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Back-Up Reading for Those Tough Conversations at Family Holiday Gatherings

By Christian Coleman

Photo credit: Roxana Bowgen

When loved ones perch at the table together for holiday gatherings, it’s not just the star protein with fixings that gets served. Whether it’s on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other occasion for feel-good feasting in big company, those mashed potatoes and greens come with a side of divergent viewpoints on touchy, real-life subjects. Sometimes they’re served respectfully, sometimes with vitriol, but on many occasions, they stir up tough conversations, and the meals become so ideologically fraught that digestion seems out of the question. A casual doomscroll through the headlines will reveal a packed menu of tough conversations du jour, so we are recommending these selected books to bone up on the topics with the aim of informed and fruitful—though difficult—exchange. Even if you are actively avoiding them, it’s good to read up and learn up, too.


The Israel-Gaza War

At Home in Exile

At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good for the Jews 

“In theory, no reason prevents a Jewish state from embodying universalist values; no matter how far Israel turns to the right, as it so distressingly has in recent years, more than its share of writers and thinkers speak eloquently of human rights or find fault with their own society’s chauvinism. In a world in which nation-states are primarily concerned with protecting their own, however, the Diaspora remains the place where universalistic Judaism will thrive best. Its Judaism will become more complex and vibrant as its culture intermingles with other cultures. Its religion, far from dissolving into meaningless syncretism, will be enriched by its encounter with other faiths.”
—Alan Wolfe 


The Drone Eats with Me

The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary

“So everyone carries their own memories of conflict: wars stand as markers in a Gazan’s life: there’s one planted firmly in your childhood, one or two more in your adolescence, and so on . . . they toll the passing of time as you grow older like rings in a tree trunk.”
—Atef Abu Saif 


In Jerusalem

In Jerusalem: Three Generations of an Israeli Family and a Palestinian Family

“But by any measure, the Palestinians have seen more innocents perish, have made little progress in their desire for restitution of property, identity, and nationhood, and bear the overwhelmingly greater burden, a conclusion confirmed by seeing up close what politicians and diplomats like to call ‘facts on the ground.’”
—Lis Harris 


In This Place Together

In This Place Together: A Palestinian’s Journey to Collective Liberation

“[Sulaiman] pressed it, offered a question: ‘How can these two narratives—Palestinian and Israeli—exist in one homeland?’ He shrugged as if there were little left to say. ‘That’s the big question we have to share.’”
—Penina Eilberg-Schwartz with Sulaiman Khatib 


The Iron Cage

The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood

“Why concentrate on the failures or incapacities of the Palestinians to achieve independence before 1948, when the constellation of forces arrayed against them was so powerful, and in the end, proved overwhelming?”
—Rashid Khalidi 


Election Seasons 

Daring Democracy

Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want

“When we assert that democracy is essential we mean that it’s not just a “good” thing. It is the only approach to governance that brings forth the best of who we are. To really thrive, to live our possibility, we hold that beyond the physical, humans must meet at least three essential needs: for connection, meaning, and a sense of agency—that is, a sense of personal power. When these needs are met we can often accomplish what virtually no one before believed possible.”
—Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen 


Dirt Road Revival

Dirt Road Revival: How to Rebuild Rural Politics and Why Our Future Depends on It

“While the Republican Party will not fight for people and planet, there are many Republicans in our community who do and will. In our view, this is the living proof that Democrats must build bigger broader movements that welcome rural voters, including those who do not appear progressive in traditional ways.”
—Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward 


Let My People Vote pb

Let My People Vote: My Battle to Restore the Rights of Returning Citizens

“You don’t have to vote if you don’t want to, but having the right to vote, that is what solidifies you as a person of consequence more than anything else in the world. That is especially important for people like me who made mistakes or suffered through addiction. We were made to feel we weren’t part of society anymore, that we were the lowest of the low. We were despised because of our addiction. We were despised because of the crimes we may have committed. What the right to vote says is that I’m somebody again. It says, simply and powerfully, I AM. The right to vote is one of many rights that need to be restored to individuals who have a previous felony conviction.”
—Desmond Meade 


Producing Politics

Producing Politics: Inside the Exclusive Campaign World Where the Privileged Few Shape Politics for All of Us

“To understand campaigns, then, we need to understand the people whose work builds them: the political consultants and political operatives who make their living working for parties, campaigns, and allied partisan organizations. Just as the decision-makers at Netflix, HBO, and ABC determine what kinds of entertainment to provide, these campaign professionals curate our political options. The ways they shape the system and its offerings for voters come out of their perceptions of what is politically possible, which persuasion strategies are effective, how the electorate operates, and what will make sense to and be rewarded by the rest of the political world.”
—Daniel Laurison 


Religious In/Tolerance 


Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith

 “I have endeavored at the outset to share the faith tradition of my youth to give context to my horror at what Christianity has become at the hands of the modern right-wing evangelical movement and to explain my reason for writing this book: to defend the truth and majesty of the Gospel, if you will, from right-wing evangelicals’ crude caricature of it, a caricature so ugly and crude that it has unleashed in the public square new levels of incivility, bullying, cruelty, race-baiting and xenophobia, and birthed a cottage industry of conspiracy theories and grotesque demonizations aimed at anyone who dares to point out the rot at the root of their politics.”
—Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. 


