Reread Project: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs: A very different model of what reading can be all about.

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

by Alan Jacobs

Hardcover, 150 pg.
Oxford University Press, 2011

Read: January 2-3, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Read would give you delight—at least most of the time—and do so without shame. And even if you are that rare sort of person who is delighted chiefly by what some people call Great Books, don’t make them your study intellectual diet, any more than eat at the most elegant of restaurants every day. It would be too much. Great books are great in part because of what they ask of their readers: they are not readily encountered, easily accessed. The poet W. H. Auden once wrote, “When one thinks of the attention that a great poem demands, there’s something frivolous about the notion of spending every day with one. Masterpieces should be kept for High Holidays of the Spirit”—for our own personal Christmases and Easters, not for any old Wednesday.

I picked this up as my first book of the year as a way to refresh the mind, come into the year with a reminder of what kind of reader I want to be. As I write this, I’m deliberately not looking at what I wrote last time I read this, but you may find it interesting. Maybe not. I don’t know if I’ll end up repeating myself.

I remember this book being as close to a mission statement for my approach to reading as you could hope for—particularly because I came to it late in life. It’s not like this is a book I read in college and it shaped me/my thinking, but it’s something that I came to a couple of years ago and it was as if a more erudite and thoughtful version of myself had written it.

The beginning of the book is the heart of it, he sets forth his central theses, core argument:

one dominant, overarching, nearly definitive principle for reading: Read at Whim.

Reading shouldn’t be about self-improvement (primarily), it isn’t the mental equivalent of eating Brussels Sprouts. It should be for pleasure. And to maximize that, Jacobs will argue—read at whim.

Following that, Jacobs talks about many aspects of reading for pleasure—note-taking, thinking about what we read, focus (and how to expand it), the role of ereaders (he’s surprisingly pro-ereader), fighting distractions, evaluating what we read and more.

I was particularly struck this time through by his section on re-reading. For growing in appreciation for, or understanding of a work. Or because you enjoy escaping into a well-known and beloved world for a period.

Jacobs frequently quotes Auden, at one point he cites Auden’s five ratings for a book—I think we should maybe replace the standard 5-Star system with this:

For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good, and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe with perseverance I should come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.

Most of all, this is a celebration of/appreciation of reading. Jacobs is a kindred spirit to us readers as well as a humanities professor. Reading is both a passion and a profession—and both (particularly the former) are clearly seen in these pages.

Our goal as adults is not to love all books alike, or as few as possible, but rather to love as widely and as well as our limited selves will allow.

Hear, hear. That’s a good reminder.

5 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer: A delightful guide to style, grammar, spelling and other things English Language-related that you didn’t realize you wanted to know.

Dreyer’s English

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

by Benjamin Dreyer

Hardcover, 269 pg.
Random House, 2019

Read: December 27-30, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

The English language…is not so easily ruled and regulated. It developed without codification, sucking up new constructions and vocabulary every time some foreigner set foot on the British Isles—to say nothing of the mischief we Americans have wreaked on it these last few centuries-and continues to evolve anarchically. It has, to my great dismay, no enforceable laws, much less someone to enforce the laws it doesn’t have.

Benjamin Dreyer isn’t the enforcer he wishes existed, but he’s close to one—especially for Random House. This book isn’t a book of those laws, rules or regulations—it’s about what one copy editor thinks that would-be editors, authors, and everyone else should know about grammar, sentence construction, punctuation, and. . . you know what? The official blurb does a more concise job of describing the book than I could. Let’s cheat a little and use it:

We all write, all the time: books, blogs, emails. Lots and lots of emails. And we all want to write better. Benjamin Dreyer is here to help.

As Random House’s copy chief, Dreyer has upheld the standards of the legendary publisher for more than two decades. He is beloved by authors and editors alike—not to mention his followers on social media—for deconstructing the English language with playful erudition. Now he distills everything he has learned from the myriad books he has copyedited and overseen into a useful guide not just for writers but for everyone who wants to put their best prose foot forward.

