How's this for novel? A novel about creation, the big-C Creation. That would be Mr g, the latest book by Alan Lightman, new in paperback from Vintage. And as in novels, in Mr g there are characters, but they're of the otherworldly variety: a creature named Belhor, a couple of beasts, and a kindly couple named Uncle Deva and Aunt Penelope. Then there's the big (but modest) man himself (or is it Himself?): Mr g, also known as God, the maker of worlds.
When Mr g opens, there's a lot of making to do, but the sky isn't the limit, because there is no sky. There aren't even limits. There's simply the capital-V Void. Thanks to Mr g, though, soon there's Time. And in time, emptiness turns to form and, in turn, life. But this isn't life entirely as we know it, because the universe in Mr g isn't our own. There's no Earth to speak of. But there are first principles, atomic activity, and ethical issues (not to mention an off-key mezzo-soprano) to consider.
It's a rare writer who can entertain the general reader with such a scenario. That writer is Alan Lightman: native Memphian, trained physicist, joint professor in the sciences and the humanities at MIT, and the man behind the best-selling Einstein's Dreams, in addition to subsequent novels and an ongoing stream of articles on the workings of science and the human spirit, including religious belief. Lightman believes that both are approaches to knowledge. But if Mr g comes with borrowings from the world's religions, its author is frank about his own faith.
"In terms of my own religious belief, I consider myself a spiritual atheist," Lightman said recently by phone from his home in Concord, Massachusetts. "I think I'm a spiritual person, and I understand the meaning of spirituality. It's an important value in my life. But, no, I don't believe in the existence of God."
Okay then, but listen here: Hear Alan Lightman when he's in Memphis this week to speak at the First Unitarian Church of Memphis ("The Church of the River") on Friday, November 16th, at 7:30 p.m. Lightman's topic: "The Physicist as Humanist: Science, Art and Religion." Booksigning to follow. For more information, go to churchoftheriver.org or call 526-8631.
Down to Earth
Eli Manning, Haley Barbour, Antonin Scalia, and Davis Love III have all been guests. You are too in the pages of A Million Wings: A Spirited Story of the Sporting Life Along the Mississippi Flyway, the latest in a series of coffee-table books from ArtsMemphis that describe and illustrate the hunting life. And not just any hunting life.
As in First Shooting Light: A Photographic Journal Reveals the Legacy and Lure of Hunting Clubs in the Mississippi Flyway (2008) and Wild Abundance: Ritual, Revelry and Recipes from the South's Finest Hunting Clubs (2010), A Million Wings combines text by ArtsMemphis' Susan Schadt, founder and president of Wild Abundance Publishing, and images, this time by Memphis-based Lisa Buser, whose photography also graced the pages of Wild Abundance. And as in First Shooting Light and Wild Abundance, proceeds from the sale of A Million Wings benefit area arts organizations, environmental education, and conservation efforts in Memphis and throughout the region.
The focus in A Million Wings is just as the book's subtitle has it: a dozen hunting lodges and clubs (among them, Raccoon Ranch, Greasy Slough, and Fighting Bayou) ranging as far north as the St. Louis area, down through the duck-hunting flyway of Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi, on down to coastal Louisiana. Buser documents the scene in more than 200 color photographs of the skies, the landscape, the clubs, and club members. Schadt recounts stories about club culture and especially the camaraderie enjoyed by members, guests, guides, and cooks.
As Schadt reports: "Duck hunters are avid outdoorsmen, conservationists, and hunters who embrace a brand of camaraderie steeped in history and tradition, inspiring intense devotion to the land and animals, as well as the desire to share it all with family, close friends, and future generations."
Club member or not, readers of A Million Wings can share in it too. For more information, go to wildabundancepublishing.com. And to meet Susan Schadt and Lisa Buser, be on hand for a discussion and signing of A Million Wings at Oak Hall on Thursday, November 15th, at 5:30 p.m. or at the Booksellers at Laurelwood on Thursday, November 29th, at 6 p.m.