“The book review section is one of the features in Friends Journal I turn to with great anticipation.” We hear this kind of positive sentiment about our Books column often, even from our own reviewers—which isn’t so surprising considering how much this group of Friends loves to read. For this, our annual Books issue, we wanted to learn more about the volunteer reviewers whose wise words and thoughtful critiques help us discern which book to pick up next. So we sent out a survey to some of our more frequent and recent reviewers, and nearly 40 of them responded.
Our roster of reviewers reveals a myriad of roles played and paths followed by Friends throughout their lives, including: teachers (in math, English, art, environmental studies, history, Quaker studies), college professors, journalists, editors, writers, authors, bloggers, poets, artists, storytellers, librarians, administrators, booksellers, engineers, activists, researchers, historians, theologians, lecturers, recorded ministers, clerks, First-day school teachers, and retreat and workshop leaders; with a mixture of leadings in spirituality, earthcare, mindfulness, community, and racial justice.
Since January, we’ve published reviews for 100 books and pamphlets (including the 12 in this month’s expanded column). We hope you’ve found at least a few titles to add to your reading list. A great deal of thanks goes to our volunteer book review editors, Karie Firoozmand of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md., who handles the adult books column, and Eileen Redden of Camden (Del.) Meeting, who manages the twice-a-year column for young Friends.
Where do you live and worship?
States to highlight (East to West): Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C., North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, California, Oregon. Plus two reviewers are in England.
Why do you write reviews for Friends Journal?
Reviewers responded to this question with one of two kinds of reasons: (1) as part of ministry or in service to Friends; (2) for enjoyment or continued learning.
Ministry and Service to Friends
- “It’s my way of serving the greater Quaker community with a skill that comes easily. I’m careful to find the good in all books, just as I’m careful to find the good in all people.” —Alison James, member of South Starksboro (Vt.) Meeting
- “First because I love book reviews, and good reviews are very helpful and stimulating to me—both to track topics I’m usually interested in, and also to become aware of things I’d never have known about otherwise. So I like to perform that service for others. Second, because writing reviews makes me think hard about the book—I always read each reviewed book twice, and often do additional reading to make sure that I can do it justice.” —Brian Drayton, member of Weare (N.H.) Meeting
- “Writing is a form of ministry in my life.” —Harvey Gillman, member of Brighton Meeting in England
- “It’s a ministry that I’m glad to offer to the community of Friends. It’s joyful work, but it takes time, and it’s great to hear back from the occasional reader who writes to say they found your review helpful or that it inspired them to pick up something new and different.” —Rob Pierson, member of Albuquerque (N.M.) Meeting
- “My ministry is to help Friends and others understand how racism has developed and grown within and outside of the Society of Friends and thus remains a concern for many of us. I choose writings that may help both black and white Friends gain a clearer understanding of how it is that many of us still find it a challenge to live—and enjoy—our testimony of equality both in our meetings and in our own lives.” —Donna McDaniel, member of Framingham (Mass.) Meeting
- “I am interested in finding books that can be used in First-day school especially to promote ideas about nonviolence, war and peace, friendship, and creative thinking. I fell in love with these books while I was the librarian at Friends School in Detroit.” —Margaret Walden, member of Cleveland (Ohio) Meeting
- “Friends Journal asked me to do it.” —David Etheridge, member of Friends Meeting of Washington (D.C.)
- “When I read something I really like, I want to share it with a group of people who share my values. Writing book reviews gives me that opportunity. I have been asked mostly to review books relating to Friends’ response to racism, and in particular, how white people deal with racism or what they can do about it. These topics are my personal passion, and I hope to not only encourage other Friends to read the books I have reviewed, but challenge and inform those who will only read the review.” —Patience Schenck, member of Annapolis (Md.) Meeting
- “I am a reader’s writer. While I compose creative nonfiction and memoir (and am now working on a novel), I primarily identify as a reader. Writing reviews for Friends Journal is a spiritual discipline for me, one in which I enjoy responding to selected books from within the mindset of a Quaker reader. It is an imaginative exercise, and a pleasure to write book reviews for Friends Journal.” —Judith Favor, member of Claremont (Calif.) Meeting
- “I delight in being of service.” —Michael S. Glaser, attender at Patuxent Meeting in Calvert County, Md.
