We all know, or should, that I am a huge fan of Robert Alter's translations. I'm also indebted to him for graciously allowing me to read his Genesis t...moreWe all know, or should, that I am a huge fan of Robert Alter's translations. I'm also indebted to him for graciously allowing me to read his Genesis translation aloud on my podcast, Forgotten Classics.
I'm going to dive into the historical books by using both Alter's translation and the Navarre commentary. One gets the best of both worlds that way, the secular and literary view to contrast and compare with the Catholic view.(less)
UPDATE: I wrote this way back in 2005 for Spero News but discovered that their site clips a good portion of the text. I'm rerunning it here to preserv...moreUPDATE: I wrote this way back in 2005 for Spero News but discovered that their site clips a good portion of the text. I'm rerunning it here to preserve the review because this is a book that still informs the way I deal with those with whom I disagree. In fact, I just mentioned it on A Good Story is Hard to Find, which is what made me look for this review.
UPDATE 2: rereading this as a palliative to the brouhaha over the Supreme Court's decision to uphold religious conscience for the Hobby Lobby case. Pilgrims. Park Rangers. Both drive me nuts. This book is a good reminder that there is another way than always screaming at each other about extreme opposites. (For some reason this shows up as a new book instead of an updated version of the old one. It does have a new chapter ... I think ... but that's it other than any corrections made to the original.)
It seems as if our country is caught up in an endless religious war that is being fought with grim determination. No, this isn’t about the war on terror. It is about the annual battle over public nativity scenes at Christmas, the skirmishes over allowing school Halloween parties, whether Jews for Jesus are allowed to preach at the Los Angeles Airport, and much more. In short, it is about how much and what sort of religious freedom is granted in this country.
One side (dubbed “Pilgrims” in the book) wants to legally coerce any religious conscience with which they disagree while the other side (called “Park Rangers”) thinks that all religion must be purely private. Both seem prepared to battle to the death over these issues. The rest of us, that vast majority in the middle, duck and cover as best we can while wondering why we must always fight every detail of anything to do with religion. After all, it didn’t used to be this way. Did it?
Actually, it used to be much worse, as Kevin Hasson tells us in The Right to Be Wrong. He is a constitutional lawyer who now heads up a non-partisan, public-interest law firm that specializes in defending free religious expression for all faiths. Hasson asserts, “We defend all faiths but we are not relativists. On any given day, I think most of my clients are wrong. But I firmly believe that, in an important sense, they have the right to be wrong.” This is not a very long book and it is written in a conversational and easy style, but it packs a heavy punch.
Hasson cuts to the heart of the issue by turning our focus to conscience, that interior voice that won’t be still until we do the right thing. The core of any discussion about religion, according to Hasson, is that we recognize the inherent right of each person to follow his or her conscience just as we would wish them to allow us to follow ours.
Conscience won’t let us be satisfied with resting on the truth we already know, the good we already embrace. There is an unease we experience, an unease that pushes us on to seek ever-deeper truths and choose ever-better goods. Sometimes we ignore it; sometimes we try to suppress it. Conscience, however, demands that we attend to it and miss no opportunity to try to satisfy it. Conscience is forever insisting that we look here, or search there, or try this or that in our quest for the true and the good.
And then conscience still isn’t content. It won’t stand for the argument that searching alone should suffice. Conscience demands not only that we seek but that we embrace the truth we believe we’ve found. It insists that, at whatever cost, our convictions follow through into action. And it’s famously stubborn about this, sending generation after generation of dissidents to all sorts of deprivations in the name of integrity...
