Saturday, December 31, 2011

More Book Lists

Sherry at Semicolon is opening up her comments as usual on a Saturday, except that today she's inviting people to link to their 2011 Best Book Lists. Which I did, natch!

AND she's adding recommendations for the readers in the comments. Now that's a blogger who understands community ... and reading! Check it out at Semicolon.

Also, while you're there, check out her other posts. She's run a series of links to other bloggers' best book lists and future reading lists. Great stuff!

Weekend Joke

An oldie but a goodie.
One bright, beautiful Sunday morning, everyone in tiny Anytown got up early and went to the local church. Before the service started, the townspeople were sitting in their pews and talking about their lives, their families, and so on.

Suddenly, Satan appeared at the front of the church.

Everyone started screaming and running for the front entrance, trampling each other in a frantic effort to get away from evil incarnate. Soon everyone had left the church except for an elderly gentleman who sat calmly in his pew, not moving, seemingly oblivious to the fact that God's ultimate enemy was in his presence.

Now, this confused Satan a bit, so he walked up to the man and said, "Hey! Don't you know who I am?"

The man replied, "Yep, sure do."

Satan asked, "Aren't you afraid of me?"

"Nope, sure ain't," said the man.

Satan was a little perturbed at this and queried, "Why aren't you afraid of me?"

The man calmly replied, "I've been married to your sister for 25 years."

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fathers and Sons and Rembrandt


The Return of the Prodigal Son
c. 1669
Oil on canvas, 262 x 206 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

This is a very long but moving passage from The Father's Tale by Michael O'Brien. I quite liked it and think it gives a good representation of what I liked in the book. To set the scene, Alex Graham has pursued his son from Great Britain to Scandinavia to Russia, trying to rescue him from the cult that has him in its clutches. He's not sure whether his son is with them willingly or not. Therefore, sons and fathers are much on his mind at present. The review will come next week, but for now, enjoy this.
When his head cleared a little, he looked up. Before him was Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son.

At first glance, the painting seemed to be immense, because he was standing only a few feet from it, and he was forced to crane his neck as he looked up from the battered feet of the son, through the tender hands that embraced him, to the face of the father.

Alex stepped back a few paces.

Red, umber, and sepia bathed the image in warmth. The son knelt before the father with his head on the old man's chest, as if seeking refuge in the folds of his garments. The father bent over him, both hands on his son's back, the fingers splayed slightly, palm to the flesh that had come from him, that had fled from him, and that was now returning to him. The hands protected and comforted. The tilt of the aged head and the half-lidded eyes conveyed infinite compassion, a wisdom that was in no way naive about the sins of the son but that submerged all wrongs in mercy. The dignity of the father embraced the degraded son in a communion that would restore him to his lost dignity.

To the right, robed in a different kind of dignity—that of the righteous, the good, the responsible—was the elder brother, who regarded the scene dubiously, and with resentment. His upright body was unbending, his hands clasped tightly around the staff of his authority.

Alex could hear the words of protest muttered by the elder son: "This son of yours..."

And the words of the father's answer: "This brother of yours..."

Was lost and is found.

Alex closed his eyes for a few moments. When he opened them again, he noticed that the youth who had been going slowly from picture to picture at the far ends of the gallery now stood a pace to his left. Oblivious to Alex's presence, he gazed solemnly at the image, his arms hanging by his sides.

Alex regretted the interruption but stepped aside to allow the other a central place before the painting. He expected the interloper to move on quickly, but minutes passed. How long they remained like this was impossible. to tell. The boy's stillness and rapt attention to the painting were inexplicable. He was in his late teens or early twenties, and Alex wondered how one so young would be capable of such concentration, if concentration it was Why was he not at school? Why was he not tinkering in the innards of a car engine, or pounding around an athletic field?

His face in no way displayed typical Slavic features. It was quintessentially primitive, the forehead slanted, brow ridges heavy, eyes small and inexpressive, cheeks hollow. His thin lips were parted slightly, and his chin was unevenly shaved. Brown hair was cropped close to the skull. His hands were large and his fingernails dirty. His blunt and muscular body was a peasant's torso with slightly bowed legs hinting at malnutrition. He wore a dingy green coat full of holes, and baggy workman's pants with cuffs suspended inches above wet, down-at-heel shoes.

Heaving a sigh as old and as freighted as humanity, the youth caught himself, perhaps becoming fully aware that there was another person beside him. He shot a swift glance at Alex and shifted his body away. His face, which had been open and defenseless while absorbed in the painting, now closed in on itself, guarded and anonymous.

Alex too retreated into himself, wishing the other would depart.

Eventually the youth turned a few degrees in Alex's direction and murmured, "Zto horosho." It is good.

"Yes," Alex replied in the same tone, "it is good."

Now it was possible to attempt more.

"The father..." said the youth.

"Yes, and the son..." Alex replied.

"And...you see...the hands..."

Each sentence was left unfinished with spaces of many seconds between the responses. It was neither interruption nor inarticulation; it seemed to Alex that it was a necessary reduction, so that speech would not ruin what was now flowing back and forth between them.

"The boy...he came home," said the youth.

"And the father ran out to meet him," Alex replied.

A sudden tension crossed the youth's face. "If the father had not, what then?"

"But the son trusted."

"He risked..."

"The father also risks."

The youth turned to face Alex. He crossed his arms as if holding himself, as if he were cold.

"I...my..." He looked down at the floor, his eyes haunted.

For a moment or two, Alex could find nothing to say, and when he spoke he did not know where the thought had come from:

"The son should return to the father," he said.

"But what if the father does not want the son?" replied the youth.

"If he does not, then the son must remember." Alex pointed at the old man in the image. "Remember this face. It is a window. Through it you see the hidden face."

"The hidden face?"

"Yes. He is looking at you."

The youth glanced up at the painting again. Then back at Alex.

"How...this speaking...you and me speaking?"

"I seek..."

"You seek your son?"

"Yes. He is lost."

"I think maybe you will find him. A father such as you will find him."

"Will he want me?"

"I do not know. But I think it will be so."

"And your father?"

Once again a spasm of pain crossed the boy's face. He did not answer.

"Have you lost him?" Alex asked.

"I have run from him."

"You must return to him."

"Will he want me?"

"I hope it will be so. He should want a son such as you."

"But..."

"It may be he does not yet know you."

"Who are you?" the youth asked.

"You know me."

"Do I know you, sir?"

"Yes. And I know you."

Strangely, this did not disturb the other, though he spent a minute pondering it.

"Surely we have met before?"

"No."

"But tell me, who are you?"

"I am you."

the boy uncrossed his arms. He opened his mouth but said nothing.

"As you will be, in time," Alex said.

"I..." The eyes blinked rapidly, withholding tears.

"The child is father of the man," Alex said, looking up at the father in the painting. "Remember his face, for he too is your father. Remember my face also, and the words we have spoken to each other."

The boy looked into the man's eyes and nodded. Unable to speak, he walked from the room.

