Because of our vacation at the end of July (spanning into August), I don't expect to be in a position to complete this list in a way that would include the books I finish while on vacation! Coupled with the fact that I've missed a month or so, and the date range here is an odd one. Nevertheless…
(I've already included my survey of resources on 1 Peter, which I guess technically counts in this category.)
All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir by Brennan Manning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really liked Manning’s memoir, and found it to be a great encouragement to me, both as a writer and as a minister.
When I was in college, Manning’s books (especially Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging) were in vogue with my fellow Young Life leaders, but I never quite got around to reading as much of him as my peers. Still, I was deeply aware of the sense of personal brokenness and need that was present in this man’s rich writings, and I valued that extremely.
I can’t fully agree with some of the other readers/raters who want to give Manning lower ratings because he has continued to struggle with his sinful patterns (including divorce and alcoholism) throughout his life. Let’s face it: all of us struggle with sin all of our lives! If we expect authors, teachers, and pastors to be above such struggles, we will always be disappointed. I find Manning’s frank dealing with his own sin (in this memoir and in other books) to be refreshing in that way.
The Virtue of Dialogue: Conversation as a Hopeful Practice of Church Communities by C. Christopher Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I liked the topic and appreciated the simple, narrative description of what the author’s congregation had done, why they had done it, and how they believe it has been profitable to them. The book wasn’t preachy or prescriptive in any way, but the author sought to encourage other congregations to follow suit for the sake of the benefits that seem inherent to the approaches to community life they have embraced.
The book was written clearly and in a manner that was quite readable; I didn’t want for a better editor (or an editor at all!) as I do often in such “practical theology” books.
While I liked the book and found it readable, for whatever reason it didn’t stand out to me as a “must-read” for me or for my leaders. I certainly don’t recommend against it(!), but neither do I feel like this must take priority over the many other books that I wish to put before my congregation’s leadership.
Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I liked Wilson’s book very much. It's well-written, which you would hope and expect, both because of the topic and the author; it’s also well-structured and quite economical in terms of “price-earnings ratio” if you will. This was a quick read, but not without great value and encouragement.
Operation Family Secrets: How a Mobster's Son and the FBI Brought Down Chicago's Murderous Crime Family by Frank Calabrese Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Like many other readers, I heard an NPR interview with the author, Frank Calabrese Jr., in which he discussed the events he describes in detail in the book. Here’s a man who turned against his “made-man” mobster father and helped the FBI, then elected NOT to enter witness protection after. I was struck by one particular moment in the interview when questioned how he feels about the fact that, if his father should ever get out of prison, his father may come looking for him? His response was simply that, if his father finds him and kills him, that’s his father’s choice; meanwhile, HIS conscience is clear.
The book does a good job of elaborating on this interesting story, while also keeping the pace moving at a good clip. At times there may be more detail about gangster activity than some may prefer (though not me, as I’ve always had an inexplicable pet interest in organized crime). The language is a bit coarse at times, too — though one may think, what should I expect from Chicago mobsters?
In all, the book is a believable, yet remarkable, account of how one man stood against his family in a way that mattered. There’s nothing about the story that leads me to believe that the author did what he did out of motivation for some level of ethics, religious experience, or anything other than simply that he recognized that this was a life he could no longer lead— and he loved his father enough to see that the life would kill him, too, if he were ever to get out of jail. Basically, he loved himself and his father too much to allow either to continue in what he had come to know as a lifestyle incompatible with living.
If you like mob stories, you’d probably like this book.
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