Ship of Fools

ship of fools

Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution, by Tucker Carlson. Hardcover edition published in 2018, 256 pages.

There’s this feeling I get when someone writes what I am thinking. When they are able to say it and somehow hit all the nuances that I wish I could fill in, but am not quite sure how, and when they seem to just *get it*, even if imperfectly, such a writer is a kindred spirit. That describes Tucker Carlson’s Ship of Fools.

In a political climate that is so contentious and within which everyone seems to be stuck in a foolishly binary perspective, I find political conversations very frustrating. When I converse with sincere, well-meaning people who, in their zeal to help the poor, view the left as the least-best option, I cringe. I don’t cringe for the reasons you might assume. No, I cringe because I know that when you scratch the surface of things and watch what politicians do rather than what they say, you quickly realize that the left’s talking points are a mere window covering for a party as beholden to big business as the rabid, pro-corporate, so-called capitalists on the right.

In other words, there is no savior in Washington, D.C.  They are almost all -regardless of the party affiliation- looking out for their own interests. This is the case Tucker Carlson lays out beautifully in Ship of Fools. I should add here that he isn’t asserting, and neither am I, that there are no good people with good intentions in politics. However, among those who wield the most power, they are very few and far between, and even those soon get swallowed up in the zeitgeist, unable to affect the change they had hoped.

Before I offer a couple of quotes, a brief outline of what I liked and didn’t like about the book. I’m a big fan of the bad news first approach to these things, so I’ll start with the problematic aspects of the book, in my own opinion:

  • The tone often reminded me of Carlson’s televised monologues; so much so that I am convinced that several parts I vividly recall hearing from him before. Given that I don’t watch his show (or any news networks outside of youtube snippets) that’s problematic.
  • There wasn’t enough tilling of new ground. There was very little here that I wasn’t already aware of. To be fair, I’m more informed than your average American, but I would suspect that is the case with a fair number of Carlson’s readers.
  • No source notes. When you put forth as many claims on the work and positions of as many people as Carlson does here, you need to have tens of pages of footnotes and sources to back it up. Again, because of my familiarity with much of what is written here, I am comfortable with the veracity of his claims, but a book such as this one needs to provide sources for the sake of its own integrity.

What I liked about this book:

  • This isn’t a “progressives bad”, “conservatives good” type of book. Carlson rightly acknowledges that there is more than enough blame on both sides of the imaginary aisle for the current political and economic predicament this country finds herself in.
  • The dissecting of the sacred pillars of the political classes, both left and right.
  • The populism angle speaks to me. As much as I abhor the notion of socialism as a political and economic order, I’m not overly enamored with the fake crony capitalism of the right or the market-as-king, pie-in-the-sky notions of libertarians either. I do believe that there is a third way, but because it doesn’t serve the interests of our present oligarchy it is often dismissed.
  • Carlson’s witty, biting humor and gifted storytelling keep his book moving forward.

Enough about what I think. Here are a few salient quotes from Ship of Fools. On the unholy alliance between the left, who supposedly care about the downtrodden, and big businesses like Apple and Amazon, who routinely and grossly mistreat their poor, foreign workers (love those iPhones though!):

All pretty grim. Yet when was the last time you heard a politician decry Apple’s treatment of workers, let alone introduce legislation intended to address it? When was the last time a group of socially conscious hipsters from Brooklyn protested outside the home of Apple CEO Tim Cook?

Never, of course. That’s because Apple, like virtually other big employer in American life, has purchased indulgences from the church of cultural liberalism. Apple has a gay CEO with fashionable social views. The company issues statements about green energy and has generous domestic partner benefits. Apple publicly protested the Trump administration’s immigration policies. The company is progressive in ways that matter in Brooklyn. That’s enough to stop any conversation about working conditions in Foxconn factories.

On the foolishness of foreign wars began by Republican presidents and then perpetuated and often expanded by their liberal successors:

The first is that war is destructive. It kills people. War flattens cities, hobble economies, topple civilizations, and upend ancient ways of doing things; often forever. In war, children always die.

