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!!





Reading Analysis 2011-2012

16 07 2012

To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.’ – A.C. Grayling

What you put into you matters. Or so nutritionists tell us. Balance is essential. Too much of one food group and you end up fat, lethargic, unwell… or dead.

If that’s true of our physical wellbeing, might it not be true for our intellectual wellbeing?

Each year I try to plan my reading in order to ensure that I have a balanced diet: reading widely, reading in areas that will strengthen the areas I need to be strong in immediately, and reading things that stretch me and strengthen me for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky I know, but I’ve found it helpful over the past few years to plan what types of books I need to read over a year, keep a list of all the books I have read, and then analyse how balanced my reading has been. Each July I’ve set goals for how I want to divide up my reading in the next 12 months. And the time has come to analyse my reading from 2011-2012.

This year I thought my reading would take a hit. Having started an MA, I’ve been reading more articles or chapters of books rather than whole books. I haven’t listed those here, since I’ve dipped into well over a hundred books that I’ve never had the inclination or intention to finish. These are just the books I’ve read in full.

As it happens though, the number of books I’ve completed has increased rather than decreased, which I’m pretty happy with, especially since a number of the books are pretty enormous (Beale’s commentary on Revelation for example, was something of a beast!)

In July 2011 to July 2012 I completed 50 books; that is 3 more than last year. Annoyingly I didn’t quite make it to 1 book a week. I was tempted to read a couple of Mr Men this morning to tip me over, but resisted the urge…

82% of books were Christian, 18% secular. This is a bit out from what I had hoped. I’d originally aimed for a 70/30 split, but reading for an MA in Theology skewed that quite considerably.

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.

My theological reading has been more than I’d aimed for this year, on account of the fact that I wasn’t planning to study for an MA when I originally set my goals. A change of focus means that I’ve read no plays this year, and have spent less time reading books on Leadership or Skill Development. However, I’ve made a concerted effort to develop my writing this year, and have consequently found it useful to read ‘well written books’ rather than ‘books on writing well’; hence more novels.

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 2012-2013. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

And in case you’re curious, here’s a list of all the books I completed this year:

Barr, James – The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality
Barnes, Julian – The Sense of an Ending
Barton, John (ed.) – The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation
Bauckham, Richard – The Bible in Politics
Beale, G.K. – The Book of Revelation (NIGTC)
Carson, D.A. – The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
Cook, Jeff – Everything New
Cooper, John – Body, Soul and Life Everlasting
Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
Coupland, Douglas – Miss Wyoming
Coupland, Douglas – Life Without God
DeWiit, Patrick – The Sisters Brothers
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – Exponential
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – The Big idea
Giles, Kevin – Jesus and the Father
Guinness, Os – The Call
Guinness, Michele – The Genius of Guinness
Gunton, Colin – The Promise of Trinitarian Theology
Hosier, Matthew – Sex Talks
Hosier, John – The Lamb, the Beast and the Devil
Keller, Timothy – Counterfeit Gods
Koukl, Gregory – Tactics
Lawrence, D.H. – Apocalypse
Laws, Sophie – In the Light of the Lamb
Lloyd-Jones, Martin – From Fear to Faith
Mamet, David – Writing in Restaurants
Mansfield, Stephen – Searching for God and Guinness
McEwan, Ian – The Innocent
McLaren, Brian – The Secret Message of Jesus
Mitchell, David – Cloud Atlas
Moore, Phil – Straight to the Heart of Revelation
Moraine, Jack – Healing Ministry: A Training Manual for Believers
Ponsonby, Simon – More
Rahner, Karl – On the Theology of Death
Rahner, Karl – The Trinity
Reeves, Michael – The Good God
Rollins, Peter – How (Not) to Speak About God
Rollins, Peter – Insurrection
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – In Memory of Her
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – Discipleship of Equals
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment
Smith, James K.A. – Desiring the Kingdom
Smith, James K.A. – Thinking in Tongues
Tyson, Jon – Rumours of God
Wilson, N.D. – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl
Wilson, Andrew – If God Then What?
Wimber, John – Power Evangelism
Wodehouse, P.G. – Love Among the Chickens
Wright, Tom – Revelation for Everyone
Zacharias, Ravi – Recapture the Wonder





Lest you think I’m being lazy…

28 03 2012

My blogging has ground to a halt, it would appear… Distressed by the fact that the fact that the front page of the blog still tells you what I created as Christmas gifts, and what I cooked for New Year, I felt the need to reassure you that my writing hasn’t curled up and died. I’ve just been writing at various other places and on slightly less frivolous matters than I tend to here.

