Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake (2021)
Fungi are among the oldest, most diverse, and most important forms of life on Earth and yet are among the least well-known to most of us, and barely studied by science. In this category-shattering work of popular science, Merlin Sheldrake begins the process of rectifying this. Some of the topics covered include the nature of fungi, lichens and the nature of symbiosis, the role of fungi in exchange between trees and therefore forest health, and the impact of fungi on human cognition and mental health.
This is as astonishing book. While I appreciated so much about it, the thing I liked best was how realistic he is about it all. So much of the discourse around this science and its possible applications makes wild and speculative claims; it tends to be a subject where even the best science is mixed with tints of science fiction futurism or ‘woowoo’ spirituality. Sheldrake cuts through all of this and does a great job of presenting the material in a balanced way, explaining what we think we know and what we know we don’t, and discussing the possibilities as well as the limitations of harnessing the power of fungi. I highly recommend this amazing book.
Read this if you’re interested in:
- Science / Nature
My Rating: Premise 10, Intrigue 10, Information 10, Authority 10, Responsibility 10, Success 10, Structure 8, Writing 9, Enjoyment 10, Lasting Impact 10: TOTAL 97
The Big Reveal, Sasha Velour (2023), 97: This book by drag legend Sasha Velour that tries to do a lot: It is part memoir, part origin story, part history, and part manifesto. Thankfully, Velour is a good enough storyteller that it all holds together beautifully. It doesn’t claim to be a definitive history of drag — in fact, the idea of a ‘definitive’ history runs completely counter to the spirit of the book, which is a celebration of diverse voices and perspectives, and the power of storytelling to create and recreate ourselves. At a time when drag is increasingly both publicly visible and the target of political reaction, this is a powerful contribution. (LGBTQ2S+, Drag, Pop Culture History, Memoir)
How Far the Light Reaches, Sabrina Imbler (2022), 92: In this collection of essays, science writer Sabrina Imbler describes the fascinating lives of sea creatures and the resonances they have with their own life experiences, relationship with their body, and exploration of their queerness and gender identity. As with most collections, I found the individual essays to be of varying interest and success, and some of the analogies felt a bit forced to me, but overall this is a remarkable achievement. The essays comparing the starvation of a brooding octopus with their own difficult relationship with food and the complicated dynamic between the concepts of hybridity and biracial identity stand out as being particularly impressive contributions to social discourse. (Science, Nature, Marine Biology, Sociology, Psychology, LGBTQ2S+, Race and Racism, Gender Identity, Gender Dynamics)
How the Bible Actually Works, Peter Enns (2019), 86: An evangelical biblical scholar argues persuasively against Fundamentalist interpretations and describes an alternative approach to reading Scripture from within the evangelical tradition. This is a very good book, but will mostly be helpful for those within evangelicalism seeking a different approach to their faith without leaving what they love about their traditions behind. (And contrary to what you may think from reading the news, there are a lot of them!) (Non-Fiction, Christianity, Spirituality, Hermeneutics, Biblical Criticism)
Jewish Meditation, Aryeh Kaplan (1985), 84: In this introductory text, the late American rabbi and educator Aryeh Kaplan explores how traditional Jewish practices fit into the broad array of ideas that we call ‘meditation.’ After a solid introduction to meditation as a concept, he goes through practices that fit into such categories as mantra meditation, contemplation, visualization, prayer, unification, and more. This religious studies approach makes this volume particularly accessible to non-Jewish readers. (Judaism, Spirituality, Meditation)
Becoming Duchess Goldblatt (2020), 83: The anonymous voice behind the popular social media presence known as Duchess Goldblatt describes the series of personal and professional setbacks that prompted her create the persona. This was very entertaining and was an interesting story of one very normal person’s hidden tragedies and struggles, and how creating an intentional alternative persona brought needed real-life changes. (Memoir, Social Media, Humour, Families)
The Lives We Actually Have, Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie (2023), 92: This is a book of blessings for the challenging, heartbreaking, and often disappointing lives we’ve been given to live. In the several years since a horrible cancer diagnosis, Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke School of Divinity, has carved out a wonderful niche that uses her trademark warmth and humour to push back against the false ideas of a picture-perfect, Instagrammable life and the platitudes people often resort to when that life isn’t possible. Instead she puts forth the bold claim that there is joy in accepting the lives we actually have, in all their grief, loss, and pain. This particular collection didn’t really speak to me, but I love her message and I know there are thousands who will benefit a lot from it. (Spirituality, Blessing, Grief and Loss, Pain, Acceptance)
The Breakup Monologues, Rosie Wilby (2021), 75: In this collection of personal essays, comedian and podcaster Rosie Wilby sets out to explore contemporary dating and relationships through the lens of breakups and the reasons why relationships don’t work. I really like the premise of this book and so I was disappointed by how few of the essays seemed committed to it. While a lot of the content about dating was very relatable, I found the ‘insights’ to be pretty basic. Perhaps this would be a helpful book for younger readers experiencing heartbreak for the first time, but for those of us for whom it’s old hat, it just seemed a bit banal. (Dating, Romance, Heartbreak, Essays, LGBTQ2S+)
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