My Reading: July 2012-2013

14 07 2013

It’s that time of the year again when I display my geeky side and cast my mind over the books I’ve read in the past 12 months.

Each year I try to justify my nerdish tendencies. This year I shan’t bother to elaborate too much – feel free to read my previous attempts here, here and here – but I’ve personally found it helpful to plan roughly what I want to read each year, so that I can ensure I’m getting a balanced diet; reading the kinds of books I might otherwise be tempted to avoid, and making sure I’m not just overdosing on one genre.

To be honest, this year I’ve not followed my plans as much as in previous years. Most of my reading has been dictated by necessity rather than choice. But with the M.A.’s completion fast approaching, I live with the hope that I may regain some sense of choice over my reading plans!

That said… a couple of observations.

  • For the first year ever I’ve reached (and exceeded) my goal of one book a week – 55 completed.
  • I’ve no idea how many books I started this year, since I’ve read copious poems, articles and chapters of books for various essays, and didn’t bother noting down the books I had neither inclination nor intention to finish.
  • A literature class bumped my fiction quota up considerably!
  • I soon realised I wasn’t going to read any drama this year, but needed to read a fair chunk of literary criticism for a class I was taking, so I switched the category title.
  • The Christian/Secular divide wasn’t easy to discern this year (how do you categorise the collected works of Gerard Manley Hopkins or T.S. Eliot for example?) so is a little arbitrary in places. It’s a division I don’t much like anyway! But it’s loosely helpful to make sure my head’s not stuck in religious literature the whole time.
  • I didn’t read any books on leadership (I find them rather boring, truth be told!) though I’ve read loads more articles and listened to podcasts on the subject this year.
  • I also didn’t complete any books on marriage, though I restarted Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. But again, I’ve read a number of articles and listened to podcasts – and spent time with my wife! And I resisted the urge to put all the books on divorce and remarriage into the ‘Marriage’ category! Skewing the stats to make the numbers look like I was a great husband, would only have provided a temporary ego boost, before you glanced down the list of books!

So here’s a rough breakdown of my how my reading faired this year, and also the list of books I read. I always intend to review books and never get round to it – but if you want my opinion on any, just ask:

Reading Breakdown

Category Aim (%) Achieved (%) Variance
Spiritual 16 10.30 -5.70
Theology 42 41.21 -0.79
Ethics/Politics/Apologetics 16 10.91 -5.09
Drama 1 8.48 7.48
Skill-Development 8 5.45 -2.55
Fiction 8 23.03 15.03
Marriage 3 0.00 -3.00
Biography 3 0.61 -2.39
Leadership 3 0.00 -3.00
Christian 75 63.64 -11.36
Secular 25 36.36 11.36

Reading List

  • Alldritt, Keith – Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Beck (ed.), James – Two Views on Women in Ministry
  • Bell, Rob – What we Talk About When we Talk About God
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph – Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament: The Ordering of Life in Israel and Early Judaism
  • Burke, Trevor – Adopted into God’s Family
  • Camp, Claudia – Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs
  • Chandler, Matt – The Explicit Gospel
  • Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
  • Cornes, Andrew – Divorce and Remarriage
  • Crenshaw, James L. – Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction
  • Delillo, Don – White Noise
  • Delillo,  Don – The Angel Esmeralda
  • Dell, Katharine  – Get Wisdom, Get Insight
  • Donovan, Jeremey – How to Deliver a TED Talk
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment
  • Duvall, J.Scott and Hays, J. Daniel – Grasping God’s Word
  • Eliot, T.S. – The Four Quartets
  • Erswine, Zach – Preaching to a Post-Everything World
  • Fee, Gordon and Stuart, Douglas – How to Read the Bible for all its Worth
  • Foster Wallace, David – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • Gish, Nancy – Time in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Greene, Graham – The Heart of the Matter
  • Hybels, Bill – Just Walk Across the Room
  • Instone-Brewer, David – Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context
  • John of the Cross, St – Ascent of Mount Carmel
  • John of the Cross, St – The Dark Night of the Soul
  • Johnson, Adam  – The Orphan Master’s Son
  • Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Keener, Craig – …And Marries Another
  • Kramer, Kenneth – Redeeming Time: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Kreeft, Peter – Christianity for Modern Pagans
  • Manley Hopkins, Gerard – Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Medearis, Carl – Speaking of Jesus: The art of not-evangelism
  • Miller, Donald – Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation
  • Murray, John – Divorce
  • Partridge, Alan  – I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan
  • Peers, E. Allison – St John of the Cross
  • Phillips, Caroline – The Religious Quest in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Rajan (ed), Balachandra – T.S. Eliot: A Study of his Writings by Several Hands
  • Rossiter, Joanna – The Sea Change
  • Sinnot, Alice – The Personification of Wisdom
  • Smith, Zadie – White Teeth
  • Sproul,  R.C. – Can I Have Joy in my Life?
  • Spufford, Francis – Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can make surprising emotional sense
  • Stibbe, Mark – I Am Your Father
  • Stott, John – The Cross of Christ
  • Thomas, Gary – Sacred Pathways
  • von Rad, Gerhard – Wisdom in Israel
  • Vonnegut, Kurt – God Bless You, Dr Kevorkian
  • Warren, Rick – God’s Power to Change your Life
  • Wenham/Heth/Keener – Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views
  • Westermann, Claus – Roots of Wisdom
  • Witherington, Ben – Jesus the Sage
  • Zacharias, Ravi – Jesus Among Other Gods 

