March 8, 2017

Book review: Poverty books — 1929-1930 — “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell

Midway through Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell is making a point: The mass of the rich and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit. Change places, and handy dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief? Everyone who has mixed on equal terms with the poor knows this quite well. Orwell is reacting to the general feeling among the non-poor of England of his time — and it’s true today in the United States — that people who live in poverty are somehow less than full people. That they’re of a different breed, a lesser breed. Yet, in this book about his own experience living in extreme poverty over the course of more than three months in late 1929 and early 1930, Orwell makes again and again the strikingly obvious point: that the poor are human beings, just like the rest of us.   “Ordinary human beings” For instance, writing about his time among tramps and beggars in London and its environs, Orwell notes: It is worth saying something about the social position of beggars, for when one […]
March 7, 2017

Book Review: Poverty books — 1890 — “How the Other Half Lives” by Jacob Riis

…. There is much to say about Jacob Riis’s 1890 masterpiece How the Other Half Lives, but, first, let’s look at the faces in his book. In our selfie-social media age, a collection like this — a collection of the faces of individuals — is nothing unusual. Yet, 125 years ago, these images were revolutionary. If you were rich, you could have your portrait painted. If you were middle-class, you could pay for a photographic likeness. You might even buy your own Kodak box camera, introduced in 1888, and take up the expensive hobby of photography, making photos of family members and friends. The poor couldn’t avail themselves of these options. But Jacob Riis, newspaper reporter and reformer in New York, could and did. And, in lectures, articles and a series of books, starting with How the Other Half Lives, he bridged the economic, cultural and class gap to link those with solid, comfortable lives to their brothers and sisters trying to eke out a living in poverty.   Common humanity How the Other Half Lives was a major milestone in journalism, in photojournalism and in social reform. Riis’s text, often overlooked, is hard-edged and filled with a barely restrained […]
March 2, 2017

Book review: Poverty Books –– 1936 — “The Road to Wigan Pier” by George Orwell

There are two halves to George Orwell’s investigative report on the working class of the industrial centers of Yorkshire and Lancashire in England, published in 1937, The Road to Wigan Pier. The second is a pointed, opinionated, witty and, at times, technical discussion of the failures of the British social-political system to provide decent opportunities for the working class and others at the bottom of the economic heap, and of what was needed to eliminate these failings. His answer was socialism, but not as British socialists were practicing the political creed. A more humane, less class-conscious socialism is what Orwell had in mind. This 100-page section is filled with telling observations about the class system in Britain, with many slaps at the middle class, particularly socialists of that class unable and unwilling to see working class people as equals. With many writers, this would be heavy going, but Orwell is never boring, even when he’s being pedantic and biased and more than a bit of a know-it-all. In much of what he writes, though, he makes eminent sense.   “Black thumb-print” But I don’t want to deal here with this second half of the book. Instead, I want to look closely […]
February 27, 2017

Book review: Poverty Books — 1902 — “The People of the Abyss” by Jack London

Turn to page 24 of Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, and you’ll find many of the book’s themes on display. The American spent seven weeks in the summer of 1902 investigating — and often living — the life of the poor of the East End of London, the grandest, most powerful and most populous city in the world. Some 450,000 of the city’s 6.2 million people lived in poverty, most of them segregated in the East End. Or, as the writer put it on page 24: At this very moment, 450,000 of these creatures are dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit called “London.” Jack London, still trying to make his mark as a writer, had not yet produced the novel that made his reputation, The Call of the Wild. Indeed, he would start that book a few months later, in December, and both the novel and the 128-page non-fiction investigative work would be published in 1903.   “Old woman’s fault” As an example of those “dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit,” London lays out on page 24 of The People of the Abyss the details of the sad life and death of […]
February 16, 2017

Book review: “The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner,” edited by Ron Rapoport

