Book Notice: “Lit!” by Tony Reinke

Here’s the way I see it. Here in the USA, we are at a fork in the road: on the left are books and serious thinking, and on the right is Twitter, Facebook, and whole lot of ignorant. Don’t get me wrong. I am not against social media per se. I actually like social media, and use them often. But when Twitter, Facebook, and Angry Birds replace serious reading and conversation, we’ve got a problem. We are quickly becoming a functionally illiterate society. There is not enough education in the USA to operate the tilt-a-whirl at the traveling carnival. We treat the brain like the appendix, as if it has no function, and as if we might just be better having it removed. [This is precisely why I wrote a blog series, “On Disciplined Reading.”]

And that’s why I’m really beginning to like this Tony Reinke fellow. I have never met him, but I have followed him on Twitter and read some of his blogs (you see, social media aren’t all bad), and now most recently, I have finally gotten around to looking at his recently published book, Lit! A Guide to Reading Christian Books (Crossway, 2011). You should purchase it and read it, and allow it to motivate you toward becoming a disciplined reader.

Reinke understands the challenges to reading, but aims to bring joy out of those challenges. He states, “Lit! A Guide to Reading Christian Books is for any Christian who wants to read books, and read them well. This book covers a wide range of topics: why we should read books in the first place, how to choose the best books, how to find time to read books, and how to find joy-not drudgery-in the pages of these books” (p. 16). To achieve this goal, Lit! falls in two main parts: a theology of books and reading (chs. 1-6) and some practical advice on book reading (chs. 7-15).

In providing a theology of books and reading, Reinke briefly outlines the doctrine of Scripture and measures it against other books. Thus, he states, “before we step into a fully-stocked bookstore, we must be determined to read the imperfect in light of the perfect, the deficient in light of the sufficient, the temporary in light of the eternal, the groveling in light of the transcendent” (p. 28). Sound theology of Scripture thus guides all other sound reading.

In part two, Reinke gives some of his own advice (and he stresses it is only advice) on what to read and how to read. For example, he sketches six priorities for reading:

1. Reading Scripture

2. Reading to know and delight in Christ

3. Reading to kindle spiritual reflection

4. Reading to initiate personal change

5. Reading to pursue vocational excellence

6. Reading to enjoy a good story (p. 95)

These priorities, in turn, help him decide what kind of books to read by which authors during the various seasons of life (pp. 106-7).

This kind of practical advice makes Lit! a valuable resource for those who already enjoy reading but especially for those who struggle to read or to know what to read. Moreover, by connecting his practical advice to a theology of books and reading, Reinke helps book-readers understand the way reading helps one know and love God.race mobil

Briefly Noted: Randall Silvis on “Why I Read”

I’m never upset to discover that the article I’m about to read is brief, witty, and thought-provoking. That is why I liked Randall Silvis’s recent article, “Why I Read.”[1] In the article, Silvis describes the ways in which he tries to dupe his students into reading, so that eventually they might actually want to read and to make reading a habit. The article is divided into things that he “does” tell his students, and things that he strategically “does not” tell his students.

Silvis “does” tell them that reading will:

1. Increase their vocabulary

2. Make them more informed on the world around them

3. Most likely increase their brain power

4. Make them better writers, which:

5. Helps them get better grades

6. Help them get a job after school

7. Keep them from being functionally illiterate.

But, as Silvis tells it, there are certain deeper motivations for reading, motivations which likely would not be immediately motivating for this generation of college students. Therefore, he “does not” tell them that:

1. Reading will sensitize them to the human condition (because they have not lived long enough to understand the human condition).

2. Reading takes them to places they have never been and might never go.

3. Reading will lay a hand on them when they are homesick.

4. Reading will make their loneliness go away.

5. Reading will help them find themselves when they are lost.

6. Reading will “turn on the lights” in their darkness.

He “does” and “does not” tell them these things, in the hope that some student, one day, might walk toward him and say “Professor! I read the most fantastic book last night!” “And,” Silvis states, “I will know that she, this one out of many, is on her way to learning all the rest.”

Silvis’ article was worth the time spent. It spoke to the human condition (the first thing that he “does not” tell students), gave me a few chuckles (he didn’t list that one), and made me want to be a better teacher. Elsewhere, I’ve written a series on reading and that series provides the framework within which I would modify and add to the things Silvis said.

[1] Randall Silvis, “Why I Read” in The Chronicle Review (April 2011): B20.

Briefly Noted: James Pierson on the State of American Higher Education

Who knew? Noteworthy conservative critics such as William F. Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk, Allan Bloom, and Roger Kimball no longer stand alone in their critique of American higher education (for dismantling core curricula that stand at the headstream of Western tradition, desperately seeking to be politically correct, emphasizing the trendy over the proven, and allowing liberal thought to have a stranglehold over the academy). James Pierson’s recent article, “What’s wrong with our universities?” (The New Criterion) examines three recent liberal assessments of the state of the American University, and prospects for the future.[1] The liberal critique is interesting, according to Pierson, precisely because it joins critiques long-held by conservatives.

Pierson first discusses Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Money and Failing Our Kids­­-and What We Can Do About It (Henry Holt & Co., 2011). This book is written with “the premise that higher education has lost its internal compass and can no longer fulfill its basic obligations to the rising generation of Americans” (19). Writing from the standpoint of the pre-1960s view (old-school liberalism) that democratic education and liberal arts should operate in tandem, the authors observe several ills in American higher education: emphasis on faculty research rather than on teaching, the multiplication of superfluous administrative posts, and the depreciation of the liberal arts. Although the authors’ observations are helpful, Pierson argues, the authors do not offer much evidence to substantiate their claims (20). Nonetheless, the book provides an interesting indictment of American higher education and offers some controversial proposals for remedying the ills.

Second, Pierson treats Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (U. of Chicago Press, 2011). Arum and Roksa claim, in the light of a good deal of complex data, that “college students are studying and writing less and learning far less than their peers of a generation ago, while our competitors are passing us by in measures of achievement and rates of college graduation” (22). As Pierson states, “though burdened by the social science excess of data and methodology, Academically Adrift is a serious effort to find out if colleges and universities are delivering on their promise to educate all students” (22). Although the authors’ diagnosis of higher education is nothing new, their proposals for improvement are focused and helpful.

Third, Pierson discusses Mark C. Taylor, Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (Knopf, 2010). Taylor published this work as an expansion of his 2009 op-ed in The New York Times. In line with other critics, Taylor is troubled by the emphasis on faculty research at the expense of classroom instruction. The primary distinction of Taylor’s book is his analysis of the impact of the “Great Recession” on America’s universities (25). The negative of the book, according to Pierson, is that it does not provide a robust constructive proposal.

[Editor’s Note: This post is the first installment of a new series at BtT. “Briefly Noted” will consist of brief notes about ideas, literature, and events that might be of interest to our readers.]

[1] “What’s wrong with our universities?” The New Criterion 30 (Sep. 2011): 17-25.