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Posts tagged books

from "Alain de Botton: a life in writing," by Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian, 20 January 2012 :: via More than 95 Theses

Religions, he thinks, have the buttons and know how to use them. His book considers the Catholic mass, early Christianitiy’s ritual of agape or love feasts, and Jewish Passover rituals to explore how religions encouraged us to overcome fear of strangers and create communities. He then tentatively imagines a so-called “agape restaurant” where, instead of dining with like-minded friends, you would be invited to eat with strangers. It would be the antithesis of Facebook.

from "fictional landscape with the small and minute," by Kyle Kirkpatrick, photo by Leo Reynolds, 2009 :: via Colossal
from "The Book of Books - What Literature Owes the Bible," by Marilynne Robinson, The New York Times, 22 December 2011 :: via 3quarksdaily

Old Jonathan Edwards wrote, “It has all along been God’s manner to open new scenes, and to bring forth to view things new and wonderful.” These scenes are the narrative method of the Bible, which assumes a steady march of history, the continuous unfolding of significant event, from the primordial quarrel of two brothers in a field to supper with a stranger at Emmaus. There is a cosmic irony in the veil of insignificance that obscures the new and wonderful. Moments of the highest import pass among people who are so marginal that conventional history would not have noticed them: aliens, the enslaved, people themselves utterly unaware that their lives would have consequence. The great assumption of literary realism is that ordinary lives are invested with a kind of significance that justifies, or requires, its endless iterations of the commonplace, including, of course, crimes and passions and defeats, however minor these might seem in the world’s eyes. This assumption is by no means inevitable. Most cultures have written about demigods and kings and heroes. Whatever the deeper reasons for the realist fascination with the ordinary, it is generous even when it is cruel, simply in the fact of looking as directly as it can at people as they are and insisting that insensitivity or banality matters. The Old Testament prophets did this, too.

from "Kerala: mad about books," by Mridula Koshy, Le Monde diplomatique, June 2009; cover image from M.T. Vasudevan Nair's Bandhanam, DC Books :: via :: first posted here 12 June 2009


Outside the big cities, a very small minority of Indians – only seven to eight million – read in English. India has an overall rate of 65% literacy – measured in people’s own mother tongues. But where India drops into the Indian Ocean, in the state of Kerala, home of Malayalam literature, literacy is close to 100%. Not surprisingly, the population of Kerala – some 31 million – reads books.

Malayalam writers are in the enviable position of writing for [2008 Booker-prize-winning White Tiger author Aravind] Adiga’s rickshaw puller and not just about him.

Paul Zacharia, one of the best-known contemporary writers in Malayalam, says: “In the Indian picture, Kerala’s book readers are a record. They are the product both of the literacy movement and the earlier library movement spearheaded by a one-man army called PN Paniker [the founding father of the literacy movement in Kerala]. A whole world of grassroots readers keep emerging from the villages.” ...

In a recent report in The Hindu, Ravi DC, CEO of DC Books, Kerala’s leading publishing house, said the sale of Malayalam books has been growing by at least 30% a year. At the sixth international book fair, which DC Books organised in Kerala in November 2008, sales had doubled in a year. And, he added, “the demand for books in rural areas is on the increase”. The marketing strategy was now based on the concept that “books should go to people instead of people coming to book houses”.

from "Why Teenagers Read Better Than You," by Joanne McNeil, Tomorrow Museum, 20 June 2009 :: first posted here 23 June 2009

Certainly, the increasing quality of young adult books is a draw. But there are exceptional videogames, there are exceptional websites and exceptional television programs to fight for a teenager’s attention. So why are they still reading?

I think there is another reason why young adult novels are doing well, and it is less easy gauge. As of yet, there are no real studies determining this, but anecdotally, we all relate to it. A book is an opportunity to get “off the grid.” We read to break free of their digital tether. To experience what life was like before the net. To disconnect. To finally feel alone.

A book holds your hand in solitude and says, here you are alone in your room and everything is alright. You don’t need to call a friend or Twitter something. The world is still turning. If you go for a forty minute walk without your mobile, don’t worry, you’re not going to miss anything.


La Familia is a notorious drug cartel founded in 2006 in Michoacan, Mexico, and is known for its brutal slayings of detractors.

Mexican authorities have issued a report on the group, which includes the finding that Eldredge’s 2001 book, ”Wild at Heart,” is required reading for gang members. Spanish translations of the book have been discoverd in La Familia residences by police authorities conducting raids, McClatchy Newspapers reports.

