Weekend Reads: For manly men
by Caleb Nelson
Posted on Saturday, May 17, 2014, at 9:30 am
Boys of Blur
By N.D. Wilson
Boys of Blur (Random House, 2014) is another of N.D. Wilson’s beautiful treatments of fatherhood. The reanimated corpses with a clear zombie heritage (the “Stanks”) are simply extras.
The story is set in Taper, Fla., population 600, which just happens to be built on a site where wicked men conducted demon worship for centuries. Twelve-year-old Charlie Reynolds is the stepson of former NFL star Prester Mack, who is returning to his hometown to coach football. There, Charlie runs into his abusive biological father, his half-brother—and his homeschooled cousin Cotton Mack. Wilson gets a lot of mileage out of homeschool jokes. After all, he teaches at a college (New Saint Andrews in Moscow, Idaho) whose primary demographic is homeschooled. Anyone who’s studied Latin at the dining room table will have a hard time keeping a straight face. But the book’s primary emphasis remains on public school sports and the genuine fatherhood of all the good coaches.
Charlie’s mother Natalie is lovingly drawn. The reader meets her at a funeral. She’s barefoot in a black dress with her high heels in her hand, and it will be a hard-hearted reader indeed who doesn’t fall in love. She survived an abusive husband, but blossoms under Prester Mack’s manly care.
The big battle with the Stanks partakes heavily of Wilson’s stock imagery: dreams, witches, life-sucking dead things, and the heroic boy who conquers with the help of his father. And don’t forget the scene where Charlie chases a panther across the football field during the big rivalry game, minutes before the Stanks invade the stadium.
Wilson wants to show us that otherworldly adventures can happen right here in the modern U.S. of A.—which he does. But he also, somehow, succeeds in making the whiz-bang supernatural stuff secondary. This book is about a family happy in the father’s love.
Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self
By Stephen Mansfield
The book’s title, Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self (Thomas Nelson, 2013), is self-explanatory. Stephen Mansfield, author of The Faith of George W. Bush and other books on faith and public figures, has boiled manliness down to this: Manly men do manly things. Manly men tend their fields, build manly men, and live to the glory of God.
The first maxim means that masculinity is not in talk but in power. Mansfield concludes that modern American culture, both in secular society and in the church, is given to intellectual discussions that never result in action. It’s hard to disagree. So, though he has written a book, he insists repeatedly that this book is supposed to result in doing. The major action of a man is to faithfully carry out his responsibilities—to tend his field, whatever it might be. You may be responsible for half a dorm room and a rusty car. Or you may be a father of 10, own multiple homes, and sit on several boards of trustees. Retelling his experience as a football player with a particular zone to defend, Mansfield insists that genuine manliness consists of actively maintaining everything for which you are responsible. No man can do this if he lives for worldly glory and affirmation. Manliness is possible only for men firmly committed to seeking the glory of God.
Most of the book is taken up with vignettes of men who exemplified the four maxims. The chapter on Jonathan, who exemplified friendship and “strengthened David’s hand in God,” is outstanding. Very few American men over 30 have close male friends, says Mansfield. Don’t let that happen to you, he adds.
Manliness is a habit resulting from a series of choices. So make the right ones.
Caleb is the pastor of Harvest Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Gillette, Wyo.