Near the end of The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner, in a section called “Buried Treasure,” editor Ron Rapaport includes this tidbit from a Lardner column about diet and exercise: Like for inst. you wouldn’t go to Babe Ruth for beauty hints no more than you would ask Lillian Gish which cheek to park your tobacco in vs. a left-hander. Rapaport’s newly published book might just as well have been titled Buried Treasure because little of Lardner’s work as a journalist has previously been available despite the high praise he garnered during and after his short life from such literary luminaries as Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edmund Wilson. He’s remembered today for his short stories, but, throughout his writing career from 1907 until shortly before his death in 1933 at the age of 48, Lardner was a practicing journalist whose work, often syndicated throughout the nation, attracted a huge audience. His output, too, was huge. For instance, during his career with the Chicago Tribune, he wrote more than 1,600 columns and other stories, most often about sports but also such other topics as politics, Prohibition and World War I.   “Bowed his knees” Although he left Chicago in […]
February 8, 2017

Book review: “Secondhand Souls” by Christopher Moore

Early on, in Secondhand Souls, the report comes from one character to another that the hellhounds are gone. This is important to the plot of Christopher Moore’s 2015 comic novel because the hellhounds — often referred to as the “Irish hellhounds” since that seems to sound better — are the protectors of seven-year-old Sophie who is Death with a Capital D, or, as she shouts in a bit of a tantrum, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita: I am become Death, destroyer of worlds. Except, maybe, she isn’t Big-D Death any more. Which is particularly problematic because, again, as when Sophie was a toddler (and had to save the world), the forces of darkness are gathering and appear on the edge of bringing a thundering end to life as we know it. At least, in San Francisco. So, it’s bad that the Irish hellhounds — Alvin and Mohammed — have disappeared from the scene. Beyond all that, though, there was at least one reader who spent much of Secondhand Souls mourning the absence of the two 400-pound mastiffs who first made their appearance in Moore’s 2006 book A Dirty Job. Let me explain.   Wacky In A Dirty Job, Moore, a […]
January 30, 2017

Book review: “Mary: Images of the Mother of Jesus in Jewish and Christian Perspective” by Jaroslav Pelikan, David Flusser and Justin Lang, OFM

Many modern Catholics aren’t sure what to make of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Some of us remember when, prior to the Second Vatican Council, she was very much near the center of our faith. Indeed, Protestants, in general, thought the Catholic church gave way too much attention to Mary, even, some said, to the point of idolatry. Then, in the 1960s, among Catholics, there was a swing of the pendulum that moved Mary more to the margins of belief. There were still a lot of believers who kept up their prayers and devotions to Mary, but, for the most part, Catholic writers and preachers didn’t have a lot to say about her, arguing, directly or implicitly, that they needed to turn their focus much more narrowly on Jesus.   Mary, in other words, was seen as something of a distraction.   “Joyfulness of narration” That’s the context in which my own faith was formed, and it’s only been recently that I’ve felt myself looking at Mary and trying to understand her better and to figure out her place in my own brand of Catholicism. Mary: Images of the Mother of Jesus in Jewish and Christian Perspective is a delightful jewel […]
January 25, 2017

Book review: “Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured” by Kathryn Harrison

It was early March of 1429 when Joan, a 17-year-old girl from rural Domremy, arrived in the city of Chinon to tell the Dauphin — Charles VII, the uncrowned king of France — that she had been sent from God to lead his soldiers. If Joan was daunted by her arrival in a world so unlike her own, where wealth had the power to banish the squalor of peasant life [writes Kathryn Harrison], she betrayed no discomfort. If she felt any awe in entering the castle of a king, she showed none to her companions… Joan’s attention was elsewhere, already beyond the chateau, galloping ahead of her. Long before she arrived at court, Joan had embarked on a prolonged visionary experience that would end only at her death…. The story of Joan has been told many times over the past six centuries, and it will continue to be told for many centuries more. It’s a story of fierce faith, dirty politics, venal churchmen, trust betrayed, patriotism abused and, most especially, a girl who called herself Joan the Virgin and was called by her enemies Joan the Whore and Joan the Witch and who, for the past hundred years, has been […]
January 23, 2017

