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Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World

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Product Description

A visual, poetic exploration of the narrative nature of the world and the personality of the Poet behind it all.

When Nate Wilson looks at the world around him, he asks "What is this place? Why is this place? Who approved it? Am I supposed to take it seriously?" What could such an outlandish, fantastical world say about its Creator?

In these sparkling chapters, Wilson gives an aesthetic examination of the ways in which humanity has tried to make sense of this overwhelming carnival ride of a world. He takes a whimsical, thought-provoking look at everything from the "magic" of quantum physics, to nature's absurdities, to the problem of evil, evolution and hell. These frequently humorous, and uniquely beautiful portraits express reality unknown to many Christians-the reality of God's story unfolding around and among us. As the author says, "Welcome to His poem. His play. His novel. His comedy. Let the pages flick your thumbs."

224 pages, Paperback

First published May 30, 2009

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N.D. Wilson

40 books2,161 followers

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5 stars
2,287 (58%)
4 stars
994 (25%)
3 stars
428 (10%)
2 stars
139 (3%)
1 star
93 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 674 reviews
Profile Image for Douglas Wilson.
Author 279 books3,523 followers
February 25, 2011
Stupendous. More to follow.

I had read Notes from the Tilt a Whirl before in its various manifestations. But when it arrived in its final printed form, I was happy to sit down and go through it again, left to right. What a good book this is.

The conceit for the book is that the solar system is a ride at a carnival, with circular motions inside circular motion. Not only do we have the carnival-like motions, we have a carnival-like environment, gaudy colors and situations included. The book works through the four quadrants of one trip around the circumference, through the seasons of winter, spring, summer, autumn. Those who don't get either thrilled or sick (or both) in the ride are those who, in the name of realism, resolutely ignore everything that is going on all around them, and they ignore it all day long.

As they are on display in this book, Nate's gifts revolve around a very basic truth. He has the same ability that Chesterton had, that of making ordinary things seem extraordinary, and then with a start you realize that it is not a verbal trick -- ordinary things are extraordinary. Why don't we see that more often? I mean look at a walnut, for Pete's sake.

A metaphor is a twisted and circuitous route that goes straight to the truth. Some metaphors are so convoluted that they get there right away. This book is just crammed with them. My father is working through the book too, and his one substantive criticism was one he cited from a C.S. Lewis criticism of Rudyard Kipling -- too much brilliance, too fast, need to breathe . . . lie down for a bit. Woof. It is a reasonable criticism, but you can always pace yourself. Read it in smaller chunks. But read it.

And I just enjoyed reading it again, this time in February of 2011. It is just as good on a Kindle.
Profile Image for Jen H.
96 reviews
June 11, 2012
So, on Saturday I was the lone woman sitting amongst a group of men when the subject of this book came up. I'd started to read it once before and hated it. Why? I didn't like the author. I've thought for years he was trying too hard to be like his father and never quite measuring up. Ugly, I know. But true. And I happen to think his father a right jolly old elf, with a bit of Lewis, Chesterton and Luther thrown in for good measure. Who wouldn't like THAT sort of guy, right?

So when talk about this book appeared, I listened to the chatter and gave my two cents worth when the lauding increased. I said, "It's a good book for males, maybe. But not for women." Amid the loud guffaws, hearty laughter and shame-faced embarrassment (as if they shouldn't have enjoyed it as much as they did), I thought it might be expedient on my part to again "take up and read" this book I had so hastily condemned during my earlier sojourn. Who knew? I might have missed something important, like...um....the "story" itself. I don't like being the only one in the room to NOT get the joke.

I'm glad I gave it a second chance. And I'm also happy to say that the son has not only succeeded in becoming like his father; in this book, I do believe he has exceeded him if this readers tears are any measure. Doug Wilson has only made me cry once. It happened when we were at a History Conference where he was one of the principal speakers. When he spoke of King Jesus, his voice cracked. And my tear ducts quickly followed suit. In Nate's book, I cried and cried and cried again. In "Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl", Nate Wilson makes us to see God's glory by training our eyes on the shadow. You know the one. It's the one that was eliminated forever when Christ rose from the grave.

And about me resenting the son for wanting to be like his dad? That was my problem, not his. This son is a grand and glorious reflection of his father, and one in whom his father, I would imagine, takes great pride.

Although I still believe this is a book written by a man to men and for men, I also believe that every woman can and will be blessed/challenged/made to truly *see* in the beauty for ashes picture Nate paints of the world created in extravagant, living color AND in the harsh and harrowing, dark places by the Master Artist. Read it, girls, if you wish to see glory. Read it if you wish to weep. Just read it.

