Category Archives: Books & Book Reviews

A Tale of Two Nightmares: One Asleep, One Wide Awake

Nightmare Number one, wide awake: In the summer of 1959, my father, an Air Force bomber pilot, was transferred to a base near Cheyenne, Wyoming.

“Peace Is Our Profession” said the billboard by the base gate.

There my mother sent me and several of my siblings to St. Mary’s, the Catholic school downtown. It was across the street from the state Capitol. St. Mary’s was run by Dominican nuns, whose convent was next door.

I could have objected, but thought better of it.  Although I had become more or less an atheist, I was also a senior: one year left. I figured to keep my head down, get through it, then escape to college somewhere.

Far away in Rome, a new pope was settling in, replacing the late Pius XII. Pius had taken over in 1939, three years before I was born. When I thought about Pius, which was rarely, he had seemed like a permanent fixture, as solid as the thick stone walls of the old church in Kansas  where I was baptized, as unmoving as the statues there yearning toward their timeless crucified Christ.

But no, Pius was a mere mortal, and his successor, John XXIII, was quietly preparing to shake up the church’s seemingly impregnable  status quo. I mention these items, not because anything about them had penetrated my teenage male brain, but rather because I realize now that our nuns, an educated and alert group, were no doubt keenly aware of them. In fact, this must have been a very exciting year for them: not only was there a new pope, but Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was making a serious run at becoming the first Catholic U. S. President in 1960. Continue reading A Tale of Two Nightmares: One Asleep, One Wide Awake

Cultural Appropriation: the Sad Case of AFSC

No sooner had the AFSC’s Centennial bash gotten underway in spring of 2017, when  somebody rained on their parade: another multi-million budget shortfall was acknowledged, with the expected fallout of more job and program cuts.

This was getting to be an all-too familiar story; almost as familiar as the empty promises to “re-connect” AFSC with actual living Quakers.

The biggest cuts had come in 2008-2009, when years of mismanagement and profligacy combined with the larger economic crash to force over a hundred staff layoffs, and the closing of dozens of offices and programs. Yet that big rush of cuts wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last. Regional offices, once at 13, imploded to a skeletal four.

What had happened? Continue reading Cultural Appropriation: the Sad Case of AFSC

Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes–Sing us a bit of your famous Blues!

From Not Without Laughter, by Langston Hughes

It’s Langston Hughes’s birthday (Feb. 1, 1902- May 22, 1967). Known primarily as a poet, Hughes was a versatile writer: by his mid-twenties he had published challenging essays in national periodicals, and two books of poetry. I’m now reading his first novel, Not Without Laughter, published in 1930, when he was 28.

This passage evokes a domestic scene in a small Kansas city, modeled on Lawrence, where Hughes spent several boyhood years. Hughes was proud of his humble roots, and the creativity it wrung from hardship, like the largely homemade blues songs by the itinerant laborer Jimboy. Here he has returned after a long absence seeking work. In Hughes’s prose, we can hear the poetry woven through it.

Continue reading Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes–Sing us a bit of your famous Blues!

Quakers Getting on the DOWN Escalator

Recently I read the amazing account of the Great Black Migration from the South, The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.

It’s a fine, fine book, and its relevance here is that, paradoxically, until it was well underway, there was no such thing as “The Great Migration”; that is, no one named or organized it, no one “joined” it.

Rather, there were individuals & families fleeing for their own survival: seeking escape from the personal costs of official southern racism, grinding poverty and unrestrained violence. Only after such private decisions were acted on by hundreds of thousands, over  decades, did scholars & writers come along to christen, study and begin to chronicle it.

Yet while “spontaneous” and unorganized, the Great Migration was indeed real and momentous, with national impact that’s still being felt.

A change equally unorganized & unheralded, potentially as momentous at least for us is, I believe, underway in the U. S. liberal Quakerism I discovered in 1965 (after ditching pre-Vatican II Catholicism). Continue reading Quakers Getting on the DOWN Escalator

My Top Ten Books in 2017

It’s the season for Top ten Lists, so here’s mine.

For some years, I’ve been keeping track of my reading, especially books. For 2017, with only two weeks yet to go, I’m at 27 volumes, and a total of 11400 or so pages. That’s close to a thousand pages per month. (I might still make a thousand, if I finish another book or two before New Year’s.)

The “page total” figure is somewhat ambiguous, a s many of the titles here I listened to on CDs in my car. Several others were read on Kindle. But for me all that counts as reading; and I looked up the non-hard copy titles to find the print page count.

This tally does not include newspapers; I typically skim through three or four per morning, online (the Raleigh NC News & Observer; the Washington Post, the New York Times & the Guardian.) And of course I read lots more stuff online, which I don’t keep any systematic record of.

I rarely get brand new, up-to-the-minute books; though a few turned up on this year’s list. And I bought several more books than I actually got read. So be it.

That’s enough background. Of this hefty stack of print (and its electronic equivalents), here are the ten that were most compelling or meaningful.

But before starting with #10, let me detour briefly to the very bottom, and add as a bonus, the books that were most disappointing. Continue reading My Top Ten Books in 2017

Review: A Legacy of Spies” — John LeCarre’s Latest

Actually this is the report on a twofer/Marathon:

First, “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold,” and then “A Legacy of Spies,” both by John LeCarre.

“Cold” is 40-plus years old, JLC’s first big hit; “Legacy” is a brand-new sequel/followup/reconsideration. Continue reading Review: A Legacy of Spies” — John LeCarre’s Latest

A Review of “Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey”

A Review of “Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey”

From Quaker Theology #29

Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey. Marcelle Martin. San Francisco: Inner Light Books, 238 pages. Paperback, $17.50.

Reviewed by Chuck Fager

    It’s my fate to spend a fair amount of time on the larger Quaker-oriented Facebook groups. That’s often a challenging, and sometimes dispiriting experience, especially when talk turns to “what Friends believe,” and how that is evidenced in actual Quaker history. 

It’s a chore because the level of ignorance and misinformation about Quakerism seems bottomless. Responding to it often feels like bailing out a canoe with a big hole in the bottom, through which a continuing steam of errors, rumor, legends and downwright fiction steadily gushes.

ourlifeislove-cover

    For instance, a few days ago, there once again popped up the name of Richard Nixon, the second Quaker U. S. president. But no sooner than he appeared, there followed a number of firm denials that he was, or ever had been, a Friend. Even though Nixon’s lifelong membership in East Whittier, California Friends Church is well-attested in several solid historical sources, both in books and online.

Yet this seemed to make no difference to many: pointing them out evoked such responses as: “He never was”; “Well, perhaps as a child, but not as an adult”; “Maybe as a young man, but when challenged as president over the Vietnam War, he left and never returned”; and other variations. Continue reading A Review of “Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey”