Friday, February 28, 2014

Well Said: Roman Polanski's Movies

From a recent conversation.
I've never yet seen one of Roman Polanski's movies that justified his lack of jail time.
Rose Davis

TV Tip: When a Man Loves

Here's a Korean series that sounds fantastic, coming from Renee, a friend of Happy Catholic who I was lucky enough to meet in person a few months ago. She mentions that it is subtitled but I actually prefer that for foreign works because I like to hear how the original actors portray their characters.
It's a really well done Korean tv series playing on Netflix called 'When a Man Loves.' The 20 episodes cover one story arc.

The main character, Han Tae Sang, is a thug for a loan shark who turns his life around. The show is full of great Catholic themes like mercy, forgiveness, and redemption.

Tae Sang begins this journey when he goes to a used book store to collect on an overdue loan. While he's there, he begins reading 'Introduction to the Devout Life,' meets the proprietor's feisty daughter and begins to reflect on his life.

The bookstore and poetry play a large role in the story.

While the romance is what hooked me to begin with, when that soured, it was the bromance that kept me watching. I've never seen anything with such powerful and touching male relationships. This is where the show really excels and where the full meaning of the title, "When a Man Loves," comes into focus.

In order to understand the show, there are two things you have to know. One is that, while the heroine looks and acts like she is much younger, she is actually over twenty-five by the time the romance begins. The other thing is the Korean word, "hyung." It means "older brother" and is often used as an honorific between male friends. The older one receives respect and in return, cares for, mentors, and provides for the younger, as needed.
I really, really want to watch this one.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Well Said: McLuhan, the Catholic Convert

From my quote journal.
Marshall McLuhan was a Roman Catholic with a profound understanding of the traditions of the Church and Catholic doctrine. Often other intellectuals and artists would ask him incredulously, "Are you really a Catholic?" He would nod and answer, "Yes, I am a Catholic, the worst kind—a convert," leaving them more baffled than before.
The Medium and the Light, introduction
Marshall McLuhan

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In which we get Otter's advice, hear a tale of foul deeds, and agree to adventure.

Chapters 5 and 6 of The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard is ready for your listening enjoyment at Forgotten Classics.

Well Said: The Value of Kneestem

From a favorite fantasy novel comes a sentiment about life we could do a lot more with these days.
"A lot of what you've been teaching me sometimes seems kind of useless. Like that kneestem you've got—I mean, it doesn't have anything to do with magic. It's just a weed. You said yourself it's worthless."

"It is worthless to us and to animals, having no value either as medicine or as food," Ingold agreed, turning the dry wisp in his mittened fingers. "But we ourselves are useless to other forms of life—except, I might point out, as sustenance to the Dark Ones. Kneestem, like you and me, exists for its own sake, and we must take that into account in all our dealings with the world that we hold in common with it.
Barbara Hambly, The Walls of Air
Of course, I'm thinking of this in relation to a lot of issues that have nothing to do with the obvious application, such as our environment. It's a very Catholic way of looking at the world.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Well Said: Napoleon and the Cardinal

Here's a final story from H.V. Morton's 1957 book A Traveller in Rome, one so true and also amusing that I just had to share it.
Many to whom the Government of the Roman Catholic Church is a mystery are nevertheless aware that it is the oldest administration on earth, and some would say the wisest; certainly no other has had such an extensive experience of human nature. It is the unique continuous growth of centuries, and though it has been modernized on countless occasions, it still carries with it many a strange relic of the past. Unlike the governments of ordinary states, which think in terms of their years of office, the Vatican thinks in centuries. Time is not important; its policy is based on the belief that while the individual is mortal, the Church is eternal. That was the attitude which exasperated Napoleon. He might kidnap and bully a Pope, but he could not browbeat the Church.

'Do you know that I am capable of destroying your Church?' he once shouted at Cardinal Consalvi, theSecretary of State.

'Sire,' replied Consalvi, 'not even we priests have achieved that in eighteen centuries!"
Christ promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church. We thank Him for preventing us from doing even greater damage.

Gay Weddings and Baking the Cake

The question is no longer whether couples may marry, but whether a baker may refuse to sell them a wedding cake on the strength of his religious or moral conscience, without risking a lawsuit.

Anyone can walk into a kosher or halal butcher’s shop and buy a chicken, but if asked to cater a party with bacon burgers, the butcher will refuse. Should that invite a lawsuit? People understand that you don’t bother religious butchers with requests they cannot honor. Should we be permitted to demand services of a cameraman, or a florist or baker that tread upon their religious sensibilities?

It’s too bad that laws and courts must become involved with what used to be the simplest of lessons: Not everyone thinks the same way, but everyone is entitled to their opinions; if that kid won’t play with you—or that baker will not make your cake—someone else will, so just kiss them up to God, and move on. Or, as Jesus told his apostles when he sent them off to preach the good news, “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet, in testimony against them.”
Elizabeth Scalia wades into the issue that has been the source of troubled conversation around our house ever since I read about an Oklahoma florist being sued by two gay customers after she declined to do the arrangements for their wedding, citing religious reasons.

Once more, I found myself thinking that we all need to sit down and read The Right to Be Wrong by Kevin Seamus Hasson.

Start with Elizabeth's piece and then go get The Right to Be Wrong.

Book Bingo Challenge 2: Read a Best Seller

WHAT?

NOOOOOOO!

Maybe the real challenge is for me not to react that way every time a square pushes me out of my comfort zone. Which is two for two now, I'll just add.

If there is something I loathe it is a Bestseller List. I so rarely see anything on there that I'm interested in. Although I see that, had I begun this challenge a mere month earlier, I'd have been able to sweep up two entries ... The Rosie Project and The Martian. The Rosie Project was force on me by mother (who did know best) and The Martian was being mentioned everywhere I turned at the time my most recent Audible credit popped up, so I listened.

I was tempted to cheat. Hey, Great Expectations is a best seller, right? One for the ages. But that's cheating. I knew what they meant. After three times through the New York Times Bestseller List (fiction, nonfiction, hardcover), finding a few candidates ... I ran into another problem.

I am unwilling to spend hard cash on this challenge. The library has ridiculous numbers of people ahead of me for the few books I was interested in reading [such as David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell (94)].

Finally, I saw something that had escaped me ... a picture book! And one with only 2 people ahead of me in the hold line.

Humans of New York it is!

Plus there's a blog which I can begin reading now. Because like The Rosie Project and The Martian, this looks like a bestseller I can enjoy.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tom's Tip: Pontiff-icating on the Free-Market System

Tom listened to the Freakonomics podcast episode about Pope Francis's critique of the free-market system in “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), his first apostolic exhortation.
Most papal documents tend to be pored over primarily by the Catholic faithful, but this one has opened the door for a larger secular question: what is the role of markets in causing — or alleviating — human suffering?
To answer this question, Stephen Dubner turns to Jeffrey Sachs, who is a longtime advocate for both the market system and the poor. We also hear from Notre Dame economics professor Joseph Kaboski, a devout Catholic and president of CREDO, the Catholic Research Economists Discussion Organization.
Tom found it interesting, thought provoking, and he recommends it.

