Archives For Andy Whitman

Elsewhere [Vol. 3, #45]

December 10, 2010


Relevant Magazine’s Top 10 Books of 2010

[ We were honored to include a brief review here of Diana Balmori’s
A LANDSCAPE MANIFESTO.  Watch for our full review in two weeks… ]

Most publications, when they promise you a year-end Top 10 list, give you just 10 books. But here at RELEVANT, we’d like to think you’ve come to expect a bit more. We asked our friends over at the Burnside Writers Collective to help us compile the following list, which includes, um, 11 of the year’s best books, as well as four worthy honorable mentions. These are the books that thrilled, transported, challenged and inspired us. The books that broke our hearts and made us see the world in fresh ways. It was, all-in-all, a great year to be a book lover. Which is why we needed all 15 slots to accommodate our Top 10 list. Here they are, in no particular order:

Andy Whitman Reflects eloquently (as always)
on the 30th Anniversary of John Lennon’s Death

John Lennon died thirty years ago today. Howard Cosell broke into the Monday Night Football broadcast to announce Lennon’s assassination, and I broke in to my sleeping roommates’ bedrooms to tell them, and we all sat up for most of the night, watching on TV as the crowd which formed spontaneously around the Dakota Hotel sang “Give Peace a Chance.” We talked quietly among ourselves. Mostly I felt sick.

Read the full essay:


Two Recent Books on Gardening.

Like most of my American friends, I did not grow up a gardener. Unlike them, I grew up in God’s own garden, a shadowy and solemn rainforest cathedral choired by birds of paradise and guarded by poisonous vines, stink bugs, and death adders. Power chainsaws have desecrated most of the world’s rainforest temples during my own short youth, opening earth-wounds upon which farmers or palm oil companies smear the fertilizers and pesticides of agroscience, hoping to scab off fuel or a little food, survival or bio-profits, before the hard red clay puckers into dusty, sterile scars. Though many of my friends and acquaintances in Manila and Jakarta were exposed to third-eye levels of farming chemicals in childhood, few are interested in sacrificing the enticements of quick ‘n easy flower boxes for the perilous joy of a garden.


In the midst of a concrete jungle, Tim Stark and Robert Pogue Harrison have been helpful guides as I begin to discover the relationships between my dinner table, my soul, and the soil. Harrison, a professor of Italian literature at Stanford, has written the philosophical Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. Stark, a failed freelance writer from New York City, has penned Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer, a juicily written tale of his mad affair with the tomato.

Read the full review:

Robert Pogue Harrision.

Hardcover: U of Chicago Press, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]


Tim Stark.
Hardcover: Broadway Books, 2008.
Buy Now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

Music Critic Andy Whitman
Reflects on David Dark’s New Book
The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.

I write that, and quote from several sources at length, only to say that David Dark’s latest book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, ought to be required reading for human beings, regardless of their religious or political stripes. David Dark is one of my favorite Christian thinkers, and his earlier books Everyday Apocalypse and The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-Blessed, Christ-Haunted Idea have, respectively, outlined the in-breaking of truth in popular culture, and our national overconfidence in our own righteousness. For his third book, Dark pulls out all the stops, and surveys the stories that we hear on a daily basis, stories about God and religion, our nation and its history, our self-defined passions, our sacred cows, our morality. We hear these stories in a thousand places; in television broadcasts, in classrooms, in the books we read, in our choice of friends and the viewpoints we are willing to take in, in the magazines we subscribe to, the music we listen to, the web sites we frequent. To a large extent, they define our identity.

Read the full piece:

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.
David Dark.

Paperback: Zondervan, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $13 ] [ Amazon ]

Scott McKnight Briefly Reviews
Andrew Marin’s Love is An Orientation.

Andrew Marin has earned the right to be heard about gays and the Church. Why? His book, Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community , tells the story. That subtitle is what is needed next, and I think it’s the Third Way.

Some are wearied by this discussion.
Some are worked into passionate pronouncements.
Few are willing to sort out the issues, both biblical and relational, and then move into genuine Christian engagement. Andrew Marin does the latter.

Read the full review:

Love Is an Orientation:
Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community.

Andrew Marin.

