The Sunday Salon Rides Again

Three weeks ago marked my return to The Sunday Salon after a year-long hiatus. It felt good getting back in the swing of things so here’s another post. Hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz this weekly tradition is a great way to check in on other book bloggers and get a glimpse of their lives. 

Once again I’m trying to read four books at the same time. The first one is for a book club, the second for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge, third is part of an ongoing research project and the fourth is well, because I can. 

Summer Reading Challenges. You might have noticed in my earlier posts I’ll be taking part in both the 20 Books of Summer and Big Book Summer reading challenges. Even though I’ll probably fail miserably I can’t wait to start reading! 

Listening. As always I’m up to my eyeballs in podcasts. Here’s what I listened to last week. 

Watching.  Peaky Blinders has been off the charts good and I can’t get enough. Still kicking myself for not discovering it sooner. Last weekend we continued watching 90s space opera Babylon 5

Everything else. We’re still experiencing warm, summer-like weather. I’m still spending my mornings and evenings on the cabin porch reading. And yes I’m still joined by a large black cat.  

The Continuing Return of The Sunday Salon

Last week marked my return to The Sunday Salon after a year-long hiatus. It felt good getting back in the swing of things so here’s another post. Hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz this weekly tradition is a great way to check in on other book bloggers and get a glimpse of their lives. 

Right now I’m reading four books. The first one is for a book club, the second for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge, third is part of an ongoing research project and the fourth is well, because I can. 

Listening. As always I’m up to my eyeballs in podcasts. Here’s what I listened to last week. 

Watching. After finishing the inaugural season of The Diplomat the good people of the farm needed a new show to binge. By accident we discovered Peaky Blinders and oh man is it GOOD! We also watched the recent PBS Frontline episode “Clarence and Ginni Thomas: Politics, Power and the Supreme Court.” Highly recommended! 

Everything else. We’re still experiencing warm, summer-like weather but today it’s cloudy and much cooler. Like before I’ve been spending my mornings and evenings on the cabin porch reading. And more often than not a large black cat still joins me. 

Book Beginnings: Leaving the Witness by Amber Scorah

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 23 in 23 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, last year I decided to finally participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”


The first thing I saw when I arrived in Shanghai was a fight on the street. People had extracted themselves from the masses on all sides to watch, standing like awkward party guests.

Last week I featured Jacques Droz’s 1967 Europe Between Revolutions, 1815-1848. The week before it was Sara Zyskind’s 1981 Holocaust memoir Stolen Years. This week it’s Amber Scorah’s 2019 memoir Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life

Longtime readers of my blog know I love memoirs by women who have left cults or oppressive religious communities. Of those, one of my faves is Kyria Abrahams’s 2009 memoir I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing. Always on the lookout for a worthy follow-up to Abraham’s memoir I was willing to give Scorah’s a try. Only after I brought the book home from the library that I remembered I’d heard her interviewed on Seth Andrews’s podcast The Thinking Atheist. Since this book is a memoir I’ll be applying it towards Book’d Out’s Nonfiction Reader Challenge. Here’s what  Amazon has to say about Leaving the Witness.

A third-generation Jehovah’s Witness, Amber Scorah had devoted her life to sounding God’s warning of impending Armageddon. She volunteered to take the message to China, where the preaching she did was illegal and could result in her expulsion or worse. Here, she had some distance from her community for the first time. Immersion in a foreign language and culture–and a whole new way of thinking–turned her world upside down, and eventually led her to lose all that she had been sure was true.

As a proselytizer in Shanghai, using fake names and secret codes to evade the authorities’ notice, Scorah discreetly looked for targets in public parks and stores. To support herself, she found work at a Chinese language learning podcast, hiding her real purpose from her coworkers. Now with a creative outlet, getting to know worldly people for the first time, she began to understand that there were other ways of seeing the world and living a fulfilling life. When one of these relationships became an “escape hatch,” Scorah’s loss of faith culminated in her own personal apocalypse, the only kind of ending possible for a Jehovah’s Witness.

