Nonfiction November Week 4: Worldview Changers

After taking last week off, I’m back with another post for Nonfiction November. This week our host is Rebekah of the blog She Seeks Nonfiction. Even though she’s been blogging since 2016 I discovered her blog only about a year ago. Since then I’ve been a huge fan, in no small part because I see her as a kindred spirit. Rebekah was raised in the “conservative Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” even though she “never really believed in God”, and I’m an ex-evangelical Christian. If the books featured on Rebekah’s outstanding blog are any indication she’s a progressive individual who strongly embraces science, reason and intellectual honesty. With that in mind she’s the perfect book blogger to host our latest installment of Nonfiction November.

One of the greatest things about reading nonfiction is learning all kinds of things about our world which you never would have known without it. There’s the intriguing, the beautiful, the appalling, and the profound. What nonfiction book (or books) has impacted the way you see the world in a powerful way? Do you think there is one book that everyone needs to read for a better understanding of the world we live in?

When first introduced to this week’s topic I was excited to participate even though wasn’t sure where to begin. I thought about limiting the scope solely to books critical of Christianity, the Bible or religion in general. I also considered discussing just various political books that have impacted me over the years. Or significant history books that did the same. But in the end I decided to throw caution to the wind and feature as many books as possible that significantly shaped my view of the world. They did this by overthrowing my previous beliefs or assumptions, or in some way or another making me look at things with a different perspective. If this project wasn’t ambitious (or foolhardy) enough, I’d also like to approach things somewhat chronologically, starting with books that impacted me as a young man. (But I’ll still mix things up here and there.)

The Early Years

Christianity and the Bible: A New and Critical Look 

History: A Deeper Understanding 

Anti-Colonialism: At Home and Abroad 

Developing a Post-Religious Worldview

The Middle East: A Deeper Understanding

East vs West and Nations Rich and Poor: Competing Explanations 

Corruptions of Power

Animals: Smarter Than You Think

That’s all for now. Enjoy Nonfiction November!

Nonfiction November Week 2: Book Pairings

Last week Katie from the blog Doing Dewey kicked off Nonfiction November. This week Rennie at What’s Nonfiction has agreed to host. She invites participants to share their favorite book pairings, and takes a pretty inclusive approach. It could be a pairing of nonfiction books with fiction, podcasts, documentaries, movies or even additional works of nonfiction.

In past years I’ve been straight-forward, just pairing up nonfiction books with works of fiction. However, last year I did something new and featured Michael David Lukas’s 2018 novel The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, pairing it with a half-dozen books about the ancient Cairo Geniza and Egypt’s Jewish community. This year I thought I’d return to my old ways. I’ll be looking back at what I read in 2022, both nonfiction and fiction and select 15 books. For every work of nonfiction I’ll suggest a piece of fiction and visa versa.

Considering my reading tastes it’s no surprise I’ve included lots of history and international politics kind of stuff. For the first time doing these pairings I’ve featured books by two siblings (Masha and Keith Gessen), a pair of books by the same author (Andrey Kurkov) and two works of nonfiction by the same author (Adam Hochschild). In other firsts, close to half were translated into English from another language, with three quarters of these books written by either immigrants, expats, refugees or children of immigrants. I hope you enjoyed my post and I look forward to reading all the others from Nonfiction November.

Nonfiction November Week 1: Your Year in Nonfiction

Even though Rebekah gave us a heads-up weeks ago on her blog She Seeks Nonfiction Nonfiction November still snuck up on me. As some of you know Nonfiction November happens each year when book bloggers around the globe come together to celebrate the wonderful world of nonfiction. As a life-long nonfiction fan, I always look forward to seeing participants’ posts and learning what outstanding works of nonfiction everyone has been reading. Year after year I come away with great book recommendations and  discover new book blogs. Some years I even manage to pick up an additional blog subscriber or two.

