Our fast-paced, technology-driven culture has changed the nature of reading. We get our news from 140-character summaries. We form ideologies based on Facebook. Taking the time to sit down and read an actual book is a lost art.
But it’s an art worth reviving, even if it means retraining our attention spans. Books can transport you to different worlds and give you new perspective of your own. They can teach you more about God and what it looks like to live out your faith.
Don’t believe us? Check out these titles. The following selections are perfect for the next time you head to the beach or sit down for a lazy summer afternoon read. You’ll thank us later.
The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible
Sarah Ruden is not a biblical scholar, but a Quaker and an expert on ancient languages who has been translating portions of Scripture from Hebrew and Greek. In her translation work, she finds that we are losing a significant amount of the beauty and the tone of the original texts. Ruden selects three down passages from the biblical texts and explores how reading these passages in the original languages breathes new and fresh life into her reading of them. The Face of Water is a meaty work that will delight both those who are fascinated by language, and those who care deeply about the Bible and how we read and interpret it.
Exit West: A Novel
Saeed and Nadia fall in love in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, a nation which soon thereafter erupts in civil war. As the war closes in around them, they find a way out, following in the footsteps of many refugees that are headed to Europe. Mohsin Hamid writes with clean, spare prose, narrating the story, but never accentuating its drama. Saeed and Nadia follow the route of many refugees, from their home country to the Greek island of Mykonos, to London, to the United States.
It is a harrowing journey, no doubt, with perils looming every step of the way, and yet in the middle of the almost unbearable life of a migrant, Hamid gives us moments of extraordinary beauty: a Mediterranean breeze that wafts through their hair, the strains of a favorite song downloaded to a phone. Exit West not only gives Western readers a peek into refugee life, it poignantly reminds us that migrant people are human beings, with the sorts of hopes and longings that are common to us all.
Mohsin Hamid delicately works against the anti-immigrant politics of our day that would reduce refugees to intruders who should be kept out. Instead, as he brings Saeed and Nadia to life before us, we find that despite the hell that they have been through, they are not so different from us.
Movies are Prayers: How Films Voice our Deepest Longings
There is a great temptation in our day to simply watch movies or television as amusement – that is, as a distraction that we don’t think much about. Film critic Josh Larsen isn’t opposed to enjoying films, but in this new book, he encourages us to reflect carefully on them and consider what they reveal to us about God and about our identity as humans created in the image of God.
Larsen provides us with 10 different categories of prayer that scenes in movies can evoke for us (praise, lament, confession, and reconciliation, to name a few), and illustrates these sorts of prayers by reflecting on more than 100 films. Movies are Prayers is an delightful and important book that shows us a particular way in which we can encounter God prayerfully in our everyday lives. Although Larsen’s focus here is on film, the language of prayer that he introduces also could easily translate to music, television, video games, or even books.
To consider the ways in which watching movies can be a form of prayer, as Larsen invites us to do, stirs our imaginations about the possibilities of what it could mean to live a life full of prayer, or in the words of the Apostle Paul, to pray without ceasing.
The Light Is Winning: Why Religion Just Might Bring Us Back to Life
Zach Hoag offers us a unique mix of memoir and cultural commentary in The Light is Winning. By telling the story of his own faith journey, which began when his family moved from Florida to Texas to join a cult, Hoag illuminates the challenges and opportunities that faces American Christianity today. Although Hoag gradually distanced himself from his family’s rather toxic faith, he has not given up on religion.
Instead, he makes the case here that religion is what we need in the 21st century to lead us deeper in the sort of flourishing that God intends for humanity. The Light is Winning is an immensely hopeful book, but the hope we find in its pages is not cheap, but rather one that calls us to repent and be changed, transformed by the light of Christ.
The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach
An utterly fascinating and unsettling book, The Knowledge Illusion shows us how everything we know is bound together with knowledge of others. Sloman and Fernbach break down many of our assumptions about science, how we think and how we know anything at all about the world in which we live. Despite the wide-scale deconstruction, the authors are upbeat.
