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Quick Reads for March

March 28, 2017 by

There are so many good books published each month that it’s hard to keep up with them. We certainly can’t review everything we love (and in any case we’re not primarily a book review site), but we’ll try to do a roundup of capsule reviews every month or so, of notable – but not necessarily new – books. Here’s a roundup of five tomes our staff has been reading lately. (It’s probably a reflection of our long-but-almost-over Northeast winter that most of these books have a decidedly outdoorsy bent.)

a collage of book covers

The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. This one from 2015 came to our attention after Rebanks wrote poignantly in the New York Times some weeks ago about the loss of rural farming culture both here in America and in his native England. Of course, Rebanks is really talking about the loss of community, of common work, and of common struggle. His prose is at times brilliantly beautiful – like the Lake District he hails from – yet he doesn’t shy away from the crustiness of the old sheep farmers he grew up with, either. With his Oxford education (that he’s not so sure he needs: “I have been reclassified as clever, and I am not entirely comfortable with is because it confirms lots of things I’d suspected”) balanced by the soaring sweep of deadly winter storms and prize-winning sheep, Rebanks will transport you into his world, and you’ll be better off for it. Follow him on Twitter – he’s @herdyshepherd1 – for more insights.

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. I first heard Williams rhapsodize about nature on a recent Outside magazine podcast. To be honest, those of us privileged to have been raised in rural environments – and especially those of us now raising our own children in the same spaces – might not learn much of anything from Williams’s book. (I chuckled at this almost self-evident line, a paraphrase of E.O. Wilson: “the best window for the conditioned learning of biophilia is before adolescence.”) Simply put, she tells us that we and our children need wilderness – and its inherent beauty, silence, and space – to survive as individuals and as a species. Nothing really earthshattering there, but a science-based reminder to get outside, get active, and get alive. And high praise for including a few pages on Friedrich Fröbel, inventor of the kindergarten and a major influencer of Bruderhof educational philosophy, near the end of the book.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher has almost been argued to death, and is firmly parked on the bestseller lists. So we won’t join the fray here; we’ll simply link to a few thoughts from Peter Mommsen on it, as well as our favorite quotes and ideas from it, and to our podcast featuring a panel discussion Dreher and others held in New York City recently.

Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear. If you’re the kind of person who thought the Obama years were eight years of darkness, this probably won’t change all of your mind, but it might change part of it. These are the telling notes of someone who tried to affect political change for faith-based reasons, and ended up realizing politics are not the answer. “I can say without equivocation that politics is not where you want to place your hope. People who place their hope in politics are idealists who then become cynics. . .” Wear also took part in the panel discussion with Dreher, listen to his comments here.

Lastly, our Plough publishers released another volume of their “The Gospel In. . .” series this spring, this one featuring the prose and poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It fits well with the theme of our first two books this month. We’ll leave you with this, one of his best poems:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
     It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
     It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
     And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
     And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
     There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
     Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
     World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
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Andrew Zimmerman, Austria

Andrew Zimmerman

Andrew Zimmerman and his family live at the Gutshof Bruderhof, recently founded in Austria.

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  • In reading the GMH poem I'm reminded that the Celtic Christians called the Holy Ghost the "wild goose" and Orthodox theologians argue that Nature herself is imbued with this wild spark .. I'll hope to read the book soon and always trust that the path of the Spirit always finally leads home to the peaceful resting in place found only in the love of Christ ..

    Travis