June 2010: Books Read

1. Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’d had this book on my shelf for a while, and after reading Eric Metaxas’ excellent biography last month, I decided to stay in the mental world of Bonhoeffer for a little longer by reading this book. As the title indicates, this is a collection of letters and papers that Bonhoeffer wrote beginning in the spring of 1943, when he was arrested and held in Tegel Prison in Berlin. He was a prisoner until his death two years later.

For the first several months, he was only allowed to write to his family members, and each letter was read by a censor. In the fall of 1943, however, he was able to write smuggled letters to his friend Eberhard Bethge, who was with the German army in Italy for much of this time. It is his letters to Bethge that really make this book a worthwhile read. In them, we find Bonhoeffer’s speculations on what “religionless Christianity” would look like, as well as his poems, the most famous being “Who am I?”

I found this book particularly interesting after having the background filled in by the Metaxas biography. I was already familiar with most of the names mentioned in the letters. If anything, the tragic end of Bonhoeffer’s life was made even more poignant in this book than in the biography. In the biography, how Bonhoeffer’s death came about was reconstructed. This book, however, ends with three letters from Bonhoeffer’s parents which were never answered. In fact, they did not find out that he had been killed until three months afterward.

2. Just How Married Do You Want to Be? by Jim and Sarah Sumner. This is a marriage book that I read out loud to my wife over several months. It is unique among marriage books mostly because of the couple who wrote it: she has a PhD in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and he is a former stripper who was only a Christian for a few years when they met. They have had a lot of struggles in learning how to relate to one another, and they share what they have learned in this book. It is well worth reading because of her insights into biblical passages that deal with marriage, as well as their honesty about their struggles and the wisdom they have gleaned from working out their differences in community with others.

3. Mind Your Own Mortgage by Robert Bernabe. Reviewed earlier here.

4. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I’d been hearing good things about this novel for a long time, and I finally picked it up for $1 at a library book sale this spring. I usually don’t read many recently published novels, but the buzz about this one was so consistent that I decided to give it a read.

I was not disappointed. It is told from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy who lives in rural Minnesota with his father, an older brother and a younger sister. The father is a devout Christian man who works miracles at times, the older brother (Davy) is a 16-year-old who is strikingly independent and behaves like an adult, the narrator struggles with asthma, and the younger sister is a poet with an active imagination and an obsession with the Old West. The story is set in the early ’60s.

It is a literary novel, with rich (but not too florid) prose – and a plot(!) which mainly involves revenge (on the part of Davy) and love and forgiveness (exhibited by the father, and learned throughout the book by the narrator). Because of the miraculous elements, some might be tempted to label this a magic realist novel. However, in Christianity (and in the book), miracles are not magical, nor can they be manipulated. They are sheer gift, and part of the narrator’s journey is learning how to notice and accept them.