#Blogtober2021 Day 12: To Be Read.

My TBR stack is getting out of hand.

And no, that’s not my entire TBR stack. Not even close. Not by a longshot.

I have a TBR bookshelf, y’all. A bookshelf of not-yet-read books. And a tablet with maybe a couple hundred more.

What’s pictured there is the current priority list of the TBR–books I pulled out of the TBR about 3 months ago, thinking that maybe I could make a dent in these over the next 7 months or so. (Of course, I’ve added about 8 to those stacks, while only finishing maybe…2?)

And that doesn’t count the stack of 4-6 in-progress books in the living room next to the comfy chair–a chair that, these days, I mainly sit in only when I’m feeding a baby.

Also, I have 3 novels I just checked out from the library on a whim. Because I have a problem.

So far this year, I’ve finished reading 16 books. While I’m glad for that much progress, normally I will finish between 30-40 in a calendar year, so I’m definitely way under my normal pace. No big surprise as to why, with a new baby and a more hectic work and preaching/teaching schedule this summer.

But it’s still a bit frustrating. I love reading. I just don’t do it much these days. There’s always something “more important” to be done, or my mind is just so tired from work at the end of the day that I want something easy. (The sign of a lazy mind–something I should be working on training?)

I’m hopeful that I can turn this around–I mean, obviously, as I’m still checking out library books. I just hate the thought of all these books in my house, unread. I should do something about that.

Here’s my “currently-reading” stack (from memory, so there may be gaps), and for the record, I’m not even halfway through any of them so far:

  • Preaching and Preachers – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  • Lectures to my Students – Charles Spurgeon
  • The Daring Mission of William Tyndale – Steven Lawson
  • Holiness – JC Ryle
  • Gentle and Lowly – Dane Ortlund
  • The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells
  • The Complete Husband – Lou Priolo

What are you reading these days? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

The4thDave Reads: “She Did What She Could” by Don Karns

For the follower of Jesus, it can be a great encouragement to hear and read stories of past saints who have finished the race well. We see that in the Scriptures, as God gives us what has been called by many the famous “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, detailing how the saints of the Old Testament stood firm on their faith in God and His Word.

In my experience, reading the stories of past believers who have followed Jesus even to the point of death can be a convicting and riveting practice. Whether it’s Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or biographies of past theologians and missionaries, these stories have fueled the fire of devotion and perseverance for generations of Christians seeking to walk the same faithful path, myself included.

I recently finished reading a fine example of this type of spiritual biography that I was pleased to add to my bookshelf: Don Karns’ She Did What She Could. This is a collection of historical accounts, Scripture passages, and biographical tracts from past eras that tell the stories of little-known women of the faith. The title references Mark 14, in which a woman (whom John identifies as Mary, sister of Lazarus) anoints Jesus’ feet with a sweet-smelling ointment. When the disciples complained, Jesus defended her and said she has done all she could to honor him.

Through this collection of historical accounts that Karns has gathered across the centuries of church history, the pleasing aroma of these saints’ devotion is still powerful and praiseworthy.

I was delighted to receive Don Karns’ slim volume in the mail from my friend Michael Coughlin, with a request to share my thoughts. I’m more than happy to satisfy that request now.

The Evangelist with a Pastor’s Heart

The first things about this book that struck me were the notes from Karns himself. In his “Preface,” “Words of Encouragement,” and “Conclusion,” Karns labors to proclaim the Gospel clearly and urgently, in the hope that unsaved readers will understand why these stories are being told and what would drive people throughout the centuries to give up their lives and suffer hardship and martyrdom. The tone of Karns’ writing is winsome and pleading, seeking to make his appeal instead of shout down any expected critics.

I did a little internet research on the author and learned that he is a long-time evangelist and open-air preacher who seems to be respected by many who are familiar with his ministry. When critical or nasty comments are posted on his ministry website’s homepage, the responses from the site account are nothing but pleasant, earnest, and humble as they refute the accusations of the pagans and respond with Scripture.

Just as the testimonies of the inconspicuous women being highlighted in this work draw out the sweet aroma of Christ, I was touched by that same sweetness in the language Karns uses. Without knowing anything about him specifically, I can tell what kind of man he might be, making me all the more willing to read his compilation of testimonies.

