This piece is the first of a new series in which Templeton students, alumni, and professors share reviews of what they’ve been reading.
Dr. Kristen Childers
“Reading now” is probably a bit of an overstatement, since I always feel like I don’t have enough time for reading outside of my academic field—but at present I’m working my way through the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical work, My Struggle. I realize the irony of this in that Knausgaard’s title is the same as Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and this was one of the many controversial things about the memoir when it first came out. Needless to say, they’re quite different, and part of what fascinated me about Knausgaard’s memoir is that he is searingly self-critical and reveals all kinds of unflattering things about himself in the course of these six autobiographical novels. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, I love Nordic literature from authors such as Sigrid Undset and Isak Dinesen and was drawn to read another dark Norwegian tale, especially after all the glowing reviews and international acclaim Knausgaard received. Critics have compared him to Marcel Proust in his scope and literary talent and also described the books as intensely, irresistibly, readable. I have been fascinated by his ability to chronicle his coming of age and the clarity of his recollections about experiences from his youth. Knausgaard said he began these novels as a way to overcome his writer’s block—perhaps his own version of “mindfulness” and accepting things as they are, in all their messy incertitude.
Austin Detwiler, ’13
I’ve enjoyed reading through Bishop Robert Barron’s Seeds of the Word: Finding God in the Culture. Barron, the founder of Word on Fire Ministries, is affectionately known as “the social media priest,” due to his work in evangelizing the culture through contemporary media.
Several years ago, he began making short YouTube videos in which he reviewed popular movies, finding in them echoes of the Gospel and of Christ. This book is an organic outgrowth of that project. Seeds of the Word is broken into four sections – God in Film, God in Books, God in Politics, and God in Culture – and is composed of more than 80 three-page chapters. Each chapter takes on a new book, movie, or event, and discusses its religious significance, trying to find the semina verbi, the seeds of the word, in the book or movie under consideration.
Barron’s great genius lies in his extraordinary ability to be endlessly affirming, to find Christ even where we may least expect to – say, in The Dark Knight Rises or The Fault in Our Stars – while refusing to water down or thin out the Gospel. He can be a fierce critic when necessary – as we see in his chapter “The Remarkably Bad Theology of The Adjustment Bureau,” or in his unhesitating critiques of “childish theology,” “hoary prejudice,” and “so much nonsense,” when apposite. His approach, however, is always to “lead with beauty” and to present “features of the high or low culture that, sometimes faintly and sometimes powerfully, echo the Gospel message.”
With chapter titles ranging from “Spider-man, Iron Man, Superman, and the God-Man” to “A-Rod and Augustine,” I trust that any reader could find something of interest that would be exceedingly beneficial. And any reader of Flannery O’Connor will enjoy his discussion of the Coen Brothers’ films – or, as Barron calls them, the “Jewish Flannery O’Connor.”
Dr. Kristen Childers is a professor of History in the Templeton Honors College and Austin Detwiler ’13 is a Templeton alumnus.