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Archive for the 'Book of the Week' Category

Friday, May 27th, 2016

Can Business Help Stop Global Warming and the Other Four Horsemen? — Daniel Callahan

The Five Horsmen, Daniel Callahan

“If my other four horsemen can learn anything from the success of the Paris agreement for global warming, it may be that success is possible with the following approach: work diplomatically to gain the cooperation of industry, regardless of how obstructionist it has been in the past; intensify efforts to find technological pathways that work while also lowering prices; develop citizens’ groups at the local level and broader grassroots social movements to break through the barrier that too often succeeds in raising interest and concern but fails to generate action and legislative attention; if there are real dangers and hazards, do not hesitate to evoke them (but do not exaggerate); and, most of all, don’t give up. The problems of the five horsemen are most likely chronic, to be lived with and combatted simultaneously. That can be done.”—Daniel Callahan, The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity

We conclude our week-long focus on Daniel Callahan’s book, The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity with a list of organizations and business-led initiatives that are working to solve the key problems affecting today’s world. As Callahan argues in the final chapter of his book after decades of causing many of these problems, businesses are now increasingly active in trying to combat them. Most of these companies and industry partnerships are focused on ending global warming but the organizations at the bottom are concerned the other issues Callahan discusses in his book. Here is Callahan’s list:

* GreenBiz Group: large-membership group with annual detailed re­ports on global industry and environment efforts
* Risky Business Project: a potent group of U.S. business leaders working to get business to prepare for global warming
* The New Climate Economy: an international group of economists aim­ing to achieve lasting economic growth while also attacking the risks of climate change
* UN Global Compact: UN-business partnerships with voluntary corpo­rate responsibility
* The International Business Leader’s Forum (UK): founded by the prince of Wales to focus on the role of business in society, embracing social responsibility as “core business”
* World Economic Forum: producing studies and reports and holding an annual meeting in Davos combining economic growth and risk of global warming
* The Climate Group and the CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Dis­closure Project): formed RE100 with the aim of getting 100 companies to pledge to switch to 100% renewables
* New York Declaration on Forests: thirty-four companies pledged to cut deforestation
* Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP): twenty-nine consumer businesses that have the goal of getting widespread U.S. bi­partisan energy and climate legislation; its 2013 Climate Declaration gained 800 companies and had 1,000 signatories by September 8, 2014, just before New York climate week and march
* World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD): a CEO-led organization of companies working to create a “sustainable” future for business
* United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP): business and envi­ronmental organizations to get national legislation to require signifi­cant emission reductions
* The B-Team: not-for-profit organized “to catalyze a better way of do­ing business for the well-being of people and the planet”
* The Divest-Invest Campaign: led by the Wallace Global Fund to pledge divestment from fossil fuel stocks and move money into clean energy investments; announced gaining 800 global investors with combined assets of $50 billion by 2014, and aiming for $150 billion by 2015
* We Mean Business: a coalition of organizations working with the world’s influential businesses and investors to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy

Here are a few examples pertinent to the other four horsemen. There are not as many organizations doing for four of the horsemen what busi­ness is doing for global warming:

* Anheuser-Busch: SmartBarley benchmarking to improve crop yield through better water efficiency
* Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles: Coca-Cola, requiring its supply-chain members to practice these principles to maintain farm­lands and communities
* Coca-Cola: with Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Founda­tion, collecting water fees from companies operating in the develop­ing world to restore natural ecosystems
* Better Cotton Initiative: founded by partnership between World Wild­life Fund and IKEA to address water-gobbling cotton production
* WATERisLIFE: the Drinkable Book holding twenty filter pages, each capable of filtering up to 100 liters of water at a cost of about 10 cents per page
* Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: partnering 1,000 groups with 45 national governments to built a sustainable market for clean cooking solutions
* Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation: a CEO-led partnership to reduce obesity, comprising more than 250 active corporations and nonprofits

Friday, May 20th, 2016

“National Income” in the Encyclopaedia Of the Social Sciences

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“According to Kuznets, the purpose of the economic system was to provide the citizens of a country with goods and services. What was decisive in the recording of national income was the moment at which individuals in the economic cycle achieved their income. Kuznets had a clear and realistic concept: national income had to be thought of in terms of the incomes individuals get, and not as the total value of production.” — Philipp Lepenies

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. For the final post of the feature, we are happy to present a short excerpt from The Power of a Single Number, in which Lepenies tells the story of how Simon Kuznets got his conception of national income into the 1933 edition of the Encyclopaedia Of The Social Sciences.

