#Septemblog Day 26: Currently reading…

I may have a problem, gang.

We’ll be talking soon about my To-Be-Read shelf and my reading goals for next year. But I also have some in-progress books that I probably should try to finish first. I have been making slow progress, here and there, but the thing is, I tend to get excited about new books and start them right away, rather than waiting until I finish what I’m working on.

So when that happens, I end up with a “currently-reading” stack that looks like this:

For some of them, I’m farther along than others, but for all of them, I’m at least 30 pages in, and, well…

Okay, yeah, I may have a problem.

(Unrelated: I just grabbed an ebook from the library called Crying in H Mart that looks really interesting, and the first chapter is just gorgeous prose… Don’t judge me.)

#Septemblog Day 21: Mental Deadlifts.

It’s been more than 5 years since I’ve taken a seminary class. I never stopped reading theological books, but my reading has been decidedly lighter than what was required of me in those masters-level classes.

Last night, I started reading B. B. Warfield’s monumental volume The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, complete with a 68-page (!!!) introduction by Cornelius Van Til.

I was not ready for this.

I made it about 30 pages into Van Til’s introduction (in just over an hour), and my brain was exhausted, folks. I was encountering sentences like, “Post-Kantian rationality is, broadly speaking, correlative to non-rational factuality.” There were discussions of non-rational appeals to authority and considerations of a “kernel of thingness in every concrete fact that utterly escapes all possibility of expression.”

I essentially walked into the theological philosophy (or philosophical theology) gym and loaded up the bar for a PR on Day 1 with no warm-up. It took me a while just to get through the first few pages. After about an hour, I finally felt like I was able to pick up what Van Til was putting down (either that, or he got past the rhetorical throat-clearing and started saying something easier to grasp).

I’m excited to keep digging in, because it’s time I started challenging myself mentally again. The times we live in demand clear eyes and sharp minds, and it does no good for me, my family, or my church if I’m a mentally-flabby pastor. (Or a physically-flabby one, for that matter, but we’ll talk about that later.) Thus, it behooves me to start doing some heavy lifting in my study.

Onward!

#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!

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 (12/11/2020)

Not my workspace (I wish!).
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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!

Here comes #Booktober!

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I had the idea a few weeks back that I’d do another month-long run of blog posts, like my #30ThankYous series in November 2018, but I wanted to keep things simple, since I’m pretty busy these days.

So I decided to try something that, admittedly, is probably more suited to Instagram, if I had an Instagram account: #Booktober.

Every day for the month of October, I’m going to post a microblog (less than 200 words) featuring a different book that I’ve enjoyed or benefited from, with a short post about what it is and why you should read it. That’s it–that’s the concept.

Honestly, I just wanted to produce something fun, easy to write, and non-political (mostly), because man, I need that kind of content. Maybe you do, too. And who knows, it might inspire you to add a few of these books to your library hold list or Christmas shopping cart!

So, starting tomorrow, you’ll see 1 post every day for the next 31 days, featuring a book I like and recommend.

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Now, the caveat: In putting together this list last week, I realized pretty quickly that the authors are predominantly male and white. I hate how this has become a point of contention these days, but so it goes. I figured I should at least acknowledge that up-front.

Nevertheless, my list is my list. These are books I’ve read in recent years that I’ve enjoyed, and my recommendations have nothing to do with the sex or race of the authors. I recognize my reading list isn’t as diverse as other folks. That’s not intentional. I’m not seeking to avoid any group or subset of authors. I just read what intrigues me and what people I trust recommend. That’s it. My goal is to read good books, no matter what the author looks like. (That said, if you know of good books by authors of more diverse backgrounds that I may not be aware of, toss those recommendations in my comments! I’ll take a look, and see if the stories/ideas interest me.)

I guess I just wanted to acknowledge it up-front and get it out of the way, in case anyone feels the need to try to tag me or shame me later. Let’s just accept it and move on. #BooktoberSoWhite #BooktoberSoMale

And yes, if it sounds like I’m a little salty about it, it’s because internet bickering and cancel culture are asinine and I’m fed up with a lot of it.

…I said I was going to try to be apolitical, didn’t I? Okay, starting tomorrow!

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You’re still reading? Wow, thanks! Sorry about *gestures upward* all that.

Have any thoughts on #Booktober? Want to share your own recommendations? Throw some links down in the comments.

WFH Day 34: A Pretty Bad Case of RADD

If you had told me, “Dave, you’re going to be working from home for at least 2 months straight, and you’re not going to leave your house much during that time,” one of my first thoughts (after checking our stock of coffee and immediately settling into my comfiest pair of sweatpants) would be “I’m going to read SO MUCH!”

As it happens, that has not been the case.