Paperback: IVP Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $13 ]  [ Amazon ]


Our favorite music critic Andy Whitman
reviews U2’s new album NO LINE ON THE HORIZON

“Time is irrelevant, it’s not linear,” Bono proclaims near the beginning of No Line on the Horizon (4 stars), U2’s 12th studio album, which releases March 3 but is already posted on the band’s MySpace page. When you’ve spent 30 years in the circus, are well into middle age, and are still working the territory most commonly associated with preening 20-year-olds, it’s a reasonable stance to take. Fittingly, it’s a preoccupation Bono circles back to again and again, and it results in the band’s most thematically rich album in a storied career.

Read the full review:


Release Date: 3 March 2009
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

THE OTHER JOURNAL reviews Katie Ford’s
new book of poems COLOSSEUM.

When the lights go down in Colosseum, Katie Ford’s second collection of poetry, we find ourselves in the poet’s cranial theater, an old-fashioned movie palace of flickering reels and irregular splicing. It is here that the book’s preoccupation unfolds: a remembering of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. And it’s here that the memory landscape shifts from history book to watercolor dream cycle, nightmarish in its images and vagaries. Showing a deft sense of humor, or perhaps just irony, Ford includes a poem about the late great New Orleans movie theater lost to fire months after the hurricane, the “Coliseum Theatre”—it is, of course, an elegy.

To say the poems in Colosseum record anxiety, trauma, and a stunned sense of coping might belittle Ford’s surprising chemistry in mixing the loss of New Orleans with the destruction and devastation of the classical world. At first it might seem that the thematic thread is a project, and arbitrary—why Rome? Why not Rhodes? Only after reading and re-reading Colosseum did I see Ford’s book as an attempt to honor New Orleans by placing its destruction into the tradition of the great dead: Athens, Rome, Carthage, Alexandria. Is Ford’s point that every vanquished city is worthy of such high simile, or is it just New Orleans? Feeling runs so high in this collection that I must admit that reading it put me in mind of testimonies from Vietnam War veterans

Read the full review:

Katie Ford.

Paperback: Graywolf Press, 2008.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $12 ] [ Amazon ]


If you’ve ever read Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, finding it hard to put down, then Nature’s Second Chance is your chance to witness the ecological wonder as Steven Apfelbaum transforms his tired farmstead once used to grow corn crops into a Midwestern paradise: a biologically diverse and healthy prairie, with wetland, forest and spring brook. Leopold’s writings culminated in the land ethic philosophy. Nature’s Second Chance puts it into practice, not only at Apfelbaum’s eighty acre Stone Prairie Farm over a period of thirty years, but at the Prairie Crossing “conservation development” north of Chicago and, perhaps, in a community near you though projects spearheaded by the now internationally-acclaimed, multimillion dollar ecological restoration business, Applied Ecological Services.

Writes Apfelbaum: “I envisioned a network of restored lands that would reconnect dispersed and isolated habitats. This may be viewed as an ecological systems approach to rethinking the landscape or a community land ethic where the health of the land — not just of individually owned parcels — is a measure of land community vitality.”

This highly readable treatise on a more ecologically mindful approach to living on the land provides both enlightening anecdotes and descriptive policy changes needed that will allow us to restore the health of diverse ecological systems on which our own very survival is based. Through his work both at Prairie Stone Farm and with Applied Ecological Services, Apfelbaum rekindles the spirit of service to all of creation, with humans, themselves, playing the central role in nurturing the renewal work so crucial in this Century and in the emerging restoration economy.

Read the full review:

Steven Apfelbaum.

Hardcover: Beacon, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $21 ] [ Amazon ]


As explained by Livio, the history of mathematics is partly a struggle between these points of view: that math is how God (or nature) organizes the world, or it is simply a human tool to understand that world.

Livio comes down in the middle, contending that math may well be both invented and discovered. He points, for instance, to the eternal truth contained in the geometry formulated by Euclid 2,400 years ago. By the 19th century, however, iconoclasts had posited and established a whole new world of non-Euclidian geometry. Livio writes about the symmetries of the universe: the immutable, if incompletely understood, laws of math and physics that make a hydrogen atom, for instance, behave in the same way on Earth as it acts 10 billion light years away. Another sign of universal structure, as teased apart with the help of math? No, Livio writes, it is more likely a sign that “to some extent, scientists have selected what problems to work on based on those problems being amenable to a mathematical treatment.”

The author acknowledges that some readers will find his inconclusive conclusion to be unsatisfying. I didn’t. Sometimes the adventure, the intellectual ride, is more important than the final destination.
Read the full review:

Mario Livio.

