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2012 Year In Review: Non-Fiction

Top Ten

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1. THE WAGES OF SPIN by Dr. Carl Trueman
I predicted back in April that this book would probably be “the best piece of non-fiction I read in 2012.” Turns out I was right. This essay collection is short, sharp, challenging, and frequently hilarious: a prime example of why Trueman is one of my favorite writers. Full review
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2. TEN WAYS TO DESTROY THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR CHILD by Anthony Esolen
The title is potentially misleading: this is not a book exclusively for parents. Anybody can (and should) read this book, because anybody can (and will) benefit from it. It’s a witty, gritty, and delightfully subversive assault on the Bastions of Modern Educational Theory and Practice, and Esolen’s satiric flair is worthy of Uncle Screwtape himself. Full review
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3. WORDSMITHY by Douglas Wilson
My favorite writing book. Whether you want to write full time, or merely have a passing interest in it – this slim little volume should be on your shelf. It’s just that good. Full review
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4. BLACK HAWK DOWN by Mark Bowden
One of the ugliest, most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Ugly for its depiction of modern warfare; beautiful for its depiction of the men who endured it. A must-read if there ever was one. Full review
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5. JUST DO SOMETHING by Kevin DeYoung
Want to know what the subtitle is? How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Full review
Continue reading 2012 Year In Review: Non-Fiction

No Easily Palatable Explanations

“There can be no easily believable explanation for everything I’ve seen in this little ball-happy universe of ours. Occam’s well-worn razor will do us no good. There will be no ‘simplest’ explanation. A single world combining galaxies, black holes, Jerry Seinfeld, over 300,000 varieties of beetle, Shakespeare, adrenal glands, professional bowling, and the bizarre reproductive patterns of wasps (along with teams of BBC cameramen to document them), precludes easily palatable explanations.”

~ N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

I’m going to start my review with a simple injunction: read this book. Comprende? Good.  Let’s move on.

I first become aware of Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl a couple years ago, but I never gave it more than a passing glance. In hindsight, I must say that’s really too bad – this is a book I wish I had read much sooner than I did.

Wilson’s premise is that the world – this moist, round, inhabited, spinning ball, filled with flamingos (real and artificial), snowflakes, and human beings – is a work of art crafted by the ultimate Artist. He’s the Someone behind it all, for “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. Through Him all things were made…”

Welcome to His poem. His play. His novel. Skip the bowls of fruit and statues. Let the pages flick your thumbs. This is His spoken world. (p. 8)

Wilson explores this idea with wide-eyed, slack-jawed wonder: unapologetic and as contagious as the measles (only a whole lot better for you). He has Chesterton’s knack for showing us how extraordinary the ordinary really is. Look at the world around you. Be amazed. Be thankful you’re a part of it. Be oh so thankful…

But lest you think this is some sort of fuzzy-brained sentimentalist cakewalk, rest assured  – it’s nothing of the sort. Childlike? Yes. Childish? Not on your life. Wilson may write with the whimsy of A.A. Milne, but he has the sharp-edged theological insight of a surgeon’s scalpel. He’ll nick you; more likely than not, he’ll slice you right open. But like every good surgeon, he won’t leave you that way; and when all is said and done, you’ll be glad you went under his knife.

The quality of writing throughout is top-notch. Actually, it’s several notches above top-notch. High praise, I know, but well deserved. It’s engaging, poignant, funny, and profound. You’ll laugh, you’ll pump your fist, and you’ll probably tear up (I did). You’ll find wordcraft in this book as enjoyable as anything found in a novel.

You’ll also find a veritable treasure trove of imaginative metaphors. As Tony Reinke observed, “Readers who seek a literary buzz of metaphorical intoxication will find it hard to put this book down, and once they do, may find it impossible to touch their nose with their fingertips.”

Be warned: Notes is also highly quotable. You’ll have to pick and choose, though, because you can’t bloody well highlight the whole book. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows. (p. 157)

If, by some chance, you are still unconvinced that this is a must-read, then I fear there is little hope for you.

I was asked to give this book a star rating. Five stars is generally the highest, but I’m going to break the rules and give this one six. Anything less just wouldn’t do it justice.

Finally, be sure to enter Josh’s giveaway if you’re interested in winning a copy of Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl for your own bookshelf!

Even Racists Taste Good in Casserole

“Of course, the nonexistence of God is nothing more than a nonsense option. The categories of good and evil themselves require some sort of transcendent standard. What makes things good? What makes things evil? Atheists have, by and large, given up on the idea of an absolute standard of morality. After all, spiritual emptiness and the non-existence of anything outside of the simple material universe is no way to come up with an ethical system. Morality is a cultural preference (which cannot be said to be right or wrong) and fundamentally relative. It takes on (to be generous) the same authority as Wisconsin speed limits on a Nevada highway at night.

People are raped in this world, and rape is evil. Because evil exists, there must be no God. Because there is no God – no authoritative standard over creation – the badness of rape downgrades to a mere matter of societal taste. Ethnic cuisine, ethnic ethics. In God’s absence rape is no longer fundamentally evil. In our country, you’ll get confined to a cell (if caught and convicted). But that just means we enforce our taste, not that our taste has any real authority over anyone else. In other societies, girls have been passed around and traded like baseball cards. Is that right? Is that wrong? Neither. You like exploitation; I like apple pie. The two discussions exist on the same plane. There’s no such thing as moral or immoral. In our country, we eat gyros. In this one, we eat pizza. And we’ll give you a ticket for jaywalking.

Stunning. Such wisdom is like a kiss on the lips.

To quote one contemporary prophet: ‘You and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do like they do on the Discovery Channel.’

I’ve watched the Discovery Channel. I’ve enjoyed the Discovery Channel. But in that world, if I want to reproduce with you (or tear you limb from limb), I just need to be bigger and stronger than you are. You look pretty small and a little sickly. Shall I feed you to my young? Why not? Cannibalism might not be condoned in your culture, but it has been a long and storied tradition in mine. Are you saying your culture is superior, that it is somehow right while mine is wrong? You’re being a racist, but luckily you’re still small, and even racists taste good in casserole.”

~ N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl (pp. 72-73)