Lagniappe: The Pope's Letter

I'm not quite done yet passing along amusing stories from H.V. Morton's A Traveller in Rome. Here's one from his tour of the Vatican. I'd like to think that now, as back in 1957 when this book was published, there are still no ads at the Vatican post office. Is even the Vatican still that otherworldly?
A few paces up the hill and you come to the most delightful post-office in the world. It is a marble hall without a single advertisement. There is a marble table in the centre at which you can sit, generally in company with the inevitable Franciscan, and write a telegram or a cable. This central office handles the Pope's private mail and delivers to his secretary about a thousand letters every day, some from lunatics and eccentrics. When Benedict XV was very old, he received a letter from an excited lady who wrote that she had a private message from God to say that the Antichrist was already in the world and would reveal himself in a few years' time. It is said that the aged Pope handed the letter to his secretary with a smile, saying, 'Thank God, that will be the concern of my successor!'

Worth a Thousand Words: A glimpse into the Dipper's bedroom

A glimpse into the Dipper's bedroom
taken by the brilliant Remo Savisaar

Friday, February 21, 2014

Well Said: The Marvels of Rome and the Length of Human Memory

More H. V. Morton's A Traveller in Rome comin' atcha. This is lengthy but I love the vivid illustration of how few generations it takes to span a very long period of time when passing along memories.
One of the marvels of Rome is that the traditional portraits of St. Peter and St. Paul have been preserved in the catacombs, and every artist who has painted the two Apostles owes something to this tradition. The portraits were engraved in gold leaf on the bases of the glasses or chalices which, as the Salesian Father had told me, were embedded in the plaster round the bodies. There are hundreds of these glasses to be seen in the Vatican Museum, and the type of portrait never varied. Both Apostles are shown as men of middle-age and both are bearded, but while St. Peter has a fine head of curly hair, St. Paul is almost bald. Those who have studied the portraits believe that they embody a tradition which goes back possibly to the days of Nero and to those who knew the Apostles by sight.

I was reminded of a story which the late Monsignor Stapylton Barnes was fond of telling to illustrate the length of human memory. His mother, who died in 1927 at a great age, could clearly remember, as a small girl, hearing Victoria proclaimed queen in 1837. When a child she was often taken to see a very old lady who remembered the French Revolution and the execution of Marie Antoinette in 1793. This old lady had spent her childhood in Philadelphia and had known Benjamin Franklin, who was born in 1706. Thus it would have been possible for Franklin to have described some event of his early childhood--perhaps the great fire in Boston of 1711--to the little girl, who could have told it in her ld age to another little girl, Mrs. Barnes, who could have passed on the story to her son in the twentieth century.

In his book The Martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul, Monsignor Barnes refers to the great sweep of human events commanded by such lives, and says 'it would have been possible for a Christian child in rome in the year 67 to have been actually present at St. Peter's martyrdom and to have seen him nailed to the cross, and still to have been alive and able to tell the tale in 150. And the child to whom he told it then could have told the story again in his extreme old age to one who lived to see the peace of the Church in 312 under Constantine.'

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I was raised to marry a monster.
How's that for a first line?

From that moment we are immersed in a world which has been ripped out of time, suffering a curse which Nyx has been pledged from birth to try to break by marriage to the demon lord Ignifex. When she finds Ignifex is not simply what he seems on the surface, she is torn between her vow to her people and her love for a complex person. And in this world the Greek gods punish vow-breaking with a vengeance, so this is a serious problem.

I read this book faster and faster so that by the end I knew I was heedlessly missing details. But the plot was the thing that kept me reading until midnight two nights in a row. This is a romance and it's a good one. After all it is based on Beauty and the Beast, albeit very loosely. However, the author tells it with a freshness and immediacy that makes me think of Robin Mckinley's The Blue Sword, which is some of my highest praise.

I am amazed this is a first book. Hodge took the Beauty and the Beast story and mixed it up with Greek mythology and a few other classics that I won't mention here for fear of spoilers. The result is a completely new soup* that doesn't seem derivative in any way. It is complex, compelling, and Tolkien-esque in the way big themes and truths are woven seamlessly into the story. It is C.S. Lewis-ian (is that a term?) in the way that source materials are woven seamlessly into a completely new story a la Til We Had Faces (yet so much more understandable to a schmoe like me.).

It is not without flaws, but they are few and forgivable as quirks. They are fairly minor and annoy no more than a few gnats so I'll not go into detail about them.

Above all I was struck by the underlying themes of the masks we hide behind, the real meaning of love, the many forms selfishness can take, the value of intention in sacrifice, the price of trying to control fate, and the fact everyone has more layers than you can see at first glance.

Cruel Beauty is being marketed as a YA novel and it fulfills those requirements in that I'd let my 9th grader read it if I still had one around the house. However, I miss the days when there was no YA designation and one could pick it up, as I did The Blue Sword long ago, without the preconceptions of a label. This is a story that adults can definitely enjoy. Be not afraid.

This book is a masterpiece and should become a classic. Certainly it is one I will be rereading more than once. I want to shove it into everyone's hands and force them to read it so we can talk about it.

Do yourself a favor and pick it up.

NOTES
1. This is a review copy and I'm friends with the author's brother and sister-in-law. Believe me, that all made me rather leery than inclined to shove this book into everyone's hands. This "shove-this-book-into-everyone's-hands" review is my honest opinion.

2. I've been asked if guys would like this book. I asked the author's brother who is not prone to read "girly books" and you may read his answer in the comments for his review at Goodreads.

3. Catholics will be happy to note that I used Tolkien-esque deliberately. Everything Hodge has here is solidly Catholic in basic worldview, despite the fact that the only gods mentioned are pagan. Which is as it should be. The story is the thing. The solid values that are the bones of this soup* give it depth and savor, but do not intrude upon a fine tale.

*THE SOUP
From Tolkien's essay On Fairy-Stories.
In Dasent's words I would say: “We must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled.” Though, oddly enough, Dasent by “the soup” meant a mishmash of bogus pre-history founded on the early surmises of Comparative Philology; and by “desire to see the bones” he meant a demand to see the workings and the proofs that led to these theories. By “the soup” I mean the story as it is served up by its author or teller, and by “the bones” its sources or material—even when (by rare luck) those can be with certainty discovered. But I do not, of course, forbid criticism of the soup as soup.
Emphasis mine. Everyone leaves that bit off and I always feel I can see Tolkien smiling as he wrote it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Immediate Book Meme

DarwinCatholic's got a book meme. That means I'm playing. With the caveat that I'm always reading too many books simultaneously.

Here we go!

There are plenty of memes that want to know all about your book history and your all-time greats and your grand ambitions, but let's focus on something more revealing: the books you're actually reading now, or just read, or are about to read. Let's call it The Immediate Book Meme.


1. What book are you reading now?

Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts

2. What book did you just finish?

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, wonderfully narrated by Derek Jacobi

3. What do you plan to read next?

Whatever my Book Bingo pulls up. It's the joy and terror of complete randomness.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

Art: A New History by Paul Johnson

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien

6. What is your current reading trend?

Big, huge books.