Hardcover: Simon and Schuster, 2009.
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $21 ] [ Amazon ]


Byron Borger of Hearts and Minds Books
Reviews Walsh and Bouma-Prediger’s BEYOND HOMELESSNESS

In my enthusiastic announcement at the BookNotes blog this June I confidently stated that Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh (Eerdmans; $24.00) will be the Book of the Year.  Perhaps I was a bit rash, since so many truly great titles have subsequently been released  (I admit I’m writing this postdating it, in the fall since I didn’t get to this review earlier.)  Still, I insist that this book is one of the most important in ages, a thrilling, if demanding, read, and a great example of the wonderful kinds of books that are being written these days.  This book is deeply, profoundly Christian, radically faithful, and wondrously interdisciplinary.  There are a few trouble spots and a few annoying tics, but my criticism, which I will raise eventually, should not keep you from taking it seriously.  I again announce that I suspect it will be named as the Hearts & Minds book of the year.

There are lots of fine books, many good ones this year, and we are grateful to be in the business of recommending many.  Every now and then, though, one comes along that stands out, and although it may not be for everyone, we truly try to promote it widely.  We are often told that customers appreciate this, since some of the best religious books are not sold in typical bookstores.   I say this from time to time, I know, but I couldn’t be more sincere or more urgent: for serious Christians, those who care about how God’s Word impacts and shapes our thinking and living, who desire an integrated worldview that can propel us towards distinctive cultural engagement, who wants to learn more about the nature of our times—Jesus told us to read the signs, recall—Beyond Homelessness is a must.  Yes, a true must-read.    As Marva Dawn puts it in her very enthusiastic recommendation, “Broadly researched and splendidly written, this book is essential reading for anyone who wants truly to comprehend and mend our culture.”  Amen.

Read the full review:

Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger.
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2008
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

BOOKFORUM reviews two books on the meaning of death
in the aftermath of the Civil War

The Civil War was by far the bloodiest war in American history. The Union and Confederate armies suffered more than 620,000 fatalities— roughly equivalent to the American dead of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War put together. Among all combatants, the death rate was six times that of World War II; among Southerners, three times that of Northerners. Noncombatants, too, were swept up in this first modern, total war: An estimated fifty thousand civilians died. The numbers can be fleshed out with images of suppurating wounds, severed limbs, and mass graves. Scholars have documented this suffering, popularizers have sensationalized it, but few retrospective accounts have sustained a focus on its moral and emotional meanings for the people who experienced it.

Most Civil War chroniclers have lifted their gazes from battlefield losses to political gains—the emancipation of African-American slaves and the emergence of the United States as a modern nation. The war, from this view, was a Christian saga of suffering and redemption. Its outcome was the “new birth of freedom” envisioned by Lincoln at Gettysburg, a more democratic society purged of the original sin of slavery. This Civil War story lies at the heart of the American political mythos; it also resonates with fundamental human longings—above all, the desire for mass death to make sense, to fit into some larger pattern of cosmic meaning. No wonder the grand narrative possesses so much staying power.

Read the full review:

Mark Schantz.
Hardcover: Cornell UP, 2008
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

Drew Gilpin Faust.
Hardcover: Knopf, 2008
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $22 ] [ Amazon ]

Andy Whitman Reviews the most recent cd from Aradhna

[W]hen an album comes along that fits squarely within the Worship Music tradition, and I actually like it, then there may be some evidence that hell has begun to freeze over. But it’s happened with Aradhna. The four core members of the band – Chris Hale, Peter and Fiona Hicks, and Travis McAfee – are as American as their names would indicate. But they’ve all spent significant portions of their lives in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. And therein lies the strange and wondrous merger of two worlds that contributes to the uniqueness of the band’s music, and to the surprising vigor of Amrit Vani. There are sitars here. And tablas. They sound as exotic as you would expect. And there are acoustic guitar arpeggios and gently lilting violin solos that wouldn’t sound out of place on a very western Windham Hill album. It works beautifully. The lyrics are sung in Hindi, and far from being an impediment, the language barrier is actually a great help (see “apple of my eye” and “wind beneath my wings” above). Like Sigur Ros, sometimes the indecipherable is greatly preferable to the old, tired formulas. And by the time we reach the final song, “Narahari,” the music swells and soars, the ramshackle choir enters sounding like the Hindustani angelic host, and something remarkable happens. I find myself worshipping God.

Amrit Vani digs deep in a contemplative, meditative way that few worship albums even begin to approach. And it’s quite lovely. Even in the car.

Read the full review:

Stream songs from Amrit Vani
or purchase the Cd directly from the band: