Books for bit­ter times

Put the phone away and open up to gen­uinely al­ter­na­tive facts

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - LIFE - Marissa sta­p­ley

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

De­bate

(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.

Lib­er­al­ism

(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.

Clas­sism

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.

Re­li­gion

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.

Feminism

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.)

Con­ser­vatism

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.

Con­tRiB­uted

the reads that helped Marissa sta­p­ley up on her soap­box.

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