Saturday, March 31, 2012

Three Books for Thee

I sometimes feel like a dunce when I am asked to list my favorite foods, shops, authors, or in this case, books. My brain stutters and I have a tough time answering. I think it is because I don’t want to be held to any proclamation--my favorite dinner today could be my least favorite next week. And having a favorite implies that you are categorizing all the others as “second-best” (like when one of your children insists you have a favorite child and wants you to name him or her out loud).

I will put aside this neurosis for today and name my current choices for books that have informed, challenged and inspired me.

Hands down, Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is one of the best books I have read. Don’t be put off by its length--it will hold you in its grip until you finish. When I began the book, I knew only a little about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a bit of his writing, some misinformation from other theologians, and from a great 2000 film, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace). Too often we can easily dismiss people because they do something we see as wrong, or hypocritical, or even stupid, instead of looking at the whole picture of that person’s life (I once heard someone say that the sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin was a “jerk”).

Bonhoeffer was a complex human being who loved God fully, openly, and sacrificially. He became a pastor and theologian against his family’s wishes. He is described as lovable and difficult. As a 37 year-old, he falls in love with a 17 year-old. He and his family knew the dangers of Hitler long before the rest of world and he tried tirelessly to inform the outside world. He believed that a true Christian must love God and seek justice, and was horrified by German churches’ passivity regarding Nazism. Bonhoeffer, after living in safety in London for two years, returned to Germany to conduct a seminary in secret, and was constantly harassed by the Nazis. Through his well-placed family, he became a spy within Abwehr, a German intelligence agency that was actually the center of the resistance) and was later executed by the Nazis in 1945.

Metaxas does a masterful job of handling a very complex, compelling story, managing to weave Bonhoeffer’s developing theology, deep love for God, and his own humanity throughout a text that informs about Hitler’s rise. This book convicted and challenged me about my own faith and the need for ever-growing obedience to our call as Christians, which must include compassion, mercy and sacrifice for others.

Two other books that are well worth the read are Lauren Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, which will enlarge the reader’s understanding of the other war in WW II, the war in the Pacific, as the author unfolds the true story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini (another complex individual with amazing resilience--and whose later life is just as difficult and then transformed!); and, because I love art and story, David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, my favorite book (and a gift from my sister Ann for my birthday last June!) of 2011.

This is a fabulous, excellent, get-the-artsy-juices-flowing book: you will learn more about French history in the 1800's, side by side with American history, (rather than how we learned in school--in isolation from other countries); you will want to run, not walk, to every piece of art and sculpture you have seen by Sargent, Cassatt, Healy, Catlin, Saint-Gaudens, because you have learned the back-story of many creations; and you will wish you were at the Exposition in Paris in 1889 when Thomas Edison was the rage, the Eiffel Tower was new, and 6,000 pieces of art were on display, and something new called a toy car by Peugeot was displayed.


Linda Maynard said...

Kerry...I looked forward to your recommendations, at the same time wondering how you were going to whittle it down to three.
Your comments about the length of Bonhoeffer were exactly why I shied away from it. I'll take the plunge now. It has been recommended by many of my friends, as well.
Unbroken is another book on my "to read" list. It is available in our Library, which is a plus.
What I was thinking of as well is, that when I might recommend a restaurant or anything else...people might try it and they are going to hate it.
That shouldn't hold any of us back though, should it?
Thanks again for your insight.
Linda Maynard

Andrea York said...

I've checked out Bonhoeffer from the library before but I didn't have the time to devote as I knew it would require. I look forward to reading it sooner, rather than later.

Juliette said...

I LOVED the Bonhoeffer book and it's made it onto my 'Top 10 Favorite Books' list. As we now live in Germany, it also proved to be a really insightful look into German Christianity in Bonhoeffer's time. 'Modern' German church history is something that still eludes me to a degree, but Metaxas did a good job of fleshing things out in a very read-able way. This is undoubtedly one of the best biographies I have ever read.

I actually gave 'Unbroken' to my brother for Christmas and have heard nothing but good. I'm hoping to borrow it from him when we visit this summer! =D

Btw- 'Americans in Paris' has been making the rave-review rounds among expats in Europe. It's also on my to-read list, so thanks for the reminder!