Tuesday, September 22, 2015

From Waugh to Dickens and Onward!

Dear Misfits,

We had a very lively evening last Wednesday discussing Evelyn Waugh's novel, A Handful of Dust.  The novel is generally regarded as one of Waugh's best.  Set in the 1930's, the novel's protagonist, Tony Last, is engaged in trying to maintain his anachronistic Victorian values in an increasingly volatile society while his wife, Brenda, involves herself in a pointless affair with her fatuous lover, the generally clueless, John Beaver.  As the story develops, Tony, having been betrayed by his wife, sees his illusions shattered one by one.  He seeks solace by joining an expedition to the Brazilian jungle where he finds himself trapped in a remote outpost as the prisoner and plaything of an insane settler, Mr. Todd. It has been noted that "Waugh incorporated several autobiographical elements into the story, notably his own desertion by his young wife."  Then, in 1933–34, he undertook a journey into the South American interior where a number of incidents and personalities from the voyage are incorporated into the ending of the novel. Tony's singular fate in the jungle at the end of the novel was first used by Waugh as the subject of an independent short story, published in 1933 under the title "The Man Who Liked Dickens".  In other words, the ending of the novel stands alone as a separate story.  And it works!  The ending "fits" and makes for a very poignant and effective end of the story.

Now to our book for October.....and November!  We will read and discuss  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  "The novel is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. It depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution.  It shows the brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution and has many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same period. The novel follows the lives of several characters through these events. A Tale of Two Cities was published in weekly installments from April 1859 to November 1859 in Dickens's new literary periodical titled "All the Year Round".

We will read the novel in two bites:

For October, 2015:  Read the Book The First: Chapter I-Vi and Book the Second: Chapter I-XXIV

For November, 2015: Read Book the Third: Chapter I-XV.

The novel is available at Amazon or can be downloaded and read at The Project Gutenberg web site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/98/98-h/98-h.htm#link2H_4_0001

For December: We have decided to read and discuss two works reflective of the birth of the Christ Child.

The first is Hans Urs von Balthasar's Unless You Become Like This Child. This is one of the last books he wrote before his death in 1988.  The book provides a moving and profound meditation on the theme of spiritual childhood. In this book, von Balthasar argues that the central mystery of Christianity is our necessary  transformation from world-wise, self-sufficient "adults" into abiding children of the Father of Jesus by the grace of their Spirit.  The book is quite short at 75 pages.  It is available from Amazon for $ 8.26.

The second part of our December read is a poem by T. S. Eliot, "Journey of the Magi"  It is a 43-line poem written in 1927 by T. S. Eliot (1888–1965). In the poem, Eliot retells the story of the Magi who travelled to Palestine to visit the newborn Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew. The narrative of the poem is told from the point of view of one of the magi.  The poem expresses themes of alienation and a feeling of powerlessness in a world that has changed dramatically. The poem's monologue incorporates quotations and literary allusions to works by earlier writers Lancelot Andrewes and Matthew Arnold.  The poem is widely available on line.  You may wish to use this website: http://allpoetry.com/The-Journey-Of-The-Magi

For January 2015:  We will begin the new year by reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  The novella is by Polish novelist Joseph Conrad, about a voyage up the Congo River into the Congo Free State, in the heart of Africa, as told by the story's narrator, Marlow.

For February, 2015:  We will read a work of non-fiction, Thomas Merton's now classic conversion story, The Seven Story Mountain.

For March, 2015:  We return to one of our most beloved authors, Flannery O'Conner.  We will read, Letters of Flannery O'Conner: The Habit of Being.

For April, 2015:  We will read The Idiot written by the 19th-century Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was first published serially in The Russian Messenger between 1868 and 1869. The Idiot, alongside some of Dostoyevsky's other works, is often considered one of the most brilliant literary achievements of the "Golden Age" of Russian literature.

For May 2015:  We will read The Quiet American, an anti-war novel by English author Graham Greene.  The novel was first published in the United Kingdom in 1955 and in the United States in 1956. It was adapted into films in 1958 and 2002. The book draws on Greene's experiences as a war correspondent for The Times and Le Figaro in French Indochina 1951–1954. He was apparently inspired to write The Quiet American in October 1951 while driving back to Saigon from Ben Tre province. He was accompanied by an American aid worker who lectured him about finding a "third force in Vietnam”.

That should keep us busy well into the new year.  It is going to be another exciting and challenging year of reading he great books and authors of our Catholic literary tradition. Hard believe we've been at this for over 13 years!  We are so blessed.