Note: there’s one book missing from my list because it’s not actually been published yet. But rest assured, it will be released soon and then I won’t stop recommending it!!

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Getting my junk together

31 08 2011

I have an annoying habit – which may well be on account of my gender – of leaving items such as keys, my wallet or loose change scattered in random parts of the house. I walk into the house, and tend to just put down the items on whatever flat space happens to be available at that part particular moment in time.

Having been irritated by this for quite some time, my wife has devised a simple but brilliant solution: a small rectangular plate, approximately 12x5cm, which resides permanently on the bookshelf. This is my space, and we have an agreement that all my random items are to be placed on this plate, and on this plate alone. Not every possession I own, of course, just those little things that I’m tempted to dump on windowsills and promptly forget about. And it works the other way round too; if I fail to put my keys there and instead place them in some unhelpful location, upon finding them, Helen relocates them to the plate. Thus my junk is confined to a 60cm² piece of porcelain.

In recent months I have been scattering thoughts in too many locations around the web – an article here, a blog post there – and I’ve tried not to duplicate material too much for fear of boring absolutely everyone at every juncture. But now even I’m losing track of what I’ve written and when, and so I think the time has come to put all my junk in one place.

So consider this blog something of a porcelain plate!

When I write articles elsewhere, I’ll link to them here as well. That way, everything I say, do and write is in one searchable location, and perhaps I’ll remember where I’ve left my thoughts, should I ever have need for them again.

And so I start with something published today… This is a talk I gave at Newday 2011 called God’s Plan to Change the World, which can be found at the Everything Conference website along with an interactive presentation, my first foray into the wonderful world of prezi.

It was a fun challenge to try to articulate something of the Everything concept to 14-18 year olds… you can be the judge of whether I succeeded! At least, if nothing else, it was amusing making everyone look as stupid as my sister did:


Enjoy!





Reading Analysis: 2010-2011

19 07 2011

A balanced diet is good for your health, because what you put into you matters. Too much of one food group and you will end up fat, lethargic, or with vitamin deficiencies. I would propose that the same is true of our reading…

What you put into you matters; it shapes what you become. And so for the past couple of years I’ve tried to get a balanced diet of reading, ensuring that I am:

  1. Reading widely
  2. Not simply reading in the categories I enjoy, but broadening my horizons to read things I wouldn’t naturally choose
  3. Reading books that will help me develop the skills I will require for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky, I know, but I’ve found it incredibly useful not only to chart what I’m reading, but then to set goals for the next year. I haven’t followed my goals slavishly… reading is an art (and a joy!) not a science, but it has helped me to identify areas I rarely read in, and to readdress the balance accordingly. With a limited amount of time to read, it’s too important for me to leave to chance…

If you wish, you can check out last year’s stats and book list, but here’s what I’ve found for July 2010-2011:

  • In 2010-2011 I started 55 books, of which I completed 47.
  • I completed one more book this year, and started fewer, which is great! I no longer have quite an enormous pile of half-read books languishing on my bedside table. Of course, there are plenty of other books I’ve dipped into for the odd chapter or fact… I haven’t bothered listing those here, only the books I started with a genuine intent to finish!
  • 77% of books were Christian, 23% secular
  • The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements*