Dangerous Religious Ideas

Dangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

“Religion has too much to contribute to be ignored, and it is too thickly woven through human existence to disappear. But its ongoing role in public life in the United States makes cultivating the deep roots of self-critical faith more urgent. Ultimately, we have to learn how to do this work together, subjecting other people’s religious ideas to rigorous scrutiny as well, without prejudice. Religious ideas cannot receive a pass without impairing the nation’s democratic culture.”
—Rachel S. Mikva 


Demystifying Shariah

Demystifying Shariah: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It’s Not Taking Over Our Country

“When I think of shariah, I don’t think of something cruel and vicious. I think of justice, feminism, defense of the weak and defenseless, and a commitment to the rule of law. I’m well aware that these words might be taken by too many to be some sort of joke. But that’s because few non-Muslims possess even the most rudimentary understanding of shariah.”
—Sumbul Ali-Karamali 


Two Billion Caliphs

Two Billion Caliphs: A Vision of a Muslim Future

“We must disabuse ourselves of all forms of special dispensation and unchallengeable authority, for these are hostile to the very spirit of Islam. To live as Caliphs of God in communities of God, we must actively experiment with new kinds of authority, neither dismissing the inevitability of some forms of hierarchy nor the expertise or other benefits they provide, but all the same tempering the worst features of these. Because Islam is not a solitary faith, and because no faith restricted to the individual can survive—humankind is not meant to be atomized, as capitalism and liberalism endlessly learn to their surprise—we must search out new forms through which we understand, realize, and access not just Islam as identity but Islam as spirituality, morality, and intimacy.”
—Haroon Moghul 


Don’t Burn Those Bridges! 

A Master Class on Being Human

A Master Class in Being Human: A Black Christian and a Black Secular Humanist on Religion, Race, and Justice

“When difference is defined as a problem, difference must be eliminated—you must think as I think, see the world as I see it, move through the world in line with the values and commitments of my group. But when difference is considered an opportunity, it enables a broader perspective on human circumstances. It affords precious occasions to learn from others, refine our thinking, and adjust our doing.”
—Brad R. Braxton and Anthony B. Pinn 


On Repentance and Repair

On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World

“We’ve all caused harm, we’ve all been harmed, we’ve all witnessed harm. We are all always growing in our messy, imperfect attempts to do right, to clean up, to repair, to make sense of what’s happened, and to figure out where to go from here. This is, I hope, a way in to the work. . . Yet any attempt to address harm that does not put the victims of harm and their needs at the center will necessarily come up short. I truly believe that the approach taken in my tradition and by Maimonides is almost always profoundly victim-centric; where I think he missed the mark, I say so, and I try to chart another way forward.”
—Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg 


We Need to Build

We Need to Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy

“The first line of our manifesto for this new era should go like this: We the varied peoples of a nation struggling to be reborn are defeating the things we don’t like by building the things we do.”
—Eboo Patel 


Reproductive Health 

Her Body Our LawsHer Body, Our Laws: On the Front Lines of the Abortion War, from El Salvador to Oklahoma

“Our blinkered focus on whether abortion should be legal distracts us from the plight of the women and children most affected by our abortion laws. They are the most marginalized women in the country. Another child will thrust them deeper into poverty, but an abortion does little to lift them out of it. The war over abortion law draws our gaze away from them, relieving us of the obligation to notice, if not to reset, the odds against them.”
—Michelle Oberman 

Trust Women

Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice

“Abortion, however, is never an abstract ethical question. It is, rather, a particular answer to a prior ethical question: “What should I do when faced with an unplanned, unwanted, or medically compromised pregnancy?” This question can only be addressed within the life of a particular woman at a given moment in time. When a woman is faced with this ethical question, her answer will vary depending on the individual and the many factors—social, economic, personal, religious—that define her life at any given point.”
—Rebecca Todd Peters 


How to Talk About Fat and Fat Justice

What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat

“Body positivity has shown me that our work for liberation must explicitly name fatness as its battleground—because when we don’t, each of us are likely to fall back on our deep-seated, faulty cultural beliefs about fatness and fat people, claiming to stand for ‘all bodies’ while we implicitly and explicitly exclude the fattest among us. I yearn for more than neutrality, acceptance, and tolerance—all of which strike me as meek pleas to simply stop harming us, rather than asking for help in healing that harm or requesting that each of us unearth and examine our existing biases against fat people.”
—Aubrey Gordon  


You Just Need to Lose Weight

“You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People

“Cultural conversations prompt us to regard thinness as a major life accomplishment; these myths lend credence to that belief. Many of these myths center around treating fat people as failed thin people, implying that thin people are superior to fat people. These myths aren’t just incorrect or outdated perceptions: they’re tools of power and dominance.”
—Aubrey Gordon




About the Author 

Christian Coleman is the digital marketing manager at Beacon Press and editor of Beacon Broadside. Before joining Beacon, he worked in writing, copy editing, and marketing positions at Sustainable Silicon Valley and Trikone. He graduated from Boston College and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Follow him on Twitter at @coleman_II and on Bluesky at