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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Year of the Book, part 2

Back at it, I've been devouring the printed page lately and have a lot of blogging catch-up time. Detention hall today seems like an ideal time to share what I read during February.

(1) To Kill a Mockingbird: Yes, it's been an age since I worked through any portion of Harper Lee's classic, but I grabbed my daughter Lindsay's copy after she was done with it for freshman English. There are certain books that should be required reading for American citizens, and this tome definitely is way up that list. The principled Atticus Finch, kind yet firm in his resolve, is just one of the engaging characters, along with Jem and Scout, who lead you on the path of fighting injustice in the town of Maycomb, Alabama. While Lee is not my first choice of Southern author (that title is forever reserved for South Carolina's own Pat Conroy), her passion comes through in the characters, the Deep South setting, and--for me--the satisfaction felt in the humiliation of Bob Ewell and the heroism of Boo Radley.

(2) The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens. The brother of the renowned late atheist Christopher Hitchens, Peter held on to his staunch atheism for some time before having a conversion experience to Christianity. If you are looking for a thorough apologetic in favor of the Christian faith here, that is not Hitchens' intent. Most of the book highlights his experiences of trying to work out his atheism and seeing the practical effects of godless Communism in the former Soviet Union. The book is reasonably well-paced, although I believe his strongest work is in chapter 10 on the topic of "Is It Possible to Determine What is Right and Wrong Without God?", and he lays out a very powerful argument that the "why" of morality rests in divine existence and goodness. Some readers may be frustrated that Hitchens doesn't present end-to-end apologetic arguments for faith in the book, but I made my peace early on that Hitch was setting the terms for his writing. Given his aims, I thought it was reasonably well done.

(3) Zachary Taylor by John S.D. Eisenhower. Military historian Eisenhower (son of the 34th President) sheds light on the oft-overlooked Presidency of the only man to represent Louisiana in the White House. A brave military leader in several American conflicts, Taylor had few political leanings and even fewer ambitions, yet he ended up being the Whig Party's winning selection in 1848. A slave-owning Southerner who decried slavery's expansion, Taylor was a complex fellow who was the first man to be elected to the Presidency without having held a lower office. His administration opted for a policy of preserving the Union (which the administrations of Northern presidents Pierce and Buchanan would later implode) and oversaw the momentum leading to the Compromise of 1850 and California's statehood. Taylor was in office only sixteen months before his untimely death, so his presidency isn't known for being in the tier of Lincoln, Washington, FDR, or Reagan. It is an administration heralded more for "what could have been" if he hadn't died. In my view, there could have been worse people to go toe to toe with Henry Clay.

(4) The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James. This posthumously published short story collection by the reigning queen of crime fiction was time well spent. James hits all the right notes on the balance of plot, character, and setting in her novels, but that was more difficult to do in the short story genre while still maintaining the tension of crime fiction. James is forced to shave off some of her usual rich description of settings, and the pace of the short story causes her to push plot and character development faster than one is used to in her novels. But the mysteries are quality without being excessively cozy, and James fans will cheer that the last two tales of the four involve our favorite gumshoe in a younger Adam Dalgliesh. Hallelujah for this post-Christmas smattering of joy.

I've cranked things up during March and will have at least six or seven books in my upcoming report, so stay tuned for J. I. Packer, some more under-the-radar Presidents, and more!

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