The essay, in which a writer has ample space–but not too much–to meander across seemingly unrelated topics before eventually drawing them together with whatever connection initially struck him, is a wonderful medium full of rich opportunity for reflection. Alan Jacobs is one of my favorite writers, and he is at his best when writing essays. Jacobs is the kind of writer and thinker who always makes me feel smarter, more contemplative, and broader-minded than I was before I picked him up. He does this as a professional academic, but without sounding like one. His tastes range from the modern “penny dreadful” to the high forms of ancient literature–and, to his credit, unabashedly so. His thoughts are as profound as they are genuine and unpretentious. And this collection was glorious.
Jacobs brings the reader through a range of delights and melancholies, some of which I had already shared (two entries on Harry Potter!; one on trees), and others that I had no idea how much delight I could take in them until reading Jacobs’ reflections(dictionaries, for example). In two essays more explicitly focused on theological issues, he dissects the phenomena of the Green Bible (driven by environmentalism) and the “new monasticism” movement among many evangelicals today. The collection ends with a brief answer to a question posted to him about how Christians can be a cultural force for good (the simple answer: it will be a product of our faithfulness).
Enveloping myself in the aura of this particular collection made me want to sit in solitude, or to stroll through the woods for an hour, or to begin my own attempt at a contemplative essay. I don’t imagine this is anything other than a valuable and edifying way to spend my time.