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Best new Books in 2004

Dear Friends,
It's a rare year that I end up with a stack of such fine newly published Quaker books on my desk, but this year is just that. In the past few months a number of Quaker titles have been released that really fill gaps in Quaker publishing and/or add substantially to the body of Quaker literature. There have been so many new, good books that for this Book Musings I haven't had time to read each of these books from cover to cover (though I've read at least a chapter or two of each), but I couldn't wait to tell you about their appearance. 

The first book on this list is that rarity - a new, meaty and inviting introduction to Quaker thought and spiritual life. SILENCE AND WITNESS: The Quaker Tradition by Michael Birkel is a real find; the detailed examination of discernment about when to speak in meeting and other leadings is worth the cover price. His chapter entitled 'The Facing Bench' lifts up well selected quotations of prominent Friends on topics such as 'The Immediate Presence of God,' 'The Universal Light of Christ,' and 'The Spiritual Basis of Peace.' His chapter on the inward experience of worship is both an excellent introduction and a seasoned examination of centering techniques. This is a book that belongs in every meeting house and in every new attenders' home. 

The one book on this list that I have read from cover to cover is the novel VOYAGEURS: A Novel by Margaret Elphinstone. It is the story of the quest of an early 19th century English Quaker to find his sister in the wilderness of North America. Elphinstone has written both a well-researched Quaker book and a riveting adventure story. Mark Greenhow, the main character, faces challenges to his beliefs as he journeys through a world of roughneck fur traders, British spies, and embattled Native Americans. The author presents each of Mark's inward struggles sympathetically and authentically. The book is peopled with complex characters who stay with you. I highly recommend this book as both a thoughtful exploration of one person's ability to maintain a Quaker identity in the midst of many challenges and a page turner. 

Whenever Parker Palmer publishes a new book, it's worth a careful look. His latest work, A HIDDEN WHOLENESS: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life is an examination of how one can maintain integrity and follow a life based on inner truth in a world of fragmentation. Palmer provides vivid portraits of integrity, describes the consequences of sublimating our true self, offers a map for creating 'circles of trust' which would support our soul self, and explores how the principles and practices of the book can help the reader walk the path of nonviolence every day. This book is a lovely, spiritually nourishing and ultimately hopeful exploration. 

British children's author Ann Turnbull has written a new young adult novel of young love in the 17th century called NO SHAME NO FEAR: A Novel of Love and Persecution. The romance is between a Quaker servant, Susanna, and a merchant's son, Will, and the book is written in chapters alternating between Will's and Susanna's perspective, so the reader gets a sense of how each sees the other and of how the families view each of them as well. Turnbull has researched the book well and presents a detailed and fascinating account of 17th century London. The prose is beautifully and sparely written and it's hard to put down. I would recommend this for any Friend from 14 and up. 

I hope your Fall is luminous and crisp.