Yours in Christ,

Misfit Buzz

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Presence of God Under the Gazebo

Dear Misfits,

Last Wednesday evening, The Misfits met at Claret Farms under the Gazebo to discuss and recite the remarkable faith-centered poetry of Denise Levertov.   It was a beautiful evening with each of us reciting a poem...and then sitting in silence to reflect and consider the profound depth of Levertov's deeply spiritual poetry.  It is difficult to describe the spiritual ethos of the men at the meeting other than to say that we felt we were in the presence of God.  If you haven't read The Stream & the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes, you really should do so.  You will read and experience poems that are like prayers.

And now to our next book: for September, we will read A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh.  In what many consider his greatest novel, Waugh creates a savage satire of modern Britain.  "Tony Last (presumably the last of his tribe) is a member of Britain's declining landed gentry.  He's barely managed to hold the family estate together but he has a successful marriage (or so he believes) and a wonderful son.  Then, in short order, the boy is killed in a horse riding accident, his wife leaves him for a callow youth and Tony travels to the Amazon on an ill-fated expedition.  In the end, Tony finds himself stranded in the jungle with a reclusive Englishman who makes him read the works of Dickens aloud."

"From the wife who casually abandons her marriage, to the member of Parliament whose greatest achievement is a new regulation on pork bellies to the similarities Tony finds between the civilized British and the Amazon savages, Waugh depicts a Britain that is sunk in amorality and has abandoned all pretense of greatness.  Long before WWII brought down the final curtain on the Empire, he presents a despairing portrait of a society bereft of any moral bearings.  The final image, of the decent Englishman reciting the greatest of England's cultural achievements into the wilderness, is an especially poignant metaphor for what Waugh felt his country had been reduced to in the Modern age."

A Handful of Dust  is available on Amazon for $14.13,

Our book for October and November is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  The Misfits have long considered reading this novel...and now we will.  "The novel is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. It depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same period. It follows the lives of several characters through these events. A Tale of Two Cities was published in weekly installments from April 1859 to November 1859 in Dickens's new literary periodical titled "All the Year Round".  

We will read the novel in two bites: October, 2015:  Book the First-Chapter 1 through Chapter 16 of Book the Second; November, 2015: Book the Second-Chapter 17 through Book the Third.  

The novel is widely available and can be downloaded and read at The Project Gutenberg web site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/98/98-h/98-h.htm#link2H_4_0001

The Misfits want to thank Chris Hagen for hosting our Summer meetings at Loome Theological Booksellers/Claret Farm.  We had three wonderful summer meetings under the Gazebo and intend to continue that tradition next summer if allowed by our host.

Our meetings will now be held in the St. Thomas More Library at the Church of St. Michael in Stillwater.  Our meetings are always held on the second Wednesday of the month and begin at 7:00 pm and end at 8:30 pm.  Our next meeting will be on Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Yours in Christ,

Misfit Buzz

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Monday, July 13, 2015

"All believing Catholics should have this book in their personal library"

Dear Misfits,

Last [Wednesday] evening, we met for our final discussion of Lucy Beckett's examination of great writers of the past two and a half millennia.  Our meeting was again hosted by Misfit Chris Hagen and set beneath the gazebo of Claret Farm.  It was another warm summer evening with male fellowship, good talk, and a few beers.

Blaise Pascal - Illuminating Hero of Beckett

We all emphatically agreed that In the Light of Christ is a truly remarkable book.  Beckett's survey explains in brilliant detail how Catholic thinkers and writers from ancient to modern times have shaped our Catholic faith.  There are many excellent reviews of In the Light of Christ so I won't try to review the book in any depth other than to say that all believing Catholics should have this book in their personal library.  They should read, and reread, the book as it will explain and illuminate the great theological depth and intellectual scope of our Faith.

Now to the future:  Our book for [August] is a short one...but it is dense!  We will read Denise Levertov's, The Stream & the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes. This collection of "selected poems on religious themes" is by a renowned poet, "who embraced the Christian faith late in life, interacting with spiritual sources that crossed her path while on her journey of faith."  I should add, that her searching led her to the Catholic faith.  The book is available on Amazon for $9.92.

Also, and as a part of our next meeting, let's each of us bring a favorite poem to read and make it a real evening of poetry

Our book for [September] is another novel by Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust.  Laced with cynicism and truth, A Handful of Dust satirizes a stratum of English life where all the characters have money, but lack practically every other credential. Murderously urbane, it depicts the breakup of a marriage in the London gentry, where an errant wife suffers from terminal boredom, and becomes enamoured of a social parasite and professional luncheon-goer.  This is perhaps Waugh's most biting novel yet, his perspective is always that of a Catholic man.  The novel is available at Amazon for $13.86.

Our next meeting will be on Wednesday, August 12, at 7:00 pm at Claret Farm/Loome Theological Booksellers.  The address is: 2270 Neal Ave N, West Lakeland, MN 55082.

. . .

