Monday, October 8, 2012

My Spring holiday Reading review

Well, my Spring holidays are finished. And so are several books. Which were good? Which were bad? Which were gold?

Here's a brief summary.

Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl. 
3.5 stars. 

Immensely enjoyed reading this to one of my sons at bedtime. We finished in the final week of school last term. The final chapter is simply called 'My father'. Without revealing the ending, that's a fair summary of what this book is about. I'd recommend it to dads to read to their sons at bedtime - great for cultivating the imagination of a 7 year old. And for building your relationship with your boy.

On a final note, it's interesting that such a book was written by Roald Dahl. A genius storyteller as a man who had a less than ideal boyhood. He lost his Dad when he was only 3. Just weeks after losing a sister. As my Uncle once said to me, "We live with our childhood every day."

Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry
by Peter Brain. 
4 stars. 

Also finished this in the last week of last term. Went through a few chapters each week with our trainees at church (and some other staff). Part of their training in 'Theological Reflection'.

You can check out my other posts on this book here. Going through it slowly over a whole term has been exceedingly beneficial. And discussing each chapter with friends. Lots of gold in here to be revisited frequently for those in full-time pastoral work.

The only two critical comments I could make are that some of the illustrations and applications are now dated (rendered obsolete by rapid technological change since it was first written) and that the author, quite understandably, is writing from an Anglican perspective. Some bridging in application is needed if you're a minister in a different Christian church (like my Presbyterian denomination).

The Hunger Games, books 1 and 2, by Suzanne Collins
3.5 stars. 

It's about time I finally got into these, since so many friends recommended them. So these holidays I sat around and read the first 2. WOAH! Fast and furious. Adventurous. Great fun. Dark. And Roman - so very Roman.

The world's made up of 12 provinces ('Districts') all under the heel of 'The Capitol'. 'Tributes' are sent from each district to this capital each year, which is a shining light in a barbaric world. The tributes enter in chariots, are placed in an 'arena' and must fight to the death. It's all very imperial, right down to the Roman names the author drops in ('Seneca' is the Head Gamemaker; 'Venia, Flavia and Octavia' are the heroine's attendants). Of course, the most barbaric place in this fictional world turns out to be at the very heart of the empire.

There're some nice dofts of the hat to Western culture - her great act of ultimate rebellion involves her taking fruit to eat (as well as giving some to her man...) - and there're some subtle critiques too: the shallow, materialistic privileged who live as economic parasites off the poorer peoples of the world; the obsession with spin; the idolatry of perception; the gluttony of the rich.

There's a very cutting line in book 2 about the so-called power of the empire... so 'powerful' just a few berries could bring it all undone. Ouch.

Looking forward to Sarah grabbing the third from the library.

Preaching without Notes, by Joseph M. Webb
4 stars. 

Enjoyed reflecting on preaching while being dislocated from work. A highly provocative book. The title's accurate. He gives 3 main reasons for preaching without notes (not to be confused with preaching without preparation!)

1) To maximise connectedness.
2) To maximise participation.
3) To reflect authentic witness.

It's essentially a 'how-to' book that first has a significant chunk devoted to an apology for his cause. I found his arguments compelling.

The central critique from the author is directed at the obsession we have as preachers to read manuscripts. He quotes:
As to delivery itself, reading is of necessity less effective, and in most cases immensely less effective, for all of the great purposes of oratory, than speaking. Greater coldness of manner is almost inevitable. If one attempts to be very animated or pathetic it will look unnatural. The tones of voice are monotonous, or have a forced variety. The gestures are almost always unnatural, because it is not natural to gesticulate much in reading and they scarcely ever raise us higher than to feel that really this man reads almost like speaking. (p. 20)


  1. I read DTCOTW earlier this year It's a ripper.

    I've been reading the BFG recently and it's not nearly as good. I think the consensus at bed time is that we won't bother finishing it.

    As for the last book you mention here - I assume that you have now been persuaded to preach without notes? Or had you decided to do that before you read this book and this guy's arguments confirm what you were thinking already?

    I think that in the quote you've included here the author is confusing "preaching with notes" and "reading." They are not necessarily the same thing.

    But, for the sake of argument I'll grant him his point. And I'll say that I'd be very surprised if your son complained that his enjoyment of Danny the Champion of the World was somehow compromised because you "read" it to him rather than simply told him the story without the use of written text.

    It's the words that carry the meaning. True, things such as eye contact and hand gestures etc are important.

    But you and I have both heard compelling/electric preaching from men who stand behind a pulpit and who preach from notes.

    But, I won't go so far as to say that his thesis is rubbish. Because I haven't read the book.

  2. Here Philip Jensen points out the pros and cons of preaching with notes. And preaching without.

    I think he does a great job.