Review: The Deluge

The Deluge, Stephen Markley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2023.

Summary: A novel imagining the interaction of accelerating impacts of climate change and the unraveling of societies.

I should say at the outset that there are a number of reasons not to read this book:

  • It’s long–880 pages
  • It’s scary, because it reads like our news feeds on steroids–both in accounts of extreme weather and other climate change impacts and societal unraveling.
  • It involves movement back and forth in narrating the lives and actions of a disparate set of characters, all a part of a growing crisis intermixed with collages of news articles, fictional op-ed columns, and magazine articles. It’s not always easy to keep track of it all.
  • It’s raw with graphic descriptions of violence, of various iterations of sex, and adult language.

Yet, despite all this, I could not put it down and I can’t stop thinking about it and talking about it. The lead character in this book is really our planet–its ice sheets, its oceans, its atmosphere, and its weather. Markley portrays in vivid detail the extreme weather events we already are seeing–in even greater extremes. Unprecedented snow storms. An atmospheric river flooding California (certainly written before the recent actual weather events). Monstrous hurricanes with 250 mph winds. Fires that destroy Los Angeles. Sea levels inundating coastal cities. Midwest flooding. Triple digit heat domes a routine summer event. Melting permafrost and ocean floors releasing methane, leading to cascading increases in global warming.

The novel moves between the stories of a collection of characters. A passionate environmentalist, Kate Morris, founds a creative movement, Fierce Blue Fire, starting both local community development groups and a national lobbying effort to pass environmental legislation, ultimately gutted by carbon interests. Her story is told mostly through the eyes of Matt, her partner in an “open” relationship–the terms dictated by Kate. Tony Pietrus, is a scientist who discovers and models what happens when underwater methane is released through oceanic warming. Then there is the Pastor, a has-been actor who undergoes a conversion and becomes a religious alt-right charismatic figure who eventually runs for president as a tool of the carbon lobby. Jackie is a savvy ad exec, who crafts the media strategy that guts the climate legislation Kate had fought so hard for who goes on to join her partner, Fred, in building a global investment fund leveraging the changing energy and social situation to make lots of money for investors at the expense of the world’s poor–until she regains a conscience. There is a group of climate radicals, 6Degrees, committed to using violent means to stop big coal and corporate America that through compartmented protocols and infiltration of computer networks, evades detection while staging a series of increasingly violent bombings. Keeper, an ex-addict trying to put his life back together with the help of an immigrant pastor in a small town community and gets swept up in 6 Degrees activity. And there is Ashir, who writes memoranda to a congressperson that are really personal narratives. He is a brilliant analyst and mathematician whose predictive algorithm ends up being exploited by everything from sports betting to the investment fund Jackie and her partner, Fred, manage.

All of these characters’ stories unfold against the backdrop of an unraveling country. States seceding, An irreconcilably divided political environment controlled by powerful lobbies. A tanking economy. Food and power shortages. Increasingly violent and aggressive militias. And a similarly unraveling international situation. A series of “martyrdoms” lead to what seems an awakening and embrace of the actions needed to stabilize an ever-warming world, but one requiring generations of brave effort to do so.

While one might find faults with the book, its length, structure, and character development, I thought it all worked in the end. I found myself actually caring about many of the people. As I said, I couldn’t put it down. And it made me ask the question–could all this really happen? I find myself very troubled by the fact that I have no good argument to say, “it can’t happen here?” A society that threatens public health and political officials over wearing a piddly little face mask during a highly infectious pandemic strikes me as ill-prepared or disposed to enact radical and long term societal-wide changes to reduce global warming. Despite all we know and all the talk about energy-saving and renewables our U.S. carbon emissions went UP 1.3 percent in the last year.

Can fiction speak to what all our white papers and models have not? What Markley does is take a holistic look at what happens to a society when increasingly extreme weather disrupts the fabric of our lives on an increasingly pervasive scale. The picture isn’t pretty. He bids us to look into the abyss. While some act with nobility and courage, for many others, the worst nature dishes out brings out the worst in humans. He raises profound questions about whether our democratic republic can survive these stresses. There are indications that he hangs on to hope even while portraying how challenging the world will be for our children and grand-children. And perhaps that is where we need to be–both clear-eyed, and passionately hopeful. Lord have mercy!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit

Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit, Esau McCaulley, Illustrated by LaTonya Jackson. Downers Grove: IVP Kids, 2022.

