David Bentley Hart writes a nice piece on “book lust” (that’s what my wife and I have always called it) in First Things: “From a Vanished Library” (April 2017) [link].* In this piece Hart reminds us that
I learned from the experience [of losing my library], in the end, that all vanity is vanity, all lust is lust, and all excess is excess, no matter what the objects of one’s desire. The aesthetics of bound volumes is unique and exquisite; but there are more important things.
In the end the article was somewhat deflating as I have not read a single one of the books in his “catalogue of suggestions.” But it is good to remember that books, marvelous as they are, can be distractions from the common purpose of every human.
*Coming across this piece was particularly poignant (and ironic) as my church gave me two first editions as a (sabbatical? retirement?) gift after teaching Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Daniel, Ezra- Nehemiah, and Matthew (with some help, and a few detours) 2003-2017.
Some very interesting designs for a Holocaust Museum in London. This one is my favorite — the sense of something vastly dangerous and beyond individual control*:
Rory Stott, “10 Shortlisted Designs for London Holocaust Memorial Revealed,” Arch Daily (Jan. 17, 2017) [link].
Though not, of course beyond individual action: “…and yet, in the end, did Klara Hitler’s sickly son ever fire a gun? One hollow, hateful little man. One last awful thought: all the harm he ever did was done for him by others.” Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace (2005).
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973) was born 125 years ago today. He has been singing at the throne of God for 40 years.
Kristen Hannah, The Nightingale (2016).
This month’s book club offering is a lively story of two sisters who live in France during the Nazi occupation. Although it is longer on emotional than historical detail, it is definitely one of those novels that make you wonder how well you would hold up under the pressures of that situation. The book was similar in tone and gravity to something like The Winds of War, thus not as serious as All the Light We Cannot See, or as literary as Brideshead Revisited, or as witty as Everyone Brave is Forgiven.
I like the cover design very much.
A delightful book, full of clever dialogue (“Sorry I’m late. There were Germans.”) and heartaches, about the beginning of World War II in London and Malta. Cleave does a marvelous job of conveying a sense of oppression which must have been felt by the British before 1942:
“[Mary] loathed the way the newspapers printed maps with the stark Nazi symbol on a field of plain white, as if Hitler had sent armies of erasers. Better to crowd the swastikas in, to have them jostle for space. [For her class, she] drew them deliberately crooked. Her swastikas were degenerates that leaned at sickly angles and resembled one another vaguely, the offspring of first cousins who had married against the family’s advice.
Finally, she drew Britain, being generous with the width of the English Channel and giving the British Isles three times the area on the blackboard that they merited. She thought it unfair to expect children to understand that it was possible to resist, from an island the size of her hand, a tyranny that stretched the whole width of the blackboard from Brest to Bialystok.”
It is not really a book about the war, but about friendships, family relations and love affairs in the shadow of great uncertainty and disruption.
Joe Posnanski has a real gift for communicating the sentimental part of sports without quite crossing the line into schmaltzy. This is his latest: Joe Posnanski, “Last Call,” joeposnanski.com [link], about the great Vin Scully.
I was reading an old interview with William Gibson, one of my favorites:
[Gibson:] The strongest impacts of an emergent technology are always unanticipated. You can’t know what people are going to do until they get their hands on it and start using it on a daily basis, using it to make a buck and using it for criminal purposes and all the different things that people do. The people who invented pagers, for instance, never imagined that they would change the shape of urban drug dealing all over the world. But pagers so completely changed drug dealing that they ultimately resulted in pay phones being removed from cities as part of a strategy to prevent them from becoming illicit drug markets. We’re increasingly aware that our society is driven by these unpredictable uses we find for the products of our imagination.
David Wallace-Wells, “The Art of Fiction: No. 211,” The Paris Review (Summer 2011) [link]
This is not entirely true, of course, but a provocative thought, nonetheless:
“We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious.”
Philip K.Dick, The Man in the High Castle 260.
Indeed the truth is that too often, knowing perfectly well what is moral, we find that we do not choose to do it. See Romans 7:18b-19 ESV (“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.“)*
PKD’s quotation does remind us, however, that our choices are obscured by our inability to perfectly perceive reality — we have very imperfect knowledge about many of the choices we have to make — and yet we still must make them.
Paul goes on to explain the only escape from this dilemma:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21b-25a ESV. Only Jesus delivers.
And so we should pray for guidance from the one whose perfect knowledge and perfect love are necessary for correct decisions in life and in less momentous choices like elections.
“You can’t conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone else the . . . appalling . . . strangeness of the mercy of God.”
Graham Greene, Brighton Rock 297 (Everyman’s 1993, orig. 1938).
“Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I ask’d; mercy I found.”
attributed to William Camden (1551-1623).
I am very much looking forward to reading ‘s Silence and Beauty, which is described as using Shusako Endo’s Silence as a starting place for consideration of issues of suffering and faith. Fujimura is a painter of great power and a believer. I taught Endo’s book several times in my World Lit class.
I will let you know.