Yours in Christ,

Misfit Buzz

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Something Wicked this Way Comes

Dear Misfits,

Our meeting last Wednesday evening was wonderfully hosted by Misfit Chris Hagen, he of Loome Theological Books and Claret Farm.  We met under the beautiful gazebo that defines the grounds of Claret Farm.  The weather was perfect and was enhanced by a selection of Lift Bridge beer and snacks provided by Chris.  Chris was such a wonderful host that we've decided to meet at Loome Theological books/Claret Farm for the rest of the summer.  (Actually, and the truth be known, St. Michael's will remain closed in the evenings through July and August and Chris has volunteered to host us at Claret Farm.)

Our meeting Wednesday evening generally involved swapping many of the popular phrases and quotes from Shakespeare's perfect tragedy, Macbeth. The play is said to illustrate the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake.  It occurs to me that the play also describes our current political climate as scores of Republican candidates now maneuver to be our President while equally ambitious Democratic candidates try to figure out how to overturn the reigning Queen of that party so that they, in turn, can thwart the upstart Republicans. It is a perfect Witches Brew.  But I digress.

We did thoroughly enjoy reading and discussing Macbeth.  Misfit Mark Druffner mentioned that in the backstage world of theatre, many Shakespearian actors believe that the play is cursed; they will not mention its title aloud, referring to it instead as "the Scottish play".  He provided this link to a hilarious spoof of that belief: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h--HR7PWfp0

And now, back to Lucy Beckett:  Our selection for July will conclude our reading of her masterful book, In the Light of Christ: Writings in the Western Tradition.  We will finish the book by reading Chapters 12-16 and Chapter 22.  We were enjoined by Misfit Loome to give special attention to the chapter on Pascal.  Misfit Wessel also recommended that we reread and discuss, in greater detail, Chapter 22 which deals with Czeslaw Milosz and Pope John Paul II.

A bit further into the future:  for August we will read and discuss a book of poetry by a literary convert to the Faith, Denise Levertov.  Her collection of poems, The Stream and the Sapphire:  Selected Poems on Religious Themes, describes her slow movement from agnosticism to her eventual acceptance of the Christian faith.

In September, we will go back to one of our favorite authors, Evelyn Waugh, and read A Handful of Dust. Waugh's novel "combines tragedy, comedy, and savage irony, [and] indelibly captures the irresponsible mood of the 'crazy and sterile generation' between the wars".  This will begin our 13th year of reading the great treasures of our Catholic literary tradition.  Hard to believe that we started our Catholic Men's Reading Group in 2002 and that the Misfits are still going strong.  Amazing!

For the remainder of the summer (July and August) we will continue to meet at Loome Theological Books at:

Loome Books/Claret Farm
2270 Neal Ave N, West Lakeland, MN 55082

(651) 430-1092
See also the Map at: https://www.loomebooks.com/

I hope to see each of you there.  It is lovely setting.  Even if you haven't read all of Beckett, drop by to share a beer with us and peruse the remarkable books available at Misfit Hagen's book store.  You really should visit this store and support his wonderful enterprise: collecting, preserving, and marketing, the theological treasures of Christendom. 

We will meet as always, the second Wednesday of the month at 7:00 pm.  Please consider bringing a six pack or a snack to share at our next meeting on Wednesday, July 10th.

May God continue to bless each of you,

Misfit Buzz

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Breathtaking Insights of Lucy Beckett Continue

Dear Misfits,

We had another wonderful evening last Wednesday discussing another 5 chapters in Lucy Beckett's great book, In the Light of Christ.  The  book is a remarkable survey of "Writings in the Western Tradition" as described in the sub-title to the book.  We have now read 10 chapters and have unanimously decided to continue reading the remaining 14 Chapters.  We have found that each chapter is or could be a "stand alone" in that the insights Beckett draws from Western literature beginning with the Greeks and extending through writers in our present age illustrates how the Grace of God acts upon the human mind in the authors she examines.  Some of her insights can only be described as breathtaking.

So, we will continue to read and be inspired by our Lucy Beckett, a woman we have found to be of great brilliance and inspiring faith.  Therefore, we will read Chapters 7-11 and discuss those chapters at our next meeting on Wednesday, May 13th at 7:00 pm, the Church of St. Michael.  (We always meet in the St. Thomas More Library room).

But here is a twist.  Our readings for next month discuss the writing of  William Shakespeare.  Therefore, have decide to let Beckett rest a bit in our minds and read and discuss Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Macbeth for our June book.  We have been wanting to read another work from Shakespeare for sometime now.   So this seems a good time to do it.  Macbeth is considered one of Shakespeare's darkest and most powerful works. Set in Scotland, the play dramatizes the corrosive psychological and political effects produced when evil is chosen as a way to fulfill the ambition for power.  (Do you think we might find some modern parallels in this work?  I'll just bet we do!)