“National Income” in the Encyclopaedia Of the Social Sciences (1933)
Philipp Lepenies

It was thanks to his brother that Kuznets—not well known among researchers for his work on national income—was entrusted with the entry for the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. Salomon Kuznets was one of the editor’s closest members of staff, and awarded the contract to Simon, who seized the opportunity to present his view of the topic. His entry presented what was, until then, the most comprehensive methodological and theoretical statement on national income. As opposed to most of the other publications on national income, his was not aimed at an expert audience. It was written in a generally comprehensible way, and made do with few technical details. With this, Kuznets was able to get his views across to a wide audience.

For Kuznets, it was not only income (which could be calculated as consumption, its distribution, and the value of production) that made up the figure national income. He added a fourth category, “income enjoyed,” or the sum total of all subjective feelings, which each individual has in his dual function as producer and consumer. In so doing, Kuznets extended the range of interpretation of national income with a subjective component: the satisfaction resulting from one’s own economic activity. Such feelings, however, were not measurable, so in order to quantify national income, one had to concentrate on the cruder benchmarks of income received and consumed. (more…)

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

The Principle of Effective Demand

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“Consumption and savings depend first and foremost on the level of national income, but what decides the latter? This is the crucial question. Keynes answered: it is the level of investment demand. Investors, not consumers (alias savers), are the active element in the economic system.” — Heinz Kurz

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from Economic Thought, in which Heinz Kurz breaks down John Maynard Keynes’s “principle of effective demand.”

The Principle of Effective Demand
Heinz Kurz

Let us now have a closer look at Keynes’s view that the economic system is typically not fully utilizing its productive resources—it is not “supply-constrained,” as neoclassical economists contend, but “demand-constrained” (except during booms). More specifically, Keynes’s “principle of effective demand” means that there is no reason to assume that aggregate investment demand will always be large enough to employ all of an economy’s productive resources. To see this we must turn to how he determined the two components of private domestic aggregate effective demand—consumption and investment expenditures.

Before doing so, it should be noted that Keynes conceived savings (correctly) as the nondemand of goods and services. The saver keeps a part of his or her money income and does not spend it, that is, does not buy goods. Savings in themselves involve “leakages” in the stream of expenditures and pose the problem of sufficient effective demand. The praise Adam Smith had showered upon the “frugal man” was justified only to the extent to which the saver was at the same time an investor, who spent the saved sums not on consumption goods (food, beverages, clothing, etc.) but instead on investment goods (plant and equipment, raw materials, etc.). In this perspective investments involve “injections” into the stream of expenditures and may compensate for the leakages stemming from savings. (more…)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

What It’s All About: A Short Primer on GDP

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“The success of gross national product and GDP is based on the fact that, with them, politicians were from the outset able to pursue a whole array of goals beyond just documenting economic processes.’” — Philipp Lepenies

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we have excerpted “What It’s All About: A Short Primer on GDP,” in which Lepenies quickly summarizes what exactly GDP (and GNP) are, and previews the ways that this “statistical construct became a matter of politics.”

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Introducing “Economic Thought”

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“Does this mean that economics preserves everything that is correct and valuable and disposes of everything that is wrong and misleading? Is the market for economic ideas a perfectly functioning selection mechanism? Unfortunately, the answer is no.’” — Heinz Kurz

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we are happy to present Heinz Kurz’s introduction to Economic Thought, in which he lays out his project (“A history of economic thought in some 200 pages? Impossible!”), and explains why understanding how our views of economics have changed over time is crucial in informing our current views of the economy and how it works.

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Economic Thought” and “The Power of a Single Number”

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

On Economic Thought: “An enjoyable and well-organized history of economic thought, which will attract many readers to this highly readable treatise on the ‘dismal science.’” — Amartya Sen, Harvard University

On The Power of a Single Number: “The Power of a Single Number is beautifully written and easily accessible to anyone who wants to know more about what lies behind the world’s most powerful number.” — Robert H. Wade

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about both books and their authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of both Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 20th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Dharma and Drugs

Altered States

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In the final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to share Douglas Osto’s conversation with Erik Davis on the Expanding Mind podcast as they talk perennialism, experiential narratives, the limits of reason, and Altered States.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

