Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (published by Penguin 2007) is about far more than the arrival of the “pious” pilgrims in the New World in a ship named Mayflower. Rather, Philbrick’s tome delves deep in the history of the Plymouth Colony. The facts shared seem to be essential in understanding both the first years of cooperation with the natives (natives with names familiar to many, such as Squanto, Massasoit, and so forth) as well as the more unfamiliar subsequent conflicts as a part of King Philip’s War, which left the land mostly stripped of it’s native population, due to war deaths, enslavement from the English settlers, and land purchase from the settlers. Philbrick writes an engaging story that brought the tragedy of dissolving friendship and cooperation alive for me, four hundred years after it happened. (more…)
Growing Up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam by Sambul Ali-Karamali (published August 2012 by Delacourt Books for Young Readers) provides a practical and personal account of what it means to be a Muslim in America. Relating her own personal experiences growing up as a Muslim in Southern California, Ms Ali-Karamali manages to speak to young adults in both a practical and a friendly tone as she explains the difficulties and complications that arise from being a part of a commonly misunderstood religious minority in America.
Although the book certainly remains a personal account throughout, with the additional weight of the author’s educational training (she has a J.D. in Islamic Law), Growing Up Muslim also speaks with authority about the complicated facets to being Muslim. She describes basic Islamic beliefs (including various ways of interpreting and living those beliefs), as well as the difficulties youth and children may have in living their religion in a country where others do not seek to understand or simply are ignorant (such as those times when she was fed pork, not realizing it was pork until after she had eaten it).
I have read a number of books about Islam, and I’m always eager to learn more. As a part of the Judeo-Christian majority that makes up America, I must admit that as a child and teenager I was pretty ignorant to both the tenants and the practices of Islam. Given the amount of time I’ve studied Islam in the past (including a brief Islamic culture class I took while living in Jerusalem more than a decade ago), I wouldn’t say Growing Up Muslim revealed anything new or surprising to me. But it was still highly valuable and intensely interesting to me. What it did provide me with was a distinct personality giving voice to difficulties. Ms Ali-Karamali’s stories reminded me how real her challenges are in America today — but it also reminded me how similar childhood is for American kids, regardless of religion.
While I don’t think teenagers today are as unfamiliar with Islam as I may have been three decades ago, given the highly charged political situations around the world, misunderstandings may be much more rampant. Sambul Ali-Karamali’s book paints a clear picture for youth today of what Islam means for a young Muslim in America. In some respects, I think a practical explanation of Islam like this is a necessary read for American youth today: they must seek to understand the other religious traditions they will most certainly encounter regularly throughout their lives.
I highly recommend Growing Up Muslim.
Note: I received a digital review copy from the publisher via netgalley.com for review consideration.
I will not put Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (published 1851) on my favorite books list because it’s simply not a favorite novel (I shudder at each description of whale blubber). And yet, I must give Moby-Dick a solid five stars out of five for the rich reading experience it provides. I simply loved reading it. Much as other great works in world literature, such as War and Peace and Hamlet or (maybe) even East of Eden, Moby Dick gives innovative depth and breadth to a majestic subject, creating a universal epic of good and evil in the guise of a novel about something that may otherwise seem insignificant.
Moby-Dick is about much more than a whaling ship’s voyage, the biology of a whale, or even an insane whale-ship captain’s revenge on a whale. Reading Moby-Dick is a cultural experience, and the novel itself is a marvel in the detail Melville provides to create a composite picture of the mid-nineteenth century America. In addition, despite the clear setting (it could not be the same story without the whale hunting and whale fact digressions), the story is a universal one: fate versus choice, good versus evil, sanity versus insanity, God versus man. (more…)
Wise Women of the Dreamtime: Aboriginal Tales of the Ancestral Power (Inner Traditions International, 1993) is a fascinating collection of tales from Australian Aboriginal woman as dictated to a Western woman in the late 1800s. Editor Joanna Lambert expands upon these tales by providing commentary and discussion after each tale, focusing on the various folkloric traditions around the globe and emphasizing both the uniqueness of the Aboriginal tales and the similarities the Aboriginal folklore has with other cultures. Given the thousands of years in which Aboriginal traditions flourished essentially unaltered, I found it fascinating to read the folklore.
Kate Langloh Parker was fascinated by the Aboriginal traditions as a child, and as an adult, she collected the stories the women told her. Tragically, in her day, such folkloric anthropological research was not appreciated in Australia. In the past century, Aboriginal traditions have been overshadowed by the Western traditions entering into the territory and the 60,000 year old culture is losing it’s solidarity.
Ms Lambert’s volume reintroduces Ms Parker’s anthology of collected stories with sensitivity into a world that may be better equipped to appreciate the culture of the Aborigines. Although I am not an anthropologist, I greatly enjoyed Ms Lambert’s commentary. The stories of Dreamtime are a fascinating look at an ancient culture and religious tradition. I only wished Ms Lambert and Ms Parker had more folklore collected to share with me!
Like historian Matthew Bowman, I am an active participant in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. Bowman’s recent overview of the history and people of the Church, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (published January 2012 by Random House), provides a different perspective on the history of the Church in America. He shares the history by discussing the people that joined the Church as believers and those that interacted with the Church from the early 1800s until today.
I consider myself fairly well read about the history of the Church in the United States, so I was pleasantly surprised by how Bowman’s perspective gave me a new view of Church history. The different personalities of the Church leaders throughout the eras of the Church’s history certainly had an impact on how the Church was administered, how doctrines were taught, how believers were encouraged to live, and how believers and nonbelievers interacted with one another. (more…)