Friday, August 28, 2015

The City by Dean Koontz

The CityThe City by Dean Koontz
That’s life. Always something, more good than bad, but always interesting if you’re paying attention.
Recommended by my daughter, Rose, the voice in this book reminds me of Odd Thomas in its sweetness and innocence. However, this is narrated by a 10 year old instead of a grown man.

The 10-year-old is a skinny, black, musical prodigy named Jonah Kirk. The time is the mid-1960's when chaos reigns in America. The place is a mysterious City which, as far as I can recall, is never named. Unless you want to call it Pearl, after the mysterious woman who appears and disappears mysteriously in Jonah's life and who tells him that she is the soul of the City.

This story, written last year, looks at how we respond when it seems that the world is an unstable, chaotic place where unexpected evil can drop on you at any moment. Sound like any other time period you know? Such as the one we're living in right now? Koontz's story has a subtle supernatural gloss and doesn't focus on horror nearly as much as other books. Instead it focuses on coming of age, the power of community, the power of kindness, and overcoming adversity. As always, there is a strong theme of good versus evil but it is mostly kept in the real world.

A lot of the charm of this book comes from Koontz's ability to remind us what it is like to interpret the world as a supernatural, magical place because of youth's sheer inexperience. The relationship between Jonah and his upstairs neighbor, Mr. Yoshioka was especially interesting to watch flowering. And if you like jazz, big band, and swing, there are enough references to send you to start up your own soundtrack while you read.

It's not what I think of as typical Dean Koontz fiction, but I greatly enjoyed it.

Worth a Thousand Words: Summer

James Tissot, Summer
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: the news isn't all the news

[My mother] turned on the TV but muted the sound. People were looting an electronics store, taking TVs and stereos.

"There's something you need to understand, Jonah. For every person who's stealing and setting fires and turning over police cars, there are three or four others in the same neighborhood who want no part of it, who're more afraid of lawbreakers than they are of the law."

"Doesn't look that way."

"Because the TV only shows you the ones who're doing it. The news isn't all the news, Jonah. Not by a long shot. It's just what reporters want to tell you about. Riots come and go, wars come and go, but under the tumult, day after day, century after century, millions of people are doing nice things for one another, making sacrifices, mostly small things, but it's all those little kindnesses that hold civilization together, all those people who live quiet lives and never make the news."

On the silent TV, as the face of the anchorman replaced the riots, I said, "I don't know about that."

"Well I do."

The anchorman was replaced by a wind-whipped rain-lashed town over which towered a giant funnel cloud that tore a house apart in an instant and sucked the ruins off the face of the Earth.

"When weather's big news," my mother said, "it's a hurricane, a tornado, a tidal wave. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time, Mother Nature isn't destroying things, she's nurturing us, but that's not what gets ratings or sells papers."
Dean Koontz, The City
This book is set in the chaotic 1960s and does a good job of showing the uncertainty it brings to Americans' lives, especially if the narrator is a 9 year old black boy. The times we live in are no less chaotic and, if anything, more filled with the bad news people want to tell us about. Dean Koontz's words remind us of the reality beneath the chatter of ceaseless news.

Feast Day for St. Augustine

People look upon [the Church] and say, "She is about to die. Soon her very name will disappear. there will be no more Christians; they have had their day." while they are thus speaking, I see these very people die themselves, day by day, but the Church lives on.
Do you know how we should read Holy Scripture? As when a person reads letters that have come from his native country, to see what news we have of heaven.
The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel's opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved. (St. Augustine, describing his daily life)
Just a few tidbits of wisdom from my first saint friend and a great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine. His writing has informed a lot of my practical daily Catholic life.

At times his writing has soared way above my head (he was brilliant, after all) and I have by no means read even a fraction of it (City of God ... someday perhaps). But even the tidbits, the crumbs, that fall at my feet are gratefully received and have made a huge difference in my life.

Thank you St. Augustine! Pray for us!

