In Chris Arthur’s masterful, elegant essay collection Hummingbirds between the Pages, expansive and granular meditations on time, language, nature, mortality, and Northern Ireland capture wonder in the everyday.
Taking its title from a habit of settlers, who would mail the bodies of hummingbirds home as a proof of their existence, these essays present individual topics as mementos.
Whether considering lesser-known facts, like Darwin’s killing of a fox, or once commonplace objects that lead to uncommon insights, such as a pocket watch that is twined with an illustration of a prehistoric scene, these essays suspend time with ease. Each page reveals an attentive narrative spirit that raises profound questions on existence without a trace of self-consciousness.
In several essays, loss takes center stage, in degrees from unremembered conversations to a daughter’s first experience of death, a mother’s declining health to a fleeting encounter with an empty hearse on a university campus. Such moments glimpse the eternal within the “vanished moment.”
Especially perceptive essays include “Before I Knocked,” in which a vintage postcard inspires musings on the unknown sender as well as the author’s father; “Sleepers,” a reflection on a family’s anthracite stove and hearth that morphs into an expression of Ulster’s handed-down values; “Shells,” which uses an aunt’s long-ago gift to reveal how little one knows of relatives’ lives; and “Skimming,” which elevates the pleasure of skipping stones to an act that links father to son and son to daughter.
Without magnifying their importance, Arthur frequently considers the events required as a basis for any present moment, skillfully locating people and incidents on a historical continuum to emphasize the unseen forces that bind them. Through singular phrasing and meticulous descriptions, these essays return again and again to the unlikely miracle of being alive.
KAREN RIGBY (July 20, 2018)
Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up
In a world brimming with controversies around race, gender, and sexual orientation, there seems to be an abundance of noise without real dialogue or progress. Into that situation, Kathy Khang brings optimism and insight, urging fellow Christians to speak up for marginalized people and to do it well. Her unshakeable position is that God cares for everyone and hears every voice, and that Christians should do the same.
The voices of individual Christians and faith communities are just what the world desperately needs to set things right and help bring the justice God designed, the book assures its readership. Those voices—each one part of a person created in the image of God—bring God’s love and justice into the messy world and to the people who are trampled down in it.
The book begins with Khang’s personal story of risk taking and voice raising—as an Asian American, as a woman, as a journalist, as a mother, and in so many other elements of her identity. This model of starting with the personal runs powerfully counter to the modern mode of throwing out accusations in impersonal online settings. From there, Khang shows people how to hear God’s call to speak, how to dispel their fear, and how to converse well with others in a public sphere.
The book is well organized, moving from silence to speaking and addressing the roadblocks along the way. Khang’s voice is warm and assertive, filled with heartfelt honesty and humility. Her background as a journalist shows up in deft writing that harnesses narrative scenes, research, scriptures, and clear instruction.
For those too comfortable to sit in silence, the book shows that, yes, speaking up is risky, but it’s profoundly worth the risk. For those who relish debate and controversy, the book shows them how to pause, consider, and use words to their greatest effect. Raise Your Voice is the prompt that Christians need to encourage and equip them to speak up for justice and hope.
MELISSA WUSKE (June 27, 2018)
Cassandra Parkin’s The Winter’s Child is a gripping thriller from beginning to end, certain to chill and haunt.
The novel traps us in the mind of Susannah Harper, a woman whose son, Joel, went missing five years prior and whose husband left because of related stress. When a psychic suggests that she will see her son again soon, Susannah’s world begins to unravel. That unraveling is the foundation for the novel, a journey filled with skillful twists and turns on every page.
Still reeling with the trauma of Joel’s disappearance, Susannah tries to cope by writing faithfully on her blog and spending time with family. But she certainly isn’t living a healthy life before the psychic’s premonition, which is the catalyst of the novel, comes into play. After the psychic’s vision of Joel coming home, Susannah begins to see things she thought were long gone, and to hear sounds she knows can’t be real. Her grip on sanity loosens as the five-year anniversary of Joel’s disappearance looms; this fantastic, eerie story barrels towards a bittersweet, perfect end.
The prose is eloquent and skillful. “Nothing happens to warn me of events that have already begun to unfold,” narrates Susannah, “like a paper flower dropped into water, like a cocoon hatching a tightly-folded monster.” From the first chapter, the characters develop into tangible, fully realized people. The cast exists in a foreboding world, a dark atmosphere that Parkin deftly crafts with each scene. Because the narration is always from Susannah’s point of view, her descent into madness is deeply disturbing, intimate, and effective.
Chapters effortlessly jump back and forth in time, bringing greater nuance to Susannah and her often tense relationships with others. In addition, there is an underlying commentary on gender and motherhood that further deepens the novel’s scope.
The Winter’s Child is a stunning, beautifully disturbing mystery.
MYA ALEXICE (June 27, 2018)
The Life and Career of the NFL Athlete
Images of wealthy pros and stars from top-tier NCAA programs are replaced by the reality of injury-shortened careers, lives of chronic pain, and emotional distress in Robert W. Turner II’s Not for Long. This eye-opening investigation shows that celebrity status is short-lived for most NFL players, especially African American men whose careers are controlled by mostly white owners, coaches, and agents. Turner’s exploration is strengthened by his unique perspective as a sociologist and a former professional player (he was a journeyman with limited action in the NFL and the Canadian Football League).
Interviews with former players make this revised dissertation engrossing, although a few chapters on free agency lapse into legalese. The book delves into the lives of pros after their playing days are over, and reflects the bitterness caused by the loss of celebrity and income. Players must be on rosters for five years to be vested for their pensions, but the average career is only three years long, it shows. In addition, chronic pain limits work opportunities, and head trauma caused by concussions can lead to early physical and mental deterioration and, in extreme instances, suicide.
The book provides excellent advice for college and pro players and their families on how to avoid the dark side of what the author calls the “sports-industrial complex,” the institutions that govern organized football, from Pop Warner through to the pros. Notably, the book argues that players must develop their own identities and pursue their own interests so that their lives are not defined solely by football.
Those who believe that most players rake in huge salaries and earn millions from endorsements will reconsider those stereotypes when they discover the sad fate of many players whose earning years end in their twenties. For former players facing a postcareer life of uncertainty, this book offers hope and direction.
KARL HELICHER (July 30, 2018)
Inside Skip-Generation Families
Grandparents who are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren live incredibly complex lives. Their beautiful tapestry of self-sacrifice is laced with legal difficulties, children’s mental and emotional challenges, guilt and resentment regarding the absent parent(s), financial strain, and a lack of time and energy to preserve the grandparents’ health and well-being.
It’s a world Gary Garrison knows well: he is helping to raise his partner’s grandchildren. In Raising Grandkids, he shares his own experiences and gives voice to the situations of a wide swath of grandparents who are also the caregivers for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He met many of his interview subjects through CANGRANDS camp, a place for skip-generation families in Canada to connect with each other.
With vibrant real-life examples, the book offers vital practical help to grandparents who are fighting for custody; who are worrying that the grandchildren they love will be taken away; who are supporting grandchildren with mental and neurological problems, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; and for grandparents from indigenous cultures who face racism along with everything else. Feelings of caring, support, and connection carry through, offering these caregivers what they desperately need: a community that understands.
The book’s narratives brim with heart and candor; Garrison is at once journalistic and engaged. His book demonstrates a keen understanding of the tensions between people and bureaucracies, and how children and caregivers suffer at the hands of legal systems.
Raising Grandkids is an empathetic and knowledgeable book that shows grandparents they’re not alone in the challenges they face while raising their grandchildren.
MELISSA WUSKE (July 30, 2018)