What is on your summer reading list? In this episode, host Susan Smetzer-Anderson has a conversation with Byron Borger, owner of Hearts and Minds Bookstore. They discuss the importance of books and reading in shaping our imagination, empathy, and faith. Byron shares insights on the power of narratives and the impact of literature on our spiritual growth and understanding of the world. He also recommends books that offer guidance on reading thoughtfully and spiritually, emphasizing the transformative nature of literature. The conversation delves into the power of narrative, the practice of deep reading, and the impact of technology on reading habits. It also explores the themes of hospitality, vocation, and the purpose of education. 


Order your books through the Hearts and Minds bookstore = https://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com


📖 Books mentioned in the podcast:

  • Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy by Mary W. McCampbell (Fortress Press, 2022)
  • The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints by Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press, 2022)
  • Reading for the Love of God: How to Read as a Spiritual Practice by Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press, 2023)
  • Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith by Jennifer L. Holberg (IVP Academic)
  • Deep Reading: Practices to Subvert the Vices of Our Distracted, Hostile, and Consumeristic Ageby Rachel B. Griffis, Julie Ooms, Rachel M. De Smith Roberts (Baker Academic, 2024)
  • Beauty Is Oxygen: Finding a Faith That Breathes by Wesley Vander Lugt (Eerdmans, 2024)
  • Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber (IVP, 2014)
  • The Beautiful Madness of Martin Bonham: A Tale About Loving God by Robert Hudson (Self Published, 2023) 

 🎙️Byron’s podcast:



Byron Borger [00:00:00]:

I've read some books about some things now, and I know more stuff. I'm more cynical, I'm more critical. How do you keep on keeping on with the glory of God fresh in your life and the love of neighbor fresh in your life, particularly when they're maybe going through hard times and they read another story of someone that's gone through similar hard times. You said you're not alone. Absolutely. And they say, you know, that person is almost my best friend, this fictional character. They understand me better than anybody I know.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:00:30]:

Hi, my name is Susan Smetzer Anderson. I am the senior writer at Upper House and initiative of the Stephen and Laurel Brown foundation. Today I have the joy of talking with Byron Borger. He is the owner and manager of hearts and Minds Books, an institution highly renowned in Pennsylvania. He loves to read. He loves books, and he has amazing recommendations for books. Today we are actually talking about books that talk about reading, and there are some amazing books out there that help you do dig deeper, go deeper, love books even more. So I hope you enjoy this time with him.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:01:10]:

Today we're going to try to do this on a quarterly basis. Well, it's my sincere pleasure today to have a conversation with Byron Borger, who is the owner of Hearts and Minds bookstore in Dallas town, Pennsylvania. And when I go onto your website, Byron, I'm just struck by the tagline of your bookstore, and it is hearts and minds more than a bookstore.

Byron Borger [00:01:37]:

Well, thank you. Yeah. For those that don't know, our little bookstore is in south central Pennsylvania. Some people have heard of Hersey, where the Hershey kisses are made, or Lancaster, known for the Amish and a whole lot of other things. We're just below York, Pennsylvania, one of the first capitals of the United States. By the way, the weightlifting platform. York peppermint patties used to be here until her chief bought them and sent them to Mexico. And so now it's an empty factory.

Byron Borger [00:02:07]:

But, yeah, we're just below York, Pennsylvania. We opened our books 42 years ago, so there were hardly computers then. There was no Amazon. Chains were the big sort of competitors against indies. Of course, Amazon closed down most of the big chains and particularly in the faith based community, Cokes Ferry and Lightway. And those places, odd, they all closed. And so as bookstores were just dropping like flies back 15 years ago, we were graced by God with good employees that could work cheap, and everybody just tightened our belts and we hung in there and we continued to develop through our newsletter that goes out every week. Friends and customers, we say more than a bookstore more than just customers, friends and company throughout the country and actually throughout the world.

Byron Borger [00:02:58]:

So we send books out all over the place every single day. And we've been doing it for 40 years. Here in our small town, we're ecumenical, so we have a real wide customer base left, right and center, mainline churches, evangelical churches, reformed folks, others. So, and people that aren't christians at all because, you know, we don't even call ourselves technically a christian bookstore. Back in the day, only certain, I mean, people went in christian bookstores and not even all christians would go in christian bookstores. So we call ourselves hearts and vines as a little retail shop here in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, just below York. And we've been at it for a while now, trying to figure out how to serve our local friends, churches and nonprofits far and wide, and mostly through our mail order stuff, through this book notes newsletter we do, which generates interest and mail order every single day. So we're thrilled to be able to get out about and serve people face to face conferences and events.

Byron Borger [00:03:54]:

But also the mail order stuff is really, really fun, and we have friends now all over the world.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:04:00]:

Well, and I recently ordered a book by Leslie Bustard from you, and what it came with was this lovely note that you wrote. And I'm not setting you up to have to write a lovely note to every person who orders a book from you, but I just was struck by that personal touch, and that isn't something that I ever get from Amazon, quite frankly.

