Thursday, December 25, 2003

The man who can make me read fiction

There are many good reasons to read the Christian Science Monitor; we subscribed in order to get better international coverage than was available in the Big Name US newspapers. There's also it's accesibility: tabloid format, wonderful photography, and concise articles. It's the thinking person's USA Today.

But one of the unexpected delights has been Ron Charles' book reviews. His reviews, usually of novels, reveal the wonders of fiction so well that this confirmed non-fiction reader has often been brought to the point of (gasp!) reading fiction. And even when I don't read the book, his review gives me a sense of what I'm missing -- and slowly wears down my resistance to the emotional stress of reading novels.

I love the wit and passion that Charles brings to a usually stuffy genre. And can he write! Here's the opening paragraph of his piece on "Jesus in America: his changing image" by Stephen Prothero:
The Gospel of John concludes by claiming that if all the things Jesus did were written down, "the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." Unfortunately, the writers of Christmas music seem determined to meet John's challenge. Anyone who's endured the Cajun polka version of "Away in the Manger" knows that the world itself could not - and should not - contain any more of these things.

I'm also constantly impressed by the other reviews that Ron Charles commisions as book editor. The Monitor's Tuesday books section covers a broad range of topics, and each review is as well written as the next. In this week's issue, items include a survey of several new books that illuminate the origins of Christianity's modern diversity (I want to go out and read every single one), and a scathing report on Paul Johnson's latest hyperbolic pontification on art history, from the caves to 2003.

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