Book review: “So Long, See You Tomorrow” by William Maxwell

William Maxwell’s 1980 semi-autobiographical novel So Long, See You Tomorrow, originally published in The New Yorker in two installments, was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize and won a National Book Award. In 2016, it was included in a list the 75 best books of the previous 75 years. Maxwell was The New Yorker’s fiction editor for forty years, working with and gaining the respect of such writers as Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, John O’Hara, Eudora Welty, Shirley Hazzard, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. So, the high praise for his novel, published when Maxwell was in his early 70s, is not surprising. The novel is an exquisitely rendered, jewel-like story that’s told in just 135 pages in its original hardcover edition. It is notable for its extreme emotional reserve and ever-so-delicate craftsmanship. For me, it was bloodless.   A decidedly bleak view I’m sure there are many of Maxwell’s fans who will tell me I’m deaf to Maxwell’s artistry. And, truth be told, So Long, See You Tomorrow does have the feel of an intense and elegant poem. It is made up of two stories. One is about a murder in 1920s Lincoln, Illinois, that results from […]
January 20, 2017

REQUIEM FOR DAVID — Poems — Patrick T. Reardon

“Requiem for David is the heart’s howl, a passage through mourning, a lesson ultimately in learning how to walk alongside pain with grace.” — Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street. … “Detail by razor-sharp detail, perception by vivid perception, recollection by haunting recollection, Patrick T. Reardon’s Requiem for David gathers into the force of a cri de coeur.” — Stuart Dybek, author of The Coast of Chicago. … “Reardon’s poetry reminds me of the great poet and Catholic priest, Daniel Berrigan. I highly recommend this volume to all who seek uncommon answers to difficult questions.” — Haki R. Madhubuti, Ph.D., author of Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1966-2009 and YellowBlack: The First Twenty-One Years of a Poet’s Life, A Memoir. …   “Your death/tore me/open like/the baby/was coming/out.” In his eighth book, Patrick T. Reardon wrestles with the suicide of his brother David and the pain they shared as the children. Requiem for David also explores the tight bond of affection that the brothers shared with each other and with their other 12 brothers and sisters. “They face life with/raw nerves. But they lean toward each other.”   Patrick T. Reardon’s books include Faith Stripped to […]
January 18, 2017

Chicago History: The Chicago judge who caused an international incident

On July 7, 1931, in a courtroom in the South Chicago neighborhood, a 38-year-old municipal court judge sparked an international incident when he peremptorily ordered the acting Mexican consul to spend six months in jail for talking back to him. “I don’t see why people bow and scrape to these consuls and ambassadors,” Judge Thomas A. Green said to a Tribune reporter. “They’ve got to be put in their place.” “Get him to shut up” According to Green, the incident began when the consul, Adolfo Dominguez, in the courtroom on another matter, listened to the judge describe Mexican vagrants before him as “idlers” and sentence them to a year in jail. In response, Dominguez approached the bench. “He objected to this sentence, and I told him to run along and mind his own business,” Green later explained. “I couldn’t get him to shut up so I threatened to send him to jail. He said I couldn’t do that because he was a representative of the Mexican government and then he dared me to jail him. So, I did.”       “Throw you in the can!” Attorney T. Russell Baker who had come to the courtroom with Dominguez gave a […]
January 16, 2017

Book review: “Cities in Flight” by James Blish

Cities in Flight is an omnibus, first published in 1970, that collects together four novels by James Blish. Those novels themselves were collections of stories that Blish had published between 1950 and 1962. I initially read Cities in Flight in paperback sometime during the 1970s when I was in my 20s. Now, some four decades later, I’ve re-read a hardcover version of the book, published in 2000. Of the two books as objects, I much prefer the cover art of the paperback in which each letter of the two main words of the title is a kind of city in flight. The dustjacket of the hardcover suggests an eerie strangeness. That’s mainly because what intrigued me then about the novel and still intrigues me is the idea of whole cities lifting off from Earth and wandering space like migrant workers or, as they call themselves, Okies. As a newspaper reporter in the 1970s, I was covering a bunch of Chicago suburbs, each of which had a mayor and some sort of city manager, and, in the final three of the novel’s four sections, the central characters are the mayor and the city manager of the space-travelling New York City. I’m […]
January 11, 2017

Book review: “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

At the end of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s 2015 novel The Sympathizer, the unnamed narrator and central character asks a series of questions: What do those who struggle against power do when they seize power? What does the revolutionary do when the revolution triumphs? Why do those who call for independence and freedom take away the independence and freedom of others? And is it sane or insane to believe, as so many around up apparently do, in nothing? These are the metaphysical issues at the heart of The Sympathizer, the winner of the 2106 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but that’s not clear until the very end of the novel. Instead, the novel seems to about living in two worlds as the narrator suggests with these words that open the book: I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds…I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess.   “The dust of life” Born in the northern […]
January 10, 2017

Book review: “The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc” by Charles Peguy, adapted by Jean-Paul Lucet, translated by Jeffrey Wainwright

In Charles Peguy’s play The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, there are three characters: Joan, her friend Hauviette and a nun called Madam Gervaise. The year is 1425, and Joan is a seemingly simple teenaged peasant girl, trying to figure out what faith means and what faith requires. She is on stage the entire time. She is joined for the first part by Hauviette and for the second by Madam Gervaise. Their conversations are theological investigations. Hauviette seems to represent a sort of common sense approach to questions about God and belief. Madam Gervaise appears to represent official Catholic teaching. The key line in the play, to my mind, is uttered when the nun asks Joan: Why do you want, sister, to save the dead who are damned to eternal Hell? Why do you want to be a better savior than the Savior?   Three questions Peguy (1873-1914), born of French peasant stock, was a poet, editor and political activist who espoused an idiosyncratic version of Catholicism. In 1897, he wrote a very long drama Joan of Arc. Thirteen years later, he returned to the subject of the soldier-saint Maid of Orleans when he composed The Mystery […]
January 5, 2017

Book review: “Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather

It’s been 90 years since Willa Cather published Death Comes for the Archbishop, and what’s particularly striking about the novel is how it seems to exist outside the fashions and prejudices of a particular era and, yet, tells a universal story about human beings and the earth on which they live. At the center of the novel are two French Jesuits — Bishop Jean Marie Latour and his friend Father Joseph Vaillant — two celibate men who, in the mid-19th century, devote their lives to bring religious faith and comfort to Mexican-Americans in the newly acquired U.S. territory of New Mexico. Missionaries are generally depicted in books and movies today as aggressive, vindictive, dictatorial and stone-hearted. I’m sure there have been such priests in the history of the mission fields, but I’m also certain that a lot more of those who went out to share their faith with people who knew little or nothing of Jesus were like Latour and Vaillant. Cather presents them as strong, committed men, willing to put up with great hardships in doing what they saw as God’s work. Flawed, like all of us are, but good at heart. We can still believe today in the […]
January 3, 2017

My Top Fourteen Books of 2016

Last year, it was my top eleven. This year, it’s the top fourteen. Why? I could tell you that I’d already left a lot of good books off this list. And I could tell you that I would cheerfully, joyfully, delightedly recommend any of these books to any reader. Really, though, it’s because these fourteen. among all those I read in 2016, touched deepest me in some way. Some, such as The House on Mango Street and The Long Season, are books that I’ve read before. A good number are ostensibly books on religious topics, but I’d argue that their subject matter was the human condition. They’re ranked first to fourteenth, but, really, on another day, the list would probably be shuffled a bit, or a lot. So, here they are along with a portion of my review and a link to that review: “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr. In his novel, Miller has created a captivating story in which the future world echoes what happened in the past. Just as Western civilization took hundreds of years to rebuild itself after the fall of Rome, Miller’s post-apocalyptic Earth goes through a Dark Ages (the first section), […]
January 2, 2017

Meditation: Snow in Jerusalem

It snows in Jerusalem. Somebody told me that, so I looked it up. In 1950, there were storms that dumped a couple feet of snow on the city and even more elsewhere in Israel. So Jesus wasn’t unfamiliar with snow. As a boy, maybe he had to shovel it. Or maybe his parents told him just to wait for it to melt. It’s warmer in Nazareth than here in Chicago. Maybe, as a boy, Jesus was like my son David who, on more than a few winter mornings, awoke, looked out the window and ran through the house, shouting, “Hooray! It snowed!” I’ve always found it fascinating to see how completely the world is changed by an overnight snowfall. You wake up, and all of the dead leaves and trash along the curb and mud and yellow grass, all of the streets and alleys, all of the cars and houses and garages are covered in beauty. I think Jesus was alive to beauty. He was alive to life in such a vivid way. He looked at life with open eyes and saw — really saw — the world, especially the people in the world. The woman who washed his feet […]
December 21, 2016

