A moving and insightful Christian chronicle.

THIS IS MY BODY

EMBRACING THE MESSINESS OF FAITH AND MOTHERHOOD

A debut Christian memoir intertwines a faith narrative and a motherhood account.

The Bible is very much concerned with bodies, Shanks observes in her stirring, compassionate book, and a great majority of those are male. The Christian God is male; he sends his son for the salvation of humanity; and there is no escaping the ingrained sexism of the Old and New Testaments. Thanks to Christian dominance of Western society for the past 2,000 years, that sexism has entered into the very genetic makeup of the culture, setting up echoes of the Bible’s conception of women as secondary beings and the weaker sex, and combining those notions with all the modern trappings of patriarchal assumptions. “God values my body,” Shanks wryly observes, “if it is covered. If it is thin. If it is chaste. If it is flawless. If it is blemish-free. If it is pretty. If it is healthy. If it is young. If it is fair-skinned.” In 2018, she notes, only 11 percent of church congregations are headed by women, a number that’s scarcely changed since 1998. The stories that Christians hear from their earliest childhoods reinforce such disparities: With only a few exceptions, the heroes and villains of the Bible are all men, with women—and their bodies—most often relegated to the simplistic roles of temptress, goddess, or chattel. Shanks herself was raised in these traditions as a self-described “corn-fed Midwestern girl,” and the purpose of her book is to offer a counter-narrative to Christianity’s view of womanhood and motherhood. “God is bigger than the boxes we shove God into,” she writes, “and God created us bigger than the boxes we get shoved into.” Shanks argues that Christians miss out on the deeper meaning of their own Scripture by ignoring the feminine language and imagery present throughout. But it’s her running account of her own experiences as a mother that forms the book’s most compelling narrative thread. Female Christians—and particularly Christian mothers —should find these pages captivating.

A moving and insightful Christian chronicle.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-935205-28-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Fresh Air Books

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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