This is a really good book. Ms. Bourgeault's intelligence is obvious. She expresses herself well. She follows up logically. Obviously, she has given aThis is a really good book. Ms. Bourgeault's intelligence is obvious. She expresses herself well. She follows up logically. Obviously, she has given a lot of thought, study, and practice to Centering Prayer.
I am convinced that Centering Prayer requires practice and not book-learning. At one point, Ms. B. refers to something like "doing it instead of talking about it". Nonetheless, her book is very valuable --- as is the Cloud of Unknowing and the book on Centering Prayer by M. Basil Pennington. (And now I have read exactly three books on Centering Prayer! Yay!) I liked very much her discussion of "divine therapy", attention of the heart, and the welcoming prayer. I am a little scared, however, that the welcoming prayer seems a little narcissistic, but we shall see. I also liked sensing in the book that the intellect is good (and Ms. B's is very fine), but is not all.
What I actually love about all the books I've read on Centering Prayer is how encouraging they are to a regular guy who feels drawn to this practice. Ms. B. adds a depth to the discussion --- theology, tradition and psychology. Very nice.
What is this book really about? I wondered first if it were a form of dystopian science fiction. I'd have to wonder, though, which France was the dystWhat is this book really about? I wondered first if it were a form of dystopian science fiction. I'd have to wonder, though, which France was the dystopia --- the liberal democratic France or the Islamic France that succeeds it. And in some ways the Islamic France seems quite interesting from the policy, social, and cultural point of view. The Islamic government favors excellent education, a small business economy that begins to thrive, and family life. That is a world that approaches utopia --- if one discounts the firm definition of gender roles, for example, and the necessity to convert to Islam in order to advance.
Second, I wondered, briefly, if M. Houellebecq (whose work I do not know) is actually a right-wing writer, trumpeting the dangers of immigration and cultural diversity to the settled "indigenous" culture and secularity of modern-day France. But somehow, as I read along in the book, I didn't think he is.
Then, I wondered if the book is a fictional critique of modern liberal values. I think this idea at least approaches the concept of the book. In M. Houellebecq's France, liberalism is so very liberal that it is self-destructive. For example, to promote the value of diversity, France invites a diverse population that does not share that value, to whom diversity is abhorrent. Also, M. Houellebecq portrays fictionally the advance of individual rights as, paradoxically, the fractionalization of the society that permits them to flourish in law and attitude. Therefore, a population without general social ties results and shared values lives in uneasy disunity. There is, of course, food and wine. But good food and good wine also exist in the new Islamic France that M. Houllebecq creates.
Well, the book, I finally decided, is a story just as all novels are stories. In this case, the novel is set against the backdrops that I wrote about above. The protagonist of Submission is an academic who has made an excellent career on the basis of his dissertation on the nineteenth-century writes Huysman. Otherwise, the man knows nothing at all. He has arranged his teaching load to his convenience; he sleeps with his students and sexual satisfaction is a preoccupation of his; he is concerned with the food he eats and serves; and with good wines and liquors. Indeed, the instances in which food and drink appear in this book are numerous (and mouth-watering). Food is an important pleasure and context on his way to his own conversion to Islam. Cynically, he converts to Islam because it makes his life easier: it provides the way to an eminent teaching post, a very high salary, the company of intelligent men, and the dismissal of women to wifely and sexual roles (which fits neatly into his general relations with women: sex and his dependency on them).
I say he cynically converts. But cynicism requires a bit more backbone than this man has. There are no values in his life and therefore no values that he can betray cynically. Well, perhaps, there is one. He does betray Huysman whose works he has studied extensively. In an act of superb and repulsive self-justification, he writes a preface for the works of Huysman to be published in the standard Pleiades editions of French literature. In this introduction, he reduces Huysman's own intellectual interests and struggles to a principle: that what motivated and pleased Huysman, was Huysman's highest value, was merely a cozy and steady bourgeois life. In fact, this is all that the protagonist values, and he sees his way back to it or to maintain it through his conversion to Islam. In fact, this bourgeois world -- or, better, the world of fleshly comforts -- is the only world he is comfortable in, the only world he is capable of. The betrayal of Huysman, who, as I understand from the book, struggled mightily with religion, provides a public or at least academic platform on which the protagonist can stand. M. Houellebecq has provided a particularly fine portrayal of a nonentity. ...more
I loved the Inspector Lynley series on Netflix --- the super and tragic stories, the greatly plotted and acted relationship with Segeant Havers. I hadI loved the Inspector Lynley series on Netflix --- the super and tragic stories, the greatly plotted and acted relationship with Segeant Havers. I had no idea they were books!!
