Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Climbing Uphill (Friday Devotional)


For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

- Romans 8:38-39

Ever since terms like “social distancing,” self-quarantine,” and “shelter in place” became a part of our everyday vocabulary, walks around the block have become a part of my family’s daily routine. Weather permitting, the four of us get out the front door as much as three times a day to enjoy the fresh air and escape the confines of the house.

But I use the term “walk” loosely, because both of the kids make their way around the neighborhood on wheels. Katherine, of course, rides in her stroller. Andrew, on the other hand, likes to get around on his white Little Tikes-style Mercedes Benz (the only Mercedes he’s going to own for a very long time, as we’ve repeatedly warned him.) While Lindsey and I trudge behind with the stroller, he zooms ahead as fast as his legs can push the car.

His favorite part, as you might imagine, are the downhill stretches, where he can lift his feet up and go at top speed. But when you’re making a loop, everything that goes down must eventually go back up, and that’s where things get a little more difficult. By the end of every walk, he’s pleading with us to carry him and his car: “I’m tiiiired. Please carry me!” Our response is always the same—he’ll have to work his way up the hill, but we’ll stay with him the whole way.

Life has a way of functioning like one of those jaunts around our neighborhood. Sometimes you’re zooming downhill without a care in the world; things are free and easy and the last thing you want is anybody to get in your way. But eventually you come to an uphill climb, a time when every day feels like a challenge and you can barely muster the energy to go on.

It’s on those uphill climbs that we tend to cry out to God for deliverance, begging Him to lift us out of our struggles and put us on an easier path. Sometimes, as Scripture shows us, God does just that, miraculously rescuing His people from lions’ dens and flaming furnaces. But more often, the Father’s response in troubled times is not to take away His children’s problems, but promise His presence in the midst of them. God doesn’t guarantee He’ll pick us up when things get difficult—but He does promise to stay with us the whole way.

Especially in this time of physical distancing, there is renewed value in knowing that God never leaves us nor forsakes us. As we long for connection, we are reminded that the Lord is with us even to the end of the age. Separated though we are from the places and pursuits and people we love, nothing separates us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Life is an uphill battle right now, but take comfort in this: it is not a climb you are undertaking alone.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March Reading Log



I had intended to do a lot of reading in March, then....well, you know what happened. Things are settling now into a new normal and I'm finding time to get some reading done, but this reading log is a short one. We'll see how April goes.

3 Articles I Like This Month

"Forgive Us Our Debts" by Anne Helen Petersen, BuzzFeed News. 34 minutes.

In Chapel Hill, NC, Jubilee Baptist Church is preaching an unapologetically leftist gospel, one that welcomes LGBTQ members, quotes Karl Marx during Bible studies, and regularly decries the evils of capitalism. In that spirit, they also regularly pay off the debts of people in the surrounding community. You will undoubtedly disagree with some of the ways Jubilee operates—I'm right there with you—but if you'll read the whole article, I suspect you'll also find your imagination racing, looking for ways, as Jubilee has, to better serve the world around us.

"A Brutally Honest Accounting of Writing, Money, and Motherhood" by Karen Russell, Wealthsimple. 19 minutes.

In one of the best essays I've read in a long time, writer and mother Karen Russell wrestles with what it means to be both of those things at the same time—how she spends her time, how she expends her energy, and what it's like to financially support a family on the fruits of your imagination.

"God Doesn't Want Us to Sacrifice the Old" by Russell Moore, The New York Times. 3 minutes.

As COVID-19 continues to reshape our daily lives, there has been an unfathomably ugly question that some pundits and even political leaders have started asking: should we just accept the deaths of high-risk populations so that the young and healthy can go back to normal life? In this short op-ed, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore prophetically explains how such a sacrifice would not only be immoral, but antichrist.



JESUS AND THE VICTORY OF GOD by N.T. Wright

Who was Jesus? Who did he believe himself to be? And why did he die? These are questions that people, believers and nonbelievers alike, have been asking since the first century. In Jesus and the Victory of God, theologian N.T. Wright provides his answers based upon the available historical research found in Scripture, the Apocrypha, and the extrabiblical texts.

Much like the first tome in his "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series, the first 150 pages or so of this book is an academic slog, as Wright details the various "quests" undertaken by the academy to uncover who the "real Jesus" or the "historical Jesus" is. While perhaps fascinating to scholars (and at times mildly interesting to me), I would recommend all but Wright completists to simply skip this section and get to the rest of the book, in which Wright makes a compelling and orthodox case that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah who fulfilled and redefined God's promises to Israel and humankind through his life and death (his resurrection must wait until the third volume in the series.)

