Each month I have a goal to read five books on a variety of topics and from different genres. Here are the books I read in February 2022. If you click on the title, you’ll go to the longer post on More to Come. Enjoy!
How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (2021) is a groundbreaking book by poet and author Clint Smith that asserts that slavery is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it. Smith’s well-researched work takes the reader to landmarks and monuments across America, places where guides, local citizens, and activists tell stories to those who visit. Some of the stories are true. Some are willfully false. Others take less than complete information to try and point towards truth. Smith works to understand what these places mean today, what we’ve told ourselves about them, and how that impacts the way we live. He treats old places as having value as spaces of reflection and he treasures the stories and memories of elders who are not that far removed from those who were enslaved. Memory — it has been said — is a poet, not a historian. In a book I’ll return to again and again, Smith shows why we give thanks for the poets and the stories they bring to life.
Jesus and the Disinherited (1949) by philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman is best known as the book that Martin Luther King Jr. turned to for inspiration before he led the Montgomery bus boycott. In chapters on fear, deception, hate, and love, Thurman “demonstrates how the gospel may be read as a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised.” Nowhere is that more evident than in the chapter on hate. Thurman notes that in the end Jesus rejected hatred “not because he lacked the vitality or the strength. It was not because he lacked the incentive. Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life; and hatred was the great denial.” As Dr. King demonstrated, Jesus and the Disinherited can be a life-changing book.
War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003) by Chris Hedges, is an important book I returned to read again as Russia was threatening the invasion of Ukraine that ultimately came later in February. I noted then that in Hedges’ words, a war in Ukraine will be a “mythic” war, where those involved will seek to imbue events with meanings they do not have. Hedges writes on the “very nature of war itself, its causes and consequences, and the physical, emotional, and moral devastation it leaves in its wake.” While he asserts that humility, love, and compassion are the only chances for the human race, war — a deadly addiction — is hard to shake. I wish he wasn’t so right. This is an important read for our times.
Why Old Places Matter: How historic places affect our identity and well-being (2018) by Thompson M. Mayes, a long-time friend and former colleague, is a series of 14 essays. Some address the more practical reasons we preserve old buildings, such as sustainability, economics, and community. But the ideas that most intrigued Tom — and that get to the heart of why these places seem to matter so much to people — were captured in the essays on memory, continuity, and identity, positioning old places in people’s lives in a much more fundamental fashion than the ways in which we often talk about the past and design our preservation laws. Tom’s book is as vital and timeless as the old places we love.
The End of the Beginning: Being the Adventures of a Small Snail (and an Even Smaller Ant) (2004) by Avi is a delightful children’s book that takes the reader through the multiple adventures — and the occasionally snappy wordplay — of Avon, a small snail, and his friend Edward, the ant. Avon loves to read about adventures. But having never been on one, he decides that he needs to go in order to be happy. Avon and Edward explore parts of their world, such as the end of the branch where Avon lives, that they had never visited before. Along the way they meet many different creatures. And they decide that even tiny adventures can broaden one’s worldview.
More to come…
The Weekly Reader series features links to recent books and articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy.