Friday, November 21, 2014

Emmaus Road's 20% - 50% Off Thanksgiving Sale

From Emmaus Road Catholic publisher comes this notice:
Save 20% to 50%

A Special Thanksgiving Offer

We have created a special page for our friends to enjoy great savings on a choice selection of Books, ebooks and Gift items. The sale prices are in effect now through December 5th.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Japanese Bantam

Japanese Bantam
by Himmapaan
I'm a sucker for roosters so this caught my attention. I love this naturalist style.

Well Said: Pilgrimage and a blessedness rooted in "the act of seeing"

To the pilgrim Dante, Beatrice explained that the purpose of all human existence is to see God; love itself is a means leading to this end. In analogous fashion, the Holy Years—times particularly dedicated to God—perfect the means and lead to the end. An indiscreet love that, according to Peter Chrysologus, nonetheless has the "ardor of piety" drives millions of people to undertake the pilgrimage to Rome, and at the end of the pilgrimage they want to see something; they have made the trip in order to taste, here on earth, a blessedness rooted in "the act of seeing." This is the logic of the system of great signs that accompany the life of believers—the sacramental system, that is; and it is the logic of pilgrimage, which is a "sacrament" of the individual's search for God.
Timothy Verdon, Art & Prayer
Somehow this makes great sense to me. Connecting the pilgrim's need to "see," to be in a place and experience in the flesh all the art, architecture, sounds, smells, and everything physical ... with the sacred.

Perhaps it is deeply rooted in what I love about Catholicism. The Church takes every chance to connect our bodies and souls with the divine. Pilgrimage takes that experience of finding the sacred through those things at mass and allows us to link it to the wider world, to the other physical things which God has given to help us "see" Him. Fascinating.

Of course, I am drawn right now to pilgrimage meditations because of the proposed pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Diana Von Glahn, The Faithful Traveler. We can't go if enough people don't go with us. Surely that is part of the physical experience for a pilgrim? Fellow travelers on the way? Who bless you, who get in your way, who make you think, and who may carry God's message to you. If you think you might be interested in journeying to "Come and see" the Holy Land, check out the link. And sign up!

Blogging Around: Fun Stuff Edition

First Look at Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for the BBC

I didn't know they were doing a BBC miniseries but if anyone can do this book justice it will be the BBC. The photo doesn't exactly match my mental image of Strange & Norrell but, on the other hand, I instantly knew who was who. Which is good enough actually.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

I definitely want to hear Cary Elwes' book in audio since it features the heavy hitters from the movie reading the parts about themselves. Brandywine Books has more about the book as well as a link to an article which helps whet your appetite with tidbits.

Turning Corners Into Art

Joseph Susanka has a heads up for an artist on Instagram whose specialty is photographing corners. Which results in some gorgeous art. I myself found the images on his website more compelling than Instragram but then Instagram ain't my thing. Check out Joseph's post for samples and links.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

These Just In: Interesting New Books

These are books that passed the first chapter test. Some are enticing me in spite of myself. Naturally that means that although I haven't read them yet I wanted to give you a heads up in case they entice you too.

The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life TodayThe Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today by John Michael Talbot and Michael Aquilina
In the 1970s, John Michael Talbot was new to the Christian faith and developed a habit of looking to the Church Fathers, including St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine and Gregory the Great for guidance. This book tells the story of how these men helped Talbot through spiritual and professional challenges throughout his life, and how these ancient Christians are relevant to the lives of modern believers today.
I'll be participating in the blog tour for this book. They had me at Aquilina. Then they threw in the Church Fathers and John Michael Talbot whose music, I'll be honest, I've never listened to. However, I'm friends with one of his longtime friends (the main deacon in our parish) and so am interested in his story. Plus, when flipping through I could see his memoir intertwines with the Fathers' stories in a way that just pulls me in.

Then Comes Baby by Greg and Lisa Popcak
Greg and Lisa Popcak lend readers the benefit of their twenty-five years experience in parenting and marriage and family counseling to help them navigate the earliest years of parenthood. They recommend rituals, routines, and tips on how to manage feeding, fatigue, and finances and how also to prioritize marital bonding and faith life, suggesting that setting the pattern early will pay dividends later ... while seeing these everyday experiences through the lens of Catholic teaching on the purpose of family life.
To be honest, I'm not going to actually read this whole book. However, I loved the Popcak's Just Married book and that gave me the impetus to flip through this one. I saw so much common sense displayed, combined with sensible Catholic grounding, that I resolved to buy two more copies to give to some young mothers I know.

Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas AquinasPractical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas by Peter Kreeft
Here are 359 pieces of wisdom from St. Thomas's masterpiece, the "Summa Theologiae," which ... have helped Kreeft in the struggles of real life, to live in the real world, to grow closer to the Lord, and he hopes they will do the same for his readers. After each passage directly from Aquinas, Kreeft provides brief spiritual commentary to help explain it and apply it - practical, personal, existential, livable thoughts. He has framed these readings as answers to questions that people actually ask their spiritual directors. Each answer is taken word for word from Aquinas.
I've been noting Jeff Miller's (The Curt Jester) progress with this book at Goodreads. Though he is a fast reader, this book's been taking him a while. I've never been interested in reading Aquinas and Jeff's slow progress wasn't inspiring me to get a copy of the book, though I am a Peter Kreeft fan from way back. Then, lo and behold, a review copy came in the mail.

And it happened. Kreeft laid a zinger on me on the very first question ...Yes, organized religion is a crutch. You mean you didn't know that you are a cripple? ... and I was hooked. These bits of Aquinas aren't easy. They require slowing down, mulling them over, and really thinking. It's been a while since I've had to do that. But they definitely look worthwhile. I'll be working my way through them at a rate of one per day. So in about a year I may be a little wiser. And maybe (fingers crossed!) a bit closer to heaven.

Chastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a VirginChastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin by Arleen Spenceley
Seasoned journalist and self-professed “happy virgin” Arleen Spenceley offers a mature, funny, and relatable vision of Catholic teaching on chastity for young adults. Chastity Is for Lovers provides perspective on a variety of topics—the difference between chastity and abstinence, how virginity is an affirming and valuable life choice, how the word “purity” can be harmful in ministry settings, how to date well, and why sexual self-control is the best form of marriage preparation—and gives single adults the best possible chance to find true love. She carefully avoids using language that shames readers and instead presents a view of chastity that is joyful and positive.
I'm not the target market for this book but I know lots of young women who are. That's what made me flip through the book. I kept coming across sections that caught my attention and made me want to know the rest of the story. I finally realized that I'm going to have to read this book even if it isn't aimed at me. Which says a lot about how personable this author is. And, let's face it, if I know people in the target market then I need to know what this author's saying because it could come up in conversation. Such are the times in which we live.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas illustration/cut-paper
by Himmapaan
Continuing our weeklong look at Himmapaan, we jump ahead seasonally. Look through the art featured at the linked post above and then go to the Amazon listing for The Night Before Christmas and look at the reader uploaded scans. That end pop-up has to be seen to be believed.

Well Said: The One Who Says "Come and See" to Pilgrims

Antoine Lafréry, Visit to the Seven Churches of Rome, 1575
This image of pilgrims going from one church to another highlights an important connection: that between prayer and visibility. Every journey undertaken in a spirit of prayer leads in fact to something visible: a mountain, a grotto, a temple, seven churches. On arrival, the pilgrim's experience is structured through rites nicely calculated to satisfy his desire to see something: processions, the exhibiting of relics, the veneration of images. Interesting, in this respect, the language used by the Florentine Giovanni Villani, present in Rome in 1300 for the first Jubilee, who tells us that "for the consolation of Christian pilgrims, every Friday and solemn feast day, the Veil of Veronica was exhibited" — the veil bearing the imprint of Christ's face, that is. But this rite served for "the consolation of Christian pilgrims," because human beings yearn to see God and are thus consoled in seeing his image. That is the connection: images presented to pilgrims at journey's end console them. Like the first disciples, pilgrims set out in response to One who says, "Come and see" (John 1:39a), and in Veonica's Veil or some other relic—as in the architecture and art they find on reaching their destination—they contemplate his face and behold his abode under the form of images.
Timothy Verdon, Art & Prayer
I never thought about the images at the end of the pilgrimage as being the "consolation of pilgrims." Or about connecting the end of the trip to the invitation to "Come and see." This is something I must reflect upon.

Of course, I am drawn right now to pilgrimage meditations because of the proposed pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Diana Von Glahn, The Faithful Traveler. We can't go if enough people don't go with us. Perhaps that is also the consolation of the pilgrim? Fellow travelers on the way? I know that often it takes someone else to point out what should be blindingly obvious to me. If you think you might be interested in journeying to "Come and see" the Holy Land, check out the link. And sign up!

After yesterday's horrific attacks in Jerusalem I almost removed this post which I had prepared yesterday. However, Diana got a note from a friend there who said that they need the tourism trade and that pilgrims are generally safe. This made me think about pilgrims through the centuries who we often forget braved physical danger in their quest to see where Jesus walked. And it puts me in touch with them in a more real way than ever...