- “I’m a fugitive from the twentieth century, a time when we believed books had great value. Books form an important part of most religious traditions, but they have had an especially important role in the history of Quaker ministry. It has been an honor to make a contribution to Friends Journal in this way.” —Mitchell Santine Gould, former member of Multnomah Meeting in Portland, Ore.
- “To share my views with others.” —Valerie Brown, member of Solebury Meeting in New Hope, Pa.
- “Because I teach First-day school and am interested in the role of family in bringing about social change.” —Katie Green, member of Worcester (Mass.) Meeting
- “When I find something I like, I want to let others know about it, too. Opinions about books are so personal, so varied, and sometimes so strong, that it’s almost impossible to tell someone else what they’ll like. On the other hand, personal recommendation is a great way to find out about new books. All I can do is write about what I like, and hope that other people out there share my taste closely enough to find it useful.” —Anne Nydam, member of Wellesley (Mass.) Meeting
- “Because it brings other voices to the attention of Friends.” —Paul Buckley, member of North Meadow Circle of Friends in Indianapolis, Ind., and attender at Community Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio
- “It feels like a good way to share our experience in bookselling and youth work. We find it rewarding and sometimes challenging to write a review that feels concise, coherent, and complete. We enjoy advocating for a book we truly admire, as well as pointing out where one has disappointed us. We also like finding pairs of books to review together, both for contrasts and similarities.” —Tom and Sandy Farley, members of Palo Alto (Calif.) Meeting
- “I think it’s important to keep Friends informed of the latest developments within the areas I review, and I like to have a copy of such books.” —Larry Ingle, member of Chattanooga (Tenn.) Meeting
- “I want to share about books that inspire, inform, or excite me. Reviewing a book is a daunting task since the reviewer is hoping to inspire someone to read the book by sharing what is close to the heart of the reviewer. I love the challenge, but always begin with some trepidation. Will I capture the essence of the book? Will the author be pleased or appalled? Will those who then read the reviewed book think that the review was honest and the reading of the book worth their time?” —Ruah Swennerfelt, member of Burlington (Vt.) Meeting
Enjoyment and Continued Learning
- “I enjoy the opportunity to stretch myself by reading books Friends Journal deems worthy of review, and it also challenges me to think carefully and critically.” —Max L. Carter, member of New Garden Meeting in Greensboro, N.C.
- “I like the discipline of thinking carefully about what I read.” —Douglas Bennett, member of Durham (Maine) Meeting
- “I teach writing, so I do a lot of reading to create my syllabi; but I enjoy reviewing books so that I can read for pleasure as well.” —Beth Taylor, member of Westerly (R.I.) Meeting
- “I like the challenge of conveying what is valuable or questionable about a book.” —Robert Dockhorn, member of Green Street Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa.
- “Gives me an opportunity to read recent Quaker books, practice writing, and provides an opportunity to get out a message.” —Marty Grundy, member of Cleveland (Ohio) Meeting and attender at Wellesley (Mass.) Meeting
- “I love to read and am not shy about stating my opinion. I am always looking for good books for the grandkids … or me, for that matter.” —Lucinda Hathaway, member of Sarasota (Fla.) Meeting
- “I have not done much reviewing lately, but since I am a journalist and also a book reviewer as well as a Quaker, it seemed a natural fit. I very much have enjoyed being a reviewer, and it has enriched my life.” —Diane Reynolds, member of Stillwater Meeting in Barnesville, Ohio
- “I enjoy being asked to explore new areas I might not otherwise; it’s a way of sharing my experiences and thoughts with others. It is very fulfilling to me.” —William Z. Shetter, member of Bloomington (Ind.) Meeting
- “I enjoy it. I have enjoyed very much the books I have reviewed, and it is a pleasure to share them via FJ.” —Rosalie Dance, member of Adelphi (Md.) Meeting
- “I enjoy writing reviews of contemporary fiction and poetry, partially as a break from my own research in nineteenth-century literature and because I keep looking for a great novel written from a Quaker perspective. I very much appreciate the opportunity to review books for FJ. It’s a great way of keeping in touch with the ongoing conversation about what it means to be a Quaker in the twenty-first century.” —James W. Hood, member of Friendship Meeting in Greensboro, N.C.
