Bill's January 2019 Picks

Three Inch Reviews

One of the tasks that I enjoy is ordering new titles for the store. In a year I pour through hundreds of publisher catalogues as well as reading thousands of reviews published in New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Christianity Today, New York Times Book Review, First Things, Englewood Review of Books, plus the endless book mentions on blogs, in op-ed columns, word-of-mouth, and it goes on. The end result is that here at Regent Bookstore it is Christmas every day and regular shipments of books arrive! All this reading tends to give a bookstore buyer knowledge that is a mile-wide and hopefully a little more than an inch deep. In thinking on this I have decided to start sharing short reviews under the heading of Three Inch Reviews. I have spent years in close proximity to so many titles that I have not actually read even if having an acquaintance with many of them, and even readily recommending them. In this last part of my bookselling career I am thinking it would be good to share some of this knowledge with brief summaries. Here is the second installment.

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For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey of Faith and Survival
For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey of Faith and Survival
Duncan Hamilton
Random House
2016
Top of my list is a gripping biography of Eric Liddell. If you weren’t of the generation that saw the film “Chariots of Fire”, find it and be inspired. Then read this book. (Usually I would say the reverse.) The author does not seem to write from a Christian perspective, which serves to give a fresh angle of vision on Liddell. Hamilton is an award winning sports-writer who writes in a style comparable to The Boys in the Boat and Unbroken, even if not equaling these books in sales. One reviewer says that Hamilton “seems shocked at the sheer goodness of his subject.” Most of the book is set in China where Liddell was born, served as a missionary, and had a brief marriage and with it the joys of children, before being cut off from his family by the outbreak of World War II. Tragically he died of a brain tumour in a Japanese internment camp in his beloved China. His last words, written on his deathbed to his wife and family were, “All is Well.” Liddell’s family settled in Toronto and today his three daughters live not far apart along the stops of the Go Train line.  What sticks with this reader is Liddell’s reading scripture for an hour each morning by the light of an oil lamp; his determination to show “the value of life and the idea of service”; that there are “no foreign lands” and that the Chinese are “my people”; and that a close friend thought Liddell’s “progress in China comparable to the Olympics.” Liddell was a saint who deserves a monument in Westminster Chapel but instead has one, quite rightly, in Weifang, China where he continues to be revered.
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The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
P.D. James
Knopf Canada
2016
The Christian thinker, Ralph C. Wood has described the fiction of P.D. James (1920-2014) as “imbued with deep Christian convictions.” Rowan Williams has noted that James is “our most Augustinian writer.” For those of us who thought that Inspector Adam Dalgliesh had died with James, he reappears in two of the four short stories that are gathered in this slim volume. As always, Lady James has the ability to take her reader down into the depths of human depravity, especially in the story that is a sort of reversal of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” Fortunately, the book does not end on this note, but rather concludes with a young Sgt. Dalgliesh solving an Agatha Christie type-murder with a Poirot flair. While perhaps not top-of-the-shelf James, this volume will make a fine gift for any fan of her writing. If one has not previously read James, try her full-length novels beginning with, in this order, Death in Holy Orders, The Murder Room, and The Lighthouse.
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Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World
Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World
Larry W. Hurtado
Baylor University Press
2016

Hurtado, a naturalized Canadian who taught first at Regent College and then for many years at University of Manitoba before finishing his teaching career at the University of Edinburgh, makes the point, using a case study of early Christianity, that some religions can vary considerably from other surrounding religious movements. Christianity in the first century was a “broadside rejection” of the gods of the Roman world and was viewed as “bizarre” and even “dangerous” despite numbering perhaps only 7-10,000 followers by 100 AD. Tensions increased as the movement grew exponentially. A broadly “catholic” Christianity developed, and along with Judaism, were the only religious expressions to survive this period. In the four chapters that follow, Hurtado demonstrates the distinctive belief of the biblical faith in but one God and the unique place given Jesus by his early followers; the exclusive religious identity taken on; the early Christian movement as distinctive in its “bookishness”; and finally the distinctiveness of its behavioral practices that included a refusal to “expose” children, a rejection of spectacles such as gladiator contests, and the taking on of sexual moral codes that confined sex to marriage. Destroyer of the Gods is a very important study with much to think on for our cultural moment.     

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Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation
Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation
Peter Marshall
Yale University Press
2017

Peter Marshall's Heretics and Believers is a vivid account of the English Reformation by one of the most able historians writing on this subject today.  His book integrates and responds to the latest scholarship, but does not get mired in these debates.  Instead, it furnishes a readable and beautiful narrative that will both inform and delight.  Moreover, as a practicing Catholic, Marshall writes with an insider's knowledge and sympathy about the reform and rupture of the Christian faith during this transformative period. The accent is placed on the importance of religious belief for all parties rather than simply viewing reform for the guise of the machinations of the state. The Reformation “was a flowering of late medieval developments, seeded and germinated in the political, cultural and religious soil of the decades around 1500.” There is a warm Christian faith on evidence throughout the book and especially in the postscript. Mark Noll has labelled the book “a treasure”. Marshall has also this year published 1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation. For those who want a briefer treatment of the subject, one can consult Marshall’s The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction

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