It began when Scott Danielson said, "Hey, let's talk about The Lord of the Rings" on our podcast. It continued when I picked up Rabble In Arms. And then I was given the audiobook of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, narrated by Simon Prebble (who I just can't say no to, that guy is an amazing reader) ... and which I began a few days ago. And have I mentioned that Paul Johnson's art book has a gazillion pages (and not nearly as many pictures as you'd think for an art book).

Well Said: Christian Soldiers Waiting the Light of Day

It's still H.V. Morton but today I've got something more inspirational than the previous tidbits. He's finishing a visit to the catacombs with the priest who showed him around.
'You spend a great deal of time in the catacomb,' I said, 'What impressed you most?'

'Well,' he replied, 'though I am asked a hundred questions every day, no one has ever asked me that! I can tell you without pausing to think: it is the atmosphere of utter faith and complete trust.'

We walked up into the daylight.

'I sometimes think,' he said, as if to himself, 'that the world today, with its materialism, is much like the Roman world of today, with its materials, is much like the Roman world of centuries ago. When I go down into the catacomb, I am in touch with a faith that could move mountains.'

[...]

The atmosphere, as the Father had said, is one of faith and trust. The epitaphs carved on the tombs are happy and confident, as if the dead were waving goodbye and smiling as they left for a journey. The worlds 'rest' and 'sleep' are everywhere. I could not remember having once seen that word 'farewell' which sighs its hopeless way through all pagan cemeteries. As I remembered the dark galleries, the image came into my mind of a troopship in the dark, with its rows of bunks, their occupants sleeping, confidently awaiting the light of a new day.
Isn't that a lovely image? A troopship filled with confident occupants? I want to keep that in mind when I encounter such situations. I want that faith and trust with which those ancient Christians bade farewell to their loved ones.

Worth a Thousand Words: Kleine-Torte

Kleine-Torte
by Edward B. Gordon
A lovely bit of patisserie, n'est-ce pas?

After a brief orc-filled intermission, we continue our discussion of The Lord of the Rings.

Part 2 of the discussion that was so big it needed two episodes! Scott, Seth, and I look at big Catholic themes found throughout The Lord of the Rings in our A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

One Browser to Rule Them All. And In the Darkness Bind Them.

I'm sure this was brought up by lots of people long ago, but I've thought it so many times that I finally got around to dropping it in here.

I've got one account for Blogger and a different one for G-mail (thank you so much Google for that necessity...).

So I see this screen a lot.



I mean, I like Google well enough. Their satellite maps are genius. But what were they thinking? Doesn't the comparison come to mind rather forcibly?

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lagniappe: Roman Libraries

More from H.V. Morton's A Traveller in Rome (1957). In the midst of informing us about ancient Roman books, authors, and poetry readings (all of which made me think of Marcus Didius Falco from Lindsey Davis's great detective series), Morton veers off into a delightful historical anecdote.
I do not know whether any lending-libraries existed in Rome, but there were reference libraries, not only in Rome, but also in the country towns. Aulus Gellius says that once, when staying with a distinguished man at his villa near Tivoli, an argument rose among the guests on the danger of drinking iced water in hot weather. Those who considered the habit harmless doubted certain quotations made by a fellow guest, who, to prove his point, ran out to the public library and returned with a quotation from Aristotle strongly denouncing iced water as dangerous to health. Gellius adds that the guests were so much impressed by the quotation that they all decided to give up iced water in future. What interests me is not their decision, but whether the man who ran to the library was allowed to return with a copy of Aristotle, or whether he just wrote out the quotation; and this Gellius leaves in doubt.
Funnily enough, what interests me is just the opposite from Morton. I find it fascinating, and also hilarious, that all it takes is a quote from one famous philosopher and everyone decides to change their habits. Then, as now, food fads require very little traction to become authoritative and have everyone jumping to adjust their lifestyles. Human nature really doesn't change from era to era.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Collector's Studio

The Collector’s Studio. Théodore Gérard (Belgian, 1829-1895). Oil on canvas.
via Books and Art
I could look at these details all day. How long must it have taken to paint so many things?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lagniappe: At the Papal Farm, Meeting the Papal Bull

A bit of H.V. Morton's charming A Traveller In Rome, first published in 1957. Morton's driver "knows someone" who will let them onto the papal farm. Here's a bit.
The Pope walks for an hour or so on the terrace, admiring the gardens, which are those of the Villa Barberini. He arrives by car along a special road built to link the palace with the villa, and I was told that he usually leaves his car on the terrace and walks about, sometimes never lifting his eyes from a book. We entered a little giardino secreto enclosed by hedges, where a statue of the Blessed Virgin stands beside a fishpond.

'You notice that Virgin is holding a little bunch of flowers,' said the driver. 'The Holy Father picks them for her.'

She was holding four or five small yellow flowers of a kind that I had noticed growing on the banks round about, and they were fresh and had been recently picked. What a beautiful moment this must have been: the old pontiff all alone in the garden in his white caped soutane and his red velvet shoes, looking about among the hedge banks on a quiet sunny morning for wild flowers to give the Madonna.

[...]

We passed a number of henhouses, each one thoughtfully decorated with a mosaic above the door depicting some incident in hen life. ... I should like to have stopped to examine the hen mosaics, but the driver dashed on towards the dairy. There in a cowshed lined with blue tiles, we saw forty fine Friesland cows being fed in the most modern surroundings. The names, milk yields and maternal particulars were recorded above the mild faces. I was at last able to make the pun that had to be made and must be made by everyone who visits the Pope's farm.

'Where is the papal bull?'

I was led to an adjoining paddock, where an immense, low-slung black and white animal named Christy, the gift of an American to the Holy Father, paused with his mouth full, and gazed at us angrily. He had the bloodshot eyes of an assassin and the lashes of a film star.

Worth a Thousand Words: Architectural Alphabet





Architectural Alphabet, Antonio Basoli
via lines and colors
Following up last week's Landscape Alphabet, lines and colors points us to this wonderful Architectural Alphabet which I like every bit as much, just in a different way. Check the link to see all the letters.

The prophecy, the cobra, the storm, and Otter. All in the wilds of Africa!

Chapters 3 and 4 of The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard are ready for you to enjoy at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Why I Was Late for Work OR The Beast in the Bathroom

The Beast
or as Kaylee thinks of it, The Prey
Kaylee was barking from her bed in the middle of the night. She's a pretty good guard dog but we didn't get up to check it out.

Later Tom said he thought he heard some rustling that made him think we had something pretty large in the attic overhead.

Overhead.

If only.

We got up only to remember it was Presidents' Day because of our lack of a Wall Street Journal, drank coffee, and then Tom meandered back to the bathroom. Only to come immediately back saying, "I know why there was barking in the night. You won't believe what's in my bathroom."

Poor little thing.

I could see its black ear shaking against the white wall when I peeked around the corner.

It wasn't the only creature shaken up. Wash, our 85-pound gentle giant of a Boxer, atypically slept next to Tom (the alpha who would presumably protect him) and after Tom left, he moved next to me (the beta, so almost as good as a protector). More charitably we could assume he was protecting us. Sure. That's it. Protecting us.

