A brief, fun collection of anecdotes about writers and the publishing world. Mostly humorous, but sometimes clearly geared toward consoling the numberA brief, fun collection of anecdotes about writers and the publishing world. Mostly humorous, but sometimes clearly geared toward consoling the numberless masses of would-be writers out there with the rejection stories of great masterpieces (e.g. Dubliners). Enjoyable either way. I actually did find it difficult to put down....more
Noonan is alternately brilliant and frustrating. She understands the basic crises facing our nation--vulnerability to terrorism and exploding debt driNoonan is alternately brilliant and frustrating. She understands the basic crises facing our nation--vulnerability to terrorism and exploding debt driven by entitlement programs (e.g. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid)--and has the rare courage to stare into the abyss on both, contemplating nuclear annihilation of the major cities between which she divides her time and the possibility that there will never be the political will to cut government wealth transfers. These are rare qualities and are beyond praise.
She mixes this with a folksy writing style. At times this is effective (she has the ability to move pace like a novelist), but at others irritatingly sentimental (the extended metaphors about going through airline security, the somewhat offensive comparison of daily life to the invasion of Normany). She has perceptive and brave insights, like the Separate Peace of the Elites, but tells you about them in the tone of a friend's mother.
So I must praise her, but that praise is not unalloyed....more
Utterly brilliant. The usual clarity and directness, the usual willingness to confront uncomfortable truths, the usual wit.
Shouldn't everyone have heaUtterly brilliant. The usual clarity and directness, the usual willingness to confront uncomfortable truths, the usual wit.
Shouldn't everyone have health care? Isn't it unfair that some people have so much money? We still have a long way to go toward putting a stop to deaths from ____ cause.
We hear these things so often that we don't think critically about them. The political success of Bernie Sanders, and to a lesser extent other progressives, has been the result of this moral sense that the world is not as it should be (life is not fair) and that it should be made fair by the government.
Sowell is one of the only people actually question this idea. Has life ever been fair? Has any society ever had equality of outcomes in any way at all? Have women or any other cohort ever been proportionally represented in anything (field, legislature, etc.) in the absence of quotas? Why should we expect that this is the case? Sowell is particularly good at citing inequalities we might never expect, such as the ridiculous success of the Chinese in Malaysia. He is also good at pointing out the similarities between tin-foil hat antisemitic conspiracy theories and disparate impact theory (disproportionate success = proof of discrimination/malice), forcing the Leftist to confront the implications of his distorted worldview.
And even if we accept the idea that it is desirable that every single field be perfectly proportional to the makeup of society as a whole, is the government actually capable of making it so? Only for about five minutes. Markets change every day. How can government mandate equality on a daily basis?
And if the government is actually capable of making everything proportional in every way, is it desirable that government should be the one to do it? As Hayek put it, making unequal things equal requires treating them unequally. So either we can have equality of process or equality of result. Either you treat unequal people equally, or you treat them unequally to make them equal. And the only way to have equality of result is to completely disregard inputs (e.g. mandating equal pay for work that is never equal). To make the world "fair," you would have to be very unfair: robbing the rich for no reason other than that they are rich, crippling the strong merely because they are strong, rewarding the foolish, and so on.
I understand that, "no we can't" is not a catchy or pleasant-feeling campaign slogan. I understand that it doesn't feel good to accept certain difficult truths about life, but it is better to live the truth than a pleasant lie. This is how con-men, political or otherwise, operate: help you believe what you want to believe. Better to believe the truth than what we wish the truth were....more
No one is as eccentric as a British eccentric, and no one paints British eccentricity like Dickens.
The guy was 24 when he wrote this. Brilliant. OftenNo one is as eccentric as a British eccentric, and no one paints British eccentricity like Dickens.
The guy was 24 when he wrote this. Brilliant. Often laugh-out-loud funny. Just as often tediously prolix. The Don Quixote influence is all over this.
