Books in Brief

 

The preacher, the homemaker, the talent, the counselor, the beauty. Religion scholar Kate Bowler’s The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities uses these categories to understand how Evangelical women wield influence in a conservative church that forbids them formal authority. Masters of the market, these women have packed conference halls, written best-selling devotional books, and performed popular worship music. They’ve sold recipes and weight-loss plans, beauty tips and Bible studies, traumas and confessions. Adhering to capitalist logic—marketing wisdom and spiritual authority—they also adhere to the logic of their church: acknowledging the headship of husbands, fathers, or pastors, and never presuming to preach. Thus the precarity. Bowler’s skillful ethnography is a blend of interviews, reportage, history, and analysis of women’s leadership in today’s Evangelical church. 

The Preacher's Wife
Kate Bowler
Princeton, $29.95, 368 pp.

 

Natalia Ginzburg, the great Italian novelist who died in 1991, is having a moment. On the heels of Elena Ferrante’s successful Neapolitan novels, anglophone readers outside the bel paese are rediscovering her prose’s spare beauty. There’s no better introduction to her fiction than The Dry Heart, a novella about a toxic marriage that goes from bad to worse. The book, originally titled È stato così (That’s How It Was), is a study in truth-telling: “I shot [my husband] between the eyes,” the unnamed wife and narrator confesses in the opening scene. What follows is a deep dive into a fascist society’s atomizing loneliness and existential despair. The Dry Heart also serves as Ginzburg’s declaration of artistic integrity: “I felt that the time of conventional and clear-cut answers had come forever to a stop within me.”

The Dry Heart
Natalia Ginzburg
New Directions, $12.95, 96 pp.

 

What is humanity’s place in a future run by robots? The question lies at the heart of David Ewing Duncan’s Talking to Robots: Tales From Our Human-Robot Futures, a collection of visionary short stories that grapple with how our lives will change as technology advances. In “Politician Bot,” congresspeople fight over robot citizenship; in “Warrior Bot,” strategists contemplate how much decision-making power to give fearless, guiltless robots. Duncan imagines a Beer Bot, a Memory Bot, even a God Bot; these imaginative scenarios are supplemented with interviews from thinkers in various fields. Ultimately, Duncan’s vision of the future is optimistic. Amid robots’ promises of heightened efficiency, and our own anxieties about automation, humans—with all our temporal idiosyncrasies—can never really be replaced.

Talking to Robots
David Ewing Duncan
Dutton, $29, 320 pp.

Published in the September 2019 issue: 
Also by this author
Holy Land

Please email comments to letters@commonwealmagazine.org and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Religion
Culture
Culture
Books
Books
Collections
Collections