Little thing is a relative term, of course.

That possum was probably a third of Kaylee's size. All we can figure is that she brought in yet another trophy to us. Since it was the middle of the night why not bring it where we were? The bedroom. I can only imagine that possum's terror at waking up and finding the exit blocked by Kaylee on her bed near the door. I am just surprised it found such a good defensive corner to crouch in.

Again we marveled at the way a possum's protective "faint" worked so well. Kaylee, the perfect predator, has brought us numerous dead rats and squirrels. One good shake and their necks are broken. She seems stymied by the "dead" possum though. Both of those have been alive when we found them in the house.

Thanks, girl. We love you too.

Luckily we had a huge cardboard box and a broom. That combined with the corner into which the little guy had backed itself were the perfect trap. A few minutes later it was outside near the bushes, motionless. When Tom looked out a few minutes later it was gone.

The Predator
Enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done.

Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten

Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish LineDeathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This slender volume is a quick and easy read which may surprise you with the sheer variety and individuality of the converts. Buffalo Bill rubs shoulders with Wallace Stevens, who scoots over for John Wayne and Gary Cooper. Communist journalist hell-raisers, witty society elite, hardened gangsters, and kings on the run all have one thing in common: in the end they turned to the Catholic Church when they were at the end of their life.

I liked the way that author Karen Edmisten used various stories to point out commonalities between situations. Sometimes all the potential convert needed was one prompting question from a trusted friend. Often conversions are so last minute and private that they are doubted by the world because the internal path was kept so private. (This was something I could relate to as in my own conversion I didn't even tell my husband I was debating questions with God. He was stunned.)

I especially liked the point made in the forward that often life-long Catholics feel as if the deathbed convert cheated by slipping in the door at the last minute. From observing my father who turned to God mere weeks before his death, I can say that what is left is the regret for a wasted life which could have been so much fuller of love and purpose. Looking forward there is a joy and peace that we should not begrudge any soul. God loves them to the end and we should at least try to have His vision in mind.

Edmisten also points out how important friends are in general, sometimes making a big difference simply by being true friends until the end. Time and again, we see the path to conversion can be something that is incomprehensible to anyone but the person who is struggling with the question. This point struck me in particular and she says it quite well here.
The Lord does not always come to us in recognizable or traditionally "religious" ways. Sometimes the first glimpse many of us see of Jesus Christ is unadorned, all-encompassing love.

It's a little too easy for us Catholics to want to retreat from the world, to hang out with only Catholic friends, with people who understand us and share our values. Make no mistake--there is great merit in finding and nurturing that kind of support. It is not only helpful, but crucial to cultivate a Catholic culture in our lives, and, more expansively, in our world. At the same time, we are called to be in the world but not of it, and sometimes that means the greatest work of mercy we can perform is to befriend the girl sitting next to us in drama class, or to remain loyal to a wife who has turned our world upside down.
Introduction
Deathbed Conversions is both entertaining and thought provoking to read. Definitely recommended.

Note, this was a review copy, as if that'd have made any difference to my opinion if I didn't like it (which publishers and authors know to their sorrow.) Nope. This is my opinion. I stand by it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Feasts of Judaism by Stephen J. Binz

Feasts of JudaismFeasts of Judaism by Stephen J. Binz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Catholics hear a lot about how the Jewish people are their "elder brothers in the faith." Other than reading the Old Testament aloud every Sunday, however, you aren't given a lot of backup for this statement. Some similarities in worship are obvious but a lot of the Jewish faith remains a mystery.

That's why I was so interested in Stephen Binz's book The Feasts of Judaism. I trust Binz because of his excellent Catholic Bible studies (Advent, Easter, Lectio Divina) and felt I could trust him to help me make a connection between my faith and that of my "elder brothers and sisters." That trust was well placed. This is a terrific book.

It covers familiar feasts and some that I'd never heard of:
• Passover
• Pentecost
• Booths
• Rosh Hashanah
• Yom Kippur
• the Ninth of Ov
• Purim
• Hanukkah
• the Sabbath
• Jubilee Year

There are six lessons for each feast, which contain scripture, commentary/explanation, questions for reflection, and prayers. It is designed for either group or solo use. I really loved the way that Binz orients readers with the scriptural basis (and includes the scriptural text in each lesson), shows how the feast came to the ancient Jews, how it is celebrated by modern Jews, and how it relates to our Christian faith.

For example, here is a brief look at how the feast of Booths, Sukkot, would have been experienced by Jesus.
In the days of Jesus, Sukkot remained a joyful pilgrimage festival. Pilgrims came from throughout the land and from every Jewish community in the world. They came in colorful caravans--traveling by chariot, donkey, camel, and on foot--up to Jerusalem. Once in the city, festive with garlands of olive, palm, and willow branches, and fragrant with flowers, they participated in the colorful religious processions, waving the lulav, singing Hoshanah to God and feasting in the booths erected in every part of the city. Jesus traveled privately to the feast of Booths because of the confusion and division created by his preaching.
Binz goes on to explain that Sukkot rituals of light and water symbolized not only Israel's past but the future days of the Messiah. He finishes drawing the picture by connecting the dots so that Christians understand how this Jewish festival had meaning not only for Christ as an observant Jew, but for God's plan and for Christians.
On the final day of the feast, Jesus declared that he is the font of living water, the source of water for all people who thirst for God's Spirit (8:37-390. He also announced, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (8:12). Within the context of the autumn feast in which the temple became the light of Jerusalem, Jesus declared himself as the fire lighting the way for all people. With these words of Jesus, John's gospel proclaims that he is the fulfillment of the hopes expressed in the rituals of this great feast. Jesus is God's new temple, brightening the whole world with its light, from which flows the water of life for all thirsty pilgrims.
I especially loved the way that, although the book is written for Christians, Binz keeps the Jewish people's faith first and foremost. These are lessons that not only define them as a people, but help all of us in reading Scripture and understanding our faith better. Here's a bit from the Passover lessons:
For the Jewish people and all who share in their heritage, Egypt is not a place that was left only once; it is a place to be left continually. Egypt represents not only physical or political bondage, but personal and spiritual imprisonment as well. To celebrate Passover is to be freed from internal confinement, narrow mindedness, and apathetic hopelessness. it is a liberation that has not fully happened yet, but that is always happening whenever people enter into the event.
Perhaps most telling in how Binz communicates the Jewish faith and culture as it relates to these feasts, is his defense of Hanukkah. This is long, but worth every syllable.
It is ironic that the feast that celebrates Judaism's religious freedom and unique identity is the one that has been most absorbed into the dominant culture of the majority. As a minor feast in Judaism's annual cycle of holidays, Hanukkah can't hold a candle to Christmas. So as not to let their children feel deprived, many Jews have introduced gift-giving and other Christmas customs into their celebration of Hanukkah. But those Jewish parents who are most perceptive gather their children around the radiant Hanukkah and tell them their courageous history, about a rich tradition that could have flickered and gone out centuries ago but still continues to burn. While the mass marketers expand the purchasing month of December and try to inflate Hanukkah as the Jewish alternative to Christmas, the wise parents tell their children, "We're Jewish--we have Hanukkah, Passover, Shauvuot, Sukkot, Simchat torah, Purim, and more importantly, Shabbat every week." Children who have experienced the building of a sukkah will not feel disadvantaged when they don't decorate a Christmas tree. Those who have shared a Passover Seder will not feel deprived of a Christmas dinner. When children have given and received gifts on Purim, paraded with the holy scrolls on Simchat Torah, brought first fruits at Shavuot, and welcomed the Sabbath each week with candles and good food, they will know that to be Jewish means having a calendar full of joyful celebrations. Those same children will soon understand that if their ancestors had not stood firm and Antiochus IV had succeeded in obliterating Judaism, there would be no Christmas at all. Without the victory of Hanukkah, Christians would not be able to sing, "born is the king of Israel."
This book is not just for Catholics and, if I may go out on a limb here, not just for Christians. Yes the Christian element is there, with Catholic emphasis, but it is minor compared to the focus on Judaism. It is for anyone who is interested in better understanding Judaism through the feasts that are such a rich and vital part of the faith and culture.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Catholicism and The Lord of the Rings