None of this is hidden knowledge- nobody would deny that war destroys- but it’s easy to forget it anyway. Look up any speech by a political leader rushing his country into conflict and you’ll notice how nonspecific the descriptions are. It’s always a battle for something abstract, like freedom of sovereignty. If politicians acknowledge that soldiers will be killed at all, it’s only to extol their bravery and highlight the sheer glory of the endeavor. In speeches, war is never a bloody slog where eighteen-year-old boys get castrated by landmines, blasted apart by grenades, or pointlessly massacred in friendly-fire accidents, though that’s exactly what it is. p.91

Tackling everything from the foolishness of modern feminism and identity politics with several detours highlighting the utter silliness of editorial and political personalities such as the hawkish Bill Kristol and the utterly banal Ta-Nehisi Coates, Carlson does a good job cutting through the bull. He invites the reader to look at the evidence rather than get swept up in talking points and media propaganda. One need only scratch the surface to see that there are no heroes to be found in our current political system.

The irony here is that like him or loathe him, the only genuine political actor in the current paradigm, the only person who is generally a “what you see is what you get” operator, is Donald Trump.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

 

The Practice of the Presence of God

presence of god book

The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawerence, Kindle edition. The text was originally written and compiled in 1692.

Timing is everything, at least that’s what the ubiquitous “they” supposedly say. In this case, I’d have to agree. The time was right for me to read The Practice of the Presence of God. I know that the time was right because, at almost any other time, I would have found it too mystic for my general sensibilities. However, these times are uncertain, and for the duration of this season and its fallout, I have a strong impression that Brother Lawrence’s admonition to purposefully focus on God will be the key to enduring whatever comes next.

Before I offer my overall impressions and brief excerpts, a little background may be in order for readers who are unfamiliar with this book, or with Brother Lawerence. From a brief biographical piece by Christianity Today:

[Brother Lawerence] was assigned to the monastery kitchen where, amidst the tedious chores of cooking and cleaning at the constant bidding of his superiors, he developed his rule of spirituality and work. In his Maxims, Lawrence writes, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?”

For Brother Lawrence, “common business,” no matter how mundane or routine, was the medium of God’s love. The issue was not the sacredness or worldly status of the task but the motivation behind it. “Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

Brother Lawerence’s peace and communion with God became so well regarded that many people sought him out for spiritual guidance.

When I first started reading the book, my stoic, sola Scriptura mind was not entirely receptive. I’m not a Calvinist, but I see some of the merits in Reformed Theology, and one of them is the wholesale condemnation of relying too much on our feelings at the expense of the written word of God. I actually put this book aside for a bit to ruminate before picking it back up. It’s a short book, however, so once I went back to it in the wake of current events, it spoke to me in a fresh way. I realized that what Brother Lawerence referred to was not a contradiction of the Scripture, but was in effect a result of hiding the logos in my heart.

After getting past my initial reservations about the mysticism, and reconciling the veracity of Brother Lawerence’s recorded experiences and admonitions with the truth of Scripture, I was challenged with contemplating whether what Lawerence described is even realistic for a busy wife and mother with a busy life and days filled with lots people, places, and things to do:

Thus, I resolved to give my all for God’s all. After having given myself wholly to God that he might take away my sin, I renounced, for the love of God, everything that was not God, and I began to live as if there was none but God and I in the world.

I don’t live in a monastic order like Brother Lawerence did. St. Paul himself acknowledged that the married believer is naturally distracted by the things of the world in a way that an unmarried believer is not.

Nevertheless, I have come around to the conclusion that Brother Lawerence’s single-hearted devotion to remembering and focusing on the fact that God is always with us, and that Christ, the hope of glory, is indeed in us, is a truth within the grasp of each and everyone who is a believer. Is it a challenge? He admits as much:

I found a great deal of pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it even in the midst of all the difficulties that occurred, trying not to trouble myself or get angry when my mind had wandered involuntarily. I made this my business throughout the entire day in addition to my appointed times of prayer.

At all times, every hour, every minute, even at my busiest times, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God.

This has been my practice since the first days I entered into religion. Though I have done it imperfectly, I have found great advantages in this practice. I am aware, however, that all of these advantages are to be attributed to the mercy and goodness of God, because we can do nothing without him—especially me!