So in case you’ve missed me (and more importantly so I can at least have something on this blog with a ‘March’ date stamp on it) here are a few things I’ve written recently which you may enjoy:

  • review of Andrew Wilson’s latest offering, If God Then What?
  • Some comments on ‘The God Issue’ of The New Scientist
  • Not strictly speaking a written piece, but my face on celluloid talking about Guinness (some writing did go into the script!)
  • And a (not very interesting) blog about a (significantly more interesting) series of Easter Week Bible studies which ChristChurch London is producing next week. So that’s the equivalent of six blog posts coming in the next week, which makes me feel a little more happy about my general prolificacy! You can check out those posts each day of next week at broadcast.christchurchlondon.org, follow ChristChurchLdn on Twitter or sign up for the emails.

Plus I’ve also completed an essay on a Christian view of immortality, and begun some research on Revelation. So who knows… maybe some of those musings might materialise in the next few weeks too. I’d also like to develop some material I taught recently on preaching, truth and beauty, and am sketching ideas for something book length – though I have many ‘ideas for something book length’ and nothing remotely near book length to show for them. So who knows?

Anyway – job done. I now have something listed under entries for March, and I can retreat to my state of thinking about writing… Until the end of April, “adieu!”





What Should Christians Write About?

8 12 2011

“Christians should write about what God wrote about. Everything in the arts is imitation in some way shape or form; godly, gracious, good imitation. Christians should write about what God wrote about, which is to say: oranges, orange rinds, mammoths, clipper ships, marriage, conversion, hanging off of cliffs and watching the river flow. And everything in between and on either side of any one of those things.”
(Douglas Wilson – Wordsmithy)





Dear Peter Gabriel…

6 12 2011

Dear Peter Gabriel,

Since Sir Jimmy Saville is no longer, and I now know that Santa never was, I have come to the conclusion that I have no other choice but to lay my wishes at your feet: I wish, Peter, for Christmas, or a Birthday, or just some random occasion within the next year, for an album of brand new Peter Gabriel music.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my longings. I am quite positive that if I put my mind to it, I could find at least half a dozen of my friends who would feel similarly. And the rest? Well… they just don’t know what they’re missing! But they will do Peter. When your new album comes out, I’ll invite them all round, lock the doors and crank it up to 11.

Peter, I know you’re probably not a sucker for flattery, but I might as well start there before I have to resort to more stringent forms of coercion. Up truly is one of the all-time great albums. I’m not just saying that. Perfectly crafted songs, oscillating between naked minimalism and dense, multileveled orchestration. The lyrics are fun, moving and dark in equal measure (well, actually let’s be honest… not many of them are fun!)

Every track is perfect: The angsty ‘Darkness’, the infectious grooves of ‘Growing Up’, the spine-tingling-soulfulness of the Blind Boys on ‘Sky Blue’, the beautifully disorienting drumming of the ‘No Way Out’ outro, the two-headed beast that is ‘I Grieve’, with its industrial-ambience and ridiculously catchy middle section, the Levin-fuelled grooves of ‘Barry Williams’, the soaring note-perfect vocals of ‘My Head Sounds Like That’, the many-layered and perfectly toned guitar work of ‘More Than This’, not to mention the Hammond breakdown at the end, the rich strings and haunting vocals of ‘Signal to Noise’, made all the more poignant by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s posthumous contribution, and the vulnerable simplicity of ‘The Drop.’ I honestly don’t think I’d change a note…

So all I’m asking, Peter, is for more of the same, or better. Please.

Don’t get me wrong, pretty much everything you’ve produced since has been far better than the mediocre output of almost every other artist and band around, but it’s time for something new. Sure, you can sing Arcade Fire and Neil Young, and Regina Spektor, and do a pretty good job of it too! Sure, you can rework your old material in new, beautifully orchestrated arrangements that make the hair stand on end on the back of my neck. You can sing with apes, and get mentioned in a Vampire Weekend track and win Grammys… All of these are laudable achievements, but where’s the new stuff? Where are the 130 ideas you’ve been working on? Where’s the legendary I/O album I’ve been salivating over in anticipation since 2004?

I understand Up took you ten years to perfect. I’ll do you a deal, I’ll stay off your back until September 2013, by which time you will have had a full eleven years since Up. But if I don’t get something good by then, you can count on me coming after you! The clock’s ticking Peter! I’d settle for just a song or two, in whatever stage of completion… go on, stick some on a disc and post them to me, I won’t share them. It can be our little secret!