The illusion, the authors note, is that we don’t know as much as we think we do. But this humbling realization is not necessarily a bad thing. Living under this illusion bolsters our confidence and energizes us to discover new ideas and new connections. The first half of the book explores in detail our best contemporary understanding of how human thinking and knowing works.
The latter half sketches the implications of this understanding of knowledge for science, politics and how we can become smarter as a culture. The authors don’t spend much time talking about faith and knowledge, but many of their conclusions seem immensely helpful for the work we do in our churches of interpreting scripture, thinking theologically and discerning how we are to live faithfully together as communities of Christ’s followers.
Anyone engaged in the work of nurturing healthy and flourishing communities will ultimately have to wrestle with the questions posed in this book. Sloman and Fernbach help us to do so gracefully, acknowledging the truth of how little we know, and finding hope in this precarious situation.
Always With Us? What Jesus Really Said About the Poor
Jesus’ words, “The poor you will always have with you” are often taken as a license to not care for our neighbors in poverty. In this new book, Liz Theoharis, an ordained Presbyterian minister who has spent the last two decades working and organizing among the poor, helps us understand the context in which Jesus spoke these words, what he meant by them and what it all means for us in North America today.
Over the last decade, Christians have become more attentive to the dynamics of their faith in matters like race and immigration, but conversations about economic class have been less prominent in churches. Always With Us? offers us the invitation to reflect on the relationship of our Christian faith and poverty. Specifically, Theoharis emphasizes that Jesus Himself was poor, and she asks what it might mean for us in the affluent West to take Jesus’ economic status seriously.
With a rich mix of contemporary stories and biblical reflection, Always With Us? is sure to challenge our assumptions and stretch our imaginations about what it means to love our neighbors who are in poverty.
The Leavers: A Novel
The Leavers is the story of Deming Guo, the young son of an undocumented Chinese immigrant mother in New York City. One day his mother Polly goes to work and never comes home, seemingly vanishing off the face of the earth. Deming is eventually adopted by two white professors in upstate New York, but the dissonance of this new world in contrast to the Chinese community in which he spent his earliest years is unsettling for him, and he flounders through delinquency as a young adult.
Polly eventually resurfaces, and Ko reveals what has happened to her, and interweaves her story with that of her son. The Leavers, Ko’s debut novel, is a strikingly timely work that illuminates the challenges and fragility of the immigrant experience in the United States. Ko’s writing is crisp and her characters brilliantly reflect the good and the brokenness of our human existence.
Borne: A Novel
Set in a dystopian world of the not-too-distant future where biotech firms run amok, Borne is a gripping sci-fi novel. While out scavenging the city, Rachel, the book’s protagonist finds Borne, a creature that captivates her although she doesn’t know even whether it is plant or animal. Borne grows, and Rachel maintains her fascination, even when it throws her life and well-being into jeopardy.
Through this vividly crafted future world, Jeff VanderMeer unveils the tenuousness of our own world and the sorts of stability we find in this shifting world as we reach out to know and be known by our fellow creatures.
Becoming Curious: A Spiritual Practice of Asking Questions
Casey Tygrett is a pastor from Illinois who has always been a curious person. In this new book, he invites us into habits of curiosity. Building on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ own curiosity and the questions that He asked His disciples and others, Tygrett describes a life of discipleship in which we are always asking questions and always learning.
Becoming Curious is wonderfully refreshing, especially for those who feel that modern Christianity has too many answers and not enough questions. This is an important book that will turn many of our deepest convictions on their heads, and if we take it seriously, it will radically transform the way in which we live out our faith from day to day.
C. Christopher Smith lives and writes as part of the Englewood Christian Church community on the urban Near Eastside of Indianapolis, where he is the Senior Editor of The Englewood Review of Books. Chris is co-author of the award-winning book Slow Church (2014), author of Reading for the Common Good (2016), and is presently finishing a book manuscript with the working title, Conversational Bodies: A Field Guide for the Journey Toward Belonging.