Much like his last foray into non-fiction, N. D. Wilson’s Death By Living: Life Is Meant To Be Spent does not lend itself to easy review. It is kind of a genre-breaker, but in a good way. It’s non-fiction, but it’s written in imaginative prose and contains a myriad of stories. It reads like meditations on mortality with the “point” being to live like you’re alive. It’s not a book you read and a review so much as you inhabit and apply.
In many ways, Death By Living is a sequel to Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, but a sequel in a way that it is not necessary to have read the predecessor. It’s more like a continuation of the previous thought, but in such a way that it can be read as a stand alone set of musings on how to live given the mortal coil we find ourselves traversing. While Notes focuses on a way of seeing, Death focuses on a way of living (xi).
Death By Living is a book aimed at capturing the reader’s imagination through story to make a point (which is roughly the subtitle of the book). Wilson’s inspiration springs from the recent passing of his maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother. He retells many stories from his paternal grandfather that he has been capturing via video (a good idea by the way) and tells of his own journeys in living life to the fullest.
As far as a layout goes, chapter 1 extends the introduction a bit, and then chapter 2 explains the foundational role stories play both in this book and in teaching us how to live. Chapter 3 is the first of several reminisces relating to Wilson’s grandparents (the others are chapter 7, 11, and 14). Chapter 4 is about the importance of living a story and about which story you choose to live (or “enflesh”). Chapter 5 is the first of several “city hiatus” chapters (the others being 9, 12, and 16) and retells a story from the Wilson clan travelogue. Chapter 6, 8, 10, 13, and 15 continue to flesh out this idea of living life within a story and spending it well.
Like I said earlier, because of the nature of this book, it is kind of hard to review. Hard in the sense I don’t think a typical review would do it justice since it is kind of atypical. If I would register one critique, it’s that he says “death is grace” (113). The full quote for context is:
Mortality is a consequence of sin. But it is also a gift. A mercy. A kindness. Death is grace.
Now, as I was reading this beachside a Monday past, I immediately thought of a professor of mine at Dallas who would have a cow in response to that statement.
And I think he’s right.
Death isn’t, properly speaking, grace. Wilson is right that it is a mercy of God to not condemn us to live forever in our natural bodies subject to sin and death. But death is always awful and always painful. What is on the other side of death is grace, but death itself is not. It is one of the enemies Christ died to defeat. So, while I get what Wilson is getting at, I don’t think you can use “grace” to refer to it. Even in a book like this that is imaginative and poetic in its prose, you have to be careful how you say things.
There is remarkably little else to quibble with. Perhaps someone else could find something, and I only mentioned the grace thing because I think it’s an important distinction that must not be confused. I enjoyed this book and read it relatively quick (which is one way I gauge enjoy-ability). I would recommend it to anyone really. The target audience seems to be mortals who enjoy stories so that’s pretty much everyone (or should be at least). It might not particularly change your life, but it is definitely an enjoyable ride that should provoke your thinking and maybe even motivate you to get out there and do some more living.
- Author: N. D. Wilson
- Title: Death By Living: Life Is Meant To Be Spent
- Publisher: Thomas Nelson (July 30, 2013)
- Hardcover: 208pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Anyone
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Thomas Nelson)
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