Sunday Book Reviews – 2/7/21

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

It’s Easier to Succeed Than to Fail by S. Truett Cathy (1989, Oliver-Nelson)

This is a fairly short, upbeat work that straddles the line between autobiography and self-help book. Deeply infused with Cathy’s religious beliefs, it tells the story of how Chik-Fil-A originated and grew while simultaneously impressing upon the reader the importance of decency and morality.

The parallels with Jimmy Carter’s Living Faith are obvious, not least of which are the Biblically-inspired lessons which hold true independent of a person’s faith. In neither book is the author telling readers that the Bible demands that they act a certain way; rather, the reader is provided with examples of behavior that is prone to reap rewards and the applicable Biblical rationale is then presented for that behavior. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. It makes the books useful for those who don’t necessarily share the evangelical Christian belief system, provided they aren’t turned off by its regular evocation.

The worst thing about the Cathy book is that it’s written competently. It reads like a standard ghost-written autobiography where an interviewer recorded hours of conversation and then went and wrote a book using that source material. That may not be what happened here, but it’s how the book feels. It’s artless and simplistic, which seems incongruous from a man responsible for creating a business empire. On the other hand, it’s shorter than the Carter book; if a person is simply looking for an inspirational book, this exploration of fast-food history is a solid choice, particularly for anyone who is or was an evangelical.

S. Truett Cathy passed away in 2014. He was not around to watch the pollution of his religious community, and one can hope that he would have continued to maintain the principles he set forth in these pages in 1989.

Clea by Lawrence Durrell (1960, Faber)

Durrell is a name which, while once prominent in international literature, has faded in recent decades. This acknowledgement of the effects of time should in no way diminish the value of his work. One of the characteristics of literature is its ability to examine the human condition, and that is something which remains essentially unchanged across the ages. Another common trait is the accurate presentation of a particular time and place (whether in fact or impression of the author.)

By both of these measures Durrell is a pleasure to read. His writing is lush (often leaning into dense, a common occurrence when reading works from other lands or other times) and evocative. It is a measure of his ability that the reader can be pulled into the narrative because of, not despite, his tendency for poetic turns of phrase and occasional questionable linearity of events. The result is not unlike sitting at a bar with a grand storyteller, with them shifting back and forth in time with asides and comments.

The first three books of the quartet, Justine, Balthazar, and Mountolive, present a cycle of events from three different perspectives. Each may be read independently, but the shifting viewpoints add depth to the story when read together. Clea is the coda of the series, presenting a tale set a few years past the events of the first three books and providing hints about what happened immediately following the ends of those novels.

It’s a pretty series of books, and it’s not the easiest series to read, but it’s a piece of classical literature that is enjoyable, has a measure of depth, and leaves the reader feeling informed and challenged rather than depressed. If you’re interested in a historical relationship drama with some serious meat on its bones, Clea is worth picking up either alone or as the final book of four.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.