Monday, March 30, 2015

What We've Been Watching: The Long Way Round ... and Down

We've been really enjoying a couple of travelogue style documentaries starring well known actor Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman. Both motorcycle enthusiasts, they came up with the idea of  a round-the-world trip.

Thus was born The Long Way Round. They set off from London, traveled through Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Siberia, over to Alaska, through Canada, North America and finished in New York. They took the Road of Bones in Siberia and saw wildfires in Alaska. When they could, they camped. Often they were welcomed into local homes. They also stopped often at Unicef projects and it was fascinating to see the many ways they help people around the world

In some ways this is similar to the Michael Palin trips which we've enjoyed watching over the years. However, you see this trip behind the scenes from the beginning of soliciting support through the cameraman not having his permits through support vehicles bogging down during floods. It feels a lot more real when you see a country "fixer" fretting to get them through customs after an 8 hour wait.

Naturally after we finished this we were happy to see that McGregor and Boorman had since taken another long trip, this time The Long Way Down from John O'Groats, Scotland to the tip of South Africa.

As in any such trip you see many aspects of Africa that make you feel closer to a place that is so far away and so very different. I have to say that I've never been particularly interested in Africa as a travel destination but after this I'd love to go to Botswana and Rwanda to see the animals.

Naturally a good deal of the fun is in getting to know Ian and Charley as they face challenges and rejoice in triumphs.

This is showing on Netflix and I know they have dvd sets for sale on their site (links are above).

I've love to see The Long Way go through Latin America. Fingers crossed!

Thanks to our friends Kim and Mike for turning us onto these great series. I'd have hesitated to bring these up since the trips took place several years ago except we've found that no one we mentioned it to has heard of it either. So I'm passing the word along ...

Worth a Thousand Words: White-Tailed Eagle

White-Tailed Eagle
taken by Remo Savisaar
As always with Remo's photographs, it is best to go to his place to see them in their full sized magnificence.

An Amazing Can Opener

Yes, it is the little things that count!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Cast Shadows

Emile Friant, Cast Shadows, 1891
via French Painters

Well Said: Catching Truth in Our Net

In life and art both, as it seems to me, we are always trying to catch in our net of successive moments something that is not successive ... I think it is sometimes done — or very, very nearly done — in stories. I believe the effort to be well worth making.
C.S. Lewis, On Stories
Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Catholic Gardener's Spiritual Almanac by Margaret Rose Realy

A Catholic Gardener's Spiritual Almanac: Cultivating Your Faith Throughout the YearA Catholic Gardener's Spiritual Almanac: Cultivating Your Faith Throughout the Year by Margaret Rose Realy

I'm not a gardener.

In fact, I'm so not a gardener that I realized I don't have a single plant growing in my home. I have a few container plants on the front porch which I remember to water when we're in the middle of the blazing Texas summers.

(Do you hear that? I think we can hear Margaret Rose's heart breaking right now.)

And yet I read and enjoyed her A Garden of Visible Prayer about making prayer gardens. I readily agreed to read this book, which I'd normally never do.

It's because I like the idea of a garden. I suppose I'm what you'd call an armchair gardener just as many people read cookbooks they'll never use (which makes me cry, but that's another story).

I also enjoy reading almanacs, believe it or not. (Is that armchair farming?) I love the rhythms of the physical year moving through its cycles, which may be a reason I love the Catholic liturgical year so much.  Margaret Rose Realy combines the two by taking the best tips for gardening year-round and linking them with the Catholic liturgical year to weave a lovely devotional for everyone.

Each month has:
  • gardening focus for that time of year
  • traditions and feasts
  • saints appropriate for gardening
  • faith-filled gardening keyed to the liturgical year (a Lenten garden in March, a rosary or angel garden in October)
  • practical gardening advice
  • Biblical reflections
  • prayer focus
I also really enjoyed the frequent charts and lists of plants associated with faith, such as plants found on the Shroud of Turin or Marian garden plants. There is even the occasional recipe. Best of all are Realy's insights and reflections in which she openly shares her own faith.

I haven't finished this book because I want to read it as the year unfolds. Even if I never get out in the garden, I go walking daily. This is the sort of book that keeps me connected to the nature that I experience even on those little jaunts.

Highly recommended for the practical, faithful, and armchair gardeners.

