August 15, 2017

Book review: “The Great Time Machine Hoax” by Keith Laumer

Well, Keith Laumer is trying to be wacky here in The Great Time Machine Hoax, but the laughs are pretty tepid. So’s the imagination. Oh, the 1964 novel is interesting enough as a cultural artifact since it deals with speculations from that time in a story about a huge, self-aware computer (embodied in a beautiful [and naked] “girl”) and glitches relating to time travel and a future culture of mind over matter and a past culture under the sway of a circus operator and an all-male community of back-to-nature men who, as portrayed in the book, don’t appear to be gay but also don’t seem to miss the presence of women. That’s a lot of storylines for a 210-page novel, and Laumer doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.   “The shrill cries of social injustice” The “hoax” of the title, for instance, isn’t really a hoax, but more of a miscommunication. The time machine aspect of the story permits Laumer to send his main character Chester W. Chester here and there through history and the future and alternatives thereof.  Each landing place has its own story, but none of the stories is that compelling, and they bear […]
August 7, 2017

Book review: “ ‘The Koran’ in English: A Biography” by Bruce B. Lawrence

For Muslims, the Qur’an is the Word of God, given directly to Muhammad at the start of the 7th century AD by the Archangel Michael in oral messages in Arabic that the prophet — the last prophet — would repeat for his followers. Only later were these words written down in 6,236 verses in 114 suras, also called chapters or signs. For Islam, the Qur’an is untranslatable. This, writes Bruce B. Lawrence, is why so many translations of the sacred book include, often in the title or in a subtitle, such words as “the meaning of…” or “an interpretation of…” or “an explanation of…” Lawrence, a religion professor at Duke University, notes in his new book “ ‘The Koran’ in English: A Biography” that all translations are something other than the original work, an effort to communicate and approximate the source. “Translation is hard work, never more so than when translating a scripture from its original language into another,” he writes. “To ponder the meaning of esoteric words is to explore the signs of other realities and then render them into their lyrical equivalents.” Citified life and desert life An Englishman, Robert of Kenton, created in 1143 a Latin translation […]
August 4, 2017

Book review: “Botticelli — Images of Love and Spring” by Frank Zollner

It’s difficult to know how 15th century Italians experienced the paintings of Sandro Botticelli. What did they see, for instance, when they looked at La Primavera, the artist’s giant 70-square-foot canvas with a bunch of male and female figures, one of which has a vine coming out of her mouth? What was the message or messages that Botticelli was sending? What was the message or messages that his patrons were paying him to convey? Those are the sort of questions that German art historian Frank Zollner sets out to answer in the 1998 book Botticelli: Images of Love and Spring. (This is one of nearly 50 titles in the Pegasus Series of sumptuously illustrated volumes issued between 1994 and 2007 by Prestel. Others include Arabian Nights: Four Tales from A Thousand and One Nights, art by Marc Chagall, text by Richard Francis Burton, and Titian: Nymph and Shepherd by John Berger and Katya Berger Andreadakis.) Zollner parses La Primavera as well as The Birth of Venus, Mars and Venus, Minerva and the Centaur and two of the Villa Lemmi frescoes: Lorenzo Tornabuoni Presented to the Liberal Arts and Giovanna Albizzi, Venus and the Three Graces. And it’s hard to imagine […]
August 1, 2017

Book review: “The Defiant Agents” by Andre Norton

What’s striking about Andre Norton’s 1962 novel The Defiant Agents is how political and moral it is. Norton was a writer of adventure novels, cranking out an average of about three a year during her 70-year career as a novelist for a total of more than 200.  (She died at the age of 93 in 2005.) She specialized in science fiction and, to a lesser extent, fantasy.  Her usual goal wasn’t to make political commentary the way, say, George Orwell did in 1984. The Defiant Agents is the third book in what came to be called the Time Traders series which began in 1958 with The Time Traders and continued in 1959 with Galactic Derelict.  Although both books pitted American agents against the menacing Reds of the Soviet Union, it was just the usual white hat/black hat dichotomy.     Political and moral reasons Here, though, in the midst of the adventure in The Defiant Agents, Norton is making clear and direct commentary on the daily headlines of her era — the headlines dealing with the threat, seemingly unavoidable, of nuclear weapons. The title is a hint.  The agents in the book are defiant for political and moral reasons. Perhaps […]
July 24, 2017