An old hidalgo, Pickwick, funds a club with his friends Snodgrass (the poet who never writes), Mr. Tupman (the obese flirt), and Mr. Nathaniel Winkle (an outdoorsman who can't shoot). The original idea is that they are going to make a contribution--for science!--to human knowledge. This is the premise behind the early comedy, but is quickly dropped. It's a good premise, though, because it gives them an excuse for interviewing people, going on adventures to explore the countryside, and taking notes on curious things they see.
Most of the plot is propelled by their bachelorhood, and the comedy thereof. Pickwick is sued by his landlady for breach of contract when she mistakes some comments he'd made about hiring a manservant (the Cockney Samuel Weller, the Sancho Panza to his Quixote) for a marriage proposal. She faints before he can explain. Due to Pickwick's absurdly bad legal counsel (it's his first case), Pickwick loses the case, and has to pay up. But he refuses "on principle" to pay, and is thrown into that most Dickensian of all places, the debtor's prison. There he reunites with a previous romantic rival, Mr. Jingle. Pickwick is a rich man in a debtor's prison, and he takes pity on the genuinely poor scoundrel/gigolo Jingle, and springs him out of prison. Most of the actual word count of the novel is spent on characterization, not the plot, and so mostly on funny little digressions, recounted folk tales, and side-plots, especially the romantic exploits of the other 3 bachelors. Winkle has to endure a brother's wrath in his pursuit of Arabella Allen; and various of the men cycle through tempting widow after tempting widow (lots of men died young in those days, it seems). Weller's father marries a young widow and soon regrets it after she becomes religious and involved in the temperance movement. On her deathbed, she apologizes for this. Weller and Weller go to some temperance meetings and discover that the young preacher the women idolize and have crushes on is himself a drunk.
Not perfectly executed, but you can see how this work had the potential to be a Quixote-level triumph. A large percentage of it is a slog, but it's still brilliant....more
A brilliant mind of both breadth (capacity) and insight, and an exceptional writer. A very short book of autobiographical "sketches," it is regrettablA brilliant mind of both breadth (capacity) and insight, and an exceptional writer. A very short book of autobiographical "sketches," it is regrettable that we cannot have more detail both on the 50 years covered, and perhaps even more so that the next 40 years of his life remain in darkness, unknown to us. The greatest books are those whose greatest flaw is brevity, and this is one. While the theological debates of the 20th Century are likely not of interest to the general reader, it is as though Pope Benedict cannot help himself, and writes more effusively of these matters than on his autobiography, which is ostensibly at hand.
Highlights include very brief accounts of debates at Vatican II. I learned, for example, that it was emphatically NOT the will of the Council Fathers that the Council should undertake liturgical reform. This was pushed by German and French bishops, and completed after the Council, not by it. "We still have the task before us of communicating what the Council actually said," the Pope writes, accurately, 40 years later.
The Pope, in a few lines, lays waste to all of Protestantism and all of modernism: if Scripture contained the entirety of revelation, then the only authority available is for exegetes, who each have varying and uncertain knowledge. This explains why Luther traded, in B16's words, the cassock for the scholar's robes.
Some of the liberals brought this up at the Council, arguing that the totality of revelation was contained in Scripture, as well as in Tradition. However, B16 brought them back from the brink to affirm that revelation is a strictly interpersonal process, one greater than human words (and, therefore, greater than Scripture). Hence there will always be a need for a Church (as a Person) to receive revelation from God.
Other brilliant little asides concern the nature of Marxism (the state as the messiah), liberal/progressive theology (treating dogma as "a shackle" and not as truth to be rejoiced in)--and this coming from a self-identified liberal theologian.
The book ends with his consecration as a bishop, and with a beautiful meditation about how God could call him to something so at odds with his true desires, which are to lead the quiet life of a scholar in a garret. "I am senseless and ignorant; I am made a beast of burden before You, yet nevertheless I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand." (Ps 73:22-3)...more
Dense. An inspiration to Pope Benedict XVI, and it is clear why. The first few sections might deter a lot of people who are not terribly inclined to tDense. An inspiration to Pope Benedict XVI, and it is clear why. The first few sections might deter a lot of people who are not terribly inclined to think about the meaning of liturgy, the reason why we worship God, etc. However, this work is brimming over with insight both spiritual and philosophical. My favorite chapter, for example, was on the relationship between Logos and Ethos, something that should be of universal interest, and something that explains a lot of history (intellectual and practical alike). Challenging, but that is because it is brilliant.
