Sooner or later it was bound to happen. Recently it seems every Tom, Dick and Harriet has come up with a list of "best" books. First it was the Modern Library with its "Hundred Best Novels" followed shortly by a rival list compiled by a Radcliffe College class on publishing. My reaction to all this is simple: imitation is the highest form of flattery.
The Dean's List, as you may recall, is not an exercise in hubris - "the 27 greatest books ever published" - but simply a response to the modest question, "Read a good book lately?" This year's response - the 17th annual - includes five newcomers: two novels; accounts of two New England happenings separated by 130 years; and, finally, a meditative reflection on a Dutch Master painting.
Elizabeth Graver and Suzanne Matson have much in common - both are accomplished writers, members of Boston College's English Department, and, in their first novels, plumb the richness embedded in the lives of seemingly unremarkable individuals. Graver's Unravelling is sited in and around a 19th century New England mill town, while Matson's The Hunger Moon unrolls in yesterday's Boston.
In Civil War Boston Thomas H. O'Connor of the Boston College History Department draws on his vast reservoir of lore as the dean of Boston's historians to provide a fascinating account of how the years of the Civil War transformed the Hub's economic and social landscape in ways still evident and problematic.
Raw courage may seem to be distributed rarely among us. In The Perfect Storm , however, we have the simple recitation of the reactions of ordinary individuals called upon in the course of their day's work to face the fury of nature in the form of a "100-year storm." Human nature weathers the storm remarkably well.
Vice President William B. Neenan, SJ. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
Henri Nouwen lived with Rembrandt's painting, "The Return of the Prodigal Son," for several years during which time he went from identifying with the prodigal son (the wastrel) to the elder son (the stay-at-home) and finally with the father and his unconditional love. He discovered a place for all three in his own life's journey. Nouwen's meditative reflection on Rembrandt's painting led me along a similar path. And you?
The Dean's List is not copyrighted. Please feel free to refer to it without attribution, post it on the refrigerator or simply employ it for some more pedestrian purpose.
[The 1998 Dean's List]
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