After reading a book, I find it helpful to put down some thoughts about what it was I just read. Here I offer those thoughts to the benefit of all who may (or may not) want to pick up the book for themself. Questions, comments welcome.
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski. This volume constitutes the singular book in all scholarship on the famed 19th century Oxford literary fellowship, The Inklings. Inkling members included, among others, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams (Dorothy L. Sayers, Nevil Coghill, Hugo Dyson, and C.S. Lewis' brother Warnie Lewis often frequented the typically once-per-week gatherings). This 600 page effort took several months for me to savor (I have little time to sit and read) yet even so, I wish it had been longer—I enjoyed it that much. The staggering breadth of the study presented in such accessible and vivid prose made for page-turning reading (though as a slow reader, I turn the pages at turtle pace, even when the plot grips). The Zalekis, a husband and wife team of many years, write like two ably-matched cups of strong Irish tea (the strain Lewis ritually sipped), steeped heavily in the rich lives, literary legacies, and thought worlds of these four unique authors. Tolkien and Lewis never cease to fascinate. Barfield and Williams were interesting. In March, I enjoyed Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth. Reading Garth's portrait of wartime Tolkien together with this seminal volume was a riveting adventure indeed.
The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why The Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair Ferguson. This is a book many followers of Christ should read (however daunting the subtitle) and all pastors of Christ's people must read. Any discussion of the Christian faith revolves around Christ (the historical person, incarnate Son of God, and second person of the Trinity) and his benefits (past sins atoned for in full, present acceptance, adoption, and approval from God, future eternity with him in a vibrant, restored creation, etc). Yet often a pastor in his preaching will subtly divorce the person of Christ from his benefits, offering his hearers a message of grace and salvation apart from Christ himself. He may, with good intentions, talk of "the gospel" (the good news of what Christ has done). Yet how often does he talk of Christ? He should be exalting both, for Christ is the gospel, or as Calvin put it, Christ is "clothed in his gospel." The two cannot be put apart. Ferguson, a veteran theologian with a minister's heart, enlarges, expounds, and clarifies this all-important reality through the lens of an obscure 18th century controversy in the highlands of presbyterian Scotland, making for an absorbing devotional read that on some occasions caused me to stop and wonder at the love of Christ for condemned sinners. If a book can do that, it is a worthy purchase indeed. Get The Whole Christ (the Audible version was particularly good, with an excellent narrator).
Decision Points by former President George W. Bush. Recently a colleague asked me, "What did you think about Bush?" I replied, "How old do you think I am?" An entertaining conversation ensued. Having lived my teenage years through the events of Bush's presidency, I decided to figure out what I thought about him by hearing the man himself. Upon finishing his memoir Decision Points, I was not left disappointed. This is a fascinating recollection, penned in the months following the end of his 8 year tenure in office as Command in Chief—years that included some of the most controversial and historic moments of our time like the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the beginnings and early years of the Iraq War and the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. What I found most compelling was the intimate look at the man himself—how he thought, how he lived, how he spoke, and what he emphasized. I found that Bush was a man of moral conviction, a strong faith (the first thing he did on September 11th, 2001 was read his Bible), a humble self-assessment, and an awareness of his weaknesses that inspired me. Do yourself a favor. Put this volume in your hands.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster. In December 2015, Star Wars returned to the big screen with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first in a series of fresh installments due in the coming years. Having seen the film and having found it to be a spellbinding, class-act effort from J.J. Abrams, I did not hesitate to scoop up the novelization on audiobook when I saw it in my Audible suggestions. If you are looking for a different Star Wars story, look elsewhere. It is the same as the film of the same title. What I enjoyed was re-living the narrative in words. I do not watch many films few times, and I watch few movies many times. I count The Force Awakens as one of the films I will return to again and again. Therefore, hearing this audio novel was a joy. There are even some scenes not included in the film. I found it debilitating, however, that the voice of Kylo Ren was not that of Adam Driver's. Ren's voice played a paramount role in depicting a full character on screen, (the chrome mask is not primarily how I experienced the character; the voice—apathetic, withdrawn, yet aggressive—was). I will revisit the movie, but not the audiobook. It was good, but not that good.
The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday. I have enjoyed Ryan Holiday's writing for some time now. He is a young author (29) with a strong reading ethic, an accessible, intelligent blogging style, and a writing voice which seems half-professor, half-journalist. And he writes about books and reading. Seriously, what is better than reading about a writer writing about reading and writing? Few things. Check out his pieces 44 Writing Hacks From Some of the Greatest Writers Who Ever Lived, How To Read More—A Lot More, and The Notecard System: The Key For Remembering, Organizing And Using Everything You Read. To the book: The Obstacle Is The Way is Holiday's third foray into the world of publishing, and it sings. It is a short read, yet it contains no small truths. I would tell you to save the money and just read the title. Turning trials into triumphs is the main bent. But I will not tell you that. Buy it, and pore over every chapter, synthesizing the research Holiday has done for you, enjoying the stories, absorbing the principles, and internalizing the thesis. At heart, this is a book about overcoming suffering—or whatever it is that presents an obstacle. Embrace the obstacle. Use it. Celebrate it. Turn it to glory. The author is a non-believer (he draws from some Stoic themes), but the theme is very biblical. Christ did this. Through the most abhorrent of all acts—the death of God himself—he defeated all evil on the cross, and told his followers to do likewise. "Take up your cross" (Matt. 16:24). "Overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). Impediments are opportunities. Do not let money or time be an issue. Purchase and read The Obstacle is The Way.
I welcome thought from the outside. These reflections are springboard for real talk. Write a comment. Drop an email at email@example.com if there is anything I can do to help you. Humanity is a group project — let's dialogue.