Biblioteca de Woodland

A Virtual Guide to Soulful Reading
at Woodland Baptist Church

One of the many wonderful things my mother did for me was to take me to every library of every church or town in which we lived to introduce me to the world of books. She counseled me to talk to the librarians because they could help me find books that were good and interesting to read. She once said, “You know Mike, for every book you choose to read, you choose not to read 22 others.” I don’t know where she got that number, but it is woefully small, because every book you choose to read these days results in hundreds, maybe even thousands that you won’t be able to read. Thus, it should behoove us to talk to librarians or other readers to help us discern the books we need to read. Biblioteca de Woodland is a virtual bookshelf that we will share from time to time. Hopefully, it will be a help for your reading discipline. Enjoy!

Mike Massar


Think Again by Adam Grant

Think Again book coverThink Again is a remarkable book by Adam Grant. It is a wonderful tool to help people rethink things – learning the art of questioning our own opinions while learning to be open to other ideas. One of Grant’s guiding principles is priceless: “Argue like you’re right but listen like you’re wrong.” Bill and Melinda Gates promote the book by saying: “Think Againis a must-read for anyone who wants to create a culture of learning and exploration, whether at home, at work, or at school. With warmth and humor, Adam Grant distills complex research into a compelling case for why each of us should continually question old assumptions and embrace new ideas and perspectives. In an increasingly divided world, the lessons in this book are more important than ever.” As the church begins the process of re-gathering, this book is an insightful guide for how to move forward. Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass book coverRobin Wall Kimmerer’s essay collection, Braiding Sweetgrass, is an example of a rarity in the book business. It was published in 2013 by a little- known publishing house Milkweed Editions. It did not have a large-scale marketing campaign, but word of mouth recommendations catapulted it into a long-time stint on the New York Times best-sellers’ book review. Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, describes the book as “an invitation to celebrate the gifts of the earth.” She postulates about why her message is resonating right now: “When we’re looking at things we cherish falling apart, when inequities and injustices are so apparent, people are looking for another way that we can be living. We need interdependence rather than independence, and Indigenous knowledge has a message of valuing connection, especially to the humble.” A review in Forbes magazine said: “this book is a must read for moving into our future. The author has given us a profound perspective of history, restoration, reciprocity, responsibility and hope. If we take only what we need and find ways to restore what we do take, we can take care of the earth and she will take care of us.” This book seems to truly be a gift from God for the living of these days. Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

Making a Poem by Miller Williams

Making a Poem is a book that has been around for a while, but nevertheless seems apropos for the current time. Miller Williams was an American contemporary poet and teacher. He was a professor at LSU, having been recommended for the job by Flannery O’Connor. Later he taught at the University of Arkansas. He produced over 25 books and won several awards for his poetry. He was the third poet to read at an inaugural event when he read his poem “Of History and Hope” at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. Williams sometimes collaborated with his daughter Lucinda, an acclaimed folk and country musician, and has been compared to another great country musician. “One of the best things that has ever been said about my work was said by a critic who wrote that ‘Miller Williams is the Hank Williams of American poetry. While his poetry is taught at Princeton and Harvard, it’s read and understood by squirrel hunters and taxi drivers.’” Making a Poem is a book of insightful essays for those who love poetry and even those who don’t. His first essay in the book gives hint of such delightful wisdom. Its title is “Nobody Plays the Piano, but We Like to Have It in the House.” Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights is an intelligent, uplifting book of essays – some as short as a paragraph; some as long as five pages. Gay wrote the book’s essays over the period of a year, one each day, for the simple reason that he thought it would be nice to write about delight every day. The handful of rules he set out for himself included composing the essays quickly and writing them by hand. The book’s essays might first be seen as “contemporary lite,” but they are far from that. They are attentive explorations into the gifts in the world around us, and are absolutely delightful. Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

Devotions by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is one of America’s beloved poets. This Pulitzer prizewinner’s book, Devotions, is her own personal selection of her best work that has spanned more than fifty years. With literary brilliance she helps us see the world around us and the powerful connections of all living things. As one reviewer has noted, “Part of the key to Oliver’s appeal is her accessibility: she writes blank verse in a conversational style, with no typographical gimmicks. But an equal part is that she offers her readers a spiritual release that they might not have realized they were looking for . . . She tends to use nature as a springboard to the sacred, which is the beating heart of her work. Indeed, a number of the poems in this collection are explicitly formed as prayers, albeit unconventional ones.” Oliver once said, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” She’s right, and thank God for her (D)devotions. Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

