Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew 📚

It’s finally time to build our vegetable garden

I read Square Foot Gardening yesterday, two weeks into social distancing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the two are only partially related.

We moved into a beautiful 100 year old farmhouse almost four years ago. The two previous owners loved to garden and created a beautiful English garden surrounding our home. Rose bushes, ornamental trees, stone lined paths, bird baths and more. It was gorgeous. And when we moved in we really wanted to dive into taking care of it. But even then, I knew that I don’t really care that much about flowers. I really wanted to plant a vegetable garden.

Fast forward four years, plus two babies we didn’t know we could even have, and our flower gardening ambitions are dead. D-E-A-D, dead. We have not been able to keep up with it. And at this point we don’t even want to. The stone lined paths now look like death traps for the two little humans we have that can barely walk. The flower beds are overgrown. It’s a mess. So during this self-imposed quarantine we are ripping them all out. We’re going back to a (hopefully) beautiful lawn, with some shrubs, and a lot fewer life-threatening rocks.

“All New Square Foot Gardening”

But we are going to put in that vegetable garden. I want to put in the effort to grow food for our family and now seems like the right time. We have the free time to start a new garden, and certainly reducing trips to the grocery store over the coming months seems like a good idea. The only question is, why would this effort be any more successful than the last four year’s failed efforts at keeping up with our degenerating English garden?

Well, Square Foot Gardening seems to be the answer. Starting with one small four foot by four foot bed, we should be able to grow enough vegetables for one salad every day of the growing and harvest seasons. Add another one or two over the course of the summer and we can produce a lot more than that. The heart of this book’s method is to create a mix of soil that is made specifically to grow vegetables, resist weeds, and retains water to an exceptional degree. It’s a method that’s been around for decades with good results. And the yields it’s delivered over time suggest that it will be worth the time and the money.

It’s the cost which also seems to be the only downside. It’s not cheap to make your own soil, especially when requirements are high and the whole method is tuned specially for it. You can’t really take shortcuts or skimp. But, given the advantages it promises (and the results that many, many people have attested too) it seems this approach will be one we can make work. Additionally, when the whole yard is lawn again, we’ll have more free time to maintain just the vegetable garden.

We are planning on building this garden in the next few weeks. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll post updates if it goes well. If it doesn’t, well, you know.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon 📚

An immensely helpful entry in Kleon’s growing practical philosophy for the working artist

“Keep Going” by Austin Kleon

My wife got used to the small creative experiments and exercises that I take up pretty early in our marriage. From fiddling with a Rubik’s cube to occasional collaging, and now to a steady flow of ideas for how to get our little ones engaged in making art, she entertains them all. And she’s even stopped asking me where they come from. Because she knows they almost always originate from the books and blog of Austin Kleon.

I’ve been a fan of Kleon’s since his first book, Steal Like an Artist was published in 2012. It came out at an interesting time for me. It was a time when I’d started writing again after several years off, and I was grappling with what that meant for my future. And it gave me a whole new view into what being a writer could—and perhaps should—be. That book profoundly shaped my creative process and the way I thought about making art. His next book was influential as well, but not to the same degree (though that’s a really high bar, to be honest). Needless to say, I’m thankful he wrote another.

Keep Going did not disappoint. I sat down yesterday and read it in two sittings. And I will start it again soon.

Kleon’s message is simple and right there in the title. For artists, the most important thing is to keep working. And after last year, that’s exactly what I needed to hear. But it’s more than just a simple piece of advice. Kleon advises his fellow artists to keep going that simple, practical, and inspirational. In the book he gives the reader 10 ways that an artist can persevere, day after day. These bits of guidance range from “Every Day is Groundhog Day” to “When in Doubt, Tidy Up.” But this book is not just full of practical advice. Kleon does something all too rare in the world of creativity, productivity, or (dare I say) self-help books, he manages to point the reader from the practicals to the bigger, philosophical issues at play. He does not start with some big, grand theory. Instead he starts with the practical, the everyday, and then leads the reader to bigger insights.