- “I love to read. I love to write. I love to write about books. I enjoy turning people onto good books. It’s a natural fit.” —Dave Austin, member of Haddonfield (N.J.) Meeting
- “I enjoy trying to see the books through the eyes of Friends with diverse spiritual views and backgrounds, living in a variety of settings. With books for younger readers, I usually have my daughter read with me and give me some feedback. Also, I am grateful for the opportunity to experience books that may not be in my local library.” —Lisa Rand, member of Unami Meeting in Pennsburg, Pa.
- “It introduces me to lots of interesting books that I wouldn’t otherwise get to read. And it challenges me to think broadly.” —Diana Roose, member of Oberlin (Ohio) Meeting
- “As a librarian responsible for acquiring books in Quaker studies, writing reviews is a good way for me to actually make time to read some of them.” —Gwen Gosney Erickson, member of Friendship Meeting in Greensboro, N.C.
- “I love to read and share what I’ve read, especially on topics I’m passionate about. I enjoy reviewing for FJ enormously!” —Phila Hoopes, member of Homewood Meeting in Baltimore, Md.
- “As a retired school librarian, it gives me a chance to see new children’s books, and I generally enjoy reading and writing.” —Dee Cameron, member of El Paso (Tex.) Meeting
- “I like to explore different ways of doing a review. Sometimes it feels like a personal note to my friends about this interesting book that they might enjoy reading. Other times it feels like I’m writing a short essay about the issue addressed in the book under review. In this case I try to place the book in the context of a general discussion of the subject. I also cherry pick, meaning I highlight passages that jump out at me. I’m doing it for the fun of it and hope that readers will find the review enjoyable to read.” —Brad Sheeks, member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting
- “It gives me an opportunity to do a careful read of books I may not otherwise have come across. I enjoy the challenge of articulating what I do and don’t like—and why.” —Catherine Wald, attender at Phillipsburg Worship Group in N.Y.
- “I find reviewing very rewarding; stimulating to look so closely into material I wouldn’t otherwise see, and to think about how each text might be of particular relevance to Quaker meetings, families, and especially individuals. I’ve learnt a great deal. And I value working with the review editors: Cathy, Karie, and now Eileen.” —Margaret Crompton, member of Lincoln Meeting in England
- “It gets me to read the book! And I get to read a book not just for myself. It creates a context for sharing my thinking and values and journey as a Quaker as I interact with new information.” —Pamela Haines, member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting
- “Love books. Love Friends. Love Friends Journal. [Reviewing a book] forces you to stop skimming across the surface of a particular topic, dive in, and do some serious thinking.” —Ellen Michaud, member of South Starksboro (Vt.) Meeting
Who is your favorite author(s)?
This is a tough question, prompting a variety of strategies to avoid choosing favorites. Amidst numerous cries of “Too hard!” and “Too many to name!”; a few qualifying responses like “some current favorites” and “some ones that I re-read a lot”; and one answer ending appropriately with “just to name the start of a list of thousands,” reviewers compiled the following, listed here alphabetically by first name. Names in orange were mentioned more than once, and names with an asterisk* are Quaker authors.
