God Between the Covers

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God Between the Covers

Finding Faith Through Reading

Marcia Ford, a professional reviewer and private bookaholic, presents a lively guide to the essential books that formed her faith. Covering two thousand years and wide variety of genres, this resource will illuminate the literary life of any seeker.

More than one hundred authors, eight categories, extensive commentary, annotations, guidance, and insight—a wealth of illuminating information on the most important books for spiritual growth available today. Marcia's journey of faith will keep you thinking and laughing, wondering and reflecting.

Imagine having the selections for your book club already right in front of you—enough for a whole decade of reading. And in the midst of it all finding the mystery of God's presence moving and spilling out on every page.

Reviews and endorsements

"Books shape our life, there is no doubt. Yet, how often do we take the time to deeply reflect this and even begin to understand to what extent and in ways this is so?

Marcia Ford, author of Memoir of a Misfit has written God Between the Covers: Finding Faith Through Reading. In this book she takes us through her life-long love of books and the effect they have had on her spiritual life. 

'These are the books that shaped my life—powerful, influential, life-changing books with staying power. Those are the books you’ll find in the pages to come—places where I discovered the evidence of God between the covers of a book.'

Marcia shares with us her faith journey through the lens of books. She has written short commentaries with annotations, guidance, and insight on over 100 different authors. Some of them include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Susan Howatch, Anne Lamott, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. She shares her favorite fiction, non-fiction, even children’s literature. She shares her struggle [sic.] relationship with scripture, Christian writers and genuine faith.

At times I would lose the faith thread that is the foundation of the book and think I was just reading short book reviews that were unconnected. Possibly this had to do with the way the book is laid out by categories. But, other than that, it is a good read and a wonderful resource for book lovers."
Viva Books Review

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"If you’re a spiritual person looking for affirmation of your bibliomania or your hyperlexia, then you’ll find what you’re seeking in Marcia Ford’s new book. Based on the premise that there’s no safer or more satisfying route to enlightenment than the practice of book reading, Ford charts the books that have most impacted her faith journey.

Book freaks like Marcia Ford know that a good book is akin to a character in a biblical genealogy, begetting not one other book, but a whole library. And like the wanderings of Abraham or the Israelites in the desert, bibliophiles understand that a spiritual journey based on books is one where the promised land is often present (provided one is in the midst of a good book) and always just one more trip to Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com away.

There have been spiritual memoirs written by alcoholics, criminal politicians, and professional football stars, but this is perhaps the first written by a professional book reviewer. I mention this because God Between the Covers is more than just an annotated index to spiritual must-reads—it is the confessions (in the Augustinian sense) of a woman who has never ceased to find faith, guidance, and a sense of the divine in books. Speaking of the piles that clutter her home in Florida, she writes,

'Hidden in this mass of several thousand books are an untold number of works that have truly helped me in my personal and spiritual formation. I will never know exactly how many have influenced my life in a significant way. Who’s to say how much Little Women influenced me, though today I only remember it as an enjoyable read? Maybe Jane Austen’s books have affected me on some deep spiritual level more than I know, though I’ve never enjoyed them much at all.'

Ford begins her spiritual journey with the 'Hound of Heaven' (a.k.a. Jesus)—who tracked her down through the famous poem by Francis Thompson when she was an atheist undergraduate—and moves through her shelves to reflect on her affinity for another restless pilgrim, Bob Dylan.

In between, she writes of her affiliation with the Evangelical movement and the authors from that tradition, especially Josh McDowell, J.I. Packer, and A.W. Tozer. She tells about her awakening to the social justice movement through reading James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Anne Frank. Finally, she lumps her discovery of Christian feminism and high-church liturgy into one chapter on Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott, and The Book of Common Prayer.

One small pleasure of this book (for me) were the reviews of numerous books I have not read, much less heard of. For example, I was pleased and surprised to learn of a spiritual autobiography by Josef Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, called Only One Year. I never knew that Stalin had a daughter who defected to the United States and wrote a memoir about her struggles and faith journey. I also learned some interesting tidbits about the Christian Charismatic movement. Ford, who for a time was associated with the group, writes this about the books that came out of it:

'In the early 1990s, my friend Rita invited me to look through several boxes of Christian books she planned to give away, so I could see whether there were any titles that I wanted. I was familiar with . . . at least every author represented in the three cartons. I couldn’t find a single one I wanted . . . They were all written by authors who were leaders in the charismatic movement, which was characterized in part by an emphasis on what was called God’s "now" word . . . I guess that’s why so few books from that era have held up well.'