In which we vacation in a very foreign land -- the past!

An audio sampler of The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer ... at Forgotten Classics podcast. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Well Said: Pilgrimage and Spaces of Prayer

... the pilgrims who, still today, ascend this "holy staircase" on their knees to glimpse beyond the grate the untouchable space of the "Holy of Holies" are people who have come from afar to mount the stairs that have been moved in order to see relics brought from elsewhere and a portable icon. In this case especially it is clear that the "space of prayer" is that which pilgrims themselves define as they relive in their hearts the passion of One who presented himself as the new "temple" and personal "holy place" of all who believe in him, Jesus Christ.
Timothy Verdon, Art & Prayer
As you know I am supposed to go on a Holy Land pilgrimage with Diana Von Glahn next spring. I say "supposed to" because participation thus far is very low and we may not have enough to fill the tour, in which case it is off.

I'm not sure why there is low participation because of all the people I'd want to travel with, Diana is tops on my list. Outside of family that is. Let's get real, after all.

Seriously though, anyone who's ever watched her Faithful Traveler show knows how great it would be to have her company anywhere, much less on a pilgrimage. If you are at all interested, I encourage you to check out the pilgrimage and sign up! The deadline is in January so we have time to fill it up, but not if everyone hangs back too long.

At any rate, I have been thinking about what a pilgrimage means in terms of travel so much that I'd forgotten what author Timothy Verdon points out above. Physical space is important to prayer and to pilgrimage. But it is what the pilgrim brings in their hearts which defines the "space of prayer."

Isn't that what God reminds us of again and again? It is what is inside us that defines the import of what  comes out of us, whether actions or words or any other physical element.

I have no great revelations to share based on this. But I ponder it.

Blogging Around: Diving Deeper Edition

This Just In — The Pope is Catholic

Which means he's not easy to define when you want to slap labels like conservative or liberal on him. As should be the case for any Catholic living the Church's teachings and following Jesus. GetReligion takes a look at the AP's Vatican correspondent's latest piece which someone summed up thusly:
Francis is a RADICAL – no, no, sorry about that–he is now a conservative who sounds just like Benedict -- NO, WAIT -- he really is a liberal at heart, but he is being FORCED by those evil, evil right-wing conservatives to cave--he is at WAR with his own CDF chief (you know, the one he re-confirmed -- but never mind) -- AT WAR, I TELL YOU!
This isn't news to many of us, but if you've been believing the main media headlines then this piece is a nice lesson in how to logically read a news story.

The Most Wrong Thing on the Internet Ever

Darwin Catholic points to a great review which will have Catholics and historians everywhere saying, "Finally!" At least those who know more about history than what "everyone knows." The book is God's Philosophers which I now want to read.

The review is by Tim O'Neill who is an atheist but one who cares passionately about truth. Which is my kind of atheist. One look at his piece Cartoons and Fables - How Cosmos Got the Story of Bruno Wrong made me want to kiss him. It was that very episode of Cosmos which made me vow never to watch again and also filled me with a deep distrust of Neil deGrasse Tyson. Anyone who gets the facts that wrong is trying to do so. And it makes me feel I can't trust him to tell me about science either.

Thinking About Interstellar

Now that I've seen the movie, I felt free to read the reviews and articles I'd been saving so I didn't encounter spoilers. The two that resonated most deeply and were the most interesting were both from The headlines sum up nicely and they are definitely worth reading. Beware: here there be spoilers.
  • Why Do We Reject Love as a Powerful Force in Interstellar? (Speaking about the science fiction community's reaction to parts of the movie. I don't know what they were expecting. Didn't they all watch Inception?
  • To Explore is to Take Care of Us All
    Because really, there will always be a time of crisis, won’t there? There will always be a need for caretakers and there will always be a need for explorers. They are, in fact, an inclusive concept. Exploring is caretaking and caretaking is exploring and Interstellar brings us a story about a family that boldly asserts the need for humanity to keep caretaking and exploring.

Worth a Thousand Words: Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Cover

by Himmapaan
Himmapaan illustrated the Folio Society's 2009 Limited Edition: a frontispiece, 15 full-page illustrations and 5 small line drawings in total. If you check the link above you'll see the art displayed and it is absolutely glorious.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Interstellar - a few thoughts

Interstellar ★★★★

I enjoyed Interstellar but it seemed rather unfocused as if Nolan had so many related ideas to cram into the story that he couldn't choose one way to go. I feel as if this movie would have benefited from the treatment given to Inception's script: left in a bedstand drawer for 10 years, occasionally pulled out and rewritten.

