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Books recently read and enjoyed
Posted Monday, December 12, 2011 2:11 PM
The UM library is a terrific asset. I often find things there that have been recommended by friends, mentioned in reviews or cited in other reading. I appreciate the work of librarians and academics who have shaped the collection. I found the Berlin Noir trilogy (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, A German Requiem) by Philip Kerr in Dafoe after a conversation with Mark Gabbert. These detective stories are set in Germany during and after the period of Nazi ascendency; the first is dark with some amusing repartee, with the others much darker and less amusing as the historical circumstances became increasingly bleak. Kerr gives a compelling sense of a terrible time so that when I had finished these good books I was eager to shift to other material.

Talking with my brother Paul reminded me that I had read only some of the library’s holdings by the Christian theologian Walter Brueggemann when I arrived, so I retrieved the remainder (Dafoe, St. John’s, St. Paul’s) and read them. His work is stimulating, a long way from the narrower intellectual space in which I grew up and relaxing reading. Brueggemann referenced the Jewish theologian Jon D. Levenson; I picked up several of his books on another round of visits. Levenson probes into the layering of texts in the Hebrew Bible and the development of theological understanding this represents.

Micheal O’Siadhail (who visited last year) sent some unpublished poems I have read a few times. His work was powerful when I first encountered it; since we have become friends I appreciate it at a deeper level of shared understanding. I gained a different deeper understanding from Native Poetry in Canada: A Contemporary Anthology by Jeannette C. Armstrong and Lally Grauer, a valued gift from new colleague Deborah Young.

My long-time friend George Logan talked about working with Steven Greenblatt on The Norton Anthology of English Literature, which prompted me to buy Greenblatt’s new book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. The story of how Lucretius’ poem “On the Nature of Things” began to be widely read during the Renaissance is a narrative thread around which Greenblatt weaves many ideas and references to many books. A brilliant piece of work like this could serve as a starting point for a seminar on the history of important ideas — or an informal personal reading program for someone who likes to dabble. Hm …
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