Book review: “Bite Me: A Love Story” by Christopher Moore

If you’ve read the first two books in Christopher Moore’s (so far) trilogy of comic novels about vampires — Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story (1995) and You Suck: A Love Story (2007) — you may be tempted to skip the first chapter of Bite Me: A Love Story (2010). Those initial 18 pages recap, for anyone just coming in from the cold, what happened during the two-month period covered in the first two books. So, yeah, life is short, and you may say to yourself, “I don’t need no recap.” You’re wrong. Well, you may not need a recap, but you really, really want to read this one because it’s spectacularly hilarious, coming, as it does, from the mind and journal of 16-year-old Abby Normal (real name: Allison Green}, that Goth girl from the earlier two books, the self-proclaimed Emergency Backup Mistress of the Greater Bay Area Night and a tortured soul in constant denial about her deep-seated perkiness.   Her churning brain In her own inimitably brash and, in its way, innocent style, Abby recounts the complicated doings in the earlier books and makes constant asides about whatever enters her ever-churning brain. For instance, (in the first book [parenthetical […]
July 19, 2017

Book review: “Joan of Arc: A Self-Portrait,” compiled by Willard Trask

As Willard Trask notes in the Foreword to his 1936 book Joan of Arc: A Self-Portrait, we know the Catholic saint and liberator of France today — 600 years after she was burned at the stake — in a deep and telling and very unusual way. That’s because her actual words and phrases were captured by clerks in two voluminous court records. The first was from her rigged heresy trial. The second was from her nullification trial, held a quarter of a century after her martyrdom at the hands of the English and their allies. The record of the trail contains Joan’s responses to the prosecutors and judges, and the two records hold the recollections of her contemporaries regarding what she said to them or in their hearing during her short 19-year-long life. Trask writes: The possession of these documents places us in an unique position with respect to Joan: we can hear her speak. We have not only what she would tell us, but her very words, in a way that we cannot be sure we have the words even of those who live for us chiefly in what they have spoken — Socrates, say, or Saint Francis. The […]
July 17, 2017

Book review: “The “Dead Sea Scrolls”: A Biography” by John J. Collins

The discovery of 2,000-year-old Biblical and other religious scrolls in a cave near Jericho, just west of the Dead Sea, in 1947, caused a sensation. The excitement only grew as other caves with other ancient writings were found over the next decade. By 1956, some nine hundred documents — some full manuscripts, many only fragments — had been located. Together, they were called the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls may seem to be an unlikely candidate for inclusion in a series on “biographies” of books. The Scrolls are not in fact one book, but a miscellaneous collection of writings…written mostly in Hebrew, with some in Aramaic and a small number in Greek. They date from the last two centuries [BC} and the first century [AD]. So writes John J. Collins, a Yale University expert on the Scrolls, in the preface to The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography, one of 15 books published so far in the delightful Princeton University Press series called Lives of Great Religious Books. Among the spiritual classics that have already been examined in the series are The Tibetan Book of the Dead and The Bhagavad Gita, as well as Mere Christianity by C. S. […]
July 13, 2017

Book review: “Che — A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson

Nikolai Metutsov was an important guy in the Kremlin. He was an aide to Party Secretary Yuri Adropov (who later ruled the Soviet Union as General Secretary), and he was responsible for overseeing relations with non-European socialist nations. In early 1964, Metutsov was in Cuba to figure out just whose side Ernesto “Che” Guevara was on. At the time, there was a savage tug-of-war between the Soviets and the Chinese over who would have priority in international Communism. Metutsov’s job was to get Che, one of the three top Cuban leaders, to toe Moscow’s line. The problem, though, as the Russian explained decades later to Jon Lee Anderson, was that he was “falling in love” with Che. Make no mistake, this was no gay flirtation. Metutsov was falling in love with the man who was seen by Socialists around the world, including those in the Soviet Union, as the perfect image, the personification, of a revolutionary. “He had very beautiful eyes. Magnificent eyes, so deep, so generous, so honest, a stare that was so honest that somehow, one could not help but feel it…and he spoke very well; he became inwardly excited, and his speech was like that, with all […]
July 6, 2017