I'd left a bookmark in this particular book when I'd tried to read it the first time. Upon it was a quote from the great man himself, G. K. Chesterton. And what did it say? "The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children."

Thank you, Doug and Nancy, for being brave enough to live the ordinary. And thank you, Nate, for writing about it in a way that makes me *see* the majesty and the glory of our God.
Profile Image for Fëalórin.
50 reviews40 followers
January 9, 2022
Let me put it this way: Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl made me very, very happy to be alive. Wilson's writing is as compelling as always, and his wise perspective on life, God, Christianity, and the world is vision-changing.

Absolutely mind-blowing.

J. R. R. Tolkien once wrote that our purpose in life "is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks." This book has done that for me. It has moved me deeply. It has made me more grateful for my undeserved place in this grand epic God is writing, more cognizant of His goodness and grace, and more enraptured by and in love with the world of wonder we live in.

Prepare to be awakened to awe by the Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl.
Profile Image for Amelie.
178 reviews27 followers
September 27, 2022
More like 3.5 stars for now, I think. There are some beautifully profound sections in this book, but other parts left me scratching my head. I’m trying to decide if the author was brilliant in his wording choices or if I entirely dislike them.

It’s difficult to say. It’s N.D. Wilson, so of course there’s brilliance to it. But I think this merits a slow reread in the future so I can ponder each chapter, idea, and line of phrasing more thoroughly.

Yet it really does make you screech to a halt, lift your head, and smell the wild winds of this beautifully paradoxical life with which God has so richly blessed us
Profile Image for Roberto Vargas Jr..
28 reviews10 followers
August 22, 2018
O estilo de Wilson é extremamente fluido e agradável. Diria até que é “viciante”!

E é difícil dizer mais algo sobre o livro sem encher este texto de spoilers. Farei, então, apenas dois breves comentários.

O primeiro: Como é bom encontrar eco do que pensamos em palavras muito mais apropriadas e que jamais poderíamos usar, por nossa própria incompetência! (Aliás, Wilson usou magistralmente o mesmo argumento que usei em Sobre a autoria do mal por Deus; adorei isso!)

O segundo: O que dizer sobre de que o livro trata? Quando um familiar postou num grupo da família um vídeo de fractais numa bolha de sabão, dizendo “Isso é arte!”, encontrei o que talvez sejam os melhores termos que posso articular sobre o tema do livro e com os quais o recomendei:

"Deus é pródigo em nos presentear com a beleza. Ele faz os fractais de neve únicos em cada floco numa abundância inimaginável. Nós perdemos toda esta beleza pelo costume ou por colocarmos nossa atenção em coisas menos relevantes. O livro é um convite, um apelo a apreciar deliberadamente a criação e o Deus que a criou. Ou, como responde o Catecismo de Westminster ao que seria o fim do homem: conhecer Deus e gozá-lO eternamente! Louvado seja Ele!"

Recomendo-o, pois, muito fortemente.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
Author 2 books229 followers
April 12, 2022
This book has received rave reviews (here's one), and I can see why. There's a movie too. Here (3:06–4:30), Nate explains the goofy circumstances that led him to write this statement of faith.

"Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl focuses on a way of seeing. With this book [Death by Living], the focus is on a way of living, a way of receiving life" ( Death by Living xi).
Profile Image for Banner.
330 reviews45 followers
July 11, 2016
This was a refreshing, honest and very personal book about faith...from one man's perceptive. He doesn't seem to be trying to convince anyone about anything (well maybe in a couple of places...not totally sure). He just expressed how he saw the world through faith.

His style was kind of like reading Robin Williams teaching Sunday School or maybe talking with his fellow theologians down at the pub. It took a page or two to get into, but I enjoyed the style.

This is not one of those get pumped up, I can do all things kind of book. It is a honost look at the world as it really is and seeing God in the ugly and the beautiful.

Try the kindle sample and see if your not hooked.

