Monthly Mini Reviews for January 2016

As we work our way through the 2016 52 book challenge, I’m going to try (once again) to offer monthly mini-reviews of the books I complete.  Last year, I fizzled out on this part of the project in February – we’ll see how well I do this year.

But first some observations about this year’s project:

About 10 of my friends are doing this challenge in one form or another.  I find that I get really excited to see their posts – I’ve discovered new books (some of which may make it on to my list).  Their progress helps keep me going.

I’m also really intrigued by the commentary that each book generates.  Some spark robust commentary, while others fall flatter than a dead flounder.  This is where the “social” in social media comes in.

Finally, I’m trying to “stage” photos of the books – picking a background and setting that evokes something about the book in some way.  I can’t do it for all the books, but I’m trying for most of them.  This hasn’t generated any commentary yet.  But hope springs eternal.

Now, on to the reviews:

Live, Love, Lead
by Brian Houston.

2016-01-05_1451971248I picked up this book at the library.  Many in my circles consider Houston a heretic, and I wanted to evaluate for myself.  I didn’t find anything glaringly heretical; indeed I could see how this book would be encouraging and inspiring.  However, I found it riddled with cliches (every other page mentions a “big, wide open life” that God has for you) and suffering from the same “bigger is better” bias of most megachurch pastor motivational books.

by Marilynne Robinson.

2016-01-06_1452044796This work of literary fiction (by that, I mean it is not an exciting, plot driven genre piece – it focuses on language, character, mood) has been sitting on my shelf for about a decade (every personal library should have some “aspirational reads”).  Wow.  Just wow.  What more can I say?  How about, “terrific verbal craftsmanship” or “philosophically weighty without being obtuse” or “a melancholy tale that made me think.”

Fool’s Talk
by Os Guinness.

2016-01-21_1453353186The latest work of Christian Apologetics from the winsome, thoughtful, and always intellectually vibrant scion of the famed Irish brewmaster.  I saw this at the library and couldn’t resist the cover.  This is a strong contender for my “Pastor’s Summer Reading Recommendations” for our congregation – wise, balanced, and very helpful in approaching apologetics as a lived practice.  My only quibble is that Guinness tends to repeat his points over and over again in different chapters.  Perhaps it is a pedagogical choice, perhaps it was the fault of an editor who didn’t have the courage to correct Guinness – either way, it is but a mild irritant in what is an overall worthy read.

Pilgrim’s Regress
by C.S. Lewis.

2016-01-23_1453556491You’ve got to hand it to Lewis for sheer audacity.  His first published book of prose is an allegorical conversion narrative, taking the main character on a quest through the intellectual landscape of the mid-twentieth century.  I read this about 20 years ago in my “enchanted by everything Lewis wrote” phase, and I decided to return to it this year.  I enjoyed returning to it, though I suspect it’s not really interesting to anyone who isn’t either a Lewis aficionado or a student of the history of philosophy.

All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr.

2016-01-28_1454018018This book was a huge hit last year.  My mother gave it to me for Christmas.  I found it to be an engaging read: fine prose style, interesting characters that I cared about, a narrative structure that kept me on my toes.  Doerr conveys a romantic enchantment with the world and the tragedy that comes when our sins and circumstances crush that enchantment.  He holds out hope that such enchantment can be recovered after a fashion. Sadly, I thought the denouement (covering the last 40 pages or so) was a melancholy petering out of the tale that is almost cliche for our materialist era. It didn’t seem to fit the rest of this otherwise excellent book.

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