Summary: Pentecost Sunday means a trip with dad to Monique’s salon to get Josey’s hair braided, a new red dress, and questions about why her hair is so different from other children’s.

Josey Johnson is a beautiful black girl whose “hair has a mind of its own,” different from the straight hair other girls at school and in cartoons and videos have. It’s the Saturday before Pentecost Sunday and her dad is taking her to Monique’s salon to get her hair braided and then shopping for a red dress.

Being the exuberant girl she is, she is full of questions. “Why is her hair different?”, “Why is she different?”, “What is Pentecost?” and, when the tongues of fire came down “Were they burned?” What follows is a wonderful conversation between Josey and her father as Monique makes beautiful braids in Josey’s hair, celebrating the beautiful differences of all God’s creatures and of all human beings including Josey. And the different languages of Pentecost proclaim that the work of Jesus is for people of all languages, skin colors, and types of hair.

A look inside (from the publisher’s website)

There are so many delights in this children’s story. Theologian Esau McCaulley weaves into the narrative rich theology of humans as God’s image bearers and the wonder of Pentecost in the proclamation of Christ for the nations. Then there is the sheer delight of a father taking his daughter to get her hair styled, joining Monique, who has “the best voice in the city,” in song at one point, and going dress shopping with his daughter. LaTonya Jackson’s vibrant illustrations are a feast for the eyes. And the concluding Pentecost celebrations struck me as the way Pentecost ought to be celebrated!

Most of all, this is a story for every child who feels “different,” affirming the “unique work of art” each one is. And every Black child will find great joy in hearing that “your black hair, Black lips, and Black skin are God’s work of art!” I found myself smiling and feeling warm inside as I read this book–and I’m a sixty-something, gray, balding white guy. I need the message of this book as well–God loves difference and Pentecost is a sign of how much he loves that difference!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Fall 2021 Book Preview — Fiction and Non-fiction

I don’t only read academic theology. I enjoy history, essays, discussions of current affairs, and of course, good fiction. All of that has arrived at my door in the last months. Many are new books published this year, but mixed in are also some older titles, mainly from authors I’ve discovered I liked.

In the Shadow of King Saul, Jerome Charyn. New York: Bellevue Literary Press, 2018. Recently, I reviewed Swimming to the Top of the Tide. The publisher included a bonus book in their mailing, this collection of essays by the author of Sergeant Salinger, which I had reviewed this spring. I’m intrigued with what he will say in his essay on Saul, a biblical character I happen to have been studying of late.

Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson. New Haven: Yale University of Press, 2011. I love Marilynne Robinson’s fiction and essays, and this was a collection I had not read, found while browsing Thriftbooks. Turned out I was able to use a free book credit! What fun. She writes about the relation of science and religion and the new atheism in this collection.

Notes from No Man’s Land, Eula Biss. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. I recently read this author’s Immunity and decided to pick up some of her other essays including this collection on race in America, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Having and Being Had, Eula Biss. New York: Riverhead Books, 2020. This is a more recent collection, examining middle class ethics.

After the Apocalypse, Andrew Bacevich. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2021. Argues for a different approach to U.S. foreign policy based on moral pragmatism and mutual coexistence with war as a last resort.

Devil in the White City, Erik Larson. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. I’ve discovered Erik Larson’s books and I’m looking forward to this one on the 1893 World’s Fair and a serial murderer!

Riding High in April, Jackie Townsend. Phoenix: Sparkpress, 2021. Just received this with LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program. The book is a tech thriller with a human element of love and friendship written by a former Silicon Valley management consultant.

Abundance Nature in Recovery, Karen Lloyd. New York: Bloomsbury Wildlife, 2021. This is a collection of essays on conservationist efforts in the face of biodiversity loss.

The Power of Us, Jay J. Van Bavel and Dominic J. Packer. New York: Little, Brown, Spark, 2021. Builds on the idea that the groups we are part of shape identity and can enhance performance, cooperation and social harmony.

The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, Louis Menand. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. Menand is an intellectual historian whose Metaphysical Club was one of my great reads several summers ago. This one is on the art and thought trends that arose during the Cold War.

