Currently Reading

The stack, more neatly ordered than normal.

It’s been a while since I’ve done this, but I noticed the other day how many books have accumulated on my bedside table, desk, and our coffee table so it seems like a good time to mention the titles here. Maybe you’re looking for something to read this summer. Maybe something here will fit the bill.

A few of these are collections of essays, my consistently favorite genre. This being the case, it seemed right to finally dip into the original. I like having at least one book that will follow me around for a few years and having finished The Black Metropolis it was time to begin The Complete Essays by Michel de Montaigne. So far so good, though I maybe should have gone with the two volume set; this edition could damage the reader who dozes off mid-essay.

The collected essays of James Baldwin is less cumbersome and thoroughly enjoyable. He seems no less prescient in these days of Black Lives Matter movements than he must have in his own day. A friend gave me John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essays, Pulphead. You’ve probably read Sullivan somewhere – this account in GQ of a Christian music festival is a classic – and if not this collection would be a good place to start.

Earlier this week Maggie gave me The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker. I’ve not read Pinker before, but this book was on my list and, after a couple of chapters, I think his perspective on a well-worn topic will help whatever small writing skills I have.

A friend from church and I are reading Howard Thurman’s classic, Jesus and the Disinherited this summer. There are stories of Rev. Dr. King carrying his well-worn copy of this book in his briefcase as he made his way throughout the south. A small taste from the first chapter:

To those who need profound succor and strength to enable them to live in the present with dignity and creativity, Christianity often has been sterile and of little avail. The conventional Christian word is muffled, confused, and vague. Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless people.

I think Thurman will compliment another book I hope to make my way though this summer, The Christian Imagination by Willie James Jennings. Jennings is one of a very few scholars who interacts with the theological roots of race and racism. It’s important and relevant work for our churches and Jennings writes clearly about topics that, by their very nature, mean to remain murky.

My friend, Dr. Vincent Bacote, kindly sent me a copy of his latest book, the slim and very readable The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life. This is a topic Dr. Bacote has thought about a lot and I hope the book will be read widely by Christians who want to interact more precisely with American politics. I hope Dr. Bacote won’t mind that his Abraham Kuyper-influenced book is brushing up a collection of writings from early pietists. My denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, has strong pietist roots and I’m enjoying dipping into the passionate writings of these men.

Finally, I’ve started Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way. I’m woefully ignorant when it comes to First Nations’ perspectives on Christian theology and Twiss, who died recently and unexpectedly, is proving to be a trustworthy guide.

Unquestionably, this is too many books to be reading at once. To be fair, a handful of these are simply available to visit occasionally. So how about you? What are you reading these days that you can recommend?

Readers On Reading: Rich Johnson

I’ve asked a few more friends to contribute to my Readers on Reading series. I’ll post them as their answers roll in.

My friend Rich Johnson is the church planter of Sanctuary Columbus Church and a seminary student at North Park Theological Seminary. He also consults churches and Christian organizations on developing a biblical view multi-ethic community. As you might imagine, his reading centers around church, theology, and racial reconciliation.

Richard JohnsonWhat books are you currently reading?

My current reading list (recently finished or recently began) includes Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright; Redeeming Mulatto, Brian Bantum; An Introduction to Theology, Gonzales and Perez; A Biblical History of Israel, Provan, Long & Longman; Exploring WorshipBob Sorge.  For light reading my eight year old son and I plan to start C.S. Lewis fantasy The Space Trilogy.

Where is your favorite place to read?

I like to read anywhere – the car, oversized chair in the living room, as well as a coffee shop.

E-reader or codex?

A few months back I committed to doing all my reading via Kindle.  Over time I found myself finishing fewer books so I’ve returned to paperback editions.  Books take up so much space, but at least I’m more likely to finish what I started.

What book have you recommended the most in the past 12 months?

I’ve recommended A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards and One Tribe, Many Churches by Richard Twiss the most in the last 12 months.  A very close second is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

What is most enjoyable about your reading life?

What is most enjoyable about my reading life is that I started writing a two page summary of the book for my personal recollection. When seminary professors started asking for summaries (particularly for books I’ve read previously) it was an easy transition for me.  As with most books I read, there are two or three chapters that stick with me the most and my summary reflects that impression.  I wish I was better about posting my book responses to my blog but at times I simply want to keep ruminating on these thoughts before sharing incomplete thoughts with the world.

Readers on Reading: Tomi Obaro

Tomi ObaroTomi Obaro is a journalist in Chicago who writes about the arts, race, and cultural identity (among lots of others things- my wife’s tattoo, for example) with wit and insight. You can keep up with Tomi’s writing at her blog, Race riter.

