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Reading, reviews, and self-remonstrance

Reading, reviews, and self-remonstrance

Maybe it’s the mixed-up weather. The warmer temperatures have delivered a sort of raucous springtime mood, though Whatever the cause, a parade of books on all sorts of topics has passed through my hands, volumes taken from the library and from the pyramid of print on the floor of my study. Some I’ve read, some only browsed, but all deserve at least some garland of recognition. 

Books read

First up was Horatio Alger’s 1868 “Ragged Dick, Or Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks” (Independently Published, 2019, 136 pages), a triumph that led Alger to write scores more books about poor young men who by virtue, hard work, and education, along with a few lucky breaks, bettered themselves in the world. Despite its dated argot, Alger’s novel was surprisingly easy to read, made some points about self-improvement still valid today, and gave me insights into the harsh lives of the adolescents abandoned on the street 150 years ago. 

“For the Love of Robert E. Lee” (Soho Press, 2003, 330 pages), M.A. Harper’s novel features Garnet Laney, a 1960s South Carolina teenager and self-described poet and liberal intellectual, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee, with whom Garnet falls in love. Yes, you read that correctly. Asked to do a report for school about this Southern icon, Garnet discovers a slight family connection to Lee, adores the painting made when he was a young soldier, and finds herself haunted by Lee and by the South. I’m over halfway through this novel, which offers both some insights into Lee’s personality and a fun but somewhat perplexing look at a quirky girl consumed by the past. “For the Love of Robert E. Lee” is out of print, but still available used in secondhand stores and online for those who want a different approach to history and fiction. 

“Theology of the Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday” (TAN Books and Publishers, 2019, 235 pages) by Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber, with photographs by Kim Baile, I borrowed from a friend. This book only disqualifies itself from a full and separate review in this column because of its Catholic and Christian take on life, marriage, and family, which may not appeal to our general readership. Nevertheless, here is a gorgeous book, with its fine essays about the joys and beauty of a home accompanied by Baile’s striking photos. The tone is set right from the beginning: “Home. It is an elegant word, at once both simple and far reaching. Home is the place where we are meant to be safe, nurtured, known for who we are, and able to live and love freely.” A definite five-stars for this one, especially if you’re a homemaker seeking visual and spiritual inspiration.

Somewhat similar in theme, but much more political, is Kimberly Ells’ “The Invincible Family: Why the Global Campaign to Crush Motherhood and Fatherhood Can’t Win” (Regnery Gateway, 2023, 256 pages). Ells, a speaker, writer, family advocate, wife, and mother of five, supports her arguments about the war against the traditional family with more than 70 pages of notes and works cited. Her book is fascinating both for its subject matter — I’ve read about half of it, skipping or skimming some of the chapters — and for its prose style. Like a middleweight, Ells throws quick, blunt punches with her sentences while moving adroitly around her opponents, which in this case are the forces, including agencies of the United Nations, seeking to replace the family with a government. 

Books Browsed

In his ambitious epic poem “Eþandun” (Beaver’s Pond Press, 2020, 264 pages), pronounced eth-an-dune and the old name for the battle where Alfred the Great and his Wessex warriors defeated a great host of the Danes, William G. Carpenter tells the story of Alfred and the events surrounding the battle that thwarted Viking ambitions in lower England. Carpenter delivers his account in blank verse, accompanied by notes, a glossary, and the paintings of Miko Simmons. Those who enjoy poetry, the early Middle Ages, and the stories of writers like Tolkien may here find pleasure and learning. This one’s a keeper, as I intend eventually to have a go at it.

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Batya Ungar-Sargon is the deputy opinion editor at Newsweek and cohost of that publication’s podcast, and holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. In “Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy” (Encounter Press, 2021, 312 pages), she gives her readers both a history and an analysis of journalism for the last 100 years. Some who pick up this book will be surprised to learn that before World War II, most journalists in our country lacked a college degree and would today be regarded as belonging to the blue-collar class. Ungar-Sargon reveals how much this change in status, prestige, and money, along with explosive developments in technology, has negatively influenced reporting and the news. Like “Eþandun,” though for very different reasons, “Bad News” will remain in place on my shelves, in hopes that I will someday make it my own by reading it.

(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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