Death by Living: a book review

Cue that scene from Braveheart where Mel Gibson says, “Every man dies, not every man truly lives.” N.D. Wilson’s new memoir/vacation-journal-family history will encourage you to live life to the full, and drink down the dregs. Wilson is apparently an award winning novelist of Christian Juvenile  fiction or something. Death By Living, is his second book of non-fiction, following up on the 2009 Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. But it was not what I was expecting. The title invoked the idea of living mindfully of one’s own mortality (sort of the Jeremy Taylor Holy Living, Holy Dying idea). That is certainly part of it. However Wilson also connects his own story, with his family story and the Biblical story.  He observes that his own life is made possible by the survival of his progenitors.  Four chapters look back at the generations of his family, especially his grandparents’ stories.   Four “City: Hiatus” chapters explore  life and death through the window of a particular place (i.e. London, Rome, Jerusalem, Home).  The remaining eight chapters form a meandering meditation which turns over the idea of ‘a life well lived’ from various angles. Job and Jesus, Adam and Moses walk with Wilson on this long and windy road.

So is it any good?  Wilson is a good writer and turns a good phrase. Eric Metaxas’s endorsement on the back cover says that Wilson reminds him of a young Chesterton.  By saying this Metaxas is breaking with the tradition of comparing any evangelical author with intelligence and/or imagination with C.S. Lewis; however the comparison with Chesterton seems more apt. Chesterton was a very good author (brilliant in fact), but he was also an uneven author.  Parts of this book I find very good and thought provoking, other parts I found myself more irritable than inspired. I would happily give this book 3.5-4 stars, but I do not think it will have the longevity of Chesterton’s most brilliant works.

That might not be fair, and certainly sounds more dismissive than I mean. I enjoyed this book and liked the shifting locations and the way Wilson cycled around the idea of living and dying (and even seeing death as a grace).  I think it was well written and interesting. If you like books and want a book that is thoughtful. but not overly demanding, than I think this is a good choice.  But I never felt like Wilson captured my full attention. I read sections with interest and wondered if I would remember anything this book said in a year or two. I had the same feeling when I read Mike Mason’s The Mystery of Marriage, and truly can’t tell you anything Mason said, other than the section where he contemplates his wife’s skull.  This book may have a similarly memorable moment when Wilson stands in Gehenna and the ‘field of blood’ where Judas presumably hung himself.

But if I do remember anything: I will appreciate Wilson’s ability to connect his own story with the larger story of those who have gone before, that life is a gift to be fully enjoyed and stories are worth hearing, reading and passing on.

I recieved this book from Book Sneeze in exchange for my honest review. I was not asked  write a positive review

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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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