The Crux Staff Picks them for February was “Books we Love.” The March theme is “Books we found/find challenging.” To bridge these two themes, we recommend reading this article on Re-reading Books. Sometimes we re-read books because we love them. Other times we need to re-read books to better understand them. Look for our books we found challenging posts over the next week or so.
Here at Crux we’ve put together a list of books you might consider reading during Lent. It turns out there are some similar lists around. Check out 40 books for 40 days over on The Millions — that is a different kind of challenge to consider for this season!
Happy 2015 from the staff at Crux.
Well a new year means a new start, right? For January our staff pick theme is “Reading Resolutions.” We share with you books we’ve been meaning to read, and have resolved that 2015 is the year we are finally going to get THESE books off our reading lists.
Cindy Resolves to Read: C.S. Lewis – A Life by Alister McGrath
Cindy says: “I have resolved to read C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath. I have picked up the book several times, begun reading, then gotten distracted by other books that “needed” reading. This meant I put down the book I really wanted to read. I plan to start the new year off right by reading this book from cover to cover. The few pages that I have already read were an engaging and insightful look into the life and background of C.S. Lewis. I look forward to actually finishing the book!”
Ryan Resolves to Read: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (ooo, a big Russian novel, go Ryan!)
Ryan modestly says: “The Brothers Karamozov is the final novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This year I plan to read this book because it is a great work of literature that treats philosophical and religious issues in great detail.”
Rev. Heather Resolves to Read: Leviticus by Ephraim Radner (ooo, a book by a professor, nice move Rev. Heather.)
Rev. Heather gushes: “In this New Year with all of its infinite potential and shiny new possibilities I – The Reverent Miss Heather Kathleen May Liddell – resolve to read the infamous Radner commentary on Leviticus! Wish me luck! Keep me in your prayers! Consider joining me on this adventure? Can Ephraim Radner really make Leviticus intersting? I’ve heard good things but I’m skeptical. Are you? Let’s find out!”
Sheila Resolves to Read: Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia for All That Is by Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams. (ooo, Sheila how very ecumenical with that pair of authors!)
Sheila notes: “This year, I am starting off my reading with Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia for All That Is by Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams. This is a book that has been on my “intend to read” shelf for longer that I would like to admit. Now seems the optimal time (o chairos) to begin again the practice of gratitude. Chittister and Williams seek to guide the reader in the offering of praise regardless of one’s particular circumstance: ‘To define life by its pastoral moments only — the goal of a feel-good society — is to understand vey little about life at all. Life calls for stronger stuff than that. Life is dirge as well as symphony, lament as well as hymn.’ [p.94] Amen.”
June staff picks are random books for random travels. So far Carolyn has suggested a little time travel to encounter a bear and a monk in the middle ages and Sheila sent us off to China with Hudson Taylor. Here are some more random travels:
Cindy’s Pick: Cindy is the store manager. For summer travel and reflection she suggests a nice travel journal.
Even if your only trip is around the block, summer is a good time to reestablish the discipline of keeping a journal.
Alain’s Pick: Alain is our resident classicist, about to leave us for advanced degrees in Texas. His pick is a work of literary criticism that takes us into a poem about Eden and the fall.
A Preface To Paradise Lost by C.S. Lewis
Dr. Heather’s Pick:
Dr. Heather has also chosen a work of literary criticism by Lewis. This one takes us into the world of books more generally. It looks at what makes a book worth reading and re-reading and suggests new ways of evaluating works of art, particularly works of literature.
An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
Jesus of Nazareth by Benedict XVI
As we head towards Easter, this is a fantastic series to read. The first volume (of the three volume set) covers the time period from the baptism in the Jordan to the transfiguration, volume two concentrates on Holy Week, while volume three focuses on the infancy narratives. The books scour the gospels to find the true identity of Jesus and paint a compelling portrait of him. You cannot read these books without coming away with a richer and fuller knowledge and picture of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The Courage To Teach by Parker J. Palmer
The Courage to Teach is an insightful, and at times very funny, look at teaching. Palmer presents teaching as he experienced it, and in so doing, gives courage to his readers who have similar experiences.
Preaching from Memory to Hope by Thomas G. Long
In this book Long looks at the necessity of memory and remembering in the context of preaching. He reminds us of eschatological hope, so that we remember that God’s people, the Church, has a past, a present, and a future.