Byron Borger [00:04:22]:

Well, you know, can be said about that, that, you know, there's this facelessness and this sort of efficient convenience that online shoppers have. You click something and you forget about it. Trying to use technology or maybe more redemptive way to sort of have the best of both worlds, hands on, face to face, high touch customer service. I have to answer every email with a little note, confirm that people that we got their order and we're going to send it out. And is it hard back and do you like this cover? You know, I mean, I just, people find that annoying, but most people are like, really? Like, the owner wrote to me after I placed an order right from the online places. And so we're trying to use technology in a way that's convenient, but also in a way that it's humanizing. So our mail order customers feel like they're talking to a real person on the other end. And I don't know that lack of efficiency is worth it.

Byron Borger [00:05:18]:

But for many people, even though it's just a little more complicated to use our website, it's just more humane and much human. And so we're hoping that a gesture towards the redemptive use of technology, that is not bad. But it does do stuff to you when you live in a faceless world too long ends up being habits that end up deforming us as humans. So we're trying to put our little sort of no into the midst of that and do it a different way. So thanks for noticing that.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:05:49]:

We appreciate it immediately. It immediately struck me because I'm so used to going to storefronts and seeing like you just click here and it goes into your cart and then you pay for it. But there is no sense of human interaction, and you definitely get that sense of human interaction on your website. So I appreciate your perspective on that. I also want to say that your newsletter is not the typical newsletter at all. So I think I did a word count on your last newsletter, and it was like 3000 words or in that neighborhood, and it was like, wow, we keep trying to make ours shorter. And so what I love is when I read your newsletter, which is all about books and your impressions of books and what you're so excited about reading these studies. Your newsletter is really unique about your care for the books and what you think is so valuable about books.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:06:46]:

And so I think passion for reading comes through loud and clear and it actually increases my enthusiasm for reading. But I wonder if you can give me your perspective about what's so important about reading.

Byron Borger [00:06:59]:

Oh, my. Well, you know, and so until books go back in western culture and in christian history, a long, long time, until you even think, granted, it was God's word, but you think how in the Old Testament, after the exile, you know, they had lost the Torah scrolls and so forth. And during Nehemiah or whatever, Ezra and those guys are rebuilding the destroyed Jerusalem after exile, and they find the scrolls. I almost imagine like those famous scenes of people digging through the refuse after 911. And so just digging through all this junk and trying to rebuild, and then they find these books, they find these scrolls, and they immediately stop what they're doing, even though they're rebuilding God's city and rebuilding the temple, they stop and have this huge Sunday school class. They talk about the books that they found because they missed them so long. This is not just incidental, that Jesus is called the word. And so God in God's image, in the very beginning, in Genesis, one creates Adam and Eve.

Byron Borger [00:08:03]:

And so in God's image, and then shortly thereafter, they're naming the animals, they're using the sciences and the arts Adam writes a poem to Eve, you know, blooded by blood. It's the first sonnet, love sonnet. Shakespeare did not invent that. Adam did. So right out of the gate. The arts and the sciences are being used, and language is part of who we are, and stories begin to be told, and things get written down eventually. And so this notion that then Jesus shows up as the second Adam, and it's called the word, it's always mattered to christians. So reading and studying and learning and being an apprentice to Jesus implies that there's content to be learned.

Byron Borger [00:08:43]:

There's lots of ways to learn. There's experiential education. Of course, we can overdo the rational notion of the kind of idea bank where you just dump facts and data into people's heads and that makes them a better person. No, no, no. But the slow engagement with texts is always part of the slow, careful sanctification process of God's people. And so you have a book like celebration of discipline said by Richard Foster that came out so many years ago, but a classic description of the medieval and contemplative practices that transform people's souls against the superficial ways of the culture. And one of the spiritual disciplines is study, spending time reading and meditating on words, the gospel and the scriptures, of course, but other things. I mean, Paul, at the end of his life, is ordering books.

Byron Borger [00:09:36]:

You know, the last letter, he wants to get to Spain, but he never makes it. He's in jail in Rome, and he writes one of his last letters to young Timothy, and he orders the manuscripts and the scrolls. Paul read widely. I mean, on acts 17, he's quoting, you know, Euripides or whatever great playwright was on this art installation there. He was idolatrous, but he goes out and he builds a bridge with them by saying, I know that poem. Until I know what it means, you're a church. And at the end of acts 17, they say, won't you come back and talk about us with us again tomorrow? And so Paul read widely, even the pagan literature of his day. I mean, he was listening to Taylor Swift and the Lupe fiasco, you know, the hip hop and this country ballads of our culture, the storytellers of our culture.