As authoritative as it is amusing, Dreyer’s English offers lessons on punctuation, from the underloved semicolon to the enigmatic en dash; the rules and nonrules of grammar, including why it’s OK to begin a sentence with “And” or “But” and to confidently split an infinitive; and why it’s best to avoid the doldrums of the Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers, including “very,” “rather,” “of course,” and the dreaded “actually.” Dreyer will let you know whether “alright” is all right (sometimes) and even help you brush up on your spelling—though, as he notes, “The problem with mnemonic devices is that I can never remember them.”

And yes: “Only godless savages eschew the series comma.”

Chockful of advice, insider wisdom, and fun facts, this book will prove to be invaluable to everyone who wants to shore up their writing skills, mandatory for people who spend their time editing and shaping other people’s prose, and—perhaps best of all—an utter treat for anyone who simply revels in language.

As one who enjoys a good language-revel, I fell in love with this book almost instantly. I had to force myself to stop jotting down notes because I’d be reading this thing until March if I wrote down everything I wanted to (I have a list of page numbers, though, to go back and glance at while I write this and/or want to do a quick revisit of the book). I’m glad that I’m bone tired and don’t have a lot of time here, because I could easily spend a few thousand words on this book if I let myself. But circumstance prevents me from that and protects you from enduring it (we’ll pretend you’d endure it to preserve my ego, you’d likely just decide it was too long and go to the next link on your list). I think this is coherent enough to post. I’ll let you decide.

Dreyer clearly had fun writing this—there’s a joie de mot/langue* that permeates this book and its infectious. Each page is filled with humor as well as semi-/quasi-/actually technical discussions about writing/reading, making this a book that will appeal to both your mind and funny bone.

* There’s a good chance that l’Académie française is going to hire someone to assassinate me for those neologisms. Whoops.

I’m not going to try to encapsulate the book (hence the use of the blurb), but I want to highlight a few things that stood out to me.

Over the last two years, I’d estimate I’ve read about 50 pages on the interrobang. That number didn’t increase at all with this book. In the chapter discussing punctuation he eventually gets to the interrobang and states, “Neither will we discuss the interrobang, because we’re all civilized adults here.” Reader, I laughed hard at that.

There’s so much of this book that authors need to read—were I richer, I’d require any author who asks me to read this book to evaluate it by these standards. For example, I can’t agree more with his oft-voiced complaint about italics that go on for more than a sentence (“For one thing, italics weary the eye; for another, multiple paragraphs of text set in italics suggest a dream sequence, and readers are always keen to skip dream sequences.” or “tend to convey Lengthy Interior Monologue or Something Else I Probably Don’t Want to Read.”). Do you know how many authors I want to send that to? (I’m including books I loved there, but most books I didn’t)

That reminds me, another thing I’d like to send to many, many authors I’ve read over the last five years:

…I swear to you, a well-constructed sentence sounds better. Literally sounds better. One of the best ways to determine whether your prose is well-constructed is to read it aloud. A sentence that can’t be readily voiced is a sentence that likely needs to be rewritten.

A good sentence, I find myself saying frequently, is one that the reader can follow from beginning to end, no matter how long it is, without having to double back in confusion because the writer misused or omitted a key piece of punctuation, chose a vague or misleading pronoun, or in some other way engaged in inadvertent misdirection. (If you want to puzzle your reader, that’s your own business.)

My life would be easier (and this blog much more chipper) if more authors were concerned about that.

A number of times, he’ll deliberately place an error in the text so he can call it out a paragraph or two (or pages) later to demonstrate how easy it is to make that faux pas and how hard it may be to catch. I loved every one of these and thought it was a brilliant idea.

He has lists of commonly misspelled words, notes on the way to get around Proper Nouns (or things that look like them, but aren’t), as well as bullet-point rants about pet peeves and actual problems that should prove to be an invaluable resource for students and writers of any level. I’m probably going to grab an e-copy of this so I can have it on my phone for easy reference.

The book is so fun, it’s spawned a game! How many books can say that?

While he is laughing at language, how it’s used/abused, and so on—Dreyer never discourages anyone from writing. He also mocks himself/his book a lot. It’s hard not to like a smart guy making wisecracks about himself.

