220px-Wallace_StegnerThis summer has been a good time for reading once again. There is actually too much to read, and once again I will find myself having only read or re-read part of what I wanted to get through. In terms of impact, two books stand out for me this summer – one, an unlikely but beautiful chance encounter in MK library, is Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, one of the wisest and most mature explorations of the relationships between married couples and growing old and the maturing or death of ambition that I have ever read. There is a super review of it by South African author Gillian Slovo here. It was unputdownable, and will stay with me for a long time, as it has so much to teach and remind. Set principally in Madison, Wisconsin and around a fictional pond in mountainous northern Vermont, it is a triumph of both storytelling, landscape description and understanding of character. His Collected Stories, which I read back in the Spring, are full of keenly drawn observations of both humanity and nature and above all the relationship between the two. In particular, the description of a group of prairie cowboys searching for stock over the onset of winter in southern Saskatchewan in the story “Genesis” has got to be one of the most amazing stories ever written. I got into Wallace Stegner through an essay by Wendell Berry who had been in his class at what turned out to be the most influential American Creative writing Course, at Stanford. Another great read that grew from this same course, by the now deceased Edward Abbey, is the Monkey Wrench Gang, a crazy tale of a group of creative and skilled misfits who have a passion for stopping industrial development – with explosives if need be – in the Colorado valley.

MclarenThe other book which I am just beginning to read for the second time before I return it to the person who lent it to me, is Brian McLaren’s Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? This is vintage McLaren – one of my favourite authors and one who most challenges and infuriates me when I read him. It is absolutely full of startling insights as well as the suspicion of dodgy theology and some radical reinterpretation of some fairly fundamental evangelical shibboleths, which many Christians will not like at all. The hard right of evangelicalism has long ago abandoned McLaren as apostate, and for me this is a really good reason to read and celebrate him. This YouTube clip really is a great introduction to the book, whose central thesis is “Why do we insist on a strong but hostile form of Christianity, when there must be a strong but benevolent version waiting to be explored?” This simple question, undermining as it does years of hostility-based understanding of how our great faith presents itself, gets to the heart of both why we get all tribal when it comes to faith and religion, and offers some clear, if debatable, ways forward in terms of our doctrine, our liturgy and our mission. I have ordered copies for school, only because if we are trying to do chaplaincy in a multi-faith world with love and integrity, some of McLaren’s insights are unavoidable. See the clip, then get the book, then start looking at people and your mission as a Christian in a new light. And don’t let the theological stance put you off the central purpose of the book. As with much McLaren, it is extremely well researched but not always theologically “tied down”. His heart, though, is in exactly the right place. I am back to chapter 2! I will have to get my own copy because there is much to be noted, underlined and generally commented in the margins of…

Other books that have ended up on my summer reading list have been Robert Louis Stevenson’s South Sea Tales, a short exploration into a world I know nothing about (always worth doing), re-reading two short novels by Wendell Berry (Nathan Coulter and A World Lost), John Le Carre’s most recent book A Delicate Truth (an insight into the slightly off beat world of New labour defence policy), and my persistent efforts to get to the end of Albert Borgmann’s Power Failure – this last is too heavy going for Summer, but I have to finish it, because there are more waiting!!


About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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