Book review: “Children of Saigo” by Glenn Jeffers

The term “graphic novel” calls forth comparisons with novels in general. The two forms, after all, are about stories told on paper between covers of some sort. A better description, though, would be “movie book.” Think about it. Most of the story in a graphic novel is told through the colorful images that accompany a fairly small amount of text. It’s a lot like a movie in which the visuals usually are paramount, with dialogue and narration secondary. This is especially true for action movies, and many, if not most, graphic novels are action movies on paper. Consider Children of Saigo, written by my former Chicago Tribune colleague Glenn Jeffers with Jethro Morales as the artist/inker, Andy Dodd as colorist, Kel Nuttall as letterer/editor and Bill Farmer as the one responsible for the front cover colors.   Rollicking story It’s a quick-step, rollicking story about the four adult children of Masaki “Mike” Iwanaga, a Chicago cop dying of cancer and the descendant of the last samurai. Mike’s ancestor was the only survivor of the 1877 battle in Kagoshima, Japan, that wiped out the last remnants of the samurais under the leadership of Saigo Takamori. He was ordered by Saigo to […]
July 5, 2017

Book review: “Junk Type: Typography, Lettering, Badges, Logos” by Bill Rose

Junk Type: Typography, Lettering, Badges, Logos is an odd book that’s oddly compelling. True, you might look at it and think that it is of absolutely no interest for you, and you’d be wrong. Pick it up, and I’ll bet you can’t stop paging through its 300 images of what might be called industrial typography. There, that’s a term that’s likely to drive you away from the book, but it simply means the company logos and other identifications of one sort or another that are printed on or stamped on or bolted into the sides, tops or bottoms of products ranging from oil cans to fuses, from chewing tobacco to typewriters, from radio tubes to needles to nails to shoe polish to car polish to fans to ball bearings to, well, on and on and on.     A low-key visual epic poem What makes Junk Type enchanting and delightful is that it is a collection of images that comprise in their humble yet colorful way a low-key visual epic poem about America of the 20th century. That’s not how Rose, a professional photographer, describes his book in his very short foreword. For him, it’s “striking typography” that he began […]
June 28, 2017

Book review: “Lincoln’s Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac” by Stephen W. Sears

In May, 1864, during the Battle of the Wilderness, when Ulysses S. Grant was new  in command of the Northern troops facing the Rebels of Robert E. Lee, an irate General Charles Griffin stormed into Union headquarters. Griffin complained loudly that he’d pushed back the Confederates but, getting no support, had had to retreat. Condemning by name several officers including his immediate superior, he then stomped away again. Grant, sitting nearby, whittling and smoking, growled to General George Meade, his top aide, “Who is this Gen. Gregg? You ought to arrest him.” Meade came over, and, noticing that Grant’s uniform coat was unbuttoned, began buttoning it up “as if he were a little boy,” an aide remembered, while also saying calmly, “It’s Griffin, not Gregg, and it’s only his way of talking.” Homey and human There is something so homey and so human about this scene which says so much about Grant and Meade and their close working relationship, focused entirely on beating the Rebels. Meade, the victor at Gettysburg, was the commander of the Army of the Potomac, and he could have sulked and moaned when, just a short time earlier, he’d been superseded by Grant. Instead, for the […]
June 19, 2017

Book review: “Architecture by Birds and Insects: A Natural Act” by Peggy Macnamara

Some birds and bugs construct nests by sewing or weaving strands of material together. And some fashion nests out of various kinds of paper-like stuff that they create using their saliva. And some form nests out of mud. And in depressions they make or find. And in mounds they raise. And some carve nests out of wood. Sometimes, nests — at times, many by the same individual — are constructed as part of a mating ceremony, but, much more often, they’re created to be the home of incubating young and to serve as their birthing room and as their childhood playhouse. But not always. The uglynest caterpillar builds a nest for its eggs in rose bushes or in cherry or hawthorn trees. But, then, when the eggs hatch, the larvae themselves build a web nest, also called a tent nest (often seen by humans as unattractive, hence, the insect’s name), in which they go through various stages until they come out as moths.   “Homes and safe places” Nests are little works of art, built with care and precision, confident and complete. They work!…Best of all, they are of use, providing a service. They are natural materials recycled to create […]
June 14, 2017

