How am I supposed to live? What am I supposed to do? These questions form the basis of the human condition, and they have been asked again and again for millennia. They are of particular interest to Rod Dreher, whose first book “The Benedict Option,” presents a strategy of hunkering down in intentional communities as a way of keeping moral commitments in a secularizing society. Dreher’s latest book “Live Not by Lies” is an apt sequel, offering millions of people in our “Brave New World” (his allusion), solace and instruction in how to live life in the face of challenges ahead.
“Live Not by Lies” is divided into two parts. Part one, “Understanding Soft Totalitarianism,” is a corollary to Hannah Arendt’s seminal work. Arendt, Dreher reminds us, wrote that totalitarian movements are “mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals.” Such a description may have applied to Weimar Germany, but it even better represents our current age” Modern life is ripe for totalitarianism. Although what Dreher calls “soft totalitarianism” may still be in its incipient form in the West, it is evident by the complete politicizing of everything, from bathrooms to basketball, that the process has begun.
The second part of “Live Not by Lies,” titled “How to Live in Truth,” deals with the problem that inevitably arises from such a diagnoses. Even if one can clearly foresee the steady march of “soft totalitarianism,” comparing current life in America to Soviet Russia is a bit of a stretch. Christians in this country are allowed to go to church to profess their faith, and no serious person thinks this right is in any immediate danger. What, then, is causing this feeling of uneasiness? And, more importantly, what is to be done?
Dreher’s answer can be gleaned by the book’s title, “Live Not by Lies,” which comes from a quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Although Christians aren’t likely to be thrown in gulags any time soon, the vast monoculture increasingly mandates that anyone who wants to work or otherwise participate in society must subscribe to woke ideology. This includes renouncing certain truths considered foundational to Christian doctrine. All morality must be subverted to Western capitalisms one overriding principle: “There is only here and now and the eternal flame of human desire. Volo ergo sum—I want, therefore I am.”
Part one is a good study of how we as a culture got to this point, but the real value of this book comes in Part Two: “How to Live in Truth.” In reporting for the book, Dreher went to countries of the former Soviet Bloc. He talked to people who remember living under real totalitarianism, where mere faith in God could lead to getting shot. Many of those interviewed expressed misgivings about trends they are seeing the younger generations. However, in relating their own stories, they provide hope that as long as there are individuals willing to fight, then all is not lost. And as long as there is memory of a time when individuals were willing to fight, then there will be motivation and encouragement to live up to that example.
As far as specifics, Dreher’s best advice is on this point:
“Most of us in the West don’t yet have opportunities to suffer for the faith like Christians under communism did, but we have their stories to guide us, as well as the accounts of Christian martyrdom worldwide throughout the ages. Familiarize yourself with their stories, and teach them to your children.”
If there is a takeaway from this book, it could perhaps be the famous verse from Ecclesiastes: “What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun! ” Anyone who needs reminding of this fact would find value in “Live Not by Lies,” and, at the very least, a starting point for how to forge ahead as a stranger in a strange land.
Book Review: ‘The Final Girl Support Group’
Release Date: July 2021
Cozy up on your next snow day and read Gary Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group.
Author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires (2020), Grady Hendrix succeeds again in tapping into our favorite horror films to deliver this mystery. Six young women make up the “Final Girl Support Group.” Each survived horrific massacres that have been turned into successful film franchises. Movies such as Friday The 13th and Halloween actually happened in this version of America. Twenty years later the spotlight has moved on and society has found new monsters and victims. Still, these women sit in a circle of chairs in a church basement trying to figure out how to live their lives. Paranoid Lynnette Tarkington reluctantly participates in group therapy sessions with Dr. Carol Elliot along with fellow survivors Marilyn Torres, who has buried her emotions in wealth; Dani Shipman, who might have killed the wrong person; Julia Campbell, whose encounter left her in a wheelchair; and Heather DeLuca, who is succumbing to addiction. Some of them are in denial about what happened. Some still live in terror, always looking over their shoulders, imprisoned by their own fears.
After one member of this vigilant sisterhood is murdered and a series of persistent attacks threaten the rest, Lynnette becomes increasingly suspicious that the attacks are originating way too close to their inner circle. “Does this ever end?” Lynnette asks. “Will there always be someone out there turning little boys into monsters? Will we always be final girls? Will there always be monsters killing us? How do we stop the snake from eating its own tail?” The book is creepy enough on its face, but Hendrix’s use of narrative tools heightens the unease.
The Final Girl Support Group isn’t necessarily scary, but the plot is action-packed and delivers its share of gore. The novel is an ultimately entertaining and inspiring take on horror movies, trauma, and self-determination. Available on Amazon!
Book Review: ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’
I first read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo this past month after my friend and I swapped our favorite summer books. I opened the book one Saturday morning and couldn’t put it down. Despite the fact that it was published nearly five years ago, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo continues to captivate readers’ interest on BookTok, Bookstagram, and Goodreads.
This story is about renowned Hollywood actress Evelyn Hugo who, after decades of blockbuster hits, is now 79 and ready to give an exclusive interview after years of dodging the press. But the only one granted access is a little-known journalist named Monique Grant. Though she can’t understand why she’s been chosen, Monique goes to Evelyn’s home and finds out Evelyn doesn’t just want to do an interview — she wants to lay out every piece of her truth for Monique to write and sell her biography.
Though Evelyn won’t answer why she picked Monique to do the job, Monique agrees and Evelyn’s story begins to unfold from her calculated beginnings in Hollywood to the millions she enjoys in the present, each section of her life titled by each of her seven husbands and her reasons for marrying (and divorcing) them. As you journey through Evelyn’s life, it feels as if you’re being granted exclusive access to something you shouldn’t be seeing. It’s hard to believe the characters and events in this book aren’t real celebrities.
To me, a great book is one that makes you forget you’re reading in the first place, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo does exactly that. It’s an instantly captivating book, thanks in part to the story, but mostly to Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing. Her stories flow smoothly, her characters are complex and realistically flawed, and I happily got lost in the pages until the very end. This is the perfect cozy fall read!
Book Review: ‘Verity’ By Colleen Hoover
Colleen Hoover is all the rage this summer. The author’s 2016 romance novel It Ends With Us gained fame due to the viral nature of #BookTok (the book lover’s community on TikTok). I’ve always loved reading, especially during the summer months by the beach and pool. Surely because of this, my “For You Page” has been flooding with recommendations and reviews as to what to read next. I can without a doubt say that Verity is worth the hype.
Verity was first published in 2018 and has only just become available worldwide in paperback. I started reading Colleen Hoover last summer when I first discovered It Ends With Us on #BookTok and have read four of her other books since. Given that I finished this one in a day, I would say it is extremely readable!
Verity is different from Hoover’s usual style and genre of romance. This novel is twisting, unsettling, creepy, and psychologically mind-bending. From the beginning, I could not put it down. The plot follows protagonist, Lowen Ashleigh, a struggling writer who accepts a job offer to complete the remaining books of an unfinished, successful series. Jeremy Crawford, the husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen due to his wife’s serious injuries. Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. With shades of Gillian Flynn blending in with Hoover’s classic take on romance, our protagonist finds herself uncovering a story so horrifying, and all the while, falling for a grieving man. There is a thrilling twist at the end, which I am happy to debate, but I’m not giving any spoilers until you read it for yourself! Overall, I highly recommend the purchase. Find it on Amazon.