In the process of proving this point, Hasson takes the reader on a journey through the history of American religious liberty. We soon discover that there was precious little to be had before modern times. The Pilgrims, whose vaunted quest for tolerance landed them on American shores, quite knowingly practiced a double standard and forcefully suppressed any opposing opinions. We are shown why Roger Williams founded Maryland in order to practice true religious tolerance only to have the laws changed after he died. Similarly William Penn’s vision of religious liberty was soon practiced in quite a different way after his influence waned. James Madison emerges as a man who had a surprisingly accurate vision of religious liberty and, possibly, the influence to get the proper laws passed. It is all the more disappointing, then, to learn that he let Thomas Jefferson influence him to weaken them. As a result, Quakers, Catholics, and Jews were routinely discriminated against by one state after another. It is safe to say that for most of American history, you were free to practice any religion you liked, as long as you wanted to be Protestant.
This is the legacy that has put us in the position in which we find ourselves today. Without that history of intolerance, there would not be the backlash that insists there is no place at all for religion in public life. One could hardly blame the Park Rangers for insisting on suppressing public displays of religion except that, in their turn, they are so very extreme. Under the guise of religious freedom the Park Rangers have exercised their own form of oppression so effectively that ludicrous displays of celebration can be found everywhere: a public school system in Michigan offers “Breakfast with a Special Bunny” to avoid using the word Easter, another school system requires that the children exchange “special person cards” in lieu of valentines, and an Ohio bureaucrat explained a decorated tree in December by saying it was to celebrate Pearl Harbor Day. This in turn alarms the Pilgrims who push back even harder. Although it is clear to all bystanders that this is really about one side or the other getting their own way, both sides insist they are advocating universal religious freedom. No one on either side is practicing any true tolerance at all, just like the good old days, in fact.
... Ask either faction whether it believes religious liberty is a human right and you’ll get a passionate, tub-thumping — mostly hypocritical — speech in favor of the idea. That’s because religious freedom is so familiar, so American a concept that nobody can really admit to opposing it. That would be like opposing apple pie. So even those who are at each other’s throats over religious liberty have to insist they all absolutely love the stuff. Instead of confessing that they’re actually opposed to religious freedom for all, the Pilgrims and the Park Rangers among us equivocate. When they say they support “religious freedom,” the Pilgrims mean the freedom of their religion, while the Park Rangers mean freedom from others’ religions. That way, they can all sound so very American — they can say they’re in favor of something called religious freedom — and still be as oppressive as they want to be.
However, that is where Hasson’s insistence on the value of conscience is so valuable. By reminding us that conscience is the core of religious conviction, he takes us to the true turning point of religious liberty. This in turn frees us to totally disagree with another’s religious convictions while, with complete integrity, conceding that they do, indeed, have the right to be wrong. It is this attitude that allows Hasson to be in the position of being both invited to Hasidic Jewish weddings and also to be a guest speaker on the Arab network Al-Jazeera. His respect of the integrity of others’ consciences has earned him their respect in turn. That is the attitude that will help dig America out of our internal religious wars and just possibly bring us, at long last, true religious liberty.(less)
Mary Wyman has an entry for each day of her solo walk to Santiago. Each includes the daily postcard she sent to 4-year-old granddaughter Elena, a journal entry from that day, and a longer reflection from after the pilgrimage was completed. I really enjoyed the format, especially the ways that Wyman connected with her granddaughter in the cards by asking questions or suggesting little activities like "count to 36 out loud with Mama to see how many days Grandma has left to walk the Camino (paraphrased)."
I found a lot of the book fascinating and almost feel as if I'd been along for the trip. Certainly I was just about as concerned as Mary that she get to lodgings in time for a lower bunk and that her feet would hold out. Mary's vivid descriptions of the people and nature all around her, as well as her inclusion of insights and spiritual experiences all combined to make this a very good book.
It isn't a perfect book though. As a 70-year old woman from San Francisco, Mary has all the stereotypical attitudes of that demographic. Push the right button and the standard liberal attitude comes popping right up. Luckily it was rare enough to avoid ruining the book for those of us who don't share those attitudes. In fact, it often provided humorous moments such as one day's reflections on the huge list of women who have influenced her life, when contrasted with a later day when she struggled to make a list of 15 influential men in her life because it never occurred to her to think of such a thing. She later added to that list but with so many qualifications that she may as well not have bothered. I actually laughed out loud.
