GORDON PEERMAN The Colbert Report recently featured a preacher exhorting his Christian God to use the presidential election to prove His superiority over "Hindu, Buddha, and Allah." It would be funny if it weren't so sad. In such an environment, Gordon Peerman's new book, Blessed Relief: What Christians Can Learn From Buddhists About Suffering (Skylight Paths, 182 pp., $16.99), is a welcome reminder that religion at its best isn't about divisiveness. It's about providing solace and promoting peace without regard for labels.
An Episcopal priest and psychotherapist, as well as an adjunct faculty member at Vanderbilt, Peerman has studied Buddhist practice for decades. He gently demonstrates how our own expectations cause much of our suffering, and how we allow event the smallest annoyances to destroy our equanimity. And he doesn't exempt himself: At one retreat, a roommate with sleep apnea drives him to near-murderous thoughts: "After two nights of no sleep, I found myself toying with the hope that, in the long silences between snores, my roommate might actually have died. Alas, he snored on."
What Blessed Relief does best is to remind us that true faith builds bridges of kindness and compassion, whatever religion it happens to spring from. After his son causes an auto accident, Peerman uses Buddhist practice to overcome his irritation about the cost and inconvenience involved. When he calls the other boy's mother, her response is equally telling: "We're Christians," she says, "and we believe that blame never helps and that understanding and forgiveness do." Two people using their faith to communicate with each other instead of doing battle—surely, the world would be a little better if everyone could follow their example.
Gordon Peerman discusses and signs Blessed Relief: What Christians Can Learn From Buddhists About Suffering at Davis-Kidd Booksellers Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. —FAYE JONES
HELEN HEMPHILL Young adult fiction seems dominated by wizards, vampires and teenage cliques, so it's refreshing to be able to recommend to kids a bit of good, old-fashioned adventure. Nashville author Helen Hemphill, using an eagle eye for historical authenticity, has produced The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones (Front Street, 192 pp., $16.95), an Old West tale of horses, cowboys, Indians and gunplay. The narrator is Prometheus Jones, a young African American in 1870s Tennessee who must head for the hills with his younger cousin, Omer, when some local ne'er-do-wells make trouble. He tells Omer, "You done cut a white man, and they're calling me a horse thief! We'll be swinging from that live oak if we don't go now!" On a stallion named Good Eye, the two gallop west, where Prometheus uses his horse sense to get hired on a cattle drive headed north. Hemphill populates the drive with several conventional but memorable cowpokes, including a gruff trail boss, a resentful hand and a likable caballero. She pulls no punches in portraying the difficult and dangerous life of a wrangler, and it's nice to see black and Hispanic cowboys get their historical due. Prometheus finds that the frontier is loaded with thrills and terror, and that the town of Deadwood, Dakota Territory, is the perfect place for a young man to become a legend.
Hemphill will read from and sign The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones at Davis-Kidd Booksellers Nov. 8 at 3 p.m. —CHRIS SCOTT
JENNIE BENTLEY If you find yourself renting Miss Marple DVDs or you still get chills when you hear the Mystery theme song, Nashvillian Jennie Bentley has written a book for you. Fatal Fixer-Upper (Berkley, 336 pp., $6.99) is a cozy whodunit with many elements familiar to fans of Agatha Christie or Murder, She Wrote. Spooky old house? Check. A professor's mysterious disappearance? Check. Romance with a strapping handyman? Check.
Bentley's innovation is to set her mystery amid massive home repairs. When New York-based textile-designer Avery Baker's aunt breaks her neck and dies in the accident, Avery inherits a Victorian house in small-town Maine and decides to redo the place. Fleeing a failed romance with the rakish (and very French) furniture designer Philippe, Avery soon finds much to appreciate and much to fear in pastoral New England. Was Avery's aunt involved somehow with the missing professor? Who sent Avery that anonymous letter with the skull and crossbones?
Fatal Fixer-Upper is harmless fun. The prose is nothing if not accessible: "Someone had lifted the plates, cups, and glasses off the shelves and flung them against the floor to break them. Someone who had been in Aunt Inga's house when I was away. Someone who might still be here." There is drywall, and there is mayhem, and there are home-renovation tips, too.
Jennie Bentley reads from and signs Fatal Fixer-Upper Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. —JOEL RICE
BILL MURPHY JR. The West Point class of 2002 was the first in many years to graduate in wartime. Bill Murphy Jr.'s In a Time of War (Henry Holt and Company, 365 pp., $27.50) introduces a handful of the graduates, and chronicles what the subtitle calls their Proud and Perilous Journey. President Bush himself spoke at the graduation ceremony, formalizing the Bush Doctrine as he sent the class of 2002 out to serve their country, eager to lead in a just and meaningful struggle.
Murphy, a journalist with personal military experience, has no detectable ax to grind here. He chronicles not only deployments, but friendships, girlfriends, wives, children, grief and the strains of military life. (For wives, the irony could be palpable: While their husbands were fighting for freedom overseas, they themselves were stuck in a military milieu that was "more restricted and less free" than any they had ever imagined.) A couple of officers managed to maintain their commitment to the cause over the next five years in spite of multiple extended deployments and periods of boredom and misuse by the Army. But others came back in body bags or severely wounded. More sank into frustration by 2006 and left the Army as soon as they could. Tensions between career goals and duty were common: "The idea of an able-bodied officer leaving the Army while the nation was at war...didn't sit well."
Bill Murphy Jr. reads and signs In a Time of War: The Proud and Perilous Journey of West Point's Class of 2002 Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. —RALPH BOWDEN
DAVID WILD Neil Diamond may not be your dish of...well, schmaltz, but he has riveted fans at the Arena in recent years, and his voice shows no signs of wear or weakening. He Is...I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond (Da Capo Press, 224 pp., $25), David Wild's engaging take on the "Jewish Elvis," is based on exclusive interviews with the star. It follows Diamond's path from a shy childhood in Brooklyn to a decades-long, multi-platinum and global career—a recording life that had perhaps its most memorable moment at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, when JFK's only surviving child walked toward the microphone to introduce her "Uncle Teddy," still showing the marks of his recent surgery for brain cancer, to the strains of "Sweet Caroline."
David Wild discusses and signs He Is... I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. —DIANN BLAKELY
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