In Memory of Her

The bulk of the volume consists of various historical accounts of women of faith. A few notable names are included in the group (such as Ann Judson and Joni Erickson-Tada), but most of them are all but unknown to most readers. This accounts of “the young cottager” or “the dairyman’s daughter” provide portraits of humble folk (often the very young or those facing the shadow of death) who are transformed by the Gospel. In many ways, these accounts remind me of The Pilgrim’s Progress, not because they are in any way fictional but because the lofty speech and conversation are full of allusions to Scripture.

In some of these accounts, I have to confess that I struggled to follow the dialogue sometimes. That might be blamed on my “reading muscles” becoming a bit too flabby as of late. At times, I did wonder if these conversations were a bit too lofty to be realistic, but that also may be due to the low expectations of a modern mind! Even if some of the wording of these accounts might have been “polished up” a bit to make clearer points, I have no reason to doubt they are truthful in the main.

My favorite section by far was the one titled “Women of the Covenant,” recounting the martyrdom of several women who were part of the Scottish “covenanters.” While the stories are just as challenging and encouraging as the other sections, the writing of this particular passage was poetic and vivid, and I found myself stopping to re-read several sentences that were perfectly crafted.

Karns closes the book by throwing the reader a curve ball. After regaling us with story after story of women of faith, he closes with a sermon excerpt from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, and a brief account of Luther’s prayer on the night before his “Here I Stand” speech at the Diet of Worms. However out-of-theme these inclusions were, they were fully in-step with the spirit of the book as a whole, calling unbelievers to trust in Jesus for salvation and challenging believers to live lives of faith and sacrifice for His glory.

A Treasure in a Rough-Hewn Case

As lovely as the contents of this volume are, I would be remiss not to address the problems I have with its presentation and production. It’s clear as soon as you pick the book up that it was self-published. On the whole, there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing a book. I’ve read more than a few self-published works in my time (I may even write a few someday), and they can be edited and produced to meet or even surpass the industry standard. However, I should note certain issues with this one, if for no other reason than the off-chance the author or his ministry partners are considering an additional print run and would be willing to make corrections.

The formatting of the work is inconsistent throughout, changing font types and sizes. Sometimes, the formatting is oppressively dense, including several sections of block text without visual breaks that go on for pages at a time. While I recognize that the source material was likely written and typeset in the same manner, I would ask the author (or others producing similar works) to take the liberty of reformatting these entries for better readability and acknowledging the changes with an editor’s note of some kind. There are also a handful of typos that should have been caught during the proofreading process; those sorts of things happen in even the big publishing houses, but that means it’s all the more important for the small team working on a book like this to be extra careful, as fewer eyes will see it before its release.

These may be considered nit-pick criticisms, but if one’s goal is to bring these stories to a new audience, or even (as the author seems to indicate) to share them with non-believers, part of the ministry work is taking the time to put out an excellent product free of the editorial distractions that could undercut or cheapen the overall presentation.

To Don Karns and anyone else who may be working on a self-published book like this, I urge you not to skip out on this vital step in the process. (By the way, if you are looking to hire a manuscript editor / proofreader for a bit of contract work, I’m available!)

Final Comments

She Did What She Could is a worthwhile read that presents a collection of mostly-unknown Gospel conversion and martyrdom stories from church history. From a publishing standpoint, the book needs some polish and updates, but that doesn’t detract from the message. If you love Jesus, this volume will help you to treasure and trust him all the more, as you walk through these short histories of women of whom the world was not worthy.

You can pick up a copy of the book at the author’s ministry website, at a pretty affordable price. For the spiritual value you will receive, I think it would be money well-spent.

Revisiting”Something Wicked This Way Comes” as a Grown-up

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I’ve loved Ray Bradbury’s fiction since my early teens, when I first read “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” from The Martian Chronicles in English class. I was floored by Farhenheit 451, delighted by Dandelion Wine, and mesmerized by Bradbury’s myriad short stories. His Zen and the Art of Writing is still in my top-five writing books of all time. However, I contend that his most underappreciated work is his “Halloween novel,” Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I was 15 or 16 when I first encountered this novel, recommended by a classmate of mine. The imagery was indelible, and even if the exact details of the plot escaped me in the intervening years, the mental images of the midnight train and the dark carnival arriving at 3 a.m. have been forever lodged in my imagination.

A few weeks back, I listened to an episode of The Great Books Podcast (highly recommended podcast, by the way), covering this novel and its themes. The discussion was so intriguing, I decided it was time to revisit this story, about 25 years after my initial reading.