Eldredge leads Ransomed Heart, a Springs ministry dedicated to helping men regain their masculinity and become adventurers in life. In “Wild at Heart,”  he writes approvingly of men’s innate love of weapons, combat and hunting.

from L'Ornament Polychrome: Motifs de tous les styles, art ancien et asiatique, Moyen Age, Renaissance, XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, by A. Racinet, 1869–73 :: via BibliOdyssey
from "Reading in a Digital Age," by Sven Birkerts, The American Scholar, Spring 2010 :: via languagehat

What thou lovest well remains—and for me it is language in this condition of alert, sensuous precision, language that does not forget the world of nouns. I’m thinking that one part of this project will need to be a close reading of and reflection upon certain passages that are for me certifiably great. I have to find occasion to ask—and examine closely—what happens when a string of words gets something exactly right.

from "slow reading," by Dan Visel, if:book, 8 April 2010

This is a fantastic idea, which makes me wish I were in Boulder to be part of it. I like the idea of this kind of slow and detailed “reading”: to take a work of art & to lavish time on it. It seems, in our age of media overload, almost luxurious: this idea of devoting so much time to one text. In eight hours, we can see four movies. To give that much time to one seems decadent. But maybe this is what works of art deserve; maybe this is how we should be reading. The problem of availability is something that seems increasingly to have been solved. To view or to read well is another kind of problem. In the past, when there was an economy based on scarcity, this might not have been as much of an issue: whatever was available was watched or read. Now we need to think about how we want to watch: we need to become better readers.

photo via "Open Air Library Wins European Prize for Public Space," arkinet, 29 March 2010
from Life:Size Book # 001, by Roland Tiangco, 2009 :: via Book Cover Archive

"IAM Conversations: Film Critic and Novelist Jeffrey Overstreet," interview by Christy Tennant, International Arts Movement, 4 February 2010

"Medieval helpdesk," from the show Øystein og jeg, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), 2001 :: via languagehat

"The Book of Love," performed by Peter Gabriel, from the soundtrack to Shall We Dance?, 2004 :: via Stereogum and Very Short List
from The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney, 2010
from "What We Talk About When We Talk About Food," by Siobhan Phillips, The Hudson Review, Summer 2009 :: via The Smart Set

“Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are,” Brillat-Savarin challenged his readers in 1825, and his wisdom if not his brio was already old hat. Human meals serve those mixtures of raw and cooked that make up anthropological codes. Nearly every prescription or preference blends irrational faith and scientific requirements, as Marvin Harris shows in his fascinating Good to Eat: look long enough at a seemingly arbitrary food rule (cloven hooves, sacred cows) and one can probably discover a self-preserving logic behind it, but look hard enough at an apparently sensible directive (a glass of milk, a handful of supplements) and one will like as not detect a prejudice posing as sense. Omnivorous and hungry, body and spirit, we sit down at a table spread with necessary choice; we cannot eat to live, that is, without in some measure living to eat. As Laurie Colwin once put it, then, cookery books will always “hit you where you live.” What seems distinctive and disquieting now, what seems to have increased in the two centuries since Brillat-Savarin shot a turkey in Hartford or even in the two decades since Colwin roasted a chicken in her New York apartment, is the number of volumes hitting us combined with the force of their impact. A nation with a lot of food books is a nation without much sense of food, as The Economist recently pointed out.

from "reading vs writing," by Dan Visel, if:book, 16 January 2009 :: via more than 95 theses

There are ways around this: we can, for example, see it as a moral duty to buy books by authors who are still alive and who deserve money new, rather than used. We could buy books directly from authors whenever possible so that they’re getting a more just cut. We need to re-conceptualize how we think about exchange and consumption. Lewis Hyde’s The Gift presents one such way forward: thinking about artistic creation as something outside the economic. But that requires us to think different both as producers and consumers: maybe that’s what the Internet is trying to tell us.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

This week we’ve been posting about some of our favorite cultural artifacts of the year—books, movies and music not necessarily made in 2009, but consumed, pondered, enjoyed and treasured by each of us along the way. Earlier this week we heard from Nate Barksdale and Christy Tennant; today Andy Crouch finishes up the series.

There were a handful of cultural artifacts that took my breath away in 2009. Here they are, in roughly the order I encountered them:

Of course, I had heard of Over the Rhine before 2009. But I had never heard them in person. In 2009, I finally did, twice. Their sly, stylish, hook-laden yet depths-sounding music is a wonder.

Also in the “better late than never” category, I got around to listening to Pierce Pettis’s 2001 album State of Grace, a meditation on the South that connected me to my own Southern roots and the beautiful, broken stories of my Scotch-Irish ancestors.

At a distance, I’ve been thrilled to see the success of Fringe Atlanta, the most unlikely chamber music program in the nation: serious, stirring performances of the classical repertoire mixed up with the spinning sounds of one of Atlanta’s hottest DJs, Little Jen. What other classical music program is selling out tickets to an under-35 crowd and has them clapping and whooping after a viola solo in the middle of a string quartet?

The 5-part documentary Brick City, which aired on the Sundance Channel in September, is a tour de force, not least because of the walking tour de force who is one of its principal subjects: Cory Booker, the energetic young mayor of Newark, New Jersey. If you care about cities, leadership, gangs, violence and peacemaking, or redemption—or almost any other aspect of culture making—this series will provoke, disturb, and encourage you.

I read some marvelous books this year, and two that I read just this month are likely to stick with me for a long time. Both are memoirs (the genre of the new millennium, it seems). Kent Annan’s Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle is an unsparingly honest story of relocation to Haiti that captures the complexities of crossing differences of power, wealth, and culture in hopes of being part of God’s work of transformation, without and within. It’s funny, gritty, and strangely hopeful—just what a Christian memoir should be.