Wright's primary task is to understand Jesus through the lens of his first century context, rather than bending Jesus to the needs of our contemporary moment. This approach does a brilliant job of explaining many of the more puzzling aspects of the gospels' portrayal of Jesus, and lends new power to some parables whose explanations had previously felt watery. For Wright, Jesus is not just the fulfillment of a few scattered Jewish prophecies, but the fulfillment of the entire promise of Israel. Jesus is the return from exile. Jesus is the new temple. And as the title indicates, Jesus is the victory of God.

For readers familiar with Wright's theology, this book is the foundation of much of what he has spent a lifetime teaching. For those unfamiliar with his work, it is not a quick read, but it is certainly a worthwhile one.



THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of those books whose reputation precedes itself. Before I ever started reading it, I knew it was on the short list of books that could qualify as The Great American Novel. I knew its history as a frequently banned book due to extensive use of the n-word. I knew, in other words, that it was an important book. I just didn't know whether or not I would like it.

The answer: sorta? I have to admit, while I recognize the book's aspirations and impact are higher than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I enjoyed reading that kids' book more than this adult novel. For all the cultural value that TAOHF undoubtedly has, it had a harder time holding my attention than Tom Sawyer did.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn picks up where its prequel left off, with Huck Finn having been adopted and "civilized." However, his new situation is soon disturbed when his abusive father returns to the picture, kidnapping him in the hopes of laying claim to the fortune Huck and Tom acquired at the end of the previous book. Eventually, Huck fakes his own death and takes off on a raft down the Mississippi River with a runaway slave named Jim. From there, three things happen: 1) adventures ensue, courtesy of the various lowlifes found on the river in that day and age 2) Huck learns to see Jim not as a slave, but a friend, and 3) Huck grows from a boy to a man.

Told with Huck as the narrator (as opposed to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which used a third-person narrator), the book is replete with humor and was a relatively easy read once you got used to Huck's dialect (not to mention Jim's.) However, the plot moves slower than I'd expected for a book its size, and at times I wanted Twain to just get on with it. Furthermore, the themes which have caused the novel to endure were, frankly, more subtle than I expected—I have to wonder if this isn't an example of a book that's more fun to talk about than to read.

Overall, I appreciated The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I didn't like it as much as I wanted to. Nevertheless, it's good to be able to check it off my list of 'classics I'm embarrassed not to have read.'


SANDY KOUFAX: A LEFTY'S LEGACY by Jane Leavy

If you ask any Baby Boomer who the greatest pitcher of all time is, they'll respond with lightning speed: Sandy Koufax. In a brief career cut short by injury, highlighted by 5 years of dominance the likes of which the game had never seen, Koufax made his imprint not only on the national pastime, but the national psyche. In this acclaimed biography by Jane Leavy, readers get to see why the lefty has endured as such a legend over the last 5 decades.

It should be said first that Koufax was more than his numbers; he was a symbol of 1960s America in so many ways. Brooklyn-born, his career didn't blossom until the Dodgers moved west to Los Angeles. Jewish, he put his convictions above his career refused to start a World Series game because it fell on Yom Kippur. Cool and confident, he thrived in the spotlight even as he conspicuously avoided it. Koufax was, in the eyes of so many baseball fans, the kind of man you strived to imitate.

Yet, as Leavy points out, there was a beating heart behind the cool exterior. Throughout the book, she is quick to highlight the ways that Koufax's public image is deserved, but also perceptive enough to show the human being behind the legend and to dispel the myths that have emerged about him. Proud of his Jewish heritage though he is, Koufax is not devout. Shy, he is nevertheless not the unfriendly hermit he is made out to be. Intellectual though he may be, he is not some bespectacled professor, but a ballplayer's ballplayer.

The one myth Leavy refuses to bust, however—because it is not just legend, but truth—is the one surrounding Koufax's dominance on the mound, which is largely told via her inning by inning account of Koufax's 1965 perfect game. Alternating between these chapters and biographical chapters proves to be a brilliant structure for the book, one that reminds us why we already cared about Koufax with the baseball chapters even as she gives us new reasons to care with the chapters about his life.

For baseball fans, this is a must-read, one of the finest sports biographies I've ever read. Highly recommended.



ESSENTIAL HULK VOL. 5 by Len Wein, Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema et al.

