One literary link you will want to add to your feed reader: John Dufrense — who follows the venerable tradition of those who write wonderfully about Worcester but no longer live here — has a blog. Go visit and tell him how much I have a crush on him.
And now for the week’s book suggestions…
First, if you’re not reading the lovely serial novel Happiness Is An Option, start now!
For my recommendations on what you should take out of the library, I’m inspired by Albert Southwick’s column this week, especially his conclusion about groups on opposite ends of an issue needing to respect others’ beliefs.
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University is Kevin Roose‘s memoir of a semester he spent at Liberty University, a large evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell. I was extremely skeptical when I opened this book, because it could have easily degenerated into born-again-bashing or an exposé into the secretly sinful lives of the students at the school. Instead, it’s a really genuine book about someone who wants to learn more about his conservative Christian peers. He sings in choir at Jerry Falwell’s church, he does a spring break mission to try to convert the fallen at Daytona Beach, and he even tries his hand at dating. Through it all, he’s funny without being condescending. I highly recommend this book.
One of the things I love about the library catalog is many books have four or five similar books recommended after the other cataloging information. That’s how I found the absorbing God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America by Hanna Rosin. It’s about Rosin’s time interviewing faculty, students, and administration at Patrick Henry College, a school founded to be the evangelical competitor to the Ivy League schools. The students at Patrick Henry seem more bright, competitive, and motivated (especially in the political arena) than the students Kevin Roose met at Liberty University, but in both cases I was struck by how the students (and faculty) didn’t fit into the neat boxes so many people would like to put them in. The Patrick Henry of Rosin’s book also seems a bit more authoritarian than Liberty; perhaps it’s due to the relatively existence of the school or — perhaps more likely, considering Rosin also chronicles a small faculty uprising — the personality of its founder.
The Abstinence Teacher is fiction, but — like most of Tom Perotta’s work –you feel as if you’re getting a view into the hidden side of a real suburban town. It’s the story of Ruth, a sex education teacher who’s forced to teach an abstinence-only curriculum she doesn’t believe in, and her daughter’s soccer coach, Tim, a recovering addict and born-again Christian. Both are trying to find their way on a narrow path: Ruth, to keep her job while being true to her conscience; Tim, to be a good Christian and husband amid various temptations. I listened to this on audio (note to the person who checked his out of the library before me: CDs are not napkins, and I really hope the brown stuff stuck to the CDs was chocolate) and Campbell Scott narrated this wonderfully. I recommend listening to this if you get the chance.