2016 Reading Challenge: September Update!

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

I guess September is the beginning of harvest time, so it makes sense for me to finally finish several books, including a few I had been working on, on and off, for a few months! It seems I had a lot to say about a few of these books, so this post is almost 2-3 posts in one!

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

A Book of Less than 100 Pages: A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care, by SBTS Press (Russell Moore, ed.). This short booklet was produced by Southern Seminary, and is really just a collection of short essays (long blog posts?) from the Southern faculty about adoption and orphan care. The first group of essays addresses personal/family issues related to adoption, while the last few essays touch on how to begin or support orphan care ministry in the church setting. This is a hugely important topic, and while this book doesn’t go into any real depth, it may be a great starting point for beginning to think about how you can take part in and support orphan care. It certainly helped me begin thinking about this issue for my own family.

A Book by Jane Austen: Persuasion, by Jane Austen. I am a growing fan of Jane Austen stories–I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and I’ve seen the filmed productions of those two as well as Emma and Mansfield Park. I appreciate her style of writing, and her ability to describe a character in an incisive yet still sympathetic way. Austen’s stories have some stock character types that get mixed and matched in different ways: noble, long-suffering characters in a family of self-centered jerks; rogueish young men who are up to no good (a.k.a. the “all that glitters” character); silly aristocrats and bitter commoners. In Persuasion, the main character is the noble, long-suffering youngest sister in a family of silly aristocrats who is trying to find love with a dashing young captain whom she regrettably spurned in her younger days. (Truth be told, she reminded me of Edith from “Downton Abbey” early on in the story.) And about 2/3 of the way through the story, I was enjoying it immensely, on par with the top-shelf Austen stories. However, the ending seems to fall apart, and Austen seems to tie it up abruptly, almost arbitrarily. Nothing in the resolution felt really earned. On the whole, some interesting character moments, and Austen’s writing style shines through as well as ever, but the plot sags in the third act, leaving a disappointing conclusion (certainly no “Mr. Darcy walking through the morning fog” moment, that’s for sure).

A Play By William Shakespeare: The Winter’s Tale, by…well, Shakespeare. Okay, bad-English-major / slacker-lit-geek confession: I haven’t read all of Shakespeare’s plays. Many–more than half–but not all. And one I hadn’t read before is The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s pastoral plays that he wrote in the waning years of his career. Now, I will argue passionately for the quality and value of his major works (and it drives me bonkers that they are being taught less frequently in schools), but this one?  Meh. Here are the highlights: accusations of royal infidelity, court intrigue, the hubris of a ruler not listening to wise counsel, loss and regret…and then a half-baked attempt at pastoral humor and a love-story resolution. Oh, and there’s a bear attack and a statue that comes to life, because…reasons. So, yeah. The first half feels like a mix of Othello and Hamlet, the second half like a half-baked Much Ado.  Not his best work.

A Book More than 100 Years Old: The Innocence of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton (1911). My original selection for this category was Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which quickly showed to be tough sledding, and I wanted something a bit lighter. [I’ll get back to that one eventually.] I later realized that this collection of Father Brown stories would fit the bill. My previous exposure to Chesterton’s fiction was the novel The Man Who Was Thursday, which I enjoyed greatly. I was dimly aware of Father Brown, mainly that the character was a clergyman of some kind (Catholic priest, as it turns out) who solved mysteries. I began the collection expecting something of a religiously-tinged Sherlock Holmes. In that regard, I was mildly disappointed, since there wasn’t the consistent “big reveal” moment at the end of each story, as you’d get with the Baker Street detective. If there was ever a big reveal, it was understated almost to the point of denoument. In all of the stories, Father Brown (usually accompanied by French-master-thief-turned-detective Flambeau) stumbles his way into intrigue, or is invited to provide perspective. While he does do a bit of “detecting” of the classic sort, Father Brown’s skill set arises more organically from his understanding and experience dealing with the human soul. In fact, the best parts of these stories are Father Brown’s (and thus, Chesterton’s) ruminations on why people behave the way they do. Outside of one or two unfortunate racial slurs in one of the stories (a relic of its era), these stories are actually quite charming, and as such are worth seeking out.

