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How do you (or I) review a book?

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How do you (or I) review a book?

part one – reading as conversation

This essay (in 3 parts) is not really about how to write a book review. Most of us won’t be doing that. Still, knowing how to review a book is more important to being a better reader than many think it is. So let’s talk reading.

You may reply, “Big deal.  Does knowing how other people read a book matter? Reading is reading.”

True – How you or I go about reading a book is just as individualistic as our own reading lists. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Reading is much more than a person holding a text in front of him. Reading is a conversation between writer, reader and other readers, speech givers, other writers and even publisher, their marketing team (ugh!) and on and on. It may not seem like a conversation as you sit undisturbed in your robe by an evening fire, sipping tea, turning the pages of The Philosopher’s Stone.

The book you are reading may be a good read, but it will become even better when you see reading as a conversation – from cover to cover.

How so?

You’ve heard of “word of mouth advertising.” Words on the page of a book (or screen) are nothing more than a sophistication of the ancient “word of mouth” tradition. Reading is a conversation or more precisely, I should say, reading is a key instrument in a larger conversation. Reading fuels conversation.

As unique as your method of reading is and as individualistic as your reading list might be reading can’t be a purely isolated experience, right? Ancient elders sitting around an evening village fire, passing on ancestral axioms or repeating cultural narratives was clearly a communal experience.

In that ancient context knowing how to be a better listener would bring you into the enjoyment of the larger conversation. But is reading for moderns this or something else entirely? Is reading also a communal experience?

Would you agree that the basic intention of the modern writer is no different than that of the ancient elder? He has something that he wants to discuss and even more so hopes will be remembered. Knowing how to listen and converse with the elder and others at the village fire puts you in a better position to enjoy the larger conversation. Knowing how to become a better reader puts you in a position to enjoy (and be challenged by) the larger conversation in your world, your culture and your village.

It does matter that we intentionally read a book with a perceptive mind and open heart somewhat like a good book reviewer. This may seem like turning reading into work. Would exercising perception tactics while reading and analyzing emotions while reading take l’amore out of reading?

When we learn the basic skills of being a good reader we increase the level of enjoyment in our reading; increase our opportunities to add to the community experience of others.

What tennis player would turn down a few dozen hours of free instruction in tennis? He/she benefits and so does his/her tennis partner. What cook would turn down several sessions of free recipe tips in better cooking? He/she benefits and so will those who sit as his/her table.

Sure there’s work involved, but I’ve found that pushing “better reading skills” has improved my enjoyment of reading. I am often surprised how the work of improved reading is outdone by the enjoyment of the larger conversation, the larger conversation in my world, my culture and my village.

The first step to better reading, better book reviews, is to see our reading as entry into a larger conversation. Books aren’t just about ideas or creativity. Books bring people together. C. S. Lewis, a great writer and no doubt a great reader said it this way: “We read to know we are not alone.”

More next time: 3 simple ideas for better reading


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The Prodigal God – a fresh look at the Gospel

Have you ever read a book that dramatically changed the way you think?  I’m not talking about a book that was a really, really fun read.

I’m talking about a book that leaves you saying, “That book is NOW in my TOP TEN list!”  For me one of those TOP TEN is The Prodigal God.  It is so good I bumped another favorite off my top ten list of all time favorite books to make room for this one.

The Prodigal God

by Tim Keller

I hope we can do a couple of Bible study discussion groups on the topic of The Prodigal God.  There are several key life-changing truths that can not only change you for the better, but change your church and change those around you.  For starters here is an excerpt:


“I will not use the parable’s most common name: the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  It is not right to single out only one of the sons as the sole focus of the story.  Even Jesus doesn’t call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but begins the story saying, ‘a man had two sons.’  The narrative is as much about the elder brother as the younger and as much about the father as the sons.  And what Jesus says about the older brother is one of the most important messages given to us in the Bible.  The parable might be better called the Two Lost Sons.