More problematic were the two or three times she recorded long conversations about topics dear to her heart and went into so much detail that the book essentially ground to a halt. I realize that this book is to provide a legacy for Wyman's granddaughter, so it made sense from her point of view to write so many pages about such things as Centering Prayer and the Jobs Corps. However, the tone completely changed to a preachy-teachy style that is deadly unless one also is passionate about those topics. I ain't.
I mention the imperfections to explain my 3-star rating. As a whole, they are relatively slight as witnessed by the fact that I read this book in a couple of days, riveted to the pilgrimage.(less)
Any kid from about the age of 8 and up, who has a basic understanding of the gospel story, would enjoy this. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit myself....moreAny kid from about the age of 8 and up, who has a basic understanding of the gospel story, would enjoy this. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit myself. I really loved the way the book graphically conveyed Kal's sense of smell throughout.
McDermott really does take the pain and fussiness out of producing authentic tasting ethnic foods, in this case Thai cuisine. Leafing through this I d...moreMcDermott really does take the pain and fussiness out of producing authentic tasting ethnic foods, in this case Thai cuisine. Leafing through this I discovered that I had already read it once because her grilled chicken with garlic recipe is a staple of my kitchen. (less)
Naturally I raced online to the library and requested it. Anyone who reads Neil Gaiman, especially his children's books, will instantly see that he and Thurber are kindred souls.
Naturally a prince comes to rescue the princess from the land where time lies frozen so "It's always Then. It's never Now." Replete with the wordplay and humor one would expect from James Thurber, this is a charming and slightly insane book with large dark elements. Like Alice in Wonderland it has a lot of bits that are just wonderful for their own sakes without having any deeper meaning. And yet, everything comes together to move the story along in a most satisfactory way.
Here's a bit that went into my quote journal.
"The task is hard," said Zorn, "and can't be done."
"I can do a score of things that can't be done," the Golux said. "I can find a thing I cannot see and see a thing I cannot find. The first is time, the second is a spot before my eyes. I can feel a thing I cannot touch and touch a thing I cannot feel. The first is sad and sorry, the second is your heart. What would you do without me? Say 'nothing.'"
We listened to this on a two-day car trip and found it thought provoking and enlightening. I'll go a bit further and add that I found it inspirational...moreWe listened to this on a two-day car trip and found it thought provoking and enlightening. I'll go a bit further and add that I found it inspirational.
More to come because I made a few notes on the way, but highly recommended.
It was my first Gladwell book though I've seen him on TED Talks. I will be interested to try others to see if they are as rich as this one.(less)
Picked this up in St. Augustine while on vacation as a souvenir and read it in a couple of days. Really a classic look at Southern cooking in 1942 as...morePicked this up in St. Augustine while on vacation as a souvenir and read it in a couple of days. Really a classic look at Southern cooking in 1942 as well as a great sample of this lyrical, humorous author's style.
I gulped it down and instantly started on my other souvenir, Cross Creek.(less)
Hey, it was free to borrow on my Kindle. AND I was really intrigued in the idea that Lewis was using medieval cosmology as themes for each of the Narn...moreHey, it was free to borrow on my Kindle. AND I was really intrigued in the idea that Lewis was using medieval cosmology as themes for each of the Narnia books.
Not that I've read them all. I haven't.
But after reading That Hideous Strength in which eldils from different planets are significant, Ward's idea made sense.
I am 50% done and am really enthralled by this idea. I actually will pick up the Narnia series with book 4 and finish it after I'm done.
The whole explanation of medieval cosmology as seen in the Narnia books is riveting and, if for no other reason, I am very glad to be introduced to the subject.
I've requested Ward's earlier, more scholarly, book on this subject and also C.S. Lewis's "The Discarded Image" for his explanation of medieval mindsets (it's supposed to be pretty amazing).
