2008 Englewood Book of the Year
Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and A Writer’s Life.
Hardcover: Riverhead, September 2008.
Kathleen Norris’s newest book Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life is our 2008 book of the year. It is an eloquent witness of how the practices of a radically committed church community (in this case, monastic) can offer hope to those suffering certain woes of the larger culture. By raising questions about the escalating incidence of restlessness, depression and depression-like symptoms, Norris offers a pointed social critique, and yet unlike so many social critics who are content to launch their critiques and duck for cover, Norris points us in a direction that promises to take us out of this mess. She convincingly argues that the traditional monastic practice of community, stability and prayer were the means by which monastics traditionally have resisted the temptation of acedia (lethargy/complacency) and thus these practices might likewise offer us hope in the face of the deluge of such temptations in our own age. All these wonderful themes are woven together in the deeply personal narrative style that we have come to expect from Norris. “Acedia and Me is essential reading for the Church as we seek to understand the nature of Christian obedience in the present age, but it is especially important for those with a calling to (or at least a fascination with) new or traditional monasticism, in that it describes in depth one of the fundamental temptations that would shatter community and render as impotent our witness to the transforming Gospel of Christ” (from our review).
Englewood Honor Books
The Best Books of 2008
For the Life of the Church
| Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life.
Matthew Bonzo / Michael Stevens (Brazos)
Englewood – and many other churches involved in the Ekklesia Project – have found in Wendell Berry’s work a vision for what churches could become as deeply-rooted local cultures. And now in this excellent volume, we are offered the best work to date on Wendell Berry’s relevance for churches.
[ Review Forthcoming Next Week ]
| Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.
William Cavanaugh (Eerdmans)
When Being Consumed was released in early 2008, no one would guess how relevant it would become as the economy of the U.S. and the world headed into a tailspin. Drawing deeply here from the history of the Church, Cavanaugh provides a critique of capitalism and – among other things – calls our churches and our homes to resist consumerism by becoming centers of production.
[ Read our Review from Issue #45 ]
| Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.
Andy Crouch (IVP Books)
Culture Making by Andy Crouch was the only one of our honor books that we did not actually review ourselves. We didn’t need to do a review after our friend David Fitch had posted his fine review. Crouch offers here an excellent critique of the ways that the Church has engaged culture in the past, and calls us to be makers of culture. I do think it would be valuable at some point for David (or someone else) to explore his suggestion that Crouch’s thesis be painted from the vantage point of a stronger post-Christendom ecclesiology/ epistemology.
[ Read David Fitch’s Review ]
| Living Gently in a Violent World.
S. Hauerwas / J. Vanier (IVP Books)
We took notice of this book long before it was published, with the promise of pairing Hauerwas’s mind with Vanier’s passion and commitment to living the Gospel among those that the world calls disabled. And it did not disappoint. Living Gently is right up there with Marva Dawn’s Powers,Weakness… in making a case that weakness should lie at the heart of the church’s life together.
[ Read our Review from Vol. 2, #1 ]
| The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How you Read the Scripture.
Scot McKnight (Zondervan)
The Blue Parakeet is the best book of 2008 on the role of scripture in the church. Indeed, it might be the best and most accessible book to date on this topic. McKnight emphasizes that scripture is primarily for the Church and that we are called to discern the shape of our life together in conversation with the scriptures.
[ Read our Review from Issue #42 ]
| In Defense of Food.
Michael Pollan (Penguin)
Michael Pollan offers ways to simplify, and take responsibility for our eating practices for, as Wendell Berry reminds us, “eating is an agricultural act.” Pollan describes the confusion around “nutritionism,” the ill results of our Western diet, and then possibilities to break this system, emphasizing the mantra, “Eat food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”
[ Read our Review from Issue #21 ]
| The Craftsman.
Richard Sennett (Yale UP)
Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman was one of the few of our honored books for 2008 that came out of nowhere – that is to say, we were not familiar beforehand with its author or his work. Sennett here critiques technologies that rely on abstractions and thus isolate us from the materials that we work with and the spaces in which we work. He argues persuasively that in losing the skills of working with our hands, we are similarly losing our ability to relate peaceably with others.
[ Read our Review from Issue #31 ]
| God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art.
Daniel Siedell (Baker)
Daniel Siedell’s vision for art and for life is that it strives for an “embodied transcendence,” seeing the materiality of the world as possibility for communion with God. His encouragement for contemporary art practices and the church to engage in dialogue that would enrich both is one to be considered, as it is not a conversation that many have had on either side of the debate.
[ Read our Review from Issue #44 ]
| Beyond Home- lessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Dis- placement. Steve Bouma-Prediger/ Brian Walsh (Eerdmans)
Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in an Age of Displacement is a delightful book that offers a rich theological plea for the church to be rooted in an age of increasing transience. It clearly embodies the prayer that its authors offer at the close of the preface: “That this book might make a contribution to the redemption of place, the restoration of home in a culture of displacement” (xv).