Boy, am I glad I did.

Spinning the Carousel

The set-up of the book is spooky and enchanting: a few days before Halloween, childhood best friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade encounter a lightning-rod salesman who warns them that a big storm is coming and that they should get prepared. Soon, they see a flyer for “Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show,” a mysterious carnival on a train that chugs its way to the outskirts of town at 3 a.m., the “witching hour.” It becomes clear that this carnival has a sinister and perhaps even demonic pull on the hearts of some of the residents of Green Town, Illinois, and soon Jim and Will start to see and feel the effects of the carnival themselves.

One of the biggest dangers of Cooger and Dark’s carnival are the rides and attractions that seem to grip people’s hearts and souls: the carousel that can make people older or younger, depending on which direction it spins; the hall of mirrors that can magnify the pain and isolation one feels; the Dust Witch who sees the future and reads the mind; the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, encased in a tomb of ice. These sideshow attractions take on a shadow of foreboding as they seem to embody the things that tempt the main characters the most (recalling to mind an idea that Stephen King would later take up in Needful Things, though I’m not sure that the one directly influenced the other). Bradbury explores the nature of temptation, the hunger of discontentment, and the danger of giving up almost anything to satisfy your deepest desires.

Without giving too much away, the plot of the story involves Will and Jim recognizing that something’s unsettling and wrong about the carnival and its inhabitants, trying to stop their plans themselves, and, when that becomes impossible, eventually enlisting the help of Will’s father, Charles Halloway. Halloway is described as a prematurely “old man” of 54 (!) who works as a janitor at the library, is a lover and reader of books, and becomes the only hope the boys have to stand up against the forces of Mr. Dark (the “Illustrated Man”) and his carnival troupe.

The book is a showcase of fantasy-horror, with lyrical prose that evokes startling and beautiful imagery. Bradbury is sometimes pigeon-holed as just being a “sci-fi guy” or a “dystopian writer.” His ability to paint a picture of sublime small-town Americana that suddenly veers into gothic horror is breath-taking.

Staring Into the Mirrors

Over the last few years, I’ve revisited works of art and media that I remembered loving in my youth and young adulthood. As I’ve done so, I’ve noticed how certain ideas or characters hit me in an entirely different way as a middle-aged, married man than they did two decades prior. This book was another one of those instances.

For one thing, there were subtle suggestions or references to sexuality in a few chapters that totally sailed over my head as a young and blessedly naive teenager. This is not at all to say that the book is crass or crude; Bradbury is able to trace the faintest outline of an idea so that the reader understands his implication, without needing to be explicit or base. As a sheltered teenaged boy eager to move along the creepy plot, I flew right past certain dialogue exchanges and paragraphs without realizing what was really being talked about or its implications (for example, Jim peeping through a window and seeing something he shouldn’t have, planting seeds of lust in his heart). While one could suggest that such references are unnecessary (and I don’t disagree totally), it could also be argued that those moments show us another picture of the enticement of sin, without debasing the reader with lurid description. At any rate, I was a bit shocked, reading these scenes with adult eyes.

However, the big shift in my reading experience was being able to understand Charles Halloway so much better. In my youthful mind, he was simply a wise mentor character, a heroic father, but little more; I was too busy putting myself in the shoes of young Will, scared by a wilder and weirder world than he was ready for. Now, I noticed different things about Charles. I related to his frustration with the passage of time, as his mind and body disagreed on how old he really was. I recognized with bitter familiarity the fleeting temptation of the carnival’s flyer advertising “the most beautiful woman in the world” and that split-second of hesitation, of imagining, before Charles dismissed the images and thoughts it conjured in his mind. I heard my own voice in his discussion with his wife about how he wishes he were a younger father, instead of there being a 40 year difference between himself and Will (a feeling that especially hit home as we’ve recently welcomed our third daughter, halfway-through my 40th year). I felt empathy as Charles seemed to wonder who he really was, what his life was good for, as he considered his work and his place in the world.

These are all questions and thoughts and emotions that may be most clearly felt and understood and written by a middle-aged man (Bradbury was 42 when the book was published). As such, it seems that it’s only now, in this second reading, that I have truly begun to understand this book.

“It is my own smile.”

In the end, love wins the day. Not in a cliched or bumper-sticker-style way. Love wins, because joy wins. Acceptance and contentment and gratitude wins. Sometimes, the best thing a middle-aged father can do to fight off the dark fog that creeps around his life is to smile, to laugh loudly, to embrace his wife and children, and to be grateful for what he’s been given.

