Choosing a reading list for others is a daunting task. That was surely the case when I put together the book list for January to June--2007 for the Senior Reading Group. Just when I needed to add a last book, Jimmy Carter's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was published. His book set off a storm of jolting criticism. An article by Deborah E. Lipstadt, published in the Washington Post on January 20, 2007, entitled "Jimmy Carter's Jewish Problem," gave a scathing critique. After reading PALESTINE, I hesitantly added this controversial book to our list for the month of June. Then, barely weeks before our book group was to meet, fierce fighting broke out in that part of the world. CNN announced that the Middle East was in flames. Abundant information about the conflict between Israel and Palestine came out every day.
I feared the Book Group discussion to come. Twelve people came to the discussion that afternoon, and as I observed, every person brought the book and had read it. Two men I'd never seen before joined the discussion. I braced myself when one faithful group member, the first to respond, said she didn't like the book. She objected to "self-righteousness" she detected in Jimmy Carter's writing. However, her contributions during the discussion that followed were thoughtful and balanced. Current events added legitimacy to Carter's book. We acknowledged that he has put a great deal of effort into trying to understand and help resolve the conflict. One of the new men in the group read a number of passages that he found meaningful and added thoughtful contributions.
Chapter Seven of the book dealt with Carter's interviews with a number of Palestinians, which described many of the personal problems the citizens encountered day after day. The human interest stories added poignancy to our discussion. A number of people in the group felt that we didn't often get the Palestinian point-of-view, and suggested more dialogue would be helpful. Another concerned member expressed the thought the the subject seemed almost taboo. At the end of our discussion, there was an audible chuckle when I confessed that book group leaders are advised to avoid politics and religion. The Book Group met the challenge notably.
A few days after the meeting, the woman who began the discussion by saying she didn't like the book sent me this email: "Thank you for handling such a volatile topic with so much grace. I have felt sad and discouraged about our nation, and I guess it came out. This is something I must resolve within myself; there isn't a thing to do about it. Some of my friends don't want to read or listen to what's going on, but that's not the way for me."
What a nice ending to this adventurous book choice.
Other interesting links:
UC Berkeley Webcast of President Carter discussing his book. (May 2, 2007)
NPR interview with President Carter on his book. (January 25, 2007)
PBS interview with President Carter by Judy Woodruff (November 28, 2006)