Liturgy is one particular way of worshiping God. It is not private, individual prayer, nor even a collection of people engaging in private prayer. It is a corporal act. It equalizes the rich and poor, the races, the genders, all people of any differences together into one Body, and that Body is the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ offers Himself to the Father, as the Supreme Act of Love. The introverted man must come out of his shell; the extroverted man must be put under strict regulation. The liturgy teaches us; it disciplines us; it is a snippet, if you will, of what is taking place in heaven for all eternity....more
I picked this up because I am lousy at praying and because Msgr. Guardini's reputation is sky-high. However, I would advise this book only for those wI picked this up because I am lousy at praying and because Msgr. Guardini's reputation is sky-high. However, I would advise this book only for those who are just beginning to pray the rosary for the first time. I have been praying it for years, and was looking for a way to look at the Mysteries with new eyes. Every few pages there is a flash of insight, but for the most part this is intended to sway Protestants, and encourage new Catholics. So maybe give it to one of them....more
A very short little devotional on the Holy Name. A little disappointing because I would be interested in reading a much longer theological treatment oA very short little devotional on the Holy Name. A little disappointing because I would be interested in reading a much longer theological treatment of the Holy Name, on the significance of names in the Bible, etc. Fr. O'Sullivan mostly relies upon anecdotes to advance his argument, though at some points he does invoke universally binding truths of theology. He cites the good examples of many heroic saints. He writes, here and elsewhere, in a fervent style that cannot but inspire. ...more
Highly affecting to read the words of St. Patrick, particularly the two texts of this volume--the Letter to Coroticus, and the Confession/Last Will anHighly affecting to read the words of St. Patrick, particularly the two texts of this volume--the Letter to Coroticus, and the Confession/Last Will and Testament. Both show an astonishingly humble man, and human, not a plaster saint or legend. He repeatedly confesses his shame at being unlearned, at being a country bumpkin who never completed much schooling. But G-d uses the weak of the world to shame the strong, and shows His power in the weak: G-d did more with this shepherd than a thousand Ph.Ds do today.
St. Patrick's story, which he details in swift, laconic, simple Latin, is also deeply moving. It is a kind of icon of Our Lord Christ. He is born into the house of a well-to-do father, with servants; barbarian marauders destroy the house and slay the servants, taking Patrick into slavery for 6 years. During this time, he is a shepherd in rural Ireland, where he discovers G-d and speaks to Him constantly like that other shepherd, David. He prayed all day and all night as he went about his work.
After a dream telling him that he would soon return home, Patrick runs away and finds a ship leaving Ireland. At first, the sailors refuse to let him on (it is implied that they are almost equally nefarious characters to the ones who kidnapped him in the first place), but then, after he walks away and prays, they call back to him to get on the boat before they leave.
They sail for 3 days (+), over 200 miles along the coast of Ireland, to Gaul. They run out of food, and, on shore, find only a barren wasteland. After a few weeks, the sailors angrily tell St. Patrick that, if he's so holy, why can't he pray to get some food? He tells them to trust G-d, and soon they find wild honey and a herd of pigs. They feast.
He makes it home, but, after some length of time he does not specify, another dream tells him to go back to Ireland. And so, the place of his slavery, where he was involuntarily kept, is where he voluntarily becomes a slave for compassion on the barbarian Irish. He becomes a slave again, a shepherd again (a shepherd of souls). He converts, baptizes, and confirms thousands of pagans, so many that he loses count. Often, their families persecute him, throw him in jail, try to kill him, etc. Once he is made bishop, an old friend betrays him by disclosing a shameful sin he committed as a teenager, 30 years earlier, to get him defrocked.
