Friday, May 31, 2013

Deathworld by Harry Harrison

You know those pulp sf stories you discovered when young?

And then got your kids to read because you knew they'd just love them?

And then were surprised by their comments about the plotting, motivation, and thinness of some of the characters? Which were right on target?

Yeah ... that's what we've got here with Rose's review of Deathworld. Which made me laugh several times.
Still, what is character development in the face of carnivorous plants, poisonous animals, murderous bacteria, and the perpetual threat of volcanic eruptions? I’m not going to read a book called Deathworld for characters talking about their feelings.

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2)Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What does it say that my first act upon opening this book was to look for what month is it? How close is the asteroid? Obviously, I've opted into Ben H. Winters' trilogy which began with The Last Policeman.

The Concord police department has been shut down by the federal Justice Department so Hank Palace is out of a job. Until, that is, an old friend asks him to help find her husband. In a world where going "Bucket List" is common there are very few ways to track someone down. There are no phones, no internet, and society is hanging on by a thread. Naturally, Hank can't turn down this plea and so he sets off to see what favors he can trade for information and access to some very dangerous areas.

Holy mackerel, what a fantastic second book! I don't usually get to say that so it is a particular pleasure to have loved this book so much.

It grabbed my attention in the beginning with a highly atypical sort of detail that communicated a lot to me, as a Catholic, about the wife.
Hung above the dresser is a small tasteful painting of Christ crucified. On the wall of the bathroom, next to the mirror, is a slogan in neat block all-capital letters: If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze!

"Saint Catherine," says Martha, appearing beside me in the mirror, tracing the words with her forefinger. "Isn't it beautiful?"

[...]

"This may seem like an obvious question," I say, when I'm done writing down her answers. "But what do you think he might be doing?"

Martha worries at the nail of her pinky. "I've thought about it so much, believe me. I mean, it sounds silly, but something good. He wouldn't be off bungee jumping or shooting heroin or whatever."...

"He'd be doing something, like, noble," Martha concludes. "Something he thought was noble"

I smooth the edges of my mustache. Something noble. A powerful thing to think about one's husband, especially one who's just disappeared without explanation.
It not only tells us about Martha and her trust in her husband, it sets us up to fear that he won't live up to that perfect faith. All done in less than a page. Nicely done.

Also, the author wasn't condescending about it. That is refreshing.

Ben Winters did a masterful job of making me intensely interested in the mystery. Simultaneously he showed some of the odd ways American society has mutated because of the impending asteroid strike. His single-minded hero forges ahead despite all obstacles because that's the only way he knows to tackle his problems.

I really enjoyed the fact that the characters seem very real. I was intensely anxious, for example, about Hank's dog, Houdini, when he took him along to infiltrate a college campus that has become an anarchist encampment. When Houdini is held hostage unless Hank returns within a specific time period, Hank (and I) became obsessed with getting back on time. And the result? Completely unexpected by Hank (or me). But absolutely typical and perfect. It was at this point that I tipped my hat to Mr. Winters.

This trilogy is shaping up to be a real classic for both the science fiction and mystery genres. I am looking forward with great anticipation to the end of the world, as seen by Detective Palace. The Last Detective and Countdown City are both going on my Best of 2013 list.

An Amazon Vine book, review copy.

Well Said: The Doctor and Nature

From my quote journal.
The doctor is the cooperative ally of nature, not its master.
Dr. Leon Kass, Toward a More Natural Science

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Julie adopts a cat. Scott eats some pie. Will Smith takes a shower. They all try to ask the right questions.

Because it's time for I, Robot (the movie) to blast us into summer at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Worth a Thousand Words:

Jules Bastien-Lepage,Les Enfants pêcheurs, 1878
via Wikipedia

Well Said: Tolkien's Concern

From my quote journal.
It may be true that the story of the Ring is less morally ambiguous than the average realistic novel, but that’s primarily because Tolkien wasn’t especially interested in the problem of knowing right from wrong. His concern was to explore the psychology of the moment when you know right from wrong but aren’t sure whether you have the courage and fortitude to do the right thing.
via C.K. Kubasik, via Joseph Susanka

21 Ways to Worship by Vinny Flynn

21 Ways to Worship: A Guide to Eucharistic Adoration21 Ways to Worship: A Guide to Eucharistic Adoration by Vinny Flynn

How do I pray using the photos? I just look at them. "Prayer," wrote St. Therese, "is a surge of the heart." I just look at the pictures, one by one, and let my heart surge to God for each person. A photo captures much of the essence of a person. As I gaze at each photo, the person it represents becomes present to me, complete with personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, memories, conversations, needs, etc.

Sometimes actual words of prayer come to mind and are offered; sometimes there are no words. Essentially, I am simply lifting each person up to God in whatever way and for whatever period of time seems called for. It varies from day to day.
"21 Ways to Worship" is chock-full of practical ways like this to lift your heart to God. The 21 ways each have their own short chapter where Flynn explains an approach, sometimes including his personal experiences, sometimes including a prayer he has written, and often including scripture or a quote from a spiritual master.

Although the book is written to help direct an hour of Eucharistic adoration (prayer in front of the Eucharist), you can use these ideas and techniques any time to help your prayer life. In fact, I often forgot that the direction of the book was toward adoration. I'd come away from a chapter thinking about my experience with a particular approach in prayer. That is not to say that Flynn is not focused on Adoration. It is just a wonderful reminder that prayer is always conversation with God. Adoration is conversation with God right at His feet in the Eucharist.

I particularly enjoyed the art that headed each chapter. I only wish that they would have been made larger so that I could have made out the details more easily on some of the complex pieces. They provided yet another way to lift our hearts and minds to God in worship.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy Flynn's corny headlines quite as much. I realize they are included to pull the reader in and make them more comfortable. I think my tolerance decreased as the book went on because each chapter was so short that the next chapter head was continually popping up. Your milage may vary. They didn't detract enough to keep me from reading the book and the rest of each chapter was not corny, thankfully, but well written.

BOOK GIVEAWAY
This review is part of a blog tour. Check the link to see what other bloggers have said about "21 Ways to Worship."

The publisher has very generously provided a free copy of "21 Ways to Worship." It will be given away on June 6, 2013.

Just make a comment to be entered in the drawing!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 36

So many strikes against wanting to watch this movie ... it is black and white, it is old, we "know" what it's about. But there is much more to it than that. 

36. 12 Angry Men (1957)

I've seen so many jokes and references made to this classic that I thought it was time to actually see the movie itself.

In brief, 12 Angry Men is the story of a lone juror (Henry Fonda) who has reasonable doubt of the guilt of the defendant in a murder case. Everyone else is positive that the defendant is guilty. The jury must be unanimous either way. Complicating matters are intense heat in a time of no air conditioning, a wide range of personalities, and various personal needs that seemingly overrule the needs of careful deliberation.

This was legendary director Sidney Lumet's first feature film and the talented cast included Henry Fonda, E. G. Marshall, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, and Jack Warden. They truly created a film that is still great over 50 years after it was made.

12 Angry Men is an illustration that the story is what drives a film. As the one dissenting "not guilty" juror (Henry Fonda) asks the questions he wished would have come up in the trial and thinks things through aloud, I was pulled into the case details myself. Likewise, as the other jurors comment we are given insight into this very diverse group of men.