It was a free review book. But they were my own opinions.

Worth a Thousand Words: Fox and Bird

Fox and Bird. Ink on Saunders Waterford hot pressed, 2.5 x 3.5″ (ACEO)
by Himmapaan

Well Said: God's Love and Senseless Folly

If even human love has its own reasoning, comprehensible only to the heart that is open to it, how much truer this must be of God's love! When it is the depth and power of God that stirs, is there anything of which love is incapable? The glory of it is so overwhelming that to all who do not accept love as an absolute point of departure, its manifestations must seem the most senseless folly.
Romano Guardini, The Lord
This book has been so thought provoking and so wonderful at speaking to me about my relationship with Jesus. What a perfect Lenten read and a great read for any time, which is a good thing since obviously I'm not going to finish it by Easter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Automobile Bookplate

Automobile Bookplate from the Antioch Company
via Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie
where you may find a 2-part series on car bookplates

Well Said: How Did You Die?

How Did You Die?

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble's a ton, or a trouble's an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn't the fact that you're hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what's that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It's nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there -- that's disgrace.
The harder you're thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn't the fact that you're licked that counts,
It's how did you fight -- and why?

And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he's slow or spry,
It isn't the fact that you're dead that counts,
But only how did you die?

Edmund Vance Cooke, 1903
This is another poem from 101 Famous Poems, edited by Roy J. Cook. That's the book I'm using for daily poetry reading each morning. I love that book and I am often surprised at the famous lines that leap out at me while I'm reading. This poem didn't lead to that sort of revelation but it was one I liked for the simple truth it tells.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Do the Monster Mash ... Hollywood Style

Last week I featured Attack the Block as a movie you might have missed. I was thrilled to see that someone gave it a try and now:
So now I have an entirely new appreciation for the genre of monster movies, where do I go from here?
I thought you'd never ask!

I'm not an expert by any means, but I know what I like. A list of what I like is below, with links to my reviews (you may have to scroll down in some of these entries to find the movie mentioned below).

  • Aliens: the perfect combination of monsters and adrenaline. Plus Sigourney Weaver. “I can handle myself.” “Yeah, I noticed.” One of my top 10 favorite movies.

  • King Kong (1933): Holy mackerel, what a show! The original is the best.

  • The Mummy (1999): This is just plain fun, along the lines of what would happen if Indiana Jones tangled with an ancient Egyptian curse (and lots of mummies, of course).

  • Shaun of the Dead: the zombie movie for people who don't like zombies. (Like me.)

  • District 9: What happens when aliens land in South Africa and have no way to get home?

  • Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter: Light on history, heavy on vampires, and a lot of fun.

Well Said: A Common Temptation

It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer.
George Muller
In other words, don't worry about your feelings. Just do it anyway.

That's something I've had to rediscover lately. It is so often clear what I should do but when I factor in if I want to do it, then I begin finding excuses. The silly thing is that giving in to those excuses doesn't make me any happier. So I might as well just go ahead and do my duty, so to speak.

Friday, March 20, 2015

What I've Been Reading: Dickens and a Dab

A Dab of Dickens & A Touch of Twain: Literary Lives from Shakespeare's Old England to Frost's New England

Author Elliot Engel is an English professor and this book shows that anyone who takes his classes is lucky. This superb collection of brief biographical essays not only helps us understand famous literary personalities but explains what they wrote. It is simply amazing that Elliot Engel managed to do this so effectively and entertainingly in such brief pieces.

I was actually pleased to see that the book doesn't take up space with samples of the famous works. I can get those anywhere for the most part. This book is chock-full of Elliot Engel's brief, fascinating biographies and discussions of why these authors still appeal to us today. And that's what I really wanted.

David Copperfield

After reading Great Expectations (some time ago and after great struggles, we may recall) I had my first glimmerings of interest in reading David Copperfield. Both books tell the story of boys growing to adulthood. I knew that Great Expectations began with an inherently selfish person and David Copperfield seemed its opposite, with sweet David innocently unable to see the obvious in front of his face. Or so I'd gleaned.

I was curious to see what Charles Dickens did with such different internal motivations. I enjoyed about 2/3 of it quite well and was really fascinated by Dora's place in the scheme of things. Then Dickens suddenly seemed to turn very Victorian and become intent on wrapping up every loose end in a nice package with a bow on it. And somehow it stopped being quite so enjoyable.

