This book can be read in one sitting. Not kidding. You won’t want to put it down. I only got up once while reading it and that was because one kid decided to bite another kid, and I had to feign like I cared for thirty seconds and dole out consequences. Motherhood.
Read it for free! You can probably get this book from your local library. I did.
This book is in an epistolary book, which means it’s a series of letters written between one party and another. In this case, they’re between Helene Hanff and a book store in London.
It’s a book about books. It’s fun to see what a spinster in 1950s New York City wants to read and can’t find in the States. It’s her real story–her real letters.
And she’s hilarious. On page 5, she informs the book store that they sent her the wrong bible. She writes, “Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They’ll burn for it, you mark my words. It’s nothing to me, I’m Jewish myself…”
I think the gals (and the Mysterious Mr. Banks) at the Literary Life Podcast are going to do an episode on this book soon. They keep mentioning it, anyway, which was why I read it to begin with.
Speaking of the Literary Life Podcast…you do know it’s the best podcast out there, right?
Helene Hanff loves Jane Austen. She put off reading her because she hates novels and anything that didn’t really happen in Real Life, but when she finally did read Pride and Prejudice, she “went out of my mind” over it.
2 Reasons to NOT Read 84, Charing Cross Road
It’s too short. I wanted it to go on and on. My heart sank when it ended.
It’s apparent that a few letters are missing. Where are they? I’d like to know!
Today I’ll give a brief overview of what everyone in my family is reading. This might give you some book ideas, if you’re stuck in a rut.
Speaking of ruts…are you stuck in one? I mean, when’s the last time you picked up a book instead of your phone to read something?
For those of you who are addicted to technology and treat your phone like a god, put it down! Take a break. See if you can not touch that Thing for a whole day. (After you’ve finished reading this blog post, of course.)
Books, Books, Books
Shall we start with the youngest?
The two Little Wreckers aren’t actually able to read, so they just drop in wherever anyone else is reading a book. They are not deterred if that person is silently reading. They just plop themselves down and look on.
For example, yesterday, I wondered upstairs to find this:
As you can see, the Older Sister was finishing up Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Littlest Wrecker undeterred, hopped in her chair, threw a doll down, and worked at dressing another doll. The Other Wrecker less obtrusively looked on. Eventually they did beg the Older Sister to read aloud, which she happily did.
I noticed last night, however, that the Older Sister started a new book from the Fairchild Family Series by Rebecca Caudill. Now she’s reading Happy Little Family.
How about the boys?
At this moment, the boys are all deep into the Redwall Series by Jacques Brian, again. There are some twenty or more books in this series, and we only own the first eight or nine. So every now and then the boys beg me to pick up a few from the library, which I did earlier this week. They’re currently reading Long Patrol, Marlfox, and Legend of Luke, I think.
The boys also have a few audio books going. At lunchtime, we’re listening to The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This is the original book–not a modern, edited version–and it’s difficult, but beautiful and definitely worthwhile.
We do own a hardcover Illustrated Classics version of The Pilgrim’s Progress and another edited version that my boys read when they were little, but I wanted them to hear the original language and be very familiar with it. This book is so important. I can’t tell you how many times The Pilgrim’s Progress is mentioned in other books.
The Eldest is reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe for her Literature class and Honey From the Rock by Roy Schoeman, which she picked up off of our bookshelves for fun.
Honey From the Rock is a fascinating read as it chronicles the conversion stories of 16 mostly well known Jews. I can particularly remember Alphonse Ratisbonne, who dramatically converted while in Rome after taking a dare to wear the Miraculous Metal. He eventually became a priest.
There is also the story of Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, which some of you may know from Catholic Answers and LifeSiteNews.
My husband is currently reading a Ham Radio manual and Nothing Superfluous by Rev. James Jackson, FSSP. It must be a good book because my husband enjoys pausing and telling anyone in the room all the biblical and historical reasonings behind every gesture, item, and action during the Traditional Latin Mass.
I just finished rereading two books: The Quiet Light by Louis De Wohl and In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden. Both are excellent reads. The Quiet Light is a delightful romp through history with spiritually edifying insights. It also features a sacrificial love story of a knight, thwarted by his lady.
In This House of Brede is just downright good. If you’ve read it, you know. My favorite sister is Dame Agnes because she’s so cranky and always right. Dame Veronica, the book’s Drama Queen, gets a close second, though, because I love it when her chin quivers. She’s hysterical.
And what am I going to read next?
I think I’ll read Robert Hugh Benson’s The Queen’s Tragedy, which chronicles the reign of Mary Tudor in England. I’ve never been disappointed with Benson’s historical novels.
Length aside, The Lighthouse is a moving tale of the life of Ethan McQuarry, a young lighthouse keeper with a wounded past. Just like his other novels, we get a good dose of sin, evil, loneliness, holiness, and redemption. Unlike most of his other novels, the evil is not expressly tangible, as say in Sophia House or Island of the World. You Michael O’Brien readers out there will know what I’m talking about. One is not made to read through truly horrific evil acts. And because of that, The Lighthouse seems, well, lighter, even with its tragic but redemptive ending.
Those of you who have never picked up an O’Brien novel, this might be a good place to start. Those of you who can’t seem to put O’Brien novels down, this book won’t disappoint you.
First of all, a business note: I’ll be on vacation for a few days. Deo gratias.
Secondly, with sigh, the area around Paul’s spinal catheter is beginning to swell again. If you think of it, remember him in your prayers. It would appear to be only a matter of time before he’s in surgery once again. Fiat mihi secundum verbum.
Now, if you haven’t read Gaudy Night, quit reading this blog post right now and go read that. Then come back to this post to see if Strong Poison is for you, because I have One Big Qualm with it.
This book is naturally going to be interesting to those who have read Gaudy Night, as it’s the backstory of Harriet Vane’s infamous trial, as she’s accused of poisoning and killing her then live-in boyfriend, Philip Boyes. This trial and Vane’s immoral history are alluded to several times in Gaudy Night. It was rather informative, therefore, to actually read about it.
Perhaps I should have mentioned that Sayers wrote Strong Poison first, then Gaudy Night? But I’m not sure reading them in that order would be captivating, for I think Strong Poison isn’t as good. Certainly I love Sayers’s wit, and the glimpses of immature Lord Peter Wimsey falling hard for Vane are so enduring, but as I mentioned above, I have One Big Qualm with this book.
My problem is that Miss Climpson, an undercover employee of Wimsey’s, decides to play the part of a soothsayer or a spiritualist in order to obtain information to free the innocent Vane from prison and the death sentence. By doing this, Climpson leads multiple false seances, pretending to invoke the dead, while also manipulating an Ouija Board.
Now this is a Bad Idea; it’s downright dangerous. This is the world of the demonic–just ask any exorcist. In fact, these kinds of behaviors open one to demonic oppression or possession. One would want to stay as far away from such things as possible.
To be fair, Miss Climpson does voice her concerns, and it would appear that her conscience does bother her, but in the end, she goes through with it. One could maybe conclude that while Sayers doesn’t like the practice of deception to reach into this evil world of spirits, she too, however, would be willing to go through with it? I don’t know.
But I do know that that chapter alone is the reason why I couldn’t recommend this book to anybody who does not understand the seriousness of the matter. Let me repeat myself–only a mature reader ought to read this book.
Strong Poison otherwise was a delightful read. One gets a clearer picture of Vane’s transformation from a girl willing to practice “free love” to a woman beginning to realize the foolishness and shallowness of such behavior. In the end, Vane wants something more, but needs time to heal, which Lord Peter Wimsey just doesn’t understand until Gaudy Night.
So, what am I bringing on vacation to read?
Busman’s Honeymoon, naturally, as it follows Gaudy Night. I’ve started it already and have had to force myself to put it down, or I won’t have anything worthy to read on the beach. I hope to write a few words on it later next week or so.
Now this was a delightful read. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. Dorothy Sayers just turned my whole literary world upside down. I thought I hated detective fiction. I thought it was a waste of time. I thought the whole genre could be brushed right into the dust bin.
Oh, was I wrong.
Let me back up a minute and define what actually is a narrow field of fiction: the detective novel. The detective novel is different from the broader field of mystery novels. The detective novel has a few rules:
There’s a detective. (I know, this should be obvious, right? But nothing is obvious to me in this mysterious new world of words.)
The author must provide all the clues and evidence in the text, so that the reader can actually solve the crime, along with the detective.
In other words, to restate #2, one cannot withhold information which is available to the detective, but not to the reader.