Anyway, I guess I’d better wrap this up before I end up sounding a little like that guy in the Eminem song ‘Stan’ (what was his name?). You know… “I hope you can’t sleep and you dream about it. And when you dream I hope you can’t sleep and you scream about it”, that kind of thing. I’m not crazy. I’m not about to offer to call my first child after you (though in exchange for a signed copy of the new album and a gig ticket, I might consider Gabriel as a middle name). I’m just a poor, eager fan, listening to Up, getting nostalgic, and writing letters that’ll never get read. But since Santa failed to give me a Mr Frosty and Saville never arranged for me to feed lions in a zoo, I’m quite used to writing unrequited letters…

Yours hopingly, longingly, jadedly,

Liam Thatcher

p.s. – I just realised, I quoted an Eminem song, the lyrics of which mention Phil Collins by name. Sorry about that. I hope you’ll forgive me, and please rest assured, Collins is top of the list of names I would never consider inflicting on any future child or pet!

p.p.s – Best not to tell my wife about this letter. She already thinks I’m a little bit strange…





A is for Aviary: A letter of complaint to the Apollo Theatre

26 10 2011

I’m not a regular letter writer, but a dreadful trip to the Apollo Theatre on Monday managed to draw out the grouchy, sarcastic complainer in me… Well, I had to achieve catharsis somehow! It should be arriving through their letterbox at some point tomorrow morning – but in case you fancied indulging my venting, please find it posted below:

To whom it may concern,

On the morning of Monday 24 October I found myself unexpectedly unoccupied, and so decided to sidle up Shaftesbury Avenue on the off chance that I might be able to procure some day tickets for Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre.

The air was crisp and autumnal, the sunlight peeking tantalisingly through the clouds, and it was a real pleasure to saunter through the heart of the city. Not even the already-established queue outside the theatre could dampen my spirits as I daydreamed of the fun I might have on my day off: perhaps a nice espresso in a quirky Soho coffee house, a walk over the Thames, an afternoon on the Southbank, all topped off by treating my wife to an evening of theatrical entertainment. But I digress…

The 50 minute wait was a blend of trepidation and excitement. Would I be one of the lucky few able to get a ticket? I waited and hoped, charged with a nervous excitement, and so imagine my joy when I reached the front of the queue and discovered that there were, indeed, tickets available! I was over the moon. Not literally, I must point out, knowing, as I now do, how fluidly you at the Apollo like to treat the English language.

The helpful young person in the box office pointed out the available seats on his lurid-coloured two-dimensional chart. Balcony, Row A, seats 11 and 12, in case you’re wondering. And then he admitted ‘the view is a little restricted.’ Now I’ve been to plenty of theatres in my time, and have sat in many a ‘restricted view seat.’ My experience has varied: on occasions the view has indeed lived up to its name, perhaps with an overhanging balcony, or the odd handrail in my peripheral vision. At other times, whatever obstruction may have been in the mind of the vendor was really utterly unnoticeable and I have had a whale of a time. But knowing that ‘restricted’ can be a flexible and multifarious term, I asked just how restricted the view was. 

The answer was as follows: “I admit, you can’t quite see all of the stage. The line of sight is slightly obstructed by a lighting rig.” 

Well, in the moment, overcome as I was with the excitement of having made it through to the front of the queue to watch a play I’d been longing to see, I thought “that doesn’t sound so bad.” Never did it cross my mind that this might be a masterful display of that linguistic tool known as ‘understatement’; and an unparalleled example at that! I snapped up the tickets and quipped: “Well, I’d rather see most of the play than none of the play.”

They chuckled. I chuckled. Deep down they knew.

'Restricted View'?

Now, I am not the tallest man you’re ever likely to meet. My mother is a miniature 5 foot 2, but thankfully my father’s genes balanced me out, and placed me somewhere in the middle. At a relatively average 5 foot 11, therefore, I do not consider myself to be dwarfed or stunted in any way. But even a man of my average stature was unable to see over the rather excessively high wall that sat before me. 

Of course, I am quite aware that none of today’s staff would have been involved in the building process, so I hardly expect to be able to write to the person responsible for seat installation in 1901. But I was baffled by the thought that for 110 years you have been selling seats with a view of nothing but wall. It wasn’t an unsightly wall, it has to be said; just not what I had expected to see. As I sunk into my seat, I resigned myself to the thought that turn of the century theatregoers must have been in the region of eleven feet tall, and that it was a cruel twist of human evolution than rendered these seats useless for the modern man.

