Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski

The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My LifeThe Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life by Michael Yankoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Father Solomon spoke again, and the shaking of my foundation continued. "The God who called you into existence ex nihilio—out of nothing—is the same God who holds you in existence this moment and every moment. Were he to withdraw his hand, you would vanish wihtout memory. All things would. No, you can't make God love you. You can't make God like you. But nor do you need to; he already does. Never forget that is why he made you—because he wants you to exist. He wants you to live life in all its fullness."
Now this is interesting. What happens when a Protestant motivational speaker realizes he is in perpetual inner turmoil, goes to a monastery to rest for a week, and takes a monk's advice to explore spiritual practices for a more authentic encounter with God? Is there a way to live intentionally that shapes us so we can better catch God's wind in our sails and "allow Him to move us?"

Catholicism has a long tradition of various disciplines designed to help believers do this. Not every Catholic practices such disciplines. It just depends on the person. Yankoski's dive into different spiritual practices is a bit more extreme than the average Catholic, I'd say, because he's meeting every few weeks with a spiritual director and their conversations lead him from one discipline into another.

This is interesting me both as a Catholic and as someone who too often skirts the shallow end of the pool. Which is probably why the Patheos book club began soliciting Catholics to read this book.

Right from the beginning this book is compelling. I'm more or less familiar with most of the practices that Yankoski engages with. Some are part of me, like lectio divina, and keeping the Sabbath. Others I dance around, trying and leaving, then returning to again occasionally. Yet others I have sampled and found not to be helpful.

Every chapter in the book had at least one moment that made me more aware. I've practiced keeping the Sabbath for several years now. And so while I was nodding my head at some of Yankoski's realizations on that topic, he also had some wonderful moments like this one which opened my eyes.
One thing this Sacred Year is beginning to show me is how each of these spiritual practices can work like an antidote to some of the more poisonous aspects of our culture today. Tey are refreshing and life giving, whereas so often the habits and methods I've developed in my frenzied, stressed-out life are deadly poisons. The spiritual practices work like balm on wounds,healing even if painful at first.

Thus silence counteracts noise. And contemplation counteracts commodification.

Might Sabbath counteract the idol of the self-made man?

No wonder I mocked Sabbath at first: idols always die hard.
I have to say there are some practices that I had a hard time accepting that the author was coming to completely unawares, such as being aware of how our lives often affect those who are less fortunate (think Chinese children working in shoe factories sort of situations). That is, after all, one of the cries of conscience of our secular society, to be aware of how privilege comes at such a cost. However, perhaps it had never occurred to him to connect it with faith somehow. However, even these chapters had moments that were valuable for me.

This book is inspirational for any Christian who struggles with how to be "in the world" and yet not "of the world." That is a line that both Catholic and Protestant struggle with. If we read enough history, we know that it is also something that not only modern people have struggled with. Michael Yankoski discovered that turning to these spiritual traditions eases the way to help us "live life in all its fullness" ... and he shares that discovery with us.

I really enjoyed this book and will be rereading it.

Note: I wish they'd have included an appendix briefly explaining how to do some of the traditional practices (like the Examen).

The review copy was provided by the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for Patheos to feature their books. My review is my own based solely on the book's merits.

Well Said: Pope Benedict is like the "grandfather of all grandfathers"

Retired pontiff Benedict XVI joined some 50,000 pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday, Sept. 28 for a meeting between Pope Francis and elderly people from around the world.

Welcoming his predecessor, the Holy Father described Pope Benedict as the “grandfather of all grandfathers.”

“I have said many times that it gives me great pleasure that he lives here in the Vatican, because it is like having a wise grandfather at home. Thank you!”
Catholic News Agency, via The Deacon's Bench
I love the idea of Pope Francis bumping into Benedict XVI in the garden in the evenings and the two of them exchanging a few words about whatever is on the Pope's mind at the time. For some reason that possibility just never occurred to me. It sounds very companionable and comfortable.

Worth a Thousand Words: Among the Pines

Amongst the Pines (1915). Stanhope Alexander Forbes (Irish, 1857-1947).
via Books and Art
I feel as if I'm there with the dappled light on the page, the earth beneath me as I lie reading....

Monday, September 29, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Down by the Watering Hole

Down by the Watering Hole
taken by Valerie, ucumari photography
Some rights reserved.
I believe this is the definition of cute.

Well Said: "... and yet she was a happy woman."

Miss Bates…had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal goodwill and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body’s happiness and quick-sighted to every body’s merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body and a mine of felicity to herself.”
Jane Austen, Emma
Would that I could do as well as Miss Bates under similar circumstances. This didn't stop her from trying everyone's nerves with her twittery, repetitive, nonstop talking. But it helped keep everyone around her both kind in return and generous against her poverty and need. And gave them an excellent example for their own lives.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Weekend Joke: Atheists

This is from xkcd (Randall Munroe) who graciously allows me to share his humor here.

He's got a new book out which has me drooling just having looked through the Amazon sample: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. It isn't cartoons, other than those which illustrate the answers. Orson Scott Card's review gives a good idea of what it's like.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Herbed Pita Crisps

You want to make these. Heck, you definitely want to eat these! Get 'em at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

In which a vacation turns into an encounter with gods older than recorded history ...

...  in our latest sampling of "tall tales told in taverns"  at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Great Expectations Time After Time

One of my GoodReads friends said that watching me try to force myself to finish Great Expectations was better than the book itself. I feel rather proud actually as my usual practice is to just toss a book when it's not working for me. Even the classics (especially Russian classics).

But this is Charles Dickens who I learned to love with A Tale of Two Cities, and who left me awestruck after reading Bleak House and Little Dorrit. And I am now quite glad I did. If you're interested, a tale of my trek through Great Expectations follows.

Great ExpectationsGreat Expectations by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A kind friend gave me the Blackstone Audio read by Simon Prebble, a narrator whose shoes other readers are not fit to touch.

I've never really been interested in reading Great Expectations. However, it's been too long since I've had any Dickens in my life. At least a month or two. And that's too long.

Oh Dickens, Dickens. I'm still in the very early pages but already his little observations are making me laugh.

I really hate Pip. Really, really. However, I had a great breakthrough when I went and read G.K.Chesterton's introduction to this novel. It made me realize Dickens' boldness in writing a novel with an antihero. I realize he is far from the first to do so, but I really hadn't expected it since his other books that I've read have all had at least one likable heroic protagonist. This accounts for my difficulty in connecting with the book, which I'm a third of the way through. And it helps me to reorient mentally on the story.

Secondly, something Chesterton said made me go look at GE's chronology. I hadn't realized it was the next to the last finished novel Dickens wrote, thus making it more a more mature work. I realized that I needed to trust this author to show me something new, to sit back and let the story sink in, rather than to rush to judgment because I would like to give Pip a good smack.

