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Books on My Bedside Table


For this late-summer issue of Perspectives, editor Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell asked a number ofPerspectives readers and contributors to share with us the books, blogs, and other reading resources that have been feeding their imaginations and stimulating their thinking of late. We now pass these titles and resources along to you in the hope that your mind and heart might also be enriched and quickened by tapping into this good reading material.


Trygve Johnson, dean of the chapel at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. This book, clocking in at 776 pages, is Taylor’s ground-clearing diagnosis of our cultural moment, and how we got here.

The Whispering Season by Ivan Doig. Doig, one of the premier writers of the West, offers his latest novel about a boy growing up in a small town in Montana. Doig is brilliant with metaphor and is a master of prose.

Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide by Henry Jenkins. Jenkins, an MIT professor, offers a celebration and a fresh look at the history and dominance of out emerging media culture of convergence that, he suggests, is not only changing the way we do business, politics, and education but is literally changing the way our minds think.

Christian Preaching: A Trinitarian Theology of Proclamation by Michael Pasquarello III. Pasquarello offers a must read for all preachers, as he roots the context of preaching theologically in the life of the Trinity, and not merely the consumeristic culture geared towards the effort to exercise the reflex of the self.

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fisher. I am trying to learn how to play better chess so I can beat my father-in-law in our rival game over the holidays!


Mary Kansfield, an independent scholar and a member of the Reformed Church of America’s Commission on History.

The Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. My historical research of one RCA family moved me to investigate the nature of manic-depressive illness and what was known, and when, about this illness. No other book has so clearly and passionately conveyed these insights.

Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculée Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin. This book was sent to me as a gift by a college friend. The book shares the harrowing story of one woman’s profound faith in God and her incredible determination to survive the unspeakable horrors of genocide. Her story offers the gift of hope for all who live in darkness.
The Institute for Welcoming Resources is the umbrella structure for ten organizations seeking the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons within their denominations. This website provides easy access to the websites of these organizations and shows how each organization is seeking to advocate on behalf of these children of God, their families and friends.
For Christian feminists, visiting the website of the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus offers access to its quarterly journal, Christian Feminism Today, as well as a web feature called “Web Explorations” that offers links to related resources identified by scholar Letha Dawson Scanzoni, and notices of conferences and gatherings of Christian feminists.
This inclusion may seem a little self-serving, but reading the blog of our daughter Ann Kansfield affords Mom and others small and meaningful glimpses into the thoughts and reflections, the joys and the frustrations, experienced by Ann and Jen in Brooklyn, as they seek to pastor a small, vibrant RCA congregation. Links on the blogsite allow access to the experiences of Ann and Jen’s friends who are also in ministry.


Jerry Sittser, professor of theology at Whitworth University and author most recently of Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Pioneer Missionaries.

The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. A lesser known novel from the great American writer, most famous for O Pioneers and My Antonia.

The Philokalia, Vol. I. The first of five volumes of the ancient spiritual writing of the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

Christianity and American Democracy by High Heclo. Still another analysis of the role of Christianity in American society; it borrows extensively from the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville.

Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity by Larry Hurtado. A massive tome addressing how early Christians began to proclaim Jesus as Lord. His conclusion: there was an “explosion” of “Jesus devotion” in the very earliest period.

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed. An attempt to enable readers to learn to exegete the culture as well as the Bible; it has case studies to apply the theory.


Martin Tel, Seabrook Director of Music at Princeton Theological Seminary.

One of this past year’s most pleasant literary surprises was our family’s reading of Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. I should not have waited thirty years to reread this children’s classic. If it has been more than a decade since your last read of this book, you’re probably ripe for another go at it.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This volume provides a winsome account of Lincoln’s rise to the presidency as seen through the lenses of his political rivals turned allies. I can only hope that the next president has read and learned a thing or two from this book.

On a recent business trip I was given the book My God and I: A Spiritual Memoir by Lewis Smedes, published posthumously in 2003. I picked it up and didn’t put it down until I was finished. This is a refreshingly honest testimony of a beloved theologian, churchman, and human being.

I am currently working my way through Moby Dick by Herman Melville. If nothing else, this nighttime reading frees me from the anxieties of terra firma and puts my mind to sea–a great place to be at the end of the day.


Sara Sybesma Tolsma, professor of biology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. This is a spell-binding account of the economic, political and climactic “perfect storm” that resulted in the worst environmental disaster in our country’s history: The Dust Bowl. The book can’t help but remind us of what can happen if we fail to pay attention and care for the world around us.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. This book is changing the way I eat, shop, and feed my family! I will never look at food the same way again and I cannot wait to plant my garden!

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. This is a very accessible book for anyone interested in exploring science and faith. Both the science and the theology/philosophy are presented for the average reader in a non-threatening way.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. This was a recommendation from my husband who found himself both laughing out loud and weeping as he was flying for business–I will avoid reading this one on an airplane. He says it is a fictional story from the perspective of the 9-year-old son of one of September 11th’s victims who is trying to make sense of the world after that tragedy.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Here is my guilty pleasure. I’m not letting myself start this until I know I have time to finish it in subsequent few days. Little will be accomplished at work or home once I start! (No, I don’t know what happens. We were out of the country when this book was released and I’ve managed to avoid all hints–don’t tell me!)


James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell. Orwell’s meticulous account of the realities of working class life in northern England, particularly in the coal towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire, takes a fascinating turn in the second half when he turns on the Left intellectuals who sent him there.

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. Wolfe has always been a sort of anthropologist of contemporary American culture. Here he takes on the athletic, frat house underbelly of elite American universities.

Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle. A recent trip to the Smoky Mountains National Park introduced me (a Canadian) to a part of American history that was unfamiliar to me: the tragic trail of tears. Ehle’s book is a compelling account.