I’m told there are other differences too, but I’m a slow learner, and these are the ones that stood out. If you’re interested in learning a bit about this, a dear friend of mine in North Dakota sent me a lively and informative podcast about this very thing. Click HERE for it and scroll down to Episode 3. ( You won’t regret listening to Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford. I love these ladies.)
Back to Sayers
Like most homeschool moms, I had read Sayers’s famous essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” and it had never occurred to me that she had written anything else. Why should it? At that time in my life, I was too busy in grad school reading all sorts of new and lovely books–Chesterton, Belloc, Waugh… I wouldn’t have had room in my little brain for her anyway.
Plus, Sayers is really smart. I mean, really, really intelligent. She was one of the first women in history to be given a degree from Oxford. Her knowledge of those things Medieval and Renaissance is impressive. Gaudy Night is chock-full of references and quotations from that time period, which I struggle with. Thankfully Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford put together a couple of podcasts specifically about Gaudy Night, which I found tremendously helpful. You can find these episodes on their Literary Life Podcast. I can’t recommend them enough, especially if you fell in love with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, like I did.
Back to Gaudy Night
It was within the first few pages that I knew I’d like Sayers’s heroine, Harriet Vane. Sayers writes:
But Harriet had broken all her old ties and half the commandments, dragged her reputation in the dust and made money, had the rich and amusing Lord Peter Wimsey at her feet, to marry him if she chose, and was full of energy and bitterness and the uncertain rewards of fame.
That pretty much sums Harriet Vane up, and the novel is so engaging because we get to see her finally take a good look at herself, and realize that she had it all wrong. She didn’t really know herself–or Peter for that matter.
And then there’s Lord Peter Wimsey. Angelina Sanford compares his personality to that of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. I found this intriguing and so true, especially when it came to manners and wedding proposals.
I promise that this book isn’t just a love story, though. There is a mystery to solve… In fact, there’s a lot going on in this book. Sayers has multiple themes running at once. For you see, she was writing this book at a time when women in universities was a new thing, and so she explores all the complications of introducing another “sex” into the life of Oxford. She ponders single life and married life and women in the workforce and women at home. It’s all there, and it’s messy.
In the end, I can’t wait to reread this book. But first I want to get ahold of her previous novel Strong Poison where we get the backstory of Harriet and Peter. Then I want to read the book after Gaudy Night wherein Peter and Harriet are solving crime mysteries on their honeymoon–goodness!
The other day I attended a talk given by the founder of the Well-Read Mom Book Club, Marcie Stokman. The most inspiring point I took away was simple and went something like this:
You really do have time to read!
Now, she’s right. There are many moments throughout the day that I waste. For example, what did I choose to do during those fifteen minutes of free time after the boys’ Morning School, but before I had to get lunch ready? Nothing. I really can’t account for them. Then, what about that half hour in the afternoon when nobody was hanging on me? I checked my email and scrolled through a favorite blog. Or, how about last night when everyone was in bed? Hmmm….
Usually I’m pretty good about not wasting time, but I know I do it. Yesterday, however, I was inspired to sneak in a few extra minutes of reading, and it was worth it. I actually read about 75 pages. Got that? 75 pages that I normally wouldn’t read.
Today, I just want to challenge you to pick up a print book and read it, if only for ten minutes. Just do it.
P.S. Need a book recommendation? I would suggest anything by Michael O’Brien or Jane Austen.
P.P.S. Already read all of O’Brien and Austen? Read Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
I’ve read a few books recently. If you’re interested, my thoughts are below.
Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Willa Cather is one of my favorite authors. The way she writes about the land–the prairie in particular–is deeply moving. I suppose it’s because I grew up on a farm, and I have vivid memories of climbing grain bins only to watch the sun set on acres and acres of corn.
But it’s not just the way in which Cather writes about land, though, that is admirable. No, it’s the way in which she writes about people, especially those early settlers. Her stories remind me of my ancestors and their stories.
Cather knew these farmers and immigrants–for she was one of them–and she was able to give them an unforgettable voice–a dolorous voice, for their lives were full of suffering, which brings me around to Song of the Lark. In this novel, my favorite characters were just those who couldn’t seem to pull it together–Professor Wunsch especially, but also Fritz Kohler and perhaps Mrs. Tellamantez.
