Harper Lee’s not-so-new novel

Quite a few novelists–Joseph Heller, J. D. Salinger, Ralph Ellison–have written one great novel, but then wrote nothing else, or nothing else in its league.  One of those writers is Harper Lee, whose To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, makes the bestseller lists to this day.  So readers have been excited to hear that she is coming out with another novel, Go Set a Watchman, which won’t even be released until July 14 but is already an Amazon bestseller.

But this is not exactly a new novel.  Apparently, it’s the first draft of what would later become Mockingbird.  It’s the story of an adult woman, who goes by the nickname of “Scout,” who goes to visit her aged father Atticus, whereupon the story is told, in third person, as a reminiscence.  When she showed it to a publisher, the editor recommended that she re-write the book from the point of view of Scout as a child.  That was brilliant advice, since one of the things that makes Mockingbird such great fiction is the narrative voice and the perspective of young Scout, who tells a warm and often humorous tale of growing up in the deep south, which suddenly turns serious as her father, an attorney, bravely defends a black man in a rape trial.

So if Watchman tells the same story, but without Scout’s point of view, it’s hard to see the point.  Plus, controversy has broken out over whether Ms. Lee, in poor health in a nursing home, really wanted this manuscript published.  But still, the book will surely be worth reading.  If nothing else, early drafts are often a clue to the author’s original intentions. [Read more...]

Lenten reading

One of my customary Lenten observances is always to read some heavy-duty theology or some deep, deep classics of devotion.  Over the years, I’ve read works by Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and more modern theologians like Oswald Bayer.  Last year I read Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures of Christ to my great benefit.  Another year, I read something much, much easier, but even more beneficial:  John Kleinig’s Grace Upon Grace.

I’m kind of undecided about what I will take up this year. Do you have any suggestions?  For me, but also for other readers of this blog?  (My criteria after the jump.) [Read more...]

The 12 Funniest Books Ever Written?

In the spirit of Fat Tuesday, in which we go through our cupboards to use up any treats and frivolities before the solemnities of Lent, I would like to draw your attention to  Anthony Sacramone’s list of  The 12 Funniest Books Ever Written.  You need to go to the link to read his paragraphs about each work on his list, but I will list the titles after the jump, along with my own additions and corrections. [Read more...]

A tale of two reading lists

Annie Holmquist compares a middle school reading list from 1908 to one from today.  It isn’t just that the latter is dumbed down in comparison, though it is.  She goes on to analyze the content of what is taught in these two sets of books and the kinds of education they exemplify. [Read more...]

T.S. Eliot as inventor of the Hipster

Literary scholar Karen Swallow Prior is kind enough to credit me for mentoring her through graduate school.  I’m proud to see that she has become a “public intellectual,” writing regularly for both Christianity Today and The Atlantic.  You have got to read her essay about how the whole mindset of the hipster is captured in T. S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.” [Read more...]

C. S. Lewis on the evils of statism

Statism is the belief that the government should control or dominate all, or much, of life.  C. S. Lewis was against it.  David Theroux, president of the C. S. Lewis Society of California, sent me the video of a talk he gave at the first annual conference of Christians for Liberty entitled “C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism.”  I’ve posted it after the jump. [Read more...]