Chastened ... I continue ...

Just can't make myself go back to this book after I stopped to read something else. Even fantastic narration can't make up for the fact that I'm just not into the story. If I pick this up, and anything is possible (!), it will be in print because that will go much faster than audio.


Having finished all the Jane Austen books and casting around for a classic for "background" reading ... I thought I'd give this book yet another try. My method was to skim the second half of the book from my Kindle as fast as I could (a couple of hours ... I'm a topnotch skimmer). Naturally as the plot twisted and turned I found myself slowing down in many spots to enjoy the story's development. Oh Dickens ... you did it again. This is not Bleak House or Little Dorrit (or even A Tale of Two Cities) but the second half definitely redeemed the first half.

I am now listening to the second half in audio so I pick up the details I missed in my breakneck race through the print version. I picked up the library's audiobook which is by Michael Page and I like this narration much better, though I couldn't tell you why as Simon Prebble is a longtime favorite of mine. But, once again, it is making all the difference. Audio got me through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It got me through The Lord of the Rings. It got me through C. S. Lewis's space trilogy. And now, it is redeeming Great Expectations for me.

I am really enjoying all the funny bits that Dickens includes in the midst of the drama, such as Pip and Bentley Drummle standing shoulder to shoulder refusing to give up the fire, or the Aged's reading of the newspaper aloud.

I still feel all the mooning after Estella to be quite boring but am willing to put up with it based on the rest of what is happing.

I was interested to see that this book has two endings. The original and the one that Dicken's good friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton asked for. I love that Dickens was so obliging as to write a second ending for him. My copy had both. I'm not sure which I preferred as both work well.

Well Said: Rain

Planting seeds inevitably changes my feelings about rain.
Luci Shaw
Context is all. The trick is to keep the context when it is outside one's immediate experience. Or to say it another way, the trick is thinking outside the box, thinking outside my box.

Being a Christian has made me much better at that because Jesus continually demands it. All you have to do is read the Gospels with any attention to see how He was always asking people to tilt their heads and look at things from a new angle, from God's angle. I forget to do that a lot of the time, but I do remember sometimes.

Worth a Thousand Words: French Mediterranean

French Mediterranean
via The French Sampler
I'd like to be able to look across the street (or plaza or whatever) and see this.

Julie joins the Judean People's Front and Scott prophesies ...

Julie joins the Judean People's Front (NOT the People's Front of Judea) (a group nobody likes), and Scott prophesies "nobody will really know where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia work base that has an attachment."

Eventually, they get around to discussing Monty Python's Life of Brian at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast in Episode 92.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Well Said: Hurrying

There are more important things to do than hurry.
Robert Farrar Capon
Really countercultural. Really true.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Well Said: The Romance of Catholicism

Outside Christianity, the magic is not in life. For the pagan or neopagan progressive, life is pain followed either by endless nothingness or by endless reincarnations of endless pain. ...

But I am a Catholic. In my world, every sunrise is the trumpet blast of Creation, more astonishing than the bomb burst, and every nightfall is the opening of a vast roof into the infinite dance of deep Heaven, where the stars and planets reel and waltz to the music of the spheres. ...

Romance? Let me say something of the wild poetry that now rules my life.

I have a charm chalked on my front door to call a blessing down from wide Heaven. I carry a Rosary like a deadly weapon in my pocket and hang the medallion of Saint Justin Martyr, whose name I take as my true name, atop my computer monitor where he can stare at me.

Two angels follow me unseen as I walk, and I live in a world of exorcists and barefoot friars, muses and prophets, healers who lay on hands, mighty spiritual warriors hidden in crippled bodies, and fallen angels made of pure malicious spirit obeying their damned and darkened Sultan from his darkest throne in Hell. And I live in a world where a holy Child was born a secret king beneath a magic star, and the animals knelt and prayed. And from that dread lord, the small Child will save us.

You might think my world inane, or insane, or uncouth, or false, but by the beard of Saint Nicholas, by the Breastplate of Saint Patrick, and by the severed head of Saint Valentine, no one can say it is not romantic.

My life these days is a storybook story. If there were more romance in it, it would be enough to choke Jonah’s whale. Without Catholicism, there is no romance. Outside the Church, where are the miracles?

Should I hide this? Should I hide a world larger and more glorious than mortal worlds?

It is the only type of story worth a man’s time to tell or heed.

I enjoyed the entire article but when I got to the part excerpted above it was as if I had drums beating in the background, that martial music played in Battlestar Galactica. It was the same way I feel when I read St. Patrick's Breastplate aloud. I read this to my husband and to our priest. By the time I got done both were laughing and nodding and had a certain light in their eyes as they said, "Yes. Exactly!"

Worth a Thousand Words: Die Schleuse

Die Schleuse (the lock)
painted by Edward B. Gordon
I can hear the waves slapping on the walls, feel the uncertainty of the boat not centered where it should go, in sum - I'm there.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Well Said: Being Cynical and Naive

He remembers being both cynical and naive in those days. "I assumed humans were basically bad people and if you stumbled…you would be devoured," he says. "I don't believe that anymore." Instead, he has been heartened by the hospitality that he's encountered while traveling around the world, even in places he thought would be hostile to Americans. "It made me hopeful and made me feel better about the human species," he says. "We like to be good, we aspire to do good things, and we're generally trudging through life trying to do the best we can."
I like the realization that one can be "cynical and naive." Usually being cynical is represented as a response to "lost naivety." However, Bourdain puts his finger on the fact that often cynicism can be a response coming from a lack of experience. It was an eye opening realization to me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lagniappe: Egg McMuffin and Mobile Apps

Troubled by criticisms that it has fallen behind the times and is losing its appeal to hungry but progressive millennials, McDonald's is developing mobile apps allowing patrons to access data about the company's social responsibility.

This is the best news ever. And not just for young people. I can't tell you how many times I've been standing in line at McDonald's trying to decide whether to have the Sausage Burrito or the Egg McMuffin when the issue of the firm's social responsibility has suddenly popped into my head. And once that door swings open, I simply cannot get it closed.
Sometimes the joke just writes itself. Especially when the company's move smacks of desperation.

Worth a Thousand Words: City News and Coney Island Diner

Neon signs, Mansfield, Ohio - City News and Coney Island Diner
Photographer: Brian Butko, Creative Commons License, some rights reserved
I love these old neon signs.

Blogging Around: the Super-Duper Long Edition

Saving Dr. Brantly: The Inside Story of a Medical Miracle
GetReligion tells us that another miracle, aside from that reported on Matt Lauer's NBC special about Dr. Brantly's recovery from Ebola, is that faith and the "miracle" aspect were fully discussed and never shied away from. Well done, Matt Lauer!

