For a variety of reasons, I’m not much for gifts at Christmas*. But I can generally count on receiving one or two and, in spite of myself, I get pretty excited about that. This year proved no different. The latest additions to my shelves are:
The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood, by William J. Bennet. I haven’t ever read any Bill Bennet, nor have I listened to his radio show. But in the very busy last several days I’ve been able to rustle through this book’s table of contents, and am looking forward to diving in. Not a well-intentioned-but-ultimately-tedious textbook approach, nor a “daily” (both mild fears of mine when I first saw the cover), The Book of Man appears very promising. It is, as the subtitle advertises, a collection of readings, organized but non-demanding. The sheer breadth of content invites you to meander through the pages, stopping here and there to muse and reflect.
I like this sort of book, and I don’t. The bibliophile in me wants more books. A mountain of books. Instead of reading an excerpt from War and Peace to glean some manly insight, read War and Peace! I’m much happier with a list of books to read, as for example provided by Art of Manliness here. (I provide this list strictly as an example; I have problems with some of its selections.) On the other hand, The Book of Man provides a gateway to thoughts you may never have had, works you may never have read, lives you never knew lived–all for just a couple of pages per reflection.
The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, by David L. Ulin. I’m very excited to read this one. At a slim 160 pages, The Lost Art of Reading is a long essay and, I’m hoping, exactly the one I’ve been looking for. At work I’ve become “the book guy” (even though I’m not the only one who reads at work). I don’t mind a reputation for reading a lot; my fear is that the image is a symptom of the idea that reading has to be your “thing.” Reading seems inaccessible to many people. But books are a crucial link to culture. I’m hoping The Lost Art of Reading has something to say to my friend who had no idea who St Augustine was or why she should care, or even what the Pieta is. Or to my friend who seemed to think her amateur free verse was the height of poetry, and derided things like rhyme schemes, alliteration, and acrostics as turning poems into things more like math problems.
A Youth Tastes War, by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr. I had no idea my grandfather was working on another book. A few years ago I read his platoon’s collective memoir, which he co-wrote. (That book, Riflemen: Life and Death in WWII Infantry, may be previewed or purchased here.) A Youth promises to provide what I missed in Riflemen: More Granddaddy. Riflemen is an excellent book–you can’t replace firsthand accounts when it comes to war–but of the myriad histories of that terrible war I read that particular history because my grandfather was in it. More than the story of the war as it appeared to one platoon, I wanted the story of the war as it appeared to him who I’ve always known as the patriarch of my family. I found glimpses in Riflemen, but not enough to satisfy. A Youth appears, at first glance, to be a much more personal attempt to communicate what that war was like.
What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell. This one I actually bought for myself. I’ve mentioned before on this blog about how Malcolm Gladwell is the best. This collection of essays, based on my first glances, ought not to disappoint. Gleaned from his various New Yorker submissions over the years, the nineteen essays that make up The Dog are remarkably unified in theme. They each explore, in one way or another, the “other minds” problem. He writes in the preface, “Why is a two-year-old so terrible? Because she is systematically testing the fascinating and, to her, utterly novel notion that something that gives her pleasure might not actually give someone else pleasure–and the truth is that as adults we never lose that fascination.” I’m always excited to read some Malcolm Gladwell.
So that’s it! If you’re feeling my bookshelves are still lacking terribly, I warmly encourage you to buy out my Amazon.com Wishlist! What about you, any books?
*NB: I’m not opposed to Christmastime gifting. As Pope Benedict said,
“Christmas gifts evoke the gift par excellence which the Son of God made of himself and offered to us in the Incarnation. For this reason, Christmas is appropriately emphasized by the many gifts that people give to one another in these days. But it is important that the principal Gift of which all other gifts are a symbol not be forgotten. Christmas is the day on which God gave himself to humanity, and in the Eucharist this gift of his becomes, so to speak, perfect” (Address to Teachers and Students of Roman Universities, December 14, 2006).