Alex left the Hermitage soon after, overcome by this inexplicable exchange. It was by now late afternoon and growing cold. The rush hour traffic had begun in earnest along Nevsky, but despite the roar he decided to walk the entire length of it to the Moskva. It took more than an hour, but it seemed to him that time had continued to alter its nature. he looked into many hundreds of faces on the way, and in all of them he saw what he had seen in the face of the peasant youth.

All men are my son, and all women are my daughter.

He arrived at his hotel room after six o'clock. There no messages. He lay down on the bed and covered his eyes with a hand.

The Basics


Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo dal Ponte) (1515-1592)
The Adoration of the Shepherds

    Lord, hear our prayers for:
    • Illa, our long-time family friend, who is suffering from dementia.
    • The soul of Craig who collapsed and died while biking at White Rock Lake. Peace and grace for his wife and family and friends.
    • The soul of little Chloe, a three-year-old who died from brain cancer. And for grace and peace for her parents, brother, family and friends.
    • Those in RCIA classes everywhere, but especially in our parish where last week's small group began to touch my heart. Especially, I pray for the obstacles that may be in their way ... Lord, may I provide help and not hinderance.
    • Kelsea's sister to recover from her coma and for her family during this hard time
      My continual prayer intentions ...
      • An end to abortion and a reverence for life in all stages of age and health.
      • Our priests and for vocations
      • Abortion providers, Lord open their eyes and hearts
      • Strength, joy and peace for oppressed Christians in China, Asia, and the Middle East. Also that their oppressors may have their eyes opened to the truth. And for all those oppressed, actually.
      • Plus a whole lot of previous intentions mentioned here and for the intentions mentioned around St. Blog's Parish. Although they are usually mentioned here for only about a week, the prayers continue as these intentions go into my prayer journal

      Thursday, December 29, 2011

      Best Movies of 2011

      There's not much point in having only a year end list only of books, to my way of thinking. We've got to include movies too. Not that I watched that many movies, but in looking back over my journal, there were some that definitely stood out above the crowd.

      This list is based on what was new to me this year, not solely on what was a new release.

      • Midnight in Paris - the Golden Age in the City of Lights from Woody Allen (my review here)
      • Exit Through the Gift Shop - documentary about an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur film maker who attempted to befriend famed graffiti artist Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on him. Brilliant.
      • True Grit (2010) - gritty, funny, and (I'm told) truer to the book than the original movie (my snapshot comments are here)
      • The King's Speech - before King George VI of Britain was forced to ascend to the throne by his brother's Edward abdication, he struggled mightily with stuttering with the help of an unconventional speech therapist. The story is sensitively told and brilliantly portrayed by all.
      • To Be or Not to Be (1942) - Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, an acting troupes helps track down a German spy. Really funny while making a definite statement about the tragedy of the Polish occupation. Watching this made me appreciate Lombard's acting skill.
      • Up in the Air - corporate downsizer corporate downsizer Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) lives an isolated existence traveling the country firing people and giving seminars on success. Even he balks, however, at the changes proposed by a young woman and when he is called up on to show her the ropes, both their lives change (my snapshot comments are here)
      • Gone Baby Gone - This tale a a young couple detecting a little girl's kidnapping was as wonderful as critics said. The story was morally grounded and made me want to look for Dennis Lehane's books, as this was based on one of his. All round a wonderful movie.
      • Waking Sleeping Beauty - how Walt Disney Studios went in a mere ten-year period from the depths of The Black Cauldron to the heights of animation in Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King is the subject of this behind-the-scenes documentary from the point of view of the animators (my review is here)

      Wednesday, December 28, 2011

      You Know What I Love?

      That I saw on Facebook that my mother is playing Words with Friends.

      My mom. On Facebook. Words with Friends.

      She also has had a Kindle for a while.

      This lady is the most happening person at her assisted living place.

      Let's not even get into how she and her friends have the "party table" at dinner every night. You know. The one with the bottles of wine and the laughing and joking.

      Yep.

      I love it.

      Best Books of 2011

      Best to me, of course, not definitively "best," which is impossible to say.

      This was the year I was not going to do a "best of" list.

      Not. going. to.

      Done and done.

      And then The Anchoress challenged me and put her own book list up. Plus she put Brandon Vogt's 2011 book list link ... which further challenged me.

      Darn it.

      In general I tend to be puzzled by many Catholic's book lists. So many religious books, so few zombie books. Although, I note with approval that Brandon read the Harry Potter series last year. There is hope.

      So here we go, top 10 books with descriptions in 10 words or less. Plus a few bonus items at the end.
      1. Mystery of Grace by Charles DeLint
        Urban fantasy about Grace (the person) and grace (of God). (discussion/review at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

      2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
        Genesis, Cain, and Abel ... in California. (review at A Free Mind; discussion/review at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

      3. Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
        Little things can make you a saint. (review at A Free Mind)

      4. Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
        Red, white, blue, and zombies. (review at SFFaudio)

      5. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
        Concentration camps and God from an unlikely storyteller. (review at A Free Mind)

      6. White Cat / Red Glove (The Curse Workers series) by Holly Black
        When a touch can curse, gloves alone can't protect you (SFFaudio reviews: White Cat / Red Glove)

      7. Declare by Tim Powers
        WWII, Cold War spies, and the supernatural with Catholic details. (discussion/review at A Good Story is Hard to Find)

      8. The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre
        What the title says. (review at Happy Catholic)

      9. Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones
        Rattling good adventure in ancient Arabia with djinn and improbable heroes (review at Happy Catholic)
      BONUS

      AUTHOR DISCOVERIES
      • Diana Wynne Jones - I never knew how fabulous her books were or how inventive or how different they were from each other. Thank heavens my pal D.J. took it upon herself to lend me carefully selected stories each month. YA fantasy that is a treat for any age to read.

      • Norbert Davis - who wrote the short but memorable series featuring Doan and Carstairs. Doan is a short, chubby man in rumpled clothes who, despite appearances, is "the most dangerous little devil I've ever seen, and he's all the worse because of that half-witted manner of his. You never suspect what he's up to until it's too late." At least that what his boss says. Carstairs is his Great Dane who is one of the most intelligent characters ever included in mysteries. Together they are a duo to reckon with. And the stories are not only interesting but are tinged with humor throughout.

      • Louis L'Amour - I grew up scorning Western stories, even though I did occasionally dip into Zane Grey along the way. I'm not sure what made me sample a few of Louis L'Amour's short story collections on my Kindle. I was surprised to find his stories compelling and so picked up this collection via Paperback Swap. He has a talent for making you speed to the end of the story even when you're fairly sure you know what will happen ... because you're only fairly sure and often he flips the story just a bit on you.
      SERIES REREADING
      Two words.

      Harry Potter.

      When the last movie came out, it made me suddenly realize that the Potter books probably were available in audiobook format. Sure enough they were and Jim Dale's narration was nothing short of inspired. I began at book one and "reread" them all. Surprisingly, I remembered only a few key elements of the last three books and so was able to experience them once again with breathless anticipation.

      A truly wonderful experience.

      Tuesday, December 27, 2011

      What a Great Christmas!

      I have to say that one of my favorite things about Christmas is going to Mass. I never want to go before-hand, but when I am there I am always so glad that the Church requires it. Nothing reminds me more of why Christmas matters and puts the rest of the day into proper perspective. I am more grateful and happy afterward for that very reason.