Sometimes comic books function as literature, presenting big ideas and deep themes with pathos and creativity. Maus, Watchmen, Mister Miracle—these kinds of comics are worthy of careful reading; they speak to your soul in a powerful way. Despite their reputation as being for kids, sometimes comics rise above.

Then again, sometimes you just want to see Hulk smash. And in Essential Hulk Vol. 5, which collects 28 issues of the Incredible Hulk  from 1974-1976, that's exactly what you get—not a ton of deep thinking, but some fun action and enjoyable, if forgettable, stories.

The 1970s, a.k.a. the Bronze Age, was a period in comics' history when neither Marvel nor D.C. did much innovating, but largely rested on their laurels after the creative boom of the 1960s (the Silver Age). Writers were content to pit their heroes against familiar villains and recycle stale romantic melodrama. It was fun, but not especially memorable, and that's pretty much what you get from this volume of Hulk stories. Hulk just wants to be left alone, but is hounded by Thunderbolt Ross. Hulk gets the opportunity to redeem himself, but is foiled my a mixture of his own anger and others' misunderstanding. Betty Ross pines for Bruce Banner, but is terrified by the Hulk. It's all pretty familiar stuff.

The most memorable moment, ironically, stars another character, as issues #180-182 introduce Wolverine to the Marvel Universe. Having never read that story, it was nice to cross it off my list of Important Comics to Read Someday. As for the art, it's good but not great, led by longtime Hulk artist Herb Trimpe and Marvel's prolific chronicler of the Bronze Age, Sal Buscema.

Overall, Essential Hulk Vol. 5 made for a good way to start the day each morning, whether I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed or bleary-eyed and struggling to stay awake. Will the stories stick with me? Nah. But they were fun while they lasted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Unproductive (Friday Devotional)



Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.


- Exodus 20:8-11


Given the shelter-in-place orders handed down by our local governments, a lot of people have found their workday routines suddenly upended. Some are working from home for the first time, trying to figure out how to accomplish their tasks without the resources available at the office. Parents of school-aged children are suddenly homeschoolers doing their best to keep their kids educated while also keeping up with their normal responsibilities. Most seriously, some have been sidelined from work altogether, ordered away from their business because it was deemed “inessential” in our current health crisis.

Simply put, most of us aren’t as productive right now as we’re used to being. We know what needs to be done, but we don’t have the time, energy, or ability to do it. We still value our work, but we can’t do it properly. It’s a frustrating reality, a source of stress for everyone. But in this period of lessened productivity, I can’t help but wonder if God isn’t teaching us a much-needed lesson about where our value lies.

Of all the commands God has given us in the Bible, few are as ignored by modern-day believers as the commandment to keep the Sabbath. For one day each week, God calls us to rest and reflection, to set aside both our business and our household responsibilities and simply be. The Sabbath is not a day for productivity.

And for exactly that reason, few of us keep it. Saturdays are for yard work and Little League and errands. Sundays are for church, yes, but for the faithful they are often so consumed by one church obligation after another that they are far from restful. By the time Monday morning rolls around, Sabbath is little more than an elusive ideal. We simply have too much to do to have time for a Sabbath.

In one sense, our present predicament seems like the worst time for a lesson on Sabbath—after all, we have more to do than ever! But as we struggle together to get it all done, we’re being reminded of a spiritual truth which is anathema to our culture: there’s more to life than productivity. You are more than what you make, more than what you do. Your value does not come from your work, but from the love of the God who created you in His image.

There will be a day soon—if there hasn’t been one already—when you won’t get everything checked off your to-do list. Your toddler will throw a tantrum or your dishwasher will break or your Internet connection won’t meet the requirements for your scheduled Zoom meeting, and you’ll miss your deadline. It will be frustrating, it will be stressful, and your unproductivity will make you feel useless. In that moment, I pray that you’ll remember that the God who blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy cares about more than your work—he cares about you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Emptiness (Friday Devotional)



For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.

- Colossians 2:9-10a

Monday morning, I went to Wal-Mart for the first time in three weeks and saw shelves—where the rice was supposed to be, or the eggs, or the toilet paper—that were totally bare. Wednesday afternoon, I drove past the local movie theater and didn’t see a single car in the parking lot. And of course, Sunday morning I will preach to so few faces that I’ll be able to count them on one hand.

