“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality ... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I’m not a race. I’m a person.”
That line from Paul Clayton’s Van Ripplewink: You Can’t Go Home Again surely sums up the dream of Martin Luther King from half a century ago. He and others envisioned an America where skin color no longer mattered, where all Americans were equal in the eyes of the law, where character and heart provided the criteria by which we were to judge our fellow human beings.
Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy For Christians In A Post-Christian Nation (Penguin Random House, 2017, 255 pages) has caused quite a stir this year among reviewers, critics, and readers.
Some have applauded what they consider Dreher’s thesis: that the United States — and nearly all Western nations — have abandoned their Christian roots and that, as a consequence, Christians must create a culture separate from that of the secularist mainstream.
If you are one of those people who thinks that the 1960s hippie culture was only about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, then think again, as you need to read Danny Goldberg’s new book In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea. Written by someone who was of age and who was there and a participating observer in 1967 at the height of “The Hip Era,” Goldberg has finally given the American public a truly accurate subjective account of the cultural revolution that went on during the 1960s.
In my last review, I mentioned the need to reduce a pile of books I’d read, all of them, new and old, worthy of some sort of recognition. I started digging into that pile with high hopes of knocking off three or four books, but ended by only reviewing two: Piers Paul Read’s The Death of a Pope and Alice Thomas Ellis’s The Inn at the Edge of the World. (Hmmm…thought-provoking names. Long ago, I read an article on our propensity to refer to assassins by their full names: John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Mark David Chapman. I could speculate as to the meaning of this phenomenon among writers, but you see, right there’s the problem: I distract myself, popping down this trail and then that one, the White Rabbit gone amuck, and before you know it, I am back to an undiminished hillock of literature.)
Time to clear the decks — or in my case, the desk.
For whatever reason — to escape our poisonous political atmosphere; take refuge from onerous work; push away some black thoughts; reignite my love of words and language — I have read a raft of books in the last six weeks. Much of my reading occurs in spurts, 15-minute breaks from my obligations, cup of coffee or tea at the elbow, sprawled in a lawn chair in the backyard oblivious, or at least feigning oblivion, to the shouts and scissor-legged running — where in heaven’s name do they get the energy? — of half-a-dozen grandchildren.
On Nov. 5, 2001, not quite two months after the 9/11 attacks, Lech Walesa spoke at Western Carolina University. Walesa was famed for his resistance to communism in Poland and the Soviet Union, and was the founder of Solidarity, a trade union seeking an expansion of its negotiating power and the establishment of fundamental human rights within Polish communism. Along with Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and Mikhail Gorbachev, Walesa was a key player in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Soviet Union.
For many people, summer means vacation, and vacation means beach. For readers, the beach in turn means packing books to be read for pleasure, books whose pages can absorb a bit of water or a splash of sun-tan lotion, page turners whose plots drive you through the story.
Some people are devotees of whiskey, cigars, wine, and craft beer. Some are aficionados of the fine arts, experts on such high-toned subjects as the music of Bach, the paintings of Giorgione, or the sculpture of Frederick Hart. Some are expert in specialized fields: orchids, coins, stamps, old cars, incunabula, and a thousand other subjects.
So a friend thrusts a book into your hands and tells you, “You gotta read this one. I know you’ll love it!” You accept the gift with a smile on your lips and a twist of pain in your guts. On past occasions, your well-meaning friend has given you three other books, two novels and a book of history, all of which you not only disliked, but also never finished. You return home with this latest offering, open the book, read the first page, the second, the first chapter, the second chapter, and you realize with a rush you’re in love with the author and the story.
Nineteenth century poet Walt Whitman once wrote “I hear America singing.”
Ah, those were the days.