Steven Riddle: June 2006 Archives

An Unsurprising Thought


Giving something to God means that one has no rights to it anymore, neither to worry about it, nor to think about it, nor to call it one's own. To take back a gift is, at best, ungracious, and at worst an offense. And everything given to God is regarded by Him as a gift. There's a lot of comfort to be had in such a thought.

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Unlikely Etymologies

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Have you ever noticed the affinity of très chère and treasure. The few things in my life that I would refer to as one are indeed the only things that are the other.

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A notation at Father Jim's reminded of that age-old question that I'm so thankful is neither asked nor heard of within the precincts of a Catholic Church. The query and some possible responses (in various shades of snarkiness) below.

"Have you found Jesus?"

"Oh dear, have you misplaced Him?"
"I hadn't heard He'd gone missing."
"No, but He found me."
"Are you looking for a referral?"
"This isn't 'Where's Waldo.'"

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Descent into Hell

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As a theological argument, Descent into Hell may make for good fiction, but as a novel, it leaves much to be desired. While many proclaim this the finest of Williams's works, that proclamation probably needs some scrutiny and qualification to make any sense. Perhaps the acclaim is for the interesting concept and final delivery of the book; if so, the acclaim may be justified, as the novel presents one of the more interesting climaxes in the Williams oeuvre, and the most explicit and consistent spelling out of Williams's pet doctrine of substituted love.

However well or poorly it may function as speculative or practical theology, it does not function well as a novel, not even as a novel of ideas. There are several reasons for this. The prose is tortured to the extreme, taking a long time (even for Williams) to get to the point.

The dead man had stood in what was now Wentworth's bedroom, and listened in fear lest he should hear the footsteps of his kind. That past existed still in its own place, since all the past is in the web of life nothing else than a part, of which we are not sensationally conscious. It was drawing closer now to the present; it approached the senses of the present. But between them still there went---patter,patter--the hurrying footsteps which Margaret Anstruther had heard in the first circle of the Hill. The dead man had hardly heard them; his passion had carried him through that circle into death. But on the hither side were the footsteps, and the echo and memory of the footsteps, of this world. It was these for which Wentworth listened. . .

And on, and on, and on, and on. "But between them still there went. . ." Between whom? Between the past and the present, between Wentworth and the dead man, between the people of the Hill. The writing is murky, unclear, imprecise, unfinished. There are few pages in the book that do not display at least one hefty lump of prose to match the above. There is about the writing nothing clear and precise, but a seemingly endless grinding of the same grain. Had there been somewhat less, the novel would have occupied perhaps two-thirds of its present length and come to a much stronger and more powerful conclusion for being more direct concerning what it was about. Williams plays too coy with his theme for too long.

In addition, there are few real characters in the book. Mrs. Anstruther and the Poet Stanhope speak in cryptic, labyrinthine sentences that suggest more the Oracles at Delphi than any reasonable character. Wentworth, driven by his own selfishness and ego becomes a mockery of himself (although this is the end of utter selfishness) and Pauline isn't quite firmly enough drawn to bear the weight laid upon her shoulders by the plot line.

The story about which these theological speculations are clustered, the presentation of a play by a group of performers at the Hill, is so trivial as to be at points painful. Doppelgangers, Lamias, ghosts or revenants, and personified elementals all loom large, or rather small as Williams isn't the least interested in any of these, and thus cannot cause the reader to evince interest. Williams is interested in his idea which, while fascinating, hardly makes for compelling reading as a piece of fiction.

In truth, nearly every other book of Williams is superior as fiction. No other approaches it (except perhaps All Hallows Eve) in the courage and strength of its initial ideation, nor in the pervasiveness of the coherent center of the book. Nevertheless, ideas rarely make for compelling fiction. And in this case, the idea, glorious in itself needs a better vehicle than a novel for it to achieve effect. And as the idea cannot be in the ascendant here, neither can the novel based entirely upon the effect of the idea succeed.

If one is inclined to read Williams, it may be better to start with nearly any other work and to find one's way slowly back to this. An appreciation of Williams's prose effects and system of writing may sustain one through the reading of this book, but perhaps only barely.

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A Compendiium of E-Book Sites

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Richard Strauss's opera Salome, secondarily derived from Oscar Wilde's play, is an interesting study in contrasts. While not atonal, there are time during which the dissonance of the music is nearly unbearable. At other times, most particularly, famously, and spectactularly in the infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils" the music is lush, late romantic in tone and tenor.

Because of operas like Salome and Elektra Strauss was branded a modernist; however works like Der Rosenkavalier and the symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) betray the late and lush romanticism of his work. Much like Schönberg's Verklarte Nacht but more subtle, more shaded, and more sensuous, Strauss found the heart of his work in the extension of the tradition handed down to him from the German Masters.

Why then Salome? Why this awful dissonance and this musical posturing? Why this subject matter? Well, to use another German term, it may have been part of the Zeitgeist. Aubrey Beardsley and his merry band of decadent Art Deco adherents had been busy redesigning the world of art, fashion, and architecture with a heightened sensuality and eroticism that could stumble over the border of pornography. Beardsley's famous representations of Salome are a case in point, highly stylized and most famously typified by the print of Salome about to kiss the Medusa-like severed head of John the Baptist.

This was the spirit of the time--an awakening, some might say, from the torpor and sleep of Victorian prudery and oppression. Others might describe it as a long slide into the slough of sin. The truth probably lay somewhere between the two. The excesses of Victorian prudery and oppression were well laid to rest, but they were only replaced by the excesses of the decadents for whom too much was never enough.

Enter stage right Salome. It is this dynamic tension, this awakening from slumber that is most carefully recounted in the tonality and dissonance of the work. The erotic and neurotic frenzy of the Salome who falls head-over-heels for John the Baptist to the point where she, deprived of the kisses of his lips that she describes as a "red band across a white tower," she contrives to find a way to finally embrace him and kiss him. Much Freudian can and has been made of all of this; but as Freud has largely been shown to be a product of his time and not particularly useful in understanding human psychology, what would be the point of it?

Strauss captures in the Opera some of the tension of the time. The transition between times is always full of tension and the pull of the sensual against the long-held repression of the Victorian time was enormous. The great gravity of Victorian propriety mostly held and thus, it was possible to be shocked by the performance of the opera in the earliest time. However, the music portrays the tension. The dissonance of the interior cry for liberation balanced against the need for control and repression of the desires. Thus, at the end of the opera, the final words and the last moments, while still belonging to Salome are initiated by Herod's order, "Kill her." And for a few moments of fading, final music there is a frenzy about Salome that recapitulates the action of the opera up until that point and brings it to a final quavering end. But, perhaps, a more reasonable understanding of the dissonance is the cognitive dissonance of the disruption caused in the name of art. Perhaps, one can see built into the treatment of the work, the doubts of Strauss himself both about the content of work and of the direction of society. But, that may be overreaching and without being able to read Strauss's own commentary on the work, if any, unsubstantiated.

This is an opera that is not easy to watch; but it is fascinating. One can almost track the argument within the music. The dance of the veils followed by a long scene in which Salome insists that Herod honor his oath and Herodias careens in wildly, shrieking harpy in the soprano's upper register. Contrast this with an earlier scene in which Salome attempts to seduce John the Baptist, called Iokanaan in the Opera, with songs that first reflect upon his body, "which is the whitest thing in the world" and his hair, "which is darker than the night without a moon in which the stars shine so bright." This aggressive female sexuality is the perceived threat. Herod, to use Browning's phrase, "gave commands/then all smiles stopped together." However, Salome is not an opera with a lot of smiles, even though there are somewhat comic scenes exploring the madness of Herod and the lunacy of his court.

Salome is an opera to be experienced with full knowledge of the context and with an understanding of all of the elements that make it what it is. A reading of Wilde's play of the same name might be informative, but a cursory understanding of the theory of the decadents, most particularly with a notion of the influence of Walter Pater (both Marius the Epicurean and Appreciations, which gave rise to the pervasive theory of beauty among the aesthetes.

The version I was able to view of this opera featured a lovely young woman who needed perhaps a little tempering around the edges of a rather hard voice. However, the opera has its difficulties in that it demands of a woman young enough to play Salome the richest of a voice tempered by long experience of performing operas. When one qualification or another is in doubt, it is often the voice that is given less consideration in order to make the sensuality of Salome come through. So it seems in this DVD; nevertheless, despite some momentary lapses (and there are few), the performance is electrifying and played with just the right neurotic, nay psychotic, energy. An interesting window into the art of a (thankfully) bygone era. We have enough battles of our own, thank you.

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Diary of a City Priest

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This is one of those "independent films" that early on I thought I was going to have to hate. Quotations from Thomas Merton--city priest in North Philly--mentions of the Berrigans--all ingredients for a possible disaster.

But I'm pleased to say, not so. Respectful and low key, not exalting, nor degrading, not romanticizing either positively or negatively, thoughtful and quiet and gentle. How realistic? How can I judge, I've never been there. But realistic or not it carries with it its own realism and it is an integral film, holding together and moving forward and ending as gently as it begins.

David Morse wrote and plays the key role in the drama and I have to say that I was very pleased with the way everything played out. No plot, not a lot of suspense, but a picture of a life, lonely and full of friends. Really quite beautiful.


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Private Revelation. . .