Profile Image for Thiago Lima.
22 reviews2 followers
January 4, 2018
Fantástico! Genial!
Esse livro é sobre cosmovisão. Isso, "cosmovisão" no singular. Não é um livro discutindo sobre as diversas cosmovisões existentes, embora ele fale superficialmente de algumas. Nesse livro Nathan, de forma magistral, nos apresenta uma cosmovisão singular, uma que enxerga esse mundo além de simples taxonomia e estações climáticas, que te deslumbra com a beleza desse mundo que, na verdade, é obra de um grande Artista.
Nathan fala sobre moralidade, céu, inferno, morte, vida, ressurreição, sobre o famigerado problema do mal, misturando tudo com detalhes sobre a primavera, borboletas e formigas. Tudo isso enquanto cita C.S. Lewis, Agostinho e expõe a tolice de Nietzsche, Platão, Hume e Kant (como esse livro poderia ser ruim?).
Para mim, foi como entrar numa xícara maluca.
No primeiro capítulo achei sensacional. A primeira volta é sempre "só alegria".
Mas quando a xícara girou demais e o autor começou a falar de quarks, o enjoo bateu e quase abandonei o brinquedo. Mas com tanta gente boa falando bem desse livro, eu deveria persistir. E foi esplendido. Depois que acaba fica aquele gostinho de que foi um dos melhores brinquedos que você já viu. Quem já foi na sensacional montanha russa com simulador do Harry Potter, que os parques Island of Adventure e Universal proporcionam em Orlando, sabem do que estou falando.
Enfim, leia esse livro. Se espante e se maravilhe com o Criador e sua arte.
Observe esse mundo que é só para os crescidinhos mas que ninguém checa altura nem identidade na entrada. Se espante com as sombras e com o inverno. Se maravilhe com a primavera. Se maravilhe porque no final "haverá borboletas", afinal.... "histórias não terminam com a morte".
Obrigado Nathan, por esse divertidíssimo passeio.
Profile Image for ladydusk.
445 reviews180 followers
April 1, 2019

This is one of those books that's hard to rate because I read it over more than a year setting it down and picking it up. I think it was best read in small batches, actually, as the essays - and I use that term somewhat loosely - are based on the seasons as the earth - ahem "tilt-a-whirl" - revolves around the sun.

I like much -most- of what Wilson has to say about God (Father, Son, and Spirit), Creation, and the interplay with man. I like the way he holds things up in the culture, church, science, philosophy, natural world, and history and twists and turns them around and upside down. He is not only on a tilt-a-whirl, but acting as a tilt-a-whirl looking for the facets on the gemstone. I sometimes tire of the this-close-to-pretentious "know it all" tone. There are places, too, where it felt like trying too hard to make the observations fit the observed.

I can understand why some readers love this book and why some readers don't. I'm in the mostly really, really enjoyed and profited from it, thus 4 stars.

I've recently decided to have a "Sunday" book - this was the first that I just dedicated to being read on Sundays as time allowed. It was a good one to challenge me to think about both the immensity of God and the immediacy of God.
Profile Image for Barnabas Piper.
Author 11 books894 followers
September 8, 2013
The peaks of this book were higher than almost any book I have read in recent years. Wilson has a genuinely unique voice and a gift for seeing the world and the greatness of its minutiae. If you want an exploration of God's kingdom and reality in a fresh way, this is the book.
11 reviews1 follower
December 25, 2009
N.D. Wilson's book is peculiar. I set out reading this not having a clue what to expect; and to the author's credit, I got a good handle on what I was in for after reading the introduction. Wilson's style is distinct. He is very self reflective and loooooves metaphors. This I do not mind. But it is also no guarantee of a good read.

This book has problems. It is a compilation of random personal reflections capped off by one powerhouse chapter concerning hell towards the end of the book. The writing is flowery, but not flowery like Dickens' prose, flowery like write whatever comes to mind and let it go without proofing because it is more raw and beautiful if it isn't messed with. Wilson sounds poetic enough, but halfway through the book I didn't have a clue what he was actually trying to say. This book is about God's creation, but there is absolutely no structure. Wilson would have been better off splitting up all of his paragraphs into poems and releasing a poetry journal.

This was the kind of read where you're getting through it and the writing is pretty enough but you realize that after one hundred and fifty pages the author hasn't actually said anything. As noted before, there is a chapter on hell later in the book that has some structure and hits the reader with what Wilson may actually believe concerning the Creator who he has spent the last 6 chapters talking about but not actually given any insight on. He presents man's attitude towards eternity in a different light and it made me think. I don't think I agree with him at all, but he gets credit for doing in this chapter what he should have been doing from the start. I recommend that people read the hell chapter; you'll get out of that twice what you would get out of everything else. It saved Wilson from a more brutal rating in my book.
Profile Image for Jacob Rush.
87 reviews5 followers
July 24, 2020
The Wilson family probably share Chestertonian blood. In an insightful and poignant way, N.D. Wilson dismantles the academic skepticism of the secular, evolutionist by his sharp, sometimes crass, wit. Without God, without the Divine Storyteller, life is meaningless, we are a drift and alone in this vast cosmos. Wilson paints for us what it would look like to be amazed at the story that God is writing with our universe. This world and everything in it is being spoken by God like a master novelist, and we find ourselves as actors inside this grand play. Who will our character be? Will he be the grumpy, frustrated kind who never catches a break so he takes it out on his family? What will we do with the story God has given us? N.D. Wilson masterfully writes to open dull eyes (like my own) to the wonder and amazement of the world we live in, and invites us to enjoy the ride.
Profile Image for G.M. Burrow.
Author 1 book106 followers
March 30, 2011
Breathtaking. Hilarious. Scathing. Fiercely jolly. If you ever want to read about poetry, ants, creation, thunderstorms, evil, Hamlet, eternity, snow, hell, pain and death all rolled into one ecstatic ball, then read this book. It will sprawl you, wind you, pick you up, and push you on your way even as you hold out both arms to stop the world from rocking. It will blind you with beauty and insist that you see.

