Stephen talks ebooks: what they mean for writers, whether they’re here to stay and what their impact is on the world.
Summer reading is one of the great joys of my life, but it didn’t start out that way. The first time one of my teachers assigned a summer reading list I felt like I had been arrested. My sunlit, school-free months would no longer be filled with baseball and swimming pools, I thought. Instead, my mind would be chained to the printed page, the life sucked out of me by, of all things, a book.
But then Mark Twain won me. And Jules Verne. Orwell, Hawthorne and Crane sealed the deal. Soon I was hooked. I became one of those geeky kids who had to be ordered to the dinner table, forced by threats to leave my other, literary world.
Now each of my summers is a read-fest, with beaches, picnic tables and even the space under a tree calling me to a book. Most everyone I know has had the same experience.
Since I want only to encourage this summer addiction, I thought I would offer a few suggestions for great books to read over the next few months. These ten books provide some fascinating journeys, perfect for the refueling, re-inspiring and just plain fun that summer reading ought to be.
1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
This big canvas treatment of introverts and their value to the world is my favorite book of the year so far.
2. Mrs. Kennedy and Me, Clint Hill
Secret Service Agent Clint Hill’s tender account of guarding Jacqueline Kennedy is a moving answer to the recent antics of less honorable agents.
3. The Demise of Guys: Why Boys are Struggling and What We can Do About It by
Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan
This is an e-book by the folks at TED on a vital subject. It is short, written by brilliant authors and it makes you want to be a better man–or at least help grow one.
4. 11/23/63 by Stephen King
This time travel novel centered around the Kennedy assassination is both an exciting read and a story that raises important questions about free will, memory, and the forces that shape culture.
5. Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt
Hyatt, the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, is an expert on social media in the service of a brand and he pours his wisdom liberally onto these pages.
6. The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo
The skill of presentation as story is the heart of this book and, though you can easily read it at the beach, it may transform your career.
7. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N. T. Wright
I can’t say it any more clearly: this may be the most important Christian book of the year.
8. Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
Frazier gave us the magnificent novel Cold Mountain and the same gifts are on display in this rich story of the Cherokee of North Carolina during the Great Removal, better known as the Trail of Tears.
9. Don’t Quit Your Day Job, edited by Sonny Brewer
This e-book is subtitled “Acclaimed Authors and The Day Jobs They Quit,” which hints at how inspiring this book is.
10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I think every summer’s reading should include some classics and this one is perfect, since most people today thing it is a horror story but it was intended as a stark statement of man’s agonized longing for God.
In recent months, the Mansfield Group has found its media training services increasingly in demand. Having worked through the years with rock stars, influential politicians, and CEOs, the firm has developed a reputation for elevating media skills and speaking effectiveness that is now drawing numerous new clients.
The Mansfield Group conducts its training intensives in Nashville and Washington DC at elegant private locations and is known for customizing its approach to fit individual needs. Stephen Mansfield explained, “I think our work in this arena is increasing because we make our sessions fun, because we do extensive analysis before the sessions begin in order to develop wise strategies and because we stick with our clients for months after to make sure that their political campaign or promotional tour is a success. We thoroughly enjoy seeing the folks we work with achieve new heights.”
Stephen Mansfield’s two books, The Faith of Barack Obama and his upcoming The Mormonizing of America, are gaining new importance as guides to the upcoming 2012 election. The Faith of Barack Obama, a 2008 international best seller, has recently been updated and expanded so that it includes a fascinating overview of Obama’s first term journey of faith. The additional material is so detailed it includes samples of the devotionals the president receives each day on his Blackberry.
The Mormonizing of America helps explain the faith of the other candidate in the presidential race, Mitt Romney. Though the book rarely mentions Romney, it is an engaging, hard-hitting overview of Mormon beliefs and history that illuminates one of the most critical issues in the 2012 race–What does the rising influence of Mormonism mean for America?
The expanded, updated edition of The Faith of Barack Obama is in stores now. The Mormonizing of America releases in late June. Watch this website for interviews and updates on both books.
Stephen Mansfield has two new books out recently, one on Oprah Winfrey and one on Barack Obama. The book on Oprah Winfrey—entitled Where Has Oprah Taken Us: The Religious Impact of the World’s Most Famous Woman—is already out and climbing bestseller lists. The book on Obama—an updated and expanded version of the international bestseller The Faith of Barack Obama—is coming out in late November. Interestingly, though both books are about influential African-American leaders in our generation, the book on Oprah is about a woman who has rejected biblical Christianity in favor of a self-empowering mysticism and the book on Obama is about a man schooled in theological liberalism who is now turning toward a more traditional Christian faith. In the new Obama book, Mansfield even includes details like copies of the devotional emails the president receives daily on his Blackberry. The two books represent two fascinating tales about two very different religious journeys in our time.
Stephen discusses the future of the book publishing industry, the current state of the music business, and the aspects of adapting to a digital age.
And now, the final portion of my list of the thirty books that changed my life.
Of Plimoth Plantation, William Bradford
To read the words of the pilgrims took the “Mayflower Story” out of the realm of myth and made it pulsate with grit and brine and fiery faith. It also made me insist upon reading original documents in my pursuit of truth.
History of the American People, Paul Johnson
Eminent British historian Paul Johnson taught me about my own nation’s history in a manner that few American historians have. A wonderful, inspiring, instructive offering.
History of American Education, 3 Vols, Lawrence Cremin
What Americans accomplished educationally during their colonial period is one of the great tales of history. What we have done to ourselves educationally since is one of the great tales of cultural suicide. Cremin captures both in an objective, stimulating study of the entire course of American educational history.
The Messianic Character of American Education, Rousas John Rushdoony
A Christian critique of American public education that has shaped my thinking each day since I first read it in college.
The Light and the Glory, Peter Marshall/David Manuel
Released during the American bicentennial, this book first helped me understand the American covenant.
Griftopia, Matt Taibbi
Taibbi is angry, gritty and crude, but he described the immoral mess that pervades much of Wall Street in a manner that may help us to rescue ourselves—if we are willing.
Grand Illusions, George Grant
This brilliant expose of Planned Parenthood taught me of the good Christian investigative writing can do.
The Geography of Nowhere, James Kunstler
I study architecture and so I am thrilled at some of the new trends in human scale, mixed use development. To understand how important they are, we first have to understand what the architectural trends of the last century did to us. Kunstler is our guide.
Military Brats, Mary Edwards Wertsch
I grew up a military brat, largely in Europe, and am grateful for the experience. How I was shaped by it was explained to me in this book, which is hard-edged and not descriptive of everything I experienced, but which is still a helpful guide to building on the best of the brat tradition.
In my last blog, I began a list of the books that have proven most revolutionary in my life. Here is the second section of that list. Read. Enjoy. Go forth and conquer.
1. Peace Like a River, Leif Enger
This novel is a miracle. Supernatural, gritty and tender. It was touted by both Newsweek magazine and the Christian book press. It taught me what is possible.
2. The Great Santini, Pat Conroy
My father was not the Great Santini during his military career, but this novel explored the life of a military child better than I have a right to expect of fiction. It helped me heal.
3. The Flames of Rome, Paul Maier
A powerful novel about Nero and the burning of Rome. I learned from this novel how fiction can serve the cause of biblical literacy.
4. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
I came to this novel late in life and when I did I found the theological underpinnings of the famous story a touching exploration of the human condition. It made me sorry that Frankenstein is now regarded as the stuff of monster movies rather than an epic chronicle of the pursuit of God.
5. 1812, David Nevin
This novel taught me how an age can be captured through interwoven narrative. I learned history. I learned writing. I learned to love America even more.
1. Lincoln’s Melancholy, Joshua Wolf Schenk
The thesis of this masterpiece is that had Abraham Lincoln not struggled to overcome depression, he would not have offered us the leadership or the poetry that he did. It confirms the reality that we are made better in our purpose by mastering our flaws.
2. The Oral Autobiography of Harry Truman, Merle Miller
I read this in college and it turned me toward history as a major. I was instructed by Miller’s style but I was challenged by Truman’s mastery of history. A very important book in my life.
3. Winston Churchill, A. J. P. Taylor
I was already inspired by Churchill when I read Taylor’s work. A fine study in British wit and historical mastery. I decided to make Churchill a theme of my life upon reading this book.
4. George Whitefield’s Journals, George Whitefield
Whitefield is truly the forgotten founding father of our colonial era. He led the American colonies in spiritual revival and thus into the war for independence. He is my model Christian.
5. Right from the Beginning, Patrick Buchanan
I have never fully agreed with Pat politically, but his memoir of tough-minded Catholicism, clear-minded conservatism and tenderhearted patriotism challenged me.
6. What I Saw at the Revolution, Peggy Noonan
This book served as a course in creative writing in my development as an author. Peggy gave me courage to explore the emotional landscape of a subject and to not fear the poetry of my subject. What made her a groundbreaking speechwriter for Reagan also made her one of the most important mentors of my life.
It was Henry David Thoreau who wrote, “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.” This has certainly been the case in my life. Time and again, a book has proved a turning point, a course correction, a reworking of how I would ever after see the world.
Following the response to my blog on reading of a few weeks ago, I decided to share here the thirty books that have changed my life. I have read many more books, of course, and hundreds of them have been significant. However, the books below were each a turning point—a literal revolution—in my thinking and therefore in my character and conduct. They were so influential, in fact, that I was able to compile this list from memory.
I cannot promise that what happened to me in these pages will happen to you. I can promise that these books will at the least enrich your life. Literary revolutions, though, are in the hands of God. I’ll list the devotional and theological books that changed me first. Then, in an upcoming blog, I’ll list novels, histories, biographies and a few nonconformists. Enjoy.
Devotional Turning Points
- The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer
Given to me by my college chaplain, Dr. Bob Stamps, this book shaped my spiritual life for years after.
- The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a’ Kempis
This classic taught me that the Christian life is to know and be like Jesus.
- Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald
I learned the difference between being called and being driven from this book and it has been a defining ideal for me ever since.
- Wild at Heart, John Eldredge
This book explained my frustration with the lack of manhood in the Christian church and offered a path to masculine maturity.
- The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George Hunter III
I learned from this jewel how our Celtic Christian ancestors changed nations through a type of evangelism that is vital for us today. It was a devotional turning point for me because it instilled in me disciplines for living in a pre-Christian culture.
Theological Turning Points
- The Land, Walter Brueggemann
Learning the difference between “place” and “space” from this book was one of the defining moments of my theological and historical development.
- Paradise Restored, David Chilton
It is no exaggeration that I learned how to “see” the Bible from this book.
- Biblical Hermeneutics, Milton S. Terry
Hermeneutics is the study of how to interpret scripture. Good hermeneutics leads to good doctrine and thus to vibrant spirituality. This book taught me the path to both.
- Before Jerusalem Fell, Kenneth Gentry
There is no exaggerating the importance of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. to understanding the New Testament. This book drove this point home and transformed my worldview.
- The Day Christ Died, Jim Bishop
Bishop was a journalist who wrote about the physiology of Jesus’ experience on the cross in a way that shaped both my faith and my writing.
It would be easy for someone of our time to look at the current crises in Japan and the Middle East and even in our own nation’s capital and conclude that the last place they need to be is huddled up somewhere with a book. I would disagree. In fact, I believe that the reading life is more vital now than ever.
It is natural that I might say this, I suppose. I am a voracious reader. It is not hard for me to draw a line between the love of reading I acquired during my college years and the life I lead now. Reading awakens and then it refines. It instructs, yes, but it also conditions. It trains the mind, embedding both fact and wisdom, while it tempers the judgment. It also matures the emotions and deepens the soul. It does all this while providing a map for understanding the times. And this is as necessary today as ever.
I’ve learned the tricks of a reading life from my many literary mentors. I always carry a book with me. Who knows? Someone might be late for a lunch appointment and grace me with fifteen minutes of bliss. Estimates are the average American will spend three years of his life on the toilet. Books must be kept at hand for just such moments. And then there are the little lies of the addicted reader. “I’m going for a walk,” is actually cover for an hour spent under a tree with a book. “I’m going to take a bath” is code for “Must find solace. Must ingest words. Do not disturb.” Pitifully, I can already tell you what books I’ll be requesting for my birthday. It’s a disease, really.
In recent years my reading has dramatically increased and this has been largely due to technology. I can get almost misty-eyed at what my cell phone allows me to do. I read volumes on my iPhone. Yes, iPhone, not iPad. I reverse the video, enlarge the font and get about a half a paragraph in before I need to swipe my thumb across the screen. It is just right for the hyperactive. I use apps like Kindle and Kobo to purchase books and can’t believe the generosity of apps like History Classics and Free Books, the latter of which grants me nearly 25,000 free books of just the kind I tend to read. At any given moment, I have two dozen books on my phone that I can read without signal and thousands I can retrieve if I’m online.
Since much of the information I have to process comes to me in links to blogs, online periodicals and journals, I use Instapaper. How I love Instapaper, let me count the ways. This app/website let’s me open articles online but then store them so I can view them later using the app on my phone. All I do is click on “Read Later”—a tab in my browser Instapaper installs automatically—and those articles, without all the ugly graphics and page changes, are saved. I can read the articles later using the Instapaper app even when I don’t have signal, like when I’m on a plane. If a friend sends an important article to me by email, I can forward his email to an Instapaper email address and that article will be stored for later reading too. Instapaper has doubled the amount of information I can digest and made me much more effective at what I do. By the way, the articles I’ve read are stored in an Archive so when I’m writing months later and vaguely remember something I’ve read on a given topic, I can do a word search through all the articles I consumed, say, last year. I barely read any paper periodicals anymore. It just isn’t as efficient or as pleasant.
Beyond the techniques of reading, here are the principles that guide my reading:
- I try to read 24 books a years. This is one every two weeks and is aside from what I have to read for my work.
- I divide those books into fours. I read a book on theology, on a contemporary topic, on history and then a work of fiction. Occasionally I’ll work in some poetry but I don’t count that among the twenty-four. This means I should be able to read six books a year on each of the four topics I love to read and must read.
- Reading and list making go hand in hand. I make lists of books I plan to read and edit them as friends give me literary reviews over pizza or I come across more formal input in print. In other words, I have a plan but I’m always willing to interrupt that plan when a book grabs me from its perch on the shelf or a friend threatens death if I don’t read his latest literary love immediately.
Here’s the bottom line. You have to read to know our chaotic world. You have to read to lead. You have to read to stay sane and peaceful in an emotionally violent time. You have to read to know God. And you have to read, as C. S. Lewis said, to know you are not alone.
Get reading. Use your technology to make it easier and more readily available. Carve out the space and build a rich inner life. Set goals, share the joys, reap the harvest of a cultivated intellect and a sophisticated soul.
Blessed are the readers, for they shall inherit the earth.