The Return of The Sunday Salon

It’s been almost a year since I took part in The Sunday Salon. I’ve been itching to return so here’s another post. Hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz this weekly tradition is a great way to check in on other book bloggers and get a glimpse of their lives. 

Right now I’m reading three books. The first one is for a book club, the second for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and third is part of an ongoing research project. 

Listening. Instead of listing all the podcasts I’ve been listening to of late here’s some ones I discovered recently that now I can’t get enough of. 

  • Behind the Bastards – Fascinating and informative deep dives on some of history’s nastiest people. Sick, twisted and highly irreverent it’s quickly become one of my favorite podcasts. 
  • Lectures in History– The audio version of C-SPAN’s weekend history lectures recorded at colleges around the United States. So good even the students ask intelligent questions!
  • Lions Led By Donkeys – Similar format as Behind the Bastards this lively podcast is devoted to “the worst military failures, inept commanders, and crazy stories from throughout the history of human conflict.”
  • Fast Politics with Molly Jong-Fast – Former New Abnormal co-host Molly Jong-Fast now has her own show and it’s just like The New Abnormal. Except better. 
  • Rick Wilson’s The Enemies List – Yet another New Abnormal co-host with a new podcast. This former Republican operative turned anti-Trump/pro-democracy thought leader never fails to make me laugh while keeping me abreast of what’s happening politically. 
  • The Time of Monsters with Jeet Heer – You might not think this guy has a voice for radio but give him a chance. The national-affairs correspondent for The Nation magazine is smart, entertaining and has great guests. 
  • Straight White American Jesus– “An in-depth examination of the culture and politics of Christian Nationalism and Evangelicalism by two ex-evangelical ministers-turned-religion professors.” As an ex-evangelical Christian this stuff is right up my alley. 
  • Jacobin Radio – I wasn’t sure I’d like a podcast by a socialist magazine. But so far they’ve done some great interviews covering a wide range of topics including Israel’s creep towards authoritarianism and the recent Hollywood writers’ strike.  
  • Africa Daily – The world’s second largest continent never gets enough news. “One question. One story from Africa for Africa.” 

Watching. We’ve been streaming a lot of cloak and dagger stuff here on the farm and are anxiously awaiting new episodes of Slow Horses, The Recruit and The Night Agent. We also finished up the sci-fi/superhero action series The Umbrella Academy. Like millions of others we’ve been sucked into The Diplomat and can’t get enough. Sunday evenings we’ve gone retro and just started watching the 90s space opera Babylon 5

Everything else. We’ve been experiencing warm, summer-like weather so I’ve been spending my mornings and evenings on the cabin porch reading. More often than not a large black cat joins me. 

About Time I Read It: The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

When it comes to fulfilling the United Kingdom part of Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge over the last several years I’ve read a play, an historical novel, some history and several memoirs. For 2023 I decided to read Robyn Cadwallader’s 2015 historical novel The Anchoress. Some anonymous library must have thought highly of The Anchoress because I found a copy of it prominently displayed upright, presumably in hopes of catching the eye of a potential reader. Looking at it I could not help but wonder why on earth a 17 year old English girl would request to being imprisoned in a small cell attached outside a church. My curiosity quickly got the better of me and I grabbed The Anchoress along with a few other books and headed to the check out desk.

It’s the year 1255 and most English teen girls are eager to marry some local guy and start a family. But Sarah wants no part of motherhood. At 17 she’s already seen both her mom and older sister die horribly in childbirth. Her cloth merchant father, in hopes of climbing the social ladder wishes to marry her off to the son of the local lord. The young nobleman in question is all for it, making his attentions clear and pursuing her with lustful intent. But it’s obvious to her he’s no knight in shining armor. Despite the stirrings of arousal she experiences whenever the meet, she’s nevertheless repulsed by his cruelty and lasciviousness.

With marriage and motherhood off the table, her only option other than becoming the next village prostitute is to take holy orders. Instead of simply entering the nearest convent and serve out her days as a cloistered nun Sarah she goes all in as an anchoress. After the requisite ecclesiastical blessing she’s locked in a tiny cell on the grounds of her local church. Within these narrow confines she lives an austere life praying for her fellow villagers and reading holy writings.