Book review: “You Suck: A Love Story” by Christopher Moore

You Suck: A Love Story, published in 2007, is a sequel to Christopher Moore’s 1995 novel Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story. It was then followed, in 2010, by Bite Me: A Love Story. You may notice a pattern here. The temptation with sequels — it’s something that’s good and bad — is to regurgitate the plot and characters of the first book in a slightly different (but pretty much the same) way. It worked the first time, right? The good part is that fans of the first book tend to lap up (if you’ll excuse the image) the slightly different (but pretty much the same) sequel. It was, after all, fun the first time. The bad part is that, well, it can come across as stale. For Christopher Moore, though, “stale” is a word that hasn’t been invented. His comic sense transcends triteness because I’m not sure he knows the meaning of “boring.” (I mean, I’m sure he knows the meaning of the word “boring,” but I don’t think that he’s able to write a boring page if he tried. [Well, maybe if he tried, all in the service of a higher comic purpose. So, in that case, he would […]
June 12, 2017

Book review: “Galactic Derelict” by Andre Norton

Galactic Derelict, published in 1959, is the second in a series of Andre Norton novels that began a year earlier with Time Traders. After stumbling onto a long-lost alien technology that permits time travel, two groups of humans — the Reds (i.e., the Soviet Union), originally, and then the United States, trying to catch up — endeavor to go into the past in a search for other scientific miracles. In order to fit in, the Americans masquerade as traders. It’s not clear how the Reds present themselves, and, by the end of the first novel, it doesn’t matter since they’ve gotten their comeuppance from a group of aliens that are discovered lurking thousands of years ago.   Runaway space ship Galactic Derelict, set in the late 1970s, starts off immediately after the first book and centers on a large ball-like space ship that’s found 12,000 years back in time in what is now the arid stretches of the American Southwest. All those thousands of years ago, however, the land is a lush green place where sabretooth tigers and huge mammoths are threats, as are some primitive humans. The plan is to set up machinery to send the entire ship back […]
June 5, 2017

Book review: “The Book of Joan” by Lidia Yuknavitch

In her new novel The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch creates a central character Joan of Dirt who shares some parallels with the fifteenth-century French heroine and Roman Catholic saint Joan of Arc. Both are named Joan and grow up in Domrémy, France. Yuknavitch calls it by its modern-day name, Domrémy-la-Pucelle, which means Domremy of the Maid, a reference to Joan of Arc. This, though, goes unremarked by Yuknavitch. Indeed, despite the parallels between Joan of Dirt and Joan of Arc, there is no mention in the novel about the historic figure. Joan of Dirt’s story is told by Christine Pizan, a contemporary, while one of the chroniclers of the life of Joan of Arc was her own contemporary, Christine de Pizan. Both Joans, as young girls, begin to hear otherworldly sounds that give direction and meaning to their lives. For Joan of Arc, the sounds were the voices of saints, angels and God. For Joan of Dirt, they were a song — “a hum, like a thousand children hitting the same low note.” Both, as teenage girls, lead armies and win battles, are captured, labeled by the authorities as heretics and burned at the stake.   Killing and dying […]
June 1, 2017

Book review: “Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story” by Christopher Moore

The key scene in Christopher Moore’s 1995 comic novel Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, comes at the end of the first of three sections. In the aftermath of making love for the first time, Jody is trying to convince Tommy that she is a vampire. But he’s not buying it. “I’m a vampire.” “That’s okay,” Tommy said. “I knew this girl in high school who gave me a hickey that covered the whole side of my neck.” “No, Tommy, I’m really a vampire.” She looked him in the eye and did not smile or look away. She waited. He said, “Don’t goof on me, okay?” It goes on like this for another page or so as Jody keeps coming up with ways to show him that she’s, well, not quite human any more, and Tommy isn’t getting it. Then, to prove to him that she can see in the dark, Jody has Tommy open one of Jack Kerouac’s books — Tommy is a would-be writer living in San Francisco, so, of course, he has a copy of Kerouac — and proceeds to read half a page in the total dark of the bedroom. The light starts to dawn in Tommy’s […]
May 30, 2017

Book review: “Called Out: A novel of base ball and America in 1908” by Floyd Sullivan

