Professors Barfield Recommends...
Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Christian Philosophy Ray Barfield is a pediatric oncologist whose research and scholarship are at the intersection of medicine, philosophy, and theology.
As director of pediatric palliative care for Duke Hospital, Dr. Barfield works closely with the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life to advance interdisciplinary research, teaching, and service. In the Divinity School, he collaborates with fellow faculty and students on bridging the disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology.
His book The Ancient Quarrel between Philosophy and Poetry is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, and he writes both fiction and poetry. He and his wife, Karen Clay Barfield, an Episcopal priest, have two children.
A Book of Luminous Things
by Czeslaw Milosz
One of my favorite anthologies, this book reflects the astonishing variety of human experience that is illuminated by poetry.
Book of My Nights
by Li-Young Lee
A beautiful collection of meditative poems that frame and respond to questions of hope, fear, and gratitude.
by Don Paterson
Introduced to me by poet Malcolm Guite, Don Paterson has become a new favorite. His exquisitely crafted poems always offer a challenging perspective on life, love, and death.
The Spirit Level
by Seamus Heaney
Heaney’s poems are intensely local, yet evoke thoughts and feelings about universal themes. They are my favorite to read out loud, though sometimes the language is so rich it feels like talking with peanut butter in my mouth.
Odes to Common Things
by Pablo Neruda
This bilingual collection of poems by one of the greatest poets of the 20th century opens our eyes to the beauty of simple things encountered every day.
The Art of Writing
by Lu Chi (translated by Sam Hamill)
In the top 10 “books I wish I had written.”
by John Gardner
Gardner was a master of the art of the unbroken fictional dream, and one of the best writing teachers we have ever had. This wonderful little novel tells the story of Beowulf from the perspective of the monster.
Love in the Ruins
by Walker Percy
The fact that Percy was a physician and a novelist keeps many of us closet scribblers in the hospital going. This brilliant novel set in a time of decay is worth reading for many reasons, one of which is the invention of a stethoscope for the human spirit.
The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen
One of the greatest short story writers ever, Elizabeth Bowen gets at surprise and mystery in the human soul in a shorter space than almost anyone I know. I place her alongside Flannery O’Connor and Anton Chekhov.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer
In this novel about a boy whose father died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, there are no words on the last 15 pages. Those 15 pages are some of the most powerful I have encountered in a novel.
Leisure: The Basis of Culture
by Josef Pieper
I believe Pieper’s argument in this short book is a powerful rejoinder to many of the most dangerous tendencies in the modern world. I sneak this book into class reading lists anytime I can.
The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine
by Eric Cassell
Anyone who wants to understand what should be at the heart of our debate about health care reform—some of which has not even been mentioned in the debate—needs to read this book. If you don’t have the time for the book, read Cassell’s three-page article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism
by Temple Grandin
I have cared for kids with autism and for their families, and I can hardly wait to read this book. What a gift to have an account from inside that world. This is part of why we need to keep listening to each other’s stories, and keep telling our own. It matters.
Professors Bowler Recommends...
Kate Bowler, who joined the Divinity School faculty July 1 as assistant professor of American Christianity, loves popular culture. Whether Bowler is weighing in on the Twilight Saga’s Team Edward or the role of the documentarian as anthropologist, she can often be found in a local movie theater.
“I love to be surprised,” she says. “From the off-beat comedy of Wes Anderson to the unexpected feminist undertones of The Descent, I gravitate toward filmmakers who draw new connections. My favorites are a touch sweet and awkward.”
Tender Mercies (1983)
directed by Bruce Beresford and starring Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, Allan Hubbard, and Betty Buckley
Before there was Crazy Heart, there was Tender Mercies, a story about a washed-up country music singer who struggles to move forward in his failure-littered life. The fits and starts of Mac Sledge’s recovery remind us that redemption is rarely a perfect melody, but rather a slow, uneven beat.
Food, Inc. (2008)
directed by Robert Kenner
This compelling documentary asks a simple question: Where does our food come from? The answer may make you lose your appetite. This peppy film offers a macro-level view of how current methods of food processing have troubling implications for consumer health, workers’ safety, and animal rights. And while you’re at it, read anything by Norman Wirzba. His theological reflections on food and creation will have you praying in new ways as you bow your head before a meal.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
directed by Harold Young, starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon
No offense to the French, but the 1934 film adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel is still one of my favorites. In the thick of the French Revolution, the dashing Sir Percy (Leslie Howard) evades bloodthirsty revolutionaries to save aristocrats from the guillotine. Though viewers might wonder why his terrible disguises dupe anyone, few will object to this Brit being everyone’s hero.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, and Patricia Clarkson
This unusual film takes a potentially creepy story line (man introduces an inflatable doll into his family’s life as his girlfriend) and tells a sweet story about the meaning of love and loss in community.
A Room with a View (1985)
directed by James Ivory and starring Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Julian Sands, and Daniel Day-Lewis
Though gentlemen might roll their eyes, this lush adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel spins a timeless love story out of travel, propriety, and good manners. The clergyman Mr. Beebe’s observation upon hearing the young Lucy Honeychurch play piano reveals the take-away dictum: “If she ever takes to living as she plays, it will be very exciting— both for us and for her.” And if anyone doesn’t laugh at fiancé Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis) in his blithely awkward attempts to secure Lucy’s love, they are dead inside.
Dark Days (2000)
directed by Marc Singer
This documentary gives an unvarnished portrait of Manhattan’s homeless surviving in the abandoned Amtrak tunnels to escape the danger of the streets. This gritty movie rewards viewers with an unexpectedly touching ending and a reminder that we all, blinking, long to be in the light.
Can’t Wait to See
Away from Her (2006)
directed by Sarah Polley and starring Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie
This has all the markings of greatness: subtlety, a literary backbone, and a Canadian pedigree. With stars like Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent, chances are good that this end-of-life drama about Alzheimer’s will be less embarrassing to love than The Notebook.
Get Low (2009)
directed by Aaron Schneider and starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray
The mysterious recluse Felix Bush (brilliantly played by Duvall) wants a beautiful funeral. And much to the consternation of Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) of Quinn Funeral Home, Felix wants to attend, alive and kicking. This bittersweet story follows a man trying to break free from shame and a life that he built as a prison for himself. Set in 1930 Tennessee, this charmer is a deeply Christian folk tale of a community prodding Felix to “get low,” get down to the painful reckoning of confession and forgiveness.