With apologies to Dave Barry, Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson, this was probably the funniest thing I read in ’19 (and I cracked up a lot at those three). I laughed, I chuckled, I grinned, I think I might have even guffawed at this book (maybe even chortled). I can’t stop quoting it.

[People are] not, I’ve discovered, apt to be dissuaded from their prejudices by the evidence of centuries of literate literary usage or recitations from the bracingly peeve-dismantling Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. And they’re certainly not likely to be moved by the suggestion that English is in a constant state of evolution and that if our great-grandmothers ever caught us using the noun “store” when what we should have said was “shop” or using “host” as a verb, they’d wash our mouths out with soap. Well, I concede with a shrug, if the English language itself is notoriously irregular and irrational, why shouldn’t its practitioners be too?

As a practitioner, you might want to be less irregular and more rational. If so, Benjamin Dreyer has given you an excellent guide to find your way out of that. I loved it, if you’re even a little bit of a language geek, you will, too.

5 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

My Favorite 2019 Non-Fiction Reads

Like every single year, I didn’t read as much Non-Fiction as I meant to—but I did read a decent amount, more than I did in 2018 (by a whole percentage point, so…). These are the best of the bunch.

(alphabetical by author)

You Can Date Boys When You're FortyYou Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About

by Dave Barry

My original post
Barry at his near-best. This reminded me for the first time in a few years why I became a life-long devotee in high school. I could relate to a lot of it, and what I couldn’t was just funny. His reaction to Fifty Shades was a highlight—the chapter about his family’s trip to Israel was fantastic, funny and moving.

4 Stars

Have You Eaten Grandma?Have You Eaten Grandma?: Or, the Life-Saving Importance of Correct Punctuation, Grammar, and Good English

by Gyles Brandreth

My original post
I remembered rating this higher, but I’m not going to second-guess myself now. I’ll steal from my original conclusion for this: It’s the kind of thing that my college-bound daughter could use on her dorm bookshelf (and will probably find), and I know more than a few people who find themselves writing reports and the like for work who could use something like that. If you need help, might as well have a good time while you’re at it—and Have You Eaten Grandma is just the thing.

3.5 Stars

Dreyer’s EnglishDreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

by Benjamin Dreyer

I haven’t written a post about this yet, but it’s a great book. I can see why it was so popular this year—so much so that it got its own card game! The only more useful book I read in 2019 was the next one on the list. I’m not sure if I read something that made me laugh more. Fun, smart, incredibly quotable, and a resource you’ll return to time and time again.

5 Stars

How Not to DieHow Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

by Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, Gene Stone

My original post
One of the doctors that I’m seeing this year recommended this book to me, and it’s literally been a life-changer. This is an information-packed resource. But it’s not dry—Greger tells this with humanity, wit and concern. It’s a great combination of theory and practice.

4 Stars

The Art of WarThe Art of War: A New Translation

by Sun Tzu, James Trapp (Translator)

My original post
The classic text about military strategy—a great combination of psychology and management. It’s simple and profound, and approachable enough that there’s no excuse for not reading it.

5 Stars

What the Dog Knows Young Readers EditionWhat the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World

by Cat Warren, Patricia J. Wynne (Illustrator)

My original post
I loved the “adult” version of this a couple of years ago, and this is just as good—but edited so that middle-grade readers can tackle this exploration of the life of Working Dogs and their handlers.

4 Stars

Twenty-one Thoughts About Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks

Twenty-one Truths About Love

Twenty-one Truths About Love

by Matthew Dicks

Hardcover, 352pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2019

Read: December 5-9, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

8:10 AM

5 Problems with Lying
1. We lie most often to the people we love.
2. There is no greater shame than getting caught in a lie.
3. A lie often requires additional lies, making it impossible to ever come clean.
4. Liars are the worst human beings.
5. Lies always cover up the worst parts of you.

8:40 AM

How liars with the best intentions are like the owners of every iteration of Jurassic Park
They never set out to hurt anyone.
They operate with enormous hubris.
Denial both perpetuates and intensifies the problem.
The situation inevitably gets worse and worse as time goes by.
The end is never pretty.

