“Anyone who reads independently and spiritedly is going to carry an eclectic canon around in his head,” writes Christian Wiman. “That is half the fun of it all.”
For the past five years or so, I have had the responsibility of coming up with the novels to put on the Century’s list of Christmas picks for fiction. At first I was baffled by this job. Did I have to read every new book?
The title of Nathaniel Philbrick’s slim new meditation foregrounds the questions at the heart of every assignment made by every English teacher: Why read this book? Or that book? For that matter, why do we assign reading in the first place?
These days it’s a rare novel that addresses disturbing social issues without flinching and treats religious faith as a force for good, without denying the complexity of either. That combination makes Rachel Simon’s book, newly available in paperback, a pleasure to read and a fine choice for book clubs.
Isabel Dalhousie, the Edinburgh-based philosopher who edits the Journal of Applied Ethics, is not everyone's cup of tea. Her niece, Cat, is usually irritated with her. The former chair of her editorial board, Professor Lettuce, can't stand her. And quite a few fans of Alexander McCall Smith's No.
Rash writes stories that have as much impact as any I've read; those in this
collection often left me feeling as if I'd been kicked. Rash lives in and writes
about Appalachia, and his stories never leave that home, even when they're set
at the end of the civil war ("Lincolnites").