Overall, Nolan is still looking at the themes we have seen in his other original movies like Memento and Inception: why do we choose truth or lies, how love and people define us, and what drives us to be our best or worst selves. Early on I kept thinking of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs and although this movie goes in a very different direction, I'm not sure that was a wrong unconscious turn of my mind. Both movies are their directors' musings about humanity and what matters most deeply to each of us.

There were many things I enjoyed about this which I can't discuss without spoilers. Although one thing I CAN mention is that my husband's first comment upon leaving the theater was, "Jonathan Nolan just can't tell a story without using books these days, can he?" (Referring to an essential device from Person of Interest.) That hadn't occurred to me but it is very true. I also loved that two of the books whose spines we do see are The Stand and one by Arthur Conan Doyle (title unshown). These also provided food for thought...

Also, last but not least: best robot ever. Especially the design. Best. Ever.

Worth a Thousand Words: How the Whale Got His Throat

How the Whale Got His Throat
Just So Story illustration by Himmapaan
Niroot Puttapipat is a London-based illustrator who uses the name “Himmapaan.” I came across him via Lines and Colors. I was staggered at the variety his work shows. He seems to be able to move effortlessly between Golden Age style illustration, naturalist drawings, silhouettes, paper cut outs, and fanciful dinosaurs. I'm going to feature him all week so you can enjoy all the styles.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim by Harry Bucknall

Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On  Foot, Across Europe to RomeLike a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome by Harry Bucknall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

These days it seems almost commonplace to encounter stories about walking a pilgrimage on The Way of St. James – El Camino Pilgrimage in Spain. I've read a number of these and lately have been wondering if The Way is really crowded. Certainly a large number of people's experiences have made it into print.

Therefore I was interested to see this book by Harry Bucknall about his pilgrimage walking the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome. I'm not the only one who's never heard of this ancient pilgrim trail considering how few pilgrims the author encounters on his way. Bucknall does a nice job of relating his walking adventures and tying in the history of the places on the route. As a straight forward travelogue it is enjoyable.

However, it falls short when it comes to a significant part of a pilgrim's experience. Bucknall very rarely lets us see his inner self. There are about four times in this 272 page book where we get any hint of what he hopes for, is surprised by, or learns about himself. Any of these experiences would have given the most average person reason for reflection which one might reasonably expect to be shared in a book like this. I don't demand one be a believer, which this author is not, or religious fervor from such a book. In fact, one of my favorite pilgrimage books is Virgin Trails by an atheist. I don't even have to agree with the person's personal conclusions, as witness my feelings about Grandma's on the Camino, another book I can recommend.

However, there is a special blend of tour guide, introspection, and the author as friend that the best books convey about such journeys. One need only look at H.V. Morton's travel books, most of which are not religious at all, to get a sense of that special blend. I'm not sure if this was an editorial or authorial decision, but Bucknall seems to hold himself aloof from opening up. This leaves one with the sense that we are just skimming the surface.

I can recommend it on the basis of simply seeing what it is like to undertake walking a pilgrimage in modern times while holding to medieval paths. The history, landscape, and journey itself are interesting. Just don't expect to find out what internal changes one might experience.

This was a free review copy. I think we can all see that didn't influence my review.

Well Said: Tolkien's concern

The Ring is less morally ambiguous than the average realistic novel, but that's primarily because Tolkien wasn't especially interested in the problem of knowing right from wrong. His concern was to explore the psychology of the moment when you know right from wrong but aren't sure whether you have the courage and fortitude to do the right thing.
Alan Jacobs
Yep. And that is why The Lord of the Rings is endlessly fascinating.

Worth a Thousand Words: Ural Owl

Ural Owl
taken by Remo Savisaar
This is so atmospheric. How does he get these amazing photos?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

50% Off - A Year with the Saints by Paul Thigpen

A Year With the Saints: Daily Meditations with the Holy Ones of GodI love this book and was meaning to mention it to you even before I saw that Tan Books is offering it for half price until November 19.

I recently finished reading a page every day. Then I went back to the beginning of the book to begin it again.

I can't tell you how many times I've read the wisdom from a saint in the morning and had it tell me exactly what I needed to hear, whether wise advice, a timely warning, or just a reminder to be joyful because of our faith.

My review is here if you want to see a sample.

Worth a Thousand Words: Interior with Women Beside a Linen Chest

Pieter de Hooch (1629–after 1684), Interior with Women beside a Linen Chest.
I was reading about this artist recently in Paul Johnson's Art: A New History so it was doubly nice to "recognize" this piece when Charley Parker at Lines and Colors featured it. He does a wonderful job of succinctly pointing out just what makes it so good. Do go by and check it out.

