Small Things Recently Finished 12/15/05 – 01/15/06

The American Scholar 74.4: It still does not measure up to the heights of the Fadiman days, in either appearance or content, but there are few if any other periodicals that can take its place on one’s reading list. A half-point is knocked off for having given Kitty Kelley not only print space but a picture. Let us hope this is but an anomaly. Pieces worth looking at: Peter Filkins’ “Letter from Berlin”; an excellent photograph accompanies Adam Goodheart’s local-focus article “Tea and Fantasy”; David Chanoff’s “Education Is My Mother and My Father” is especially interesting when set along side D. Eggers’ similar pieces for The Believer; “Custom and Law” by Melvin Jules Bukiet is an interesting meditation on the role of ritual when belief is no longer there. The poetry found in this issue is of a piece with most contemporary poetry — jumpy, dull, and without interesting language. One must wonder why most of our poets even bother.

The Believer 1.3: Oh how I love this magazine. Enough to purchase back issues and gobble them up as soon as I get them. Few articles in this issue are dull; nothing would be lost, however, in passing by Rorty’s interview, or the Tool/Mammal/etc. bits found here (other issues are another matter), or Brian Evenson’s article on Steve Erickson — and this not because it is written badly, but because Erickson just isn’t really all that good. John Giuffo’s “We Are All Harkonnens” is wonderful, timely, and worth the cost of the issue; Tom Bissell’s “The Banality of Reality” starts OK, flattens out in the middle, and finishes with a powerful burst. “Babette’s Feast and the Reclamation of Melodrama” by Jim Shepard focuses on one of the most difficult-to-watch movies ever made, and, last but not least, the interview with Timothy Taylor is worth the time. Buy it, read it, keep it, encourage others to do the same.

First Things No. 159: Another below-standards issue. From the tedious letters arguing over Intelligent Design to “The Designs of Science”, yet another article on the relation of The Church to science, there is little of interest to be found. The only article of note is Algis Valiunas’ “Spirit in the Abstract”, a nice rejoinder to Roger Kimball and his fellow barbarians. Is much abstract art awful and pointless? Sure. Sturgeon’s Law applies in art as it does anywhere else. There is also much that is good and worth a hard look-see. Neuhaus posts a nice attack on the NAB and its use in worship; there is, sadly, little that jumps out of this month’s “While We’re At It”, though that isn’t the writer’s fault. Much is to be expected of this journal, and little has been generated in recent months.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling; illustrated by Mary GrandPré. Rowling clearly knows what she is doing. She has adopted a plotting formula that has held fast for six books, and has ensured that the seventh and final book will be unable to follow the same formula; this means she is likely telling the truth that she will be All But Done with Harry once the next book is released. Good for her. Harry and his Posse continue to flout the rules and get away with most everything; Snape continues in his bipolar ways; teen love and lust appear but are kept well under control. This is not to say that the book is bad, or unenjoyable — far from it, really. It is, rather, to say that it is a book for tweens and below, albeit one that is well-written enough for adults to enjoy (do, however, search for “shotgun” at this link; I believe that most children are well-aware of the plot holes and weaknesses of the books they love). These are enjoyable tales; this book is a worthy addition to the series.

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