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Passing the time

Books

Passing the time

Four good reads amid social isolation

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel: This third volume of Mantel’s saga about Thomas Cromwell begins slowly as Mantel reminds readers of the history that led lowly Cromwell to his high position as Lord Privy Seal and Earl of Essex. As events lead inexorably to their final conclusion, Mantel depicts nobles hungry for power and determined to bring Cromwell down. Their ultimate end: to return England to the Roman church. Mantel chose to write about Cromwell because of the ambiguity—and there’s plenty of that in her portrayal of this complex man serving fickle Henry in turbulent times. WORLD readers will appreciate Cromwell’s desire to protect the gospel movement—while seeing how his desire for riches and power led to many compromises. Cautions: discussion of the king’s sex life and very infrequent obscenities.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (with Karen Swallow Prior): Jane Austen’s first novel tells the familiar story of two sisters with contrasting characters who face difficult circumstances, which they overcome. This beautifully bound edition has Karen Swallow Prior’s excellent introduction. Prior writes as an academic and a fan, which makes the introduction both insightful and readable. She probes into Austen’s Christian faith and her family life. Unlike current takes on Austen, Prior believes her faith was sincere and central. Prior explains many of the novel’s nuances, especially those that are difficult for the modern reader, such as inheritance rules. Notes sprinkled throughout the book define obscure terms. Book groups will find valuable Prior’s probing reflection questions at the end.

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson: Ex-cop and private investigator Jackson Brodie has a running silent conversation with his ex-girlfriend, who is also the mother of his sullen teenage son: “‘Must you always see the dark side of everything?’ Julia said. ‘Someone has to,’ Jackson said. ‘Yes, but does it have to be you?’” Caution: This novel contains plenty of darkness—sex trafficking and child sexual abuse (and profanity)—but Atkinson does not make evil appear good. Brodie may be flawed, but he’s also self-sacrificing with a protective desire to save vulnerable lost girls. Atkinson writes that Brodie “was the shepherd, he was the sheriff. The Lone Ranger. Or Tonto, perhaps.” But he’s a shepherd who hears Julia’s voice in his head, “You know tonto is Spanish for ‘stupid,’ don’t you?”

Reading Buechner by Jeffrey Munroe: In the introduction, Munroe writes, “I write primarily for those unfamiliar with the author I consider the greatest spiritual writer of our times.” He writes as a Buechner fan: “Frederick Buechner changed my life.” Buechner was a memoirist, and Part 1 touches on his biography and how he writes about his father’s suicide and his mother’s emotional distance—and how aspects of their personalities played out in his life and writings. Part 2 of the book looks at Buechner the novelist. Part 3, at his popular theological writings, and Part 4, at his sermons. Munroe writes well, and his admiration for Buechner is contagious.