WHAT I HAVE BEEN READING LATELY
Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Knopf Canada, $36. Fans of Karl Ove Knausgaard who pick up Spring, expecting an ode to the season that his Winter was, are in for a surprise. For while it continues the personal letters he addresses to his newborn daughter, Spring is not a collection of his observations and personal stories introducing an unborn child to the world she is to enter. This is a sharing of what happened when her mother was pregnant and why he must now attend appointments with child services. It is brutally honest, he spares no one, not himself, not the reader. And yet, it is poetic, and beautiful.
He encapsulates the hopes of every parent with such simplicity.
Sometimes it hurts to live, but there is always something to live for.
Could you try to remember that?
Out of Many Faiths by Eboo Patel, Princeton University Press, US$27.95. America is the most religiously devout country in the Western world and the most religiously diverse nation on the planet, writes Eboo Patel. How do Americans engage with people of different faiths and beliefs in today’s volatile climate of religious conflict, prejudice and distrust? As Earl Lewis and Nancy Cantor ask in their introduction, “how do we reconcile the reluctance to label some violent acts of hate committed by white Christians (adhering to supremacist ideology) as domestic terrorism, on the one hand, with the speed with which we make that connection to hateful acts committed by other citizens but in the name of Islam, on the other?”
Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, a non-profit that promotes interfaith leadership on college campuses, draws on his personal experience as a Muslim in America – one who grew up loving breakdancing, much to the dismay of his parents – to examine broader questions. He also uses incidents from the lives and careers of notable American Muslims such as Mahershala Ali, Mohamed Ali, Aziz Ansari and Hassan Minhaj to shed light on the landscape they, and multitudes of Muslims, navigate daily in America.
Patel uses the Muslim situation in America as a “window through which to examine broader themes”. It might have been about Catholics or Jews had the book been written a few decades ago, or be about Hindus, should it be a few years hence, he says.
Patel addresses what makes religious diversity distinct and difficult right out the gate – no walking on eggshells, no mouthing comforting phrases such as all religions are alike at their core.
He quotes Stephen Prothero who described pretend pluralism as “dangerous, disrespectful and untrue”. And Diana Eck on the distinction between diversity and pluralism, two terms we often use interchangeably. Diversity is simply a demographic fact; pluralism is a hard-won achievement. It is the energetic engagement of difference towards positive ends.
The engagement runs – or should run – both ways, he points out. Immigrants who go on about the “impurities over here while singing the praises of over there” can isolate their children. He denounces the attitude as self-serving.
Harmonize, writes Patel, does not mean repeat or duplicate. “I mean contribute in a manner that sounds good and improves the song.”
Out of Many Faiths provides a fresh new perspective on age-old issues that continue to trouble us.
Sufi Encounters by Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri and Muneera Haeri, Watkins, $27.95. The book follows Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri’s travels around Sufism’s holy sites in India and Pakistan, the Maghreb, South Africa and Iran. He offers translations of the great Sufi masters of the past including Rumi, Shams ad-Din Tabrizi, Omar Khayyam and others. The book shines a light on the Sufi path and offers insights on the meaning and purpose of life.
The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl, Viking, $35. Patricia Hampl visits the homes of several men and women of leisure from the past who made repose their goal, even their art form, and offers a spirited inquiry into the lost value of solitude, silence and contemplation and the primacy of imagination. We journey with two 18th-century Irish ladies who run off to live a life of “retirement” in rural Wales and delve into the life of Michel Montaigne, the hero of the book, who retreats from court life to sit in his tower and write down whatever passes through his mind. Braided into this narrative are Hampl’s own life experiences. Getting lost in thought, she finds, is the real job of being human.
But it begins to look a little like happiness, the kind that comes to claim you, unbidden. Stay put and let the world show up? Or get out there and be a flaneur, wandering along? Which is it?
The Healing Self by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E Tanzi, Harmony Books, $35. Deepak Chopra, a leading expert in the field of integrative medicine and Rudolph Tanzi, the pioneering neuroscientist who discovered the genes that cause Alzheimer’s, collaborated on the hugely successful Super Brain and Super Genes books. In The Healing Self, they share their wealth of knowledge on how we should and can protect our immunity to ensure lifelong health. Making the right choices is crucial, they write. You – not doctors, not pharmaceutical companies – are responsible for your own health. They include a 7-day action plan. Though I am tempted to dismiss the premise that I will be a new! improved! version in just seven days, I admit to being intrigued, too. It’s worth a try, I think.
Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik, Ballantine Books, $36. Forugh Farrokhzad grew up hearing that good Iranian daughters are quiet and modest, they obey. And yet she found ways to rebel, to follow her heart. Venturing to the forbidden rooftop with her three brothers and writing poems to impress her strict father. As her passion for poetry takes flight, tradition seeks to clip her wings. Her poems are considered both scandalous and brilliant, she herself is seen by some as a national treasure and by others as someone who is influenced by the West. Inspired by her writing, films and interviews, Jasmin Darznik uses fiction to present a haunting novel.
Me and My Amazing Body by Joan Sweeny, illustrated by Edward Miller, Knopf, $17.99. A fun way to learn about one’s body, the parts little ones can see and all the ones they can’t. My skeleton holds up my skin, just like tent poles hold up a tent. There are other lessons in the book, too. Skin comes in many different colours, for one.
Vidhi Sharma’s Teen Review of We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Harper Collins, $16.98. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver takes the reader on a journey of motherhood – however, this is a special journey and one that is emotionally charged. Readers cannot imagine the outcome of Eva Khatchadourian’s attempt at raising her child, Kevin. Everything about him seems bizarre to Eva, his inability to speak until the age of six, his unsatisfied personality, and his excessive love for archery.
From the beginning, Eva doesn’t like her child and her child doesn’t like her. She can’t stop him from crying and, in the extremes of desperation and sleeplessness, coos at him satirically: “Mommy was happy before Kevin came along”.
Was it this unlinking nature of Eva’s that threw Kevin off the rails? Who knew that at the age of fifteen, Kevin Khatchadourian would be responsible for a horrific massacre at his high school, taking the lives of eleven people, just two days before his sixteenth birthday? In the end, the reader is left with the unanswerable question: what made Kevin do it?
This frightful but outstanding novel, now also an award-winning movie, will have the whole world talking about Kevin.
• Vidhi Sharma is a grade 10 student and a member of Brampton Library’s Teen Library Council.