There are a large number of mildly amusing books written by Brits who went to live and work an an exotic foreign location. Where The Hell Is Tuvalu?: How I became the law man of the world’s fourth-smallest country is one of them.
If you have plans to visit Tuvalu or even go and live there, then you might want to get hold of a copy. If not, don’t bother.
One of the great delights in life is reading a book by someone who really loves what they do and who communicates it well. Over the years I’ve read some fascinating books on subjects as far apart as quantum mechanics and molecular virology. Popular science writing is hard to do, but when it is done well, it is wonderful.
Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche is a superb example of a book written by practitioners who have a gift for explaning their subject. It is informative without being heavy, funny without being flippant; and as much as a non-fiction book can be a page-turner, this one manages to be one.
In my line of work, translation tends simply to mean Bible translation, but this book covers a whole gamut of fascinating fields of translation beyond that of Holy Writ. I have sometimes wondered how sports stars manage to ply their trade in a country where they don’t speak the language – now I know. It would be futile to try and list all of the aspects of translation that are covered in this book, so I won’t try. However, if you like words and you are looking for something good to read on the beach this summer; this should be in your bag (especially if you are involved in Bible translation).
Just a couple of remarks in passing. It was gratifying to read a whole book on translation that never once mentioned dynamic or formal equivalence, These terms which are so often debated on Bible translation blogs (including, sometimes, this one) are simply not a part of the everyday translation lexicon.
One sad omission from the section on literary translation were the two finest translators of great literature; Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, the English translators of the Asterix books. Other opinions on great translators are available – they are just wrong!
I should mention that one of the authors of Found in Translation kindly sent me a copy; however, I’d have been just as positive about it if I’d paid for it myself. It really is an excellent book.
To be honest, I made a big mistake with this book: I read it. Now don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a bad book, it’s actually a very good book. But it isn’t a book for reading, it’s a book to pick up and study when you want to look at a particular passage or theme.
Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Cultural Studies in the Gospels does what it says on the tin. It helps you to look at the Gospel narrative through new eyes and to see things that are not otherwise obvious to someone separated from the story by 2,000 years and several thousand miles. The insights are useful, though not quite as radical as I’d hoped. I didn’t actually find much that was new in here. However, it is very useful to have all of this material in one place and I’m sure I’ll turn to it in future when writing about the Gospels or preparing talks.
However, the downside of having all of this cultural material in one place is that it makes the book tedious to read. It seems that every page or two says something along the lines of ‘you might think the Gospels say this, but actually they say…’. This is fascinating for the first chapter or so, but (to me at least) it became increasingly irritating as the pages turned. It’s a good book, buy it, put it on your shelves and turn to it when you need some good background stuff on the Gospels. But whatever you do, don’t read it.
Someone loaned me this book. They told me that they had enjoyed it and that it had lots of interesting insights into leadership for churches and businesses. Well, I need good insights, so I started to read it. I tried, I honestly tried. But it drove me up the wall.
The writing style is fragmented, the pages use multiple typefaces and the text is scattered with weak jokes. It could be that this book is amazing, it could well be full of leadership secrets that would transform my life. But, the whole presentation is so frustrating that I gave up only about a third of the way through.
I suppose the problem could be that I’m just too old for a book which was written for a younger generation. I certainly have a headache from trying to get to grips with it.
It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It has numerous five star reviews on Amazon and lots of famous people think its great. I’m just glad I’d borrowed it and not paid for it. In case I sound too rude, I’m also very grateful to the person who suggested I read the book. I do need stretching and pointed to new things – even if I can’t always finish them.
Thanks to Antony Billington for pointing me to the latest edition of Credo Magazine, which is devoted to articles about the Trinity.
‘One of the dangers every church faces is slipping, slowly and quietly and perhaps unknowingly, into a routine where sermons are preached, songs are sung, and the Lord’s Supper is consumed, but all is done without a deep sense and awareness of the Trinity. In other words, if we are not careful our churches, in practice, can look remarkably Unitarian. And such a danger is not limited to the pews of the church. As we leave on Sunday morning and go back into the world, does the gospel we share with our coworker look decisively and explicitly trinitarian in nature? Or when we pray in the privacy of our own home, do the three persons of the Trinity make any difference in how we petition God?’
You can find the magazine here (where you can also download it is a pdf). There is some excellent material here, including articles by the authors of the two best books I read on the Trinity last year: Mike Reeves (The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Spirit) and Stephen Holmes (The Holy Trinity: Understanding God’s Life).
