The End of Many Books

A Failure of Nerve

by Edwin Friedman

February 2022. I do sometimes wish I could explain this book better. I almost always wish I could embody the nerve Friedman describes better.

As you can see below, I’ve read this a bunch of times. This go-round is in discussion with the men who help to shepherd our church’s small-groups. Even though I last finished it in 2019, I had intended to start it again when fearfulness ramped up during the lockdowns of 2020. Since then the world has set up its tent in CHAZ Anxietyville.

While leaders today may not have it more difficult than those in the past, they are probably more scrutinized and the criticisms more amplified. So much is broken, and the hour needs more men who aren’t panicked or pressured into over-reactivity, who can keep their heart and their direction for the good of the people they’re connected to.

You don’t have to read this book; read 1 Timothy 4:15-16 instead. And it’s true that Friedman really should be ignored in some parts. But I keep giving this thing 5 of 5 stars, so what are you waiting for?

May 2019 – 5/5 stars. With all the qualifications from my previous reviews in mind, this book is just a great challenge.

“To be a leader, one must both have and embody a vision of where one wants to go. It is not a matter of knowing or believing one is right; it is a matter of taking the first step.”

December 2013: Read again and discussed with the TEC elders through 2013. Fantastic material for a leadership team, as long as that team already has a strong theological basis.

September 2012 – 5/5 stars: One of the most compelling and clarifying books I’ve read in a long time. Though I wouldn’t use the Friedman’s vocabulary, agree with his evolutionary presumptions, or have anywhere near his positivity apart from the gospel, I’d still say the Rabbi asks great questions that every leader (husband, father, pastor, boss, president, etc.) should consider.

The End of Many Books

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

by Rosaria Butterfield

I read her previous book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, and was very edified by her testimony of conversion. This book is about hospitality, which is a mix of testimony of her family’s practice/experience and rebuke to the readers/Christians/the church.

She seems to conflate hospitality as obedience for every believer, and hospitality as a spiritual gift for some (not all) believers. She also walks close to the border of “this is how we do it and SO this is the right way for everyone to do it.” While writing as if to get everyone to be hospitable, which again, is required in at least some sense, she doesn’t quite seem self-aware enough to see that if everyone actually was doing it like her, then she’d have to look for something else to do.

Little comments, like making sure we know she’s cooking organic chicken in her crock pot, and how spiral notebooks on the kitchen table can solve a number of problems, give her preferences the feel of principles, which distract from the larger point.

Of even greater concern is repeated use of the word “violence” to describe what could be sins of omission. For example:

Our lack of genuine hospitality to our neighbors—all of them, including neighbors in the LGBTQ community—explains why counterfeit hospitality seems attractive. Our lack of Christian hospitality is a violent form of neglect for their souls. (Loc. 1037)

It is an act of violence and cruelty to people in your church who routinely have no place to belong, no place to need and be needed, after worship. (Loc. 1678)

And yet I’m glad I read it, especially since the ladies at our church read and talked about it together. But it’s not what I’d recommend for sake of learning hospitality. (Maybe something such as The Art of Neighboring would be a better start.)

2 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

The Deep Places

by Ross Douthat

In the movie Shadowlands, C. S. Lewis has a student whose father used to tell him, “We read to know we’re not alone.” The line comes up a couple times in the movie, and even if the actual history is apocryphal (it seems that the quote should be attributed to William Nicholson who wrote the movie), the truth of it is applicable.

Chronic pain/illness is no joke. It’s not just what it messes up (your plans, your budget, etc.), but what it messes with (your perspective, your sense of being). Any pain is a problem, but pain that can be quickly named, pain that is more acute, often presents as more manageable, even understandable. Ongoing pain, and pain that is obtuse, as in resistant to more tidy categories and treatments, can make it seem like at least a neighborhood of hell broke loose in your little part of the world. Add to that the tiresome report to the recurrent question of how you’re feeling: “still not good.”

Douthat includes this quote from Alphonse Daudet:

“Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him.”

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Douthat’s columns at the NYT. He is regularly interesting whatever his subject, and in The Deep Places he tells his story of Lyme disease in a (too) relatable way. He doesn’t label the stages, but he describes the frustrations, the exasperations, the questions, the doubts, the anger, the rises and falls of hopes, the hours of research and appointments, and frenzied trials and dispiriting errors.

I wasn’t as benefited by his comments on COVID connections near the end of the book, but the pandemic was part of the “pile” of providences that added onto his physical problems, so not irrelevant. Watch out for some vulgar language, but you can appreciate the tormenting pains and get a sense of what it’s like to carry them. Or, if you’re someone who has similar problems, you can read and appreciate that you’re not alone.

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

The ONE Thing

by Garry Keller with Jay Papasan

A friend recommended this to me and, even though I’ve probably read too many books about productivity and time management and such, it still had some good reminders.

Good reminders included: Don’t play the part of victim, take responsibility and make your own choices. Pay attention to physical energy as a resource, and employ it at the right time. Schedule appointments to do the important work; block time on the calendar for the priority. Consider leverage, how smaller dominos/decisions can knock down larger ones if in the right sequence and gaining speed.