FINAL I liked this so much that I got Planet Narnia by the same author, which is his first book on the subject (and less succinct and possibly less dumbed down - not that this feels dumbed down, actually).(less)
Beginning this book is the reason I felt the push to finally push myself to read That Hideous Strength (the final one of C.S. Lewis's "space trilogy)....moreBeginning this book is the reason I felt the push to finally push myself to read That Hideous Strength (the final one of C.S. Lewis's "space trilogy). Purtill has an in-depth essay at the back of the book discussing that book and mentions it frequently in the beginning of the main text. I had been looking for something which discussed Lewis's work as well as Tolkien's and this is one that has been praised highly.
I was surprised to see that quite a bit of this winds up addressing Tolkien's critics. I had no idea how many people, both positively and negatively inclined, have tried to shove The Lord of the Rings into their own narrow worldview. It is really interesting to see how much broader Tolkien, with his devout Catholic worldview, has managed to be simply because he himself wanted to write a story that was pre-Christian. I was also quite surprised to see some of the criticisms of Lewis's writing and also of Lewis's own commitment to Christianity. For example, I had no idea that people took a string of seemingly attached events and spun them to conclude that Lewis lost his faith after his wife died. I never would have drawn that same conclusion and it was interesting to see Purtill look at that issue, eventually showing that it was not logical when considering all the facts in context.
I also really like the way that Purtill takes his comments about others' critiques of both authors and then turns to make his own remarks which extend beyond any criticism into appreciation and elucidation. It is this which is really valuable to me.(less)
As with the other two books in C.S. Lewis's "space trilogy" I found this one difficult to get into and, yet, once I got past the indefinable point whe...moreAs with the other two books in C.S. Lewis's "space trilogy" I found this one difficult to get into and, yet, once I got past the indefinable point where it was no longer a struggle, I couldn't read it fast enough. Consequently this was a 24-hour book for me. It is a testament to Lewis's imagination and writing skill as to how different all three of the books are in this trilogy, while simultaneously all carrying out the same basic theme. No wonder J.R.R. Tolkien loved them.
Speaking of Tolkien, I was stunned to see Numinor mentioned twice and Middle Earth once in this book. I never dreamed there was such a deliberate, direct connection between this book and the Lord of the Rings, which was not yet published in its entirety when this book came out as Lewis says in the introduction. One can see the way these books and LOTR go hand in hand with similar themes, although expressed differently through the authors' different styles.
This book itself was really terrific and left me striving to be a better person, to be truer to myself, as did the other two. Not many other books really leave one feeling that way.(less)
I've never been that interested in visiting Japan and it says a lot for Matthew Amster-Burton's engaging food/travel memoir that by the end I was wond...moreI've never been that interested in visiting Japan and it says a lot for Matthew Amster-Burton's engaging food/travel memoir that by the end I was wondering if I could have a successful week-long visit without learning to read kanji. I'm already a fan of Amster-Burton's light-hearted style because I listen to Spilled Milk, the podcast that he co-hosts. It transfers fairly successfully to a book style, though I did find myself wishing that he'd have cut out a few extraneous jokes here and there.
Pretty Good Number One is fairly food-centric but without pretension and in a way that makes you understand how plain rice balls can be delicious. The food talk is woven in with plenty of interesting cultural observations that make you feel as if you understand Tokyo just a bit better. Plus it is just a fun read.(less)
Pick your favorite opening line from a classic piece of fiction (or even non-fiction) - then use it as the first sentence of an entirely original short story.
Then they sealed the deal with some of the readers (Wil Wheaton, Scott Brick, Stefan Rudnicki) and the fact that Scott discussed one of the stories on her Reading Envy podcast already (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz inspires the tale of an aging female astronaut who’s being treated by a doctor named Dorothy Gale). Plus it has stories by John Scalzi, Mike Resnick, and a few others who I can't call to mind at the moment.
