Thursday, June 30, 2011

Current reading

Alright, I want to apologize for my pathetic leadership on Til We Have Faces (which I did like, though I didn't say anything about it) by sharing some book recommendations with you all. One of the lovely aspects of this forum is that anything you ladies recommend is so good and readable

Julia and Melanie mentioned Room first, and now I'm dying to discuss it with those who've read it already. They've already covered the basics of the plot: a young woman and her son held in captivity, narrated by the five-year-old boy. I flew through the book and made Darwin read it as well so that we could talk about it. I'm a squeamish person and was very wary of the subject material, but Emma Donoghue handles her narrative with an exquisite sensibility.

What I'm pondering right now is the twisted way in which Ma's captor tries to establish this marital relationship with her, down to the put-upon husband routine when she asks him for anything.

The whole "memoir" is constructed as the introduction to the publication of a newly-discovered and authenticated Shakespeare play about King Arthur (the entire play is included as the last fourth of the novel). The author, taking advantage of his contractual obligation to write the introduction, uses his platform to explain why he thinks the whole piece is an elaborate forgery by his father. The novel is amusing, if the interpersonal relationships get a bit strained and irritating by the end, but the play, The Tragedy of Arthur, is pretty darn good. I'd pay to watch it on stage, that good.

Here's another book in which an author constructs a whole body of literary work to support the narrative. A minor academic, researching the famous Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash, discovers a long-hidden and smoldering letter from Ash (renowned for his faithfulness to his wife) to the poetess Christabel LaMotte-- two literary lights who were never supposed to have met, let alone corresponded. The resulting novel is a literary thriller, detective story, romance (both ancient and modern), and compendium of "source material" from these two poets. I'm not the most familiar with the work of the Victorian poets, but A.S. Byatt doesn't seem to strike any false notes in her creation of the oeuvre and letters of Ash and the lesser-known LaMotte. I might have been convinced that these were authentic works if I hadn't been told otherwise by the friend who recommended the book to me.

But skip, I beg of you, the crappy movie (which consistently underwhelmed, except for the eye candy of Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle playing the Victorian poets).

What are you ladies reading?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Binx and me: towards a sacramental life

This morning, Pentimento Very Kindly (that's her full name, you know) sent me the words for a prayer of spiritual communion. So I wrote it out in spider-scratch and took it along to Mass this morning.

When I was writing it out, a tiny Protestant niggle kicked up: if this prayer is answered, and Jesus comes into my heart, then why bother with receiving communion? Can't we cut to a couple of hearty hymns and coffee?

That just shows that I don't have anywhere near the Catholic mind, I guess. When I saw the Mass, I understood that not partaking (when you could) makes as much sense as whipping your brain out, putting it in a jar on the mantelpiece and feeding it virtual experiences.

We're embodied. The sacrament meets us, body and soul. Though I know I will need this coming year of RCIA to shred my residual Calvinism, I want the sacrament to be my life, health and strength.

Binx has the same Protestant problem as I did. He has put his brain in a jar, and is feeding it movies. But he is a mystic without direction, and only movies can numb his sensory overload.

"[...] but then a peculiar thing happened. I became extraordinarily affected by the summer afternoons in the laboratory. [...] In the course of an afternoon the yellow sunlight moved across old group pictures of the biology faculty. I became bewitched by the presence of the building; for minutes at a stretch I sat on the floor and watched the motes rise and fall in the sunlight. I called Harry's attention to the presence but he shrugged and went on with his work. [...] He is no more aware of the mystery which surrounds him than a fish is aware of the water it swims in."

Binx knows that there should be sacraments; he just doesn't realize where they are.

"I asked Harry if he would excuse me. He was glad enough to, since I was not much use to him, sitting on the floor. I moved down to the Quarter where I spent the rest of the vacation in quest of the spirit of summer and in the company of an attractive and confused girl from Bennington who fancied herself a poet."