It works on so many levels including, not intended I am sure, how very different twelve white men can be even though we have been trained by society to think of them as peas from a pod. We also see why we can't just accept what we are told, why individualism and working as a team both matter, and much more. I have been on several juries and seen some very similar situations arise.

On a side note, I also appreciate my air conditioner anew.

Although unintended on my part, it was also the perfect movie to watch on Memorial Day weekend as I wound up feeling proud to be an American. Who'd have thought that I would have felt that way about jury duty? Just one more reason the movie is a classic.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Sentinel

The Sentinel
by the brilliant Karin Jurick

Well Said: A Student

From my quote journal.
A student is not a container you have to fill but a torch you have to light up.
Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

We enjoyed it a lot although I wished it were smarter and my world was not rocked by some things which I don't want to spoil for anyone.

Plus, I see that Amy H. Sturgis's world was rocked by some of those things, sooooo ... I won't say either of us is wrong, but that we have different taste in our Star Trek reboots. And I'm ok with that. Totally.

I'd been saving Amy's post until I'd seen the movie and it is well worth reading. For one thing her footnotes (yes, she has footnotes and I loved them) are worth the price of admission for those of us who love the Sherlock Holmes reboot featuring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Most of all I love this from her post (which doesn't ruin anything):
I'd watch the spin-off series of Captain Sulu, Intergalactic Badass.
Amen.

Also, Karl Urban - we want more, we want more! What the heck J.J. Abrams?!

No matter what, this movie is great fun and I endorse it wholeheartedly.

Ladies, you may be interested to know: the first moment when we see Benedict Cumberbatch in his bad-ass black duster ... swoon-worthy. I'm just sayin'...

Blogging Around: The "That's Good Stuff" Edition

Some of these may be a bit old (meaning they didn't come out yesterday), but they are good food for thought no matter when we read them. Do click through to the links as I'm just giving excerpts of any quoted material.

THE GIFT OF LIFE
Archbishop Timothy Dolan minces no words. Thank goodness.
The Gosnell trial focused our nation’s attention on something it has been avoiding for decades — the essential cruelty of abortion.

So, you would think we could now finally start speaking openly and with common sense about abortion, seeking ways to limit it, discussing creative alternatives.

Apparently, though, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Instead, we see the President of the United States attending a gala event and toasting Planned Parenthood. Interestingly, the President never mentioned the word “abortion”, but instead praised Planned Parenthood for their work for “women’s health”. But make no mistake — Planned Parenthood may hide behind the term “women’s health”, but their business is really abortion. They do over 300,000 abortions every year, a great number of which are paid for by taxpayers. And they oppose any and all reasonable regulations of abortion, or even discussion about it.

We also have the threat of an expansion of abortion here in New York, under the rubric of “women’s equality”. ...
DON PINO: the most important beatification of the early 21st century
I recall all of us stuck in a hotel room several years ago. Some cable channel had on a history of the Mafia in Sicily and we were simultaneously rapt and horror struck. I somehow thought this was a thing of the recent past, not continuing to the point where a priest would be murdered in 1993 for challenging the Mafia's reign of terror. Therefore, I paid more attention than I might normally when John Allen wrote about the upcoming beatification of Italian Fr. Giuseppe "Pino" Puglisi, to be recognized as a martyr in a Mass celebrated in Palermo on the island of Sicily on May 25.
He understood he was playing with fire. Members of a social improvement group in his parish found the doors of their houses torched and got menacing phone calls. Puglisi himself received multiple death threats and, according to the testimony of one of his hit men (who later confessed), Puglisi's last words were: "I've been expecting you."

As it happened, Puglisi was gunned down on his 56th birthday. Visitors to Brancaccio today can find his favorite saying scrawled all over its walls: "And what if somebody did something?"
I realize by the time this post goes up, May 25 will be a past event. C'est la vie!

THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOTH, FINALE
Joseph Susanka has been running a ongoing series of conversations with Christopher “C.K.” Kubasik, creator and writer of The Booth at the End. The entire thing is worth reading but this final part is just loaded with good stuff about story writing and humanity. Kubasik goes from Tolkien to Walter Kerr (the source of the quote below) to Macbeth and beyond. No wonder The Booth at the End is so enthralling.
We are fascinated by something [violent] that is real. We are repelled because it is real. Whatever charity we may having in us, whatever sense of the ugly, whatever awareness that the victim is a person like ourselves, casts a veil over the event—over our clear sight of the event. Because we are humane, we deny ourselves a direct vision.

Our art forms are often concerned to show us with clarity those events that are much too tremendous to be seen clearly in life. Intense passions, at close range, involves us too much; in the theater we may watch it without direct involvement which obscures its meaning. The larger the event, the more likely we are to lose hold of it in life, and the more necessary it becomes for the theater to seize and shape it for us. If the greatest plays of the past are plays in which characters tear out their own eyes or one another’s eyes, in which characters kill or are killed, in which sons turn violently upon their mother or husbands upon their wives, it is not because the audience once asked for cheap stimuli but because audiences did ask to have their experience, their clear knowledge of life, enlarged.
CHANGE: OPPORTUNITY, NOT TRAGEDY
I've been reading science fiction writer Orson Scott Card's weekly column for some time online at The Rhinocerous Times, Greensboro's local newspaper. Titled Uncle Orson Reviews Everything, it covered whatever caught Card's attention. Toilet paper, movies, local restaurants, whatever. I didn't always agree with him but I loved reading him.

Times being what they are, I was saddened to see a few weeks ago that the newspaper has closed up shop. However, times being what they are, the feedback to this news has opened an exploration of new opportunity.

Card's column talking about the opportunity is worth reading whether you are interested in the newspaper or not. He talks about the nature of change, the reasons for it, and how it affects our daily lives. I especially enjoyed his discussion of how life will change once we all have electric cars. And would I pay an annual fee to still get Card's column. You betcha.
The businesses that failed were not badly managed -- or if they were, that's not why they went out of business.

It just happened that a new product or service was markedly better or more convenient or cheaper than the old way, and so the old way died.

Without UPS, there would have been no Amazon.com.

We drive cars rather than carriages. Horses eat whether you're using the carriage that day or not. But cars only "eat" gasoline when you drive them. Plus you get there way faster in a car.

Is it a tragedy, then, that blacksmiths were out of a job?
ON BEING NEIGHBORLY
Want to change the world? Be a better neighbor. The Art of Manliness writes a compelling post that I think we should all consider acting on.
The ensuing discussion revealed a laundry list of social problems similar to what many cities face: at risk-kids, areas with dilapidated housing, child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse, loneliness, elderly shut-ins with no one to look in on them. The list went on and on.

Then the mayor said something that stopped cold the discussion. “The majority of issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”

Read that quote again if you need to. Its ramifications could well affect your life.

Frie explained that neighboring relationships are more effective than civic programs because they are organic and ongoing. When neighbors are in relationship with one another, for instance, the elderly shut-ins get cared for by the person next door, the at-risk kid gets mentored by a dad who lives on the block, and so on.
Does that seem farfetched? Read the article and consider getting the book that is discussed. From where I sit it looks startlingly like a primer on how to be Christ to those around you. Which is something we can all use help with ... I know I can.

