In any case, his discussion of "The Best Books I Read in 2013" (Catholic World Report, January 1, 2014) has all the earmarks of his delightfully fast-paced and insightful prose:
Marshall McLuhan’s academic comet ride once lent his name celebrity cachet on college campuses, but he wrote with more prescience than he knew. Even as his fame evaporates, his uncannily spot-on predictions and maxims about technology’s warp-speed escalation more and more are taken for granted. Less known is the fact that McLuhan himself was ardent Catholic convert. Quirky Gen X author Douglas Coupland portrays the man as a latter-day prophet without honor in Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! Informing and entertaining, this little monograph is the best matching of biographer and beast I can recall, a virtual “Vulcan mind-meld” of two cultural mavericks.
In Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, Steven Johnson provides reflexive counterpoint to McLuhan. He probably wouldn’t convince the Canadian professor, but he might make some of those Santas who just bought Xbox 360s feel a bit better. From a more theological perspective, Arthur Hunt’s The Vanishing Word is an overlooked coda for Christian logophiles.
Rome’s introduction of a revised ritual roused my own liturgical interests, so N.T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms made for timely reading. But, even as a fan of some of Wright’s earlier stuff, I wasn’t ready for the semi-poetic quality of his prose achievement here. Older (much) but also affecting are William S. Plumer’s Studies on the Book of Psalms (incidentally, also fun to mention simply as the physically largest commentary on a single book of the Bible I have ever seen—so oversized that even describing it as a “thick doorstop of a book” doesn’t quite fit), and C.C. Martindale’s Towards Loving the Psalms. A last-century British Jesuit and compatriot of Maisie Ward’s, Martindale also wrote four consecutive books on the Mass for laymen. Of these, The Words of the Missal is best, with the bonus of an appendix that’s a sort of miniature “Latin for Dummies.”
Frustration with my Anchor Bible Dictionary’s insistent obfuscation sent me back to some clear-headed evangelical sources on Scripture. In The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer—taking cues from Hans von Balthasar, no less—shreds linguistic deconstructionism and proves Hans Frei and George Lindbeck to be sporting the Emperor’s New Clothes. Elsewhere, J.I. Packer’s “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God reminded me how essentially “fundamentalist” Catholic teaching on the Bible arguably is; and Thy Word is Still Truth, an anthology materializing out of Philadelphia’s quite reformed Westminster Theological Seminary, reminded me how very sane it is as well.
My graphic designer’s hat probably explains why I may be the only conservatively-inclined person I know with kind words for Martin Erspamer’s faux-iconic engravings in The Liturgical Press’ typographically savvy if contemporarily-bent Ritual Roman Missal. Another writer who weighs in with convincingly friendly comments on the larger topic of Modern Art: The Men, the Movements, the Meaning is Thomas Craven.
I remain a fanboy of Lemony Snicket, who made me happy by cranking out a second installment of All The Wrong Questions. Questions aplenty are also part of the mix in the volatile-if-mournful post-conciliar Molotav cocktail poured by Anne Roche Muggeridge in The Gates of Hell—though I’m not at all sure her answers make me too happy. Much the same can be said of Alice von Hildebrand’s necessary The Dark Night of the Body. There’s more wisdom on sex in what she doesn’t say than most of what is said—and incessantly so—nowadays. The presence of more inflammatorily counter-cultural wisdom—and this on the uncomfortable gay question—also distinguishes Rosaria Butterfield’s Secrets of an Unlikely Convert.
Congratulations, Mr. Noir!! Of course, there are other lists suggested by the likes of Dana Gioia, Anthony Esolen, Thomas Howard, Michael Coren, Joseph Pearce, James V. Schall, Brandon Vogt, and many more. Read more >>Last loose ends…David Main’s terrific novel on the WWF champ of the O.T., The Book of Samson, is compulsively readable. Victor Davis Hansen’s The End of Sparta is another worthwhile candidate for those non-existent Men’s Reading Groups. In Coincidentally, Father George Rutler’s amusing mind whirs along so fast you’ll likely find yourself reeling at the thought of keeping up—so you’re better off just enjoying it with the assist of some heavily-spiked New Year’s punch. Three very different books, each hinging on the question of race, provide positive perspectives on a hot button issue: Robert Norrell’s Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington; Caroline Hemesath’s story of Augustine Tolton, From Slave to Priest; and John Piper’s autobiographical Bloodlines. And lastly, race, faith, and masculinity comprise three panels that make for a not-to-be-missed Mandarin conversion triptych in John C. Wu’s Beyond East and West.
[Hat tip to JM]