Our staff ruminates on books that had a significant impact on each of them.
Sara Waxman, Advertising Sales Manager:
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
This enjoyable story revolves around a young boy who becomes stranded on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger. The book chronicles the boy’s trials and survival over 227 days at sea and the consequences of his return to civilization. While the fantasy of the story originally caught my eye and forced me to pick it up, it was the layers of philosophy woven within the writing that held me captive. I read the book with two different hats on: one as pop culture junkie and one as philosopher. I highly recommend it!
Gabe Ehri, Executive Director:
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
For a pacifist, I’ve always been fascinated by literary representations of violence. One book I can hardly think about without crying is A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. For me, this is high art that lays bare the horrors of war and the foibles of humanity, while celebrating the possibility of beauty, love, and kindness even in the darkest situations.
Karie Firoozmand, Book Review Editor:
Rufus Jones: Essential Writings, Kerry Walters, Ed.
The selections of this anthology are wisely chosen to show aspects of Jones’s thinking from his whole body of work. My copy is full of underlinings and bristles with tape flags for later reference. It is my belief that Rufus Jones belongs to us all from the various branches of Quakerism. He came from an Orthodox family and meeting, yet his descriptions of God and religion, people and creation, could have come from Hicksite origins, or any origins where religion is the real flowing of Love (he calls it the principle of the spiritual world) into the receptive human heart. In fact, he defines worship as “direct, vital, joyous personal experience and practice of the presence of God.” Jones encourages discipline and practice to cultivate the innate longing we have to complete our union with the force greater than ourselves. He calls that longing “the basis of all real religion.” But he also knows that it is the work —joyous work—of a lifetime; “one comes not to it in a day.”
Katie Dockhorn, Summer Intern:
Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo.
Provenance is a true account of how thousands of people were conned by John Drewe after he put 200 fake paintings on the art market in Europe. Apart from the genuine appearance of the works painted by Drewe’s conspirator, Drewe fooled people through forging the provenances of the paintings. It is interesting to me that most people maintained faith in John Drewe and the authenticity of the artwork for years until it was proven otherwise. Quakers in particular could be easily deceived because of how much we value integrity. Provenance led me to ponder the query, to what extent is initial skepticism of others necessary.
Mary Julia Street, Milestones Editor:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig and On Caring by Milton Mayeroff
Two books influenced me in opposite directions: one led me to see that certain ideas were more valuable that I had thought, and the other led me to see that certain behavior was less valuable than I had thought. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, which explores beauty and quality in technology and hands-on work, made me see that a machine can be beautiful. It expanded both my work and play life beyond the humanities and opened new doors into beauty. On Caring, by Milton Mayeroff, made me see that criticism and correction don’t foster the growth that people can achieve if we help them find their way instead of showing them ours.
Eileen Redden, Assistant Book Review Editor:
Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Great Religions by Jeffrey Moses.
This book has inspired me in worship many times throughout the years. Basically, Moses takes various religious topics such as the Golden Rule or Love Thy Neighbor and briefly explains how people of various faiths interpret it. This is followed by short quotations from various religions on each principle. Many religions are included, such as Sikhism, Sufism, Taoism, Jainism, as well as the more familiar Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. These quotes can be used as a springboard in worship sharing or simply something to read at home and ponder. The purpose of the book is to show how similar the various religions are on the major topics such as loving our neighbor, preserving the Earth, peace, and forgiveness. When I read a section of this book, I immediately feel there must be truth in these concepts since so many people in so many parts of the world have found them to be universal.
Sarah Westbrook, Summer Intern:
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The beautiful language and evocative imagery in To the Lighthouse, one of my favorite books, seemed very true to my own experiences with the ways people think and act. At the book’s conclusion, when Lily Briscoe draws a unifying line down the center of her canvas, I understood what she was feeling: although life can be lonely, sometimes we are given momentary consolation when we can forgive others for their weaknesses and disappointments, and in the end, we need each other to discover ourselves.
Jane Heil, Development Manager
If I am ever stranded, I have a list of books I want with me: the Bible, Thomas Klise’s The Last Western, any collection of Mary Oliver’s and Billy Collins’s poetry, the writings of Audre Lorde, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Pema Chödrön, Gerald May’s Addiction and Grace, Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints, and Jan Richardson’s Night Visions. These books are my spiritual autobiography. They share a common thread of yearning for God, for love, for freedom and wholeness—yearnings that have guided my life.
Jana Llewellyn, Associate Editor:
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
When I consider the power of storytelling, I think most often of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. This novel is a testament to Keats’s famous lines, “Beauty is truth; truth, beauty,” and Patchett’s writing takes on the lyrical quality inherent in music. The novel, about a group held hostage at a birthday party, teaches us about the inextricable link between art and empathy. I cared—and later wept—for everyone in the novel: the opera singer, the businessman, the chef, the terrorist, the translator. This operatic tale is about endings and beginnings, the importance of human connection, the strength and beauty that comes from pain and destruction. The conclusion still leaves me teary, longing to stand and shout from the highest balcony, “Bravo!”
Barbara Benton, Art Director:
Gaviotas by Alan Weisman
We are constantly being told the U.S. can’t be without our beloved oil and nuclear power, and that solar is a dream of the very naïve. Gaviotas, the story of an off-grid community in a nearly uninhabited, infertile savanna in war-torn Colombia, proves that wrong. I have no further doubt that the solutions we need for environmental sustainability can be found through patient and committed work using our bodies, brains, and hearts. What we need in order to do this work really is within.
Alla Podolsky, Associate Art Director:
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut.
It’s not the most famous of Vonnegut’s novels, but it’s the one that had the biggest impact on me. It’s written half a century ago but is more relevant today than ever. Its humor is deceptively light, and its unflinchingly honest look at the realities of our class system is undeniable. I can write many paragraphs explaining why this book resonated so much, but I’d rather let the author speak: “Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream turned belly up.”
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