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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 00:00

A fast look at a few worthwhile tomes

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bookHere they are, books yammering for review: a hillock of books on the floor by the desk; more books stacked on the desk itself, squeezed between a basket of spectacles and a coffee cup filled with pens and pencils, the cup itself bearing Jefferson’s remark, “I cannot live without books;” two more books for review keeping company in the trunk of my car; a lone rider of a book on the arm of the sofa by the porch door.

Books all dressed up with nowhere to go; books seeking companions like those forlorn scribblers on dating sites; books buried beneath other books, all pouting for attention: well, you get the picture.

It’s time to give some of them, if not a kiss and a squeeze, at least a nod of the head.

•••

Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (ISBN 978-1-592-40733-0, $26) contains one good idea (one good idea incorporated even in a small way into our lives is easily worth the cost of a modest restaurant meal for two). Brown’s central thesis is that vulnerability, which we often view as weakness, is in a fact a source of great strength. By refusing to open ourselves to a given situation, by erecting barriers to protect ourselves from pain or attack, whether in love or work, old friendships or new relationships, we often find ourselves standing on the outside looking in, alienated by our very failure to engage the situation. 

Like so many self-help books, Daringly Greatly is a compendium of personal stories, squibs from music, books, and art, and bits of psychology. Brown, formally trained as a social worker, here brings together her research and a sharp eye for human foibles, and gives us a book well worth reading.

•••

Jacob Tomsky’s Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality (ISBN 978-0-385-53563-2, $25.95) is a humorous, bittersweet book by a talented young writer recounting his days in the “hospitality” industry. Having worked in numerous positions, everything from a parking lot attendant to a desk clerk, Tomsky gives his readers a behind-the-scenes look at the daily operations of the hotel trade. He describes bullying managers, inept service staff and ridiculous rules. About a third of the way through this book, some readers may come to feel, as did this reviewer, that Tomsky had selected the wrong trade for his livelihood. He whines about his life, solves many of his complaints and problems by drinking too much after work, and criticizes patrons for their various demands. After a good bit of such bellyaching, it becomes apparent that Tomsky should have sought employment which kept him away from contact with carping customers. 

•••

Given the election of a new pope, George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church (ISBN 978-0-465-02768-2, $27.99) is a timely read both for Catholics and for those interested in Catholic issues. Weigel, who wrote a major biography of Pope John Paul II and has since written extensively about Church matters, discusses here various matters facing the Church, ranging from the sexual abuse scandals to the need for reform in Church government, from lay participation to liturgical structures. Unlike some authors who write of more of problems than possible solutions, Weigel boldly offers extensive, specific proposals that should strike most readers as both wise and practical. The chapter titles — “Reform of the Liturgy,” “Reform of the Episcopate,” “Reform of the Church’s Intellectual Life,” and so on — effectively sum up the book’s intent.

•••

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Your Verbs Power Your Writing (ISBN 978-0-393-08116-9, $26.95) follows up Constance Hale’s previous book on grammar, syntax, and writing, Sin And Syntax. Hale is a pleasure to read, and in Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch, she offers help and advice that should prove useful to writers at all levels. Her book stresses the importance of verbs — Hale is as sweet on verbs as a bee on honey — but it offers much more. Here readers will find a concise, short, entertaining history of language, anecdotes on language and scores of examples from different writers. Most of all, Hale gives the reader a minor dissertation on literary style. Like Sin and Syntax, this newest book is one which writers and readers can return to again and again for both pleasure and profit. 

•••

“You may not be interested in war,” Trotsky once said, “but war is very much interested in you.” We Americans, I suspect, are beginning to feel the same way about terrorism. We have grown weary since 9/11 — one of the greatest of American strengths, and one of our greatest weaknesses, is our impatience — and we are tired of fighting a war against terrorists. For a reminder of what we are up against, readers may want to look at an older book, Serge Trifkovic’s The Sword of the Prophet. In this volume, Trifkovic gives us a readable account of the history, theology, and impact of Islam. He argues that aggressive Islamism is, and will remain, a great danger to the West and its values for a longtime to come.

Good reading!

(Jeff Minick is teacher and writer. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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