Why the Seal of the Confessional Can't be Broken

I try not to make a habit of wading into swamps, but there’s something going on in Louisiana that should not be ignored.1 The state Supreme Court ruled that, once a penitent has waived confidentiality, what was discussed in the sacrament of confession can be fair game in court. The diocese of Baton Rouge has recently appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court. The case is particularly challenging because the confession in question was made by a girl who was being abused by a parishioner, and it appears from her testimony that the priest did not do anything to help her.

Much of the discussion thus far has been about what Louisiana law requires and whether or not the seal of confession supersedes it. But this misses two important questions — one about what should have happened, and one about why the seal cannot be waived, even by the person who made the confession.
Sam Sawyer at The Jesuit Post has an excellent piece about why the seal of the confessional is so important. I've been surprised how much this topic has arisen lately in my life. Understandably, it first came up when Scott Danielson and I at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast were discussing I Confess. Then my movie viewing group at Caruth Haven has had it pop up a couple of times.

If you haven't considered the topic, Louisiana is making sure that you do. This is important.

Dante's Lessons for Millenials

And then, a year ago, I stumbled into the Divine Comedy by accident. I was going through a deep personal crisis and couldn’t see any way out. One day, browsing in a bookstore, I pulled down a copy of Inferno, the first book of the Commedia trilogy, and began to read the first lines:

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in some dark woods,
For I had wandered off from the
straight path.
(trans. Mark Musa)

Well, yes, I thought, I know what that’s like. Like me, Dante (the character in the poem) was having a midlife crisis. I kept reading and didn’t stop until months later, when I slogged with Dante through Hell, climbed with him up the mountain of Purgatory, and blasted through the heavens to see God in Paradise. All made sense after that pilgrimage, and I found my way back to life. I was, in a physical and spiritual sense, healed.
That’s the testimony of a forty-seven-year-old writer, late to wisdom. What if I had encountered Dante as a young man and taken the lessons the pilgrim learned on his journey to heart back then? Would I have had an easier time staying on the straight path? Perhaps. At least I would have been warned how to avoid the false trails.
Rod Dreher's been digging deep into Dante lately and I hear tell he's writing a book. Which I can't wait for, by the way. Having read the Divine Comedy once, I know that's not enough. It didn't hit me the way it did Dreher, but then I've been gobsmacked by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Jane Austen lately. I'm working my way up to diving beneath the layers in Dante. If Dante doesn't sound like your cuppa tea, read Dreher's piece. Heck, read it anyway. He's good.

Comic Book Superheroes and the Moral Struggle

We all need guardian angels. In fact the Catholic Church teaches that we each have one – a supernatural entity assigned at conception, not to dominate us, but to prevent us being dominated; to defend us against our supernatural enemies, giving us the space to live our human lives in a world that is much bigger and scarier than we think (what the Rangers do for the Shire in The Lord of the Rings). Comic book superheroes and supervillains are the angels and demons of this cosmic spiritual warfare reinvented for the secular imagination, and they resonate with us because on some level we know that we need them. At the same time, they give us something to aspire to (the corresponding Christian doctrine istheosis or divinization by grace). These are not all protectors sent to us from outside – like the boy from Krypton, or Thor – more often they are ordinary human beings (Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, Hal Jordan) who by providential accident or brilliant design find themselves possessed of a power beyond the lot of mortals. And “with great power comes great responsibility”, as they quickly learn. These are flawed human beings who have to become heroes, fighting alongside the guardian angels for the right of human beings to live a meaningful life. (“I have come to set them free,” says Loki. “Free from what?” asks Fury. “Freedom,” comes the reply.)
Stratford Caldecott, whose name I have come to know lately via my own Tolkien appreciation, wrote a wonderful piece that any lover of pop culture will enjoy. And those who decry pop culture may find hope in his words. Via Steven D. Greydanus.

Cardinal Dolan and the St. Patrick's Day Parade That Won't Go Away

An excellent piece from The Anchoress which I am sorry to say will probably be wasted on either side which has its mind made up. Another good piece on the topic comes from Pia de Solenni. And if anyone cares what the Cardinal himself has to say, he wrote a column about it for New York Catholic.

Concerning Pope Francis, "Trial Marriages" and Poorly Covered Media Rites

My friend Scott often remarks that when he hears reporting the latest "mold breaking" thing Pope Francis has said or done, then he knows it is time to look for indepth coverage. Because news bytes are inevitably wrong about how the Church works.

Here's an excellent piece from GetReligion which begins with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and then dives into how the news media has been representing Pope Francis' recent remarkable marriage of 20 couples. A follow-up piece, also from GetReligion, looks even further into the event and the heretofore unknown significance.

Your Marriage IS Worth Saving–And YOU Can Save It.

When Divorce is Not an Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Everlasting Love is a book for couples who want to know what it takes to get their marriage back on track. Solo spouses can
also use the book to heal a marriage even if his or her mate isn’t interested in working on the relationship.
Dr. Greg Popcak, who I greatly respect, has a book that sounds as if a lot of couples could benefit from it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: At the Sunrise

At the Sunrise
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

Well Said: To Confess Your Sins to God ...

To confess your sins to God is not to tell him anything he doesn't already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.
Frederick Buechner
I knew that. But I never saw it so perfectly worded before. Worthy of writing down on a Post-It just to keep in front of me for reflection.

A Movie You Might Have Missed #42: I Wish

If you could wish for anything what would it be?

42. I Wish

I Wish 2011 ★★★★½

This delightful film left us talking about it the rest of the evening and following day. Two brothers hatch a scheme to reunite their separated parents based on an overheard rumor that a wish will come true when made from the spot where the new bullet trains pass each other for the first time.

The first half of the movie is quite slow but we enjoyed just taking in the details of Japanese life as we watched the two brothers in their separate routines. The second half is more engaging as the brothers and their friends scrounge the cash for tickets, figure out how to escape school, and embark upon their quest. Watching how wishes change or are modified, watching how some of these youngsters change their lives based on their wishes, and realizing that most of the people around them have their own wishes is what weaves the enchantment of the piece.

I will be looking for more from this director

(For more Movies You Might Have Missed go to the movie review page and scroll to the bottom.)

Which Chili Will Mom Pick?

Texas-style or Cincinnati-style? Get the recipes and the story at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In which friendship, a newspaper, and a steam fish help our heroes home.

The finale of The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard. Hear it at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Worth a Thousand Words: Breeze in the Autumn

Breeze of Autumn photo
taken by Calligraphy in the Landscape
Mark of harvest season approaching.
Color, and taste. It is the master of Japanese food.

The highest quality rice.

