Richard Vernon is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, New York.
Posts By This Author
Fun, Fantasy, and Other Deep Truths
NICK HARKAWAY’S second novel, Angelmaker, is out now through Knopf. His first, The Gone-Away World, found favor with fans of boisterously literate science fiction. Angelmaker is, in many ways, tipped from the same mold as its predecessor. It is unapologetically fun (with a particularly English sense of humor familiar to fans of Stephen Fry and Douglas Adams), stuffed full of blisteringly creative ideas and digressive subplots, and shot through with darker undernotes. In it Harkaway asks some large questions about (among other things) the nature of identity, who owns the truth, the dark side of the will to power, and the true cost of the preservation of stability. The novel also makes a strong case for the power of compassion, courage, and the glory of imagination used well.
Angelmaker follows two alternating threads. In one an irreverent and intelligent orphaned girl, Edie Banister, is recruited into wartime secret service with the Ruskinites, an order of men and women devoted to beautiful craftsmanship who have been roped into weapons development. She rescues and falls in love with a genius who is using microscopic clockwork to build a supercomputer that will reveal the truth and end war. This “Apprehension Engine” (the titular Angelmaker), is baroque and bizarre; the force field of truth is to be disseminated by mechanical bees swarming from clockwork hives around the world. Naturally, an unreconstructed dictator wants to use it as a weapon of mass destruction.
The second thread is the present-day tale of Joe Spork, as he attempts to lead a humble, honest life until he is manipulated into adventure by the elderly Banister and pursued by the now-corrupt and terrifying Ruskinites.
The Story of Everything
The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick. Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Along the Fault Line
I met Eliza Griswold in a Starbucks round the corner from her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Thrumming with nervy energy, she comes off as smart, ambitious, charismatic, and intensely interested. Griswold has published one book of poetry, Wideawake Field (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Her poetry and award-winning journalism have been published in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and Harper’s. Now in her mid-30s, Griswold grew up in various parts of Pennsylvania and moved to Chicago in 1987, when her father, Frank Griswold, an Episcopal priest, was consecrated as a bishop. (He would later serve as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in North America from 1997 to 2006.)
Eliza Griswold’s first full-length prose work is The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). In it she recounts her journeys within Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The text, although nicely larded with statistics and historical background, focuses particularly on her encounters with the men and women most vigorously engaged, on one side or the other, in the frequently violent clashes between Christians and Muslims in those countries. Where the book shines is in the way it allows you to take tea with a Jihadi leader and notice his odd habitual gestures, or the fact that he laughs less than the first time we met him. The big picture is illuminated through such exquisitely detailed miniatures.
Extended Interview with Eliza Griswold
I met Eliza Griswold in a Starbucks round the corner from her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Rough, Mystic Beauty
Say God: Songs and Poems of Daniel Higgs. Thrill Jockey.
A Case Study in the Possible
How Britain's Traidcraft went from church hall to the London Stock Exchange, without losing the faith.
Entering the Fair Trade Zone
The Scottish district of East Renfrewshire has—along with towns, villages, schools, and more than 1,000 churches throughout Britain—recently secured "fair trade status." Ken Macintosh,
Aliens and Angels
Themes of faith, justice, and fantasy mark the world of teen reads.
Not Our Navy!
AIN'T NO SUCH baby as the Scottish Royal Navy ("Great Scot!" Between the Lines, May-June 2001), there's just the Royal Navy.
Celebrating Creator and Creativity
For thousands upon thousands of people, four days at the end of each August are reserved for a musical extravaganza called simply Greenbelt. This festival in rural England has become one of what Malcolm Muggeridge describes as "the thin places." Such places are where the wall between the human and the divine, Heaven and Earth, becomes a translucent veil. The devotion of the attendees makes sense in light of the depth of their experiences of God and creation, especially in this, Greenbelt’s silver jubilee.
Its Christian, artistic, and social justice natures aside, Greenbelt’s cultural locus may require some transatlantic explanation. The two main secular pillars upon which the festival stands are bank holidays and rock festivals. A bank holiday is a Monday where all financial institutions (and by default all businesses) are closed. Of these, the August Bank Holiday weekend is the most firmly established. The nearest North American equivalent would be Labor Day weekend. Also now long established are the rock festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading, the Fleadh, and so forth. Imagine Lollapalooza lasting several days, or Woodstock being an annual event, and you’ll start to get the picture.
Into this cultural context, insert a Christian arts festival, which started as a rock festival and takes place mostly under canvas, and things should be getting even clearer. This is an event unlike any you’ve had contact with before...unless you’ve been to Greenbelt.
Cartographer of the Soul
Finding Sweet Relief
In the Real World of Flawed People
Children's Books Wrapped Up
Peniel (For Seth)
Wrestle with me