Byron Borger [00:10:25]:

Paul would have known that stuff because he knew the richness of his day and quoted it, used it in an apologetic way to build a bridge there in acts 17. Well, you know all that.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:10:35]:

Well, I don't know all of that.

Byron Borger [00:10:38]:

They're important in the scriptures, and they're important in church history. And Paul himself reading the New Testament, reason to sit back on his laurels and say, okay, I've written the Bible. Now I don't have to really know anything more. But even as an old man about to die in jail, he's ordering books. Yeah, it's not from Amazon, by the way. And so books are important as a way to just carry on the tradition of learning and growing and deepening in our apprenticeship. And so I'll say the same thing, though. Books are also important.

Byron Borger [00:11:10]:

It's not just like the data that you learn from a nonfiction book. I think books, most fundamentally, and so shape our imagination. And so particularly memoir, good memoirs, good fiction, good poetry, can just not give us new data to learn, although that's part of it. But they shape kind of our, call it your worldview, if you will, or your social imagination, the way in which you sort of lean into life, the vocabulary and rhetoric and grammar of fiction. And so imagining the possibility of God's kingdom, of a God haunted world that we live in, can happen when our imaginations are expanded. And I think books do that and so widely. It's one of the things we often say here, whether you agree with the book or not. But the fact that you sort of submitted yourself to it for a season, I mean, I think, in a way, books can make you more and so can puff you up.

Byron Borger [00:12:06]:

That's a danger. But it also didn't make you more humble, because for a while, you said, life is not about me. It's about this author story. You suspend disbelief and enter somebody else's story. So page by page, you're entering and submitting to a story other than your own. And that's a good virtue, I think, to have to be able to sort of suspend your own self centeredness and give yourself to the page. And so not at the end of the day, you a better person at the end because you've allowed that conversation to go on. So I really apprenticeship to discipleship, but they're also sort of an act of formation.

Byron Borger [00:12:47]:

By giving you this expanded imagination, does that make sense?

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:12:51]:

It makes a huge amount of sense. I also think of how sometimes when I'm reading something, I'll have that aha. Moment. And so, like, I've met somebody who I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with, and we would have much more in common. I would never have imagined. Right. Somebody from a completely different background from me may speak some words than I particularly hear at that particular moment. Right.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:13:16]:

Or it's like reading a psalm or scripture where a psalmist is able to articulate a moment of pain or suffering or opposition to God that I myself would love to articulate, maybe haven't given myself permission to. So that type of resonance that happens when I'm reading something that is really just timely in some ways, I sometimes think it's bad ordained that I have that moment and sense of that alone in this experience that I'm having so very powerful.

Byron Borger [00:13:49]:

And so I often say that books give voice to things that maybe we, in our own limitedness and so with on our own. And it's given the gift of even the common grace to non believers, giving them the ability to articulate things, to write songs, poems, and stories. And so I'll say to my wife sometimes, that's that paragraph right there. That's what I was trying to say. Like, I'm not squared up to say it, but somebody else put it into words. I'm like, and so they can give voice for us and go, yeah, that's what I was trying to say. That's what I meant between the lines of that author. That author is now my friend.

Byron Borger [00:14:28]:

Because they ask what I've tried to say or what I feel, and they do it so well in their own way. I've read people say that, like, particularly when they're maybe going through hard times and they read another story of someone that's gone through similar hard times. You said you're not alone. Absolutely. And they say, you know, that person is almost my best friend, this fictional character. They understand me better than anybody I know. Of course, we need good friends, and we need community, and we need spiritual directors, and we need pastors, so forth, of course. But sometimes a fictional character can be her friend and can give voice to stuff going on in your own life.

Byron Borger [00:15:04]:

So, yeah, that's what I mean by books can help open up our imagination and make us more full as people. And God can use those in his grace, can use those things in our lives. I'll tell you something else. You know, you folks up there in Madison, I used to work in campus ministry myself years ago. You're working with college students, with graduate students. You're doing such a good work here. And I know you've had this theme around being a good neighbor, to be neighborly in a complex, pluralistic, busy world, in technology. You studied a bit.

Byron Borger [00:15:39]:

I'll tell you what, books can make us more empathetic. Pretty universal. They've done research for years in american culture about readers, and they find that people that read are more empathetic than people that don't. And it's putting yourself in somebody else's shoes for a while. You know, whether it's fiction or not fiction, you again see life through a different angle and you come away. Not always, but more often than not, readers become more empathetic. In fact, there's a book. Am I allowed to show a book? Can I do my advertise?

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:16:12]:

Yes, absolutely.

