The Essential Koran

The Essential koranThe Monday Evening Book Group gathered on May 20, 2013 to discuss Thomas Cleary’s illuminating The Essential Koran: the Heart of Islam. The Koran is the subject of much attention these days, and given that the group is composed of some seriously curious sorts, this was an intellectual itch just begging to be scratched. Our purpose—to neither convert nor condemn—arose out of a desire for greater understanding.

In light of the fact that I’d already received several angry digital missives about the subject of our discussion, I was most pleased with the character of the conversation: ideas were not only tolerated, but given due consideration. Typically, I am prone to elaborating on our gatherings, but for any number of reasons, I am going to keep quiet on this one.  I do want to say thanks to scholar Ann Davran.  She provided much needed perspective on the Muslim milieu in terms of geography and history.  Of particular interest were her lucid explanations of the roots of the ongoing Shiite-Sunni strife and the mystical Sufi tradition.  Kudos!  Without a doubt, it was one of those events where you just had to be there…


Lost Memory Of Skin

 Speaking of thorny subjects ripped from screaming headlines…our next meeting is slated for June 17, 2013, and will explore the sure-to-be-controversial novel Lost Memory of Skin.  The work is the product of local superstar Russell Banks.  Mr. Banks is the author of such contemporary classics as Cloudsplitter, The Sweet Hereafter, and Affliction.  In any case, the prose powder-keg at hand was selected as an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and in the words of its editors,

Russell Banks plays peek-a-boo with the reader lifting each corner just enough to wonder at what may lie underneath. When we meet the Kid, he is grappling with his public status as a convicted sex offender, living under a Florida causeway with other men whom society finds “both despicable and impossible to remove and thus by most people simply wished out of existence.” Enter the Professor, with his genius IQ and massive physical presence, eager to prove that men like the Kid have been shaped by social forces and are capable of change. The pair seem diametrically opposed yet share a “profound sense of isolation, of difference and solitude…,” held hostage by their secrets in this morally complex and thought-provoking story of illusions and blurry truths in a novel that that hums with electricity from beginning to end.


muslim journeys

Incidentally, Crandall was recently awarded a particularly impressive and wide-ranging library of materials about Muslim history and culture by the American Library Association.  Librarian-extraordinaire Jennifer Boyer secured the gift for us, and I’ve posted the complete list of titles below.  Collectively dubbed Muslim Journeys, the materials were selected by the ALA, to “help public audiences in the United States become more familiar with the people, places, history, faith, and cultures of Muslims.”  Many thanks to Jenn for her hard work!  And in case you were wondering, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which we read in March of 2012, is one of the selected titles.


Broken Verses by Kamila Shamsie

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf

Minaret by Leila Aboulela

Snow by Orhan Pamuk


Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel

The Arabian Nights by Richard Burton

The Art of Hajj by Venetia Porter

The Butterfly Mosque by Willow G. Wilson

The Children of Abraham by Francis E. Peters

The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States

The Conference of the Birds by Farid Attar

Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi

House of Stone by Anthony Shadid

The House of Wisdom by Jim Al-Khalili

In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh

Islamic Arts by Jonathan Bloom

Muhammad by Jonathan A.C. Brown

The Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal

Prince Among Slaves by Terry Alford

A Quiet Revolution by Leila Ahmed

Rumi by Reynold Nicholson

The Story of the Qur’an by Ingrid Mattson

When Asia was the World by Stewart Gordon

Print/Graphic Novel/Non-Fiction

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi


Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World

Koran by Heart

Prince Among Slaves

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