Brett Busang: ‘Good Books Turn Our Thinking Along Grooves That Aren’t Well-Established’

"Water Oak" (Capitol Hill) by Brett Busang

My friend Brett recently sent me a note commenting on my book Who Killed Donte Manning? Brett’s an amazing artist. I’ve got one of his paintings at home and another hangs on loan in the Sojourners offices. It’s humbling to have someone reflect your work back to you and put it into their own intimate context. Thanks, Brett!

“You sure packed a lot into that little volume.  I found myself re-reading passages I did not grasp as perfectly as I might have.  The reason?  Like the richest of anything, they were multi-faceted and agreeably complex.

Good books turn our thinking along grooves that aren’t very well-established because they just haven’t been used.  I’m very grateful for the re-routing.

I’d also like to compliment you on the weaving-together of many strains: ancient history, holy scripture, urban planning, urban warfare, urban ritual.  A man prays in a “profane” space.  A little boy falls victim to a retaliatory shooting.  God is repudiated by men who want to centralize power.  Over time, power means military might – but also coffee, which is available in a “socially responsible” atmosphere that has nonetheless supplanted gardens.  Grown men groove to the gospel as they buff and shine their cars.  More importantly, the mother of a victim embraces the victim’s friends.  It’s good to be reminded of the momentary paradise most of us can grasp after an okay afternoon (or appalling shootout.)

I’m going to read it again tomorrow.  I think I missed too much the first time.

I spent the last week in a small Massachusetts town.  While there, I looked after a friend, made pencil drawings, and read about post-Katrina New Orleans.  I asked this friend to drive me along the Merrimac River, along which Thoreau had travelled as a young man.  I was utterly bewitched – and am glad I had to return shortly afterwards.  I would have otherwise made plans to move there.  Not a good idea.  I believe, like you, that age-old dramas are enacted in our “evil” cities and feel I should bear witness to at least some of them.  Not like you, of course – but in my more cowardly fashion.

Thanks for writing the book.  It provided a brand-new context for my own ruminations about half-hearted justice and wasted lives.  It invested seemingly fragmentary events with a sense of urgency.  And it charged the familiar with grace and meaning.”

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