1. Yes, that’s how this entire book is written.

2. No, it doesn’t get old or tiresome or start to feel overused. In fact, you’ll probably end up wishing you could read more books written like this.

3. But you’ll know if you did, they’d feel like cheap rip-offs of this great idea.

4. Some time back Daniel Mayrock’s therapist wanted him to keep a journal, making lists about his life/likes/thoughts was the compromise they reached. Now, this is how he processes things in his life, tracks ideas, and even occasionally plans things (including incredibly stupid things that even he realizes that he shouldn’t be planning).

5. A year ago, Daniel quit his job as a teacher to open a bookstore.

6. The bookstore is struggling, and he’s losing money

7. The lying that he’s focused on in that quotation above (and throughout the book) is primarily focused on that—Daniel’s lying to his wife to the extent she thinks they’re turning a profit

8. Other things that Daniel lies to Jill about include: his interest in/preparedness for having a baby (not just about the financial strain this would be, but that’s a big chunk of it); and the amount of jealousy he has toward his wife’s first husband, who died young.

9. The book contains the cutest authorial cameo this side of the stand-alone novels that Brad Parks has been putting out lately.

10. This guy is so addicted to Little Debbie Snack Cakes, I’m beginning to wonder if the frosting is laced with nicotine.

11. We don’t get to know Jill very well, because this book is about what’s going on in Daniel’s mind, with a focus on his issues, not the people around him. We know she has trouble with the principal at her school, that she really wants a baby, is still in love with her dead husband—and is apparently crazy about Daniel (not that he’s great at seeing it).

12. The other big thing we learn about her is that she is really bad at putting away clothing after it’s been laundered.

13. I mentioned earlier that Daniel plans something incredibly stupid, with the goal of helping finances. It is incredibly stupid, but along the way, he unintentionally makes a friend. My sole complaint with this book is that we don’t get to spend more time with this friend. Thankfully, we get enough to enjoy him.

14. I spent a lot of time thinking this plan was a fantasy/daydream kind of thing that he was indulging in—and liked it. When I realized (later than I should have) that Daniel was serious about it, I worried that this would ruin the book for me. It didn’t, so I’m glad I didn’t give up on it.

15. You’d think that given the unique way this book is written in that you’d speed through it in an afternoon.

16. You’d be wrong—it’ll take you about as long as any other 350-page book would take to read. You end up having to think a little bit more about the words than usual to piece together the story from the snippets given in the lists. (this is not a complaint, it’s an observation)

17. This is one of the funniest books I’ve read this year. But it’s not all about the laughs—there’s brutal honesty, there’s the inherent ugliness of jealousy, the despair of hopelessness, Daniel’s self-loathing at lying to his wife . . . Daniel’s a great, flawed, human character that you can’t help but root for (including rooting for him addressing some obvious character flaws).

18. I remember in a Creative Writing Class in College spending about 40 minutes going over the rules/strategies involved in using lists in fiction. I’m pretty sure that Dicks breaks half of them—and the book is better for it. I’d love to discuss this book with that instructor. (Unlike a lot of what I read, I can see her enjoying this book and appreciating the craft). The execution is perfect—and it’s easy to tell that, if it wasn’t this would’ve been a disaster of a novel.

19. No, I did not sit in my car weeping while reading the end of this book.

20. If the eponymous title was Thirty-Six Truths . . . I might have. I probably would have. (It might have only taken 25 truths)

21. I’ve been telling myself for years that I needed to pick up another Matthew Dicks novel, and I’m so glad that I did and that it was this one. It’s one of my favorite reads of 2019.

5 Stars2019 Library Love Challenge

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Reformed Dogmatics (5 vols.) by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin Jr.: A Twentieth-Century Classic for Heart and Mind Alike

This is going to be a record-setting header section here, get your scrolling finger ready..