      That aside,  we ate a lot (the roasted pork shoulder came out a treat ... I resorted to my old Doubleday cookbook and roasted it at 325 for 40 minutes a pound), played games, laughed, listened to music, had many a Christmas cookie, and much merriment ensued from all the above. We also received a good many wonderful gifts, among them a streaming box so that Tom doesn't have to hook his computer up to the TV in order for us to watch Hulu (or other similar things). He has been playing with that and having a very good time learning the ropes and seeing what is out there for free.

      A couple of standouts for me ...

      FAMILY GAME
      A standout at this point is the family game for the year, Pandemic. The goal of Pandemic is for the players, in their randomly-selected roles, to work cooperatively to stop the spread of four diseases and cure them before a pandemic occurs. I was fascinated to think of a game requiring cooperation from all players, rather than rivalry. All the reviews I read on Amazon spoke glowingly of how much fun it was and many appreciatively mentioned the "cooperation" element. I had to try it.

      It turns out that this game is addictive. It is the nearest thing I can imagine to a role playing, computer game, but in board game form. You just have to keep trying to cure those darned diseases before the game beats you and that keeps you coming back time after time as you think of new strategies.

      In the "introductory" game playing mode, we had to play four or five times before we finally beat it by curing all four diseases. We are now curious to try it in "regular" mode.

      Highly recommended.

      TILTING TEAPOT
      Tom really surprised me by giving me a Tilting Teapot. I saw this so long ago that I'd forgotten all about it. And, the poor guy had to buy it from Canada because they only have one distributer on this continent. Nonetheless, it was a sheer delight because of those things and more.

      The idea is that you lie it down to put in the tea (in a little compartment) and water in the larger chamber. After brewing, it tilts up to keep the leaves out of the water. And when it is standing, that is when the hotel staff brings you more. Not having a hotel staff, I am having to learn a new skill set in order to keep the tea leaves from floating out of their compartment into the pot, but it is great fun. And makes a good cuppa, too!

      Monday, December 26, 2011

      Gone for now ... back on Tuesday

      I'll stick this at the top of the blog.

      I have a few things ready to come up over the holidays, so just scroll down ... but in the meantime let me wish you a very Merry Christmas.

      I hope your Advent has been a fruitful one. Mine certainly has and I am longing to welcome the Christ Child ... and also to reap the benefits of all the Christmas baking, planning, and decorating that have been going on at our house.

      Have a wonderful time and I'll see you soon!

      Friday, December 23, 2011

      Better Book Titles: The Gift of the Magi


      O. Henry: The Gift of the Magi
      Redesign and titles by Dan Wilbur at Better Book Titles
      (Language warning for some titles at the site)

      Christmas Playlist

      I picked up three new Christmas CDs this year and two went on our permanent household favorites list.

      The one that didn't was Christmas Party With Eddie G. which was so much like Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour that it conclusively proved who the genius was behind that concept (for which we are forever grateful). However, it isn't something you like to have pop up constantly in your play list.
      1. What a Wonderful Christmas - Louis Armstrong & Others (a new one, purchased after I heard Jazz Record Requests ... a BBC show ... play "Zat You, Santa Claus?"
      2. A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector - when I was looking for the Louis Armstrong cd, I kept coming across this. Many described it as a "wall of sound" which can be good or bad. In this case, it works ... as long as you like The Ronettes. Which we do. 
      We added this to our usual playlist, which you may read all about here, but for the short version I'll tell you that it includes:
      • Let It Snow Baby, Let It Reindeer - Reliant K
      • Ella Wishes You a Swingin' Christmas - Ella Fitzgerald
      • I Wanna Be Santa Claus - Ringo Starr
      • Christmas With the Rat Pack

        Thursday, December 22, 2011

        Romeo and Juliet in Limerick Form

        My friend DJ wrote this delightful piece. It is too good to keep to myself so, with her permission, I am sharing it. For best effect, read aloud (with dramatic gestures). It's what I did.

        Romeo and Juliet
        (with apologies to Wm. Shakespeare)


        In Verona, a city so fair,
        Two families were oft feuding there.
        In this mess we do find
        Star-crossed lovers entwined
        And I fear that they haven’t a prayer.

        Young Romeo and family most rash,
        A Capulet part did crash.
        ‘twas there that he met
        The sweet Juliet
        And fell deep in love, in a flash.

        Poor Juliet felt rather blue.
        Her beau was a dread Montague.
        Yet she loved just the same
        Asking “What’s in a name”
        Still she didn’t know what she should do.

        Then Romeo that lover so keen
        Climbed to her on vines, strong and green.
        Together these two
        Vowed they’d always be true
        In what’s known as the balcony scene.

        But trouble in Verona did grow
        When Tybalt stabbed Mercutio.
        Cried he “You’re all louses,
        A plague on your houses!
        I’m dead from a murderous blow.”

        Wedded bliss just was not meant to be
        For Romeo slew Tybalt you see.
        As the Princes’ law writ
        Romeo’s live was forfeit
        So our hero had to pack up and flee.

        A plan to fake death went awry
        When Romeo thought Juliet did die –
        So he offed himself then
        She did herself in.
        Thus together entombed they both lie.

        Then the Prince scolded both families
        Take a look at these two, if you please.
        Because of your hate
        Juliet and her mate
        Are now one of the Bard’s tragedies.

        Solid Common Sense from a Non-Believer on the "War on Christmas"

        John Scalzi, popular science fiction author, says what we all know as he answers the email question: Any thoughts on the current state of the War on Christmas™?
        Here’s the thing: If you’re using the holiday season to go out of your way to be an asshole to someone, believer or non-believer, you’re doing it wrong, and I wish you would stop. That’s not a war, it’s a slap fight and it’s embarrassing. As a non-believer, when someone says “Merry Christmas” to me, I say “Merry Christmas” back, because generally speaking I understand that what “Merry Christmas” means in this context is “I am offering you good will in a way I know how,” and I appreciate that sentiment. Left to my own devices, I use “Happy holidays” because I know a lot of people who aren’t Christians (or at least Christmas-centered) and that seems the best way to express my own good will; the vast majority of people get what I’m doing and appreciate that sentiment too.
        Here's a bit but do go read it all (note: occasional off-color language).

        Wednesday, December 21, 2011

        In which Louis L'Amour gives us a different kind of Christmas story.

        A special Christmas episode of Forgotten Classics. Not too long, not too short. Juuuuust right for a cold winter night.

        North Korea's Information Isolation

        Jen at Ambrose-a-rama has great links about what life is like inside North Korea, including one to a piece with this stunning statement:
        When I visited North Korea on a tightly managed trip in 2005, I was well into an hour of chatting with a local mountain guide, a former military man, when he paused and asked sincerely about a detail of American nuclear policy: “I don’t understand why you had to use nuclear weapons in Iraq.” He was a handpicked interlocutor for foreigners, with a warm coat and privileged access to information, and he was, by all evidence, convinced that America had nuked Iraq (or was willing to maintain the charade that it had). I had a hard time coming up with another closed society in which the words from the top had been so efficiently delivered to the bottom. If that’s what he thinks about the occasional use of nuclear weapons, I wondered, what else does he believe?
        I have a sudden vision of a sci-fi type movie where the dome is lifted off of an entire society who never realized how the world really works around them. Mind boggling and so very sad.

