Tag Archives: Book Club

Book Discussion: The Brothers Karamazov

Mikhail Nesterov, Philosophers, 1917 (Pavel Florensky and Sergei Bulgakov)

When the debauched and brutal landowner Fyodor Karamazov is murdered, the lives of his sons are changed irrevocably: Dmitry, an army officer, gambler, and sensualist, whose feud with his father over money and a woman’s affections immediately makes him the prime suspect; Ivan, the intellectual, skeptic, and rationalist, whose spiritual torment drives him to breakdown; Alyosha, the Christian and monastic aspirant, who tries to heal the family’s rifts; and their sinister, atheist half-brother Smerdyakov. In the ensuing murder investigation and trial, Dostoyevsky’s dark masterpiece explores the lines between innocence and corruption, good and evil, and faith and doubt.

Writing in First Things, scholar of Russian literature Gary Saul Morson calls The Brothers Karamazov the greatest Christian novel: “In Dostoevsky’s hands, the novel became a theological instrument, a way to elucidate the existential meaning of the idea of the Trinity…God made us free, and faith must be a free choice in the face of doubt. The smallest acts of goodness make all the difference. And the only way to sense life’s meaning is to live rightly, moment by moment.”

On Friday, April 12th at noon, Undergraduate Instruction Librarian and professor of English Dr. Denise Crews will lead a discussion on The Brother’s Karamazov. The book is freely available online and as an audiobook. Dr. Crews has also compiled a list of resources and suggested readings on the Library website.

If you are interested in attending the discussion, either in person or online, registration is appreciated but not required. Registration does not imply a commitment to attend, but will make sure you receive all updates and reminders about the discussion. Click here to register.

Book Discussion: The Cost of Discipleship

Dietrich with twin sister Sabine, 1914

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s personal war against both Nazi evil and the indifference of the German church establishment began with a 1933 anti-Hitler radio address that was cut off midway through and ended with his martyrdom in a Nazi prison in 1945.

The Cost of Discipleship, published in 1937, is a meditation on the Beatitudes, which Bonhoeffer uses to demonstrate his conviction that, until we surrender our will completely to Christ, we cannot truly be His disciples, because for the true disciple, there is no separation between faith and obedience.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

On Friday, February 23rd at noon, Head of Access Services Dorothy Hargett will lead a discussion on The Cost of Discipleship. The book is freely available online as well as on audiobook.

If you plan to attend the discussion in person, registration is appreciated but not required. For online participation, however, registration is necessary so we can email you the Teams link. Click here to register for both.

Book Discussion: The Practice of the Presence of God

Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) was a man of humble beginnings who discovered the secret of living in the kingdom of God here on earth. It is the art of “practicing the presence of God in one single act that does not end.”

As the cook for his monastic community, Brother Lawrence made no distinction between work and worship: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper.”

Since its publication in 1692, The Practice of the Presence of God has been a source of encouragement and instruction to generations of Christians desiring to know God and feel his loving presence unceasingly throughout the day.

On Friday, December 1 at noon, librarian Meredith Ader will lead a discussion on this this classic work of the spiritual life. The Library has the book in multiple print and ebook editions, and Hoopla (subscribed to by nearly all public libraries) has it in multiple audiobook editions.

If you plan to attend the discussion in person, registration is appreciated but not required. For online participation, however, registration is necessary so we can email you the Teams link. Click here to register for both.

Reading the Confessions: Tips for late starters

Contemporary icon of St. Augustine*

On Friday, October 27, the Library Book Club launches its 15th season with a discussion of the Confessions of Saint Augustine. For readers who have not yet begun the book, do not despair! There is still time to read or listen to enough to be ready for the discussion. Here are a few points of encouragement:

  • The first nine books of the work, in which Augustine tells the story of his life from early childhood through his baptism and the passing of his mother, are highly understandable and enjoyable for first-time readers.
  • Listening to the audio version is perfectly fine. Augustine’s initial intended audience was his flock in Hippo, most of which would have experienced the work by listening.
  • Of all ancient books that have come down to us, perhaps none tell a story and describe a world that seems so familiar as the The Confessions provides a vivid portrait of 4th century life in North Africa and Italy. Far more importantly, it tells the story of Augustine’s inner life – his struggle to free himself from the torments of lust, ambition, and membership in a cult until his complete conversion and surrender to Christ, when “my heart was virtually flooded with a light of relief and certitude, and all the darkness of my hesitation scattered away.”
  • There is an abundance of excellent scholarly lectures available on YouTube. One of the best is by Ryan Reeves, Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Many historians regard the Confessions as second only to the Pauline letters in its impact on what would become the established theology of the Church. From the time of its publication in 400 it has also made life-changing impacts on countless readers.

In 2018, Joshua Katz, a renowned Princeton professor, at the lowest point of his life, turned to The Confessions. Katz’s reading of the Confessions, assisted by his 93-year-old future grandmother-in-law, marked the start of his own journey from a self-described “godless classicist” with a ruined professional and personal life, to a new life and family in Christ. His account of sin and redemption is as unsparing on himself as Augustine’s and is well worth reading.1     

If you plan to attend the discussion in person, registration is preferred but not required. For online participation, however, registration is necessary so we can email you the Teams link. Click here to register for both.

1Katz, Joshua T. “My Confessions.” First Things (New York, N.Y.), 2021, 1–5. My Confessions by Joshua T. Katz | Articles | First Things

*Image credit: https://diocesan.com/product/staugustine-a-eng-af/

Book Discussion: The Confessions of St. Augustine

In the introduction to her analysis of Shakespeare’s plays, scholar Marjorie Garber writes that “what is often described as the timelessness of Shakespeare…is perhaps better understood as an uncanny timeliness, a capacity to speak directly to circumstances the playwright could not have anticipated or foreseen.”1

Of all the ancient authors whose works have come down to us, perhaps none fits this description so well as Augustine. His Confessions depict a civilization and personages that seem immediately recognizable to us. From his religiously indifferent father to, to his pious mother not above prioritizing ambition for her son over Biblical teaching, to Augustine himself, a brilliant intellectual torn between lust and spiritual yearning, we feel that at, at various times in our lives, we have known modern equivalents of Augustine and his parents.

In the Confessions, written in his early 40s, Augustine tells us the story of his life from boyhood to his conversion at age 31. Readers interested in ancient history will find a vivid picture of life in the North African provinces during the final decades of the Roman Empire. Far more important, however, is Augustine’s examination of the spiritual meaning behind even seemingly insignificant events, such as the famous theft of pears from a neighbor’s tree by a mischievous boy Augustine and his fellow miscreants. Above all, and the explanation for its continuous impact on Christian readers since its publication in 400, the Confessions illustrates, through Augustine’s own life, the truth of the author’s words to God near the beginning of the book: “In yourself you rouse us, giving us delight in glorifying you, because you made us with yourself as our goal, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”2

On Friday, October 27 at noon, the Library Book Club begins its fifteenth season with a discussion of this essential work for all Christians. It is not necessary to complete the book to participate, and both Audible and Hoopla have free audiobook options for listening. For the complete schedule and link to register for in-person or video participation, see the Library Book Club homepage.

1Marjorie B. Garber, Shakespeare after All. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004), 3.  

2Augustine, Confessions, trans. Sarah Ruden (New York: Modern Library, 2017), 3.