This provides the occasion for writing the Confession, the defense of himself. St. Patrick received divine forgiveness--30 years ago. And since then, G-d has transformed him and blessed him beyond what anyone could deserve.
It is hard to fathom the sheer vastness of love that would be required to go in search of those who had once enslaved you, the mind-boggling love and compassion that would motivate a man to serve those who had terrorized him and threatened his life. To contemplate St. Patrick is to contemplate the Mystery of Charity, which is the nature of G-d. It is to see an image of Christ, a Member of Christ's Body.
St. Josemaria said that you should read his aphorisms as though he were whispering them in your ear. As combative, confrontational, and challenging asSt. Josemaria said that you should read his aphorisms as though he were whispering them in your ear. As combative, confrontational, and challenging as they may seem, really they are the gentle words of a spiritual father to his children.
Really his three works of aphorisms should be understood as one work, as they is little to distinguish one volume from the other. It seems that he spent most of his life working out the details and consequences of his vision, as a young priest, of Opus Dei, of sanctifying the little things of daily life among the laity, of invading, in the Name of Christ, every field of human activity.
I read them by sifting out, or plucking out, the ones that spoke most powerfully to me. These will be different for each soul. The book is helpfully organized and indexed by subject matter.
Having sifted, take them to prayer. There is a lifetime of prayer in these inexhaustible pages, and it would take a lifetime to pray through them....more
One way to make sense of Kafka is to start with the premise that he is joking. It gets harder to sustain that premise when you read, for example, hisOne way to make sense of Kafka is to start with the premise that he is joking. It gets harder to sustain that premise when you read, for example, his diaries, or other private writings like these aphorisms.
Kafka wrote this while attempting to recuperate from the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him, resting in the country village of Zurau, Bohemia. He felt more freedom and more peace, now that he was able to focus entirely on writing. And yet the same themes repeat: uncertainty about G-d, the burden of being a son, the infinite gap between the divine and man.
Normally, Kafka wrote like Trollope, page after page of prose, with little distinction between works. Kafka even cared little for such conventions as making the paragraph the unit of organization. But here, using a little octavo notebook, he wrote one aphorism per page on Bible-thin paper. He seems to have had very specific intentions as to these aphorisms, with each one standing on its own.
If you assume that he is serious, then this, like much of his other work, seems incoherent, strange, diseased, illogical, bizarre. A good number of them Kafka later crossed out.
As one-liners, they are often amusing. As the decrees of a philosophaster, they are sophomoric, reading something like Radiohead lyrics. In fact, Radiohead could probably make a pretty sick album out of this. Then, at least, these scribblings would have some value.
As for the actual ideas, the actual theology found in these pages, here is the best I can summarize:
The divine is present inside each of us, but we cannot know it with any clarity. Searching for G-d causes great anguish, as does disbelief in G-d. Therefore one must simply trust that He is there, which is a lot easier said than done. Man lives in the divine presence, as in Eden, but simply cannot see it anymore.
The edition I read also contained an equally strange document simply called "He" or, "Notes from 1920." Here he details an individual sounding a lot like the usual Kafkan protagonist, his anguish at the world, at the passage of time, at the burden of family life, and at his own uncertainty about G-d. These notes, like the aphorisms, contain many solecisms, tautologies, and contradictions, such that one wonders if they too are a joke. Perhaps they are....more
**spoiler alert** Loose and baggy. A much slower trudge than the perfect pacing of Oliver Twist or Great Expectations. It drags for the first half (ov**spoiler alert** Loose and baggy. A much slower trudge than the perfect pacing of Oliver Twist or Great Expectations. It drags for the first half (over 300 pages!), which is almost entirely just characterization and set up for the action takes place in the second. It is hard to convey in this little review the frustrating prolixity of this novel, and not just in the ridiculous Mr. Micawber character.
Dickens said that this was his favorite of his own novels, but it would seem that that is the case because of its autobiographical similarities, rather than because of its aesthetic achievements. It is hard to describe the structure of DC, assuming that it has one at all. It is a teeming mass of characters and curiosities, but its disorganization and chaos more closely resemble the uneven workings of real life than do the neat, well-made plots of other Victorian works (indeed, many by Dickens).
And that is what redeems it from being complete garbage: it has an aftertaste of real life. The downfall of the beautiful Emily: that is what life is like. [In fact, I wish the novel had been centered around Emily instead. If DC had his heartbroken by her running off with his friend, that would have been more dramatic than his simply marrying the beautiful Dora.] The death of the innocent and child-like Dora Spenlow: that is what life is like. The laughable foolishness of Micawber: that is, both sad and funny, what life is like. DC is sad and funny, just like life.
Of course, there is the usual caricature-like quality of Dickens here, with the grotesqueries of Uriah Heep, and his ultimate jailing. This is not necessarily what life is like. Villains are usually more subtle than Heep, and often they get away with their crimes.
Again, 200 pages of verbiage that both, and frankly speaks to this larger notion of, how do we move forward? Given the fact that irrational anger at pAgain, 200 pages of verbiage that both, and frankly speaks to this larger notion of, how do we move forward? Given the fact that irrational anger at politicians is past Watergate levels today, I have no doubt it will be remembered over the weeks and months ahead. In this regard, I would be remiss if I did not say with absolute certainty that this novel induced me, and many others, to laugh with something like recognition at its accuracy.
But seriously, too much clef, not enough roman. Generally reads more like a ruminative essay on a traumatic experience rather than a novel. However it is not without its dramatic merits: I particularly appreciated how we start in medias res, in the immediate aftermath of Sanford's instant hamarteia. Then we get the long, slow story of working for him, building up to the crisis. It sounds like some of the reviews on here were hoping that this would be a salacious tell-all, which is to miss the point entirely.
Swaim seems also to miss the point, giving us as little information about himself and his personal life as he can get away with doing. A more accurate title would be The Governor. But really books of this kind (of which I wrote one, unpublished, that in many places resembles this book I've just read) are not stories so much as confluences of interacting stories. They are as much about the narrator as about what the narrator witnesses. And struggle is what makes stories interesting. Swaim gives us facts about himself, but spends insufficient ink on dramatizing his own struggle. We're told that he takes a job at some small non-profit after his time with the Gov. And that's the last we see of him. Swaim is bound too tightly by the facts, and didn't give himself permission to amplify, fabricate, and edit, it seems. He even uses the real name of the Lt. Gov whom he eviscerates.
It also seems that people are missing the point by trying to impugn Swaim's politics, which he does backflips to conceal. There is political residue to the novel, no doubt, and it ends with a quasi-essay about the political system, but politics is but scenery to the drama of the plot. You should be able to appreciate the story without sharing the political sympathies of the entire cast of characters (all Southern conservatives). Pretend they're Russians or Greeks. It's rare that we get trendy novels from anyone who is remotely conservative; it should be refreshing, not threatening, to encounter a lucid, concise account of a perspective held by half of Americans for several centuries. But I digress.
Although he is coy about his deepest principles, we do get some amusing plot from his side of things, though. The rising action for the first half of the novel is him making the mistake of trying to write well, until finally he reaches a breaking point and starts trying to write poorly, and, hahaha, success.
Formally it's quite interesting, since it is organized by...form. The story of his time as a speechwriter is told in order of the product he had to churn out--speeches, letters, op-eds, talking points, etc. This is a clever device and keeps the story from getting bogged down or repetitive. Bravo.
This guy must really have wanted to burn his bridges. But if you were a fiction writer in that situation, then you would find it an irresistible opportunity. My novel stays in a drawer until I no longer need bridges.
The quasi-essay at the end is a gentle, polite nudge of conservatism. Put no trust in princes (Ps 146:3). Maybe let's stop giving these people power, since they inevitably disappoint us. A sobering thought after 200 pages of comedy, but worth saying....more