The Modern Novel: A Short Introduction
By Jesse Matz
Jesse Matz covers an impressive amount of ground in this book, published as part of a Blackwell series of concise introductions to great authors and literary movements. On the one hand, he is dealing strictly with Modernism, the early twentieth-century flourishing of innovation and experimentation exemplified by such authors as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. But Matz, a member of Kenyon's English faculty since 2001, reaches backward and forward as well, placing Modernism in a continuum that includes Hawthorne and Pynchon, Flaubert and Rushdie. He succinctly discusses subjects ranging from changing concepts of realism, to new forms of narration, to ways of approaching political issues, to Modernism's reputation for difficulty. Throughout, the study is well organized and clear, subtle and authoritative but consistently accessible: an excellent resource for the general reader who cares about literature and its complex responses to a complicated world.
The Little Blue What-to-Do
By Zachary Nowak '99 and Alan Whykes
Green Door Publishing
It's not hard nowadays to find travel guides with personality, but if you're heading for Perugia, Italy, you owe it to yourself to pick up The Little Blue What-To-Do. Nowak, who has lived in Italy since graduating from Kenyon in 1999--he's harvested apples, taught English, tended bar, and worked on an Alpine dairy farm--originally wrote this book as a guide for foreign students. But the book is chock-full of valuable information for the casual tourist as well as the sojourner. Most of all, it's great fun, written in a breezy style and brimming with inside knowledge, odd facts, and refreshing surprises (recipes, poems, even a short lexicon of hand gestures). Nowak tells you where to find everything from food markets, to public bathrooms, to costumes. The major tourist attractions are here. But so is a particular archway in the Piazza Italia where the acoustics are uncanny. That's the charm of this irresistible guide.
The Next Hedgerow: A Correspondence
By Harry Rutkoff and Peter Rutkoff
Harry Rutkoff died at thirty-nine, of wounds he received in the fierce hedgerow fighting in France during World War II. His son, Peter, was seven at the time. The Kenyon community, of course, knows Peter as a teacher, scholar, and versatile author who explores American culture in a variety of genres--an historical study of the arts in New York, a novel about baseball and race relations, a fictionalized memoir about youth, love, and summer camp. The Next Hedgerow, a collection of stories, poetry, and wartime letters by his father, coupled with a story of his own, is at once a personal document and an extension of Peter Rutkoff's broader cultural work. In preserving the particular voice of his father, he is also bequeathing to readers something of the flesh, blood, and spirit of a generation that, even as it vanishes, serves as a touchstone for contemporary America. "Their accents are the fingerprints of identity that keep their memory alive," Rutkoff writes. Memory flows strong in this slender book.
Calculus (Newton's Whores)
By Carl Djerassi '43 H'58
Imperial College Press (World Scientific Publishing)
A president obsessed with revenge and surrounded by minions who claim their leader can do no wrong. The scandal of a government investigative committee, secretly stacked with sycophants. Charges of plagiarism and the messy mix of politics and religion with science. The year was 1712.
Sir Isaac Newton is most often remembered for discovering the laws of motion and gravity and for "unweaving the rainbow" (as Yeats lamented) to reveal principles of color and optics. But another of his revolutionary intellectual accomplishments was the development of the mathematical method he termed the "theory of fluxions." History tells us that German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz independently developed the same mathematics several years later, his "calculus" using a different (and ultimately prevailing) symbolic notation. While Newton hid his creation in coded notebooks, Leibniz was the first to publish his method and was then charged with plagiarism.
In this play, Carl Djerassi explores the scientific, psychological, political, and religious friction involved in the Newton-Leibniz battle. Calculus (Newton's Whores) appears in a volume called Newton's Darkness, which includes a companion play by David Pinner, Newton's Hooke. Together, the two plays illuminate the shadowy morals of the great scientist.
The all-too-human impulses entangled with the process of scientific discovery have provided Djerassi with a rich literary subject, as the noted chemist in recent years has turned his attention to writing works that he calls "science in fiction." In Calculus, he uses the form of a play within a play, shaping his story around the infamous 1712 commission established by Britain's Royal Society to assign priority for the invention of calculus. The strength of the play lies in its imagining of the moral calculus at work as Newton, the society's president, furtively controls the commission's anonymous report.
The desire for (anonymous) revenge that so tainted the ethics of Newton is mirrored in the external story, in which two playwrights plot to expose Newton's scandal. "What purpose is served by showing that England's greatest natural philosopher is flawed . . . like other mortals?" is the question that frames the play.
To be sure, the relationships between scientists often reflect a spirit of collaboration, generosity, and mutual admiration. Djerassi reminds us that great intellects are not immune to envy, competitiveness, and a craving for credit. In probing the dark side of Sir Isaac Newton, Calculus makes us wonder whether we can, or should, separate the authority of science from the ethics of the scientist.
--Scott Cummings, associate professor of chemistry
Life Lessons from Alpha to Omega
By Richard H. Schmidt '66
Retired Episcopal priest Richard Schmidt has a gift for recognizing contemporary theological currents in mainline Protestantism and applying them to lived experience in ways that are thoughtful, humorous, and often intensely personal. His newest book, Life Lessons from Alpha to Omega, is a good example--an engaging work of popular theology presented through autobiographical vignettes.
The title gives away his intention. The Greek letters alpha and omega are a traditional Christian symbol for Jesus Christ, signifying that Christ embraces everything from A to Z. Fittingly, then, Schmidt's reflections are incarnational: they are rooted in the totality of lived experience and concerned with ideas of God that arise from everyday life.
The biographical short form reflects Schmidt's suspicion of rigid theological systems. "I once thought that theological precision and purity were critical, and I plowed through theological books seeking to understand the key teachings of the Christian faith," he writes. But experience has led him to see Christianity as "a living thing, always growing and evolving." Rather than insisting that experience conform to a fixed theology, he has allowed the people and situations he's encountered to change what he thinks, a key life lesson that is one of his book's major themes.
Schmidt does not shy away from some of the controversies rocking the contemporary church. He discusses homosexuality, marital infidelity, money, and the decline in Sunday-service attendance in mainline churches. His positions, however, are personal, not didactic. The section on homosexuality tells us how he came to change his mind about the ordination of gay priests through interactions with a friend who is gay, but his relationships with those vehemently opposed to the Episcopal church's recent consecration of a gay bishop preclude any easy partisanship on his part. Such issues are messy, Schmidt implies, because experience itself is messy, and a theology rooted in experience must acknowledge this fact.
There is a necessary humility in Schmidt's thought. He does not pretend to know all the ultimate answers, yet his doubts do not leave him feeling insecure. In the essay on doubt, he relates how his student days at Kenyon brought him into contact with "students and faculty who didn't believe any of the things I believed." This caused a crisis in his faith that, to his distress, wasn't resolved by the time he was ordained as a priest. Yet the anxiety has diminished over time. He writes that he has "concluded that doubt is not really opposed to faith. The opposite of faith is indifference, and I've never been indifferent to God."
The vignettes in Life Lessons from Alpha to Omega are rooted in Schmidt's life within the community of the church, but in the preface he expresses the hope that people from all walks of life will find them useful. Indeed, readers of every background should find his reflections accessible, down to earth, and enjoyable.
--Karl Stevens '95, Episcopal chaplain to Kenyon College
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