COUNTER-CLOCK WORLD, by Philip K. Dick: I’ve embarked on re-reading some, if not all, of PKD’s novels. I’ve recently finished GALACTIC POT HEALER and the utterly execrable DR. FUTURITY (they can’t all be gems, even unpolished). COUNTER-CLOCK WORLD begins and ends with the voices of dead people calling out to be rescued—“They want to get out,” says the book’s protagonist; “all of them.” In other words, it’s standard PKD fare, blurbed as “one of the most theologically probing of all Dick’s books,” which is saying something.
ACEDIA AND ME, by Kathleen Norris: one of our best contemporary writers on spirituality explores the links and the differences between the ancient concept of “acedia” and the modern ailment of depression. Not surprisingly, Ms. Norris thinks there may a spiritual dimension worth attending to in our modern malaise.
CONTESTED WILL, by James Shapiro, is all about Who Wrote Shakespeare? More accurately, since Shapiro has no doubt that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, this book is about the modern quest to attribute Shakespeare’s works to Francis Bacon or the Earl of Oxford; it’s also about our ideas of authorship and our beliefs about artistic imagination and inspiration.
Andrew Kaufman’s GIVE WAR AND PEACE A CHANCE offers Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times, and also serves as a Cliff’s Notes-type shortcut for those of us who have never read Tolstoy and who, at this point, aren’t likely ever to do so.
Finally, THE AMERICAN RELIGION is famed critic Harold Bloom’s attempt to delineate The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation; published in 1992, it advances the thesis that Americans are Gnostics at heart, a thesis which depends entirely on how you choose to define “Gnostic”. I’m reading this in part because a number of commentators have recently blamed Gnosticism for such phenomena as same-sex marriage, Caitlyn Jenner, and the decline of the traditional family and traditional gender roles. Again, one has to define “Gnosticism” in particular ways in order to arrive at such conclusions, and I’m not convinced the definition is defensible--which may be the subject, at some point, of a longer essay.