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is not the Faith. But it sure provides some interesting highlights.

A must read here

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For a change, a Korean horror film, recommended by a friend and an interesting study in contrasts with some of the more recent Japanese horror films. The Koreans, as their history would suggest, are a more adaptable people than the Japanese tend to be. The film is disconcertingly western. The decor of the houses, the look of the streets, everything about it suggests a western influence and pervasiveness. Indeed, in the sheer comprehensibility of the threat embodied by the phone and in the labyrinthine details of the plot twists, this Korean film shows Korea as very, very western indeed.

Obviously, it is still Korea. And from the film one gets the impression of a Korea that, while very Western, is very socially conservative. While the decoration in the houses is very sleek, stylish, and modern, the feel of the people and the attitudes seems to hearken back to the 1950s in the U.S. In short, it is refreshing.

Phone has a seemingly hokey premise that plays very well. A journalist who has exposed an underground pedophilia ring among very influential businessmen must go into hiding. She is offered the unused residence of a very affluent friend. Going to this remote location, the journalist applies for a new cell-phone number and discovers that only one number is available. And here is the most intriguing part of the premise--the cell-phone number is haunted. The cell-phone rings and terrible noises come out. The computer goes matrix haywire and spells out only the last four digits of the telephone number. A young girl listens to whatever is at the other end of the line and becomes possessed. Suddenly everything is careening out of control toward a perfectly comprehensible ending.

And that is another place where the Korean movie differs from the Japanese. Much of what transpires makes perfect sense to a western mind. The vengeful ghost has its reason and its reason is clear and its vengeance, while intersecting the lives of some innocent people, is confined to one end.

One other refreshing aspect to the film is the relative strength of the Korean heroine. In most Japanese films the women are too passive to do anything other than scream and go insane or scream and die. Where the woman is strong, she is either a vengeful spirit (as in some of the Ringu movies) or a demented case (as in Audition). To see a strong and independent woman who is still respectful and observant of society's traditions and mores and capable of doing something other than screaming and collapsing is, once again as much in this film, refreshing.

The movie was well made, well-acted, and overall beautifully done. It is creepy, eerie, and disconcerting. It may not be as uncanny and utterly disorienting as similar Japanese films, but it is still all its own. It is neither western nor Japanese, just as it should not be because it is distinctively Korean.

For fans of horror films, highly recommended. For others, a good film, but not for children, nor really for younger teens.

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The Necessity of Intercession


If you read what is written here you might get the mistaken, but quite understandable impression, that prayer life is a slightly blurry, ethereal passage from one wordless conversation with God to another; that the life of contemplation admits of no ordinary intercourse with God. Part of the reason you might receive that impression is that there is a constant struggle to achieve the right balance, to find a way to do as God wills, and to find the right sort of intimacy with God--neither too familiar or presumptuous nor too self-serving and distant.

Yesterday's gospel hammered home the necessity of intercessory prayer in a way that few gospel passages can. The tiny boat is being tossed and thrown by the waves. All around the apostles, lightning flashes, thunder sounds; with a mighty roaring that shakes the timbers of the houses of kings, the weather assaults them. And they are naked in a boat, completely exposed. Jesus exhausted, is asleep in the stern. And perhaps when this storm started the apostles had decided not to wake him. They had seen many such in their time of fishing, and this was just another, nothing that they couldn't handle themselves. But the tiny tempest grew and grew and engulfed them to the point that they feared they would capsize and all would drown.

They go to wake him, and say, "Don't you care that we're dying here? Wake up! Help!" No, indeed, the people who needed to wake up were the Apostles themselves. They first needed to wake up and realize the real danger of the storm. Only when they had done so could they go to the Lord, wake Him, and ask for help.

Jesus says after He calms the storm, "Why such fear? Have you no faith?" This quiet rebuke shows that whether asked or not, Jesus would have seen them safely home; however, the trip without His help would have been one of white-knuckled terror. Truly, they would have made it safely to shore, but the wear and tear on their persons through the emotional and physical battle they would have had to fight would have been terrible. When they turned to Jesus and asked for help, there came a calm that was both in the elements outside and in the minds, hearts, and souls of the Apostles. One almost wonders whether the words calming the storm "Quiet! Be Still!" were not also for the tumult and furor of the Apostles' spirits as they fought this terrible battle. The mild rebuke was simply Jesus saying that all should be calm and trusting even when it the elements themselves were neither calm nor trustworthy.

The message for the believer today is that it may well be possible to weather the storms of life on one's own; that it may be possible to safely make it to shore through come crisis or calamity. However, it is infinitely easier and certainly more assured with Jesus calming the storms of emotion and frenzy that feed failure.

One must perceive what one needs and ask for it. One must figuratively "wake Jesus" and alert Him to what is going on in order to receive the blessing of His presence. He is always with His people; however, it is often difficult to recognize Him, to see His action. To the person in prayer, it may seem as though He is sleeping, unaware, unconcerned for the plight and anxiety that fuel the prayer. Not so, He is infinitely concerned; nevertheless, He waits upon the prayer. Intercessory prayer requires the believer to look within, recognize what is needed, as ask for it. Certainly this extends to the needs of others as well. But too often people are reluctant to ask for what they need. There is the mistaken belief that God's children are not worthy of the things they would ask. How can that be? How can a child, adored by his or her Father, be unworthy of the gifts that the Father is ready to shower down?

Part of growing closer to God is to be able to see the present storm that tosses one and makes one uneasy and uncertain, and to respond to that storm by turning to Jesus and asking for what is needed. That is how a person grows in faith and knowledge. No one grows by hiding and covering up fear, but by facing the fear and asking for help; because the only thing more frightening than what causes the fear is the necessity of reliance upon another to make it go away. In that, one discovers that one is not the independent hero, the master of all he or she surveys. Rather, one is an utterly dependent child of God. To refuse this truth is to refuse to grow in Christ.

Jesus teaches that it is part of growing in faith and in humility to look deep into the mirror, see the flaws exposed there, and ask for help. Intercessory prayer is not only for others, but it is a way that each person speaks to and for self. The first intercessions necessarily go to the cause of greatest need that each one is aware of--the deep wound, the great hole within the self that can only be filled and healed by God. It is not pride to ask for what is needed, it is humility; and if one's name is at the head of the list, it is because one recognizes the deep and pervasive need for healing before trying to help others. Each one who does not pray for self winds up as one of the blind leading the blind. The only way to service is the way of humility--the way of recognizing how incapable one is and asking for help making it not so.

Life is stormy; the storms never stop. The only measure of calm is the presence of Christ whom is called to help to make the sailing lighter, more even. But even when He comes, the elements may not change, the events that caused one to summon Him may not resolve, the storm may still be present--but it becomes a storm of elements only, not a storm in the soul.

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Two weeks from today I will be flying out to Sacramento for a business trip before a portion of the California governmental bureaucracy. I'm not thrilled with the prospect. But as with all of my business trips, I have tried to plan to arrive the day before the action in enough time to allow me to acquire a small taste of the town as it were. So, I'll arrive on Sunday afternoon, about 2:00 I think and I'll have from the time I check-in until the time I retire to tour, meet-and-greet, get dinner, etc.

Are there are suggestions from those of you closer to the place as to what one might want to try to take in of Sacramento on a Sunday afternoon? There is a possibility that some time may be free on the other days of the trip as well, so don't exclude things that might be seen during the week. Also, if you life in the area and would like to meet, drop me a line and I we can see what can be planned.

If God is willing and in a merciful mood, this will be my only trip out there under such circumstances--as such, it is likely to be my only trip to the lovely capitol. So I'd be most pleased to hear any "must sees," "must dos," or "must eats." Thanks.

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A Provocation


. . .from Charles Williams-

In defence of his conclusion he was willing to cheat in the evidence--a habit more usual to religious writers than to historical.

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My Thanks to You All

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Last night, in preparation for a project, I compiled the last six month of the blog into an editable file. I was astonished to discover that in six months I had produced a one-megabyte file. (Now this includes headers, graphics, and other useless detailia--but still.)

So I felt I owed those long-suffering readers a real hardy thank you for enduring with me through all of that prose. I know that there aren't very many of you--however, you are hale, hearty and stalwart spirits to be able to endure so long under such a burden. So my thanks for your patience, kindness, and frequent communication and support. It is only by writing that one learns how to write, and with your help, I hope that I am honing such skills as I have.

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The Dual Abyss


When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you
--Friedrich Nietzsche

What is an abyss? Simply, it is a yawning chasm, a seemingly infinite and certainly unfathomable depth. For a variety of reasons, perhaps this aphorism among them, the abyss has taken on a negative connotation that it need not have.

The threat or the promise of the aphorism (if true) depends upon which abyss one looks into. Humanity represents a dual abyss--there is an abyss of malice--out of which comes all the depths of evil, thoughtlessness, selfishness, and all the products of fallen humanity. And then there is the abyss of generosity--filled by grace and love, it is the abyss from which all the saints and Saints who do God's will drink their fill. It is an abyss of light, grace, hope, and love. It is the abyss that was opened when the side of Christ, the infinite was opened. It is the abyss that engulfs and swallows the lesser (though still vast) abyss of malice and darkness. It is the abyss of which St. John speaks when he says in John 1: 4-5:

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The abyss of light is the light of humanity which is Jesus Christ. The darkness cannot encompass. The promise of this light was first seen in the harrowing of Hell in which the dates of darkness were burst asunder and the light of the Lord shone for those who long lay in the darkness of death.

