Tag Archives: essays

Favourite Non-Fiction Books

After posting my ten favourite novels I got thinking about a top-ten non-fiction list. This turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be. I’ve got a list of non-fiction books that I like and have been influential, but how do you pick favourites? And how do you eliminate some of these? I’m not sure. So I have two lists.

The first list is my current top ten, ordered alphabetically by title. Here it is:

An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis

Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner

Holy Writing Sacred Text by John Barton

How To Read Slowly by James W. Sire

Outsmarting IQ by David Perkins

Second Words by Margaret Atwood

The Call of Stories by Robert Coles

The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education by Walter Brueggemann

The Godbearing Life by Kenda Creasy Dean

The Science of God by Alister McGrath

The second list is the next twenty books. These books might make a top ten list given more or different criteria, or given a different week or month. I couldn’t quite bump them up, but neither could I let them go. So here they are for your consideration, again alphabetically by title.

100 Ways to Improve your Writing by Gary Provost

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Between Two Worlds by John R.W. Stott

Black and White Styles of Youth Ministry by William R. Myers

Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris

Everybody’s Favourites by Arlene Pearly Rae

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Like Dew Your Youth by Eugene Peterson

Of This and Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis

Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative by Adele Berlin

Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Take and Read by Eugene Peterson

Texts of Terror by Phyllis Trible

The Bluestocking Circle by Sylvia Harstock Myers

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Original Vision by Edward Robinson

The Scope of Our Art by L. Gregory Jones

This Odd and Wondrous Calling by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell

How about you, any favourite non-fiction reads?



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Second Thoughts

After I posted my thoughts on the number 2 and books, I had second thoughts. Maybe I caught my second wind. No, I just had second thoughts.

Secondary literature — books based on other books or written sources — is sometimes easier to access than primary literature. Example: Some guy called Plato wrote dialogues thousands of years ago. I’ve never read Plato in Greek, though I’ve read a little Plato in translation. I’ve not caught the world of Plato from the primary sources, the writings of Plato. I’ve read lots ABOUT Plato, books that reference Plato, books that analyze Plato, books that compare Plato to Aristotle (among others). I’ve learned about Plato from secondary sources.

One of Margaret Atwood’s collections of essays and articles is called Second Words. In her introduction to the collection, Atwood gives two reasons for the title: she is first a novelist and poet and only secondly a critic and essayist; and people have to write literature before that literature can be written about, thus all criticism is secondary literature by its very nature.

Secondary literature is not inherently bad or necessarily poorer than the primary work it reflects upon. Atwood makes this clear: “This is in no way to imply that words spoken first are always better than the critical fabrics raised upon them. It is only to state what seems to be obvious; that is, that you can’t have a thought about a stone without first seeing a stone. (Which leaves us in a curious position vis à vis unicorns.)” (Second Words, 11.)

All the writing I do in this blog is secondary literature. Of course you can use it as primary literature, you can see it as about me, as something to study, and then you build the fabric upon the fabric.

Possibly it is time to move on from the number 2. But it has been fun.

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C is for …

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter

C is for Conversation.

Conversations I have with people remind me of books that I have in my to-be-read pile(s). Sometimes conversations mean I pull a book out and read it much sooner than I might have. Conversations don’t have to be about a particular book or even an author. Sometimes random discussions remind me of a book I’ve got. Or the discussion leads me to look for a book on a topic. Or it reminds me of a book I’ve heard about.

Here is an example from this week. One day at work, my colleague the Libertarian and I were discussing the superiority of footnotes over endnotes in publications. We both prefer footnotes in our reading as endnotes require flipping back and forth to look at references or asides. If these were at the bottom of the page, one could glance down and see if a note only referred one to a source, or whether the writer had more to say about a topic but thought it best to put the extra in a note for some reason. One could then decide to read the note or not without hustling off to the end of the book, finding the right note in the midst of many, then forgetting what the original note marker flagged in the main text, flipping back… you get the picture. Endnotes are a pain. The Libertarian asked me if I’d read Gertrude Himmelfarb’s essay on footnotes. I haven’t and am interested to know that Himmelfarb wrote such an essay. This reminded me of the Himmelfarb book currently in the to-be-read pile on my coffee table, The New History and the Old: Critical Essays and Reappraisals. This essay collection has footnotes, but does not appear to have the essay on footnotes.

Aha! you may say. The Libertarian mentioned an author to you, of course that conversation reminded you of a book with the same author. That’s not so odd. Ok, maybe not. But today I was thinking about the conversation about footnotes. As I thought about footnotes, I remembered with some pleasure a fantasy book in which the narrator resorts to footnotes to comment upon the action. Loved the footnotes in that series. Amazing. The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud are the novels with footnotes. Bartimaeus is the narrator who pompously resorts to footnotes to comment on the ill-advised moves of some persons in the story he tells. The books in the trilogy are The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, and Ptolmey’s Gate. These books contain an alternate history and are fantasy books usually shelved in the YA or teen section of bookshops. Adults also enjoy the books.

Will I read Himmelfarb’s essays or re-read Bartimaeus because of a conversation at work? Possibly. It is much more likely that I’ll read Himmelfarb in the next month that it was before the conversation. And now that I’ve been reminded of Bartimaeus, and reminded of the fact that I only own two of the trilogy, I’ll probably look harder for the third. And may return to them sooner. You never know what ideas for books to read a conversation might put into your  head.


Filed under non-fiction, What to Read Next