Nonfiction Short Take: Grace Without God -Katherine Ozment

Journalist Ozment uses her own family’s story as the jumping off point for an engaging and well-researched look at secular humanism and the ways the nonreligious fill their need for belonging, moral guidance and meaning. With 20% of all adults (and over 30% of millennials) identifying as religiously unaffiliated, it’s increasingly useful to consider how a large swatch of America approaches ethics, culture, community, and ritual.

“In this wide-ranging book, Ozment, a journalist and former senior editor at National Geographic, skillfully weaves together interviews with cutting-edge academic experts, her personal story, helpful statistics, and her experiences attending gatherings across the U.S. where she talked with many others on the same quest. Detailing the sense of loss she and others have felt without the benefits of traditional religion—‘identity and belonging, rituals, shared stories, moral authority, and belief in God and the afterlife’—Ozment then delves into the many ways secular Americans are trying to build community and shared meaning, with a keen eye for the paradoxes and hazards of those efforts. Her focus throughout is finding ways to raise honest, kind, and compassionate children outside of a religious framework. …his well-crafted, accessible exploration of a pressing topic, full of hard questions and astute observations, can serve as a springboard for discussion by parents—and others—who wonder whether people ‘need God to be good.’”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age (9780062305114) by Katherine Ozment. $25.99 hardcover. 6/21/16 on sale.

New Nonfiction: Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars – Stephen Prothero

The title is a provocative claim–and it’s backed by what turns out to be a very engaging American cultural history from one of the very best explainers around.

Prothero is a Professor of Religion at Boston University and was called by Newsweek, “the kind of professor who makes you want to go back to college.” His Religious Literacy was a NYT bestseller that made the argument that a basic understanding of all major religions is a prerequisite to good citizenship and confronting the challenges of the modern world. He has appeared on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Oprah and contributes regularly to periodicals like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

This new book is the kind of “big picture” writing he does best. In Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars, Prothero puts our very divisive current political moment into historical context.  He shows that we’ve been doing this over and over again since the 17th century and that our culture wars have always been religious wars. He also makes the hopeful claim that this is how we work out our “Americanness.”

Culture wars, Prothero writes, provoke change, serving as the catalyst for American democracy despite the nasty public disputes between conservatives and liberals over moral, religious, and social issues….Prothero’s illuminating and absorbing take on America’s growing pains reveals that when ‘each of our cultural battles comes to an end, we are left with a more inclusive country.’”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Prothero brilliantly shows how the same groups drive conflicts year after year and often lose–and how the results eventually make us stronger. Useful, instructive reading for all voters in the upcoming election.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Prothero offers a timely social history that illustrates that the current conflicts are actually part of a much larger story….His thesis is that conservatives tend to instigate individual culture wars owing to anxiety that their world is passing away….This book provides social, political, and historical context to the current culture wars and offers constructive and hopeful ideas for defueling the cycle, ideas that are pertinent to liberals and conservatives alike.”
   — Library Journal

 Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage (9780061571299) by Stephen Prothero. $26.99 hardcover. 1/5/16 on sale.

Short Take: The Study Quran – Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Editor in Chief

At $60, not every bookstore will have this masterly resource on its shelves–but it’s certainly something every good Indie should know about. I suspect at least a few customers will looking for it.

This is the first effort in the West to make available to a wide readership an in-depth exploration of the theological, metaphysical, historical, geographical and linguistic background of the Quranic revelation—all in a new English translation. Seyyed Hossein Nasr and a team of editors offer a critical understanding of the Quran, along with conveying its enduring spiritual power. This is a gorgeously designed, two-color volume that looks likely to be a definitive general reference for some time to come.

