2016 Reading Challenge: May/June Update!

Time for another update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

May and June were full months for me–the 8-week summer class on Biblical Hermeneutics has been really helpful but very demanding! However, I was able to get a few books read before my class started and the homework started piling up. (Unfortunately, my reading outside of school materials in June was effectively zero.)

So here’s a list of what I was able to finish in May:

A Book by a Speaker at a Conference You Have Attended: The Hole in Our Holiness, by Kevin DeYoung. About 4 years ago, I attended Together for the Gospel, and one of the free books (so many free books at that conference!) I received was this one by DeYoung, whose session that year covered some of the material from the book. I stuck the book on my shelf, always meaning to get back to it. I’m glad I finally did, because this short volume (150 pages) is a dynamo: punchy, pithy, and powerful. The main thesis of DeYoung’s book is that we cannot sacrifice the imperatives (commands) of the Gospel for the sake of the indicatives (descriptive truths) of the Gospel. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved FOR good works. DeYoung rightly points out that Christians in the West (and especially here in the States) too often hold to a half-developed understanding of the Gospel that focuses almost entirely on BELIEVING the right things and almost none at all on DOING what the Bible commands Christians to do. HIGHLY recommended.

A Book About a Current Issue: Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots), by Matt Lewis. I’d been looking forward to reading this book for a few months, because it was touted as a good explanation for how the Trump phenomenon happened. I think this is a fair, if incomplete, description. Throughout the volume, Lewis seeks to diagnose the GOP’s ailments, and provide some suggestions for turning the tide.  He begins by looking at the history of conservative political thought in America, its influences and standard-bearers, and how it began to erode after the Reagan presidency ended. I found a lot of Lewis’ analysis to be on-point, but about halfway through the book, the worm began to turn a bit for me. Lewis has little appreciation or patience for Conservative Evangelicals (and some of that is justified, I think). But his solution seems to involve Evangelicals abandoning (or at least toning down) some of their convictions because it’s a bad look for the Party. He trumpets the work of men like Tim Keller and Russell Moore as exemplars of thoughtful religious conservatism (though these men have taken positions on certain tertiary issues that would be considered ideologically liberal among some circles). All in all, Lewis’ book seems to be long on diagnosis, and a bit short on cure, though he presents some good ideas. As a religious conservative reading the book, however, I felt like my ilk was seen as part of the problem more than part of the solution.

A Book on the NYT Bestseller’s List: Smarter, Faster, Better, by Charles Duhigg. I’ve already reviewed Duhigg’s follow-up to The Power of Habit. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who likes pop-level sociological analysis in the mold of Malcolm Gladwell. (And for the record, none of the preceding sentence is meant to be a slight, though I’d imagine it might be taken as such if you’re not a fan of any of those things. I enjoy Gladwell’s work, so…) Duhigg dishes up some interesting ideas that are fun to consider and implement.

A Book of at least 400* Pages: It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis. This 1935 novel follows the fictional campaign and election of Democratic presidential candidate Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip to the highest post in the land, and the utter devastation that happened as a result. Through this allegory, Lewis addresses the question of how the American public could unthinkingly embrace Fascism, due to willful ignorance, fear, and desperation. While the protagonist of the story (Doremus Jessup, a broadminded New England liberal who is the editor of a small-town newspaper) is convinced that somehow, someway, common sense and sanity will win the day and stop the snowball-momentum of Windrip, he is over and over proven wrong. Windrip’s seemingly incompetent and blatantly phony campaign speeches and self-contradicting missives do nothing to stop his progress, and he eventually wins the campaign. Once he is inaugurated, he immediate sets up a police state and goes the way of all rotten totalitarian regimes. I started reading this book after seeing it referenced in a newspaper op-ed about the current political jungle. I was amazed, even appalled, how familiar whole sections of the first half of the book sounded. Unfortunately, once Buzz is elected, the novel starts to lose its punch. The protagonist and his family and friends just aren’t that likeable and seem to stumble into the underground resistance movement. However, since they’re played up to be a bit farcical themselves, I struggled to take them seriously in the second half of the book. The conclusion of the novel isn’t that satisfying, except that it mercifully ends. I wonder if Lewis should have chopped about 100 pages off the back end and tightened up the punch of the story. On the whole, the book probably won’t stick with me, but the first 150 pages or so detailing the campaign and first few months of the Windrip presidency are a stinging indictment of all would-be demagogues in American politics.

[*Okay, now the disclaimer: While there are editions of this novel that are over 400 pages, the version I read (with smallish print) was only 382 pages. But I don’t care — I’m counting it.]

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As I said in the last post, resuming my seminary education will take the place of much of my pleasure reading, so I’m making the decision to ease back my expectations. I’m not going to stop until I finish the 52-book list; however, I see now that it won’t be until sometime next year. So, a new part of these monthly/bi-monthly updates will be a running tally of my progress!

Current Totals:
May/June: 4
Year-to-Date: 19
Original Goal: 52
Realistic Goal: 30

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My class ends next week, so I should be able to get a few more books in before my next class in August. Right now, I’ve started listening to the audio book of a memoir of a Navy SEAL. I’m limiting my listening to only when I’m being “active,” so hopefully this will motivate me to work out more. And I’m also about to start a biography of two very important American inventors, so I’m pretty psyched about that. I’ll keep you posted!

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