I stumbled on this, my first Elizabeth George, when I saw it in a neighborhood book trade bin. And then it turned out to be the first in the series. How lucky is that?
The story is very good, but better is the way that it is driven by the nature of the characters -- Lynley's unabashed compassion, Havers' inward anger, Lady Helen's veneer of elegance and insouciance covering the depths of her courage, the unpleasant judgmental reserve of Dr. Samuels, the loveliness and sad needs of Stepha, the wonderment of devastation and hope in Gillian. In short, as Lynley says at one point: Life is bad, and it does not get better. It is the beauty of these individuals and their connections floating on the ugliness that provide lives of love. It is no wonder that Lynley's great characteristic is one of the supreme values or virtues --- compassion.
This book echoes because the mystery of who or what Eilis is remains after the last page. I am not sure she will ever be resolved in my mind.
This is aThis book echoes because the mystery of who or what Eilis is remains after the last page. I am not sure she will ever be resolved in my mind.
This is a book about the choices we make or that happen to us "when we are young". In the first half of the book, this scenario appears as romance. Things are positive even though they are scary and all territory is unknown territory. This romantic positiveness remains even though Eilis is a remarkably self-possessed, reserved, and competent girl. In this context, it is a delight to meet and get to know the relatively unreserved and determined Tony. It is a double-delight to see that Eilis and Tony develop a relationship. Indeed, the description of their love-making is one of the most beautiful erotic passages I have ever read.
In roughly the second half of the book, we see a different Eilis. First off, she loses her grounding in both of her worlds --- Brooklyn and Enniscorthy. She appears a classic portrayal of someone who no longer has an internal compass, a home. Next, however, she turns malleable and plastic as Enniscorthy's immediacy erases Brooklyn in her mind. And it seems that the danger of erasure of her entire two years in Brooklyn will occur, and her life will take another path despite the strong Brooklyn connections --- indeed, unbreakable connections in the custom and religion of her time. She seems capable of pretending that her immediate past never happened. This is particularly poignant because of the totally positive characterization of Tony.
All this is part of her mystery. But there is more. She returns to Brooklyn because Mrs. Kelly has "found her out". But the return seems occasioned more by this bucket of cold water than by a resurgence of her Brooklyn emotional life. This raises the possibility that she returns to Brooklyn only because she cannot now continue in the new course of her Enniscorthy life, including romance, care of mother, and good job the lack of which was the reason for her emigration to America in the first place.
So, is Eilis a real person? Or a person bent by events? Is she someone without real attachments but to herself? Is she simply intelligent and young? Does she have the impulses of an early feminist? Is she independent? Is she simply shallow? In conclusion, what a wonderful character Mr. Toibin has created.
The writing is quite nice. I dislike Mr. T's stories, but I have liked very much every one of his novels that I've read --- The Master, The Heather Burning (superb), and Brooklyn. He does not dwell as an outside observer on the inner lives of his people. He lets the narrative events and their own thoughts describe themselves. In this way, I feel that I am the privileged observer and not Mr. T. Perhaps this is what has involved me so much in the question what Eilis is like.
I believe Mr. T. is gay. And I wonder if his gayness informs the tenderness of his characters, particularly Tony. In any event, he has so beautifully described a not-gay young woman and a not-gay relationship. In this I am delighted because my exposure to gay writers has been an exposure to a kind of novel about gayness itself and not to the kind of general sympathy and compassion that Brooklyn shows.
One last thing --- the movie of Brooklyn is highly excellent. To me, it is made along the model of romances of the late 40's and early 50's, and it is successful in itself as a stand-alone story. But the Eilis of the book is not the Eilis of the movie although almost every event in the book is shared in the movie. So, in my view, comparisons between the two just do not work.
I was like a child when I read this book. That is, I could not put it down. I read it first thing when I got up in the morning. And last thing beforeI was like a child when I read this book. That is, I could not put it down. I read it first thing when I got up in the morning. And last thing before I went to sleep at night. That alone was a joy.
How come? Because this is about Antarctica. Because it is a gripping narration full of aspiration, hope, fear, and endurance. Because Mr. Huntford is an excellent writer and a clear one. Because Mr. H. has studied the original sources and critically examined the later books and writings of the participants. Because he draws conclusions from reason and evidence. Because he is in love with his topic and has given a full measure to research and writing.