What I've Been Reading Lately: The Mostly 5-Star Stuff

Some quick looks at books I've enjoyed lately which you may not hear talked about much.

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth CenturyThe Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a superbly written book which gives you excellent insight into what it would have been like to live back in the 1300s, by the simple method of acting as a travel book for your trip through time. I had several stereotypes upset (they did like to bathe and noticed people who smelled bad), was made to think of things which never occurred to me (such as how bad a pothole really can get), and most of all was able to relate to the human beings who lived in those days.

As is often the case, what we find is that human beings are still the same now as then, in our loves, hobbies, fears, and ambitions. Most of all I appreciated the author taking the trouble to remind us that these were real people who felt as we do. He didn't dwell on it excessively or bring it up often, but when he did it was just what was needed to jolt me out of my modern "superiority."

The Princess and the Goblin The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book my mother has long tried to get me to read since it was a childhood favorite of hers. Over the years I have heard it was also a favorite of C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, G.K. Chesterton and (possibly) J.R.R. Tolkien. With all that going for it, you'd think I'd have jumped on the bandwagon long ago.

It took me finding this LibriVox recording from one of my favorite narrators who has lamentably few books recorded, Andy Minter. He is simply superb. I get that delicious feeling of being a child snuggled down for a story being read by a favorite uncle as I am listening. It was funny, sweet, exciting, and was very enjoyable indeed.

One Bright Star to Guide ThemOne Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not sure how Wright did this. This novella picks up the idea of what happens when the children who were once engaged on a grand adventure (a la The Lion and the Wardrobe) reach middle age. The adventure has been sublimated to the necessities of adult life. When the call goes out for their heroic talents how will they respond? What will be the consequences for each of them? And for the rest of the world?

This is a very deep story with much to ponder and it promises rich enjoyment upon rereading. I now want the sequel.

Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern FantasyTales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy by Douglas A. Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an anthology of short stories (specifically fantasy) that J.R.R. Tolkien read and which could have sparked his imagination. It is the sort of book where I don't feel I have to painstakingly read every story if one isn't the sort I like. A quick skimming is perfectly adequate to give me the gist.

I've been surprised at how many of the stories I have enjoyed and how many have a fresh, modern feel considering how old they are (most from 1919 and earlier).

I also enjoyed the author's story introductions and the fact that he didn't try to force the idea that Tolkien read each of these or that each influenced him. It is enough that this is the fantasy atmosphere which was floating around during his formative and reading years before he began writing.

Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science FictionTales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction by Douglas A. Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with this editor's Tales Before Tolkien, this collection presents not only tales Lewis read but those which would have been in the current story environment when he was growing up. A really wonderful collection and one which I enjoyed thoroughly, all the moreso for the inclusion of short stories by some of Lewis's fellow Inklings who are lesser known.

I didn't feel I had to painstakingly read every story if one wasn't the sort I like. A quick skimming was perfectly adequate to give me the gist. If one approaches it that way then you will probably like it just as much as I did.

H.P. Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales: The Roots of Modern HorrorH.P. Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales: The Roots of Modern Horror by Douglas A. Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I come to this book via two influences. The first is that of The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast which, when they finished discussing all of Lovecraft's writing, then proceeded to read the authors and stories mentioned in his influential essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature. Hence, I've heard many of these stories discussed even though I haven't read them.

Secondly, this was a logical progression after reading Douglas A. Anderson's Tales Before Narnia and Tales Before Tolkien, both of which I greatly enjoyed.

This collection earns an additional star than Anderson's other anthologies simply because I am enjoying every single story in it. That speaks more to my enjoyment of weird tales than to Anderson's selection but it is a fact that this is the collection I'll be buying and rereading in the future.

The Problem of PainThe Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there is a God, then why is there so much suffering and pain in the world?

This is a common problem brought up by atheists and C. S. Lewis says it was a problem for him before he became Christian. Somehow it's not a question that ever bothered me whether I believed or didn't. So I welcomed the premise of the book since that's a question that always stops me in my tracks. I also was happy to see my library had it available on audio.

This is one of those books that pulls no punches. In his trademark style, Lewis applies logic, common sense, and his considerable breadth of knowledge to the question. Whether he convinces any unbelievers or not, I don't know. But he includes so much that I either agreed with or found to be "mooreeffoc" thinking that I now want to get the print version for leisurely rereading.

Well Said: The worst form of inequality

The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.
Hey, no wonder I'm frustrated so much of the time!