It was with this book that I realized Kleon is gradually building a fully fleshed out philosophical approach to creativity in the 21st century. Steal Like an Artist explains how artists and their voices are shaped and made. Show Your Work wrestles with the difficulties of getting art into the world, but also why the struggle is worth it. And in this installment, Kleon urges artists to persevere and he equips them with a mindset and the tools to do so. With this series of books, Kleon offers artists a very specific vision for creativity. And it’s a very good one. I for one hope he does not stop at only three books.

I am probably not an objective reviewer when it comes to this author, but I don’t really care. This book was immensely helpful and if you need a little push to keep making things, you should definitely pick it up.

Preaching for God’s Glory by Alistair Begg 📚

A quick and insightful introduction to expository preaching

Preaching for God’s Glory is a brief and compelling introduction to the topic of expository preaching. In this slim volume, Alistair Begg quickly covers a large swath of ground that serves as both a useful reminder for experienced preachers and an accessible starting point for novices. Begg is the Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland. While not explicitly stating a thesis, Begg’s aim is clear: to convince reader that the Word of God is the sole authority for the church, and the preacher of it is, “standing under Scripture, not over it.” He not only succeeds in this task, but he does so with an easy to read and disarming style that eschews any pomposity or formality.

The structure Begg gave his book clearly outlines his intentions. The book has six chapters, entitled, (1) “The Eclipse of Expository Preaching,” (2) “What Happened to Expository Preaching?,” (3) “The Nature of Expository Preaching,” (4) “The Benefits of Expository Preaching,” (5) “Practical Pointers,” and (6) “‘Who is Equal to Such a Task?’.’ As these chapter titles make clear, Begg sets out to diagnose the demise of expository preaching, explore and then extol its benefits, and then exhort and prepare the reader to undertake the task.

Begg’s style in Preaching for God’s Glory is deceptively simple. The reader is carried along by his easy and simple prose, only to find themselves downstream floating in a mass of new insight and practical wisdom about preaching. For a very small time investment, the reader is paid off in an abundance of wisdom. This book is an excellent introduction to the topic of expository preaching, for two reasons. First, the concision with which Begg approaches the topic allows the reader to get a quick overview of the whole task of preaching. Unlike other texts which might provide a very brief introduction and then jump right into the minutiae of the process, this book provides a useful level of information on each area it explores.

Second, the fifth chapter, “Practical Pointers,” is eminently helpful in orienting the reader directly to the task at hand. While the previous chapters set the reader up well to understand the big picture—as do other good introductions—this chapter then focuses their eyes on the work and hand, and reminds them that it is actually work. After reading this book, with it’s broad, accessible, and yet usefully brief coverage of every aspect of the craft of expository preaching, the reader is then well-positioned to examine other, more in-depth, works on the subject with a critical and somewhat educated eye.

The only fault that could be laid at the feet of this work is be the brevity of it. I can see where some readers would feel short-changed, or would want more from the author. That’s certainly understandable given how enjoyable of a read it is. But it’s clear that the author agrees with the old show business adage: “Always leave them wanting more.”

The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser 📚

A joyful read that’s full of insight for new poets—and readers of poetry

Ted Kooser was Poet Laureate of The United States from 2004-2006. He is a professor of English at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, although for years he worked as an executive in the insurance industry (because even the best poets must have day jobs). He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winner and has published many collections of poetry. And with The Poetry Home Repair Manual he wrote one of the most approachable, practical, and joyful books on writing poetry that I’ve yet run across.

A friend of mine recommended this book to me a while back when I started writing poetry, and I was intrigued by the title right away. Who writes a book for beginning poets and styles the name as a home repair manual? Well, only a few pages in, I got it. The book is a repair manual. In it, Kooser will not teach you the basics of verse, rhyme, or rhythm. He does not lecture about forms. Of course, this is all ground that he covers, and he covers it well. But it’s not academic or theoretical. Instead he approaches poetry as he would a broken lawnmower or dishwasher. He helps the reader see what’s wrong, and then instructs you how to fix it by demonstrating how the thing is supposed to work. This unusual title is actually perfect for this book.