I read this in one dizzy three-hour sitting in June 2009, then again (much slower) in March 2011.
Profile Image for Hannah Jayne.
168 reviews6 followers
January 7, 2022
oh, to be made in the image of God. to see the stars and understand them. to have studied matter down to the space between atoms. to see the ocean. to feel the sun.

yes, there are mysteries in this life. how we came to be is not one of them. why we are here is not one of them.

i am grateful that my eyes are open, and that i see beautiful and lovely things.

for nothing is as beautiful in appearance as the knowledge of Truth.

I love these words. I love this world. I love this life. And the Artist—the Artist is best of all.

Profile Image for Sydney Jacques.
137 reviews13 followers
May 30, 2017
I didn't love it quite as much as Death by Living, but that doesn't really mean anything because it was still incredible and beautiful and sparkly.
Profile Image for Mark Jr..
Author 6 books313 followers
October 6, 2011
I succumbed to the buzz the year this came out; I read it, and I'm glad. It's not quite like any other book I've encountered. If it's a little too self-conscious at times of its witty uniqueness, it's equally full of insights and great little stories—like the toddler and the butterfly. The great John Frame says that theology should be written in many genres; Wilson seems almost to have created a new one. A good book to savor a bit at a time.
Profile Image for Anthony Ray.
39 reviews
May 16, 2021
Really great. Wilson does something with language that I've never experienced before. He's taken weighty topics and made them...fun? This book really does feel like a Tilt-A-Whirl. I've just finished it and feel mentally and emotionally dizzy. A bit wobbly. Could be the Jameson though.

I didn't expect this to be the apologetic work that it was. I don't think Wilson intended it to be an apologetic in the traditional sense, but the way he reasons about things like morality and Hell are done so well that his arguments just stick with you.

I honestly can't recommend this one enough. Might be my favorite read of 2021.

Now you'll have to excuse me. I need to find a bucket.
Profile Image for Kris Irvin.
1,358 reviews51 followers
June 12, 2011
I really wanted to like this book. But holy cow, reading it was like stabbing myself in the ear with a toothpick.

There were a few lines and paragraphs I enjoyed. I loved the entire chapter on Hell. But the rest of the book I found painful. It reminded me of "one thousand gifts" by Ann Voskamp, another very flowery, Christian book that goes on and on without ever coming to a point.

Actually, Wilson does make a point in his book. He makes several. But I found him condescending, repetitive, and irritating. The low point was in the chapter about "Beautiful and Cute," and his attitude toward inspirational posters. Honestly dude? Get over it. I understood where he was coming from, but by this point in the book I was so sick of him and his writing that I started to really hate him. He just came off so snotty and... argh. Yikes.

So. Do you like flowery to the point of painful prose? Then this is your book. Otherwise, flee for your lives.
February 1, 2023
2021 review:


what are words.

