best book in a long time

I was encouraged by a history prof of mine not to spend all my time doing school work. So a friend here recommended that I start reading some of Walker Percy's social criticism works at night while I was trying to fall asleep. I started with Lost in the Cosmos: the Last Self-Help Book written in the early '80s at the height of the self-help movement. Wow. This is one of those books that I have a hard time not recommending to everyone I know. It was like reading Mere Christianity or Shushaku Endo's Silence for the first time--an epiphenal experience. Those of you who know me are probably a bit skeptical of my recommendation. Afterall, you might think--"E thinks Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the books, not the movie) one of the more profound series ever written, almost peed his pants when he heard Sufjan for the first time, and, frankly, doesn't get out that much"--and you'd be right on all three counts. So take any book recommendations I make with several grains of salt. But here are the things to recommend the book: (1) Walker Percy was a serious christian who thought seriously about what it meant to be a christian in our culture--I hate leading with this one, but it is an important point; (2) he wrote fiction and non-fiction, including The Thanatos Syndrome and The Moviegoer, two great books; (3) the whole book is set up like a self-help quiz that can't possibly be answered; (4) it's funny; (5) it seems to correctly diagnose the special problem of living in the 20th/21st century that makes being a believer in anything tough; (6) it's not that long of a book; (7) if you've ever had a "Jerry Maguire moment" where you stay up all night thinking about what's wrong with the world only to find out that the world thinks everything is going along quite smoothly without your input, thank you, and by the way you're fired--this will make sense of that moment. All right, enough out of me. Go back to your regularly scheduled lives. But don't say I didn't warn you.


Blogger Andy Whitman said...

I love that book, as I do all of Walker Percy's writings. He has a later book of non-fiction ("Signposts in a Strange Land") that is very good, but I think his fiction is even better. You definitely should check out his novels -- "The Moviegoer," "Lancelot," "The Last Gentleman," "Love in the Ruins," and "The Second Coming."

Percy was lifelong friends with Civil War historian Shelby Foote, whose "The Civil War: A Narrative" is both a superb history of the Civil War and a sublime piece of writing. There's a great book of the letters they exchanged entitled, appropriately enough, "The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy" (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393040313/qid=1143773410/sr=1-18/ref=sr_1_18/102-1324262-2396963?s=books&v=glance&n=283155). It's a wonderful, warm record of a prickly friendship that lasted sixty years.

Here's something I wrote on my blog about both men last June, when Foote died: http://andywhitman.blogspot.com/2005/06/death-war-friendship.html

3/30/2006 9:56 PM  

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