Byron Borger [00:16:14]:

Mary McCampbell, which I may have had her on the podcast, even at some point imagining our neighbors as ourselves. It's how art shapes empathy. Now, Mary teaches literature, and part of what she means by art here is less visual art, but narrative art. So she means tv shows and movies, novels and short stories, plays, rock songs. And so she explores how narratives, novels and poems and music can tell a story and thereby make you more empathetic. The first chapter is on this good samaritan story, and it's one of the best things I've read in the preface here, talking about the empathy that emerges in the good Samaritan story. And then she asks whether viewing good movies and watching good tv shows and engaging good novels, whether this narrative arc of a story can actually make us more empathetic. I think it's a splendid book for those that love reading because it's a book about books, but it's also want to dive deeper into this question of what it means to be a good neighbor.

Byron Borger [00:17:22]:

Can we even imagine that our neighbor is somehow a person made in God's image that we should care for sometimes? Speak up for questions of justice? So this is a great old book about. Great big book, actually. Heavy, thoughtful, right up the line of you guys up there and set up our house.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:17:41]:

I'm thrilled that you brought that forward, because I have not heard of that. And we will definitely put that in the show notes so people can refer to it.

Byron Borger [00:17:50]:

Yeah, we have a workshop up at the Calvin festival lighting where we were just a month ago. And so she was up there doing a workshop on her fairy stuff. Then guys like Makato, Fujavara Mako has a blurb in the back of this Karen swallow prior, who's known Jessica Wilson, who I have some of her books here as well, on loving God by reading. Well, they've all raved about this, how narrative can make us better neighbors.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:18:17]:

Well, and think about all the stories that Jesus told and the way the Bible has so many narratives to help us identify with a particular individual in a story. They may, for example, you brought up the particle sun. They may identify with the young son who took all the father's treasure and went away. Or we may identify with the older son who's resentful when he comes back and gets the big party and celebration. Or we may identify with the father, depending on where we are at in life. It's these narratives are so powerful. And actually, I'm really glad you brought up the other writer that you mentioned. Was it Mary Hooten? What's her last name?

Byron Borger [00:18:57]:


Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:18:58]:

Wilson. Thank you. Yeah. If you want to talk about the number of books that we were thinking about for recommendations for summer reading for some of our listeners, I would love to just dive right into all of that.

Byron Borger [00:19:14]:

There are in our latest book notes newsletter, I had kind of a handout I did at a workshop I recently did with pastors about reading more widely. And it was about six, depending on the type size, about ten pages of novels. So if you open that up, you can find novels or memoirs or nonfiction. Really well. But I started off that book notes newsletter, and I really hope some of your listeners, because they are good readers, because they are many academics, they might get a real kick out of these kind of books. And I'll start with the Jessica Hooten Wilson ones. She has a book called the scandal of holiness. The subject was renewing your imagination in the company of literary saints.

Byron Borger [00:19:58]:

I adore this book. And she invites people to just spend time with the books. You know, the old pastor, Eugene Peterson, he's known for the message, also for writing presbyterian books about being a clergy person. No glitz, no drama, just down to earth caring for people's souls. And he was a big fan of pastors and others reading well regularly. And he found that he was always being distracted. So in his office, he would tell his secretary every day at like 02:00 he would say, well, just tell him, I'm with someone. Who he was with.

Byron Borger [00:20:33]:

Was the author reading a book? You know, people would say, oh, it doesn't matter. And he would get interrupted all the time. So he said he was with James Joyce or he was with Carl Florida or he was with Dietrich Banach. So he was reading novels, and he ordered books from us. He was fiercely loyal to our bookstore, and he would send us orders for russian novels and irish poets and, you know, contemporary playwrights. I mean, it was amazing, the stuff that Eugene read. But he would say he was with someone because that was his built in time to study. Well.

Byron Borger [00:21:05]:

Well, she invites us to do that. In fact, in the beginning of this book, she says, it's really interesting when you read a memoir of one of the great converts of the 20th century that we know and love is Cs Lewis. And in his surprise, by joy, he doesn't talk about his conversion that much. You know, he says, I got no motorcycle with my friend or a train. Stories with Warney, his brother. And when he, when he got to the destination, he was a Christian. He basically wasn't when he started, and he was when he was over. So his converting story isn't all that dramatic or spelled out.

Byron Borger [00:21:38]:

And people want to know, how did you get there? Well, the whole book is about his love for literature and how it shaped his imagination. He even used the phrase that his imagination was baptized by George Macau. And so once his imagination could imagine that there's a God in the world who cares for us, that these myths could be true, that the sorrow and suffering of this world could be redemptive, once he could kind of wrap his head around that, then deciding that Jesus was, that God was sort of easy stuff. The biggest question was breaking away from the secularism of the early 20th century and sneaking past those watchful dragons, as he put it, to an imagination that it was God. And so she says in here that that's the goal, even with CS Lewis, of books, that they can help our imagination. And then the conversion part and the apologetics part is sort of comes from the heels of that. So she invites us to keep company with good literary saints. She calls.

Byron Borger [00:22:34]:

Well, then after she did that, she wrote another book called reading for the Love of God. She actually kind of gives you a guide to how to read, what it means to read thoughtfully, carefully, spiritually. And she uses some case studies in here, like Flannery O'Connor or other people from church history. I think she uses Augustine as one of them. Oh, she has one on Frederick Douglass, a chapter on Frederick Douglass, Juliana Norwich, the medieval mystic. And each of these people that she has these little kind of interludes about read somewhat differently. They approached the text somewhat differently. They read sort of differently.

Byron Borger [00:23:16]:

She has Dorothy Sayer, CS Lewis's friend, in here as a case study. So you have Dorothy Sayers manner of reading. You have Frederick Douglass style of reading, of Julian and Orange's approach to reading. So you literally learn how to read for the love of God. There's some titles how to read as a spiritual practice. But again, Jessica is just a gem. She's a Dorothy Sayers scholar and has just released a book on Dorothy Sayers previous work, which nobody has touched in 15 years. And she got a hold of this unfinished manuscript and sort of put some meat to it and described it and said, that's out too but I heard that's a fun read.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:23:53]:

I'm gonna have to read that. I'll order it from you, by the way, but I'm gonna have to read that because I am a huge Dorothy Sayers. Dan, maybe just amazed by her brilliance, maybe from everything from her mysteries to her other material. You also mentioned nourishing narratives, the power of story to make our face, maybe.

Byron Borger [00:24:16]:

By Jennifer Holberg, who teaches over at Calvin University, for those of, you know, Calvin and Grand Rapids.

Byron Borger [00:24:23]:

And they do do this name of.

Byron Borger [00:24:25]:

Faith in writing every other year, just a high point of the year for many of us. So book lovers, writers and poetry lovers and all sorts of folks. And she directs that as well. So Jennifer's been at this a long time. She's the literature professor, and she makes the case in this book that we live our lives by story. Maybe narrative is the way the Bible develops. It's the way God has spoken to us, and it's the way our lives tend to make sense. Some of us know McIntyre, the ethicist that wrote the book on virtue a good number of years ago.

Byron Borger [00:25:00]:

The meaning of a word and what you're going to do, the ethics of what you're going to do only is dependent, is dependent first what story you're a part of, he says. Understanding the narrative and the worldviews that emerge from narrative is part of the agenda of this book. And then to put it more simply, it's to help us fall in love with literature. She quotes literature and stories and poems that she has taught well over the years, authors that she's enjoyed. But she frames it in terms of how these narratives, both biblical and other literature, can shape our lives. Nourishing narratives, the power of stories shape our fate by Holberg. I just think it's a jam. It's enjoyable.

Byron Borger [00:25:41]:

Anybody that's bookish at all will see themselves in it and will learn something. I'm sure it's a great book that a book club could read together over the summer. It's not like literary criticism that is so arcane and deconstructing. All the languages have a little literary criticism there, but it's more just an enjoyable read about how I'd love that if it ruins me.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:26:01]:

I actually met her when I was at the festival of faith in writing and enjoyed her so enormously. She's so down to earth.

Byron Borger [00:26:09]:

She really is. And there's a lot she loves students. She really is. And there's a lot she loves students. I'll tell you what.

Byron Borger [00:26:22]:

It's sort of along those lines. Can I tell you about another one that's new? I announced this from the stage when I was doing, in fact, Jennifer was.

Byron Borger [00:26:30]:

Interviewing me at the festival in an auditorium with some other readers.

Byron Borger [00:26:35]:

And this book was not out yet, but I knew it was coming. I had an advanced copy and I loved it. So I said, you should be looking for this book here. The author was like in the audience, one of the authors, and so I sort of embarrassed myself. But it's called deep reading practices to subvert the vices of our distracted, hostile and consumeristic aid. It's by three women, Rachel Griffiths, Julie Oms and Rachel Smith Roberts. What's interesting about these three women, they're.

Byron Borger [00:27:05]:

All Christian COLlins professors, is they all.

Byron Borger [00:27:07]:

Got their PhDs, I'm guessing under Ralph Wood at Baylor. So their Baylor PhDs, recent young college professors. And they found particularly within christian higher education and within the consortium of study centers, there's a lot of conversation about the integration of faith and learning. What does it look like to actually think christianly and to engage with a worldview that is deeply biblical but yet engaging the best science and art that's out there? Well, as you think about the integration of faith and learning, one of the things that comes up is there has not been enough study about reading as one of the practices that help us engage christianly. And so this book is less about what we read, making lists of what are the best books, but literally how we read. It's not unlike that Jessica Hooten Wilson book or reading for the love of God. It's sort of the next level up.

Byron Borger [00:28:02]:

After that of asking. And one of the things they say.