However, while I don’t want to complain about an excellent magazine, there is a glaring lack of any serious discussion of the issue of mission. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, but it’s a shame.
I suspect that this is partly due to the general apathy to the area of mission which typifies much of the Western Church at the moment. In all probability it didn’t even cross the mind of the editorial team to include anything about the issue. I also believe that it reflects something of the confusion about the interaction between our understanding of the Trinity and mission practice. This was discussed in post on Kouyanet last week.
If the editors of Credo want to return to the subject of the Trinity, I’d gladly offer to write something on mission for them!
Meanwhile, don’t let my gripe stop you from reading an excellent magazine.
I’m grateful to Simon Cozens for drawing my attention to this book. Following up on Simon’s book recommendations can be an expensive business at times, but in this case, it was well worth it.
Comprehending Mission: (American Society of Missiology) is an outstanding book. If you consider yourself to be a bit of a tiger when it comes to missiology or mission studies, then you simply have to read it. No ifs, no buts.
Subtitled The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and prospects of Missiology, this book gives the best and most comprehensive introduction to the literature of mission studies that I have ever come across and is destined to become a standard text for students of the subject. If you’ve not read Transforming Mission by Bosch yet, then Comprehending Mission shouldn’t be at the top of your reading list – but it should be close.
The six main chapters could each form a basic introduction to their own field and are worth reading on their own merits:
- Bible and Mission
- History of Mission
- Theology, Mission, Culture
- Christian Mission in a World of Religions
- The Means of Mission
- Missionary Vocations
I’ve already quoted from this book a couple of times and I’ll probably slip in a couple of more quotes in the next week or so.
This isn’t the best novel I’ve read, but it is rather pleasing and well worth investing in if you have to spend a night in a Catholic guest house in Africa with a group of teenagers on the next floor creating mayhem and a Pentecostal pastor in the next room praying and singing in a loud voice all night.
Basically, it is a series of linked narratives about a group of people who are connected by the fact that they live and work in the same London street. The stories move along enough to keep you reading and you do feel connected enough to some of the characters that you want to know what happens to them. I’m not sure that I’d pay the current Kindle price to read it, but Capital is worth getting hold of if it comes on offer again.
I like words and I like books about words; I’ll even read dictionaries for fun. However, though The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language is a book about words (and a former number one on the Sunday Times best seller list) I didn’t really enjoy it very much.
On one level, it’s quite good fun. Each short chapter gives a brief overview of the origin of some common words which are linked together by a tenuous theme. With each chapter more or less flowing out of the one before and the very last chapter sort of linking back to the first one. The approach is interesting and the contents, if hardly revolutionary, isn’t bad. The problem is that whole thing is written in such a smug, self-satisfied, look-at-me-aren’t-I-clever, sort of fashion that it began to seriously annoy me after a while.
The author, who is probably a perfectly charming man, seems to be trying hard to convince you that he is the sort of person that you would dread sitting next to at a dinner party.
I paid 20p for it on Kindle which was fair enough. Currently it is retailing for £5.19 – it isn’t worth it!
You know what? I probably wouldn't bother with this. I know it's a famous book and has been made into a movie and all, but I just didn't get it.
The book broadly breaks down into three sections. The first is a rather crude advert for a certain wishy-washy variety of Hinduism. Yes, I know that it supposedly talks about Christianity and Islam, but the author doesn't seem to understand either very well.
The main section of the book is devoted to a long story about a shipwreck. I'm pretty sure that much of the detail in this section is factually accurate because I once read a very similar story in an edition of Readers' Digest. Of course, the shipwreck section in The Life of Pi is livened up by the fact that the shipwrecked boy has to share his life raft with a Bengal tiger; something that didn't happen in the Readers' Digest True Life Story that I read about a shipwreck. This section is mildly diverting and full of useful information about what to do if you ever end up sharing a lifeboat with a tiger; something which could potentially save your life. But probably won't. I found myself reading on in the hope that the tiger would eat the hero and put the story out of its misery. He didn't.
The last five to ten pages of the book are fascinating. I can't tell you what happens as that would be a plot spoiler. I really enjoyed this section but it really wasn't worth reading the whole book just for this and sadly it only makes sense in the context of the whole book.
I bought Life of Pi on Kindle for 20p. I feel cheated. Lots of other people have read this book and enjoyed it and I'm told that the film is a real treat. Please feel free to ignore my opinion and read it for yourself.
