Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Few Book-ish Things

You know, it's an odd thing how you can be gone for two weeks with essentially no planned activities, spend a lot of time hanging around doing nothing (such as in hospital rooms) and still never really have any time to read. Such was the condition I encountered on my trip.

I did finish Mark Shea's fantastic second Mary, Mother of the Son book and this time was wise enough to take some notes as I went. That is on my stack of review books to write up. I began the third book but that was enough Mary in concentration for that time and I feel myself irresistibly pulled to The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O'Connor's Spiritual Journey.

As well I just finished New Tricks by John Levitt. The sequel to Dog Days, I found this to be somewhat of a rehash of the interesting concepts introduced in the first book. Additionally, I had the culprit pegged within a few pages of initial appearance, which is always somewhat of a bore. I probably will not continue with the series although that book was perfectly diverting for the trip and so served its purpose. Yesterday I received my review copy of Ann Rice's Angel Time and after reading the first 40 pages or so am hooked. It will be my next fiction read.

On the cookbook front, my copy arrived of The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond. I bought this one for myself and a quick perusal shows it is just what I hoped for: a delightful representation not only of Pioneer Woman's cooking posts but of her blog in general.

Upon return I discovered an unsolicited review book (as far as I can recall), Reading Jesus: A Writer's Encounter with the Gospels by Mary Gordon. Best selling author Gordon is suddenly struck one day by the fact that she has never read the Gospels all the way through due, she tells us, to the fact that she was raised Catholic in the 1950s and only heard them in bits on Sundays. Fired up with this idea, she dashes off to begin immediately. This book is her series of contemplations on those books. I read the first 75 pages or so and found it highly humorous that Gordon does just what she is annoyed at the Church for having done. She selects key bits that all seem to be related and gives us her meditations upon them. That is not to say that her thoughts are not interesting or thought provoking or worth spending time on. I, personally, did not find them to be very enlightening and will not continue reading. Additionally, her mash-ups of Gospel were selected for common themes that she wanted to discuss. Taking them out of context is problematic and annoying for the very reason that she mentions at the beginning of the book.

Another tendency that I found annoying was Gordon's habit of tossing around Biblical scholars' names and then fall back on her own personal interpretation. This is especially obvious in the case of when Jesus tells the young man that he cannot stay to bury his father but must follow Him. Gordon concludes:
I would have buried my father. I would not have followed Jesus. I would have known that I was right.
Gordon does not stop to consider that if she would have been right and Jesus would have been wrong (Jesus, God Incarnate, let us remember) then it is possible that she is not digging deep enough. We cannot skate the surface with such texts or we fall prey to error. I am fortunate enough to have read William Barclay's study of Luke. I must add a disclaimer here that from a Catholic theological viewpoint Barclay is often in grievous error. In fact, from a basic Christian viewpoint that can be the case, such as his many "work around explanations" for the virgin birth of Jesus. However, when it comes to shedding light on past customs and original language meanings and translations Barclay is fantastic. He tells us that asking to bury one's father was a common Middle Eastern expression that was an easy way to put off immediate action.

I see that without intending it, this turned into a book review from someone who didn't read the entire book. Apologies if the rest of the book redeems the faults I mention above but I have too many books to read to spend time on this one. Mine is a highly individual take and probably many people will find them worthwhile. My main caution is that readers remember that ultimately these are Gordon's personal reflections rather than legitimate interpretations of the Gospels. To explore the Gospels in further depth, one might seek out works by the authors Gordon references as the ones I noted all seemed pretty trustworthy and some were authoritative in their fields.

When perusing Mom's bookcases I discovered a book that I think I gave her and then, somehow, forgot. It is always odd to rediscover a book that one liked well enough to give as a gift. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle is the first of her Crosswick Journals series of four books. She wrote them as a long letter or series of journal entries on her life living in the country near a small village with her family. This book achieves the effect that I believe Mary Gordon was going for. L'Engle's meditations upon life reads somewhat like Dorothy Day's journal, On Pilgrimage which I see I have somehow never reviewed but highly recommend. Inextricably wound in among daily activities of family, teaching, and writing are thoughts about God that are quietly illuminating and give us much food for thought. Highest recommendation.

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