So, perhaps the aphorism is not so much a threat as a law. When one looks into the abyss, the abyss looks back; it would be wise to assure that the abyss one looks into is filled with the light of Jesus Christ. For few things could be better than to have that abyss look back into oneself.

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The Agenbite of Inwit and Ulysses


(by way of an elliptical apologia)

Most compellingly interesting to me in a work of fiction isn't so much event, although that can keep one reading right through, but the interior struggle of character--the growth of character. Who really cares whether or not Emma is married at the end of her eponymous novel, so much as whether she has been transformed in the ordeal? Yes, marriage is a very satisfying symbol for what has happened and it rounds out the novel most beautifully elliptically--a story which begins with the loss of a dear companion to the depths of marriage.

Folks who approach Joyce's Ulysses or even the much more approachable The Dead looking for story are only going to be sadly disappointed. The same is true of Flannery O'Connor. Sure, things happen to propel characters along an arc of self-destruction or self revelation; but, that is the "story" of "The River"? Is it even worth recounting? What about "Good Country People?" Heck, for that matter, where does Wise Blood ever really go? Or for that matter The Violent Bear it Away? And yet, these are solid works of fiction that reward reading and rereading. Many are daunted by the difficulties of Joyce and fail to see why anyone would think if one of the great novels. And if approached with the idea that one will leave with a nicely packaged story, it will only be disappointed. But if approached with the idea that you will learn of the "agenbite of inwit" of three different and highly interesting characters, the story takes on a different and wholly other significance.

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Joyce Carol Oates

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In the course of my (overly) long and extinguished literary career I've had the opportunity to chat with, take seminars from, take full courses from, have dinner with, and otherwise associate with any number of American Men and Women of letters. The first of these I'd like to share impressions of is Joyce Carol Oates--possibly because our interaction was only of the briefest duration and yet made the most lasting impression.

I first encountered the works of Ms Oates in a Freshman lit course reading the perhaps overly anthologized short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" This was set side by side with John Updike's "At the A&P." At that time I had no inkling of the larger opus that was the work of Ms. Oates. One day I stumbled upon the gothic overrichness of the Mysteries of Winterthurn which, if memory serves, includes abduction by balloon, among other gothicky treats. I was only later to learn that Ms. Oates usually reserves the most gothic touches for her shorter works. For example, Black Water is about the last thirty seconds (or so) in the life of a woman mysteriously similar to Mary Jo Kopeckney. Zombie, which makes me shudder even to think about, is the intensely disorienting and deeply disturbing story of a psychopath who seeks to control people. . . well, let's leave the description at that lest someone wish to discover its arcane horrors on their own. Ms. Oates has a plethora of stories that cover the gamut from the macabre and gothic to the outright ghastly and outré.

I say all of this by way of introduction because to meet the woman in person she is the most unlikely perpetrator of these literary and literate horrors. Reading her books, one begins to question Ms. Oates's grasp on sanity and reality. But to hear her speak in person is to hear the voice of sweet and angelic reason. Her obsessions are deeply disturbing, but her personality lively and charged with an energy that I couldn't account for. Just being in the same room with her was a charge that I couldn't explain. I couldn't explain it at the time because I didn't care for her works all that much, so I wasn't suffering from groupyism. In retrospect, I still can't explain it. Perhaps it is the impression she gives, with her wide, unclouded eyes set in a plain but somehow lovely face, framed with hair that might be "pixyish" if you didn't know that this woman wrote books about boxing and recreated horrifying nightmares as a matter of course. She wasn't an imposing person, but she had real presence (not that kind of Real Presence). You were inclined to look for the transparent staircase or the stray floating barge that would accompany this refugee from a pre-Raphaelite painting. And to accompany this presence there was a strong, distinctive, incisive intelligence--the kind of person with whom to share a few moments talking about nearly anything is simply pleasure. Her nonfiction works spill over with it--she has a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach to critique and criticism that is a wonder and a joy to read. (I've been indulging in some more during this evening.) Over all, a brilliant woman who left an indelible impression in my mind and who in the course of a simple lecture taught me more than I ever knew I could know about writing and writers, although she said so little.

The literary world of Joyce Carol Oates is as violent as that of Flannery O'Connor, but one gets the impression that no God overlooks the lives of these characters. Ms. Oates gives one the impression that she would have made a very very good Knoxian Calvinist. Mysterious and horrible fates are visited upon her characters as if rejected by God, if there were one lurking about these dark pages. Ms. Oates's themes are violence--sudden, uncanny, unreasoning, frightening, and disorienting violence.

And yet her lecture, her keynote speech is as smooth as honey as invigorating as you can imagine for a group of youngish writers all fidgeting with their pens. And after Ms. Oates spoke, fidgeting even more.

I don't recall much about my conversation with her after the lecture. It was one of those rare occasions when I was too much in awe of the person to pay much attention to what was happening. Fortunately I was there with two people with the indefatigable gift of gab and the conversation lasted for some time, as I recall. We all left ready to write our hearts out--a metaphor that I'm certain would please Ms. Oates.

Okay, so there isn't much to this--but of the other figures, more: James Dickey, Robert Bausch (or was it his brother Richard--honestly I forget, Mary Lee Settle, John Irving, John Gardner, Katherine Patterson, Czeslaw Milosz and a host of others--Amiri Baraka, William Burroughs, and others who came to the school or to nearby venues where we flocked out in droves to catch some of that ethereal vapor that comes from a published writer. Perhaps some of these stories I will share in more detail. I have lived a privleged life--too bad I don't recall it far more often.

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On Habits


Montaigne's Essays

Essay XXII--Of Custom
Michel de Montaigne

MY opinion is that hee conceived aright of the force of custome that first invented this tale; how a country woman having enured herselfe to cherish and beare a young calfe in her armes, which continuing, shee got such a custome, that when he grew to be a great oxe, shee carried him still in her armes. For truly Custome is a violent and deceiving schoole-mistris. She by little and little, and as it were by stealth, establisheth the foot of her authoritie in us; by which mild and gentle beginning, if once by the aid of time it have setled and planted the same in us, it will soone discover a furious and tyrannicall countenance unto us; against which we have no more the libertie to lift so much as our eies; wee may plainly see her upon every occasion to force the rules of Nature: Vsus efficacissimus rerum omnium magister: (PLIN. Epist. xx) Use is the most effectuall master of all things.

In more recent, albeit still antiquated but lovely, language:

HE seems to have had a right and true apprehension of the power of custom, who first invented the story of a countrywoman who, having accustomed herself to play with and carry, a young calf in her arms, and daily continuing to do so as it grew up, obtained this by custom, that, when grown to be a great ox, she was still able to bear it. For, in truth, custom is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress. She, by little and little, slily and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority, but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the benefit of time, fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the power so much as to lift up our eyes. We see her, at every turn, forcing and violating the rules of nature: "Usus efficacissimus rerum omnium magister."

(More here.)

However it may be said, the endpoint is the same. What we practice we come to be. What we do, we become. We do not so much form habits as our habits form us.

It is from the forms of crucifixion that we impose upon ourselves that Jesus suffered the one crucifixion that makes all things right.

Our habits make us and Jesus frees us from them. Our habits are lovely and soft and kind until it comes time to abandon them; then they are ravening harpies that pluck and shriek and call us back to that sweet slumber that marked our wakeless lives, our lives of aimless drifting.

Through Jesus all of these things are transformed and we are awakened--as frightening and as difficult as it may sound, it is the freedom we are promised--free to be the watchkeepers in a world slumbering to its doom. But first we must allow Him to break the bonds of habit.

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In a word--breadth. This is a man who finds much to enjoy in the literary world. Listed in his "sources" in the back of the small volume Book by Book we find reference to: Charles Addams, Mortimer Adler, Italo Calvino, John Dickson Carr, G.K. Chesterton, Collette, John Collier, Robertson Davies, Lord Dunsany, Umberto Eco, Ford Madox Ford, Michel Foucault, Northrop Frye, Henry Green, Georgette Heyer, Diana Wynne Jones, Sheridan Le Fanu, Vernon Lee, China Miéville, Thomas Love Peacock, Mervyn Peake, Rex Stout, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Mary Wollstonecraft, Gottfried von Strassburg, P.G. Wodehouse and others. This doesn't include the authors within the body of the work.

What this reach says is that it is not necessary to denigrate the lesser luminaries to enjoy the works of the great. There is as much pleasure to be derived from the real enjoyment of Georgette Heyer in her capacity as a Regency Romance novelist as there is to be garnered from braving the wilds of Rabelais. There is as much delight in the light fantasy of Dunsany as there is in the more robust measure of Stendahl. Gossamer webs do not preclude iron bars. The appreciation of literature comes from the appreciation first of what it is and second of how well it fulfills the mission of being. In Dirda's world Lovecraft can be as much a way of exposing the human as Céline or Lowry. Rex Stout has as much to offer the reader (albeit in a very different sense and way) as Dickens. I'm sure even Mr. Dirda has limits he will not transgress, but I have to revel in a list that sets side by side Michel Foucault and Georgette Heyer; Umberto Eco and Lord Dunsany;P.G Wodehouse and Mary Wollstonecraft; John Dickson Carr and Gottfried von Strassburg. There is something to admire in a person who can embrace all of these things and find within them something embraceable.