And if we're nervous about getting to know our neighbors better, perhaps we should ask "Pino" Puglisi for help in getting up our nerve.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Weekend Joke: Texas State Trooper

Two guys are speeding through Texas when a state trooper pulls them over. The trooper walks up to the driver's side of the car, gets out his billy club and smacks the driver across the face. Stunned, the driver asks, "Why did you do that?"

The trooper responds, "You're in Texas now son, you have that license out and ready around here!"

"I apologize sir, I'm not from around here."

The trooper then walks to the passenger side of the car, and taps on the window. The passenger rolls down his window and the trooper takes out his club and smacks the passenger across the face.

"What was that for?" asked the passenger.

"I know your kind," says the trooper, "About two miles down the road you would have looked at your buddy and said 'I wish he would have tried that crap with me!'"

Friday, May 24, 2013

If I Had My Way ...

I don't watch many videos, glad I stopped for this one. I never heard of Robert Randolph but my brother says of this, "Old time revival by a modern man. Robert Randolph is great. Period."

I concur.


Murray Leinster Collection

Murray Leinster Collection: The Pirates of Ersatz/The Aliens/Operation TerrorMurray Leinster Collection: The Pirates of Ersatz/The Aliens/Operation Terror by Murray Leinster

13 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Speculative!, Brilliance Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / Science Fiction / space pirates / aliens /
Contains: “The Pirates of Ersatz” / “The Aliens” / “Operation Terror”

This is a really wonderful selection that represents the many facets of Murray Leinster's work. There's a little comedy, a little straight adventure, and tale of terror.

The Pirates of Ersatz: Bron Hodon's homeworld has one occupation - space piracy. His dream, naturally, is to be an electrical engineer. Whether he tries to ply his trade on a sophisticated world or a barbarian one, no one seems interested in engineers. He winds up bouncing from one problem (and adventure) to another, leaning on advice that his grandfather, a sage space pirate, gave him long ago. This is a great example of Leinster's trademark tongue-in-cheek humor.

The Aliens: This is a much shorter story than the other two. It tells of humanity's first contact with an alien race. Evidence of The Plumies has been found on distant planets but humans have never seen one. When the two races finally meet, amidst disaster in space, will it be war or peace?

Operation Terror: A mysterious spacecraft lands in Boulder Lake Colorado. The one report that gets out is of alien creatures. They have a "terror ray" that incapacitates anyone upon whom it is used. Can Lockley and the girl he loves escape and warn the government of what he's learned?

A common feature for all of these stories is an ingenious hero who notices details, thinks outside the box, and tries to solve problems rather than giving up when the going gets tough. Whether humorous or serious, I really enjoyed each of these tales. They give the reader credit for intelligence and the ability to keep up with the hero, while telling a rattling good yarn. Operation Terror in particular had me on the edge of my seat wondering, along with Lockley, what precisely are these aliens and how can they ever escape?

Unfortunately, the narration in this collection is very uneven. Ran Alan Ricard is brilliant narrating The Aliens. I could listen to him read the phone book and be entertained. Unfortunately Jim Roberts, who narrates the other two, longer tales, comes nowhwere near Ricard's abilities. I am not sure how his reading managed to be both boring and annoying but that is how it struck me. In fact, the combined power of the stories and annoyance of his narration was such that I finally went to LibriVox and downloaded The Pirates of Ersatz and Operation Terror so I could find out what happened.

I simply can't recommend this collection due to Roberts' poor narration. However, I highly recommend you get Murray Leinster's stories from LibriVox and enjoy them that way.

This review is from SFFaudio whence came the review audiobook.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: A Very Rainy Day

A Very Rainy Day
by Edward B. Gordon
We have had many rainy days lately, often sheets of rain accompanied by multiple tornado warnings. I prefer this charming picture which makes me think of a light drizzle.

Well, well, well, Forming Intentional Disciples ... we meet again.

Head's up for anyone interested in evangelism and discipleship - Our Sunday Visitor is offering Sherry Weddell's _Forming Intentional Disciples_ for $10, free shipping, from now until May 31st. This is an incredible discount on a very worthwhile book.

This is conjunction with CatholicMom.com's Lawn Chair Catechism book club.
Saw this notice on Facebook from Jen Fitz.

A feeling of doom ... or perhaps one might be more polite and say fate ... swept over me.

I have seen this book mentioned again and again by bloggers I trust implicitly. The most recent was Melanie Bettinelli at The Wine Dark Sea.

Go.

Read.

It may not hit you the way it did me, but my heart was wrung thinking of this:
Nearly a third of self-identified Catholics believe in an impersonal God.[. . .] only 48 percent of Catholics were absolutely certain that the God they believed in was a God with whom they could have a personal relationship.
That's a heart breaker.

Now, why do I feel I need to read this book? Is it my job to form intentional disciples?

I don't know. I really don't.

But I don't think it can hurt to understand that a lot of folks aren't coming from the same place that I am, one of knowing God is intensely personal.

Plus, I can push it on my pastor and various other Church leaders. Because pushing things is what I'm all about, as we all know.

So I haven't read it, but I am passing along the news about the great savings in case you're interested. I can always push a good sale.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In which Doan discovers murder ... and becomes Captain Perona's target.

Yep, more of Doan and Carstairs in Mexico ... at Forgotten Classics.

What I'm Reading: Zombies, Asteroids, Murder, and John Quincy Adams

Two irresistible books showed up in the mail yesterday. I think I've overindulged in review books (again!) and am going to have to have a serious sorting session to focus on just one (or two) at a time. That partly accounts for the fact that I have far too many books partially finished. But when you've looked through these, I think you can see why I have a hard time settling on just one!

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is my 3rd reading of World War Z, this time via the new unabridged audiobook version (review copy from SFFaudio, God bless 'em!). I had the previous audio version but never could make myself listen to it because I knew it was abridged.

I wondered how the documentary-style story would hold up with so many different voices taking up the tale in turn. Thus far, on chapter 3, the answer is that I now admire even more Max Brooks' talent in weaving these voices together to make a suspenseful story. I didn't think I could admire the book more, actually. But I am happy to be proven wrong.

I've heard that Max Brooks' answer when asked to comment on the upcoming World War Z movie is something like, "Well, they have the same name." I, for one, am grateful for the movie since it prompted this unabridged version. And I hold out hope for the movie since I was among the few who enjoyed I, Robot the movie, just as much as I, Robot the book. They are just different animals. Fingers crossed, that WWZ is the same.


Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2)Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

What does it say that my first act upon opening this book was to look for a date? What month is it? How close is the asteroid? Obviously, I've opted into Ben H. Winters' trilogy which began with The Last Policeman.

Just getting started, but the book grabbed my attention with a highly atypical sort of detail that communicated a lot to me, as a Catholic, about the wife.
Hung above the dresser is a small tasteful painting of Christ crucified. On the wall of the bathroom, next to the mirror, is a slogan in neat block all-capital letters: If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze!

"Saint Catherine," says Martha, appearing beside me in the mirror, tracing the words with her forefinger. "Isn't it beautiful?"

[...]

"This may seem like an obvious question," I say, when I'm done writing down her answers. "But what do you think he might be doing?"

Martha worries at the nail of her pinky. "I've thought about it so much, believe me. I mean, it sounds silly, but something good. He wouldn't be off bungee jumping or shooting heroin or whatever."...

"He'd be doing something, like, noble," Martha concludes. "Something he thought was noble"

I smooth the edges of my mustache. Something noble. A powerful thing to think about one's husband, especially one who's just disappeared without explanation.
It not only tells us about Martha and her trust in her husband, it sets us up to fear that he won't live up to that perfect faith. All done in less than a page. Nicely done.

Also, the author wasn't condescending about it. That is refreshing.

An Amazon Vine book, review copy.


American Phoenix: John Quincy and Louisa Adams, the War of 1812, and the Exile That Saved American IndependenceAmerican Phoenix: John Quincy and Louisa Adams, the War of 1812, and the Exile That Saved American Independence by Jane Hampton Cook

I told myself I wouldn't accept any more review books. Then I made the fatal error of downloading the Kindle sample. Aaargh! It grabbed me right away.

I realize that I somehow got this Adams couple confused with the elder Adams couple, since John and Abigail's correspondence was famous. However, I have an interest in John Quincy that I wouldn't have otherwise, except that William Bennett's take on him was very sympathetic in America: The Last Best Hope, vol. 1. And the author's style is that of a good historical fiction author, at least in the first few pages. I am anxiously wondering what will happen with the untrustworthy servant, the horrendous murder down the road, and the frozen roads in Russia. What will Louisa do?

A review book from Booksneeze.


The Shambling Guide to New York CityThe Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

This isn't strictly a review book, but it is coming out a chapter a week as an audiobook on iTunes as a podcast. The print version comes out very soon. If you want to hear this audiobook don't wait to download it. Mur Lafferty's agreement with the publisher is that she can only leave the audiofiles up for a week after she finishes all the chapters on the podcast. So get it while the getting is good.

So far I am enjoying this a lot. It is not another of those "the world is covered with zombies and we're all just trying to survive" books. The supernatural world is existing camouflaged alongside ours, as we can anticipate from watching our heroine try to get a job writing travel guides.

I enjoyed Lafferty's Playing for Keeps which was a light take on superhero adventures, which were all the craze at the time. Shambling Guide seems like a similar take on the current zombie craze in literature so I look forward to seeing what sort of adventure tale is spun.

I'll update this as the book goes along, but am posting this early on in response to Mur's plea for reviews at Goodreads to help sales out.

So far, this seems like a light, fun read that I would give to my mother or sister (who do not delve quite as deeply as I do into urban fantasy). And, depending on where the story goes, I might even pick it up for my own shelves.


Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint MatthewFire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew by Erasmo Leiva Merikakis

UPDATE
I mentioned this book before but have been trying to figure out how to describe this treasure as I continue working my way through it.

It makes me eager for afternoon prayer and, I'm sorry to admit, that is a rare thing ... to be eager for prayer. To think, "Woohoo! I get to read another section of Fire of Mercy!" So there's that.

Will Duquette says it best. We may recall he turned me onto this book so he's further ahead.
All of my hopes for Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis’ book Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word. I’ve been getting up early every day to spend time in study ever since Easter Tuesday (including Saturdays and Sundays!), and I’m regularly astonished by the blindingly obvious things he pulls out of each line of the text—blindingly obvious after you’ve seen them—that I had never noticed before. I’m keeping notes of my reflections; some of them may appear here in the future. (As some kind of indication of the depth of Erasmo’s writing…50 days after Easter, I’m not quite to the end of the third chapter of Matthew’s gospel.)
Yes, being hit by blindingly obvious that regularly surprises me too while it simultaneously enlightens me. I'm feeling dumber by the page and yet I don't mind because I'm so blown away that I have food for thought for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Girl With a Guitar (Daydreams)

Girl with a Guitar (Daydreams), 1916-17. Richard E. Miller (American, Impressionism, 1875-1943).
Via Books and Art

Newbery Medal Winners Meme

From Mrs. Darwin, purveyor of so many good book-ish things, comes this meme. I'll just say that I have a special place in my heart for Newbery Medal winning books. Why? My great-grandfather's book won this award in 1925.

Keep in mind that my kids haven't been small enough to pay attention to this category of book for a while. So I have less exposure to the new ones than I'd like. Unless they're by Neil Gaiman because c'mon. It's a book by Neil Gaiman.

Bold means I've read it

Italics means I haven't read it but STILL have an opinion. You know that's how I roll.

** means I love it enough to own it (or loved it enough when I was a kid to own it and then hang onto it long enough to push on my own kids ... Dr. Doolittle, I'm lookin' at you here.)
  • 2013: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (HarperCollins Children's Books)
  • 2012: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Farrar Straus Giroux)
  • 2011: Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books)
  • 2010: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books)
  • 2009: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Dave McKean (HarperCollins) -- loved it! **
  • 2008: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)
  • 2007: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan (Simon & Schuster/Richard Jackson)
  • 2006: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins)
  • 2005: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)
  • 2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press)
  • 2003: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (Hyperion Books for Children) 
  • 2002: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park(Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin)
  • 2001: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Dial)
  • 2000: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Delacorte)
  • 1999: Holes by Louis Sachar (Frances Foster) My kids had to read this one and I avoided it like the plague after hearing their reactions.
  • 1998: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic)
  • 1997: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg (Jean Karl/Atheneum)
  • 1996: The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman (Clarion)
  • 1995: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins)
  • 1994: The Giver by Lois Lowry (Houghton) liked it well enough
  • 1993: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (Jackson/Orchard)
  • 1992: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Atheneum)
  • 1991: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (Little, Brown)
  • 1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Houghton)
  • 1989: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman (Harper)
  • 1988: Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman (Clarion)
  • 1987: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow)
  • 1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (Harper) Ok - this is how important book covers are. I took one look at that cover and swore I'd never read it.
  • 1985: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (Greenwillow)**  Not my favorite McKinley, but The Blue Sword which was written before this, remains a favorite. 
  • 1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (Morrow)
  • 1983: Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt (Atheneum)
  • 1982: A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard (Harcourt)
  • 1981: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (Crowell)
  • 1980: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos (Scribner)
  • 1979: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Dutton) Began it ... never got further than two chapters in
  • 1978: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (Crowell) 
  • 1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (Dial)
  • 1976: The Grey King by Susan Cooper (McElderry/Atheneum) Listened to the audiobook and liked it well enough.
  • 1975: M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton (Macmillan)
  • 1974: The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (Bradbury)
  • 1973: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (Harper) (I think I've read this.)
  • 1972: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (Atheneum)
  • 1971: Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (Viking)
  • 1970: Sounder by William H. Armstrong (Harper)
  • 1969: The High King by Lloyd Alexander (Holt)
  • 1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum)
  • 1967: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt (Follett)
  • 1966: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino (Farrar) 
  • 1965: Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (Atheneum)
  • 1964: It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville (Harper)
  • 1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Farrar) ** A classic for good reason. Are there households that don't have a copy of this book?
  • 1962: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton)
  • 1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (Houghton) 
  • 1960: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold (Crowell)
  • 1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton) I know I read this but I recall nothing of it. Which speaks for itself.
  • 1958: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (Crowell)
  • 1957: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen (Harcourt)
  • 1956: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham (Houghton)
  • 1955: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (Harper)
  • 1954: ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (Crowell)
  • 1953: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (Viking)
  • 1952: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (Harcourt)
  • 1951: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (Dutton)
  • 1950: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (Doubleday)
  • 1949: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (Rand McNally) Oh, Scholastic Book Club, where would I be without the many fine books you lured me into buying and reading? This was one and I still recall a lot of it.
  • 1948: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (Viking) 
  • 1947: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (Viking) 
  • 1946: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (Lippincott) 
  • 1945: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (Viking) I know I read it. But that's all I know about this book.
  • 1944: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (Houghton) This may well be the book that began my love of historical fiction. A damn fine book.
  • 1943: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray (Viking)
  • 1942: The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds (Dodd) 
  • 1941: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry (Macmillan)
  • 1940: Daniel Boone by James Daugherty (Viking)
  • 1939: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (Rinehart)
  • 1938: The White Stag by Kate Seredy (Viking)
  • 1937: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (Viking)
  • 1936: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (Macmillan) I seem to recall this as a different sort of "Little House" book. And Laura Ingalls Wilder owned that category for me. So this book was just annoying.
  • 1935: Dobry by Monica Shannon (Viking)
  • 1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs (Little, Brown)
  • 1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis (Winston)
  • 1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (Longmans)
  • 1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan) 
  • 1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (Macmillan)
  • 1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (Macmillan) 
  • 1928: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (Dutton)
  • 1927: Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James (Scribner)
  • 1926: Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman (Dutton)
  • 1925: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger (Doubleday)** Not the easiest read these days because the language is old fashioned. But still we all dutifully read the stories when I was a kid since he was a relative ... and they weren't half bad! In fact, I read a couple of them on Forgotten Classics.
  • 1924: The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes (Little, Brown)
  • 1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (Stokes) ** How I laughed at the Pushmepullyou ... and all the various adventures the doctor had.
  • 1922: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (Liveright)