Book review: “Walks with Men” by Ann Beattie

Walks with Men is Ann Beattie’s very short 2010 novel about two vacuous but affluent New Yorkers who have an affair, break up, marry and then really break up. This reads like a longish short story in the New Yorker, a publication for which Beattie often writes. And that magazine’s readers seem to be its target audience. I was left feeling out of it.   Rarified stratum What I mean is that, despite the skill with which Beattie tells this story, I could find no purchase. The two central characters — 44-year-old Neil and 22-year-old Jane — are like no one I know, except maybe people in a movie about the rarified stratum of cultural winners who comport themselves like masters and mistresses of their universe. In 1980, when the couple meet, Neil is an academic who dabbles in commentary in high-tone periodicals while Jane has made a sudden (and fleeting) name for herself as the poster girl for a disillusioned generation after giving a graduation speech at Harvard that disparaged an Ivy League education. Headline! Headline!   Great praise from the French As the novel progresses through their courtship and living together and the ultimate disappearance of one of the […]
December 20, 2016

Chicago History: The great adventure of Chicago May. “Queen of the Underworld”

During the first three decades of the 20th century, the Chicago newspapers, including the Tribune, couldn’t get enough of an Irish woman who became an international celebrity criminal on four continents. She was nicknamed Chicago May. Her real name, which the papers never came across, was May Duignan. It didn’t matter. Her reputation was a lot more interesting than mundane facts. She was a woman who, the Tribune reported breathlessly, was the “Queen of the Underworld” and “the world’s cleverest woman crook” and “a pioneer in women’s rights in a world of crooks.”   The family’s entire savings In her 2005 book “The Story of Chicago May,” biographer Nuala O’Faolain chronicled that May turned tricks and stole wallets in Cairo and Manhattan, was the hostess at a diplomatic ball in Rio de Janeiro, was rumored to have helped a boyfriend escape from Devil’s Island, and served nearly 15 years in French and English prisons. She married a member of the Dalton Gang, Dal Churchill who, according to May, was lynched for trying to rob a train near Phoenix. She testified against novelist Stephen Crane, and she crossed paths with Countess Constance Markievicz, the Irish rebel. May’s was a career that […]
December 14, 2016

Book review: “Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit” by Barry Estabrook

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook is really two books that co-exist uneasily in the same binding.   Book one: For foodies One is a book for foodies and deals with the question of why so many store-bought tomatoes are so relatively tasteless. This book covers the first 35 pages and the last 73. Its focus is on the methods used by growers in sunny Florida to produce tons of tomatoes each winter to ship north to frigid and often snow-bound markets. These tomatoes have been created to be attractive, large and able to handle a lot of handling before ending up on a diner’s plate — all so that those diners don’t have to go an entire season or more without the foodstuff. The Florida growers work on a business model that is only marginally profitable. That’s why the tomatoes are fashioned to be hardy and, in terms of shipping, to be able to go the extra mile. In the latter part of this book, Estabrook examines some new strains of tomato that, although a bit uglier, may be able to lead to better-tasting versions reaching the northern markets. The bottom-line problem, […]
December 12, 2016

Book review: “Out of Sight” by Elmore Leonard

Jack Foley and Karen Sisco meet cute. In Elmore Leonard’s 1996 novel Out of Sight, Karen is a U.S. Marshall who arrives one late winter afternoon in the parking lot of the Glades state prison in Florida to serve a summons on a prisoner. But, as she’s getting out of her car in a parking lot beyond the fence, she spots, one after the other, a handful of muddy inmates climbing out of a hole and running off to freedom. Jack Foley, wearing a guard’s uniform, emerges right after them, and he and his buddy, named Buddy, get the drop on Karen, take away the Remington pump-action shotgun she’s grabbed to chase the inmates and order her to get into the trunk of her car. Not by herself, though. Joining Karen in the trunk is Foley who’s covered in muck after crawling through the tunnel that those other inmates dug. Buddy gets in the driver’s seat, and the getaway is on.   “Under different circumstances” In the tight space of the truck, Jack and Karen are pressed together, his front to her back, and curled as if spooning, except, of course, Jack is a record-setting bank robber and an escaped […]
December 7, 2016

