Hearts & Minds BookNotes

annotations, blurbs and ruminations

to enlarge the heart & stimulate the mind

and to happily generate mail order business for Hearts & Minds bookstore

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Location: Dallastown, PA

My lovely wife Beth and I own and operate--proprietors makes us sound more classy than we really are--a cluttered, diverse and independent bookstore in Central Pennsylvania. After well over 20 years, we are still not sure what to say when people ask if our shop is a "Christian bookstore." I do a monthly book review column over at our website; we hope that these new blogged bits will afford friends and customers the chance to see other books I happen to be reading, wishing to read, pretending that I read or at least believe that others should, if not read, know about. We have three children, attend a Presbyterian church in York, PA and have no hobbies.

Monday, January 30, 2006

an excerpt from The Rest of God

Today I started the new book by Mark Buchanan, author of the well-written Your God Is Too Safe and a few others that we stock and that look quite good. The new one is called, delightfully, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath (Word) $17.99. I don't know what more can be said about sabbath---I've read several, and they are all really inspiring---but the remarkable endorsements on this one, and his past good work made me want to glory in this one for a while. A rainy Sunday, kids off to church youth group, me nursing an awful cold.

The preface has a very nicely written telling of his memory growing up with cats; fun, and very evocative. He describes watching them in their catnaps, and continues:

I learned to join them, the cats in their cradles of sunlight. I curled up or sprawled out beside them and catnapped too. It had a unique power to replenish. Fifteen, twenty minutes later, a shadow like a cool, dry hand edged up my flesh and nudged me awake. I stirred, set up, and went about the rest of my day fresly aware.
That image comes to mind when I think of Sabbath; a patch of sunlight falling through a window on a winter's day. It's a small yet ample chunk of space, a narrow yet full segment of time. In it, you can lie down and rest. From it, you can rise up and go---stronger, lighter, ready to work again with vigor and a clear mind. It is room enough, time enough, in which to relinquish all encumbrances, to act as though their existence has nothing whatsoever to do with your won. It is an invitation, at one and the same time, to empty yourself and fill yourself.

I am not a catnapper. I wake up dazed and ineffectual, embarassed by the drool on my shirt. But the image works as a pointer to part of what Sabbath is about. It helps me believe that a day apart is enough, that trusting God is safe and good, that we need not always be productive. I love his take on a classic Bible text in his next story, which begins,

In the book of Acts, Philip the evangelist meets a nobleman from Ethiopia. He's the treasurer for Ethiopia's queen, an important man on important business. He's a man in such a hurry that he does his reading while racing along on his chariot, like someone checking his Palm Pilot for e-mails between phone calls and strategy meetings.
The Spirit prompts Philip to come alongside him. It is one of God's strange works of choreography: the Ethiopian at that very moment is reading something from Isaiah, something that stirs in him wonder and hunger. It gives him a taste for something more...

In the beautiful Mary Oliver poem (The Swan) which opens the book there is a line about being "idle and blessed." I hope your Sabbath was such.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Free of Charge

Miroslav Volf is a Yugoslavian born and raised theologian who now teaches at Yale Divinity School. His good writing, thoughtful approach, genial spirit and important voice has made him surely one of the most important theologians alive today. His book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation, has been widely reviewed, awarded and we have promoted it. It is not everyone who--from the land of the Bosnian war and ethnic cleansing and rape and diabolic violence--can write a gracious, serious-minded theological reflection on core Christian convictions and the practice caring for others, even enemies, and have it be respected by various folks in various schools of thought (just war thinkers and pacifists, evangelicals and more mainline scholars, etc.) It is one of the most important books we've stocked in the past decade and we hope you've heard of it.

His new one is now out, called Free of Charge and I have been itching to tell you about it. I've not gotten very far, yet, but it is beautiful. You may want to know it has been chosen by the always intersting Archbishop of Canterbury (Rowan Williams) as the 2006 official Lent book. I hope Episopalians this side of the pond buy it by the cases (not just because it is good, which it is, but because I love the thought of a liberal denomination supporting our more evangelical publishing friends at Zondervan, who have the US rights to this important work. I love a book that has a forward by Williams and a cover endorsement by John Ortberg!)

Volf here is breaking new ground, it seems, by rooting his reflections on social grace---the subtitle is "Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace"---in the core of the Reformation teachings about the cross. (He is a Luther scholar, after all.) He interweaves stories, powerful stories, and takes us into the vivid times when forgiveness was given (and times when it was not.) It is gently written, but yet is at time intense. It is about big ideas and inner formation.

