Thursday, December 23, 2010

He Knew How to Keep Christmas Well

Dear Misfits,
Sorry.  I’m about a week late with a report of our discussion of A Christmas Carol, our December book.   So let me get right to it—it is a wonderful classic that has helped define the “spirit” of Christmas for millions of readers since Charles Dickens published it in December, 1843.  It also generated one of the best book discussions we have had in several years.  All of the men  at our meeting had read the story in a Christmas past but to a man, declared it was even better than remembered
Dickens called his story “A Christmas Carol in Prose “.  To complete the imagery of a “Carol”, he divides the story into five “Staves”, a stave being “a verse or stanza of a poem or song”.  He also called it “A Ghost Story of Christmas”.   But it is not a scary ghost story for the reader.  It is only scary for Scrooge. 
Misfit Loome noted that each of the Ghosts were very benign spirits especially the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present.   Both of these spirits were very communicative while conducting Scrooge on a tour of his life culminating in the greed of his present life.  Then a third and final spirit visits Scrooge.  He is a silent phantom clad in a hooded black robe.  The Phantom Spirit presents Scrooge with an ominous view of the future and of a lonely death.  This is the most Christian part of the Carol…it presents Scrooge with a Memento Mori moment which leads him to a redemptive change of heart.  The story ends happily for Scrooge and for each of us.  It concludes with the observation that ”it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One! “  Yes, God Bless Us, Every One!
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Would St. Jerome have read an E-book?

Today's bibliosite is both a picture of Loome Lore and some food for thought about the E-book craze.

One one side - basic (and now ancient) contact information and hours of operation (only by appointment as the Loome family was then spending their time raising their children at the bookstore more than being open for business):

On the other side, a picture of sacred reading and a still timely admonition from St. Jerome.

I'd like to treat of just what is sacred reading and whether on open book or a turned on e-reader is more conducive to such activity.

First, notice the posture of the reader above.  It is one of openness and humility.  The reader is not even touching the book but kneels receptive and prayerful before it's open pages.  She has a fixed attention on the book.  It is as if the book is illuminating her with it's holy wisdom.

Strangely enough if we swap the book for an e-reader in the picture, it gives one the impression of idolatry - kneeling before a thin, small, electronic object.  I'm not saying reading from e-readers is anything like idolatry, just that in this picture, an e-reader in place of the book gives a very different impression.

So can one practice sacred reading with an e-reader?  First of all, what makes reading sacred?  What is sacred is set apart from what is profane.  So sacred reading must be the reading of that which is sacred.  Presumably, our reader above is reading from a sacred book, one of the books that Christians through out time have attested as worthy of reading for the Truth therein.  However, it takes more than a sacred book to make up the whole of sacred reading.  I am reminded again of the posture of our reader above, prayerful, humble and attentive.  Sacred reading also encompasses the disposition of the reader - she must be interiorly prepared to receive the word of Truth which she will encounter in the book.  Sacred book and sacred disposition must be in place to authentically undertake sacred reading.

Now, back to the e-reader.  Is an e-reader a sacred device which one needs to undertake sacred reading?  Only when there are sacred books loaded onto it.  However, profane books can just as easily be loaded onto it as well.  In this regard, a sacred book is always superior to an e-reader since a single sacred book, never changes its stripes so to speak: it is always a sacred book.  The e-reader changes it's stripes depending on the texts one reads on it.  Do readers of e-readers bring a sacred disposition to their use?  Yes and no.  Again, this depends on the texts one is prepared to read on the e-reader.  But there is nothing in the e-reader itself which invites one to a sacred disposition.  Actually, e-readers with their plastic bodies and changeable screens scream portability, mutability, and efficiency which are all antithetical to a sacred disposition to encounter grounding, eternal, and ponder-able Truth.  Here, again, the sacred book, sometimes bound in leather, but always with it's permanent cover and solid mass beckons a sacred disposition from the reader.

Therefore, I think St. Jerome would not have done his sacred reading with an e-reader.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Confused as Hell

Dear Misfits,

Dimiter, our book for November was puzzling.  In fact, the Misfits who read and discussed the book are still trying to figure out if they liked it or not!  There is much to like about this latest novel by William Blatty (he of Exorcist fame).  First, it can be accurately called a “Catholic novel|” though perhaps not in the tradition of Morris West or say, Graham Greene.  That said, the book was in many respects a thriller that accurately portrayed Catholic themes and theology.  The story begins in Albania in the 1970’s which is the briefest and most exciting part of the book.  Here, we meet a mysterious prisoner who is suspected of being an “anti-government agent”.  The Albanian authorities subject him to unspeakable torture.  The prisoner does not break and suffers in total silence.  It is grim, believable, and our introduction to Dimiter, who turns out to be an American CIA “agent from hell”. 