What disappointed me most was this: I was specifically informed at the box office (promised, one might say) that my sightline would be obstructed by a lighting rig, and yet in reality I could see no such rig! Not, that is, unless I stood up and peered over the wall. What is the world coming to, when even the objects of obstruction are themselves eclipsed? I paid for my view to be obscured by lights, and quite frankly, I feel cheated…

In order to see anything that might vaguely be considered a theatrical experience (let alone a lighting rig) I had to perch on the back of my chair. Not, please note, the upturned, unfolded seat of the chair, but the very back. And there I sat, on a two-inch wide strip of wood, my head between the feet of those behind me, for the entire first act. I was not alone. Most of the others on the same row adopted similar postures, shuffling every few minutes as the strip of wood caused an unbearable pain in the proverbial. (I considered sneaking to the toilets and taking a photograph of my dented derriere to send you, but didn’t want to give you the satisfaction.)

At the interval, the audience members of Row A were conspicuous by their waddling. A, I have concluded, stands for ‘aviary’ since everyone who sat there was perched like a canary. A few of us, unable to bear the experience much longer sought other seats for the second act. We managed to find some spare chairs at the far side of Row C where we were able to at last have an unimpinged view of a lighting rig and roughly 60% of the stage. Even there we found many people around us grumbling at the views, and since nigh on everybody was having to lean forward in order to see anything of the stage, we still had to squat, stand, perch, lean or otherwise twist ourselves in some yogic fashion in order to see. One chap commented to me that this was the second time he had come to see the show, since the first time he’d bought a day seat and hadn’t been able to see anything. He’d paid double the amount this time, and found the view to be only marginally better. 

I often like to purchase a programme; something to keep which can remind me of the experience. On this occasion I chose not to, though I doubt the experience shall slip my mind for at least a week or so, since I now have back pain now as a lasting memento. And for free! How exceedingly generous of you…

That said, the play itself was very stimulating; audiologically speaking. If there are not already plans for a radio adaptation of Jerusalem, I do hope you will consider it. I would like to vouch for it making an excellent radio play, having been, albeit unwittingly, privileged enough to have experienced a sightless version.

So please do accept my congratulations for your remarkable linguistic gymnastics. You have successfully reworked and relativized the English language to a degree I never thought possible. Who knew that a phrase such as ‘not quite all of’ could actually mean ‘absolutely not one square inch of the stage’ or that ‘restricted view’ really meant I could hardly see more wall if you sellotaped bricks to my eyeballs!

With ‘not quite all’ of my best wishes,

Liam Thatcher





The Widow

22 09 2011

Somewhere in my dim and distant past I studied drama. And I took it relatively seriously. And I tentatively entertained the vague notion that I may one day want to pursue a career in playwriting. Well… that notion has waned somewhat, but I have three scripts to show for it, in various states of dress. One completed and performed, one completed and submitted to theatres (two rejection letters received so far… counting the days until the next couple arrive…) and one awaiting a final edit before I kick it out of the nest and let it plummet down the cliff face towards obscurity.

Yes, since you asked (which I’m well aware you didn’t), you may read them if you wish (which I’m well aware you probably don’t) for the first two of them are online and publicly viewable.

The Bush Theatre runs a site called Bushgreen, which is a great online community allowing playwrights to publish their plays for other potential collaborators to view. It’s a great place to go to read work by new writers, and of course allows folks like me to sustain the hope that someone may stumble across us and consider us the next best thing to hit British theatre.

It is through Bushgreen that you may, if you feel so inclined, check out my latest play, recently uploaded. It’s entitled The Widow and is a one man play, around 75 minutes in length in which a young man, trying to come to terms with the death of his wife begins to plan for the future, taking comfort from his obsessions with language, envelopes and Bertrand Russell. It is a black comedy, exploring themes of bereavement, stubbornness, OCD, denial, hope, escapism, and the blurring of truth and fiction. The widower is a complex and thoroughly pretentious, self-absorbed character who, over the course of the play, becomes increasingly ‘under the influence’. Hopefully a challenging, but enjoyable role to play!

If you want to check it out, you’ll need to sign up and then search for ‘The Widow’ or just ask nicely and I may send you a copy. Feedback gratefully received*

_____

*Level of gratitude may vary!