Books Read: February 2019

Dear Reader,

I am trying to be more diligent in recording what I have read and my impressions of it (as I have such a bad memory for such things). My goal is to post monthly on the books I have finished in that month. You can find January’s list here.

Books Read: February 2019

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather — I have enjoyed a couple of Willa Cather’s books and enjoyed this one as well. The title is a bit of a misnomer as it is mainly a story about the life of a priest sent to the wilds on New Mexico in its early days. Apparently, it is based on a real person. Cather’s books set a mood and give the impression of a place rather than being plot-heavy. It works though and you feel you have gotten to know the time and era when you are done. This particular book is about faith and fortitude and friendship and it is lovely. I had a few reservations. This is a very Catholic (big “C”) book. There are some nice stories within about showing the hand of God in people’s lives but there is also quite a lot about Mary that goes too far for my ex-Catholic-turned-reformed sensibilities.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne — A classic I hadn’t read since high school. I liked the book this time but with some reservations.The story itself is engaging.  If you are looking for an accurate portrayal of Puritan New England, I would not recommend it. If you are viewing it as a kind of allegory or morality tale on the effects of sin, it is quite good. On a side note, if you would like a good book on the Puritans I recommend Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2015) — An at times laugh out loud book on grammar. Really. Norris has worked as an editor for The New Yorker and interweaves her life with grammar lessons. I learned things. I laughed. I read parts aloud to my kids. There is a chapter on expletives so I wouldn’t just hand it to my child to read though.

Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz (Penguin Books, 2005) — This is one of a number of books my son gave me to read from his freshman seminar on love and marriage and was by far the best. Coontz has done extensive research and covers marriage throughout human history and in many different cultures (though there is certainly the most material on the west). The crux of it all is that the 1950s were a peak for people marrying for love, without economic and family considerations, and that though this time is now idealized, it was a historical aberration and one that did not necessarily make a lot of the people who went through it happy. Coontz herself if pro-marriage but not necessarily pro-traditional marriage (as we use the term today; a large part of her book is showing that “traditional marriage” is not traditional). She is approaches things from a scientific perspective and argues that marriage customs should fit the society. She clearly has some presuppositions as well — marriages should be happy seems to be one. But she does not appeal to a higher standard. The question Christians should be asking after reading this book is how many of our ideas about marriage stem from our own societal background (that 1950s ideal) and how many are truly biblical? And what would the biblical view of marriage be? If we answer these questions, I think we also need to ask how much we should legislate our view of marriage. Coontz actually paints a picture of modern western society in which good marriages are valued but in which they are not necessarily for everyone. I think there is a lot of room here for Christians to be witnesses, not by legislating our ideal of marriage, but by exemplifying biblical marriage in the midst of a much more pluralistic society.

The Golden Milestone by Frank Boreham — Boreham is a favorite author of mine and I often reread his books. He was a pastor in Australia and New Zealand in the early 1900s. His books are collections of brief essays and are best read one chapter at a time. His tone is very kind and pastoral. I don’t love all his writings equally but I usually find something that strikes me, even when rereading. Some favorite quotes from this volume:

  • “I move through life guided by a force I cannot explain.” from The First Swallow
  • “Education, too, properly considered, is merely another form of spring-cleaning. It is a cleaning-up of the mind . . .I fling out my mental rubbish and store my mind with what is really useful and beautiful.” from Spring Cleaning
  • “If there are two crowds, and they are both shouting, it is perfectly safe to assume that they are both wrong.” from A Philosophy of Pickles
  • “No two men ever yet passed each other on the street by chance.” from Our Trysting Places

What have you been reading?


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