Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Books that Changed Me

Thinking about books I've read that I can identify as life-changing. Books that literally and quickly changed the way I think. Here are the ones that come to mind right now, roughly in chronological order:

Ethics, by William Frankena (~1994)

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This was recommended to me by a graduate student or post-doc at Brigham Young University who taught my introductory symbolic logic class. It took me three times reading the first chapter to understand Socrates's arguments as presented by Frankena. Then it all of a sudden clicked. I learned how hard it is to think like a philosopher, and I developed my first muscles in that pursuit.

The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (~1994)

I read these poems for my History of Civilization class taught be Wilfred Griggs and Alan Keele. I started them early in the semester--several weeks before they were required--and as a result I was able to really live with them rather than cramming them into a week. I experienced the pity of war, just as Owen hoped, and it was terrible. His use of my own religious symbolism, with Abraham slaying Isaac when he should have been saved, and other messages, stole much of the thoughtless joy I had in war games and stories of violent heroism. It was replaced with a longing sadness for peace.

Reviving Ophelia, by Mary Pipher (~1995)

I had no idea what the girls I lived with growing up experienced in safe, middle class America. I just had no idea. Thank you, Candice and Adria, for telling me I would like the book. It is an ultimately hopeful book, and Pipher's book The Shelter of Each Other about strengthening families is perhaps even better.

Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, by Hugh Nibley (1996 or 1998-9, or both)

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This book includes Hugh Nibley's calls to be socially conscious, be thoughtful and truly educated, effectively lead, and care for the environment. Nibley showed me using LDS authority that Mormonism is not conservative, American Christianity, but something both greater and more demanding. I have never looked back.

The Emperor's Embrace, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (~2003)

This book about animal fatherhood shaped my aspirations as a human father. That is the biggest personal influence it has been on me. But it also opened the door to the idea that family structures other than the man-woman nuclear family may be valuable. It first disabused me of the idea that homosexuality was unnatural--it is found among many animal species. Second, it showed documented examples of where same-sex parenting in the animal world provided better care for young than mixed-sex couples. I honestly didn't believe it, at first. I couldn't fit these facts in my world view, but I couldn't deny the documentation. This was the beginning of the shift in my views on homosexuality and marriage equality, although the process to arrive where I am now took another 12 years.

Don't Call It Love, by Patrick Carnes (~2003)

If you've experienced the process of feeling bound by sin, weakness, and personal failure to understanding you are human, normal, and free to undergo real change (rather than the imagined change of being cured of your humanity), then you understand how this changed me.

Can Science Be Faith Promoting, by Stirling Talmadge (~2004)

I found in Brother Talmadge a friend and an example. A faithful Saint who blamed dogma for destruction of faith--even if a prohpet said it--not scientific inquiry. A scientist who embraced revelation and said scientists who rejected it had their eyes closed to great truth and beauty. I understood more deeply my responsibility to learn for myself--from science and from God.

Sex and World Peace, by Hudson et al. (2015)

This book begins identifying how treatment of women relates to the safety and security of our whole world. It puts numbers on Feminist policies (from mandatory maternity leave and educating girls to stopping genital mutilation and female infanticide), and finds that the lot of women in a country corresponds more strongly with peacefulness than do democracy, wealth, or the degree of Islamic civilization--the three main contenders for predicting war and peacefulness in most of the literature. While a portion of the book is statistically dense (although not detailed in the way research articles would be), it begins as an eye-opening and accessible description of just what difficulties women in different parts of the world face. I believed I was privileged as a man, but I thought it was a little less fear taking a walk at night, a little easier time getting my students or colleagues to listen to me, and a few more opportunities at church. I had no idea of the divide between my experience and that of women in my own life, which is almost nothing compared to the distance between me and women of some other countries. It took seeing numbers and hearing the stories for this second Feminist awakening to sink in. And quite frankly, this is the most painful change of all these stories. Maybe this is "welcome to mid-life".

It's a good ride, so far.

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