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters: Why Investigate a Murder If the World is Ending?

The Last PolicemanThe Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The date that everybody knows is October 3, six months and eleven days from today, when a 6.5-kilometer-diameter ball of carbon and silicates will collide with Earth.
Reading this book, I mused that perhaps all this science is not the best thing for us. Surely the dinosaurs were just living life as usual right up to the last moment before that meteor hit. I'd rather have that be the case than have horrific scenes of doom from outer space hanging over my head for months.

As one might predict, some people are led to religion, some are led to anarchy, and many are led to self destruction. Among the great majority simply trying to go on living their lives is homicide detective Hank Palace. When an obvious suicide scene seems a little off, he begins investigating.

What's the point of investigating a possible murder when the world is ending in a few months? Palace isn't able to answer that question easily but, as we see a few other focused, balanced individuals appear throughout this narrative, an answer does emerge.
"One thing we can learn from Shakespeare, Hen, is that every action has a motive."

I'm looking at him, holding this drooping sandwich bag full of ice to my bruised forehead.

"Do you see it, son? Anybody does anything, I don't care what it is, there's a reason for it. No action comes divorced from motive, neither in art nor in life."

"For heaven's sake, dear," says my mother, squatting before me peering into my pupils to eliminate the possibility of concussion. "A bully is a bully."

"Ah, yes," Father says, pats me on the head, wanders out of the kitchen. "But, wherefore doth he become a bully?"
This is a murder mystery, a novel of self discovery, a pre-apocalyptic scenario, and it works on all those levels. I read in one evening and, needless to say, I really enjoyed it. Certainly I was surprised by the solution, which is in the best tradition of murder mysteries.

This is the first of a trilogy and I'm looking forward to the second book.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Asian BBQ Chicken

This chicken couldn't be easier or more delicious. Check it out at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

The Ark of the Covenant, H.P. Lovecraft, and Dagon

In the mornings, while I'm feeding the dogs, I have begun reading a bit of The David Story by Robert Alter. This is his translation of the books of Samuel (and a tiny bit of the first book of Kings).

I am conversant with the big parts of David's life, and even the highlights of Saul's life before him. However, I haven't ever read these books from beginning to end. Therefore, I don't know a lot of the details other than knowing about Hannah's plea to God for a son (hellooo Samuel), God calling to Samuel when he was small, and a few choice bits of scolding to the kings (well-deserved, I might add).

In other words, I know the basics as much as any Catholic who attends weekly Mass and pays reasonable attention to the readings.

So, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I read this at the beginning of chapter 5.
And the Philistines took the Ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon and set it up alongside Dagon. And the Ashdodites arose on the next day and, look, Dagon was fallen forward to the ground before the Ark of the Lord.
Dagon! Wait, I know that name!

I think I'd have listened more intently in Mass if they ever read these bits of 1 Samuel.

Hey, I may only know the basics about the books of Samuel, but I know much more about the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Dagon is an early Lovecraft story and is mentioned again in The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which I just listened to recently (a fine and free narration by Mike Bennett).

Alter's note, which I read with extra interest, points out that once it was widely imagined that Dagon used to be associated with fish (aha! Lovecraft, you clever fellow, no wonder those horrible worshippers were from the bottom of the sea). However, they now believe Dagon was actually a vegetation or fertility god.

I might be kind of freaked out if my god mysteriously fell at the feet of the Hebrew's Ark of God.

But wait. Maybe Dagon's statue just happened to fall over. That could happen to any statue, right?

So the Philistines thought (and hoped and prayed, probably). Read on...
And they took Dagon and set him back in his place. And they arose the next morning and, look, Dagon was fallen forward to the ground before the Ark of the Lord, and Dagon's head and both his hands were chopped off upon the threshold--his trunk alone remained on him. ... And the hand of the Lord was heavy upon the Ashdodites and He devastated them, and he struck them with tumors, Ashdod and all its territories.
Not just tumors, y'all. Tumors "in their secret parts."

Fish god or fertility god, when the hand of the Lord falls heavy upon you, there's no mistaking it. Time to send that Ark back where you got it.

Alter's note once again adds context.
This second incident, in which the hands and head of the idol have been chopped off, offers to the Philistines clear proof of divine intervention. Hacking the hands and feet off war prisoners was a well-known barbaric practice in the ancient Near East, and similar acts of mutilation are attested in the Book of Judges.
Uh huh. Message sent. And received.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Julie and Scott take a quick swim to the deep end of the pool (where all the cool kids hang out) to talk theology.

We bring the big guns to A Good Story is Hard to Find when we discuss Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).

Well Said: What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world?

The key issue from a truly great book written by a spiritual guide I love.
The great question that will be with us throughout this entire book: What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought?

The answer is very simple: God.... He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope and love. It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little. Yes indeed, God's power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and the lasting power. Again and again, God's cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves.
-- Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Careful Steps

Taken by Julie Kenward
Many thanks to Owen for reminding me yesterday of Julie Kenward's stellar photography. You wouldn't think I need to be reminded since we have been online buddies for some time. However, I have trouble enough with Facebook's newfangled timeline ... and then throw in something like an "album" and I'm lost.

