Anyone who tries to keep up with the publishing industry–even if your scope is as narrowly focused as mine–can attest to the truth of King Solomon’s sigh: “Of making many books there is no end.” It does seem that way at times, and I’ve responded by making some adjustments to my reading life to prevent the weariness King Solomon warned us about.
Maybe you’ve already noticed that in 2021 I began trying to observe C.S Lewis’s advice to read one old book for every three new books. Certainly, old books (and old friends!) are a gift and a comfort. Reading older books that have proved their worth by simple endurance protects us from the danger of chronological snobbery, and it’s a practice I want to continue.
Reading older books that have proved their worth by simple endurance protects us from the danger of chronological snobbery, and it’s a practice I want to continue.Tweet
In 2022, let’s begin with scripture, and, then, ask God for guidance and perseverance to make the absolute most of our reading choices. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Now, Let’s Talk Books…
It’s been a month for reading non-fiction, but I’ve included one shimmering fictional recommendation. What have YOU been reading in these final weeks of 2021? Be sure to share your favorites in the comments! Too, if you’ve read any of the books I’m reviewing, I hope you’ll add your thoughts to the conversation.
The Abolition of Man
C.S. Lewis’s premise is startlingly relevant to 2021 (and 2022!), but unfortunately, even with its small size, The Abolition of Man is among the most challenging of Lewis’s works I’ve tackled. Using the very specific example of “The Green Book,” Lewis attacks and decimates moral relativism and the prevailing culture’s reductionist view of the world.
Lewis argues that God created us with an intellect and with passions that are both designed to be ruled by “the chest,” which he defines as “the seat… of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments.” Here we see Lewis the logician and apologist (not Lewis the storyteller). Therefore, his super-power of concise profundity shines through in quotes like this:
The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”
The heart never takes the place of the head, but it can, and should, obey it.”
A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.”
As usual, Lewis requires a slow read (or even a re-read!), but the reward repays the reader’s effort.
Once Upon a Wardrobe
And speaking of C.S. Lewis, he appears as a character in Patti Callahan’s Once Upon a Wardrobe. Lewis’s childhood and the origin of the expansive, imaginative world of Narnia weave themselves through story into the life of Megs Devonshire. When her little brother George introduces her to Aslan, she is drawn into the wonder herself, first as a means of connecting with George in his world made small by a serious heart condition. Eventually, however, she begins looking for answers for herself in the world beyond the wardrobe, and she goes directly to the source!
Set in mid-twentieth-century England, Megs’s life as a student at Oxford puts her in contact with the jovial and welcoming Lewis brothers. Callahan has painted a very believable picture encompassing a full and rich fictional world that intersects with the theology and practical wisdom found in Lewis’s writing. As always, when I read Lewis’s words anywhere, I’m challenged to “suppose that there was another world, and God entered it in a different way than he did here on earth.”
Readers who struggle with the futility of reducing the work of God to something logical that lies within their mental grasp will enter fully into Megs’s conflicted emotions as she stands with one foot in imagination and the other in a world where charts and lists bring understanding and order.
On Living Well
In On Living Well, Eugene Peterson the Bible translator, practical theologian, and professor of spiritual formation steps aside as Eugene Peterson the pastor speaks with compassion and clarity into his readers’ most needful places. Wisdom from a lifetime of both following and shepherding encourages Christians to “start with God” in order to produce lives worth watching. To that end, our sanctification process will carry us, fueled by the Spirit, through the movements of both praise and prayer and through the rigors of blessed community.
Peterson warns believers against becoming “cut flowers” who have lost touch with our roots, withering quickly, starved for nourishment. This collection of brief reflections on wisdom for walking in the way of Jesus is excellent night-stand reading, but the content is also substantial fodder for thematic study. Living well requires traveling well, and we do that best with our feet “on the life path, all radiant from the shining of [God’s] face.” Even now, Peterson’s words continue to show us the way to that path.