A Neuropsychological Model of Altered States of Consciousness

Altered States

“Since the feeling of being transported to “somewhere else” in an altered state appears to be a cross-cultural, psychological universal, possibly related to the physiological hardwiring of the human brain, one could hypothesize the existence of certain naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, like DMT, that can act in similar ways as LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post,

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Douglas Osto on the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics in America

Altered States

“I wrote this book because I was interested in a question, and the question was, ‘what’s happened in the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics since the 60s?’” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s video, Osto details some of the questions that led him to write, the methods he used in his research, and the structure of the book itself.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Buddhism, Psychedelic Spirituality, and the Religious Landscape of America

Altered States

“These altered states by their very nature exceed the bounds of reason and challenge existing paradigms. We as human beings tend to fear the novel, strange, weird, and extraordinary. Thus it is not surprising that the status quo often is highly suspect of new religious movements, or “cults,” and generally attempts to suppress them, often with extreme prejudice. However, fear is not our only instinct, and hopefully not our strongest.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post, excerpted from the book’s preface, Osto explains that he hopes to tell “the story of how Buddhism and psychedelic spirituality coemerged, mutually influenced each other, and forever changed the religious landscape of America.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

“Man’s greatest dread is the expansion of consciousness.”
—Henry Miller, Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud

This book does not promote breaking the law of any land; nor does it demonize, denigrate, or dismiss anyone’s religious/spiritual beliefs or practices. As an American born and bred, I have a strong conviction in the individual’s right to freedom of religion. As far as my political views concerning the use of psychoactive substances, I describe myself as libertarian. I believe every adult individual’s body is her own sovereign domain; thus every rational person has a right to do whatever she wants to her body without the interference of a paternalistic government legislating what is in her best interests. Also, in regard to morality, my Catholic upbringing has convinced me of the supremacy of one’s individual conscience. And legality and morality are clearly different things. For example, many today (myself included) would regard the persecution of someone for his sexual orientation or possession of another human being as someone’s property to be immoral acts. However, in the United Kingdom, for example, homosexuality was punishable as a crime until 1967, and slavery was legal in parts of the Empire until 1843.

It should be clear from the above comments that I am not against the use of psychoactive substances for religious/spiritual purposes, regardless of whether such use is deemed “illegal” by some governments. Since I believe an individual’s freedom to religion, absolute sovereignty of her own body, and individual conscience each trump any current laws of the land, I find arguments against the religious use of psychoactives based on the legal status of these substances unconvincing. Moreover, claims that someone should not practice his religion because it could be “dangerous” to his health are equally unconvincing. First, the real health risks of the classic psychedelics appear minimal when compared to the risks of using legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Second, legislating against a person’s or group’s religion out of concern for their health is paternalistic in the extreme. Early Christianity was both illegal and hazardous to your health if you lived in the Roman Empire. And yet, as Tertullian wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In other words, without the outlawed and dangerous activities of the early Christians, Christianity would not be a world religion today. (more…)

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America

Altered States

Altered States genuinely moves forward in laying a path for new, insightful, and valuable information on the American Buddhism that is developing in our global society. Osto’s groundbreaking research will be appreciated by scholars, and his accessible style will be enjoyed by non-academic readers.” — Charles Prebish, Utah State University

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Altered States. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, May 6th, 2016

On “Imagine”

A None's Story

“How quickly one’s isolation can flip into expansive belonging! To suddenly become aware of one’s being present in the room, alongside the presence of others, to contemplate the world anew and then to consider it through alternate perspectives. Worship can help us do this and more; an evening of improv was having a similar effect.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

On “Imagine”
Excerpted from A None’s Story, by Corinna Nicolaou

Back at home, I realized it was time to come to some conclusion. What was I? My spiritual house had been spiraling around this strange cyclone for several years. Now, presumably, the winds were dying down and it was time for it to land . . . but where? I kept asking myself: what do you believe? As I was cooking dinner or walking the dogs or waking up first thing in the morning: what do you believe? Then I would take another approach. Just pick one, I would tell myself. Perhaps it wasn’t important what I selected. The goal was to settle in one spot, grow roots, develop, and evolve. I just had to commit to something.

