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What I Read in July, 2015

So, July was hot. And the reading was better than June, certainly. In July, I read:

A few notes:

First, Don Quixote is a classic and deservedly so. Before dipping in, I had heard many authors and teachers refer to Cervantes’ masterwork as the first modern novel, and I think I am beginning to understand what they mean. Within just the first part, we have a variety of storytelling devices and characters that would easily drop into any novel today. The author plays with time and structure, with narrative reliability and voice, with dialogue and plot in a way that echoes in later works (I’m thinking of Conrad, Barth, Heller, etc).

I don’t know that I would be enjoying it nearly as much without living in Spain for a bit before reading it. That’s not a criticism of the book–many have held it up as one of the greatest works of Western literature, and not all of them have lived in Spain. Rather, I mean it as a complement to Cervantes. He manages to capture the mannerisms, behavior, and idiosyncrasies of Spaniards with grace and charity. Passages that would have struck me as mildly amusing left me laughing out loud, and those winding, recursive, indirect monologues that would normally have lost my attention both amused and gave genuine pleasure. I know and love Spaniards that talk and behave like the Spaniards in Don Quixote. It is a testament to his genius that he so effectively captured the cultural quirks that transcend the erosion of time and globalization.

The second part was published as a separate book 10 years after the first, and I will be starting it in August. As a side note, I recommend Edith Grossman’s translation (linked above). It’s easy to read, and the footnotes are usually useful.

Dust was the third book in a trilogy that I started back in January. As I said then, the whole trilogy has been an entertaining read. I delayed finishing it because Amazon temporarily removed the books from its free Prime Lending Library. I was glad to finish the third, and doubly-glad that Howey managed to wrap up the story well. It’s impressive to see what an author can do without a publishing house, and I think that many are going to be tempted by his success to similarly jump into self-publishing. In some cases, that’s great. In others, it’s cowardice. Cal Newport has a great article on the value of traditional, competitive measures here.

The Painted Word is a short little book on art (specifically post-modern art and what followed) by the always impressive Tom Wolfe. I had no clue what to make of artists like Pollock and Warhol prior to reading this. My inclination was to dismiss them as a joke. Wolfe did a great job of explaining the philosophy (however vacuous) underlying their work, the effect of art critics on the development of 20th century painting, and the wider popular perception of the art in its time (outside of “Cultureburg”). He’s a little hard on Picasso, but I have a soft spot for Picasso. In the end, Pollock and Warhol are still a joke, I think, but at least they had a reason for being such. For examples of what was considered ground-breaking, critically important art in that time, see here and here. Don’t be surprised if they look like something you might find on Pinterest or in the paint aisle at your local Lowes.

Finally, What’s Best Next. If you can, you should read this book.

I will not say everything here, because I intend to do a few longer blog posts on this book. I’ve been reading Matt Perman’s blog for a while–one of the professors at Phoenix Seminary recommended a few of his posts–and I’ve always found his posts to be helpful, encouraging, and edifying. The book was no less so.

“Productivity,” for Perman, “is not first about getting more things done faster. It’s about getting the right things done.” (p. 43) With that statement up front, he then goes on to make the case from Scripture for productivity, for working hard, for planning carefully, and for using all of our work for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.

Working as a missionary, I was particularly fond of his final chapter, “The Greatest Cause in the World.” This chapter left me much more thankful for the hard work of all of our various ministry partners, who not only take the gospel into their workplaces, but also commit their prayers and resources to send us out with the gospel.

I have been reading this book for a year, and I have been intentionally taking my time with it. I spent several weeks on the chapters that deal with developing a biblical vision, identifying a personal mission, clarifying my God-given roles and establishing some long-term goals. As I blog more about this book, I intend to go into more detail on these various categories. With the great privilege of working in Spain on behalf of the church, it feels appropriate to devote careful attention to working well as well as working hard. I expect our ministry here will enjoy much additional fruit as a consequence of reading through and applying Perman’s book.

Have a great month,
Dan J.

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