The Gap Decade
Ironically, in spite of all that’s been written about the struggle of Gen Z and millennial young adults launching into “grown-up” life, I actually vacillated more than my kids did. Therefore, I read The Gap Decade: When You’re Technically an Adult but Really Don’t Feel Like It Yet wishing someone had been addressing this topic forty years ago, particularly with Katie Schnack’s gift for weaving memoir with sound wisdom around her own exploration of the onramp to adulthood.
It’s been a long time since I chuckled while reading a book, but Schnack has a gift for addressing serious topics with both humor and aching vulnerability, so you will chuckle along with her no matter what stage of life you presently inhabit if you have experienced the silence of God, if your journey includes mental health challenges, or if you are simply captivated by a fresh, sparkling metaphor. Her story demonstrates the sovereign love of a God who is intimately concerned with every detail of his children’s lives, while furiously guarding their autonomy.
Her experience with God’s guidance has been that “some people may know what they want to do with their life and what lights them up like a neon retro motel sign, and that is awesome. But for others, discovering what they love and what fulfills them may come about more subtly and slowly, and that’s okay too.” (31) Me, too, and I appreciated the reminder!
The Journey toward Wholeness
If you are already familiar with Enneagram wisdom and have identified your number, The Journey Toward Wholeness: Enneagram Wisdom for Stress, Balance, and Transformation is a terrific next stage for venturing into the territory of triads (managing your dominant Center of Intelligence) and stances (managing your repressed Center of Intelligence). The goal of all Enneagram work is balance. This, of course, requires a healthy response to what we discover about ourselves and a courageous relinquishment of the illusion of control.
The reward of this diligent soul work is a healthy working relationship with thinking, feeling, and doing. Suzanne Stabile’s description of each triad’s response to stress and way of being in the world is gently eye-opening, and the spiritual practices she suggests for movement toward health are ambitious and involve the right degree of discomfort to let me know their true growth potential.
The conversation about transformation at the heart of all stance work challenges readers to consider how the tendency to be dependent, withdrawing, or aggressive impacts our encounters with others. Helpful stories from real people functioning within their own number provided excellent clarification of the many ways of seeing the world and the transformative possibilities across the board.
This is the true gift of the Enneagram: an end to the train wreck of outside-in change with wallpapered righteousness that never reaches the heart. True transformation comes with a melting away of the old, an inside-out job fueled by the Spirit, which involves more of letting go and less of grasping for control. It’s a journey that will take a lifetime, and Enneagram work facilitates the process and enables us to pay attention to the view along the way.
I wish I could report that the life described in Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis is utterly foreign to me, but I also grew up in an economically depressed region in a chaotic home and was probably not expected to accomplish much in life either. J.D. Vance’s skillfully woven memoir chronicles a culture that just doesn’t work, so the Catch-22 of poverty with its downward spiral of serial decision-fails features some pretty discouraging reading, but Vance’s piercing honesty is well worth the effort.
The profuse profanity in the story provides an accurate portrayal of the setting, but it makes it hard for me to recommend the book. However, the total immersion in Vance’s context may be startling in all the right ways for those who can stomach the vocabulary of brokenness. After all, baggage is the common denominator of the human experience. It’s how we carry it that determines our mental and spiritual health in the end.
That’s it for another month–and another year! Thank you to both old acquaintances and new for your faithful reading here throughout 2021. I look forward to sharing words about the books I’m reading and the grace I’m receiving in the coming year.
Too, if you are planning a women’s event in 2022, I’d love to open the Word of God with you and your people! I’d appreciate your prayers for my Saturday brunch with the women of Danforth Baptist Church on January 15. It would be a blessing to see YOUR face in the new year.
Holding you in the Light,
December has been a month for good reading. Join me for the last Book Talk post of 2021 where we’re discussing books that make us smile, make us cringe, or require us to think hard and well.Tweet
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