A Collection of Links

Here are some literary links that have found their way to me in the last few days. I offer them here in case you missed them.

Unbridled Books is continuing their Unbridled Aloud feature. This episode features:

Carolyn Turgeon, author of the about-to-be-released first novel Rain Village, (Pub Date Nov. 1st), a magical and enchanting debut about a young girl who dreams of becoming a circus performer. RAIN VILLAGE has the honors of being both a November Book Sense Pick and a Pulpwood Queens Book Club Selection.

– Robert Birnbaum has another interview over at the Morning News. This time he talks to the Nigerian novelist CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE about “her new book and the Biafran War, being African in America, and the distorted picture of Africa created by the media.”

– Seem almost silly to link to them at this point, but there were some interesting reviews in the NYTRB this weekend:
* Jim Holt on Richard Dawkins’ latest attempt to kill off God .
* David Brooks on Andrew Sullivan’s latest incoherent ramblings book.
* Henry Alford on the appropriately titled last book in the Lemony Snicket series.
* Colson Whitehead on The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

Quotes from some of these reviews below.

Jim Holt on Richard Dawkins:

What Dawkins brings to this approach is a couple of fresh arguments — no mean achievement, considering how thoroughly these issues have been debated over the centuries — and a great deal of passion. The book fairly crackles with brio. Yet reading it can feel a little like watching a Michael Moore movie. There is lots of good, hard-hitting stuff about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and frauds of all stripes, but the tone is smug and the logic occasionally sloppy. Dawkins fans accustomed to his elegant prose might be surprised to come across such vulgarisms as “sucking up to God” and “Nur Nurny Nur Nur” (here the author, in a dubious polemical ploy, is imagining his theological adversary as a snotty playground brat). It’s all in good fun when Dawkins mocks a buffoon like Pat Robertson and fundamentalist pastors like the one who created “Hell Houses” to frighten sin-prone children at Halloween. But it is less edifying when he questions the sincerity of serious thinkers who disagree with him, like the late Stephen Jay Gould, or insinuates that recipients of the million-dollar-plus Templeton Prize, awarded for work reconciling science and spirituality, are intellectually dishonest (and presumably venal to boot). In a particularly low blow, he accuses Richard Swinburne, a philosopher of religion and science at Oxford, of attempting to “justify the Holocaust,” when Swinburne was struggling to square such monumental evils with the existence of a loving God. Perhaps all is fair in consciousness-raising. But Dawkins’s avowed hostility can make for scattershot reasoning as well as for rhetorical excess. Moreover, in training his Darwinian guns on religion, he risks destroying a larger target than he intends.

David Brooks on Sullivan:

“The Conservative Soul” is imbued with Sullivan’s characteristic passion and clarity. And yet I must confess, if I hadn’t been reviewing this book, I wouldn’t have finished it. I have a rule, which has never failed me, that when a writer uses quotations from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and the Left Behind series to capture the religious and political currents in modern America, then I know I can put that piece of writing down because the author either doesn’t know what he is talking about or is arguing in bad faith.

As any number of historians, sociologists and pollsters can tell you, the evangelical Protestants who now exercise a major influence on the Republican Party are an infinitely diverse and contradictory group, and their relationship to these hyperpartisans is extremely ambivalent.

Conservative Christians are fully assimilated into commercial American life and, in a variety of different ways, critical of it. They get divorced as much as anybody else, if not more. They are as consumed by doubts and aware of their weaknesses as anybody else, if not more. They generally share — along with the pope — the belief that reason must be used to nurture faith.

Henry Alford on The End:

Where, in the end — and in “The End” — does the “Unfortunate Events” series leave us? It leaves us reminded of what an interesting and offbeat educator Handler is. In between all the exotic ethnic food references and the gallows humor and the teaching of words like “denouement” and “vaporetto,” the books seem at times like a covert mission to turn their readers into slightly dark-hued sophisticates. To be sure, there’ll be a payoff for those gothically inclined young readers who, as adults, see the sick joke at the heart of characters named Klaus and Sunny. Or consider the series’s early lessons in postmodernism — the author loves to tell us to put the book we’re reading down, and in “The Carnivorous Carnival,” he repeatedly gives us the definition of déjà vu; in “The Penultimate Peril,” he tells us we don’t need to read the next three chapters in any particular order. The reader who receives such training is amply prepared for the rocky narrative landscapes of Borges and Eco. And on a moral plane, Handler refuses to turn a blind eye to his protagonists’ ethical lapses; just before the Baudelaires burn down a hotel to prevent the spread of a deadly fungus, he writes, “It is very difficult to make one’s way in this world without being wicked at one point or another, when the world’s way is so wicked to begin with.”

Colson Whitehead on Powers:

To dispense with the longstanding book reviewing practice of first-paragraph throat clearing, may I offer up Richard Powers’s “Echo Maker” as a wise and elegant post-9/11 novel? It avoids some of the now familiar features of the genre. It does not unfold in the sunny spring and summer before the disaster, placing the shallow high jinks and aspirations of the characters in stark relief by our knowledge of the looming event, ending perhaps with a dissipated yuppie waking on that September morning and relishing what a nice blue day it is outside. Nor does the book open in the anxious days after the attack, with the characters wandering the white, deserted streets and wondering, “How can I ever go back to my superficial preoccupations over high-thread-count sheets / that new S.U.V. / my [insert timely, vapid cultural signifier here].” “The Echo Maker” is not an elegy for How We Used to Live or a salute to Coming to Grips, but a quiet exploration of how we survive, day to day.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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