Tonight I am hosting book club and we’re discussing The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. I have a fondness for this dear story – one of personal growth, new beginnings, stark Newfoundland winters and am very much looking forward to our discussion. And since I’m in a bookish frame of mind I thought I’d do a quick review of what I’ve been reading. It’s been a while and I could go back and write about all the books I’ve been reading, but I’m just going to stick with a few stand-out titles.
My brother’s girlfriend, Becca, gave this book to be while I was in California and I’m so happy I had the chance to read it. It’s a remarkable story of courage in the face of Taliban rule. Kamila Sidiqi was only a teenager when the Taliban took over Afghanistan. As the oppressive regime tightened its grip on the country, Kamila sought ways to support her large family and began a sewing school in her neighborhood. Operating under the noses of the “Morality Police” was dangerous but this young girl’s courage helped dozens of women support their families as food became scarce and jobs disappeared. Kamila’s family had always valued education and her father had always supported the academic pursuits of his many daughters. Finding themselves living under a rule that forbade female education and required women to disappear from public life, Kamila and her sisters resisted by teaching their neighbors how to become seamstresses, build their own businesses, and support one another. Reading a book like this always makes me wonder what I would do if I ever found myself in a situation similar to this one. It’s a question worth pondering and you’ll find inspiration in reading this wonderful book.
I had been wanting to read this one for a while but never picked up a copy. When I came upon it at Phoenix Books in San Luis Obispo, I grabbed it and was quickly sucked into Julia’s lovely expat world of cooking, dinner parties, bureaucratic intrigue, and funny shenanigans. It also inspired me to watch some of her cooking shows. My lovely mother-in-law had given me the DVD collection of Julia Child’s The French Chef show and I recently watched the episode on eggs. Oh my Julia! Her stuffed omelet is absolutely insane. First you cook three eggs in about two tablespoons of butter. You stuff the omelet with mushrooms cooked in butter and then absolutely smother that with about three ladle-fulls of cheese sauce. On top of that you grate some more cheese – about a half cup. And then as a final flourish, you drizzle about 3 tablespoons of melted butter over it all. Slip that under the broiler so that it turns into a melty, cheesy, creamy concoction and you have dinner. Seriously? According to my calculations that’s easily 1500 calories and well over 100 grams of fat. While I will probably never actually make this particular recipe, I sure enjoyed watching Julia work her magic. Reading My Life in France definitely made watching her shows even more fun. Knowing a bit more about the woman in front of the camera puts everything into context.
Originally written over a decade ago, this title has been recently revised and expanded and its release could not be more timely. As the world shrinks due to commerce, relatively cheap travel options, and a 24-hour news cycle, one would think that this would cause us to focus on our similarities but in many cases the opposite seems to be the result. Whether it is climate change, religious belief, or politics, positions have been defined and there seems to be no willingness to seek solutions together. Increased polarization means that few admit we may all have something to learn from one another. Mouw makes a passionate call for civility within public discourse. He also recognizes that this has to begin individually and reminds us that as Christians, we are supposed to recognize the human and eternal value of every individual – no matter how much we may disagree. When it comes to politics, how amazing would it be to watch a debate between two people who saw one another as equally valuable human beings? I’m pretty sure this would change everything – instead of talking points and prefab jabs, one could watch two people discuss their ideas, learn from one another, and possibly come up with good solutions. Even if solutions were not reached, the humility required when engaging in such a discussion ensures that one would learn and be enriched. Mouw does make sure to note that he does not believe in simply “tolerating” other opinions as this is not truly respectful. Despite the siren call for a “tolerant” society one can see the effects of that all around us – a lack of meaning and a void of purpose pervade much of contemporary Western culture. Conviction is important, beliefs are essential for living a meaningful life. So Mouw does not call us to abandon our principles, he just calls for convicted civility. And this requires two things that are difficult to cultivate – humility and a teachable spirit. And both of these result when we have a genuine love for our fellow man. And yet for us to move forward, tackle the problems that face our culture, and leave the world a little bit better, we have to strive for this goal. I know I can get really passionate about certain topics and I am reminded that my passion does stem from deep convictions but I certainly do not know everything about the topic. Having an open and honest discussion with someone who disagrees with me would help me gain a deeper understanding. My high school debate background tells me I should try to win every argument but in doing so I end up losing opportunities to learn humility. When I am back in the States and I find myself watching TV I am reminded of the ultimate result of winning every argument – one only needs to turn to the top “news” channels to see what happens when one refuses to give voice to the opposition. You have to search high and low to find anything in America that resembles discourse. For the most part it’s resounding gongs and clanging cymbals – opinion without love – and its only result is festering fear and growing hate. Cultivating a genuinely loving and humble spirit creates connection, makes the world less hostile, and is absolutely essential for the tasks we face. I highly recommend this book.
And, just because Jane Austen is so good, here’s a couple of great articles by men on learning the lessons of humility and grace from the Austen novels! A surprisingly good tie-in with the ideas touted by Mouw.
How Jane Austen Taught Me to Be A Man by William Deresiewicz
Why Men Like Jane Austen by Brian Brown
I’ll be writing a bit more about some other books soon, but in the mean time I would love to hear what you’ve been reading!