Until several years ago when I stumbled across a short article in U.S. Catholic magazine that recommended rereading your favorite books as a viable spiritual practice, I thought I knew everything there is to know about books and the spiritual journey. Now, thanks to Marcia Ford, I have a new practice to try out—book journaling. For, as much as God Between the Covers is a memoir and a collection of interesting and unusual book reviews, it also represents a model that book lovers who are looking to deepen their experience of God can put to use immediately."
John Tintera, Explore Faith Organization

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"Author Marcia Ford is an admitted book-aholic and leads readers on her spiritual journey in God Between the Covers. Striving to understand her postmodernism within the church, Ford read book after book. Now she's listed and categorized them to help others discover God.

From the poetry of Robert Frost, songs by Bob Dylan, the Gospel according to Peanuts—Ford gleaned truths and sets them forth in her work. There are more than one hundred different authors reviewed in her unique fashion to keep the reader enticed.

Armchair Interviews says: This easy-to-read, helpful manual will leave you with a thirst to find a book—and become another book-aholic!"
—Eileen Key, Armchair Interviews

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"In her God between the Covers . . . Marcia Ford recalls a hundred or so books in which—over the years and amid small mountains of other books—she in many personal ways found God. This column is like her book. Both fail. People need to find their own favorites, not hers or mine. But perhaps our failure is accompanied with a certain happy enthusiasm that may be catching, the happiness of bird-watchers who stay alert and keep their own careful lists of special moments of joy at finding one of those, or it finding them!
Review for Religious

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"The first anecdote of God Between the Covers shows evidence of Marcia Ford's 'addiction to books.' It's 1972, she's a college senior, in arrears on her rent. Out job hunting, she gets distracted and buys two memorable books—by authors highlighted later here: Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Joseph Stalin, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Marcia then introduces us to her spiritual journey, also jumping off from that senior year of college, when she comes or returns to faith through Christian friends. She starts reading the Bible and soon 'books about books about the Bible.' She settles into a conservative, charismatic church life. 'I had found truth,' she says. 'I had found authenticity.' But right up front Marcia admits she's moved beyond that certainty to a faith that is postmodern, a word she brings up often but is reluctant to define, though such a reluctance to define terms is an aspect of postmodernism.

This personal introduction sets up the remainder of the book, eight chapters, each covering a category of books—and more specifically individual titles or authors—that 'helped me in my personal and spiritual formation' in a particular season of life. 'Places where I discovered the evidence of God.'

As an afterword Marcia's editor describes the book as 'a memoir of [Marcia's] spiritual journey clothed in a series of reviews of classic and important books for spiritual growth.' Yes, and in so doing, Marcia, who has been an editor of Christian Retailing magazine and is a commentator about the Christian book industry, gives us a personal take (about two pages each) on nearly a hundred books or authors. If you're looking for a goodly selection of thought-provoking books for personal enrichment or group discussion, here is a great resource.

Marcia starts in the Woodstock-era wasteland and search that brought her to an encounter with Christ, largely fiction and poetry, much of it then—but I expect not now—assigned in college English courses: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Death in the Family by James Agee and Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor; and the poetry of Francis Thompson, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robert Frost. Also, the song lyrics of Bob Dylan and Bruce Cockburn. Some of these early 'reviews' are about an author’s content; in memoir fashion, some largely reveal Marcia’s response.

In later chapters, focused on nonfiction, Marcia’s commentary often goes biographical. A chapter delving into social justice issues (still in the 1970s) highlights Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King and Eldridge Cleaver, as well as Anne Frank.

Marcia continues to walk us chronologically through the decades of her life, as defined by major reading interests. One chapter, 'Christian Writers and Genuine Faith,' includes the reasoned works of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, Chesterton, Bonhoeffer and Lewis. A chapter hooked to children’s literature corresponds to her years as a home-schooling mother. A chapter highlighting the best of the charismatic and evangelical tradition includes Jamie Buckingham, Eugene Peterson and Judson Cornwall’s Praying the Scriptures.

