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.
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by MIT professor of social studies of science and technology Sherry Turkle. On offer in Reclaiming Conversation is a reflective, researched introduction to a topic that is perhaps one of the most important we ought to be considering in our day: the interaction of human conversation and technology. This is an acute area of interest for me as a father, husband, and aspiring minister: what effect is our constant inhabiting of the digital space having on the quality (and quantity) of our conversations? In this oft harrowing account filled with real life examples (perhaps too many), the author contends that the comprehensive digitalization of our day can fragment us, distort our relationships, and undermine the joys of human relational serendipity (imagine resolving family conflicts via text rather than face to face because one can 'edit' what one says, thus presenting the 'best version' of oneself). Turkle makes an attempt at putting technology in its place, making for a firm, substantial plea to recover good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation.
The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew Crawford. This book stands unique in my reading experience. Crawford is part philosopher, part cultural critic, and part motorcycle mechanic. In these pages, he dons all three hats in a way that blends for a thrilling narrative indeed, as he aims for the lofty goal of creating a working ethic of attention. Does he succeed? He makes a valiant effort, soaring the philosophical heights of Martin Hegel, Michael Polanyi, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, and Charles Taylor and yet indwelling the earthy handcraft of the MIT glass lab, Taylor & Boody pipe-organ makers, and the professional hockey rink in service of his thesis. He argues that our attention matters for the moral shaping of our individual self. I think he is indisputably onto something. A well-argued tonic for individuals in a distracted digital era, that merits a studied re-read.
Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots by J.C. Ryle. One discipline in the ordinary Christian life that receives (to my despair) increasingly less attention in our current age is that of practical holiness. J.C. Ryle, the great Victorian-age, Anglican bishop of Liverpool (and contemporary of Charles Spurgeon), here offers a timely distillation of the essence of a holy Christian life: there are no formulas, only joyful adherence to the biblical truth. Yet he delivers his addresses in a way that commends 1 John 5:3, "His commandments are not burdensome." Ryle encourages us weary pilgrims to persevere in the fight against sin by clinging ever to Christ. There is no greater Christian task. Few treatments of such a needed topic can surpass this one. I will be returning to it, many times over.
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. This was a delight for me. I have read four Lewis biographies and just finished a fifth treatment of his life. I have read a number of his books. Yet I have heard only one recording of his voice, a 15 minute snippet from the BBC audio broadcasts of his wartime talks that became the book Mere Christianity. The quality of the clip was what one would expect of an old recording. When I found this two-hour, four part series of broadcasts on the four loves (eventually his book The Four Loves), I leapt. At first listen, I was so shocked to hear his voice with such clarity and simplicity, that I inadvertently ignored what he was saying and spent the full two hours (what wealth!) listening to the voice itself, envisaging its resonant tone in Inklings banter, fireside exchanges and late-night strolls with Tolkien, and packed lectures at Oxford and Cambridge. A profound delight, this.
Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth. Crystallized from Tolkien's personal wartime papers, this volume is the first substantial Tolkien biography since 1977. Tolkien and the Great War, along with A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18, together constitute non-negotiable, required reading for any Tolkienite who wishes to better understand the deep "leaf mould" of the man's mind. Garth excels in tracking Tolkien and the fellow members of the pre-Inklings literary fellowship, the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Bavarian Society) through their World War I experience, not documenting a clear line of authorial and personal development, but rather piecing together a poignant narrative of war, loss (Tolkien of his five T.C.B.S. fellows was the lone survivor of the Great War), and literary development that will deepen the reader's appreciation of his fascinating legendarium. I was reading Philip and Carol Zaleski's eminent treatment of the Inklings while going through this one on the T.C.B.S. To survey the breadth of spiritual, personal, and authorial formation behind both groups was a rare treat. I will visit this one again.
I welcome thought from the outside. These reflections are springboard for real talk. Write a comment. Drop an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if there is anything I can do to help you. Humanity is a group project — let's dialogue.