The December Book Talk

The December Book Talk: Old Acquaintances and Old Books for a Happy New Year

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.

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.

Hilbilly Elegy

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.  

Blessings!

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.

I’m Committed…

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50 thoughts on “The December Book Talk: Old Acquaintances and Old Books for a Happy New Year”

  1. Thanks for sharing these recommendations! There are so many great books, just not enough time to read them all. I like the sound of “Once Upon a Wardrobe” though! At the moment I’m enjoying “Live No Lies” by John Mark Comer. I also like the idea of re-reading more older books. That’s something I hope to do more of in the coming year.

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  2. My pile of books is growing. Thank you for some challenging reading suggestions—I look so forward to your column on what you are reading!

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  3. All the books you’ve recommended here sound fascinating, Michele. I have read Hillbilly Elegy, and though it is a revealing story about the chasm between classes of people in this country, it was rather rough around the edges. The one starring Meg sounds delightful!
    Blessings!

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  4. Michele,
    I can appreciate your new rule of “one old book for every three new ones.” I’m finding that “older” books are taking on a whole new relevance in the faith-culture in which we are now living. I do believe I have Eugene Peterson on the shelf — may be time for a re-read.
    Blessings in the New Year,
    Bev xx

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  5. I have not read any of these. I want to read Lewis’s nonfiction that I haven’t yet, so I will probably tackle The Abolition of Man at some point. But after just having wrestled through Christian Essays, I think I need a recovery period before another such brain workout. 🙂

    I’m glad to hear your thoughts about Once Upon a Wardrobe. I loved the premise, but I was not totally happy with one previous book I read by the author, so I was wary. This sounds like it’s worth checking into.

    I posted my top twelve books from this year’s reading on Monday, six fiction and six nonfiction. I don’t reread as much as I’d like, because there are so many new books stacked up (literally). But I need to work a few rereads in.

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  6. I love your discipline of reading an old book for every three new ones. There is much wisdom to be gained from books that have stood the test of time. I just finished Ian Morgan Cron’s new book ont the Enneagram; now I’m wondering if I should also read Suzanne Stabile’s book. 🙂

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  7. Thanks for this list, Michele. They all sound wonderful and full of much insight and wisdom, not only offering insight about ourselves, but about the world at large in which we believers must live. I like how you note to start with the Bible and asking the Lord for wisdom. This is key! Happy New Year!

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  8. Michele, thanks to this post, I now have “The Abolition of Man” on an end table, waiting for me to dig in. It sounds challenging, but also like a refreshing change from so much of today’s more emotionally based writing. I always enjoy your reading recaps and look forward to more in the new year.

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  9. I am eager to read Once Upon A Wardrobe as well as Hillbilly Elegy. I had been told that there was a prequel to the Narnia series and I’m wondering if this is the one. I was raised in a home where my birth mother used profanity quite liberally. It took me years to break that horrible habit and I still struggle at times. Thank you for the warning about Hillbilly Elegy. I will still read it with more understanding thanks to your review.

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    1. The only “prequel “ to Narnia I know of is The Magician’s Nephew. The book I reviewed is a fictional interaction in which Lewis shared his life story (accurately) as a way of explaining why he wrote the Chronicles. Hope this helps…

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  10. Happy New Year Michele. I see two books I have read and both good – the Wardrobe one and Stabile’s book. Oh never heard that by C S Lewis but its good, for every three read one old one (reread i presume). While I can’t fit that in right now but making me think what I could do.

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  11. Rereading books is a wonderful thing, I think. I always understand the book in deeper ways the second time around. I have read Hillbilly Elegy and was not a fan. Vance tried to use is autobiography to show the U.S. how Appalachia is……he wrote a tale of his own life, not one full representational of the Appalachia many people know. Thanks for linking up and have a happy new year!

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  12. I just read C.S. Lewis’ advice to read 1 old book for every 3 new books last month when I read a collection of his essays and letters called The Reading Life. I feel like I followed that advice for the most part in 2021, mostly due to two different reading challenges for classic books. I haven’t read The Abolition of Man (a bit daunting since he is so brilliant and it can be hard to track with him), though I loved Mere Christianity and A Grief Observed.

    Here are my December reads, if interested! https://elle-alice.blogspot.com/2021/12/december-book-reviews.html

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