From the nightstand…

Sneaking a peek at friends’ bookshelves is always telling. But even more telling would be to see what’s on their nightstand. In lieu of real book reviews today, consider this a peek at my bedside table (which is straining under the guilty weight of unread or half-read books). Here are some books I’ve been reading and even some I’ve even been enjoying.

Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga is a wonderful fantasy series geared well to those who’ve just finished Lewis’ Chronicles for the first (or tenth) time. Based on the adventures of three young siblings, it’s humorous enough for out-loud laughs, deep enough for adults to read, and engaging enough to read to a young rabble at bedtime. Peterson just released the third book, The Monster in the Hollows, and is working on the fourth and final book. Having read several similar series in the “Christian fantasy” department, I’m delighted there’s one I can recommended wholeheartedly in addition to Lewis and Tolkien.

Somewhere in the vast wasteland of the internet, I heard about A History of Reading and decided that no author could completely mess up such an interesting subject. Not only does Alberto Manguel not mess it up, he serves up the history of reading with such unabashed love for the written word that the reader is only too glad to come along for the ride. He writes so well about the history of reading out loud or the way books got their shape that you won’t even have to pretend to be interested.

I’ve also picked up a couple of Annie Dillard’s books over the past two years. At home, I’m slowly reading through A Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, which is Dillard’s meditations on creation around her cabin near, well, Tinker’s Creek. There is no plot to this book and no movement in one direction to speak of–but what there is, there is abundantly: wonderful, beautiful writing springing from the depths of beautiful and often terrifying thinking. Nicholas Carr recently made the case that the healthy mind must make time for the inefficiencies of meditation. Here is a case in point.

Having been struck this past Easter by John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter“, I began chewing slowly through this collection of his poetry. A couple of the poems are somewhat blunt (in the “adult” sense), but there is a great humor and simple delight in many of them. The collection was organized by the author according to topics (he distinguishes “light verse” from other, more serious I suppose, poetry). As much as I’d like to pretend, I am no connoisseur of poetry, but here is one I can enjoy and chew on comfortably.

Michael Perry is an essayist/memoirist (is that a word?) from rural Wisconsin. I took his Truck: A Love Story on our summer vacation and it turned out to be the perfect read. Therein, Perry reflects on rebuilding an old truck and falling in love and other Wisconsin things. All the while with outstanding writing and enough humor to make my wife wish she were reading my book instead of her giant tome on Cleopatra. So I added two more of his books to the nightstand: Population 485 (memoirs based in his work as a volunteer firefighter) and Coop (the post-truck & wedding story of life on a farm). I will say that his books can be slightly, um, salty–but not in a vulgar way.

Here is the book I’ll be buying for every new parent in our congregation: Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley. Short on technique prescriptions but big on the gospel, this is exactly what I needed to reorient my parenting around grace. Despite my one or two small beefs with the book, I think this hits all the biggest nails on the head. With the right hammer, too. Expect to find great conviction (especially fathers!) and the right focus: the grace of Jesus’ cross to us and through us to our children.

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And just in case you wondered if I read only good books: let me say publicly that Tom Clancy’s latest novel is by far the most disappointing thing I’ve read in years. It’s clear that the old master isn’t writing his own books anymore and perhaps barely retains editorial control. The story was weak without any of the classic Clancy attention to detail and without any of the classic characters. I’m going to wash out my brain by re-reading The Hunt for Red October.

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