Have you ever wondered just why people might say LOTR is a really Catholic book?

Scott and I, feeling the heavy weight of the One Ring, happily accept Seth Wilson's kind assistance in a discussion of story and faith in The Lord of the Rings at A Good Story Is Hard to Find podcast.

Even if you've only seen the movies, you'll get something out of this podcast.

If you're interested, Part One is here.

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 39

In Iran, all women are banned from men's sporting events. Can they sneak in to see Iran qualify for the World Cup?

39. Offside
(Iran)

This little movie is a real charmer.

A number of Iranian girls attempt to enter Tehran's Azadi Stadium dressed as boys in order to watch a qualifying match that will get Iran into the World Cup competition. Several are arrested and the movie largely consists of watching their attempts to escape or talk the guards into letting them go.

Ironically, the ostensible reason for keeping women out of the stadium is to protect their delicate sensibilities when the men become overcome by excitement and begin swearing at missed goals and the like. A stadium entryway is tantalizingly close so that several guards are able to watch part of the game and naturally ... swear when goals are missed. No one blinks an eye.

Likewise, when one woman engages the head guard in a logical discussion about why the law is nonsensical, he knows she is right but is unable to do anything but his duty.

What was most interesting to me was this look into Iran as this was filmed on location during the actual sporting event. The men are all dressed Western-style in shirts and slacks while any women we see are sporting terrible attempts to pass for boys. Also interesting was that all the other men we see (with the exception of one father) are largely sympathetic to the girls' attempts to see the match in person. They routinely attempt to help them slip into the stadium or refuse to turn them in.

As I said before, this is a small movie but ultimately it is one that is a lot of fun, especially during the scene when one hapless guard has to find a way to get one of the girls into the all-male bathroom.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Well Said: Getting Older

From my quote journal.
You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”
George Burns
This makes me think of Raymond and Thelma, my grandparents. No matter how much older they got, they were never old. They are my role models in many ways and this is one of them.

They Crept In: Latest Review Books On My "To Read" Stack

I have been trying hard to have a different attitude toward review books. Like any blogger who gets free books (free books! calloo callay!) it is easy to go overboard, commit to more reading time than there are hours in the day, and take everything offered whether or not you are suited to the style. (C.S. Lewis mentions this in an essay about reviewing, that it is important not to review books which are a style that you normally dislike because it is impossible to be fair to the book.)

I have an unfortunate tendency to be like Therese of Lisieux, "I want it all," but without the charming saintly qualities with which she was imbued. So "all" is not really good for such as me.

At any rate, I began asking myself, "would I be willing to pay for this book in five years instead of getting a free copy now?" Suddenly, my time and book ratio began to straighten out. I hardened my heart, turning away more books.

So if a book made it onto this stack, I thought long and hard about it, read a Kindle sample, and thought yearningly of the Dickens novel that I might not get to begin because I was reading a review novel instead. (Dickens is my latest "discovery" as of a few years ago. As unlikely as it may sound, a year without Dickens is a year without sunshine and I've got a lot of his books to go.)

So, voila! Here are the books who crept into my heart despite my best efforts to thrust them aside. I wanted to let you know now so you don't have to wait until I've read them.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.
This book has been in the corner of my eye for a little while. You know, you suddenly realize that you've seen this book mentioned everywhere, that half your acquaintances are reading it, and that it just ducked behind some trash cans like a stray puppy when you turned around suddenly on the street? Or maybe you don't. I get haunted by books that way.

So when the Darwin Catholics ran a book giveaway for a copy of Cruel Beauty because the author is Darwin's sister, I signed up. While waiting for the results I thought, "Wait. Rosamund Hodge. Didn't she just become my friend on Goodreads? Never mentioning her book? Just arguing with me about whether Jane Eyre is really a true romance novel?" By golly, I like her style!

Didn't win. But I was interested enough to request a copy at the library, super impressed by not only Ms. Hodge herself but by the fact that I have a friend whose sister's first book is out from a major publisher in hardback, on Audible, and as an ebook. And, of course, the Kindle sample was good. Luckily for me, the Darwins, those canny friends of mine, scored me a review copy.

Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line by Karen Edmisten

I read Melanie Bettinelli's review of this book.

I trust Melanie. My father was a deathbed convert to Christianity. And I loved the way Karen Edmisten began the book.

Had to ask for a copy.

Go read Melanie's review. You'll see why I was interested.


Jesus and the Bridegroom Messiah: Shedding Light on the Ancient Jewish Traditions That Influenced Christ by Brant Pitre
In Jesus the Bridegroom, Brant Pitre once again taps into the wells of Jewish Scripture and tradition, and unlocks the secrets of what is arguably the most well-known symbol of the Christian faith: the cross of Christ. In this thrilling exploration, Pitre shows how the suffering and death of Jesus was far more than a tragic Roman execution. Instead, the Passion of Christ was the fulfillment of ancient Jewish prophecies of a wedding, when the God of the universe would wed himself to humankind in an everlasting nuptial covenant.
Ok. I'm gonna say what we're all thinking. "Thrilling exploration?" That description does not make the book sound thrilling.

But ... and this is a big but ... I absolutely loved Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (my review here). Yes. I was even thrilled by it.

It's the kind of nerd I am and I'm ok with it. Again, the Kindle sample sold me. This is gonna be some kinda good. It may just be the book I read during Lent.


St. Peter's Bones: How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found ... and Then Lost and found Again by Thomas J. Craughwell
In 1448 a team of architects and engineers brought Pope Nicholas V unhappy news: the 1100-year-old Basilica of St. Peter suffered from so many structural defects that it was beyond repair. The only solution was to pull down the old church-one of the most venerable churches in Christendom-and erect a new basilica on the site. Incredibly, one of the tombs the builders paved over was the resting place of St. Peter.