For Week 1 our host Katie from the blog Doing Dewey kicks it all off by asking us to reflect on 2022 and:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

As for this year’s favorite nonfiction read I’d have to award that honor to the first book I read in 2022: Tony Judt’s 2005 tour du force Postwar: A History of Europe. Even though I’ve read some great nonfiction since January, Postwar is still ranks as my favorite.

 

As far as particular topics I’ve been attracted to, I’ve been reading a lot of history, especially European history.

I’ve also been drawn to books covering both European and United States history, showing in varying ways how the two different parts of the world have influenced each other.

I also read a number of memoirs, both individual and family, by Europeans or former Europeans. I found all of them helpful in deepening my understanding of 20th century European history.

My exploration of 20th century history hasn’t been limited to Europe. Earlier this year I divided into two books on China, both of which had been on my to be read list (TBR) and strong candidates to make my year-end list of Favorite Nonfiction.

For over five years the nonfiction book I’ve probably recommended the most has been Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. While that continues to be the case, this fall I’ve been singing the praises of Brian Klaas’s readable and insightful 2021 Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us. It goes a long way to explain why so many of us at one time or another in our lives encounter, or must deal with the consequences in one way or another, of abusive leadership in so many places including the workplace or government. As a wave of reactionary authoritarianism continues to sweep across America and the world, I cannot recommend these two books enough.

Like I mentioned at the onset, just like in past years I’m hoping I’m hoping to come away from Nonfiction November with an assortment of great book recommendations. I’ll be paying special attention to subjects like history, politics, international relations and science. As well as an enjoyable memoir or two.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Last week I started and finished the 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine. Currently I’m still reading Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island and Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a CityLike I mentioned last week all three of these books are for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge

Articles. With my nose buried in several books last week I managed to read just two articles. This week I’ll try harder and hopefully read more. 

Listening. Like I’ve said before, with so many things going on in the world there’s no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. 

Watching. Right now I’m watching just one TV show and it’s Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride. Unfortunately for me, I have only two episodes left to watch. 

Everything else. Friday, instead of indulging in my weekly ritual of fine wine and conversation at my favorite local winery I drove up to Portland. After a quick trip to Powell’s Books I proceeded to my friends’ place for an evening of beers, fun and frivolity. Our wonderful hosts fired up the grill and put on the soccer game. After watching the home team come from behind to beat our hated rivals the Seattle Sounders a few of us stayed up past our bedtimes conversing on the porch. Saturday on my way home I hit a massive church yard sale and walked away with small stack of books, almost all of which were free. Among the treasures are Pulitzer-Prize winners American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. 

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Late last week I finished Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal and posted my review. Currently I’m reading Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island and Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a CityLike I mentioned last week all three of these books are Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge

Articles. Even with my nose buried in several books I read a number of excellent articles last week. Inspired by Paula Bardell-Hedley’s outstanding weekly feature “Winding Up the Week” on her great blog Book Jotter I’ve started incorporating article links into my Sunday Salon posts and will continue to do so in the future. 

Listening. Like I’ve said before, with so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. But with the recent week’s FBI raid on Trump’s Florida residence many of my usual podcasts have been abuzz with commentary and speculation. This has made for some interesting listening.

Watching. Right now I’m watching just one TV show and it’s Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride.

Everything else. In what’s becoming a Friday ritual I met my professor buddies on Friday at our favorite winery for wine, conversation and a killer view. I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, but in the evenings I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two with my books and articles. On Saturday I took in a football scrimmage at the local university.

20 Books of Summer: The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

The other day while wandering the shelves at the public library I came across a copy of Yann Martel’s 2016 novel The High Mountains of Portugal. Needing something representing that particular country for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and having loved his 2001 mega-best seller Life of Pi I decided to give it a chance. After a week or so of frustrating fits and starts I finished it early this morning. Keep in mind Life of Pi is a tough act to follow. Therefore, even after adjusting my expectations accordingly The High Mountains of Portugal felt like a disappointment, albeit a minor one.

