2017 Favorite books not about Islam or Muslims
December 17, 2017
Assalamu Alaykum Dear Students,
I hope you receive this letter with the best of health, integrity, and Iman.
As we finish this calendar year, I am looking back that the books that affected me most. If you have time during this break between semesters, I urge you to go through at least one. Not all of these books are from the past year, but all of these are books I discovered in the past year.
THE BEST OF THE BEST. These are the books I am telling people to drop everything and read:
1. Gregory Boyle - “Tattoos on the Heart.” / Gregory Boyle - “Barking to the Choir.”
One of the fringe benefits of the work in Campus Ministry is that I get introduced to the amazing efforts of people across the world. When Gregory Boyle came to campus, it was clear that there was something special about him. My colleague in Ministry -- Dave Holmes -- would speak about him when speaking about Alternative Break Immersions. Father Boyle runs the largest gang intervention program in the world.
Then, I discovered Boyle’s books, and could not put them down. Perhaps he articulated a larger, more serious version of work that I do as your Chaplain, helping me to understand my work better. In fact, the loving humor I use to speak about each of you finds kinship in the loving humor he uses to speak about the young people he embraces. While I have buried perhaps half a dozen students, he has buried over two hundred. The first book is about taking the approach of kinship; the second is about compassion.
2. Bryan Stevenson - “Just Mercy.”
Another book introduced through Loyola. This was the book that began the school year for about a quarter of you. But, (now alum) Wesam Shahed started telling me much more about him as we were watching the film “13th.” Stevenson is a Black American Harvard Law School grad who drives across the country providing legal counsel to indigent people stuck in court systems that seem to convict them from before any crimes were committed.
Stevenson’s stories about his efforts are heartbreaking, yet he remains hopeful, while acknowledging what the difficult work is doing to him, including the trauma and the clarity.
3. Timothy Snyder - “On Tyranny.”
We will be having a book club meeting each week next semester reading this short book. Yale Historian is very clear in stating that America has entered the spirit of pre-Nazi Germany, and it is almost too late to stop the descent. So, he gives twenty steps of advice. One of the pieces of advice, however, makes it seem like we are too late.
4. Sean Young - “Stick With It.”
I go through numerous self-improvement books a year. Many of them are very good. The best in recent years was Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit.” This book is better by leaps and bounds.
HONORABLE MENTIONS - These are books not about Muslims or Islam that you must read. Next time I will share books about Islam and/or Muslims, Insha Allah.
Matthew Desmond - “Evicted.” A study of poverty in Milwaukee. For critics who wonder why people cannot escape poverty, this book shows that it is because the moment you lose your home, and start moving from home to home, you are not able to gain any stability, and your education is the hardest hit. Meanwhile, federal subsidies benefit landlords, but not tenants.
Chris Hedges - “Unspeakable.” One point in this book has both enlightened and haunted me. As he talks about his career as a journalist for the major papers, he says that he could not get promoted because he would take the stories nobody wanted, and he would not hesitate to write about Power. We would think that he is living the exact life that a major newspaper would seek. Rather, the major newspapers (including the New York Times and the Washington Post) bend to the will of the White House. A few months after I completed this book, the New York Times was under fire for hiring and promoting journalists who were very pro-Trump. Last week, the NYT was again under fire for a long piece sympathetic to Neo-Nazis.
Pankaj Mishra - “Age of Anger.” Mishra provides a profound, sweeping history of modernity, decentering it away from Europe, to explain how we are where we are today.
Trevor Noah - “Born a Crime.” Noah, the host of the Daily Show and recent performer at Loyola, shares the story of his childhood. His father was white, and his mother was a Black South African, which meant that Noah’s birth was literally a crime. He provides numerous insights on life and poverty.
JD Vance - “Hillbilly Elegy.” At one level, this is the memoir of a man who was raised in Appalachia, eventually joined the Marines, and graduated Yale Law School. At another level, it is an account of Trump’s America, being a population of people who are *not* as religious as we assume, though they are watching their families and communities disintegrate as globalization shifts jobs across the world.
There were many other solid books, but the above were the books that had the most impact on me. Perhaps they will be of benefit to you. If you have any suggestions, send them my way.
And Allah knows best.