(Read about this great saint's life at Catholic Culture.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How to Be a Christian and a Lady Under Trying Circumstances

There was one rather funny moment: I was waiting on the stairs during the Hugo ceremony rehearsal and chatting with the lady behind me. She started in on the speech she was going to give if she won. It became clear early on, it was going to be anti-puppy rant.

I leaned down from the stair above her and said, "Before you say anything you might later wish you had not, I think you should know that I am standing here because I am accepting for Vox Day."

She blurted out in shock, "I am so sorry for you."

I added, "I'm John Wright's wife."

Ken Lui, who was standing behind her, burst out into good natured laughter.

The artist lady and I parted on good terms, but the moment still amused me. It reminded me of the kind of scene you see in movies.
I knew the Hugo Awards were probably going to be unpleasant ever since the progressive vs. conservative culture wars broke out during the nominations. So I haven't read about them but from what I've glimpsed "unpleasant" seems to be the right adjective.

I was therefore impressed at the light, joyful feel of L. Jagi Lamplighter's Post Hugo Post.

She is John C. Wright's wife and, as his nominations were considered controversial, one might expect a tone of bitterness or hurt to come creeping through.

She's smart, she's funny, but most of all, as this post demonstrates, she is a lady and a Christian. Do go read it. It's a great example to all of us in these divisive times.

Feast of St. Monica, Housewife and Mother

Painting of Augustine of Hippo and his mother Monica of Hippo,
Ary Scheffer, 1846
via Wikipedia
Widow; born of Christian parents at Tagaste, North Africa, in 333; died at Ostia, near Rome, in 387.

She was married early in life to Patritius who, a pagan, though like so many at that period, his religion was no more than a name. His temper was violent and he appears to have been of dissolute habits. Consequently Monica’s married life was far from being a happy one, more especially as Patritius’s mother seems to have been of a like disposition with himself. Monica’s almsgiving and her habits of prayer annoyed her husband, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence and he converted to Christianity before he died.

Monica was not the only matron of Tagaste whose married life was unhappy, but, by her sweetness and patience, she was able to exercise a veritable apostolate amongst the wives and mothers of her native town; they knew that she suffered as they did, and her words and example had a proportionate effect.

Monica had three children but all her anxiety centred in her oldest son. He was wayward and, as he himself tells us, lazy. As he grew up, he kept seeking the truth but getting interested in heresies. It was at this time that she went to see a certain holy bishop, whose name is not given, but who consoled her with the now famous words, “the child of those tears shall never perish.”

There is no more pathetic story in the annals of the Saints than that of Monica pursuing her wayward son to Rome, wither he had gone by stealth; when she arrived he had already gone to Milan, but she followed him. Here she found St. Ambrose and through him she ultimately had the joy of seeing her yield, after seventeen years of resistance.

Mother and son had six months of true peace together after his baptism. Then Monica died and her son went on to become St. Augustine, one of the one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity

  • difficult marriages
  • disappointing children
  • victims of adultery or unfaithfulness
  • victims of (verbal) abuse
  • conversion of relatives
I helped out with our parish's RCIA classes for a couple of years and would give a talk about St. Monica which included the above basics as well as my personal experience with her and St. Augustine. It made me realize that, without thinking about it, I'd grown very fond of St. Monica.

Burial of Saint Monica and Saint Augustine
Departing from Africa Master of Osservanza
via Wikipedia

Worth a Thousand Words: The Animals' Picnic

The Animals' Picnic, illustrated by G.H. Thompson, c. 1900
I'd love to have this book. What a treat it would be considering the wit and joy of this cover.

Well Said: One form of heroism

After you have suffered great losses and known much pain, it is not cowardice to wish to live henceforth with a minimum of suffering. And one form of heroism, about which few if any films will be made, is having the courage to live without bitterness when bitterness is justified, having the strength to persevere even when perseverance seems unlikely to be rewarded, having the resolution to find profound meaning in life when it seems the most meaningless.
Dean Koontz, The City

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Julie goes with Tolkien’s answer, Jesse keeps looking for Entwives

It's the fourth of six episodes discussing The Lord of the Rings at SFFaudio podcast. In this episode we cover The Journey to Mordor (the last book of The Two Towers). Enjoy!

Blogging Around

Frescos in Saint Elian Church, Syria. Bulldozed by ISIS
Source: Wikipedia
Some Desecrations Are More Important Than Others
However, did you hear about the destruction of the irreplaceable frescos and sanctuaries at the Mar Elian monastery? The possible slaughter of its abbot and inhabitants? The desecration of the tomb and the remains of St. Elian?
European press covered it.

UNESCO condemned it.

American press coverage? Nope. Read all about it and get links to the stories at GetReligion.

Stephen Colbert, Tolkien, and Leaning Into Fear
I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien's mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn't mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”
This is the excerpt you might have seen around the Catholic blogosphere, and it's the one that pulled me in via The Deacon's Bench. There's a lot to chew on in this interview. For me the takeaway moment was about learning to love the bomb. I've been leaning on that in the last few days. Very worthwhile. Go read it all.

Denethor's Ghost and Faramir's Rangers
See how his mind has been turned to despair?

These days, aren’t many of us haunted by the ghost of Denethor? Isn’t most of what we are shown in the media, on our various devices, and on social media discouraging and demoralizing? Aren’t we tempted to retreat, resign ourselves to the toxic culture, or rebel in the sense of thinking that it’s up to us to set things right? Don’t we sometimes use the tactics of the Enemy against our adversaries?
Thomas M. Doran, Denethor's Ghost
Thomas M. Doran has two excellent, thought provoking pieces at Catholic World Report. The response was so great to his thoughts about how we are struggling with Denethor's problem of despair in our age, that he wrote a follow-up piece, Faramir's Rangers. I found both of them enlightening and inspiring. Via Ignatius Insight.

Knock: The Film
On a dark evening in 1879 in the town of Knock, Ireland, fifteen villagers witnessed a vision of the Virgin Mary, an event that shaped the tiny, rural community and declared the town a Marian Shrine. This documentary introduces the world to daily life in Knock as parish priest Father Richard Gibbons transforms the shrine, and the village itself, to adapt to contemporary Ireland and Catholicism.

Also a lawyer, philosopher, and local hero, Father Richard is charged with saving the shrine, and with it the village and his beloved church. His vision is to bring the Marian Shrine into the twenty-first century. In August of 2015, 178 American pilgrims, led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, depart from New York City and touch down at the Knock airport. The future of this tiny rural town is about to change.
Underground Films in Dublin is currently producing a feature documentary on the miracle town of Knock, Ireland, also a Marian Shrine. This looks interesting. Do go check out the info at their film page. They're doing crowdfunding to cover the costs, though it looks as if that is going pretty well. They could also use publicity. Take a look around and tell a friend.

Predicting Social Future: Political Correctness
One of my science fiction novels was rejected by a publisher, who told me that my book was sexist. Why? Because two of its characters are planning an act of genocide, the extermination of an intelligent species on a distant planet, but the woman is the instigator and the man is just carried away by her. Apparently, women cannot be wicked!
Manuel Alfonseca looks at past science fiction classics to see how they predicted some of our current day ills. Those following the Hugo Awards wars over "social justice" will appreciate Manuel's piece as timely.

Shine Catholic
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
That's the inspiration for the new blog Shine Catholic. Their goal is to shed light on the Catholic faith and, from what I've read, they do a good job. I especially appreciated "Four Things People Who Oppose Gay Marriage Need to Stop Doing" but there are a variety of pieces ranging from personal testimony to information about Catholic basics like sacramentals. Check it out.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Leak Stops

Clayton Plumbers, Brand Ave., Glendale
taken by Will Duquette
I love a good, old neon sign. This one makes me long to see it at night so I can see the water drops light up with "The. Leak. Stops."

When we were in Glendale, several years ago, a neon museum was underway. It must be open by now. It is on my grand tour list for when we return.

Lagniappe: The face of a good poker player

"I haven't told you everything about this woman."