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Life in the Balance


from Book by Book
Michael Dirda

To do good work a man should be industrious. . . to do great work he must certainly be idle as well. --Henry Ward Beecher

Plato insisted that a life devoted solely to pleasure would be as incomplete as one given over entirely to wisdom. Only the mixed life is a complete and fulfilled life.--Michael Dirda

Levine's words call to mind the classical imperative, "Do what you are doing." That is, whether you are preparing dinner or playing tennis or tuning a car's engine or sweeping a room, really focus your whole self on just that. Do it well, and you can invest even the most trivial activities with significance, transforming the mundane into the spiritual.--Michael Dirda

And how does focus move us from the mundane to the eternal? In the classic way of all things, by taking "self" out of the equation. In the presence of grace, when the constructed, artificial self moves out of the way, even for a moment, the life of grace resumes its steady rhythm. This wouldn't be Dirda's answer to the question as he finds reason enough in the labor itself; however, it is my answer, taking the good I find here and making it better by directing it toward the ultimate goal of praising God. Praising God may only be done when we do everything with Him, through Him, and in Him. It may only be done when all that we are is put into the task at hand because the task at hand is what God has allotted us for this time. When we do what we have been allotted without complaint and without restraint, we are performing God's will perfectly.

And this is the explanation of that mysterious phenomenon of eutrepalia or "leisure in the Lord" the joy that flows from recreation, which also must be pursued with all that we are. Whatever is the calling of the moment must be engaged in with all that we have and all that we are giving back to God what grace has given us. This is the life of constant prayer--constant immersion in the life of grace through performing with all of our ability whatever task lay before us at the time.

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A Footnote to the Previous


Because I'm trying desperately to avoid the Faulkner effect and to remain somewhat coherent with all of the stuff that is tumbling through my head, this is a footnote to the previous--an afterthought, or duringthought that is a digression to the original point.

I've not read much of Nietzsche. Or I have read it and not cared for it because I have not come to it with anything like an open mind. And yet I discover time and again things that he said that resonate and open up new worlds of thought. While he systematically attempted to dismantle Christianity, I wonder if that isn't my misconstruction of his true intent. Perhaps he was dismantling the mythic structure around Christianity that keeps so many people from being good Christians. Dour Soren Kierkegaard did the same starting with his dictum that those who are comfortable with Christ do not know Him.

Honestly, I can't say, but I must say that Dirda quoted at least two or three things from Nietzsche that have given me much cause to rethink.

But honestly, since I'm not inclined to read philosophy anyway, and were I to do so, Plato and Aristotle would be the point at which I would start, Nietzsche, I fear is far down the list and may visit me only in these aphorisms. Nevertheless, he does me a great service even in these short thoughts--because not having them in context, I can take them to mean whatever seems most useful for the time and use them as appropriate, so long as I don't stretch the point and try to explain them to everyone else.

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Please forgive my frequent quotations from Michael Dirda's book, but it is one of those short volume of accumulated wisdom that probably means differently every time you approach it. And tonight these passages really spoke to me:

from Book by Book
Michael Dirda

An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man's entire existence. --Honoré de Balzac

We succeed in enterprise which demand the positive qualities we possess, but we excel in those which can also make use of our defects.--Alexis de Tocqueville

The maturity of man--that means, to have reacquired the seriousness that one had as a child at play.--Friedrich Nietzsche

The point is: You generally can't wait for inspiration, so just get on with the work. Disciplined, regular effort will elicit inspiration no matter what your field.--Michael Dirda

These are all related by being about vocation, and vocation is what each person is called to. Balzac tells us that there is no life without a vocation lived to its fullest. That means if you're a religious, live the life of a religious, but if you are a father (to take the theme of the day) be a father--be a man and show your children what it means to be a man and teach your sons how to become men. Otherwise, they are stranded--lost in Never-Never Land only to be inflicted some day on some poor unsuspecting woman whose father taught her to love what it means to be a man. In other words, no bellyaching--or at least no bellyaching about the responsibilities of being a father. Cowboy up and do what is right and what is required.

And being a father makes use of defects as well as strengths. How many of us have never made any mistakes with our children? But we can turn to them and say, "I was wrong, please forgive me." Say it now. And say it when it is needed. And say it as often as it is needed. Real respect doesn't come from your children thinking you are perfect, it comes from them seeing that you know you aren't, and yet you're trying the very best you can.

And real fatherhood, like all vocations, requires complete involvement--the involvement of a child completely rapt in the fantasy world that accompanies play--oblivious to the call for dinner or to anything outside the pirate ship they have constructed from sticks or the game they are playing at the moment.

And finally, real excellence, real inspiration comes from doing this day in and day out, with the focus not on ourselves but on the service we can render to our families. It means taking the back seat often, when we want to be driving. It means cub scout meetings, baseball practices and dance recitals when we want to watch 24 or Lost. It means putting aside pleasures that you don't want your own children to observe or to do themselves. It means a sacrifice that cannot be called that because the reward gives infinitely more than the sacrifice takes away. When lived the way it should be in God's pure light and true, it is a means of sanctifying grace, of sainthood and of example.

I don't live it yet--but I know that I can through Christ who strengthens me.

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Some Doggerel for Samuel on Father's Day

I'm a father in absentia
because of where I sent ya
and it drives me to dementia
to be without you.

Father's day is not the same
when the boy who shares your name
isn't there to play a game,
so I'm missing you.

So tonight I'll thank my Father
who went to all the bother
to give my son a father
while I'm missing you.

Kisses and warm hugs from a distance for Boy and his Mom, whose absence forced me to the library where I checked out another two dozen books to stack in neat piles around my desk and probably never read. Books, even in a house of books, are ever a solace, but never a replacement--and all of them could be gone and never missed if it meant being with you. But you'll be home soon enough, and grandma and grandpa will love the time with you. And it's only fair to share what God has so graciously granted me in your little person. Just know that your daddy is thinking about you and counts the days until you and mom return.

(To L.:And yes, I miss you too, if you happen to read this. You're both in my prayers.)

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Just Remind Me


I have so much to write tonight and so much to say, that I haven't time for all of it. But just remind me to tell you about some of the literary figures with whom I've had classes/acquaintance. Remind me to start with Joyce Carol Oates--one of the most profoundly interesting and disturbing people/writers around.

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After Lucia

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I was reminded of this driving home from Mass.

After Lucia Di Lammermoor I intend to put on the complete works of Josh Turner and Johnny Cash. These are men whose singing voices suggest that they actually have the apparatus that is an essential of the virile state. I've heard so many singers and crooners of recent date with voices brittle as lace-cookies, with the depth of a silk hankie, and with the presence of violets among skunk-cabbage. Give me a voice with substance. A Bryn Terfel, even a Pavarotti (whose voice I don't particularly care for prefering Placido Domingo and other lesser-known artists) over what passes for male voices in most of the rock, hip-hop, and yes, I'm sorry to say, even country music that I hear.

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Suffering deeply from the absence of Boy and his mom, I went to the library to find surcease amongst the many volumes. (Despite what follows, the local library does have somewhat more books than are lodged in my domicile; although not nearly the breadth or the quality.)

I started my perusal with a trip to the 800s where I drew out a couple of books of literary/writer's life essays and writings. One of them, by Joyce Carol Oates, provoked me to search the shelves for some other things I had been wanting to read. One of these was also something I read about at another blog--perhaps it was "This Space Intentionally..." or one such. So I sought out Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon--no luck. Well, I thought, perhaps the stories of Raymond Carver. Nope. Well, then, I'd been wanting to read the last few John Updike. In the Beauty of the Lilies--no. Terrorist--too new. Memoirs of the Ford Administration--Sorry. Any of the Bech books--no such luck. Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest--so sorry--all that's in is Rabbit Remembered in the collection Licks of Love.

Each time I would think of something I wanted to read--The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield--forget it, The Human Stain, I Married a Communist--you must be joking. The Sea, the Sea--look elsewhere. Indeed, of all of the things I sought I found only a couple--Joyce Carol Oates's Collected Short Stories and Collected Stories of Carol Shields--someone with whom I am unfamiliar, but by the perusal of Oates's book of critiques and reviews discovered.

Now, I know the library is public. I also realize that shelf space is very limited; but when one can't find some of the major writers of the 20th and 21st centuries, never mind Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford or North and South. Well. . . Let's just say that I'm thankful for the internet because I don't have to rely upon this repository of disposable subliterature for things like Vernon Lee's Hauntings, the novels of Marie Belloc Lowndes, or the works of Mrs. Oliphant (admittedly an odd, acquired taste).

Our public libraries tend to be in this condition because our reading public has ceased to read and instead spends much of its leisure time checking out DVDs and Audio discs--both worthwhile resources, but hardly the kind of thing likely to induce growth in depth and understanding of certain basic underlying principles of our culture. But then, that's part of the point isn't it. There is a subversive strain to all of this. As we erode the Canon and turn our attention from the great works of the past to the ephemeral and junk works of the present we no longer have a culture to stand on. And that's just fine with some. We can replace the edifice of western civilization with the post-modernist construct of multiculturalism, which extols diversity for the sake of diversity, rather than diversity as a means of understanding the shared human experience. Chinua Achebe is not great because he is African, he is great because the struggles he writes about are a shared human experience. They may come out of a different cultural context, and thus give us insight and perspective on the issues at hand, but the greatness stems from the ability to speak past the culture and into a very different one. Some Prefer Nettles is a magnificent book, not merely because it is Japanese but because it is deeply human, touching chords we all can hear and connect with.