初秋や 海も青田も 一みどり 
松尾 芭蕉 (1644 – 1694)

early fall  sea and rice fields  filled with green  
Matsuo Bashō (1644 – 1694)
I urge you to go to the post at Calligraphy in the Landscape, not only to see this photo in greater detail, but to also see all the other lovely images and poetry in the post about autumn.

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma Emma by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a terrific book! I'd heard about how unlikable Emma is as a character and I have to disagree. Yes, she can be infuriating but she is truly sorry for her mistakes, tries to change, and has a sense of humor when she catches herself falling back into her bad habits. I found her lively, open, and lovable. I especially loved the tender way she took care of her father.

Interestingly, everyone in the book falls prey at some point to Emma's habit of drawing completely wrong conclusions except Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates. I quickly grew very fond of both those characters who did everything with a great concern for those around them. It was just everyone's misfortune that they had such quirky ways of expressing their concern. Every time they would appear I'd settle back with great enjoyment to hear them talk since they were so hilarious (unintentionally on their parts, completely intentional on that of the author).

It was also interesting to see Austen work with such a closed society. Occasionally people would come or go but our focus is always on Highgate. It was almost like watching a scientific experiment as to what the effect would be on the settled social system by adding a young eligible bachelor or lowbrow social climber. And no wonder people would spend 15 minutes talking about how best to get the mail. Eventually that is one of the greatest points of interest in one's day with so few outside resources. Eventually I would begin laughing when one of those conversations would begin, wondering how long Austen could keep it going by having new people enter the conversation just when it was dying out.

I must mention that I listened to Juliet Stevenson's audiobook and it was simply superb. I credit her with the fact that I enjoyed Mr. Woodhouse, Mrs. Eliot, and Miss Bates so much. Her impeccable inflections, emphases, and characterizations made this book come alive.

All in all, a most delightful book.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Virgin and Child with Saint George and Saint Anthony Abbot

Antonio Pisanello, The Virgin and Child with Saints George and Anthony Abbot
via Wikipedia
[Pisanello's] amazing Saint George in the London National Gallery, in his mostly silver armour, and wearing an enormous straw hat to protect him from the sun-radiance of the Virgin and Child, is the most mannered picture of evil in existence.
Paul Johnson, Art: A New History
I am absolutely captivated by Saint George's hat. I also was struck by the modern feel of the painting in the way the rays of the sun radiate into the atmosphere, causing it to radiate in turn.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Doge Leonardo Loredan

Giovanni Bellini, portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan
via Wikipedia
The Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501-1505) by Giovanni Bellini shows how a great master can turn a formal state portrait into both a penetrating study of character and an image of beauty. ...He had a wonderful eye for a face and huge skill at getting it down on panel. He broke the old Venetian tradition that a ruler could only be presented in a formal "medal" profile, by showing the Doge Leonardo Loredan in an almost frontal position, a faultless work which many would rate one of the best half-dozen portraits ever painted.
Paul Johnson, Art: A Modern History
All I know is that when I look at this portrait it almost looks as if someone photographed a modern face and stuck it between the hat and cape. Simply amazing.

Ancillary Justice discussion at SFFaudio

The SFFaudio gang (Jesse, Bryan Alexander, Tamahome and I) have mixed reactions to Hugo-winner Ancillary Justice (which I liked a lot, by the way).

Blog Tour for "The Feasts" - The Holy Angels

The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as CatholicsThe Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics by Donald Cardinal Wuerl

I reviewed The Feasts yesterday. Today, as part of the blog tour, we'll take a look at The Holy Angels bit of the book which includes The Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael on September 29 and the Memorial of the Guardian Angels on October 2.

Devotion to the angels is something integral to the life of God's people. It is a practice that christians and Jews have kept since ancient times, and for good reason. Angels do not move people like chess pieces. They live in relationship with us. The prophet Zechariah quizzed the angels sent to guide him. The young man Tobias spent days in conversation with his heavenly traveling companion. Saint Augustine often described our relationships with the angels as "friendship." God created us to be social, and our society is both earthly and heavenly. It includes family members who look like we do, and family members who are pure spirits and have no physical appearance whatsoever. Yet they are with us, and we should acknowledge them, and we should be grateful for their help.
The Feasts contains one of the best short summaries of angels I've ever seen. In just a few pages we are told the nature of angels and the Scriptural evidence, introduced to the archangels and guardian angels, and told about Michaelmas as a traditional day.

I know whereof I speak. I have read many books about angels.


What made me grab these feast days for the blog tour was recalling that in the fall after I entered the Church I was just beginning to observe the liturgical year a bit more than the basics. I had just splurged for the devotional In Conversation with God, Feasts July-December by Francis Fernandez when Tom's father had a stroke and we had to rush to Houston.

It was a dire time with much worse news than we could have imagined about his health. I remember brushing my teeth but needing something inspirational no matter how late it was in the day. Wanting to "do it right" I plunged in at our chronological point in time to see what upcoming feasts to expect. It was the Feast of the Archangels and the way this book did it was to not skimp over a single one. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael each had their own fascinating three-part feast written up. And right behind it — the Guardian Angels! Hey, I'd been wondering about them!

The knowledge of those angels helped hold me up during those days of trial.

That was my first introduction to the idea that I could have my own relationship not only with angels but with feast days. I now have some that I celebrate although our local parish doesn't mention them. I know that somewhere in the world there are parishes who are uniting with me in celebrating yet another unique way that our lives are united to that of Christ.

In those early days I was fumbling my way through understanding feast days and angels and many other "basics" of Catholic life. I'd definitely have welcomed a book like The Feasts which not only informs but inspires.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: The Meeting Scene

Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506), The Court of Mantua
via Wikipedia
I love how realistic this is. I discovered it in Paul Johnson's "Art: A New History" where he tells us:
The Camera delgi Sposi, being an exercise in contemporary realism, is perhaps the most authentic presentation of court life in Italy's golden age that we possess. The painter actually witnessed it, and the two main scenes, one outdoors (The Meeting), one indoors (The Signing of the Contract), take us straight into the world of marriage diplomacy, ceremony, intrigue and secret manoeuvering we read about in letters and chronicles. That world was later described by Machiavelli in The Prince and by Castiglione in The Courtier. But Mantegna's cold brush brings it horribly to life. I say horribly because, though there is exquisite beauty in the room, particularly in the rendering of the young, their elders have hearts of ice. ... there are no tricks about the figures, which have a Flemish realism. They are the actual faces of living people--fifteenth-century Italians of the urban, courtly breed, whispering in ready ears, hiding their deepest thoughts, making honeyed speeches, dissimulating and boasting, Cutting a bella figura while keeping their poignards sharp, strutting for effect and feigning every kind of emotion ... As in all Mantegna's works, one learns a great deal because, though a master of illusionistic devices, he always tells the truth.

