Summer reading suggestions
It’s Summer, or something like it, so hopefully you’ve got some time off and maybe you’ll be able to get round to reading something good, like you’ve been meaning to for a while. Here’s some of the books I’ve read recently which I reckon are worth considering...
Capital, John Lanchester
A state-of-the-nation novel describing London on the cusp of the financial crisis. Lanchester fills his story with so many familiar characters and ideas – Polish plumbers, traffic wardens, terrorism fears – that it can already seem slightly out-of-date (no iPhones, no Twitter?) and most of the plot strands are simple and populated by caricatures, but as a description of London and modern British concerns it rings true.
Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel
If you like history and fiction but gave up on the BBC’s The White Queen after five minutes because it was clearly anachronistic nonsense, you’ll enjoy Mantel’s evocation of the court of Henry VIII. Henry might be a history cliché, but Mantel’s focus is his minister, Thomas Cromwell. It feels real and dangerous, as complicated as life is. This is a sequel to Wolf Hall, so you should start there if you haven’t read that already. If you’ve read both, A Place of Great Safety captures the wild chaos of the French Revolution with similar success. (Longer appreciation here.)
Peace Like A River, Leif Enger
A Christian novel that isn’t covered in syrup and doesn’t sound like a preach? This is a rare treat. (Longer appreciate here.)
And always, always, read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It requires your full attention, so a chilled summer holiday may be the best time for it. (Longer appreciation here.)
Science and culture
The Brain is Wider Than The Sky, Bryan Appleyard
An interesting and passionate exploration of what it means to be human, and how some current thinking threatens this. (Longer appreciation here.)
Why do Christians believe what they do?
If God Then What?, Andrew Wilson
A book full of questions, and questions about the answers you've been living with. It races along at a tremendous speed: wry, readable and possibly slightly tiring. If you’re not a Christian, this atheist encourages you to read what he describes as “disappointingly good” and extending “a hand of friendship rather than a wagging finger of disapproval”. If you’re a Christian, you’ll be challenged and encouraged, the perfect combination.
The Good God, Michael Reeves
At one point in this exploration of the Trinity, Reeves says that he doesn’t want to write “a hulking beast of a book”. The Good God certainly has the Hulk’s heft, even if it has the appearance of Bruce Banner. He introduces some of history’s great theologians and thinkers, inviting you to get to know them better. The breadth to his understanding of the themes in Scripture, linking Old Testament hints with New Testament proclamations, etc. is stunning. And it’s all about how wonderful God is. There seem to be far more Christian books about doing things than about the God we profess to love, so bring a bit of correction to that by reading this.
Gagging Jesus, Phil Moore
I’ve been considering recently how Christians need to present a more accurate picture of Jesus: trouble-maker, certain, master of circumstances not victim... and now along comes Phil Moore with this quick-fire examination of some of the most controversial things He said. I’ve only read a sample chapter and seen the contents page so far, but I know Phil and trust that he’ll be truthfully provocative.
Understanding the Bible
God’s Big Picture, Vaughan Roberts
If you struggle to understand what the Bible is really about, losing sight of the wood among so many trees, then this short and easy-to-read book could help you. Roberts shows how the Bible really is a coherent story from Genesis to Revelation. Understanding this will enable you to better comprehend what you read on a daily basis.
New Studies in Biblical Theology series
Often when books describe themselves as “scholarly and accessible” they’re one or the other. I think this series gets the balance right, enabling most of us to consider themes in the Bible (Jesus’ meals with sinners, the use of the shepherd metaphor, etc.) in more detail than usual without drowning in a sea of footnotes and original language fonts. Have a look through the subjects here, each title has an explanatory page.