Books Feed

Jesus and the Disinherited

Jesus and the DisinheritedJesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of those books I knew I needed to get around to at some point, but I'm now upset that I didn't read it twenty years ago. I feel let down; that no one explained to me that this was one of the essential books. And not just essential theologically. Essential for anyone to read.

Essential for its sophisticated understanding of how marginalized people respond to their situations. Essential for the way it clearly influenced King and others. Essential for helping to understand America.

There are so many other books I've read which are clearly derivative of this one. I had been missing the essential, core text.

But no more. Now it will become an essential part of my personal canon, to be used often.

View all my reviews

Berry Criticism

This review of Berry's essays in the New York Times seems woefully unfair to me.  The author is correct that Berry has often written on the same topics, which is a reason one doesn't really need every essay he's ever published.  But the author fails to highlight some of the key themes that are so important, such as affection or what it takes to really build community.

Yes, Berry can sound like a crank at times, but I have found his an essential voice.  I read both his essays and poetry, admiring the latter deeply while often feeling challenged by the former.

And, yes, he is "conservative" on many issues while being "progressive" on many others, meaning he doesn't fit well into our current political divides.  I think he likes it that way.  I believe this is part of his essential function, however.  He is the rare voice trusted by folks across the spectrum who can speak words of challenge to them on some of their sacred cows.


This Blessed Earth

This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family FarmThis Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm by Ted Genoways
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I moved to Nebraska in 2010 all new UCC and DOC ministers gathered at Camp Kaleo in the center of the state in the Sandhills near Burwell for an orientation to ministry in Nebraska. One of our speakers was a western Nebraska rancher. He talked about rural-urban divides and how urban folk don't understand ag issues. I pointed out that many urban people were deeply concerned about agriculture as evidenced by the growing interest in eating locally and organically; I almost mentioned my long fondness for Wendell Berry. The rancher was very dismissive of what I said. Later, I was talking to my Conference Minister and asked him about it. His answer, "For a family to have survived farming in Nebraska, they have bought up the land of their neighbors and they now run such big industrial farms that the ideas of organic farming challenge how they've been living for a couple of generations." It was a good learning moment for me.

Genoways book is a story of one year in the life of one Nebraska farm family, a liberal family at that, but ones who still farm with contemporary industrial practices. The book helps you to understand why and the history of getting there. I deeply appreciated it for conveying how difficult and complex farming is today and the breadth of skills and knowledge required to be successful--from mechanical and IT know-how to grasping global trade, chemistry, bio-engineering, energy policies, climate science, and more. SO different from the life my grandparents led and their farm I have such nostalgia for. The book left me dizzy and wondering why anyone does it anymore.

View all my reviews

Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures

Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian ScripturesTime and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures by Ephraim Radner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am interested in approaches to scriptural interpretation that resist the hegemony of historical-critical method, so I was interested in this defense of figural reading. Except even I, who did a PhD in metaphysics, did not anticipate the overly dense metaphysical sections. Plus, there was much in these sections I did not concur with. I ultimately skimmed through huge portions of the book, and appreciated much more the final chapters with more practical application for the preacher.

Radner argues that the task of preaching is to lead the listeners into the text rather than establishing THE meaning. He writes, "Our figural goal is to lead and go with our people into a realm of meanings and trace out its parameters and interiors. It should be a realm in which, of course, we do not leave our listeners as disoriented wanderers, but as creatures taken by the scriptural forms themselves, so as to lead them further, or into a clearing, or back out again, in some posture of transformed wonder." I particularly like that "transformed wonder" idea.

View all my reviews

Descartes: A Biography

Descartes: A BiographyDescartes: A Biography by Desmond M. Clarke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very thorough biography that did help me better understand Descartes, which will hopefully bear fruit in my teaching. The downside of this book is that it spends a great deal of time in minute details of Descartes' movements and correspondence where a less detailed but more thematic (and shorter) overview would have been sufficient for my needs. But some thorough bio like this does need to exist.

The most surprising discovery for me was the speculation on Descartes' sexual orientation. The gay community can grasp onto the slightest rumors to consider whether some prominent historical person was gay or bi, but I had never heard Descartes mentioned. But Clarke's speculation, always very sober, was persuasively of at least the possibility.

View all my reviews

What Hath God Wrought

What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 - 1848What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 - 1848 by Daniel Walker Howe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I greatly enjoyed Howe's history and learned a lot, mostly details of topics I only had surface knowledge of, such as the Mexican War.

I'm very intrigued by his overall interpretation of the period. The heroes are John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, standing for a vision of America that challenged the white supremacy of the Jacksonian Democrats. He feels that Abraham Lincoln fulfilled the Adams-Clay vision for America and that that vision ultimately triumphed over the other. He closes with Seneca Falls as the 1848 event that most heralded America's (and the globe's) future.

Which is interesting to read now, more than a decade after he published the book. For Jacksonian populist nationalist white supremacy has reared its ugly head. Is the great history of America a battle between Jacksonian Democrats (now the GOP) and Whigs?

***
His treatment of religion is very well done and one of the reasons the book was on my list.

***
The closing chapter, centered on Seneca Falls, never mentions Sojourner Truth, which I found both odd and deeply disturbing. Especially because Sojourner Truth was one of the characters introduced early in the book, so I assumed it would circle back around to her once I realized the great women's rights covention was the closing scene. In a rather exhaustive tome, it is a noticeable absence that mars the whole.

View all my reviews

The Red Wheelbarrow and Other Poems

The Red Wheelbarrow and Other PoemsThe Red Wheelbarrow and Other Poems by William Carlos Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 2015 at the Yale Writer's Conference in my Memoir Intensive group, Williams's granddaughter was also a member, working on a memoir of her grandfather. So I feel a more intimate connection with the great poet. One evening our group went to the beach house on the Sound of another member of the group, and it was pointed out that Williams had lived nearby.

This fine little book selects highlights from his works. He had a keen sense of attention to the world around him and a joyful use of words, most obvious in the title poem, which I remember discussing at length in some college class.

View all my reviews