A.S. King, Abraham Heschel, Adam Hochschild, Alan Weisman, Alice Munro, Alison Lurie, Amos Oz, Andrew Harvey*, Anne Tyler*, Annie Dillard, A.S. Byatt, Arthur Ransome, Barbara Kingsolver (7), Bart Ehrman, bell hooks, Bill Bryson, Bill Harley*, Bill McKibben, Billy Collins, Charles Eisenstein, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2), Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Colum McCann, Cynthia Bourgeault, the Dalai Lama, Daniel Woodrell, David Blight, David Cecelski, David McCullough, Deena Metzger, Donald Kraybill, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dorthea Benton Frank, Douglas Gwyn*, Elliot Perlman, Elizabeth Kolbert, Elizabeth O’Connor, Erik Larson, G.K. Chesterton, George Eliot (3), Henry Beston, Howard Thurman*, J.K. Rowling (2), J.R.R. Tolkien (2), Jan deHartog*, Jane Austen, Jane Yolen*, Jessamyn West*, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Joan Slonczewski*, Jodi Picoult, John Crowley, John Keats, John Updike (2), John Woolman*, Joseph Conrad, Julia Alvarez, Kathy Erskine, Laurie R. King, Lucille Clifton, Maggie Stiefvater, Marilynne Robinson, Mark Doty, Mark Nepo (2), Martin Buber, Mary Karr, Mary Oliver (3), Matthew Fox, Meghan Daum, Michael Birkel*, Naomi Klein, Naomi Nye, Natalia Ginzburg, Nick Hornby, Parker J. Palmer* (2), Paul Tillich, Philip Roth, Phillip Pullman, Pico Iyer, Richard Louv, Robert Heinlein, Robertson Davies, Sherman Alexie, Siobhan Roberts, Starhawk, Sujata Massey, T.S. Eliot, Terry Pratchett (2), Terry Tempest Williams, Theodore Richards, Thomas Hamm*, Thomas Kelly*, Thomas Mann, Tim Wise, Ursula K. Le Guin (2), W.P. Kinsella, Wallace Stegner (2), Walt Whitman, Walter Mosely, Wendell Berry, Zia Haider Rahman
Where is your favorite place to read?
- Comfy chair or couch: 29%
- In bed: 18%
- Outside, porch, or deck: 16%
- Straight chair: 9%
- Home: 9%
- Transit: 6%
- Anywhere: 6%
- Other: 7%
If you could get every Quaker to read one book, what would it be and why?
Reviewer Brad Sheeks may have made a good and realistic point when he replied, “Before I answer this, tell me one thing anyone has ever gotten all Quakers to do.” But we also liked Anne Nydam encouraging response: “There’s no one book I could recommend to everyone, but I do think it’s important for Quakers to read books about Quakerism. If this is our tradition and our path, we ought to make a serious effort to know something about it!” Here’s a list to get you started, broken into four categories; publication years have been added for reference:
Classic Quaker Titles
- The Journal of John Woolman (1774). Of this oft-cited classic, Friends said: “Because of his faithfulness, his integrity, and the way he linked personal spirituality to activism” (Patience Schenck). “It illuminates every important Quaker testimony” (Max L. Carter). “Because it’s so beautifully written and such a powerful call into becoming a better person” (James W. Hood).
- The Journal of George Fox (first published in 1694). “A classic for understanding Friends’ radical faith,” says Diana Roose, “it’s worth the slog.” Also, Marty Grundy recommends a more recent version: The Journal of George Fox revised edition by John L. Nickalls (1975).
- A Description of the Qualification Necessary to a Gospel Minister by Samuel Bownas (first published in 1750). Rob Pierson makes a compelling case: “Because it’s one of those obscure Quaker classics sure to appeal, at least as a curiosity. It’s full of thees and thous and an understanding of public ministry now nearly lost among Friends, yet it offers surprisingly relevant reminders of how to live a faithful life, recognizing, encouraging (and not discouraging) ministry in ourselves and others.”
- Paul Buckley had a few titles to recommend for different purposes, first pointing to Thomas R. Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion (1941) “as a guide to life.” For extra credit, Diane Reynolds suggests Thomas Kelly: A Biography (1966) written by his son, Richard M. Kelly, “because it shows how Kelly transformed as he accepted the reality of the horror that was Nazi Germany. The book is out of print and maybe a Quaker press could revive it. Kelly’s acceptance of evil’s reality reminds me of Dorothy Day, and this understanding informs his A Testament of Devotion, another great book, but one I imagine most Quakers have read.”
