Still can’t make any announcements yet about where I’m going, but I did list my home for sale today and am busily cleaning things up so that people can walk through the place. It’s such an inbetween time at present: waiting for things to happen and packing, cleaning and organizing. This will be a cross-country move, so putting all sorts of moving parts together is mentally exhausting. So while I’m in this space of not being able to say much, I will talk about books.
Yes, books. Like today, I just got Frank Schaeffer’s latest book in the mail: Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God. (I am still on the list of active members for the Religion Newswriters Association, which is how I get free stuff in the mail). I was surprised to learn that his latest is self-published, as he’s had some very successful books in recent years. So why go it alone? The cover has a picture of him in paint-stained jeans and T-shirt, looking rather sour. Am not sure what that photo has to do with the title, so I’ve been skimming the book to find out. It’s basic autobio stream-of-consciousness writing. I don’t think this is Schaeffer’s best work, judging from my quick read. Maybe I should tackle his writings about his son, who was in the Marines, and how the absence of America’s upper classes from the military is affecting our country not in a good way.
I’ve read some other books lately that deserve mentioning. One is Ruchama Feuerman’s In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, which is an enchanting novel about a New York Jew who moves to Israel, gets a job as an assistant to an elderly kabbalist/rabbi and his wife while finding his true love and getting enmeshed in an international scandal about the Temple Mount. I got to know Ruchama after I read her book Seven Blessings, about matchmakers in Jerusalem and what they go through to match couples who don’t want to be matched and about a woman who to her surprise ended up as a bride. Ruchama liked my review and we’ve been in occasional touch ever since. The kabbalist book came out first online, then its print version debuted this spring. Ruchama is such a good storyteller about Semetic cultures that I find fascinating. Living in Israel for many years gave her the background she needed to make her stories real.
Recently I finished Don Lattin’s Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober With a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher and a Hopeless Drunk, about three men: Aldous Huxley, Bill Wilson (the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) and Gerald Heard, a British philosopher and how their three lives met and meshed in 1960s California. Interspersed with this is Don’s tale of a life as a religion beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner (at different times) and how he battled alcoholism and other evils while on the beat. Of course I am always interested in tales of other religion writers, as our life callings are tough to describe to outsiders. Don, who I’ve met multiple times at RNA conferences or covering some celebrity, has a readable, engaging style, so it didn’t take me long to whip through his book. Like so many of us, Don got burned out covering religion, and felt that in order to find his way to God, he had to stop writing *about* God.
Lately I’ve also read Daniel Walker’s “God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue,” about his work uncovering sex trafficking in southeast Asian brothels. What was interesting was his chapter about sex trafficking in Atlanta and how the local politicians don’t have the stomach to put an end to it. What was so sad is how hopeless the situation is for millions of girls sold into a life of sexual slavery and made to do unprintable things. Those who get rescued are a drop in the barrel compared to the need out there. Also sailed through a pleasant love story “A Merry Little Christmas” by my friend Anita Higman. She gave me the book two years ago and I swore I’d get around to reading it. When I knew Anita in Houston, she always wanted to write Christian romance. Finally she has realized her dream.
Another book I read was David Bena’s “In the Crucible,” about a Marine fighter pilot who ends up as a prisoner of war during the first Iraq war and endures 18 years in a gulag of prisons scattered through Iran, Turkmenistan and finally Russia. How he finally gets back to the USA only to find out that the U.S. government considers him an embarrassment and only good for assassination bait, was a really good read. I liked all the details about Siberia, a place I’ll probably never get to and it was so readable and interesting, I stuck with it through the end, which had a cliffhanger ending where he was pursued by the Russia mafia and the FBI. David Bena, by the way, is an Anglican bishop who I met back in 2010. I am only now getting around to reading his book, which shows how behind I get. One thing the book emphasized was the worldwide power of Russian mafia networks; something I have never thought about or encountered but which are a terrifying reality in other parts of the world. I am reading more books, ie a biography of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a quintessential Tennessean. Am also wondering how long we’ll have hardcover/paperback books with us. Once I dreamed of retiring as a reporter and writing books; something one could do way back when, as the money was good. Today that is impossible, hence I am trying to make my way in academia.