[This is Day 26 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: An encouraging reminder to pastors and those in full-time ministry that they are first and foremost disciples and sheep themselves, and that their true hope of peace, security, and fulfillment is found in Jesus’ completed work, not their many efforts and accomplishments in ministry.
Why You Should Read It (And/Or Give it Away): This book is a balm to the wounds and a cup of cool water to the dry throat of pastors and elders who are laboring in ministry and growing weary and burnt out. Wilson writes with such compassion toward that group because he was there himself–exhausted and heartsick from years of doing, doing, doing. When he finally stopped and threw himself desparately into the arms of grace, he was reminded that his security and hope is found in what Jesus has accomplished on his behalf, not on his performance or perfection. Even if we pastors know this to be true mentally or abstractly, it’s a different thing for us to believe it from the heart. Wilson reminds us that we serve best when we serve from a place of full reliance on God’s grace. If you’re a pastor, read this book. If you know a pastor, get them this book. There are still a few more days in “Pastor Appreciation Month.” Grab a copy or two for the shepherds who serve and love you and your family.
[This is Day 25 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A lay-friendly exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, with commentary on how each article is grounded in Scriptural truth and has application to the Christian life.
Why You Should Read It: I’m not quite halfway through this one, but I can easily recommend it. Upon the recommendation of a dear friend who gave it to me as a gift, I’m reading it slowly, section by section, giving myself time to meditate on the insights provided. Dr. Van Dixhoorn walks the reader through each point of each article of the confession, providing the Scriptural basis for each statement and describing the logical progression and thought processes of the Westminster Divines’ argumentation. Each section begins with the original text of the article sub-section, next to a modernized version of the verbiage, followed by Dr. Van Dixhoorn’s analysis and application. Rather than being a dry and dusty academic tome, this one has warmed my heart and encouraged me in my devotion to the Lord. Strong recommendation here.
Hey y’all, just a quick non-Booktober-related note:
This is my 500th post on this blog. I’m…stunned. Stunned and very pleased. I’ve been blogging in various places for the last…golly, has it really been 17 years?!? But I started this particular blog about 7 years ago, and only in the last couple of years has it really taken off in terms of views and readers. It’s been pretty exciting seeing the engagement–knowing that people actually read and care about what I write is thrilling in a way I never expected.
THANK YOU SO MUCH to the readers and commenters who keep coming back, and by doing so keep *me* coming back. I hope this blog and my words are a blessing and an encouragment to you. Feel free to drop me a hello in the comments, especially if you’ve never done so before. I’d love to thank you by name, if I can.
[This is Day 24 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: Set on Nollop (an island off the coast of South Carolina), a place of particular literary notoriety, this novel is composed of mailed notes and messages that become more and more off-kilter as particular letters of the alphabet are declared illegal by the town elders.
Why You Should Read It: I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for literary gimmickry, and this funny little novel has a pretty unique hook. Set on the island named for the person who coined the sentence that uses all 26 letters, it’s a story about how tradition can become oppressive and totalitarian control can grow ludicrous and untenable. As letters begin to fall off the island’s monument to its namesake, the people of Nollop are mandated never to use those letters in speech or writing again, upon threat of physical punishment and ultimately banishment. Since this is a “novel in letters,” the narrator/protagonist must use increasingly strained word choices and spelling in order to communicate the events of the town to her reader. This one is a hoot. Check it out.
[This is Day 23 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A sprawling magical urban fantasy and alternative history novel set in early-19th-century England, in which two magicians’ battle of egos and enchantments lead to disastrous consequences for all involved
Why You Should Read It: This strange and marvelous novel has been described as a cross between Jane Austen and JK Rowling, with a little Charles Dickens thrown in. I think that is a fair analogy. This book has the tone and feel of classic literature, but with the added layer of hundreds (!) of footnotes referencing books and writers who exist only in the world of the story. As a fan of copious footnotes, this was incredibly addicting to me. The story seems to weave in elements of Romantic poets, medieval myths, and historical biography in a way that feels bizarre and yet believable. The main focus of the story is the friendship and eventual rivalry between the conservative and traditional Mr. Norrell and the young upstart magician Jonathan Strange. The battle of these two mindsets and worldviews spills over to change the course of the lives of everyone in their spheres. Cozy up with this one by the fire this winter. It’ll be a treat.
[This is Day 22 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A 19th-century British drawing-room comedy about upper-class society in which good manners and a good marriage are the ultimate goal of a young woman’s life.