Lagniappe: As the sun goes down ...

As the sun goes down, a stillness falls over Egypt. Water channels that cross the field turn to the colour of blood, then to bright yellow that faces into silver. The palm trees might be cut from black paper and pasted against the incandescence of the sky. Brown hawks that hang all day above the sugar-cane and the growing wheat are seen no more and, one by one, the stars burn over the sandhills and lie caught in the stiff fronds of the date palms.

It is this moment which remains for ever as a memory of Egypt, a moment when day is over and night has not yet unfolded her wings, a strange between-time in whose tremendous hush the earth seems listening for a message from the sky. The fierce day dies and the sand loses its heat and all things are for a brief space without shadow.
H.V. Morton, In the Steps of the Master
Isn't this as good as a rest? Read it slowly, let your mind's eye place you there, and take it all in. H.V. Morton is superb at telling us the history and people of a place, but I have never seen anyone dwell upon his lyrical descriptions. They are scattered throughout this book and come to me almost with a shock as he suddenly stops talking about being a tourist and turns attention to the physical.

Huzzah! Another Special Day! Reviewing "The Feasts" by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina

The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as CatholicsThe Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics by Donald Cardinal Wuerl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Church's calendar is an intricate, complex, and beautiful technology. It is the work of many human hands and human minds trained to deal with holy things. The seasons turn and the feasts interplay like the gears in a priceless clock. They regulate our religious life and enrich our spiritual life.

They seem to happen automatically, but only because the Church oversees the apparatus, averts temporal collisions, and finely tunes all the components to make the year as festive as it can be.
I am not sure exactly why but one of the things I have always loved about the Church is the liturgical year. The idea that there are a steady series of seasons and feast days linked with our calendar year enhances the richness of my life. Perhaps it is because my mother taught us to love nature and the turn of seasons simply because she herself loves them so much. Perhaps it is because, long before I was a Christian, I read and reread Rumer Godden's masterpiece In This House of Brede where the liturgical year is a continual background to the story.
“Don’t you see, it’s like a pageant. Our Cardinal has said the liturgy entertains as well as feeds us ... Yes, we’re not angels but humans," said Dame Clare, "and human nature is made so that it needs variety. The Church is like a wise mother and has given us this great cycle of the liturgical year with its different words and colours. You’ll see how you will learn to welcome the feast days and the saints’ days as they come round, each with a different story and, as it were, a different aspect; they grow very dear, though still exacting.”
Having unknowingly absorbed all that I suppose it is only fitting that I really enjoyed The Feasts. It covers the background and reasons for feast days, the liturgical calendar (and our calendar in general), and how these enrich our Christian lives. Even those of us who are well informed on the subject will find new information as well as good reminders of things we may have forgotten. For example this is supremely logical but just never occurred to me:
Sunday did not become simply a Christian version of the Sabbath. Christians were wary of enforcing a day of rest, as such enforcement had been turned on Jesus during his earthly ministry (see, for example, Mark 2:23-27). In any event, most Christians could not refrain from labor on Sunday because it was an ordinary workday in the Greco-Roman world.

Christian observance centered on the Mass, which was in most places offered very early in the morning (before work), but sometimes also in the evening (after work). ...
Certainly The Feasts is a worthy accompaniment to Cardinal Wuerl's and Mike Aquilina's previous two books, The Church and The Mass. Taken all together they provide a thorough, accessible, and much needed look at aspects of the Roman Catholic faith which seem very mysterious to outside eyes.

Tomorrow, I'll participate in the Blog Tour for this book by looking more closely at a particular feast. In this case, it will be that for The Holy Angels (which will surprise no one who is a regular reader of this blog).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekend Joke: Changing that Light Bulb

Because those are some of my favorite jokes, don't you know? Here are my favorites.
How many Proletarians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

None, the light bulb contains the seeds of its own revolution.


How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one but the light bulb has to want to change.


How many Boxers does it take to change a light bulb?

Doesn't matter. You can still play with the ball in the dark!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Julie and Scott form a committee.

Scott wants the committee to immediately review who's marching in which parades, while Julie wants a school to stay open and thinks we better vote before someone kills Guy. Will they ever agree?

The one thing they can agree on is a mystery: Ashes to Ashes by Emma Lathen. Episode 91!

Cardinal Dolan and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad St. Patrick's Day Parade

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is going to be the Grand Marshal of the next St. Patrick's Day parade in New York. Which was fine and dandy until the parade organizers decided to allow a LGBT group to march with a banner.

So now you'll see a wide variety of Catholics speaking up on whether Dolan should still be Grand Marshal. Which he is, by the way.

My initial question is this: wasn't this LGBT group always marching? Why does them having a banner suddenly make it immoral, according to some, for the Cardinal to participate? Why weren't they bringing this up before? In my view very little has changed. Banner or no banner, this group would have been very obvious to anyone attending. To my mind, this is a non-argument for this very reason.

There's also some discussion out there that since the St. Patrick's Day Parade isn't really a "Catholic" event that the Cardinal shouldn't participate. So if he's ever asked to throw out the first ball at Yankee Stadium he should turn that down too? Again, I understand the sentiment, but this makes no logical sense.

The Curt Jester has a post which sums up various responses around the web, including links. I don't necessarily agree with The Curt Jester's personal conclusion, but his post contains some of the wisest words on the tempest over Cardinal Dolan's participation in the St. Patrick's Day Parade:
Still what it comes down to is my prudential answer to the situation, did not match the Cardinal’s prudential answer to the situation. God is his great wisdom and mercy did not make me a priest or worse a bishop. ..."
Would that more of us kept that in mind when discussing the situation.

I myself keep recalling how many ways Christ participated in common life while people tried to use situations to judge him ... paying taxes, teaching at the Temple, attending a Pharisee's dinner, eating with tax collectors (both Matthew and Zachaeus), recruiting a tax collector as a disciple (that had to be one of the worst offenses, right?), and so forth.

All these actions could be seen as making a public statement for or against a big issue. It just depended on what group you belonged to and what group you were worried about. In fact, some of the situations were setups for traps based on that very concept.

I don't know if Cardinal Dolan's choice is right or wrong. (I really can see the validity of the arguments on both sides, although the venom some exhibit is not at all Christian.) I do know it's not my choice to make and stewing about it isn't going to change things.

(Side note: I'm also struck by what a small issue this is when I look at what people were complaining about in our bishops ten years ago, when I began blogging. Compared to the weak examples back then on issues like abortion, Dolan still comes out on the side of the angels.)

I'm not a cardinal and I thank God that I don't have to juggle all the factors he does in trying to serve God. In fact, I think all of you should also be thankful I'm not in a position of any real power. God definitely knew what He was doing with that one.