I have a copy of G.K. Chesterton's Appreciations and Criticisms of the Work of Charles Dickens (free on the Kindle, read it here from Project Gutenberg). He sums up a lot of my problems with David Copperfield in ways that I won't share because they'd spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet. However, he hits the nail on the head about the book overall:
David Copperfield begins as if it were going to be a new kind of Dickens novel; then it gradually turns into an old kind of Dickens novel. It is here that many readers of this splendid book have been subtly and secretly irritated.
By the way, the Librivox recording features T. Hynes' lovely Irish accent and is wonderfully read.

Dombey and Son

I now am slowly listening my way through Dombey and Son. Why does the cover have a picture of a young lady (Florence, if you'd like to know) when the title is Dombey and Son? Ah, therein lies the tale!

I'm about a third of the way through and am finding it enjoyable in many ways, chiefly through the characters. The plot, less so. However, I've still got about 500 pages to go so it may get less predictable.

For a good, free recording try LibriVox's Mil Nicholson. She does some of the best voices I've ever heard although I don't enjoy her straight reading of the rest of the text quite as much.

I plumped for David Timson's reading which has some of the best expressive reading of the plain text I've heard, without being at all over the top about it.

Worth a Thousand Words: Mirror of the Soul Within

"The eye, which is the reflector of the external world, is also the mirror of the soul within."
taken by Valerie, ucumari photography
Some rights reserved.

Well Said: What is an apostle really?

What is an apostle really? ... It is difficult even to consider them "great religious personalities," if by this we mean bearers of inherent spiritual talents. John and Paul were probably exceptions, but we only risk misunderstanding them both by overstating this. On the whole, we do the apostle no service by considering him a great religious personality. This attitude is usually the beginning of unbelief. Personal importance, spiritual creativeness, dynamic faith are not decisive in his life. What counts is that Jesus Christ has called him, pressed his seal upon him, and sent him forth. ... It is not he who speaks, but Christ in him.
Romano Guardini, The Lord

NPR Wants You To Tell Them About Your Favorite Podcasts

NPR is working on ways to help people discover podcasts — and we need your help. We're looking for podcasts from public radio and beyond, and we'd love for you to share some of your favorite episodes with us.
The form is here.

Podcast producers/creators aren't allowed to toot their own horn in that form but obviously if you enjoy enjoy A Good Story is Hard to Find then please let them know!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lagniappe: Planned Improvisation

She glanced back at where my dad ... was having a technical discussion with the rest of the band. Lots of hand gestures as he indicated where he wanted solos to come in during the set because, as my dad always says, while improvisation and spontaneity may be the hallmarks of great jazz, the hallmark of being a great player is ensuring the rest of the band is spontaneously improvising the way you want them to.
Ben Aaronovitch, Broken Homes
Aha! I always suspected as much!

Worth a Thousand Words: Silver Moth

Katharine Hepburn dressed as the "Silver Moth" in CHRISTOPHER STRONG.
Designed by Walter Plunkett, 1933
via Silver Screen Modes
Can you believe this is Katherine Hepburn? It is her first starring role and I'd say it would be worth seeing the film just to see the other costumes at the masked ball she attends.

Do go to Silver Screen Mode to see the rest of the 10 Wildest Costumes in Film History. There is fascinating background as well. I notice the posing is often the same from movie to movie. Ah well, when one is wearing a simply fantastic outfit, part of the key is proper posing in a doorway.

I'll just indulge here in sharing my other favorite. Not the wildest but I simply love it. She looks like a bejeweled butterfly.

Evelyn Brent in SLIGHTLY SCARLET Costume design by Travis Banton, 1930

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Well Said: There's more to telling a story than just telling a story...

All I wanted was something lightweight and undemanding. The Da Vinci Code was both of these. However, as I compulsively turned the page to discover what incredible nonsense might happen to Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu next—incredible but gripping—I could not help noticing that the book was exceptionally poorly written. You go to a thriller for its thrills, not its poetry, but this was distractingly bad. ...

To be clear, Dan Brown knows how to tell a story—but there is more to telling a story than just telling the story. Stephen King understands this...
Andy Miller, The Year of Reading Dangerously
Andy Miller manages to be incredibly fair to Dan Brown while pointing out the very reason I never read The Da Vinci Code. I'd heard it was terribly written and that can be such a point of distraction for me that I'll not be able to read a book sometimes.

