February 2010: Books Read

1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I’ve heard from various places (not least the cover of the edition I read) that this is Steinbeck’s masterpiece, and it was certainly a very good book. It’s an epic story that follows the Trask and Hamilton families through three generations, from the Civil War to World War I. It could even be termed a semi-autobiographical novel, since Steinbeck’s mother is from the Hamilton family and young John himself makes a cameo appearance in the book.

What stuck out the most to me about the novel were the descriptions of the Salinas Valley in California, and the relationship between Adam and Cathy Trask. It is clear that Steinbeck loved the Salinas Valley and sought to convey that love in writing this book. Cathy is one of the more monstrous villains I have encountered in any novel I have read, and Steinbeck describes her (and Adam’s love for her) in a riveting way. There are many rambling asides in the book which slow down the pace of the narrative, but that comes with the territory in an epic. They were never so distracting that I skipped through them or wanted to put down the book.

2. The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister. Reviewed earlier here.

3. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. This is one of my wife’s favorite books from her childhood. After we watched the animated movie version of this book (The Secret of NIMH), she insisted that I read it because it is so much better.

And it is. It is the story of Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse and mother of four children, who needs to move her family out of a farmer’s garden. She is unable to do that, however, because of her youngest son’s pneumonia. She eventually enlists help from the mysterious, super-intelligent rats who live under a nearby rosebush. In doing so, she finds out the story of how they came to be who and where they are. She also finds out that they are planning on moving to a remote valley to being a civilization of their own. They help her move her house, and she helps them in important ways as well.

This is an entertaining children’s book (I particularly enjoyed reading the story of how the rats came to be), and it is also a tract for the “back to the land” movement of the ’60s and ’70s. The rats feel that depending on a farmer for electricity, or continuing to use tools they find, is dishonorable. A few rats disagree and leave, but these rats are cast in a negative light in the book. The noblest ones (O’Brien strongly hints in the narrative) are the ones who want to set out on their own, start afresh, raise their own crops, construct their own homes.

3. Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William J. Webb. I heard about this book during my first semester at Regent in 2004, but never got around to reading it because it wasn’t required for any class. Now that I’m finished with school, I finally got around to picking it up, and I’m glad I did.

This book deals with hermeneutics, which is the discipline of determining how to interpret the Bible. Webb’s argument is that when it comes to slavery and patriarchy in the Bible, there is a “redemptive movement” at work. That is, the Bible never explicitly condemns either, but the broad ethical strokes, especially in the New Testament, lead inevitably to the abolishing of both. The Christian church has collectively decided that slavery is in fact against biblical teaching, and Webb argues that the same conclusion should be reached regarding patriarchy.

Webb contrasts slavery and patriarchy with homosexuality, on which he argues there is no redemptive movement. It is condemned from start to finish, and so those who attempt to make a biblical case for homosexuality are using a faulty hermeneutic.

A lot more could be said about this book. It is probable that no one will agree with everything Webb says, simply because of the sheer number of arguments that he advances. I also should point out that this is not an easy read, as the arguments can get technical in places. But it is a rewarding book, and one that I recommend to anyone who wants to put in the effort to learn more about hermeneutics.

4. When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box by John Ortberg. Ortberg is pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in CA. I have listened to a few of his sermon podcasts, and I heard him speak in person at the Covenant Midwinter Conference in Denver this year, but this is the first of his books that I have read. I read this book in particular because my church is doing a video series based on this book together during Lent.

Ortberg uses games as a launching point for talking about materialism and mortality. The object of the game of life is to be rich toward God, and Ortberg makes this point winsomely, using stories and humor. I like his writing style, and this is a popular-level book on the Christian life that I would readily recommend to others.

5. Incarnate Leadership: 5 Leadership Lessons from the Life of Jesus by Bill Robinson. My first response to the title of this book was a snarky comment: “Incarnate leadership – as opposed to the other kind?” As I read it, though, it began to grow on me. Robinson is the president of Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, and he has an informal, engaging style of writing. He bases this short book on Jesus’ example of leadership, in particular John 1:14: “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.”

The five leadership lessons from the title are Minding the Gap (closing the chasm between the positions we occupy and the needs of those we lead), Leading Openly, Bending the Light (remembering that leadership is not about us, but that we need to be mirrors reflecting God’s glory), Living in Grace and Truth (understanding the need for, and the time for, both) and Sacrificing. This was a short book, but a challenging book on how to lead like Jesus.


2 thoughts on “February 2010: Books Read

  1. East of Eden is one of my favorite books! I usually don’t like interruptions that break the narrative, but I actually really enjoyed what he wrote in his.

  2. Nice reviews, and what a variety!
    I liked Ortberg’s video series on this book; we did it in our Sunday School class last summer. He’s quite a natural in front of the camera.

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