What Have I Been Reading? My End of Summer Report

What Have I Been Reading? My End of Summer Report August 26, 2023

Cover image from N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousands Kingdoms. Image from https://www.orbitbooks.net/orbit-excerpts/an-extract-from-the-hundred-thousand-kingdoms/

From time to time I post brief descriptions of the books I’ve been reading. I’m constantly scanning the shelves of people I know to see what has drawn their attention, and I assume everyone is like me. Here is a sampling of my reading over the past summer. Well, let’s say spring and summer. The genres are all mixed up, since that’s just how I read.

Origen, On First Principles

I read this straight through in Fr. John Behr’s new translation. The centuries of censorship and edits have made this a very difficult book to follow. This new translation is a game changer. I consider it the first systematic theology, written by a holy man who loved scripture more than anyone I’ve ever met. Read Origen reading the Bible, and you’re getting a glimpse of the beauty he found in a life of theosis.

George Saunders, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain

I’m searching the internet for adjectives to help me describe how much I love this book. And failing. The Winnie-the-Pooh subtitle tells you all you need to know. In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading and Life. The author is funny, wise, and will show you things from some of the great short stories that you’ve never seen before. Read this book, please.

N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

This is volume one of her Inheritance Trilogy. Some pretty epic world-building here, people. Cosmogenesis with a capital C. A young woman is summoned to the heart of the empire to take part in a deceptive game of throne. Unsurprisingly, it’s the theology of the Inheritance world that sticks with me. Her gods are…. so weird.

Catherine Pickstock, Aspects of Truth

I’ve celebrated this one already.

Joshua Daniel Wood, The Whole Mystery of Christ

This is a young and brilliant theologian out of Boston College. His bold new reading of Maximus the Confessor (and readers will recall my weeping adoration of the great Maximus) has me more or less convinced. I especially love his way of reading historical theology: Christians read it, he says, not just for information about what someone thought. Instead, we read it to marshal their help as we contemplate God. Take a look at the podcast the author and I did together after I finished reading.

Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire

Another young woman from the provinces is summoned to the heart of a game-of-thronesy empire. But this time the province is a space station, and she is sent to the capital to replace the ambassador who has gone strangely quiet. She carries an older version of this ambassador, in fact, in her brain, in the form of a small metal capsule meshed into her brainstem. These “imagos” are a pragmatic and religious practice of her culture, shaping the internalized presence of a person through the glutamate and proteins which carry their memories and even personalities. The imago of her predecessor quickly becomes the center of a dangerous political game centered on the aging emperor. Death, love, revolution, space travel: there’s plenty of all that here.

J. A. Baker, The Peregrine

Here’s a strange little book by a mysterious Englishman of the 1960s. He goes out each day from October through April to catch sightings of the peregrine, both the falcons (females) and tiercels (males). Baker tells of their tremendous dives, their play, and their bloody kills. He also records his own progress through the fields and marshes around Essex, since “the emotions and behavior of the watcher are also facts” relevant to the observations of the watched. He gradually identifies so completely with the birds that his own emotions and behaviors start mapping on to theirs. I don’t know of any nature writing that attends so carefully to its object of study.

Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer

Here is a great holy man of the last century who died just after this one began. I read another of his books years ago, and a recent interview of Rowan Williams motivated me to take this one from its dusty corner of my shelf. It is a simple and profound book of wisdom gathered from Bloom’s life in prayer. The Our Father, the Jesus Prayer of Russian tradition, the prayer of silence. There is sage advice here for those who would like to begin to pray, or to pray more or to pray differently. He is also good company for those who have been praying for a lifetime and simply want to listen in on the thoughts of a kindred spirit.

There are a few more books I’d like to write about, but that will do for now. Next installment I’ll tell you what’s on my nightstand currently.

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