So I spent my monthly Audible credit.
Don't make me regret this Gardner Dozois! It's the first collection of yours I have tried, though I have been tempted by many in the past. I want to love it. So many more collections are hanging in the balance!
So Far Quite Enjoyable - "Fireborn" by Robert Charles Wilson: Wilson takes his first line from one of Carl Sandburg Rootabaga stories, which I'd heard of but never read. Turns out you can get them from Project Gutenberg (or free for your Kindle) and so I sampled the first few which were nonsensical in a lovely whimsical way, with some of the most wonderful language use I've seen in children's fables. The story itself used some similar elements which I recognized even after my cursory sampling of the Rootabaga tales. Wilson wrote a really interesting fantasy piece that was filled with its own whimsy in a modern way.
- "The Evening Line" by Mike Resnick: imagine if Damon Runyon wrote Pride and Prejudice in a betting parlor. Sort of. Running from the first line of Pride and Prejudice, Mike Resnick turns in one of his "Harry" stories which is also a tall tale enacted in a tavern. Hilarious and the narrator was spot-on with a New York betting parlor/bar style.(less)
We need the truth, but we also need to know how to live in and through and by that truth.
What we need, in short, are stories.
Louis Markos begins with the idea that in the past stories weren't only told for children's entertainment and instruction, but for that of adults as well. We've lost not only that idea but a lot of the time-honored values that we used to teach and cherish in such stories. The author "mines" two of the most honored stories in modern times, the Lord of the Rings and, to a lesser extent, The Chronicles of Narnia, to show how they can help us return to classic virtues these days.
Ancient literature, modern culture, and scripture are all woven into Markos' book. The main emphasis is on Tolkien and Lewis, but the depth of material means that it hits you where you live. Before delving into the virtues, Markos begins with the idea of the hero's journey and the road. These are the heart of good story telling, after all, and so are themes that are returned to repeatedly throughout the book.
In the greater tales, the ones that matter—the ones that change both us and our world—the heroes do not so much choose the Road, as the Road chooses them. For our part, we must be ready, prepared in season and out, to answer the call, whenever and however it comes. And we must be prepared to press on, trusting to an end that we often do not, perhaps cannot, see. It is easy to claim that we would have done what Abraham did, but that is only because we stand outside the story. We see the good end, the fulfillment that Abraham could not see from within the story.
Markos is not detached with his subject at arm's length. He loves these stories and the themes they embrace and his enthusiasm comes through to make a warm, lively reading experience.
I've read several other books looking deeper into The Lord of the Rings, in particular, and this book still managed to provide new ideas for reflection. Markos really does a fantastic job of revealing the characteristics of various characters in Middle-Earth and Narnia and the virtues we can see in them. This is a thoughtful and thought provoking book which I can't recommend highly enough.
I'll be looking for more of Markos' books in the future.
NOTE I received this review copy from Aquinas and More Catholic online store. They've got a lot more than books. Check them out for all your Catholic needs ... rosaries, communion gifts, and so forth.(less)
I can hardly credit it, but I don't believe I've ever read this book. The fact that it leads off with one of Professor Moriarty's henchmen leaking enc...moreI can hardly credit it, but I don't believe I've ever read this book. The fact that it leads off with one of Professor Moriarty's henchmen leaking encrypted messages to Sherlock Holmes was one of the most surprising things I've encountered in a book in a while. Yes, I was that sure I'd read every Holmes book several times.
I really enjoyed this book, both the first part where Holmes is solving the mystery and the second part which gave the exciting back story set in America. I listened to the incomparable Derek Jacobi read the audiobook, which simply enhanced my enjoyment. I did figure out the mystery and I did know the twist in the American story. However, as many have pointed out, these would have been original and surprising in Arthur Conan Doyle's day and I have been exposed to so many people using the same devices that I am primed to recognize the clues. It's no Hound of the Baskervilles, but it is definitely recommended.(less)
The phrases "social justice" and "solidarity" could hardly have been more unwisely coined or adapted by the Catholic Church in my opinion. From the mo...moreThe phrases "social justice" and "solidarity" could hardly have been more unwisely coined or adapted by the Catholic Church in my opinion. From the moment I heard them, they turned me off. I always thought they sounded like some lame department name you'd read about in a spy novel set in communist Russia. I mean really - solidarity? What does that even mean to the average person? Nothing.
However, if one digs deeper beneath the stiff, offputting phrases, one finds the heart of Christianity. They mean treating each person as if they belong, going out of one's way to find Christ in each individual, and following God's will (with Christ's help) to help each person one encounters. In other words, fully living your Christian life, whether as an individual or as part of the larger community.
“It’s good that you exist” — carries great power. To someone struggling with alcohol, who drinks away his loneliness, we say, “It’s good that you exist.” To someone who loathes her body and thinks she’s too fat, too skinny, too short, or not good enough, we say, “It’s good that you exist.” To the addict, the slave, the homeless man, even the murderer, we say, “It’s good that you exist.”
This phrase reminds people that they have intrinsic value, regardless of what they produce, or how they look, or if they have it all together. It echoes what God said immediately after creating the first man: “[He] looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Gn 1:31).
Next time you want to uplift someone’s dignity, remind them of that wonderful truth: “It’s good that you exist.”
This is ably illustrated by Brandon Vogt's book, which highlights 14 different saints whose lives were spent giving dignity and aid to the less fortunate. Ranging from housewives to priests, in all sorts of different life situations, these people were open enough to God's wishes to do extraordinary things. Vogt also does a great job of helping us relate by contrasting each saint with another one or two who lived out similar "missions" in different ways. He ends each section by relating these saints' larger missions to our own lives, so we can see where we might do more or act in ways that hadn't occurred to us previously.
He ends each section by relating these saints' larger missions to our own lives, so we can see where we might do more or act in ways that hadn't occurred to us previously. This is important because these saints achieved so much that we might feel any small drops of help we can achieve are not going to make a difference. Vogt's gentle questions and examples helps us see that our drops matter because all of them together add up to a large ocean.
And this, no matter what stupid phrase is used to describe it, is something dear to my heart, a lesson I've been learning a little better every day in my 14 years as a Catholic. Each time I've followed that internal prompting, despite my fears of not knowing enough or being rejected or looking stupid, I have been rewarded. My efforts have had effects, in their own small way, which I never could have imagined. And I have grown and changed for the better myself along the way.
I found this book really inspiring. I especially enjoyed the amount of detail Vogt gave for each saint. Even the ones I knew about, like Peter Claver, Frances of Rome, or Dorothy Day, took on unexpected meaning for me because I hadn't realized there was so much I didn't know about them. Of course, there were some who were brand new to me and I really enjoyed learning about their lives.
This is a well written and inspiring book and one that should help us understand that "social justice" and "solidarity" mean "living as a Christian" no matter what your condition in life.
Please Mr. Vogt, may I have another? Perhaps one about the martyrs? You pick the subject. I'll read it.(less)
I was looking around for a basic overview of Dickens' novels and came upon this little Kindle book. Adam Selzer does just what the title promises, giv...moreI was looking around for a basic overview of Dickens' novels and came upon this little Kindle book. Adam Selzer does just what the title promises, giving recipes and reviewing whether or not he'd recommend a beverage based on his own sampling experience. What is more, Selzer does so while giving a quick overview of the novel featuring the recipe and what he finds in each to recommend it. He also included excerpts to illustrate his points, whether about characters or beverages, which greatly added to the book as far as I was concerned. Overall this is a nice little book which I would probably rate at 3-1/2 stars if GoodReads allowed it, but decided to round it up to 4 because I might actually read it. It was that enjoyable.(less)