, complete with an artist's sparse artistic renderings of each word. Trademark Hauerwas, but less academic and more ecclesial (in context, not substance -- I'm not sure if Hauerwas could be more ecclesial).

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (FF) -- This was Katelin's and my first book to read together, and we're hoping to read through the whole Borter Trilogy together once time affords the opportunity. A story about two young friends in the 1950s who head south into Mexico and find all sorts of trouble awaiting them. I've read No Country For Old Men and plan to read The Road next month. I thought this one was great, but for whatever reason it didn't enthrall me the way No Country did. McCarthy's bare prose is always an asset, but sometimes hard to crack. Don't get me wrong: I'd still recommend it, but I wasn't utterly blown away. (Probably a case of too high expectations.)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (FF) -- I listened to this one on audiobook, which was a fantastic experience. So much of Chabon's style is theatricality and verbosity, and listening only enhanced those aspects. As my first Chabon novel, he fully won me over. If you don't know, this won the Pulitzer for fiction when it came out, wholly deservingly so. It's a fictional account of the birth of comics in the 30s and 40s, infused with a thousand different winks and nods to what really happened, and spans decades and continents and generations. Funny, engaging, tangible characters, imaginative and sprawling story. The week I finished it I went out and bought a used copy just to read it again.

A Peculiar People by Rodney Clapp (FF) -- A new career goal of mine is to eventually publish a book on Rodney Clapp's publishing company Brazos Press, simply due to the quality of the books they put out and the vision presented in this book. They just need to reissue it with a more appealing cover -- I probably delayed reading this book for months solely due to how unappealing the front is. The inside, however, is a joy. Its subtitle details the content nicely: "Church as culture in a post-Christian society." Clapp has drunk deeply at the wonderful wells of Yoder and Hauerwas, alongside boundary-breaking cross-discipline readings, and the result is superb, while remaining readable for the average churchgoer usually uninterested with theology.

Gilead and Home by Marilynne Robinson (FF) -- Yes! My favorite book and its recent companion. I wrote briefly about Gilead here, and never got around to reviewing Home. Better that way anyway, because there's no reason to spoil a word. Just buy them and love them, and then help me in petitioning the government to intervene and force Marilynne Robinson to churn out one book per year. This is necessary. (Mike Cope is soon writing about Home on his blog, so I will link there when he does.)

Intimacy and Mission by Luther Smith (FS) -- I read this for my Urban Ministries class with Dr. Luther Smith, the author. The book is an account of five different intentional Christian communities: Koinonia in Americus, Georgia; Sojourners in Washington, D.C.; Church of the Messiah in Detroit; Patchwork in Evansville, Indiana; and Voice of Calvary in Jackson, Mississippi. (I am reporting this by memory, so if I confused cities and groups, forgive me.) Smith draws from interviews and time spent with persons in each community conclusions, reflections, and challenges for both the institutional church and intentional communities. Anyone spurred on by books like Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution to live in intentional community ought to read this book; it also has valuable insights for those in "regular" churches, specifically for how to engage one's neighborhood in transforming presence and service.

Chutes and Ladders by Katherine Newman (FS) -- Also for Urban Ministries, this is a sociologist's exploration of the low-wage labor market through relationships with minority correspondents in Harlem from the early 1990s, through the Clinton years, into the beginning of Bush's time in office (which means, through the "end" of the welfare state). This is a thick book, but supremely helpful in painting a realistic picture of the reality on the ground, over time, for poor minorities born into a place like Harlem. Too many numbers for me, but otherwise an even-handed presentation of the successes and failings of the working poor, and the too-often impossibility of the system.

Rachel and Her Children by Jonathan Kozol (FS) -- If Chutes is the by-the-numbers analysis (even through personal stories), Kozol's account of the plight of the homeless in the late 1980s is the grab-you-by-the-neck, shake-you-around, throw-you-in-the-gutter, plant-your-face-in-the-muck poetic/theological narrative version. Wholly depressing, wholly human, filled to the brim with tears, blood, anger, and courage, Kozol is a prophet crying out in the wilderness. Anyone who reads this blog shares my privilege, and would do well to be shaken out of their malaise by such a prophet. I know I was.

Writing in the Dust by Rowan Williams (FF) -- Brief but powerful reflections on 9/11 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was teaching at a local parish just a few blocks away when the towers were hit. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Political sanity, theological humaneness, hospitable vision from a cousin across the pond.

Ongoing: Theological Introduction to the Old Testament by Walter Brueggemann, David Peterson, Terence Fretheim, Bruce Birch (FS); Introduction to the Hebrew Bible by John Collins (FS); Women's Bible Commentary edited by Carol Newsom (FS) -- I'm in the middle of all of these, and will be finishing them by May of next year (when OT is completed). The first is wonderful and my kind of book by four of the best OT scholars alive; the second has become the bane of my reading existence (I have an upcoming post springboarding off Collins' approach in order to make broader conclusions for the life of the church); and the third is an excellent collection of feminist takes on each book of the Bible, not always for me, but then, that is the point. Learning to listen to historically silenced voices is never a mistake.

In the midst: Beyond Homelessness by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh (FS); Democracy Matters by Cornel West (FF); A Better Hope by Stanley Hauerwas (FF) -- The first is looking to be a profound account of what it means to be homeless in the West in the 21st century: socioeconomic homelessness (people without shelter or stability in daily life) and cultural homelessness (the "postmodern nomad" who knows no place as home). Drawing on favorites of mine like Wendell Berry and Walter Brueggemann, they talk about modern American culture engendering placelessness as a norm, an idea opposed to the homemaking creator God who both provides a place for humans in creation and himself dwells in an emplaced body in first century Palestine. I chose this book for a literature review for Urban Ministries, and it is fantastic.

The second is Cornel West's plea in 2004 for an emboldened and revitalized democracy in American politics. I'm reading it as a kind of similarly-spirited but substantively different Christian account of American democracy than that of Stanley Hauerwas, who has influences me so much in my understanding of the church and the state in America. We will see how West does.

Speaking of Hauerwas, I am about halfway done with A Better Hope, subtitled "Resources for a church confronting capitalism, democracy, and postmodernity." It is exactly that, and, as always, thought-provoking and disagreeably formative. Always a pleasure.

Audiobook: Night by Elie Wiesel (FF) -- I never read Night in high school, so I'm listening to it while shelving in the library. No words of mine need be added to such a work.

Upcoming: Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan (FF); The Road by Cormac McCarthy (FF); Watership Down by Richard Adams (FF); A Community of Character by Stanley Hauerwas (FF); The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry (FF) -- I'd hope to have this read by Thanksgiving, but I'll be lucky to have them done by the end of 2008.

One other book: The Brothers K by David James Duncan, if it weren't so ginormous, would be at the top of my stack right now. Has anyone read this? Should it be number one in spite of its behemoth size? Give me feedback, give me reasons. It's tough to commit to 700 pages in the midst of papers, reports, and midterms. Convince me.

Apart from that, feel free to make any other burning recommendations you have. Christmas is coming and there's nothing quite like a new used book.

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