This book surprised me, firstly, that a woman could write so convincingly of men’s experience over three generations. I was surprised to find that itThis book surprised me, firstly, that a woman could write so convincingly of men’s experience over three generations. I was surprised to find that it is written in the form of a journal during the last days or weeks of a dying man, and that as such it has no chapter breaks, or none with titles. I was also surprised by what becomes the central drama or dilemma for the dying man—the return home of another man’s prodigal son, toward whom the journal’s author feels his own fatherly impulses. Finally, I was surprised—and impressed—at the way 150 years of American history are woven through three generations of the Ames family, based in their small Iowa town of Gilead.
The book deserves an A rating, but my reading gets an incomplete, because about halfway through I began to realize that there are layers on layers here. Gilead is a remarkable architectural achievement. I hope to read it again, to dig deeper, but first I have added Robinson’s “Home” to my must-read list. It is a parallel story of the same prodigal son told from within his own family. ...more
Begun in 1969 and eventually issued at the rate of nearly one per year when it got cracking along like a man of war under stunsails, the Aubrey-MaturiBegun in 1969 and eventually issued at the rate of nearly one per year when it got cracking along like a man of war under stunsails, the Aubrey-Maturin series was not meant to be binge-read, I don’t suppose. It is more like a long and leisurely serial, carried along less by cliff-hanging climaxes than by the passionate interest of its main characters: a bulky ship’s captain weighing in at 17 stone and his small-statured ship’s surgeon and bosom buddy, a sort of reverse Quixote and Panza.
But I have binge-read (or listened to) my last three and perhaps that’s why my attention waned in the long middle of #13, with Jack and Stephen and the captured Diane standing out to sea while a desultory diplomatic negotiation led by the unlikable Mr. Fox takes place on a fictional volcanic island in the South China Sea. There is no dramatic naval action here, only a climactic monsoon that leads to one of Jack’s best lines and here the last line.
Meanwhile, much goes unresolved. Did the bank crash at home sink Jack’s fortunes—again? Did Diana give birth to the baby girl Stephen has been so dearly expecting? And what happened to the Sophie, under the firm hand of Tom Pullings, which was to have made rendezvous with the Diane?
Of course, I will have to read #14 to find out. But probably not right away. I may wait something closer to a year for my thirst to intensify again. ...more
The 12th in the Aubrey-Maturin series offered me so much pleasure that I have added it to my list of G/R favorites, alongside #9, “Treason’s Harbour.”The 12th in the Aubrey-Maturin series offered me so much pleasure that I have added it to my list of G/R favorites, alongside #9, “Treason’s Harbour.” It seems a while since Jack Aubrey led a dramatic naval action (and can anyone pronounce the word “action” like narrator Patrick Tull, who packs all the force of “attack” into “ac”?).
Here Jack plans and executes the “cutting out” of a French naval ship, literally hijacking it from a standing start at a French pier. And poor lovelorn Stephen pursues Diana to Sweden.
Both Jack and his Catholic doctor-buddy-spy Stephen Maturin are rescued from on-shore woes, at least temporarily. But will Jack ever set his finances straight? Will Stephen and Diana ever live happily ever after, even for a few months? I guess I’ll have to read #13 (or listen to Tull’s version) to find out!...more
In many ways the most useful book about L’Arche that I have read, this is a straight chronological history of the movement started in 1964 by Jean VanIn many ways the most useful book about L’Arche that I have read, this is a straight chronological history of the movement started in 1964 by Jean Vanier. While others I have read focus on the spirituality of communities in which people with and without intellectual disabilities live together, this “Ark” stresses the concrete difficulties that Vanier and company have overcome and still continue to face.
How is it possible to be L’Arche in a non-L’Arche world, one in which government regulations have grown up like privet hedges around the care of the disabled? What is the exact religious identity of L’Arche, which began as Catholic but has become not only interdenominational but even inter-religious? (In India and elsewhere, L’Arche communities include Hindus, Muslims, and Jews.)
Vanier confesses—though he was lauded by the like of John Paul II: “The Roman Catholic Church can view us as a bit of an exceptional oddity. Other churches can see us as being too Roman Catholic. To whom do we really belong?” More than fifty years past its founding, L’Arche remains a remarkable movement that may never come to rest. (Indeed, hopefully not.) Here is its history: short, concise, and inspiring. ...more
This book disappointed me, probably because I was expecting some grand synthesis of Aristotle and L’Arche, of which Vanier is the founder. Maybe thisThis book disappointed me, probably because I was expecting some grand synthesis of Aristotle and L’Arche, of which Vanier is the founder. Maybe this “Happiness” was only someone’s (some publisher’s?) idea of pulling together Vanier’s (pre-L’Arche) PhD thesis on Aristotle into something salable. In any event, I skimmed the last half, which tells you what began to feel about it, or not feel.