        Monday, December 19, 2011

        The Golden Age in the City of Lights: Quick Look at Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris


        We went to the dollar movie yesterday and for $1.25 (inflation has hit even the dollar movies) saw Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.

        Owen Wilson plays a dreamer who has made a fortune writing screenplays but longs to find a sympathetic soul to read his first novel. His fiancee and her family seem wrong for him in every way but he doesn't notice because he's so busy longing for the Golden Age of 1920's Paris when the American writers and artists mingled. One evening, lost in a dark side street, sitting forlornly on the steps, he hears midnight chime and a very old yellow taxi pulls up. The merry group inside beckon him in and he joins them only to find himself literally swept away to meet his idols.

        Midnight in Paris has a surprisingly straight-forward story and moral, albeit one told with a romantic eye to the artists in 1920s Paris and those who yearn nostalgically for the past. This is a love letter to Paris, a nod to comedy, a commentary on modern Americans in Paris, and above all a reminder that now is all the time we have and we may be living in a golden age in the present. Sweet, charming, and funny. A winner all 'round.

        I give it four stars out of five because there were a few details which didn't work with the logic of the story quite right, and which we all noticed. They don't make that much of a difference but catching them would have gotten a bit closer to perfection.

        UPDATE
        My favorite people were Hemingway and Dali but I must also add that I've never understood people who say that Marion Cotillard is beautiful. Until now. She is luminous in this film. Kathy Bates was also perfectly cast as Gertrude Stein. All were just a joy to behold in this film.

        Made Me Laugh - Out Loud: Savage Chickens

        Doug Savage does it again ...

        I think you might have to be American to really get this one. An American who grew up watching the Rankin and Bass version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

        Saturday, December 17, 2011

        Weekend Joke: 'Tis the Season

        There is a dearth of Advent jokes, so we're going to mentally hop ahead a week and go for the Christmas cheer. Enjoy!
        Good King Wenceslas phoned Domino's for a pizza.

        The salesgirl asked him, "Do you want your usual? Deep pan, crisp and even?"

        Cool for Cats

        A new voice on the mystery scene, Andrew Ordover reads chapter 1 of Cool for Cats ... a bit of lagniappe with my comments about the book is ready for you at Forgotten Classics.

        A book I definitely liked ... written review coming soon, but don't let that stop you from picking up the book. You won't be sorry.

        Friday, December 16, 2011

        Alien First Contact with a Catholic Twist: Reviewing "The Deacon's Tale" by Arinn Dembo

        "This enemy seems to arrive in small numbers, but their attacks result in mass disappearances: once a system's defenses are overwhelmed or circumvented, the rippers are able to kidnap thousands at a time. And regardless of the defenses available on the ground, they seem to meet with little resistance once they land..."

        "They take our people," he said quietly. "They snatch up their victims whenever and wherever our backs are turned, anywhere that they find our defenses weak. By the time we can react, they've vanished again without a trace. The ones we lose are never seen again."
        Cai Rui is Task Force Commander of the infamous "Black Section" of the Sol Force Intelligence Corps. He's also a loyal Archdeacon of the Roman Catholic Church. There are four intelligent species in the known universe, including humans or "apes" as they call themselves. Cai Rui must work with each group if he is going to track down and foil the brutal, new species that is preying on them all. Even more disturbing than the slave trade is that the evil aliens are led by one who calls himself Black Deacon and seems to be able to read souls.

        The subtitle is "a Sword of the Stars novel." I've never heard of the "Sword of the Stars" before but I see from checking the Amazon reviews that it is a video game. If they had a Mac version, I'd try it because it looks interesting. However, you don't have to know the game to read the book. Also the game developer is the author of this book which is an interesting twist.

        I wound up enjoying this book which was a fast-paced military sf book. Catholics will enjoy the fact that Cai Rui is absolutely a "good" and loyal Catholic who can best practically everyone in combat and smarts. Catholic elements are treated with respect although not everyone who is Catholic is a good person which, sadly, is quite true to life. We are happy to despise a certain Cardinal who seems to be meddling with nefarious purpose.

        I also enjoyed the alien races who the author portrays vividly. They do not fit our expectations of the "classic" alien race types which is a nice surprise. The Hivers are insectoid but don't have a hive mind. The Tarkas are reptilian but artistic and sensitive. The Liir are an air-breathing aquatic species (which made me think of dolphins although they have tentacles) who are powerful telepaths.

        The Deacon's Tale was a bit too fast-paced in some places as I finally had to read the appendix on the alien enemy to even get a decent idea of what they looked like. In fact, until I checked the appendix on Liir I didn't have a good grasp on their appearance either. This isn't the case for the other species but, again, the book often eschews description for action. A few other details were also glossed over in an unsatisfactory way. I wanted to know more about why the traitor betrayed his race in favor of the enemy, for one thing.

        Overall, however, The Deacon's Tale was a fun read that kept me up late to see what would happen. I'd definitely be interested in reading the sequel.

        "You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.*" St. Therese, intercede for us.

        Lately I've been thrown into contact with a person who knows everything.

        Seriously. Everything.

        Anyone around them can say something and this person's opinion is delivered like the word of God: quick, definitive and absolute.

        With no conversation. And no take backs.

        Now, there is nothing wrong with having an opinion and Heaven knows I have plenty of my own.

        However, what makes this interesting is that each opinion is delivered also as a judgment of anyone who is not of a similar mind. There is no give and take, no "oh, why do you think that?" This may be about important matters of faith and family or it may be about something as inconsequential as what sort of cell phone to buy.

        Either way, judgement is rendered.

        Needless to say, any variation is not looked upon with favor. This is daunting, tiring, and can be quite infuriating. Not to mention being a conversation stopper. Especially to someone like me who is used to exchanging ideas rather than receiving verdicts upon my person based on very little evidence.

        However, it is also valuable.

        It reminds me that my own reactions reveal more about me than about this person. For example, Tom just lets it roll off his back, saying that he knows what this person is like and most of it is due to extreme youth and lack of life experience.

        True enough.  I feel that if this person knew how they appeared to others when in this mode, they would be taken aback. So I'm also a bit sorry for them. Because I've been there. I was the hard edged, sarcastic, opinionated person that God has been working on for a long time to soften. Tom says that I wasn't as similar as I think, but I recognize that quality and am somewhat mortified to think how I appeared to others long ago. And, shamefully, occasionally may still appear these days.

        I'm also thankful that God's been so faithful in continually softening those blunt edges.

        Thinking all this over, St. Therese of Lisieux came to mind. In Story of a Soul** Therese recounts her determination to love even the most annoying person in her convent. Why? Because the artist loves nothing better than to have his art praised and Jesus is the artist who made that annoying woman's soul.

        A sobering thought.

        I don't know why Therese's experience came to mind but I'm grateful it did. It reminded me to ask Jesus to show me what He loves in this soul He created specifically for this time and place. Who He loves just as much as He loves me.

