Tag Archives: book review

Called and Keeping Place: Two Very Short Book Reviews

This month I simultaneously listened to Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home and paged through Ryan Pemberton’s Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again. It was a fascinating combo platter. Both Michel and Pemberton found themselves far from their places of origin and longing for home. Both explore the geographical cost of discipleship. Both use story to tease out theology. And both were terrific.

Having just returned from Oxford (Pemberton’s stomping ground) and having so recently published a book with the working title “Homesick” (ultimately Thirty Thousand Days), I couldn’t not read either of these books. Indeed, there were so many familiar moments in each one that a fly on the wall might have heard me yelp in recognition.

Here is a teaser for each, for those of you looking for your next good read. Be sure to check out the links to their respective websites, too.

keeping-place-11Keeping Place.  As one who is demonstrably preoccupied with Home and homesickness, I loved this book. Michel’s depth of historical study and the fascinating connections she makes between ideas and moments in time are so impressive. She writes like a scholar but not necessarily for scholars—she teases out universal themes and relates them to all of us. I listened to the audio version, so there is much I did not catch (a hazard of audio books), but I enjoyed it enough to covet a paper copy for my shelf, one to dog-ear and underline. From her early discussion of “nostalgia” (did you know homesickness was once considered a medical condition?) to her closing chapter on our forever Home, this is a great exploration of the human condition.

Called by Ryan J. PembertonCalled.  Fast paced, thought provoking, entertaining, and scattered throughout with great nuggets. Pemberton is a great storyteller, and a very likable protagonist. You have the feeling he and his wife would make great friends. There are plenty of Lewis stories for Narnia lovers, publishing misadventures for aspiring authors, and reflections on discerning God’s will for anyone. Another one to keep and refer back to (or re-read) in the future, whenever the idea of following God in crazy directions is daunting and the way forward is unclear.

Fool’s Talk and my DIY Seminary

“As the early church boasted rightly, the message of Jesus is both simple enough for a child to paddle in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in.”  — Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk

So I am a few months in to my DIY seminary project, and delighted to report that I have found several books on my list available for download from the library.  I’ve listened to The Great Divorce while driving, Fool’s Talk while doing dishes, A Reason For God while folding clothes, and Hillbilly Elegy while chopping vegetables.  Having a collection of brilliant men to listen to while scrubbing pots can turn Cinderella into a sorta-scholar faster than you can say “can somebody please send me a maid for Christmas.”

Now, it’s a little bit impossible for a visual learner like myself to fully absorb a complex book like Os Guinness’s while multi-tasking, and I’ll freely admit it’s not the same as sitting in on a philosophy class, but I gotta think it’s better than binge-watching reruns on Netflix.  It has stoked in me a greater desire to really delve in — to take the class, argue with the professor, write the essays.  But if, like me, you are a) strapped for cash, b) short on time, and c) already overcommitted, I offer this encouragement: all the great thoughts that have ever been thunk have probably been written down somewhere in a book that you can find, free, at a library.  In fact, such notably brilliant people as Abraham Lincoln, Jack London, and Ray Bradbury were mostly self-educated folks who wore out their library cards.  I’m with Paul:  “Bring the books!” II Timothy 4:13, KMV (Kate Morgan Version)

I couldn’t do justice to a full book review of Fool’s Talk without getting an actual paper copy and skimming it over again, but I’ll say enough to whet your appetite if you’re into apologetics.  First, this is not a book about winning arguments, improving your evangelistic technique, or how Charles Darwin ruined American schools.  This is, instead, a brilliant challenge to think well, to think comprehensively, and to consider the myriad ways a Christian worldview shapes how we interact with the world.  It is much more important to love than to win.

I find Guinness to be warm, winsome, and deep, his logic masterful, and his unpacking of competing worldviews incisive.  Guinness is 76 years old, and avoided writing a book about apologetics until 2015 because he promised God he’d do apologetics before he ever dared write about it.  He’s written a long list of other books, which I can’t wait to dive into.  But buyer beware; he’s wicked smart.  I listened to Fool’s Talk at a slightly reduced speed to give my little brain time to process his train of thought.  That helped, but there were times I had to rewind and pay better attention.

My big takeaway from Fool’s Talk is similar to the point of my whole DIY seminary project:  if Christianity is true, it is absolutely comprehensive.  It must impact every decision I make, every habit I acquire, and every action I perform.  It must be big enough to contain every smaller truth and to answer every possible objection.  Therefore, it is grand enough to encompass every great thought of every philosopher, historian, poet, scientist, and theologian of all time, and it would take countless lifetimes to begin to scratch the surface.  I simply don’t have “world enough and time” to fritter if it’s a goal to love the Lord with all my mind.

Thank God for the library.

A couple interesting resources you might like to listen to if you enjoy apologetics: