A philosophically inquisitive discussion of what it means to be a Christian.




In a series of meditative essays, a former preacher with brain cancer ponders death, love, and God. 

Debut author Pankratz spent about a quarter-century as a missionary and pastor in the Evangelical tradition, but he eventually left it, disenchanted with what he saw as its hypocrisy, doctrinal dogmatism, and lack of inclusiveness. Moreover, he says, he was disillusioned by what he felt was a kind of scriptural idolatry—a blind devotion to the Bible that, in his view, placed it above spirituality and even God. The author experimented with a more liberal church, but although he was impressed by its message of tolerance, he was disappointed by the banality of its message. Pankratz’s post-ministry days have been professionally diverse: He’s sold cars, worked at a cafe and a liquor store, and tended bar. Here, he gathers his reflections into a series of self-sufficient essays that are more impressionistic than chronological; thus, they can be fully understood and enjoyed in any order. The author discusses a broad spectrum of personal and intellectual issues, including his ongoing battle with a cancerous brain tumor and his life as a husband and father. There are also lots of quotidian exploits and quirkily comic anecdotes about his friends—one of them apparently trained with a bona fide ninja. Still, the thematic fulcrum of his ruminations is his spiritual life—in particular, what it means to be a Christian outside the confines of institutional support and without the consolations of certainty. Pankratz writes with clarity and charm, and the personal intensity with which he interrogates serious issues is tempered by a breezy, informal style. His message is an uplifting one: “It…takes courage to face our feelings of loss, doubt, and emptiness. But once we begin sharing them, they often dissipate….We get served a pint of hope.…God is the ultimate bartender. And he never cuts us off.” The author’s background as a pastor does sometimes creep into his prose, as he has a tendency to sermonize. Overall, though, this is a thoughtful and engaging assemblage of reflections.

A philosophically inquisitive discussion of what it means to be a Christian.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5255-1731-0

Page Count: 270

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2018

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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