(shout out the Canon Press crew who handed me the feeling of flying through the roof when you handed me my Very Own Copies of this book, and DBL, after standing out chatting with me for forever, and listening to me rant & stumble through saying all the right things in all the wrong ways. shout out to Very Special People who made a rough conference week a golden memory, thanks for sitting & laughing & caring. shout out to my Big Sister and Big Trouble, Sub, and The Hannah Fairy, and many others who have written this poetry into my way of seeing the world. memories are heavy with joy. this book carries many.)
14 reviews7 followers
August 6, 2019
As the title implies, this book was like being on a tilt-a-whirl. I felt at times discombobulated and punched in the gut. At other times I was filled with awe and wonder. My eyes poured tears on more than one occasion. I pondered the beauties and pains of life and it was good for my soul, good for me to consider God and His creation, his artwork. I will most likely come back to this book again some day.
Profile Image for Pat Lane.
55 reviews
November 9, 2021
I don’t think I gave it a 5 in written form. It’s just too foreign to my old brain. But listening to it and hearing it in the author’s voice added a whole new level of understanding to these words and the wonder in them for this globe we live on and God who made it all.
Profile Image for Megan Miller.
317 reviews
April 24, 2019
Review for 2nd read:
Still amazing. Still exactly what I needed. (Will there be a time when these words are not relevant to life?) Still my favorite book.
2018: listened to an audiobook version this time, read by the author himself. Still love these words. A lot.
2018 2.0: I gave this to a friend of mine, and I started glancing through it to remind myself of pieces and then I was like, "Forget this, I'm reading the whole thing." So I did. For the second time in a year. And the 4th time overall, apparently. I LOVE THIS BOOK.
2019: So much beauty. So much just, pointing to Jesus. These things are beautiful because He is. We are here because He speaks. We can love Him because He changes us.
This books makes me excited to grow old and sparkly.
Profile Image for Sarah.
189 reviews14 followers
April 20, 2021
Warning: If you don't like profound, honest, nitty-gritty, so-obvious-you-missed-it, powerful observations poetically written in order to change your view of the world (and your place in it) then this just isn't your book.

Everyone else: grab you a copy.

You have been born into a narrative, you have been given freedom. Act, and act well until you reach your final scene.
Profile Image for Suzannah.
Author 27 books472 followers
October 12, 2014
Read October 16, 2011 and October 12, 2014.

Maybe it's something about Octobers. Even richer and more perceptive than I remember it being the first time. This is a volume of literary criticism on the biggest Art of all. I particularly recommend it to writers.
Profile Image for Marcel.
32 reviews8 followers
July 6, 2017
Senhoras e senhores, que livraço!

Foi divertidíssimo entrar na Xícara Maluca e ver a forma biruta de ND Wilson enxergar o mundo!

Tem lugar pra mais um! Vamos?
Profile Image for Maya Joelle.
Author 1 book88 followers
December 25, 2022
Let the Winter come. It is the only path to Spring.

Rereading this five years after the first time was a good idea. I understood a lot more of the references. It's quite a wild ride, and it takes some getting used to the author's style, and I think a lot of what he has to say is summed up better in Death By Living. But I'd recommend reading this book anyway. It's a fast read.

The Greeks were right. Live in fear of a grinding end and a dank hereafter.
Unless you know a bigger God, or better yet, are related to Him by blood.

Trying to solve the problem of evil, describe Hell accurately, take down Hume and Leibniz, and explain the right way to live in about 200 pages and a breakneck trip though all four seasons is a tall task, and while NDW may not succeed in every area, his answers are worth reading and grappling with.

In this story, the sun moves. In this story, every night meets a dawn and burns away in the bright joy of morning.
In this story, Winter can never hold back the Spring.

Here are some more quotes that I liked:

And I move on, with the sun on my face. Clouds are growing in the west, glorious clouds piled up with rowdy care and sparked with electric life.
I fill my lungs with the world, with this life, with this gift beyond containing. There is only one thing I can say.
Thank you. And I must say it with my life. Through my life. To the end of my life.
And after.
Profile Image for Aaron Fox.
2 reviews6 followers
October 16, 2017
Hmm. This book is very interesting. I would recommend it to most people, but it did not have the same impact on me as it has had for others. This is a very mainstream Christian book that would probably land in most church and/or Christian bookstores but for the 1 swear word (kind of used in context...) and a couple misuses of the word "hell".

Personally, when I read a book that tries to get me to rethink how I think about the world, I like it to put the seemingly random pieces of the puzzle together for me. What this book does (if it reaches its goal) is to get you to marvel at each individual puzzle piece. While I see some value in that, I just don't prefer that style of writing. I can agree with most of the points the writer makes, but hey, if you're reading this review you've probably already read the book because it wasn't a 1 or 5 star review, so I bet you've already decided what you agree with and what you don't. :)

Profile Image for Mason Sherrill.
42 reviews1 follower
March 16, 2022
I already want to “re-read” it, although I listened through the Canon+ App!
Profoundly encouraging, existentially thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable. N.D. has a way of writing I’m always impressed and captivated by. My favorite thing about his writing is his ability to evoke the true hope of the gospel in an entertaining work of art.
Highly recommend listening to the audio or watching the video! It brings to life the poetic nature of this work.
Profile Image for Emma Whear.
409 reviews20 followers
May 28, 2019
5 stars. Well done. Much deep.
I’ll be thinking about this one for a while.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 674 reviews

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