As Time Goes By

Mary Higgins Clark (Simon & Schuster)

What books are worth reading, and how do we decide? A lot of literary types (some of them are my friends) sneer at Stephen King. They don’t even deign to sneer at Mary Higgins Clark—but David Foster Wallace read her with attention. My intro to Clark came via my daughter Katy, who was listening to one of her novels. If you haven’t read Clark, As Time Goes By is a good place to start. You’ll enter the world of Delaney Wright, just promoted to an anchor role at a TV station and soon to find her world turned upside down. Too formulaic? I don’t think so, but you decide for yourself.

Short Trip to the Edge

Scott Cairns (Paraclete Press)

This is a revised edition of a book published in 2006, chronicling the author’s first three pilgrimages to Mount Athos in northern Greece. Since then, he tells us in the preamble to the new edition, he has returned 17 times (!). An adult convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, Cairns is best known as a poet, and he writes with a poet’s eye for luminous detail and impatience with cant. That adds freshness and a wry authenticity to his heartfelt account of the life of prayer. “It is not, finally, my prayer that I’m after,” he writes, “but the prayer of the Holy Spirit in me, praying . . . connecting me to Christ and, as it happens, his existential Body, the church.”

The Winter Fortress

Neal Bascomb (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

When you see the subtitle of this book—“The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb”—you may be put off, as I was, by the word epic, which suggests a certain genre of World War II narrative that I find wearying, driven by hype. In fact, Bascomb’s page-turner is nothing like that. Set mostly in Norway, it describes a theater of the war—and a particular episode—to which we aren’t dulled by familiarity, and it’s told on a personal scale: intimate, believable. That the stakes were indeed high makes the tale all the more compelling, but Bascomb never feels the need to exaggerate in order to hold reader interest.

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