This novel, though, was my least favorite Willa Cather novel. I didn’t like Thea Kronborg, and I didn’t like Fred Ottenburg. In the end, Thea puts her career, wealth, and fame over her mother’s dying wish to see her one last time, and Fred wants to justify lying to Thea in order to further Thea’s career. (Do you know, Fred reminded me of Mr. Rochester from that excellent novel Jane Eyre? You’ll recall both men had secret wives and both thought that the means could justify the end, which is stupid and wrong.)
In short, however, I was disappointed in Song of the Lark. While I enjoyed her descriptions of Moonstone and the surrounding Colorado territory, I just couldn’t muster up enough sympathy or compassion for Thea.
But for those of you unfamiliar with Cather, take heart! Read her other works, especially Death Comes For the Archbishop. Now that’s an exceptional book.
Father Miguel Pro by Gerald Muller
Our family’s Saint of the Year is Miguel Pro. Naturally I thought it a good idea to read up on him, and so I bought this Ignatius Press book at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which has a side altar dedicated to him.
I really enjoyed reading this book and so did the rest of my family. In fact, we had to make a rule: No One Takes That Book Out of the Living Room Until Mom is Done Reading It!
Well, I finished it, and I have a much deeper appreciation for this priest who survived a few years of the terrible Mexican Revolution in the 1920s wherein churches were desecrated, nuns were raped, and priests were murdered. Fr. Miguel Pro was eventually hunted down too and shot.
I highly recommend this short book for your whole family.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
My daughter is taking a British Literature class this summer wherein all the novels are murder mysteries. Yikes. She’ll be reading the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and G. K. Chesterton.
Now I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel. Up until this week, the only thing I knew about Christie was the fact that she signed the infamous 1971 “Agatha Christie Indult,” wherein Pope Paul VI granted England and Wales permission to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.
Apparently Christie, who was not even a Catholic, objected to the promulgation of the Novus Ordo due to cultural and aesthetic reasons. She signed with the likes of Graham Greene. Supposedly Paul VI saw her name and exclaimed, “Ah, Agatha Christie!”
So as I was saying, I was motivated to snatch up The Murder of Roger Ackroyd before The Eldest got to it. Just what is all this fuss about Agatha Christie in the twentieth-century anyway? Apparently she’s the most widely published author of all time, excluding the Bible and Shakespeare.
And how was it? Reading a murder-mystery novel?
I can’t say it’s my cup of tea, as the British saying goes. Even though The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was entertaining, I felt like I was supposed to use my brain and try to solve the thing while reading it. Now I’m feeling old, and there were just too many parlourmaids and butlers to keep track of and too many open windows and missing objects and murder motives and such too. Goodness.
I can handle playing the board-game Clue, but that’s the extent of my ability to solve a murder. So, I’ll have to leave it to sharper blades in the drawer to tackle these books.
You’d think that during this Communist Lock-Down, I’d have lots of time to write blog posts. Alas, if it were only so! As it is, I find it very difficult to actually sit down at the computer and remain undisturbed for even 2 minutes to write.
Just now, typing that above paragraph, I had three different girls wanting my attention. “Mom, can we have crackers for our Dolly Picnic?” And, “Mom, it’s wet outside.” And finally, the third girl just came in and stared at me.
This is why, back in the good old days, I used to pack up my laptop, drive to a coffeeshop, and peck away with a hot cappuccino and no children in sight. (Bless their souls; they are so cute.)
But I digress. Today’s topic is books, and I intend to offer a few lovely ones that we’ve enjoyed lately. My apologies if my descriptions and explanations are a bit brief–please refer back to the beginning of this essay.
The Bantry Bay Series by Hilda van Stockum
Lately I’ve been reading Hilda van Stockum’s Bantry Bay Series as our afternoon read aloud. These books are published through Bethlehem Books.
As I’m only halfway into the second book of three, I suppose I can only speak from what I’ve read, but they’re excellent. They’re set in Ireland around the turn of the 20th century and follow the story of a rural family.
All of our children are enjoying this series. Even our eldest, age 13, leaves her homework and slips into the living room to listen to my terrible Irish accent. (If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly, right?)
I especially appreciate the glorious innocence of the time period.
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
We listened to this book via Audible during our lunchtime. We also own it, however, so that once we began, the older children clamored for the hard copy.