I've not posted a link to the Kindle book (yet) because I don't have enough Internet connectivity to do so. I'm sitting outside my little bungalow on the Jos Plateau watching some late dry season clouds bubble up in the distance. There is the promise that the rains will come, but not for a few days yet. Closer to me the flame trees and jacaranda are in full bloom. It's very pretty. My early morning run on a school running track listening to the familiar sounds of Africa was very enjoyable – though the lack of oxygen at this altitude was less so.
It's good to be back in Africa – but I still didn't like the Life of Pi.
I have to start with a disclaimer. Not only was I given a free copy of this book to read and review, it was also signed by the author and I even get a mention on the acknowledgements page. I’ve known the author, Rob Baker, since he was a short term missionary in Ivory Coast, twenty years ago.
However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take my review seriously, because this is genuinely a good book. Adventures in Music and Culture is written with a vivacity and an eye for detail which bring scenes to life in technicolour. Anyone who knows West Africa will immediately find themselves transported back to familiar situations and those who don’t know that part of the world will be enchanted anyway.
If you want to know what it’s like driving through the West African bush, staying in bush hotels or getting groups together to write and record songs, this book is for you. If you’d really just like an interesting and amusing travelogue – it fits the bill too. Rob’s irrepressable good humour shines throughout, bringing lots of smiles and one or two laugh out loud moments.
The only thing I would complain about is the quality of the publication. In my copy the inner margin was so close to the book binding that it was difficult to open it far enough to see the last couple of letters on each line. This didn’t stop me enjoying the book, but it was a little frustrating. It would also be good to see this published for the Kindle. It’s an ideal book for holiday reading on the beach – but who carries paperbacks to the beach these days!
A few evenings ago, we had dinner with a friend who has been involved with a developing mission movement in one corner of the world. Over many years, our friend and her colleagues have been patiently building relationships with local church leaders and supporting them as they get involved in reaching outside of their church boundaries. Our friend feels that they are at a point where things are about to really take off.
At the same time, she fears for the future of the work they are doing. A large, US based agency is looking to come into the country and ostensibly support this new mission movement. However, this support comes with strings. In particular, this agency wants to get things done quickly and years of patient building relationship building are being sidelined in the hurry to get things done. Younger, tech-savvy guys are given preference to older, wiser and more respected local leaders – something which just isn’t done in that culture. And so it goes on.
The leaders of this large agency would do well to read We Are Not the Hero by Jean Johnson. Subtitled A missionary’s guide for sharing Christ, not a culture of dependency, this hard hitting book takes a good look at some of the mistakes commonly made by Western missionaries working in the minority world. However, this is not a “let’s beat up the missionaries” sort of book. For the most part it is full of excellent advice and suggestions as to a more positive way forward. Many of the books I mention here are of a reflective or theoretical nature. We Are Not the Hero has a good theoretical underpinning, but is extremely practical in nature.
One might have thought that things had moved on and that we don’t need books like this anymore – sadly, this is not the case.I’m not sure that I’d want to make it compulsory for all Western missionaries to read this – but they’d better have a really good excuse if they don’t!
Thanks to Nora for drawing my attention to this book (when are you going to start blogging again?).
I write about mission and theology and I muse about Bible translation, but when push comes to shove, my real field of expertise is detective novels. I’ve read lots of Agatha Christie (clever mysteries, dreadful characterization) a fair bit of Simenon (amazing characters, boring mysteries – and in French), all of the Morse books, the whole of P.D. James detective oeuvre and so it goes on. I know my Frost from my Marlowe and my Lindley from my Havers. I even have more than a nodding acquaintance with Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham And I read Nordic thrillers before they were noir or à la mode.
I don’t say this to boast, nor to indicate that I have too much time on my hands (I’m a fast reader), simply to establish my credentials as one who knows his crime fiction. You can trust me, when I speak of this genre. And the thing you should trust me saying is that Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks novels are the pick of the crop.
Set in the Yorkshire Dales, these books have excellent, believable characters, who grow from novel to novel. I don’t know if the details about police work are accurate, but they certainly sound as though they are and add a ring of authenticity to the books. The stories are well constructed and satisfying. I have never finished a Banks’ book without wanting to start another one immediately. The problem with Watching the Dark is that it is the latest one in the series and I’ve read all of the others. Don’t let that put you off, Watching the Dark is a terrific novel and well worth a read, but if you’ve never read anything by Robinson, I’d start with Gallows View the first book in the series.
if you only exposure to Inspector Banks is the TV series, don’t be put off – read the books.
As for me, I can’t wait for the next one to come out.