[ Read our Review from Issue #32 ]
| Free to Be Bound.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (NavPress)
With the publication of three excellent books this year, we were tempted to give Jonathan an award for the most prolific author of the year. The author of NEW MONASTICISM (our review) and BECOMING THE ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS (w/ Shane Claiborne, review forthcoming), Wilson-Hartgrove here tells the story of maturing in his understanding of race in the Church. God’s people would be much further down the road of race relations if more white people followed Jonathan’s example and missionally immersed themselves in local black churches.
[ Read our Review from Issue #20 ]
Most Significant Theological Work of 2008
Race: A Theological Account.
J. Kameron Carter.
Hardcover: Oxford UP, October 2008.
In a loose sense, all the books that we review are “theological” books, but this award pertains to the academic discourse of theology. Kameron Carter’s Race was undoubtedly the meatiest book that I reviewed this year, but I suspect – and I hope – that time will show that this will be a work that shaped the direction of Christian theology in the 21st century. “Carter concludes his work by offering us [an] invitation to follow in the theological footsteps of those marginalized by modern culture … And it is here that we need to heed Carter’s call. If we are to remain faithful to the way of Christ – and as such, become traitors to white, Western modernity – we cannot do otherwise.” (from our review).
Best Novel of 2008
Hardcover: FSG, June 2008.
As I have been assembling the year-in-review, one thing has become particularly clear to me, we do not read and review enough fiction. We are working on correcting that for 2009, but for now, of the few novels that we did read in 2008, Ron Hansen’s Exiles was the best. The story of Gerard Manley Hopkins and his wrestling with vocation – a poignant historical drama – is captured vividly by Hansen, and intertwined with the stories of the nuns who lost their lives in the “Wreck of the Deutschland,” an event that compelled Hopkins to pick up his pen again, and thus to break the fast that he had been taking from writing. ( Chris Smith )
Best Political Book of 2008.
Electing Not to Vote.
Ted Lewis, Ed.
Paperback: Cascadia, June 2008.
2008 was an election year and bookstores were over-run with books related to politics (of one stripe or another), but in what will probably be our most controversial award, we are nominating Electing Not To Vote as a the political book of the year. Although Electing was highly praised by Will Willimon, it was briskly dismissed by Lauren Winner (thus stirring up a fury of online discussion). Along with Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s JESUS FOR PRESIDENT (our review), it was one of the few books in the election-year deluge that offered a distinctively Christian approach to politics. And while it was rooted in the same great political drama of history described in JESUS FOR PRESIDENT, Electing goes further and proposes and defends a clear course of political action. For the boldness of its proclamation and the clarity of its arguments, we award Electing with the honor of our political book of the year. ( Chris Smith )
Best Agrarian Book of 2008
Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn.
Paperback: Metropolis Books, February 2008.
I was first introduced to Fritz Haeg at an excellent lecture of his artwork early this year, and was impressed with the social engagement of his practice; people are primary to the art. The project Edible Estates, well-documented in this book, considers the simple act of ripping out front lawns, and planting a “highly productive edible landscape.” This project encourages the collaboration of homeowners across the US, and one in London. At this writing there are six estates, one “public demonstration garden, and a seventh in the works . The act of maintaining a garden, also in the context of an art practice, is a simple gesture in response to our complicated and often destructive global/industrial agriculture complex. Haeg’s project is one of my favorite artworks of the year, as well as a favorite agricultural model. (Brent Aldrich)
Most Significant Literary Renaissance of 2008
2008 was the sesquicentennial of the birth of Liberty Hyde Bailey, and this occasion spawned a flurry of re-publishing his works. There were at least four new editions released of individual works, as well as a new volume of “essential agrarian and environmental writings.” Bailey was a prophetic voice that spoke out clearly against many of the injustices that we are still facing today: war, non-local foods, etc. His calls for us to be at peace with nature around us and to be content with the God-ordained elements in which we exist (e.g., wind and weather), are essential to the recovery of a sustainable human culture. And to the extent that our churches are called to be local cultures in particular places – a claim which I think is scripturally and theologically justified – we need the deep agrarian vision of writers like Bailey and Wendell Berry. ( Chris Smith )
The Holy Earth.
Liberty Hyde Bailey.
Paperback: Doulos Christou Press, July 2008.
[ Read our review in Issue #29 ]
Wind and Weather: Poems.
Liberty Hyde Bailey.
Paperback: Doulos Christou Press, November 2008.
[ Read our review in Issue #43 ]
Liberty Hyde Bailey: Essential Agrarian and Environmental Writings.
Zachary Michael Jack, editor.
Hardcover: Cornell UP, October 2008.
[ Read our review in Issue #46 ]
Best Book that we Reviewed from a Past Year.
Devices of the Soul:
Battling for Ourselves in An Age of Machines.
Hardcover: O’Reilly Media, 2007.
Steve Talbott narrates this technological critique through the possibility of conversations, to preserve what is human as well as nature. Life, he insists, must be the measure for technology, and not the other way around. As the process of automation increases, abstractions, disconnections, and placelessness become normative; as our human relations look more like technological relations, we forget ourselves and our relations in our communities, and in our particular places in creation. Talbot encourages an intimate, qualitative, and distinctly human conversation in our technological society. Considering that distance and placelessness that are taken for granted in our common devices (read: the Internet, etc.), this book comes at an excellent time. (Brent Aldrich)