Before I read this book, I was, if I cared about it at all, in the school that admired Scott and considered Amundsen a bounder. Now, I can see that Amundsen was both driven and highly professional and intelligent about his expeditions. Although he had to desire to do what he did --- reach the South Pole, sail the Northwest Passage --- he was not motivated by romanticism or established ideas about how to project the needs that the unknown might show him on the spot and to determine in great detail how to meet them. At the same time, he was courageous and faced danger and the unexpected with intelligence. As a result, he accomplished his goal of reaching the Pole and returned with all his men in good health.
In Mr. Huntford's view --- and, indeed, as the sources would indicated --- Scott was unsuited even as a leader and was simply incompetent. He believes, I think, that it is time to lift the romantic scrim that blurs Scott's expedition. As Mr. H. remarked about two times, Scott had tried for the Pole previously, and remembered nothing and learned nothing. His last expedition was a mish-mash of techniques, including ponies! He did not have enough food and did not space his depots well. The result: Every man who went to the Pole died on the way back --- Scott and four others. I can see how Mrs. Oates later regarded him as the murderer of her son.
Now, is Mr. Huntford grinding an axe? Well, it is true that I don't know very much about this phase of world exploration. But Mr. H. does not seem particularly biased. Rather, he seems outraged when it comes to Scott. Parts of his narration seem to favor Amundsen as when he rationalizes Amundsen's decision to go for the Pole and his concealing the decision even from the famous Polar explorer Nanssen who'd provided him his ship. He does seem to recount fairly and openly one time when Amundsen does seem to have panicked and lost his nerve (on the journey to lay the first supply depot). And his selections from the diaries and letters of Scott's men seem to bear up his version of Scott's own issues as a leader and planner.
I highly recommend this book, and then you can judge for yourself. ...more
The first few pages were just too arch. I decided not to read it. I would have plowed through if I were not so pressed for time and didn't have an impThe first few pages were just too arch. I decided not to read it. I would have plowed through if I were not so pressed for time and didn't have an important rehearsal on the evening of our book group discussion. I'll return to it if my friends in the group tell me they liked it....more
I think I have a love/hate affair going on with Thomas Merton. He has so much to say that is valuable and also beautiful. But he is just such a blabbeI think I have a love/hate affair going on with Thomas Merton. He has so much to say that is valuable and also beautiful. But he is just such a blabber-mouth. He can't stop writing/talking. This obscures a lot of his message for me. It makes it just too hard to penetrate. I felt the same way about The Sign of Jonas, although the real-life scenarios and descriptions in that book carried me through.
I will check out what others have said about this book. Perhaps, they will give me some insight into the book that I can't reach on my own....more
A lovely book about ecology before there was "ecology". Though it can sometimes be slow-going, Mrs. Hoover made me very, very aware - as has not beenA lovely book about ecology before there was "ecology". Though it can sometimes be slow-going, Mrs. Hoover made me very, very aware - as has not been done with such directness and poignancy - of the natural place of men amongst all other creatures, the wonder of those creatures (plant and animal and water and ice), and their loss such that man is now mainly living alone on the Earth.
Mrs. H. wrote this book as a type of diary/memoir/long essay on her and her husband's life in a cabin in the forest of Northern Minnesota. Mrs. H. is in love with Creation. Although she sounds cranky sometimes, hers is an irritation and anger directed at those who do not comprehend the world of undisturbed nature that we should rightfully have a place in; and therefore they destroy it or cause it pain wantonly and without consideration for the fact that animals have lives of their own.
Although Mrs. H. and her husband were not modern-day ecologists (for example, they feed "their" wild animals; they plant garden flowers), she realistically describes their "kooky", as she might say, eleven year life without a phone, electricity, and indoor toilet. And she reaches some heights of startling and moving intensity and gravitas.
Here are a couple of her heartfelt passages:
"When they [some of their regular animal companions and visitors] were gone we could have no more friends like them because of the approach of civilization and its influx of humans, who did not understand either the forest or its children, and many of whom would not trouble to learn. Then I felt a wave of hope as I thought of the growing education of youngsters along these lines . . . [But] I would not see the kinder world that a new generation might bring. . . . [These animals that] we would see no more, were still part of the forst but as individuals they were lost, except in my thoughts and love . . . . And when we went they would, in a sense, die with us. I would not accept the going of so much beauty and gentleness from the world. I wanted others to know them . . ." At page 247
"We use light without thinking about it, but lifetimes have been spent studying its nature and it still is not fully understood. I wonder, too, at the foolhardiness of those who plunge ahead on so superficial a knowledge of elemental forces that any use on so slight a basis should terrify them." At page 255
"We are what the ancients said we were: Earth, Air,Fire, and Water. But when we fidget, and tamper, and play with great forces, we destroy only our own tomorrows. We cannot mangle Eternity." At page 306
A very good read about a world in which humans are no longer able to reproduce.
