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

IN BOOKS ...

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

ON SCREEN ...

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.

FOR CHILDREN ...

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 Walk 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 on YouTube.