Byron Borger [00:28:07]:

Is that as you become a reader, as you submit yourself to the practice of reading books, you have the tools to be subversive to the idols of the culture. In other words, you can no longer necessarily fight back against the distraction of our culture, against the hostility, because you're reading people you may not agree with. And you learn to dialogue and keep the open page as you read. Hermeneutics of, of hospitality, if you will. Some of the postmodern critics talk about a hermeneutic of suspicion. You're always wondering, what's the author really saying and what's between the line? What are they trying to manipulate us into believing? They suggest that we need a hermeneutic of hospitality, that the author for a season can be our friend and we should be generous and open to learn what we have and take the book on its own face value rather than being ultimately a critic of it. We should receive it, which is an old CS Lewis line. You know, in the, in the experiments of criticism from CS Lewis, he says the goal isn't to analyze a book at first, but it's to receive it.

Byron Borger [00:29:18]:

Isn't that beautiful that we receive the gift of the printed word. And so if we have a hospitality motif going on, then our reading of the book will allow us to be open to others. So we learn the virtues of resisting hostility in our culture, and we resist the distraction of devices. And finally, they say that the consumerism of our age, we're not just trying to buy an idea. We don't just absorb an idea, receive the text. We haven't used it. Some of us want to use ideas, and like Lewis, we say we receive them first. So it resists pragmatism and the consumerism of this idea that we're just buying.

Byron Borger [00:29:59]:

An idea to fight a barrel in the culture.

Byron Borger [00:30:02]:

I adore this book. It's a little deeper and it invites us to what they call deep reading. I hope they're right, that we readers, as we attend to these practices, actually come out the other side as people that can say no to the worst.

Byron Borger [00:30:18]:

Of our culture, to the hostility of.

Byron Borger [00:30:20]:

Culture wars, to the consumerism of capitalism, and to the distraction of the Internet age. And maybe these books can really help us do that.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:30:28]:

I was really struck by the hermeneutics of hospitality. That is a very compelling idea. And when I think about the polarization that we're struggling with in our culture, a lot of us are going into conversations or into engagements with the sense of, do I need to be on my guard? So that's like our stance almost by default in some situations, whereas I was raised in a time that was less polarized in some ways, but with the idea that my job to go into a conversation is to ask questions, to try to unanim the other person, to kind of hopefully make them feel like I actually care about. And so what you're suggesting is taking that same approach to reading books and thinking about ideas, which to me is very freeing. And I think about what my daughter, who's 19, reads, and she reads really deep material. I'm amazed at the old mythologies and the language, intricate language that she reads and everything. But I think when I was learning how to read in school, it was mostly with that idea of consuming facts. Right? That's what we're taught in school, and I think we're invited to something more.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:31:50]:

And you're showing us some books that help us to go further. Yeah.

Byron Borger [00:31:55]:

And I don't want to say just parenthetically that we that we dare not be you know, the discernment is a bad thing, right? Obviously, we shouldn't be led around by the nose by every ideology that comes upon us. And so the scriptures say to take every thought captive, every theory, take theories captive. So there is a sense of spiritual warfare when you but we start with receiving. I think Lewis is right. The deep reading posture is a hermeneutic apostate and openness that this is a person made in God's image. There's a story to tell, and we should host them as if we love them, as if we're being a good neighbor to that author. So that's what I want to do. And it's hard.

Byron Borger [00:32:38]:

You're right. There's goofy stuff out there. There's dangerous stuff out there. And these days, PRC theories and all that, we have to learn the art of doing this well. And I think reading these books about.

Byron Borger [00:32:51]:


Byron Borger [00:32:55]:

There's a brand new book that I'm very, very excited about. It's not about reading. It's called Beauty is oxygen. I saw that by Leslie Vanderloo. He runs creative arts program at Gordon Conwell Seminary, of all places, where they want to increasingly have theologians that are studying doctrine also be influenced by the creative storytellers. And this guy really gets it. I think it's his first at least his first kind of trade book that's out there for the world. And it is on literature.

Byron Borger [00:33:27]:

It's on the arts. It's on creativity. It's on the imagination. And I think he's right. Beauty is oxygen. But unlike many authors, they use that phrase from Dostoevsky that says, beauty will save the world, which I've never quite fully understood. Jesus sake. But the next line in that story is, what kind of or what sort of beauty, the one character what sort of beauty could be saving? And he plays around with that phrase from the same just dance to paragraph.