A Book You Own But Have Never Read: Orphan Justice, by Johnny Carr. I bought this book back when my wife and I were dating. Orphan care and adoption has been a passion for my wife for years, and I wanted to be a supportive boyfriend/husband, so I purchased this book but never actually read it, until now.  I have to admit, this one is a bit tough to read, because it challenges you with the realities that orphans face around the world. Carr looks not only at the orphan crisis itself but also the complex social issues that feed into it, like human trafficking, HIV, poverty, and abuse. Hard stuff. But God used this book to continue the process of awakening a concern for orphans in my own heart. I don’t have the same level of passion that my wife does, but I’m getting there. There is such need. These kids are suffering every day. And that’s…wrong. I mean, really wrong. The wrongness of it is so great that it’s getting harder for me to ignore. And this book really forced me to think about that, and to question some of my own assumptions and stereotypes. One great feature of this book is that Carr ends each chapter with a challenge to act, by pointing out things that everyone, some people, and a few people can do to make a difference in each area. By doing so, he keeps the book very practical. My main critique of the book is that the author pulls Scripture out of context frequently, which really bugs me. However, I committed not to let these issues distract me or close my ears to the bigger truths in the book. And you shouldn’t either.

A Book that Won an ECPA Christian Book Award: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi is a Christian apologist whose focus is evangelizing Muslims. He was raised in Islam, and this book chronicles his critical exploration of both Christianity and Islam, as well as his eventual conversion to Christianity. Qureshi demonstrates through his own story his deep appreciation for his family and upbringing, as well as the difficulty of facing the truth about the faith he once believed. The book provided a glimpse into a world I’ve never known, and it helped me understand how a person can actually love Islam (or at least, some versions of it). The one reservation I had as I began this book was that I had heard the story involved Qureshi receiving “dreams and visions” from God. Theologically speaking, I consider myself about 93% cessationist, with only just enough doubt not to be adamant. In other words, when people talk about experience with sign gifts like prophecy and visions, I tend toward doubt until their testimony meets some thresholds of doctrinal testing. So I have to admit, I was a little leery. Well, I can tell you this much: the “dreams” Qureshi describes did not concern me from a doctrinal perspective. While he does drift into some “God spoke to my heart” direct revelation talk, it’s no more than the standard evangelical nomenclature (and nothing I haven’t said myself at one time or another).  All in all, this book was encouraging and edifying, and the description of Qureshi’s conversion brought tears to my eyes. I’m glad I read (technically, listened to the author read) this book.

A Book about Joy or Happiness: The Joy Project, by Tony Reinke. I wrote about this a little last week. The Joy Project is a sneaky book, in a way; while you think from the title and cover art that it’s a book about “joy,” you find out that it’s really a book about theology–specifically, the Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” However, as you read it, you recognize that Reinke wasn’t trying to pull a fast one. He was sincerely linking a Christian’s joy to their understanding of their salvation as a work of sovereign grace that rescues, redeems, and secures them. As I wrote earlier, this truth is something that I need to spend a LOT of time meditating upon, because in my years of being Calvinistic, I have only half-heartedly applied it to my own life. What I’m beginning to see is tha there is joy–so much joy!–in knowing that I am fully and completely secure in the Father’s hand. May I know it ever more and more.

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The end of September means we’re 3/4 of the way through the year. (That’s crazy to think about!) So how am I doing in regard to the 2016 Reading Challenge? Well, a 7-book month definitely helps things along!

I still don’t know if I will be able to hit the original goal of 52. Back in mid-July, I lowered by expectations and set a goal of reading at least 30 of the books on the list. Well, consider that “realistic” goal met! With the 7 books completed in September, my current total is 31/52 books read!

That leaves…21 for the next 3 months. Can I do 3 more 7-book months in a row? Considering the fact that those months include the holidays, which in our house is the busiest part of the year…probably not.

But if you know me at all, you know I’m sure gonna try! And as always, I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Thanks for reading.

Your Turn: Reading anything good lately? Post your recommendations in the comments below–because I’m definitely working on my list for next year!

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