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Kate Fox’s 2008 (updated and revised, 2014) exercise in English national self-flagellation 51M4+GxPOkL._AC_UL872_QL65_is what we used to call a ‘sprawling’ work.

But that might be to suggest that a single gripping plot line traceable through the book’s 228 pages envelopes an unusually vast cast of characters or detours remarkably into literary tributaries, like one of those fat Russian novels that nonetheless retains its power to draw the reader through, page after page.

That is not the case here.

But hold on, don’t get your knickers in a twist. I mean this review to shed a positive light on a thoroughly enjoyable book of which I have already clocked two front-to-back readings.

In truth ‘sprawling’ might be a bit of (learned) English understatement of a deficiency when ‘unedited’ would express the thing with more candor. Continue Reading »

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517a4WwQTZL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_When a book like Lynn Vincent’s and Sara Vladic’s Indianapolis lies open on lap or desk, a reader sometimes forces himself from page to page. This one does, at any rate.

This slow march signals no deficiency in the book itself. In fact, this latest entry on the U.S. Navy’s single worst disaster is fluid, witty, somber, and smart. The book ought to be a page-turner.

It’s the story that hurts, the awful, aching tale of seawater, sharks, men driven to lunacy, a breathtakingly inept response to the disappearance of one of the era’s most storied (heavy) cruisers, and then the arguable scapegoating of the ship’s captain for failing to avoid the Japanese submarine he could never have known was there. Continue Reading »

As it happens, just as I’m finishing Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, I am 816gxLNLlwL._AC_UL872_QL65_deep into two volumes on World War II history, a pair of explanations of Colombia’s unending cycles of political violence (I live in Colombia), and the occasionally disturbing adventure by the late Robert Pirsig so memorably titled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Yet none of these volumes that dwell or touch upon topics as dark as world war, civil war, philosophical derangement, and mental illness keeps me up at night the way Reinke’s offering does.

Reinke could have written a jeremiad, could have shouted that our technology will kill us, that we and our mobiles are going to hell in a hand basket. He could have shouted ‘Run away!, Run away!’ from the rooftops. It would have made for easier reading. Continue Reading »

41EjOxKJC8LBecause my wife and I work as cross-cultural missional servants in Colombia, I was immediately responsive when a dear reading friend recommended this novel, set as it is in our adoptive South American country. It felt a little bit like the reading version of a blind date.

Yet, truth be told, ‘missionary fiction’ is not a genre that guarantees to quicken the pulse. Often it is wooden, moralistic, and—at times—condescending.

Against such modest expectations, I’m pleasantly surprised by this worthy read. I found Flying Blind to be something of a page-turner. Continue Reading »

John Dunlop brings to this most excruciating mile of the road informed science, the 41Ur4z3Us6Lgentlest spirit, and a deep conviction that God’s care does not flee the human person who finds himself or herself afflicted with dementia. Nor does mercy abandon those who care for the dementia sufferer. I imagine this last group accounts for most readers of this very fine and wisely titled guidebook for one of life’s darker passages.

The author has skin in this game, if such words can be used without offense in this context. His medical specialization brings him into the care of just such patients and of those who love them. And his family history makes it likely that Dunlop himself will one day sense the fog beginning to thicken.

The result is an exceedingly caring book.

I bought this not because my family had been touched, strictly speaking, by dementia. Rather, my late father’s decline in two nursing homes gradually tightened the horizons of his life and altered the man he had been in ways that are proximate enough to dementia to have made this book a prudent choice.

I ended up buying additional copies and giving them away. You may, too.

51cRtWtxFpL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_The most astonishing thing about this very good Vietnam novel is that a man who has been a Marine Corps officer, a United States senator (Virginia), and Secretary of the Navy could write it. Seldom in my reading has someone who has both heard the snap of bullets and served in the political apparatus that decides and executes war written a version of events that is so searingly realistic about everything it touches.

Webb’s characters find, in the course of his narrative, full form. They live and die in the An Hoa Basin as a senseless war—one that with deepest irony some of Webb’s grunts come to discover is their only home—whirls around them and devours those whom fate or choice have thrown into into its teeth. 

No whiff of martial romance finds its way into Webb’s pages. Yet one comes to respect the terms on which each of his Marines negotiates his fiercely counted days in country. Vietnam in 1969 offered up to the likes of Webb’s Marines several ways to die, some facedown in the mud, some while returning upright to a country that had no idea. 

Through his fictionalized characters, Webb recounts most of them. That some lived is its own kind of miracle.

Required reading for the planners and deciders of war? That would be the day.

Jim O’Donnell’s ‘spiritual memoir’ turns its unique corner in 1984, the year he met41tcQ5VTpeL._SY346_ Arthur.

Jim did not much like himself in 1984 and, by all accounts, with good reason. He liked other people even less.

Arthur was gentle and kind and honest. Very, very honest. He also seemed to know God, whatever that was supposed to mean to a high-flying investment banker like Jim O’Donnell, not a very nice man, but a better man that anyone else he knew.

Everything changed then, because Arthur asked and Jim said, ‘Well, OK, then. I guess.’ Or something like that.

The rest is history. Or future. It depends on your point of view.

This book is a page-turner for anyone not too cynical to wonder how guys like Old Jim become guys like, well, Jim now.

Sometimes there is an Arthur. Arthurs are as surprised as anybody that stuff like this happens.

Read on.