What is good is almost never easy to acquire, and while few of us postmoderns may ever reach the heights of spiritual fulfillment Lawerence described, we can, by God’s grace, achieve more than we have to date.

As far as the writing goes, the structure of the book lends itself to a bit of repetitiveness. Because these are mostly letters written by Brother Lawerence to various fellow Christian travelers to whom he is offering spiritual encouragement, this is to be expected. Lawerence had found the key to living at peace in a tumultuous world and rather than coming up with new or novel things to say to his friends, he continued to share with them what worked. Repetitiveness is often a very good thing, especially when are trying to internalize things that are particularly hard to internalize.

The biggest thing for me to embrace (and again, I don’t know if I ever fully will), is that despite my deeply flawed nature, I can have faith in God’s presence if I draw near to him rather than hide as Adam and Eve did:

I imagine myself as the most wretched of all, full of sores and sins, and one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his king. Felling a deep sorrow, I confess to him all of my sins, I ask his forgiveness, and I abandon myself into his hands so that he may do with me what he pleases.

This king, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastening me, embraces me with love, invites me to feast at his table, serves me with his own hands, and gives me the key to his treasures. He converses with me, and takes delight in me, and treats me as if I were his favorite. This is how I imagine myself from time to time in his holy presence.

Timing is everything, and this was the right time for me to read this book. At no time is the reality of God’s presence more important than when we are facing the unknown and the reality that we are not as in control of our life’s trajectory as we imagined.

4 out of 5 stars.

Sick of Me

sickof me2

Sick of Me by Whitney Capps, published in 2019. 192 pages.

I started reading this book a few weeks ago, but due to a hectic schedule including family obligations, school obligations, and two trips in as many weeks, it has taken me quite some time to write up a review.

In general, I tend to shy away from Christian books that are new, and this is doubly true if said new Christian book is written specifically with women in mind. Nearly without fail, such books contain cultural nods to emotions and feelings and water down theology in ways I find intolerable. I am not a woman who often trusts my feelings (I know me too well!), and I am not interested in a concept of God which encourages me to elevate my feelings beyond that which is warranted.

Thankfully, Mrs. Capps takes an admirable turn at laying out the case for why we need to get our feelings in check. One of my favorite quotes in this book is found on page 25, and it gets to the heart of what the book is trying to express:

Take one of the more popular passages we flip open to affirm the peaceful, easy life of Christ: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This is Matthew 11:28-30. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not super familiar with a yoke. So, I did a little research. A yoke is a curved piece of wood that was fitted to oxen to keep them pulling a plow, cart, or otherwise heavy load. It was affixed using metal rods or a noose of rope around the animals’ necks. It was used to keep them from taking an easier path, ignoring the lead of the one driving the plow. Yokes were meant to keep them in line. The more they resisted or struggled, the heavier the yoke felt.

After explaining to the reader what a yoke is, she comes back around to the way modern Christians often misuse the aforementioned Scripture:

You’ve probably read it or heard Matthew 11:30 quoted when life gets wicked hard. We love to chant the life-affirming truth that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden light. But friends, it’s still a yoke. His yoke is definitely easier to carry than the world’s but it’s still a yoke.

For me, that was worth the price of admission. Whatever issues I have with the overly personal tone of a book focused on theology, it was easily forgiven because Mrs. Capps doesn’t engage in the normal female Christian writer ego-stroking. You know the spiel: “You are enough”, and all that good stuff.

In fact, her thesis, if you will, seems to be that we focus so much on being “transparent” about our faults that we forget that the gospel is about being transformed from where we are to the image of Christ. More importantly, we need to get over ourselves and turn our attention to pleasing our Lord more than feeling better about our broken selves. In other words, we’re really not enough, and in our well-intentioned attempts to avoid living life feeling condemned, we forget that we do need to feel convicted.

Overall, this book added value, and it would be especially useful to women who are more immersed in the usual content aimed at modern Christian women. It’s 1000 times better than books such as Girl, Wash Your Face. No book is a replacement for The Book, which Mrs. Capps is also careful to point out on p. 107, but women are starved for truth, and while this book isn’t perfect, it’s closer than most being marketed to women from houses like Thomas Nelson, et. al.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Culture Counts

culture counts book

Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged,  kindle edition, by Sir Roger Scruton. Originally published in 2007. 120 print pages.