Then in 1939, while working underground in the Vatican, one workman's shovel struck not dirt or rock but open air. The diggers shone a flashlight through the opening and saw a portion of an ancient Christian mausoleum. An archaeologist was summoned at once, and after inspecting what could be seen through the hole the diggers had made in the mausoleum's roof, he authorized a full-scale excavation. What lay beneath? The answer and the adventure await.
Love Craughwell's writing. Love this topic. One of my favorite books as a relatively new Catholic was an old one on this very topic but which has been out of print forever and could only be gotten through my parish library. I was so pleased to see that Craughwell was telling the story anew and I'm interested to see what modern developments may have happened.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Well Said: Faith and Explanation

From my quote journal.
To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Truer words were never spoken.

What We've Been Watching: I Am

I Am 2011 ★★

A friend told us about this documentary, adding that it was rather one-dimensional but that he found it worthwhile.

The premise: Hollywood director Tom Shadyac, known for Hollywood hits (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty) suffered a serious accident that left him in a great deal of pain. It led him to a personal journey to answer these questions:


1) What is wrong with the world?

2) What can we do about it?

What he found is the subject of this documentary.

Ultimately, this is well-meaning, simplistic, and shallow with somewhat suspect science presented. The science may actually be just fine and I'd really like to think it is valid, but it left me with a lot of logical loopholes unclosed. Also, certain of the experts presented, with little if any mention of the mission of various companies or institutes, continually made us wish for more solid credentials in a few spots.

In a sense, this is the believer's version of Bill Mahr's Religulous. If you're one of the choir, this preaching is going to work for you. It sets sights for the desired destination and tailors the provided information accordingly to get there.

The documentary would definitely have been stronger if Shadyac had shown how some people were trying to make things better, even through very small change. Instead we saw him hugging strangers and laughing and dancing in the streets. Nothing wrong with that but it leaves one with the impression that it could have been a sudden enthusiasm that would wear off.

On Wikipedia, we saw that he has founded a homeless shelter and given to help preserve nature. Even that, with the risk of self aggrandizement, would have been something to take away in terms of love-in-action.

However, it may be enough to help some seekers think about the big pictures in terms of how each person's small actions can add up to big change.

I will say that, valid science or no, Shadyac's conclusions are perfectly in line with Catholic teachings. Those in the Church have not always lived up to the high ideals and mission of our Master, as we must admit. However, the idea that we are all connected, that loving our neighbor is the answer to "what's wrong with the world" and that helping others also helps us are some of the basic things I've learned to try to live up  to in my life as a Catholic.

I especially was intrigued with the idea that all life on earth is connected. Shady science? Legitimate science? All I know is that it resonated on many levels and brought to mind the teaching that our sins affect the whole world, so we're letting down more than ourselves when we choose poorly.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Well Said: In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption.

From a justifiably famous essay by Raymond Chandler, though I think he was a bit harsh on authors such as Agatha Christie when he wrote it. Regardless, this applies to much more than a noir novel. You can read the essay at the link.
In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.

[...]

The story is the man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in. ”
Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

Worth a Thousand Words: In Full Beauty

Taken by Remo Savisaar
Go to Remo's blog to see this beauty in full size. Simply gorgeous.

Book Bingo Challenge 1: Read a Book Based on a True Story

As I mentioned in my Reading Bingo post, I am amused by the idea of using a random factor to push me out of well-worn reading habits.

I'm going to go for blacking out the entire Book Bingo board (now hanging on my fridge).

The first opportunity arose this weekend when I finished my fiction and was looking around desultorily for something else. And then I remembered. Book Bingo to the rescue!

1. A Book Based on a True Story —

What? No! I hate that sort of book!

The random factor is not so beautiful when it is pushing me out of my comfort zone, is it? Dash it all!

I looked through my "to read" list and actually found a candidate: Rabble In Arms by Kenneth Roberts. It is historical fiction about the Revolutionary War and although I love Roberts' books I haven't read this one.
Rabble in Arms was hailed by one critic as the greatest historical novel written about America upon its publication in 1933. Love, treachery, ambition, and idealism motivate an unforgettable cast of characters in a magnificent novel renowned not only for the beauty and horror of its story but also for its historical accuracy.
Roberts is second only to Samuel Shellabarger in my opinion. Both pack so much accurate history into their books it is surprising. And both tell compelling stories so that the history slips down like "a spoonful of sugar." Shellabarger's fictional style is more graceful than Roberts and Roberts stuck strictly to American history while Shellabarger roamed Europe (and Mexico in one book).

I also realized that Charles Dickens wrote one book of historical fiction, Barnaby Rudge, about the Gordon Riots (whatever they were).  Love Dickens and am very slowly working through his novels. I have an as yet unchosen Dickens novel on my 2014 challenge list also.

In the end, though, I'm going with Rabble In Arms. It's been far too long since I read any Kenneth Roberts. Luckily the library has 3 copies so one should be here soon.

 — Rabble In Arms

2. A Best Seller —

WHAT?

NOOOOOOO!

Maybe the real challenge is for me not to react that way every time a square pushes me out of my comfort zone. Which is two for two now, I'll just add.

If there is something I loathe it is a Bestseller List. I so rarely see anything on there that I'm interested in. Although I see that, had I begun this challenge a mere month earlier, I'd have been able to sweep up two entries ... The Rosie Project and The Martian. The Rosie Project was force on me by mother (who did know best) and The Martian was being mentioned everywhere I turned at the time my most recent Audible credit popped up, so I listened.

I was tempted to cheat. Hey, Great Expectations is a best seller, right? One for the ages. But that's cheating. I knew what they meant. After three times through the New York Times Bestseller List (fiction, nonfiction, hardcover), finding a few candidates ... I ran into another problem.

I am unwilling to spend hard cash on this challenge. The library has ridiculous numbers of people ahead of me for the few books I was interested in reading [such as David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell (94)].

Finally, I saw something that had escaped me ... a picture book! And one with only 2 people ahead of me in the hold line.

Plus there's a blog which I can begin reading now. Because like The Rosie Project and The Martian, this looks like a bestseller I can enjoy.

— Humans of New York it is!


3. A Published This Year —

Well, well, well, Book Bingo Challenge. We meet again.

And this time you will not make me look to the Heavens, howling, "Noooooooo!"

Because I just began a book that's not even coming out until next month. Yeah, you heard me. Next month.

Is that "This Year" enough for ya?

Book Bingo Challenge, meet Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin S.J.

Which I'm enjoying very much, by the way. Very much indeed.





4. A Book With a Mystery —


Now this is an easy one. I'd finished an audio book and was wanting to get back to my favorite back-up audio, something featuring Sherlock Holmes read by Derek Jacobi.

In this case, the audiobook I turned to is the last collection of Holmes short stories: The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.

Nothing could be more splendid than the way Jacobi characterizes Holmes, lightly and with a touch of playfulness ... almost like a seriously minded Bertie Wooster. It lightens up the Holmes-Watson relationship quite a bit and makes these a sheer delight. I'm on the third or fourth story and they do seem to be more of a mixed bag than the usual lot, but Jacobi's narration makes me simply enjoy the ride no matter where it takes us.


5. A Book That Is More Than 10 Years Old —

Rumpole on Trial Rumpole on Trial by John Mortimer


The bingo challenge gave me another that is familiar ground.

However, I let the decision wait for a few day. Then rearranging and cleaning out books I came across my collection of Rumpole books. I hadn't picked them up for some time, being familiar with the solutions to most of the mysteries.

