Friday, April 2, 2010

Doing the ten books thing

There's a current blogging fad of listing ten books that had a mighty influence on your life,  and as my Friday-afternoon wind down, I'll join in.

Feminism: the Essential Historical Writings, edited by Miriam Schneir, was my real introduction to American civics, grafting debates on inclusion and responsibility right into my bones, especially Elizabeth Cady Stanton's speeches and Sarah Grimke's letters.

Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes were Watching God  was out of print when my mother' sister pushed it into my sixteen-year-old hands.  That great work on girl-becoming-woman and character-outweighing-conditions and passion-making-the-world-worth-having has gained its proper public recognition in the years since, including a place in the common core exemplars of the kind of reading students should take on in school.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn taught me most of the physics I know and put paradigms and paradigm shifts at the heart of my understanding of big ideas.  As the common core effort and the state of Kentucky move on to developing science standards, the issue of paradigms will be showing up in my blogging analysis.

On the Condition of the Working Classes was the first in a line of Catholic social encyclicals that (as a set) became my framework for thinking about economies and economic participation, with my first question always being about how many people are able to build up the world around them.  Education systems create the personal capacities and the structural supports for  large numbers to do that building for themselves, and that's why education is where I do my own work.

E.D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy is regular blog fodder already, grounding both my understanding of reading and my energetic commitment to substantive standards in history, science, literature, and art.

Sources of the Self is Charles Taylor's great analysis of the origins of modern understandings of individuality.  I know better than to attempt a summary of his deep argument, but I'll mention that his concept of the "affirmation of everyday life" as a Reformation breakthrough shows up here every time I tuck a family detail into my writing.

Albion's Seed is one book every participant in Kentucky public affairs needs to read. David Hacket Fischer traces early immigration from the British isles to North America, pointing out how regional differences across the Atlantic became central to regional cultures here.  If you once think of Virginia plantations as Wessex and of Appalachian settlers as "Borderers," you never stop. If you add in that Daniel Boone's family had Midlands-to-Midatlantic roots but Abraham Lincoln radiated East-Anglia-to-New-England approaches, you've got a new lens for nearly everything that happens in the Bluegrass State.

Abraham Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism crossed my path a decade ago. Kuyper, both a Dutch Reformed minister and a Dutch Prime Minister, offers a bridge between those encyclicals mentioned earlier and my Presbyterianism.  His distinction between the political (dis)engagement of church institutions and the political engagement of Christians as citizens is especially helpful.

Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce rests on careful interviews backed up by systematic surveys, undergirded by author Elizabeth Marquardt's own generous and nurturing spirit.  I grew up knowing that for many in my mother's generation, a hundred inarticulate concerns suddenly clicked into clarity when Freidan published The Feminine Mystique. For a subset of adults my age and younger, Marquardt's work provides click after click after click of understanding about our own past and continuing experience.  It's not a recognized classic yet, but it should be and will be.

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