The first part of the book is depressingly, sadly crepuscular. Here, MsA very good read about a world in which humans are no longer able to reproduce.
The first part of the book is depressingly, sadly crepuscular. Here, Ms. James depicts very well a privileged world (Oxford)that is slowly disappearing forever. She is very good on the details of daily life which, to all appearances, seems like today's except for the absence of children. She is very thoughtful as when one of her characters wonders whether sexual desire diminishes when there is no hope of procreation, voluntary or involuntary. Or when a type of hysteria leads to a strange culture of dolls and kittens, even to the extent that they are baptized in the C of E. This is quite an amazing feat of imagination that highlights for me how an Omega scenario might really play out emotionally. In addition, Ms. James lets the reader reflect on political power. In her book, England is ruled undemocratically by a council with an all-powerful president in the Warden of England; yet daily life seems middle-class normal. Perhaps this reflects our own cultural times in which it sometimes seems that daily life goes on, but the opportunity to have even a small chance of changing or sharing in governance is absent. But also she makes me reflect on the drive for power. Does it always exist even when the place in which it is exercised is disappearing. Why not a society of sharing and love? Last, is democracy even the best form of government for a society that is in a deep involuntary transition?
Part Two is a thriller. Ms. J. takes us out of Oxford to the broader world which is closing down in a relatively orderly fashion according to the council's directives. This leaves some pockets of wilderness, disorder, violence, and fear. The chase is on in this Alpha portion of the book! It is pretty exciting, and I do not want to spoil things by going further.
There are some matters in the book that are not really satisfactory for me. I don't really understand the relationship between the diarist/memoirist/protagonist (depending on the chapter) and Xan Lyppiat (Welsh name, we're told!, the dictatorial Warden of England. A little more on this relationship might explain the transformation of the ironic protagonist and his unpleasant or, better, hitherto unloving personality....more
I think this is a very valuable book. It made me aware of something that I would not have grasped on my own --- the power of alcohol and alcoholism inI think this is a very valuable book. It made me aware of something that I would not have grasped on my own --- the power of alcohol and alcoholism in the course of American history. Here is a really hidden history of America. Social and economic and institutional and intellectual history will have to move over a bit to give it space.
Ms. Cheever has personal credentials that support her deep interest in this area. She was an alcoholic and she hails from an alcoholic family. She has insights into alcoholic behavior and the behavior that it provokes in the non-alcoholic. She is earnest and has a background from which she can contribute to us. Her last chapter is rhetorical, but a powerful sum-up also. I think her chapter on Nixon is very good.
Ms. Cheever traces the arc or pendulum of "drunkenness" and "temperance" in the colonies and the USA. She advises how alcohol affected history as in the life of Richard Nixon; how it affects life as through Alcoholics Anonymous (which, as I recall, the Franciscan Richard Rohr calls America's great, great contribution to spiritual life); she talks about the ruination that alchohol can bring as in the family of the esteemed Founder John Adams; she writes about alcohol as an important part of life and dietary life as in the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims. Etc., etc. And very nicely she describes the ironies of Prohibition --- how it might have come about, how bad it was for society, how it put the suffrage movement of women on the back burner.
I thought this book was so influential for me that I started googling our current politicos in regard to what the internet said about them and alcohol.
Note that this is not a scholarly work. It is a bit of a grab-bag. And the editing is not the best. But it is definitely an eye-opener for me. ...more
The beauty of Pastor Nadia for me is that she's not scared to talk about herself - that is, her own weaknesses and fears - and how they have led her tThe beauty of Pastor Nadia for me is that she's not scared to talk about herself - that is, her own weaknesses and fears - and how they have led her to expansive love that includes both people with tattoos and regular old middle-class people -- and even a very rich guy. She's an exemplar of Christianity for everybody in this here America. She makes her points by telling stories. Her preaching must be riveting.
I did not finish this book. Although I could certainly understand Nick's alienation and appreciate how very well it was described, the setting in 1980I did not finish this book. Although I could certainly understand Nick's alienation and appreciate how very well it was described, the setting in 1980's London did not draw me in. I fear I lack understanding or knowledge. I will have to examine myself here as I can certainly enjoy books that go back in time to other scenarios or go forward in time like science fiction or feature different cultures and social worlds whether Western or not. Perhaps what will draw me back in is the creation of a self-segregated subculture of gay life and its inhabitants' sense of living in the world but not being of it.
If I return to this book, I will certainly post a review --- because I did find Nick to be an interesting man, and I could empathize with his "outsider" mindset. More later, perhaps. ...more