When dipping into them I remembered the other reason for reading these delightful short stories. John Mortimer's style and Rumpole's personality are so engaging that it really doesn't matter if one knows the solution. These stories transport you to a different time with a rumpled knight in shining armor who just wants to get on with doing the one thing he may be able to control ... his job in getting various villains (and sometimes an innocent person) off of their legal charges.

What a joy it was to pick up this book at bedtime and dip into it before dropping off to sleep.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sochi Olympics

After missing the London Olympics opening ceremonies somehow (talk about careless), we weren't going to miss seeing the Russian ceremonies. Talk about impressive, we were blown away. Yes the looks at Russian history were highly idealized but this is their moment in the sun.

My favorite moment might have been the black and white Peter the Great sailing ship. I have to say, though, that I also really loved the highly stylized industrial revolution with the look taken from Soviet-era posters. We both thought it fascinating that you never saw an image of Stalin or Lenin, which surely would have been at the forefront in Soviet days.

My favorite people-person moment was the almost tender look that Vladislav Tretyak gave Irina Rodnina right before they lit the torch together. Somehow to me it spoke of how far they'd come, of what they'd been through as athletes from their time in Russian history.

Every time they showed Putin, I thought of what President Obama had said in an interview right before-hand ... that he always looked bored in public, as if he had to put on a bad-guy persona. Mission accomplished. He looked as if he almost couldn't be bothered, as if Hollywood had cast him to play a very powerful gangster.

As always, Olympic uniforms are the funnybone of the countries, it seems to me. Most were so boring. Or sometimes confusing. Why were the Irish wearing what looked like military camouflage design?

Favorites included the Tonga delegation, which brought the cold-weather version of Hawaiian shirts.


The Russian women's uniforms were so beautiful that we couldn't figure out what happened to the men's boring ones. Two different designers perhaps?


I really loved the Kazahkstan flag bearer's uniform and wished they'd have riffed on that traditional look a bit more for the other uniforms, which were rather average looking. It's hard to see here but you can get the idea.



But no one ... no one ... matched the U.S. for sheer, down-home, ugliness. It looked as if they'd had two hundred grandmas sit down and knit up sweaters for everyone. Sweaters that you have to wear because ... you know ... grandma knitted it for you.


Can't wait to see how this is translated for the events. Talk about giving the designers a challenge.

The Upside of Only Taking Two Weeks Off in August. N'est Ce Pas?

This is great because it both pokes fun at ourselves as Americans and also says what we're all thinking deep down ... so it celebrates us as Americans.



The next times someone compares us to Europeans, watch this. I might be watching it once a week. Yeah. I get a lot of those sorts of comments.

Friday, February 7, 2014

In which we meet lose everything, bid farewell to love, and make a sacred vow to reach for the stars.

The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard begins at Forgotten Classics podcast. Enjoy!

Reading Bingo

I have buddies who do various reading challenges like reading a book from every country in the world, etc. I've never been interested since I always have more books to read than I know what to do with, many of them challenging in themselves.

But this is the sort of random book challenge I can get behind. Evidently the key to me is ... surprise. (I was going to say randomness, but let's relabel that "surprise." So much more positive.)

I'm printing these out to think about. (I'll print two of each so I can cut up the squares and draw them from a hat ... I'm talkin' about real, don't-choose-your-own-square bingo ... otherwise what kind of challenge is it?)

I'd have to start fresh. I could cross out a lot of these squares just from my past two months' worth of reading.

These are Random House's idea (see link above). Brilliant.

Worth a Thousand Words: Cemetery Gates

Cemetery Gates, Marc Chagall, 1917
via Wikipaintings
This painting fascinates me. First, because I love cemeteries. Walking in them, photos or paintings of them ... I am drawn to them and, to a large degree, find them soothing. This is not really soothing, instead being energetic.

The gate is marked with Hebrew. The shape of the sky behind the tombs looks like crosses rising into the air (that is my Catholic lens, I realize), the blue is bright and full of energy and draws me up away from the somber lighting around the gates and ground. It seems full of hope ... expectancy ... and active.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Well Said: I didn't go to religion to make me happy.

From my quote journal.
I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock
As is often the case with C.S. Lewis, truer words were never spoken (or written). Good thing the rewards are inestimably better than that.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stop what you're reading. Get this book: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know it's an unusual book when your mother forces you to read it by threatening you with guilt at her deathbed if you don't try it. (Ahem. Not that I've left any of my mother's book suggestions lingering too long on my "to read" list. No. Of course, I'd never do that.)

Guilt and mothers being what they are, plus the "after the 'goodbye'" reminder from her as I was hanging up the phone ... I looked around.

Heck, do people love this book or what? 21 copies at the library. All checked out. With 60 holds waiting for it to come in. Ok, Kindle make me love you. And I do love you, Kindle, I do! $1.99 and one click to download.

Where I literally laughed out loud by the beginning of the second chapter.

I guess Mom really does know best.

And it's a good thing because the description, while accurate, would never make me particularly want to pick it up. Hey, that's Don's problem. So accurate and we can't see what's really inside. Here's the blurb.
Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner.
Don tells us the story himself and that is a great part of the charm.

It is funny, it gives us insight into a completely different way of thinking, and it charms us while it does so.

I guess the test of a book one really enjoyed is that you don't want to start another book. You want to let the one you just read rattle around in your head and heart for a while. This, surprisingly, is such a book for me, thus forcing me to turn to nonfiction exclusively for a little while. Most unexpected.

NOTE: For quick explanation of what this book is, use Hannah's fast summing up to a pal: "It's an Abed situation." (Something for Community fans out there.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Ultimate Trust Test

Everyone likes to talk about that test where someone stands behind you and then you let yourself fall back into their arms.

Will they catch you? Many a funny television bit has been based on this little test.

I've got a better one.

Say that your loved one, with his eagle ears trained by a lifetime in Texas, discerns that there could be a cockroach coming out of the air-vent that is right over your head when you are sleeping.

(Yes, this is partly a horror story. Those are the best tests of trust.)

He could only tell this by flipping the light on and off repeatedly looking for intruders as you were trying to sleep.

In brave, manly fashion, he does not reveal this until you irritatedly ask him what's going on, because he is so focused on your safety that he is straining every sense for danger. No time to talk. Must listen.

Once the danger is revealed and you have moved in one second flat across the room, wrapped in a blanket, he can act.

Cautiously, carefully, he sprays inside the vent with roach spray, springing back in readiness, the better to battle the danger. Together, you wait.

Nothing happens.

Cautiously, warning you to listen for possible encroachment, you both return to bed.

Five minutes later, when you have shrieked, "I hear it!" and bolted across the room in a blanket, your hero turns on the lights to see, emerging from the darkness, a gigantic cockroach.

Your head would have been right under it!

The danger. The horror.

"Ugh" cannot express it, but it will have to do for now.

He battles the foe in practiced style. The hounds leap about, seeking their share of the prey.

Safety plans are discussed. Sleeping on the couch. Sleeping in the guest room. All unsatisfactory. The ultimate plan, moving the bed across the room where there is no vent, is long-term and awaits the coming dawn. (Platform beds put the strongest hero's muscles to shame in the middle of the night.)