- And if you’re intimidated by any of the weighty titles above, Ellen Michaud understands the feeling: “Contemporary Quakes are alternately too lazy or too overcommitted to read books about our faith. So we rarely sit down with a printed or digital offering to hear the historical voices that leap off the page and draw us, fully alive, into the Presence. The Quaker Reader [selected and introduced by Jessamyn West, first published in 1962] is at least a quick sampler that has the power to tease us into reading something like Joseph Besse’s Sufferings of Early Quakers (1753), Barclay’s Apology, or John Woolman’s Journal.”
- “To know where we came from,” Paul Buckley suggests two titles: The Light in Their Consciences: The Early Quakers in Britain, 1646–1666 by Rosemary Moore (2000) and Heaven on Earth: Quakers and the Second Coming by Pink Dandelion, Douglas Gwyn, and Timothy Peat (1998).
- If forced to choose just one title, Gwen Gosney Erickson would resourcefully respond with The Quakers in America by Thomas D. Hamm (2003), “and folks can then consult his bibliography for more recommendations. Hamm’s writing is always accessible and informed, and this is a good introduction to inspire further reading in Quaker studies.”
- Friends for 300 Years by Howard H. Brinton (1952) is Beth Taylor’s pick, “just because it’s an excellent introduction to Quakerism.” Dave Austin similarly said “Howard Brinton’s Friends for 350 Years (2002) and John Punshon’s Encounter With Silence: Reflections from the Quaker Tradition (2006), because these were the first two books I read on Quakerism as I became convinced 13 years ago and they continue to inform my faith.”
- The Second Period of Quakerism by W. C. Braithwaite (1961). Described by Brian Drayton as “incandescent, broad-minded, a kaleidoscope of people and events, spiritually challenging, and an astonishing piece of work for someone doing it in his spare time. But along with it ought to go his The Beginnings of Quakerism (1955).”
- Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice by Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel (2009). Lisa Rand urges, “Quakers have to face the history of racism within our ranks. Friends of color have suffered for too long.”
Quaker Faith and Practice
- Paul Buckley thinks “Lloyd Lee Wilson’s Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order (1993) or Michael Birkel’s Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition (2004) might provide a shared basis for discussing who we are now.”
- Letters to a Fellow Seeker: A Short Introduction to the Quaker Way by Steve Chase (2012) was recommended by Marty Grundy and many other Friends.
- A Sustainable Life: Quaker Faith and Practice in the Renewal of Creation by Douglas Gwyn (2014). Both Rosalie Dance and Ruah Swennerfelt singled out this recent title, which was also number one on the Quaker bestsellers list from the 2015 FGC Gathering.
- Holy Silence (2005), Mind the Light (2006), and Sacred Compass (2008) all by J. Brent Bill. Dave Austin has “found these to be truly inspirational.”
- Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias (2012). Katie Green has practical advice: “This book includes Quaker history as well as best practices and concrete advice about various challenges that are common in meetings. It’s readable, a clear and concise accounting of Quaker process written showing experience combined with wisdom. I think that being familiar with this book would enhance the functioning of any monthly meeting.”
- Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices edited by Angelina Conti, Cara Curtis, C. Wess Daniels, et al. (2010). “Because it offers such a rich variety of both younger Friends as writers and of their topics,” explains Donna McDaniel. “Friends who don’t read the Journal or attend the Gathering or yearly meeting miss a lot of the depth and breadth of Quakerism. This book offers a significant taste of those.”
Learning from Others: Quakers and the World
- Refusing to Be Enemies: Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation by Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta (2011) is recommended by Robert Dockhorn, former senior editor of Friends Journal.
- The Muslim Next Door: The Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing by Sumbul Ali-Karamali (2008). Lisa Rand shares her thoughts: “Because the author describes her faith in very clear terms. Reading this would empower Friends to speak up in defense of Muslim friends, neighbors, and colleagues.”
- Exquisite Love: Reflections on the Spiritual Life Based on Narada’s Bhakti Sutra by William K. Mahony (2010). Children’s book reviewer Alison James says, “The Bhakti Sutras are ancient wisdom about love, and the discussion provokes loving action and thought. It would be amazing to study it in any consensus community.”
- Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What Is Sacred by Mark Nepo (2012). Judith Favor finds this author inspirational: “He poses searching queries that invite me to go deeper in soul work. Nepo is one of most conscious spiritual guides of our time, a writer who spills interfaith reflections onto the page in poetic language.”
- On the topic of climate, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein (2014) was mentioned by Ruah Swennerfelt, who says, “The author clearly explains the problems we are facing in a very engaging way, but still gives us hope.” Pamela Haines recalls a more recent title: “Keith Helmuth’s new book, Tracking Down Ecological Guidance (2015). It requires us to be present to central realities of belonging and relationship, and to be clear-eyed and grounded as we consider the challenges facing our social and economic systems and our earth.”
- Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, Twenty-six themes, and Two Questions by Matthew Fox (1983). Described by Phila Hoopes as “a brilliant guidebook to the experience of the Divine in creation and in the joy, pain, creativity, and activism of life as the truest expression of the mystic and prophet. A life-changing, culture-changing, deeply ecumenical book by an author who paid the price for his words, being first silenced and then removed from the Dominican order on the (false) charge of heresy, his writing draws upon deep roots in the mystical Jewish, Islamic, and medieval Christian traditions.”
- Lastly, Diane Reynolds lifts up an influential life: “I would suggest The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day edited by Robert Ellsberg (2008). Day was a left-wing progressive who found God and struggled every day to live out her faith. When you read her journals, you began to understand how hard and real her faith life was and how she leaned into literature—especially Dostoevsky—to remind herself that the love she needed to enact was not sweet and romantic but the challenging task of facing ugly behavior, ingratitude, and disappointment day after day. I think often Quakers want to retreat into pastoral fantasies of one form or another, be they ecological or plain dress, or into a world of beautiful Tao-like wisdom sayings about flowers and butterflies that make us feel good. Day reminds us that the spiritual path of possessing what you profess is very hard but worthwhile. She arguably changed the world and she never ceases to move me. She reminds us that literature—good literature—can help us cope with reality.”
What would you title your Quaker novel?
Dark Passage —Douglas Bennett
The Making of a Generalist —Robert Dockhorn
Wait a Minute … Then Speak —Lucinda Hathaway
“I am one of those Quakers who doesn’t read novels. And I wouldn’t write one!” —Max L. Carter
Hope and Skepticism; or, Things I Didn’t Rise to Say in Meeting —James W. Hood
The Trials and Travels of a Wild Quaker Woman—or Two —Donna McDaniel
Crisp Apple Sunday (romance novel, autobiographical) and Still Space (existential sci-fi) —Alison James
“Oh, no doubt Pride and Prejudice or Quide and Quejudice. Quakers are far too puffed over being Quakers (have we noticed yet that the rest of the world hasn’t swooned because we’re QUAKERS?) and far too prejudiced against other groups. Austen’s comic parable of blindness, and of seeing only what we want to see, could too easily be adapted to Quakerism. The question is, could we laugh at ourselves?” —Diane Reynolds
“How about a cookbook? It Takes More than SPICES to Make Whirled Peas” —Paul Buckley
“Well, for romance, the obvious title would be Friends with Benefits, but luckily I’m unlikely to write a romance. For sci-fi, a movie script would be Star Peace: Episode VII: The Quakers Awaken, although the many scenes of the Quaker Council sitting in a circle in silence might be difficult to market. But, steering clear of such frivolity and keeping to science writing, I think we could really use A Field Guide to the Quakers, complete with labeled diagrams of how to recognize and distinguish the various types in their natural habitats.” —Rob Pierson
“Interesting question—probably a title that held no clue to the Quaker connection, so that it could be out there on its own.” —Dee Cameron
Wonder on the Side of the Mountain —Michael S. Glaser
And Yet the Light Shines —Harvey Gillman
“Fun, Foibles, and Frolics with Friends: Life Lessons and Learning with Quakers. It would be a memoir, a spiritual journey. No, I’m not writing it, but it’s a neat thing to think about writing.” —Katie Green