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Notable books

Notable Books | Four books about reading

Issue: "Beyond the body count," Nov. 5, 2011


Author Tony Reinke was a reluctant reader during his teenage years, reading only about sports. When he became a Christian he began to highlight every commandment from God in his Bible, hoping the exercise would help him become holy. It didn't work and he realized he was misreading the text. He uses those stories to encourage non-readers to begin reading, and to encourage readers to read with more discernment. The first part of the book focuses on the Bible, which provides the glasses by which we read everything else. The rest of the book deals with the kinds of books we should read and techniques for reading them well. He borrows from Calvin, Mortimer Adler, and Leland Ryken, and along the way covers topics such as distraction, words vs. image, and the value of marking up books.

25 Books Every Christian Should Read

Those unfamiliar with spiritual disciplines might be interested in this collection of excerpts drawn from writers and thinkers from Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant perspectives. It includes church fathers and monastics (Athanasius, Augustine, the Desert Fathers, Thomas à Kempis); mystics (Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich); classic and popular theologians (Calvin, C.S. Lewis, Chesterton); and poets and writers (Dostoyevsky, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dante). Accompanying each excerpt is a background essay and study questions. The book also includes a list of nine contemporary writers-many from the emergent church movement-who the editors believe have something "deep and fundamental to teach us about our discipleship to Jesus."

How Literature Works

Deconstruction, structuralism, defamiliarization, reception theory. What do those words mean? What do they have to do with books? John Sutherland-a literature professor at University College London, and a reviewer for the left-leaning Guardian newspaper-breezily covers 50 key literary concepts, devoting four pages to each. His liberal secularism comes through in his analysis of some concepts, but for those who want a primer on current and past debates over literary interpretation, with timelines and key works, this book is useful and easy to read. It's like a literary criticism for dummies-useful for party small talk, or to bridge the vocabulary gap between parents and their children who major in literature.

The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood

William Bennett's Book of Virtues was a huge success in the 1990s. It compiled in one place fairy tales, poems, and other types of literature that illustrated important virtues. During this time of cultural shift, when the very idea of manhood seems up for debate, this new collection explores "what a man should be, how he should live, and the things to which he should aspire" (see p. 20). It includes famous speeches, book excerpts, and newly penned profiles ranging from Os Guinness to Yale computer scientist David Gelernter, one of the Unabomber's victims. Readings cover man at war, in civil society, at play and worship, in marriage and work. Some of the selections would make good read-alouds.


The Great Books Reader by John Mark Reynolds (Bethany House, 2011) provides a starting point for Christians who want to read writers like Aristotle, Milton, and Marx, but don't know where to begin. Reynolds runs Biola's great books program, and he introduces each of the volume's 29 skillfully chosen excerpts with a page of questions, thoughts, and important information. Essayists ranging from Peter Kreeft to Hugh Hewitt briefly guide readers through each excerpt.

A collection of this sort invites the reader to wade into the swimming pool of the great books, and even venture far from the pool's edge with works like Newton's Principia and Erasmus' Praise of Folly-but the water wings are always on. Reynolds hopes that once readers have lost their fear of the water, they'll want to dive into the deep end and read the books themselves.
-Caleb Nelson

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.


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