This is the first book I’ve ever read by the recently departed Sir Roger Scruton, and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I was expecting to find ideas that I’ve read in any number of Scruton’s essays over the years; simply expanded and better fleshed out. What I found here was partly that, but also an opportunity to think more deeply about the importance of culture and beauty on us as individuals, and on the generations left behind when we are gone.

Scruton makes a strong case for understanding the importance of knowledge as something to be passed on. That this understanding is of greater value than our modern, ravenous appetite for increasing bits of random information. Anyone who has engaged in an online discussion can relate to being bombarded with links providing “pertinent” information offered solely for the purpose of winning an argument. Once the point is made, further opportunity for understanding is discarded in favor of the checkmate. There’s the pretense of knowledge where none truly exists.

It is sometimes said that we now live in a “knowledge economy,” and that “information technology” has vastly increased the extent and accessibility of human knowledge. Both claims are false. “Information technology” simply means the use of digital algorithms in the transference of messages. The “information” that is processed is not information about anything, nor does it have its equivalent in knowledge.

Scruton noted that this way of being and living leaves little margin for passing along true, practical knowledge that will be of value to our progeny :

it is true of practical knowledge, too, that we educate people in order to conserve it, and if we ever lose sight of this truth, then we are sure to lose what practical knowledge we have.

The true purpose of education, Scruton asserts, and I agree with him, is to transfer the kind of knowledge that isn’t acquired by a few clicks of the mouse. But first, he notes, we have to do away with the silly idea that education exists solely for the benefit of the student:

I emphasized that we make a mistake in believing that education exists primarily to benefit its recipient. I suggested, rather, that the goal of education is to preserve our communal store of knowledge, and to keep open the channels through which we can call on it when we need to.

This is a very hard sell in the postmodern West, which doesn’t even pretend to preserve the tension and delicate balance between individual liberty and the common good. We have gone so far that we absolve ourselves and our own children from any sense of familial duty. The idea that education is bigger than its recipients is gone.

At the core of all this, Scruton’s focus is defending the necessity of teaching the canon of high Western culture against those who are part of the current culture of repudiation. The culture of repudiation seeks to discount the value of classical Western culture as elitist at best and racist at worst. This repudiation is apparent in nearly every postmodern art form.

One of the things Scruton did here, which I was not expecting, was to give an appropriate nod to the originality and value of musical genres such as jazz. He doesn’t hold them in the same category as Mozart, of course, but he does acknowledge their value when compared to the popular music of today. He offered a theory on the connection between the downward trajectory of musical culture and what it tells us about the cultural zeitgeist of today.

Pop music, which presents the idealized adolescent as the center of a collective ceremony, is an attempt to bend music to this new condition—the condition of a stagnant crowd, standing always on the brink of adulthood, but never passing across to it. It shows youth as the goal and fulfillment of human life, rather than a transitional phase which must be cast off once the business of social reproduction calls. For many young people, therefore, it constitutes an obstacle to the acquisition of a musical culture.

I can relate to this. Despite having fully embraced my adult life and all of the responsibility which it entails, I still feel a certain nostalgia for the popular hits and R&B music of the 1980s and 1990s. There is a sense in which much of the music of my adolescent and young adult years serve as a sort of soundtrack of my life. When I listen to those songs today, however, rather than simply being caught up in the catchy beat, I am incredulous of the vapidity in the lyrics and that I’d never noticed them before. Scruton also notes that the perpetual adolescence induced through popular music and culture, in general, undergirds an ever-present attempt to de-contextualize important rites of passage. He uses, for example, one result of the sexual revolution:

The ritual transition from the virgin to the married state has all but disappeared, and with it the “lyrical” experience of sex, as a yearning for another and higher state of membership, to which the hard-won consent of society is a necessary precondition.

Scruton didn’t only see the assault on Western culture as an assault from within due to the cult of adolescence and the repudiation of tradition, but also from without via multiculturalism, including the increasing encroachment of Islamic culture in Europe. As an Englishman, Scruton was especially attuned to those happenings in his home country.

