As an avid hiker I couldn’t help but be hooked by the story of Emma Gatewood, who in 1955 became the first woman to through-hike the Appalachian Trail. She did so with a minimum of preparation, without much of the gear we’d regard as essential today. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk mixes a history of her exploration of the AT with personal biography, showing how a this tough-minded woman rose from being a victim of domestic abuse into an an inspiration for millions. Although she faced obstacle after obstacle — broken glasses, weary knees, multiple hurricanes, etc — through her own resources, the kindness of strangers, and dogged determination, she made it through.
On a more serious note was The Church Impotent, which seeks to address the question: why is there such a huge gender disparity between religious participation in western Christianity and other Abrahamic religions, like Judaism and Islam? The problem is much older than most recognize, though it’s easy enough to point to a quick falling-away of men in the church since the 1960s. Podle argues that the problem first appeared in Catholicism in the 1400s, where it continued and grew more pronounced, especially in Catholicism’s protestant offspring. The problem is distinctly western, moreover, since Eastern Orthodoxy enjoys heavy participation from its men. Podle attributes this to two events of the middle ages; a newfound heavy emphasis on individual church members as brides of Christ (rather than the Church itself, congregationally, as The Bride), and the divisive role of Scholasticism, which split piety from theology: men’s focus shifted to increasingly skeptical theology, leaving women to make a much larger mark on faith-practices. Although I was disappointed by the book as a whole, in part because there was no exploration of Islam, Judaism, and Eastern Orthodoxy’s masculine attractions, Podle’s work proved absolutely fascinating merely for his initial treatment of masculinity. As it turned out, I’d encountered him before, being quoted in Leaving Boyhood Behind. Podle takes the view that because men begin from a female biological template, the entire masculine raison d’être is to further define and maintain that separation from femininity — necessitating often painful rites of passage in traditional societies, and the contempt boys and men throw at anything which is ‘girly’. Podles suggests that men, not being nourished by an approach to religion that emphasizes passivity and ‘bridehood’, have instead religionized masculinity itself, leading down dark roads like fascism and nihilistic self-destruction.
Switching back to something a little less dire, The Tech-Wise Family is one couple’s sharing of how they attempt to raise their children and themselves to have a healthy relationship with technology, rather than allowing it to dominate their lives. They begin with priorities: emphasizing that the role of the family is to nurture its members into greater characters, and then actively shaping their environment, physically and its schedules, to contribute to that goal rather than detract from it. Our tools frequently ‘nudge’ us in the direction of greater use and consumption: those who wish to live more mindfully must be active about creating our own ‘nudges’ in other directions. Taking a cue from the Amish, they scrutinize what effects habits & tools have on their family culture.I have attended so many family & friend gatherings that consisted of nothing but a group of people staring at their phones in unision that these days it’s hardly worth commenting on. Against that comes the Crouches’ vision of familial flourishing: they create numerous periods throughout the day to practice presence, from dinner to car rides, and focus on creativity and production instead of consumption. Their living room is not dominated by a television, but musical instruments and crafts tables: they sing together, rather than letting everyone slip into private spotify trances. This is important, they write, because human presence nurtures us in ways digital presence never can: those who see us every day, in moments of weakness and strength alike, can through their input and encouragement force us to grow — unlike the internet companion, who only ever sees the curated self, and who can be avoided and ignored with the click of a button. As a Kindle Unlimited title, I wasn’t expecting too much of this, but was happily surprised. It’s artfully written and draws on serious work, like Sherry Turkle’s own bibliography.