August Herrmann, president of the Cincinnati Reds, arrived early for a meeting in the New York office of the National League, and he made himself at home. He sat down at a rolltop desk, and, as he chatted with Lenore Caylor of the league staff, he folded back the corners of his parcel “to reveal four long chunks of cooked meat on thick hooflike bones.” Lenore stepped back and put her hand over her mouth. He rubbed his hands together in two quick motions. “Can you believe I had to teach the cook at the Waldorf-Astoria how to properly prepare pigs’ feet? Now let’s see.” He reached into his coat and produced a silver fork, a small wood-handled carving knife, and a bottle of beer…Two brown eggs completed Hermann’s morning feast. He rolled one on the table and began to peel it, dropping the bits of shell onto the butcher paper… Picking up the knife and fork he carved a morsel of meat from one of the pigs’ feet. He closed his eyes as he savored his first bite. He wedged a thumb under the metal collar that held the beer’s cork stopper in place and popped open the bottle. […]
May 22, 2017

Book review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

The Women’s Prayvaganzas are for group weddings which is to say arranged marriages. In this one, there are twenty Angels — that’s a military designation for men who are soldiers in units such as the Angels of the Apocalypse and the Angels of Light — and twenty daughters, dressed in white as if for First Communion, behind white veils, some of them as young as fourteen. The leaders of this politico-religious American regime, called Gilead, are known as Commanders, and the Commander in charge recites a prayer that is more of an assertion than anything sacral, although it’s framed as something scriptural, deeply meaningful: “I will that women adorn themselves in modest apparel with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. “But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. All. “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. “Notwithstanding, she shall be saved by childbearing, if they continue in faith […]
May 16, 2017

Book review: “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin

For twenty-one days in 1959, John Howard Griffin, a white journalist and novelist from Texas, moved through the Deep South as black man. Under a doctor’s care, he took drugs to darken his skin, he laid under a sun lamp and he used dye on the most visible parts of his body: his face, arms and legs. From November 8 through November 28, he spent his days and nights as a black man in Louisiana (New Orleans), Mississippi (Hattiesburg and Biloxi), Alabama (Mobile and Montgomery) and Georgia (Atlanta). Then, for 16 days, he moved back and forth between the black and white worlds, finding ways to tinker with his coloring so that he could pass for white or pass for black as he needed. On December 14, a little more than five weeks after he’d started, he resumed his white identity a final time. I felt strangely sad to leave the world of the Negro after having shared it so long — almost as though I were fleeing my share of his pain and heartache.   “Tenth-rate citizen” Griffin started his experiment in New Orleans, and, initially, he thought that the city’s whites were nicer to blacks than he’d expected. That […]
May 15, 2017

Book review: “The Time Traders” by Andre Norton

Andre Norton was a woman (Alice May Norton), writing as a man in a field dominated by men whose readers were generally teenage boys and young adult men. She knew how it felt to be a misfit, operating in an alien world. During her long 93 years, Norton wrote more than 200 novels of science fiction and, to a lesser extent, fantasy. Her central characters were always misfits of a sort. Such as Ross Murdock, a young troublemaker and minor criminal with a chip on his shoulder about authority.   “A bad little boy” Norton’s 1958 novel The Time Traders begins with Murdock coming before a judge in late 20th century America and, because of his incorrigible nature, facing the likelihood that he will have to undergo “the treatment.” He doesn’t know exactly what “the treatment” is, but he’s heard enough rumors to be afraid of it. Although Murdock is anti-social, he’s far from stupid, and, as he stands before the judge, he’s ready to go into his act: It never paid to talk back, to allow any sign of defiance to show. He would go through the motions as if he were a bad little boy who had realized […]
May 8, 2017

Book review: “The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words – 1000 BC – 1492 AD” by Simon Schama

There is a lot that Simon Schama wants to say in The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words: 1000 BC–1492 AD, the first of a three-volume history. And maybe there’s too much. What I mean is that Schama, a noted historian who is Jewish, is may be too close to his subject. British-born, Schama is an expert in art history, French history and British history, and has written wonderfully erudite and insightful books about such subjects as the French Revolution (Citizens, 1989), the interaction of landscape and culture (Landscape and Memory, 1995), Rembrandt (Rembrandt’s Eyes, 1999), the history of Britain (a three-volume set, 2000-2002), and the slave trade (Rough Crossings, 2005).Here, though, the subject is clearly very personal to him — his people. There are a great deal of penetrating, eye-opening observations in this first volume of The Story of the Jews, and I’ll get to some of those in a bit.   Baroquely intricate and idiosyncratic My problem is that these intriguing understandings of who the Jews have been and what they’ve done and what’s been done to them were often lost, for me, in a text that seemed increasingly to turn in on itself. Schama isn’t the […]
May 1, 2017