There are myriad topics to explore in Culture Counts, far more than I can summarize here. Even if you don’t agree with Scruton on all counts, he at least raised pertinent questions that have been mostly ignored in this generation which purports to know better than all of our ancestors who have gone before.

Time will tell, I suppose.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Food Catholic

food catholic

Confessions of a Food Catholic, by Doug Wilson. Published in 2016. 212 pages.

A friend loaned me this book to read and I was very interested to see what, exactly, it is all about. I wasn’t sure what Doug Wilson could possibly mean by the term “food catholic”, but eventually the idea became crystal clear.  If I had to summarize the general thesis of Confessions of a Food Catholic, I’d say it’s this:

The fact that the church has joined the world’s food fads, crusades, and trends has created a situation where the simple and joyful yet profound Christian experience of braking bread with other believers is being tainted and hindered. He argues that we all need to learn to accept what is set before us with thankfulness, and stop pretending that we are going to be irreparably damaged if we accept one dish of sweet Sister Jones’ homemade macaroni and cheese because “carbs” or “gluten” or “Monsanto” or whatever other excuse we can conjure up to resist being gracious towards our sisters and brothers in Christ. That is what I would describe as the thesis statement of Wilson’s book.

I agree with his overall thesis, but as is often the case when I read Doug Wilson’s writing, I ran into something that short-circuited his execution. I found his extensive insertion of caveats in the first three chapters problematic. In a world where almost nothing goes without saying anymore, I can appreciate the compulsion to say things like, “If you are deathly allergic to milk, I don’t expect you to risk your life eating sweet Sister Jones’ mac ‘n’ cheese in some misguided attempt at Christian unity”. What I don’t appreciate is feeling the need to say it over and over…and over again.

Thankfully, as the arguments unfolded and Wilson began to tackle the myriad individual food causes and crusades which have infiltrated the church world, the book gradually became much more pleasant to read. The secondary thesis, if you will, is almost as compelling as the first. I don’t necessarily agree with every assertion Wilson makes, but I do agree with this overall idea:

I am an active participant in my food chain, and I occupy a particular place in it. My moral duties are strongest right next to me, and they are weakest (to the extent they exist at all) at the far side of the food chain.

This is not to say that moral responsibility cannot be transmitted along the food chain. Surely it can, as when my buddy shoplifts something from Safeway so we can share it for dinner. Eating stolen goods that I watched get stolen is morally problematic, and I cheerfully grant it. But I am here talking about my supposed complicity in the strange oaths that the foreman in the Texas pecan orchard swore at his underpaid migrant workers, in the season before those pecans from said ranch made their way through thirteen other morally problematic checkpoints on their way to my pie. p.109

The numerous documentaries produced for the sole purpose of “informing: and inducing guilt into the American populace about the foods we eat has reached such a level of absurdity that even I, a girl who has to be careful about jumping on bandwagons, have learned to tune them out. I’m still a sucker for a good health fad, but I can no longer be bothered to bear guilt for Jose and Juanita’s suffering experienced on the tomato farms of South Florida.

I certainly believe that when we know better, that to the extent that we can, we should do better. I might be proving Wilson’s point here to a degree, but I don’t think it’s wise to ignore medical knowledge and advancements which offer information we can act on and to build on, especially in the areas of health and wellness. However, as Wilson aptly points out, every generation believes it has the lock on the truth about any number of things, and ours is no different. We should keep that im mind.

Touching on everything from our misguided expectation that a government which ushered corruption into the food industry should somehow fix it, to the ironic reality that the people who browbeat us the most about our food choices abhor our faith and values, Wilson offers a lot of food for thought here. He certainly opened up my thinking in ways that will help me to be a little more conscious of the areas in which I have raised food choices to the level of moral authority on par with The 10 Commandments.

Overall, it’s not a perfect book, but it is a worthwhile admonition.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

Eggs are expensive. Sperm is cheap

eggs are expensive

Eggs Are expensive. Sperm is cheap: 50 Politically Incorrect Thoughts for Men, Kindle edition, by Greg Krehbiel. Published n 2014. 94 pages.

