This is my last group of books going to the library. The great spring clean is done. The book cases are not quite as full as they once were. But some nifty books found happy homes; a few went directly to friends. That made me feel great. And I got a chance to flip through some old books and recall some happy memories. There were a few exceptions, but most of the time, this was a happy exercise. I imagine I’ll do something like it again in a couple of years, but with fewer books.
The Stuff: When the author visited the town of Lily Dale, founded by Spiritualists in the 19th century, she was a religion reporter for the Dallas Morning News. She’d read a skeptical New York Times article about the hamlet an hour outside Buffalo, New York. She wanted to know more. “I wanted to know why this strange little outpost clings to such absurd ideas,” she writes. “I wanted to know who these people are and what makes them tick.”
A book about people trying to contact their deceased relatives and loved ones shouldn’t be fun, but this is. Wicker gives a history of Spiritualism, the founding and running of Lily Dale, as well as a portrait of its present. Many of the mediums are convinced their deceased loved ones are still around and directing their lives, even when it comes to things like room décor.
The book contains several pages of black and white plates of vintage photographs, suggested reading, questions for the reader, and an interview with the author.
Bio: Christine Wicker (b. 1953) worked for seventeen years as a feature writer, columnist, and religion reporter for the Dallas Morning News. She grew up in the South, with a Baptist preacher and a coal miner in her family tree. Her books include (with John Matthews) The Eyeball Killer (1996), God Knows My Heart (autobiography) (1999), and The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church (2009).
Title: Lily Dale: The Town that Talks to the Dead
Author: Christine Wicker (b. 1953)
First published: 2003
The Stuff: I don’t think I’ve looked at this book since I finished it some twenty-five years ago. My primary memory of it is that the author blames the Enlightenment for a host of modern evils. He also uses words like “holon,” meaning something that works as a whole but is also part of something else. I remember thinking as I was reading this, I liked to think I had a life apart from work, so I was a holon. I was a wage slave and a human being off the time clock.
The bulk of the book is presented in question-and-answer format. Typical of this is the beginning of chapter 7, “Attuned to the Kosmos”:
Q: We must listen very carefully. You mean, to all four types of truth.
K.W. Truth, in the broadest sense, means being attuned with the real. To be authentically in touch with the true, out of touch with the true and the beautiful. Yes?
While this may sound like babbling on the surface, some profound thought is going on. It just didn’t add up to the promise for me. And it sure wasn’t a history of everything, nor did I expect it to be. That’s a promise no one can keep. He didn’t quite sell me on the proposition that all knowledge is one. Yet, I have often noticed connections in things I might not have otherwise.
Bio: Ken Wilber (b. 1949) is an American philosopher and writer influenced by Eastern religion and thought. He developed an intellectual framework he refers to as integral theory that views all knowledge as one. Nothing is entirely wrong or right. Among his books are The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977, anniv. ed. 1993), Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution (1st ed. 1995, 2nd rev. ed. 2001), and The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion (1998, reprint ed. 1999).
Title: A Brief History of Everything
Author: Ken Wilber (b. 1949)
First published: 1996
The Stuff: This is an examination of the Church of Scientology from its inception to the writing of the book. Wright focuses on the workings of two principal people, L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder; and his successor, David Miscavige. It is told in straightforward prose, nevertheless it makes for hard reading. Constant themes are the exploitation of people, the courting of celebrities, the abuse—often physical— of members, the separation of families, and the vindictive treatment of anyone who dares to speak out against the organization. This is a sad, scary read.
Wright asks, what makes a religion?
Bio: Lawrence Wright (b. 1947) is an author, screenwriter, playwright, and staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He’s written eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and one play, in addition to numerous articles. His best-known work is probably The Looming Tower Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006).
Title: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Author: Lawrence Wright (b. 1947)
First published: 2013
The Stuff: This was originally written to examine incidents like terrorist attacks on American (and other) interests in places like Beirut and the hostage crisis in Tehran. After the 9/11 attacks, the author added new material and re-released the book. Early on, Wright makes the point that Muslims are not a monolith. Seventy nations have significant Muslim populations, and cultural, historical, and sectarian differences exist. Islam does not condone terrorism.
After examining the history, Wright makes a few remarks saying that the U.S. and other Western countries need a stable, consistent Mid-East policy.
I liked this book, as dire and harrowing a read as it is. Much of the information will be dated. Bin Laden and Sadam Hussein have gone on to meet their makers, for example, but broader questions of a consistent U.S. policy are worth some thought.
Bio: Robin B. Wright (b. 1948) is an American foreign affairs analyst, author and journalist who writes for The New Yorker, she is also fellow of the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center. Among her books are The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran (2000), Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East (2008), and Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World (2011).
Title: Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam
Author: Robin Wright (b. 1948)
First published: 1985 ad. Material 2001
The bookcases I worked on now look like this (with their scared guardians). They are just two of many, I confess.