We asked a range of authors and creative types to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. More than two dozen responded. Here are picks from the Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance.
Latest book: Growing Up Jewish
Reading recommendations: I can’t avoid including the Book of Psalms. Aside from the fact that it is the only book in the Jewish Bible that is of undisputed human authorship, it is a collection of essential yearnings and gratitudes that give me a sense that our current troubles, existential and political both, are neither new nor permanent. In addition, the melodies to which so many of the psalms have been set are inseparable from the words. And how can I not also hear Leonard Cohen in every “hallelujah.”
Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours probably makes me sound like a poetry buff, which, alas, I am not. But Rilke’s extraordinary talent for combining deep spiritual sensitivity with intuition about the human condition can rescue me from almost any funk. I feel the same way about Israeli poet Dan Pagis.
I remember reading Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale when it first came out. I can remember where I was sitting as I read each chapter. The early chapters that almost breezily describe how quickly an inclusive society can collapse into a corrupt theocracy and, most impressively to me, the epilogue in which future academics look back with disdain and incredulity on the dark age of female servitude still inspire me never to give up resisting injustice and never to give up hope that the moral arc of the universe…well, you know. These two features, by the way, are what make this book a better choice right now than Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.
The complete series: Daniel Alarcón, Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Ana Castillo, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Michael Eric Dyson, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, William Gibson, Mohsin Hamid, Piper Kerman, Phil Klay, Alex Kotlowitz, Bill McKibben, Rabbi Jack Moline, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Peggy Orenstein, Wendy C. Ortiz, Darryl Pinckney, Joe Romm, Karen Russell, George Saunders, Tracy K. Smith, Ayelet Waldman, Jesmyn Ward, and Gene Luen Yang.