Finally, it is such a great pleasure to read and discuss with you, the truly great novels, biographies, and plays that make up our Catholic literary tradition.   We've been reading these literary classics for almost 15 years.  And we've barely scratched the surface!

God bless each of you.  He is risen!

Misfit Buzz


"The good, the true and the beautiful—it is for these that our souls long. Though they reside in unity and perfection in God alone, the written word is one place we can discover glimmers of divine light.   The writings of great souls can turn our gaze toward God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ. Even authors who do not know Christ or who reject Christ can still point to him, for anyone who seeks the truth finds it; and any one who turns his back on the truth turns away from a someone whose presence can often be more keenly felt in his absence."

----Lucy Beckett

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

From Newman to Dostoevsky, From Hopkins to Milosz - Lucy Beckett surveys it all.

Dear Misfits,

We met last week to discuss selected Chapters from In the Light of Christ, Lucy Beckett's remarkable survey of writings in the Western Tradition.  We had decided to read and discuss only selected portions of the book, namely the Introduction (The Order of Love), Chapter 16 (John Henry Newman and Matthew Arnold), Chapter 17 (G. M. Hopkins and Emily Dickinson), Chapter 20 (Russia II: The Brothers Karamazov to Solzhenitsyn), and Chapter 22 (Czeslaw Milosz and Pope John Paul II).  Well, that merely whet our appetite for more Beckett.  This is easy to understand once you begin reading (and rereading) this profound examination of the impact the Catholic Faith has had on every aspect of Western Culture.  You simply want more of it.  Therefore, we have decided to read the entire survey, beginning to end.  

We have already read and discussed Chapter 1, The Order of Love.  We will now read Chapter's 2-5 (pages 1-104) for next month.  I think it will be helpful to  continue our discussion of the Introduction to the book wherein Beckett lays out her thesis that the value of the truthfulness, beauty, and goodness of the  Augustinian Catholic tradition, is best understood "in relation to the absolute truth, beauty and goodness that are one in God and that are definitively revealed to the world in Christ".

I am personally very excited about reading and discussing all of this great book with you.  I am pleased that we have decided to do so. 

And to remind, our next meeting will be at 7:00 pm, Wednesday, April 8th, in the St. Thomas More Library, the Church of St. Michael, Stillwater, MN.

In Joyful expectation of the Risen Christ,

Misfit Buzz

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lucy Beckett's The Leaves are Falling

Dear Misfits,

Last week we had a very good discussion of Lucy Beckett's new novel, The Leaves are Falling.  In a word, we thought it was great!  However, a few did comment that it got a bit didactic at times.  In effect, Beckett uses the story line in the novel to express her deeply held Christian beliefs and theology.  She also presents a haunting portrait of two of the most terrible atrocities of the Second World War; one committed by the Nazi's and the second by the Soviets. The first atrocity is described by Josef, a young Jewish boy whose family was murdered by Nazi death squads who visited his village, Vilna.  The second story line is told by Josef's father, Jacob, a Polish Army doctor captured by the Soviets and taken to a place called Katyn, where he and 8000 of his fellow Polish officers were massacred.  We were deeply impressed by the meticulous research done by Lucy Beckett in recreating the thriving pre-War Jewish population of Vilna in Lithuania, the Soviet prison camps and the dreary streets of post-war London while simultaneously charting the political and spiritual struggles of ordinary people caught up in horrific events that were always beyond their control. This book serves as a stark reminder of the evils unleashed on the civilized world by both the Nazis and the Soviets.  It is also a moving testament to the courage and humanity of those who managed to live through it.  The novel is high on our list of "must read" Catholic literature!

And now, a few comments about our next novel.  We will continue our reading about the horrors of the Soviet system and the people affected by that Godless enterprise.  We will read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s classic novel, In The First Circle.  “The novel was published with great acclaim in the West in 1968. Written in the mid-1950s just after Solzhenitsyn’s eight years in the gulag, his nearly fatal bout with cancer, and his sentence to “perpetual” exile in Kazakhstan, this novel of tyranny and transcendence, set in a secret Soviet prison research facility, appears for the first time in full and in sterling English, following the Nobel laureate’s death at age 89 in 2008. In this many-voiced, flashback-rich, philosophical, suspenseful, ironic, and wrenching tale, Solzhenitsyn interleaves the stories of a grand matrix of compelling characters (women are accorded particular compassion) trapped in a maze of toxic lies, torturous absurdities, and stark brutality.”  (From review by Booklist)

We will read the novel in two parts as follows:

October:  Chapters 1-48 (Pages 1-367)

November:  Chapters 40-79 (Pages 368-729)

And to remind, our next meeting will be on Wednesday, October 8th, 2015, at 7:00 pm in the St. Thomas More Library at the Church of St. Michael in Stillwater, MN.

Warmest regards
Misfit Buzz

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