I hadn’t heard of South African novelist Damon Galgut until this week. Or maybe I had. Who can say? I had evidently reserved his latest book The Promise at the library without remembering that I had done so or how or why or when [insert self-deprecating “getting older” witticism here]. The book won an important prize, apparently, or so the sticker on the top right corner of the cover told me as I inspected it at the checkout. On the bottom A certain Claire Messud from Harper’s Magazine breathlessly declared “Simply: you must read it.” Well, hard to argue with either the enthusiasm or brevity of that recommendation. So, I did. Simply, I read it. Read more
Posts from the ‘Literature’ Category
My wife got a little heated over breakfast today. Not at me, thanks be to God. No, the object of her displeasure this morning was the story of Dr. Seuss running afoul of the cultural gatekeepers that broke yesterday. Evidently, six books from the well-known author and illustrator will no longer be published due to “racist and insensitive imagery.” Classics like The Cat in the Hat and The Sneetches are safe (for now), but And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo did not make the cut. My wife does not normally have much interest in the culture wars, but, like many, she grew up on Dr. Seuss and this was just a bit too far. “I need a platform to protest this!” she said. I reminded her that I had a platform, modest though it may be. She wasn’t interested in writing a guest post, strangely. At any rate, I don’t run the zoo, but if I did, here are three things I might say. Read more
For the last four years or so, our church has taken the stretch of time roughly between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent to focus our sermons on questions of faith from members of our congregation. These questions range from the existential (Does God exist?) to the hermeneutical (What is the meaning of passage x) to the socio-cultural (What does a Christian response to this or that thing going on in the broader culture look like?). Needless to say, it’s a sermon series that forces me out of my proverbial comfort zone. I am sometimes thrust into issues and texts that I might prefer to avoid. I am also at least partially liberated from the confines of my own subjectivity and forced to read Scripture, experience, and the broader culture through the lens of other people’s questions. Which is good. Read more
Even in normal times, late July tends to be a time when things slow down. Church programs have mostly paused for the summer. Services are sparsely attended as many people flock to the cabin or the mountains or wherever else. For those stuck at work, it can be a hot, sluggish stretch of time where inspiration and motivation are in short supply. And this is, again, in normal times. During COVID time? Well, everything feels somehow worse. Words, and the motivation to produce them, seem to have abandoned me. That’s how it’s felt over the last few weeks at any rate. But a few things have been rattling around my head over the last little while. A quiet Monday morning seems as good a time as any to dislodge them. Read more
There’s this fascinating conversation in Jesse Ball’s novel The Curfew. The scene is an undefined dystopic future, as so many seem to be, where a faceless government has assumed dictatorial control over an unnamed city. The people live in constant fear and anxiety, never going out after dark, always being careful not to cause any sort of ripple that might be noticed by the powers that be, living lives of weary resignation, whispering along the edges of shadows that never disappear. William lives with his young daughter Molly and makes his living as an “epitaphorist,” which entails visiting people whose loved ones have died or been killed, consulting with them about the words they want to adorn the gravestones of the deceased. Read more
I get a lot of books in the mail, but there are few that I can recall anticipating as keenly as the one that came in a little brown box today. Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss has been on my radar for a while now, whether due to the almost unanimously affirming reviews it has received, or simply to the nature of the story behind the book: poet/writer/scholar gets cancer in his thirties and begins (begins again? continues?) to chart the rocky terrain from secularism to religious belief. The story and the subject matter both compel me, but it is the writing that is blowing me away. This man is, truly, at home with words. I am reading, and rereading, and reading more slowly than I have in quite some time. Occasionally, very rarely, I come across a writer whose words leave me thinking, “Yes, I have found a friend.” One chapter into My Bright Abyss, and I am convinced that Christian Wiman is one of them.
It sounds a weird combination of presumptuous and downright comical to say that when I was in my early twenties I had a “Russian phase.” After a less than inspiring academic track record in high school, I was starting to fancy myself a “reader” and began to read as many impressive-sounding books as I could. Many of these were Russian. Tolstoy, Turgenev, Solzhenitsyn… And, of course, Dostoevsky. Read more
I always enjoy Kim Fabricius’s theological “doodlings” over at Faith and Theology. He’s got a real talent for coming up with short, punchy, provocative statements that are invariably theologically insightful and interesting, and amusing to boot!
Today’s post is well worth a quick visit. Here are a few of my favourites: Read more
Yesterday I was reading Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes while my son sat across the table munching away on a late breakfast. It’s a magnificent book that tracks the journey of an African girl who gets taken from her home, sold into slavery, and spends the bulk of her lifetime in conditions of appalling cruelty and inhumanity a world away from her home. It is a beautifully told tale of an incredibly strong, courageous, and good woman, but it is also a story of unspeakable suffering, depravity, and loss. It is a story that does not shrink from laying bare the evil of which human beings are capable. Read more
I thought I would throw out some thoughts about a book I read last week and this morning’s church service. Last week, a good chunk of my bus time was spent reading a book I picked up for a couple of bucks at a used bookstore on Broadway. Albert Camus’ The Outsider was an interesting read, but one that left me feeling a little bewildered, somewhat annoyed, and deeply saddened by the bleak outlook on life it portrays. Read more