John Wilson is at it again! Editing, that is. His new magazine, Education and Culture, is up and running. Among the moving parts of his new endeavor are names familiar to readers of his previous, much beloved publication, Books & Culture. One is my former professor Alan Jacobs. Here’s a snippet of his review of The Restless Clock:
I don’t often listen to podcasts but this one with Samin Nosrat, author of the recently released ‘uncookbook’ “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” is worth a listen. Though it focuses on her book and unconventional approach to cooking (like jazz; lots of improvisation), there’s plenty to enjoy in the periphery, including how she landed a job at Chez Panisse, why she needs both cooking and writing to stay sane, and teaching Michael Pollan to cook.
There are few books I can confidently say have changed me. Gilead is one of them. Near the end of the novel John Ames, a pastor and the protaganist, writes these words: “Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.” I’ve often imagined the Christian life as a candle illumining a small patch of the world’s darkness. This image has its merits and, of course, biblical precedent. Gilead showed me the world as John Ames saw it, a world suffused with God’s light. It taught me that whatever the world’s shadows—and reading Gilead most recently I found quite a few I’d missed the first time—God’s light shines everywhere. To look at the world as if this were so, to expect light, is to see truly.
Rowan Williams was once asked if there was any contemporary author that matched C.S. Lewis in rendering what faith feels like. He suggested Marilynne Robinson. This reader, for one, agrees. Gilead and its sister novels are books I look forward to re-reading many times.
I’m ambivalent about Rod Dreher, his ‘Benedict Option,’ and this New Yorker profile, but I can enthusiastically endorse these two bits from the piece:
“Part of the problem with religion is that it can just be an aestheticization of life,” a young Orthodox priest from Yonkers said. “It’s still late-modern capitalism working its insidious tentacles. We need a vocabulary to get outside of that.”
Amen. I think that just about covers what’s missing from many BenOp discussions–and also what a great number of millenials (this one included!) are tempted to. And then there’s this sly repurposing of that MacIntyre quote that won’t go away:
Afterward, Dreher and the other panelists retreated to the club’s library. Bartenders served the Benedict Option (“another—doubtless very different—cocktail,” made with whiskey, amaro, St-Germain, lemon juice, and simple syrup).
Accolades for books whose authors breathe the same air as their readers should be treated with more circumspection than ones whose authors are deceased. When that air is thick with the fog of politics, well, then outright skepticism is called for. As anyone who lived through last year can attest, there was plenty of fog. The admiration for Hillbilly Elegy, then, is understandable. It is not, in my view, merited.
J.D. Vance grew up in rural Appalachia. His memoir details his childhood there, the instability of his teenage years, and his exit—as a Marine. Throughout, Vance tells the story of his community. The writing is fine and the stories are interesting enough, but neither are particularly revelatory. It’s when Vance splices in sociology that he gets into trouble. The seams—between Vance’s story and Appalachia’s—obtrude. The narrative begins to feel patchwork. In a year in which American attention was forced to turn, briefly, to the hinterlands of the nation, it is easy to see why Vance’s story was seized upon. He made it out of an environment of social instability, into Yale Law School, and then through the doors of a prestigious consulting firm. His story bridges worlds drifting apart. But it does not possess the secret reason for our recent political catastrophe and I very much doubt whether it will be remembered once that crisis has passed.