Roberto Rivera

Where the Monsters Are


Roberto Rivera

Memorial Day is almost upon us, and with it the unofficial start of summer. And with summer comes summer reading lists.

We’ve done summer reading lists before at BreakPoint and the Colson Center. The problem with summer reading lists at a place that asks “What’s a Christian to think and do?” is that they often neglect the most important qualification for a book on a summer reading list: It has to be entertaining. I’m not against “uplifting” books, and I’m certainly not against books that make you think, but not, especially between Memorial and Labor Days, at the expense of enjoyment.

With this in mind, here are my recommendations.

The first is the Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin. About a decade ago, Cronin’s daughter asked him to write a story about “a girl who saves the world.” Four years later, “The Passage” introduced readers to that girl, Amy Harper Bellafonte, and the world she saves.

“The Passage” was like no book I, or anybody else, had ever read. It was about a world overrun by vampires, or “virals,” as the book called them. Yet it was honest-to-goodness literature with three-dimensional characters, a well-crafted and coherent world, and serious reflection on the human condition, including religion. And lots of action when action was called for. The New York Times summed it up nicely: “The Passage is a literary super-thriller.”

The second book, “The Twelve,” which came out two years later, continued the story and added new layers to the tale. While it was prone to the limitations of all middle chapters, it left me impatient for the third and final chapter, which I expected to be released in 2014.

Except that it wasn’t. 2014 came and nothing. Likewise for 2015. I began to worry that I might not live to see the release of the finale of the trilogy. (My mind works this way.)

Then, I recently browsed Amazon and learned that the conclusion, “The City of Mirrors,” would be released on May 24, 2016. I preordered it and, three days ago, it appeared on my Kindle like manna from heaven. I’m now rereading the first two books—I reread “The Passage” when “The Twelve” came out—before starting “The City of Mirrors.”

Why do I recommend you read this series? Because it’s great. Because it’s dystopian and post-apocalyptic without being nihilistic or devoid of hope. (Spoiler: The world is saved.) Because the “vampires” are hideous monsters who are not the least bit “sexy” or “seductive.” They would eat Bella Swan, not marry her. Yet, in Cronin’s telling of their story, at least some of them are also to be pitied.

Because it features young people who understand that their first duty is to others and not to their feelings or moods. People fall in love, and carry torches, but they don’t mope, and they set their feelings aside for the larger good.

Because it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of “playing God.” The “virals” are something we did to ourselves because we thought that we could bend and manipulate nature to suit our selfish purposes. Flyers, were we ever wrong.

And because it’s great. (I know I said that already.)

Best of all, since the combined trilogy is 2110 pages long, it will take a while to read. Don’t be put off by that. What are you going to read instead? Amish romance? Young Adult fiction? Christian fiction? (Gasp!)

The other recommendation is “America’s War for the Greater Middle East,” by Andrew Bacevich. After you have emerged from Cronin’s world, you will, unfortunately, re-enter ours, and, with it, the fakakta world of American politics in a presidential election year.

You will hear a lot of unserious people saying a lot of unserious things about serious matters, especially when it comes to foreign policy, and especially when it comes to the Greater Middle East (the area from Afghanistan through North Africa.) Pay no attention to the people behind and in front of the curtains and, instead, read a serious book by a serious man who knows what he’s talking about.

How serious a book? Bacevich puts the story of our involvement in the region in its proper historical context, and, in doing so, reveals how little thought and how much hubris led to our entanglement in a region we don’t understand, much less can ever hope to remake in our image.

How serious a man? Bacevich is a retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam, and whose own son, Andrew J. Bacevich, Jr., was killed in Iraq. He is not an armchair general, a fighting keyboarder, or a theorist. He is, in his own words, a “Catholic Conservative,” whose faith pops up in subtle, unexpected, and often humorous ways, as he tells his tale.

I don’t expect you to agree with everything he has to say, if no other reason than that we have been force-fed a largely fallacious narrative about what constitutes national security and the purpose of our military. But you will come away knowing a lot more about America’s presence in this volatile region of the world. In fact, you will know a lot more about the subject than most of the people running for federal office.

There you have it: 2590 pages of worthwhile summer reading.

After you’re done, you will probably be wondering who the real “virals” are.


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