Worth a Thousand Words: Altar Boy

Vincenzo Irolli, Altar Boy
via I Am A Child
Isn't this curious scamp adorable? Check the link in the caption for many more Vincenzo Irolli paintings. I'd never heard of that artist before but found much of his work captivating.

Blogging Around: Grab Bag Edition

Werewolf Cop

We've gotten used to seeing lots of urban fantasy but not by the likes of Andrew Klavan who is known for hard-edged thrillers. I read reviews regularly at Brandywine Books where Lars is a confirmed fan. So it surprised me when I saw the supernatural edge to his latest. Read Lars' review here where he gives it his highest recommendation. And here's one at Books and Culture that they pointed to later.

A Look Inside Jeb Bush's Catholic Faith

“You hear people say, ‘I don’t want to impose my faith,’ ” Mr. Bush told the newspaper The Florida Catholic days after leaving office in 2007. “Well, it’s not an imposition of faith. It’s who you are.”
Read the NY Times story. Via The Deacon's Bench.

A Holy Year of Mercy

Pope Francis announced an extraordinary jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, to highlight the Catholic Church’s “mission to be a witness of mercy.” ... which will be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2015, until Nov. 20, 2016. [...]

Traditionally, every 25 years the popes proclaim a holy year, which features special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance, and the offer of special opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments, especially confession. Extraordinary holy years, like the Holy Year of Mercy, are less frequent, but offer the same opportunities for spiritual growth.
I picked this up at The Deacon's Bench which is where I see lots of interesting news. He's got links and other info here.

Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett, may he rest in peace, was evidently not the cheery fellow one would think from his hilarious and insightful books. Neil Gaiman writes that he was fueled by rage. That actually makes sense to me. It doesn't make me like his books any less or any more. It's just interesting. Read it here. Via Will Duquette who, as he has done with so many other favorite authors, read most of Pratchett's books aloud to his family.


All the excellent reviews of the new Cinderella movie have me chomping at the bit to see it. I love the idea of a straight, respectful telling and in Kenneth Branagh's hands it has evidently become a piece of art. I especially liked Steven D. Greydanus' review. Here's a bit.
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is such a gallant anachronism, such a grandly unreconstructed throwback, that it offers, without ever raising its voice, a ringing cross-examination of our whole era of dark, gritty fairy-tale revisionism. These stories have been around for centuries, the film seems to say. Are you sure they will be improved by making the heroines oppressed by society or their parents, making the male love interests the moral or cultural inferiors of the heroines, adding battle scenes and so forth?

I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t mind seeing some revisionism in Cinderella’s story. I would like the heroine to be a more active agent in her own story. The film, though, brushes this aside: Never mind what you would do with it; this is the story. Isn’t this a good story, worth telling just as it is?

And you know what? It is. As told by Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy), the tale of a much-abused “cinder girl” and a high-minded prince who fall in love at the ball is as magical and romantic as you remember it being the first time you saw the Disney cartoon.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

"Do you think that doing the right thing will always be pretty?"

I really loved Rosamund Hodge's first book Cruel Beauty (my review here). I was not sure how she could possibly match it, especially with a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood which is a fairy tale I've never cared for much.

I am happy to say that Crimson Bound is a compelling story just as fresh, just as exhilarating, just as complex, just as stay-up-til-midnight-reading-as-fast-as-possible engrossing. While being completely original and different.

Here's the official description:
An exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, from the author of Cruel Beauty.

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless—straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in a vain effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as the two become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic . . . and a love that may be their undoing. Within a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?
I saw a reviewer wondering where Little Red Riding Hood was in all this. I really had to stop and think about it. There is an innocent, naive girl. There is a big, bad wolf. There is a cottage in the woods with a beloved, elderly relative. The fact that I had to stop and think about it to locate these elements tells you that the original fairy tale is merely a springboard for Hodge's creativity.

Crimson Bound also echoes of sparkling courts in medieval France and of darker places where an unseen Devourer and its living, breathing Forest are barely held at bay from transmuting and destroying all normal life. It is a delightfully formed world which felt very natural and real.