The only access to multi-cultural understanding is through a solid grounding in one culture. That is, the gateway through which Chinese Literature is approached by a Westerner is a western gateway. That does render some aspects of Chinese literature nearly incomprehensible--but as with all great work, the essence comes through. One nearly need see Ran or Throne of Blood to understand how a truly great work can be assimilated and acculturated so that its themes continue to speak to the shared human condition.

But the multiculturalists talk out of both sides of their mouths--they want to share the contributions of many different facets of our own culture before most people have the basics of understanding the main-line of western culture. The effect is a dismantling one. Substandard multicultural entries are introduced as "literature" selections, and nothing is understood in its wider context, as to its roots and reactions to it.

This was to be a minirant--I go on too long. But you get the point. To be multicultural one must of necessity be grounded in some culture that gives a context for understanding. Multiculturalists fail to understand this, or, in the case of some, understand it very clearly and push their agenda to subvert it; thus, toppling the (as Roberts Hughes puts it so marvelously in The Culture of Complaint) "pale penile patriarchy."

Ah well

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Current Listening


In preparation for my next reading spree, I'm listening to Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. I intend to read The Bride of Lammermoor as the first of several Scott novels (Rob Roy, Waverly and Old Mortality spring to mind as additional possibilities.) This will probably be AFTER I finish Bleak House and a few books of criticism I have laying about.

What is interesting about Donizetti as a composer of opera is that he seems to be the bridge from the classical tradition of Mozart, Haydn, and even to some extent Beethoven (who borrowed many of their operatic tricks from the likes of Monteverdi and later Italian composers) and the lush romanticism that was to be the hallmark of Verdi and Puccini (amongst others). In Donizetti, there are still the traces of recitative or in German sprechstimme (forgive the spelling, I've only ever heard it pronounced, never seen it written), in which a performer sort of half-sings, half-talks over a harpsichord or other minor level accompaniment. This technique was quite pronounced in L'elisir D'amore, not quite so much in Lucia; by the time one arrives at Verdi and Puccini, it is practically nonexistent. And I must admit, that it is one of my least favorite operatic effects and did much to detract from my enjoyment of Così fan Tutte.

Anyway, what better way to weather a summer when family is staying with Grandparents far away that a tale of the wilds of Scotland and forbidden love and its concomitant disaster?

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Words of Wisdom

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from Flannery O'Connor in Book by Book
Michael Dirda

The high-shcool English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. He will teach literature, not social studies or little lessons in democracy or the customs of many lands. And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted, it is being formed.

This is where a great many of us have been let down by the educational system--more in generations after my own, but my own to some degree--at least I can say that this is where the landslide started. Today, if you ask at random any three graduates of our High School system, you're likely to find that none of them have heard of, much less read anything by, Jane Austen, or Ralph Emerson, or anyone who isn't on the very restricted list of the politically correct and culturally sensitive. But lest this turn into a rant--homeschoolers, do your child a favor and teach the classics--poetry as well as prose, whether or not it is to your taste--it is never too late to begin development.

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Chronicle of a Medieval Abbey


Medieval Sourcebook: Jocelin de Brakelond: Chronicle of The Abbey of St. Edmund's (1173-1202)

From the Medieval Sourcebook--the Story of the Abbey of St. Edmund by a Medieval Chronicler.

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Sam's Dance

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As Snoopy in Snoopy and the Red Baron--Tap Dance

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As Little Boy Blue in Little Boy Blue--Ballet

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He really wowed the crowd with his muscle-making and "boy jump" in Snoopy. And he had to do lifts for two of the little girls in the ballet routine. For some reason this really gets the crowd going. He has asked to take Tap, Jazz, Ballet, and Acrobatics next year. I can't see why not after this recital

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Charles Kingsley

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The Online Books Page: What's New

Probably to celebrate the forthcoming proposal for the Canonization of Thurgood Marshall (see TSO's blog) The On-Line Books page offers us a plethora of Kingsley, sermons, scientific works, Poetry and lectures on Literature. All but Westward Ho! and my personal favorite (I own a first edition) The Water Babies Looks at the entries for June 12, 13.

And here's a link to the Charles Kingsley Author Page, in case you wanted to pursue the novel and other works.

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I don't know if Semicolon qualifies for St. Blogs, but if you haven't discovered this utterly delightful blog, you owe yourself the treat. Books and faith.

That's it, what more need be said, except that the Blogmaster imagines herself at tea with Tasha Tudor, Madeleine L'Engle, P.D. James and others.

Except that she had a nice long post on the observed differences between her girls and boys.

Except that she really, really, really likes, perhaps even loves books and sharing her reading with us.

I need to visit more often, and I encourage everyone to stop by and say hello. You'll be glad you did.

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Something to Consider


css Zen Garden: The Beauty in CSS Design

For all that future spare time I plan to have. Some really startling effects.

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The First Degree of Conversion


from Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer
Fr. Thomas Dubay

The first degree of conversion, therefore, is a 180-degree reversal:"I renounce my idol, Lord; I want you instead. I am very, very sorry. With your grace I am going to change my life. I freely choose to repent. I shall receive your sacrament of reconciliation." The perfect portrayal of this basic conversion is found in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32). The fundamental friendship with God is restored.

Some books are not really meant to be read through, even though they CAN be read through quite easily. From the beginning, this book has seemed one of those. One could read it easily, in an hour, perhaps two. But were one to do so, there are a great many things that would be lost and a great deal that could help one's prayer life that would be overlooked.

The passage noted above is fundamental Catholic doctrine; indeed, fundamental doctrine for all Christians worthy of the name. The world is a fallen place, fallen because of our ancestors' sin and each person takes his or her place in that fallen world. Every person who chooses to abandon his or her place in the fallen world and take up the gift of a place in heaven participates in the salvation of the entire world. Such people can say with Paul that they make up in their own bodies what was lacking in the sacrifice of Christ.

Perhaps one can think of it as a shift in the center of gravity. For every person who chooses to take up the Christian life, the balance is shifted toward heaven. Everyone who determines to do more than the mere minimum adds the mass of grace to the position held in the kingdom, the center of gravity shifts more. Those who choose to live truly heroic lives of virtue become so great an attraction that they draw more into the life of grace. The intercession of the saints is an enormous force. There is a constant shifting of mass in this balancing of the center of gravity--writers of old have called this "The War in Heaven," the enormous battle waged for each soul in which all of the might of the Angels and Saints is mustered against the Fallen Ones over each soul. And all of that massing becomes evident in the choice a person makes for or against God.

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from Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer
Fr. Thomas Dubay

But for now we need to emphasize how tenaciously, even stubbornly, many people cling to the preferences and sympathies of their own way of life even in the face of strong evidences against these preferences. Elemental truths, the way things actually are, leave little impact on most persons' consciousness and routine decisions. This is especially the case with moral and ultimate realities. People love their desires. Newman made this point in his usual penetrating manner, but other careful observers have also noted the following common assumptions of egocentrism: "i am right because this is my preference. I need not consider your reasons and arguments seriously." This is why many married couples (say the experts) argue and fight over and over again about the same disagreements and often with no happy solutions and healing. Egocentrism is the main root of human conflicts. Hence, Jesus is saying "love truth, the way things objectively are; do not cling to your preferences when they clash with reality."

Love truth--the way things objectively are. The problem is to see with an objective eye. It is not impossible, for with God all things are possible; however, neither is it easy, for with humanity all things are impossible. Many people, perhaps most people, have a vested interest in reality they way they perceive or rather wish it to be. This is an extremely difficult point. How does one begin to see objectively when one is so allied to the pleasant unreality created by oneself? In one sense, this is the question the movie The Matrix asks--is it better to live in subjectively loveliness or face the truth no matter how unpleasant and ugly?

What most seem not to know is that objective reality, truth, is part of the Platonic triad, a kind of trinity of values that perforce exist together--truth, beauty, and goodness. Thus objective truth, ultimate truth, eternal truth, is objectively, ultimately, and eternally beautiful and good. It can be no other way. There may be additional attributes to the triad, but these three go hand in hand. So, in addition to the hard question The Matrix poses, there is an easier question. Suppose you could wake up from the waking dream/nightmare you have created for yourself by your choices of what to do and believe, and suppose upon waking that you would find yourself in a realm far more beautiful, perfect, and peaceful than any you could imagine--would you choose to wake?

If so, now is the acceptable time. God, patient Father, has long waited for each one to wake and come stumbling out of the bedroom in our "footy" pajamas rubbing our eyes and suddenly seeing that every morning is Christmas morning. Every day, no matter what the course of the day, is a gift beyond measure.

Sleeper awake, for night is flying
the time of the dream approaches the end,
open your eyes, wake up, arise
this waking nightmare shall come to an end.