It’s not like I have been binging Netflix, either. (Though I did watch The Mandolorian finally, which was *chef kiss*.) Rather, this time at home only confirmed what I already suspected:

I have a severe case of RADD–Reading Attention Deficit Disorder.

I keep jumping to new books, like hopping from rock to rock, after getting about 50 pages into several others. I was already reading 2-3 books at the same time when the stay-at-home order was given, and this was just exacerbated by being at home.

Complicating factors for RADD include:

  1. Overwhelming TBR shelves (both physical and digital);
  2. Easy access to new digital reading material (blogs, newsletters, online library catalog);
  3. Continued use of social media; and
  4. Being a parent of children under 3.

As a result, I’m about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through several books at the same time, with a desire to start new books almost every day.

While I was able to push through and finish 3 books over the last 2 months (State of the Union, a novella by Nick Hornby; Susie, Ray Rhodes’ outstanding biography of Susannah Spurgeon; and The Final Days of Jesus, Dr. Andreas Kostenberger’s examination of Holy Week), the stack of partially-read books has grown rapidly.

So what has turned my head these days? Here’s a quick look at my “current” reads:

  • The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much, by G.K. Chesterton
  • Five Minutes in Church History, by Steven Nichols
  • We Cannot Be Silent, by Al Mohler
  • On the Incarnation, by Athanasius
  • Holiness, by J.C. Ryle
  • Church Elders, by Jeramie Rennie
  • A Dream about Lightning Bugs, by Ben Folds
  • The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, by Steven Lawson
  • Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce Shelley

I’m not sure that’s everything, but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment.

On top of that, I just got a shipment of 4-5 books I’m eager to dive into that I purchased from T4G’s Online Store. (Note: This sale is still available today only, but it’s the last day of this sale so if you want to take advantage of deep discounts on great theology texts, jump on it right now. Not sponsored–I just hate for people to miss these deals!)

I’m convinced that RADD is a life-long affliction I’ll just have to manage better in the future. 

Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated, as I struggle through this difficult period.

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Your Turn: What books are you reading right now? And if you’re a fellow RADD sufferer, let us know so we can encourage each other to try to *finish* a book this weekend!

Friday Feed: 07/26/2019

beach beautiful bridge carribean
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Happy Friday! I’m back today with some interesting and (hopefully) beneficial links for your weekend review (including some links pulled from my Feedly app’s “Read Later” list that I’m reading *much* later).

Let’s get to it!

  • Maybe you’re someone who wants to read more but just can’t seem to find the time or the will to make it happen. Jordan Taylor can relate. He can also show you how to address that.
  • I had never before heard this story of the price that Pastor (and author) Randy Alcorn paid for his convictions about the life issue. What a profound example of humble, daily faithfulness.
  • As you may know, we welcomed our second daughter recently. This post by Matthew Tuck is a great encouragement about how important simply reading the Bible to your kids can be.
  • Along those same lines: If you have wanted to begin a practice of family worship in your home, this piece from Things Above Us is instructive and practical. Check it out.
  • From last year, here’s a Crossway blog post about 5 tips for Bible memorization. I don’t pursue this discipline as I ought. These reminders/encouragements are worth a look.
  • Christian, rethink your public speech. Amen.
  • If you’ve never heard the story of Charles Spurgeon and the “Downgrade Controversy,” this is a nice summary. It’s a story worth digging into.
  • I am looking for a way to get organized, mentally as much as schedule-wise. I may give bullet-journalling a try this weekend. 
  • Finally, this post about the ignoble tasks of pastoral ministry was a challenge to the creeping selfishness in my heart, and a reminder that I should be grateful for the elders I serve with and the ones who have cared for me over the years.
  • Update: Actually, one more link–this post from Tim Challies about being your own content curator. As I noted above, I use Feedly, at Tim’s recommendation, and I think it’s a great resource. If you use an RSS feed now, or if you are considering using one, could I perhaps encourage you to add this blog to it? That is one of the best ways to know when I’ve posted new content, as I’m obviously still trying to figure out a consistent posting schedule. (Another great way is to sign up for updates on the sidebar to the right (or below, depending on your device). Thank you!

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I hope this was a help to you. If any of these topics interest you, be sure to click through, and maybe drop me a comment below to let me know which of these interested you. Thanks!

Taking Suggestions…

 

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Hey gang! Just popping in to ask for your help with something. 

I mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter feeds yesterday that I have this crazy idea to read 100 short stories next year and write about them. I may do posts about some individually or write blog posts that respond to several in batches–I haven’t decided yet. But I want to expand my experience in the short fiction realm!

I’ve gotten a bunch of recommendations so far, but I wanted to widen my net and get recommendations from as many people as possible.

So here’s my question, faithful reader: What is your favorite short story ever, or one that you think every person should read–and why?

Put your recommendations in the comments below! Thanks!