This book was not quite what I expected after skimming a couple of reviews; I think it was even better.
Michael Hainey's father, a Chicago newspaperma...moreThis book was not quite what I expected after skimming a couple of reviews; I think it was even better.
Michael Hainey's father, a Chicago newspaperman, died in 1970 when the younger Hainey was six years old and his brother two years older. Little was said about him after that, or about the manner of his death -- just that he had had a heart attack at 35. As Michael grew up and became a journalist himself, various parts of the story did not add up. When he reached the age at which his father had died, he began to investigate in earnest, After many difficulties, he learned the truth -- or rather, many truths.
After Visiting Friends kept me fascinated from beginning to end. It's not only the story of a great family history investigation, but a meditation on fathers and sons, and the larger topic of family. With side trips to Nebraska and California, it's also a great Chicago story. Very highly recommended.(less)
From my progressive Christian viewpoint, this is an excellent book. Chris Stedman, without abandoning or compromising his atheist principles, makes a...moreFrom my progressive Christian viewpoint, this is an excellent book. Chris Stedman, without abandoning or compromising his atheist principles, makes a good case for atheists to join in interfaith work for social justice. So much of the widely-publicized discourse in recent years has been focused on the supposed intellectual superiority of atheism and the obsessively-catalogued sins of religion (conveniently forgetting that Stalin, for one, was an atheist). It's refreshing to read of Stedman's journey of unbelieving and his dawning understanding that his Humanist beliefs can find common ground with other faiths in the work of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the naked and all the other tasks that churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples do every day. It soesn't surprise me that Stedman is from Minnesota and an alumnus of Augsburg College (a small, progressive Lutheran school in inner-city Minneapolis.) I hope a lot of atheists and agnostics will read this book, but I may be too hopeful. It's hard to give up that feeling of being smarter than everyone else, hard to give up the ease of dismissing out of hand anyone who believes in a God. For atheists who care about the other people on this planet, working with people of faith can help to form a critical mass of people who can change the world for the better. Highly recommended.(less)
A cookbook with stories, my favorite kind. It details quite a few years of the author's and her husband's family dinners as they held down jobs in New...moreA cookbook with stories, my favorite kind. It details quite a few years of the author's and her husband's family dinners as they held down jobs in New York, commuted home to New Jersey, and raised two daughters -- all while cooking real family dinners every night (well, except if they were invited out or went to a restaurant.) Although I'm in a very different life situation from the author, I still want to put a homemade dinner on the table most nights without spending all day at it. Some of the dishes call for more expensive ingredients than I like to use regularly, most are quite doable by the average middle-class family. Though Ms. Rosenstrach wrote the book, her husband also cooks and she credits him with his own recipes. She has a blog http://www.dinneralovestory.com/ which is good, since I got the book from the library. Recommended; you'll probably find at least a few recipes to copy down.(less)
Anyone who's interested in our nation's food supply, organic gardening or farming, or the effects of urban sprawl should read this book. So should any...moreAnyone who's interested in our nation's food supply, organic gardening or farming, or the effects of urban sprawl should read this book. So should anyone who likes to read memoirs, anyone who lived in the Twin Cities from the 1970s to the present, and anyone who just likes good writing. If you're actually thinking of becoming, or already are, an organic farmer, you must read it.
Atina Diffley, who with her husband Martin ran Gardens of Eagan in Dakota County (Minnesota) until a few years ago, has written a book that evokes in the reader a series of emotions from inspiration and awe to outrage and back again. She begins with her childhood as the daughter of hardscrabble farmers, and goes on to her escape into a job working for an elderly woman who became a mentor in her process of being true to herself. An unhappy first marriage ends in Minneapolis, and having met and fallen for Martin, she takes her infant daughter to Ireland, rents a tiny house and plot of land, and proceeds to plant, forage, and regain her inner strength before returning to make a life with Martin. The book includes, almost as afterthought, much hard-won wisdom about women's lives and relationships.