"Wacheft auf ruft uns die stimme
Philipp Nocolai 1599
tr. Catherine Winkworth

Wake, awake, for night is flying,
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem at last!
And at the thrilling cry rejoices:
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past!
The Bridegroom comes, awake.
Your lamps with gladness take;
And for his marriage feast prepare,
For ye must go to meet him there.

Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing;
She wakes, she rises from her gloom;
For her Lord comes down all glorious,
The Strong in grace, in truth Victorious.
Her Star is risen, her light is come!
Ah, come Thou blessed Lord,
O Jesu, Son of God,
We follow till the halls we see
Where Thou hast bid us sup with Thee.

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Karen Joy Fowler, who has produced some remarkable works of fiction, did not entertain me with this one. I don't like to think of myself as a prude, but I finally got to the point in the book where the scattered but gratuitous foul language so tarnished what meager enjoyment I had from the characters that the better part of valor seemed to abandon th effort. It isn't as though there aren't millions of other books just waiting to be read.

There is no discernable story here. The Book Club is an excuse to tell us about the lives of six characters, and this is a perfectly acceptable set up--it can work quite well when the characters are interesting and the back-story worth telling. In this case neither is particularly try. Fowler's selection of details is such that one ends up saying, "So?" Her delineation of character seems to be centered on the surprise expletive here and there.

The six characters of the novel are, I suppose, meant to have some oblique relationship with the six Austen books of the full canon of that great writer.

My only reaction is, what a shame that such a great writer received so poor a tribute from another very capable writer. Unless you are a die-hard Austenite dead-set on reading every book by and about her, give this one a miss--you'll be glad you did.

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Closing the book on the lousiest story ever sold : Mail & Guardian Online

The past 10 years of his life had savaged the dilapidated novelist. His cheeks, once chubby and flushed, were flaking onion-skin drawn tight over a mangrove swamp of burst blood vessels; and his eyes -- little round beads that had blinked quizzically from the back covers of 500-million paperbacks -- were useless egg-whites swimming in two oily pans. He sank deeper into his chair, and listened to the indistinct shrieks coming from outside, where his great-grandchildren -- Mary Magdalene, John-Judas Junior, Phil the Baptist and little Gomorrah-Sue -- were sticking knitting needles into a wax effigy of Dostoyevsky.

That Gomorrah-Sue is the real kicker!

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One Theory of Writing


The author's main purpose in this book is to teach precision in writing; and of good writing (which, essentially, is clear thinking made visible) precision is the point of capital concern. It is attained by choice of the word that accurately and adequately expresses what the writer has in mind, and by exclusion of that which either denotes or connotes something else. As Quintilian puts it, the writer should so write that his reader not only may, but must, understand.

For me Ambrose Bierce was always a mixed bag. Still is. While there is much to commend the opinion above, by its strictures much of what we call literature from the Ancient Greeks to the present day would not exist. The writer writes to be understood, but also to mean beyond the page--one cannot circumscribe the connotations of ever word, and thus there are times when one cannot obey these dictates in their strictest form.

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Essays in Astronomy


Essays_in_Astronomy_edited.pdf (application/pdf Object)

The above links to a PDF of a remarkable book of essays by Schiaparelli, among others recording early observations of astronomy. It comes from a remarkable libary of such PDFs dedicated to games, Math, and science.

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The Lusiads

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The Lusiad Index

Not necessarily the best translation from the notes, but here is the Portuguese National Epic from their great epic poet Camões. Enjoy

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Bad Judgments

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This quotation helps me to feel better about my own lack of appreciation of certain well-respected, admired, and beloved authors. It shows that we all have blind spots--some quite, quite large.

from Ralph Waldo Emerson in
The Jane Austen Book Club
Karen Joy Fowler

I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. . . . All that interests in any character [is]: has he (or she) the money to marry with?. . . Suicide is more respectable.

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Reading List


After the key-lime intensity of The Essence of the Thing, it seemed good to have another break. As the books mentioned in comments to another post have not yet had time to arrive, it became necessary to scour the shelves and pluck off the jewel here and there that has been waiting for a lull in the list.

Obviously, Throne of Jade beckoned; however, as there are only three in the series thus far and who knows how long until the next one, it seemed better to direct attentions elsewhere. On some shelves that are too hidden for the purpose they are used (to store unread books) there were a number of gems that have been too long neglected. From these four were chosen and from the four, finally one arrived at.

The perfect counterbalance to the straight-line intensity of Madeleine St. John seemed to be the quirkiness of Karen Joy Fowler. There amidst the treasure of months gone-by book browsing lay The Jane Austen Book Club. It appears to be a novel structured around the reading of Jane Austen's novels with six members, each one with their own story--probably highlighted and corresponding to one each of the novels.

Karen Joy Fowler has produced such oddities as Artificial Things an early book of short stories that would suggest affinities with Science Fiction and fantasy; however, such a suggestion might be a little misplaced, and Sarah Canary, which, if memory serves was about the northwest territories toward the end of the 19th century and a mysterious woman who shows up in them. This too lay upon the "when the mood strikes shelves."

Also, the continued reading of Descent into Hell . . . well. . . continues. The book is strangely intense, and it really is interesting, but it isn't arresting and completely involving. Much of Charles Williams is this way--interesting and well worth-while once read, but rather difficult going to get into it.

The Japanese writers are getting attention again. Because of Jane Smiley's list at the end of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanazaki is once again on the radar, although a reread of Some Prefer Nettles might be in order. Also under consideration is a reread from too long ago--Lady Murasaki's Tale of Genji, probably the first major full-length novel--with a rather unusual structure and set of conventions for Western readers, but a beautiful etched portrait of Imperial Japan of the Heian period. Perhaps because of the reminder of An Instance of the Fingerpost, a book of short stories by Akutagawa springs easily into the hand. And finally on the perusal of the Japanese classics shelves, two titles stand out: The Crazy Iris, a collection of short stories about the dropping of the atomic bombs and featuring a story by Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, whose severely handicapped child is the inspiration for A Personal Matter (said son is also known as the composer of two volumes of short piano pieces--see Hikari Oe; one should hope that this would give even the most hardened bioethicists pause in the consideration of who is worthy to live); and, coming now back to the two titles that stood out, The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo--the story of a man reflecting on his experiences during World War II in Shanghai, where, as a medical doctor he was ordered to perform medical experiments on prisoners of war.

There are so many, many things that appeal and each will have its turn . But for the nonce there is The Jane Austen Book Club giving time for pause and reflection to consider what be next on the list.

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Signs of the Times

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Scripps Howard News Service

"It is kind of interesting that faith has joined that list of deadly sins that the MPAA board wants to warn parents to worry about."

A movie given a PG rating not for language, sex, violence, or associated reasons, but because it is "too christian" and thus might offend non-Christian movie goers.

Honestly, it just makes me tired.

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Beautifully written. Told largely in dialogue and without a lot of "plot" the novel recounts the life of Nicola once her boyfriend of six years suddenly reveals that he doesn't love her and that "It's no good."

Unlike many modern novels, it turns out that Nicola does love Jonathan--sincerely, completely, desperately, and unreservedly. She regards his revelation and request to her as the beginning of a descent into Hell. (A descent that is stemmed in part by the arrival of Easter.)

What I love so much about the book is the way that St. John weaves her themes so carefully and seamlessly into the book. Almost no reviewer has mentioned the incredibly strong Catholic tide that drives this book along. For example the transformation from mourning and despair to something approaching a life takes place as Nicola is left alone over a weekend.

[Warning: some minor "spoilers" below--I don't think they'll spoil your enjoyment of the story--but they do reveal some turns in the tail]

But the thing alluded to and which is very cleverly embedded into the fabric of the story is the real threat of sterility in marriage or a relationship. Everything in the story seems to turn on the pin of Nicola telling Jonathan that she will have to go off the pill for a length of time during a "resting" phase. This seems to be the "event" that causes Jonathan to think their relationship through. This incident is mentioned several times and is interestingly reflected in the dialogue of another couple for whom the man wishes to have another "sprog" and whose wife turns him down. St. John seems to say that this deliberate barrenness dictates the barrenness of real life-scapes. An amazing feat for a woman trying to write a book that will appeal to a wide variety of readers in the secular world today.

I'm sure there are other subtle strains, that were there enough time I could tease out; however, what I can say is that there are moments that are laugh-out-loud funny in a book that is among the saddest (not most depressing, merely sad) that I have ever read. The perfect pitch capture of the psychology of the relationship leads to a denouement that is heart-breaking and exactly perfect for the book.

St. John stands much closer, much more lovingly near her characters, but her style and prose does seem to suggest that of Muriel Spark. I have to say though, that this book moved me far more than any of Spark's and I find it not a little annoying that the author has, so far as I can tell, only four books to her name. (And one of those may belong to another Madeleine St. John, I can't say for certain.)

In sum--most highly recommended--but be prepared for the desolate sadness that pervades much of the story, even when there are some amusing passages.

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I have many gems to share with you, but this is the most recent and really delightful. It's passages like this that seem to completely befuddle reviewers of the book--and completely to elude them. Most interesting.

from The Essence of the Thing
Madeleine St. John

'Still: salvation. Not such a bad deal, is it?'

'I don't know--perhaps it isn't. It's just--'

'I know what you mean.'

'I mean, the whole thing's simply preposterous.'

'Yes, it is, absolutely.'

