For the past decade, I have posted my favorite ten books I read during the previous year. 2019 has been a light reading year for me; so far, I have finished 81 books, which is about two dozen fewer than my average, which also means that the field of contenders is smaller. As I consider this year’s list and I compare it with previous lists, I am aware of a shift in my thinking. Of course, the question arises, has my thinking shifted because of what I am reading, or do I choose books that reflect these changes? Presumably a bit of both. Another observation and a warning to go with it: at least seven of these books may challenge deeply held assumptions. So, without further adieu, here are 2019’s top ten.
Last week, I finished the manuscript for my third book. Over a long weekend, I took a couple of passes through the book and I read the first 80 pages aloud to Heather (she seemed to like it though, admittedly, I am her husband). I would like to ask for a few volunteers to read through the manuscript and offer comments about the content of the book before I pass it along for copy editing. Let me offer some basics about the book and then let you know what I am hoping.
SYNOPSIS: Notes from the Upper Room: Lessons in Loving Like Jesus (working title) is a non-fiction book about Jesus’s last supper with his disciples in the upper room before going to the cross, recorded in chapters 13-17 of John’s gospel. This book began when I “mind-mapped” these five chapters, wanting to identify core themes in Jesus’s teaching. The book, which is just shy of 57,000 words, has two sections. The first section, which is roughly 75 pages, is composed of 7 chapters discussing some of the themes I see. Following the introduction, the chapters are titled: Trinitarian Relating, Belonging, Sacredness of the Ordinary, Servanthood, Obedience, Peace in Suffering, and Jesus’s Prayer.
The second section, about 120 pages, is a series of devotional thoughts, verse by verse, through the upper room discourse. In light of the two different sections, you will notice overlap, but I hope they are unique enough to be of benefit.
In light of that brief synopsis, I am hoping that a handful of people will be sufficiently intrigued to do a read through with an eye toward the content. It is certainly not academic, so I hope it is accessible. If you are familiar with the general flow of John 13-17, if the chapters sound interesting, or if you have a general interest in books about the Christian life and Trinitarian relating, all the better. I will probably limit the number of early readers because “too many cooks spoil the stew,” but if you are at all interested, please reach out. I will send out a Word document, so you can track changes and offer comments. If it is something that seems interesting, but you don’t have the time to spend with it, I would ask that you wait until the book comes out.
Regardless of whether you read it now or never, would you please pray for this book and for my nerves as I move forward?
The book cover I designed for book number two. If you would like to join us for the conference is celebration of this wonderful man, please visit this site for more information.
Although I share many book reviews on my other blog, I don’t share them here, preferring to reserve this space as a place for beauty. However, this blog is precisely the right forum for Kimberlye Berg’s book, Schema of a Soul, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.
In a world where nearly one million books are published each year, I would never have encountered Schema of a Soul apart from a chance meeting. Several years ago, I met Kim at Larry Crabb’s Next Step School for Spiritual Direction. All week, she sat a few chairs down from me as we listened and learned together. She struck me as a kind, unpretentious woman and only later did I learn that she had authored a book. Indeed, I am doubtful that she was the one who told me about it. With just a glimpse of what the book was about, I added it to Amazon wish list where it remained for years. I ordered it last July, but it sat on a shelf in my library since then. I finally opened it this morning and was grateful for an unofficial snow day.
Describing books is sometimes a difficult thing to do. I found that to be particularly true here. In Schema of a Soul, Kim tells of coping with the death of her son nineteen year old son Michael, but that description is woefully inadequate. It is a memoir. A eulogy. A love letter to her husband. A confession. A prayer. Poetic. Raw. Honest. Tragic. And beautiful all the same. She treasures words. As I read, I was reminded of something I read just yesterday: “Language in itself, beginning with the name of ‘God,’ is holy, a precious gift that makes it possible to live in community” (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places).
Though the book is just shy of 150 pages, I cried a half-dozen times today. Before I left for work this morning, I read my wife just one paragraph and felt that familiar hitch in my throat. Kim’s transparent reflections upon her grief, with hues of anger and fear and confusion stirred my soul. I found myself thinking about my own losses and those of friends, especially those who have borne the grief of losing their own teenage sons.
One of the joys of reading books by other readers is getting a glimpse of what writers have stirred their souls. It came as no surprise that Kim and I share an affection for Larry Crabb, but I was grateful to read of her other influences, among them Chesterton, Buechner, and Lewis. Midway through the book, she reflected upon reading Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce, one autumn afternoon: “I had no idea the wringing I was in for.” The Great Divorce is not only my favorite CS Lewis Book, but one of my favorite books overall. As soon as Kim mentioned her “wringing,” I knew exactly what story would affect her so deeply, the story of a mother who goes to heaven and is looking for her son. Michael. I had forgotten his name was Michael. I wrote in the column of page 75, “Had you ever read The Great Divorce before?” It also brought to memory that when we attended Next Step, we were treated to a one man production of The Great Divorce by Anthony Lawton. I found myself wondering if Lawton brought the character of Pam to life and what effect that would have upon Kim. Upon reflection, I do not think he did.
Schema of a Soul is a gem, formed in the heat of Kim’s suffering, but polished to a rare beauty by her willingness to honestly wrestle with multifaceted changes wrought by the loss of Michael.
Thank you Kim.