        That prayer is one I ask St. Therese to join since she knows my struggle so well. Whether I receive any further insight remains to be seen. But I actually have received all I need. What I know is that my struggle, my prayer, and my intentions are enough. God will use them as He sees fit for my good and for that of the person. I must just keep on keepin' on.

        Lord, hear my prayer. St. Therese pray with me.

        * A Knight's Tale
        ** My review and comments here

        Thursday, December 15, 2011

        Christmas Reading; "Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914"

        I'm reposting this because I didn't get my review up last year until just before Christmas. It is truly a wonderful book.



        We had the time of our lives on Christmas Day. The Germans left their trenches and walked without their rifles half-way across the field to where we were entrenched. There was not a shot fired. Some of our chaps then got out and went to meet the German soldiers. You should have seen them shaking hands with our boys and handing them smokes. Both sides walked and talked with one another as if there was nothing the matter. later on our lads helped the Germans to bury their dead and sang over the graves. It was a sigh you could never forget.
        Lance Corporal George Yearsley
        Oh Holy Night: The Peace of 1914  by Michael C. Snow is a truly moving account of the Christmas Eve in 1914 during World War I when German and British soldiers left their trenches and met in "no man's land" to celebrate a common day of peace and fellowship. Told through British soldiers' letters home, we see the common themes of surprise and thankfulness over this shared Christian celebration with their fellow men. This is followed by the dismaying official orders from those far from the war who declare that any similar displays of good fellowship toward enemy soldiers will be treated as treason.

        The event is then contrasted in the second part of the book with a personal connection between rival nations at a higher level as we see the great affection between Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russia's Czar Nicholas II who were cousins through their grandmother, Queen Victoria. Their personal notes to each other from the year before World War I show their fondness and we follow the breakdown in relations between countries as each cousin strives to believe the best of the other behind the scenes.

        Threaded through these accounts are Christmas carols, scripture of Christ's birth and teachings, psalms, reflection from saints and others including Mark Twain. The author uses all of these and his own reflections to bring the reader to consider peace, war, mercy, forgiveness, and living Christ's teachings.

        The author provided me with a pdf of this book (I converted it to mobi for my Kindle). I plan on purchasing a copy as I think it is a worthy accompaniment to Dickens' A Christmas Carol in reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas in bringing Christ's light into the world.

        Highest recommendation.

        It's only potatoes, you say. No. It isn't.

        And my sis has the whole story why at her blog, The Guideline.

        Guess what?

        I already was planning on making those potatoes. Haven't had them for years but they are "on my palate" whenever I think of the roast pork I am planning.

        Our family is definitely on the same page.

        Dear Hogfather, For Hogswatch I want a doll and a book and a ...

        Scott and I talk about Terry Pratchett's Christmas book, Hogfather, at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Hilarity ensues while seriously examining belief. Yes, he's that good.

        Wednesday, December 14, 2011

        Rose's Culinary Delight Continue with Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

        Not to mention last night's African chicken dish and the night before's Thai Lemongrass Stir-Fried Pork. Dang that girl's a good cook!

        But first things first. Jambalaya. Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

        Tuesday, December 13, 2011

        Ten Free Kindle Christmas Books

        Here's the list.

        Trojan Tub Entertainment: a project from a Catholic author, entrepreneur, and homeschooling Dad

        From Daniel McInerny to my inbox and definitely worth checking out ...
        This past summer I founded a company, Trojan Tub Entertainment, a web-based children's entertainment company featuring my "Patria" series of humorous adventures for middle grade readers (approx. ages 8-13). Recently Trojan Tub launched its Kingdom of Patria website, an immersive, interactive site for kids and families. The site contains free Patria short stories, fun audio, blog posts from me and the main characters, two clubs for kids to join (one for boys, one for girls), and much more! You can check it out by going here.

        The site provides links to the first book in the Patria series, Stout Hearts & Whizzing Biscuits, now available as an eBook here at Amazon (for the absurdly low price of $2.99!). It is also available on barnesandnoble.com as well as iTunes. The unabridged audiobook is also available from Worldwide Audiobooks.

        About Stout Hearts Rachel Dove, of Kindle Book Review, wrote in her 5-Star Review: “It's fresh, highly amusing, and with Oliver Stoop being such an identifiable, lovable character (and a bookworm himself to boot!) I can see this book quickly becoming a modern classic that will stay with children long after the last page.”

        Trojan Tub Entertainment and my Patria stories have recently been featured on the web. You can check out those features at Catholic Exchange and Ignitum Today.

        Monday, December 12, 2011

        What I Just Finished Reading: Lit by Mary Karr - UPDATED

        This is actually an ongoing commentary on the book as I read it ... not a review really. The update is at the bottom with the bold header.

        Lit: A MemoirLit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

        My rating: 2 of 5 stars


        Reading this for my book club.

        O.M.G.

        If there is a genre I hate, it is that of addicts telling their life stories ... yes, even when they come out Christian at the other end. Just like a bad movie made for Christian ends, an angsty book told for Christian ends does nothing for me. First give me good art (story) I say, then worry about what else is in it.

        It isn't that I don't have sympathy for the people themselves, it is that their books inevitably seem to be all about them (me, me, me ... angst and self loathing ... then repeat).

        I know, this makes me sound harsh. But there you have it.

        The only thing worse than that?

        Tell it in stream-of-consciousness (which around our house, we call "lazy writer's syndrome").

        Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Lit.

        FINAL - AFTER THE BOOKCLUB
        No one spoke out as boldly as I did against the beginning of the book, but some others acknowledged similar problems, though they soldiered on and didn't skip the way I did. We all agreed that the end of the book, from the point I began reading (page 275 for those who are interested) was where the author "came alive." Obviously this was intentional and reflected the change between the addicted life and a sober life with faith mixed in. However, I'd have liked reading a book that began at that point. Or possibly just a bit before.

        So yes I have a very bad attitude going in and after reading the first four pages I was consciously reminding myself that some book club members read 400 pages of Assam & Darjeeling who never have read fantasy before.

        Therefore, I manned up and soldiered on. For another four pages. I didn't want to actually weep aloud so I stopped reading.

        And then I recalled one book club member who skimmed Assam & Darjeeling in 20 minutes and kept insisting that she'd "read" the book ... but she had so many other books she was reading that she didn't have time to properly sit down with this one.

        Right.

        But ok, everyone loves her and we have good manners (unlike this commentary, I realize) and so we politely agreed to her fiction.

        Which opened the gate for me to do the same. Almost.

        I managed to page through and find where Karr actually goes to her knees to pray and gets a bit of response ... and will pick up skimming from there. Although the next meeting isn't for a few weeks. So there's no need to actually rush into this or anything (yes, I also enjoy procrastinating in my spare time ...)

        UPDATE
        Full disclosure ... I haven't read the first 200-250 pages. It is just that is the spot from which I am taking the plunge. As quick a plunge as possible. The book club is Monday so I've got to begin skimming now!

        FINAL
        I must say that I enjoyed the last part of the book fairly well. It didn't make me want to go back and read the beginning of it, but I have rarely read a better description of one's interaction with God than the last part of the book. So in the end, I am glad that I read the bit that I did. I'll be curious to see how everyone else liked it.