Byron Borger [00:33:58]:

What sort of beauty could be redemptive in our lives? And what does that look like? So again, this notion that we need to expand our imagination through good books in part has to do with the whole imagination and the aesthetic dimension of life. I mean, guys like Calvin, several have written about that over the years, where we realize that it is not all just facts and data being dumped into our brain, something multifaceted, holistic going on. Dorothy Sayers understood that. Lewis understood that. Nicholas Thorpe and modern guys writing about aesthetics like Calvin Cervo. And now comes along this guy, brand new book just this week at iron through that, there are authors that are kind of inviting us to that sort of bigger picture of what it means.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:34:39]:

To be human, wondering about this part of books that's coming out on this topic. Do you think the writers are writing in recognition of the need that we have to be reminded of what it is to really read deeply? I mean, I think if you think about most of our culture with texts and limited character messages, I wonder if they're trying to say, but don't miss out on what's possible if you really dive into a text and allow it to speak to you, almost like a lectio divinia type of experience.

Byron Borger [00:35:15]:

I think you're right. I think that there is sort of a concern, and it may be intentional for some of these friends, or at least it's between the lines bubbling up in their bones, that there's something going on in our culture with the emphasis of texts, which may be causing some psychological problems, the anxiety we're seeing, spending too much time online, but also the misuse of text. Do you remember years ago, there was a book called back in the eighties called amusing ourselves?

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:35:46]:

Oh, yeah. Yeah, I remember that.

Byron Borger [00:35:49]:

What a book. But he looked at the great awakening and the theology that emerged, and people that weren't well educated would listen to servants that were rich and thoughtful powers down in the spirit, weeping, not because they were manipulated with cheesy ideas, but because of the substance of the ideas. He compares that with modern televangelism, and it does not look. Well, debates, you know, people, ordinary farmers and stuff, would go hours. Yes, Lincoln and Douglas went on the road and did these debates, quoting John Locke. And all this stuff about political and ordinary, uneducated people would listen to that. And then he says, nowadays you have sound bites and you have political consultants asking the candidates when they go to debate what color tie they should wear. And he says, what happens to your religious culture when you move from the great awakening to an entertainment model or our political culture, when you go from the Lincoln Douglas debates to modern soundbites? So this amusing ourselves to death? Well, that was the concern about the loss of text big time, when popular culture began to sort of shorten our attention span.

Byron Borger [00:37:01]:

Well, that was 25 years ago.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:37:03]:

What the cow, right?

Byron Borger [00:37:07]:

You got guys like Nicholas Carr who were to book the shallows, which I think everybody should read, but it's about the neurology of what happens in the brain when you read with pixels. Nicholas was a literary critic. He wrote Los Angeles Times. So he read Highbrow fiction long stories, deep stories. And he found this was maybe a dozen years ago or so, he found that he couldn't keep reading the books. It was his job and his love.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:37:37]:

And he found something fishy.

Byron Borger [00:37:38]:

And he realized it's because he read short text on blogs and on Twitter. And he wrote this article in Atlantic called is Google making us dumb? And he said, yes, literally, neurologically, we need to figure this out. So he put himself to the task of trying to figure that out. You can hook things up to people's eyeballs and study neurology and the way in which people scan pages when they're reading a printed page versus when they're reading something on pixels on digital devices. And he says there is a neurological difference in the reading experience when you have a page versus when you're reading some dark Twitter. So that's fascinating for a while. And wrote a book about it called the Shallows, what Google is literally doing to our break. So I use Google and I read online all the time.

Byron Borger [00:38:30]:

It's part of my job. But this warning that we need different kind of with books just may be the reason why so many christian authors now are writing about reading, because they were a pivotal point in our culture where it's just going downhill. People are reading as much people are buying as books as much bookstores are having a harder time with it.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:38:50]:


Byron Borger [00:38:51]:

So, yeah, I think it's interesting that all these books are coming out now and reading, you know, and I'm like.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:38:57]:

A magpie with books. I love books. Sometimes I buy them just because I like them so much and my aspiration is to read them all the way through. But I have found it harder for me to finish. And I'm wondering if there's any connection with maybe the distraction that we're talking about being part of it. But I wonder if part of it is also that I'm on a screen so much and it's affected my ability to attend. It's just a question I need to pursue for myself. I have no data to start that.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:39:27]:

Are there any other books that you want to share with us today, Byron? I mean, you've covered quite a bit.

Byron Borger [00:39:34]:

My goodness. Well, I'll tell you just a thing or two with this notion of being a good neighbor and reading widely because you want to care for your neighbor well, and you've been studying this hospitality stuff. There comes a time in many of our lives, whether it's our reading lives or our loving our neighbor lives, or we just get tired. We can't keep on keeping on and so the more you envelop your life in loving neighbors, which is messy. And so, reading books, you learn more about the nature of the world. You begin to ask the question, at least many of us do. How can I tell you what I know now, how the sausage is really made? I've read some books about some things now, and I know more stuff. I'm more cynical, I'm more critical.

