At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Year of the Book, part 1

The year has brought plenty of surprises and today was no different in shock disseminations. Lincoln City FC has just upset Burnley, 1-0, meaning that for the first time since 1925, a non-league side has advanced to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. For those who need an equivalent illustration, that's like the Bristol Pirates of the rookie-level Appalachian League beating the Milwaukee Brewers to get into the National League wild-card game.

But this isn't about things that shock; it's about things that tend to stay the same. And the consistency is reading.

I'm still reading. I'm not writing, mainly because there are so many other things as a husband, father, teacher, and department chairman that require my attention. But I still read. I read, as David McCullough, Jr., would say, "as a matter of self-respect, as a nourishing staple of life."

So for the first time this year, I thought I'd let you know what I've read so far.

1. A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy. A great capper for the man who gave us The Prince of Tides, South of Broad, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, and other classics. If you're looking for more great fiction, you won't find it here. Conroy takes you on a pleasant whirlwind look at his book tours, people he has known over the years, great author friends old and new, and through the salt-tanged low country of South Carolina. In fact, I can imagine the town of Beaufort laid out before me as a jewel, thanks to Conroy's impeccable descriptions. If you're not attuned to Conroy's work, you need to lay into his fiction before picking this work up, but if you are a Pat-veteran, make sure you've digested A Lowcountry Heart. My wife knew I pined for it and made sure it was a prime Christmas gift.

2. Richard III by William Shakespeare. The discovery of Richard III's bones underneath a parking lot in Leicester and their reinterment at Leicester Cathedral (coinciding with the meteoric rise of Leicester City FC to the top of the Premier League next season) sparked my interest in one day taking up the Bard's tragedy of this flawed man obsessed with kingdom. Plus, I wanted to dive into the War of the Roses and experience the distant lead-up to the English Reformation. Although not as well-remembered as King Lear, Macbeth, or Hamlet, Shakespeare's use of language and careful attention to the psychological moorings of the eponymous character make this a play well worth reading. Twin its reading, if you will, with a later viewing of the Richard III edition of The Hollow Crown series. Benedict Cumberbatch's performance of the twisted (in more ways than one) monarch dominates the screen from his opening line "Now is the winter of our discontent" to his final; "My kingdom for a horse!"

3. Turning Points by Mark Noll. If you love church history but need a resource to focus on the decisive moments in Christianity, Noll's opus is your go-to guide. While I believe the Crusades deserves to make the top ten list, and I would have found Christianity's rise in the Global South nudging the Edinburgh Missionary Conference off the list, Noll's poll tends to match my own. I found it to be well-written, crisp, and lively. Although some defining moments are missing (Pelagian controversy, for instance), Noll displays superior moxie when he provides the historical connections between turning points. No volume of church history can be exhaustive, and Noll doesn't pretend his will be, but he accomplishes the goals he sets out to reach. If you have any interest in church history, you need to make sure this is in your collection.

4. Submission by Michel Houellebecq ended up being more promise than performance, but not without value. Still, as I slogged through this work, I felt caught between some weird mash-up of Less Than Zero and The Camp of the Saints. In other words, nihilistic worldview concussion meets the transformation of France into Eurasia with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood into political power. Francois, a middle-aged literature professor who has a string of meaningless sexual liaisons with students, spends his days hacking through the ennui of life in 2022. The book, set as a political satire, displays how the blasé attitude exhibited by Francois is the catalyst that leads him to convert to Islam at the end of the novel as a way of retaining his university post for more money than a retirement buyout--not to mention take advantage of Muslim driven polygamy laws that get passed alongside gender inequality legislation. The passivity of the European soul in the face of Islamic penetration gives the reader a frisson of wonder as similar events might play out today. As an aside, the novel generated significant attention because it was coincidentally released on the date of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Hope that was manageable and digestible! I'll be back in due time with more gleanings.