Letter from the Editor
I know we've talked about this aura—the evocative power of a date, a year—but "2015" has a science-fictiony resonance for me, and not because that year featured prominently in one of the installments of Back to the Future. It was such an easy trick the sci-fi writers used, and it worked every time: casually mention a year, the way a newspaper article would, but in the future, which seemed to make the imagined world of the story palpably real. To a ten-year-old boy in 1958, for whom even 1945 was the Past, "2015" was enough by itself to create a powerful yearning (even when the fictional reality attached to it was in some respects dark and forbidding).
And now, close to 60 years later, we're here. Oddly, some of that sense of anticipation has been transferred to books—"forthcoming books," as they are called. (I can still remember the awe and fascination I felt when I first encountered that phrase and learned what it meant. In fact, I still feel it strongly.) This is the time of year when publishers' catalogues for the next season, some still in printed form, some digital only, are arriving in great numbers, and I read them as avidly as I did Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and Andre Norton in 1958. Intelligence reports on forthcoming books come from other sources, too (I am always on the lookout), and then there are the books themselves in the form of galleys: many still in printed form, but increasingly as e-galleys too.
All of this floats around in my head. There are books I have heard about that I can't wait to see, others that sound at least possibly intriguing, others that are now in one of my stacks of bound galleys or on my Kindle, others still that I have actually read but am nonetheless "looking forward to" (as illogical as that may sound) because they haven't been officially published yet—the "finished book" isn't out. I think about possible reviewers, books that might be paired, special sections, and other such editorial matters, but beyond that there's a sense of a vast ongoing happening, only some fragments of which will come into my ken.
On p. 35 of this issue, Linda McCullough Moore reviews Alice Munro's Family Furnishings: Selected Stories 1995-2014, making the case that Munro's 15 collections of stories together tell a single overarching tale. Moore imagines a skeptical response:
"And what is the plot of this novel?" the marketing department must immediately ask. They do get all the speaking parts these days, and surely won't accept the one word, "Life," in answer.
Now as it happens, Munro is a writer who has always left me cold. But I love Munro as seen through the eyes of Linda McCullough Moore, and I especially love what she says here (which reminds me of another writer I love, Eudora Welty). And this connection to an overarching story, far beyond my grasp, is what I feel when I am sitting in my rocking-chair at home, turning the pages of the Spring/Summer 2015 catalogue from the University of Texas Press and coming across a description of Edward Wakeling's The Photographs of Lewis Carroll: A Catalogue Raisonné, just a few minutes after encountering Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland near the front of Harvard University Press's Spring/Summer catalogue. (Don't be misled by the subtitle.)
One of the many books I'm looking forward to in 2015 is Rachel Howzell Hall's Skies of Ash, due in May from Forge. This will be the second installment in a series featuring Elouise Norton, a black homicide detective in the LAPD. (The first book in the series, Land of Shadows, was published in June 2014.) There are dozens of crime series these days featuring tough women protagonists, many of them following a formula to the point of self-parody. Lou Norton stands out. The plot of her first outing is rickety, but then Raymond Chandler—who is quoted in the epigraph for Land of Shadows—wasn't much good at plotting, either, which didn't keep him from being one of the best American writers of his time. I'm looking forward to hearing Lou's voice again.
One of my favorite suspense novelists is Andrew Klavan. Here's a bit from my review of his January 2013 novel A Killer in the Wind:
[L]ike a number of Klavan's earlier books, A Killer in the Wind deals in the uncanny. (Klavan's faithful readers will be reminded especially of his early novel The Scarred Man, published under the pseudonym Keith Peterson.) You see something that seems impossible. What do you do? Tell yourself you didn't see it? Make an appointment with a psychiatrist? Or do you say, all right, that happened, even though I can't explain it. What does it tell me? What does it mean?
This very much applies to Klavan's new novel, Werewolf Cop, due in March from Perseus. I've read the galley, and I think it might be his best book yet, which is saying a lot.
Another writer I greatly admire is the historian Bruce Kuklick, who has contributed a number of pieces to B&C over the years. Here's what I wrote about his Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger, which was one of my favorite books of 2006:
Kuklick is a historian with an uncommon range, taking up subjects as various as American philosophy and the social history of baseball in Philadelphia. His new book, the best I've read this year on U.S. foreign policy and one of the most enjoyable books of the year in any category, focuses on efforts in the postwar era to bring foreign policy into the domain of scientific analysis. Coolly ironic, studded with intellectual biographies-in-miniature of a fascinating cast of characters, Blind Oracles is perhaps too impartial to win the wide acclaim it deserves.
His new book, written with Emmanuel Gerard, a professor of history at the University of Leuven in Belgium, is Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba, due in February from Harvard University Press. I have read a galley of this unsparing chronicle, and I am already sure that it will be one of my favorite books of 2015.
Finally, I want to recommend Barry Strauss's The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination, due in March from Simon & Schuster. (This one also I've had a chance to read ahead of time.) Here's what I wrote about Strauss's 2009 book The Spartacus War, one of my favorites of that year:
Yes, that Spartacus, the one played by Kirk Douglas in a memorable movie almost 50 years ago, the gladiator who led a daring slave rebellion in Roman Italy between 73 and 71 BC. Barry Strauss, a historian who writes superbly for the general reader, tells the story in a fast-paced narrative that is deeply informed by scholarship but that never loses its momentum. Christian readers will be provoked to think about Spartacus in the light of another rebel, one of a very different kind, who won victory by submitting to crucifixion.
It's especially interesting to read The Death of Caesar side-by-side with Death in the Congo.
There are many more books I'm looking forward to in 2015, but these are a handful that will repay your attention.
Copyright © 2015 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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