Children of Ash and Elm, Neil Price. New York: Basic Books, 2020. The Vikings enter into the history of peoples from the Asian Steppes to North America. This birthday gift gives me a chance to read a history of these people who keep barging into so many others stories!

Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021. I thought All The Light We Cannot See was one of the best books I’ve read in the last decade. The writing voice I so appreciated in that work is here, but in a story occurring in three distinct times–as you can tell, I’m already into this book.

The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles. New York: Viking, 2021. Towles is another novelist I’ve discovered in the past year, enjoying both of his deep dives into Jazz Age New York and a Russian hotel. This one is a cross-country flight to New York of several young fugitives on the title highway.

Along the way, I will be mixing in mysteries from Louise Penny, Ngaio Marsh and others. And what’s with the essays? Best I can figure is that blog posts are a version of essay, and I enjoy seeing how those who do it so well practice their craft–as well as the ideas they explore. Maybe this list will suggest some Christmas gift ideas–or not! At least you will know what not to buy me for Christmas if you are family! Whatever the case, you can look forward to hearing more about these books in the months ahead!

Fiction I Would Re-Read

close up of books on shelf

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I wrote yesterday about having a hoard of books to read during stay at home orders or whatever they are called in your part of the world I suggested that at least part of our hoard might be those that you would want to re-read. Here are some of the fiction titles I have loved that I want to come back to and give another read.

Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter. Really I could have included any of the Port William stories, but this one of tracing a love, the scars of warfare, and generations was quite wonderful.

Anthony Doerr, All The Light We Cannot See. This story of a German boy and a blind French girl whose paths cross as the Germans occupy Saint Malo is one of the most stunningly beautiful books published in the last ten years in my opinion.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield. A big book. Memorable characters. The mirror image of Dickens (Dickens initials reversed).

Fyodor Doestoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. For the depths of psychological insights into family and the philosophical explorations of the book.

C.S. Lewis. Till We Have Faces. The book Lewis thought his best, that readers thought his most difficult, and that has grown with each reading.

Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country. Paton’s novel, set in apartheid Africa, focuses on love of country and land and the possibility of reconciliation despite grievous loss.

Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose. The writing of a history of family becomes the summing up of one’s life. I love all of his writing about the American West.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden. Steinbeck considered it his magnum opus. I would agree.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. People hate Tolkien or love him. I’m in the latter camp, and find each reading richer than the last. My first was in college. My last was around the time of the movies. It might be time again

Homer, The Odyssey. One of the oldest works of fiction and one of the longest journeys home.

These ten books could carry me a long way through this quarantine (which for me really means until there is a vaccine). What books would be on your list?

The Great American Read

The Great American Read

Image from https://www.facebook.com/GreatAmericanReadPBS/

Have you heard about The Great American Read? On May 22, PBS will premiere an eight part series exploring the power of reading, hosted by Meredith Viera. The program explore this through the lens of 100 works of fiction selected through a poll of the favorite works of 7200 people and narrowed the list to 100 books. The series will consider how and why the authors of these books created their fictional worlds, how these books affect us, and what they say about the diverse mosaic that makes up America.

The first episode will run two hours and introduce the 100 books. The next five episodes will look at concepts common to this list. Then the final episode will announce America’s favorite book. And how do they discover that? Beginning May 22, we all can vote either online or on social media. Voting will continue all summer with the results announced in October 2018.

A few caveats on the books. Only works of fiction are included in this list. They must be in English. Series are allowed but only count as one book. Only one book per author is included on the list. The list ranges from classic works to contemporary novels, and covers various genres of fiction from mystery to thriller to young adult to science fiction.

So, what books are on the list? By going to “Read the 100 List” you can see cover images of the book and can click on a link giving a short summary of the book and a brief profile of the author. My only wish is that they had a downloadable list of the books. Obviously, some of the items on this list have not yet stood the test of time such as The Martian or Ready Player One. Young adult fiction like The Outlanders and The Hunger Games make the list.  I was surprised to see Christian thrillers by Frank Peretti, Dave Hunt, and Tim Lahaye, and Paul Young’s The Shack. I was pleased to see literature from an ethnically diverse selection of authors: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Another Country James Baldwin, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and others. Marilynne Robinson, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien make the list, but Flannery O’Connor and G. K. Chesterton are missing. I’m also surprised at the absence of William Faulkner, Graham Greene, Chaim Potok, Saul Bellow, and John Le Carre.  There are others on the list I easily could replace with them. The list is called America’s “most loved” books–not the greatest works of fiction in English.

