What I Read September - November [from the book pile, 2016]

one of my favorite reading nooks in our new place 

one of my favorite reading nooks in our new place 

27  Between The World and Me, by Ta-Neihisi Coates  (Random House, 2015. 152 pages) 

Reading category: a National Book Award winner

This is one of the most helpful books I've ever read.  For a while now, and particularly in light of the rising racial unrest in our country in the past years, I've tried to understand better the context for that unrest.  I began to recognize more fully my own sin of racism - unwitting, but no less evil for my ignorance.  I also began to hear a thread of subtle racism that had become  a sort of conventional wisdom in my background:  Disregard any person of color who communicates with anger.  Wow. What shackles to place on any human, let alone a group of people who have historically been marginalized, at the very least, and brutally enslaved, tortured and murdered, at the worst. 

Coates is angry.  And it is powerful. I told Brian that reading the book was like hearing the lyrics of the tightest hiphop lyrics delivered in the tone of the smoothest jazz tune.  Maybe it was the other way around?  Either way the combination of eloquence and anger in addition to the weighty narrative of Coates' own life story was haunting.  

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to Krista Tippett interview civil rights icon, Ruby Sales.  She said things in a way that I'd never considered before about the failures she saw (and participated in) in the Black community toward the current generation of Black Americans.  She felt that many of the policies implemented since the major reforms of the Civil Rights movement have actually caused today's Black children to feel abandoned by both black and white communities.  I'm awkwardly paraphrasing what was a authoritatively insightful point in the a beautiful interview. You should listen to her speak for herself here:    Ruby Sales - Where Does It Hurt? On Being

Coates helped me connect some dots in the Ruby Sales interview.  For example, the way he describes his public school experience

I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both. Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. Fail in the schools and you would be suspended and sent back to those same streets, where they would take your body. And I began to see these two arms in relation - those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets. the society could say, ‘He should have stayed in school,’ and then wash its hands of him.

Coates sternly critiques the accepted narrative of Black history so often repeated in schools (I would add churches, too). 

Our teachers urged us toward the example of freedom marchers, Freedom Riders, and Freedom Summers, and it seemed that the month could not pass without a series of films dedicated to the glories of being beaten on camera. The black people in these films seemed to love the worst things in life - love the dogs that rent their children apart, the tear gas that clawed at their lungs, the fire hoses that tore off their clothes and tumbled them into the streets. They seemed to love the men who raped them, the women who cursed them, love the children who spat on them, the terrorists that bombed them. Why are they showing this to us? Why were only our heroes nonviolent? I speak not of the morality of nonviolence, but of the sense that blacks are in especial need of this morality.

I do not know how the Freedom Riders and other civil rights activists would respond to Coates, but I do know that his insight about our double standards of violent and non-violent heroes are for all of us to hear well.  As soon as I read the question: "Why were only our heroes nonviolent?" I knew we must, yet again, repent.  Because, of course, the answer is that buried into the roots of our mythologies and legends, we believe that "blacks are in especial need of this morality."

And they are torturing Muslims, and their drones are bombing wedding parties (by accident!), and the Dreamers are quoting Martin Luther King and exulting nonviolence for the weak and the biggest guns for the strong.

Lord, have mercy on our evil suppositions.  Lord, have mercy on Ta-Nehisi Coates and the son he addresses throughout the book.  Give Coates the epiphany of You as a zealously just God, and may you give the rest of us an epiphany of how far we live from that justice.  Amen.

28  The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis  (Loyola Press, 2014. 168 pages) 

Reading category: a book translated to English

If I chose a favorite excerpt of this book, I'd have to share every page.  If you care about mercy and justice, love and truth, Church and the world, read this book.  You will be challenged, yes, but in the most merciful of ways.  Thank you, Pope Francis.  I am grateful for you. 

Here's one favorite excerpt:

church of mercy excerpt.jpg

29   Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver(Harper Perennial, 2008. 400 pages) 

Reading category: a self-improvement book & a Liturgy of Life Reading group selection

A fun read, indeed.  Written in 2008, this book is on the front end of the "farm to table" repertoire written since.  I found it helpful to read a book written when an author assumed the reader would not know much about organic farming and its quiet revolt against factory farming.  While I don't expect to begin growing all of our food in our back yard, I enjoyed Kingsolver's memoir, and found myself thinking about it again and again.

30   Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist (Zondervan, 2013. 288 pages) 

Reading category: a book recommended by a family member

Just fun, simple reading.  This is my first Shauna Niequist book, and I understand now why so many people love her.