The Overstory Richard Powers

Richard Powers is an American novelist who has created a bit of a cult following due to the fact that his writings explore the effects of modern science and technology. He has written over twelve novels now, with The Overstory garnering the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2019. Powers, who has taught at the University of Illinois and Stanford University, is a literary genius. He has a dexterity and command of vocabulary like few others and uses it to describe complex scientific issues. A former computer programmer, he has written novels about the history of photography, artificial intelligence, nuclear warfare, race and miscegenation, the Holocaust, neuroscience, virtual reality, the chemical industry, and genetic engineering. In an article in The New Yorker James Wood once likened Powers’ fiction to “a dying satyr — above the waist is a mind full of serious thought, philosophical reflection, deep exploration of music and science; below, a pair of spindly legs strain to support the great weight of the ambitious brain.” The Atlantic critic, Peter Brooks, describes Powers as a “historian of contemporary society,” saying that he has the courage and intellectual stamina to explore our most complex social questions with originality, nuance, and an innate skepticism about dogma. This remarkable book about the environment is indicative of his research (He read 120 books on trees and quipped in an interview, “If you know you are going to spend up to three years in writing a novel, you need to be well-versed in your subject.”) The Overstory, whose title comes from the canopy of trees in a forest is a book of enlightenment about the world in which we live. Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

Faith After Doubt by Brian McLaren

Andy Hale, who is the pastor of University Baptist in Baton Rouge, does podcast interviews for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. He recently interviewed McLaren about his latest book, Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It. In introducing McLaren Andy says:  “I’ve spent the last two decades deconstructing a theology handed to me by a tradition that I no longer embrace. There was a lot to unpack from the denominational tradition of my rearing; the long history of patriarchy, sexism towards female clergy and lay leaders, bullying local churches into creedal submission, and failing to account for a history of racism. It would be entirely understandable for someone like me to look at the varying degrees of hypocrisy and contradictions to the way of Jesus, choosing to walk away from the Church, if not faith, forever. And yet, I find that there is something on the other side of this field of debris that was once the religious worldview handed to me by my forbearers. There is something more.” McLaren said in the interview: “Some people tell me they never have doubts. Faith comes easy for them, they say, at least it has so far. But many, many, many of us do have doubts, and sometimes, our doubts seem far more powerful than our beliefs. It’s hard enough having doubts; it’s impossibly hard to have them, and to feel you must pretend that you don’t.” In a world where there is so much fake news this book is a helpful guide to Good News. Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Isabel Wilkerson, has written one of the most eloquent, intelligent and disturbing books of our time. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, as one reviewer has described it, it is “a masterwork of writing — a profound achievement of scholarship and research that stands also as a triumph of both visceral storytelling and cogent analysis.” It is an important book for people of all races to read, because it points out the lines of exclusion that our society has drawn over the years. When asked about the meaning of the title, Wilkerson says, “Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.” Racism and casteism do overlap, she writes, noting that “what some people call racism could be seen as merely one manifestation of the degree to which we have internalized the larger American caste system.” In another place she notes, “As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.” In this provocative and brilliant book, Ms. Wilkerson calls us to look in the mirror and see who we are. It should be required reading for all who want to nurture Christian community. Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

What We Know About Climate Change by Kerry Emanuel

What We Know About Climate Change by Kerry Emanuel

An M.I.T. climatologist and a conservative, Emanuel sounds the alarm in a measured and scientifically sound way, making clear what we know and what we don’t know. There is little panic in this slender book, but there is a lot of troubling information. Emanuel specifically thought of his book as a way of offering ammunition to those trying to convince family members or friends who are skeptical or don’t understand the science. “Young adults who are disputing this problem with their own parents or an uncle or something — they can hand the book to them and say, ‘Will you at least read this?’” Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh

The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh

Ghosh gets right to the heart of the matter, imagining how our great grandchildren will view us and offering a disturbing vision: We are deranged. Our inability to deal with a catastrophe we can’t see but know is coming indicates a failure of imagination. The interesting contribution of this book, which comes out of a series of lectures Ghosh delivered at the University of Chicago in 2015, is his indictment of the culture-makers. It has become unfashionable to seem too concerned. To make climate change the theme or setting of a novel, Ghosh writes, is “to court eviction from the mansion in which serious fiction has long been in residence.” His bigger point is that we need a change of narrative. But to do this means that those who make our narratives need to lead the way, to bring their talents of storytelling to bear on what is, he writes, no less than an “existential danger.” Find it at your favorite bookstore or here at Amazon.