You can take a quiz as to how many of the 100 you have read. I’ve read 35 of the works on this list. There are some I will take a pass on, like The DaVinci Code or Fifty Shades of Grey (yes, this is on the list), but I also got a few new ideas like The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I seriously hope I can read Don Quixote and The Count of Monte Cristo one of these days.

There are many different lists of great books, and I don’t agree fully with any of them. But one of the delightful aspects of this series is that it gets us talking as a country about books we care about, which might be a better conversation that much of what passes for public discourse. Having a vote for the most loved book is kind of like American Idol for book nerds. You can geek out on social media, following them on Facebook and Instagram and tweet about them at  #GreatReadPBS. The only thing I’d suggest is make sure you find a few on the list that interest you, and take some time to talk with others about what you like about them. Wouldn’t it be great if The Great American Read could become the Great American Conversation?

Review: Love Big, Be Well

love big be well

Love Big, Be Well, Winn Collier. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2017.

Summary: Letters written through the seasons of the church year by Jonas McAnn to the people of Granby Presbyterian Church on the varying facets of believing and living as a church, the warmth of friendship and the dark nights of doubt, each ending with the words “love big, be well.”

It is still early in the year, but I think this book is going to end up on my “best of 2018” list. Perhaps it is because I resonate with so much here, and because it is written so well.

A disillusioned pastor making his living selling insurance receives a letter written by Amy Quitman and signed by rest of the search committee at Granby Presbyterian Church. In it, she writes:

“Here are our questions. We’d like to know if you are going to use us. Will our church be your opportunity to right all the Church’s wrongs, the ones you’ve been jotting down over your vast ten years of experience?…Is our church going to be your opportunity to finally enact that one flaming vision you’ve had in your crosshairs ever since seminary, that one strategic model that will finally get this Church-thing straight? Or might we hope that our church could be a place where you’d settle in with us and love along-side us, cry with us and curse the darkness with us, and remind us how much God’s crazy about us? 

In other words, the question we want answered is very simple. Do you actually want to be our pastor?”

Jonas writes a long and frank response about why he’d packed it in as a pastor, and why he started looking to serve a church again. He confesses, “The truth is, my give-a-shit’s broke.” But he concludes,

“This letter is too long, just like my sermons. I’m working on it. But all this is to say that if our conversation leads anywhere and I were to join your motley band, being your pastor is the only thing I’d know how to do. I’m at an utter loss on anything else.” 

And then he adds,

” If I were your pastor, I’d want to continue this letter-writing thing. We’re on to something.

Love big. Be well.

Jonas McAnn

The church agrees and this is the first of many letters from 2008 to 2014, when he takes a sabbatical. The letters sparkle with the warmth of his growing friendships with the people of this church, notably big Don Brady, a hulk of a man who came to faith later in life, and who later experiences a recurrence of a cancer that had been in remission. He reflects on the nature of this thing they call church and the high-blown language and cant that obscures the reality of friends on a journey together in a place. He honestly confesses to the mystery in much of which he preaches, and his own struggles to believe the things he proclaims from the scriptures–how often he preaches, prays, and lives into things when the feeling of confidence is absent.

The letters continue when the honeymoon is over and they wrestle with the hard realities of this relationship between church and pastor. Toward the end, he includes a letter from Luther, chair of their elder board, the lone black, and what it is like to “represent” his people when he is just Luther, and yet how he does in feeling the pain and the disjuncts of racial history, even in their own congregation.

One of the letters that summed up the ordinary and yet compelling vision of church being worked out in this book is titled “The People Who Bury You.” It concludes,

“As the church, we’re the people (whenever we live true to ourselves) who will welcome you into this world, who will join you in marriage and in friendship, who will bless your coming and your going. We will pray for you to prosper and know love’s depths even if you think our prayers are foolish or offered in vain, and we will mourn you when you leave us. We will bless the land and the nations we share, and we will grieve together through tragedy and heartache. We will celebrate, with you, everything beautiful and good, everything that comes from the hand of mercy. And then, when your days conclude, we will bury you. We will return you to the earth and pray God’s kindness over you.