However, I'll be stalking Julie in the future for these great photos. Thanks Jules!

The Church Building as a Sacred Place by Duncan G. Stroik

The Church Building as a Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the EternalThe Church Building as a Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal by Duncan G. Stroik

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Maybe it's because I'm a convert from complete secularism. I just don't see what's supposed to be so great about the new-fangled churches that look like cracker boxes. Or like space ships. Or like a crumpled up piece of paper.

Let's just say it here and name the elephant in the room.

What is so great about an ugly church?

One of the things I did understand, whether secular or Catholic, was that our surroundings influence how we think and feel and act. And the point of a beautiful church is to help lift our souls to the point where that curtain between us and God might, just might, be opened for a moment of personal connection.

That was highlighted for me when I was in Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. A young man in his early 20s was standing in the middle of the main aisle with tears running down his cheeks. His companion, a young woman, turned to him in alarm, "What's wrong." He suddenly looked slightly embarrassed, "Nothing. I'm just having a moment. I mean..." and he waved a hand around, "...all this just got to me."

Precisely.

A transcendent moment of connection with the Almighty facilitated by a sacred place.

That is what this collection of essays by architect Duncan G. Stroik is all about, the importance of letting beauty flower in our sacred spaces, in our churches.
The architecture of the sacred presents Christianity in a three-dimensional form: visually, tactilely, and sonorously in time. The sacred must come to us through all the senses, to surround us with intimations of what Abraham felt in front of the burning bush, King David in front of the ark, Mary with the angel Gabriel, and the disciples at the feet of Jesus and at the foot of his cross. The stone underfoot, the wood of our seats, the smells of incense and of beeswax, the smoothness of marble, the strength of the cast iron grillwork and rails, and the paint on the canvas—all help to create a sense of the sacred and prepare us for the taste of sacred bread and wine.
Stroik discusses the history of church architecture, the importance of various design principles including the altar as center of the church, and the result of modern thinking on church architecture. This modern thinking he decries, by the way, is not only the effect of Modernism style in architectural philosophy, but also the tendency to have gift shops, ask admission fees in famous churches, and to think in terms of auditorium features ("Can you hear me now?").

The essays are accompanied with photography of many gorgeous churches, both old and new, as well as some that makes one want to weep for those condemned to worship in such stark, ugly surroundings.

However, Stroik doesn't just discuss the failures in vision. He holds out hope for future church building and renovation. I found Ten Myths of Contemporary Sacred Architecture to be particularly eye opening on this front. By presenting what conventional wisdom as myths and showing where they go wrong, Stroik shows how consideration and care can easily restore beauty as a desirable feature for church architecture.

Obviously, I already was disposed to agree with Duncan Stroik's essays. However, it was a pleasure to see what I felt fleshed out in these essays and photographs. I am not the author's intended audience but the essays were easy to understand and I actually enjoyed them. There is a bit of repetition since some of them originally went to a variety of publications, but I found that all to the good in thoroughly grasping the main points.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this subject at all and particularly to anyone at all involved in Catholic church design, renovation, and building.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Quick Flicks - What We Watched Over the Weekend

It seemed like the right time for a few movies that allowed us enjoyment without having to think a lot. Mission accomplished.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
I realized Tom hadn't seen Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, so that was a must. (My review here.) Tom liked it and I enjoyed the second viewing. Let's face it, Lincoln in that movie is a righteous man, swinging an awesome axe. Period. Also, there is something about Timur Bekmambetov's directing style that I could just watch all night.

Casa De Mi Padre
This movie is entirely in Spanish with subtitles. That alone tells us it is not quite Will Ferrell's usual fare. It is like a cross between a Spanish telenovela and an old fashioned B-movie Western (definitely B-movie). Those elements made me somewhat interested in the movie and when a coworker said it was just funny without being broad, I gave it a try.

Armando (Will Ferrell) is the good hearted, somewhat simple, son of a Mexican rancher. His brother, Raul, is an unsavory seeming character who lives in the city and brings his gorgeous girlfriend, Sonia, on his latest visit. Sonia is soon predictably torn between Armando's love of the land and Raul's money and influence.

There are also a local drug lord, American DEA agents, good-hearted vaqueros, scantily clad maids, and much more.

We really enjoyed this movie. It wasn't perfect, but neither was Blazing Saddles which is the closest equivalent I can think of. Anyone who has ever taken in part of a telenovela is going to recognize key elements of the movie. Also, there are just funny elements that anyone who has ever seen low budget television is going to understand. (Here, I am thinking of some of the painted backdrops and in particular one scene where Armando admiringly says to Sonia, "You ride well. That is a difficult horse." And they are clearly riding fake horses.)

Casa De Mi Padre is a perfect movie to kick off summer viewing. Light, amusing, and doesn't require you to run your brain at full speed.

Well Said: Freedom of Choice

From my quote journal.
I support freedom of choice. My choice is not to support abortion, except in cases of a clear-cut choice between the lives of the mother and child. A child conceived through incest or rape is innocent and deserves the right to be born.

Worth a Thousand Words: Thrush Nightingale

Thrush Nightingale
taken by Remo Savisaar
Look at the way this little guy is singing his heart out. I have been hearing and seeing so many songbirds all over our neighborhood doing the exact same thing. Most specifically loud and insistent yesterday was a gorgeous cardinal who was staking out our yard as his own. (Click through to Remo's blog to see the photo full size.)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dear Rose

Far from home, in exotic L.A. (where I'd like to be myself), Rose is still plugging away in the entertainment industry. Specifically, she's doing free lance editing for a company that produces promos for syndicated shows.

That means that she and Zoe (our Boxer who has become Rose's Boxer) are far from home on her 23rd birthday. She is planning to go again this year to Porto's Bakery (which I spoke of in our L.A. Diary) and select a decadent cake.

Perhaps the Parisian? (Devil’s food chocolate cake, layered and decorated with chocolate whipped cream. Finished with chocolate shavings.)


Or the Red Velvet Cake? I'm not crazy about red velvet cakes but look at those lovely rose petals on top. (Layers of red velvet cake and cream cheese filling. Finished with cream cheese icing. Decorated with red velvet crumbs and fresh rose petals.)



Or possibly the Checkers Cake? (Two layers of white sponge cake, layer of Bavarian cream, layer of chocolate mousse, finished with chocolate ganache.)


If memory serves, last year she chose a Chocolate Raspberry cake. Chocolate and raspberries is a combination Rose is passionately fond of.

I'd rather have her here and be making a cake (if memory serves, she prefers a Chocolate Buttermilk Layer Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting). It wouldn't be as pretty, but I bet the company would make up for it. I've sent gifts (fingers crossed they got there on time) and I can buy her cake, but I can't give her a hug.

So I miss Rose on her birthday but I hope it is a wonderful day for her. She will be celebrating with friends, one of whom shares a birthday with her.

They will be barbecuing and going to see The Great Gatsby. Rose loves Baz Luhrmann's movies and does not care much about the original F. Scott Fitzgerald movie. So from what I have read, she should have a wonderful time.