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Theology Proper

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Theology Proper

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 256 pg.
Lexham Press, 2012
Read: January 6-February 17, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2: Anthropology

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2: Anthropology

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 176 pg.
Lexham Press, 2013
Read: February 24-March 31, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Christology

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Christology

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 288 pg.
Lexham Press, 2012
Read: April 7-June 23, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4: Soteriology

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4: Soteriology

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 272 pg.
Lexham Press, 2012
Read: June 30-August 25, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 5: Ecclesiology, the Means of Grace, Eschatology

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 5: Ecclesiology, the Means of Grace, Eschatology

by Geerhardus Vos, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Translator and Editor)
Hardcover, 352 pg.
Lexham Press, 2016
Read: September 1-November 24, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Why am I talking about this as a set instead of individual volumes? That’s a decent question, but I guessed when I finished Volume 1 that I’d end up saying the same things each time. And now looking back on the set, I think I agree. Sure, I could’ve talked some in some more detail about each one, but I’m not sure there’d have been a lot of profit in that for anyone reading this.

Honestly, what I should do here is just post a link to Lane Tipton’s review/article, Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics and be done with it. Lipton says in two paragraphs, what I would flail around for 10-12 paragraphs to say:

Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s editorial oversight of the translation of Geerhardus Vos’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek has brought to light yet another theological treasure from perhaps the finest Reformed theologian since Calvin. The sustained depth of penetration of the traditional loci of systematic theological discussion is coupled with the warmth of a theological reflection pursued in vital communion with the absolute, triune God through Spirit-gifted, faith-union with Christ. This renders it ideal for both seminary instruction and devotional reading.

On the one side, Vos’s work displays the proper, and it seems to me necessary, task of retrieving creedal doctrine in the preservation of Christian theology. On the other side, his work displays the proper, and it seems to me equally necessary, task of reforming that creedal doctrine in the formulation of a confessionally constructive, Reformed theology, tethered to its preceding creedal and confessional expressions, yet advancing organically beyond both, through biblical and systematic theological methods of interpreting the inerrant Scriptures. Vos not only expounds orthodox creedal theology in a faithful way, but, within the boundaries of confessionally Reformed theology, he advances that confessional theology with unparalleled insight. His work presents us with an orthodox, yet constructive, expression of the truth of the Scriptures that faithfully serves to instruct the church in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But just pointing to (and/or reposting) Tipton would be cheating, albeit efficient. So let’s see what I can say.

This was my big project read for the year and was so worth it. As Tipton said, it’s great devotional reading—and you even learn a little bit. Okay, that’s a gross understatement, you can learn a great deal from these (relatively) slim volumes.

Vos displays a fantastic economy of words here—especially if you contrast his Dogmatics with, say, Bavinck. He’s basically the Hemingway of Reformed Theology. There are no wasted words here, he says everything he needs to say and you rarely say to yourself, “I wished he’d covered something more thoroughly.” The segment on Individual Eschatology, however, works as an example of something he could’ve done more with—if you ignore his addressing the errors like purgatory, soul sleep, and annihilation, there’s practically nothing there.

The downside to his style and vocabulary is, like Hemingway, you can look at his writing and think “oh, this is simple and basic” and read too quickly and without reflection. This is a giant mistake. Vos is subtle. He’s profound. He’s also, thankfully, clear. You read this carefully and you’ll benefit greatly.

As the titles of the individual volumes suggest, he covers the major loci, and not much else. But he covers everything you’d need to cover in those, the topics covered are:

bullet The Knowability of God
bullet Names, Being, and Attributes of God
bullet The Trinity
bullet Of God’s Decrees in General
bullet The Doctrine of Predestination
bullet Creation
bullet Providence
bullet The Nature of Man
bullet Sin
bullet The Covenant of Grace
bullet Names of Christ
bullet Person and Natures of Christ
bullet Offices of Christ
bullet States of Christ
bullet The Ordo Salutis
bullet Regeneration and Calling
bullet Conversion
bullet Faith
bullet Justification
bullet Sanctification
bullet The Doctrine of the Church
bullet Essence of the Church
bullet Organization, Discipline, Offices of the Church
bullet The Means of Grace
bullet Word and Sacraments
bullet Baptism
bullet The Lord’s Supper
bullet Eschatology: The Doctrine of Last Things
bullet Individual Eschatology
bullet General Eschatology

Which looks like a lot for so few pages, but Vos somehow pulls it off.

