Books for bitter times
Put the phone away and open up to genuinely alternative facts
In a world where facts and truth are becoming collateral damage, I’ve been speaking out even more than usual, and I’m not alone. There’s an anger being awakened in all of us. For me, that means having pointless arguments online with people I went to elementary school with and will probably never see again, and harsh, politically charged arguments with close family members. None of this has been rewarding, and it certainly hasn’t changed anything. But what will? I realized recently that in order to find that out, I needed to shut down my computer, look away from my phone and turn to the place within which I’ve always sought knowledge and comfort: books. In
(New Society, 272 pages, $19.95) Canadian public relations guru turned author and activist James Hoggan writes: “In debate we assume we have the right answer, whereas dialogue assumes we all have pieces of the answer and can craft a solution together.
“Debate is combative and about winning, while dialogue is collaborative and focuses on exploring the common good. Debaters defend their assumptions and criticize the views of others, whereas in dialogue we reveal assumptions and examine all positions, including our own.”
To that end, here’s what I’ve been reading lately to find ways to constructively support what I already value and believe and to open my mind to the beliefs of others. Plus, I needed to find a way to stop shouting so much.
(Thomas Frank, Metropolitan Books, 320 pages, $31.50) takes on the democratic elite. As Canada awakens to how very like the U.S. we may be, questioning liberal values with an eye to both defending them and improving them, as well as truly understanding what it means to be elitist, is an uncomfortable necessity.
So, what’s the opposite of a member of the liberal elite?
(J.D. Vance, Harper, 272 pages, $34.99) has the answer to that. Vance was raised in the Rust Belt by a drug-addicted mother and then in the Appalachians by guardian grandparents who struggled with alcoholism and violence.
They loved him fiercely. His story puts a face to the white underclass who have become so outspoken in today’s political arena. There’s a lot to grapple with in a book like this but it’s a good place to start when trying to understand what’s going on in communities you may not identify with — and it makes it clear that speaking out from within, in any community, is the only way forward.
Next, I read
by Omar Saif Ghobash (Picador; 272 pages, $31). This book is meant as a plea for moderation from an author who has clearly listened deeply and wants to speak the truth, gently and respectfully.
He’s also writing to his sons, which ups the ante. No shouting allowed. Those arguing with the most fierceness — on both sides — about immigration bans and extremism may know nothing about what it means to be a Muslim or what Islam is. This is just a starting point, and a fine one at that.
Now, on to feminism. I’ve been a feminist practically since I could speak in full sentences but never before have I felt on one hand so supported and on the other so opposed.
I’ve read plenty of books that support what I already think, but
by Anne Slaughter (Random House, 352 pages, $32) reminded me that this word “equality” I keep using might not mean what I think it does — and she bravely offers up a manifesto for true equality. by Jessa Crispin (Melville House, 176 pages, $33.99) comes from an author who has created an identity out of being a contrarian, true, but who also demands more of mainstream feminism than it’s currently delivering. (She is indeed looking directly at all of us in our cute pink pussy hats.)
This is all just a beginning. I’m still searching — and late this week, my search led me to the Little Free Library on my street. And there it was, a battered volume called
When I got it home, I realized it was written in 1979 by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Garry Wills. Wills is a Roman Catholic who has criticized the approach of the church to homosexuality, abortion and contraception. He once wrote an article for The New York Review of Books that took on the second amendment. He no longer calls himself a conservative, mostly because of his experiences covering the civil rights movement, for example — but also because the conservatives won’t have him.
Wills was brave, both to stand for something and then to abandon it when listening to the other side led him to a new way of seeing. I’m planning to stay open to this, no matter where my current quest for balanced knowledge leads me.
Courage, as well as a stack of books, is imperative.
the reads that helped Marissa stapley up on her soapbox.