Still, as a non-philosopher myself, there are some very worthwhile points I will take away, perhaps because they resonate most with my own view of the world:
• Aristotle’s ethics, according to Vanier, are an “ethics of desire”—not what we should do, but what our hearts, at their deepest, long for. “According to Aristotle, to adopt an ethical approach supposes that we set about listening to what it is that profoundly attracts us” (akin to the Ignatian notion of discernment).
• Aristotle’s ethics push us outward—toward others, toward service—in contrast to Plato’s teaching that the truth and the good are to be sought within oneself. “In order to realize his full potential, to be fully alive and conscious of living and existing, man needs an object outside himself.”
• And so happiness is not a state, “but a vital activity proceeding from within each human being.”
• “Nothing pushes us quite as radically beyond ourselves as friendship.”
My attention began to lapse in the long middle section of the book, where Vanier lectures on Aristotle’s ideas about virtue. Although these ideas leaked into Christian ethics, I began to see that maybe the old academic philosopher, which Vanier was before L’Arche, had been resurrected to explain virtue point by point, as in a good survey course, without the synthesis I hoped for.
Then in the last 10 percent of the book, Vanier explains most of what was wrong with Aristotle’s ethics, including Aristotle’s misogyny; his focus on the ethical, wise, wealthy male; his eugenics, effectively; and his belief that those with mental disabilities (Vanier’s life’s calling) are not worth a snap. Vanier concludes with a half-hearted apology for these “shortcomings” of Aristotle, urging us readers not to dismiss Aristotle’s “notion of a natural law, but, rather, deepen it.”
I confess that my understanding of Greek philosophy has always been superficial. I regret that it was not deepened by this disappointing book. ...more
That Mark Twain, comic, skeptic, cynic, devoted twelve years to researching the glorious history of Joan of Arc and then made La Pucelle de Domrémy thThat Mark Twain, comic, skeptic, cynic, devoted twelve years to researching the glorious history of Joan of Arc and then made La Pucelle de Domrémy the subject of his last full-length book has to be one of the greatest—and most ignored—mysteries of American or any literature. Who even reads these "Personal Recollections" anymore? Yet Twain considered this his favorite book!
Having now read it myself, I find the mystery lifted somewhat. Imagine that Becky Thatcher heard voices telling her to besiege Vicksburg, in lieu of Ulysses S. Grant, circa 1862. (Imagine that Grant was too drunk to fight, much like the Dauphin, Charles VII, of Joan's time, too indolent and passive to fight off the English army besieging Orleans.) Imagine that Becky raised an army for the campaign and that she enlisted among her personal guard friends from her village, including Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. I would maintain that Twain's sensitivity to small-town life gave him a greater appreciation of what Joan, from a tiny village in eastern France, accomplished on a far bigger stage.
In Twain's conceit, Joan's story is "recollected" by the Sieur Louis de Conte, whose ancient French was translated into modern English from an "original unpublished manuscript in the National Archives of France" by Jean François Alden—this according to a publisher's note. Of course, this is all a fiction to put Twain the narrator at Joan's side, as a village boy two years older who was supposedly her personal secretary throughout the campaign to liberate France in 1429-1430. De Conte will live long enough to witness Joan's martyrdom and, 25 years later, her "rehabilitation" by the Church in a grateful restored France.
A village boy known only as the Paladin is the Huck Finn here, telling one "stretcher" after another about his exploits alongside Joan as they unfold, while his buddy Noel Ranguesson is his more sober companion, after the manner of Tom Sawyer. The Sieur de Conte ends up their Ishmael, surviving Joan, the Paladin, Noel, all, to tell the tale.
Of course Joan herself stands front and center throughout, a historic (not legendary) figure so compelling that she moved the likes of Twain and another skeptic, George Bernard Shaw ("Saint Joan"), to say nothing of her best biographer, Vita Sackville West. At a dinner in 1905, Twain partly explained why he found Joan so compelling:
"I studied that girl, Joan of Arc, for twelve years, and it never seemed to me that the artists and the writers gave us a true picture of her. They drew a picture of a peasant. Her dress was that of a peasant. But they always missed the face — the divine soul, the pure character, the supreme woman, the wonderful girl. She was only 18 years old, but put into a breast like hers a heart like hers and I think, gentlemen, you would have a girl — like that.”
Joan of Arc touched another skeptic—me—over 20 years ago when I read Sackville West's "Saint Joan of Arc." When I picked up a copy of James Martin's "My Life with the Saints" 9 years ago and found that the first chapter concerned Joan of Arc, that helped seal the deal where me and Catholicism were concerned. As I have written in my review of Martin's book, his work finally pushed my little dinghy across the river. ...more