Literary Notes #15

One of the many things I love about going home is the fact that everyone in my family is a reader and this means I’ll probably be given some really great books and be inspired by other suggested titles.  This time both my mom and dad came through splendidly!  Here’s what they suggested.  For more information on any of the titles below, simply click on the book’s cover.

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't

This book is excellent.  Steven Prothero is the chair of the religion department at Boston University and draws from his teaching experience to expose most Americans’ startling lack of knowledge concerning the world’s religions. While America is one of the most religious countries in the world, it is also one of the most religiously ignorant.  “Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion.  There are Protestants who can’t name the four Gospels, Catholics who can’t name the seven sacraments, and Jews who can’t name the five books of Moses.  Atheists may be as rare in America as Jesus-loving politicians are in Europe, but here faith is almost entirely devoid of content.”  Prothero traces the history of religion in America and charts this startling decline while elucidating its dangers.  He also places blame for this decline directly on the shoulders of American Christians.  All of this is fascinating reading but the book’s most important contribution is its revelations of the price of this ignorance.  It is high and this ignorance is dangerous. Religious ignorance within churches has dire consequences, some of which can be seen on any television set at 11PM and in the extravagantly wealthy televangelists preying on vulnerable people.  It has consequences in our educational system; western history fails to make sense without an understanding of the history of Christianity.  And most dangerously, our foreign policy will always be doomed unless it is informed by a knowledge of the religious beliefs of the people groups with who we are interacting.  An uninformed public is easily led by the talking heads of social commentators who distill complex topics into sound bites, eliminating the thoughtful discussion and civil discourse that is required for true understanding and informed policy.  Religious illiteracy has turned acts of private faith into political fodder for talk-show hosts to commentate on and effectively spread their ignorance and prejudices.  Christmas manger scenes and public Menorahs can no longer be simple symbols of faiths, they are now points of political contention.  The proposed building of a mosque becomes a political firestorm, manipulated by politicians and commentators to serve their own ends.  Our ignorance is effectively “transferring power from the third estate (the people) to the fourth (the press).”  I don’t know about you, but I find this disturbing.  Watching the news for a couple of weeks while I was in the States proved Prothero’s point to me.  In order to help his readers begin informing themselves, Prothero includes a “Dictionary of Religious Literacy” in his book, in the hopes that it will provide people with the basic tools they need to encourage informed discussion about the world’s religions.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Eric Metaxas ground-breaking biography of Bonhoeffer was another of my mom’s suggestions.  I haven’t finished it yet, it is over 600 pages, but I have thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read.  From the book description: “In the first major biography of Bonhoeffer in forty years, Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer’s life-the theologian and the spy-and draws them together to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil.  In a deeply moving narrative, Metaxas uses previously unavailable documents-including personal letters, detailed journal entries, and firsthand personal accounts-to reveal dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology never before seen.”  For a while I’ve been intrigued by Bonhoeffer’s life and this book is the perfect way to sate my curiosity.

Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers

Book Lust to Go was a gift from my dad.  He has a knack for finding little treasures that will fit a gap in my book collections!  While I have lots of guide books and books about different places, this one is unique in that it provides reading recommendations for almost every place on earth!  Planning a trip to Iceland, Pearl suggests The Windows of Brimnes: An American in Iceland.  Want to learn more about the Antarctic from the comfort of your armchair, there’s seven titles suggested for that!  Thumbing through this has been so much fun and based on the suggested titles I have read, Nancy Pearl is usually spot on!

For You Mom, Finally

Another from Pop, For You, Mom. Finally. is the story of Ruth Reichl’s (author and restaurant critic for the New York Times) slowly developing understanding of her mother.  It’s also a fascinating look at the role of women in the 1940s-1960s.  While the women’s rights movement had gained considerable political ground and women were being educated at universities in numbers never before seen, the social expectations had not caught up.  As Reichl searches through her mother’s belongings following her death, she begins to understand the conflicted life of her mother – talented, university educated, creative, but stifled by the expectation that she create a perfect Donna Reed home life that allowed for no personal expression of the gifts she possessed.  A fascinating little book.  It makes me want to read more of Reichl, especially her Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, recommended to me by my dear friend Audrey.

So those were the Berg recommended books but while I was going over this I realized I’ve read quite a few other books since my last books entry.  Here are a few:

Burying The Bones: Pearl Buck in China (Import)

Burying The Bones: Pearl Buck in China

This fascinating biography of Pearl Buck, author of The Good Earth, takes an in-depth look at Buck’s childhood in China, her split worlds of reality and literary escape, the strict religious upbringing under a visionary if somewhat disturbed father, her love of China, and detachment from America, and the way she processed this unconventional childhood through her writings.  It’s good stuff!

Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways to Incorporate Whole and Natural Foods into Your Cooking

Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways to Incorporate Whole and Natural Foods into Your Cooking

This a great cook book for the new year.  Full of nutritious and yummy recipes, it’s also a guide to incorporating more whole foods into your everyday meals.  The book itself is beautiful: gorgeous paper, lovely photographs, charming writing.  I’m looking forward to trying the Quinoa and Corn Flour Crepes with Chili de Árbol Sauce and the Sprouted Garbanzo Burgers!

Wise Blood: A Novel

Wise Blood: A Novel

Wise Blood was a book club selection and while I did not enjoy it, it began to make more sense to me once I had some distance from it.  Strange how that happens, huh?  I actually think that Religious Literacy really helped explain to me a lot of the background of O’Connor’s dark and disturbing novel.  Due to a strange concoction of fierce independent thinking, high illiteracy rates, post-Civil War poverty, and suspicion of all things academic, the American south was (and to some extent pockets of it still are) a hotbed for religious fanaticism.  O’Connor, as a Catholic, had a unique lens through which to view Southern Protestantism, in all its many varied forms, sects, congregations and denominations.  Her critique of this fragmented approach to faith and the deadly frivolity with which people disposed of tradition and theology shines through in this title.  Even the two-day old Church Without Christ isn’t immune to having its first follower break off and found the rival Church of Christ Without Christ.  It’s a very sad story and one has to search hard to find any slivers of hope or redemption.

Housekeeping: A Novel

Housekeeping: A Novel

I am currently re-reading Marilynne Robinson’s Home and Gilead and enjoying both even more than the first time around.  This past fall, I happened upon a copy of Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping and jumped at the chance to read it.  It’s gorgeous.  As her first novel, it is obviously different from Home and Gilead, but her story-telling ability and beautiful writing style are all fully present.  The story relies heavily on Flood imagery and somehow Robinson’s writing feels very fluid, sucking you in and surrounding you with this unique story.  I don’t want to give anything away or set up any expectations, but if you liked Home or Gilead, get yourself a copy of this one.

So that’s quite a mix!  A friend recently asked me for a list of the books I’ve read, so I’ve just added a “Books” tab to the top of the blog and you’ll be able to find all book related entries.  I would love any suggestions for titles to add to my reading list.  My friend, Mel just recommended A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian and I’m waiting for my copy to arrive.  What have you read lately?  Did you love or hate it?

About Rebecca

Hi! After five years in Europe, I'm adjusting to life back in the US. I use this blog to record my adventures, post photos, organize recipes, and post about things that interest me.
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3 Responses to Literary Notes #15

  1. Nathalie says:

    Thanks for posting about “Book lust to go”, I’ve like to do that for my travel reading but this book will make the task sooo much easier! Can you bring it with you on Saturday? I would love to take a look.

  2. realoves says:

    Wonderful book reviews, Bec! I think you did a great job summarizing Prothero’s work and why it is so critical to our times. I am currently reading both N.T.Wright’s Surprised by Hope and also Eve’s Revenge. Sol recommended the first and Susie Lipps (remember the connection with Tim Manor?) and both are expanding and challenging my views of American Christianity (in general-through Wright’s work) and women and Christianity through Eve’s Revenge. Lots of fun! Oh, I almost forgot, I’m also reading Home at the same time!
    Love ya!

  3. audrey says:

    Thank you for these reviews. I have Prothero’s book at home and think I’ll add Flannery OConnor’s to my list. Am just finishing Garlic and Sapphires so I hope to share my thoughts with you on our next call. love to you and Scotty!

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