Now I was blogging in real time, and I needed to bring the journey to some conclusion. The problem, as I began to see it, was that in selecting one version of one belief system, I was rejecting all the others—or at least that’s how it felt. In my imagination, I would make my choice. I would picture signing some official declaration of faith. Trumpets would sound. I now had license to declare myself a practicing such-and-such. But this scenario always made my stomach turn. My mind would wander to the options I wasn’t picking, and I would feel queasy at those potential paths I had refused. On some fundamental
level, settling down felt wrong. It occurred to me that perhaps my problem was emblematic of the criticisms regularly hurled at today’s younger generations. Our disengagement is a sign of some critical flaw manifesting in humankind. An aversion to hard work leaves us craving quick fixes. We want all the answers in our palm for no more effort than the light touch of an index finger. We don’t have the patience for deep thinking. We’re too blasé and easily bored to struggle—especially with the intangible. I weighed these as possible causes of my indecision, but none seemed an appropriate explanation. In fact it felt like the opposite. I suspected the problem might be too much interest, too much caring.

Nor was my reluctance to pick tied to a newly discovered distaste for religion. On the contrary, I had found pockets of profound insight tucked within each faith. How was I to choose? In becoming a Christian, I could not be a Jew. In Judaism, I was not Muslim. In being Muslim, I gave up Buddhism. I had reached this strange crossroads where not picking among the religions felt like the best way to honor the religions. My not choosing wasn’t coming from a place of denial but, rather, a place of acceptance. And if I chose no affiliation, wasn’t I also—in a funny way—opting for all of them? It made me think of the symbol of the open circle, so important in mystical traditions like Kabbalah. Represented in everyday parlance as a zero, it implies absence—but at
the same time it also suggests receptivity.

In thinking this through, I was reminded of something that had made headlines briefly a couple years earlier. It had been a minor occurrence, no more than a footnote in popular culture, but I had paid attention because it seemed to hint at something bigger. In a live, televised performance from Times Square on New Year’s 2012, pop singer CeeLo Green sang John Lennon’s classic “Imagine.” A great vocalist paired with a fantastic song; lyrics that envision a world healed of conflict and violence. What could go wrong? Nothing—but for one tiny detail. CeeLo changed two words. In his version, “nothing to kill
or die for / and no religion too” became “nothing to kill or die for / and all religion’s true.” Lennon’s utopia got tweaked.

Instantly, the Internet lit up with comments. CeeLo received an avalanche of tweets and messages on his Facebook page. Most were voices of displeasure, saying the singer should be ashamed of himself—or worse. Rolling Stone magazine ran a brief story about it on its website, which produced a chain of almost six hundred remarks.

Among the more thoughtful commenters were those who speculated on what John Lennon meant (“I think ‘no religion too’ means they are fake! All religions are fake.”) or what CeeLo’s change implied (“I don’t get it. ‘All religion’s true’ seems to be an oxymoron!”). A few voices defended CeeLo. One wrote, “If I’m not mistaken, isn’t the meaning of the song to imagine a world without the ideas that separate us . . . If all religion were true wouldn’t that mean that all religion exists in harmony where people aren’t killing others because of differing beliefs?”

The Rolling Stone article characterized those whom CeeLo had outraged as “John Lennon Fans.” But was all the fuss really motivated by love for the lost Beatle? I suspected the truth was a bit more complicated. I thought they were more likely people whose distaste for religion had made the song—and in particular that line within it—something of an anthem. Lennon himself had a much softer take on religion. Among his many famous quotes is this: “People always got the image I was an anti-Christ or anti-religion. I’m not. I’m a most religious fellow. I was brought up a Christian and I only now understand some of the things that Christ was saying in those parables.” He also said, “I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”

Almost immediately after the controversy, CeeLo tweeted a mea culpa. Not long after that, he deleted it. In his next public mention of the kerfuffle, he sounded much less sorry. He said he stood by the altered lyric. I thought it was brave what he had done, and I now felt I understood it even better.

The whole point of each belief system I had explored, the motivation of its original thinkers, was to heal—ourselves and the societies in which we live; to help us see that we are a part of something, whole and connected. Yet too often they become another means of discord. Our belief systems keep us feeling special or superior, which are just different ways of feeling isolated. But it’s not religion that’s torn us apart, because even lack of belief does the trick if clung to with white knuckles. To eliminate the certainty—to take the conviction out of religion—changes everything.