Happy Birthday, Rose!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Once a Spy by Keith Thomson

Once a SpyOnce a Spy by Keith Thomson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I came across this thanks to Mystery Scene magazine where I have found many great recommendations.

Imagine a super spy managing to live long enough to develop Alzheimer's. What happens when he may inadvertently let slip some of the big secrets he knows?

Such is the premise of this really enjoyable book. Drummond Clark is the aging spy in question. His son Charlie is addicted to betting at the track and desperately trying to figure out how he's going to pay back a Russian mobster when his father turns up missing. All Charlie is trying to do is to return his father home and figure out which assisted living facility would be best, while skimming enough to pay his debts. However, repeated "coincidental" attempts on their lives send them on the lam for a simultaneously humorous and touching attempt to escape.

The scene at the beginning of the book when the father slips his leash of "company" monitors is a great example of the combination of unconscious trained stealth and Alzheimer's with which Charlie must deal for the remainder of the book. Along the way Charlie and his father spend time together, some lucidly and some not, in a way they never did before ... and Charlie discovers that his gambling career and natural talent combine unexpectedly to help keep them alive.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Library Cat

Library Cat
by Belinda Del Pesco

The Man Behind "The Booth at the End"

We are latecomers to The Booth at the End but enthusiastic nonetheless. The premise is simple but pure story telling:
A mysterious Man sits at a booth at the end of a diner. People approach him because they've heard The Man has a gift. He can solve their problems: A parent with a sick child, a woman who wants to be prettier, a nun who has lost her faith. The Man can give these people what they want. For a price.
Read more about it at my link above.

For those who have seen it already, Joseph Susanka has a real treat which I can't believe I haven't mentioned until now.

He's been sharing his ongoing conversation with Christopher “C.K.” Kubasik, creator and writer of The Booth at the End. The entire thing is a delight for anyone who loves storytelling.

Just to give you a tiny taste, C.K. gives a lot of credit to his Catholic upbringing with his rich appreciation of story and symbolism. (He isn't Catholic now, just fyi.)

With a fourth part promised! Thank you Joseph and C.K.!

A Word From Our Sponsor: Swallow this scroll

From my quote journal.
I saw a hand stretched out to me, holding a scroll ... Then he said, "Man, swallow this scroll I give you, and fill yourself full." So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey.
Ezekiel 3:3
I think that usually the emphasis, or what I myself notice, is the "sweet as honey" part. But this time through what has hit me is "fill yourself full." Fill yourself full of God's word. Those are words to ponder indeed.

Philip K. Dick's World ... and Ours

So what does Dick have to say about surviving and prevailing in this world?

[...]

Instead he focused on human decency, as expressed through empathy and sacrifice. In his work, characters often come through by doing the hard thing at the right moment. ...

This is what Dick has to offer -- something beyond mere politics; a glimpse at what makes us human. The moral law within, the ability to tell good from evil without actually being able to define them. In a literary world teeming with Mailers, and Vidals, and Thompsons, overrun with the cynical, and the vicious, and the twisted, Philip Dick stood alone in his defense of the human values.
Many thanks to Leah for pointing me to this article positing that Philip K. Dick was a prophet who foretold the times in which we now live. Jarring as that seems to anyone who has read a Philip K. Dick novel, it also hits a strain of truth.

I was just listening to Movies on the Radio where host David Garland and composer Michael Giacchino were discussing the continuing appeal of the original Star Trek series. They concluded it was because Star Trek was made in a time when there was great hope of using our technological power to do good. That sense is carried on through the movies, to a large degree. It is true that sense of optimism was the prevailing attitude and one saw it then in a lot of ways, especially in science fiction.

Unfortunately, it seems as if we live now in times where there is depression instead of optimism. From my limited exposure to Dick's writing, we could all do worse than to read Galactic Pot-Healer and then go out to face our challenges.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Grab Bag

All sorts of good info I haven't had a chance to mention until now.

This Just In: Strange Gods by Elizabeth Scalia

Yes. That Elizabeth Scalia. The Anchoress! The subtitle is: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. So we can see this is a book we all probably need. I was lucky enough to read the first bit of it some time ago, for which I wrote a blurb that is in the front of the book. I love Elizabeth's writing anyway, but this is right on target for me.

I did notice when I was looking at the cover that the stained glass is made up of little icons of all the things that distract us, grab us, that we can't let go of ... in short that we let get between us and God. Nice concept. (And you may have noticed I don't pass around that praise lightly.)

The Knox Bible

You may recall that I was very, very (very) happy that Baronius Press reprinted Ronald Knox's translation of the Bible (my review here). This is a good time to mention that the Knox Bible has become the one sitting around various rooms of my house, ready to hand for my afternoon prayer. Or to compare a translation. Or to check the context around a snippet of Scripture quoted in a book. In other words, I like it a lot.

Baronius Press asked if I accept advertising. I don't. But for a product which I enjoy using so much and which has enriched my Catholic life so much, I am more than happy to run a banner absolutely free to remind everyone about it. Voila!


Strange Notions

Brandon Vogt's got some exciting news.
This morning I launched a major evangelistic project which I've been working on for two years.

It's called StrangeNotions and it's designed to be the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists. The implicit goal is to bring non-Catholics to faith, especially followers of the so-called New Atheism. As a 'digital Areopagus', the site includes intelligent articles, compelling video, and rich discussion throughout its comment boxes.
Go check it out: Strange Notions. He's got some heavy hitters collaborating on this and it looks promising.

Angels and Saints at Ephesus

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles just released their second album—Angels and Saints at Ephesus.
The sisters' second album, a year-round collection, will entertain and inspire, featuring 17 English and Latin pieces sung a cappella for the feasts of the holy saints and angels. Recorded once again at their Priory in the heartland of America, this new album is a dynamic yet pure fusion of their contemplative sound. The sisters call to mind the glory of the future vision of God in the company of all of His angels and saints.

A Word From Our Sponsor: A joy and the delight of my heart ...

From my quote journal.
Thy words were found and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.
Jeremiah 15:16

Spock Vs. Spock



When it's this clever, movie tie-in advertising works. Now, if only I could afford an Audi ...

Saw this via Bing, by the way, when I was trying it out instead of Google.

Yes, Google, that's how angry I am over losing Reader in July. Deal with it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Well Said: Don't Cry

From my quote journal.
Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
Dr. Seuss

Worth a Thousand Words: The Three Bears

Arthur Rackham, The Story of the Three Bears, 1837
via Wikipedia
This was inspired by Animalarium's Season of the Bear post where you will find some really delightful illustrations of bears.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Perfect Mom Moment

We don't have a Publix but I'd shop at it if there was one nearby. Just on the strength of this ad. Beautiful.



Via The Anchoress.

Rose and I Are on SFFaudio This Week

I narrate Beside Still Waters by Robert Sheckley for Jesse at SFFaudio ... and then we follow up with a discussion in which Rose was included. Who knew so much could be packed into a short story?