How can we be people who can be giving, truly giving, and how can we build a culture of grace? As it says on the back cover, "Volf draws from popular culture as well as from a wealth of literary and theological sources, weaving his rich reflections around the sturdy frame of Paul's vision of God's grace and Martin Luther's interpretation of that vision. Blending the best of theology and spirituality, he encourages us to echo in our lives God's generous giving and forgiving." Not bad for Lent, or anytime, eh?

Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stipped of Grace Miroslav Volf (Zondervan) $12.99

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why James Frey Doesn't Get It Right

When my good friend Scott got me doing this blogging thing, I was, to say the least, suspicious. Alas, I've grown to love telling about new books, and really appreciate the feedback we've gotten. I was very clear, though, that my blogging experiment would need to be focused upon what I sense to be my calling: bookselling. Of course, for us, our effort to have good livelihood by being small business operators has an educational aspect. We have to tell folks, yep, even try to convince folks, that reading the titles we recommend would be a good thing. Obviuosly, we opened our shop to sell books--- books we believe in, books that carry ideas, insights, enjoyment and challenge. Whether artful or prosaic, fiction or nonfiction, children's or adult's, we want to make our living telling people about books. And so, we do our annotations and reviews, tell of our Dallastown shop, invite you into our circle of supporters and try to cheerlead for our work without sounding too self-indulgent.

To wit: I promised myself that I would not opine about other stuff here, as much as I may want to. Of course, in the shop we talk about all sorts of current issues and I write occasionally to the local papers. I regularly have hefty discussion on email with friends, folks I don't know, even authors and the occasional enemy. Here, though, I want to be about the books.

Because of this desire for focus, I also do not use this as a forum to tell you about other good blogs (although I've got some great friends who write), websites or op-ed pieces that I've seen.. I would guess you have plenty to read and that you visit blogs and sites more thorough than this one. So forgive me if I haven't mentioned your favorite blogster or haven't linked you to the many sites that revolve around the books and topics I've reviewed.

I would guess you know where this is going, though: I'm going to break my rule and send you a link, a link to an essay that I found exceptionally well-written, very moving, and important to the genre of literature I so admire, that of memoir. As you may know, there has been a firestorm of controversy and media appearances in recent weeks around the alleged dishonesty of the now-famous and hugely popular Oprah book of last year, A Million Little Pieces. We stock this book and have been moved by James Frey's creative prose, intense descriptions of his horrible journey into and out of brutal drug and alcohol abuse. It is not a book for the faint of heart, and although we find his humanistic self-dependency to be unsustainable (intellectually or experientially) it is a window into the dark side of the human experience.

Below is a link to a brilliant piece written by a woman who never trusted Frey's book, dislikes his style, and shares how she--who sweated blood to tell her story honestly---resents his cavalier attitude about the facts of his life. It is the best thing I've seen on this particular debate and a moving tribute to all those who do memoir well. King's essay (orginally in Publishers Weekly) has made me want to read her book, Parched, which is her own memoir of recovery from alcoholism. Anybody else know of it? We have it for those who are, as I was, moved by her brief essay.

Please click here to read Why James Frey Doesn't Get It Right by Heather King. I hope you appreciate her clarity and care and integrity, even if you may not agree fully with her critique of Frey.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Eat This Book

You may recall that in our December year end awards list we proclaimed that Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places was the book of the year. You may also recall that when I did a full review of it a few months back, we explained that it was the major volume in a series of spiritual theology books he intends to do.

I don't want to overstate my hype by calling it the publishing event of the year, but the slim second volume (with very cool matching cover, except a different painting on the front) is now out.

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading is the provocative title, which comes from two texts where two characters(Ezekial and John the Revelator) who are told to eat the scroll they were reading/writing. As you may guess, this book is about spiritual reading, lectio divina and how to allow the printed page to become living Word in our lives. I have heard Peterson's lectures on this (we stock many of the lectures from Regent bookstore in British Columbia, where he used to teach.) Having heard him carefully invite us to this kind of deep and attentive reading, I cannot tell you how badly I want to sit and read this book. And, like most of you, I need not tell you how busy I am, and how hard it will be to find time to steal away anytime soon.

So, look for further discussion about this important new book later. For now, rejoice that it is out, offer glad praise for Eerdmans publishing, and pray for Peterson. (He has others to write in this series, and a forthcoming title on NavPress coming next month.) And pray for all of us, that we may be those who understand the role of reading as a spiritual discipline. May this book help us to that end.

