When I was in graduate school at Western Carolina University back in 1970, I encountered a remarkable teacher, Dr. Louise Rorabacker, a retired professor from Purdue who had decided to move to Western North Carolina. There were only 12 of us in her “honors class” on dystopian and utopian literature, and we read a dozen works in about eight weeks.
When we think of Peru, we think of captivating pictures of Machu Picchu. We’ve all seen them. Some of us have actually been there. The Inca Empire, llamas, snow-capped mountains and walls of huge, precisely-cut stones are all part of the vision of this great country. And all of this is captured, as if in a time capsule, by Ronald Wright in his historical novel, The Gold Eaters.
In the spring of 2011, there appeared William Forschen’s One Second After, a novel set in Black Mountain, North Carolina, following an Electro-Magnetic Pulse attack on America. This sort of attack, which involves setting off nuclear devices in the atmosphere, kills the electronic systems in devices as varied as computers and cars.
Being a lifelong Stephen King fan, I have always been pleased to note that King is always keenly aware of the world around him. By that, I mean that he reads, watches the news every day and seems to be genuinely distressed by what he finds there. He still has that gift of understanding teenagers as is evident in his “spot on” dialogue in “Mile 81” (which also turns out to be a tribute to his over-the-top novel, Christine).
Whatever our denominations or religious beliefs, many of us are familiar with the old adage of this season: “Peace on earth, good will toward men (with “men” meaning “all people).” Spoken by an angel to shepherds near Bethlehem, these sentiments sound comfy as a pair of slippers and a cup of hot chocolate. Very inclusive. Very P.C.
Avenue of Mysteries is John Irving’s fourteenth novel and it marks another amazing tale from an author who has been writing for half a century. For those of us who read The World According to Garp (1978) and A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) — two works that remain best sellers — the reader may rest assured that we are once more in a familiar John Irving landscape: a world replete with abandoned children, transvestites, a guilt-ridden protagonist, faithful dogs, shocking crimes and bizarre, disturbing rituals, not to mention a generous amount of explicit sex. This time out, Irving adds a new theme — occultism and the supernatural.
“How near at hand it was
If they had eyes to see it.”
In the last month, my reading of books has outstripped my reviews. Consequently, stacks of books surround the desk at which I write — a huge, old-fashioned roll-top that long ago lost its roll-top and wears many scars and age spots, much like me.
Back in the ‘60s, I went on a science fiction bender that lasted a decade.
Many readers — and I am one of them — are fascinated by books lists. There are scores of these lists, ranging from “The Greatest Novels of the Twentieth Century” to “The Ten Greatest Books for Children.” Part of the fun in reading these bills of fare comes from the questions they raise. Why, we may ask ourselves, does the list include James Joyce but not Evelyn Waugh? Why three novels by Faulkner but one by Hemingway? Why is Virginia Woolf featured but not Emily Bronte?