“The word ‘prodigal’ does not mean ‘wayward’ but according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, ‘recklessly spendthrift.’  It means to spend until you have nothing left.  This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as his younger son…


“In this story the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well.  St. Paul writes: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses’ (2 Cor 5:19).  Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children.  God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the subject of this book.”


NOTE:  If you would to be a part of this Bible study on The Prodigal God let me know.  And if you want to order the book let me know and I can get a better price if we order together.   

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Great Bible Giveaway

this is AWESOME – free Bibles anyone ? !

Logos Bible Software is celebrating the launch of their new online Bible by giving away 72 ultra-premium print Bibles at a rate of 12 per month for six months. The Bible giveaway is being held at Bible.Logos.com and you can get up to five different entries each month!

After you enter, be sure to check out Logos and see how it can revolutionize your Bible study.


Favorite Books for strengthening your Christian walk

We had another good question in our Sunday School class a couple weeks ago: “What books have helped you in your spiritual walk?”  Kristina and I had fun updating our lists of favorite reads.  We do read secular books, but we always value most The Word of God and Christian books that point to God. 

Here are our lists of books that have helped us in our Christian walk.  (you’ll notice that the Shack isn’t here.  there’s a good reason for that.  in a future post you’ll hear the quesion: what went wrong in the Shack?)  Our lists change over the years as we find new gems.  We have decided in this post to limit the list to easy-reads (there are some weighty books that every Christian should read – more on that later).   Our lists show basic books that have advanced our understanding of who God is, the power of Truth, the wonder of the Gospel and the necessary choices we must make if we are to live in devotion to Christ. 

Needless to say The Bible is for us is not a book that is first among other great books.  It is in a category all its own.  It is Divine Revelation and thus supersedes all other books in the world.  Over the centuries the Church has been blessed by many thinking and spiritual men.  As a result, outside the orb of Divine Revelation, there are many books that can help us learn and enjoy the truths found in God’s Word.   Our best advice, we believe, is that we should make the most of God’s Word in our lives and then chose other books, DVDs or favorites of whatever kind which will draw us into the God’s words. 


What books have helped you in your Christian walk?


my Top 20 easy reads for Christian growth

  1. Strong’s Concordance – James Strong (most used, also online)
  2. Nave’s Topical Bible (topically arranged references, also online)
  3. Pilgrim’s Progress in Modern English – John Bunyan*
  4. Knowledge of the Holy – A. W. Tozer (free online)
  5. The Prodigal God Timothy Keller*
  6. The Holiness of God – R. C. Sproul
  7. Knowing God – J. I. Packer
  8. How to Pray – W. Graham Scroggie
  9. Disciplines of a Godly Man – R. Kent Hughes
  10. The Names of God – Andrew Jukes
  11. Through Gates of Splendor – Elizabeth Eliot*
  12. Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret – Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor
  13. Peace Child – Don Richardson*
  14. Confessions – St. Augustine (free online)
  15. If  – Amy Carmichael*
  16. Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis
  17. The Westminster Catechism (free online)
  18. God’s Promises – Stewart Custer
  19. Secrets of the Vine – Bruce Wilkinson
  20. The Pursuit of God – A. W. Tozer (free online)


some of Kristi’s Favorites

The Golden Alphabet – C. H. Spurgeon

Treasury of David – C. H. Spurgeon

Morning by Morning – C. H. Spurgeon

Abide in Christ – Andrew Murray*

Shepherding a Child’s Heart – Ted Tripp*

A Woman of Prayer – Betty Henderson

Knowing God – J. I. Packer

The Disciplined Life – Richard Taylor

The Excellent Wife – Martha Peace

Finding Your Purpose as a Mom – Donna Otto


In a future post I’ll share a longer list of must reads for every Christian in addition to the Holy Scripture.  We hope our lists encourage you to learn more about God, the Gospel and the Word.  If you have a question about a book let us know.     

* these books have a special focus on the Gospel, the core of our Christian faith.  For a list of Christian classics see http://www.ccel.org/index/classics.html



posted by – Mark