The book is a casual read, but more than that it’s a joyful read. Kooser is not only a good teacher, he is a great curator. He uses wonderful poems (more from other poets than his own, by my estimation) to illustrate his points. And some of the gems I discovered in this slim little book made this book worth it on their own. One great example is this poem by Frank Steele:

If you are interested in writing poetry—or just understanding it—this is a great place to start. As I am writing this review it’s hard for me to think of anything I didn’t like. The chapters are a good length, the whole book is not too long—which has encouraged me to re-read it—and the tone is perfect. If I was pressed to find something that another reader may not like, I would mention that Kooser’s advice lends itself well to his own particular style and voice. If you want to write poetry that is not about everyday life, earthy, and utterly human, maybe (maybe?) you wouldn’t find it useful. But honestly, I’d only make that observation if pressed. The truth is this book is a great place for a poet to start. It will help you find your voice, understand who you are, and write poems that are yours. And really, what more can you want from a book with the subtitle, “Practical Advice for Beginning Poets”?

I highly recommend this book. Honestly, if you are serious about your writing in any form or genre, I’d suggest that you pick it up. This book can help any writer connect with their readers and write with more power and feeling. And that’s a great thing for writers of all stripes.

A Reading Plan for 2019 📚

The process is more important than the outcome

In the past I’ve set reading goals, but I’ve never really succeeded in them. Whether it was a goal of a number of books or a specific list, I’ve never been able to set a single plan and follow it for a full year. But, as with most practices that matter, the value is in the process not the results. So for 2019 I have yet another reading plan.


The goal of my plan for this year is not to list out specific books I must read, but instead to put in writing my priorities for reading in the next year. For this coming year my priorities are to read more regularly, balance my reading time between work/research reading, pleasure reading, and seminary reading assignments. In the past—specifically in 2018—pleasure reading has been non-existent and my actual reading time has been dominated by assigned reading. This year I aim to balance all three of these categories.

Finding the time

As I have gotten older it’s been increasingly hard to find time to read. From childhood through college reading for fun was always high on the list of what filled my free time. But as I got out of school and into a career that time started to drain away. Then, as the internet, smartphones, and social media began to loom larger I gave up even more reading time. Finally adding the weighty roles of husband and father filled up the last bit of margin. So this year I must work to find the time.

My relationship with Jesus, my family, my ministry, and my writing are the things that really matter. These are the responsibilities and commitments that actually move the needle in terms of making my time count. From that understanding, what needs to be eliminated or reduced becomes obvious: social media, time wasted on devices, and any excess screen time. I will write about how I am going to approach this in detail later, but this is where I must find time to accomplish my plan.

Finally, a key requirement of finding the time to read is that it cannot take time away from the discipline of reading my Bible daily. If my morning routine is disrupted, the first thing I will read each day will be the Bible.

Reading categories

As mentioned above, all the reading in my life falls into three buckets:

  • Pleasure
  • Research
  • School assignments

Given my particular interests, there is actually a great deal of overlap between these three categories. Seldom does a single book land in all three, but most books will fit into two of these categories. Nevertheless, sorting my reading into categories is the only way I can get close to balancing these priorities. My categories for 2019 look like this:


  • Fiction
  • History
  • Biography


  • Writing
  • Art & Creativity
  • Productivity
  • Theology
  • Reading for Story Team, Writer Dev, or other projects

School Assignments

  • Anything assigned as part of a seminary course

The plan

In the end, my 2019 plan is simple:

  • Read for 1 hour in the evenings, five days a week
  • Read the Bible first, every day
  • Prioritize books I already own over new purchases
  • Prioritize active seminary assignments for each reading session
  • Split remaining reading time evenly between the Pleasure and Research categories
  • Always have one active book in both the Pleasure and Research categories
  • Publish a short reaction/review for each book I complete

I am not setting a “goal” of a certain number of books for each month or the year, and I don’t have a set list. Just this set of priorities and a list of books I will build out by category. If I can follow this process somewhat regularly I will be a much more active reader than I have been the last couple of years.