A hasty but reliable battle plan is developed. Tape the vent with packing tape.

You begin to wish that your favorite movie was not Aliens and this incident were not so reminiscent of the many plans to hold back the vile forms lurking in the darkness. The horror has taken hold in your soul. A cockroach could drop on your head while you are asleep.

Once again, less composed than usual for sleep, lights out, there is a rustle above. Your hero has heard it too and tells you that the heater is bound to cause some expansion of tape, but it is tight. No need to worry, he tells you, it's ok.

So, here it is. The moment of trust. One which you will relive throughout the night as you awake repeatedly, hearing a slight rustle overhead.

"It's the heater," you will think. "Or has something slipped through the perimeter?"

And then, it comes down to the final thought. "Do I trust what my hero did for my safety?"

Yes. Yes you do.

And you fall asleep again. Without turning on the lights to double-check his work. Without elbowing him awake to ask again if he taped it really tight.

You sleep. In safety. In trust.

What We've Been Watching: Pirates, Windmills, Stupid Celebrities, and Coffee Drinking Celebrities

COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE - Season 3


I've talked about this before, right? Short episodes follow Jerry Seinfeld picking up a fellow comedian to go get coffee with him. Each time, Jerry, a car enthusiast, has carefully matched the car he's driving to the person he's picking up. I'm no car nut, but I love seeing all these cars and hearing his descriptions. A more mixed bag are the comedians, many of whom are wonderful to listen to in regular conversation about anything and everything. Some are more boring. But that's people for you and often it is simply interesting to see two comedians talking about their profession. 

We just remembered season 3 had begun and are enjoying working our way through the episodes. Available free on Crackle or YouTube. If you watch on Crackle you'll also see ads for the Accura, the show's sponsor. These are also often quite funny and we enjoy them a lot.



CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) ★★★★★
The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.
I watched this as part of my movie group's Oscar Series, based on what we can pick up on dvd before this year's Academy Awards. I'm glad this was out in time because I'd probably have avoided it for a long time, knowing I'd probably be anxious watching.

What an intense film. I didn't expect it to have such an intriguing cat and mouse game between the pirates and the crew. I also didn't expect to get so caught up in the the tactics taken by the tiny pirate boat to gain access, nor to the ways the ship tried to shake off the pursuer. It reminded me of a wolf stalking a buffalo.

The last 10 minutes of the movie were amazing. Simply amazing.

Don't miss this. Just be sure to remember to breathe.


LOST IN LA MANCHA ★★★½

This 2000 documentary shows Terry Gilliam's attempt to film an adaptation of the Don Quixote story, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Back injuries, extreme weather, delicately balanced schedules, and much more combine to kill the movie. The documentary was meant to record the film being made but when it was abandoned it was retitled Lost in La Mancha and released independently.

I have heard of this for years and finally ran a copy to ground. It is truly staggering thinking of the incredible run of bad luck that Terry Gilliam ran into trying to get this film made. It was also fascinating watching the logistics of moviemaking of any sort. Both gave us a lot to talk about in the day after we watched.



THIS IS THE END (2013) ★★
While attending a party at James Franco's house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.
Short version: Cheech and Chong 2013. Shaun of the Dead this ain't.

Longer version: I felt as if I were watching "Be Kind, Rewind" where a group of stoners made their home movie about the apocalypse and then had enough pull to get distribution. Parts of it were funny but it would have greatly benefited from an editor who went in and removed a lot of the sloppy, self-indulgence.

Most interesting were the last 20 minutes or so when they finally returned again to telling a story. From the point where everyone is suddenly convinced it is the apocalypse, the end of days, the movie takes an unexpected turn and focus. That isn't enough to save the movie or make me want to ever see it again but it was enough to raise it slightly above other similar lewd, crude movies.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"Keep it together. Work the problem." Reviewing The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’m pretty much f**ked.

That’s my considered opinion.

F**ked.

Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare. I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe 100 years from now. For the record… I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.” And it’ll be right, probably. Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did. Let’s see…where do I begin?
Astronaut Mark Watney is marooned on Mars after a freak dust storm literally blows him away from his crewmates. Thinking he's dead, the mission is scrubbed and the rest of the crew head back to Earth. Mark hopes to survive until the next NASA mission to Mars in four years.

Most of The Martian consists of Mark's log entries which read like a MacGyver episode. He keeps as lighthearted a mood as possible while recording the details of how he is attempting to grow food, find water, and so forth. It is this lighthearted element which helps keep this from being merely a manual of "how to survive on Mars." For example, Mark's selection of entertainment from among the things left behind by his crewmates yields the complete series for Three's Company. His occasional comments on the series afterwards made me laugh out loud.

Fairly early in the book, NASA's side of the story begins being interwoven with Mark's struggle for survival. Since Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies, the comparison is inevitable and irresistible. NASA must juggle PR, competing agencies, rescue plans and more ... while we see Mark doggedly surmount one obstacle after another. It is a welcome element because an entire book of Mark's survival log was going to need some sort of additional depth to make it interesting.

Although I always felt fairly sure that Mark would survive, as the end of the book loomed near I got increasingly tense. What if these were his "found posthumously" logs? The author kept the tension up to the very end.

And at the end? I'm not ashamed to admit it. I cried.

Tears of joy? Tears of sorrow? Read the book and find out.

Or listen to it as I did. Narrator R.C. Bray did a good job of conveying Mark's sense of humor and absorption in problem solving and survival. He also was good at the various accents of the international cast comprising the rest of the crew and NASA. He had a tendency to read straight storytelling as if it were a computer manual or something else that just needed a brisk run down.

The main thing a bit at fault was Bray's German accent, which I kept mistaking for a Mexican or Indian accent. Those don't seem as if they should be that interchangeable do they? My point exactly. However, I always knew who was speaking, I felt emotions as they came across, and it was a good enough narrating job. Not enough to make me look for other books in order to hear his narrations, but good enough.

This novel is not a short story and I felt it would have benefitted from more characterization. Yes, we get to know Mark Watney and, to a lesser degree, his crewmates and the NASA crew. However, to hear Mark's story for so many days (sols) and get to know so little about him during that time ... well, after a while it got a little boring, aside from the new problems to be solved or emergencies from which to recover.

We also got occasional forays into NASA and the spaceship crew, but more about Mark would have enriched the story. It didn't have to be soul-baring and I realize he was writing a log, but after several hundred days some personalization would have crept in, one would think.

Anyway, that is not a huge factor because I enjoyed the story. But I was not surprised to see that the author is a computer programmer and it did cost the book a star.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Creation of the World

Antonio Canova, The Creation of the World (1821-22)
I'd never heard of Antonio Canova, though when I went looking for this image I saw that I have seen several of his works before. It is one of the pleasures of the Wall Street Journal that they have an article about art every day. I was captivated last week when I opened the paper and saw this gorgeous piece. I love the textures, the creative spirit surging forth energetically, the way the moon is watching God create the sun, the sun's gentle and loving look toward its creator. What a wonderful work of imagination and art this is.