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Too many books, too little time: books unread but recognized

For five years or so, Nick Hornby’s Ten Years In The Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books has occupied a place of honor on my bookshelves, meaning it’s always close at hand. In this thick volume are the monthly reviews Hornby wrote for the Believer, as witty, bright, and, yes, brilliant a collection of columns as you’ll find anywhere. When I am in need of some wit or sparkling prose, I go to Ten Years In The Tub. 

Hornby begins each chapter with “Books Bought” and “Books Read,” headings under which he lists the titles of both purchases and books he intends to review. In the October 2006 chapter, for example, under “Books Bought” are such works as Auberon Waugh’s Will This Do? and Will Ashon’s Clear Water while “Books Read” delivers five titles, including Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes From a Catastrophe and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

As I write here, I keep opening Ten Years, scanning various chapters, and being reminded once again of how many of these books are strangers to me.

At any rate, Hornby has inspired me to write this review by adding a temporary third category to “Books Bought” and “Books Read”: “Books Received in Need of Some Attention.”

For the last eight months, a larger number of authors than usual have sent their books to me in hopes of a review, and to tell the truth, some of these I will never read. What with my own writing life, stacks of other books requiring review, trying to keep up with household chores, and devoting some time to a growing platoon of grandchildren, the hours of my days are full. 

Yet there these poor books sit, some of them for eight and nine months now, children longing for some sort of recognition. So here goes:

Kenneth J. Stein’s Tiger Mosquitoes (2019, 256 pages) is a timely read, for here the author describes an epidemic that begins in Uganda, and eventually shows up on Long Island. Is this mosquito-borne fever a type of bio-warfare? And can it be stopped before it reaches the rest of the United States? One blurb on the back of Tiger Mosquitoes describes it as “a gripping thriller about an event whose time has come.”

Because of his graduate degrees in entomology and his scientific research in places like Africa and the Middle East, Stein brings to this work of fiction an expertise other novelists may lack. 

With Tangra Against The Wind (2020, 363 pages) is Captain Nikolay Djambazov’s account of his many adventures on the high seas. A sailor and a builder of small craft and yachts, this native of Bulgaria tells of his imprisonment in Turkey, of his escape from pirates along the Moroccan coast, and of the many fascinating people he has encountered in a long life of sailing. The cover letter sent along with the book states, “By sharing his story, Captain Djambazov hopes to inspire readers to follow their own childhood dreams.” 

Like Tiger Mosquitoes, Leading A Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (Encounter Books, 2020, 408 pages) seems particularly timely, though not for the same reasons. In his collection of essays, University of Chicago Professor Leon Kass addresses such topics as love, faith, friendship, human excellence, and human dignity. Kass, who teaches young people, sees them as wishing for a meaningful life, “a life that makes sense,” but realizes they are “increasingly confused about what such a life might look like and how they might, in the present age, be able to live one.” To help them out of this bog, Kass points them to noble personages and thoughts from the past, and raises as well the ethical dilemmas presented in our own time by politics and science. 

I may never get around to reading Leading A Worthy Life cover to cover, but it will remain on my shelf as a dipper book, that is, a book I open from time to time to read a few pages both for the clear prose and for their wisdom.

Satan’s Gambit (2018, 1058 pages) by Gene Conti M.D. is a dystopian trilogy set on a fictional American campus in the near future. Here Dr. Lucci and his students at a small Christian college in Northern Virginia witness a national crisis transforming the American government into a totalitarian dictatorship. Radical jihadists launch terrorist attacks across the nation and threaten the college while the governmental Matrix “decides to crack down on American citizens’ First and Second Amendment rights,” including “any outward religious expression.” 

At the end of Satan’s Gambit Book Three: Rise Of The Beast, two appendices caught my attention. “Class Notes” lists books, movies, and online resources recommended by Dr. Lucci’s students while “The Devil’s Timeline” is a chronology of dates and events that have led to the current mess in our culture and our politics. 

In Chewing the Wafer: Living a Christian World View (2020, 298 pages), West Point graduate, professor, and CEO William C. Jeffries tells stories from his past to explain his Christian beliefs and to demonstrate how he has integrated that faith with his work. This anecdotal approach to his faith coupled with many literary and historical references should appeal to readers who enjoy good story telling. 

Someday I may return to these books and give them the attention they deserve, but for now this small recognition must suffice.

Good reading, all!

(Jeff Minick reviews books and has written four of his own: two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust On Their Wings, and two works of nonfiction, Learning As I Go and Movies Make the Man. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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