On My Bookshelf

Like most people who like to write, I love to read. These are a few of the books I’ve been reading lately…

The Tyranny of Merit: Can We Find The Common Good?, by Michael J. Sandel; New York: Picador (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 2020/2021

Are there only one or two ways to succeed, to find work that is a source of pride? Sandel argues that our focus on getting ahead via college education and competition, and undervaluing other paths and collaborative approaches, has brought us to a critical point in history. Sandel is a thoughtful writer and thinker. This is a great companion book to Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny (see below), and as thought-provoking as Sandel’s Justice.

A Child’s Machiavelli: A Primer on Power, by Claudia Hart; Brooklyn, NY: Beatrice, 2019

Claudia Hart sums up Machiavelli’s The Prince, the political treatise that still has influence (Machiavelli lived between 1469 and 1527). And there are pictures. It’s a wonderful and true offering of Machiavelli’s advice, with pictures that remind me of early schoolbook illustrations from the 1950’s and earlier – think Spot, Dick, and Jane. It’s done in black and white. The humor is fantastic and quirky.

Fairy Tale, by Stephen King (New York: Scribner, 2022) 

Do all the events in your life lead somewhere, and what would you risk to help someone else? It’s the story of a high school boy, a dog, and a gateway to another world. Evil within and without colors the worlds, and awareness of our own darkness is critical. It’s not a typical Stephen King novel, as it is a fairy tale rather than a horror story. Enjoy it – I sure did.

Just finished:  A Place In The World: Finding the Meaning of Home, by Frances Mayes(New York: Crown Publishing, 2022)

Where you are is who you are. Mayes writes of the homes that have made her who she is – funny, full of recipes and reflections. If you liked Under the Tuscan Sun, you will love this.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer(Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed Editions, 2013 or 2020 editions)

Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair. So begins Kimmerer’s love letter to plant life  – and all the life that it sustains. Reframe humanity as a younger sibling of the world’s plants and animals, and see the world’s bounty as gift and reciprocal giving back. Beautifully written. Read it slowly.

I’ve always loved children’s books. With my work a local public library and my church, I’ve come across these gems…

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, Charlie Mackesy (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2019)

Winnie the Pooh meets The Tao of Pooh meets The Little Prince. Wonderful pen and ink drawings and text, with watercolors added in. It’s a book I will give to others. Here’s a sample:

“Tears fall for a reason and they are your strength not weakness.” (Horse)

“The greatest Illusion,” said the mole, “is that life should be perfect.”

The Night Gardener, The Fan Brothers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016)

What happens to a dreary town when an unknown gardener brings beauty to life in their midst? Beautiful text and illustrations.

The Good Egg and The Bad SeedJory John and Pete Oswald (New York: HarperCollins), 2019/2017

Can people learn to love themselves and others? These two books tackle these questions in wonderful words and pictures. Every church should have a copy…

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, revised and expanded edition, Simon Wiesenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1997)

A young SS soldier summons concentration camp prisoner Simon Wiesenthal to hear his dying confession. He asks Wiesenthal to forgive him for the murder of hundreds of Jews, and specifically the child and parents whom he shot as they tried to escape being burned alive.  After listening to the confession, Wiesenthal walks away in silence. In the last paragraph of his narrative, Wiesenthal addresses his readers:

You, who have just read this sad and tragic episode in my life, can mentally change places with me and ask yourself the crucial question, “What would I have done?”

The rest is a collection of responses. It’s an uncomfortable book to read, and the question Wiesenthal asks refuses to be shrugged off.

We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates (New York: One World, 2017)

This is a collection of eight essays, written over the eight years of Obama’s presidency. Coates is a writer for The Atlantic. In this book, he gathers essays written on various people and subjects, opening up a dialogue between a particular person or event and the wider issue of racism. He introduces each previously published essay with an account of his life at the time he of its writing, and of his evolving understanding of race in this country. It’s thoughtful, well written, and difficult to read at times.

Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales, P.D. James (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017)

This collection by the late P.D. James was a wonderful way to enjoy her style of mysteries in short story form – something new to me in this collection and The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories. Great stories, short form, and a wonderful introduction to P.D. James for anyone who hasn’t picked up her Adam Dalgliesh books…

The Holy Man, Susan Trott (Riverhead Books, 1995)

What if you could learn the stories of pilgrims waiting on a mountainside, each seeking to see the Holy Man? In short chapters, Susan Trott gives us a glimpse into the lives of those who see (or never see) the Holy Man. She also shines a light on whomever reads her words. I know I found myself in some of the pilgrims…These are short stories that will begin long conversations and even longer reflection.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017)

It’s a small book, each lesson somewhere from a few paragraphs to a couple of pages. Snyder takes a good look at the 20th century, the mistakes that led to wars and genocides, and the actions that countered suffering with strength and wisdom. I read it all in a couple of hours, then went back and read one or two a day. Each point is thoughtful and thought-provoking. At this point in time, it is a call to right action and sacrifice for what makes this world a better place.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2015)

This book was required reading for my college freshman son. He handed it on to me because it was one of the best books he’d ever read. It is Coates’ letter to his fifteen year old son, a gift of his experience growing up in Baltimore, attending Howard, becoming a writer, and living as a man of color in the United States of America. It’s brilliant – beautifully written, open, and difficult to read. It changed me.

Death Comes to Pemberley, P.D. James (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2011)

I’ve been a P.D. James fan for years, but never picked this up because I’m not a Jane Austen fan. This is a wonderful mystery written in the style of Jane Austen, but with James’ keen insight into the characters. It answers the question: what would Darcy and Elizabeth do if someone was murdered at Pemberley? Enjoy!