Books I’m Reading Right Now (and Why)

Books I’m Reading Right Now (and Why)

This is a little unusual—compared to most of my blog posts, but I am often asked what I’m reading at the moment. Then, when I answer, some ask “Why?” I don’t know why people are interested in what I’m reading, but apparently some are. This blog is my “musings” and telling what I’m reading and why counts as musings. Maybe someone out there will be informed about reading in a way that’s helpful.

I guess I read about a hundred books a year—although I must admit some of those I speed read or even only peruse, picking up on certain parts that are more relevant or interesting to me than others. I also listen to books on my ipod or car CD player and I count that as “reading.” When I drive distances alone I’m always listening to a book. If my wife and I do a road trip somewhere we listen to a novel that interests us both (often John Grisham’s latest book or one we haven’t read or heard before). When I work out at the gym I listen to books. When I jog I listen to books. I read several books simultaneously—keeping one near my “comfortable chair” at home and one or two in my offices at home and at work.

I grew up in a home with books. That was one of the most influential factors in my becoming a scholar (or at least an aspiring scholar). My father, a Pentecostal minister, was an avid reader. During much of my childhood we did not have television in our home and when we did it was strictly controlled. We didn’t go to movies or concerts (except at churches). So my brother’s and my entertainment was reading. Our grandparents gave us books. We played a game called “Authors” (with cards). “Playing cards” were banned in our home as were most games that didn’t have some enriching value. (For example instead of “Monopoly” we played “Careers.”) The only comic books we were allowed to have were “Classics Illustrated” and we had lots of them. At a very early age I was reading Dickens in comic book form.

My earliest adventures in reading “real books” were “Hardy Boys” mysteries. I read all that were available several times. When a new one wasn’t available I read “Nancy Drew” mysteries. Then I discovered Sherlock Holmes stories and novellas. I devoured them all during sixth grade and junior high school and kept reading and re-reading them over the years.

My fiction reading really exploded to new heights in eighth and ninth grades. I hated most of the books we were required to read for school. A Lantern in Her Hand bored me and I hated Catcher in the Rye. But I loved A Separate Peace and found Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters on my own and enjoyed them. I began to discover and devour large novels. I read The Count of Monte Cristo twice in eighth grade. I read Gone with the Wind in ninth grade (but didn’t see the movie until years later!). I read every book by Leon Uris and James Michener that I could get my hands on. Michener’s The Source was especially loved. I read it at least twice—as I did Hawaii. During high school I went through a love affair with Edgar Allen Poe and read every story I could find, and also his novellas such as The Gold Bug. (When I was in college my American Literature teacher asked us on a test to name every Poe story we could and promised extra credit for naming ones not in the anthology. I named twenty-some. She refused to give me credit for the ones she’d never heard of!)

So my life has always been filled with books. I own at least a thousand (most are in storage) because I have trouble giving them away or selling them. I worry about what will happen to them when I die! But both of my daughters are also avid readers, so there may be hope for my books—to find new homes rather than be thrown away.

So what am I reading right now and why? This is, of course, just a snapshot of my life of reading. A year ago the books I was reading were quite different and a year from now they probably will be. In fiction I’m right now reading (or listening to) The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and Bethany’s Sin by Robert McCammon. The first is the first novel I’ve read by Tart and I am enjoying it so much I will probably try one of her other ones. It’s a contemporary Dickens-style story much like David Copperfield only much more edgy. I’ve read many of McCammon’s books and especially like his series featuring (fictional) early American detective Matthew Corbett. So far Bethany’s Sin isn’t “grabbing me,” but I’ll keep going until the halfway point and give up only if by then it’s not. I’m looking forward to the next installment of McCammon’s Matthew Corbett series. The series is set in eighteenth century America—especially New York. McCammon has done his homework so reading the series is informational about colonial America.

I’m reading a book about the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War 2. It’s informational only—not that entertaining. But I’ve always been intrigued by Hitler’s “gang” and how they tried to justify their actions before and during the war—especially the holocaust. I am finding that all of them attempted to deny either knowledge of the holocaust or responsibility for it (they were “just following orders” and would have been shot had they not).

I am reading By Faith and Reason: The Essential Keith Ward Reader—even though I’ve read a lot of Ward before. Some selections in it I have not read before. I personally find Ward my favorite contemporary Christian philosopher. First, I can understand him. (I admit that I often find Swineburne almost impossible.) Second, Ward is a great writer who makes his thoughts clear, uses examples and illustrations, and, third, in my opinion, is biblical and orthodox without being the least bit fundamentalist. I agree completely with his view of faith and reason and almost completely with his ideas about God. (I think he is an open theist and so far I cannot go that far away from tradition.)

I am reading Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human by Walter Wink (with Steven Berry)—Wink’s last book written while he was dying. Last evening I read his account of his youthful Pentecostal experiences—his “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” with unflinching details of strong physical manifestations (hands and arms going numb, falling down, etc.). I am always intrigued by how many theologians went through a “charismatic phase” that was one factor in propelling them into becoming theologians. I’m reading Just Jesus because I like Wink’s The Powers that Be and the publisher of Just Jesus (Image) sent me a complimentary copy and asked me to read it and consider blogging about it.

Finally, I’m reading iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives by Craig Detweiler. Like him, I am very concerned about especially young Christians’ uses of communication technology and “social networking.” I have given some talks to students and others about the ethics of contemporary technology and am preparing an address on that subject for an ethics conference at a Christian university in March.

So—there are the books I’m reading. I have a pile of books I need and plan to read. So many good books! So little time!

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