bookWhatever 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.

bookIn 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.

bookMany 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?

bookEnglish writer Graham Greene used to divide his literary works into entertainments, which we might call thrillers, and novels, which he regarded as his more serious books.

bookIn The Little Paris Bookshop (Crown Publishers, 2015, 400 pages), novelist Nina George, who lives in both Germany and France, has given readers a rare gem of a read.

bookIn 1549, Jesuit priest Francis Xavier, two companions, and a Japanese translator entered Japan, seeking to bring the Gospel into those islands. Within 30 years, some 150,000 Japanese had become Catholics. The Church continued to grow until the early part of the seventeenth century, when Japanese Shoguns began a series of persecutions, torturing and executing many Christians, and forcing tens of thousands to apostatize.

bookSome 30 years ago or so, William Styron — the acclaimed author of novels like The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice — visited the University of Virginia, the setting for some of his first novel, Lie Down In Darkness. I was living in Charlottesville and decided for the first and only time in my life to stand in line and have an author sign a book for me.

bookWe Americans are noted for our ignorance of world geography.

Few of us, I imagine, could distinguish Iraq from Iran on a map of the Middle East. Few of us could inform some inquisitive soul of the terrain of Afghanistan, though we have now spent years fighting wars there. Most of us, one would hope, could locate Mexico on a map, but what about Ecuador or Bolivia?

bookAs some readers of this column may know, I have spent the past six weeks in Europe, specifically the British Isles and Italy. Below is an accounting, by way of lists and some short reviews, of books carried here, bought here, read here, and left here.

bookWhen we think of American writers living and working overseas, most of us turn to those authors who lived in Paris. We recollect Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, that fine account of his life in Paris in the 1920s; we imagine Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald making the rounds to such bars as La Rotonde and Les Deux Magots; we conjure up Gertrude Stein; we think of Sylvia Beach’s bookshop Shakespeare & Co., later brought back to life by George Whitman. We think of Henry Miller drifting in Paris in the 1930s and of writers from the 1950s and 1960s like James Jones and James Baldwin.

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