Ex Libris 02.2023
This Month's Book Roundup
Hello and welcome to ex libris (“from the library”), my monthly roundup of book discussion and recommendations. This work will be better with your contributions, so please feel free to chime in below if you’d like!
The Books That Made Me: An Occasional Series
I love memoirs, so that’s probably part of the reason why, amidst all the parenting books that were thrown at me during my younger parenting years, this one stuck: The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot.
This is not a how-to book; this is not a theology of parenting. It’s Elisabeth’s tribute to her parents, based on notes and stories from her mother. When her mother reached seventy years of age, Elisabeth asked her to begin writing things down. She says in the author’s introduction:
I offer this story of one man’s family. Some may want to take it as a prescription for theirs, but I do not offer it as such. It is meant primarily to be a description of how one Christian couple went about ordering their own home.
As she recounts the ways in which she was raised, Elisabeth recalls the family’s dedication to the Bible, their thriftiness, their orderliness, and their manner of speech toward one another. She tells the story of each parent separately, telling how each personality and role played a part in the upbringing of the children.
This book also has the most convicting bit I’ve ever read about the virtues of being on time, embodied by Elisabeth’s father. Here it is, in all its out-of-fashion-ness. Get ready (and know that I have spared you much of it):
While some may regard strict punctuality as an amusing peculiarity or an irritating compulsion, it was a matter of Christian conscience to my father and hence to us. Lateness is stealing, he said. You are robbing others of their most irreplaceable commodity, time….Every Christian worker can discipline himself to be habitually on time, by careful management and foresight. It relieves other people of much anxiety, helps them not to waste time, and thus makes life easier for them. It is a matter of common honesty and Chrisian courtesy, and is in line with the injunction to “let all things be done decently and in order” (I Corinthians 14:40).
Ouch. Let’s try to be on time, everybody.
I admit that there are parts of this book that will feel very much old-fashioned, as Elisabeth was raised nearly a century ago now. But that is part of its wisdom.
We must keep at the forefront of our minds that a good measure of the parenting wisdom that is in vogue right now is just that — a fashion, linked to its time and place. It is not methods that transcend time, but principles. In a hundred years, young parents will look back on this day’s parenting wisdom with increased perspective, but also with their own blind spots.
An old book (young by many standards!) like The Shaping of a Christian Family can let “the clean sea breeze” of older wisdom speak to our current ideas and fashions.
This month’s book stack:
The Weight of Glory — CS Lewis. A friend and I are doing a “Reading CS Lewis” month-by-month challenge this year, so you’ll see one of his on this list every month. I’ve read this one before; in fact, it is one of my favorite collections. Contained herein are “Learning in Wartime,” “The Inner Ring,” “Membership,” and of course the essay which lent its title to the book. If you’d like to start reading some of Lewis’ essays, this would be a good place to start.
Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives — Mary Laura Philpott. Another friend put this book in my hands last month and said, “I think this book would be good for you.” She was right. The author recounts the past few years of her middle age — preparing to let her son go to college; watching her parents struggle with health; wondering what is happening to her. “…I am obsessed with death because I am in love with life. I grieve in advance of loss — losses that will definitely happen, along with some that may not — because I recognize that what I have is so good.”
Belong — Barnabas Piper. “What I hope you see now is that God’s plan is not coldly strategic or mechanical. It is relational, loving, full of heart and life, and designed for closeness. Being part of a plan or mission with those we love is an entirely different story and a context of profound belonging.” This is Barnabas Piper’s contribution to The Good Book Company’s Acts 29 collaboration. It’s full of practical wisdom but it’s also warm and welcoming, the way a Gospel-centered church ought to be.
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life — George Saunders. This book is hard to describe. It is sort of a literature class in a book. The author, a lit professor at Syracuse University, reprints and then takes apart seven different short stories from Russian authors Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol. I really enjoyed this one. I suspect that word nerds would love it, and it would drive other people bananas.
A note on purchase links: I’m a happy supporter of independent bookshops, so the links I provide will almost always go to bookshop.org. For my local readers, I heartily recommend you buy them through our favorite, Goldberry Books, but you might have a shop closer to you. Of course, you can always find these selections on That Big Website That Ships Quickly, But Not As Quickly as It Used To, and Remember How They Sucked Us All In By Being a Bookstore to Begin With? I’m also a big fan of saving money and patronizing your local library. Happy reading!
Every time I am late (which is far too often than I care to admit), I am reminded of that quote. I need to print it out and hang it in multiple rooms of my home! Adding that memoir to my list.
I am so intrigued by the book by Barnabas Piper, as well as the one by Mary Laura Philpott. They both look enjoyable and thoughtful in their own regards.
This month, I am reading Hansen’s Timothy Keller (as I’m sure you are/will be soon), a fiction book called A Murder at Balmoral which I can’t decide if it’s clever or too cheesy, and Habits of the Household by Earley.
A Swim in the Pond in the Rain was one of my FAVORITE books of last year, squeezed in just at the end of December! I love nerdy literature-obsessed books! Another book that's similarly nerdy but so different is Alan Jacobs' Breaking Bread with the Dead. 😍