I expected that I’d have a favorite volume or two out of the set, but I really didn’t. There were sections within each I found more interesting/useful to me, but I am willing to bet that your list would vary from mine. Except maybe the section on the covenants in Volume 2, I can’t imagine there’s anything else in that one nearly as interesting to anyone. Not that the rest of the volume is lacking or uninteresting, it’s just that it’s so good.

The book is clearly written for his Dutch-speaking students in Michigan, focusing on that Church Order and controversies in contemporary Holland. So there are bits and pieces of it that will seem awfully foreign to those of us not in those circles. But even those parts have something we can profit from if we don’t get too bogged down in trying to suss out names/positions/etc.

Gaffin does provide the occasional footnote to explain the text or translation choice, but he’s largely silent, letting Vos speak for himself. I wouldn’t have minded a little more commentary, but honestly, it wasn’t necessary (but maybe was helpful).

I’m glad I read this and will be returning to it in years to come, both for reference and re-reading. I’m also glad that I found an electronic copy on sale over a year ago, so I can keep it on my phone for easy reference. One side-benefit of his pithiness is that you can do a quick check on the high points while having a conversation (something you can’t do so easily with Hodge, Turretin or Bavinck). Scholarly, yet approachable, simple and profound—oh, and piously orthodox–I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

5 Stars

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase from one, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu, James Trapp (Translator): A Classic that Easily Demonstrates Its Classification As One

The Art of War

The Art of War: A New Translation

by Sun Tzu, James Trapp (Translator)

Chinese Bound, 95 pg.
Amber Books Ltd., 2011

Read: December 19, 2019
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Understanding the nature of war is of viral importance to the State. War is the place where life and death meet; it is the road to destruction or survival It demands study. War has five decisive factors, which you must take into account in your planning; you must fully understand their relevance. First is a Moral Compass; second is Heaven; third is Earth; fourth is the Commander; fifth is Regulation.

So…The Art of War, the classic about military strategy that’s been the inspiration for countless military leaders, business leaders, and all other sorts of people (leaders and would-be leaders alike). I tried a few times in middle/high school to read it, but never really got that far into it.

Having read it now, I wonder what my problem was back then. Also, that version I had was 2-3 times the length of this one. I can’t help but wonder what extra material was in that to get me so distracted.

The quotation above contains the purpose statement of the book as well as an outline—Sun Tzu briefly works through each topic in a simple, practical manner. Sun-Tzu demonstrates wisdom in both the large scope and human psychology.

This is the kind of book that people quote all the time, it’s like the movie The Godfather. You’ve heard/read so many lines from this book over the years, so much of it seemed almost cliché and/or obvious—but, like so many foundational texts, most of it is cliché because Sun Tzu said it first (although he did cite/draw upon sources himself, many of which we don’t have, so…let’s give him the credit).

Once you get past that, it’s easy to see why everyone reads this, why it’s still relevant, and even an idea or two about how you can apply it in your own life/job.

The footnotes are largely about translation choices and textual variants—there’s almost no commentary provided, which I appreciate.

I never do this (but I should), but I want to talk about the physical edition of this thing. I’d originally planned on reading this and then passing it on to my philosophy-reading son for his collection. But as soon as I opened the box, I knew he’d have to buy his own. It’s bound in a Traditional Chinese style (so the book says), abandoned in the early 1900s in favor of Western binding. In it, “single sheets of paper are printed on one side only, and each sheet is folded in half, with the printed pages on the outside. The book block is then sandwiched between two boards and sewn together through punched holes close to the cut ends of the folded sheets.” Also, on the left pages are the Chinese text, with the translation on the right. Which looks great—I have no idea what any of the Chinese texts says, but it’s fun to look at.

