Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Book of 7 Truths – Calvin Miller

© 1997, HarperSanFransisco (an imprint of HarperCollins), New York

Calvin Miller is one of my faith heroes. He is also what is as close to a renaissance man to walk the ground in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He is a poet, writer, and artist. He has also been everything from a pastor to a professor in the realm of Christian life. Several years ago, he penned this little treasure—a story within a story.

Narrator Antón Beaufort recounts the events surrounding the loss of his legs at the age of ten. Those events were complicated by the Great Depression which pressured his parents to move the small family from their Louisiana farm to the jobless factories of Chicago and the north. The promise of work and sustenance eludes the family and throws them into the path of Hajji Rhovee—an old turbaned doctor who appears in their lives only to leave copies of a little red book. In the book, is the story of Hajji’s youth. A tale that encourages and challenges people of the Christian faith what their faith is all about. The seven truths:

  1. Follow Only the Guide Who’s Been Where You Want to Go
  2. The Task Ahead of You Is not as Great as the Power within You
  3. You Cannot Help People if You Are Always with People
  4. Happiness Is a Choice, Misery Is an Option
  5. Wisdom Lives Only on the Far Side of Pain
  6. Never Love Life More Than the Reason It Was Given to You
  7. Stop Living Only When You Die

As tales go, the story within the story is the more compelling of the two tales. The occasion for the retelling of Hajji’s journey to help a village he did not want to help is more predictable and serves simply as the opportunity to hear the real story—Hajji’s story. If all you read is the chapters in which Hajji’s little red book is recorded, you’ll be glad you did. Find a copy of The Book of 7 Truths and enjoy.

4½ out of 5 reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, January 27, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Confession – John Grisham

© 2010 New York, Doubleday

Sixteen years ago, John Grisham spent nearly 500 pages having us sit beside a man on death row. The book was The Chamber. The impact was minimal. The story was just long. As much as I enjoy reading Grisham because of the intriguing stories that move quickly, I really did not like The Chamber—it was cumbersome, plodding, and depressing to boot. Two years ago, in one of the selections from Ford County, we returned to death row to watch a family spend the last few hours with their son and brother as he anticipated his date with the needle.

Today’s novel is one that takes us back to death row, back to the death house, back to the death chamber. I have not read Grisham’s only book-length non-fiction (a work called The Innocent Man, 2006), but I understand that work was foundational for the story that is The Confession. Perhaps I should go back and read it, but when I read Grisham, it’s for getaway.

This trip to the death chamber starts at a church in Topeka, Kansas, where a young minister—Keith Shroeder—is busy about his weekly business on a Monday morning. In walks Travis Boyette, newly released from prison, and bearing a heavy burden. Boyette confesses to Keith the rape and murder of one Nicole Yarber from Slone, Texas, nine years ago. Why own up now? Because the state of Texas is going to execute someone else for the crime on Thursday.

The story leads us on the trip from Kansas to Texas to try to stop the death of an innocent man. Along the way, we get the back story, the illegal force used to get a bogus confession, with pauses along the road for a love/hate relationship with the low-life who is the actual killer, but for whom we have a slight bit of pity because he, too, is dying of a tumor in his brain. Grisham also treats us to his signature, southern race tension throughout the story, Texas politics, and church politics as well.

How does The Confession compare to our earlier trip to death row? While The Chamber would only rate one of our reading glasses, this new story rates a whopping four out of five.

—Benjamin Potter, June 23, 2010

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