No matter whose side you think is right in this situation, let's pray for our our priests, our bishops, our Pope, and Cardinal Dolan.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11, Our Choices and Making a Stand

I originally wrote this for my Free Mind column at Patheos. It is still posted there, but I thought I'd put it here also. As I watch ISIS spread evil over the land, as I watch Russia wreak its will on the Ukraine, this piece seems just as pertinent today.

Two days after 9/11, my father-in-law had a massive stroke. My husband and I drove from Dallas to the hospital in Houston. Largely in shock between the double burden of terrorist attacks and personal tragedy, we were nevertheless stirred with pride at the many flags and hand-made signs we saw along the road. Tears sprang to my eyes when we passed a battered pick-up truck complete with obligatory shotgun rack and "We are all New Yorkers today" written on the rear window.

My husband said, "Those terrorists don't know what they have done. This guy would've spit on a New Yorker last week. And now he'd fight for them."

We were lucky. We didn't know anyone, then, who had died or been in the attacks. But we still suffered with the rest of the nation. It changed us as a people and as individuals.

It taught me a big lesson in forgiveness; as I expressed my forceful wish to see the people behind this attack "killed," a gentle friend from our parish looked at me with a troubled face. "I don't know," she said slowly. "But that doesn't seem right either."

I was taken aback and began to pray, even as I expressed anger. Gradually, the anger faded and the ability to forgive crept in.

Today, I mourn the 9/11 attacks as much as ever. Easy tears still spring to my eyes when I look over the old pictures, video footage, and exchange "what I was doing when I heard" stories with others.

I also think about the opportunity that we had to go forward as a people united—to bring something good out of the evil. We are more divided than ever, and ruder than ever. We squabble and complain about the red states, the blue states, the liberals, the conservatives, the Muslims, the Catholics, and on and on it goes.

Some of this is basic human nature, as old as the stories in Genesis, of brother striking brother. It seems to me, though, that some of it is Evil pushing its way into the world, and we are failing to push back for the common good. We listen to the siren call of "my way," which goes hand in hand with pride.

As always, when it comes to thinking things through, I find that others have pondered the matter so much more thoroughly than I could. Recently I picked up one of my favorite "good versus evil" books and found the words defining my thoughts.
It is said that the two great human sins are pride and hate. Are they? I elect to think of them as the two great virtues. To give away pride and hate is to say you will change for the good of the world. To vent them is more noble; that is to say the world must change for the good of you. I am on a great adventure.
Harold Emery Lauder, in Stephen King's The Stand
Twenty-three years before 9/11, Stephen King published one of his best-known and best-loved books, The Stand. It tells a tale of the United States, laid to waste when a biological weapons-grade virus inadvertently gets loose. As survivors roam the post-apocalyptic ruins, they begin to have dreams about an incredibly old holy woman, named Mother Abigail, or of a supernatural entity—Randall Flagg—who is her opponent.

Following their dreams, two communities begin to form—Mother Abigail's in Boulder and Flagg's in Las Vegas—and the stage is set for a final "stand" between Evil and God.

King has expressed frustration that so many fans call The Stand their favorite work, even though he has written scores of books since its publication.

Well, it's a heck of a book for one thing, so it's no wonder people love it. And although this is a horror novel, it is very translatable to our own lives. We no longer worry about bio-terrorism the way we did back then, but we can still relate to the scenario King paints.

In The Stand, King holds up the mirror to us. God and evil are present, of course, but they work through men, as ever, and we recognize ourselves in the pages.

Harold Emery Lauder was the quintessential misunderstood nerd, picked on in school, crossed in love, and finding power in hatred. His note could have been written by any of the terrorists who flew those planes into the World Trade Center. I imagine that, like Harold, their betrayal of innocents was the culmination of a long trail of choosing their own desires first. King shows us enough of Harold's choices—sometimes made despite the screaming of his own instincts—so that we can see a little of him in every selfish choice we make.

Harold's end is not a good one, and it is made pitiful by the fact that he is tossed aside like a worn out doll when evil is done using him for its own purposes. We cannot hold onto our anger at him because he has been misled so completely. In a similar way, when I think of those terrorists and their deliberate evil, I have a bit of that pity for them as well.

Once they were somebody's babies. I don't know what led them astray, but I lament the loss of the people they could have been.

King directly juxtaposes a rock star, Larry Underwood, against Harold.
"You ain't no nice guy!" she cried at him as he went into the living room. "I only went with you because I thought you were a nice guy" . . . A memory circuit clicked open and he heard Wayne Stuckey saying, "There's something in you that's like biting on tinfoil."
The Stand
After the plague, Larry is haunted by those words, "you ain't no nice guy"—they jump to mind whenever he contemplates a selfish or cowardly act. Ultimately, he actually becomes a "nice guy" by consistently choosing the nobler act, if only to prove those words wrong.

Larry is no different than you or me, or anyone who can see themselves with a modicum of self awareness. None of us are "nice guys" deep down because we are all stained with Original Sin. And we know it.

We have help, though, that Stephen King didn't give Larry Underwood. We have the grace of Christ, the sacrament of reconciliation, and our faith to strengthen us. Like Larry, though, we have to keep picking ourselves up and trying again. We must practice until we are more perfectly "nice guys."

9/11 has presented us with a chance to practice forgiveness over and over again. We're all in this together and lifting our thoughts (or hands) in hatred belittles us and our targets. We are Christ’s followers, charged to see Him in everyone they meet. We all have the same choice. Do we embrace Harold's way, or Larry's?
There's always a choice. That's God's way, always will be. Your will is still free. Do as you will. There's no set of leg-irons on you. But . . . this is what God wants of you.
Mother Abigail, The Stand

Have Mercy on Me Now and at the Hour of My Death. Amen.

I was "assigned" Captain Daniel O'Callaghan when Project 2,996 began. What an honor it has been every year to be allowed to bring this tribute of a fine American hero to everyone.

Captain Daniel O'Callaghan, 42, Smithtown, N.Y.

It has been a real privilege to read through the tributes of those who knew Daniel O'Callaghan and to learn about his life. Gradually this man I never heard of before has taken on real personality to me. Part of a large Irish clan, he was full of energy, loved children, loved joking around, and loved his family and job. In short, he loved life and made it better for everyone who was lucky enough to meet him.
When I was growing up, even though we didn't see the O'Callaghan's very much, it was always something to look forward to. We always had fun, laughter, jokes, & stories to tell. It didn't matter how long it had been since you'd seen each other, everyone was part of a big happy, loving family that hung together. Friends or family, it didn't matter; you were one of the family. It was wonderful.
I, myself, love the heart of someone who relished his job so ... and you've gotta love the image of those glow-in-the-dark boxers.
Though he came from a family chock-full of police officers - including six active officers and eight retired from forces in New York City and on Long Island - O'Callaghan, 42, switched to the fire department 18 years ago, after three years as a cop.

