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 prepend a blog to that creation cycle, and as likely as not, the final book might well be self-published. But while the mechanics and economics of print keep shifting, we keep adapting and the ministry of the written word continues.
This November’s issue will continue our model of an expanded book review section accompanied by a few choice features. The theme of this year’s features is “Books That Have Changed Us”:
Have you ever found a worn, foxed book in a dusty meetinghouse shelf or been told of an obscure book that changed your life? Tell us about the books that have changed how you look at the world. Due August 6, 2018.
Sometimes we know exactly what kind of articles we expect to receive for a particular theme, but this time we’re ready to be surprised. Will they be Quaker books, Quaker-ish books, or books with no readily apparent connection to Friends? Anything that has helped make you a more centered and spiritually attuned human is up for consideration.
I myself can point to certain Quaker books that came into my hands at just the right moment. I have a dog-eared and heavily underlined copy of Thomas Kelly’s Testament of Devotion that I was reading the week I met my future partner at an FGC Gathering (Kelly’s account of finding a surprising spiritual awakening in the confusion and turmoil of the everyday world is forever entwined into my narrative of the courtship). Later on, when struggling with some aspect of Quaker practice, a deeply faithful Friend asked in gentle tones whether I had yet read Samuel Bownas. No, who? I’ve hooted along in joy to impassioned tracts by Margaret Fell and smacked my forehead in sympathetic grief over many an old journal account of a yearly meeting session gone awry.
But 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, Zora Neale Hurston? We are complex spiritual creatures. Books can make long-gone or geographically distant figures into mentors, brother and sister workers in the fields of beloved community. They can open new perspectives, affirm our strengths, while shining the spotlights of truth on our limitations. They can make us laugh and cry, sing and mourn.
How have books shaped you? How have you been changed?