Writings by Cole Huffman


The Books List 2016

When else but 2016 to read Lorien Foote’s The Gentlemen and The Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army? He tells readers about a particular group of line officers dedicated to undermining every moral reform of their commanders. They called themselves—are you ready for this—the Independent Order of Trumps! Foote details a war within the Civil War, fought within regiments, over competing concepts of manhood, similar to the dueling cultural dynamics within the social miasma of this election year.

Here, in no particular order, are 20 books I found especially interesting:

Making Sense of God by Tim Keller. I don’t know any evangelical leader today who understands the secularized Western mindset, and how to present the gospel to it, better than Tim Keller.

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew Crawford. I recall a TV ad in the late 90s that glowingly touted the Internet to be the place where “only minds” would interact. Crawford concretely shows no one relates to the world as an autonomous mind only.

Adventures in Evangelical Civility by Richard Mouw. A memoir of Mouw’s quest to practice “convictional civility” seeking common ground in public and parochial spaces.

 In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White. After a bank fraud conviction, the author was sentenced to a one-year prison sentence in a federal facility in Carville, Louisiana. The facility was also home to a few dozen Hansen’s disease (leprosy) sufferers. Living with them changed his life.

Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant. An Englishman living in NYC decides to relocate to the Mississippi Delta and assimilate the local culture. He’s never left. His chapter “Grabbing Smoke” is charitably incisive on how racism cuts both ways.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. To deal with the loss of her father, Macdonald threw herself into training a goshawk. But the solitude of the wild isn’t solace. “Hands are for other human hands to hold. They should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks,” she learned.

Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest’s Wife, and the God Who Gives and Takes Away by Victor Lee Austin. What do you do when you can’t pray, when you believe but Lord-help-my-unbelief? I was helped by what Austin said his wife learned, that “our own faith (in the sense of what’s really true) can be a bigger thing than our own faith (in the sense of what we are able to believe and do at a given time).”

Coming Clean by Seth Haines. A memoir by an Arkansas attorney about dealing with his drinking problem and his little boy’s health problems. Haines is a vivid writer: “Pain, whether great or small, is the reminder that we are not inanimate, plastic things. We are not machines meant to go about in numb, metallic, programmed action. We are not fungible goods, items that when broken can be replaced with other unbroken items. We are meant to feel the pain of our un-thingness.”

Homage to a Broken Man: The Life of J. Heinrich Arnold by Peter Mommsen. Arnold inherited a religious community (the Bruderhof) that began in Germany, fled to South America to escape Nazi persecution, and eventually migrated to America. Zealous members turned on Arnold, causing him deep suffering. He remained faithful to the community through it all.

People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue by Preston Sprinkle. If you have an LGBT person in your life, read this book. Sprinkle capably shows why arguments that try to make God and/or Scripture affirming of gay relationships don’t work, but does so with tremendous grace and compassion for the people in those relationships.

Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch. A book in which Crouch plots on a 2x2 chart how human flourishing happens when we embrace both authority and vulnerability.

This is Awkward by Sammy Rhodes. An RUF campus minister with clever wit, Rhodes’ Twitter account (@prodigalsam) became the object of scorn after some prominent comedians accused him of plagiarizing their jokes. Rhodes lays his humiliations bare in the book, pondering why he became someone who was wrecking his life for the approval of strangers online. “Approval is a lover who will always break your heart,” he says.

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. No screed against technology—Turkle teaches at MIT—but we’re engrossed in our screens to a fault. Technology has changed human interactions fundamentally. She assesses how mediated interaction and constant information download agitates what she calls the fretful self. This is the one book from my list I want all parents to read.

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe. A sardonic takedown of Charles Darwin and his apologists by a famous novelist trained in journalism. Darwinism simply cannot account for the language ability of human beings. Period. The next to last line in the book: “To say that animals evolved into man is like saying that Carrara marble evolved into Michelangelo’s David.”

Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark. “To decree, ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’…is a little like saying, ‘I’m human but not flesh and bone.’” Dark, a professor at Belmont in Nashville, calls the bluff on people who act like they don’t possess a faith point of view if they’ve declaimed organized religion.

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett. She hosts a podcast called On Being. The book is a piecemeal of interviews with a variety of thinkers, theist and non-, on faith, hope, and love among other subjects.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Dr. Kalanithi was a gifted young neurosurgeon who contracted cancer. He died in 2015 shortly after completing the book. He described himself an “ironclad atheist,” but left his secularized worldview for Christian faith because he realized it was unworkable to believe everything had to have scientific explanation and proof.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom. A beautifully written novel I hope becomes a movie, about a virtuoso with a very special guitar.

Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd by Thomas Chatterton Williams. “Blends Dostoevsky and Jay-Z in a compelling memoir and analysis of urban youth culture,” according to Booklist. That’s spot on in a sentence. Williams’s depictions of the degradations of urban youth culture are wincingly graphic, but it’s the story he tells of his philosophical father’s love of books, and of him—as he puts it his dad was “always listening for the sound of me falling”—that inspired him to make himself into the man he is today.

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. The author describes the rural community I grew up in; mine was in Alabama and his was in the Ohio “Rust Belt.” I knew guys like Vance—poor, being raised by his grandparents due to his parents’ dysfunctions, drifting to a bleak future. But then Vance aced the SAT and realized he had something to make of himself. The white working class culture of his and my youth is as much a culture in crisis as the inner city. Trump’s presidential campaign energized them. They became a kind of modern version of the Independent Order of Trumps: people in revolt against cultural elites telling them what they have to think, say, and do.

And there you have it, another year of reading shelved. There’ve been plenty of articles read too, and biblical commentaries and such that are part of my work. And the Bible itself, yes! But until we meet in this space in 2017, to adapt Garrison Keillor’s famous signoff: Be well, read good book
Posted by Cole Huffman at 10:38 AM
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