What books are you currently reading?

The Remains of the Day by Kashuro Ishiguro and Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis. Though I’ll keep it real, the reading has been really slow-going. So many people have raved about The Remains of the Day and Martin Amis’s name comes up so often, but I just haven’t taken to either books as organically as say, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P [by Adelle Waldman]. That was a great, amusing—if very navel-gazing—read.

Where is your favorite place to read?

In coffee shops with my headphones on. I like the visual stimulation, but not the noise.

E-reader or codex?

For a long time, I always thought I was going to be a ride-or-die dead tree lugger, but books are heavy! I may have to look into a Kindle.

What book have you recommended the most in the past 12 months?

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  If someone were to ask me who I was, I would tell them to read Americanah. It’s on that list.

What is most enjoyable about your reading life?

It’s sad because even though I read more now than I ever did before, so much of it is ephemeral, nonfiction Internet stuff. Which, I mean, I love. And I practice. But I get so easily distracted now. So when I get those rare moments where a book just hooks me, where I can’t eat or sleep because it’s that’s good—those are the moments I treasure.

Readers on Reading: Michael Washington

047-bryce-e1305733282782Michael Washington reads more than just about anyone I know. He also reads deeply and you get a sense of this as you read either of his two blogs: Intersections and For Fathers.

What books are you currently reading?

Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis; Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church by Barbara Holmes; Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks; A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri.

Where is your favorite place to read?

On the long deck on a ship somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean. My most common place to read is one of two chairs in my home or while walking around my office.

E-reader or codex?

Seriously, you’re asking me this? [By this Michael means that he’d never sully his fingertips on an e-reader. At least I think that’s what he means.]

What book have you recommended the most in the past 12 months?

Are You Waiting for The One? by Peterson & Peterson.

What is most enjoyable about your reading life?

I love walking into created worlds, fashioned lives, and being able to do that between the covers of a book is so manageable. I get to meet so many different people (i.e., characters) when I read, and following up with some of the authors is a gift and a blessing, too.

Readers on Reading: Tonya Westervelt

19306_4063033451601_42115390_nTonya Westervelt and her husband Tom are long-time friends and some of the funnest people we know.  Tonya is always reading something interesting and she occasionally blogs about these books on her blog.

What books are you currently reading?

Wild Things by Stephen James and David Thomas and Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd and Margy Tripp.

Where is your favorite place to read?


E-reader or codex?

Codex! Although I, um, had to google ‘codex’…

What book have you recommended the most in the past 12 months?

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp, and The Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb.

What is most enjoyable about your reading life?

No one is asking anything of me. (I feel the need to affirm that I love the people who ask me for things and I love the things I do for them… I just also love the breaks…)

The Downside of Digital Immortality

Last month John Wilson, editor of Books and Culture, lamented a loss of books via his Twitter account: “Went to garage to get a book from a box of African American history and lit. Mildew. Aggh. Aggggh.” Aggh is right! We book lovers know the sinking feeling that accompanies such a discovery, be it mildew, a child’s busy hands, or – all too common – the lent book that never returns.  John’s tweet, and the sympathetic condolences it elicited, got me thinking about the risks inherent to our attachment to things, especially books of the physical variety.

A few of the books in our living room.

I continue to have little interest in e-readers for a bunch of reasons, including a couple I’ve written about before.  But doesn’t John’s experience with the garage mildew make a good case for digital books? As I understand it, these texts are saved in “the cloud” so that, should your reading device succumb to the elements, your books are never in danger of being lost.  The e-book is immortal, always available to its owner.  It cannot be lost.

This appears to be a great improvement over the decay and loss-prone cover and paper variety of book.  But I wonder.  Doesn’t the lament over the lost book say something about its goodness as a physical thing? Such a loss would surely be experienced differently if it took place in the digital world.  I imagine being frustrated with the technology but unconcerned about my ability to find the book.  And let’s assume for a minute that an e-book could actually be lost, dissolved into the digital ether.  I have to believe the loss would still be experienced differently than a well-loved, dog-eared copy of a favorite book that has long sat on the study shelf or even in a box in the garage.  The physical book has memory attached to itself, whether in the form of hastily appropriated bookmarks, notes scrawled in the margins, or the simple power of an object to recall forgotten thoughts, conversations, and emotions.  Assuming an e-book could actually be lost, that loss would be an inconvenience and little more.

And so I’m left to accept that some objects are valuable enough to risk their loss and the accompanying sadness. The promise of permanence made by the digital text ends up eliminating much of what many of us look to our books for.