Twin Citians will recognize that Diffley Road, named for Martin's family who were among the first settlers of the area, is one of the main drags of the southeastern suburb of Eagan. Martin had already begun organic farming there when he and Atina married, but he only owned the house and an acre or so -- the majority of the farmland was owned by elderly relatives. The time came when the land was sold to developers A map included in the picture section shows that I actually know some very nice people who bought one of the houses that now occupy the land.
Before we learn about the development, we have learned about the way Martin, and soon Atina and their two children, know seemingly every inch of the land. They know it practically -- where the land drains well or poorly, where the frost comes early or late, what soil is good for what crops -- and they also know it with their hearts. The sale and destruction of the farmland is not just an economic problem for the Diffleys, but a wrenching dislocation, almost an exile.
For a few years, the Diffleys carry on by renting organic farmland scattered around the county, and finally find the right property to buy -- a derelict farm with a nearly derelict farmhouse. Resettling in Eureka Township, transitioning the abused land to organic farming and repairing the house, they're doing even better than before. Then, Koch Industries (yes, THOSE Kochs) want to put an oil pipeline right through the middle of their farm. (Rosemount, another Dakota County city, is Refinery Central for the region.) I had not been aware of this, since it happened shortly after we moved away, but anyone who visited a co-op grocery in the Twin Cities during that time would have been asked to write letters to the state in Gardens of Eagan's favor. The letters helped, but it took much more -- the Diffleys (with some difficulty) hired a lawyer and Atina spent nearly all her time researching and writing the evidence against Koch's plan. Finally, and amazingly, Gardens of Eagan won.
I'd recommend this book to anyone, really. And there's even a recipe for kale with toasted sesame oil at the back!(less)
I had meant to read this memoir when it was first published, but somehow never got around to it. I did read Janzen's second volume of memoirs, Does Th...moreI had meant to read this memoir when it was first published, but somehow never got around to it. I did read Janzen's second volume of memoirs, Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?, but it didn't inspire me to rush out looking for Mennonite.... However, the other day there it was at a library book sale, and I am so glad. Not that Janzen doesn't say some very worthwhile serious things in this book, but what I really enjoyed was the humor. I got more good outloud laughs from this book than any since the last Bill Bryson book I read. The nicest thing about Mennonite... is that the humor is not mean-spirited. Janzen clearly loves her parents and the other elderly Mennonites they hang out with. Even as she realizes afresh that she really no longer belongs in their world, she appreciates the good things from her upbringing in the faith. If Rhoda Janzen writes a third volume of memoirs, I'll be sure to read it.(less)
Sequel to UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN; Frances Mayes has found happinessin love and location. A form of escape reading, but quite well-done and enjoyable. Hi...moreSequel to UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN; Frances Mayes has found happinessin love and location. A form of escape reading, but quite well-done and enjoyable. Highly recommended. Don't listen to the author reading her own work, though.(less)
Freelance writer who wants a book deal? Think of some activity or non-activity and spend a year doing it while keeping a diary of your experience. Thi...moreFreelance writer who wants a book deal? Think of some activity or non-activity and spend a year doing it while keeping a diary of your experience. This has been a popular subgenre of memoir in the past several years and in fact many of these books are quite good, for instance The Year of Living Biblically and Helping Me Help Myself. I seem to be attracted to these books and I like some more than others. This was one of the others.
Levine has an interesting life which appears to have a lot of freedom built in (as well as the typical freelancer's insecurity, the other side of the coin.) She and her partner Paul spend about half the year in a Brooklyn apartment she owns, living the fast-paced life of the New York intelligentsia. The other part of the year is spent in Vermont's hardscrabble Northeast Kingdom, in Paul's modest house outside a small town where he is on the Zoning Board. As you might guess, it's a little easier for the couple to stick to their "buy only essentials" plan in Vermont than in New York.
I don't know how I would react to a similar experiment, but the whiny tone of much of the book was annoying. While in New York, Levine mentions often the pain of not getting to see the latest film or play or read the latest book immediately. I guess it's a New York thing. But then, I am someone who finally saw The Graduate, one of the Important Films of my generation, only about a year ago.
One of my problems with this type of memoir is that it's easy for the author to go off on a tangent which has little or nothing to do with the stated subject of the book. In this case, since the book takes place in 2004, it's the Presidential election. Since Levine and her partner had agreed that Internet access was a necessity for their work, it seems to me she could easily participate in the democratic process without buying anything, yet she spent at least a chapter on the campaign and election. I'd say there was a little too much about the controversy in their Vermont town about a proposed cell-phone tower (in which Paul was involved because it was a zoning matter), but at least there Levine had something to say about consumption as it relates to technology. Nevertheless I kept thinking "It's all very well for you to say the people in Vermont don't need cell phones, you're going back to New York!"
Levine did learn a few things from her experiment and derived some benefits. She learned to appreciate the public library and other free entertainment available in New York. She paid off her credit card and didn't run it up again. It's even possible she may have lost a little weight or at least lowered her cholesterol by foregoing street food and lattes for a year. It was interesting that the two occasions on which she seriously backslid involved the purchase of new clothing.
I wouldn't NOT recommend this book to someone interested in the question: who are we if we are not consumers? (I liked her point that taking up even the simplest outdoor activity seems to trigger a "need" to buy a bunch of equipment!) But I thought the book could have been better. I believe there are books or at least blogs by people who either tried to buy only American-made goods or to buy only used or recycled items, and I'd like to find those for comparison.(less)
I thought I would like this book more than I did. It appears that I bought it shortly after its paperback release, but only recently found it on one o...moreI thought I would like this book more than I did. It appears that I bought it shortly after its paperback release, but only recently found it on one of my shelves (one thing I have in common with the author). The idea was that Nelson would try to read a book a week, fitting that in around the demands of living in New York with a husband, son, and job as a magazine editor. She rarely has to go out and buy a book for this purpose as she has shelves full at home, previously purchased or acquired as review copies. She doesn't read mysteries (which I do a lot), doesn't often read aloud to her son (I read to my children constantly), and will happily read things like celebrity biographies which I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. I kept reading till the end because there were occasional insights I liked, but Nelson's constant self-referential way of approaching books began to annoy me.(less)
This is one of those rare books that could easily have been awarded both the Newbery Medal (for writing) and the Caldecott Medal (for illustration). J...moreThis is one of those rare books that could easily have been awarded both the Newbery Medal (for writing) and the Caldecott Medal (for illustration). Jacqueline Woodson, a three-time Newbery Honor Book winner, uses African-American idiom so well that, reading the words silently, one can hear them spoken in the mind. Show Way is many things: a matrilineal genealogy that emphasizes the liberating role of creativity; a history of African-Americans over the last 150 years or more; a book about family love. The illustrations are by turns comforting and chilling; you can go from a double-page spread featuring a joyous mother and child to one that uses newspaper advertisements, posters and photographs to show the dangers faced by civil rights protesters. This would be a book for parents and children to read together. I'd recommend it very highly to families of all races.(less)
Shirlee Taylor was born in 1937 into the black bourgeoisie. Her father was a Baptist minister and the son of a prominent pastor in Washington, D.C. In the included photographs and by his daughter's description, he is light-skinned but obviously a Negro (the preferred term in his day). Her mother, also a Washingtonian, was lighter still and was often mistaken for a white woman. Yet she had been more or less abandoned by her father and older siblings as a small child when, after her mother's death, they decided to leave Washington in order to "pass" and live as whites, considering young Margaret too dark to pass. This story of abandonment was told to the Taylor children and made a deep impression on Shirlee. The Sweeter the Juice details Shirlee's investigations into her parents' antecedents and the difficult but eventually successful search for her mother's white siblings. Ironically, it was the girl abandoned for "looking black" who had the better life, both materially and emotionally. The book is also an extended meditation on race and color in both the black and white communities of the United States, as well as a memoir of growing up black in the 1940s and 1950s and living through the Civil Rights Movement.
Shirlee Taylor Haizlip graduated from Wellesley at a time when there were only two other Negro women in her entering class. She and her husband, a classicist who appears to have worked mostly in education, had a number of different jobs in places as diverse as Boston, New York, the Virgin Islands and Los Angeles. Shirlee makes no bones about never having been attracted to white or lighter-skinned men, and like her mother she married a darker-skinned man. A 1980s photograph of her mother's second wedding shows that one of the Haizlips' daughters is much darker than the rest of the family, and I was surprised that, in a book filled with talk about skin tone, nose shape, lip fullness, and whether hair is "good" or "bad", the daughters' skin colors are not mentioned at all. I would love to read a memoir by those two, who have grown up in such a different world, but with one thing that their parents also had and worked hard to maintain in their daughters -- pride in their black identity. Recommended.(less)
My daughter, who is a minister, is leading a group on spiritual memoirs and has chosen Miles's earlier book, Take This Bread as the first selection. T...moreMy daughter, who is a minister, is leading a group on spiritual memoirs and has chosen Miles's earlier book, Take This Bread as the first selection. That one is a true spiritual memoir and will also give the reader Sara Miles's fascinating "backstory". But it's not strictly necessary to read it first in order to be stirred by Jesus Freak, even though in some ways it's an extended epilogue to Take This Bread.
The subtitle says it all: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. Lest this last phrase scare you off, there is no charlatan here, but rather someone who really ministers to the dying and their families, as well as to the sick and the hungry.
As detailed in Take This Bread, Miles, a middle-aged, middle-class member of the radical intelligentsia, rather suddenly became a Christian and active in St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church [http://www.saintgregorys.org/]. Living in the Mission District of San Francisco, and coming to Christ's teachings with fresh eyes, she took them seriously and got the church to start a free food distribution program. This did not happen without struggle. But as Jesus Freak opens, the food distribution has become a vital part of the church and community, with those who came to receive often staying to give as volunteers. Through her engagement with the diverse people of the food pantry, and with other people in the church, Miles also gets involved in healing ministry and, as a logical corollary when the body cannot be healed even when the soul can, in ministry to the dying.
Not that she makes this seem easy. One of the best things about Miles's books (besides the writing) is that she doesn't sugar-coat the realities of trying to be a Christian. Not only does she have to serve people who are drunk, who stink, who act crazy and can be scary -- she also has to deal with other Christians and fellow church members who may be annoying, fearful, stubborn, resistant to change, or simply don't see things the same way she does. And yet she knows that we are called to love.
Jesus Freak doesn't say much that's new, philosophically or theologically, for those of us who grew up in the church. You can get the same ideas from reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But each generation needs to be recalled, reminded, shaken out of complacency, and Sara Miles gives us that needed wake-up call. Highly recommended.(less)
I was happy to receive this as a Christmas gift, and enjoyed the first essay, but have now put the book aside for several months as I prefer to read C...moreI was happy to receive this as a Christmas gift, and enjoyed the first essay, but have now put the book aside for several months as I prefer to read Christmas stories a bit closer to Christmastime.(less)
A. J. Jacobs writes for Esquire magazine, which should give you an idea of the tone of this book. He set out to spend a year trying to follow, literal...moreA. J. Jacobs writes for Esquire magazine, which should give you an idea of the tone of this book. He set out to spend a year trying to follow, literally, every commandment in the Bible -- giving eight months to the Hebrew Bible and four to the New Testament. The New Testament gets short shrift, not only because Jacobs's studies in the Hebrew Bible moved him closer to his Jewish faith, but also probably because his wife is expecting, and then has, twins during the time he's working on it. I learned some interesting facts from this book (for instance, that there are people whose work it is to test fabrics for the Biblically-prohibited linen/wool combination). What Jacobs, who was raised in a secular, agnostic home, learned was more important: through the practice of various aspects of faith (most especially prayer, but also such things as avoiding gossip and other negative talk)he felt himself becoming a better person. Recommended, though you may want to read it as I did, over a period of a few weeks.(less)
I seldom read biographies, and still less often, autobiographies, making exceptions only for those subjects who truly fascinate me or who I believe ha...moreI seldom read biographies, and still less often, autobiographies, making exceptions only for those subjects who truly fascinate me or who I believe have much to teach. Huston Smith falls squarely into both categories.