This book is set around Jerusalem at the time of Christ and follows the life of Daniel bar Jamin. He’s an eighteen-year-old boy caught up in revenge and plotting and spying and truth-seeking. He’s full of anger and impetuous. My boys love him. I enjoy seeing the Gospels in a new light.
My little girls, however, are somewhat lost listening to it. They could care less about a bunch of teenage boys ambushing Romans and all that.
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
This book is a Masterpiece. It’s my second time reading it, and I’m especially enjoying all those little things I missed before. (And forgot about.)
That is the test of a good novel, by the way. If you’re willing to reread a book, then it must be a good one, and you should own it.
I wish I had more time to write about this novel, but alas, I’ve already spent several minutes writing this, and the clock is ticking. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes crying into this room.
My Heart Lies South: The Story of My Mexican Marriage by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
Now, if you need lighter fare, this is your book. I’ve got the “Young People’s Edition,” whatever that means. I’m actually reading it to see how suitable it would be for my 13-year-old. I’m not finished with it yet, but I’m enjoying all the quaint references to a world now long gone. It’s set in Monterrey and follows the life of a young journalist in the 1930s who finds herself married to Mexican.
It’s fun, so far.
If you’re looking for a good homily, I can’t recommend my priest enough. He’s a warrior for the faith. Last Saturday he delivered yet another dynamite homily. Click HERE for it and scroll ahead to 30:03.
I was very glad to be present at this private Mass with all the children. (My husband was acting as MC and serving.) It’s important for them to see clearly what’s happening in the Church.
In this particular homily our priest examines Ratzinger’s 1969 prophecy that the Church would become small. I’ll post a couple paragraphs from Ratzinger–later Pope Benedict XVI–below. The whole thing can be purchased in book form from Amazon or Ignatius Press. It’s chilling, it’s true, and we’re living this now.
1969 Prophecy of Fr. Ratzinger
“What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the [sidelines], watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of man, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.
Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.
The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century…”
I recently finished reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and I was asked by someone if I thought this was a good book?
The short answer is no. I don’t think it’s a good book.
And here’s why: Hurston sends conflicting messages about the meaning of love, marriage, and sacrifice. She gets it all wrong, and I’ll do my best to briefly explain it below.
It might be helpful to begin with a simple definition of love, for love is not an emotion, as Hurston would have one believe. Emotional “love” is flitting; it is changeable and passing. Oh the agony one will find in marriage if one doesn’t understand this! Rather, to love is to will the good of another. It is to die to oneself. It is selflessness. Likely, most of you readers already know this.
Janie Crawford, the main character in Hurston’s 1937 novel, does not think of love in this way. Rather, she wants to feel love, which is why her first marriage fails. In fact, she simply walks away from that marriage, literally with another man, whom she then marries a day later.
In other words, Janie has become a polygamist, and not a word is said about it. Apparently this doesn’t bother her as she steadily marches onward with this new man. The interesting thing is, however, that she also begins to detest this new husband very quickly. A good portion of the novel details her reluctance to help him and her lamenting the fact that he doesn’t understand her. She doesn’t want to help him; she wants to do her own thing, and fortunately for her, he dies after a few years, leaving her with a lot of money.
What to do then? All the men in the town are eager to marry her, as she’s beautiful and rich, but Janie senses the shallowness of this. Within a year of her husband’s death, however, she runs off with another man, whom she marries. This man, she claims to love deeply, even though he steals money from her, lies to her, beats her, and cheats on her.
Now, I get that Hurston may simply want to paint an accurate picture of this time period–this culture. In fact, that would be the merit of this book. For those who are looking to understand the conflict, thoughts, and feelings of turn-of-the-century black Americans, perhaps this would indeed be a good book.
But I can’t recommend it because there’s a blending of good and bad. Sometimes good things are seen as bad. For example, it would be good to help one’s spouse out regardless of one’s feelings, but Janies does not think so. Furthermore, sometimes bad things are seen as good, such as when Janie breaks her marriage covenant.
Any book that celebrates bad things as good or good things as bad, without any redemption in the end, I can’t recommend.
Language and Beauty
Lastly, I want to address the issue of language. This novel is written almost exclusively in a rough dialect coming from the south, which can be difficult to read. Indeed, writing in such a manner can be a risky thing for an author, as you may limit your audience to only those who are willing to slog through it. (If I hadn’t wanted to read this novel for a local book club, I never would have forced myself to finish it. It wasn’t worth it.)
