Books and Book Reviews: July 2005 Archives

Obviously can't say much about the book itself other than that it is thoroughly predictable even as to the identity of the mysterious half-blood prince, and yet thoroughly enjoyable. Hopefully in what follows there are no spoilers.

What we learn:

(1) And the greatest of these is love
(2) Do not do what you do not know
(3) Evil always overreaches itself because it believes itself more powerful than good
(4) Make no promise that you are not willing to keep

All pretty good lessons for young people. I am hoping though that part of the overall message of the series does not turn out to be "The end justifies the means." A friend of mine suggested that the introduction of non-verbal spells may provide a way out of that dilemma. We have yet to see.

Rowling is not a great prose stylist--there are any number of problems with her writing, sometimes more glaringly obvious than others. What Rowling does do is weave a good, lengthy, complex story--by that I refer to the entire series rather than to the single book.

Another failing is that while Rowling often allows us to see action, her writing sometimes becomes muddled in the heat of action. And finally, she isn't really good at emotion. Harry angry is much the same as Harry sad. Dorothy Parker's quote regarding Katherine Hepburn applies.

Nevertheless, the books are interesting, fun, fast reading. They undoubtedly teach some very important lessons--although to that point there are other books that do it as well or better. However, these other books fail to engage young readers in the same way as this series. Yes, magic is used, as it is in innumberable works of children's literature throughout time. That's because the best children's writers have not forgotten that all around childhood there is a sense or a touch of magic. Those writers engage a child's sense of otherness. Hence, I believe the popularity of these books.

No, my prime objection to a child reading these books is simply that they might learn less-than-adequate prose style. Hardly a debilitating or incapacitating problem.

Those inclined to read it, get it and do so, I'd love to be able to discuss it. Those no so inclined--you're missing a little magic, but then you probably find it elsewhere--no great loss for you.

One last note--while this is shorter than Order of the Phoenix what she has served up for the last book promises a work four times as large. Given her at times torpid pace, I cannot begin to imagine how she will cover the necessary ground. But I can't wait to see it done.

Bookmark and Share

I don't know quite how to class this entry. It's something I off-handedly promised in an earlier post, but it isn't really about the title because frankly, I've mostly forgotten what the title means because it isn't a meaningful part of my existence.

I think what I wanted to point out is that there is a wonderful series of modern College courses available on CD. On the long drive down to Naples and then back up again, I finally had sufficient time to listen to a course by Peter Kreeft on Ethics. I didn't absorb everything upon listening, but I did learn some things and I was provoked to investigate a few philosophical works. Likewise, I was listening to the first lecture in a series called Masterpieces of Western Musice. The title of the lecture was "The Red Priest and His All-Girl Orchestra" and it featured a nice mid-level discussion of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. I recommend the series.

Now to Kant. I found Kreeft's observations on Kant and Sartre to be exceedingly helpful in sorting out some important differences and feelings. I find Sartrean existentialism utterly repugnant and, more to the point, just plain wrong-headed. Honestly, I'm not all that keen on any form of existentialism--I think the Medieval and Ancient Philosophers were closer to the truth with their essentialism.

My prejudices now defined, let's move on to the "discovery" I made in dealing with Sartre and his existentialism. This discovery was that in essntials Sartre was more honest at facing the consequences of his philosophy than was Kant. Kant basically tells us that he cannot prove and does not know for certain about the existence of God and the Afterlife, but even if we do not know, or even if we believe that they do not exist we should behave as though they do. In other words, we live a lie. This is deplorable, reprehensible philosophy. It does not seek a truth but posits a substitute truth. Sartre on the other hand simply says, "Cowboy up. There is no God, no purpose, no meaning, no essence, no value to life at all. Even suicide isn't worth it because it no more causes or defines meaning than any other action of the mass of the human population. The human being is absurd in his meaninglessness." Wrong, of course, from the get go and repugnant beyond the ability of words to express. Nevertheless, brutally honest and true to the nature of the proposed philosophy. There is something to be said for living the truth rather than pretending that existence is otherwise and living so.