Many years ago, my husband and I took a class on World Religions being given at the local high school by a professor from the nearest state university. The text was Smith's The Religions of Man, since revised, enlarged, and retitled The World's Religions. So I was familiar with Smith, and the title of this book attracted me. I pulled it from the library shelf and realized it was an autobiography, but sat down to read a few pages; immediately I knew I wanted to read the whole book.
Smith is 90 years old -- he and his friend Pete Seeger share a birthday -- and grew up in a remote village in China where his parents were Methodist missionaries. He still belongs to a Methodist church - I believe, from things he says in this book, that it's San Francisco's Glide Memorial -- but has not only studied, but practiced, other religions. His quest for learning took him first to Shanghai, then to a small college in Missouri, and then to Chicago for grad school. Subsequently, besides teaching in several universities, he travelled all over the world and even to the doors of perception. (He tells of taking mescaline with Timothy Leary.) The tale of his experiences is fascinating in itself, but what makes this book truly worth reading are the nuggets of wisdom, well expressed, that Smith has gained from his studies, his practices, and his life. As a bonus, the appendix to the book is a lecture, "A Universal Grammar of Worldviews," that Smith gave at Pacific School of Religion four years ago, and which contains both knowledge and wisdom. Highly recommended.(less)
As a relatively new dog-owner, I find myself much more drawn to books with "dog" in their titles. This book comes from a different viewpoint than most...moreAs a relatively new dog-owner, I find myself much more drawn to books with "dog" in their titles. This book comes from a different viewpoint than most dog books, which tend to be written either by veterinarians or doting dog-owners. Lisa Duffy, as she was then, served as Animal Control Officer in the police department of her small hometown in the Hudson River Valley, while working her way through college. Some of her stories are funny, others will make you angry, still others are either heartwarming or heartrending. Although she dealt mostly with cats and dogs, a duck, turkeys, raccoons and a skunk also make appearances. This is a quick and very enjoyable afternoon's reading.(less)
This book, by a TV financial journalist, combines history, genealogy, and religion in a memoir of the author's family covering nearly 400 years of Ame...moreThis book, by a TV financial journalist, combines history, genealogy, and religion in a memoir of the author's family covering nearly 400 years of American Protestantism.
Griffeth came late to genealogy, and in fact most of the genealogy work in the book was done by cousins, whom he credits. When a cousin sends him the family tree, Griffeth is surprised and a bit shocked to find that he's related to Rebecca Nurse and Mary Estey, executed during the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. Exploring further, he also finds Mayflower ancestors (Pilgrims) as well as Puritans. He makes the trips that many of us only dream about, to Plymouth, England and Leiden, Holland, and then to Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Boston area, and Salem and Danvers, Massachusetts. (Danvers is the current name for Salem Village where the witchcraft accusations centered, and the Rebecca Nurse homestead is a museum there.) Finding a Methodist circuit rider in the family, he also visits locations in New York and New Jersey in search of family history. As best I can tell, Griffeth is a church-goer. He seems comfortable when asked to preach at a Methodist church founded by a collateral ancestor, though he does cop out by reading excerpts from the ancestor's journal.
I felt that the book was "padded" somewhat with a few too many excerpts and complete quotations -- the Mayflower Compact, the Lord's Prayer, services from the Book of Common Prayer -- mostly very familiar stuff to me, since I share much of Griffeth's family religious history and more besides. Quoting the entire baptismal service from the Book of Common Prayer, for example, seemed excessive to me, but perhaps Griffeth was erring on the side of caution so that unchurched readers would not be mystified.
