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Books That Comfort In The Aftermath Of Tragedy



Writer Danny Heitman says literature can be a source of comfort after a  national tragedy like the Boston Marathon bombings.

“I think at times like this, it is useful to connect with literature,” Heitman, columnist for The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “Literature does restore us to that wellspring of narrative that is so important for us to understand who we are and what we can be.” Heitman said.

He recommends five books that provide solace:

  1. The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder
  2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  3. One Man’s Meat” by E.B. White
  4. A Collection of Essays” by George Orwell
  5. 1776” by David McCullough

What are your book recommendations? Tell us on Facebook or in the comments.


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  • http://profiles.google.com/barry.kort Barry Kort

    Fiction is a great scam.  You get to tell the truth while pretending to lie.

    A year ago, Robin, you interviewed Thomas de Waal, an expert on the novels of the Russian Realists.  Among the novels you discussed with Thomas de Waal was Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

    I wonder if it’s now timely to take a fresh look at another of Dostoevsky’s novels, The Demons.

    The first novel ever written about terrorism, Dostoevsky’s The Demons is also the most instructive, for in it he addresses better than any writer before or since the two persistent riddles of terrorism: why are terrorists so new to our civilization, and how is it that they can kill others so easily in the name of a political idea?

    As a first-generation observer of terrorism, Dostoevsky came to the conclusion that this new political movement was the product of modern culture, politics, and psychology. He felt that modernity created a unique shame and humiliation that fueled terrorism.

    The “demons” that he brings to life in this novel are not fire-breathing monsters, but gracious, subtle, cosmopolitan, rational, and scientific. They are also murderers, rapists, arsonists, and terrorists. For Dostoevsky, these “demons” were ultimately the product of cosmopolitan Paris, for it was there that individuals first deified reason and thus abandoned the ancient sources of morality the ancient Gods.

    By replacing the ancient with the modern gods of atheism, science, and liberalism, modern societies have abandoned any sort of moral constraint that helped to keep violence and tyranny in check. This created the new, modern, nihilistic world of terrorism.

    If modern shame and humiliation are truly at the heart of modern terrorism, twenty-first century readers can gain a clearer insight into terrorist motivations through understanding Dostoevsky’s work.

    The Solution of the Fist: Dostoevsky and the Roots of Modern Terrorism aims to aid in this process through an in-depth analysis of his work and a careful explanation of the context in which nineteenth-century readers would understand it.

    It’s astonishing how insightful and prescient Dostoevsky was. Rene Girard’s model of competition, conflict and violence comes right out of Dostoevsky’s novels.

    And this book also points out that Dostoevsky also had foreseen James Gilligan’s model pegging shaming, blaming, and economical marginalization as salient causes of violence.

    Gilligan also has something to say about another of Dostoyevsky’s themes: Crime and Punishment

    Punishment and Violence: Is the Criminal Law Based on One Huge Mistake? by James Gilligan, Harvard University; published in the Journal of Social Research, Fall 2000.

  • http://twitter.com/LarryEdwards LarryEdwards

    Great interview. Thank you for having Danny on your show.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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