Catching Up – Some Reading Challenge Mini-Reviews

evangelism Book InformationEvangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Author – J. I. Packer

Publication Information – InterVarsity Press (2012 edition of 1961 original; $9.99 digital, $16.00 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book recommended by my pastor.

One of the pastors at the church where I grew up makes no secret of his love for this book as well as for J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Even though I’ve read Knowing God several times over and really found it life-changing, somehow I’d missed this book.

One of the attacks often leveled at reformed theology is that we must not believe in evangelism since God has chosen His elect. In this short book, Packer very powerfully makes the case that God’s absolute sovereignty is what should drive our passion to evangelize. This book contains one of the best discussions of the reasons for evangelism that I have ever read and it is deservedly a classic. I intend to read it again so that I can think about it more deeply and it’s one of those books that I think belongs in any library. Rating: 5 stars

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benfranklinBook InformationBenjamin Franklin: An American Life

Author – Walter Isaacson

Publication Information – Simon & Schuster (2004, $12.13 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a biography.

Clocking in at nearly 600 pages, this is an impressive doorstopper of a book. Fortunately, it’s also fascinating reading so it didn’t feel terribly long at all.

Most relatively well-educated people will have at least a vague sense of Benjamin Franklin and his importance in American history. However, this book really digs deeply not just into the person but also the time in which he lived.  The result is a vivid portrait that made me appreciate Franklin more, despite his infamous shortcomings.

Isaacson starts with Franklin’s early life, which was somewhat difficult to put it mildly. The picture that emerges is one of a bright boy who develops into a clever, determined young man whose humor and wit take him far. Though obviously very gifted, his pride and temper seemed to make him his own worst enemy at times.

In some ways, Franklin with his Poor Richard’s Almanac and famous maxims has been made to personify the American spirit of thrift, striving and innovation.  These are definitely present in the story of his life. However, Isaacson does a marvelous job of marshaling the primary sources to show him as human as well. The Franklin that emerges here is a more complex (and sometimes less likable) figure than the one we see in textbooks or even his own autobiography. A good biography of a flawed but important figure. Rating: 4.5 stars

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howardsendBook InformationHowards End

Author – E. M. Forster

Publication Information – Dover Thrift Editions (2010 reissue of 1910 publication, $0.99 digital, $4.50 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book more than 100 years old.

My first introduction to E. M. Forster came through the lush Merchant and Ivory films that were popular when I was a child.  At the time, I think I was too young to really grasp some of the themes of the novels but I could enjoy the gorgeous cinematography.

Now, as an adult, I can better appreciate the complexity of Forster’s books.  This novel, originally published in 1910, illustrates the tensions between the more traditional segments of English society as represented by the Wilcox family who own Howards End and the more modern (and decidedly secular) patterns of the Schlegel family.  In this tale of a friendship and other interactions between members of the unorthodox Schlegel clan and the Wilcoxes, we see the tensions again and again.  For instance, Margaret Schlegel and Mrs. Wilcox become very close friends but the worldly and “modern” Margaret just cannot understand the importance family holds for Mrs. Wilcox.

In addition to the push and pull of emotions and tangled relations between Schlegel and Wilcox, a chance meeting between the Schlegels and a young working class man named Leonard Bast set in motion a series of events that eventually unfolds with tragic consequences.  The result is both an interesting if sometimes disquieting portrait of the early 20th century as well as a thoughtful consideration of the meaning of life. Written from what appears to be a decidedly non-Christian perspective(Forster was an athiest), I don’t agree with some of the places that Forster’s pondering takes him but this subtle, well-written book is worth reading and thinking through nevertheless. Rating: 4 stars

A Blast From the Past – Love Comes Softly

lovecomessoftly Book InformationLove Comes Softly

Author – Janette Oke

Publication Information – Bethany House (1979, $13.99 paperback, $8.72 digital)

Several posts back, I mentioned that I had been gifted with several boxes packed to the brim with Christian books read and loved by my grandmother and her sisters.  It’s a treasure trove of Christian reading that’s mostly from the 1980s/90s.

I wasn’t quite sure where to start with the stash of vintage books. And honestly, I’m still not sure how the ratio of long-lost treasures to cringeworthy reads will shake out.

I decided to start with a book that I read and reread as a young teen. It’s been a while since I last revisited Love Comes Softly and I wasn’t sure if it would stand up to my happy adolescent memories.

The good news?  It certainly does.  To someone who reads a lot of current inspirational fiction, this novel might seem a touch old-fashioned. However, I find it old-fashioned in a good, nostalgic way.  Oke has a way of carrying catchphrases and motifs through her story that make not just the story itself but the memory of how the book makes one feel linger in the mind. Continue reading

A Neglected Classic – Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

uncletom Book InformationUncle Tom’s Cabin

Author – Harriet Beecher Stowe

Publication Information – This novel has had many publishers since its initial release in 1852. For classics, I often buy Dover Thrift Editions – $5.00 paperback, $0.99 digital

Reading Challenge book? Yes. This is a classic novel.

Though I’ve encountered few people nowadays who have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, this novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe was wildly popular at the time of its initial publication. Her fictional portrayal of slavery humanized the abolition debate and made a powerful emotional appeal. For that reason, many historians credit the novel with laying the groundwork for emancipation. Some have even credited the book with inflaming Northern sentiment in favor of civil war.

Growing up in the South, I always heard very mixed things about this book, but had not read the novel itself. Going into it, I knew that the book dealt with the slavery issue and I had been told that some of the enslaved characters are subjected to brutal treatment. Based on the descriptions, I had assumed that the book must center on escape from a plantation in the Deep South.

I could not have been more wrong in my assumptions. The book is actually set in Kentucky, and the slaveholder we meet initially is a far cry from the wealthy plantation class. Arthur Shelby, who appears to be a fairly modest Kentucky farmer, has fallen on hard times. As the book opens, he has decided to raise needed funds by selling two of his slaves. This prompts debate between him and his wife Emily – not because they have qualms about buying and selling human souls in general but because one of the slaves to be sold is the son of Emily’s maid and Mrs. Shelby had promised the maid that the Shelbys would keep her son.

What unfolds initially is a plot of great adventure as Emily’s maid Eliza escapes in a desperate attempt to save her son. Readers follow her dangerous path,and it’s almost impossible to read dispassionately as we see the dangers and deprivations she must endure. Continue reading