Then secondly, poor language becomes dangerous to those readers who may be immersed in such a culture. It drags one down, and after hours of reading in such a way, one finds oneself thinking in these words–even speaking aloud in that language, and that language is not beautiful. It is far from uplifting. And there’s something to be said for beautiful, uplifting, and intelligent language. Truly an author who has mastered the English language is a pleasure to read. I’m thinking of Charlotte Bronte. Each time I read something of hers, I can’t help but to marvel at her vocabulary and her ability to express so well the human heart.
Let me illustrate this with an example of a different nature. Many modern churches are built in a “low” way, lacking what St. Thomas Aquinas requires for beauty–namely, clarity, proportion, and integrity. Without getting into details and going directly to my point, there is a difference between worshipping in a pole barn and worshipping in a magnificent gothic cathedral. Any child could tell you so. One is inspiring, and one is not.
Books can be the same way. This is why I would be very wary of a novel done completely in the style of a pole barn–rough, ugly, and utilitarian. What message are you conveying? It had better be clear. Truth had better be Truth. If one wants to show a picture of something ugly, it had better have a clear purpose. There had better be redemption in the end. Indeed, there are authors who have mastered writing in slang or local dialects–I’m thinking of Charles Dickens–so I know it can be done well. But given Hurston’s confused manner of addressing such things as love, marriage, and sacrifice, I think she fails in her endeavor.
I recently finished Tobit’s Dog by Michael Nicholas Richard. I had great hopes for this historical fiction, as one always sees it pasted in the Ignatius Press catalogue near the likes of Sigrid Unset and Michael O’Brien–both both excellent authors.
Essentially this novel is a retelling of the biblical book of Tobit, but with an American, racial spin, being set in North Carolina during the Depression. Now, I love the biblical book of Tobit, so as I said, I had great hopes for this modern twist.
Alas, I was disappointed–not disappointed enough to quit reading it, mind you, but just disappointed. It’s like getting all psyched up for a run in the wintertime. You know, when you commence putting on layer upon layer of clothing, pull that face mask on, and then realize the wind’s whipping at 30mph with the thermometer hovering at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. What to do? Suck it up and get going, of course. Realizing that you’re in for a doozy and that things might not end well.
So as I say, I was disappointed in Tobit’s Dog, and here’s why.
Firstly, the characters were all limp and toneless. I mean, there was no real depth to Tobit, Tobias, Anna, Sarah, Gaston Walker, Judge Oliver, Mason Newberry, Del Gaines, Ben Cobb, Crafy Forgeron, Doc Mack…well, all of them. There were too many characters in this book. It was distracting. Like on page 9, not kidding, I had to start writing them down. When I got to 20 names, by the first third of the book, I just quit with it. And let me tell you, there were many more to come.
Secondly, I was dissatisfied with the plot. I didn’t mind it when Richard downplayed the great fish miracle or lowered the number of husbands killed by the demon, or used blessed water from Lourdes to cure Tobit’s blindness, but throwing in that disturbing suicide scene and adding the sodomy bit was…too much. Not too much as in I can’t handle grotesque situations, no. Too much, as in it was too hasty, barely scratching the surface of human nature, and corny and hackneyed. In fact, the whole book had a deplorable element of triteness.
That said, would I recommend it? Maybe, if you’re desperate for a read that won’t assault your Christian morals. Richard does get that right, and I commend him for it. You know, the good is good, and the bad is bad. And good wins. Thanks be to God.
A Note on Moving
Lastly, we’re in the final stages of packing a household of 9 and about to sail across 600 miles of prairie to disembark in a forest. It’s rather exciting around here, and I’m a bit distracted.
In other words, it’ll probably be a few weeks before I can offer another post.
Angelico Press recently released Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s book Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age this last September. Click HERE for it on Amazon.
I am so thankful to God and to Bishop Schneider for this clear and moving account of the affairs in the Church. Seriously, this is the best book I’ve read in a long while.
I came across this book in an interesting manner. Of course I had heard about it’s coming release this last summer, but what with Paul’s medical problems, I couldn’t pay much attention. Then a friend, who knew how our family suffered by lack of a regular Traditional Latin Mass in our diocese, read this book and found much hope in it. She mailed me a copy by way of a gift.
