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Start Here: A Beginners Reading List
Last week we began a series on the Klaas Schilder Reader, recently published by Lexham Press, and the more I read the more I’m convinced that this would be an excellent choice for anyone looking to expand their library or even purchase their first volume of deeper theological work. Look out on Wednesday for the next instalment of that series.
When it comes to starting to read altogether though, I thought it would be good to produce a list I can point people to when I’m asked, “I don’t read much, but I want to, where do I begin?” A question I hear a lot. To that end, if you’re looking for a book to read, having not done so in a long while—or ever—this is where I would begin. Some of these I have reviewed before, some I haven’t, and in all cases but one I’ve also included honourable mentions just in case you’ve already read them, or you fancy something else.
Before I jump in though, I’d love to know what you’re reading, or what books you would recommend to a beginner.
Rembrandt is in the Wind—a book about Art History and what it has to do with the Christian life—might seem like an odd option for my first choice here, but since reading, and re-reading, this book this year I’ve recommended it to almost everyone.
In my review of this book I concluded by saying:
“I’ve been writing long enough now to know that everything I write is intended to worship God, but that I’m going to do that imperfectly until the day I die. Hearing the stories of these artists helped me to wrestle with that.
I’m thankful for this book. I’m thankful for Russ Ramsey.”
This book uses the vehicle of art to transport us through the Christian life, to show us the heights and the depths, and to help us realise our own place as worshippers, giving our imperfect praise up to the Lord each day. It places the artist, or the Christian, in his rightful place at the foot of the cross and the throne and if you’re looking to start reading, you’d be well served by starting on your knees.
This book will prepare the way for other books, not just by teaching you how to read, but also why:
To Glorify God.
You can read my review here:
Or pick up the book here: Rembrandt is in the Wind
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognisable names in all of fiction, but still fresh enough to inspire endless remakes and to capture the imaginations of the world over a century since he was first written into life. The Sign of Four is the second book in the series of stories associated with the detective, but given that most people already know his origin story at least partially and that the stories were often released out of order anyway, I believe this would be a good place to start.
When looking for a book to start with in this category, what we need is one which will inspire further reading, either within the same series or outside of it. This book, as well as each of the other recommendations below, are either followed by more books, or the author wrote similar books you would also most likely enjoy. If then you’re still looking for more it’s incredibly easy to find other books which fall into the same genre or style of the novel. Equally though, the Sign of Four could easily be read as a standalone, it includes intrigue, mystery, danger, good vs evil, as well as a serious look at the consequences of sin. Though Conan-Doyle doesn’t seem to have been a Christian, it’s hard to wrestle with the subject of crime without an acquaintance with justice, righteousness, sin, and darkness also.
What’s more, it would be dead easy to find a second-hand copy for a steal either online or in a second-hand bookstore! Otherwise, you can pick it up right here: The Sign of Four
A few years ago I encountered a curious issue in our local church. Within a couple of months, multiple members came to me and relayed their struggle to read the Bible, and how they’d been told off for listening to it instead. When I asked why they’d chosen to listen to it, some told me that they were heavily dyslexic, and therefore couldn’t read, some worked a delivery job and so they were in the car for hours a day and their eyes hurt on returning home, and others were single parents and found that listening to the Bible gave them time to worship and relax whilst they had a spare few moments away from the kids.
Each of these reasons were perfectly valid, and I encouraged each of them that though reading the Bible is a good and right endeavour, they should return to listening to the word—as was the practice of most Christians throughout Church History. Listening rather than reading is not a lesser practice, the important thing is getting into the Bible!
Necessity is not the only reason to listen to books however, there is a multitude of ways to consume literature, and listening, thanks to audiobooks, is one of them. It’s also the most accessible way for most people—it’s also more cost-effective in some cases because of Audible’s prices.
With all of that said, a Swim in a Pond in the Rain is not only a good book but it’s better as an audiobook. George Saunders is a professor of Literature and in this book he sets out to teach the listener how to get the most out of other books and stories. He does so by using seven Russian short stories, from some of the best writers in the Russian tradition. If that’s not enough, these stories are read by Phylicia Rashad, Nick Offerman, Glenn Close, Keith David, Rainn Wilson, BD Wong, Renée Elise Goldsberry, to wonderful effect.
You’ll be caught up by the stories, moved by the characters, and then invited to dive deeper below the surface, to take a swim in a pond in the rain. This book will help you to love writing, reading, and the stories themselves, and then get more out of them as a result.
Pick up the book here: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain
What better way to start your journey into theology than by learning from the books of Acts about the mission of the Triune God? Schreiner writes with a musicality and rhythm which makes this book a delight to read, and his love for the word makes it hard to put down.
In my review of the book I said:
“If Acts is a piece of art, Patrick Schreiner is an expert connoisseur.
We’re always thankful to God and history for granting us great theological minds who had the artistic finesse to give us great hymns, like Toplady and Newton, or great works of fiction, like Lewis and Peterson, but on this occasion, I’m thankful to Schreiner for putting those same skills to use by writing this book which sits at the intersection of commentary and poetry. Bringing those skills to the table, it’s unsurprising then that Schreiner has such a tremendous skill for drawing together difficult themes and helping us to see, or hear, how they fit in place.”
I stand by it, here’s the full review:
You can pick the book up here: Mission of the Triune God
This last book is only around 100 pages long—or perhaps I should say 100 pages short. In similar fashion, I’ll keep this brief.
What if a story which has become little more than folklore, and then caricatured by the Hulk, actually had a profound Christian message behind it which would be good for our modern culture to hear?
What if that book was this one, and what if you could read it in one sitting?
With that, I’ll close today’s newsletter, thanks so much for reading, I hope in doing so you’ve found something even better. If you’ve found your next book but you’re not sure how best to proceed, head over to this article to find out how to get the most out of any book with just three questions.
Grace and Peace,
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