‘How Dante Can Save Your Life’ by Rod Dreher 📚

I was really skeptical about Rod Dreher’s new book How Dante Can Save Your Life. When he started writing about it on his blog I wasn’t interested—at all. I started skipping posts about Dante. After being deeply affected by his two previous books I was not even going to read this one.

I was wrong, and I’m glad I was.

I decided to read it when he started talking about how it intersected with his life. As relayed in his last book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Rod struggled mightily with family issues of loyalty, trust and place. When I realized that this book would continue where the previous book left off, I decided to take a chance.

It was wonderful. I honestly don’t remember why I doubted it would be. Rod used light literary criticism and memoir to spin a deeply emotional and personal tale of how God works on our hearts through art. This was right up my alley, and I was going to pass it by.

As a reader, you don’t have to know anything about Dante or his Divine Comedy to read and appreciate this book. Rod’s careful treatment and plain-spoken approach make it an approachable experience for all readers. But in doing so he does not shy away from the complexities of the work.

It was a wonderfully fun read, I ripped through it in just a few days. If this sounds even slightly interesting to you I highly recommend it.


‘All the Pretty Horses’ by Cormac McCarthy 📚

He’d never touched her and her hand was small and her waist so slight and she looked at him with great forthrightness and smiled and put her face against his shoulder. They turned under the lights. A long trumpet note guided the dancers on their separate and collective paths. Moths circled the paper lights aloft and the goathawks passed down the wires and flared and arced upward into the darkness again.

This is my favorite paragraph in the whole book. It’s a beautiful paragraph that inspires and taunts me. In many ways McCarthy’s style runs so counter to my own, yet I cannot help but aspire to it. Of course, it’s a hopeless aspiration, because even if I was to achieve writing on this level, it would be my own and not his. But it’s an aspiration nonetheless.

Cormac McCarthy is an author who intimidates me. He does so more than any of the other authors I admire so much. More than Hugo, Hemingway, Lewis and Rowling, Cormac McCarthy’s work seems like a towering statue on the horizon, an unmovable stone giant lording over the barren waste before him. He is who he is, and his work stands above all.

I’ve often heard that All the Pretty Horses is his most accessible work. I think that’s true, but I’m not sure that is where I would advise someone to start. It’s either this or The Road, and depending on who the recommendation is for it’s probably a coin flip.

Our focus falls upon John Grady for this book. He’s the final heir to a long line of Texas ranchers, and he longs for a way of life that is long gone. He leaves for Mexico, looking for remnants of a world that has past, and maybe never was.

In his travels and travails we find the dying cries of the Old West. McCarthy writes in a manner that suits the land, economical in pace, beautiful in language, and honest about the ugliness of the world John Grady found. It’s a powerful story of love and honor, and one that feels all to real.

This book in particular moved me in a way that I miss. It reminded me of the joy of reading a great writer at the height of his mastery. Like the best works, it makes me want to write. It drives me to create, even if I can never reach the bar it sets.


‘Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully’ by John Piper 📚

Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitfield, and C.S. Lewis by John Piper is a short, powerful and inspiring shot to the heart for any lover of words and Jesus. It’s one of the most fulfilling books I’ve read in a while, and one that left me wanting more.

Piper sews a common thread through the works of three great Christian Englishmen, namely that proclaiming the gospel of Christ beautifully helps us see him more beautifully. It’s a powerful assertion that he backs up clearly, and one that invites the reader to join these three giants.

George Herbert was a 16th century country pastor and poet, seen by scholars as an immensely pivotal figure in the history of English poetry. His works, published posthumously and published continually since, are entirely focused on his faith and devotion to Christ.

George Whitefield was an 18th century English preacher and key figure in the Great Awakening in both Britain and the American colonies. He preached an enormous number of sermons, an impossible number actually. Piper estimates that for many weeks of his life, actually preached for sixty hours a week. As Piper points out, for most of his career, Whitefield spoke more than he slept.

The most well known of these three men to readers today is of course, C.S. Lewis. Lewis was the foremost spokesman for British Christianity in the mid-20th century. He was an awe-inspiring public intellectual, taking three First Class Honors at Oxford, the top expert of Medieval English literature in the world, and a best-selling novelist.

Piper starts the book with an extended discussion of eloquence, particularly what kinds of eloquence either honor Christ or elevate the speaker and dishonor the cross. In turn, he then takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of each these three mens’ autobiographies, theologies, and professional lives, then settles into a different aspect of their work, each on this common thread of proclaiming the beauties of Christ.

This book is a must read in my mind for any Christian who is a writer, speaker, pastor, poet or avid reader. Even if you do not see yourself in any of these categories, I would commend this book to you. The illustrations draw from each of these men’s work will stretch your understanding of beauty in words, and your imagination of the glories of Christ. It’s an inspiring read that prompted me to pick up the pen and expend more poetic effort myself.


‘Culture Care’ by Makoto Fujimura 📚

I blazed through the 104 pages of this book in just a few days. I will be urging lots of my fellow Story Teamers to read it. It is a powerful argument for the need for artists to step forward and start renewing our decaying culture.

Culture Care is a sustained argument that articulates the need for all artists, particularly Christians, to step forward into thinking generatively. It is a call to establish communities and organizations dedicated to developing what Fujimura calls ‘cultural estuaries’ that are upstream from our culture and can bring us back to beauty and truth.

It is not a call for more ‘Christian’ art, in fact Fujimura successfully shows why such a category is flawed in its most basic premise. It is a call for Christian artists, the ‘border-stalkers’ of our community, to function in a way that creates an ebb and flow between the church and the broader culture. He even outlines how this can serve to defuse some aspects of the culture wars. This book is prescriptive in nature, it does not show proven methods, rather outlines a plan for others to follow.

I am a huge fan of Fujimura’a paintings, but this book has increased my estimation of him even more. It shows solid thinking, a keen understanding of the church in America’s situation, and an inside view of the artist’s mind. He weaves these together into  well thought out approach to our culture’s biggest issues. He is a top-notch thinker on arts and culture, and with this book he has given believing artists and creative catalysts a lot to think about, and aspire to.


‘No Country for Old Men’ by Cormac McCarthy 📚

It doesn’t matter that Cormac McCarthy lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, his work makes me think of him as a West Texan. West Texas, from El Paso, to Marfa, to Lubbock and Amarillo is a hard, dry land that will take everything from you in a heartbeat. But there is also rugged beauty and some of the best people on earth. It’s a land with character,—and a murderous streak. I can’t think of a better way to describe Cormac McCarthy’s work, either.

This past weekend The Austin Stone Story Team held an artist retreat, and in many of my conversations McCarthy’s work came up. So much so, that I started re-reading No Country for Old Men while we were still there.

No Country for Old Men is not McCarthy’s most acclaimed novel, nor is it my favorite, but it’s the one I always think of when I think of his work. The characters are unforgettable. Chigurh, the psychopath. Sheriff Bell, the aging war hero and lawman. And of course Llewellyn Moss, the man who really did know better. The setting is southwest Texas, centered in Terrell County. The first pages of the novel open with violence, and it flows through the rest of the pages with a realistic, cold detachment.

My favorite thing about McCarthy’s approach to this novel is the first person narratives from Sheriff Bell that open each chapter. Paired with the third person narratives that follow, the reader can easily inhabit the skin of the Sheriff and see the world from his point-of-view, while viewing the violence of the story through the eyes of our somewhat dispassionate narrator.

I love this book. Even if it is not his best, that still puts it far above most of the other so-called literary masterpieces of our day.