051: Readers Serve Tea & Great Reading

Three_cups_of_tea
    THANK YOU, Readers!

    You’ve been sending me suggestions on a daily basis and this is exactly the kind of interaction we’re trying to build at ReadTheSpirit. So, today, we’ll highlight some of the best suggestions we’ve received from you.
    First: Thank you Jennifer Hardy, communications coordinator for Catholic Relief Services, who emailed me to point out that we have never mentioned the best-seller Three Cups of Tea,” the story of Greg Mortenson’s life and work in Asia.
    Jennifer wrote, “It’s by far the best book I’ve read all year. It definitely made me feel optimistic about the future of global relations. … It’s terrific.”
    Indeed, it is. And issues of religion and spiritual aspirations are woven throughout the story.
    Mortenson has become a one-man humanitarian crusade in volatile regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has established more than 60 schools, despite violent opposition in some cases. His work is controversial among some local groups in that part of the world, because he focuses especially on making sure that girls are able to get an education.
    His book will lift your hopes, just as it did for Jennifer, and it may move you to get more involved in aid programs. I agree with Jennifer that this potential makes “Three Cups of Tea” a great book to read.

    (Remember: Click on book covers or titles in our stories to jump to individual reviews and our bookstore, if you wish to pick up copies of the books.)

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    Then, THANK YOU, Rammi in Chicago, who was responding to a request on behalf of educator Gail Katz. (Gail is a widely known expert in diversity education who raised a plea on ReadTheSpirit a couple of weeks ago for books on religious and cultural diversity that are suitable for younger readers.)
    Rammi wrote: “Have you seen Eboo Patel’s ‘Acts of Faith.’ He writes about growing up with all the conflicts that so many of us experience with ethnic background, religion … so many hopes and pressures. And he came out of it all in a good place. More students should read Eboo’s story.”
    Again, I completely agree. I had not read Patel’s book but Rammi’s email prompted me to get a copy, read it cover to cover — and Rammi’s right. More people should read this book.
    In fact, in one poignant section of Eboo’s memoir he writes about the painful pressures he felt in the 7th Grade, which is one of the core groups in Gail Katz’s programs.
    Patel is now a nationally known advocate for protecting religious pluralism. He’s an Indian-American Muslim who holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion and often shows up on national panels talking about the importance of religious diversity, these days.
    But, 7th Grade was tough! In a chapter called “Growing Up American,” he writes about one particular teacher who belittled him. At first, he writes, he simply rejected this bullying — but then the pressure began to have a subversive effect on his self confidence. He was left wondering, as he describes this experience: “Am I smart enough?”
    That’s exactly the kind of painful experience of self doubt that many young people face — especially young people who are part of minority groups and must occasionally shoulder rough treatment at the hands of callous students and teachers.
    It’s a solid memoir. Honest. Uplifting. And many of the anecdotes are fascinating, including Patel’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.

On_my_journey_now
    Also in response to the Gail Katz request, we got a strong vote for Nikki Giovanni’s new “On My Journey Now: Looking at African-American History Through the Spirituals.”
    Catherine White in Kalamazoo emailed: “I kept breaking into song as I read the book. I kept reading parts out loud.”
    Once again, I agree. No question, this book’s a treasure as well.
    And, although it’s a treasure, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to spot in stores. While “Three Cups of Tea” is easy to find — you’ll have to look around for Patel’s book and Giovanni’s book. As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I’m inside bookstores several times a week and I haven’t spotted either of these books in stores.
    (Hint: If you want copies — please, buy them through our site, which may be easier than trying to find some of these books in stores.)
    “On My Journey Now” is short — only a little over 100 pages but it’s oh-sooo-good!
    Giovanni’s a poet and also a talented writer for young people — so she tosses all of those “adult” literary notions of what a book “should be” out the window. Instead, she cuts directly to the important stuff. Thirty-five pages of her book are devoted to providing the complete lyrics of important spirituals. The bulk of her book is devoted to a series of chapters that meditate on various moments of African-American history as they relate to this music.
    Throughout the book, she writes as though she is speaking to a class. And, when Nikki Giovanni speaks, she’s pretty much singing. Her literary voice is that lyrical.
    Get a copy while the book is still available — and sing along with her.

    The weekend is coming — and these three reviews, prompted by our readers, will remain at the top of ReadTheSpirit until Monday morning, when we’ll start a special week devoted to Jewish faith and culture to mark the start of Hanukkah.
    Until then, think about the hopeful signs of voices like these three books — voiced by the authors and echoed by readers across the United States. That’s got to make you feel better about the community of people all around us, right?
    I’m going to leave you, dear readers, with just a few sentences from Patel’s memoir. These lines appears near the end of his book and, speaking as the founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit, they’re the most inspiring lines in all of the books we’ve reviewed today. It’s the central truth that Patel finally discovered in his sometimes painful journey toward adulthood:
    “America is a nation that has been constantly rejuvenated by immigrants. For centuries, they have added new notes to the American song.”
    I wholeheartedly agree with that. You probably agree, as well. But, Patel follows up that conclusion just a couple of pages later with this more-difficult-to-discern, but even-more-important truth:
    “To see the other side, to defend another people, not despite your tradition but because of it, is the heart of pluralism.”
    Bravo!

    Tell us what you think! You’ll find a
Comment link at the end of today’s story. (If you’re reading this via
our daily Email service, you’ll need to click on the headline and jump
to our site to find the Comment link.) Or, you always can Email me directly.
    KEEP THOSE SUGGESTIONS COMING OUR WAY!

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