        FINAL - AFTER THE BOOKCLUB
        No one spoke out as boldly as I did against the beginning of the book, but some others acknowledged similar problems, though they soldiered on and didn't skip the way I did. We all agreed that the end of the book, from the point I began reading (page 275 for those who are interested) was where the author "came alive." Obviously this was intentional and reflected the change between the addicted life and a sober life with faith mixed in. However, I'd have liked reading a book that began at that point. Or possibly just a bit before.

        The Jesse Tree ... and human failings

        I started off strong with the Jesse Tree, but only got as far as Day 7 before life intervened and I got off track.

        This sort of thing happens to me so often.

        However, I can say that up to this point the Jesse Tree has definitely served its purpose, for me anyway. Between thinking about the chain of salvation history it has shown me and reading the daily mass readings each day, I have a sense of the age-old longing for messiah which the Hebrew people felt for so many years. This longing translates into my own longing for Christ, which is a peace-inducing overlay to the Christmas preparations. It has made a difference for me this year.

        My apologies as I am not sure I'll be able to get back to the Jesse Tree this year, but am viewing this as a foundation upon which I can build next year (ever hopeful, right?).

        For those who are more disciplined and determined than I, Catholic Culture was my launching point and will be a wonderful resource.

        Friday, December 9, 2011

        Save Greendale (with the cast of Community)



        Get the Greendale experience...

        If you don't, know what Greendale or Community are, then ... move along, nothing to see here.

        Red, White, Blue, and Zombies: Reviewing "Patient Zero" by Jonathan Maberry

        My review for SFFaudio which they very kindly let me run here also.

        Jonathan Maberry caught my attention immediately with Patient Zero’s dedication:
        This book is dedicated to the often unsung and overlooked heroes who work in covert operations and the intelligence communities.
        And then he caught it again with the quote with which the book begins.
        A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
        I know a particular person who is one of those unsung heroes and so my natural inclination is to look approvingly upon the author’s sentiments.

        However, I wasn’t here for a covert intelligence story or a spy story but for zombies. Also, because I’d heard the Writing Excuses podcasters praising the Joe Ledger series.

        Then I heard the first two sentences of the book itself.
        When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.

        And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.
        Aha. The hat trick … which also informed me that I actually was here for a covert intelligence story, for a spy story, and, this should go without saying by now, for zombies.

        Here’s a quick story synopsis.

        Joe Ledger is a hardened Baltimore cop with serious skills in physical combat. After a surprise raid on suspected drug traffickers, he is strong-armed into joining the DMS, a rapid response task-force that handles problems too big for Homeland Security. The latest problem is a terrorist’s bio-weapon which, for all practical purposes, turns the infected into zombies. While Joe and his team try to track and stop the threat, we also see the bad guys: a tangled knot of corporate interests and Muslim fanatics gearing up for the ultimate assault on American soil.

        In a way this is a meta thriller. It is obvious that there are the standard types which are being used. The Warrior. The Super Villain. The Mad Scientist. The Best Friend who is also The Conscience. Characters will even call people by these labels. This is reinforced by such tidbits as when a scientist excitedly asks Joe if he’s read Doctor Spectrum comics where Joseph Ledger is a character. However, Maberry keeps it from being cliched. Perhaps it is the zombies but I felt it was also due to Joe Ledger’s character and the blistering pace of the book. Short, fast chapters keep the action moving and the reader on the edge of their seat.

        As with many thrillers, the story is relatively formulaic. The good guys are very good. The bad guys are very bad. Joe bleeds red, white, and blue and there is no way he is going to let terrorists harm Americans. There is a bit of humor, a touch of romance, and a ton of suspense. And zombies. Lots and lots of zombies coming in wave after wave.

        It’s a formula that works. We need heroes and villains in our stories. Sometimes it is easy to see who they are. Patient Zero works because Maberry reminds us of how much entertainment there is to be had in the telling of such a tale.

        My one problem with the book was that there were a couple of extended zombie attack sequences where Joe and the team just had to keep fighting and fighting … and fighting. We’d have gotten the same effect by cutting out just a bit of the fighting, particularly in the crab plant. They didn’t really have to be down to the point of ripping legs off of tables for weapons in order for me to understand just how desperate the situation was. However, this is a small quibble.

        Much of the delight in this audiobook comes from Ray Porter’s narration. He reads Joe Ledger’s lines as if he were Ledger himself, reacting perfectly with a naturalness that made me feel as if I were hearing Joe’s actual thoughts. I particularly enjoyed the moments when he would hesitate or pause to emphasize points because that carried me into Joe’s emotions much more than if I had been reading.

        The only problem with the narration was that Porter was a little too thorough. There is one character whose identity we don’t know until the end of the book but who we hear speaking with his employer. As I listened, I continually wondered if Porter had randomly chosen the accent with which this character spoke. I found myself listening to other characters in the book, wondering if we’d met this character yet and if he had that accent. It didn’t give it away much before the book itself did but it turns out that the narrator was being true to the character and that is something that I don’t think would have come across in the actual book. This isn’t a big deal, but it was an interesting problem.

        Overall, you have to like this sort of thriller to enjoy this book. But if that’s the sort of thing you like, as I obviously do, then you’re going to really enjoy meeting Joe Ledger. And wave after wave of zombies.

        900+ Free Kindle Books This Morning

        You’ll see that this list has all of the non-public domain free books on the Amazon website and, as I type this post, should refer you to 2,735 free Kindle books. If you look on the left-hand side of the Amazon page that pops up, you will see the books sorted by category with 1,988 fiction and 688 non-fiction books.

        Wow!

        How did this happen? Well, with the lending program I told you about yesterday (click here to see that post again), independent authors now have the ability to offer their books for free for a five day period every 90 days. Needless to say, it would appear quite a few authors chose to offer their books for free starting today. While they won’t make any money off of these free offers, the hope they have is you will try out their book and enjoy it, and possibly purchase some of their other offerings.
        Holy Moly! Free Kindle Books has the entire story.

        In which the reason for murder is revealed and Master Li tells a story.

        Bridge of Birds returns to Forgotten Classics!

        Thursday, December 8, 2011

        Immaculate Conception: A Couple of Things to Consider

        Our priest's homily considered Eve and Mary as our two mothers. Eve is the mother of the flesh, of the weaknesses that we give into, of trying to take control of her redemption and saving herself. Mary is the mother of our spirits, our souls, of choosing obedience to God, of not trying to control her own redemption. She let herself be saved. (In a nutshell.)

        These thoughts from Fr. Scott Hurd look at a different version of the same sort of concept to me ... featuring a movie that is one of my guilty pleasures. Just as in the movie he uses for an example, Fr. Hurd turns our thoughts toward hope for the future, rather than regret for the past. Beautiful. Go read it.

        Woah. I've Never Been to an Outlet Mall Before ... But Now I Have.

        And it seems that it takes a surprising amount of time.

        Precious blogging time, as it turns out.

        Back tomorrow!

        Wednesday, December 7, 2011

        First Communion Invitations

        Here's a great deal! Happy Catholic readers can get 25% off ordering at 1st Holy Communion Invitations. I'm going to put this in the sidebar also, under Catholic Resources, because the site is a nice one and the invitations and gifts look really lovely.

