I read lots, and I read widely, but I'm quite sure not everyone will like the books I recommend.
Imagine, for example, the enormous pressure when my mother-in-law calls needing some GREAT books to take on the plane with her halfway across the world. These books cannot, CANNOT, be duds - or so she seems to intimate. Then she tells me that that librarian has highly recommended to her Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky. What am I to do with the foreboding thought that she is NOT going to like this book, and that somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, she's going to be wishing for a Francine Rivers novel in her carry-on? What do I say when, at MY suggestion, she has also borrowed Marilynne Robinson's Home but wants the solid reassurance it's a fantastic read?
I can't take that kind of pressure, people. I'm happy to let you know what I'm reading and why I either like or dislike it, but the rest will have to be your responsibility. (You're big kids, after all.)
Recently, I wrote here how much I had enjoyed Mary Karr's Lit, and I've since had conversations with some of you that you've bought it and begun reading it on the basis of my effusive praise.
But I'm going to admit how nervous I feel to be wielding such power over you. I mean, my goodness - you're going to take my word on these things?
Just last week, I was recommending Lit to the man who was shampooing my hair at the salon.
"You're a writer?" he was asking. "So you must like to read."
"I do!" (Dog on a bone)
"What do you like to read?" he wanted to know.
Soon, we were both fawning over our favorite genre (memoir), and I tell him he's got to read Mary Karr.
I SERIOUSLY need to get in touch with her publicist.
Anyway, these are all just prefatory comments to tell you that in writing my book, I've been reading some super interesting books. I won't promise you'll love them, nor do I suggest they be the only books you pack in your bag for the beach vacation you have planned for the family. BUT, they have been enormously helpful to me.
unChristian by David Kinnaman: This book was published in 2007 on the basis of a research study done by the Barna Group. I'm probably the last person in the world to have read it, but it's certainly a provocative look at how "outsiders" view evangelicals and their faith. Anyone interested in those perceptions should read this book. Essentially, what the evangelical church needs to learn is how to listen better: "What 'outsiders' react negatively to is our 'swagger,' how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project."
When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann: Today, I published a piece at her.meneutics to discuss more at length some of the research Luhrmann did on evangelicals. You can read it here. She is a cultural anthropologist who spent years trying to understand how God becomes real for people. This book is another fascinating look from the "outside" of evangelicalism. Her most disconcerting observation is that today's Christianity is more therapeutic than theological.
Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community by Wendell Berry: I am FINALLY reading Berry. This is someone every Christian MUST read. He challenges so many of the individualistic assumptions of modern Americans. I only read the last essay of this collection, which is titled the same as the book. Berry is sounding the alarm about the disintegration of local community, and I really, really like what he has to say. "When community falls, so must fall all the things that only community life can engender and protect: the care of the old, the care and education of children, family life, neighborly work, the handing down of memory, the care of the earth, respect for nature and the lives of wild creatures. . . but of all the damaged things probably the most precious and the most damaged is sexual love."
The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely: What makes us lie? Essentially, Ariely sets out to disprove more rational theories (we lie because we stand to gain, and the bigger the gain, the bigger the lie). Instead, he argues that we lie only to the extent that we can continue to think of ourselves as good people. The sociology behind this is absolutely Christian, and I love to see our theology proved true in other disciplines.
I'm seeing now that NONE of these books are actually beach reads.
If only I could finish House of Mirth, maybe I could recommend that, too.
Are you reading anything spectacular this summer? Share in the comments, please! I'd love to know.