Marcia moves on, to a liturgical interest, sparked by Kathleen Norris, who 'introduced me to a host of female writers on spirituality,' though not many of these women are given full entries. And then to the 'emerging church movement,' exemplified in Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian, which resonated with Marcia, who 'kept getting this urge to punch the air with a theological victory fist,' because McLaren gave 'shape and structure and words to those amorphous nigglings at the back of my mind.'

In a final chapter, Marcia refreshingly rediscovers the value of fiction and poetry (notably Mary Oliver and Hafiz) 'not realizing until much later how postmodern I had become. Story-telling, as it turns out, is at the core of postmodern thinking.' There’s that indefinable word again, which keeps insinuating itself into the story.

Earlier in the book, Marcia, who claims to be both 'cerebral and emotive,' admits that only one book has brought her, as an adult, to tears: Sheldon Vanauken’s autobiographical love story A Severe Mercy. For Marcia and for you, I wish decades more of good reading that illumines a personal search for God, but I would hope the search includes a few more heartbreaking stories."
Evelyn Bence, FaithfulReader.com


"Marcia Ford is a postmodernist. It all started when she became a 'stealth' reader, consuming books that were forbidden in her conservative faith tradition. Today the Marcia Fords in the church number in the hundreds of thousands. So who are these postmoderns in the church, and why do they need this unique and essential guide to the classic and modern spiritual writers in the history of the Christian church?

Brian McLaren, a suburban Washington, D.C. pastor, calls the emerging postmodern church a 'conversation' rather than a movement. In his words, 'As the world changes into some as-yet undefined new reality, some liberals and conservatives in both the Protestant and Catholic worlds are finding a desire to be in conversation with each other about the path ahead. And they’re asking questions about what it means to be a Christian in a postmodern, postcolonial world.'

One of the results of all that questioning is a rethinking of what the church is, the ways the church needs to change, and how the church can better relate to a rapidly changing secular society.

Enter God Between the Covers, Ms. Ford’s trenchant and zesty guide to the essential books, ideas, and spiritual insights from today and yesterday that she thinks all postmodern and modems should know about. Using as a defining paradigm the six great traditions (the contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical, and incarnational ways), Ms. Ford takes her readers on a literary romp through two millennia of spiritual writings that will enhance and encourage personal transformation.

Written from the perspective of a kindred spirit, there is insight and humor for all who find books and ideas to be their close companions on the spiritual journey."
Meryl Zegarek

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"Sometimes people say to me, 'You must read a lot of books,' And I admit that I do. But Marcia Ford has me beat. An author, public speaker and journalist as well as a regular contributor to Publishers Weekly, she probably has read thousands of books and has written about I5 herself.

When the proposal to write what became God Between the Covers was suggested to her, she liked the idea and jumped right in to do it. And so she begins the story of her journey of faith, recommending more than 100 books that were influential along her way.

Ford traveled through the decades of the '70s, '80s, ’90s, with an amazing collection of authors and their writings. There is a brief summary of each book and the author and why it was important to her as she was in, then out of the church, and then in again. In some instances, it is a poem and a poet who spoke to her.

For example, she tells of one day in the '70s when she 'sat in a pot-induced haze' in an English lit college classroom where the subject of the day was Francis Thompson's poem 'The Hound of Heaven,' She writes 'Thompson’s words became mine; I owned them, and I owned up to them. Yes, I had been fleeing, hiding, running.' She knew her 'relentless pursuer' had an identity she could understand, though it was another two years before she stopped fleeing and acknowledged her need of God.

Other poets whose works were influential include Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Frost and Mary Oliver. Readers will remember most of these authors and their work. Writers of both fiction and nonfiction, among them are C.S. Lewis of course, but also Augustine, Andrew Murray, Francis Schaeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Brother Andrew, Malcolm X, Anne Frank, Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott—so many.

Now an Episcopalian, Ford, tells her story of going from one religious group to another, of dropping out of the church and coming back into the church, with frankness and wit. She concludes with many more recommended books. Take her list to the library with you."
Lois Sibley

9780824522902
Paperback / 222 pages
Dimensions: 5.48 x 8.2
CROSSROAD, 2005