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Fiction and friction

(Illustration by Krieg Barrie)


Fiction and friction

Five memorable novels for brisk treadmill walking

Subscribers have asked what kinds of reading I particularly like to do on the treadmill. Answer: all kinds, but when I'm tired, two types-magazines and fiction-keep me going through two-a-days, half an hour each time at a brisk walking speed of 4 mph.

The regular magazines are WORLD and a mix of conservative and liberal publications: National Review, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and sometimes Time and Newsweek. The fiction ... well, five memorable novels set in Russia or its neighbors are among those I've relished. (Note: These contain occasional bad language and violent episodes.)

The most extraordinary is Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son (Random House, 2012), which terrifically evokes the terror of living in North Korea. Its non-straightforward plot makes it not right for everyone, but it kept me on the treadmill until my legs ached and my heart did as well for the millions imprisoned in their own land.

Others include:

Alex Dryden's The Blind Spy (Harper Collins, 2012), the third in a finely written series centered on Anna Resnikov, a KGB colonel who defects to America. Dryden combines insights into contemporary Ukrainian political intrigues with deft portrayals of those who tire of lies.

William Ryan's The Darkening Field (Minotaur, 2011), which evokes well the tensions of those-here, Captain Alexei Korolev, a 1937 Moscow criminal investigator-caught between the requirements of conscience and the desire to stay alive amid Stalinist purges and paranoia.

Tom Rob Smith's Agent 6 (Grand Central, 2012), the third of a trilogy featuring Leo Demidov, another good man caught in a corrupt system. From Russia to New York City, with an evocative Afghanistan stop in between, Demidov searches for the real story of his wife's murder.

See a common pattern? At least in the minds of the authors, and I suspect in reality, decades of collectivist propaganda could not extinguish individuality. These are all serious books that combine action and thought. I also enjoyed Andrey Kurkov's Death and the Penguin (Melville House, 2011), a mordant, Kafkaesque tale of a poor, aspiring journalist who has a penguin as a pet and gets work writing obituaries for local dignitaries who die soon after the obits are done.

Briefly noted

Timothy Dalrymple's Jeremy Lin: The Reason for the Linsanity (Center Street, 2012) skillfully alternates the background of New York Knicks ph­enom Jeremy Lin with accounts of the seven games that brought him to national attention.

Paul David Tripp writes in Forever (Zondervan, 2011) about "eternity amnesia," noting that "when it comes to the university classroom, the public square, and popular media, the concept of eternity is fundamentally absent." Tripp would like to hear a news anchor close the nightly broadcast by saying, "I know things often look bleak and chaotic, but remember that this is not all there is. We are all heading for eternity, where all that is broken will be finally and forever fixed."

The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry, edited by Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter (ISI, 2011), includes essays by writers who revere Berry's stand for individuality rather than individualism, liberty rather than libertarianism, and community rather than communitarianism.

If you're in your 60s an depressed about the rest of your life or unsure about what to do, it's worth reading Reboot: What to Do When Your Career Is Over but Your Life Isn't (Friesen, 2011). Author Phil Burgess asserts, based on good evidence, that "Many 'sixty somethings' are headed for the best years of their lives-including entrepreneurship, civic involvement, deeper friendships, heightened self-awareness, and increased wisdom and practical knowledge." Burgess does not emphasize as he should the difference a Christ-centered perspective makes, but his emphasis on the value of work-including volunteer and Good Samaritan work-is important.

Carl Wieland's One Human Family (Creation Ministries, 2011) articulately contrasts the biblical account of human origins with Darwinist understandings that have supported racism.