This is who we are. This is who I hope we will continue to be.”

This was one of a number of passages that caught my breath with the beauty, or the blunt acknowledgement of things for which I did not have nearly the words. I’ve been in a church for twenty-eight years that has been doing all these things, groping, imperfectly to be sure, to live out the realities of what it means to live in Christ both through the seasons of the church year, and all the seasons of life. We’ve been through vision and church growth processes, the products of which mostly reside in a file drawer somewhere. We’re not a large bunch but we are blessed with a pastor who reminds me of Jonas McAnn. We celebrate births, seek to teach our children well, revel in marriages and housewarmings and summer barbecues. We’ve marveled as we’ve walked alongside saints like Betty, whose life seemed to burn brighter and brighter as cancer consumed her body. And we’ve sat with families in times of loss.

Winn Collier describes a reality both of pastoral ministry and church life that seems from another time, what with all our language of “missional communities,” all our strategies, and what not. In a society of virtual relationships, of celebrity pastors, and transience, I wonder how many find places like Granby Presbyterian? And I wonder how many simply want to be pastors of such places?

Perhaps some will read this book, and it will feel like waking from a dream, and wondering if the good stuff here really can be so. My hunch is that there are places like Granby Presbyterian in neighborhoods and small towns that you have driven past many times. Maybe it is our church building you’ve driven past, oblivious to the beautiful and good that is happening among our people. The only thing that I’d ask if you decide to stop in is that things will work a lot better if you leave your grandiose dreams and “flaming visions” at the door.

Don’t Forgive Us Our Transgressions?

Stockholm_8187

Stockholm, Sweden, where much of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes place.  Photo by Hedwig Storch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

One of the ideas that keeps cropping up on several literary sites I follow is that of the “transgressive.” Goodreads defines transgressive fiction as “Books that contain depictions of behavior that violates socially acceptable norms, often involving taboo subject matters such as drug use, violence, incest, crime.” At Goodreads “Best Transgressive Fiction” site, these works are the top 5 in transgressive fiction:

  1. Chuck Palahniuk, The Fight Club.
  2. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
  3. Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho
  4. George Orwell, 1984
  5. J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

One of the others on the list (and hence the image above) was Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I understand includes significant episodes of rape (male and female) and violence.

I have to admit that, apart from 1984 I’ve not read anything of these five. In the extended list are titles like Crime and PunishmentThe Stranger, and Slaughterhouse Five. This suggests a few things about the attraction of such works. One is the acknowledged fact among writers that an evil character generally is far more interesting, and interesting to write, than a good one. Another is that the transgressive often seems to be acting against oppressive social norms or controlling circumstances. In 1984 the transgressive is an attempt to throw off the yoke of oppressive tyranny.

I also suspect that it may sometimes be attractive to explore what it is like to do things we don’t have the courage to do, or would never think of, except in our imaginations. We often wonder why a sociopath, or psychopath does what s/he does.

What troubles me is what seems to me a growing preference for the transgressive over the virtuous, in fiction, and perhaps in life. In matters of sexuality, it seems that the effort is to extend the “normative” to whatever one wants to do, with even consent optional. I understand this is a statement against hetero-sexist hegemony. Yet whether we consider sexuality, violence, substance use and abuse, or criminal acts, one has to ask whether the celebration of crossing boundaries is always a good thing. Are there any reasons for norms beside an exertion of power by a dominant group?

This is something I’m wondering about. I’m not sure I want to say more because I suspect there is much I don’t understand. But I’ve often written about “the good, the true, and the beautiful” and I wonder if making the transgressive to be a kind of good, or truth, or beauty is to destroy the meaning of goodness, truth, and beauty.

Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Lone Ranger and Tonto

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie. New York: Grove Press, 2013 (20th Anniversary edition, first published 1993).

Summary: A collection of short stories all relating to growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation.

Sherman Alexie was born in 1966 and grew up on a Spokane Indian reservation. This collection of short stories followed a critically acclaimed book of poetry, and so is one of Alexie’s earliest works. In the introduction to the twentieth anniversary edition, Alexie describes these stories as “thinly disguised memoir.” And to be truthful, it has that feel to it. He describes his style as “reservation realism” and in this collection one finds a mix of the starkly realistic and the fantastic.