The same words could apply to the biggest surprise of my reading in 2009, a self-published memoir by Amy Julia Becker, Penelope Ayers. This book might seem to have everything against it. “Self-published” is usually another way of saying “self-indulgent.” The subject, the death of the author’s mother-in-law from cancer, is so common that, as I have written in the past, every editor has a pile of unusable manuscripts from people trying to capture the experience of accompanying a loved one through illness unto death. Usually they fall into unintentional clichés, sentimentality, and too much detail.

But Penelope Ayers is written with an unerring voice, a keen eye for hard and beautiful truth, and almost no false notes. Especially significant is the way that Amy Julia (whom I met this fall through a mutual friend) manages to weave honest reflections about faith into the story without in any way giving in to Christianese or insider platitudes. This is one book a Christian could give to a non-believing friend and say, “This is what it’s like to believe, from the inside.” We’ll be hearing more from Amy Julia Becker—perhaps, with any luck, in 2010.

by Christy Tennant for Culture Making

This is the second of three posts from this site’s current contributors, about our favorite books, music, and movies of 2009—not necessarily made in 2009, but consumed, pondered, enjoyed and treasured by each of us during the past year. Yesterday we heard from Nate Barksdale; tomorrow we’ll close the series with Andy Crouch’s recommendations.

Two of the movies that moved me most in 2009 deal with human suffering and hope in the midst of despair: Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River, a haunting story of survival and the sometimes blurry lines between right and wrong, and Scott Blanding/Brad LaBriola/Greg Heller’s documentary, Women in War Zones, which tells the story of two survivors of sexual violence in the Congo. I was also surprisingly touched by Kenny Ortega’s This is It, a film documenting the last few months of Michael Jackson’s life, rehumanizing The Gloved One and presenting him as the phenomenally talented, humble and generous, albeit broken, entertainer he was.

After years of reading mostly non-fiction, I read several novels in 2009 that had a tremendous impact on me. One was My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok. Its insight into the mind of a visual artist was very helpful to me as someone who is trying to understand how visual artists see the world. I also appreciated the author’s profound insight into Christ’s crucifixion from the perspective of a Hasidic Jew. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead was very moving to me on several levels, not the least of which was the way the main character was awakened by tender eros in his twilight years. But the book I read in 2009 that I was most stirred by was actually an unpublished manuscript by a very promising author practicing law near the University of Virginia. Corban Addison’s A Walk Across the Sun deals with the issue of human trafficking in both the US and India. It was the first time in a while I have had serious trouble putting a book down; I was riveted from page one.

My non-fiction treasures of 2009 include Michael Card’s A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament, Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Art in Action, Dan Siedell’s God in the Gallery, Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (a pastorally-guided exploration up the Psalms of Ascents), and Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, required reading at International Arts Movement as we seek to approach the arts not in terms of commodity, but rather in terms of gift.

by Nate Barksdale for Culture Making

This is the first of a series of posts from all three of this site’s current contributors, about our favorite books, music, and movies of 2009—not necessarily made in 2009, but consumed, pondered, enjoyed and treasured by each of us during the past year. Tomorrow we’ll hear from Christy Tennant, with Andy Crouch rounding out the series on Wednesday.

Movies (well, DVDs): Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven; Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven, Chang-dong Lee’s Oasis, and Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard. 3/4 of the top tier have heaven-ish titles; all are about refuge in one way or another.

Honorable mention to Bette Davis in The Letter, the beautiful Apollo mission footage of For All Mankind, the sublime Flamenco of Carlos Saura’s Bodas de Sangre, and the quasi-New England cookiness of The Devil and Daniel Webster. I’ve also been trying to increase my Bollywood literacy, enjoying some 70s classics like Deewaar as well as, most recently, the hyperactive neon camp of Kutch Kutch Hota Hai, which is a bit like watching a revival of Grease in a gumdrop factory.

In my reading, the stand-out was Dave Eggers’ autobiography of a Sudanese ‘lost boy’, What Is the What. I also dug Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger on the levels of both story and history, as well as Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and the first half of John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor.

Rachel Cohen’s A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854–1967 was sublime and led me along all sorts of 19th-century-American-literary trails. Ted Gioia’s history, Delta Blues, got me thinking about music and filling out my playlists with Charley Patton and Skip James.

For a long time I’d been meaning to read Mungo Park’s 18th century Travels in the Interior of Africa, and now I have, and it was good. Ditto, except for the being-good part, for Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. The hypothetical version I’d carried around in my head was so much better.

I could read nothing but Lawrence Weschler and be quite content. Somehow I didn’t get around to Vermeer in Bosnia till a few months ago. Well worth the wait, if that’s what it was.

Finally, a few of my favorite tracks that found their way into my music library in 2009. Coming up with the list, I was struck by how much more personal all the associations were for songs as compared to music or books that captured, in terms of focussed minutes, far less of my attention than most books or movies. The blessing and the curse of songs is that they’re generally what’s playing while other things and thoughts are happening. We invite them into our world; more often, books and movies invite us into theirs.