Enchiridion by Epictetus
The title is not the only strange characteristic of this work. Epictetus, influenced heavily by Stoic thought, here gives us a prescription for living. It suggests (in broad strokes) ways of comprehending what we call “good’ and/or “bad” elements of our lives. It intrigued me, because it offered answers without supplying an easy way out. Yes, you could consult the work for advice in making many decisions; however, its advice will offer you a new way of conceptualizing the problem, rather than providing a solution. It is not an ancient equivalent of a modern self-help guide. The essential distinction Epictetus makes in the work is between that which is within the control of one’s will, and that which is not. We may rightly ask in some cases where that distinction lies. Epictetus would likely respond by saying it is for us to intuit. In that way, this small book only aims to offer pathways to answers. I wouldn’t follow all of the Enchriridion‘s suggestions to their logical conclusions, but as a thought experiment, the work is interesting because of its quirks.
The End of Apologetics by Myron Bradley Penner
Arguing that most examples of Christian apologetics on offer today have been shaped and oriented toward modernity’s obsession with reason as the final arbiter of truth, Penner calls for a new form of apologetics for a postmodern context—apologetics that is both loving in its delivery and faithful in its witness.
Ethics in the Presence of Christ by Christopher J. Holmes
Chris Holmes is a TST graduate currently teaching theology at the University of Otago in New Zealand. This is his most recent book.
Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams
Here are the Crux Staff picks for March.
Ed: The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott
Cindy: Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
If you enjoyed Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas then this is the Lenten and Easter devotional for you! Done in the same format with contributions from a variety of authors (including C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Day, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, and Madeleine L’Engle, along with many others) the book contains selections grouped around themes such as temptation, crucifixion, resurrection, and new life. This is a beautiful collection that can be returned to throughout the year for spiritual insight and reflection.
Heather W. (The Doctor): Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris
Norris writes books on the spiritual life that challenge me to think outside the box I unintentionally put around spirituality. Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life is an excellent book to pick up for Lent. Norris examines acedia — soul-weariness — and uses this old term to discuss very modern cultural maladies.
Alain: God is on the Cross by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Sheila: The Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann
As usual, I had a hard time picking just one book for March. Allow me, please, to quote from my second choice to explain the first. The Unicorn, Jewel, in The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, upon realising that his company is in Aslan’s Land, cries: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come farther up, come farther in!” Father Schmemann in his book, The Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, reminds his readers that God is inviting us even now to “come farther up, comer farther in!” Lent is a time set aside to ponder anew what draws us away from God and to learn again the hope in the mystery of our risen Lord. For those seasoned in Lent and for those approaching it for the first time, the essays in this book encourage readers to explore more deeply the liturgical tradition as part of our spiritual journey. A longing to be with Christ is awakened most poignantly and we are called again to worship.
Connor: Lent with Benedict XVI
Carolyn: Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf
In this highly readable book, Volf offers challenging and thought-provoking reflections on forgiveness, reconciliation, grace, and giving. Painful personal stories offer a poignant credibility to his insights. This was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book in 2006.
Andrew: Undoing of Death by Fleming Rutledge
Heather L. (The Deacon): Beloved by Henri Nouwen
Sometimes it is difficult to read scholarly books. Language and concepts can both be dense and tangled, but only one of the two need be obscure for difficulties to arise. (See what I mean?)
We (Crux Staff) have read our share of difficult texts. Here are 7 strategies (see what we did there?) we use to wade through and find meaning when things get tangled and twisted.
- Fling the book in question across the room and against the wall. This releases the tension caused by obfuscation and may allow you to move on with reading. This also works when you find the argument vacuous or ridiculous. We have flung authors from Hegel to Harris across rooms. You can decide which of those is obtuse and which ridiculous.
- Use a dictionary or other reference tome that may shed light on the text. Regular English Dictionaries are very helpful, as are specialized dictionaries of theological or philosophical terms. Maps and diagrams can be helpful depending on the subject.
- Read slowly and in small sections. Sometimes summarizing a paragraph helps decode what happened in that block of text. Active reading includes taking notes and sitting at a desk or table, not sprawling on a couch or bed. Some difficult books must be read on hard chairs, no cushions allowed.
