I mentioned yesterday that I was disappointed in a lot of the non-fiction I read in 2011. My disappointment had to do with a few things that I (sadly) found repeated from disappointing book to disappointing book. Some of these are:
a. the poor communication of ideas, that is to say uneven, or in some cases, downright bad writing;
c. disconnected bits trying to be a united whole.
Most of the books that I was disappointed in were written by people with doctorates. This makes me wonder does no one edit these people? Does no one challenge the poor writing? Why not? I have a doctorate and I know that I do not always write well. I often misplace commas and write over-long sentences. I ask others to read what I write. I recognize the possibility that if someone misunderstands what I have written they may not be stupid, I might not have been clear. As I pointed out yesterday, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it is profound. It might just be poorly written. It could also be profound — I’m not sure I can explain the difference easily at this point. I might not even know the difference. This is a good project for future posts. Does anyone have any pointers for distinguishing between bad writing and profound writing?
On to the best non-fiction of 2011. I read two books that I immediately passed on to others. The first runner-up in the category best non-fiction is Take this Bread: The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first-century Christian, by Sara Miles. This is a conversion story that centres around food and the Christian life. Miles describes her journey in faith clearly and challenged me to think again about the idea of community and faith. One of her claims is you cannot be a Christian alone. I think this is very true, and I admired the way she talked about community, about the ways she has learned and is still learning that community is essential to the Christian faith. There are ways in which she gets this better than I do.
The best non-fiction I read this year is This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver. This is a great book. Daniel and Copenhaver are ministers in different settings and with different experiences of ministry but their stories complement each other and add to the bigger idea of what life in ministry is really like. Pastors and their families don’t have it all together, they need the Christian community as much as the rest of us — but they are called to lead communities in particular ways. Daniel and Copenhaver have provided all of us with a way into talking about the balance of life, faith, vocation, family, and leisure. I think this is a key work for anyone contemplating a call to ministry.
You might ask why I picked This Odd and Wondrous Calling over Take this Bread. It was a close call. I don’t agree with all the theological thinking/practice/living in these books, but both are well written and challenged me to think about my life and faith in new ways. I don’t agree more with TOAWC and less with TTB, but I think that my own vocation is closer to that of Daniel and Copenhaver than that of Miles. This is probably what tipped the balance in my mind. I recommend them both. Remember, we can’t be Christians alone, and one way of engaging with other Christians is reading books they write and thinking about them. Carefully.
Now that you’ve made it this far, the song of the day from Down Under.