"Yes, I am aware."

"Surprised, I said, "You are? How?"

"What do they call the face of a good poker player?"

"A poker face," I said.

"Yes, I believe that is correct. You do not have one. ..."
Dean Koontz, The City
I'm really enjoying this book and one of the great pleasures in it is the relationship between the young narrator and his neighbor, Mr. Yoshioka.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Le petit chaperon rouge

Le petit chaperon rouge (a.k.a. Little Red Riding Hood)
Albert Anker, 1883

Well Said: Give Something

Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could.
St. Gregory Nazianzen

How Rational Are You Really?

Here's an interesting quiz that Rose came across in a podcast.

It's not one of those simple quizzes that show up on Facebook, but one with more thoughtful, interesting questions.

Of the 16 possible personality types, I'm a .... Skeptic!

No surprises there, right?

I did find the final report interesting. For example, it highlighted a weakness that I recently became aware of and have resolved to work on:
It appears that you may have a sharp tendency to underestimate the time and resources your projects will require.
I blame the internet for distracting me all the time!

Or, we can just say that I'm an optimist!

Either way, I've gotta stop doing it so much!

Julie and Scott spend some time with a guy named Augustine, a very untidy kitchen, and Simon of Legree

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is the subject of Episode 114 at A Good Story is Hard to Find!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Happy Birthday Hannah!

Cake by Cake Couture by Tina
Do you live near Cebu City? That's where Tina is. Get one of her cakes!
This is the same cake as I featured last year because I couldn't improve upon it, no matter how hard I searched.

It either had to be a Pit Bull cake for Kif or a German Shepherd cake for Zapp since those are Hannah's two dogs. (Or Futurama now that I think of it since her dog names are both characters from that show.) This was just so adorable that I kept it.

I wasn't Catholic when she was born but now I feel very lucky that she chose to come on the Feast Day for the Queenship of Mary.

It's Spicy Ginger Cake with Chocolate Frosting again this year, at Hannah's request. Mmmm, a delicious but unexpected combination.

We'll be going out for dinner with Hannah and Mark, our soon to be son-in-law to an Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant. I'm really looking forward to trying it. And then home for cake and gifts!

The best, of course, is the gift of Hannah herself to our family. Our tree loving, animal loving, sweet girl who is smart as a whip, funny, and thoughtful. No wonder we love her so much. We just can't help ourselves!

Mary, Queen of Heaven

Coronation of Virgin, Giacomo di Mino, 1340-1350
From the earliest ages of the Catholic Church a Christian people, whether in time of triumph or more especially in time of crisis, has addressed prayers of petition and hymns of praise and veneration to the Queen of Heaven. And never has that hope wavered which they placed in the Mother of the Divine King, Jesus Christ; nor has that faith ever failed by which we are taught that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, reigns with a mother's solicitude over the entire world, just as she is crowned in heavenly blessedness with the glory of a Queen.

His Holiness Pope Pius XII
Encyclical on Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary
Promulgated October 11, 1954
I remember the thing that made this feast day come into focus for me was learning about King Solomon's Queen Mother who brought cases before him for special attention. I tell you, typology really helps you get a mental grip on things.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Well Said: You can't shut out the world

Everything that happens ... shows beyond mistake that you can't shut out the world; that you are in it, to be of it; that you get into a false position the moment you try to sever yourself from it; and that you must mingle with it, and make the best of it, and make the best of yourself into the bargain.
Charles Dickens to Wilkie Collins,
September 6, 1858

Worth a Thousand Words: Church of the Light

Church of the Light, Osaka, Japan
Taken by Bergmann
The simplicity of Ando's church is part of its beauty, and of its message: built on a low budget, the concrete walls were cast on-site, and the wood used to form the moulds for that process were then recycled to make the pews. The church has no decoration, and the only windows are the slits in the shape of a cross, as important for this particular church as it is for the foundation of Christianity itself: the Cross here is the Light.
Richard Stemp, The Secret Language of Churches and Cathedrals