I think more and more people are sensing this, which is why the ranks of the Nones continue to grow. What many of us are saying with our lack of affiliation is that we don’t want to take sides. Our stance overlaps with that of agnostics, who also maintain neutrality, though for slightly different reasons. Technically, an agnostic would pick a side if evidence proved which was right. Most Nones aren’t interested in who’s right. As far as we’re concerned, there is no right, only different paths to the final destination. One group claiming the truth at the expense of another is just the sort of thing we’re sick of because we see the destruction it’s done; used again and again to justify not taking care of one another or, worse, destroying each other. Perhaps Nones are trying something new: not picking sides is the side we’re picking. It might even be the most deeply religious decision we will ever make, our way of taking a stand for a more peaceful and loving world. If John Lennon were alive, I like to think he’d be right there with us.

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Corinna Nicolaou on Jihad

A None's Story

“While digging around for information on the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial, I happened on an article about the multifaith chapel that had been constructed when the building was repaired. Apparently the Pentagon had accommodated a variety of religious services for many years, but never before had a space been specially designated for the purpose. Now the location had been chosen by the nose of an airplane.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. In today’s post, Nicolaou ventures into the Pentagon’s post-9/11 multifaith chapel and examines the disconnect between common perceptions of Islam and her experiences learning about it.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

The Future of Spiritual Practice

A None's Story

“How quickly one’s isolation can flip into expansive belonging! To suddenly become aware of one’s being present in the room, alongside the presence of others, to contemplate the world anew and then to consider it through alternate perspectives. Worship can help us do this and more; an evening of improv was having a similar effect.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. Today we are happy to present a crosspost from Nicolaou’s fantastic blog, One None Gets Some, in which she looks back on the start of her book tour and what it’s taught her about religion and spirituality.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

The Future of Spiritual Practice
By Corinna Nicolaou

The first six stops of my book tour under my belt, I’m starting to get a sense of some recurring questions audience members are eager to have answered after I speak about (and read from) the religious exploration I write about in A None’s Story. One common inquiry is something along the lines of, “What do you think the future is for religion in the United States?” (For book tour updates, “like” my author Facebook page.)

Many people, I believe, are expecting me to declare religion dead—or, at the very least, dying. I know some of the audience members are people of faith, a few have been current or retired leaders of religious congregations, and they fear what’s in store for their communities in the next decade or two. Others are concerned for the growing number of citizens who appear to be operating in a world increasingly devoid of spiritual grounding or guidance.

I understand the worry but, from where I stand, the view is not so bleak. I honestly believe that the core of religion is as relevant today as it has ever been because, despite all the changes we and our society undergoes, something fundamental remains the same. Each of us struggles to come to grips with being here on earth, and with the knowledge that we will leave—as if these realizations are a fresh new thing just added to the human experience. We are driven to makes sense of this knowledge, to come together with others who are also striving for greater understanding, and to work together to find ways to better care for ourselves and others. No, the basic impulse from which religion is born is intrinsically tied to our beings. The growth in the population of Nones does not spell the end of religion. But it does herald a change. (more…)

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Corinna Nicolaou on Christianity

A None's Story

“I had gone through a phase several years earlier when I called myself an atheist; I thought it was the only alternative to thinking the world was run by a giant grandpa sitting on a cloud. Later I realized I knew too little to rightfully claim atheism; to reject something, it’s necessary to have a working knowledge of what you reject.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. Today, to get the feature kicked off, we are happy to present an excerpt from the beginning of A None’s Story, in which Nicolaou lays out her goals for her project and takes a close look at Christianity.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Book Giveaway! A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam

A None's Story

“Nicolaou’s quest to find inner peace through in-depth participation in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam is not only informative in a remarkably even-handed and clear-headed way, but also compelling, inspiring, insightful, moving, and often funny.” — Shelf Awareness

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of A None’s Story. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, April 8th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, April 29th, 2016

What Can Poetry Do?

Poetry and Conflict

What Can Poetry Do?

Our celebration of world literature would not be complete without a post to celebrate world poetry, especially during National Poetry Month.

The International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong is a biennial gala celebrating poetry that brings together poets from all over the world and unites them under a single theme. Each festival yields a box set of chapbooks written in connection with the festival’s theme and an anthology, which collects selections of the participating poets work, both are published by The Chinese University Press. The theme for the 2015 festival was: Poetry and Conflict.

In his foreword to the Poetry and Conflict anthology co-editor Bei Dao writes:

Since antiquity, poetry has been sourced in humanity’s suffering, a driving force for the overcoming of darkness toward the light. Now, amid proposed conflicts between civilizations, histories, religions, and languages, what can poetry do? In the bedlam of the morbid fantasies of our world, what can poetry do? In this moment of mystery when land and air are collapsing, what can poetry do? In retracing the source and course of our spiritual knocking at language’s door, what can poetry do?

