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Chris Faatz's Picks

 

Chris Faatz has been a bookseller his entire adult life. "Ardent bibliophile" goes only part way in describing him, the other half of his resume being filled by the title "doting father." He plays that role with his exceptionally opinionated and beautiful three year old daughter, Emma.

As Maimonides has written, "contentment, a modest occupation, and time to study Torah" are what make up a good life. Substitute "books" for Torah, and you have the making of this Faatz's world.

Poetry

Philip Levine What Word Is

Philip Levine is one of the great poets of our time. Beholden to no particular school or institution, teaching at a small college in Fresno, his is a refreshingly straightforward and independent voice. While he won the 1991 National Book Award for What Work Is, I'd argue that New Selected Poems collects much of his finest work. Well worth checking out is the long poem, "A Walk With Tom Jefferson," which deals with the stories that make up life in a semi-abandoned area of Detroit. Exquisite and haunting.

 
Jane Kenyon Otherwise

Jane Kenyon lived a tragic life with a quiet heroism unthinkable to most of us. A lifelong sufferer from debilitating depression, she died of leukemia at a relatively early age. The author of four books of poetry and a book of translations of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, her work is quiet and refreshing, full of insight and tingling with the minutiae of observation. She truly paid attention to her world and her life, and rendered it in the imagination as music. Otherwise collects much of her best writing from her four collections of poems.

 

Fiction

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink The Reader

Hey, Oprah liked Bernhard Schlink's The Reader, and so did I. Immensely. The novel deals with a young man who falls in love with an older woman, only to find out that she is an ex-guard in a concentration camp. The novel moves back and forth between an almost clinical observation of the day-to-day movement of his life in relationship to her, and impassioned philosophical exploration of guilt and innocence in the context of the greatest crime of the twentieth century. You'll hate it or love it, but it won't fail to move you.


 
This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff This Boy's Life

This Boy's Life, by Tobias Wolff, is a longtime winner that I've only recently read. And, it has conquered my heart utterly. It's the autobiography of a fairly ordinary boy growing up in the mountains of Washington state, of his adventures with his mother, and of his nefarious scheming and plotting to better his lot in life. From almost shooting his teacher with an arrow to faking his way into a nationally prominent prep school, you're bound to love this young fellow – and to cheer him on in his one-sided battles with the world.


 
Going Solo by Roald Dahl Going Solo

Going Solo, the second part of Roald Dahl's autobiography, is one great, rip-roaring, unstoppable read. In this book, which begins in the 1930s, Dahl's been stationed by Shell Oil in East Africa. The story's beginning is filled with lions and evil snakes, with detailed descriptions of what the English colonialists had for breakfast, and of how Dahl captured the entire German community of Dar es Salaam upon the declaration of war. The book goes on to share Dahl's experiences as an RAF pilot flying against the Germans in Greece during the war, and of his eventual discharge for injuries. A really, really great, very entertaining book.

  Penelope Fitzgerald The Bookshop

Penelope Fitzgerald, winner of England's prestigious Booker Prize, has also only recently come to my attention, and I have to say that I'm thoroughly delighted. I've read three of her novels – funny, wise, and quirky – and I'm raring up to read all the rest. Fitzgerald writes of ordinary people in ordinary times, dealing with their lives in an extraordinary, and thoroughly human, fashion. The Bookshop deals with the repercussions of a woman's decision to open a bookshop in a small town; Offshore, the Booker Prize winner, deals with a group of people all of whom live on ancient barges on the Thames river in London; Human Voices examines the lives of employees of the BBC during the first days of the war. Highly recommended.

 

Mysticism

A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly A Testament of Devotion

There are lots of books on mysticism on the market, but few of them go so deep as the Thomas Kelly's Quaker classic, A Testament of Devotion. First published in 1941, this short book gives instruction on how to connect with the Divine within, on how the faith community can and should support and affirm one in one's search, and of the impact of a truly religious life on the world around you. A real piece of spiritual dynamite.


 
The Rule of St. Benedict The Rule of St. Benedict

The Rule of St. Benedict is available in multifarious forms, and any and all of them are worth reading. Why? Why and how should the discipline of a monastic life have any relevance to the busy life of an ordinary person in today's harried world? Because, The Rule is much more than just a discipline, it's a succinct and direct invitation to turn one's life over to God, and it offers direct and succinct – and, incidentally, quite beautiful – ways in way such a decision might be embarked upon. If nothing else, it's a heck of a devotional guide!

 
Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor Buddhism Without Beliefs

In Buddhism Without Beliefs, author and teacher Stephen Batchelor offers us just that: an approach to Buddhist practice shed of mummery, superstition, and the kind of hyper-inflated pseudo-sanctified jargon with which most any religion becomes burdened after the days of heroes and founders. The core of Buddhism is to pay attention, to practice kindness, and to recognize the impact of all of one's actions on the world in which we live. It deals with the questions of death and pain, and their conquest. And, in Batchelor's marvelous book, a door is opened for us to explore it in all its magnificence.


 

One More

Bipolar Disorder by Francis Mondimore Bipolar Disorder

Two to three percent of people in the United States suffer from a mood disorder. Bipolar Disorder is one of the most frequently diagnosed, and most potentially devastating, of these. Francis Mondimore's Bipolar Disorder is a learned discussion of the history, physiology, and treatment of this still mysterious ailment, and is written in a style accessible to all. A must for anyone whose life has been impacted by this dreadful disease.

 


 
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