And honestly that’s a big deal, because I miss it.

‘Prayer’ by Tim Keller 📚

I read Prayer by Tim Keller, and I immediately plan on reading it again. I use “read” loosely as it was an audiobook, and my next reading will be on paper. I love audiobooks, I’m not a hater. But in reading this book I realized that I cannot listen to nonfiction books that I want to retain. I remember bits and pieces from the book, to be discussed below, but honestly most of it slipped through my mind like sand through fingers. I enjoyed listening to the book, but I didn’t retain enough to meaningfully shape my understanding and practice of prayer. So, on that note it was a failed experience, but it’s not the work’s fault, just the medium’s.

I did pick up a few things from the book that make it worthwhile. First, using Scripture readings as a basis for mediation as a transition into prayer. The REAP (Read, Examine, Apply, and Pray) that The Austin Stone recommends is useful, and actually works in a similar way to what Keller describes, but in my practice I have not actually meditated on Scripture, instead I just examine and apply through intellectual means. I want to start intentionally applying a meditation step into my routine.

Second, I really appreciated the thorough survey of the topic Keller offered, and how he centered on a few influential Protestants in our tradition to draw specifics from. It was a good choice and I helped me think through the practicals of prayer.

I don’t have much else to say because of the audiobook issue. Lesson learned. I may write more the next time I read it. 😉

‘Writing A Novel with Ulysses’ by David Hewson 📚

I’ve been on a string of high-minded books lately, but now I’ve dove into a few books about writing itself, and the first one was novelist David Hewson’s Writing A Novel with Ulysses III.

Yeah, it’s about as low-level as you can get, reading a book about how to write another book in a specific app. Whee!

It was really useful. I’ve recently started using Ulysses for most of my writing for this blog, Story Team, and Storyteam.org. I have the start of a novel project in Scrivener (which I like quite a bit), but the idea of having all my working in a single app and library was appealing. But from what I knew of Ulysses, I wasn’t sure I could really use it for a novel. Hence, this read.

The best review I can give of the book is this: it is short, thorough, and I’m now convinced I can write a novel quite well in it. And I am going to try.

If you like writing in Markdown and the idea of a very basic writing app (NOT word processor as you know it) appeals to you, I would highly recommend both Ulysses and Writing A Novel with Ulysses III.

‘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.

‘It’s All Too Much’ by Peter Walsh 📚

The first book I finished for my goal of 35 books in 2015 was 'It's All Too Much' by Peter Walsh. I never would have chosen this book on my own. From the cheesy cover to the author's sweet spot of helping hoarders, it strikes me as a book I just don't need to read. Enter Merlin Mann, gentleman about the Internet.

In Back to Work episode #202, Merlin mentioned this book along with 'Getting Things Done' by David Allen as the two books that influence him greatly and he continues to recommend to everyone. Being a big fan of Merlin and the other book, I immediately ordered this one from Amazon. It was a good call.

This book could help anyone, provided you realize one thing: clutter in your life is everyone's problem, not just the hoarders on TV. If you can open this book with an honest intent to listen, there is good stuff to be found here.

First, Walsh's philosophy will sound very familiar to Christians. His basic premises are:

  • We all have too much stuff
  • The stuff you own, will end up owning you
  • Clutter is not about your stuff, but about how you see your stuff

This is true. Mankind is bent to love created things more than the Creator. This leads to disordered views of possessions, which is what drives the clutter in our homes. Walsh's best contribution is giving us tools, questions and patterns to think through the emotions, thoughts and issues behind our junk.

Walsh's recommendations for how to approach the home are good across the board, and they will benefit everyone. The chapters that walk through the average home and provide strategies for de-cluttering and organizing are helpful. But it's the chapters that reveal how we think about our stuff, and how we need to process our emotions relating to our clutter, that really carry the water in this book.

We already had a plan in place to do some purging in the new year, and this book provided a clearer way to think through it than I had before. It honestly helped me get started on our plans, and in a more productive way than I previously had in mind. It was well worth it.