In the work contained in this collection the poets answer. Over and over again they show us what poetry can do. Here are a few highlights:

From Najwan Darwish, a Palestinian poet, who is one of the foremost Arabic language poets of his generation:

Even in War

I considered looking at my lower half
where I could feel the pain
but held back for the moment, fearing
not to find some part of me
I kept on down the stairs, my missing part
still with me, and here I am
climbing into bed with my wanting body
(still not looking), and it no longer matters
where the damage is, and it will do no good
to remember how I was wounded

Even in war, I was just a passer-by

(Translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid) (more…)

Friday, April 29th, 2016

The Plays of Gao Xingjian

City of the Dead and Song of the Night

The Plays of Gao Xingjian

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a brief look at the plays of Gao Xingjian, a writer who has worked in multiple genres—short stories, essays, novels—but is best known as a playwright. Sixteen years ago Gao became the first writer in Chinese to win the Nobel prize for literature, since then The Chinese University Press has been steadily publishing translations of his work into English.

City of the Dead and Song of the Night is his most recent collection of plays. In City of the Dead Gao updates the ancient morality tale “Zhuangzi Tests His Wife,” a cautionary tale against infidelity, to confront the traditional patriarchal system. Song of the Night, considered one of his most ambitious plays, theatrically portrays the female psyche. MCLC has called the book “intriguing and thought-provoking.” For a more detailed explanation of these two plays, you can read “Gao Xingjian: Autobiography and the Portrayal of the Female Psyche,” the volume’s introduction by Mabel Lee, one of his translators and an expert on his work.

Of Mountains and Seas is based on the ancient text The Classic of Mountains and Seas. This play reenacts the classical world of Chinese mythology, traversing the creation of humans to the beginning of Chinese dynastic history. (more…)

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles

Between Dog and Wolf

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on our exciting new Russian Library series. In this post, series editor Christine Dunbar introduces the first three titles in the series.

An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles
By Christine Dunbar

One of the defining features of the Russian Library is its generic diversity. This is particularly significant for an Anglophone audience, because we tend to think of the Russian literary tradition as one that derives its greatness from novels, primarily the 19th century masterpieces of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Others think first of Chekhov’s fin-de-siècle plays, which have become part of the Western canon in large part because of their connection to Stanislavsky and eventually to method acting. Russians, and for that matter, scholars of Russian, are more likely to consider poetry the best and most powerful iteration of Russian letters.

The first three books in the Russian Library will publish in December, and while the three have much in common—linguistic virtuosity being the most obvious example—they amply demonstrate the profusion of genres that make up Russian literature. Before going any farther, let me digress momentarily to admit that I am and will be referring to genre in a fairly unsophisticated manner. I believe that it is generally more productive to think of a work as exhibiting certain generic characteristics, rather than belonging to a genre. However, obeying the generic conventions of the blog post, I’m not going to get too hung up on it here.

Andrei Platonov (1899-1951) was a supporter of the 1917 revolution, and in both his best-known novel The Foundation Pit and the plays in the Russian Library volume Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays one can see his sympathy for the dream of communism, even as he absolutely eviscerates the policies and realities of the contemporary Soviet Union. Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays contains two plays written in the early 1930s as direct reactions to the travails of collectivization and the resulting famine. (Estimates vary, but most place the death toll of the famine at between 5.5 and 8 million.) (more…)

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

When the Incident Occurred

The Lost Garden

“When the incident occurred, Zhu Yinghong was startled out of a deep sleep by a commotion somewhere in the house. The moment she opened her eyes she had a feeling that neither of her parents was in bed. As usual, she reached out to touch the thin blanket covering the plank bed, and felt nothing but a cold chill. Years later, she would piece together what little she remembered of that night with what she’d heard here and there, and concluded that it had happened sometime in April or May.” — Li Ang

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on an inventive collection of short fiction from Ng Kim Chew: The Lost Garden: A Novel, translated by Sylvia Li-chun Lin with Howard Goldblatt. We are happy to present the video of a recent panel on The Lost Garden, featuring Li Ang herself, along with her translators and Columbia University Press Director and editor Jennifer Crewe, followed by an excerpt from the second chapter of Part 1 of the novel.

Li Ang and her “Lost Garden”

When the Incident Occurred