Scraping in by a mere three hours, I just finished reading my tenth book of 2017, crawling over the double-figures marker exhausted, bug-eyed and ready for bed. It’s been a crazy year and, apart from anything else, being a father seems an entirely reasonable excuse for letting my reading get on the back burner.
Still, 10. And I started a bunch more, and still have a few on the go. I also made a change this year; where before I would doggedly finish a book I had started, this year I realised: who’s got time for that? Not when you’re a parent, working two jobs (sort of), and a bunch of other commitments on the side. They went on the shelf with markers in. I might come back to them later. By the way, I log all this on Goodreads if you’re interested in following my activity there.
So what were the 10 books I read this year? And what else have I got on the go or put on hold? Starting with what I read:
1. Writing Better Lyrics – Pat Pattison
I’ve written about this elsewhere. A must-devour for any aspiring songwriter.
2. The Day the Revolution Began – Tom Wright
Tom’s big popular contribution of 2016, and it delivers all you’d expect from the former bishop and New Testament heavyweight. Unsurprisingly it appears, Tom seems to espouse a certain reading of substitutionary atonement but takes issue with many of its statements in popular doxology.
3. A Time to Kill – John Grisham
I admit it: sometimes I don’t mind escaping into an easy page-turner from Grisham – legal thrillers typically take me into a world with which I am otherwise generally unfamiliar, and some of Grisham’s contributions – notably The Testament – stand out as more than mere pulp-fiction thrillers. Grisham’s first and most well-known book, however, didn’t grip me nearly so much. An author finding his feet no doubt; it felt a little long, and a little too bawdy for reality, though I’ll admit to having been surprised by the social antics of the American South before.
4. Paul’s Gospel in Romans and Galatians – Roger Forster and Paul Marston
From our home team in Ichthus, Forster and Marston’s latest contribution continues much in the vein of their classic God’s Strategy in Human History. This time it comes in the form of a commentary on the two standout letters of Paul that have formed, especially, so much of the central diet of Protestant Christianity. In general they push back against entrenched Augustinian and Calvinist notions by constructing their own appraisals of what words, phrases and verses mean within their context and, in this volume particularly, I think do so successfully. The book is also really nicely printed and bound, in full colour too – with coloured sections in the book providing side-notes or generally discussion points on topics of interest at relevant points in the commentary, which also make for good group study material.
I love this book. So do millions of other people; if you’re an introvert – or at least you think you might be, or you have a close relationship with someone who definitely is – then buy this book.
6. The Great Mystery: Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning – Alister McGrath
I’ve written about this elsewhere too – for Christianity magazine, no less! You can click here to read it but you’ll need to sign up for a free trial or have a subscription, I’m afraid. They were kind enough to ask me to write a review for them, and send me a review copy and everything. Very much enjoyed this book.
7. Unbelievable?: Why after ten years of talking with atheists, I’m still a Christian – Justin Brierley
In the same vein of Christian apologetics, and coming from the same source, really (the author, who is also editor of the aforementioned magazine), I received a copy of this book after I’d been lucky enough to play some songs at Justin’s launch event in July. That was really fun, and I immensely appreciated the book too, which somehow managed to put forward numerous powerful arguments for the Christian faith in a quick, easy-to-read style. No mean feat!
8. Ravelstein – Saul Bellow
Bellow’s Herzog fascinated me when I was studying English Literature at A-level, and years later I have returned, having recently read The Adventures of Augie March and Him With His Foot In His Mouth. With Ravelstein, I found myself a little less enamoured with Bellow – but only a little. This late novel of his, composed when he was in his eighties, about a couple of similarly ageing octogenarians – still packs a fair punch through his incisive commentary on human nature, informed not in small part by a vast array of humanity’s commentators, from philosophers to artists. The ‘American sentence’ that Bellow writes so well is still there – and I really think there’s no one who does it like him, though I’m still trying to find out (see below on what I’m currently reading). Perhaps it was merely that I plumped for reading an ebook version on my iPad, and having a paper copy would have made the experience more complete. Or perhaps Bellow’s mind wasn’t quite as sharp as it was. Though ironically, and no doubt intentionally, he was saying through the narrative, he knew it. And a novelist like this in his eighties still strides a thousand leagues ahead of a thriller-writer for plot, character, language, description and more. If only more people realised it.
9. Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words – Stanley Hauerwas
Only briefly: a stunning little book. Very short. Hauerwas’ commentary on the seven last words of Jesus is like nothing else he’s written – except that it’s unmistakably Hauerwas. I’ve not known him to engage with the text of Scripture so much, but he does so deeply. In particular what emerges is his familiarity and fascination with the Psalms as the prayer book and prayer language of Israel, and as summed up in their Messiah on the cross. There are some beautiful insights in here – and as always with Hauerwas, insights apt for our time.
10. On Thinking the Human – Robert Jenson
Having only finished this an hour ago, I might spare thought for now. A deeply philosophical work helping the reader think through some key but often elusive epistemological concepts by recourse to the Trinity.
I’m currently still wading through Antony Beevor’s The Second World War; reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in my fascination with the Great American Novel; taking a chapter or two a day from Trent Sheppard’s Jesus Journey: Shattering the Stained Glass Superhero and Discovering the Humanity of God (I heard Trent speak at a conference earlier this year). On my ‘waiting’ shelf (yes I actually have one by my bed): God With Us by Rowan Williams; The Bible in the Contemporary World by Richard Bauckham; Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse by John Hollander; Harmonograph: A visual guide to the mathematics of music, by Anthony Ashton; and a few other things which at this rate I won’t get to any time soon.
What’s been shelved?
I started Jesus and Judaism by E.P Sanders – a classic in its field, and one of the chief interlocutors of N.T Wright in Jesus and the Victory of God, which I have read; but for me it was more academic than I had time for in a busy year when I had to get my head down on some work that was not, in any way, needing me to be swotting up on Jesus’ temple controversy or any such things. It will be an interesting read, I have no doubt, when I have more of that kind of time again. Also on hold: Barack Obama’s early memoir, Dreams from my Father. Enjoyable enough, but I had more pressing interests and needs. I’ll finish it on a holiday some time.