This is the background against which Hodge weaves an absorbing tale featuring wonderfully complex heroes and villains, none of whom are ever allowed to be entirely evil or entirely pure. Their actions are driven by reasons rooted in their lives, their histories. This allows the story to raise questions which may haunt the reader afterward about loyalty, choices, friendship, love, guilt, and sacrifice. Interestingly, this world has a religion which has very strong echoes of Catholicism. The perceptions and reality of religion in such a setting become a story element that again add depth.

There is, of course, romance and since this is a YA book it is kept fairly pure though I can think of a few things that would make me give this to older teens rather than younger. Those "iffy" elements are conveyed largely through inference and distanced language. That also applied to the violence, of which there is a fair amount because there is a lot of swordplay in this book which tends to be described more thoroughly although not with unnecessary emphasis on gore.

I'm not sure how Rosamund Hodges writes books that are so layered, yet also so enchanting they swirl around in my head for days afterward, making me collar other book readers so I can tell them to read it. All I can think is how lucky I am to be around while these books are coming out and all I can say is, "More please!"

This book comes out on May 15. As soon as I finished reading the uncorrected galley proof, I went to Amazon and pre-ordered the final version. I highly recommend you pre-order one too. You need to start reading this as soon as possible!

(I read a review book. I also gave my own opinion and no one else's.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Blogging Around: Of Many Diverse Things

World's Best Pencil Sharpener

I admit I was dubious over these claims by Amazon reviewers. But a pencil sharpener that has inspired 331 reviews must have something going for it.

I myself had been searching in vain for a decent manual sharpener for some time. Hey, it's the little quests in life that give it meaning. Crossword puzzles and my calendar (paper, natch) cry out for using a pencil. (Don't get me started on what sort of pencil. Those #2s just don't cut it. But that's another quest.)

I can truly testify that the claims are correct. This sharpener is fantastic, whether on the hated #2s or colored pencils that you found in a cabinet where you used to store the kids' art supplies.

The 1001 Nights Podcast

Each episode we bring you the ancient mythologies of the Arabian Nights reinterpreted by modern authors in a variety of settings and styles. These stories have been told and retold for hundreds of years and trace their roots back to ancient medieval Arabian, Persian, Indian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian folklore. While some westernized stories such as Aladdin and the tales of Sinbad are widely known, many other wondrous myths have yet to find life in our culture.

The stories are famously told by Scheherazade to enrapture the Sultan in a heroic effort to forestall her execution and save her people.

These winding, nesting and mysterious stories are presented to you as original adaptations, never before heard or read.
This is well produced and narrated and I am hooked. The stories are compelling thus far. Definitely recommended. Get it at iTunes or go to The 1001 Nights Podcast. The stories are available there for reading as well as listening.

Pope Francis's Miracle

John Allen says that people keep saying Pope Francis doesn't act like the guy they knew back in Buenos Aires. Well, he's always cared about the poor and so forth, but this beaming, shoot-from-the-hip, joyful fellow is someone even his sister says she doesn't recognize. As Allen reports it in his new book, there's a supernatural explanation. And it's one that makes me feel God's giving us the pope He wants us to have. As Allen tells it:
Over Christmas 2013, a veteran Latin American cardinal who has known Bergoglio for decades made an appointment to see his old friend in the Santa Marta, the hotel on Vatican grounds where the pope has chosen to reside. (He lives in Room 201, a slightly larger room than the one he stayed in during the conclave that elected him, giving the pontiff enough space to receive guests comfortably).

The cardinal, who didn’t wish to be named, said he looked at Francis and, referring to the exuberance and spontaneity that are now hallmarks of his public image, said to him point-blank: "You are not the same man I knew in Buenos Aires. What’s happened to you?"

According to the cardinal, this was Francis’ answer:

“On the night of my election, I had an experience of the closeness of God that gave me a great sense of interior freedom and peace," the cardinal quoted the pope as saying, "and that sense has never left me.”

Archdiocese for Military Services (AMS)

I never heard of this but they're a real thing. Established in 1985 by Pope St. John Paul II, AMS is unique because they aren't tied to a physical place but to their Archbishop because it was established to serve the Christian faithful in the military. The Archdiocese receives no funding from the United States government. Rather, the Archdiocese is solely funded by the generosity of its chaplains, men and women in uniform and private benefactors. To find out more and to donate, visit the Archdiocese for the Military, USA.