Byron Borger [00:40:17]:

How do you keep on keeping on with the glory of God fresh in your life and the love of neighbor fresh in your life? There is no other author that helps me do that better than my friend Steve Garber, who you've had at upper house over the years. This is a book called Visions of Vocation, in which Steve asks this very question. How can you love the world? Well, in your own place, once you've known how broken it really is? You know, idealistic kids come out of college, they want to make a difference for the kingdom. You give them a sense of vocation. At upper House, you help young faculty think christianly about their careers and the arts or the sciences. But sooner or later, the original vision of relating the lordship of Christ's old life begins to get harder, because we're not talking about the rhetoric of all that now, but now it's like, how.

Byron Borger [00:41:07]:

Do you do that?

Byron Borger [00:41:08]:

How do you keep at it 25 years in? And Garber's book is exactly about common grace for the common good, so that we can keep singing the Lord's song in a foreign land, knowing what we know about the world with a consummate sense of justice, so we can serve God. We're never going to build the kingdom. We're not utopian, but yet we can keep at it. I adore this. It's written. If somebody has not read it in your community up there and any of your listeners. Now, I really recommend Steve Barber's vision of vocation, just as a way to flesh all this stuff out. He quotes novels, he quotes movies, he quotes rock songs, he's all about the narrative.

Byron Borger [00:41:49]:

Finally, at the end of the day, asking how we read well and wisely. So, love hazards. Hey, can I tell you about one other quick book, real quick? This is a book unlike any book you've ever read, and I just have to tell you about it. It's a suggestion.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:42:04]:

How can I say no?

Byron Borger [00:42:06]:

Yeah, Robert Hudson, he was the best old fate in writing. He had a little booth there. He used to be Philip Yancey's editor. I mean, he's a guy in the book publishing world. He's done some eccentrics book himself. He's just written this novel, if you can see it here, it's called the beautiful Madness of Martin Bonham. Martin is a college teacher. He could be in Wisconsin for all we know.

Byron Borger [00:42:33]:

He's at a college. And get this, he is a medieval scholar that teaches the mystics of the middle ages. So he gets this student in class one day who just joined his class from across the street where there's a seminary, and she was studying theology and dogma and doctrine and she just wasn't resonating with it. And she wanted his story of the mystic. Well, she becomes a student in this class and she said, well, Doctor Bonham, do you have those kind of encounters with God? And he said, well, as a matter of fact, yes, I think there's a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. And she said, well, why don't we talk about that? And they put together a little conference where they asked various faculty members to share ways in which they've had mystical encounters with the real divine presence in their life. It becomes a great thing. And they decide to start a program with this that they call, it's about the study of the love of God.

Byron Borger [00:43:34]:

Well, the seminarians across the street get wind of this and they say, our job, you guys are authorized to do this. What do you know about theology? This could be dangerous because of a comedy of errors about different departments in the seminary and the college teaching about whether who's allowed to do this class. And is there a difference between knowing about God and really encountering God? This is a funny, funny book. There's lots of literature in. It quotes the medieval mystics himself. Martin is a scholar of that field in the story, but really it's trying to get at what is the purpose of education? What does it mean to know stuff? What does it mean to be open to things and to learn and to grow and finally to it all? It's a really funny book. It's published by a little independent outfit. You may not know about it, but I think some of your readers and listeners of your podcast would get a real kick out of this thing.

Byron Borger [00:44:32]:

It's a light summer read, and at the end of the day it's really, really not only hilarious and it's heartwarming. And not only is it heartwarming, I think it's radical.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:44:41]:

It's sounds fantastic.

Byron Borger [00:44:45]:

At the end of the day.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:44:48]:

I have had so much fun talking to you. I really have. I'm so glad we're going to be doing this again. You have graciously agreed to do this kind of podcast with me every three months or so. And I honestly am so energized by your passion for books and for these recommendations that you bring to us today. So thank you. Thank you for your time.

Byron Borger [00:45:11]:

Yeah, it means a lot to me as a bookseller. Thank you. And good people doing the good work up there in Madison. Thank you.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:45:20]:

I appreciate it. Well, we're definitely going to put more about all that you've talked about on tour show notes. And also I want to mention you have a podcast. So do you want to briefly tell our audience what your podcast is?

Byron Borger [00:45:33]:

Oh, it's a short little thing some friends of mine got me to do. They interview me and say, tell me about three books. And it's just a couple of minutes. It's about 15 minutes or so.

Byron Borger [00:45:43]:

I just say three books.

Byron Borger [00:45:44]:

Sometimes they're related, sometimes they're not. We're still getting our sea legs doing it. It was going to be once a month, but another guy's going to interview me on the every other week, so it's now going to be twice a month and we drop them every couple of weeks. And it's just me going on about a couple of.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:45:59]:

We'll mention that in our show notes, too. So. Yeah, I can believe that. Well, thank you so much for being with me today, Byron. I really appreciate it and we'll look forward to you next time.

Byron Borger [00:46:11]:

Okay, thank you very much.

Susan Smetzer-Anderson [00:46:13]:

You're welcome.