The scene then abruptly shifts to Jerusalem where we meet a confusing mélange of characters, the most interesting of whom are a Christian Arab police detective, Peter Merel and Dr. Moses May, a brooding neurologist at Hadassah Hospital. Unfortunately, confusing cross references to characters and mysterious, often inexplicable deaths, baffle the reader.  Most of us re-read the ending several times and still could not accurately identify who was doing or saying what to whom and vice versa.  The final 20 pages of the novel do attempt to clarify the story but the ending remains puzzling and in finally, unsatisfying.  Perhaps it will make a better movie! 

Now on to the future:

December’s book will not leave anyone confused.  We have decided to read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol , first published on December 19,1843.  As anyone who has had a childhood knows, the story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visitations of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  “Dickens's Carol was one of the single greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England, but, while it brings to the reader images of light, joy, warmth, and life it also brings strong and unforgettable images of darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death. Scrooge himself is the embodiment of winter, and, just as winter is followed by spring and the renewal of life, so too is Scrooge's cold, pinched heart restored to the innocent goodwill he had known in his childhood and youth”.  You can get the novella on line, in any book store, and hopefully, in any Christian home.  I encourage all of the Misfits to come to our December meeting to share in our discussion of A Christmas Carol and help us prepare to celebrate the coming birth of our Savior. 

January’s book is also very topical!  We have decided to read a novel by Blessed John Henry Newman.  (Cardinal Newman’s beatification was officially proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI on September 19, 2010 during his visit to the United Kingdom.)  Cardinal Newman wrote two novels:  Loss and Gain (1848) and Callista (1855).   We have decided to read Loss and Gain as it is more widely available. Loss and Gain is a philosophical novel that depicts the culture of Oxford University in the mid-Victorian era and the conversion of a young student to Roman Catholicism. The novel went through nine editions during Newman's lifetime.  It was the first work Newman published after his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845.  The novel can be found at Google Books for reading on line (print editions are quite expensive though they are available with a Google search).  To read on -line, go to Google Books and type in Loss and Gain.

February’s book is by Dorothy Sayers.  We have been talking about reading her for many years.  We have chosen to read Unnatural Death, originally published in 1927.  This is the third of Dorothy L. Sayers’  "Lord Peter Wimsey" mystery novels and is regarded as one of the best in this excellent series.   In the story, a wealthy old woman is found dead, a trifle sooner than expected.  An intricate trail of horror and the senseless murder leads from a beautiful Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat and a deliberate test of amour as staged by the debonair sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey.  "Here the modern detective story begins to come to its own; and all the historical importance aside, it remains an absorbing and charming story today."   Available from Amazon for $7.99.

March’s book is a return to horror...classic horror!  We have, by popular demand, decided to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  (I think our recent reading of Frankenstein has given us a taste for the macabre.)  One reviewer sums the book up thus:  “Count Dracula has inspired countless movies, books, and plays. But few, if any, have been fully faithful to Bram Stoker's original, best-selling novel of mystery and horror, love and death, sin and redemption. Dracula chronicles the vampire's journey from Transylvania to the nighttime streets of London. There, he searches for the blood of strong men and beautiful women while his enemies plot to rid the world of his frightful power.”  It is widely available.  Amazon sells several editions of the classic story-- some for as little as a dollar (plus shipping.)

April’s book is not a Catholic book in the genre usually read by the Misfits...but it is definitely a classic tale for men.  We have decided to read Ernest Hemingway’s novella, The Old Man and the Sea.  The Amazon review reads:  “Here, for a change, is a fish tale that actually does honor to the author. In fact The Old Man and the Sea revived Ernest Hemingway's career, which was foundering under the weight of such postwar stinkers as Across the River and into the Trees. It also led directly to his receipt of the Nobel Prize in 1954 (an award Hemingway gladly accepted, despite his earlier observation that "no son of a bitch that ever won the Nobel Prize ever wrote anything worth reading afterwards"). A half century later, it's still easy to see why. This tale of an aged Cuban fisherman going head-to-head (or hand-to-fin) with a magnificent marlin encapsulates Hemingway's favorite motifs of physical and moral challenge.”  It is widely available and can be found on Amazon for as little as one cent (plus shipping).

So that should round out our year of reading and launch us into a new year of reading and discussing the classics of literature...and our faith.  I look forward to seeing each of you at our December book meeting on Wednesday, December 8th, 2010, at 7:00 pm, the St. Thomas More Library, the Church of St. Michael.

Warmest regards,

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