A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. Every once in a while one gets to witness a publishing event: I think Taylor’s book is on that scale. A fascinating reconnoitering of the secularization thesis.

You Must Remember This and High Lonesome: Stories 1966-2006by Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve been going through a bit of a JCO phase of late, though can’t say exactly why. She’s a compelling story-teller, but I’m not quite sure that she has something she wants to say (though perhaps it’s unfair to read her alongside Graham Greene).


Clifford B. Anderson, Curator of Special Collections at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Tintin and the Secret of Literature by Tom McCarthy. Who could resist reading this literary analysis of the cartoon world of Tintin? This is one of the first “serious” English-language studies of Tintin. (There are several in French.)

The Sixties Unplugged: A Kaleidoscopic History of a Disorderly Decade by Gerard J. DeGroot. DeGroot’s bracing history of the Sixties deflates many cherished mythologies about its defining events.

Die Ringe des Saturn. Eine englische Wallfahrt by Winfried Georg Sebald. English translation: The Rings of Saturn, tr. Michael Hulse. Sebald presents an idiosyncratic combination of travelogue and historical narrative, with excurses on topics ranging from Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson” to the phosphorescence of dead herring.

Carl Schmitt and the Jews: The “Jewish Question,” the Holocaust, and German Legal Theory by Raphael Gross. How and to what degree did German anti-Semitism shape Carl Schmitt’s (increasingly discussed) political philosophy?

Een hoeksteen in het verzuild bestel: de Vrije Universiteit 1880-2005 by Arie Theodorus van Deursen. English translation: The Distinctive Character of the Free University in Amsterdam, 1880-2005: A Commemorative History, tr. Herbert Donald Morton. Deursen’s history of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, commissioned for its 125th anniversary, takes up a distinctively Kuyperian perspective toward its institutional development.


Jon Witt, professor of sociology at Central College in Pella, Iowa, and author of The Big Picture: A Sociology Primer.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. I picked this up because people say it’s one of the greatest American novels. I tried it and failed twice, but the third time was a charm. Here’s my summary: They wander around aimlessly; they kill people needlessly; and it all amounts to naught.

The Joy of Being Wrong by James Alison. I continue to find Alison’s insights about Jesus and the human condition a revelation.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. One of the greatest graphic novels of all time about life in late-modern society.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. A search for hope and meaning in the shadow of the holocaust. They didn’t have young adult fiction like this back in the day.

The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim. There’s so much I don’t know that I thought this might help.

Hope in Time of Abandonment by Jacques Ellul. With a title like that, at times like these, how could I resist?

The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers. A little more hope.


Kate Kooyman works in the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Here Kate shares some of her favorite blogs.
This southern California techie (and friend of a friend!) got overwhelmed with “stuff” and took on the “100 Thing Challenge,” striving to rid himself of as many possessions as he could live without, until he was down to 100 things. He was then featured inTime–and I’m wondering if he’ll only keep an electronic copy of his big media debut or if he’ll have to pare down his collection even further to accommodate the glossy real thing. It’s a great read for those who need a boost in the direction of radical simplicity.
This guy is hard-core, there’s no doubt about it. The subtitle of his blog is this: “A Guilty Liberal Finally Snaps, Swears Off Plastic, Goes Organic, Becomes a Bicycle Nut, Turns Off His Power, Composts His Poop and, While Living in New York City, Generally Turns Into a Tree-Hugging Lunatic Who Tries to Save the Polar Bears and the Rest of the Planet From Environmental Catastrophe While Dragging His Baby Daughter and Prada-Wearing, Four Seasons-Loving Wife Along for the Ride.” I think that about sums it up: he’s witty and political and alternatively offends some and inspires others. After reading his posts, I always look at the state of the environment and want to do something…while he seems to be doing everything.
I moved into an urban home five years ago, and whoever lived there before me loved to garden. I, on the other hand, would rather poke my own eyeball than spend time with weeds. You Grow Girl, a blog-turned-online-community, changed my mind about that. It makes gardening seem enlightened–hip, even. Next year, I think I’m going to dig up my overgrown irises to make room for some veggies, just to attempt to be something like this green-thumbed Canadian. Full of inspiration and information.
I used to be one of those “youths” who was addicted to Facebook. I talked my friends into joining, and then a few weeks later stopped checking my account. I just wasn’t into it anymore. But I’ve replaced that social networking site with this one. Justice Seekers is an online community created by the folks in the Office of Social Justice at the Christian Reformed Church where I work. It’s a place to gather and discuss, to share ideas and to disagree occasionally. I’ve learned a lot about how much is really going on in the lives of parishioners in the CRC who are seeking to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.” Anyone can join this burgeoning community. Be sure to “friend” me when you do.
I followed this woman’s personal blog (I was one of those “lurkers” who never posted a comment but occasionally used her recipes and decorating tips in my own house) before she shed her belongings and moved her husband and a toddler into a veggie oil-powered RV. Now they’re touring the country, “spreading the love” of renewable energy. And she can even make an RV look cute. I relate to her idealism and her values, I wish I embraced her hobbies (photography, vegan cooking), so she feels like a friend in some ways. Though don’t look for dread locks on me anytime soon.


Alvin Plantiga, John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

The Bible, naturally enough.

Mother Teresa by Brian Kolodiejchuk.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (I am reading this one long after everyone else).

I also occasionally dip into a real all time favorite, Jonathan Edwards,The Religious Affections.

I read a number of magazines, including Books and Culture, First Things, the New Yorker, Scientific American, The New York Review of Books and a couple of others.

I also watch too much television, especially sports and reruns ofGunsmoke.