But that, she sudddenly suspected, might be its cheifest recommendation. 'You wouldn't think anyone could ever believe that stuff, would you?' she said, marvelling. 'Let alone in these days.'

'Even quite intelligent people. Otherwise intelligent, anyway.'

'It's an utter mystery.'

'Yes, it is. An utter mystery.'

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Ossa upon Pelion


What can one say about an author who actually uses the phrase "piling Pelion on Ossa" (even if they are reversed). I think I have a new author to love.

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Humor and Sorrow


Two glimpses into a book that I am enjoying despite the shared heartache.

from The Essence of the Thing
Madeleine St. John

At lunch-time she sent out for a sandwich and worked in while the office slowly emptied around her. At last they were all gone. She carried on valiantly for a few minutes but then abandoned the machine, and pushing aside the half-eaten sandwich and the half-drunk coffee, and leaning her elbows on the desk, she buried her face in her hands, and sat thus, immobile, abandoned for a time to the unveiled acknowledgement of white-hot relentless pain. It will get better, she told herself at last, it must get better; I have only to live through this. She did not see that it would get better in some ways, and worse in others, would change its shape and colour through the days and weeks to come so as at all times to possess her mind and ensure her suffering until at last it was pleased to retreat. I must, she thought, just concentrate on what comes next, and try to live through this a decently as I can. She was not British for nothing.

Susannah replaced the receiver and stared at the telephone. So it really had happened. Nicola had lost her lover and her home, just like that, kaput. What vile cruelty. It was like an Act of God in its suddenness, its comprehensiveness, its magnitude; it left one gasping. It was almost enough to make a person start smoking again: one really might as well, considering how many much worse ills awaited one. For several minutes the world looked to Susannah unutterably dreadful. The she went on with her work. She was a picture researcher and at the moment she was attempting to collect together colour transparencies of all the painting of J.-B. Chardin. She picked up one which had arrived in that morning's post and looked at it again through the viewer. The world was unutterably dreadful, but. There might be almost nothing one could do about it, but there was after all something one could do in spite of it. Hallelujah, she said to herself, hallelujah. Whatever that may mean. And so she consoled herself.

The story is told in large chunks of dialogue and somewhat out of chronological sequence. And I think many who have read it have missed a central point in St. John's narrative and reasoning. I'll see if my supposition is borne out as I read, but I have a distinct sense of why this impasse has come, and the reasoning and end is very, very Catholic indeed--if there is enough evidence to support it. Following the important rule of three, I have two references, I'll let you know my hypothesis if the third shows up.

Later: Reading during lunch, I'm gratified to find, quite quickly the third critical reference. I'll share in my review of the book.

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When you say "Marian devotion" most people think of the Rosary, or the Angelus, or any of a myriad of Novenas or daily prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, or Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, or (my personal favorite) Our Lady of Lourdes.

However, in the Carmelite understanding, this is NOT devotion to Mary. Certainly all of these things are laudable, and truly they show veneration and perhaps even adoration; however, as we understand it, they do not show devotion--at least not the devotion expected from a Carmelite. It is possible to be a very good Carmelite indeed, not say the Rosary at all, and yet be enormously devoted to Our Lady.

The key to Carmelite devotion comes from an adaptation of an old adage, "Imitation is the sincerest form of devotion." True devotion to Mary in the Carmelite sense consists of imitating her. Now, to properly imitate the Blessed Mother AND Sister (Carmelites view her in both roles), one may need sustained reflection on the Rosary or continual dipping into the treasury of prayers of veneration. Too often, though, many of these prayers come as yet one more petition.

What is required is what Pope John Paul the Great wrote in Rosarium Virginis Mariae:

10. The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she “wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Lk2:7).

Thereafter Mary's gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: “Son, why have you treated us so?” (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of a mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).

(emphasis added)

It is in this never faltering gaze that we most closely join the Blessed Mother. It is in joining her adoration, contemplation, and completion in Jesus Christ that we show her our true devotion. Whenever we address her, she gently but urgently turns our gaze upon her Son, the one without Whom she is not.

For a Carmelite, devotion to Mary is shown by obedience to her example. No number of repeated prayers, no amount of novenas and songs of praise will ever equal joining her, even for a moment, in the loving gaze she lavished and still lavishes upon her precious Son.

True devotion to Mary is becoming like her more and more each day. We become whole in her wholeness--we become real in her gaze upon Jesus. Those things that lead us to joining her are true devotions to Mary, those that do not are laudable prayers, but not the work we are called to as Carmelites. That work is to join the example of our Sister in Carmel and our Mother in the never failing gaze of adoration and love.

That work, as La Madre tells us, is "Mira que tu mira." Look at the One who is looking at you.

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Reading Blues

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I'm having one of those episodes today that comes from reading through something much too fast and not preparing myself for the vacuum that will left when the book is put down. Devoured The Rule of Four (although I do have to agree with Steve and Banshee's assessment of it overall) and then, wham! I hit the wall. Spent the better part of yesterday evening flitting from book to book to book, looking in vain for somewhere to settle.

I started with Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, which has made many lists as one of the best novels in the last several years. I went to Judith Merkle Riley's The Master of all Desires (this was one of three I picked up because I had seen one in a bookstore that I thought looked really interesting, but I wanted to check it out before I bought it. It was the story of a Medieval woman who receives the gift of healing and I couldn't quite detect whether or not it was carrying a big anti-RC chip on its shoulder. If so, I wasn't remotely interested. And the library, darn them, didn't have A Vision of Light in.) Put that back in the book bag and pulled out three other library possibilities. Shuffled them around for a while and then picked up Toni Morrison's Beloved, which given all its acclaim, I promised myself I would try to read again. Read about four pages and decided that it was WAAAAAAAAAAY too depressing to start in an evening or even to deal with in the spring. Picked up Madeleine St. John's The Essence of the Thing again (started it a while back). Thought about Torgny Lindgren's Light, but Swedish weirdness just wasn't in the cards.(This consideration was spawned by a reminder in a list found at Claw of the Conciliator and my own recollections of Lindgren's work.) Went to the new James Rollins Map of Bones but wasn't prepared to deal with another Da Vinci Code should it turn out to be so (although given Rollins's past work, it seems unlikely.) Picked up Randy Wayne White's Tampa Burn and decided that it was too heavy for the season as well. Thought about Throne of Jade so I could read Black Powder War, but wasn't in that space either. Definitely could not touch what I must finish soon Descent into Hell--too ponderous for words. Basically was looking for light, entertaining fluff.

Afraid I didn't find it. So for lunch break today, I have an array of four books: Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Madeleine St. John's The Essence of the Thing, Naomi Novik's Throne of Jade and Charles Williams's Descent into Hell. Whatever I read will probably take a week or so and thus give me time to let my mood gel and make a reasonable list for what comes next. Unfortunately, I feel a hankering for Preston and Cloud's Dance of Death, I know that like Brimstone and Book of the Dead, I'm only likely to be disappointed. But perhaps I'll get a Utopia, The Codex, or Tyrannosaur Canyon out of the deal. Always hard to tell with those two.

Anyway, wish me luck and send me your suggestions. I know I need to look up Q.

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The Rule of Four

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Okay, I'm a sucker for this kind of "intellectual" mystery--in which some document or artifact or object or person from the past is gradually revealed in a series of unfolding puzzles to show a great surprise. The Club Dumas did this whole thing to perfection. The much reviled Da Vinci Code did it with great success in the puzzles, perhaps less in the prose, and none whatsoever with the dimwits who piloted their way through the see-through puzzles. This book, much like The Club Dumas makes no pretense of playing fair. There is a mystery, but you are just the witness watching it unfold. In that sense, Da Vinci Code was more amusing. However, the puzzle here centers around a real and quite arcane little book the Hypnerotomachia Poliphli (an abbreviated Jacobean/Elizabethan translation of which is available here.

There are just two points I wanted to make about the book. The first is the remarkably even-handed and even laudatory approach taken toward Savonarola, who was not dismissed as a madman or a lunatic by the characters, although the author of the Hypnertomachia has a somewhat different perspective. No axe to grind, Savonarola is important to the impetus of the story, but very fairly (more fairly, than in all honesty I could treat him) treated.

The second point that really struck me is how "young" the book seems. I wonder if I was ever as young as this book struck me. There is massive intellect, but absolutely no wisdom or gravitas or any sign of maturity amongst these college seniors. Now I know that college seniors are young--but the lack of substance of the people in this book was stunning, most particularly because the authors tried so hard to create a sense of substance, character arc, and change. There are attempts at philosophy that betray time and again the lack of any experience in the world of the authors. Clever but not sage, intelligent but not wise--there is a hollowness to the characters and to the whole world portrayed in the book. Ultimately it is a hollowness that has a truthful ring. If I could see myself in that time period I would probably be too embarrassed to speak of it. However, it struck me time and again as I was reading how very little depth there was here. The lack of substance was stunning, but on the other hand, entirely unnecessary to the book as a whole anyway, and perhaps that is why it made such an impression. This is a "farewell to college" bildungsroman that winds up being a trifle embarrassing.

However, if you want an interesting, intriguing, and fun beach-or-mountain getaway romp, this is a wonderful book for the cause. Another reader had mentioned that it is a cut-rate Secret History, and that is probably so, but The Secret History and The Little Friend are both much more potent than mere entertainment reading. The Club Dumas manages to tread the fine line in the middle making it a very high-brow beach read. But then, someday I'll write more about Perez-Reverte--his successes (many) and his dismal failure (Queen of the South.)