As a nation, we’re seeing a lot of emptiness right now, whether in our sports arenas or our restaurants or our schools. Places normally characterized by hustle and bustle are silent, and we’re having to get used to vacancies where there were once lines out the door. It’s an unsettling sight.

So in a time increasingly defined by emptiness, I’m grateful for the fullness which is ours in Jesus Christ. I’m grateful that in him we are reconciled to God, that in him we are given grace upon grace, that in him we are a new creation. I’m grateful that in Christ we are no longer broken vessels devoid of what we need most, and that instead we have abundant life.

The temptation in this time of social distancing and self-quarantine, this time when emptiness reigns, will be to let that emptiness seep into your soul. It will be far too easy to sink into bad habits, fall for comforting lies, and lean on unsteady crutches.

So as the emptiness endures, whether for days or weeks or even months, I encourage you to remember that you have been brought to fullness in Christ—and even when the crowds are gone, God is with us.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Finding the Balance (Friday Devotional)


“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

- Matthew 10:16

My 5-month old daughter Katherine reached a milestone last week when, for the first time, she was able to sit up on her own. At the time, I hailed her accomplishment on social media as the beginning of a brief golden age in which she would be big enough to bet set down momentarily without supervision, yet not advanced enough to crawl away and get into things.

As it turns out, I jumped the gun a bit. While Katherine can indeed sit by herself for a few minutes when set down just right, she’s a little wobblier than I expected. If she leans a little too far forward or to the right or the left, she topples over helplessly; she still hasn’t mastered the art of regaining her equilibrium when she’s unsteady. If she’s going to sit by herself unsupervised, she’s going to have to learn a little more about balance first.

Balance is important, and not just in the physical sense. In terms of time and energy, much has been made of the work-home balance, ensuring that you’re not neglecting either area of your life. Financially, you want to find the right balance between buying what you need while saving for the future. You want emotional balance too; you don’t want your highs to be too high or your lows to be too low.

Spiritually, Jesus advocates a sort of balance in Matthew 10:16 while giving his disciples instructions about going into the world to proclaim the gospel. He warns them that they are traveling in hostile territory—“I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves”—and that they can expect mockery and even physical violence for doing his will. In the face of such threats, Jesus offers this advice: “be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

By calling us to wisdom, Jesus is calling for a kind of shrewdness and prudence in the face of danger. Don’t go seeking out unnecessary conflicts, don’t leap headfirst into controversies, don’t get so caught up in the fervor of the mission that you abandon good sense.

But by calling us to innocence, Jesus wants to ensure that caution doesn’t give way to cynicism, that we don’t become so world-weary that we lose sight of the mission he has given us: to proclaim good news to people used to bad news. In the face of derision and even danger, we are called to remain steadfast to the truth of the gospel.

In the face of fear, believers must be mindful even as we are missional. As Christ commanded, we must balance sense and innocence, pragmatism and passion. And ultimately, we must know where to turn to find that balance: not in our gut, but in our God.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Weeding Out Sin (Friday Devotional)



Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

- Ephesians 6:11

Though officially we have to wait until March 19, spring appears to have arrived. 30 degree wind chills have given way to sunshine and highs in the 70s. Little League fields are being prepared for the upcoming season. Even Punxsutawney Phil, the Nostradamus of rodents, agreed a month ago that we’d have an early spring.

Unfortunately, I’ve been getting another, less pleasant reminder lately that our days of freezing temperatures are behind us: weeds. Weeds in the flower bed. Weeds between the sidewalk cracks. Weeds along the fence line. Every time I step out the front door, they’re the first thing I see—and I know that unless I deal with these unwanted menaces, they will start to overwhelm the grass and plants we want to thrive.

Similarly, sin has a way of infesting your walk with Christ and choking out what is healthy. In no time at all, a nagging temptation can become a stumble which can lead to a series of falls and then even to habitual wickedness. Having once devoted your life to Christ, you can quickly find yourself so far from him that you lose sight of his grace and are instead consumed by guilt.

That’s why, like with the weeds on your lawn, Paul encourages believers to be proactive about dealing with sin in your life. Telling believers to “put on the whole armor of God,” Paul instructs us to defend ourselves from the things of the devil with the things of God. Instead of passively hoping you won’t be tempted, you can follow Jesus’s model and pray that God will lead you away from temptation and deliver you from evil. Rather than looking for manmade defenses against your vices, you can look to the Bible for spiritual wisdom. Instead of trusting your willpower to overcome sin, you can lean on the Holy Spirit’s power and the accountability of a brother or sister in Christ.

