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Books I’ve Read in 2019

Last year, someone said to me, “but the point of reading a book isn’t to finish it and put it on a list of books you say you’ve read!,” and I thought “oh, you have no idea that that’s exactly what I do.” I’m trying to move away from looking at books as something to achieve and complete, yet I still like to be able to look back on and remember what I’ve read. So far this year —

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Hey there. It’s been a while. I’ve got some thoughts about returning to writing and taking pictures again soon, but they’re still only thoughts.

For now, I can tell you that Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion was my favorite book I read in 2018, with Iris Murdoch’s The Green Knight runner-up. It took me over a month of 2019 to slog through Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea; I’d been told to read it several times, but it was my least favorite of hers so far. And I know I read something else before that, but I can’t remember what, and that suggests it wasn’t a win.

I can tell you that Bon Appetit’s Adult Mac & Cheese is worth getting down by memory and feel, without measuring cups; it’s not revolutionary, but it’s quick and just a few ingredients and less frustrating than cacio e pepe. Alison Roman’s The Stew, as Instagram calls it, is worth the hype.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about Chuck DeGroat’s words on Transfiguration Sunday & Ash Wednesday. I am a speck of dust. The world was made for me.

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Primers on Israel-Palestine

Well, first off, I don’t know why pasta alla boscaiola isn’t all over all the food blogs. I made it for the first time this winter, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it earlier. The olive oil, pork fat, pasta water, and Parmesan emulsify to make a rich, savory sauce offset by sharp olives and fresh mushrooms, and it is so. good. Because I don’t always have white wine or Italian sausage on hand and I will rarely use up the rest of a carton of heavy cream, I usually make it with red wine rather than white and with ground pork, red pepper flakes, and crushed fennel seed rather than sausage, and I omit the cream. I made it this afternoon as a Last Supper, and it was an excellent Sunday lunch.

A Last Supper, because tomorrow I leave for a fourteen-month stint in Jerusalem. As I’ve been getting ready to go, I’ve thought about the many friends who confessed to me that they don’t know anything about Israel-Palestine, and don’t know how to go about learning about what’s going on. It’s hard to jump into following the news in general, and I think Israel-Palestine is a particularly difficult place to begin.

I began to study the conflict when, during my junior year of college, I took a class on “The Arab-Israeli Conflict” as part of my Jewish Studies minor. I went into the class with no background in or understanding of the conflict, and no familiarity with international events more generally, and my grade reflected my lack of preparation. I didn’t care about the B-something that time, though: this was one of the most influential courses I took while at Penn. I found the material gripping, extraordinarily compelling. I had never seen tensions strung across classrooms in that way, never debated for and against actual political possibilities before, and never seen political life and religion converge in such a way. Since that course, much of my reading has revolved around Israel-Palestine, Judaism and Zionism, Islam, and Middle Eastern politics. I still don’t know much; I’ll know a little more in fourteen months, though, I suspect.

For those looking for a quick brief on the history of Israel-Palestine, I recommend John Green’s thirteen-minute video Conflict in Israel and Palestine: Crash Course World History 223. Then, the Vox cards on “Everything you need to know about Israel-Palestine” make a helpful reference to fill in gaps. Vox also has a ten-minute history of the conflict, a couple videos on settlements, and a list of online pieces with more information on specific issues.

For those looking for a readable, novelistic introduction to Israel-Palestine, I recommend Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree. The book came out of an hour-long program Tolan produced for Fresh Air, and Terry Gross interviewed Tolan upon the book’s publication.

For those looking for a readable account of Christians in the Middle East, I recommend memoirs by Mitri Raheb and Elias Chacour, the most well-known of which is Chacour’s Blood Brothers.

For those looking for a Christian theology of Israel-Palestine, I haven’t read one I really like, but also haven’t read any of those published in the past several years. The essay collections The Land Cries Out and A Land Full of God both ought to be good starting points.

So — next week in Jerusalem?!

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