“As I see it, all questions regarding the factual accuracy of Biblical statements—notably such ‘miraculous’ events as Virgin Birth, Resurrection, etc.—are wholly irrelevant to the true issues. Indeed, I should go so far as to say myself that the whole value of the Gospel story to mankind—and it is very great—lies not in its historical but in its legendary, mythical, or ‘typical’ character. It is not, I think, the Sermon on the Mount—or at least not this alone—that constitutes the peculiar contribution of Christianity to human thought, for very similar maxims are to be found elsewhere, and in any event could be deduced from first principles. It is to be found, rather, in the affirmation that all that is best and highest in man, as typified in the person of Jesus, is bound to arouse opposition, is often persecuted and apparently destroyed—yet is in fact indestructible and does perennially ‘rise again’, triumphant over seeming disaster.”
“Men glibly turn to an infallible Bible, or an infallible church, or an infallible Pope, or an infallible conscience, or an infallible Christ, and say that that authority is sufficient for them and enables them to accept truth. I believe all that kind of talk is false. It is false psychology or a failure of insight, and it is the fruit of mental laziness; a refusal to think things through. The most important convictions in religion cannot really be reached on the word of another. We can assent to propositions out of laziness of thought, or a desire to please, or an inability to argue, but one of the reasons why, in a crisis, men often feel let down by their religion is that they glibly assented to this or that, and falsely called their assent ‘belief.’”
“I am not prepared to hand over to any other person, though wise and learned, or to any institution however ancient or sure of its position, my inalienable right to search for ever-growing and ever-expanding truth. I believe the craving for security in belief is one which arises from within ourselves, and can only be met adequately from resources which are within ourselves. It seems to me that it is far more important for a soul in evolution to believe a few things because it has struggled, thought and suffered to discover and possess them, than it is for it to have a comfortable and orderly faith which it has adopted from any source outside itself.”
A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts by J.W. Ocker was a book I was really looking forward to reading for a variety of reasons; not least of which is the fact that I have been following his blog, OTIS,for a couple of years.
Ocker is one of those rare authors who is really good at the weekly grind of running an interesting blog and is also a legitimately good author. His last book did win an Edgar after all. The charm of Ocker’s blog is that it is part travelogue, part horror fan confessional, and that ethos carries over to his latest book as well. Because I follow him online I was able to see a behind the scenes version of A Season with the Witch as it was being written and I even interacted a bit with the author during the process. (Well, as much as social media counts as actual interaction. Allow me my tangential connection).
Ocker moved his family to downtown Salem for a month to witness firsthand October in Salem, visiting all of its historical sites and attractions. He also interviewed a lot of the people involved in making Salem’s Haunted Happenings, well, happen. From its political and civic leaders to its entrepreneurs and visitors. He even talks to some honest-to-god witches in the process.
This was a quick and fun read made all the more enjoyable for me because I have been to Salem a few times myself. Many of the locations and events he describes are familiar to me and it is interesting seeing another person’s take on things. I particularly like the chapter on Hawthorne and not just because I have been to the House of Seven Gables. The universe aligned things just right and I was in the middle of that chapter right as I was teaching my students Hawthorne’s The Birthmark. Made for an interesting side lecture in one class.
But by far the most interesting parts of the book are the interviews. There are so many competing views about how Salem does October. Some love the exposure it gives their city. Some think it is rank commercialism, capitalizing on the city’s shameful past. And others just seem to want to put their heads down and soldier through the month until they can have their city back.
And due in no small part to Ocker’s treatment of his interviewees, I can sort of sympathize with all of them. That is what makes this book a great read.
No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much to do. — Dorothy Day
I didn’t read as many books this year as I normally do. I think this is largely due to the fact that I have had a lot of freelance work to deal with, which is clearly not a complaint. In total I read just 17 titles in 2016, compared to 24 in 2015. However, some of these were excellent and a few authors will certain make repeat appearances next year. Below is my complete list in the order in which they were read.
- Beowulf (Seamus Heany translation). I hadn’t read this since college and it was just as good as I remembered. I think going back to books you read in your youth should be a requirement of middle age. Books change as readers evolve.
- Grendel by John Gardner. An obvious paring with Beowulf this short book tells the same tale from the antagonist’s perspective. I think I may have enjoyed this more.
- The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor. Yet another account of the historical Jesus. I am quite addicted to these types of books.
- From the Library of C.S. Lewis. Another reread as this classic collection is literally full of treasures.
- The Man of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson. This is actually a two-for as the book includes two short Doc Savage novels from the 1930’s. Fun to see how much pulp writing has changed in 80 years.
- Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz. The continuing saga of Odd Thomas, one of the best protagonists in fiction right now.
- Biblical Literalism by John Spong. Interesting take on modern biblical scholarship marred by the author’s condescension towards many of his coreligionists.
- The Damned by Andrew Pyper. Pyper’s Demonologist was my favorite book of 2014, so this one had a high bar. While The Damned didn’t keep me up at night (Demonologist did, seriously) it was still a great read.
- The Searcher by Simon Toyne. I loved Toyne’s Sanctus Trilogy and I think I will enjoy this new series just as much. Suspense with a dose of supernatural is my kind of beach book.
- Revival by Stephen King. King may not be in his prime any longer, but I’ll take 70% strength King over just about any other author for page turning fun.
- Night by Eli Wiesel. Holocaust classic right up there with Anne Frank. I read this because I had to teach it this year and I am very glad that I did. A hard but important book.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I teach this every year and therefore I periodically reread it. This was a reread year.
- Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry. Between last year’s Force Awakens and the build up to this year’s Rogue One I felt the need to read a Star Wars novel. It was OK. These stories just play better on a screen than on the page.
- The Fireman by Joe Hill. Stephen King’s son shows why I’ll have plenty of fun reads to look forward to for a long time to come.
- The Apostle by Tom Bissel. Interesting travelogue about the supposed burial sites of all twelve apostles.
- Midnight Sun by Ramsey Campbell. I read this years ago and decided to revisit it. I am so glad I did. Campbell makes his haunting setting the star of the book.
- The Sandman Volume 1 by Neil Gaiman. This was my first attempt at understanding the lure of graphic novels. As much as I love Gaiman it will probably be the last.
If 2016 has taught me anything it is that the celebrities I have grown up with are getting up there in years, and with my all-time favorite author turning 70, my mind has wandered to the day when I will have no more new Stephen King books waiting on my shelf.
Then I found out that the King legacy is in good hands. The Fireman, by Joe Hill, aka Stephen King’s son, is one of the best page turners I read in 2016. It is a novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.
One of the things that I have always loved about King’s works is the sense of place. Having grown up in New England I have always had the sense that geography was just as much a character as Pennywise, or The Man in Black. Luckily, King’s son, Joe Hill brings that same emphasis on place to his work. I don’t want to downplay Hill’s gifts as an author by simply comparing him to his father either. Because this book is very different from the elder King’s work. I found the characters to be a bit stronger, while the emphasis on the macabre was a bit lighter. All-in-all a great combination.