Too often we think of sin as something we are powerless against. The truth is that in Christ you have been given victory over your temptations, that in him you can overcome the very struggles which once left you helpless. But you have to be proactive instead of reactive, ready to defend against and deal with sin before it takes over. Like a weed, sin can be a menace to healthy life—but Christ has given you what you need to stop it in its tracks.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

February Reading Log



February was a weird month for me, super busy at times and mind-numbingly slow at others. The result was some days where my reading time was cut short and others where I just didn't feel like reading. So it's a short log this month; hopefully March will be better in that respect!

3 Articles I Like This Month

"Most Americans Want Off Extreme Ride" by Abby McCloskey, The Dallas Morning News. 3 minutes.

The national discourse seems more and more to be directed by those on the extremes of each party. Yet, as Abby McCloskey writes here, most of America is part of "the exhausted majority" who just want government to get things done for the American people. A little guilty of both-sidesism, this op-ed nevertheless is an effective reminder that our country is more moderate than cable news makes us seem.

"The Age of Decadence" by Ross Douthat, The New York Times. 21 minutes.

In this essay, Ross Douthat elaborates on an idea that has become a frequent theme in his New York Times column: that America has entered into an age of decadence, in which we are materially prosperous but spiritually, emotionally, socially, and intellectually numb.

"The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake" by David Brooks, The Atlantic. 38 minutes.

When you hear the word 'family,' you probably think of the nuclear family, i.e. a husband, wife, 2.5 kids, and a dog. However, as David Brooks persuasively argues here, the nuclear family is more of a historical aberration than a norm, and our collective idealization of it has made us less connected as a society. Here he argues for a redefinition of family that reincorporates extended family, friends, and neighbors, hoping that returning to an expansive definition of family will help cure our society's epidemic of loneliness.



THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD by N.T. Wright

You'd be hard pressed to find a more prolific and beloved living theologian than N.T. Wright at the moment. The former Bishop of Durham has authored more than 70 books at both the popular and academic levels and regularly lectures at the finest universities, seminaries, and churches around the world. In June, he'll be coming to my own Truett Seminary for an intensive course on Galatians, which I'm already looking forward to attending. So I decided that between now and then the time had come for me to tackle Wright's magnum opus, the four-volume "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series.

The New Testament and the People of God has the unenviable task of setting the table, which means the first two hundred pages or so are basically a long abstract, thesis statement, and explanation of his research methodology. In the hands of a less capable writer this would be deadly dull; in Wright's it's tedious but bearable (and for academicians, necessary.) Once through this introductory work, however, Wright is able to get going with this first volume's major task: explaining the world of the New Testament.

An advocate of the so-called "New Perspective on Paul," Wright argues that the Protestant Reformation harmfully de-emphasized Christianity's relationship with Judaism, and thus the Old Testament. Thus much of this book is providing information, mostly from the New Testament, Apocrypha, and Josephus, about the beliefs and priorities of first century Judaism and then connecting them to Christ and the early church. For Wright, the gospel must be interpreted as the fulfillment of the Old Testament in order to be fully grasped; to call Jesus the Christ, a.k.a. the Messiah, means understanding him not just as Savior but as the keeping of God's promise to Israel.

Wright does a lot of convincing myth-busting throughout the book. The Pharisees, in his telling, are not trying to get into heaven through works (as the Reformers often caricatured), they are a conservative religious party trying to uphold God's law in a pagan society. The early church is not a brand new faith which rejects Judaism, but an extension of it which did not truly break from its roots until almost the second century. Explanations like these do a helpful job of bringing nuance and new perspectives to readers' understanding of the world of the New Testament.

The New Testament and the People of God is an academic tome, no bones about it; however, Wright is not only a brilliant thinker but one of my favorite religious writers, so the book is readable for pastors and others beyond the ivory towers of academia. For those wanting a fuller understanding of the New Testament world, I highly recommend this book as a reference.



THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER by Mark Twain

Maybe you already know the highlights of this beloved children's book: Tom Sawyer tricking his friends into whitewashing the fence for him, Tom watching his own funeral from the rafters, Tom sleeping in a cemetery  only to come upon grave robbers. I remembered these, both from a Wishbone episode and from my first time reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a middle schooler. But what I did not remember was just how delightful a little book this is, and how ably it captures the imagination and adventurous spirit of a young boy with time on his hands and wit to spare.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is less a novel than a series of loosely connected episodes; if Mark Twain were creating the character today he might have made this a Netflix series instead of a book. The through line is Tom himself, a mischievous Mississippi boy with a nose for trouble. Aided by friends Joe Harper and Huckleberry Finn, Tom navigates everything from young love to witnessing a murder, and with Twain at the storytelling wheel, it all makes for an entertaining tale that's tough to put down.