It just took me a grand total of one hour and 45 minutes to read this book, so it’s pretty short. I have heard the titular expression several times, but was unfamiliar with any book with this title. I learned of it after stumbling upon this article by Doug Wilson in which it was referenced. The book was far less expensive than eggs or sperm, and so I grabbed a cheap download and read it just a bit ago.

The basic premise, with which I fully agree, is that what our postmodern culture brands sexism is actually the recognition of human nature, common sense, and God-given sexual hard wiring for our survival and human flourishing. It’s a necessary good, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with pointing out that men and women are fundamentally different, thrive in different capacities, and are best served by the acknowledgment and acceptance of these realities.

There isn’t much more to it than that, broken down into 50 bullet point thoughts to organize the author’s points. The examples are worth considering; on everything from the privilege of male children in China to the “oppression” of women prior to 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed. One example in particular that is worth considering is the ongoing fight for female equality in the armed forces:

Another example is warfare. If you understand the fundamental math (eggs are expensive and sperm is cheap) you understand why it makes perfect sense to have men fight the wars. Nature seems to understand that because it made the men physically equipped for the task. But somebody who is an absolute genius at spin has convinced us all that this very fact — that it’s the men who have to fight and die in war — is now seen as oppression of women. It’s almost hard to write something so transparently stupid, but that’s the way people think nowadays.

The modern lie has taken hold so completely that up to this moment you probably saw it that way. You probably saw the exclusion of women from various roles in the military as a left-over of pro-male prejudice. You may have thought, “Why can’t a woman go fight if she wants to?” And there you have the female imperative. “If she wants to.” The man might be drafted against his will and sent off to fight and die in a war a thousand miles away from everyone he loves for a cause he doesn’t believe in. But the woman gets to choose if she wants to fight, and the entire military structure has to be retooled and reorganized to accommodate her preference.

There is a lot to be said about the subject of this book, and unless any of us are willing to think critically, outside  the box, and consider another perspective if only as a thought experiment, no consensus will be reached. I didn’t agree with everything in the book. As is often the case when I read secular books on this subject, I like to see more credence given to the transcendent, even when I have no reason to expect such.

Krehbiel is far more right than wrong on all 50 of his counts, so it’s worth a read whether you’re male or female. The second half is mostly advice for men, but most of it -not all of it- was decent advice. I arrived at that conclusion from observing my own husband, not because of any inbred authority on the subject of manhood.

One thing is true, no matter what side of the argument you come down on. Mr Krehbiel is right absolutely about this:

The modern approach to sex doesn’t build a culture. It doesn’t harness the energy of the young man’s sex drive to make young men into responsible, useful members of society. It also fails to maximize women’s potential as wives and mothers. It is, in short, destroying civilized society. For the time being, our society is living off the borrowed capital of previous generations. A couple more generations of the modern way, and we’ll be in full-bore idiocracy.

This is a book that hits all the pertinent notes in a concise, no nonsense way and does it without being coarse or vulgar. Totally worth a read, even if all it does is make you think.

 

4 out of 5 stars

The Wind in the Reeds

wind in the reeds

The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and a City That Would Not Be Broken, by Wendell Pierce (with Rod Dreher). Originally published in 2015. 352 pages.

I’ve read Rod Dreher’s recommendation of The Wind in the Reeds on more than one occasion, and a recent trip to the library reminded me that I had not read it. I’d always intended to, so I decided that now was as good a time as any to give it a read.

Wendell Pierce is a classically Julliard trained actor of stage and screen. He is best known for his role on a television show called The Wire. I am unfamiliar with the show beyond what he offers in this book, where he delves deeply into his passion for his craft and the importance of art -of all forms- in culture.

Wind in the Reeds is equal parts memoir, regional history, and racial commentary. The regional history is particularly interesting to me as my paternal roots are in Southern Louisiana, the region from which Pierce is offering his readers a history lesson.

