Hearts & Minds BookNotes

annotations, blurbs and ruminations

to enlarge the heart & stimulate the mind

and to happily generate mail order business for Hearts & Minds bookstore

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Location: Dallastown, PA

My lovely wife Beth and I own and operate--proprietors makes us sound more classy than we really are--a cluttered, diverse and independent bookstore in Central Pennsylvania. After well over 20 years, we are still not sure what to say when people ask if our shop is a "Christian bookstore." I do a monthly book review column over at our website; we hope that these new blogged bits will afford friends and customers the chance to see other books I happen to be reading, wishing to read, pretending that I read or at least believe that others should, if not read, know about. We have three children, attend a Presbyterian church in York, PA and have no hobbies.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Where God Was Born

I hope blog readers don't mind random posts. Maybe that is part of the point, I dunno. I do have to give a quick annoucement of a brand new book that we are thrilled and charmed to see, so maybe that is a theme---great new books. I have to tell you about Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion by Bruce Feiler. We have some autographed first editions---a rare treat for a small, indie store like us. Thanks to HarperCollins and my very cool sales rep there, who lives in California.

Feiler, to give you the skinny you've got to know, is a great, great adventure/travel writer, somewhat akin to what David Brooks calls himself, a "comic sociologist." (Well, he isn't as funny as Brooks, whose two books I adore.) Mr. Feiler wanted to do a book on carnies, so off he goes to the fair for a while, coming back with Under the Big Top: A Season With the Circus. He's got a book on the rodeo, one on country music. He wondered how the smartest people on earth date and mate, so he goes to Oxford for a year, and wrote a book about that, Looking for Class. (What kind of way cool job is that?) His memoir of travels to Japan, with the exquiste title, Learning to Bow, is highly regarded. He sometimes contributes to Gourmet.

A few years back he, a secularized and, if I might say it, a rather cynical Jew, heads off to walk around looking for the stuff of the first five books of the Bible. Walking the Bible became a huge sensation, and I highly recommend it. It is out in paperback and there is soon to be released a coffee table kind of companion volume for the PBS series of the same name that will be on soon this fall. The New York Times understatedly said it was "invested with a keen intellectual curiousity." Mr. Feiler's understanding of the complexities of the Middle East, the trajectory of Jewish culture, the historicity of the Old Testament and his own blossoming faith just simmered through his months spent hiking around the spots made legendary by God's great deeds in history, The Pentatuch. WtB is a great book.

Next, he documents another tale, this time of his journey hanging with contemporary Jews, Muslims and Christians all over the Middle East, which was a deeply touching read and at times edge of your seat interesting. Although I find the religiousity of that book a bit unfullfilling--I'm an evangelical, after all--the story was gut-wrenching and truly riveting. A fun, funny, sad, scary, and very real story of his journey seeking understanding about the Abraham legends make up the acclaimed Abraham. He is a sincere and good writer--not as gonzo as, say Hunter Thompson or as funny as P.J. O'Rourke (although I recently re-read some of his political-travel stuff, the only right-wing nasty that makes me howl with laughter.) But Feiler isn't your typical Bible travel guide, either. This guy is on a quest.

Now, he's back. Or, he's back from being back there. And the brand new Where God Was Born looks like an educational thrill-ride. The book's publicists say it is ambitious.

Through secret underground tunnels he ends up at the spot where David toppled Goliath. After being airlifted into Baghdad, he visits what locals say is the Garden of Eden and makes another life-threatening trip to the rivers of Babylon. How cool is it to see a deeply thoughtful, good-hearted and somewhat wise-acre storyteller uncovering the secret burial place of Queen Esther? And this is just the stuff on the flyleaf.

Times like these are frustrating for a bookseller. I've got stuff to do. This book is right here. I have hours of work---paperwork for a conference on racism and cross-cultural stuff that we are sending books to, ordering cases of books for an upcoming Henry Blackaby gig, getting stuff for next week's CCO staff training seminar---and we've got boxes of books to unpack before we repack for our next on-the-road adventures. We sure aren't going anywhere as spectacular as Feiler, though. His exploits and learnings, I'd say, are well worth the investment. Did I mention they are autographed? Would make a nice holiday gift, wouldn't it?

Check out more about his work at www.brucefeiler.com

Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion Bruce Feiler (Wm Morros) $26.96 403 pp