  • From this I can see that I’ve read more ‘spiritual’ books than I had imagined or intended, but that’s no bad thing. Part of that has been necessity (researching for talks on prayer for example) and some of it was a healthy redressing of the balance from last year.
  • I’ve read far fewer books on ethics, apologetics and politics this year than I had intended. That is a weakness, and I would like to change that in this next year. I’ve already lined up a couple of apologetics books that I could do with reading to strengthen my thinking in that area.
  • I’ve spent little time reading books about marriage, though I’ve listened to plenty of talks on it this year, so hopefully I’ve still invested in it my marriage in other ways!!
  • My reading of drama has decreased this year. I’m happy with that. As I’ve thought long and hard about what I am likely to do with my life, I see less of a role for drama and the theatre, other than being a hobby. So I’ve felt less inclined to give time to it in my reading.
  • My ‘skill development’ figure is low and my ‘fiction’ figure high. This is due to the fact that I really want to develop in writing, and yet as I have read books on writing, I’ve realised that I can learn immeasurably more from just reading well-written books! Books on writing can be pretty turgid, self-indulgent, opinionated, and not overly helpful… So I’ve read a number of novels by skilled writers instead, and have enjoyed them immensely. I’m not usually one for reading fiction, but I’ve gone on recommendations from my wife, and she’s hit the nail on the head every time!
  • Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.
  • All this has helped me to set goals for 2011-2012. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

In case you’re curious, here’s the list of books I’ve completed this year:

As I’ve said previously, I’ve found this to be a helpful exercise, which has caused me to take my reading more seriously, and to be more strategic and forward looking about what I read. Socrates wrote:

“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have laboured hard for.”

Think about where you want to be in a year. Think about the character traits you want ironed out, the skills you want to improve, then read the relevant books. Make your reading count. Think about the great men and women of history you want to learn from and emulate – and then read their biographies. Think about some of your edges that are blunt, and read books that will sharpen them. Think about your jagged edges and read books that will smooth them. And then join me in public self-humiliation – post a pie chart!

__________

* Given that there is often a significant amount of cross over between categories, I apportioned each book 3 points, which I could spread across the categories as I saw fit.





Serpents and Strawberries

24 06 2011

I have been a little slack at updating this thing, for which I apologise… but I haven’t been entirely lazy and unproductive. My efforts have been focussed elsewhere. So if, for some inexplicable reason, you miss my musings and would like to read something else I’ve written, you are in luck. Today two of my articles have gone live on other sites, so feel free to check them out:

The Seed, the Serpent and Chekhov’s Rifle (whatyouthinkmatters.org)

Amazon, Google and the Strawberry-Cycle (everythingconference.org)





Faith and Film

8 11 2010

I’ve been meaning to link to a few articles on faith and film… I was spurred to action this morning by seeing the first post from a fellow Newfrontiers blogger.

Read, digest, feed back.

  • Why are Christian movies so bad? (via The Simple Pastor)
  • The Independent asked the question a few weeks ago: Can the Movies Do God? I was particularly provoked by the final paragraph. If Muslims start producing faith-based films that recommend good values, would I be willing to endorse them?
  • The Telegraph beat them to it with an article a few weeks earlier on the way films are tailored to a Christian audience, and the increasing use of film clips in churches
  • The Guardian ran an article earlier this year on the return of religious themed films, saying “Biblical themes have only ever been one global crisis away”
  • I found this interview with Michael Flaherty from Walden Media fascinating! A great discussion on the Narnia films and the forthcoming Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Very insightful and interesting. (Though I must admit I didn’t enjoy the films one bit, I appreciate very much their aims and ideals. These guys are doing it far better than most!)
  • And there was the recent saga of the demise and revival of the Blue Like Jazz film project through crowd-sourced funding. Whilst in general I have infinitesimally low hopes for Christian film, I have high hopes for this one. The book was outstanding and fresh, and I think this could be an interesting, real, positive, but not-saccharin big screen portrayal of evangelical Christianity

So, a few questions:

  • Have you ever seen a good Christian film?
  • Should we even be making ‘Christian films’?
  • (Maybe you want to step back one stage and ask what differentiates a Christian film from a film made by Christians? Sure, be my guest.)
  • Why do Christians flock to see sub-par films irrespective of personal taste just because they were made by a believer?
  • Is there danger that the Christian sub-culture of low quality, cringe-worthy movies discredits those believers who are trying to make it in the secular world?

