Want to rev up your writing? Try reading! If you're not a writer, but are looking for a good read for yourself or your book club, try one of these titles:


Celebration: The Book of Jewish Festivals , edited by Naomi Black.

From blintz and kugel recipes to the lilting tune of "Dayenu", from rabbinical tales and prayers to traditions associated with major Jewish festivals, Celebration is a feast in itself. See what a shofar and a sukkot look like, peer into the family and community at festival time. Find out the scriptural and historical basis for each festival, as well as its symbolic richness. Go beyond a surface understanding to a place that will stir up your faith and create a thirst to go deeper. Read The Tentmaker , the L.L. Barkat talk that builds on Celebration's ideas about Sukkot.


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The Art of God: The Heavens and the Earth , Ric Ergenbright

Former agnostic and nature photographer Ric Ergenbright spreads before readers a stunning visual feast of God's glory, as reflected in creation. Travel through gorgeous views of air, water, fire, forests, stones, and more. Not just a coffee table book, The Art of God provides a theology of creation as part of a two-fold design (the second part being the story of Christ played out through history). Readers can even learn about the complexity of creation, as in Ergenbright's discussion of how freshwater rain needs undrinkable seawater to send it on its journey.
Read Wisdom Weaver , the L.L. Barkat talk inspired in part by The Art of God .

WALL at Storm King , Art and Photography, Andy Goldsworthy; Photography, Jerry L. Thompson; Essay by Kenneth Baker

Wall is a visual journey into the uncommon power and beauty of common things. Stones, leaves, a blade of grass. Rushes, thorns, the splash of water on a quiet rock. In the thoughtful hands of artist Andy Goldsworthy, these ordinary landscape artifacts are pressed, moved, shaped and juxtaposed, then left to melt back into earth over time. When viewing Goldsworthy's art, one thinks of the rapt attention of a child, who sees possibility in every fallen branch. Yet, the overall impression is philosophical in nature. Even the person who claims little understanding of art can find a way to enter in, especially with the help of Baker's essay. A beautiful read, a beautiful look.
Read A View from the Air , the L.L. Barkat talk inspired by Wall .


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Interpreter of Maladies , short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri

In simple, compact prose, Jhumpa Lahiri traces secret paths in her common-man character's hearts. These paths reveal our deepest desires-to love and be loved, to rise and be lauded, to find a place of comfort in this world. At first glance, Lahiri's characters seem doomed to disappointment. They knock on each other's life doors, only to be spurned or exploited. But for some of them, and every discerning reader, their rejection, loss, and disillusionment become a glass through which to see the truth. No one and no thing can fill us up. For real hope, we must look to the eternal. Lahiri unveils this truth most clearly by a barely-detectable slight of hand at the end of "Sexy." Why not see if you can catch her?
Read Catch Us the Little Foxes , the L.L. Barkat talk that includes a discussion of "Sexy."

The Swallows of Kabul , by Yasmina Khadra

An unexpected love story set in a physically and emotionally parched Afghanistan. Khadra's poetic sense will quench your thirst for beauty, even while the tragic realities of Afghan society try to drain your soul. Not an easy read, but one that will make you appreciate your freedoms and the richness of the American landscape. Altogether, an experience that will stay with you and inspire you to deeper writing or thinking.
Read Gethsemane: Garden of Love's Triumph , the L.L. Barkat talk inspired by The Swallows of Kabul .


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The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work , John M. Gottman, Ph.D., and Nan Silver

Most marriage therapy fails, according to John Gottman. Why? Because it generally focuses on "active listening techniques." This approach to renewal and rekindling of desire is akin to asking the couple to "perform Olympic-level emotional gymnastics when their relationship can barely walk." (p 11) Putting the big solutions aside (like last-ditch romantic getaways), Gottman shares seven principles that are grounded in a couple's common life together. Simple, straightforward, transformative, this little book is its own big solution for promoting marital bliss. Read the L.L. Barkat talk Of Sex and Shepherds, which references The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook , Adele Calhoun

If you want to "keep company with Jesus", Adele Calhoun points the way, through classic and modern spiritual disciplines. The disciplines, she explains, can give God's Holy Spirit opportunity to hover over our hearts, as he hovered over the waters at creation. For readers seeking to go deeper into Christian life, or find renewal, or healing, or fresh insight, Calhoun's handbook will be a welcome guide. From Gratitude to Celebration, Prayer to Unplugging, and more, both the new Christian and the veteran will find thoughtful, original paths to walk with God. Read the L.L. Barkat talk Into the Blue, which includes a discussion of the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.

Redeeming Creation: the Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship , by VanDyke, Mahan, Sheldon, Brand

A thoughtful look at why Christians should embrace the environmental cause. If you think you already have an established view, you'll be surprised by the biblically-based insights and challenges. Best simple idea I gleaned: let's start calling the environment creation . That simple shift alone reminds us Who made what we're stepping on, and gives us reason to tread a little lighter. (Includes discussion questions at the end of each chapter.)

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