Fortress Press Kindle Sale

About twice a year Fortress Press has a kindle book sale. Fortress is a fairly academic publisher. There is a wide variety of books, but they are mostly academic in nature. The sale prices are mostly $2.99, $4,99 or $6.99, but these are academic books mostly that are normally in the $20 range.

This includes all of Bonhoeffer’s Complete Works series, much of NT Wright’s big books like the 1700 page Paul and the Faithfullness of God, The Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries series, lots of history, lots of pastoral training books (preaching, counseling, pastoral ethics, etc.)

Complete list

On my first round of books I am focusing on books about the Black Church.

(One note: some of these books a fairly dated. The older books were converted from print and not all of them were converted well. If you are frustrated within the first few pages, return the book because it is unlikely to get better.)

We Have Been Believers: An African American Systematic Theology by James H. Evans Jr. for $4.99 

The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora Edited by Hugh R. Page Jr. for $4.99 

Ethical Leadership: The Quest for Character, Civility and Community by Walter Earl Fluker for $4.99

The Imposing Preacher: Samuel DeWitt Proctor and Black Public Faith by Adam L. Bond for $4.99

Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women, Religion and Civil Rights by Rosetta E. Ross for $4.99

Journey & Promise of African American Preaching by Kenyatta R. Gilbert for $4.99

Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation by Cain Hope Felder for $4.99

Christ Divided: Antiblackness as Corporate Vice by Katie Walker Grimes for $4.99

Fortress Intro Black Church History by Anne H. Pinn for $4.99

The Last Blues Preacher: Reverend Clay Evans, Black Lives, and the Faith that Woke the Nation by Zach Mills for $4.99

Standing in the Shoes my Mother Made: A Womanist Theology. by Diana Hayes for $4.99

Ain’t I a Womanist, Too?: Third Wave Womanist Religious Thought by Monica A. Coleman for $4.99

Empowerment Ethics for a Liberated People: A Bath to African American Social Transformation by Cheryl J. Sanders for $4.99

Down, Up, and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology by Dwight N. Hopkins for $4.99

Onesimus Our Brother: Reading Religion, Race, and Culture in Philemon. edited by Matthew V. Johnson for $4.99

Becoming an Anti-Racist Church: Journeying Toward Wholeness by Joseph Barndt for $4.99

To Make the Wounded Whole: Cultural Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by Lewis V. Baldwin for $4.99

A Child Shall Lead Them: Martin Luther King Jr, Young People, and the Movement by Rufus, Jr. Burrow for $4.99

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James BaldwinTakeaway: I need to read this again.

Go Tell It On the Mountain is my second Baldwin fiction book and my fourth book by Baldwin. Baldwin’s fiction and non-fiction styles feel very different. That may be more about what books I have read, but so far, I like his essays, more than his fiction.

I started Go Tell It On the Mountain as an audiobook. But the audiobook was difficult to follow. The structure of the book changes perspective and narrative frequently and there was just not enough cues in the audio to note that there was a change, let alone what the change was. So I gave up on the audio and read the print the rest of the way. The print was less confusing, although there were still places where jumps in action occurred and I feared that I had missed something and would re-read to realize that I had not missed anything.

Like several other authors, I can feel Baldwin’s talent. He writes beautifully and with power. But I do not love the stories. I know I am not supposed to love the stories because they are not about beautiful things or people. But still it is difficult to read about people in pain constantly. Now that I understand the structure more clearly I think I can read it better and pay more attention to the language and the narrative. Especially the last section feel’s similar to Flannery O’Connor’s dictum about needing to shout to the hard of hearing.

The is a book soaked in biblical allusions and direct references. I really do not know how someone would read this and make sense of it without a very good working knowledge of the bible.

This line, “If God’s power was so great, why were their lives so troubled?” does seem to be the central theme. God is real here. But the father figure (Gabriel), while attempting to follow God and being clearly used by God, is also abusive. In many ways, it seems that the real question is, if God is real why is Gabriel not changed.

Almost at the end, the Gabriel (John’s step father) is confronted by his sister over his past and current sin. The father responds, ‘“God’s way,” he said, and his speech was thick, his face was slick with sweat, “ain’t man’s way. I been doing the will of the Lord, and can’t nobody sit in judgment on me but the Lord.’ It is this type of father/church figure that I think that Baldwin in real life is reacting against.

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo by Kwame AlexanderSummary: Blade, the son of a famous, but notoriously addicted rock star, tries to find his way to adulthood. 

My first narrative verse book was Brown Girl Dreaming. I have been looking forward to reading Kwame Alexander since because I knew that he wrote novels that are written in verse. There are others as well, that I will make my way to eventually.

I have never really liked poetry. But I know that part of it is because I do not like reading slow. I want to read fast and keep moving. Solo and Brown Girl Dreaming were well worth reading. With both I have started with the audiobooks so that I can hear them read properly. I will go back eventually and read them in print, but the right reading of poetry I think is part of my problem with poetry.

Solo is also a musical book. So in addition to the narrative verse, it is about a musician and it includes original music written for the book. The audiobook includes that, which is yet another reason to listen to the audiobook.

Blade is 17, the school salutatorian. A natural with a guitar, and the son of a famous but addicted rock star father. His mother died when he was 9 and he has not gotten over that, nor has his father or older sister. Blade resents his family even as he loves them. His father has given him wealth and many things, including a love of music and access to it. But he also has messed up his life, including the fact that his girlfriend’s father will not let them see one another because of the screw up that is his Dad.

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow PriorSummary: An exploration of reading as a means of learning virtue.

It is hard to review books of people you know and like. I have been Facebook/Twitter friends with Karen Swallow Prior since 2012 when her first book came out. I am in a private Facebook group where both of us are active. We have never met in person, but I would gladly meet her and do anything I could to help her. Karen is the kind of person that I want many more of in the world. She was profiled in a recent New Yorker piece.

I both love the actual book On Reading Well and I love the intent of the book. On Reading Well is trying to teach the reader how to read books with an eye on classic virtue. Swallow Prior is an English professor, focusing on 17-18th Century British literature.

Karen Swallow Prior is trying to restore the historic ideal of seeing literature as a means to understanding virtue. She is part of the movement toward great books. And there have been a number of books that have started to write on traditional virtues lately.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali PerkinsSummary: A family moves to the US and the three generations change, adapt and remain Bengali.

As I said yesterday, I find good books quite often by listening to people that love to read. One of my regular habits is listening to several interview podcasts that often interview authors. The Conversing podcast by Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Seminary, is one of my favorite. It has a diverse guest lists, but also quite often these are actual friends, or long term acquaintances.

Mitali Perkins studied public policy and political science. As someone that came to the US from India as a child she said there were three options for children, to be an engineer, a doctor, or an engineer, a joke that is in the book as well. After first breaking the mold to study politics and political science out of a calling toward justice, she took the plunge to change hearts through stories.

You Bring the Distant Near is her most recent book and it was nominated for a National Book Award. Her earlier book, Rickshaw Girl, was named as one of the top 100 Children’s books of the past 100 years by the New York Public Library and is currently being made into a movie. Several of her other 10 books have also won numerous awards as well.

You Bring the Distant Near is a novel, but from what I know of her Mitali Perkins’ story it is also semi-autobiographical. It is the story of five women, from three generations of an immigrant family. Starting in the 1970s focusing first on one daughter, Sonia, and then the other daughter Tara, the story progresses in time as the daughters marry, have daughters of their own, and then also the story of the matriarch, Ranee.

Monk!: Thelonious, Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution by Youssef Daoudi

Monk!: Thelonious, Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution by Youssef DaoudiSummary: Great presentation of improvisation in art form.

One of the important steps to reading great books, is surrounding yourself with people that like to read and recommend great books. Even more, find people who like to read books that you would not normally pick up on your own.

A facebook friend of mine is an expert in graphic novels. He is an artist himself and has written several books, but he also runs a very good graphic novel review site, goodokbad. I do not read a ton of graphic novels. But when I do, I pay attention to Seth’s recommendations. If you like recommendations, follow the website or follow one of his social media accounts where he has a daily recommendation.

Yousef Daoudi’s graphic novel biography of Thelonious Monk is excellent. Going in, I liked Monk’s music but knew not a thing about his life. I now want to read more, which I always consider a good way to see whether a book is any good.

The most striking thing about the biography of Monk as a musician is the way that Daoudi draws the concept of improvisation.

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I do not have enough skill and experience to really review a graphic novel, especially about a subject that I do not know all that much about. But I did enjoy reading this and I would love to see additional biographical graphic novels of other jazz greats.

Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly about Racism in America by George Yancy

Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly about Racism in America by George YancySummary: A linguistic, philosophical and cultural commentary on the backlash to minorities talking about racism. 

Backlash that was written in response to the writing a 2015 editorial on racism at the NYT. The book opens, after a forward by Cornell West and an introduction by Yancy with that original editorial. Backlash is the type of book I needed to read. And while I think it is a book that many here would benefit from, the editorial is much shorter and worth reading on its own. So even if you are not particularly interested in reading book about racism, I encourage reading the editorial.

George Yancy (a philosopher at Emory and not George Yancey, a Sociologist at University of North Texas, notice the difference in spelling of the last name) draws a parallel between his own participation and benefit in sexism because he is a man and the participation and benefit that all Whites receive because of racism in the US. He is making an explicit argument that racism (and sexism) are systemic and cultural. That the very best we can do is become anti-racist racists or anti-sexist sexists. We never stop being racist (or sexist) because at root racism and sexism are not individual positions, but cultural and systemic positions of the world around us. As much as we can work to decenter whiteness and try to be personally anti-racist, we will still do and think racist things (or sexist things) because that is the culture we swim in.

That basic point of the editorial I think is important here. We have not and will not ever ‘make it’ to be a perfectly safe or good white person. We will always have more to correct and work on. But also we will always be at least partially dangerous to the people of color around us. The danger to minorities around us is developed more fully in his fourth chapter of Backlash. I did not fully grasp this point prior to this book. I was able to grasp the historical damage of racism. I was able to grasp the theoretical cultural damage that systems place on minorities in the US. I was not able to see how that damage of racism also was current and personal to my own body. (The development of this needs to be read, I am not going to recreate the argument here.)

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar TisbySummary: An introductory survey of American history and the relationship of the church to racism.

Racism is hard to talk about because we have a hard time agreeing with what racism is. Not only the definition of the word, but looking at specific events the discussion frequently devolves into, ‘That was racist’ and ‘I don’t understand how you can say that was racist’.

The Color of Compromise is an introductory survey of how the church has compromised with racism over history. Early chapters cover slavery and the divides within the church over the Civil War, Jim Crow, segregation and the Civil Rights movement. All of this is well done and important, but also a history that I think many will be relatively familiar with.

I think where The Color of Compromise really is valuable and most important (and will be most controversial) is the last several chapters where racism is less overt and where Tisby specifically is using comparisons with Billy Graham and a few others to show that even when there may not be intention, harm can still occur.

In previous eras, racism among Christian believers was much easier to detect and identify. Professing believers openly used racial slurs, participated in beatings and lynchings, fought wars to preserve slavery, or used the Bible to argue for the inherent inferiority of black people. And those who did not openly resist these actions—those who remained silent—were complicit in their acceptance. Since the 1970s, Christian complicity in racism has become more difficult to discern. It is hidden, but that does not mean it no longer exists. (page 155)

The word Compromise in Color of Compromise I think was well chosen. Racism, like many other things is not just overt harmful action, but also the times when it is easier to just not say or do anything. The examples of Billy Graham compared to Martin Luther King Jr or other figures from our recent past really do give the best illustrations in the book about how subtle, but real, lack of attention to how racial lines create an other matters.

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard TwissSummary: What it means to be a Christian cannot be culturally constrained.

I have been meaning to reading Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys pretty much since it came out. I briefly met Richard Twiss at a conference sometime in the late 90s. That was enough for me to know I wanted to read the book, but it was not until two recent things that I actually started reading the book (although I bought it several years ago).

The first thing was the discussions about John Chau’s death as he attempted to reach an isolated group of people on an island off the coast of India that reportedly has had almost no outside contact for hundreds of years. As part of that discussion, a Facebook friend of mine suggested Rescuing the Gospel From the Cowboys as an essential book to thinking about how we approach unreached people groups. The second reason I actually picked up the book was that I realized when looking at my reading over the past two years that I had not read a single book by a Native American author.

Richard Twiss’ focus in Rescuing The Gospel from the Cowboys is helping to understand how he can be Christian and remain culturally Lakota. The early parts of the book trace both his own story and the story of Native Americans in the US more generally. Both of those stories are similar, Christianity is continually presented as a White man’s religion, not just historically, but as culture. To be Christian means that Native Americans have historically (and today) been told that their culture is pagan, and therefore they must become White culturally to become Christian.

I roughly understood the history. But reading direct reports are important to hear. More important is the theological and cultural work that is being constructively done here. I can understand why some will disagree with some of his conclusions and approaches. However, what is important here is that those within the Native American culture are working out what it means to be Christian and Native American.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Good Lord Bird by James McBrideSummary: A slave is ‘rescued’ by John Brown in Kansas and tells his story through the Harper’s Ferry raid.

John Brown is rightly a controversial figure in American history. I read a short (children’s?) book last October. And Brown was a figure in the biographies of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman that I also read in 2018.

On the positive side, John Brown radically believed that slavery was something that was so evil in God’s eyes that it was morally justified to take up arms to attempt to end slavery. On the negative side, John Brown was so convinced of his calling by God and God’s blessing on that calling that he either failed to plan well or was just incapable of planning well. From the blatant murder of pro-slave individuals in Kansas to the failed raid at Harper’s Ferry, where the first people to die were free Black residents of the area, Brown’s actions failed to meet his intentions.

James McBride uses the character of Henry Shackleford, a young pre-teen slave to tell the story. John Brown attempts to free several slaves in a tavern in Kansas, which results in the death of Henry’s father. Brown mistakes Henry as a girl and for the rest of the novel, Henry plays the part of a girl, nicknamed ‘Little Onion’.

There is lots of humor in the book, but also clear social commentary both for today and of the pre-civil war era. Even among abolitionists, Blacks, slave or free, were barely human in the eyes of most Whites. Onion (Henry) plays the part of a girl, because the role of Blacks at the time (and in many ways today) was to be put on a performance for Whites that kept the individual (or group) safe first. The authentic self was less important than the safety.

Onion’s play acting as a girl is played for laughs frequently, but the point isn’t just laughs, the point is the dehumanization that is part of what it means to be Black in a society that is designed for White Supremacy.