What struck me most reading Tom's adventures for the second time was just how different a reading experience it was as an adult than as a child. Some of Tom's preoccupations and fears, which when read as a boy made perfect sense to me, now read as satire. Twain clearly had a gift for portraying what boyhood is like, and the result is a book that, while meant for kids, is worthy of a different kind of appreciation by adults.

Though overshadowed by The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (which I'll read next month), Tom's novel is fun from beginning to end and introduces some of American literature's most enduring characters and memorable scenes. If you've never picked it up, give it a shot; you won't be disappointed.



THE BOYS OF SUMMER by Roger Kahn

Let's not beat around the bush hereThe Boys of Summer is considered by some to be the best baseball book ever written, and I'm not going to argue.

The elevator pitch for this book is that it's the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s and 1950s, the team that starred Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snider. But anyone expecting a linear season-by-season account of wins and losses is in for a treat; the book takes a much more interesting trajectory. The first half of The Boys of Summer is a memoir of Kahn's childhood growing up in Brooklyn and his eventual, unlikely ascendancy to the Dodgers beat reporter job for the New York Herald Tribune during the golden age of baseball writing. Kahn continues from there by telling what it was like to cover the Dodgers during those days, culminating in Brooklyn's World Series victory in 1955. After an interlude about his father that serves as both intermission and transition, Kahn then jumps forward several decades where, after years of feature writing for magazines, he decides to track down the old Dodgers and tell their stories chapter by chapter.

The stories—about Kahn's Brooklyn upbringing, the Dodgers' stories from the 1950s, and Kahn's accounts of the lions in winter—are compelling enough, but Kahn's writing is what really takes your breath away as you read. While he spent years as a beat reporter, Kahn's writing ability goes far beyond the just-the-facts kind of writing traditionally employed by such reporters. He has a gift for storytelling, and does a marvelous job of getting to the heart of the Dodgers, both as a team and as individual men. By the end of the book, you feel like you know the team through and through, and only wish you could have seen them play.

While The Boys of Summer is widely lauded, some critics have said the book is overly sentimental and paints the team and its city in sepia tones, ignoring hard realities for the sake of romanticism. Maybe, but Kahn's writing sells it, and by the time I finished, my only disappointment with the book was that it was over. And besides, like the saying goes, how can you not be romantic about baseball? 


ESSENTIAL WEREWOLF BY NIGHT VOL. 1-2 by Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Doug Moench, Mike Ploog, Don Perlin, et al.

As I've slowly worked my way through 1970s Marvel horror comics via my beloved Essentials line, there have been highs and lows. Tomb of Dracula is some of the best Bronze Age stuff I've read in any genre, with interesting characters, gorgeous art, and a don't-take-it-too-seriously sensibility. Comics starring Brother Voodoo, the Scarecrow, and the Living Mummy reside at the opposite end of the spectrum, boring me to tears with dull stories and characters, B-movie dialogue, and mediocre art. With Essential Werewolf by Night Vol. 1-2, two books which contain every appearance of the titular character in the 1970s, I got comics right in the mediocre center, never embarrassing but never thrilling either.

Werewolf by Night tells the story of Jack Russell (yep, that's really his name), a college-aged resident of Los Angeles who discovers on his 18th birthday that he bears an incredible family curse: at the full moon, he transforms into a mindless, vicious werewolf. Over the course of the title's 43-issue run, Jack teams up with his friend Buck, his sister Lissa, and a mysterious empath named Topaz to try and remove his curse while also facing a variety supernatural foes.

There is some Bronze Age-y goodness to enjoy. For example, by the series' end, the werewolf has developed an arch-nemesis named—wait for it—Dr. Glitternight. I mean, how can you not love that? On the other hand, the stories get repetitive quickly, and there's no real arc for Jack throughout the series. What's more, none of the characters really grabbed me.

Reading Essential Werewolf by Night Vol. 1-2 was a perfectly unobjectionable way to spend a month, but I can't say I'll remember much of it long-term. Sometimes comics are middling affairs, and Werewolf by Night, it turns out, was for its entire duration during the Bronze Age.