Well Said: Peter the rock and Peter the denier

From my quote journal.
We have grown accustomed to make a clear distinction between Peter the rock and Peter the denier of Christ -- the denier of Christ: that is the Peter as he was before Easter; the rock: that is the Peter as he was after the Pentecost, the Peter of whom we have constructed a singularly idealistic image. But, in reality, he was a both times both of these... Has it not been thus throughout the history of the Church that the Pope, the successor of Peter has been at once Petra and Skandalon -- both the rock of God and a stumbling-block? In fact the faithful will always have to reckon with this paradox of the divine dispensation that shames their pride again and again.
Pope Benedict XVI

Friday, May 3, 2013

Giveaway Winner - Norma Jean!


Norma Jean is the lucky winner of Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious by Pat Gohn.

Congratulations, Norma! Contact me (julie [at] glyphnet [dot] com) with your address and I'll get your book in the mail.

Notes on Mark: John the Baptist's Self-Offering


MARK 6: 14-16
One of the things I love about this commentary is how it shows context in the parallels that Mark draws for us. Granted, those are parallels I'd never notice unless they were pointed out. I guess that just goes to show that I'm not a very observant reader. However, this particular parallel and the point made about John the Baptist's self-offering is one that resonates with my Catholic soul in considering the times I unite my suffering with Christ on his Cross. 
Between the accounts of the apostles setting out on their mission and returning from it, Mark inserts an interlude: the sordid story of Herod's banquet and his execution of John the Baptist. The placement of this episode is by no means accidental. As Mark already hinted in 1:14, John's life is in a mysterious way patterned on that of Christ; his death foreshadows Jesus' death. The passion of John recounted here coincides with the first mission of the apostles, as the passion of Jesus will give birth to the Church's mission in which the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world. With this parallel Mark suggests that John's self-offering shares, in a hidden way, in the spiritual fruitfulness of the sacrifice of Christ.
Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Gospel of Mark

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dappled Things: Ideas, Art, and Faith - New Issue Online

Bernardo Aparicio García drops me a line about the latest issue of Dappled Things:
Just wanted to let you know that the new DT is available online now. We've made a lot of goodness available for this issue: an interview with Ron Hansen, a really excellent essay on form in poetry that ends up being an insightful diagnosis of the post-modern condition, a historical fiction piece about St. Robert Southwell, SJ (might be particularly interesting to readers now that we have a Jesuit pope), and a mirror sonnet called "How to Rise From the Dead" (really do check that one out, the effect of the form, especially given the topic of the poem, is quite stunning).
He's not just a whistlin' Dixie, y'all. Check it out!

Scott struggles with the plow. Julie washes the floors. They both contemplate the work of art which is Of Gods and Men.

At A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast Scott and I discuss a "faith" movie.

What I'm Reading: Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word

Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint MatthewFire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew by Erasmo Leiva Merikakis


Yes it's 700 pages and only covers the first third of the Gospel of Matthew.

And your point is ...?

That I might not live long enough to finish all three books?

If I don't finish the 2,100 pages or so by then, hopefully I'll be in a place where God will fill me in on what I missed.

Actually I'd been circling around this book for several years. It took Will Duquette's enthusiasm to tip me over the edge.

Flipping through this doorstop, I came across a paragraph that stopped me in my tracks.
The Virgin Mary is called the [Greek words] (the "book of the Word of life") by the Greek Church. The book of the Gospel, the book of Christ's origins and life, can be written and proclaimed because God has first written his living Word in the living book of the Virgin's being, which she has offered to her Lord in all its purity and humility—the whiteness of a chaste, empty page. If the name of Mary does not often appear in the pages of the Gospel as evident participant in the action, it is because she is the human ground of humility and obedience upon which every letter of Christ's life is written. She is the Theotokos, too, in the sense that she is the book that bears, and is inscribed with, the Word of God. She keeps her silence that he might resonate the more plainly within her.
In fact, it almost knocked me out of my seat. So I'm reading these meditations, holding myself down to one per day. I must say that the author's translations are as inspiring as his meditations. There is a vivid sense of "action" that I just don't find when I try different translations to see the equivalent. It feels ... living ... alive ...

Full disclosure: I skipped the lengthy introduction, except for the parable about Aleph which rings loudly every time I see the Aleph after each meditation to remind us to leave space for God to enter in.

When I am craving yet another meditation, I'll begin working through the intro.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Well Said: Straight thinkin' is a delusion

From my quote journal and the audio book I'm listening to at the moment, The Pirates of Ersatz by Murray Leinster.
Hoddan began suddenly to see real possibilities. This was not a direct move toward the realization of his personal ambitions. But on the other hand, it wasn't a movement away from them. Hoddan suddenly remembered an oration he'd heard his grandfather give many, many times in the past.

"Straight thinkin'," the old man had said obstinately, "is a delusion. You think things out clear and simple, and you can see yourself ruined and your family starving any day! But real things ain't simple! They ain't clear! Any time you try to figure things out so they're simple and straightforward, you're goin' against nature and you're going to get 'em mixed up! So when something happens and you're in a straightforward, hopeless fix—why, you go along with nature! Make it as complicated as you can, and the people who want you in trouble will get hopeless confused and you can get out!"

Worth a Thousand Words: Your WPA at Work

Your WPA at Work in Schenley Park
from Father Pitt
We see similar improvements around White Rock Lake all the time. I love the fact that they seem both dated and timeless, as the pictures at the original post show.

Cardinal Dolan Receives 2013 William Wilberforce Award

I am impressed both by Cardinal Dolan's speech and the group who honored him with the award.
The annual William Wilberforce Award is given to present its recipient as an example and model of the witness of real Christianity making a difference in the face of tough societal problems and injustices. It is named for the eighteenth-century British parliamentarian, whose impassioned, well-reasoned debates and writings helped end Britain’s slave trade and reform the corroding values of England. The example of Wilberforce and his friends sparked a sweeping spiritual movement throughout the country, which in turn transformed a variety of social ills.

In a similar vein, this award is presented both to encourage Christians to follow its recipient’s example and to demonstrate to the secular world the benefits of Christian influence in society.

The purpose of the award has never been to venerate, enrich, or magnify an individual, but—through lifting that person up as an example—to inspire others to action.

Hard Boiled Action Ensues ...

... with chapter 5 of The Mouse in the Mountain by Norbert Davis ... ready for your listening pleasure at Forgotten Classics.

Notes on Mark - An Evil Woman's Revenge

MARK 6: 16-29
In the famous scene where Salome requests the head of John the Baptist as a reward for her dance, there is a lot revealed about Herodias merely in the fact that Salome dances at all. I always thought of her as an innocent pawn but Barclay makes it clear that in some ways she must not have been at all innocent.
In spite of John's rebuke Herod still feared and respected him, for John was so obviously a man of sincerity and of goodness; but with Herodias it was different. She was implacably hostile to John and determined to eliminate him. She got her chance at Herod's birthday feast which he was celebrating with his courtiers and his captains. Into that feast her daughter Salome came to dance. Solo dances in those days in such society were disgusting and licentious pantomimes. That a princess of the royal blood should so expose and demean herself is beyond belief because such dances were the art of professional prostitutes. The very fact that she did this is a grim commentary on the character of Salome, and of the mother who allowed and encouraged her to do so.
The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.)