This week, our choices are:
Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings by Earl Swift, Custom House
They are not as celebrated as the initial moon landing, or even the missions of those like John Glenn that laid the groundwork (or spacework?) to get there, but the final three Apollo missions to the moon remain the apex of human aviation and exploration. As Earl Swift writes in his new book, Across the Airless Wilds:
It comes to this: Remembered or not, the nine days the final three missions spent on the moon were a fitting culmination to Apollo, and a half century later remain the crowning accomplishment of America’s manned space program.
It is one of America’s greatest success stories, and like so many of them, it centers largely around the story of immigrants and their contributions. And they not only allowed us to travel further on the moon, early six-wheeled iterations of their design (the pictures in the book of the engineers driving the first examples look like they are stills from a sci-fi movie) were resurrected for the rovers we’re now sending to Mars. A terrestrial science, immigrants of different backgrounds coming together on common ground, Cold War competition, and extra-terrestrial missions. It’s an intellectual high adventure. (DJJS)
Praying with Jane Eyre: Reflections on Reading as a Sacred Practice by Vanessa Zoltan, Tarcherperigee
Through deep reading and reflecting on Zoltan's own life and experiences, Praying with Jane Eyre presents the reader with essays she calls "sermons" that go beyond the text analysis so many of us had to do in high school English classes (so don't be put off just because you don’t want to think about what the green light in The Great Gatsby means anymore).
Zoltan, a self-described Atheist Chaplain, will garner many disciples of the bibliophile variety with this incredible debut, Praying with Jane Eyre. But the spiritual connections she presents aren't limited to the books she analyzes. She also provides a helpful chapter on how to get started in your own Sacred Readings practice at home. Zoltan may inspire you to start reading your favorite books more closely, or maybe to find or create a community around a text you want to learn from, or even just to pick up a book. You don't have to be a literary critic to enjoy this book. In fact, Praying with Jane Eyre makes literature of any form feel very accessible as well as massively important. (GMC)
This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan, Penguin Random House
In his new book, Pollan focuses in on three substances that alter human consciousness—opium, caffeine, mescaline—and takes us on a whirlwind exploration through his research on the plants that contain them. He shows us how these plants have weaved throughout our history from licit to illicit drugs depending on how the masses chose to see them at that point in time. Through the worrisome trek of tending a garden of poppies and questioning the felony of creating a tea to abstaining from caffeine, the drug the world is allowed to be addicted to, to the flora of opening the mind, mescaline. He also speaks about how these plants are deeply important to different cultures and religions, questioning how and why plants become illegal and what constitutes a drug. What is legitimate medicine versus an illicit drug? Or are they one in the same depending on how you introduce them into the body–or to the world.
Pollan incorporates his journalistic thoughts, grappling with writing a book on a deadline as Covid looms overhead, disrupting his research and having him question everything. A wonderful read into the mind of a journalist as he explains the history and effects of plants on your brain, all while you watch him experience and contemplate the very thing he is writing about. A very intriguing read that will have you thinking deeper into that ritualistic cup of coffee you have every morning. (EPP)
Vessel: A Memoir by Cai Chongda, HarperVia
There are many layers to Vessel, and I’m still acclimating myself to the harshness of the memoir as I continue reading it. Through non-linear storytelling, Cai Chongda recalls his youth to young adulthood in 1980s China: his family, their homes, struggles with poverty and illness, his work and education, and the waves of Western influence on the village. Throughout the book, he slowly comes-to-terms with the many changes in his life.
It occurred to me that I treated my heart just like municipal planning officials had treated the town: in the name of development, in the name of building toward some future goal, in the name of respectability, I had been in a hurry to redevelop, demolish, and rebuild everything I held dear. There was no going back, for me or for the town.
The ebb-and-flow of time and place in Vessel is sometimes difficult to follow but overall is enjoyable as it emulates the unpredictability of memories as Chongda unravels his knowledge of loved ones and ties them to all the experiences that have shaped who he is now. (GMC)