New piece on James Wood in BOOKS & CULTURE

I’m always thrilled to appear in B&C, and since I didn’t manage, this time, to prepare some sort of “bonus content” to put here alongside the essay, I’ll briefly say why.

I have no idea what mailing list my dad’s address appeared on that caused him to be sent the first issue of B&C in 1995. A lot of weird print objects of variously Protestant provenances washed up on our shores back then. I do know that I pored over it for a solid year. This is a partial list of stuff I learned from that one issue:

  1. That there was a person in the world named Annie Dillard.
  2. That Dillard was a major Christian writer who smoked, drank, and voted for Clinton.
  3. That there were Christians in the world who smoked, drank, and voted for Clinton. (I knew about Catholics and about liberal Protestants, but they weren’t really Christians, except occasionally, and by fortuitous accident, like G.K. Chesterton. I didn’t yet know of the existence of the Eastern Orthodox.)
  4. That I loved Annie Dillard’s sentences.
  5. That I wanted to marry Annie Dillard.
  6. That there were, in fact, such people as the Eastern Orthodox. I learned about this a few pages later from a piece on icons by Frederica Mathewes-Greene.
  7. That there were Christians who thought affirmative action was a good or at least defensible idea. (There is diversity of thought? Among Christians? About an issue beyond “whether to build a gym out back?”)
  8. That there was a writer named Larry Woiwode, who really liked a writer named John Gardner, and that I needed to get ahold of books by Larry Woiwode and John Gardner immediately.
  9. That there was such a thing as “Christian intellectual life”; that it wasn’t just my dad, alone, up late after his shifts at Wal-Mart, with his books of Protestant scholasticism, Jack Chick-style conspiracy, and (somewhat incongruously) Lewis, Chesterton, and Dostoevsky.

We couldn’t afford to subscribe. (The ’90s were tough.) But anyone who knows me well knows that this pretty much set the agenda for my intellectual life for the next couple of years. Calvin College provided the territory, but this was the first map I ever saw. I feel about B&C the way some guys feel about the first time they saw a Godard film, or heard Wu-Tang Clan, or the Sex Pistols. I feel about it the way many women feel about their first taste of Joanna Russ or Helene Cixous or Gwendolyn Brooks. “This exists. There’s a world where I belong.”

One response to “New piece on James Wood in BOOKS & CULTURE

  1. There was a summer in the mid-80s, when I was working for a Mennonite bi-weekly, that I felt similarly about the Reformed Journal — Christians! who don’t just talk about movies between publishing church news, but actually publish movie reviews as church news! etc. — so much so, that I went ahead and gambled a stamp on their recent “Best Of” book. In my case, I should have ignored the siren song of the book and stuck with the occasional polishing of my amber-enclosed memories.

    In your case, however, I’m pleased to see your critical voice being given a worthy platform. James Wood, eh? So much rigour, so much of the time.

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