He was "born to be a fireman," said his friend and fellow firefighter, Paul Pfeifer.

His brother firefighters marveled at the constant energy displayed by "Danny O.," as he was known. "He was a ball of fire," said Pfeifer. In the engine house, he recalled, O'Callaghan "would have his pants and boots on already, like he was waiting for the next fire." And, Pfeifer said, at a fire scene, "You would turn around to see where he was, and he was already ahead of you."

O'Callaghan was also the one to provide comic relief when it was most needed. Pfeifer chuckled as he recounted one instance involving O'Callaghan and his glow-in- the-dark boxer shorts.

"We'd had a fire early in the evening that really beat the hell out of us," Pfeifer said. Most of the men were resting in the darkened bunk room, but not O'Callaghan, who never slept on the job.

"All of a sudden, he ran into the bunk room, and all you could see was the boxer shorts, jumping from bed to bed, and all you could hear was him laughing, and then he went out the door," Pfeifer said. "Everyone sat there, and was like, 'What was that?' I just said, 'That was Danny O.'"
That energy was one of Daniel O'Callaghan's main characteristics. It was mentioned time and again by all who knew him.
"Outstanding" This was always Danny's response...When I look back on it now though I realize it was his energy. It was his energy towards the two things he loved the most. His first would be his love for his beautiful family of Rhonda, Rhiannon and Connor. The other would be his other family. Being part of the NYFD. We should all be so lucky to have a loving family they we leave at home to join another that we work with.

It was his energy that could always be counted on when asked to assist in a family project or loan a hand in a task at ones home. Energy when telling a story or joke and always lighting up the place with his presence. His laugh was always robust and full of life...
Excerpts from John Caspar's tribute which was read at the memorial service
I was especially impressed by the fact that although his shift was over, he turned back to help in the emerging disaster that was September 11, 2001. That is just the kind of guy that he was. Born to be a firefighter, from a family with a history of public service.
The motto of the station, which is located in the Broadway area, is inscribed on the fire engine and fittingly reads: "The Pride of Manhattan. Never missed a performance."

It is a motto that probably befits Daniel O'Callaghan, who was not supposed to even be on duty that Tuesday. As the station was called out to the attack site, Daniel O'Callaghan was busy shaving in the station's bathroom before attending class to become a captain.

Maureen O'Callaghan was told her brother's shaving cream and clothes were found inside the station's bathroom, as he must have hurried to New York's aid with only half his face shaved, she said.
Anybody who lived life to the full the way that Daniel O'Callaghan did would also live his faith just as large.
"Much later, Anderson said, 'officials were able to identify Danny's remains in part by the Knights of Columbus rosary they found still firmly clenched in his hand.'"
I thought that I read somewhere that he was always fingering the rosary which he kept in his pocket, but couldn't find that reference again when I was looking around. Regardless, he had it when it counted most.

I think of him and feel that he had to be saying the rosary or at least thinking it in those final moments with the beads firmly in hand. I remember a friend told me that she read somewhere about someone who is devoted to Mary. That when they who stand before God for judgment they will see Mary come forward and tell Jesus, "This is one of mine" as she puts her arm around that person. Surely, from what I have read of Captain Daniel O'Callaghan's life he had no need of Mary coming forward but just as surely I feel that she was there with Jesus to greet him as he entered heaven.

I feel that I got to know Captain O'Callaghan just a bit as I searched for pieces of his life to show others. In fact, I have gotten into the habit of turning to him for intercession when in prayer. I look forward to meeting this loving, energetic, Irish firefighter if I make it to heaven myself. In fact, I'm asking him to help me get there.

My heart goes out to his family, especially his wife and young children. If I feel this way after simply reading about him then surely they must miss him sorely. My prayers are with them.

Daniel O'Callaghan was just one of the 2,996 victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, as well as the attempted hijacking of Flight 93. They are all mourned and missed. We will never forget.

2,996 is a tribute to the victims of 9/11.

2,996 volunteer bloggers
are joined together in a tribute to the victims of 9/11.
Each person is paying tribute to a single victim.

We honor them by remembering their lives,
and not by remembering their murderers.

Project 2,996 is here.

Remembering the tragic, sudden, and violent loss of 2,996 innocent Americans

I guess it is a measure of how time softens blows that it was only as an afterthought I realized today would be September 11. That memory makes me reel a bit when I think of how powerful it was to visit the Flight 93 Memorial this summer.

I still have no better tributes than those I have from past years so I present this one here today.
I turn on the TV and watch as the plane slowly flies into the Tower.
Hail Mary, full of grace
My daughter wanders downstairs, shoes in hand,
Turns to look at what has me transfixed on a weekday morning.
The Lord is with thee.
"Where is that, Mommy?" she asks.
Blessed are you among women
"New York," I answer. She nods. The name is familiar,
Like Venus,
Like Mars
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
"Do we know anyone there?" Her eyes are blue and full of innocent concern.
"No," I answer, thinking of friends, family, business associates, safe here.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
She has seen the green glass tower where I work,
Tucked amongst taller builders.
Pray for us sinners
But a skyscraper in one city looks much like one in the next.
"Where's the tallest building in the United States?"
And at the hour of our death.
My daughter looks relieved.

I remember that day and how horrible it was.

I also remember the many accounts and how moved I was by the heroism showed by so many. Looking back through my accumulated links, it moves me still.

One of those heroes was Captain Daniel O'Callaghan, 42, Smithtown, N.Y., whose tribute I wrote for Project 2996. I am reposting Captain O'Callaghan's tribute today.

Other good links from previous tributes:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: The Moorish Chief

The Moorish Chief, Eduard Charlemont, 1878
via the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Can you imagine seeing this magnificent fellow in a 5' x 3' painting? One look from those imperious eyes must stop you in your tracks.

This is via Lines and Colors where some of the details are enlarged for our appreciation. There is also some interesting information about the painting itself.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In which there are gemstones, treachery, insanity, and a rip-snorting roller coaster ride.

The penultimate episode of The People of the Mist shows that H. Rider Haggard saved the best for last. Holy mackerel, what a show! Hear it at Forgotten Classics.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: The Difficult Reply

Guy Rose, The Difficult Reply (also known as The Difficult Response), 1910
I discovered Guy Rose via Lines and Colors, as I have discovered so many wonderful artists. I really love Rose's use of vivid color and patterns. I feel as if I could step right into that room.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Weekend Joke: Boudreaux and Marie

My favorite Cajun and his wife, Marie, for your weekend humor.
Boudreaux and Marie were having their first fight, and it was a big one.