Why You Should Read It: The story of the Bennett sisters and their various loves and heartaches is the most popular of Austen’s books these days, and for good reason. There is something recognizably human in all of these characters, so much that they’re not simply abstract figures on the page but feel authentic and familiar. Jane Austen is a skilled wordsmith, and her use of language is impeccable–the dialogue pops throughout the book. But the reason you should read the book instead of settling for the handful of (admittedly very good) film adaptations is that the narration and commentary throughout the novel are bathed in Austen’s sardonic wit and low-key sarcasm. You miss a lot of this when you watch a film version. This book is a lot funnier than I expected it to be when I first started reading it. Even if you don’t think this type of fiction is your “thing” (and ESPECIALLY if you find yourself disinterested because you consider it a “girl book”), you should definitely check it out.
[This is Day 21 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: The most famous Hercule Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie, following the gentleman detective as he investigates a murder that takes place on a passenger train travelling from Istanbul to Paris and seeks to discover which of the dozen or so passengers is guilty of the foul deed.
Why You Should Read It: Agatha Christie is arguably the queen of early-20th-century mystery writers, and one of her most beloved characters is the Belgian sleuth with the impressive moustache, Hercule Poirot. If you’ve never read Christie or her Poirot stories, then Orient Express is a must-read. This story is a great example of a “locked room” mystery, in which a crime has been committed but everyone has an alibi and there’s no possible way it could have been carried out. The finale that pulls all the suspects into one room for a final shake-up from the detective has basically become a trope by now, but the trope originated from stories like this one (as well as Dashiell Hammett’s “Thin Man,” but we don’t need to quibble). It’s an intriguing whodunit that’s perfect for fans of the genre as well as new readers trying out something outside their typical fare.
[This is Day 20 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A dystopian novel written in 1953 about the silencing of dangerous ideas and what happens when you “start reading books instead of burning them” (to borrow a phrase from Henry Jones Sr.).
Why You Should Read It (Again): “It was a pleasure to burn.” This book has been one of my favorites over the years, but like 1984, I find as I grow older it has become more and more relevant. In the story, Guy Montag, the “fireman” who is tasked with burning outlawed books and related materials, is told by his superior in the firemen’s corps that the reason the book burnings started was because special interest groups found certain ideas and writers offensive. The censorship-by-flame eliminated much of literature, leaving only mindless printed entertainment that itself struggled to compete against the intoxicant of big-screen home theaters. In our day as”cancelling” is becoming commonplace in the world of social media because an author’s ideas or opinions are considered unacceptable, and individuals take to Instagram and Tiktok to post videos of themselves burning the works of such societal sinners…let’s just say you can start to see the pattern forming.
[This is Day 19 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A dystopian novel from 1949 imagining a society (modeled after Stalinist Russia) in which truth is suppressed and public support is devoted entirely to the all-powerful State, and what happens to an ordinary man who suddenly questions whether or not to follow the crowd.
Why You Should Read It (Again): If you grew up in the American school system, you may have read this one back in high school. You may think you’re familiar enough with it, because you get the references to things like “Big Brother.” But I would strongly encourage you to find another copy and read it again with fresh eyes (as I’m actually about to do, myself). 1984 presents a society in which social messaging is delivered from the top-down by an all-powerful state, going against the prevailing group-think is considered dangerous or radical, and the meanings of words and ideas are rewritten in real time to serve the desires of the state. While it’s become a cliche to say that any social movement you find oppressive is “Orwellian,” I would suggest that in an era when academics are actually discussing on social media why “2+2=4” can be wrong (or racist?), we’ve entered a new and yet oddly familiar situation.
[This is Day 18 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: An examination of the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels regarding what it means to be saved and what that salvation produces in the lives of His followers.
Why You Should Read It: MacArthur applies pastoral wisdom and theological acumen to the question of what it means to “repent and believe” in Jesus. He rejects the notion of “easy believism” (a salvation that requires mere physical assent without demanding life change) and carefully unpacks what the Scripture teaches about Jesus’ lordship over His followers. He hammers home the idea that Christians will be marked by the fruit of a changed heart and life and the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying us, so that over time, we reflect more and more the character of Jesus. This book is hard-hitting and bracing, but it’s still such a vital and necessary word for Christians in the 21st century.
[This is Day 17 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A challenging book about finding out how you can produce or contribute something unique and valuable in your work and life–and why you really should.
Why You Should Read It: Seth Godin is the productiving/marketing Yoda–if you’ve ever seen his blog, it’s like a series of zen koans for business productivity junkies. His books are thought-provoking while being simple and direct, and this one is the best I’ve read of his so far. In Linchpin, Godin argues for making yourself indispensable by figuring out the secret sauce that you bring to your organization and maximizing that. Another useful encouragement in this book is the idea of bringing your humanity to bear in whatever you do–rather than being a cog in a machine, Godin argues that your personality and passion can elevate your work in ways that simple efficiency cannot. Even if you’re not a business/marketing person, Godin’s meditations on the nature of work are worth a think.