Leashing the Black Dog

The Art of Manliness is beginning a series about depression. My own family doesn't have that particular problem but my husband's side of the family has a history of depression so I've encountered it personally in those I love. Which is what interested me enough to read their post Leashing the Black Dog. As an introduction it is mostly a personal account, but there were some facts which surprised me, such as the way depression has been viewed through history:
Today in the West and particularly in America, depression is seen as a mental illness, something that you have to cure and get rid of right away through therapy and drugs. Everything is awesome and everyone is supposed to be “happy, happy, happy.” But throughout Western history, society took a more nuanced approach to depression, or “melancholy” as it was once called. It was seen as a temperament that came with both a curse and a blessing. The goal wasn’t to cure someone of melancholy, but rather to help them manage it so it didn’t deepen into “madness” or “hysteria.”

C.S. Lewis: The Space Trilogy

This is another set of books that was continually recommended but which I couldn't make myself read. Even though I knew that J.R.R. Tolkien really liked them.

Until I found the library had them all in audio. And what a difference that made. I wound up really liking each book, though for completely different reasons. Each book has a really different vibe. Each shows that Lewis had much more imagination than I ever credited him with. And I continually wonder whether anyone who isn't Christian likes them because much of what I liked about each has to do with the sympathetic twang my soul makes to the point of the stories. (Though no one ever answers ...)

They are controversial, in the sense that people's reactions are all over the place. That is what led to Will Duquette's post which does a good job of discussing the books. Here's the short version, then you can go read the whole thing which has some good commentary on Lewis' writing.
In short, Out of the Silent Planet is precisely what it seems to be; there are no hidden depths. Perelandra fails as a tale of wonder, but repays the patient reader; and That Hideous Strength is Lewis at his mythopoeic best. And if they are not what one would normally call science fiction, well: the world we live is more complex than materialists think it is.

How I Pray

Tom McDonald's got a good series where he gets interesting people to answer questions about their prayer life. He's got a wide range of people answering thus far, ranging from Steven Greydanus to Elizabeth Scalia to Amy Welborn (and including people I actually know like Will Duquette, Jen Fitz, and Lisa Hendey). I find the posts interesting, because let's face it that's a personal question ... we all want to know. And sometimes the answers contain information that I find helpful or inspiring. Swing by and take a look see.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Mignon

Jules-Joseph LEFEBVRE, Mignon, 1886
via French Painters
Mignon in French means sweet, cute, dainty or pretty in a delicate way.

Well Said: On the humility of trying harder

We live in an era where opinion is currency. The pressure is on us to say "I like this" or "I don't like that," to make snap decisions ... But when faced with something we cannot comprehend at once, which was never intended to be snapped up or whizzed through, perhaps "I don't like it" is an inadequate response. Don't like Middlemarch? It doesn't matter. It was here before we arrived, and it will be here long after we have gone. Instead, perhaps we should have the humility to say: I didn't get it. I need to try harder.
Andy Miller, The Year of Reading Dangerously
This has been an approach which has come to me in the last few years. Because I kept trying, I was finally able to get through Great Expectations and like it by the end. It took listening to the audiobook of The Lord of the Rings (as well as The Tolkien Professor podcast) before I was able to get to the end. And love it.

It doesn't always work, of course. Sometimes we don't get it because we can't like every single classic. I tried three times to get through The Brothers Karamazov before admitting that novel is one which I am not going to appreciate.

I have a feeling I am having the same experience with Don Quixote, having just abandoned it after my second try, which got me through 20 chapters. (Perhaps if I hadn't read The Pickwick Papers first. About 10 chapters along Charles Dickens hit that sweet spot which made me love the book ... and feel as if, by contrast, Cervantes just had a lot of gags strung together.)

However, I am very aware that the fault is not with the literature, but with me. It's why I am now willing to return to my failures in great literature and try once again to see if trying harder yields rewards.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Movie You Might Have Missed #45: Attack the Block

Inner City vs. Outer Space.

45. Attack the Block

This was one of my favorite movies of 2013 and I just realized that I never gave more than a one line description of this unexpected delight.

