Post-Rapture Radio

Russell Rathbun’s book is funny, thoughtful and crazy … in a good way. I was reminded of the off-balance depths of Douglas Coupland’s best writing.

Full disclosure: Russell is a friend, and I was a member of his congregation for over seven years. Yes, most of the sermons in the book I’ve heard before. They actually come across better in print, or at least, in the context of the whole book. He’s done a good job weaving these parts together.

I especially liked how dis-integrated/confused the identities of the character(s) got in the second half of the book. The levels of identity kept shifting on me: was it a typo? did he really mean Rathbun, not Lamblove?

That sense of keeping the reader (listener) off-balance is what I’ve always enjoyed about Russell’s sermons: in the space that opens when I’m off-balance or caught thinking in a different direction, the shock of the twist, the unexpected feint, in his stories, is where I feel the wind move. Flannery O’Connor did that well (there’s a nice allusion to her in the closing line of one story); so did Kierkegaard, Walker Percy — other great writers to whom Russell is indebted and to whom he will be compared. He deserves the comparison.

Recommended to me

I’ve had the following books recommended to me by people I respect:

  • Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner
  • The Death of Adam by Marilynne Robinson
  • anything by Dan Chaon
  • ‘The Circus in Winter’ by Cathy Day (short story)

<i>The Water-Method Man</i>

Not as good as Owen Meany or A Widow for One Year but there are some very funny parts. I’d never really noticed before Irving’s talent for slapstick. Some scenes are so visual, I feel like I’m in a Marx Brothers movie.

<i>Best American Short Stories of 2004</i>

We’ve been enjoying this series for quite some years now. Lorrie Moore picked this collection, and a very nice one it is. Stories I especially liked: “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie, “Intervention” by Jill McCorkle, and “All Saints Day” by Angela Pneuman.

The Baroque Cycle

Just finished racing through Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, three novels set in the 17th century. As early modern European history was my undergrad major, and technology my current occupation, this series was a real treat (which can explain how I finished 3000 pages in 3 weeks).

Barbary Corsair pirates, the birth of the commodities markets, the debate over the origins of the calculus, defenestrations of all kinds. What a riot.

In Xanadu: A Quest

I liked William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain so much that I convinced my book club to try another of his travel books.

The short review: it’s not as good as Mountain but still worth a read. This is his first book, for which he became (justifiably) famous while still an undergrad. It feels a little “green” compared to Mountain — I’m chalking that up to Dalrymple’s relative youth and it being his first book. I hear traces of what will become excellent writing 10 years later.

The Unconquerable World

Jonathan Schell’s book was a Christmas gift a couple years ago. Took me some time to get through it. Not because it was poor writing (though it’s not particularly lyrical) but because it’s emotionally difficult to consider war when your country is mired in one.

I guess I should feel hopeful after reading it; maybe I’m too cynical, but I didn’t feel it. Maybe I just need to listen to less NPR news and take more walks in the woods.