And for the thirteen-year-old boy, looking out with trepidation at the big, bad world, perhaps his superpower, his totem against the darkness, is realizing that he would be blessed to become that kind of “old man” one day.

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If you’ve never read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, I would highly encourage it. It’s a creepy and beautifully-written “genre” novel that touches on deep ideas and themes about the human experience. It’s easy to miss because it’s one of Bradbury’s lesser-known works, but it surely deserves a place of honor alongside his more popular novels.

And if you *have* read it before, and it’s been a little while, maybe give it another shot and see what new things pop out. You never know what you might discover!

This experience has inspired me to go back and revisit other books I read years ago to see if my perspective has changed. I don’t know how often I’ll get to do so, but whenever I do, I’ll come back here to tell you all about it, deal?

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Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

My January 2021 Reading List!

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Hey y’all! Just a quick post to fill you in on the books that have been on my nightstand (and in my Kindle app) this past month!

I was able to finish 3 books during the month of January (though I actually started one of them several months ago):

  • The Words Between Us, by Erin Bartels – This is a novel about a woman who is fighting to keep her small bookstore afloat when her hidden and troubling past starts to catch up to her. I really enjoyed both the way Bartels weaves in an intriguing light mystery sub-plot along with her main story about the secrets we keep and the lies we tell to keep them, as well as how shared stories and poems can bind us together in unexpected ways. This is a fun, quick read that you should check out.
  • The Practice, by Seth Godin – It’s probably clear from my past posts that I dig Seth Godin’s work, even if he’s become the cliched “business/marketing guru.” I’ll admit, his writing can be a bit formulaic (each book chapter is like a series of his blog posts–a series of productivity or marketing koans about Doing The Work or Shipping The Work or something else with Important Capitalization), but it’s a formula that works. Godin has a way of provoking that creative itch that I tend to suppress with busyness and grown-up responsibilities, so that I start to wonder if maybe I could get back to that novel I half-started writing. If you’re interested in some light reading about the mindset of people who create and produce meaningful work, this may be right up your alley.
  • Conscience, by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley – Our elder team has been reading through this one slowly this year (ironically enough, chosen before C19 and the endless mask debate), but it has been helpful in informing some of our thinking about how to navigate divergences in conviction and conscience within our church body. While I would disagree with the authors’ approach in some places, on the whole, I found it to be a helpful supplement to thinking throuh how to navigate church member disagreements, lead with wisdom, and rightly assess some of the debatable issues that have come up this year.

In addition to these, there were a few more books that I started reading but didn’t finish, due to time restraints and/or loss of interest:

  • The Birds, by Daphne Du Maurier – I started reading a collection of short pieces by Du Maurier but only got through the titular piece. I really enjoyed her writing style and want to get back to the collection sometime this year. And if you haven’t read her story “The Birds,” you should. It’s creepy and somehow even more bleak than Hitchcock’s film adaptation.
  • The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, by Tim Madigan – I’m definitely coming back to this one before the centennial anniversary on June 1st. This terrible event in 20th-century American history deserves to be more well-known and studied, because the details are just awful. If you aren’t familiar with the Tulsa Race “Riot” (Madigan’s word “massacre” is a better descriptor) and the burning of “Black Wall Street,” you should do some research on it. Just horrific.
  • Ready Player Two, by Ernest Cline – I enjoyed Cline’s earlier novel Ready Player One (80’s/90’s nostalgia, plus video games? C’mon!) as well as his other book Armada, but as I started reading this one, I just lost interest immediately. I don’t know if I just didn’t give it enough time or wasn’t in the right headspace, but I found the lead character to be much more unlikeable this go-round. Ultimately, I just didn’t care enough to keep going, and I don’t want to read a novel if it feels like work, so I dropped this one after a few chapters. I don’t expect I’ll come back to it. (If you think I should, make your case in the comments!)

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There’s my January reading list–what’s yours? Comment below with what you’ve been reading lately!

And here’s a video by some friends of mine. Check it out, and if you like it, make sure to like, subscribe, comment, and tell ’em The4thDave sent ya by. Thanks!

Friday Feed (1/29/2021)

Photo by Ir Solyanaya on Pexels.com — It’s not this cold where I am, but it feels this cold in my office at the moment.