Nature's Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy

“Douglas W. Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home, awakened thousands of readers to an urgent situation: wildlife populations are in decline because the native plants they depend on are fast disappearing. His solution? Plant more natives. In this new book, Tallamy takes the next step and outlines his vision for a grassroots approach to conservation. Nature’s Best Hope shows how homeowners everywhere can turn their yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats. Because this approach relies on the initiatives of private individuals, it is immune from the whims of government policy. Even more important, it’s practical, effective, and easy—you will walk away with specific suggestions you can incorporate into your own yard.”

Check out your local bookstore to pick up a copy. or Check out the publisher here

Noted environmentalist Bill McKibben says about the book: “Here is one area where individual action can help make up for all that government fails to do; your backyard can provide the margin to keep species alive. Mow less, think more!
Edward O. Wilson of Harvard says: “Tallamy is one of the most original and persuasive present-day authors on conservation.”

On Fire: A (Burning) Case for A Green New Deal - Naomi Klein

For more than twenty years, Naomi Klein has been the foremost chronicler of the economic war waged on both people and planet—and an unapologetic champion of a sweeping environmental agenda with justice at its center. In lucid, elegant dispatches from the frontlines of contemporary natural disaster, she pens surging, indispensable essays for a wide public: prescient advisories and dire warnings of what future awaits us if we refuse to act, as well as hopeful glimpses of a far better future. On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal gathers for the first time more than a decade of her impassioned writing, long-form essays show Klein at her most prophetic and philosophical, investigating the climate crisis not only as a profound political challenge but as a spiritual and imaginative one, as well. Delving into topics ranging from the clash between ecological time and our culture of “perpetual now,” to the soaring history of humans changing and evolving rapidly in the face of grave threats, to rising white supremacy and fortressed borders as a form of “climate barbarism,” this is a rousing call to action for a planet on the brink.


The Dig

The Dig begins in May 1939, as World War II ominously appeared on history’s horizon. Amateur excavator/archaeologist Basil Brown, was hired to dig up the huge mounds on Edith Pretty’s property in Suffolk, where he made a most incredible discovery. First, he came across the skeleton of an 88-foot ship dating to the Anglo-Saxon period. This was the first phase of what Sue Brunning, curator at the British Museum, has called “one of the most important archaeological discoveries of all time, certainly in British archeology but I would argue in the world.” The next phase was discovering the burial chamber within the ship, filled with a treasure trove of artifacts, made from gold and garnet: a stunning helmet, shoulder clasps, a golden belt buckle. Pretty donated the artifacts to the British Museum, where they sit to this day, known as the “Sutton Hoo find.” This fascinating story is the subject of Netflix’s new film “The Dig,” starring Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan. It is a movie about moving forward in difficult times, thus insightful for our time. Now streaming on Netflix.

David Attenborough’s: A Life on Our Planet

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet opens with Attenborough standing in the deserted remains of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, a once vibrant territory that was evacuated after human error rendered it uninhabitable. The documentary is what Attenborough calls “his witness statement” of the environment, tracing his more than 60-year career as a naturalist, mapping how steeply the planet’s biodiversity has degenerated before him. However, the documentary is far from a “doom and gloom” genre. Attenborough speaks of the opportunities to bring hope back into the ecological lexicon. Now streaming on Netflix.

“Framing Faith with the Stomach in Mind”

Framing Faith with the Stomach in Mind” is the Rutlen Lecture on Faith and Creation at Luther Seminary, given by Norman Wirzba, the Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Christian Theology and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute of Ethics at Duke University. His research and teaching involve the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies. Raised on a farm in Southern Alberta, Norman went on to study history at the University of Lethbridge, theology at Yale University Divinity School, and philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. He has taught at Saint Thomas More College/University of Saskatchewan, Georgetown College (KY), and Duke University Divinity School. The lecture is creatively delivered and insightfully relevant, a worthy investment of one’s time. Find it on YouTube.

"Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry"

Look and See

Wendell Berry is a philosopher, essayist, poet, novelist, farmer, environmental activist, and cultural critic. In the past 50 years, he has spoken out for family farmers, their land, and their small towns which have fallen into disrepair and been labelled by hotshot experts as “nowhere.” His lyrical and pensive essays reveal his deep loyalty to place and to the humble virtues of family and community. His most memorable poems show a reverence and respect for the natural world and the beauty of everyday life.

