Each month my goal is to read five books on a variety of topics and from different genres. Here are the books I read in April 2023. If you click on the title, you’ll go to the longer post on More to Come. Enjoy.
The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors (2017) by David George Haskell is a fascinating book in its subject matter, scope, and approach. Yes, this is a book of science, but it is also a book of contemplative studies. And philosophy. And modern cultural studies. And yes, even history. Haskell, in repeated visits to twelve individual trees in different settings all around the world, dives deeply into their biology and evolution. But some of the more intriguing perspectives shared by this lyrical writer are centered around the networks that trees depend on and provide to the wider world, including humans. The twelve trees that are the stars of Haskell’s book symbolize the key theme that comes through all his work: “life is about relationships [and} we can find salvation in this view of life as a community.”
The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011) by James H. Cone invites us to see the world through the eyes of the world’s marginalized and oppressed. It takes us into this world through one of our most recognized religious symbols, the cross, and through one of America’s most terrible national sins, lynching. The cross and the lynching tree are separated by nearly 2,000 years, and though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy. Both had the same purpose: to strike terror in the subject community. “The crucifixion was clearly a first-century lynching. Both are symbols of the death of the innocent, mob hysteria, humiliation, and terror. They both also reveal a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning and demonstrate that God can transform ugliness into beauty, into God’s liberating presence.” This is a deep, penetrating exploration of these symbols and their “interconnection in the history and souls of black folk.”
The Wake of the Unseen Object: Travels Through Alaska’s Native Landscapes (1991; classic reprint edition 2020) by Tom Kizzia is one man’s exploration of Alaska’s ancestral landscapes and contemporary life in bush country. Kizzia, who wrote some 80 stories in the 1980s for the Anchorage Daily News that became the basis for this work, lets the native Alaskans tell their story. He went beyond the road system to visit villages and people who are working to maintain their balance and connections with the past while still living in the present. As Kizzia says in the new introduction to the University of Alaska’s classic reprint edition, “the great dramas of Alaska Native life revolve around efforts to adapt and resist, to preserve hunting and fishing and sharing traditions for future generations, to balance self-government and corporate capitalism, to overcome traumas that followed subjugation by colonial powers.”
Books and Our Town: The History of the Rutherford County Library System (2023) by Lisa R. Ramsay is a wonderful addition to the story of America’s love affair with public libraries. A 1942 editorial in the Rutherford Courier entitled Books and Our Town encouraged the citizens of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to create a public library. Henry T. Linebaugh answered the call, although it took several years for the community to respond to his generosity and open its first public library, named after the benefactor’s mother. For its 75th anniversary, Ramsay has gathered a rich array of stories that tell how the library became an essential part of the community. She also tells of the very real people who make it all work, including the “much beloved Helen Brown” — my mother — and current Linebaugh Branch Librarian Carol Brown Ghattas, my sister. In the post, I have a Q&A with the author about civic engagement, strong female leadership, and New Deal bookmobiles.
Funerals are Fatal (1953) by Agatha Christie opens as Richard Abernethie, the wealthy head of the family fortune dies suddenly in his Victorian mansion. When a sister is savagely murdered with a hatchet the next day in her home, the extraordinary remark she made at her brother’s funeral, suggesting he was murdered, suddenly takes on a chilling significance. The family solicitor probes the mystery and uncovers a great deal that was unknown. Ultimately he turns to his old friend Hercule Poirot for help. Classic Agatha Christie themes are evident throughout the book: “a healthy inheritance casts suspicion on the family, but as ever, nothing is quite as it seems.”
More to come…
NOTE: Click to see the books I read in January, February, and March. Also check out Ten tips for reading five books a month.
This Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.