I took a break from exploring for forgotten gems in our home library and read two new (to me) books a couple of weekends ago. Peggy Noonan's Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now (published earlier this month) and Tony Earley's Jim the Boy (published in 2001) are both short, quick-reading books of tremendous naivety, which is for the latter a wonderful thing, but not so much for the former.
Patriotic Grace contains a mishmash of ideas from a writer for whom I have great respect. Noonan is, among other things, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and she generally writes from the politically conservative perspective. In Patriotic Grace, she calls for improved civility in political discourse, and for an overall increase in respect with which the federal government treats the citizens that allow its existence and power. It's hard to argue against these things. However, the book falls short in recommending specific remedies, and Noonan seems to lose focus by fixating on the likelihood (or, in her estimation, the certainty) of a major terrorist hit on the US that will shake the foundations of our society and government.
Noonan's biggest lapse in judgment is in assuming that it is possible for Americans to stop defining one another by their political viewpoints, that we can somehow agree to disagree and still be civil to one another. I think the current presidential campaign and the overall state of the political blogosphere prove those to be patently ridiculous notions. All you have to do is read the comments left on Noonan's recent WSJ column entitled Palin's Failin's, where the author is demonized by her fellow conservatives for offering the mere suggestion that the Alaskan governor falls short in several areas of importance to Noonan when considering someone who might become President.
I've heard it said in church that mercy is not getting what you deserve, and grace is getting what you don't deserve. From one perverted perspective, American political life is all about giving the other guy what he doesn't really deserve. I wish more people would join Noonan's call for the right kind of grace, but I'm cynical enough to believe it's never going to happen.
Despite these shortcomings, Patriotic Grace is recommended, if only as an exercise in fantasy.
Jim the Boy is as simple and straightforward as its title. It's a story about a just-turned-ten boy in rural North Carolina in the mid-1930s. If that sounds familiar, it may be because I gave the sequel, The Blue Star, a glowing review last May. On a whim, I picked up Jim the Boy at the local Barnes & Noble and read it in a couple of sittings.
It was interesting to see how the characters in The Blue Star were initially brought to life, although it's not generally recommended to read the sequel before the original. But Tony Earley is such a gifted storyteller that it doesn't really matter. Both books create a world that entices the reader to the point of immersion. It helps if you had some rural experiences in your childhood, but even a born-and-bred city slicker will find much in common with the characters, as the author deals with issues that are common to and through humanity, regardless of trivialities such as where we were born or raised. (This is, indeed, the common ground that Peggy Noonan would like for us to remember during political silly seasons.)
I enthusiastically recommend Jim the Boy to readers of almost any age, although those younger than early teens might not appreciate some of the emotional nuances imbued in the characters.