Books Worth Reading: First Quarter 2017

 

Reading is the mind’s exercise, and we need good exercise equipment to keep it healthy. Here are some books I’ve recently read and want to pass on for your consideration. We all have trouble finding the time needed for focused reading, but sometimes we can get through books in five minute increments. For example, I can often cover several pages from the time the plane lands until it arrives at the gate. Here are some pages to turn while taxiing to the gate or before turning off the bedside lamp at night.

 

Destiny of the Republic is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. To be more exact, I listened to it on Audible. In fact, I listened to it twice, once by myself and again with Katrina on a road trip. This is the gripping  story of President James A. Garfield and his assassin, Charles Guiteau, and once you begin the book you can’t put it down or turn it off. Despite being history and biography, it’s a page-turner. My only complaint is that Millard essentially ignores Garfield’s Christian faith. To get that aspect of his life, we need to turn to another book about him.

 

James A. Garfield: The Preacher President, is a fictionalized biography written in 1880 by William M. Thayer. When I first began reading this book, I didn’t realize it was fictionalized until I noticed the reconstruction of conversations that could not  have been recorded verbatim. But this is a book written shortly after Garfield’s death and accurately reflecting the events of his life. It’s now part of the Beka Curriculum, so it’s perfect for homeschoolers and it focuses on Garfield’s conversion. Nothing negative is said about him in this book (and he was not a perfect man), so it’s a very sympathetic treatment of his life, but also a very inspiring read.

Speaking of fictionalized history, The Last Days of Night has been on the bestsellers list for a good reason–it recreates the dramatic story of the war between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison to electrify America. Who knew those men could be so ruthless?

No one doubts the formitable writing skills of one of the masters of Christian books, Eugene Peterson. This thin book was published a decade ago, but since Peterson is telling us his favorite books, and since most of those books are old ones, the contents here are timeless. Peterson simply lists and comments on over a hundred of the books that have most shaped his thinking, and, frankly, I was taken back with his scholastic mind. He reads at a different level than I do–I’ll admit it. But I got some great ideas for future reading.  He divides his recommended library into sections that include the Basics, the Classics, books on the  Psalms, books on Prayer, books on Worship, books on Spiritual Formation, books for Pastors, books about Jesus, favorite Commentaries, Novels, and even murder mysteries. If you think the last category seems out of place, it isn’t. Believers seem drawn to good, clean, cozy murder mysteries because, I suppose, it relaxes our minds with stories of good and evil in which morality typically wins the day. His first entry was, of course, G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown Stories.

Somehow F. W. Boreham didn’t make it onto Peterson’s list, but he should have. I’ve been reading F. W. Boreham off and on since college, and recently an Irish friend sent me a treasure-trove of old Boreham books. F. W. was an English Baptist preacher who immigrated to Australia where he pastored a church, wrote newspaper essays, and somehow came up with 55 books. He is still recognized as the best selling Australian author of all time. Boreham was a master at collecting and telling stories, and his stories are so good that I often adapt them for sermon illustrations despite their age. But he didn’t just tell stories; he drew subtle truths from them and wove those truths back into the great doctrines of Scripture. I spent several enjoyable evenings recently hiking through his Mountains in the Mist.

As readers of my own books have perhaps noticed, my favorite genre of literature is biography, especially missionary biography. I began 2017 by reading this memoir of Marie Monsen’s experiences in China, and I needed every page. She was a woman of intense faith, and she was so strong in claiming God’s promises that she forged into bandit infested areas without fear, withstood pirates, was aided by angels, escaped death again and again, and spread the Gospel like a woman of steel.

Another missionary biography well worth your time — you’ll have to find it on the used books sites — is the story of Dr. Charles F. McKoy, who was a simple man, unmarried, a local pastor who enjoyed going to school and getting degrees and tending his flock. After spending 50  years in the pastorate, he retired at age 71, wondering if he had done very much good. He had never traveled much and never overseas, but when a stranger invited him to visit India, he went–against the advice of his friends. That began a remarkable ministry across Asia. His academic credentials and tall stature paved the way for him to preach in universities, military installations, diplomatic settings, churches, conferences, palaces, and world capitals where most Christians could never enter. How thrilling to read of a man whose best years began at his retirement!

A couple of years ago I read a galley of Serve Strong for my friend Terry Powell and wrote a brief endorsement. When the book was published, he kindly sent me a copy, which went on my “To Be Read” shelf. I’ve just finished it and want to again recommend it, especially to those in ministry. Using very simple insights from the encouragement  passages of the Bible, Terry knows from his own experience how they apply to God’s servants working in difficult times. Pick up this book and it’ll pick you up.

Finally, circling back to murder mysteries, I’ve knocked off a few of those so far this year. My wife, Katrina, and I have always been a fan of Dick Francis’ books. When he died, his son, Felix, took over the franchise. At first I wasn’t sure he was up to his father’s speed when it came to murder and mayhem. But Triple Crown was a lot of fun to read, and if you’re on a road trip you might try the audible version, which is done well.

Let me leave you with this quote: “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book” — Groucho Marx

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