The Book You’re Looking For

Among Friends

Thirty‐five years ago this fall, Friends Journal began devoting a November issue to book reviews. As a print magazine it was a natural assumption that our readers might also be book lovers. But books and magazines have long had a fluid relationship in Quaker circles. Words can grow in size and nuance as an idea or ministry takes root: A _Friends Journal _feature article might become an expanded pamphlet on its way to gaining the gravitas of a book. Twenty‐first‐century authors might begin that creative process as a blog post, and as likely as not, the final book will be self‐published and print-on-demand. As the mechanics and economics of print keep shifting, we keep adapting. The ministry of the written word continues.

This November’s issue continues our model of an expanded book review section accompanied by a few choice features. Our theme this year is “Books That Have Changed Us.”

Have you ever found a worn, used book on a bookstore or library shelf that changed your life? Author Caroline Morris had that experience when she opened the pages of a Simone Weil book in a Singapore bookshop. “I opened it, read one line, and nearly fainted. I had found the book I was looking for.”

Robert Stephen Dicken’s special book came to him in middle school, and his initial response was to pan it. But over time he began to appreciate Jesse Stuart’s The Thread That Runs So True. He started mimicking its style in his school reports, and then, unexpectedly, it foreshadowed his unlikely career in teaching. Most sweetly, it brought him in touch with his Kentucky-born-and-raised parents and grandparents and helped him appreciate his transplanted roots.

Going even further back is John A. Minahan, starting at a beginning with the Book of Genesis. He follows his own story to see how classic images from the Old Testament show up in the achievements of modern history, from Martin Luther King Jr. to the first images of an earthrise from the 1968 lunar orbiter.

I myself can point to certain Quaker books that came into my hands at just the right moments. And of course there are also plenty of non-Quaker books that have shaped me over the years. Would I be the same mix of spiritual and impertinent without the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Dorothy Day, Arundhati Roy, Milan Kundera, Somerset Maugham, and Zora Neale Hurston? We are complex spiritual creatures. Books can make long-gone or geographically or culturally distant figures into friends and mentors.

Detmer Kremer uses books to transport himself into other cultures. He starts his article with a very precise number: 47. That is the number of books sitting beside his bed waiting to be read. He only shares five titles with us, but they’re fabulously different, and I found myself adding each one to my to-read list.

This month’s expanded books section has many more points of entry to other lives. Most of the 16 titles are by Quakers—cultural histories, personal histories, inspiring stories. You might want to make yourself a warm pot of tea and curl up in your favorite chair, as there’s some particularly good reading in this issue. Enjoy, and write back to tell us how books have changed your life.


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