        It's an exclusive 25% off code for Happy Catholic readers (and easy to remember): HAPPYCATHOLIC

        Swing by and check it out.

        A little more like Mary

        Renee writes to say she's in RCIA classes right now and thought she'd start an outlet for her studies. It looks as if she's made a good start.

        Do check out a little more like Mary and say hello!

        When the Fine Art of Storytelling Goes to the Dogs: Reviewing "Hounded"

        Hounded (Iron Druid Chronicles, #1)Hounded by Kevin Hearne

        My rating: 1 of 5 stars

        This is my review from SFFaudio.

        Hounded is the first of a hugely popular YA series, highly recommended by a friend and, luckily for me, available as a review book from SFFaudio.

        Here’s the brief summary for those who, like me, hadn’t heard of this book:
        Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old — when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer. Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down…
        Hounded begins with verve as Atticus is a charming narrator who introduces us to his friends, who are mainly from the supernatural world. We meet Druid gods, local werewolves, a Viking vampire, the local coven of witches, and Atticus’s Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom Atticus can carry on mental conversations. There are few genuine humans in Atticus’s life and none are developed beyond a paltry few amusing characteristics, such as the Irish widow who likes to get drunk before going to Mass and forgives murder on her lawn if she is told the victims were British. The most likable character in the group is the dog Oberon who is charmingly focused on doggish things and has just enough understanding of Atticus’s world to offer his own solutions from time to time.

        My initial attraction to the story soon ground to a halt. The problem with this book, and it is a large problem, is that Atticus is a perpetual Peter Pan character. His emotional development seems to be frozen at several years younger than his outward 21 years since a heaving bosom is all it takes to permanently distract him from whatever he’s doing. Pity. One would have hoped that 2,100 years of living would result in a certain amount of experience leading to wisdom. Instead, Atticus spends more time in a practical joke on an ambulance attendant than in thinking through how much he should have healed himself from a bullet wound to make it seem convincing to local law enforcement. That’s ok though because Atticus has friends and allies who unfailingly show up to give an easy solution without readers ever feeling that Atticus himself is too worried about the outcome. This leads to a permanent lack of dramatic tension.

        It’s a pity there isn’t a “Wendy” to accompany Atticus’s “Peter Pan.” That would give Hounded the necessary depth and contrast. Now we can see how wise J.M. Barrie was in the construction of his tale. Without a truly human element who lacks control of the situation, all the adventures are one boring episode after another with nary a worry about how Atticus will escape.

        The one good thing about this book is the narrator, Luke Daniels. I haven’t come across him before but will keep an eye out for him in the future. His talents kept me listening long past the point where I would have given up. His voicing of Oberon has found its way into my head whenever we “speak” for the dogs in our household.

        Sadly, Daniels’ talents aren’t enough to make this shallow story worth your time. There are many wonderful YA stories out there that are worth reading and rereading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, White Cat by Holly Black, and Assam and Darjeeling by T.M. Camp are just a few.

        For that matter, try Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. You’ll see what Hounded could have been with proper attention given to the storytelling.

        Pasta with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Blue Cheese

        Another of Rose's finds which delighted us at mealtime ... get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

        Tuesday, December 6, 2011

        Note to Self: Don't watch the first three episodes of Buffy right before bed.

        Even if it is a series in which you can't possibly take the monsters seriously, your brain is still working away in the night ... and the dreams can be horrendous.

        Pick up those stacks of books all over the internet ... and put them on your bookshelf!

        That sounds like fun to me.

        One spot for the reviews and book talk from here, from SFFaudio, from Goodreads and the podcasts and all those places where I tear around the internet leaving trails of books behind me.

        And Patheos very kindly has given me some space to put that bookshelf called (what else?) Happy Catholic's Bookshelf.

        It's still under construction as to things like a blogroll (I swear I am going to figure out the WordPress intricacies if it kills me ... or them. There will at the very least be some screaming ...)

        You won't miss anything from Happy Catholic, believe me.

        But some people who don't visit here or Goodreads or SFFaudio (etcetera, etcetera, etcetera) are going to get a chance to sample the book-ishness in one place.

        Just books, but not just Catholic books. All kinds of books ... the sorts we love to talk about here.
        “I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunchbacked for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name 'em. I ate 'em. ...
        Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

        Monday, December 5, 2011

        Book Blogs Featuring General Fiction - UPDATED

        We did a lot of talking about books yesterday and Rose asked if I read any blogs that discuss modern general fiction. She knows my taste is much more genre-oriented. As do y'all, now that I come to think of it.

        I was able to direct her to these three spots, where I seldom comment but keep track of their book talk:

        • Reading Envy: I "met" Jenny via SFFaudio so it is funny that she actually is much more of a fiction reader. She's one of those people who sees the long list for the Booker Prize come out and instantly starts reading as many as possible so she can see if she agrees with the short list later. So unlike me and, therefore, fascinating.
        • A Momentary Taste of Being: Steven Riddle's book blog. Steven has remarked before that he probably will like 95% of what I recommend, whereas the percentage I am likely to enjoy of his recommended reading is much less. True enough. I am sadly limited in my enjoyment of the breadth of literature Steven reads and enjoys. That doesn't mean I don't like perusing the excerpts and reviews however!
        • Semicolon: Sherry reads a lot more childrens' books than I ever would, however, she also reads current literature and enjoys coming up with reading challenges for herself to which she invites everyone interested. The latest one focuses on Northern Africa. Sherry wants to read an adult's book and a children's book from each country. I'd never have thought of that!

        UPDATE
        I realized I do listen to a podcast that talks about current fiction, Books on the Nightstand. The cohosts work in the publishing business so they often are talking about current trends and upcoming books. I think their forums are really active. At least I know the one on Goodreads is.

        Another Jesse Tree Online

        Karyn at Days of Grace and Stumbling began her Jesse Tree with the beginning of Advent. And she doesn't just give art and readings, but also her own thoughtful reflections on the journey.

        Check it out...

        Friday, December 2, 2011

        Weekend Joke: Christmas Mail

        An oldie but it never fails to make me laugh.
        A woman went into a post office to buy some stamps for her Christmas cards.

        "What denomination do you want?" asked the lady at the counter.

        "Good Heavens!" she replied, "Has it come to this? I suppose you'd better give me twenty Catholic and twenty Presbyterian."

        Awesome People Reading

        Awesome People Reading is just a photo blog on Tumblr but I enjoy the unlikely people who pop up reading books. I feel sure I found this blog via Margaret at ten thousand places. She is a constant source of great stuff to me.

        I find that I don't really care about photos of people reading newspapers or magazines ... or even scripts, for that matter. I am interested in people reading actual books and what sorts of material they're interested in.

        Therefore, you may understand why I find this photo of Orlando Bloom endearing on several levels.

        Thursday, December 1, 2011

        Tips for Protesters: nothing says "easy to read" like Helvetica.