31   Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez (Atria Books, 2016. 440 pages) 

Reading category: a book written by a celebrity

I liked Martin Sheen a whole lot from watching every single episode of The West Wing about 52 times.  (We named our dog Leopold McGarry, but if he'd been a different breed we might have chosen Josiah Bartlet). I fell in love with Martin Sheen when I heard Krista Tippett interview him about his book release with his son Emilio Estevez.  I had a vague memory of learning he was devoutly Catholic, and I'd wondered how that contrasted to some of the other difficult things I'd heard about him and his actor children.  What I didn't know is that he'd been arrested over 60 times for causes of social justice (mentored by Father Daniel Berrigan).  During the interview, Sheen completely won me over when he said that reading Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov (recommended to him by another spiritual mentor, filmmaker Terrence Malick) had been a key part of his return to the Catholic faith of his parents.  

Last year my friend Wendy recommended the film, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by Emilio Estevez.  The story is about a father (Sheen) who heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son (Estevez) who died while traveling the El camino de Santiago from France to Spain. In the memoir, Along the Way, father and son use the movie as the background for their life story.  Because of that framework, the book zeroes in on their relationship with each other and to their individual vocations as actors and directors.  The rest of the family as well as their individual expressions of plays supporting roles throughout the entire book.  I was grateful to hear the story of father and son, but did, at times, find the format of back and forth (one chapter from Martin, then one chapter from Emilio) a bit tedious.  I hope that Martin (which is actually the screen name for Ramon Estevez) will write more specifically about his faith journey, particularly as it plays out in social activism.  

I recommend this book if you like either of the actors or the history of filmmaking since the 1960's. Their stories of building relationships with people before they become worldwide celebrities (e.g., Sean Penn, Tom Cruise, Terrence Malick, Francis Coppola, Laurence Fishburn, and many others) is especially interesting.  This is a poignant book, too, for anyone intrigued by the way flawed, but faithful parents are able to come to a place of peace about the mistakes they make in raising their children, while loving them fiercely.  

32  Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline. (Broadway Books, 2012. 400 pages) 

Reading category: a romance set in the future

I wanted to like this book so much.  My son loved it, my husband loved it, several friends loved it, and I did not love it.  I thought that the preponderance of 1980s pop culture references would keep me going, even if I didn't really jive with the main characters.  Then I realized: I grew up in the 1980s but barely knew the pop culture scene.  We had 3 television channels plus PBS that we could get to come in by twisting the antenna just right.  We had an Atari game system because of a generous aunt and uncle, but I barely played it.  I wasn't allowed to listen to "secular" music (although I did manage to secretly burn a couple of cassette tapes with the clock radio in my bedroom) and we weren't allowed to go to movies (although I sneaked out to Back to the Future with my best friend's family).  I spent more time protesting social justice issues than going to the mall.  We shopped discount department stores, avoided magazines and modern YA books.  I mean, really.  This all sounds rather pathetic, put this way, but it was mostly an OK way to grow up.  But it didn't really help me get this book.  And that's OK, I guess.  

I did skip the middle to read the last chapter.  I wanted to see how the romance worked out.  You'll have to read for yourself to find out.

33  Career of Evil (A Cormoran Strike novel) by Robert Galbraith. (Mulholland Books, 2015. 497 pages) 

Reading category: a murder mystery

"When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormorant Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible..." 

And thus begins another investigation. Even though the crime was much darker, I think I liked the third Robert Galbraith (aka, J. K. Rowlings) book even better than the first two (The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm ). I enjoyed getting to know Robin a bit better, and found her character to be delightfully complex, empathetic and still very likeable.  Also, I want to learn self-defense.  And I want my daughters to learn it stat.  

The plotline triggered two other streams of thought in the broader sociological level, for me as well.

1. I've been pondering the sociological effects of assuming all people who commit a certain sort of crime (say, racism or sexual assault) actually deters our ability to bring justice to victims. That's not to say those sorts of crimes aren't evil, but since they are statistically rampant, I suggest that we hurt not help victims by assuming the person committing the crime can't look the ordinary man or woman next door.  By the way, I'm not giving anything away in the plot here.  It just happens to be something I think about a lot anyway, and found myself pondering again in this storyline.

2.  I found Galbraith's/Rowlings' treatment of the a certain group of people in this story (the "transabled") super interesting in light of many of our current social conversations.  I'd love to sit in a room with the author and talk with her more about how and why she made the character/plot choices she did.  So interesting.

These are the sort of murder mysteries I carry around day and night until I'm done reading.  I highly recommend. (with the disclaimer that this particular title in the series contains more triggers than the other two).

34  Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. (Counterpoint, 2001. 384 pages) 

Reading category: a re-read

In a beautiful surprise, I was given the opportunity to expand my review of this book for a print journal (coming out soon!)  Naturally, I felt the need to re-read almost the entire book.  I still love Jayber, Wendell and Port William, and I still wish for more.  

from the book pile.jpg


* This year, I'm part of two different reading groups made up of friends and sisters. You can find the lists here: Take Our Ultimate Reading Challenge / A Year of Reading the World, & Liturgy of Lifereading group. *

**The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. After blogging about books for ten years, I thought it might be OK to get a little help financing my reading habit. Thank you! **

Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from 2015 and previous years.

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