- While cushions are not allowed, breaks are allowed, and even recommended. Breaks help the brain digest the heavy rich food found in difficult books.
- Talking about a book with a study group can help untangle the threads of an author’s point. Of course, class discussions and professors can also make things plain, but the work of decoding a text yourself is far more rewarding in the long run. Really.
- A summary or précis can be helpful. Some authors realize this and produce their own summaries. Other times we resort to notes and summaries written by others. Be Selective in the summaries you use though!
- Speaking of selective, help yourself out by being choosy from the beginning. Pay attention to which English translation you use. Translators make a difference — are you reading the King James Version of a work or is it more like The Message?
Ask the Crux Staff — we sure do. We are here to help in any way we can, even when the reading gets tough.
Now that January is more than 2/3 over, here are the staff picks for the month:
Ed – The ESV Bible black leather with a zipper. Handy for travel!
Cindy – My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.
Heather W: The Radical Disciple by John R. W. Stott, his last book, and one of HW’s picks of 2013
Alain: The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy by Thomas E. Woods Jr.
Sheila: Becoming Human by John Behr. Sheila says “It is a beautiful book, a meditation on what it is to be human with images and quotations woven throughout to give the reader much to ponder. In lyrical prose, Father Behr invites us to look upon Christ, God and Man, and through Christ, to understand our calling to be human. It is a lovely book to read especially ‘in the bleak midwinter’.”
Conner: Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers by Jacques Barzun.
Carolyn: A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. Carolyn thinks this is a book that everyone should have in their library.
Andrew: Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition by Gary A. Anderson.
Heather L: A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
Monthly Staff Picks February, 2014
Here are some books staff at Crux are looking forward to reading in 2014. Of course, all of us know that some of the best reading of the year is unplanned and serendipitous. We talk about books in the store and recommend things to each other. We talk about books with other people and get recommendations from them. Lots of times the best books are the ones we weren’t looking for.
Sheila: “At this point it would have to be Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s The Mystery of Faith, which examines the teaching of the Orthodox faith, looking at both ancient and modern texts to examine doctrines of, for example, the Trinity, the Church, and prayer. It is the first time that this work has been made available in English.”
Alain: “Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield, which admitttedly was my staff pick for December. I’m going to read it. I promise.”
Andrew: “D. Stephen Long’s Saving Karl Barth: Hans Urs von Valthasar’s Preoccupation. Love or Loathe him, we must reckon with Barth. I fall on the love side and Balthasar encapsulates why with the soundest reason: Barth’s theology is beautiful. Long’s book seeks to understand why Balthasar thought this was so and why more recent Barth scholarship (critics and apologists) has too quickly overlooked why Balthasar thought this was so.”
Connor: “Getting Past No by W. Ury. Ah, a sequel. Getting to Yes intrigued me, and now I wonder if it might be worth considering the follow-up guide. these books seem to be quite basic, but for their concise organization and summary of more complex principles, this may well be one that I read in the near future.”
Carolyn: “The End of Apologetics by Myron Penner.”
Heather W.: “C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath. I feel like I should have already read this for the Lewis Jubilee in November. This is just a way to extend the celebrations.”
In a recent blog post, Robert Bruce exploded five myths about reading. Bruce proposed that we can learn from fiction, we all have time for reading, reading is an important activity, our opinions about books we read matter, and real reading doesn’t depend upon genre.
The myths about reading reminded me of some myths about books and buying them that we hear in the bookshop regularly. Here are some common book-buying myths:
- Buying books is a temptation one should always resist. Most staff at Crux can sympathize with the idea that buying books is a temptation. Books, however, are not inherently bad for you, like junk food. Reading books has been known to feed your soul. Feeding your soul is a good thing, not something to resist. Buying books is, therefore, sometimes a soul-feeding activity that should be embraced.
- Books are too expensive. What are you comparing the price of a book to? At an hourly rate, books are excellent entertainment value. Further, books can be invaluable companions over a long period of time. They are soul food (see above). It is true that some books are expensive. Many are worth the price. Reviews and personal recommendations can help you choose which are worth adding to your library.
- I don’t have time for reading. What is important? If you think that reading is important, you can make time for it. One regular Crux patron, a busy priest in an urban parish, reads many books by setting aside time at the end of the day. Books refresh and restore her for the next day in ministry.
What prevents you from buying and reading books?