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading Eugene Peterson (Erdmans) $20.00

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

God Between the Covers

I've been a bit less bloggish lately, what with the Penn State bowl game---Beth made fondue and we ate around the TV!---and then the next evening's Rose Bowl game. I was exhausted for days! And this from a fellow who rarely watches sports. My beloved is a Penn State fan, though, and JoePa is quite the icon around here. So it was a good couple of evenings, with no muse for book reviewing showing up anywhere.

But now, I've been struck. I have been ignoring a book for months because I knew once I picked it up, I would read it in nearly one sitting. The feared paperback is by an author who I want to know, and, truly, I've oddly avoided this little book. And it is true: once I opened this thing, I was hooked. Marcia Ford, who wrote with such charm in Memoirs of a Misfit: Finding My Place in the Family of God about her journey into and out of various streams of evangelical faith and charismatic renewal, is the author, and the book is a basically her spiritual memoir by way of the books she loves. It is called God Between the Covers: Finding Faith Through Reading (Crossroad; $19.95.) I suspect I may blog a bit about this again, because there is much to appreciate here and she may be my new patron saint. She tells of various stages in her faith journey, how thrilled (or rescued or enlightened or glad) she was upon discovering certain authors. Her reviews are not substantial but---rather like my style here--she tries to get at the heart of the book, why it is important, what it means to her, and why you should consider it. These are not New York Review of Books essays or Books & Culture pieces or critiques of the sort one would find at the New Pantagruel. They are brief, whimsical, autobiographical. But--with a few minor exceptions (hey grant the girl her taste)-- she is dead on.

Where else do you find reviews of authors such as Thomas a Kempis and Anne Lamot (in an essay about why so many popular authors she likes have names like Anne, Ann, Annie), Francis & Edith Schaeffer and Basic Pennington; Oswald Chambers and Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Wendell Berry and Sheldon Vanauken? And a piece on Bruce Cockburn?? Ms Ford co-wrote a pretty nice book on Dylan, too, by the way (Restless Pilgrim released by relevant) so Zimmy is the other musician whose work is granted an entry here.

Her introductory chapter is a wonderful autobiographical reflection on her love of books, her addiction to book buying, her experience with bad schools and good authors, her book-cluttered house with stacks of books everywhere. I love it! Her later reflections include very brief reviews of serious theologians (Rowan Williams, say) social criticism (the black lit of the '60's like Malcolm X, James Baldwin and King, or the emergent church movement seen in Len Sweet or Brian McLaren) plenty of wonderful novels, provocative kids books, spiritual formation stuff (from the obvious like Brennen Manning, Richard Foster, Henri Nouwan to important lights such as Merton or Keating.) Each make this just the kind of book I would love to have our customers have.

There are some important things missing that are important to us (she does list my old housemate Bill Romanowski and his must-read book Eyes Wide Open: Finding God in Popular Culture so there is at least a nod to the neo-Calvinist world and life view approach of distinctive cultural engagement) and despite her often-mentioned disillusionment with simple answers of the Christian right, she doesn't describe books by authors like Sider, Wallis, Perkins and the ESA orbit, let alone Berrigan, Stringfellow, Ellul or Yoder. Other key books that I would hope she knows by Os Guinness, certainly, or James Sire, even haven't apparantly helped her along the way they did me.

Her mini-reviews of novels---Peace Like a River, A Separate Peace, Life of Pi, Poisonwood Bible, just for instance---are splendid, but how could she leave out...or...well, you get the picture.

Her love of books is contagious. Her descriptions are delightful. Her odd little observations---the poor print job of Merton's No Man Is An Island or how she confuses a Robert Frost poem and a particular James Taylor song, or how Oswald Chambers could have single-handedly put an end to the "marlarkey" of recent tele-evangelists---is a hoot and a half. The way in which she tells of her own life as she tells of these books helps me recall not only why I love books, but why we sell 'em. Get this book for every church library or ministry resource-center you know. Use it as a guide if you feel a bit uninformed, or pass it on to those who would be blessed by it.

If I can add my own not-so-quirky observation: as a thin paperback, it seems a bit overpriced.* And the cover with the slightly open lap top tenting over a book is too symbolic for its own good. Still: this is a book I wish I could have described in my book of the year listings last month. It is that good. Consider it awarded.

*TO OVERCOME THIS MATTER, BookNotes here offers a blogsite discount. Email us at read@heartsandmindsbooks.com or use our order form here, and we will give you a 25% off discount. The regular price is $19.95 is---for you, dear booklover---$15.00. Happy Reading.