Book of the Month: Death By Living

Mark Beuving —  August 26, 2013
This entry is part 12 of 15 in the seriesBook of the Month

Death by LivingI’m particularly excited about this month’s recommendation: Death by Living by N. D. Wilson. And this time, you’ll have a chance to win one of three free copies of the book. (But you’ll have to wait till the end. Unless you know how to scroll.)

Last year I read, loved, and recommended N. D. Wilson’s first nonfiction book (he writes excellent children’s—and let’s be honest, adult’s—fiction) Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl. Wilson aptly describes that book as a “whirly-gig,” a characterization that fits Death by Living as well.

What you need to understand about Wilson’s nonfiction writing is that it doesn’t read like nonfiction. It’s a lot more fun than virtually anything else you’ll read. In short, Death by Living is insightful, playful, serious, whimsical, emotional, reflective, challenging, and whatever other fun adjectives you want to throw its way.

If we can learn anything from broccoli, it’s that what’s good for you and what’s enjoyable don’t go together. But Wilson’s fiction exposes broccoli’s lie. I can simultaneously affirm that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and that it was very, very good for me. This is the kind of book you can finish reading and then immediately turn around and read again (which I did).

Death by Living covers a lot of ground. Wilson takes his readers on a journey through the lives of his grandparents, his family vacations and parenting strategies, his growth as a fiction writer, and how all of it relates to the way we live. And die.

The idea behind the book is that life is meant to be spent. If you try to hold onto your life, you’re not truly living (sounds like something Jesus said…). And yet we hold on tight, trying to preserve our feeble, fleeting selves rather than using every drop of strength we are given for the right things. Wilson writes:

Your heartbeats cannot be hoarded. Your reservoir of breaths is draining away. You have hands, blister them while you can. You have bones, make them strain—they can carry nothing in the grave. You have lungs, let them spill with laughter. With an average life expectancy of 78.2 years in the US (subtracting eight hours a day for sleep), I have around 250,000 conscious hours remaining to me in which I could be smiling or scowling, rejoicing in my life, in this race, in this story, or moaning and complaining about my troubles. I can be giving my fingers, my back, my mind, my words, my breaths, to my wife and my children and my neighbors, or I can grasp after the vapor and the vanity for myself, dragging my feet, afraid to die and therefore afraid to live. And, like Adam, I will still die in the end. Living is the same thing as dying. Living well is the same thing as dying for others.

N.D. Wilson

N.D. Wilson

Wilson explores a concept that has often be turned cliché—life is a story—and shows that it holds more power than we can imagine. Life is indeed a story. It’s a story spoken by the God who spoke this universe into existence. My life is a story, but I shouldn’t assume it’s a light-hearted comedy. It’s a story wrapped within the near-infinite narrative threads that together comprise God’s unparalleled story.

Clear your throat and open your eyes. You are on stage. The lights are on. It’s only natural if you’re sweating, because this isn’t make-believe. This is theater for keeps. Yes, it is a massive stage, and there are millions of others on stage with you. Yes, you can try to shake the fright by blending in. But it won’t work. You have the Creator God’s full attention, as much attention as He ever gave Napoleon. Or Churchill. Or even Moses. Or billions of others who lived and died unknown. Or a grain of sand. Or one spike on one snowflake. You are spoken. You are seen. It is your turn to participate in creation. Like a kindergartener shoved out from behind the curtain during his first play, you might not know which scene you are in or what comes next, but God is far less patronizing than we are. You are His art, and He has no trouble stooping. You can even ask Him for your lines.

If you choose to read Death by Living, expect to find storytelling elements that don’t make immediate complete sense. That’s Wilson’s style. But as you read, you’ll find that he weaves these elements together, revisiting earlier threads and adding greater significance as the book develops. It’s a quick read, and one that I highly recommend.

Now for the free book part. As part of a blog tour promoting the book, N. D. Wilson’s “people” have graciously provided us with three copies of the book to give to our wonderful readers. If you want one, just enter your information below anytime between now and 5pm PST on Thursday (Aug 29). Once you enter your email address below, I promise to send you only one email, which will announce the contest results. If you’re one of the winners, I’ll ask for your mailing address. After that single email, I will delete your information and never spam you again.

—Update—

The book giveaway is now over, but don’t worry. Amazon will still give you a copy of the book if you give them a specified amount of money. And it’s worth it.

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Mark Beuving

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Mark has worked in youth, college, and worship ministry since 1999, and now serves at Eternity Bible College as the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Simi Valley with his wife and two daughters.