        Our office is next-door to Jeb Hensarling's so we've been seeing occasional groups of protesters on the sidewalks outside. (Once I took the elevator with about 15 protesters heading to his office ... leaving the remaining 15 waiting for the next elevator. Suddenly I understood why I'd seen his office manager exiting down the stairs on my way down to the mailbox.)

        Anyway.

        Usually they have hand-made signs but they are written large and simply.

        Today, there is a more organized group, although not many of them, sporting a variety of pre-printed signs.

        There is nothing worse for protesters than to have bunch of people working in advertising looking out the window. No matter what our personal political views, there is one thing we can agree on.

        NEVER use an open-face type to print a protest sign.

        Use Helvetica. Keep it simple.

        We couldn't really tell what they were protesting because of the confusing messages on the signs. ("Shop local" - were they protesting the Walgreen's across the street? "We love capitalism but hate greed." The Post Office lay offs? Our building is right next to a huge Post Office and we've seen a protest or two over that. "$$$ ... elections ... blah, blah, blah" The government thing? The Occupy thing? Not that we understand that, but we know it's a thing.)

        Again in the elevator, clarity came.  I talked to some other tenants who'd spoken with the protesters ... it's for Occupy Dallas. They probably didn't appreciate this gentleman's advice of, "That's not how you get a job. Go to the unemployment office. Knock on business's doors. No one's going to hand it to you standing by the street, even with a sign."

        Be that as it may, take our advice.

        Helvetica.

        Always Helvetica.

        Julie and Scott got out of the convenience store just in time! After calling an ambulance, they talked about Tokyo Godfathers ...

        ... , a meaningful Christmas movie from an unlikely source. Hear it all at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

        Respecting Conscience: Reviewing The Right to Be Wrong by Kevin Seamus Hasson

        I wrote this way back in 2005 for Spero News but discovered that their site clips a good portion of the text. I'm rerunning it here to preserve the review because this is a book that still informs the way I deal with those with whom I disagree. In fact, I just mentioned it on A Good Story is Hard to Find, which is what made me look for this review.



        It seems as if our country is caught up in an endless religious war that is being fought with grim determination. No, this isn’t about the war on terror. It is about the annual battle over public nativity scenes at Christmas, the skirmishes over allowing school Halloween parties, whether Jews for Jesus are allowed to preach at the Los Angeles Airport, and much more. In short, it is about how much and what sort of religious freedom is granted in this country.

        One side (dubbed “Pilgrims” in the book) wants to legally coerce any religious conscience with which they disagree while the other side (called “Park Rangers”) thinks that all religion must be purely private. Both seem prepared to battle to the death over these issues. The rest of us, that vast majority in the middle, duck and cover as best we can while wondering why we must always fight every detail of anything to do with religion. After all, it didn’t used to be this way. Did it?

        Actually, it used to be much worse, as Kevin Hasson tells us in The Right to Be Wrong. He is a constitutional lawyer who now heads up a non-partisan, public-interest law firm that specializes in defending free religious expression for all faiths. Hasson asserts, “We defend all faiths but we are not relativists. On any given day, I think most of my clients are wrong. But I firmly believe that, in an important sense, they have the right to be wrong.” This is not a very long book and it is written in a conversational and easy style, but it packs a heavy punch.

        Hasson cuts to the heart of the issue by turning our focus to conscience, that interior voice that won’t be still until we do the right thing. The core of any discussion about religion, according to Hasson, is that we recognize the inherent right of each person to follow his or her conscience just as we would wish them to allow us to follow ours.
        Conscience won’t let us be satisfied with resting on the truth we already know, the good we already embrace. There is an unease we experience, an unease that pushes us on to seek ever-deeper truths and choose ever-better goods. Sometimes we ignore it; sometimes we try to suppress it. Conscience, however, demands that we attend to it and miss no opportunity to try to satisfy it. Conscience is forever insisting that we look here, or search there, or try this or that in our quest for the true and the good.

        And then conscience still isn’t content. It won’t stand for the argument that searching alone should suffice. Conscience demands not only that we seek but that we embrace the truth we believe we’ve found. It insists that, at whatever cost, our convictions follow through into action. And it’s famously stubborn about this, sending generation after generation of dissidents to all sorts of deprivations in the name of integrity...
        In the process of proving this point, Hasson takes the reader on a journey through the history of American religious liberty. We soon discover that there was precious little to be had before modern times. The Pilgrims, whose vaunted quest for tolerance landed them on American shores, quite knowingly practiced a double standard and forcefully suppressed any opposing opinions. We are shown why Roger Williams founded Maryland in order to practice true religious tolerance only to have the laws changed after he died. Similarly William Penn’s vision of religious liberty was soon practiced in quite a different way after his influence waned. James Madison emerges as a man who had a surprisingly accurate vision of religious liberty and, possibly, the influence to get the proper laws passed. It is all the more disappointing, then, to learn that he let Thomas Jefferson influence him to weaken them. As a result, Quakers, Catholics, and Jews were routinely discriminated against by one state after another. It is safe to say that for most of American history, you were free to practice any religion you liked, as long as you wanted to be Protestant.

        This is the legacy that has put us in the position in which we find ourselves today. Without that history of intolerance, there would not be the backlash that insists there is no place at all for religion in public life. One could hardly blame the Park Rangers for insisting on suppressing public displays of religion except that, in their turn, they are so very extreme. Under the guise of religious freedom the Park Rangers have exercised their own form of oppression so effectively that ludicrous displays of celebration can be found everywhere: a public school system in Michigan offers “Breakfast with a Special Bunny” to avoid using the word Easter, another school system requires that the children exchange “special person cards” in lieu of valentines, and an Ohio bureaucrat explained a decorated tree in December by saying it was to celebrate Pearl Harbor Day. This in turn alarms the Pilgrims who push back even harder. Although it is clear to all bystanders that this is really about one side or the other getting their own way, both sides insist they are advocating universal religious freedom. No one on either side is practicing any true tolerance at all, just like the good old days, in fact.
        ... Ask either faction whether it believes religious liberty is a human right and you’ll get a passionate, tub-thumping — mostly hypocritical — speech in favor of the idea. That’s because religious freedom is so familiar, so American a concept that nobody can really admit to opposing it. That would be like opposing apple pie. So even those who are at each other’s throats over religious liberty have to insist they all absolutely love the stuff. Instead of confessing that they’re actually opposed to religious freedom for all, the Pilgrims and the Park Rangers among us equivocate. When they say they support “religious freedom,” the Pilgrims mean the freedom of their religion, while the Park Rangers mean freedom from others’ religions. That way, they can all sound so very American — they can say they’re in favor of something called religious freedom — and still be as oppressive as they want to be.
        However, that is where Hasson’s insistence on the value of conscience is so valuable. By reminding us that conscience is the core of religious conviction, he takes us to the true turning point of religious liberty. This in turn frees us to totally disagree with another’s religious convictions while, with complete integrity, conceding that they do, indeed, have the right to be wrong. It is this attitude that allows Hasson to be in the position of being both invited to Hasidic Jewish weddings and also to be a guest speaker on the Arab network Al-Jazeera. His respect of the integrity of others’ consciences has earned him their respect in turn. That is the attitude that will help dig America out of our internal religious wars and just possibly bring us, at long last, true religious liberty.