In this remarkably rich documentary, Laura Dunn and Jef Sewell convey the insights and truths Berry has shared with the world. His reluctance to be interviewed on camera has resulted in the use of clips and photos, talks and poetry readings, and conversations with Berry’s wife Tanya and daughter Mary, who serves as executive director of the Berry Center which advocates sustainable farming and land conservation. Now streaming on Netflix.


Jack's Garden by Henry Cole

“Building on a rhyme that will be familiar to many children, author-illustrator Cole creates an enticing guide to creating a garden. ‘This is the garden that Jack planted…’ The final illustration presents a satisfied-looking boy surrounded by a lush, bird-filled flower garden….A concluding page of gardening suggestions serves as a springboard to books with more specific guidelines.”–Horn Book. Find it on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. Watch a reading of Jack’s Garden on YouTube.

I Took a Wak by Henry Cole

Have you ever sat quietly near a stream, or in a meadow or a wood, and just looked and listened? Well, now is your chance-come walk with Henry Cole in this delightful follow-up to Jack’s Garden. Vibrant, die-cut flaps fold out, inviting young viewers to observe the many forms of wildlife and plants found on land and in the water. Turn the pages for an interactive and fun exploration into nature. You’ll be surprised by how much you see! Find it on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. Watch a reading of I Took a Walk on YouTube.

Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg's Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter

Our House Is On Fire

With charming artwork and straightforward language, this picture book, aimed at children aged 3 to 8, uses the inspiring life story of the young climate activist Greta Thunberg to help kids understand climate change — and to give them a sense of what they can do about it. By following Thunberg’s story — of a girl who at 15 decided she wasn’t going to be complacent about the crises she kept hearing about — young people can see how powerful an individual can be when they decide to act. Though it’s aimed at informing and motivating, the book, like Thunberg, is also about urgency. Her dramatic words guide the tone: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic … I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

My Friend Earth written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Francesca Sanna

My Friend Earth

My Friend Earth is a wonderful, interactive book by the Newberry Award-winning author of Sarah, Plain and Small. Readers of all ages will pore over the pages of this spectacular book. Its enticing die-cut pages encourage exploration as its poetic text celebrates everything Earth does for us, all the while reminding us to be a good friend in return. The New York Times chronicled it with these words:  “An Interactive format and kid-friendly art will engage both toddlers and young readers. . . A celebration of the natural world and rallying cry for positive action for Planet Earth . . . Great opportunities to share life science concepts and amazing facts about the environment with children.


The Danger of a Single Story TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Quote from ChimamandaOne of the 25 most popular TED Talks of all time, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains why we must never let a single story define a person or culture. Find the video here.

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas

Funny in Farsi book coverIn this hilarious, heartwarming memoir, Firoozeh Dumas shares the story of her immigrant family and how the experience of being Iranian in America has changed over the years. Find this book at your favorite bookstore or at Amazon.

Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier

Foreign to Familiar book cover

This is a quick read to help people begin to understand cultural differences. Sarah Lanier’s framework of hot- and cold-climate cultures is a very useful overview, with plenty of stories to illustrate each issue. Find this book at your favorite bookstore or at Amazon.

Learn more geography

Want to improve your knowledge of geography? Suitable for both children and adults. Find the resources here.

Each of the following resources follows up on the theme introduced in the TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that there is a danger to having a single story attached to any person, group, or region. They are focused on life in the land known by the names Israel and Palestine.

Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye

Habibi, a young adult novel by acclaimed San Antonio author Naomi Shihab Nye, tells the story of a teenage girl from an Arab American family who experiences life and love in the West Bank. Find this book at your favorite bookstore or at Amazon.

Side By Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine edited by Sami Adwan, Dan Bar-On, Eyal Naveh, and Peace Research Institue in the Middle East

Side By Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine was edited by university professors hoping to teach Palestinian and Israeli students the history of their own land from “the other side.” Those of us watching from a distance probably have even more to learn. Find this book at your favorite bookstore or at Amazon.

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

In The Lemon Tree, journalist Sandy Tolan, chronicles the complicated friendship of Dalia, a young Jewish woman whose family fled Europe after the Holocaust, and Bashir, a 25-year-old Palestinian journalist, who longs to visit his childhood home, now owned by Dalia’s family. Find this book at your favorite bookstore or at Amazon.

Arab Labor, an Israeli TV sitcom

Arab Labor, a sitcom shown on Israeli TV, is an often hilarious, sometimes more serious look at an extended Palestinian family’s daily joys and struggles. Find the Season 1 DVDs at Amazon.

Diana has all the books and the first season of Arab Labor on DVD. (Seasons/episodes are also available to rent at