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Winterizing the library: Books to read when things get cozy

Orangeaurochs CC

Russell E. Saltzman - published on 12/13/16

There's a lot to look forward to when the temperature begins to drop

It is snowing in Kansas City, Missouri, today. Only flurries, it is promised. This first snow isn’t exactly early but, then, it isn’t exactly late either. I like my winter wonderlands confined to a calendar image. There is only one thing to do: read. Find a mug of something hot, a comfortable chair, proper lighting, and a quiet place; a burrow will do. Here are some of the books coming with me.

Murdering the President: Alexander Graham Bell and the Race to Save James Garfield by Fred Rosen. James A. Garfield, 20th president of the United States for 200 days, was murdered. Yes, yes, of course, there was that assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, who shot him. But Garfield did not linger and die; he was recovering. And then he wasn’t. Instead, in true-crime investigative historian Rosen’s thesis, he was killed by his doctor, D.W. Bliss. Bliss was more than incompetent, according to Rosen, he was criminally responsible. Beyond that, the book is an intriguing historical survey of the the mid-19th-century, politics and culture. It was during the 1880s that the basis for every electromagnetic device we take for granted today was developed.

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel PhilbrickFunny thing is, Washington and Arnold had very little to do with one another. They met but infrequently. So the book is really a contrast in temperaments, personalities, and character. Arnold is a brilliant, vainly ambitious, twice-wounded military commander. Washington is, well, Washington. Arnold is a simmering figure, easily affronted and never, in his own opinion, given his proper due by Congress nor compensated well enough. In that respect he was probably right. He is also revealed as the money-grasping traitor most histories portray him to be. Washington, usually an otherwise fair judge of character, harbored lingering affection for the flawed Arnold. Even after a court martial required Washington to deliver an official reprimand to Arnold, Washington was promising him a military command. Arnold complained much, kept grudges and, in the 18th-century way, tweeted a lot. Arnold’s story doesn’t end as tragedy but more as travesty. Philbrick is an excellent narrative historian.

Water into Wine: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel by Ray Keating. The first time we meet the intrepid Lutheran Pastor Stephan Grant, a former CIA agent with notches on his gun, he has saved Pope Augustine from a knife-wielding monk. The pastor of St. Mary’s Lutheran Church on Long Island (yes, there are Lutheran congregations named for St. Mary), Grant seems to be one of those pastors who ends up everywhere at once, and St. Mary’s seems to be one of those parishes that takes pastoral absences calmly. In this adventure, sixth in the series, wine counterfeiters (no, I haven’t heard of that either) infest the vineyards. When Grant’s around, nobody messes with the communion wine. Like the other thrillers in the series, it does somehow seem to hang together. (Self disclosure: Keating is a friend but that is hardly the only reason for recommending Water into Wine for a winter escape.)

If you are looking for a Catholic thriller hero, in The Name of the Beast by Daniel Easterman the pope ends up going mano-a-mano against a former seminary classmate gone apostate, in the Great Pyramid, at midnight, 2000. This thriller has lost the millennium connection of 2000, but it is still fun reading.

DOCAT: What to Do? This is billed as a guide for forming young people in Roman Catholic social doctrine. Based off the YOUCAT catechism for middle school and high school students, DOCAT at 320 pages may be a couple of steps beyond, maybe three or four steps beyond. There are 17 pages of index scrunched into 6 point type. (My bifocaled vision betrays the frustration.) There are some things wasted on youth. This is one of them. I’d like to say the text is a breezy quick read, but it is not. However it is thorough, in a “youthful” Q&A format, one of the things other reviewers have pointed out, but it offers no simplistic explanations, no answers that do not require thought and discussion. It is lush in topics, everything from the use of social media to the proper functions of the state. Yet I just don’t see catechists running through this with half-attentive young people. This is a serious presentation of Catholic social life. I do see this in use among late high school and early college ages on. For that matter, my copy isn’t entirely without thumb prints. Besides, you know you’ve got something serious when there is a study guide as a recommended companion.

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