The one note of redirection I will add for my fellow Christians is simple: the control over possessions and environment that Walsh advocates is crucial for reorganizing your life, but it's not the answer. Walsh tells us to ask ourselves "do my possessions will help me have the life I envision?". But, instead we should ask, "do my possessions help me have a life that glorifies God and seeks to see him glorified?"

With that one minor redirection in place, I can heartily recommend this book to anyone. It's definitely better than the cover suggests.

15 books every storyteller and writer should read 📚

A good storyteller should always be looking for stories of all kinds. Knowledge is fundamental to the creative process. Whether it is an understanding of process and medium, knowledge of what others are doing in your field, or something completely unrelated to the work in front of you, we bring all of it to bear on the challenge of telling moving stories. Your path to growth runs directly through the work of other artists.

In light of this, I'd like to share my list of 15 books that I think every storyteller and writer should read:


  • The Elements of Story - Francis Flaherty
  • Save the Cat! - Blake Snyder
  • Story - Robert McKee


  • The Elements of Style - Strunk & White
  • Wordsmithy - Doug Wilson

Selected fiction, and a memoir

  • Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
  • East of Eden - John Steinbeck
  • High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
  • The Road - Cormac McCarthy
  • The Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
  • The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Little Way of Ruthie Leming – Rod Dreher

On being, and working as, a creative

  • Steal Like an Artist - Austin Kleon
  • Manage Your Day to Day - 99U
  • Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality - Scott Belsky

Did I leave something off the list? Did I make a terrible choice? Let me know in the comments below.

‘Jack’ by George Sayers

I finished Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis by George Sayers earlier this week, and I genuinely loved it. This book should have already joined the many biographies in my library. Honestly, I cannot say why I have not read it earlier, because it was right up my alley.

Sayers was a pupil of Lewis at Oxford, and subsequently became a close friend. This depiction of Lewis benefits from his first hand knowledge of the man. It paints an intimate picture of the man, complete with his flaws and foibles as well as his virtues. To my eyes it is not an unctuous portrayal that seeks to polish a friend's reputation, but rather a measured view of the man through research, seasoned with personal knowledge. It was delightful.

My wife always measures how much I love a book by how often I rush to her side to read excerpts. She can testify that the last week or so was filled with these outbursts. Amongst my favorites were the depictions of the man in plain terms, descriptions that showed who he really was. Such as,

From that time on, he found it difficult to spend more than the minimum amount on himself or more than a necessary amount on anyone or anything. His only personal luxuries were beer, whiskey, and tobacco, the first and last of which he regarded as almost necessities. He seems to have never owned a watch or a good fountain pen. What he gained from those years was a complete freedom from the snobbery based on possessions, and a sympathy with and understanding of poor people. The many thousands of pounds he was to give away in the years ahead were nearly always bestowed on those short of money.

As I said before, the depictions are not always so flattering. Jack had a rough early life. He lost his mother at a young age, and the family never quite recovered. As a child and teen, Jack bounced moved through several boarding schools, one of which subjected its students to conditions that read like a small school in a third world country, not what you think of when you hear "English boarding school". These events and more left scars on Lewis that persisted until his conversion.

Sayers paints a great picture of the state of Lewis' soul before conversion, and then powerfully shows how full that change of heart and mind really were. He ushers you into the very presence of Lewis to see what a changed life looks like, and it is a great encouragement.

Sayers does not linger on accounts of Lewis writing his famous works, but he does not short change these periods either. To me, these accounts read like well-portioned side dishes accompanying the meat of the story, which is Lewis as he was. What is covered is insightful and helped me gain a fuller picture of the context of each work, allowing me to examine them from a better vantage point. For the avid Lewis reader, this may be the books greatest trait, even if it is not the entrée.

For anyone who want to get to know C.S. Lewis this book is first-rate. I found that this account also gave me real insight into his works, looking at his books after this biography is an exercise in expanded perception. It did not change my readings of his works, it illuminated their depths in a new, and encouraging, way. It's a fantastic account of a unique man. For that alone it is worth your time.