Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quick Looks at Some Good Books

Something Old
Lord of the Hollow Dark by Russell Kirk
Mr. Apollinax gathers a group of 13 people together in a castle that was the scene of a horrific murder earlier in history. Known to each other only by pseudonyms taken from T.S. Eliot poems, the goal of this group is to experience a mystical "timeless moment." We see the story alternately through the eyes of innocent Marina who has brought her baby with her and hopes for a glimpse of God and through those of the lustful rapist Sweeny who has no thoughts but those of personal gain. The story is an interesting mix of horror, occult, and philosophy. This book irresistibly called to mind Edgar Allen Poe or perhaps H.P. Lovecraft, in that although the story was peopled with evil, twisted characters it is written in such a way that the reader does not actually become frightened. (Except at one point close to the end where I was surprised at how horrified and repelled I was by something a character said.) This leaves the reader free to appreciate the more philosophical aspects as well. It was written in a style that definitely reminded me of other 1970's vintage horror/occult books I had written which was a strange style of reminiscing. I'm not sure if I'll reread it but I do know that I couldn't put it down.

Something New
Ana Markovic by David Murdoch
We meet Ana, a homeless alcoholic, in the hospital where she is recovering from almost having died from alcohol poisoning. As she recovers, Ana begins to remember an amazing "dream" that began with St. Michael, the Archangel offering her a chance for redemption. Interlaced with the story of the dream are Ana's memories of why she became homeless, commentary about what it means to truly live one's faith as a Catholic, and analysis of how all this weaves together with modern life to make it necessary to fight a heroic battle for salvation. Ana feels she does not matter and God knows she does. The question becomes whether Ana can be made to believe it or whether she will reject God. This issue appealed to me, especially considering my atheistic parents. Murdoch's writing style is straight forward and direct. His reasoning is passionate and the teaching style of the story put me in mind of The Shack, although this is definitely a Catholic book. I read this partly because I was interested to see the apologetics for so many arguments that are raised these days against Christianity. However, mostly I read it ... in two days straight ... because I was hooked. I can't put my finger on why the way that I can with most of the books I read, but I found this book really interesting and enjoyed reading it. (Note: I did see some misspellings and a couple of format misses that should have been caught by an editor.)

Something for the Gents
Crossing the Goal -- Playbook on the Virtues
by Danny Abramowicz, Peter Herbeck, Curtis Martin and Brian Patrick
This is a study guide companion to the sports format EWTN show of the same name. However, I don't think that one must have seen the show to get a great deal of good out of the book. Using eye-catching graphics and subtitles like "Pregame," "Kickoff," and "Game Plan" to emphasize different sections, the book is a straight forward approach to why men should care about and practice the virtues. I liked this on two levels. The direct approach was very easy to understand but left room for conversation and thought. As a woman, it gave me a bit of insight into the issues that men struggle with which are different from those of my sex. As well, I really liked the idea that men would struggle and care about following Jesus in a ... well ... manly way. These days, that is a commodity all too little valued. It made me have an added appreciation and love for the Christian men in my life, both family and friends. I am not the target audience, of course, but I know a lot of men's men who would really appreciate the approach this book takes. Recommended.

Something for the Ladies
Courageous Love: A Bible Study on Holiness for Women
Courageous Virtue: A Bible Study On Moral Excellence for Women
Courageous Women: A Study On The Heroines Of Biblical History
by Stacy Mitch
I just encountered these Catholic Bible studies for women and am really impressed. I say that as someone who does not really enjoy self-guided studies where one must look up verses and answer questions. However, there is something compelling about the way that Mitch threads together thoughtful commentary, personal experiences, saints' quotes, and prayers with Church teachings and scripture. Even though each book has the leader's guide in the back (that's right ... the answers), I have been more interested in looking up verses and coming to my own conclusions. Distinctly surprising was the way that Mitch snuck up and struck me dumb on several occasions when I thought smugly that "everyone knows the answer to that" ... but humored the process by looking up the answer (I'm always the smart aleck rolling her eyes at the back of the class ... but you knew that right?). Of course, everyone might know those answers, but I didn't. Not only did this leave me respecting Mitch even more but some of those answers were very big ones that are repeatedly useful as I struggle in daily life to be a good disciple of Christ. These are great studies and I'm going to be recommending them to a lot of my friends.

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