Happy Friday, fam! Here are some interesting things I’ve found on the internet in recent weeks, for your weekend enjoyment.

That’s it for this week. See you next week! (How is it already almost February?!?)

Friday Feed (12/11/2020)

Not my workspace (I wish!).
Photo by Andrea Davis on Pexels.com

Happy Friday, friends! Here’s a quick round-up of things I’ve been reading and enjoying lately, for your weekend clicks.

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend!

Booktober 30th: “Side By Side” by Ed Welch

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love: Welch, Edward T.:  0884618492309: Amazon.com: Books

[This is Day 30 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for one more recommendation!]

What It Is: A short and very practical book about “one another” ministry within the Church.

Why You Should Read It: While God does give some as pastors and teachers to help build up the body of believers, the nuts-and-bolts day-to-day ministry of the church isn’t done by paid professionals, but by the everyday believer in the pews. Welch lays out practical encouragements to teach believers how to “build up one another in love” and minister to each other’s spiritual and emotional needs. If you want to know how to create a culture of love and service and discipleship in your church, whether you’re in a particular church office/role or just a healthy and active member of the body, get this book and put it into practice.

Booktober 29th: “The Keto Reset Diet” by Mark Sisson

The Keto Reset Diet Named a New York Times Bestseller | Primal Kitchen®

[This is Day 29 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]

What It Is: A basic introduction to primal/keto eating from one of the most respected names in this particular area of nutrition coaching.

Why You Should Read It: If you’re a sugar addict like I am, and you’ve struggled with weight like I do, the ketogenic diet may be a good fit for you. But it can be done really badly, even dangerously (like any strict eating plan), so having a sensible on-ramp is the best way to approach it. Mark Sisson gives you that on-ramp by laying out the basic ideas and science behind a ketogenic approach to eating, and then he walks the reader through a 3-week process of dialing back carb intake, fine-tuning some non-food lifestyle factors that may affect your ability to restrict carb intake, and then tweaking the dials a bit in the last week to get you ready for full-blown keto eating. I’ll admit, I read this book, tried to apply it, and then fell off the wagon after a few months of “going keto.” Not an uncommon thing–but the fact of it is, when I’m “on-plan,” I feel better and I lose weight. Kicking the sugar addiction is hard. But if you’re ready to commit to something serious in order to curb the habit, Mark Sisson may have your answer.

Booktober 28th: “Running For Mortals” by John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield

Running for Mortals: A Commonsense Plan for Changing Your Life With Running:  Bingham, John, Hadfield, Jenny: 9781594863257: Amazon.com: Books

[This is Day 28 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]

What It Is: A book about the hobby/sport of distance running that is written for the couch-to-5K’er instead of the elite athlete.

Why You Should Read It: John “The Penguin” Bingham and Jenny Hadfield wrote for Runner’s World magazine for years. Bingham in particular became a champion for the plodders, walkers, and waddlers (like me), and through his words he helped to make the running community open and accessible to the less-than-fit who were interested in discovering a new hobby on the open road. This book is the perfect entry-point for people who have never really done any distance running (or run/walking, or just plain walking) and perhaps feel intrigued yet intimidated by the idea. They talk about how to get started, what a training program might look like depending on your physical level, how to eat, how to rest, and what gear you might need. It would be easy to get overwhelmed by the flood of information on the internet. Books like this take the reader by the hand and say, “Let’s just take a walk and get started!” Like the running community itself, Bingham and Hadfield welcome readers from all backgrounds to join the fun and discover something new about themselves in the process.

Booktober 27th: “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman

[This is Day 27 of #Booktober! Stay tuned for more recommendations!]

What It Is: A cultural jeremiad written 35 years ago about the power and allure of news-as-entertainment that is still surprisingly applicable to our image-driven culture.

Why You Should Read It: While Postman didn’t anticipate the Internet age, his critiques and warnings have proven all the more applicable. Postman takes the idea of “the medium is the message” and argues that at some point, the medium starts to undercut or subvert the message, which has a devastating effect on public discourse. His warnings about television seem almost quaint now, but you can extrapolate the trajectory out and see that he was certainly on the right track. I still think about some of his arguments about the mental and emotional weight of daily news updates that don’t actually give you actionable information. While a bit outdated now, there’s still a lot of core ideas here worth exploring. You can see the foundations of the work of current cultural observers like Cal Newport and Tony Reinke.