Miracles and the miraculous in everyday life

bookEvery once in a while, we encounter a situation so strange and so far removed from the natural order of things that we label the event a “miracle.” (In my own case, this would involve getting eight straight hours of sleep in a single night.) The unexplained healing of some horrific, normally fatal illness; synchronistic convergences so strange that they go far past mere coincidence; the appearance of some apparition — a deceased relative, an angel, the Virgin Mary — bearing private, detailed and accurate information to a human recipient: these are some of the occasions which startle us into breaking out the concept of a miracle to explain or at least acknowledge the unexplainable. 

Oil thicker than blood in Texas

bookReviewers of Philipp Meyer’s new novel, The Son (ISBN 978-0-06-212039-7, 561 pages, $27.99) have compared his epic story of the West to books as varied as One Hundred Years of Solitude, Blood Meridian, and Lonesome Dove. His account of Texas from its founding as a republic to the late twentieth century does have elements of all three books — Marquez’s blend of fantasy and realism, the violence and sometimes stark prose of Cormac MacCarthy, the sweep and spread of Larry McMurtry’s writing — but these comparisons may confuse as much as elucidate the reader. Meyer is very much his own man in this fine book.

Kingsbury gives us a comfortable summer read

bookIn The Bridge (ISBN 978-1-4516-4701-3, $19.99), Karen Kingsbury treats readers to a tale of romance and tribulation centered on a bookstore in Franklin, Tenn. Molly Allen and Ryan Kelly meet at Nashville’s Belmont University, where they become best friends.

A book to help wade through self-help industry

bookIn The Last Self-Help Book You’ll Ever Need: Repress Your Anger, Think Negatively, Be a Good Blamer, and Throttle Your Inner Child (ISBN 0-465-05486-2), renowned neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall turns a jaundiced eye to the world of self-help books.

A story of violence and race in small-town N.C.

bookMy decision to read this “docudrama” (part memoir, part history and part detective story) was prompted by my genuine wish to gain a better understanding of the history of racial conflicts and violent conformations that took place in North Carolina between the 1950s and the present.

A fast look at a few worthwhile tomes

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.

Dobyns novel reveals small town underbelly

bookStephen Dobyns has written 20 novels and more than 10 volumes of poetry; however, he is difficult to “classify.” His writing is praised by big league names as varied as Francine Prose and Stephen King, but he is most famous for a “sexual harassment” charge brought against him while he was teaching at Syracuse University (allegedly, he was overheard making “salty and crude” comments at a party).

A rural bookstore that beat the odds

book“Bookshops are magic.”

This quotation, buried in the middle of Wendy Welch’s The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book (ISBN 978-1-250-01063-6, $24.99), could serve as the banner for this wonderful account of a used bookstore and the community in which it came to life.

For your culinary and reading pleasure

bookMost booklovers have suffered that “Oh, no” moment when a friend, with nothing but the best of intentions, presses an unfamiliar book into their hands with the words, “Read this — you’ll love it.” We receive the book with a smile on our lips but black foreboding in our hearts. We may love this gift, we may hate it — the odds, from my own experience, favor the latter five to one — but either way we are compelled to read it.

Tension-soaked novel is one of Appalachia’s best

bookMark Powell’s The Dark Corner is probably the best Appalachian novel that I have read in the last decade. It is also the most disturbing. In this, his third novel, Powell captures both the natural beauty of northwestern South Carolina and the seething violence and paranoia that lurks beneath the surface. This is a region where the interests of environmental groups, real estate developers, the federal government and right-wing extremists collide. The result is volatile and unstable, as homemade nitroglycerine.

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