July Readings for 2020

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In my way of thinking and living, there is nothing quite like beach reading in July.  By that I mean that my current life has no actual connections to any beaches, sun, sand, surf, sea gulls, and waves lapping at my feet.  It has, since you ask, been one of the hardest months of my life.  I won’t rehearse the woes and calamities, including job loss, school closing, mechanical breakdowns, family health crises, and problems in our physical domicile.

But one thing that does connect me to beach reading is the fact that I did get to do some reading during the month.  The books, varied and sundry, will be discussed in turn in this posting.

Books Read in July:

  1. Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Amy Dockser Marcus

Back in March, I met a college student, Alex Perrin, who was a history major for a time.  He recommended this book to me.  I must admit to being a bit lost in the story as it developed in this history.  It was a reminder of how little I know about the history of the Middle East in the 20th century.  I have read 3 or 4 books on the subject, but as I often say, one cannot join the conversation in an intelligent way until they have read–and to some degree, mastered–at least ten books on a particular subject.  Side note:  A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin is my “go to” book on this subject and the one I need to read several times.

No contemporary news story exists in a vacuum. But going back to the roots can be a amazingly complex matter.  The factions–Arab, Ottoman Turk, and Jewish–who were involved in matters in Jerusalem are many and detailed.  Needless to say, the perspective of time give both sadness and amazement at what has and continues to happen there.  (Truth Disclosure:  This book was read in June, not July.)

2. Strays by Remy Wilkins

Remy Wilkins is an actual, real live friend of mine.  The fact that we never cross paths is irrelevant.  He is a young, still budding teacher, scholar, and author who lives in Monroe, Louisiana, attends the Presbyterian church his father pastors, and works in a classical Christian school.

This book, his first novel, is a delightful and engaging story of a young boy who gets caught up in a web of danger and mystery when he goes to live with his uncle.  I always have to confess, with resulting boos and hisses, that I do not prefer the type of stories containing elements of fantasy and Lewis-Tolkien-type Christian messages.  My preference is for the grittier Faulkner-O’Connor type of Southern realism.

However, I work to overcome such moral flaws in my reading.  The opening pages of this book shamed me severely and almost caused me to never write another sentence.  By that, I mean that Remy’s writing is well crafted.  By that, I also mean that I was jealous of his craftsmanship.

While this book might seem to appeal to the younger readers, adults and even old contrarians can read it with much pleasure.  I look forward to reading more of Mr. Wilkins’s books.

3. An Introduction to Theological Anthropology by Joshua R. Farris  (Not pictured below.  My books are all in disorder at the moment, and I don’t know where this one is hiding.)

This book is a theological heavy lifting work. I posted a review of it in conjunction with a few companion volumes last month.

While theology is primarily devoted to the study of God, we also have the need to study man (to use the older, now unacceptable term).  Man, mankind, people, anthropos are complex, wonderfully made, terribly distorted beings.  John Calvin’s Institutes begins with the point that we know God and ourselves as the beginning of knowledge.

I really admire this book and have been able to get to know the author through Facebook.  Much of the time while reading it, I found myself wondering “How would this preach?”  By that, I mean how do we who are teachers, pastors, communicators, etc. take the content and apply it to our audiences?  I believe this is a vital question, and the book doesn’t provide bullet points teaching for the masses.  Remember, it is heavy lifting.  And I do believe that sharpening and deepening our understanding of what we are, what the Bible says we are, and what the culture rightly or wrongly supposes we are–these are vital.

4. Reading Walker Percy’s Novels  and Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the Search for Influence by Jessica Hooten Wilson

Both of these literary studies are fine works and good reading.  Half of the enjoyment of great literature is interaction with others who have read widely and who share their insights and experiences.  I am still way behind on my reading of Walker Percy’s works.  I know, I know.  I claim to be a serious reader of Southern literature, but I am in Walker Percy kindergarten, sleeping on a mat.

This means that I will need to revisit both of these books when I get caught up on reading Percy and when I read, penitently, Demons by Doestoevsky.

5. Great Society: A New History by Amity Shlaes

This is a really good account of America’s War on Poverty during the 1960s and 1970s.  If you would like some solid right wing rants about guv’mint programs and how they fail, look elsewhere.  This work is detailed, maybe even laborious, and careful in its documentation of an era.

Shlaes has written some really valuable histories for our time, including her work on the Great Depression and her biography of Calvin Coolidge.  Add this to those for a powerful trilogy on true conservative historiography.

6. The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 by Lynn Hudson Parsons

I love reading about political battles and election campaigns.  There has never been two more gifted, but totally different men vying for the Presidency than Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams.  They slugged it out in both 1824 and 1828.  This book does a good job of going all the way back through the childhoods and lives of these two men.  Great reading and great fun reading.

7. How to Keep From Losing Your Mind by Deal Hudson

The subtitle for this book is “Educating Yourself Classically to Survive Cultural Indoctrination.”  This book and author reminded me of Father James V. Schall who wrote several books with similar messages.  I have been struggling to provide myself with the meagerest of tools of a classical education for years.  I have been lamenting many of the things lacking in the college training I received.  I have been running and teaching in a classical Christian school until events forced its closure this summer.  This book is right down my alley.

Part of what is unique and helpful about Hudson’s book is that he doesn’t simply repeat the list of great books and why you should read them.  He devotes an equal amount of time to music and movies.  Granted, it is hard to read a review of a piece of music.  But when I listen to classical music, it is usually as background music and not as an active experience.  Hopefully, books like this one will fuel a few more fires for better education.

8. Compel Them to Come In:  Calvinism and the Free Offer of the Gospel by Donald Macleod

This book is a great series of sermons (though not actually that) and exhortations for Reformed folk to get busy about the task of witnessing, evangelizing, praying for, and reaching the lost.  If someone desires a bit more theological detail, J. I. Packer’s classic Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God remains a serious go-to book.  But this one is a powerful reminder to us Reformed hard-heads of what we really believe.

9. Shots Fired by C. J. Box

The dust jacket says that these are Joe Pickett stories, and a few of them are.  C. J. Box is a fun and gripping writer.  I loved these stories, even in a case or two where I objected to Box’s resolutions to the plots. Oh yes, the story titled “The Master Falconer,” featuring Nate Romanowski is worth the price of the book.

10. Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

Read several times before. Each time it is a delight. Especially pertinent right now.

11. The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine by Patrick Schreiner

This is a short book that deals with a neglected doctrine, as the title says.  I sometimes finish a book and think to myself, “This book is far better than my reading of it.”  The fact that Christ ascended up into heaven is really a staggering theological truth.  Along with our notice of and celebration of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, we should be noticing and celebrating His Ascension–and that on Ascension Day/Sunday and ever Day/Sunday.

Jesus did not just slip away.  He ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father.

Read this book, share it, preach it.

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