Last weekend I stayed at the Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, there to be evaluated for admission to their kidney transplant list. Much of my downtime was spent (how else) reading.
How Cycling Can Save the World is a straightforward argument for the promotion of bicycling as transportation, following the Dutch example. Walker is particularly interested in reviving urban cycling’s prospects in Great Britain. which had some support at the time from Mayor (now Prime Minister) Boris Johnson, and he compares Johnson’s efforts with those of Bloomberg’s transport coordinator, Janette Sadik-Khan. Contrary to the book’s title, Walker doesn’t draw much on the environmental appeal of bike transport; instead, he focuses on health, human happiness, and the boons to cities. Preaching to the choir for me, of course, but I have three books waiting (Creating the Dutch Cycling City, Copenhaganize, and Streetfight) on the practicalities of creating better streets and human spaces within American cities.
Next up was Pioneer Priests and Makeshift Altars, which I’d intended to save for June. This is a history of colonial America’s Catholic communities, which were few and hard-pressed. Connor begins with a history of the reformation, particularly as it developed in England, before moving to the creation of Maryland as a hoped-for Catholic refuge during the era of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. English Catholics were more willing to try their luck at home than abroad, though, and Connor details how Maryland was quickly swamped by Puritans – -who, during the coup-by-Parliament that brought William and Mary of the Netherlands to the English throne, made Catholic colonists enemies in their own place once again. Despite the disdain many of the founding generation for Catholics, and the risk that independent states might impose some form of protestantism as the new state religion, many Catholics supported the cause for independence. Connor attributes this to Charles Carroll’s role as a revolutionary leader, as well as the pragmatic determination that it was better to stand side by side of puritanical patriots and have a voice in creating the new nation than to be permanently cast as outsider loyalists. This is a generally-ignored area of early American history, and I’m glad for Connor’s series. I’ll probably be continuing with his books on Catholics in the Civil War, followed by the Catholic experience in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was strengthened by mass immigration from Ireland, Italy, Poland, etc.
Called to Serve is another book on Catholics in early America, this one focusing on nuns.
Lastly and very leastly, I picked up John Grisham’s Sooley from the library bookstore. It costs $0.25 there ,and I’d like a refund. I’ve read Grisham’s other sport books before and more or less enjoyed them — particularly Bleachers, with its unique appeal to anyone who’s experience Friday night football in a small southern town. Sooley had promise, introducing us to a sweet kid from South Sudan whose height, talent, and hard work take him to America to play basketball. Within weeks of his arrival, he learns that his family has been dislocated by Sudan’s interminable civil war. Although he wants to return, he’s convinced by his stateside mentors that he can help them far better from the States, where he’s in a position to forward them money and raise awareness for their and other refugees’ plight. Although Sooley struggles both with this and the increasing challenge of playing basketball against other men who are just as talented as he is, he’s breaking out and on his way to glory when the hedonism his new wealth unlocks gets the better of him. I had mixed feelings about the novel before reaching the frustratingly dismal ending (the sentence structure is oddly simplistic, as if Grisham were writing for a younger or duller audience), Grisham’s weak attempt to put a silver lining on his bleak and depressing story reinforced my already healthy disaffection for him as an author.