If he could get to the sacraments, he would find the rotations and repetitions that make sense.

There's more here than I have time to think about now.

Thanks for your prayers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pilgrim's Progress

I thought you might appreciate a progress report. I went and visited a priest, a lifetime first, and have made contact with the RCIA co-ordinator for the diocese.

Pentimento has been kind enough to teach me the rudiments of the rosary. It's still a guilty pleasure to kneel and ask the help of a Mother, who, if everything you say about her is true, doesn't actually despise me.

I have written a letter to the Session of my church, outlining my decision and a few reasons, and have posted it, so currently I am waiting for the sky to fall. I will be visited with cake.

Additionally, there will be a church discipline process. I expect I might be asked to confer with my elder.

There will be many hurt feelings over this, since I haven't mentioned anything of my internal debates to my two closest friends, both church members. (I didn't feel I had the liberty to unsettle them with my struggles.)

There will also be family difficulties. While I still have three children at home (hence my haste in this process), and an unruffled atheist for a husband, I also have three grown and gone, two of whom are professed (Protestant) Christians. There will be words. May they be charitable ones.

I wish I could take off the bandage by tiny degrees, but time is short. If nothing else, our year of earthquakes has shown us that we can't boast of tomorrow.

Here's a link to a post I've found supremely helpful in overcoming that most Protestant of stumbling-blocks, our Lady's title of co-redemptrix.

In the Lord,


Monday, June 20, 2011

How Does Your Library Grow?


While the latest online expression of bibliomania reminds Mrs. Darwin's other half of what it was like to start building his own library from scratch . . .

. . . certainly by age ten I had caught the book bug, and talked about "my library", which I consciously built--acquiring copies even of books my parents already owned so that years hence, when I was on my own, my library wouldn't have gaps in it. (Ah, the idealism of youth. I did not realize how inevitable it is that every library have gaps in it.)

. . . an impending move across the world threatens an older library Emily J has been building for years:

If I keep these books, will I be retaining a bit of the college student I once was? Will I maintain a certain elan if I have these books on my shelf? The problem is not only that I don't have enough shelves, but that that student is long gone. Why is it so hard to let go? Stripping away the accretions of the last few years is more painful than plucking eyebrows. This stuff represents a certain identity I don't have anymore. And the possibility of an academic identity that I will never achieve. I need to make a clean break. Detachment, detachment! one side of my mind keeps chanting. The other side whines, but I love this!

I'll bet even the ancient librarians at Alexandria had to face the fact that they'd always have gaps in their collection, although I don't know whether there were enough scrolls in their age for them to worry about having to trim some fat. In any case, the library was destroyed, thus becoming one of the hugest gaps in humanity's collective hoard--a loss we still feel today, an age when we are glutted with endless new things to read.

All this talk of tending libraries from infancy to maturity--with new hints that dedicated librarians might also have to guard against senility--has inspired a couple of organic metaphors.

The garden that needs as much regular weeding as regular watering.

The bowl of yeast we have to keep feeding if we want our daily bread.

I'm sure I'll be able to come up with more in time . . .

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Peter Kreeft on Till We Have Faces

A reader shared a link on my blog to this Peter Kreeft lecture on Till We Have Faces. It's more than an hour long; but very worth it. I feel like several pieces clicked into place for me. The interplay between Christianity and the pagan myth, the role of the Trinity. And what Ungit is all about. Actually, by the end of the Q&A session at the end of the talk I was in tears. So I thought I'd throw it out there if anyone is interested.

I am not making any progress on The Moviegoer, alas. I just don't think I'm in the mood for Walker Percy right now. I was hopeful; but I don't think it's going to happen.

And I suppose it's my turn to pick a book for June, right?

Anyone want to read Sigrid Undset's Catherine of Siena

Or a biography of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti

Or Women, Sex and The Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching by Erika Bachiochi?

Or Pope Benedict's Light of the World