"The Horror! The horror!" the last words of the infamous Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, call attention to one of the worst episodes of systematic exploitation and murder in recent history.
Some of my students wear bracelets bearing the legend "WWJD"—What Would Jesus Do? Sometimes in the midst of a discussion about some hard issue, I ask a student sporting such a bracelet to apply that question to the problem. The replies range from embarrassed silence and empty platitudes to wonderfully astute observations. The astute replies are usually based on the story or stories of Jesus, and exercise what William Spohn calls "the analogical imagination."
This splendid and judiciously selected collection of sermons begins and ends in the promised land. Puritan Robert Cushman's sermon is the earliest extant sermon preached on American soil and the first to be printed. Given in Plymouth in 1621, it launches the American quest for the promised land with a heartfelt appeal to communal love and care.
Several years have passed since I last encountered a book by Annie Dillard, but her images remain as strong in the memory as Proust's madeleine. Her gaze concentrates on the ordinary until it is transformed into the transcendent: a tree so intensely colored that it gives off light; a sky's invisible clouds revealed only in reflected images on the surface of a glassy lake; a bowl of pond water where one-celled creatures are visible to the naked eye.
The literary critic John Bayley has written a deeply affecting lament for his late wife, the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, as she disappeared into the insidious fog of Alzheimer's. She died at roughly the same time the book was published, in January of this year. Yet Bayley's book is not only a threnody; it is also an epithalamium, a nuptial hymn offered in praise of their 40-some years of marriage.