Poem: “Then”

At Christmas, there is me.   Then David. Then Mary Beth. Then Eileen. Then Tim. Then John. Then Rosemary. Then Laura. Then Marie. Then Kathy. Then Teri. Then Geri. Then Jeanne. Then Rita.   Every baby is the Baby Jesus.   One Christmas morning sixty years ago, Mary Beth suddenly grabs a metal fire truck from my grasp, leaving me with a short, thin slice of blood on my palm. Nothing to be done but find, unnoticed, a Band Aid in the bathroom.   We are the brothers and sisters of Baby Jesus.   God hides, like a small child, for fun.   Patrick T. Reardon 12.7.16   This poem was originally published by Silver Birch Press on 12.6.15.   It is included in the poetry collection Requiem for David to be published by Silver Birch Press in February.
December 7, 2016

Book review: “The Poets’ Jesus: Representations at the End of a Millennium” by Peggy Rosenthal

Peggy Rosenthal’s book-long meditation on how poets around the world and over the centuries have encountered Jesus — The Poets’ Jesus: Representations at the End of a Millennium — was published in 2000. Yet, it shouldn’t be thought of as a retrospective. The attitudes toward Jesus, by believing and unbelieving poets, that Rosenthal carefully, lovingly set before the reader can be found today among humans, no matter their faith or lack of faith. They don’t just exist in time. They exist, all of them, in the here and now. As Rosenthal recounts, there have been waves of theological and poetic fashion that have heightened various images of Jesus down all the many years. Still, I come away from this deeply spiritual work with the sense that, in some transcendent way, each Jesus identified by these poets does live, even those who contradict each other. When it comes to understanding God, there is no recourse but to acknowledge our blindness. We make stabs in the dark at trying to put into words our ideas, feelings and experiences of God and know how feeble those words are. And know, on top of that, how feeble, weak and bumbling are those ideas, feelings […]
December 6, 2016

Book review: “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

The Sellout, Paul Beatty’s 2015 novel and winner of the Man Booker Prize, is a wildly free-wheeling satire of race relations in the United States that seems designed to offend just about everyone, several times over. At its witty, angry, bitter heart, though, it has a message. About two-thirds of the way through the novel, the central character — whose last name is Me and whose first name is never given — ruminates on the surprising byproducts of his seemingly nihilistic campaign to resegregate his small city of Dickens and its black population. It’s causing good things to happen, and he starts to get an idea of why: Charisma had intuitively grasped the psychological subtleties of my plan even as it was just starting to make sense to me. She understood the colored person’s desire for the domineering white presence, which the Wheaton Academy represented. Because she knew that even in these times of racial equality, when someone whiter than us, richer than us, blacker than us, Chineser than us, better than us, whatever than us, comes around throwing their equality in our faces, it brings out our need to impress, to behave, to tuck in our shirts, do our […]
November 28, 2016

Book review: “C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography” by George M. Marsden

Three years ago, during the annual NCAA basketball March Madness, there was a parallel online tournament in which participants voted for the best Christian book of all time. The brackets, overseen by the Emerging Scholars Network of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational evangelical campus ministry, featured 68 works by such spiritual heavyweights as Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Aquinas, Rick Warren, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Calvin, Flannery O’Connor and Dante. The winner in the final showdown was Confessions by Augustine, not a great surprise since it has been one of the foundational texts of Christianity for more than 1,700 years. In second place, though, was a book that had been written just 61 years earlier by a self-described amateur theologian named Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis with the unprepossessing title Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis, a British university don and an expert in medieval and renaissance literature, is best known today as the writer of such novels as The Screwtape Letters and the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia, three of which have been made into movies in the last decade. Mere Christianity is framed as an explanation of Christianity for those who aren’t believers or are nominal Christians. As […]