Culture > Notable Books

Notable Books

Books | Four nonfiction books reviewed

Issue: "Another dark day in America," Jan. 12, 2013

Booked

By Karen Swallow Prior

Booked skillfully combines memoir and love of books. Prior, an English professor at Liberty University, chooses particular books as lenses through which to make sense of her life and the world. She is a gifted writer able to portray details of her life—her love of animals, her desire to be one of the cool kids, her awkward bookishness—and attach them to universal themes. She’s also a fine teacher, discussing with wit and Christian discernment books as varied as Madame Bovary, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Charlotte’s Web, and Gulliver’s Travels. Readers will come away with a greater appreciation for particular books and a better understanding of the role that good books can play in spiritual and character formation.

Fever Season

By Jeanette Keith

In 1878, Memphis suffered through a yellow fever epidemic that killed 5,000 residents and sickened 12,000 more in less than a month. Doctors, misunderstanding how the disease spread, blamed poor sanitation rather than mosquitoes breeding in the city’s many water cisterns. Thousands, including city leaders, pastors, doctors, and businessmen, fled the city. Keith tells the story of the epidemic through the stories of individual doctors, nurses, journalists, pastors, priests, and ordinary people who stayed to care for the sick, often at the cost of their own lives. Although Keith occasionally gets sidetracked by detours on race and gender, her meticulous research brings to life heroic characters and shows how Americans of an earlier age dealt with unimaginable suffering.

Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

By David K. Randall

We all sleep, but we know little about what makes a restful sleep and what happens when we don’t get enough of it. Randall is an entertaining guide through many aspects of sleep research. Galvanized by an injury sustained while sleepwalking, he visited a sleep clinic to diagnose his troubles. When that revealed no major anomalies, he began the research that resulted in this book. He covers the bizarre—murders committed while sleeping—and the useful: Could knowledge of circadian rhythms help bettors make money on Monday Night football? Readers have to browse through a fair bit of evolutionary speculation, but there’s plenty of good stuff: historical and cultural differences in sleep patterns, the role of the lowly light bulb, sleep and war, the family bed, and dreams.

Fierce Compassion

By Kristin & Kathryn Wong

Donaldina Cameron for 40 years headed a mission in San Francisco that rescued Chinese children and women sold into slavery. She was 25 in 1895 when she left the comforts of her large Scottish family to become assistant to the superintendent of the mission house where rescued ones found refuge. She went on dangerous rescue missions, nursed the sick and opium-addicted, and brought her growing family of rescued women to safety after the 1906 earthquake, an outbreak of bubonic fever, and the Spanish influenza epidemic. She battled Chinese criminal gangs, corrupt civic authorities, and racism. The Wongs provide an inspiring account of Cameron’s life and adventures, showing how her Christian faith motivated her to fight successfully the battle against sex trafficking a century ago.

Spotlight

Dorothy Sayers
Associated Press
Dorothy Sayers

Bourbon Street Books recently reissued all four of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries featuring Harriet Vane. Wimsey is an urbane, Oxford-educated aristocrat with a taste for solving mysteries. Vane, perhaps Sayers’ alter ego, is an Oxford-educated writer of detective stories. They meet in Strong Poison when Vane is on trial for poisoning her former lover. Wimsey becomes her passionate advocate—and suitor. That role continues through two more books, Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night, when Vane finally says yes—in Latin. In Busman’s Honeymoon the two discover a body while on their honeymoon. 

If you haven’t yet read Sayers, you should bring patience to the task, for her books assume a greater knowledge of English literature and Latin than most Americans have. Her keen eye and ear for class distinctives, and her understanding of human nature, give Sayers an Austen-like ability to depict English society in the period between the wars. —S.O.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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