What's Tony Thinking

Three Great Books


Let me put a spotlight on three books I’ve recently read or am reading, all of which I recommend without reservation.

The Gap In Time by Jeanette Winterson is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. Great writers, like Winterson, Margaret Atwood, Alice Tyler, and more, here do “cover” versions of Shakespeare plays.

The Gap in Time is Winterson’s cover of The Winter’s Tale,  a wonderful story of failure and forgiveness. Winterson is an astonishing writer. The first thing I read of her’s was her memoir, Why Would You Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? Read that title over again and you’re half way there.

The Hogarth Shakespeare series is terrific. The first I read was Margaret Atwood’s re-telling of The Tempest, titled Hagseed. I am now looking forward to Vinegar Girl which is Alice Tyler’s version of The Taming of the Shrew. 

It does occur to me that our own times, with Trump et. al. are seeming quite Shakespearean. That is, riddled with envy, deceit, colossal ego, vice ascendent, virtue on the run though not lost.

On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis is the current reading of my book group. It is the fruit of Gaddis’s 20 years of teaching, with colleagues, Yale’s “Grand Strategy” seminar.

Gaddis takes as his starting point the famous line from Isaiah Berlin, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Successful strategic thinking and leadership combine the fox and hedgehog proclivities. Quite translatable to the church and other leadership settings.

Gaddis is an elegant and wonderfully clear writer and thinker. He too, like the Hogarth series, revisits classics though different ones. In his case Thucydides, Herodotus, Machiavelli, Tolstoy, Clausewitz, Lincoln among others.

It occurred to me to wonder if Obama might well qualify as a fox who attended to complexity, while Trump is a hedgehog trading in simplicity and simplification. Gaddis doesn’t go there, stopping short of the present day, ending with the post-WW II period.

The third book about which I am currently enthusiastic is one I mentioned in my recent post on swearing, Francis Spufford’s UnApologetic, Why Despite Everything Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. 

Like Winterson, Spufford is English. And like her, he is wonderful writer. The thing he is up to in this book is different. That is, he approaches Christian faith not from the usual standpoint of beliefs or propositional truth, but emotions and emotional truths.

As such, it is a very refreshing change from those many books that try to explain what Christians believe and why. He simply comes at it from a quite different direction, lived and emotional experience. Jonathan Edwards, arguably America’s greatest theologian, maintained that religion was a matter of the affections, which bears a significant resemblance to Spufford’s emphasis on the emotions.

While on books, let me mention the publication of my friend Brad Bagshaw’s terrific novel Georges Bank. Congratulations Brad. Georges Bank is a wonderful yarn of the sea, set in Brad’s native Gloucester, Massachusetts. A great summer read, that I expect to see as a movie one of these days.

I am at work on another book myself. Laura and her colleague at Plymouth Church in Des Moines, Brittany Hanlin, suggested I write a book of letters to young ministers. They provided a list of topics. I’m having fun with it. We will see if, down the road, it finds a publisher.

For me writing has always been a magical art and reading a saving delight.

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