My wife laughs at me when I finish a book and say, “This was one of the best books I have ever read.” Apparently I say it often. But this time I mean it. I just finished reading Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson. And it was one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Unlike the other books I’ve recommended thus far, Wilson’s book is unconventional. In a lot of ways. It doesn’t stick to a single subject. He talks about everything from snowflakes, to the problem of evil, to kittens, to sand forts, to the creation of the world. But the book is not random. He shows how these things are fundamentally related to one another.
Nor does the book follow a straightforward outline. It meanders. It gives you a few thoughts on one subject, then shifts to another. Then it loops back on the first subject and you find that the tangent you thought you were on actually helps you see the original subject with far greater clarity.
Basically, this means that N. D. Wilson is a brilliant writer. He is sometimes whimsical, but always profound. He touches on the most difficult of subjects with joy, grace, and ease. For example, much of the book focuses on the problem of evil. This is a topic that has consumed a lot of ink. Yet Wilson’s approach is different than anything I’ve read on the matter. He combines philosophy (his Master’s degree is in philosophy), history, science, and art in a skillful though roundabout way to make a convincing argument about the existence of evil and the goodness of God.
Though his education is in philosophy, Wilson is primarily a children’s writer. In fact, his children’s books are excellent (I started with 100 Cupboards and highly recommend it). His skill as a fiction writer makes him better as a theologian/philosopher/non-fiction writer. Conveying truth is one thing (that’s hard enough on its own). But to convey truth imaginatively, in a way that catches the reader off guard, that captures his senses and speaks to his soul—well, that’s another thing altogether. These types of books are rare.
I think that Wilson has accomplished a great feat of balance and imagination in this book, but I know that others will disagree. Some will find his playful writing style off-putting. Others will feel lost amongst his casual references to philosophers (though each time he conveys the essential thoughts of these deep thinkers).
But I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At various times I had to stifle my laughter or hide my watering eyes. Essentially, Wilson showed me the world I inhabit every day of my life and caused me to see it in a way that I had never seen it before. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl is both playful and serious. It is a celebration of life and a reminder of what really matters. Ultimately, he calls us to see God—not by looking beyond the things of this world, but by seeing his handiwork, character, and grace in everything in and around us.
If everything I’ve said here turns you off, you’d better skip this one. But if there’s anything in you that longs to explore some of life’s most serious questions from a non-traditional angle, I can’t recommend Wilson’s book highly enough. I hope you like it.