Personally, Aquinas, despite his propensity for splitting hairs and remaining true to a construct to the point of absurdity, (see the discussion of "the vice opposed to drunkeness" over at Disputations--excessive sobriety as a vice?) presents a far more livable philosophy and ethics. Problem is--you must believe in order to accept it. Or perhaps in accepting it you can be led to belief--however it may happen the two go together. There is an appealing simplicity in the congruity of this notion. Man has meaning and that meaning is defined by a creator from whom we receive the understanding to pursue the good and the right.

Oh well, enough very amateur philosophizing. The point of this was to encourage everyone to take up some of this Modern College Courses. They're generally available from your library. There's one of the writings of C.S. Lewis. There's one by Joseph Ellis on Revolutionary American History. There's one on the Bible as the source of Western literature. And there's even one by Alexander McCall Smith.

Go, seek and enjoy!

Bookmark and Share

My friend here is a lifelong reader. He reads very, very slowly. As a result he is particular about what he reads. However, he has a very nice bookstore nearby--a very large--two story Barnes and Noble which has no rival anywhere near where I live. Also this city (Naples) seems to be stuffed to the gills with used bookstores, once again, the antithesis of where I live.

As we were carefully combing through the store, looking at all the wonders there were to read, I noticed one of the advantages of a very large bookstore. Looking through the "Religion" section, and particularly the section on "Catholic Thought," I found both I Am a Daughter of the Church and I Want to See God on the shelves. I was shocked. In addition, I was able to once again find the full four volumes of the Philokalia--something I haven't seen on the shelves of religious specialty stores.

Of course, this also has its down-side. The complete opus of anti-Bishop Spong pocked the shelves like so many pustules. There were other verminous writings as well. But it was nice that the store was large enough to have balance. Normally one finds the Spong Opus without any relief from the orthodox contingent. And I'm certain that Neil could pull out from Spong's collected works one or another gem. Honestly, that's way too much slogging for me.

Anyway, the whole purpose of writing this was to mention a collection of essays I found by Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas is a renowned Christian thinker and a longtime contributor to First Things who left regular contribution after the September 11 attacks. I don't recall the reason at the time, but it seemed logical and integral. Here is a brief piece in which Hauerwas offers a tribute to the work of Il Magnifico (John Paul II).

That said, the book had no price, and I don't spend my time running books to cashier to figure out how much I'm likely to pay for it. So I did not buy it. However, there were some intriguing titles and I did read the majority of one essay. The Title, "Why Gays (as a group) Are More Moral than Christians (as a Group),"

I didn't follow the whole premise because I was skimming, but it seems I must take another look at the chain of reasoning. The whole question centered around Gays in the military and even touched lightly on the question of Just War--a central question I often find myself returning to. And here's the rub--it is very annoying to find oneself with enough intellectual resources to understand the question, but simply not enough intellectual wherewithal to reasonable "encounter" and wrestle with the question. This is the quandary I often find myself in. In high questions of morals, theology, and other such matters, I can often follow the discussion and agree to the chain of reason, but all too often I find myself incapable of making any substantive contribution to the engagement. While I can assent to the reasoning, it seems to me that reasoning merely provides the guidance whereby one ultimately makes a choice and the choice need not always be made on reason alone. Reason must be informed by mercy, compassion, and charity--animated by the whole human spirit or else, it seems, reason becomes a tyrant.

Reason must be consulted and even used to the best of our ability to inform and to decided the correct course of action. But it seems to me that there is room for the rest of the human being in any discussion that occurs. Once reason has spoken, perhaps other factors militate against the decision made in coldest reason. I don't know. But what I do know is that on these matters I seem to be doomed to a life of confusion anyway. I am drawn like a moth to the flame to consider them, and yet I find great frustration in tangling with them because they seem so far beyond me. I love to hear others talk about them, but my capacity is merely interested spectator and that is a great burden sometimes. Nevertheless, to pretend otherwise would be to place myself well beyond my own limits and to give capacity where none really exists.

My, I've wandered far from where I started. But that is the pleasure of writing as one will. Writing is often a path of discovery--it leads to the heart of thought and the heart of prayer. It is a map of many undiscovered countries and looking back over its contours one often finds what one has been looking for a long time. The wonders of blogging and of writing. Now back to the image gathering that I hope will lead to more poetry.

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from July 2005.

Books and Book Reviews: June 2005 is the previous archive.

Books and Book Reviews: August 2005 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll