This has been a productive summer of reading for me. The down-side to that is that I’m way behind on writing book reviews (I’ve read 10 books since my last book review). Since this is a hole I won’t be able to dig my way out of, I’ve decided to simply write a series of short reflections on each of these 10 books in place of full book reviews. (To keep it from getting too long, I’ve decided to break this up into two parts.) So here is part one of my quick takes on the 10 most recent books I’ve read:
1. To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon (450 pgs.)
Jan Karon’s Mitford series has been a friend for years. Like many others, I’ve enjoyed reading and re-reading her books since I was first introduced to them as a teenager. The books center on the daily lives of the town of Mitford – a small-town mountain-top community in North Carolina. The stories center on the ordinary (and at times, extraordinary) events of Father Timothy Kavanaugh – the local Anglican priest. To Be Where You Are is the latest (and purportedly the last) book in the 14 book series. It has all the charms and strengths of its predecessors and continues the legacy well. It was a joy to read.
2. In Distant Lands: A Short History of the Crusades by Lars Brownworth (262 pgs.)
Lars Brownworth is probably my favorite popular writer of Medieval history. I first encountered him through his landmark podcast series 12 Byzantine Rulers and later consumed the book version: Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization. Earlier this year I read his riveting history of the Vikings (The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings) and so the pump was primed to read this wonderful little book on the Crusades.
As with his previous work, Brownworth shows himself to be a master of the Medieval world. He understands (and untangles) the complex connections between various kings and cultures to bring us into the period. The final chapter of the book offers one of the best assessments of the morality and consequences of the Crusades, but the strength of the book is that he manages to hold that until the end. At its root, this book aims to do what so few books on the Crusades have: unpack the history of this period as the fascinating story that it is.
3. Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung (128 pgs.)
The title tells it all. In this little book, DeYoung explores the problem of busyness in American life. Using his own experience as evidence, DeYoung tries to explore why we are so busy, why that’s a problem, and how we might begin to fight back against the persistent culture of busyness that surrounds us. This is a simple book. As always, DeYoung has a natural and persuasive style. No radical new insights are imparted nor are there “10 steps to success” outlined. The book is simply a wake-up call/reminder that many of us need to grow in this area.
4. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter (304 pgs.)
J.R.R. Tolkien died in 1973. Just four years later, in 1977, Humphrey Carpenter wrote this incredible book. Writing a biography of Tolkien has its challenges. For one thing, Tolkien had a fairly dim view of the usefullness of authorial biographies. For another thing, Tolkien’s legacy had not had much time to settle when Carpenter first took up his task. On top of all this, Tolkien’s life (once you move past a full and eventful youth) quickly settled into a fairly mundane routine that hardly makes for scintillating reading. “Professor grades papers and gives lectures” is not a headline that would sell papers. But despite these challenges, Carpenter managed to construct a compelling portrait of a complicated man. He walks us through the different stages of Tolkien’s story without loosing sight of that aspect of the man which has cemented his legacy: the imaginative fruit of his remarkable mind. This is a good book. In fact it’s a very good book. If you love Tolkien, this biography will bring him to life in new ways and offer new insights into not only him, but his work. An absolute “must-read.”
5. A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home by Jason Helopoulos (100 pgs.)
Family worship (or “family religion” as so many of our fore-fathers called it) has fallen on hard times. Many evangelicals struggle to set aside a few minutes each morning for private worship, much less committing to regular times of worship with their families. Helopoulos hopes to help with this little book. In it, he explains what family worship is, the biblical foundations for family worship, and offers practical guidance and encouragement for those who are trying to practice it. Those who are already convinced of family worship and are regularly practicing it will be able to skim the book (although the appendices contains some helpful resources for leaders in family worship). This book seems best suited to those who are unfamiliar with the practice of family worship, opposed to it, or just unsure of whether or not it’s something that they can or should do. Helopoulos is a helpful and friendly guide and hopefully this book will accomplish its purpose of recovering family worship in our own day.