Oh… and while we’re on the subject of Christian subculture, I received this email the other day. Somehow it avoided my spam filter!! Take a look, see what you think.  Then check out this article from the BBC Website in 2006. I shall resist commenting further for fear of saying something for which I will later need to repent…





Everything for next to nothing!

27 10 2010

I hope by now you may have heard about the Everything Conference. If not, check out the website www.everythingconference.org You may even stumble across a particularly attractive photo or two of me covered in latex and makeup.

Taking as its text Psalm 24:1, ‘The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’, the conviction behind the conference is that everything matters to God, and Christians should be Salt and Light, influencing culture, wherever they find themselves.

The first conference was launched in March 2010 and was a great success. You can check out some of the talks and articles on the site, which will give you a good idea of what went on. But perhaps most excitingly, tickets for the 2011 event have just gone on sale. A limited number of tickets are available at the bargainous price of £15 – so the quicker you book, the cheaper it will be. Check it out and why not book in today?

The keynote speaker for 2011 will be Andy Crouch. Andy is the author of Culture Making, which has been a key book for people who are considering what it means to shape and influence culture. He’s a remarkably engaging speaker from the USA, and should be a great addition to the event.

So check out the site, enjoy the resources, book in… and while you’re at it, why not:





The Social Network

18 10 2010

On Saturday afternoon I went to see The Social Network.

On Saturday evening, I mentioned this to someone in the pub and they asked me what it was about. I struggled… “Uh… It’s about theft and conspiracy and greed and…” (whispering in the smallest voice possible) “facebook.”

You see, no matter how much I actually enjoyed the film, at the end of the day, there is something a bit odd and embarrassing about admitting that you went to watch a film about Facebook. Add into the mix that one of the stars is Justin Timberlake, and it really doesn’t sound like the kind of film I want people to know that I’ve seen!

But having said that, Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay, which elevates it somewhat. As people have remarked in the past, ‘Sorkin could write a film about the telephone directory and make it interesting.’ Well – this is probably (hopefully) the closest we’ll ever get to testing that theory. And lo and behold, he does a great job. The script is the best feature of the film – except for the opening scene which, whilst engaging and well written, was just one notch too fast for my liking and so packed full of American jargon that I had more or less no idea what was going on for the first 2-3 minutes of dialogue. But I blame that on the director!

There was an interesting soundtrack from Trent Reznor, though I was slightly puzzled by the choice of music for the Henley Regatta. Apparently ‘In the hall of the mountain king’ sounds quintessentially English, in spite of it being written by a Norwegian composer for inclusion in a play that is expressly about the Norwegian personality!! But that quirk aside, it was a good soundtrack, and Reznor was an apt choice, given his creative and rebellious stance towards record labels, music sharing (stealing) and the suchlike.

To be honest, I have no idea how accurate the film was, but it made me almost want to quit Facebook. The background, the vengeful motives behind creating it, the ‘two fingers to the corporations’ attitude… I just didn’t like it. Zuckerberg comes across as an unlikeable and untrustworthy guy. But then again, that may not be at all true to life, and I’m sure that at this point Facebook is so bound up with businessmen, legal teams, systems and structures that Zuckerberg’s ‘hack things on a whim’ attitude will be somewhat reigned in.

There’s also something very peculiar about watching a film that is so current. Zuckerberg is two months younger than I am, is worth $6.9 billion, and has had an unflattering film made about him. What pressure! In addition, the story is not even complete. Facebook is still developing, growing, morphing. According to some reports, the legal battles may not even be over. It’s very much a film of the moment, and in a year it will be dated. But I suppose that’s indicative of this ‘throw your thoughts out there, they’re gone in a second and never remembered‘ age of social networking and micro-blogging.

At another level though, it was an interesting portrayal of how ideas spark, spread and shape culture. Who would have thought we’d see the day when 500 million people would belong to an online community, let alone paying to see a film about it? For better or worse, Facebook is a cultural phenomenon, and The Social Network is a thought provoking explanation of how it got to be that way.