Overall--recommended as a light and mildly engaging read. Light fodder, probably a day-time toss-off for the dedicated readership of St. Blogs.

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Counting from Pentecost

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One of the charms of the traditional liturgical calendar is that there is no "ordinary time." Indeed, in God's love no time is ordinary, it is all a season of joy and celebration. The traditional calendar recognizes this--Sundays that are not dedicated to clearly defined feasts are numbered, the xx Sunday after Pentecost.

The effect of this way of speaking of our Sundays is to remind us that we live in the time after Pentecost--it cannot be ordinary. We live in the time when the Holy Spirit was sent out to all people to dwell with them and be with them forever. What is ordinary about that? Before Pentecost and this massive effusion of God's love there may have been ordinary time, but not so now. We live in the age of the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit leaves and breathes and guides our steps and leads us to salvation.

So, as in so many ways, this new way of numbering our days has deprived us of some of the real good of tradition. Our days are now "ordinary" rather than "after Pentecost" and we don't have the reminder that we live in the age of the spirit. Alas, it is nevertheless true.

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This may be the last of my explorations of Dame Spark for a while--it is time to cleanse the palate to receive other delights. (The palate cleanser shall be either The Rule of Four or Throne of Jade. I'm inclined to the former as a new e-book translation of the Hypnertomachia Polyphili has recently become available on the web.

A Far Cry from Kensington joins The Girls of Slender Means and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as one of the top works in Ms. Sparks repertoire so far as I have read it. It is unusual in that it is written from a first person point of view--Ms. Spark being a rather distant mother even to these fictional offspring, doesn't often indulge in a first person presence.

The story centers around Nancy Hawkins, an editor at a small publishing firm that is going out of business. When she insults the lover of a famous and reputable author, she is dismissed from the position and sets in motion activities that result in the death of an acquaintance.

One thing that did leave rather a bad taste in my mouth is the final section , indeed nearly the last lines of the book, in which the heroine reclaims some of her own. The problem is that there is entirely too much relish of the revenge taken and it upsets the mood and tone of the rest. Perhaps this is deliberate. Perhaps not so. Either way, it was disturbing, in part because I was all too sympathetic to the action.

The prose is polished, smooth, remarkable in its pristine clarity. The book was indeed a joy to read.

Despite what I said above, I now have to move on to Descent into Hell for a book club. However, I may take a brief diversion into The Rule of Four which I have heard described as a literate The DaVinci Code.

As to Ms. Spark's book: high recommended.

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Amusing Bits


Approaching the end of A Far Cry from Kensington and there's this, which amused me:

from A Far Cry from Kensington
Muriel Spark

Fred said many other good things about William, for Fred talked like the sea, in ebbs and flows each ending in a big wave which washed up the main idea. So that you didn't have to listen much at all, just wait for the big splash. And so, from his long, rippling eulogy I was able to report to William that his musical criticism was lucid and expert.

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The Cold Equations

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Gas prices, it has been shown, are not by any means extraordinary given the times and the rather slow climb in price up until recently. My experience of this price climb probably parallels that of most of you. It is most painful at the gas station and in the monthly budgeting. But once you cut the grocery bill and the clothing and a bit of slack here and there, it can be picked up. You might have noticed a spike in food prices and in the prices of goods whose delivery depends upon the price of fuel.

The price of fuel has meant economies, mostly not terribly painful, in my own house. What about those households in which there is no slack whatever? I think about a woman I know who lives as a single mother with a somewhat troubled child. She works as a waitress in a local restaurant and before the surge in prices wasn't quite keeping it together in terms of finances. A dollar stretches only so far--an the painful reality is that things that are really necessary must eventually be given up. Perhaps one does without electricity for a while as one scrapes together the money to pay off the amount due. Perhaps one's diet is trimmed just a little bit more. I don't know what measures are taken in such situations--I don't live there. What I do know are the deepening lines on the faces of people who live in these situations.

What then are we called to do in the face of the trials that are daily part of the lives of the people who have to face these price increases? We all shoulder, each one, his or her own part of the burden. And there is a legitimacy to this burden that goes beyond profit into the realm of the need to preserve, conserve, and find alternatives for our dependency.

No matter what argument might be made in support of the present situation, the impact, as usual falls disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor. Those who were able to live in a home, however briefly, now find themselves living out of their cars once again.

Surely it is not so extreme as that? I've seen no reports on the impact, I cannot say what is happening nationally. All I can report are the burdens of those I know personally, the stories that come to me daily from a variety of sources. Since the poor are invisible to most of us anyway, there is a tendency to remain ignorant of the impact of these things. I become profoundly concerned when the attempt to understand the mathematical reality of a situation becomes divorced from the human impact of it.

I have no solution to this perceived problem except, perhaps, that whenever anyone advances any arguments justifying "things as they are" we keep before our eyes the faces of those who are most affected by the way things are.

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Other than the Cardinal Arinze podcast, does anyone who drops by have a favorite Catholic Oriented podcast? There are so many Podcasts now that I know I can't get heavily involved, but I like a sampling of what you all think is the best of the Podcast world. Thanks.

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Here is Gnod

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Gnod - The global network of dreams

Which gave you Gnook, but has separate engines for both Music and Film.

It also has Flork, which I haven't tried yet because I'm not really certain I care to be discovered by people around the world, at least not at a place called Flork.

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Celebrating the greatness of the Holy Spirit on this holy feast day of Pentacost, the Order of Carmel Discalced Secular in St. Louis, Missouri invite you to the launch of their new website and downloadable Podcast!

As part of our new apostolate, we invite you to learn more about Carmelite Spirituality through listening to short meditations we have put together which come directly from the treasury of writings of the great Carmelite Saints including St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Teresa of the Andes, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, St. Teresa Benedicta and many more.

The audio from these Podcasts can be downloaded onto your computer or MP3 player, and you may store the meditations on an iPod or CD and to enjoy them wherever you go. There will be a new episode listed every week and to help keep you alerted to EVERY new Meditation, we have provided an RSS link so you won't miss a broadcast! Please visit us at:

These Meditations range in length between 1.5 to 5 minutes in length and are perfect and wonderful interludes between Radio Programming! The Meditations can be made available in broadcast quality so let us know if you are interested in helping our apostolate grow in your local Catholic Radio Area!

Send forth your Spirit, and they shall
be created and you shall renew face of the earth.

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Adela Rogers St John


As I said yesterday, google any of the authors on the list of 1966 bestsellers and you'll find something eye-opening.

Turns out that the one book that I knew neither by reputation nor by author should be on my reading list according to the various reviews and bits and pieces written about it. Seems that Tell No Man is about an Episcopalian Priest's struggle to come to terms with what living the faith means. In his book Angels Billy Graham actually quotes an incident recounted in the book which is drawn from real life. Most interesting. Google for yourself and find out.

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I found this remarkably moving and unfortunately too true.

from A Far Cry from Kensington
Muriel Spark

She was operated on next day, poor young woman, but nothing could have saved her from the galloping malignant disease that she died of within a week. I visited her twice in the hospital. S?he recognized me, but was glazed and doped. I went to her cremation at Golders Green and seeing her coffin slide away, I regretted I had ever thought ill of Mabel, or treated her like the nuisance she had been. Oh Mabel, come back; come back, Mabel, and persecute me again.

Perhaps something to remember when I'm inclined to treat people less well than they deserve.

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Gnooks - Welcome to the World of Literature

This is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Use the "Map of Literature" Feature--type in a fairly prominent person's name and you get a really cool map of what people who read that author are likely to read. It was spot on for both Helen MacInnes and Mary Stewart and most interesting in the admittedly distant association of Flannery O'Connor with both Philip Roth and Jim Thompson. However the proximity of C.S. Lewis to both Frank Peretti and Sun Tzu is frightening. But, given that I have read all three, at least anecdoatally verifiable. And the proximity of Charles Williams to Joe Lansdale is both interesting and highly disturbing.


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The Bestsellers of 1966

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Given the top two entries on this list, we have a great deal to be thankful for:

1. Valley of the Dolls Jacqueline Susann
2. The Adventurers Harold Robbins
3. The Secret of Santa Vittoria Robert Crichton
4. Capable of Honor Allen Drury
5. The Double Image Helen MacInnes
6. The Fixer Bernard Malamud
7. Tell No Man Adela Rogers St. Johns
8. Tai-Pan James Clavell
9. The Embezzler Louis Auchincloss
10. All in the Family Edwin O'Connor

I note this list because of the eclectic mix of things. I don't know that I ever realized that Helen MacInnes had at one time been a best-selling author. And Bernard Malamud! Who'd have thought such a book would make it onto a list of things read by many. Tai-Pan is among my favorite of the works of James Clavell. I like it a good deal more than Shogun, in part because it is a good deal shorter and packs a greater punch.

What is remarkable is that while Susann's and Robbins's names live on, most of the rest of these authors are more-or-less forgotten. Nevertheless, it is my guess that were one to google each of them, one would be likely to find a large number of entries dedicated to each. This is one thing that the internet has done for us (or perhaps to us). Fewer authors sink into obscurity (well deserved or otherwise).

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Steven Riddle in June 2006.

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