This scholarly yet accessible work speaks directly to the tensions and misunderstandings of our gravely polarized world. It should be on the shelves of libraries and universities throughout the English-speaking world. The contributors guide the reader through the intricacies of the sacred text in a way that lays bare the superficiality, selectivity and inaccuracy of some modern interpretations of the Quran at a time when this is sorely needed.”
— Karen Armstrong

“A stupendous achievement! The Study Quran contains everything a reader needs to know about this difficult and beautiful scripture. Muslim readers will benefit as much as non-Muslim readers. The translation is both lucid and eloquent and the extensive commentaries offer continuous insight into the text. Even more impressive, the various essays appended to the book cover virtually every aspect of the Qur’an that a reader needs to know. I believe that this will prove to be the indispensable handbook to the sacred text.”
— Eric Ormsby, Deputy Head of the Department of Academic Research and Publications at The Institute of Ismaili Studies

The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (9780061125867) by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Editor in Chief. $59.99 hardcover. 11/17/15 on sale.

Book of the Week: Grounded – Diana Butler Bass

Bass is a religion writer and journalist who has been following American spiritual culture for some time. She’s been a columnist for the NYT, Washington Post and Huffington Post. Her last book, Christianity after Religion, was something of a breakout and this new book is the logical extension of the issues explored in that book.

“I’m spiritual but not religious” is a phrase so familiar in the last forty years that it now verges on cliché. But Bass digs in and enlivens it, examining what exactly this position means for contemporary Christianity.

And the news is good. While people may be increasingly turning away from the traditional Church, it’s clear that they are not turning away from a spiritual life. Bass combines current research with a deep knowledge of history and theology. The result is a well-constructed blend of news, trends, data, and pop culture with stories of peoples’ individual spiritual journeys. What she finds is a radical change in the way many people understand God and how they practice faith—but one that is no less committed.

“In cogent, convincing arguments, [Bass] declares the current state of religion as not dying but transforming….Her conclusion comes with the revelation and defense of ‘an ongoing spiritual evolution.’ She often quotes fellow religious writers (from Sam Harris to Hildegard) and tells transformative stories (from finding her Quaker roots, to mourning with a man on a plane). Bass’s biblical and effusive style, always mixing the personal with the political and scriptural, finds a deeper, more profound register in this latest book. It is a call to arms, sure to inspire Bass’s intimate fan base committed to a Christian revolution.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An absolutely gorgeously written book about real faith in the real world.”
— James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage

Grounded: Finding God in the World–A Spiritual Revolution (9780062328540) by Diana Butler Bass. $26.99 hardcover. 10/6/15 on sale.


Short Take – Nonfiction: Wearing God – Lauren F. Winner

Fans of Anne Lamott and Barbara Brown Taylor will likely enjoy this engaging read about the metaphors and images we might use to make God feel more personally real.

“Duke Divinity School professor and writer Winner combines spiritual insight and beautifully descriptive prose as she explores some of the more obscure biblical metaphors for God. This is not a book about God as king, shepherd, father, or judge. Rather, Winner looks at the ways God can be known through the everyday and familiar: a beloved sweater, the smell of a loved one’s shirt, morning-glory muffins….Winner’s honest, charming reflections stir the imagination and invite the reader to explore not just the metaphors she has chosen, but the treasure trove the Bible provides. Prayers and quotations promote further contemplation.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Lauren Winner’s curiosity about the life of faith is so compelling—and her intelligence so engaging—that there is nothing more satisfying than settling down with a new book from her. The only problem is that it is impossible to read her without being changed. So advance at your own risk—in this case, that you will begin to see God differently so that your old way of relating no longer works. This, of course, is the best possible news.”
— Barbara Brown Taylor

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God (9780061768125) by Lauren F. Winner. $24.99 hardcover. 3/31/15 on sale.


Book of the Week – Learning to Walk in the Dark – Barbara Brown Taylor

Of the many spectacular writers we publish, Barbara Brown Taylor may be the writer I love the best and the one to whom I return most often. She was a well-established and respected religious writer and thinker before she came to HarperOne in 2006. Newsweek had named her one of the top ten preachers in America, and one of the ten most influential living pastors in a nationwide poll of Protestant pastors. So her first memoir with us, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, drew much attention and became a national bestseller for its thoughtful, inspiring reflection on how she “left church” while “keeping faith.” That book remains a strong backlist title for us and moved Taylor into the ranks of bestselling writers on spirituality like Kathleen Norris and Anne Lamott.