After a while, Boudreaux said, "When we got married, you promised to love, honor and obey."

Marie replied, "I know. But I didn't want to start an argument in front of all dem people at the wedding."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Whale & Mermaid

Whale & Mermaid
by Belinda Del Pesco
I feel as if Belinda should be illustrating children's books. I'd buy them just for the art. Yes, I am that sort of book buyer. I'd do it. She's also got a lot of good info about her process, as always.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Talk: Jane Austen and Me

It began with Northanger Abbey. I'm considering reading this on my podcast so I reread it after having done so many years ago.

(And then Jesse from SFFaudio asked if I wanted to discuss it in November. Hey, I can tell when a book is haunting me.)

I know this was an early work and also that it is not as polished or accomplished as Austen's later books. That being said, I am still very fond of this parody of Gothic literature which reminds us that novels are no substitute for experiencing life itself. And it consistently cracks me up. I'm also very fond of P.G. Wodehouse and this book almost falls into that category for me. It doesn't have to be deep to be enjoyable.

And, let's face it. I always go for funny and light when I'm given a choice. Thus are my foibles and sins easily revealed.

Sense and SensibilitySENSE AND SENSIBILITY.
I realized that I'd only read Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey.

And none of her other books. No, I have no pride at all as a reader. In case you needed more than this as proof.

Plus, didn't you know Jane Austen is kind of boring and that if you've read Pride and Prejudice that you've skimmed the cream of the crop?

Well, maybe not. So I took steps to correct that oversight, beginning with this book.

It took me a while to pick up on what she was doing but I thoroughly enjoyed all the examples of "sense" and "sensibility" that Jane Austen thrusts at us from every direction. It made me appreciate the author's sly wit all the more as I took them in.

Also, I defy anyone reading this book to think that Jane Austen didn't understand the realities of life and only wrote milk-and-water novels. The string of ill-used women whose stories we are told by Col. Braden is realistic in the extreme, to say nothing of the revelations about Mr. Willoughby. The fact that Elinor took it all in stride also informs us about "what everybody knew" back in those days.

I myself was riveted by the romantic stories as well. Would love prevail in the way that seems most likely? Or would there be yet another plot twist to throw us into confusion? I finished this at breakneck speed.

There was a bit of "a shot rang out and everyone fell dead" in the sudden settling of everyone's situations, but all in all, a very satisfactory book which I know I will reread with much pleasure in the years to come.

Whoops! Where did this come from?

I was noodling around in the Kindle "recommended for you" section when I was partly through with Sense and Sensibility.

I like the way it is his memoir of learning how to grow up, with Austen as his guide, and also of how to read novels other than his favorite modernist authors. His self discovery is a nice way to let us in on the larger themes that can be easy to miss in Austen's mannerly comedies.

Also, his comments about Northanger Abbey made me stop apologizing for liking it so much. Turns out it isn't quite as lightweight as everyone likes to say it is.

I'm having to read it in fits and starts because the author can't really discuss the books the way he'd like to with having a few plot spoilers (though he does a pretty good job of it, I think).

I read the Emma chapter as a sample and decided these books have been out for hundreds of years so full speed ahead. That said, however, I had enjoyed watching Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion unfold so I decided to just read this as I went through the Austen books.

It also decided the order in which I'll finish reading the Austen books. Except for Pride and Prejudice which I've read more than once. I'll read that one last.


Having read Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility I suddenly became addicted to Jane Austen. Persuasion was like crack. The best of Georgette Heyer style storyline combined with Jane Austen's delightfully rapier wit. I stayed up late and grabbed it every time I had a spare five minutes.

Anne's long ago spurned suitor has returned, thinking her to be heartless while she moons over him from as far away as she can get. It's a story line I knew well, as do we all by now, but it also had me on tenterhooks.

I really can't believe how invested I was in this romance. If I sped through Sense and Sensibility, I rocketed through this book. It is practically perfect in every way. What a great novel!

I approached this with trepidation, having heard through the grapevine that the heroine is timid, dull, and not at all like the other Austen protagonists. Luckily that made me dip into the beginning of the Mansfield Park chapter in "A Jane Austen Education" which put the heart back in me and left me open to admiring Fanny for who she is. As well as seeing that she is there to make obvious the problems with the other players, much like Catherine in Northanger Abbey.

I'd really stalled out on this. Too much Austen in a row, methinks. And then, my much loved library branch got in Juliet Stevenson's narration of the book. I can't express strongly enough what a wonderful narrator Stevenson is. She brings out the humor, the incongruities that are hidden in a few words.

I had some basic layout work come up which left me with time to listen to the book, even though I was less than enthusiastic. Contrary to my expectations, it was a real treat to have this to listen to. And I am back on the Jane-train.

And I've got Stevenson's other Austen narrations on request for further listening. Next up will be Emma.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lagniappe: Isaac Asimov and Me

People who think they know everything area a great annoyance to those of us who do.
Isaac Asimov
Gee, I never realized Isaac Asimov and I had so much in common.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Play is Ended

The Play is Ended. Walter Ernest Webster (English, 1878-1959)
via Books and Art
Books and Art has more information about both the artist and painting. It just looked rather dream-like to me and suited my mood.

A Movie You Might Have Missed #43: The Sapphires

Follow your heart. Discover your soul.

43. The Sapphires

(Australian) ★★★½

Based on a true story, The Sapphires tells of four young Aboriginal women in 1968, discovered by a talent scout (Chris O'Dowd), who form a Supremes-type group in order to travel to Vietnam to sing for American soldiers.

This charming, feel-good movie is lifted above the somewhat predictable story by the singing and Chris O'Dowd's performance (as I am not the first to observe).

The basic plot of four talented young singers making good and finding themselves is given some necessary added depth by the more serious aboriginal / civil rights / Vietnam war plot elements. Somehow, though, the filmmakers managed to keep the serious elements from bringing everything down and the lighter elements from making it too bubbly. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

(I was going to give this 3 stars and then saw Pitch Perfect the next night. I suddenly realized just how low this film could have sunk which earned it an extra half star.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce
by the talented Edward B. Gordon
You'd never know this was by a German painter. Except for the title, of course. That's not tomato sauce. Tomato sauce is something completely different. In the U.S. anyway.

Not sure how to spell it, but I do know what it is. And that just makes me think of The Simpsons.
Mr. Burns (at the grocery store): Ketchup. Catsup. Ketchup. Catsup. Mmmm... I'm in way over my head.

Well Said: Criticizing my taste

I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.
Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
I've gotten better at leaving the room instead of arguing to the death. That doesn't mean I don't still argue, but I try to stop when we're all still alive.