The book begins as he flashes back to his 2007 benefit performance of the play Waiting For Godot, which was staged as a free outdoor event to benefit the city of New Orleans in the wake of its devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

New Orleans is Pierce’s hometown. His family has deep roots there. After his introductory passages which expressed the depth and breadth of his emotions on the opening night of Godot, he pivots, taking the reader back in time with him. He recounts his family’s Louisiana history all the way back to a slave named Aristile who was sold away from his family in Kentucky and taken to a Louisiana sugar plantation sometime in the years preceding the Civil War. I’m going to pivot here; albeit briefly.

I have a bit of fascination with those rare numbers of black families who have a fairly reliable documented history. Whether it’s Pierce’s story, The Delany Sisters, or my husband’s maternal family, which actually has a family historian with a family tree going back nearly 125 years. It’s a short period of time in the grand scheme, but for slave descendants, it’s significant. Few Americans -of any race- know much about their families beyond their great grandparents. I have yet to meet an unsuccessful black family when those historical roots are watered generation after generation. It’s not that every member of such families is wealthy or fully successful, but there are recognizable strings of strong, hard-working, mostly intact families. Wendell Pierce’s family, as he describes it here, is no different.

After laying the foundation of his family’s Louisiana history, the book connects the industrial and racial history of Southern Louisiana as a region. I found that there were parts of Pierce’s commentary I fully agreed with and others where I strenuously disagreed. I am not, however, unfamiliar with this dynamic; the tension many successful blacks feel between their bedrock belief in personal responsibility and hard work and the idea that there is still so much work to be done on behalf of those who haven’t been able to make it in the same way.

In addition to his historical and racial commentary, Pierce uses two chapters to describe his journey to Julliard, the stage, and then the screen. As with the racial and social commentary, I was equal parts intrigued and equal parts unimpressed. Art is crucially important as Pierce rightly notes, but there is a wide chasm between the classic theater that he studied at Julliard and much of the drivel that passes as art today. His noble admonition for artists to eschew the temptation to allow businessmen and bottom-line concerns to trump their creative integrity isn’t a view that seems to be shared in his industry.

As he ends the book, Pierce turns back to where he started; with the devastation that his beloved city endured in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and his memories of the shock that awaited him as he flew home that very weekend, thinking that as the storm had hit and left Florida, the crisis had passed. What he didn’t know was that after hitting Florida as a Cat 1 storm, Katrina had re-strengthened to a Cat 5 and was heading straight towards the much more vulnerable basin city of New Orleans. He describes the storm, its aftermath, and its effects on his immediate family, who fared far better than most precisely because of his success as an actor.

This was a moving memoir, and its history was informative and interesting. Despite areas of divergent philosophy or politics, one thing was crystal clear: Wendell Pierce is a man who loves his family and takes great pride in the legacy into which he was born.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, which is only a few days away, I’ll wrap up this review with the same excerpt that Dreher posted over at the American Conservative. In 2009, more than six decades after the end of World War II, Wendell Pierce’s father, Amos Pierce, was finally to take possession of the medals he earned in the war but which were denied him when he returned stateside. You’d think a man who was so slighted by the country he fought and nearly died for would be more than a little bit bitter. Amos Pierce wasn’t, as exemplified by this moment Pierce recalled from his childhood:

This was the late sixties or early seventies, when the Black Power movement was in full swing. That ethos demanded that when the national anthem was played, black people protested by refusing to stand in respect.

That night at the Municipal Auditorium, the national anthem began to sound over the PA system, signaling that the fights would soon begin. Everyone stood, except some brothers sitting in the next row down from us. They looked up at my father and said, “Aw, Pops, sit down.”

“Don’t touch me, man,” growled my dad.

“Sit down! Sit down!” they kept on.

“Don’t touch me,” he said. “I fought for that flag. You can sit down. I fought for you to have that right. But I fought for that flag too, and I’m going to stand.”

Then one of the brothers leveled his eyes at Daddy, and said, “No, you need to sit down.” He started pulling on my father’s pants leg.

That was it. “You touch me one more time,” my father roared, “and I’m going to kick you in your f—-ng teeth.”

The radical wiseass turned around and minded his own business. That was a demonstration of black power that the brother hadn’t expected.

That was a powerful recollection that very few of us will be able to relate to as the years go by.

3 out of 5 stars.