[This is Day 11 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A biography of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic distance runner who is shot down while flying missions in the Pacific theater of World War II and survives 6 weeks adrift at sea only to be captured and held as a POW by the Japanese.
Why You Should Read It: Biographies can be powerful things when they avoid hagiography and give us insight into people as they truly are. In Unbroken, Hillenbrand shares what seems like a fully-orbed story of a man who was heroic and noble but certainly no alabaster saint. His “unbrokenness” is as much stubbornness as courage, and after [SPOILER] surviving such horrific ordeals, he returns to the States psychologically damaged. What the original film version of this story underplays (though I hear this is corrected in the straight-to-video sequel) is that it is through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Zamperini is able to forgive his oppressors and find emotional and spiritual healing. That’s why, as great as the film version is (and it is), you should read the book first, because you get a clearer picture of the man in full.
[This is Day 10 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A spy novel set during the Cold War that is more a psychological thriller than a James-Bond-like adventure story. In this story, Alec Leamas, a British intelligence agent is sent “over the wall” to run a counter-intelligence op against a high-ranking East German spook. Soon, Leamas begins to wonder which side he really can trust, if any.
Why You Should Read It: This is the third novel in LeCarre’s “Smiley” series, technically speaking, though George Smiley is at most a background presence in this story. LeCarre’s tales of Cold War spycraft are incredibly grounded and almost mundane (at least, compared to Ian Fleming’s flash-bang approach), but this provides a sense of realism and real stakes. The fact that LeCarre may or may not have real-world experience in such matters certain adds to it. But this particular selection of his works is an easy and engaging entrypoint to the world of Smiley and “the Circus,” and the battle of wits and psychological sparring between Leamas and his German counterparts transform extended scenes of two guys talking across a table into a high-tension pot-boiler. All of this leads up to a final scene that is riveting and memorable. If you want to dip your toes into some classic genre fiction, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold is a great place to start.
[This is Day 6 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: A stirring, devotional examination of the issues surrounding “Marrow Controversy” from 18th century church history, and why those issues still matter today.
Why You Should Read It: Ferguson writes about theology in a way that is devotional, challenging, and encouraging. He walks the reader through the various issues surrounding the Marrow Controversy, as a springboard for a discussion of the key theological ideas involved: the relationship between grace and works, assurance of salvation, and the believer’s union with Christ. Rather than being dry and academic, the book stirs the heart and affections for Jesus. It is still one of my favorite books so far this year.
[This is Day 4 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It Is: An allegory of the Christian life, written in two parts by the Puritan great John Bunyan, while in prison for preaching according to his convictions.
Why You Should Read It: This is still the second highest-selling book of all time, behind the Bible, and for good reason. Bunyan’s tale of “Christian,” a pilgrim travelling from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City of Zion, has been a touchstone for Christian readers for three and a half centuries. While its critics point out that the book is too didactic and the narrative and characterization are too thin, I think they’re missing the point that it’s supposed to be a teaching tool. Bunyan was a pastor, not a novelist. Yet there is still something charming and heartwarming about following Christian through his many dangers and mistakes as he travels toward the city of his King. And don’t miss reading Part 2, in which his wife and children follow in his footsteps and meet different trials of their own. If you’re a Christian and you’ve never read this book, I can’t recommend it enough. It would do your soul some good to read a novel that’s so richly Biblical.
[This is Day 1 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]
What It is: An autobiographical account of Sheffield’s relationship with his late wife, framed through essays based on the tracks on a mixtape.
Why You Should Read It: Rob Sheffield is a music writer for Rolling Stone with a vast knowledge of pop music history and an engaging, conversational writing style. His other books are equally excellent, but this was my introduction to his work. This book, a tribute to his first wife who died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage, is deeply moving and unexpectedly funny. I bought it in an airport for some light reading and was wiping away tears by the time the drink service started. It snuck up on me how heartfelt and resonant this book would be. Definitely worth it (and check out his other stuff too!)