The book, however, sat on my shelf for about a month, for the simple reason that I was trying to force feed myself Cardinal Sarah’s book. (Not worth it, by the way.)
Then one night I couldn’t sleep. As this happens to me a lot, I’ve tried to just accept it and be grateful for it.
I have a plan, though, for when it does strike:
If I’ve been lying there for about 15 minutes or so, I force myself to get up. (I hate getting out of bed.)
Then I walk to the living room and kneel before our icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in complete darkness and cold.
I tell Jesus what’s on my mind, and He looks at me.
Then I pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for all my intentions.
Normally I can then walk back to bed and fall fast asleep. But not this night. No, I was wide awake. So I sat on the couch in complete darkness and watched the stars out of the window. It was quiet and beautiful.
Then I remembered Schneider’s book, sitting on my bookshelf. I picked it up, out of curiosity, and couldn’t believe the story I was soon reading. The story of a family surviving cruel and inhumane gulag camps in the Ural Mountains. The story of persecution and faith in communist Russia. The story of a young man experiencing the liberal craziness of 1970s Germany. The story of a bishop shepherding his flock in the midst of raving wolves.
I recently started reading Cardinal Sarah’s latest book The Day is Now Spent, but I had to quit, for I’m spent. Why, oh why will he insist on everlastingly quoting Pope Francis? I got to page 97 and was about to swallow another Francis quotation, but I couldn’t. I chucked the book across the room instead.*
It’s not that what Sarah is quoting is controversial or bad. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Sarah goes out of his way to find decent quotations out of Francis’s mouth. (That had to take some time.) Then Sarah will go on pretending that he and Francis are on the same page, which just isn’t true.
For example, Sarah is arguing and calling for the reform of corrupt clergy. Just what has that to do with Francis? Nothing. In fact, Francis has only intentionally surrounded himself with very controversial and corrupt clergy. Let’s remember that Francis knew about Pope Benedict’s censure on Ex-Cardinal McCarrick, but that didn’t stop Francis from hobnobbing with McCarrick and sending him on a public mission to China.
Let me repeat, it’s misleading to quote a conspicuously subversive man and pretend your minds are one. I don’t think these two men could be more different from each other. I’ll grant that Sarah probably has the sincerest of intentions, perhaps hoping that Francis is only naive or stupid or something, but I’m weary and done with it all. Why not quote someone with a clear track record of ousting corrupt clergy? Why not quote the Council of Trent on that?
Apparently I’m not the only one thinking these things either. If you want more, check out this article from Dr. Jeff Mirus at the CatholicCulture.org. I especially appreciate the second half of his article.
Parting Note on Sarah
Please note that I still would recommend Sarah’s God or Nothing and The Power of Silence. He’s got some pertinent and profound things to say, especially about the primacy of prayer and silence. (Not silence in the face of corruption, but rather silence as regards to the interior life.) Sarah also has a miraculous and astounding personal story of growing up in Africa.
Truly, you should read his first two books. I’ll warn you, though, he does quote Francis in both books, but it’s more forgivable, if you will, because these books were written earlier in Francis’s pontificate.
As it is, my book club is currently reading The Day Is Now Spent for November. I can’t wait to hear what these other ladies are going to say.
What Else Am I Reading?
Books in Brief
Recently I finished Gertrud Von Le Fort’s The Song of the Scaffold. This fictional novella is based on the real-life tragedy of the death of 16 Carmelites during the French Revolution. If you want a short, but moving read, I strongly recommend it.
The end, wherein the Carmelites are brought before the guillotine singing Veni Creator Spiritus, is very dramatic to say the least and inspired me to teach our children that ancient chant.
I also just finished a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien written by Humphrey Carpenter. This was a very enjoyable read, and I also recommend it, especially for you Lord of the Rings fans.
And lastly, I’m currently reading The Catholic Guide to Depression by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty. (No, I’m not suffering from depression.) I’m only a half of the way through, and I appreciate Dr. Kheriaty’s insights thus far. Perhaps I’ll post more on this book later.
Really, though, I can’t wait to read some more James Herriot. He’s light; he’s funny; he’s pre-Amazon Synod…
*Ok, fine. I didn’t actually chuck it across the room. If I would have, the children would have looked askance at me, for we have a rule about throwing books: No Throwing Books. It obviously damages them and anything else they might happen to hit, like their sisters.