Arguably less a novel and more a collection of three subtly connected novellas, The High Mountains of Portugal begins in Lisbon in 1904. The discovery of a centuries old journal sends young archivist Tomás on a journey via early automobile to the mountains of Portugal in search of a holy artifact that could upend history. 35 years later Eusebio, a middle-aged pathologist and Agatha Christie aficionado receives a mysterious visitor late New Year’s Eve whose unusual request challenges his deeply held beliefs, both religious and scientific. Lastly, things can’t get any stranger when, 50 years later a Canadian senator, grieving and directionless after the death of his wife relocates to the village of his birth with his recently acquired companion – a chimpanzee.

Like we experienced with his earlier Life and Pi, Martel’s novels don’t just entertain but prompt us ask profound religious and philosophical questions. When Eusebio’s wife Maria comes to visit him in his autopsy lab late on New Year’s Eve what begins as a simple visit from a loving wife to her late working husband quickly evolves into a college-level theological presentation on the Gospel message, and for that matter the meaning of Christianity. Like a skilled lecturer equally comfortable in the contrasting worlds of academia and pop culture, Maria illustrates her points with examples taken from the mysteries of Agatha Christie, of which the couple share a common love. Well read, of sharp mind and possessing an inquisitive spirit, Eusebio saw sees her as “Legion, that teeming within her were all the prophets, and apostles of the Bible, besides a good number of the Church Fathers.” Alas Maria was born a half century too early to fully exercise these gifts. Theology, in the 1930s was a man’s calling, sadly off limits to even the most talented and intelligent of women.

Unlike Life of Pi, The High Mountains of Portugal wont be on my year-end list of Favorite Fiction. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad novel. While there ‘s no shortage of enjoyable passages in The High Mountains of Portugal, I felt the whole wasn’t greater than the sum of the parts. Unlike Life of Pi.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

I’m happy to report this week I finished Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School as well as David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples. Impressive works of nonfiction,  both books are strong contenders to make my year-end list of Favorite Nonfiction

 With Jeffries’s and Gilmour’s books under my belt, I’ve gone back to reading Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a City and Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal. I also started Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island. As you probably guessed all three books are for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. 

Articles. Even with my nose buried in several books I read a number of excellent articles last week. Inspired by Paula Bardell-Hedley’s outstanding weekly feature “Winding Up the Week” on her great blog Book Jotter I’ve started incorporating these into my Sunday Salon posts and will continue to do so in the future. 

Listening. Like I’ve said before, with so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. But with last week’s FBI raid on Trump’s Florida residence many of my usual podcasts have been abuzz with commentary and speculation. This has made for some interesting listening which I’m sure will only intensify. 

Watching. After finishing up season 4 of Stranger Things it’s been all Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride. I also caught on YouTube a special installment of the Lincoln Project’s The Breakdown, devoted mostly to the FBI’s recent raid on Trump’s Florida residence. “So much ‘criming’ as co-host Tara Setmayer described Trump’s ongoing attempts to subvert democracy and proclaim himself President for Life. 

 

Everything else. In what’s becoming a Friday ritual I met my professor buddies on Friday at our favorite winery for wine, conversation and a killer view. I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, but in the evenings I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two with my books and articles. 

20 Books of Summer: The Sacrament by Ólafur Ólafsson

When it comes to finding great Icelandic fiction I haven’t had much luck. Neither Bergsveinn Birgisson’s short epistolary novel Reply to a Letter from Helga or Kristín Ómarsdóttir’s rather odd Children in Reindeer Woods did it for me. This is a shame because I’ve been told despite the island nation’s small population, Iceland publishes more books per capita than any nation on earth. So I imagine, with odds like that sooner or later I’d stumble across something by an Icelandic author I’d like.

During one of my weekend visits to the public library I recently discovered the fiction of Ólafur Ólafsson. According to his bio, he was born in Iceland but later moved to the United States to attend college at Brandeis University. After graduation he landed a job with Sony, and within six years was promoted to CEO of its computer division. During his tenure he was instrumental in the creation and launch of Sony’s highly successful PlayStation gaming console. Forced out for feuding with company bigwigs he went on to pursue a series of high-level corporate gigs ending with a stint at Time-Warner.