I think this would have been a better book if the author had talked about his own religious upbringing and faith and how he and his wife are raising their two children, rather than simply making the book an encomium to his ancestors. But perhaps I'm just envious because this is the book I should have written, or should still write.(less)
There are a lot of good insights in this book, and I gave it only three stars for what may be an unfair reason: I don't think the author has fully com...moreThere are a lot of good insights in this book, and I gave it only three stars for what may be an unfair reason: I don't think the author has fully come to terms with her religious upbringing and views. But maybe she never will -- I feel sorry for her there. Raised in a [C:]hurch of Christ congregation (she says that members are encouraged to use a small "c"), Campbell was both a firm adherent and a rebel because she could never quite see why girls/women couldn't preach or hold other church offices. Yet many years later, having left the church, earned a MARS (Master of Arts in Religious Studies) from Hartford Seminary, and worked as religion reporter for the Hartford Courant, she is filled with trepidation when asked to preach/speak at a local UCC church. And yet she also can't shake the conviction that the liberal churches that would welcome her aren't "real" churches. Visiting her brother, whose wife has led him into what sounds like a Southern Methodist would-be megachurch, she shares discomfort with him and he says "I guess fundamentalism broke off in us." She explains this as a metaphor of a key breaking off in a lock -- but to me her experience seems almost more like a knife breaking off and being left inside someone, poisoning them. I'd say the book is well worth reading although it left me unsatisfied.(less)
Book reviewer and Salon.com co-founder Laura Miller fell in love with Narnia in the second grade when her teacher handed her a copy of The Lion the Wi...moreBook reviewer and Salon.com co-founder Laura Miller fell in love with Narnia in the second grade when her teacher handed her a copy of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Several years later, Laura, by then a lapsing Catholic and a junior-high student, read that C.S. Lewis's intent in writing the Chronicles of Narnia had been a recasting of Christian doctrine for children. She felt snookered and angry and did not revisit Narnia for many years. During those years, the Christian aspect of the Narnia books has come still more to the forefront, to the point that most discussion of the books seems to focus on that aspect alone; not to mention the Christian-evangelical-produced films released recently. From numerous tomes by evangelicals to the hatred professed by fantasy writer/atheist Philip Pullman, it seems that no one can any longer view the Narnia books other than through the lens of one's own belief or unbelief. Laura Miller, still a skeptic, manages to take a much more balanced look at the series in this excellent book.
A few years ago, Miller decided to revisit Narnia, wrote a column on Salon.com about it, and thereby started a fascinating conversation with other Narnia-lovers which led to the book. She combines memoir, biography, and literary criticism in the wide-ranging work. She explains that the Chronicles are not, in fact, allegory, as sloppy thinkers are fond of calling them; compares and contrasts Lewis and his friend Tolkien (who didn't think much of the Chronicles for his own reasons); references Northrop Frye and Ingmar Bergman as well as George MacDonald and Charles Williams. If you don't care for fantasy and never wished to visit Narnia, this book will not change your mind and you might as well skip it. But for anyone who has ever enjoyed the books -- whether you reread them regularly or not, whether you are a believer or a skeptic -- The Magician's Book will enrich your thinking about reading in general and The Chronicles of Narnia in particular. Highly receommended.(less)
I read this book just after getting a dog of my own, who is not quite as badly-behaved as Marley, but nearly so. It was fun to read and gave some insi...moreI read this book just after getting a dog of my own, who is not quite as badly-behaved as Marley, but nearly so. It was fun to read and gave some insight into why we put up with the smelly, disobedient beasts.(less)
Autobiography is not my favorite genre, but having watched Paula Deen's show a few times, the book caught my eye when I saw it on the new book shelf a...moreAutobiography is not my favorite genre, but having watched Paula Deen's show a few times, the book caught my eye when I saw it on the new book shelf at the library. Paula Deen is known for Southern-style "comfort food" and it appears she has needed quite a bit of comfort in her somewhat turbulent life. Fans of Ms. Deen will enjoy the book and be happy for the much better life she has made for herself with the help of her sons.(less)