Book review: “Joan of Arc and Spirituality,” edited by Ann W. Astell and Bonnie Wheeler

Joan of Arc was a mystic and a saint with a sense of humor. George H. Tavard — the great Catholic theologian and one of the first to take a deeper look into the role of women in the history of the Church — recalls two of her quips in his essay in Joan of Arc and Spirituality, edited by Ann W. Astell and Bonnie Wheeler. It was just after she’d come to the Dauphin to tell him that she would lead his troops to drive back the English and get a crown on his head at Rheims as Charles VII. Understandably, His Royal Highness wanted to be sure he wasn’t being duped by this teenage girl with all her talk about hearing voices. So he convened a meeting of churchmen, one of whom was a Dominican friar. The friar, writes Tavard, “reported that la Pucelle had made fun of his provincial pronunciation when she said that her voices spoke French with a better accent than his.” Three months later, as she and the French army came to Troyes, a Franciscan approached her, made the sign of the cross and splashed her with holy water, to which Joan replied: Approach […]
April 24, 2017

Book review: “Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving” by Barbara Mahany

Kids go to school and learn things like geometry and the Magna Carta and chromosomes and similes and square roots and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but none of their textbooks has much to say about parenting. If educators and the American society that hires them ever see the light and recognize the need for children to learn how to grow up and take care of children, one of the first textbooks in the classroom should be Barbara Mahany’s new Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving. Consider this insight about what it means to take on the job of mothering a child: Motherhood is not for the faint of heart, and the heart needs to triple its size, so it seems, to pack in the requisite vast and infinite wisdom — and patience and sheer calculation and imagination and stamina and worry and second-guessing and, yes, full-throttle pangs of remorse when we get it wrong, time after time. “Mother-ing Day” Yes, we, parents, do get it wrong a lot, but it’s not for want of trying. Motherprayer is a primer on how to think about being a parent, and that’s what’s really important. It’s not a manual for how to raise the brightest or […]
April 17, 2017

Book review: “Reading, Praying, Living Pope Francis’s ‘The Joy of Love’: A Faith Formation Guide” by Julie Hanlon Rubio

A year ago, Pope Francis published his apostolic exhortation on marriage and families, Joy of Love (Amoris laetitia), which, at about 60,000 words, is believed to be the longest papal document ever written. It would be difficult to find any papal document written with the beauty, simplicity, gusto and accessibility that Francis brings to the task. Nonetheless, Joy of Love is no simple read. It wrestles with important and complex theological ideas in ways that are refreshingly and, for some, unsettlingly, innovative. It’s good to have a guide, and that’s what Julie Hanlon Rubio, an ethicist at St. Louis University, provides with her newly published Reading, Praying, Living Pope Francis’s “The Joy of Love”: A Faith Formation Guide,” from Liturgical Press. And the bottom line — if I can jump ahead to the final page of her text — is this: What Francis offers is beauty with plenty of weeds.   Joy and pain That may seem so cryptic as to be useless, but bear with me. Rubio, who is speaking on the Pope’s exhortation on Wednesday at 7 pm at Dominican University in River Forest, writes this in summarizing the Pope’s analysis of marriage in the context of Catholic beliefs. […]
April 17, 2017

Book review: “Tenth of December” by George Saunders

In a diary he’s been keeping, a 40-year-old husband and father of three writes about winning $10,000 with a lottery ticket, and, since he expects these jottings to be read years and years down the line, he adds: Note to future generations: Happiness is possible. And when happy, so much better than opposite, i.e., sad. Hopefully you know! I knew, but forgot. Got used to being slightly sad! Slightly sad, due to stress, due to worry vis-à-vis limitations. But now, wow, no: happy!” This paragraph comes almost exactly halfway through George Saunders’ 2013 collection of ten short stories Tenth of December.   All but impossible And, by this point, the reader knows that happiness is all but impossible in the universe that Saunders describes — a universe of chain-stores with names such as YourItalianKitchen, of jobs so boring and meaningless they’re filled with dread and difficult to stomach, of good being equated with affluence, of economic winners living plastic lives, of everyone else scrambling to avoid falling further and further behind, of near-constant daydreaming about something happy that might happen if fingers are kept crossed. A universe in which female refugees from the Third World, known as SGs, are hooked […]