Friday, June 09, 2006

Books on my nightstand

Js on the Myers-Briggs tend to read books one at a time, straight through, while Ps tend to read multiple books simultaneously, flipping back and forth between titles. I’m definitely a P – there are currently over two dozen books on my nightstand (and on the floor), most with a bookmark stuck in it a few chapters in.

Part of this is because I’m participating in a seminar at Calvin College next month on writing as Christian proclamation, and the syllabus has about twenty books on it. Fortunately, I’ve already read more than half the list – Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God and Real Sex, Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk, Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and Plan B, Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy, Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, Debra Rienstra’s So Much More, Patton Dodd’s My Faith So Far and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. As you might guess, we’re reviewing many recent books and discussing their significance and effectiveness.

So here are the books that are on the syllabus and on my nightstand that I’m currently reading:

Debra Rienstra’s Great with Child: Reflections on Faith, Fullness, and Becoming a Mother. My wife read this a few years ago and found it very profoundly insightful. Rienstra is an English professor at Calvin, and she’s the one convening this seminar. It’s beautiful writing – a theologically and spiritually sensitive literary memoir.

Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What. If you liked Blue Like Jazz, you’ll like this; if you didn’t, you won’t. Miller has a lot of distinctive, fresh takes on the Christian faith, and this is something of a postmodern (un)systematic theology. The particularity of his voice seems to be attractive to many but off-putting to others.

Donna Freitas’s Becoming a Goddess of Inner Poise: Spirituality for the Bridget Jones in All of Us. I am so not the target audience of this book. It’s a chick-lit spirituality, and even though I’ve read some chick lit novels, they don’t speak to me in any spiritually significant way.

Garret Keizer’s The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin. This one is interesting, but again, not a book I’m really resonating with. Partly because anger isn’t generally one of my besetting sins. It’s a helpful exploration, though.

Vinita Hampton Wright’s novels Velma Still Cooks in Leeway and Dwelling Places. I’ve finished Velma, haven’t started Dwelling Places. Loved Velma – really captures small-town life and conservative fundamentalism. (I should also mention that I recently read Vinita’s IVP book The Soul Tells a Story, which is about spirituality and creativity in the writing life. It’s excellent.)

Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. I love this book. It’s a wide-ranging blend of history, cultural analysis, theology, sociology and comparative religion, and it’s absolutely fascinating. Prothero documents the development of various American christologies across the centuries – Jesus as enlightened sage, sweet savior, manly redeemer, superstar and more.

Russell Rathbun’s Post-Rapture Radio: Lost Writings from a Failed Revolution. Just got this in the mail. I’m about fifty pages into it, and I still don’t know what to make of it. It’s something of experimental fiction/essays/sermons/random thoughts, mostly about the state of the evangelical church, but I’m not sure it’s working for me yet. Not that I mind quirky; I love Douglas Coupland’s Gen X novels. But something about this doesn’t quite click, and I’m not sure what it is.

Augustine’s Confessions. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never read this all the way through, though I’ve read portions and excerpts over the years. No time like the present to finally get to this.

Also on my nightstand, though not part of the reading for the Calvin seminar, is N. T. Wright’s new book Simply Christian, which is Wright’s attempt at a Mere Christianity kind of book. Only a few chapters into it, but it looks good so far. Also How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith by Crystal Downing – there’s no shortage of books on postmodernism out there, but this one is quite engaging and helpful. A book I haven’t cracked open yet is The New Woman, Jon Hassler’s newest novel, which my wife gave me for our anniversary. Hassler is my favorite novelist; he’s a Minnesotan and has some of the most illuminating portraits of Midwestern life. And a few books I recently finished reading and returned to the library: Mark Pinsky’s The Gospel According to Disney, Jean Twenge’s Generation Me and Nicole Mazzarella’s award-winning novel This Heavy Silence, which was very impressive.

Okay, okay, I’m a book geek. I admit it. If I’m not engaging my suburban context more, it’s because I’m sitting at home reading all the time. (Or going to second-hand bookstores or the library.) What’s on your nightstand?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So, Al. Fellow companion in the Calvin seminar. It's week two now and I'm thinking back over the seminar's books. This list of books has big holes--where's Annie Dillard? Kingsolver? And a unique book such as Buechner's Godric? Where's Zaleski's collections each year of the best spritual writing for the year? Where is spiritual poetry (it is out there). I guess I'm wondering how this list represents the field.
Not sure what this means, but I think I feel as if the various genres in literary spiritual writing have really not been covered. There's even some folks writing fairly succesful modern parables.
But as to what is on my nightstand? The latest Charlaine Harris southern vampire novel, The Maltese Falcon, and some other spiritual writing. Got keep variety!