Her second book with us, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, also became a national bestseller. This tender, exquisitely written meditation on how to find sacred space in everyday life quickly found a permanent place among my bedside reading. Given the jittery, media driven, attention-sucking nature of daily culture, I return to this book often as a way of grounding myself.

So you can imagine the pleasure I have in adding a new book by Barbara Brown Taylor to my library. I’m happy to say that Learning to Walk in the Dark is as thought-provoking, reassuring and delightful a read as the others. It poses the question: How might our lives become richer if, rather than avoiding and being fearful of darkness—physical, metaphorical, spiritual—we embraced darkness as the complement to the light in our lives. She posits that light and dark work together—and that that they have necessary and inevitable roles in making us complete.

Here’s are some snippets from a series of brief talks she did for The Work of the People. It’ll give you a good sense of both her voice and point of view:

The advance reviews are very strong. Bookseller fans have made it an April Indie Next Pick and the initial media line-up includes a Time magazine feature, an excerpt in, and a Washington Post feature. I expect Taylor’s legion of fans will turn this one into her third bestseller.

Ever the teacher, [Taylor] passes on her knowledge, whether purposefully studied or accidentally absorbed, of living with loss….Taylor’s intimate voice makes good points and asks good questions, especially in the last chapter’s dialogue. She writes exemplars of exposition (narration, description, argumentation), and pens poetry in her similes and metaphors.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An elegant writer with the common touch, Taylor is always a wonderful guide to the spiritual world, and this book is no exception. Here she encourages us to turn out the lights and embrace the spiritual darkness, for it is in the dark, she maintains, that one can truly see.”
— Booklist

“Taylor continues her unconventional, outside-the-pulpit Episcopalian ministry…by showing readers how she has learned from the darkness…Taylor writes with consistent charm and an unobtrusive faith in God; her work is certain to appeal to some church groups and to fans of Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott.”
— Library Journal

Learning to Walk in the Dark (9780062024350) By Barbara Brown Taylor. $24.99 hardcover. 4/8/14 on sale.

Short Take: The December Project – Sara Davidson

Based on a series of interviews between journalist Davidson and Jewish Renewal leader and rabbi, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, it’s impossible to avoid a comp to Tuesdays with Morrie. But PW’s review points out how this book carves out its own distinguished and useful territory.

Besides touching on topics like aging well, facing mortality, and dying, Davidson provides a biographical sketch of Schachter-Shalomi—from his narrow escape from the Holocaust through the influence of the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe on his life and thought to his encounters with such influential non-Jewish figures as the Catholic monk Thomas Merton…. Fortunately, Davidson and Schachter-Shalomi don’t elide the most difficult aspects of aging, including physical pain and memory loss (a topic close to Davidson, whose mother suffers from Alzheimer’s). Davidson ends with 12 exercises—from taking a ‘gratitude walk’ to feeling free to ‘kvetch to God’—designed to help readers achieve a Zalman-like, hard-earned equanimity in the last stage of their lives. For boomers who wish to devote serious attention to questions of meaning as they experience ineluctable aging, this book of intense, personal conversations leavened with profound insights is an excellent place to begin.”
Publishers Weekly

The December Project should be required reading for everyone over 50, but anyone who gets a head start on facing mortality by joining this project is in for a surprise: there is as much laughter, healing, and deep peace in these pages as sober reflection on the limits of being human. Above all, this book is a testament to the rich rewards of sustained conversation between fearless friends about what really matters in this life.”
— Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Leaving Church

The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery (9780062281746) by Sara Davidson. $25.99 hardcover. 3/25/14 on sale.