So anyway, great, historic text that lives up to its reputation. A translation that’s easy to read in an eye-catching package, and an enjoyable and insightful read. It feels silly to be rating Sun Tzu, of all people, but hey—that’s what’s supposed to come at the end of one of these posts, so:

5 Stars

✔ A book mentioned in another book: Mentioned (a lot) in Lingering by Melissa Simonson and alluded to in System Failure by Joe Zieja

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Grace Worth Fighting For by Daniel R. Hyde: An Accessible and Inspirational Look at a Vital Reformation Document

 Grace Worth Fighting For

Grace Worth Fighting For: Recapturing the Vision of God’s Grace in the Canons of Dort

by Daniel R. Hyde

Paperback, 378 pg.
The Davenant Press, 2019

Read: September 1-29, 2019

We need the canons in our fight to preserve and propagate a pristine doctrine of God’s grace in the salvation of sinners like you and me. Here we are plunged to the depths of depravity then raised to behold the eternal love of God. Here we are taken to the cross where we bow before the satisfaction made for us but then arise because it is so sufficient that we must promiscuously publish its news to all tribes, in every nation, on every continent. Here we experience the uncontrollable power of the Holy Spirit (John 3) efficaciously applying the infinite merit of the Son of God to the hearts of sinners like us. Here we feel the pain and struggle that comes with being Christian, loved by the Father but struggling to love, buried with Christ but constantly digging up our sins, filled with the Holy Spirit but being led astray by our own passions. Yet God the triune God is powerful to preserve us in his loving arms and to bring us to the Celestial City.

He goes on from this point for five more paragraphs but to have included it all would’ve been overkill (and possibly copyright infringement), but it’s hard to imagine a more inspiring rally-cry to a book about a 400-year-old document.

It’s always with the books that I take the most notes on that I have the hardest time writing about—I just have too much to sift through to come up with a post. That’s definitely the case here. It’s taken me about a month to come up with a post I can live with (although I’ll probably be mentally re-writing it until February).

In this 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort which produced the subject of this book, the Canons of Dort, I’ve read three books about the Canons. I apparently saved the best for last (although I started strong, too). This combines the best parts of the other two and builds on them. We get the depth and pastoral insight of Godfrey and the approach of deYoung.

After a great chapter giving the historical background and explaining why the Canons were needed—then and now (see above)—Hyde gives a commentary on each Head of Doctrine, both the positive position and the rejection of errors (the rejections are pretty short, Hyde focuses on what is affirmed).

I don’t have the time to write, and you likely don’t have time to read, a good overview of the book as a whole, so I’m going to use Chapter 7, which covers the Fifth Head of Doctrine “The Perseverance of the Saint.” Sixty-three pages on fifteen paragraphs might seem like overkill, but it almost feels like it’s not (I don’t mean to suggest that Hyde skimped on anything, but you can’t help but feel there’s more to say about all of this). The details will vary, but this’ll give you a taste.

He starts off explaining the Remonstrant position, aka the stuff the Canons are responding to, acknowledging that parts of their position are correct, before highlighting the major problems and then showing how large segments of contemporary Evangelicalism agree with the Remonstrants. Following this Hyde looks at the development of this doctrine throughout Church History, focusing on the contributions of Augustine and Aquinas. Then he summarized the Reformed position. With the context established, Hyde goes through—paragraph by paragraph—the text of the Canons, explaining Scriptural references, focusing on and teasing out particular phrases. He not only explains the position but shows how it’s relevant to the reader’s life and interacts with contemporary critics. A particular strength of this chapter was Hyde’s focus on the Trinitarian nature of God’s preserving His people and tying that to the assurance of faith.

This is an intimidating looking book—over 400 pages if you include the appendices and bibliography—and there’s something daunting about that cover. But no one should be intimidated by it. It’s not a breezy read by any means—but it’s warm, pastoral and approachable. Anyone over 13 should have no problem with it. Sure, some of the topics will leave some scratching their heads and pondering for a while, but that’s because these are weighty, thought-provoking topics, not because of Hyde’s text.

There’s so much more that I want to say, but I’m going to call it quits here. I may have read a better theological book this year, but I can’t think of it off the top of my head. This is simply excellent—rich theology, rich application, solid history, smartly writing, occasionally stirring. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

5 Stars