If Sarah is a young woman willing to wall herself off for a lifetime of religious devotion then readers shouldn’t be surprised if her thoughts and behavior are out of step with the modern world. She steadfastly refuses to even speak with a male visitor other than the young priest entrusted with hearing her confession. Like many medieval ascetics, the early months of her confinement are spent committing self punishing acts of fasting, flagellation and donning a hairshirt. Even after eating the a piece of apple she’s overcome with feelings of dread, fearful she’d succumbed to wild temptations of the flesh.

As blind as her faith might appear, nevertheless it’s not unquestioning. Speaking one day with her confessor Sarah rejects the Church’s view woman are intellectually inferior to men. Entrusted with praying for the health and well-being of her fellow villagers, she voices frustration whenever the women suffer sickness or ill treatment angry her prayers are ignored.

It’s wrong to expect a novel about a medieval anchoress to be exciting. What we do get is a subtle, introspective tale of piety and personal struggle. The result isn’t a crowd-pleasing page-turner but a satisfying slow burn.

The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe by Matthew Gabriele and David Perry

Last year in one of my Nonfiction November posts I featured a selection of books about the Middle Ages. One of which was Charles Warren Hollister’s Medieval Europe: A Short History. It’s been a favorite of mine for decades thanks to its straightforward approach and readable style. But my most lasting takeaway from this excellent book is the author’s firm denial a European-wide “Dark Ages” ruled the continent for a thousand years. The reality, Warren Hollister argued is a bit more complex. Over that long length of time some parts of Europe advanced economically and intellectually while others might have stagnated or even regressed. In the decade since I read Medieval Europe the more I’ve read about this period of history the more Warren Hollister’s claim rings true. 

Looking for another decent book on the Middle Ages I recently borrowed a Kindle edition of Matthew Gabriele and David Perry’s late 2021 book The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe. They subscribe to a similar viewpoint. Europe did not spend a thousand years as some benighted peninsula at the extreme end of Eurasia, cut-off economically, culturally and intellectually from the rest of the world. Instead it was a vibrant, dynamic and well-connected continent, enriched mightily by even its most distant neighbors.

Traditionally, many felt the Dark Ages began with the Fall of Rome. As successive waves of barbarian hordes overran the Italian peninsula high culture came to an end. In reality, the Empire’s borders had been growing increasingly porous over the last several hundred years.  Intermarriages involving Roman elites and their foreign counterparts were becoming commonplace. More and more foreign-born soldiers were rising up the ranks of an increasingly polyglot Roman army, with some even becoming generals. And when these invading groups did takeover, they adopted Roman customs and language and quickly converted to Christianity. (Or in the case of the Goths ditched Arianism for the era’s more orthodox Christianity.) Lastly, regardless of who happened to be running the show in Rome the Byzantines still saw themselves as Romans. Carrying on the legacy of Rome they soldiered on until their crushing defeat at the hands of the Turks in the mid 15th century. 

Gabriele and Perry also challenge the notion of Europe’s distinctness vis-à-vis its Islamic neighbors. Both Christianity and Islam, along with Judaism aren’t just monotheistic religions. There are Abrahamic faiths, which comparatively speaking, share more similarities than differences. While Christian armies frequently fought Muslim armies during the Crusades and the Reconquista from time to time they fought as allies, both in the Middle East and Iberia. Intellectually, the writings of Islamic luminaries Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd, (Averroes) together with their Jewish counterpart Maimonides profoundly influenced European thought, especially the theology of Thomas Aquinas. 

After the Mongols’ expansive conquests a well-maintained conduit was established across Eurasia, facilitating the transfer of goods and ideas between Europe and the Far East. Chinese silks flowed west, Catholic missionaries traveled east and a guy named Marco Polo captivated Europe with stories of his travels. 

The Bright Ages, much like the above mentioned Medieval Europe is a straightforward, readable and fresh look at Europe’s Dark Ages which in reality, probably wasn’t all that dark. 

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.