As accomplished as Ólafsson might be he’s also a writer. The author of eight novels, several of them critically acclaimed “editor’s picks” on Amazon. At first I was going to read his 2017 novel One Station Away but quickly opted to read his 2019 offering The Sacrament since most if, not all of it is set in Iceland. Employing a nonlinear style to erode the boundary between past and present Ólafsson’s storytelling unfolds gradually and with purpose, faithfully delivering us to the novel’s final destination.

Thanks to her near fluency in Icelandic, French nun Sister Johanna Marie has been tasked by the Vatican to investigate secret allegations of misconduct at a Catholic school in Iceland. Sadly, over the course of her visit as she’s repeatedly stonewalled and frustrated by uncooperative witnesses. Fearing her investigation was purposely designed to fail, it begins to look like the makings of a cover-up. The deeper her investigation goes Sister Johanna Marie realizes no matter how horrible the original allegations might be, ultimately it’s the abuse of power that poses the greatest threat to Iceland’s faithful.

In addition to conducting her investigation, she’s also forced to wrestle with the ghosts of her past. As a young theology student in Paris she experienced the early stirrings of romantic affection for her Icelandic roommate. With perhaps mutual fondness, young Halla tutored her in Iceland’s language and culture. But in the eyes of the Church such love could never come to fruition.  Motivated more likely out of spite than by puritanical morality, her parish priest Father Raffin terminated the relationship’s promising trajectory. Sister Johanna Marie now finds herself conducting an official investigation the homeland of her old flame, sent there by that very same priest.

While I don’t think The Sacrament will make my year-end list of Favorite Fiction, it’s light years ahead of Reply to a Letter from Helga and Children in Reindeer Woods. That easily makes it the best Icelandic novel I’ve ever read.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

After finishing Icelandic author Ólafur Ólafsson’s novel The Sacrament  I’ve returned to reading  David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples and Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School. Late last week I also started Bosnian writer Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a City and Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. 

 

Articles. Even with my nose buried in several books I read a number of excellent articles last week. Inspired by Paula Bardell-Hedley’s outstanding weekly feature “Winding Up the Week” on her great blog Book Jotter I’ve started incorporating these into my Sunday Salon posts and will continue to do so in the future. 

Listening. With so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. Despite this extensive list I feel I should be listening to much more. 

Watching. After finishing up season 4 of Stranger Things it’s all been Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride. 

Everything else. In what’s becoming a Friday ritual I met my professor buddies on Friday at our favorite winery for wine, conversation and a killer view. I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, but in the evenings I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two with my books and articles. 

 

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Currently I’m still working my way through David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples as well as Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School. In addition, late last week I started Icelandic author Ólafur Ólafsson’s novel The Sacrament. I’ll be applying both The Pursuit of Italy and The Sacrament towards Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. 

Articles. Besides reading books all week I also read assorted articles that pop up on my various feeds. Over the last couple of years Paula Bardell-Hedley’s weekly feature “Winding Up the Week” on her great blog Book Jotter has been my go-to source. Used in combination with Arts and Letters Daily, Longreads and Five Books leaves me perpetually buried in great reading material. Therefore, starting this week I’ll be sharing links to a few of the pieces I’ve recently enjoyed. 

Listening. With so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. Despite this extensive list I feel I should be listening to much more. 

Watching. With each episode Mr. Robot gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. I finished up season 4 of Stranger Thingsand lets just say it was a hell of a wild ride. I don’t know what I’m going to watch to fill the void until season 5 drops, whenever that might be. 

Everything else. We’ve been experiencing a heat wave in my area. With temperatures hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit much of last week my professor buddies and I on Friday opted to sit inside at our favorite winery and take advantage of the air conditioned. I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, but in the evenings once its cooled down I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two with my books and articles. Lastly, I snuck out yesterday and enjoyed an adult beverage at one of my favorite watering holes and relaxed in air conditioned comfort.