The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals- Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan writes a comprehensive account of 4 modes of eating. It is written smartly (sometimes snarkily so) and the quest-journalism side of me loves the humor and experiential vulnerability displayed. The 4 modes covered are: big box/industrial fast food, industrial organic, local, & hunter-gatherer. Highlights include his interview with Northern VA's Polyface celebrity Joel Salatin and his hunting/shrooming escapades in Northern California. It is interesting some of the conclusions reached here. There is not a free pass afforded to the Whole Foods lifestyle, nor is he regretfully idealistic about hunting wild boar and collecting sea salt and scallops in the Pacific. This book is a solid read, allowing you a philosophical, practical, economic, political, and culinary look at just what is going into your body and what it takes to get it there.
Same Kid of Different As Me- Ron Hall & Denver Moore
These two amateur authors combine for a decently constructed autobiographical narrative about reconciliation, God's providence amid both grinding poverty and rampant selfishness, and the ability of the Holy Spirit to form bonds and relationships that wouldn't be possibly through any other means. Ron is an international art dealer, rolling in cash, subjecting his marriage to the damage of infidelity and the hollowness of materialism. Denver is a former share-cropper (read: modern day slave) turned violent and psychotic homeless man. The two lives emerge through a long forming relationship at a shelter and like any good missions project, the "missionary" emerges changed and taught more than the "mission to be accomplished". If you can wade through some clumsy and often cheesy storytelling, this book is a helpful, touching, and at times heartbreaking tale.
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am A...Christian- Brian McLaren
This one was one of those nagging reads that you feel you need to take a peak at, glean some really positive things, be displeased with some others, but generally come out the better for having powered through. I'll be honest, my first skepticism came from the repeated assurance that the Emergent Church (dunno if caps are needed) need not rely on personalities while McLaren's neutral post-modern mug peers at you from the cover. Then I remember not to judge a book by its cover but rather by its overly long and pretentious subtitle (that's fair don't you think?). There were several parts (in fact most of the book) that I really enjoyed, lined up well with, and feel confident in though. Brian's emphasis on balance, a health patristic appreciation and ecclesial unity and generosity rang loud and clear. I'll continue to keep an eye on McLaren, he seems to be on to something and deserves the hermeneutical generosity he demands.
Durham Tales: The Morris Street Maple, the Plastic Cow, the Durham Day That Was & More- Jim Wise
Only a town as self-conscious, wacky, and unique as Durham could have a history of such equal qualities. Wise attempts a folky and at times humorous incomplete history of our beloved stepchild of a city. By choosing diverse, minor, and utterly absurd episodes, he, like any good historian, demonstrates exactly why things are the way the are. Bright spots include the geographic beacon of the Morris St maple, the trainspotting recurring throughout the pages, minor characters ranging from the neighborhood mom to the sportsmanship-touting coach, and of course all of the standard players (Dukes, Watts, etc.) that clue us in what has made and continues to make the Bull City tick. If you don't live in or around Durham, do some work and find somehting like this for your town, it will further embed you in it and certainly increase your appreciation and/or sympathy for your surroundings.
The Memory of Old Jack- Wendell Berry
I would recommend one of Berry's Port William Township novels to anyone looking for beautiful prose describing menial happenings. By menial I mean there are no dramatic twists and turns, the characters are common folk in a small town, the novels are not sequels because there's not a plot to advance. Instead these memoirs (of the town more than the actual characters) display tragically, vividly, and carefully the depth of the membership. The Memory of Old Jack narrates the senile patriarch's past and present in heart-breaking terms detailing his doomed marriage, the devastation of a still born child, the awkward relations in a tenant labor system, and everything else that comes with growing old. Like his brilliant essays, Berry displays his passion and penchant for teaching and transmitting difficult topics and subjects in homey, endearing, and provocative terms. This particular book proved valuable to me in my start of field ed, while it describes rural KY, the dynamics parallel Roxboro, NC closely, and the care and respect given to the characters fosters likewise respect for the hardworking simple folk I encounter daily.
Becoming The Answer To Our Prayers- Shane Claiborne & Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Shane & Jonathan have a precious gift for presenting practical teaching in a candid, comical, and subversive tone. Like their previous works/appearences, they use plenteous personal experiences and interactions to share the counterintuitive good news of Christ and the discipleship required of his followers. Having been over to Rutba and hearing both of these gentleman, you immediately understand a depth in their testamony beyond their words. Their words are secondary to their daily authenticity. If you have a chance, meet them. They are humble, funny and hospitable: as advertized. In this short volume, they tackle prayer: the Lord's Prayer & Jesus' Prayer for unity (Jn 17). Not unlike the exhortation in Jame's Epistle, they teach a seemless and inextricable bond between our prayers and the action resulting from our prayers (think less 'self-fulfilling prophesy' and more of an intergrated 'active spirituality'). The goal then is not to pray our way out of this world, but rather praying to become (and then actually becoming) a part of God's work for the redemption of the world. These prayers are subversive and dangerous prayers, but neccessary and powerful.