What is starkly realistic is his portrayal of life on the reservation. Of course there is a strong web of friendships, families, kinship and love relationships. There is the sense of a people attempting to keep the core of a cultural memory together when much of its substance has been gutted. It’s also a portrayal of financial destitution, un- and under-employment, fighting, government issue cheese and housing, and alcohol and substance abuse. Alexie admits that his own father was an alcoholic and that in his extended family only a dozen are currently sober and only a few that never drank.

One of the most interesting characters in this whole mix is Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who in “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix” accompanies the narrator and covers most of the cost of flying from Spokane to Phoenix to re-cover his alcoholic father’s remains. Thomas is a story-teller to whom no one listens. In a subsequent story more on the fantastic, Kafka-esque side, Thomas goes on trial for his storytelling, going to prison for murder as he tells the story in first person of another Indian who had killed two soldiers a century before.

From the absurd, Alexie moves to the sad in telling the story of the death of Samuel Builds-the-Fire, a hotel maid who uses his money to pay Indian prostitutes to take the day off, is laid off, gets drunk for the first time in his life, trips and falls on railroad tracks and does not get up as an oncoming train approaches.

There is the funny and sad. The title says it all in “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore.” In another, the narrator talks about his father, who heard Jimi Hendrix play the “Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, and whose son would always turn it on for him when he arrived home from a night of drinking. In “Amusements” a young couple at a carnival spot an old drunk from the reservation and load him onto a coaster, on which he rides until he comes to and gets sick to his stomach.

So much of this seems like autobiography. “Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation” begins in 1966, chronicles the growing up of a boy dropped on his head (Alexie was hydrocephalic) yet has a fairly normal boyhood while the narrator plays basketball, similar to Alexie’s high school self. “Junior Polatkin’s Wild West Show” describes a young man who went off to Gonzaga, felt out of place and left without graduating. Alexie also went to Gonzaga, leaving after two years, although he completed a degree at Washington State.

Alexie gives us twenty-four stories that explore the life of a people displaced, consigned to make some sense of life in a world they’ve not chosen, fighting addictions that may have been the worst depredation of them all upon their lives. You have accounts of people who want to live, love and make their way in the world while holding onto a cultural heritage, a way of living in the world out of step with the American culture in which they are embedded. It is admittedly one perspective but it does begin to help us understand “the American experience” of these First Peoples and the stark realities of reservation life.

  [Note: Adult language and situations.]

Review: The Last of All Possible Worlds and The Temptation to Do Good

Drucker

The Last of All Possible Worlds and The Temptation to Do GoodPeter F. Drucker. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2016 (forthcoming, expected publication date June 14, 2016).

Summary: The two novels of management guru Peter Drucker, the first of which is an interlocking tale of the lives of bankers and aristocracy in pre-World War I Europe as they face an impending meeting, the second a tale of an act of kindness by a Catholic college president that goes horribly wrong.

Yes, this is that Peter Drucker who was known for his insightful business books and management consulting practice. He also wrote two novels, which are combined in this forthcoming edition.

The first focuses around the lives, loves, aspirations, and choices of four aristocrats or bankers. First is Prince Sobieski, Austrian ambassador to England, beseiged by his daughter to help her husband, a military man. All this leads him to consider his life, his, and his wife’s affairs, financial empire and more. We turn next to McGregor Hinton, a British banker whose real love is mathematics and a mulatto prostitute to whom he is secretly married who is dying of cancer. The third figure is Julius von Mosenthal, an Austrian Jewish banker preparing for a major restructuring of a bank in which Sobieski and Hinton are partners. The final figure, Baronness Rafaela Wald-Reifnitz, does not quite seem connected to the rest except by class. The novel ends rather than resolves and what we have is really a set of portraits of a class and a time that died with the guns of August 1914. Drucker explores the choices we make that shape and preclude the realizations of our aspirations. While insightful in places, this seemed more a set of character sketches than a novel with a real plot line.

