Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women
by Rebecca Traister
(Free Press, 2010, 352 pages)
Big Girls Don’t Cry takes a look at the 2008 election and what it meant for women in America. A short blurb from the Goodreads summary gives you a feel for what’s covered:
In an utterly engaging, razor-sharp narrative interlaced with her first-person account of being a young woman navigating this turbulent and exciting time, Traister explores how—thanks to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, and the history-making work and visibility of Michelle Obama, Tina Fey, Rachel Maddow, Katie Couric, and others—women began to emerge stronger than ever on the national stage.
This was an engaging (though at times depressing) read. The book lent itself to a lot of reflection on my part. I definitely recommend the book – and the bibliography will lead you to a lot more quality reading. But I think before I look into those I’ll be reading Hillary Clinton’s What Happened 😉
The Givenness of Things: Essays by Marilynne Robinson
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015, 304 pages)
Not only is Marilynne Robinson one of the most important contemporary American novelists, she’s probably one of our most important political and theological thinkers. It’s good to know that she has the ear of people like President Obama, who cites her novel Gilead as a favorite and has also quoted her essay “Fear” (included in this collection) at public events. Robinson has a real love for America – a love for the theology that shaped it and the democratic ideals that it so often betrays.
These essays see Robinson covering much of the ground that she has covered in other essays. First, there is John Calvin and North America’s Calvinistic heritage. The chapter “Proofs” is a particularly good reflection on the nature of the mystery and sacredness of creation in Calvin’s thought. Next there are the failures of American democracy. “Fear” is a provocative reflection on an American approach to gun control laws, which Robinson characterizes as “cowardice.” Also, there is the phenomenon of human consciousness and the poverty of so much reductionistic science. “Givenness” looks to the 18th century American theologian Jonathan Edwards to critique certain attitudes in neuroscience. As usual, Robinson’s deep reserve of historical knowledge is brought to bear with eloquence and wit to address very pressing contemporary problems.
One of the features of this collection that I was excited to see was Robinson’s extended treatments of Shakespeare. As far as I can remember none of her other published essays have done so, except perhaps in passing. Shakespeare was the subject of her doctoral research, and yet it is only now that she has begun to explore his plays. Not surprisingly, her take is theological. She sees the plays, especially the later plays, as serious and brilliant engagements with the theological controversies of the Reformation.
There is no contemporary writer that I enjoy reading more than Robinson. True, her lengthy sentences and implied connections between topics can make for difficult reading. These essays require attention and reflection. However, the work pays off when you stumble across beautiful statements like these:
“Touch a limit of your understanding and it falls away, to reveal mystery upon mystery.”
“Grace is the great variable that puts any reckoning of fault or merit very far beyond human competence.”
“I have lived long enough to chalk up to age inadequacies that have been with me the whole of my conscious life.”
Writing Faith and Telling Tales: Literature, Politics, and Religion in the Work of Thomas Moore
by Thomas Betteridge
(University of Notre Dame Press, 2013, 272 pages)
Thomas Moore is best known as an intellectual and political figure that ran afoul of King Henry VIII. Beyond his conflict with and execution by Henry, Moore is an important figure bridging the gap between medieval and modern Europe. Betteridge offers a close reading of Moore’s most important political and religious writings, as well as many late medieval texts that help to contextualize Moore’s work. This is a very helpful book for those interested in the intellectual climate of Tudor England.
Utopia by Thomas More
(Simon and Brown, 2011, 108 pages)
This is a bare-bones edition of Thomas More’s classic work of social criticism and political theory. Originally published in 1516, the book takes the form of a travel narrative. More recounts a fictional encounter with Raphael, a traveler who has been to the island of Utopia. On this island, there is no privately held property, all people are engaged in labor fitting their talents, and they enjoy plenty of leisure time to enjoy and educate themselves. More reflects on this ideal state where “all things are so well governed and with so few laws, where virtue hath its due reward, and yet there is such an equality that every man lives in plenty” (31).
Utopia deals with ideas about government and the nature of the common good, making it especially interesting to read in the midst of an election year. In the conclusion, Raphael condemns those governments who, in contrast to the Utopians, look after the interests of the rich while taking “no care of those of a meaner sort, such as ploughmen, colliers, and smiths, without whom it could not subsist” (104). He cynically concludes that “I can have no other notion of all the other governments that I see or know, than that they are a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretence of managing the public, only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out” (105). In an election cycle where much of the rhetoric centers around the growing divide between rich and poor, raising the minimum wage, and the wealth of the 1%, Utopia sounds surprisingly contemporary.
Conservatize Me: How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith, and Beef Jerky
by John Moe
(HarperCollins, 2006, 320 pages)
I knew this was going to be a fun read when I laughed out loud reading the first page. John Moe was asked by his barber how he normally parts his hair. “To the left” he replied. It was mere days before Moe was to begin his non-scientific experiment. He then asked the barber to part his hair from left to right since he’s trying to make his politics move from left to right.
In Conservatize Me author John Moe, a self-proclaimed leftist, sets out to immerse himself in conservative culture for 30 days. He talks to well-known conservatives, participates in the College Republicans convention, watches conservative news stations, listens to country music, visits the most conservative districts… you know, going the whole nine yards. Some of Moe’s attempts to understand conservatives are stereotypical. But Moe pokes fun at both conservatives and liberals. This book will make you look at politics in a new way. It doesn’t matter which side you are on, you’ll find the book funny, entertaining, and insightful. How did the experiment turn out? You’ll just have to find out for yourself!