Books now due at the library: All of the above.
Books read in full: The Road to Character and The Churchill Factor.
Books read in part: The Art of Grace; Keep It Fake; The Conservative Heart.
Books I Intend to read: South Toward Home; The Inklings.
This review will examine “Books Read in Part.”
To review unfinished books may strike readers as unfair of me towards both readers and authors. I disagree. I have offered full disclosure of the fact that I never finished the books. Let me add to that disclosure that I did tinker with them enough to know that 1) I would not read them cover to cover and 2) they had some good to offer various readers.
In Keep It Fake: Inventing An Authentic Life (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 226 pages, $25), Wake Forest University professor Eric G. Wilson believes that not only have most Americans become phonies, but that remaking ourselves into the people we want to be is a positive good. As he says, “If we can’t break through our fictions to knowable fact, we can at least fabricate facts through invigorating fictions.” These fictional facts,” as he calls them, can serve as our new identity.
A few years ago, I read — and reviewed positively for The Smoky Mountain News — Wilson’s Against Happiness. It was a lucid warning against our constant yearning for “happiness.”
Keeping It Fake brings a different reaction. The personal and historical anecdotes in this book make for great reading, but then come sentences such as this one: “Global capitalism might well enclose us in a self-contained system whose antinomies only appear to be substantially different but are actually just arbitrary terms that keep the drama moving.”
The point of Keeping It Fake eludes me. At the end, for example, Wilson urges us to “build your own artifice out of the rubble, maybe a sphere expansive as the universe, or perhaps a single ball, apple size.” Don’t most of us do that anyway, creating ourselves, shaping ourselves through everything from our reading to plastic surgery?
Sarah L. Kaufman’s The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life (W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2016, 310 pages, $24.95) emerges next from the pile. Kaufman, a dance critic and herself a dancer, defines grace as “a poised and relaxed body, smooth and efficient motion, attentiveness, compassion. There is a contented silence to grace; it avoids what is loud and intrusive, and what offends the eye.”
With much justification, Kaufman takes to task our present society, criticizing everything from the posture of its citizens to their awful clothing, crude behavior, lack of manners, and general poise. (Let me add that Kaufman herself possesses too much grace to rant about such things.) In contrast to our age of slouching and mumbling, Kaufman juxtaposes various dancers and movie stars, especially Cary Grant.
Well, we’d all like to be Cary Grant. Even Cary Grant once famously said that he’d like to be Cary Grant. Now that I think of it, Grant neatly segues into Keep It Fake. Grant was born Archibald Leach and worked for his first 30 years to transform himself into a model of sophistication and grace.
What most impressed me about The Art of Grace was a short section on posture. Kaufman tells us how to attain good posture. Stand with your back to a wall, she counsels. Your buttocks, shoulder blades, and the back of your head should touch the wall. Step away, and according to Kaufman, you exhibit good posture.
I tried this technique, stepped away from the wall, and felt two inches taller and like a king surveying his court. Aware of how much I slump as I sit beating the keys of my Mac, I will try harder to follow her advice.
The Conservative Heart: How To Build A Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America (HarperCollins, Publishers, 2015, 247 pages, $27.99) surprised me. Because so many other books on conservatism have passed over my desk the last 30 years, I knew from the start I wouldn’t read Arthur Brooks’ book in its entirety.
Nonetheless, The Conservative Heart did offer insights that if applied would change not only conservative or for that matter, liberal hearts, but our political dialogue in general. As the frontispiece blurb, Brooks calls for policies ground in family, faith, community, and meaningful work. He recognizes too the importance of government and its role in providing a safety net for its citizens.
Most of all, however, Brooks gives us in his last chapter advice that if followed might do away with much of the rancor and imbroglio we call politics. He recommends, for example, that we “fight for people, not against things,” that we make an effort to talk with others whose opinions differ from ours, that we “get happy,” i.e., develop a sense of humor.
Brooks follows his own advice. The tone of The Conservative Heart is calm and rational. The examples provided aptly support the case Brooks attempts to make. The Conservative Heart serves as a pointed reminder that our own political circus might benefit from Kaufman’s ideas of grace.