It's a good, solid monster movie with a basic puzzle to solve in order to rid oneself of the monsters. In this case, the twist is that the alien monsters land in London. The only ones to realize what's happening are some young thugs in a council block (that translates to "the projects" in the U.S.). They must battle the aliens while trying to escape the police who believe the resulting destruction is from gang violence. Its thoroughly enjoyable if one doesn't expect too much from it and watching the young actors is a delight, many of whom were recruited from local acting schools.

I especially enjoyed the fact that you can tell the aliens are not computer generated. The young actors said that they were actually frightened during action sequences because they were acting with real, unpredictable "creatures" ... it both shows and enhances the film.

The director went to a lot of trouble to get the place right. He interviewed council block kids to find out what weapons they'd grab if aliens landed. They use real slang and at times I felt as if I were watching a foreign language film with the captions off. However, there was always enough understandable dialogue for context.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Well Said: Defending Patience and Solitude in Reading

Over the course of a year or so, the slow process of reading these fifty great books, and the other two, gave me back my life. The actions I describe here, inspired by a particular volume or a passage of writing, were often the result of chatting with no one except myself. ... And therefore, as you read this book, please consider it a passionate defense of those two elements I consider most at risk from our neophiliac desire to read fashionably, publicly, ever more excitedly: patience and solitude.
Andy Miller, The Year of Reading Dangerously
This made me think and greatly inspired my Lenten fasting from GoodReads, Facebook, and other such places. Such a fast proved surprisingly difficult at the beginning but as it has continued I find I miss them less and less. And it makes me concentrate such comments as I do have in the place where my online presence began ... right here. Which feels right.

Worth a Thousand Words: Millie Finch

Milly Finch, James McNeill Whistler, c.1884
I don't love lots of Whistler's art, but I do love this.

Jesse wants a Tom Bombadil Bed and Breakfast.

But don't we all, really?

I join Jesse, Seth, and Maissa for a discussion of the first book of The Fellowship of the Ring (which itself is the first book of The Lord of the Rings, of course) at SFFaudio.

I wouldn't have thought there was more to talk about after the discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find last year (part 1, part 2), but I was wrong.

The Lord of the Rings - its a book that just keeps giving!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Lagniappe: A Copper Who Is a Wizard

"You're so boring," she said. "You'd think a copper who was a wizard would be more interesting. Harry Potter wasn't this boring. I bet Gandalf could drink you under the table."

Probably true, but I don't remember the bit where Hermione gets so wickedly drunk that Harry has to pull the broomstick over on Buckingham Palace Road just so she can be sick in the gutter.
Ben Aaronovitch, Whispers Under Ground
It goes on like that for a bit, but you get the point. Makes me laugh and that's it. Nothing deeper here to see. Move along now.

Worth a Thousand Words: Mating Season

Mating Season
taken by Remo Savisaar
There are few better places to see excellent nature photography than pildiblog where Remo Savisaar displays his work. Lately he's been outdoing himself. Be sure to stop by and browse the photographs there.

Julie and Scott only have ten dollars each.

Julie spends it on the perfect Google hyper-targeted local advertising program, and Scott buys all the BAM! t-shirts he can find. They discuss Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan in Episode 102 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

History Repeats Itself. Or At Least Echoes Loudly.

Writing about World War I, before America entered the war:
Americans were horrified by the slaughter in the trenches in France. Not only had the Germans initiated submarine warfare against passenger ships, but they were the first to introduce poison gas. Hundreds of miles of the beautiful French and Belgian countryside were reduced to a hellish moonscape, a "no mans land" where rats fattened on corpses. The Germans used their powerful artillery to batter quaint towns and villages into rubble. "Big Bertha" was a forty-three-ton monster howitzer produced by the Krupp company and incongruously named for Gustav Krupp's wife. It fired a 2,200-pound shell more than nine miles.

The Germans also rained death from the air. Their hydrogen-filled dirigibles—called zeppelins after Count Zeppelin—dropped bombs on civilians in London. In all this, the kaiser's High Command consciously pursued a policy of schrecklichkeit ("frightfulness") to terrify their enemies.

[President] Wilson addressed the war in Europe in another controversial speech in 1916 in which he called for a "peace without victory" and offered to mediate. Germany spurned the offer. Once again Republicans and other supporters of the Allies were deeply affronted.
William J. Bennett, America: the Last Best Hope, vol. II
Sound familiar at all?

