Books start conversations. Each month I have a goal to read five books on a variety of topics and from different genres in order to learn and to start conversations with readers and others I encounter along the way. Here are the books I read in April 2022. If you click on the title, you’ll go to the longer post on More to Come. Enjoy!
Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, (2020) by Anne Applebaum is a clear-eyed look at the motivations and tactics of authoritarians and their followers who have taken over political parties formerly dedicated to democracy. These authoritarians — individuals driven by resentment and envy, true believers in the righteousness of a moral system that elevates them while punishing those they do not like, grifters looking to make a windfall, elite intellectuals who will destroy their countries to maintain power, and those who cannot tolerate complexity — have adopted a similar playbook in a variety of countries. Applebaum is a compelling narrator who brings context for those who only occasionally become attuned to European affairs. She also has a way of synthesizing history over centuries into digestible portions. Highly recommended.
Short Stories by Jesus: The enigmatic parables of a controversial rabbi (2014) by Amy-Jill Levine is the highly praised study of the parables of Jesus written by a self-described “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.” Levine writes in an easy-to-read style spiced with humor. But she is serious in wanting her readers to understand the parables in the same way as their original audiences did. She notes that these stories are less about revealing something new and more about tapping into “our memories, our values, and our deepest longings.” Parables should reframe our vision, serving “as keys that can unlock the mysteries we face by helping us ask the right questions: how to live in community; how to determine what ultimately matters; how to live the life God wants us to live.” Powerful and recommended.
Being Home: Discovering the Spiritual in the Everyday (1991) by Gunilla Norris looks at the tasks we do — from awakening in the morning to locking the door at nightfall — and puts them in the context of living in place. “How we hold the simplest of our tasks,” writes Norris, “speaks loudly about how we hold life itself.” All of us have daily routines and Norris posits that “as human beings we have a strong intuition that deep within our dailiness lies meaning, a huge dimension.” Her search is for how best to speak of that sense of the sacred, especially when it is both fundamental and beyond knowing.
Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment (2021) by Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey makes an interesting, sometimes compelling, but ultimately unsatisfactory case as to why our pursuit of happiness makes us unhappy. To understand how the modern sense of happiness developed and to ultimately make their case against liberalism, the Storeys examine the writings of four French philosophers from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. But the book misses the point that democracy itself is a moral position that allows people to make their own choices and that is messy by design.
Being There by Peter Keese is a short book of stories that came from the author’s Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) career. Our third stage group chose to read it with the hope that the stories would help us in expanding our knowledge of how to “be there” with others in our changing circumstances. While the book did stimulate conversations among us around being there for others, there is not enough of value to recommend it.
Every now and then you get a dud. But keep on reading!
More to come…
Image: Detail from the library at Biltmore estate, Asheville, NC, by DJB