Unsettling Readings for an Unsettling Time

Unsettling Readings for an Unsettling Time

Additions to annual 'Dean's List' reflect a troubled year

By Rev. William B. Neenan, SJ

Events of this past year have been unsettling - rising unemployment, the clash of East and West, and violence worldwide. Three of the five new entries for this year's Dean's List touch on such unsettling issues.

Rev. William B. Neenan, SJ
In the 1930s, with 25 percent of the labor force unemployed, Seabiscuit galloped into the hearts of dispirited Americans. In Seabiscuit: An American Legend, Laura Hillenbrand captures the mood of those Depression years and portrays how a horse, an ungainly horse, serving as metaphor for the times, lifted the spirits of millions by demonstrating that long-shots can indeed arrive in the winner's circle.

Bernard Lewis' The Crisis of Islam is a primer explaining the convoluted historical roots of Muslim animosity toward the West. How did the Islamic world, so dominant and self-confident for a thousand years and more, come to find itself beleaguered by a secular West? How has this vulnerability contributed to a newly militant Islam? Lewis, as one informed observer, offers his answers to these questions.

Raw courage is the staple of Hampton Sides' Ghost Soldiers. In the waning days of World War II, 120 US Army Rangers slipped behind Japanese lines in the Philippines to rescue 500 survivors of the 1942 Bataan Death March. It is a breath-taking tale of derring-do.

Two novels join this year's Dean's List. The protagonists in both are teenagers and the locale in each is similar, Long Island and a life raft, each surrounded by water. But otherwise they are quite distinct. Theresa, in Alice McDermott's Child of My Heart, is a precocious girl who sprinkles her conversation with quotations from Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy. During her 15th summer, Theresa finds time to nurture her young cousin, Daisy, entrance a brood of young urchins, while working in a fling with an aging artist - all detailed in graceful prose in this coming-of-age novel.

Piscine Patel, or Pi (the 16th letter in the Greek alphabet), is a 16-year-old boy sailing with his family from India to Canada until a shipwreck finds him adrift on a raft in the Pacific Ocean alone with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Unlike Theresa's more familiar activities, Yann Martel's Life of Pi is replete with one exotic exploit after another during Pi's 227 days at sea. Finally, Pi safely ensconced in Toronto, we are left to wonder what exactly did happen during those days on that raft.

Two novels, two teen-agers, and experiences that suggest that life unfolds in profoundly complex and unpredictable ways. In other words, two novels that offer us the possibility of mystery and of hope.

The 2003 Dean's List

(New additions in bold)

James Agee, A Death in the Family

Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim

George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest

Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons

Albert Camus, The Fall

Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

Seamus Heaney, Beowulf

Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life

Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm

Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam

Yann Martel, Life of Pi

David McCullough, Truman

Alice McDermott, Child of My Heart

Charles Morris, American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

John O'Malley, SJ, The First Jesuits

Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries

Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels

Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers

Dava Sobel, Galileo's Daughter

Wallace Stegner, Collected Short Stories

Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter

Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men

Garry Wills, Saint Augustine

Simon Winchester, River at the Center of the World

All books featured in the Dean's List are available through the Boston College Libraries.

Fr. Neenan is vice president and special assistant to the president. He has published his "Dean's List" of recommended books since 1982.


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