I would not recommend this book for a young person who probably can’t, maybe even shouldn’t, know what they are good for yet. “Sunk cost” bias is real, and wrong. A lot can be learned from trying different things, even failing at things, if the goal is maturity rather than speed.

Related, mastery and deliberate practice, which Keller promotes, do not relate equally in every area. This is an important distinction made in Range that really should be considered. Speaking of Range, it would be a much better book for young people, and the old(er) people who feel like they’re too late (for whatever).

All that said, the work of evaluating the ONE question is better than just drifting into regret. “What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

3 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

Life after Google

by George Gilder

George Gilder is a character. He is much more curious and smart than me, and this is a benefit to me in reading him. I’ve already benefited from a book of his about economics and one about marriage.

This book is about technology, especially related to data and the internet, and the trajectory against centralized servers, as modeled mainly by Google.

I’m glad I read this, but even now I’m still not sure if Gilder has canceled his Google account and has gone all in on the blockchain, let alone if he’s transferred his funds to bitcoin (or another of the cryptocurrencies). Though there may be other books (and videos) that explain the math that (supposedly) protects the chain, Gilder explains some of the philosophy and value created by it.

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

Watership Down

by Richard Adams

I read this final “curse” from this post a few months ago:

“May all of your rabbits die, and may you be unable to sell the hutch.”

I thought that sounded good, but I had no idea what the hutch part was all about. Ha!

My wife told me it was a reference to Watership Down, a novel about…rabbits. I was intrigued, plus I had been looking for my next fiction book to plod through.

I really enjoyed it, and recommend it, even if you don’t immediately push it to the top of your queue. It’s a good story with an unexpected leader, a strong sacrificer, a troubled oracle, and a ruthless (and virtually unbeatable) tyrant.

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

The Care of Souls

I am glad I read this. I did also get tired of reading it numerous times. Some of the fatigue was due to repetition, some of it was all the Lutherany lingo. The author is Lutheran, so, it wasn’t unexpected, and there are ways in which hearing from different than usual perspective can be beneficial, sure. I appreciated the habitus emphasis, certainly over more technique and tips. I appreciated the concept of “baptismal therapy,” as in, a way of referring to our identity in Christ as crucial for our sanctification and consciences and comfort. And yet, I probably wouldn’t include this high on a list for new or old pastors to read. I’m thankful for it, and thankful I’m done.

3 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

Trust Me, I’m Lying

by Ryan Holiday

This book is full of bad news, and I mean that in a couple ways. So much news is no good, as in fake, and I certainly have even less trust in the headlines than ever. Holiday also offers little more than heightened awareness of digital conmen and their schemes, he doesn’t really provide an antidote.

It gave me more reason to appreciate Dorothy Sayers’ question from 1947:

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?

The Lost Tools of Learning

Holiday points out that we are a culture of fools, fooling others and being fooled by them.

3 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

Last Stands

I heard about this book on the Canon Calls podcast. Through these pages I learned a lot of history, I learned some military strategy, and I was reminded of some fundamentals of manhood in a fallen world.

The primary lessons are not new. Some battles cannot be avoided, and attempts to avoid fighting end in greater loss, not peace. Once the fighting has started, the cost has already been decided: whatever it takes; winners must be willing to endure not only unpleasantries but danger and privation. Today’s crushing loss at least be an effective inspiration for future fighters. There are worse things than death.

As the author said about the Spartans at Thermopylae: “With the outcome decided, all that was left was the glory.”

The only reason I’m not giving it 5 of 5 stars is because I don’t want to immediately start rereading it. But there is no good reason for you not to read it.

4 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

Four Thousand Weeks

We will not live forever in the flesh. We cannot do all the things, visit all the places, love all the people, fix all the crises. There are limits. We can either accept the limits and give thanks for them and work within them as we’re able, or we can attempt to ignore them or deny them or distract ourselves from the painful/humbling parts of the limits.

This book was a good read, even though I do not share some underlying worldview with the author. He uses more Zen and Hindu and humanist resources, though Ecclesiastes did get one shout out. He argues that his version of “and then you die” allows for true freedom. But his version has nothing and no one after the final breath. If you take that all the way down, there is not a consistent reason to work, and certainly no reason for joyful toil. But if, as Christians can, we take our limited time all the way up to God and His purposes, we shouldn’t bury our talents no matter how long it is until the Master returns. We will give an account to Him, and we will be resurrected to live with Him forever.

But amidst this book’s shilling for climate change and criticisms of capitalism, he really does let us out into the field to chew the cud on the fact that we can’t do it all, and a wise person stops trying. He urges a better perspective over better life-hacks.

I’m aware of no other time management technique that’s half as effective as just facing the way things truly are. (Loc. 369)

He also has some helpful (if inconsistent with his own worldview) observations on how so much productivity advice is about setting up “bulwarks against the risk that other people might exert too much influence over how your time gets used” (Loc. 2339). When, turns out, sharing time with other people is exactly what makes our time meaningful. The book doesn’t quote Solomon on this, but wisdom avoids isolation:

Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business. (Ecclesiastes 4:7–8)

4 of 5 stars

(See this previous post as well.)