Graham Ward’s The Politics of Discipleship – I really enjoyed Ward’s earlier book, Barth, Derrida, and the Language of Theology, a careful and insightful work that responds to Derrida’s thinking with a respect that I have not often found in Christian thinkers, so I was expecting something more than I got from The Politics of Discipleship. It still carries itself with a certain care and respect in its more philosophical sections, but much of its argument ventures into sociology and economics and politics in ways that I thought were less convincing. I frequently found myself wishing that Ward would move more slowly, more cautiously, more precisely, more rigorously. Each of the book’s sections needed its own book, needed to take its time, needed to make some time for what it had to say. Even so, there was much in it that I found useful, and I have quoted one section of it on several occasions now, so it is probably worth a read. Just moderate your expectations.
John Gardner’s Grendel – I first read this book a number of years ago. I liked it very much then but even more now on my second reading. It is short, and it reads quickly, so it can feel deceptively simple, but it rewards an attentive reading with profundity. I am addicted to the Beowulf legend, so I read or watch every adaptation that I can find, but I am almost always disappointed by portrayals of Grendel. Everyone seems to want Grendel to be more human. They try to develop sympathy for him by humanizing him, and they fail to understand how essential it is that he be evil, essentially and absolutely, in order that Beowulf might become the sort of hero that he is. If Grendel is humanized, then Beowulf’s heroism is ambiguous, and this might make a perfectly good story, but it is no longer the story of Beowulf. Gardner’s Grendel does not fall into this error. Though his Grendel does inspire a certain sympathy, it is a sympathy for the role that he must play as monster rather than a sympathy for a humanity that is simply hidden behind a monstrous appearance. This Grendel is never anything than a monster, and it is precisely this that inspires our sympathy. He is my favourite portrayal of the Grendel figure outside of the original.
Charles Williams’ The Greater Trumps – I never understand a Charles Williams novel. I only experience it. I experience it as a mystery and as a pleasure and as a wonder. My capacity for description is always beggared by his writing, and I can only ever tell others to read him for themselves, so I will say it once more: read Charles Williams for yourselves.
Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake – I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, though I have never been a big fan of Atwood’s. It is not a bad book. If I had not known who the author was, I would even have said that it was a fairly good book, on the higher end of the science fiction genre with respect to its writing, though not much by the way of science fiction, seeing as it represents a futuristic world in which people are still using CD ROMs. Yes, I said CD ROMs. Unfortunately, it is not the work of some middling science fiction writer but of the most recognized name in Canadian literature, and so it stands as one more example of why Atwood simply does not deserve this status. The story is mostly interesting. The characters are sometimes engaging. The plot is well structured. All well and good, to be sure, but none of this sets Atwood above any of a dozen genre writers I have read over the years, and she offers precious little else. There is not a single sentence in the whole of the book worth savouring as a sentence, as language, as literature. It is not a bad book, as I said, and maybe it was intended to be nothing more, which I can respect, but I do wish people would stop telling me how wonderful a writer she is.
John Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden – If I had ever imagined the story of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond being told in cartoon, which I assure you is a thing I have never imagined, I would have been very doubtful about the wisdom of such a project. I would have suggested that the very fine balance between romantic ideal and practical wisdom in Thoreau, a balance that too often teeters in one direction or another even in the original, would have been impossible to maintain in something as simple as a cartoon. I would also, it seems, have been wrong, since Porcellino’s book maintains the sensibility of Thoreau’s writing admirably, though its art is very simple. It was only a matter of minutes to read, but it’s effect lingered much longer.