I was reading about Woodrow Wilson's presidency last night and kept having the a vague feeling that it somehow sounded familiar. It took specific examples during times of conflict to bring it into focus.

Here I thought that President Obama had taken neutrality and peace-seeking to new levels. Nope. He follows directly in the footsteps of a president from 100 years ago. Also, it was a time when the populace was sharply divided in their opinions about social and economic issues and about what to do about the armed conflict that did not yet directly attack America but threatened to do so.

Well, well. And here we are again.

As with the first volume, Bennett's history is even-handed and thorough, clearly written and engaging. One of the things that drew me to embarking on these books is reviews from people with widely diverse political views called these books fair and impartial. These days that ain't easy to earn.

Worth a Thousand Words: Detail from Mesa

Detail from Mesa, Jan Davidsz de Heem
via Lines and Colors
One of the things I love about Lines and Colors is the way that Charley Parker will sometimes choose a single painting and then pull out details that make it possible for me to better appreciate the artist.

This is one such case because I am not, as a rule, drawn to still life paintings but the different details highlighted made me view the work with new eyes. Swing by there to see what I mean.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Few Fun Things

SFFaudio Podcast: Fall of the House of Usher

We had an engrossing discussion of one of Edgar Allen Poe's most famous stories. I have to say that until I read it for this podcast I simply hadn't appreciated Poe's genius. Listen here.

Catholic Catechism: Stephen Colbert and Father James Martin

If you're Catholic it don't get much better than this!

Why "Star Trek" — And Mr. Spock — Matters

"I have been, and shall ever be, your friend" Mr. Spock says to Captain Kirk in that greatest of all Star Trek films, The Wrath of Khan. (For more on that movie, we talked about it in 2012 on A Good Story is Hard to Find.)

I think that's how a lot of us felt about Mr. Spock. He was the one we copied. When I was a kid I painstakingly learned to do the Vulcan hand sign with both hands and practiced until I could raise either eyebrow interrogatively. Something about Mr. Spock spoke to us. And something about the whole show did.

I was sorry to see earlier this week that Leonard Nimoy died and pray that he rests in peace in God's presence. I liked Steven D. Greydanus's piece on Spock and Star Trek as a fan and as a Catholic. You can find it here.

Worth a Thousand Words: Perfect Camouflage

Perfect Camouflage
taken by Remo Savisaar
I had to really look to find the non-tree element in this photo. Perfect camouflage indeed!

I'm Back!

I was visiting my mother in Florida. I find that the same weather seemed to follow me. It was gray and rainy in Florida (though pretty warm) and it is gray and rainy here (though considerably colder ... and evidently going to get much colder still tomorrow).

Nonetheless, this makes me wish for a transporter more than ever. I'm so happy to be home but I miss mom and her sweet Corgi Emma. Emma and I bonded when I'd help her into my sister's SUV to go back and forth every day from her house to Mom's place.

But as I say, I am very happy to be back!

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Movie You Might Have Missed #44: Ink

The power of dreams is stronger than you think.

44. Ink

As the light fades and the city goes to sleep, two forces emerge. They are invisible except for the power they exert over us in our sleep, battling for our souls through dreams. One force delivers hope and strength through good dreams; the other infuses the subconscious with desperation through nightmares.

John and Emma, father and daughter are wrenched into this fantastical dream world battle, forced to fight for John's soul and to save Emma from an eternal nightmare. Separate in their journey, they encounter unusual characters that exist only in their subconscious. Or do they?
This is actually a movie that almost everyone missed. I know I did. I never heard of it until Mom showed me the dvd. Intrigued by the description, she'd had it for a long time and hadn't watched it. It has a slow start (just let the first 20 minutes wash over you) but then the story pulls you in. We both found ourselves emotionally invested by the end of the film and talked about it through dinner afterward.

Part of the slow start is necessary to explain the world you are dropped into. The story is ultimately a tale about free will, how our choices affect those around us, and, ultimately, the power of love. I also really appreciated that this was made on a shoestring ($250,000) and the way they managed locations and special effects without affecting the otherworldliness of the film. Lastly, I liked the storyline effects with different color themes telling us whose eyes we were seeing through. The filmmakers did a good job with telling an inventive story in a way that kept us engaged.