The second novel focuses around Father Heinz Zimmerman, the visionary and energetic President of St Jerome University. Father Zimmerman, confronted by the unbalanced wife of a faculty member who had been refused tenure, attempts to secure him another teaching position. The plot line unfolds as an example of the axiom that “no good deed goes unpunished.” The wife begins a campaign of innuendo against the university and impugns the character of Father Zimmerman. Virtuous people overreact inflicting pain upon Zimmerman and his long time administrative assistant, and jeopardizing Zimmerman’s highly effective presidency. Around this swirls an underlying tension of whether a university can be both great and Catholic. What is fascinating here is the development of a plotline underscoring the banality of evil, in the form of the pettiness of university conflicts.

The latter novel, while having a more interesting plot line seemed a bit heavy-handed. For those who are fans of Peter Drucker (as am I) you might find this edition of his two novels interesting to see how Drucker would write a novel. Insightful as each is at times, I cannot commend these as great writing. Give me The Effective Executive any day.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via a pre-publication e-galley through Edelweiss. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Bob on Books Best of 2015

Not to be outdone by all the other “best of 2015” lists coming out, I give you Bob on Books Best of 2015! This is different from many of the lists which just list books from 2015. This is the book blog of a reader who happens to review, and so some of my best books of the year weren’t actually published this year, and I’ve just gotten around to reading them.  I happen to think there are a number of really good books out there, and they weren’t all published this year!

One other thing I’ve done this year is segment my list into fiction, non-fiction, and Christian. I do read a number of Christian titles, which connects to my work in collegiate ministry, and I think my choices are worthy reads, but skip over this if it is not your cup of tea!

I should also mention that the weblinks here are to my full reviews. Those reviews include full publication information and a link to the publisher’s website, if this was available at the time of the review.

Fiction: 

All the Light We Cannot SeeDun CowBel CantoBrendanbeowulf

  1. All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr. Hands down my Book of the Year. Incredibly beautiful writing, finely drawn plot that brings together a blind French girl and a German orphan become soldier during the invasion of St. Malo. Written by an Ohioan!
  2. The Book of the Dun Cow, Walter Wangerin, Jr. A contest between good and evil in a barnyard, a modern animal fable.
  3. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett. A dinner party held hostage in a Latin American embassy and the relationships that emerge. Patchett’s best.
  4. Brendan, Frederick Buechner. An account of the life of St Brendan the Navigator as he confronts both external and internal limits.
  5. Beowulf, unknown, translated by Seamus Heaney.  I’ve read but not reviewed this yet. Heaney’s translation of this classic work brings it to light in all its power and pathos.

Non-fiction:

The Wright BrothersThe Road to CharacterThe FellowshipBuffalo for a Broken HeartBully Pulpit

  1. The Wright Brothers, David McCullough. Outstanding account that highlighted their engineering and experimental skills honed through bike-building, and their work ethic.
  2. The Road to Character, David Brooks. An effort to initiate a conversation about “moral ecology” by exploring the quests for character of a diverse group from Augustine to Bayard Rustin.
  3. The Fellowship, Philip and Carol Zaleski. A fourfold biography of the literary lives and influence of the four principal Inklings.
  4. Buffalo for the Broken Heart, Dan O’Brien. Part memoir, part nature writing on restoring life to a Black Hills ranch by converting to herding buffalo.
  5. The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Not only great for accounts of Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft and their relationship, but also the “muckraking” journalists brought together by Sam McClure.

Christian:

17293092 (1)A Glorious DarkSufferingSpiritual Friendshipslow church

  1. Playing GodAndy Crouch. An important book that looks at power, considering not only the possibility of corruption, but also the redemptive uses of power, which we cannot help but wield in some measure, as creatures in the image of God.
  2. A Glorious DarkA. J. Swoboda. A marvelous set of reflections on the darknesses of life and our glorious hope organized around the Triduum of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
  3. Suffering and the Search for MeaningRichard Rice. A concise, clear, and pastoral exploration of some of the ways Christians attempt to address evil and suffering.
  4. Spiritual FriendshipWesley Hill. This books seeks to restore to the church a high view of friendship, and its importance for those seeking to live single and chaste lives.
  5. Slow Church, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. Modeled after the “slow food” movement, the authors call for an embrace an ethic of quality, an ecology of reconciliation, and an economy of abundance.

Those were my “best of the best”. Since this medium is interactive, I’d enjoy hearing what yours were. That might give each of us all some good ideas of something we’d like to read in 2016!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Bob on Books!