Bryan Stevenson Recommends "Gilead"

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Human rights attorney Bryan Stevenson works to challenge excessive punishment and mass incarceration, and wrote a book about his experiences called "Just Mercy." He recommends a novel that reminds us of the importance of compassion, mercy, and connection with others in our lives — values that he feels we lack when it comes to considering our criminal justice system.

The book I'd like to recommend is a wonderful novel by Marilynne Robinson named "Gilead." It's the story of a minister in Midwest writing to his son because this minister doesn't believe he's going to be alive when the son grows up. It's just full of the kind of compassion and mercy and insight and yearning for understanding that I think characterizes what's great and necessary when it comes to justice. And what's often absent in our society.

I think my work has been shaped by the absence of compassion, the absence of mercy, the absence of understanding, and a comfort level with that absence. And I think the book meant so much to me because it pushes us to see all of the inequality, all of the disruption, all of the imbalance that is created when we're not yearning for reconciliation and understanding and compassionate relationships with one another.

It's part of a trilogy. I only get one book, but I will mention that the other two books "Home" and "Lila" — also by Marilynne Robinson — are also wonderful wonderful reads. But that's the book I would recommend for all of the listeners to pick up.

I think narrative is a really powerful way to get us to open ourselves to thinking differently about issues — our society is very incident-driven, and we can go into a movie theater and actually cheer for someone who's doing something quite illegal, sometimes even quite violent and destructive. But because of the context of the story, we are open to things that we wouldn't otherwise be open to. And I think fiction can create a portal that allows us to experience things in a safer environment than what the rigors of the real world sometimes permit. Than what our instincts sometimes allow, when we're dealing with a set of issues that we've been hearing about for 10 or 20 years.

My book is obviously non-fiction, but I think that doesn't mean that there isn't a lot that can be offered to us from novelists and fiction writers to engage us, to think more honestly and deeply about the issues that matter.