Cherry blossom season is upon us here in DC, though these first days of spring have not been without their cold! These are the books we’ve been scrambling to finish before spring fever sets in—or the books we’ll be taking with us to picnic under the flowers.
I’ve been catching snatches of The Office BFFs: Tales of The Office from Two Best Friends Who Were There by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, which my wife has just finished on audio. We were faithful The Office watchers, at least through the Steve Carrell era, so it’s been pretty fun—although the ladies are a little too positive for me to be able to take in large doses. Also on audio, I’ve been listening to the CatholicCulture.org audiobooks (podcast) version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay / extended speech “On Fairy Stories.” It’s one of those writings I’d heard about for years but never gotten around to, and I was unprepared for how enjoyable it is. My nine-year-old daughter has been listening to it with me! (This is proud father moment for me). We’re halfway through, about an hour in. Neither of us know all of the references or can keep up with all of Tolkien’s eloquence, but we’re both getting something out of it.
I’m just starting to read From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo by Mary Stanton. This biography traces the personal development and bold actions of a white woman, married with five children, who participated in the 1965 voting rights march in Selma, Alabama. Immediately after the march, while giving a ride to a black marcher on his way home to Montgomery, she and her passenger were murdered by Klansmen. I decided to read this book after listening to a television interview with one of her sons, who, despite the sacrifices imposed on her family by her lifestyle of radical involvement with the poor, reveres his mother’s memory and tries his best to follow in her footsteps.
I have just started the new novel from Bret Easton Ellis entitled The Shards. Description from the publisher notes:
“A novel of sensational literary and psychological suspense from the best-selling author of Less Than Zero and American Psycho that tracks a group of privileged high school friends in a vibrantly fictionalized 1980s Los Angeles as a serial killer strikes across the city.”
It’s 570 pages and I’m on page 10 so I don’t have much to say about it!
Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, at a certain age people from Maine must read Stephen King’s It. The story alternates between two timelines, following the characters when they first encounter It when they are 11 or 12 in 1958 and then when they reunite 27 years later in 1985. I’m now at the age of the characters in the later timeline. It is less about demon clowns that live in the sewer than the cycles of resentment, economic stagnation, abuse, racism, and homophobia that fester beneath a Maine town’s façade and that each generation must encounter—or, more pointedly, move away and forget. The book is very good, and it’s always nice when the classics live up to their reputation.
I’m reading Look to the Glory, an edited collection of writings by Richard Meux Benson, SSJE. Benson was a high-church Anglican priest and founder of a religious order, the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. The joke went that, as so many members of the order and their followers converted to Catholicism, the initials SSJE actually stood for “the Secret Society of Jesuits in England.” The book is ideal Lenten train reading, as the passages are short, well-written (for those used to English prose of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century), and devotional. Benson gently urges his readers to look to the glory of the ascended Christ, whose light will illuminate us and necessarily change us—done in such a way that when you’ve finished reading, you are left with the vague feeling that it must surely be time for tea and crumpets.
I’ve recently finished A Meandering Line by Minna Sundberg! The testimony comic details the life story and conversion path of the author from a theologically curious childhood to nihilistic atheism in her adult years and her recent conversion to Christianity—all told in the form of adorable rabbits! A thoroughly modern conversion story, A Meandering Line speaks poignantly to the experience of religious searching experienced by many millennial and Gen Z readers, but is a good story for all ages. The work is available for free online as well as for purchase if you want to support the author financially!
I am reading Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Gaiman has an almost midrashic talent for expanding and explicating the Eddic myths in ways that remain faithful to the source material and make the ancient stories accessible to modern audiences.
I’m slowly but surely making my way through The Buried Giant by Oscar-nominated Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve read Never Let Me Go and was curious to see how his understated, grounded, emotionally distant style would work in a fantasy context. Early days, I’m curious to see what comes next but not quite “hooked”, so I’m reserving judgement until I get a little farther in.
In the mean time, I finally read through Persepolis, which has been on my TBR list for years. It’s a graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi, who reflects on her childhood in post-revolutionary Iran, her adolescence in Austria, and eventual return to Iran in the 90s as a young woman. I have too many thoughts to summarize here, but needless to say, it was excellent! Despite the heaviness of the topics and stories she touches upon, Satrapi tells her story with an evenness and honesty that makes it surprisingly digestible. I hope to watch the Oscar-nominated film in the near future, which to my understanding does its source material justice.