Anyone need of a good laugh? If you have any amount of children, you’ll be able to relate to and appreciate Jim Gaffigan’s hilarious snippets about parenting in this book, which was published back in 2013. I read it aloud back then to my husband on a road trip, and we laughed uncontrollably at times. Six years later, it’s still funny.
This book was written when all five of his children were under the age of 8 or 9, which makes for some romping hilarity as he details outings in restaurants, parks, and vacations. Seriously, we can all relate. What makes the book even funnier, however, is that he and his wife cram their family into a two-bedroom apartment in the middle of New York City, where they have to navigate five flights of stairs just to get anywhere. They don’t even own a car. Imagine that.
In any case, if you’re feeling down about the ridiculously cold weather, go read his book for fun. (Do know, however, that at times he does throw his family under the bus. He’s not perfect. And certainly stay away from his TV shows. They’re downright terrible.) Incidentally, his second book, Food: A Love Story, is also good, too.
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
Now this book is just terrible. I mean, it’s really bad. It’s the worst book I’ve read all year. It’s the worst book I’ve read in the last ten years. For any fan of Anne of Green Gables, just stay away from it, and here’s why:
McCoy has sexualized it, and that’s downright despicable. For example, she’s got Marilla at age 13 tripping on her cloak and somehow falling on John Blythe’s chest. Or staring at his wet lips and bulging arm muscles, etc. etc. Puke.
McCoy gives Marilla a twentieth-century mindset. For example, Marilla is concerned about politics and women’s voting rights and reversing male/female courting traditions. Blah, blah, blah.
In fact, the book is very much concerned about showing what’s going on in Canada politically, which is not what one expects, if one’s used to reading L.M. Montgomery.
She’s got Matthew Cuthbert courting and galavanting around with Johanna Andrews, in spite of what L.M. Montgomery explicitly wrote about him in Anne of Green Gables. For example, look at the following dialogue between Anne and Matthew below, which you can find on page 140 in Montgomery’s excellent novel.
“Did you ever go courting, Matthew?” [From Anne]
“Well now, no, I dunno’s I ever did,” said Matthew, who had certainly never thought of such a thing in his whole existence.”
Clearly McCoy didn’t read Anne of Green Gables very closely, or she wouldn’t have him chasing after Johanna Andrews!
All that said, maybe the second half of the book straightens everything out. For you see, it was so terribly written that I couldn’t, could not, finish it. So if any of you want to borrow my copy, send me an email. You can have it.
Now this is a phenomenal book. It’s about an Englishman, Mr. Philias Fogg, in the 1870s who decides to take a bet, traveling around the world in 80 days.
A friend of mine recommended this book, saying that her children particularly enjoyed listening to it, via audio book. So, I checked it out from our library’s audio section, and we loved it so much, that I had to buy a written copy too. Then my husband got hooked, and he added it to his audio collection for his drives to and from work.
I’m telling you, this book is well done. I love the characters, the plot, everything. And you know a book is really good if all ages can enjoy it. I will warn you, though, that the first chapter or two may seem a little dry, but keep going. You’ll be rewarded.
And if you prefer listening via audio, be sure to get the version with Jim Dale narrating. His voice changes and accents are truly remarkable.
The other day I was wandering around the religion section at Barnes and Noble, when I spotted a pretty little book, tucked in between some really humdrum-looking titles. It caught my eye, as the cover was face out and, like I said, beautiful.
I immediately picked it up upon recognizing the author, Anne Bogel. She’s the creator of Modern Mrs. Darcy, a fun website that I’ve perused for book titles. I’ve also heard her interviewed on Sarah Mackenzie’s podcasts.
But this particular book caught my eye not only because of it’s pretty cover, but also because of it’s snarky title and quaint size. (It’s about as long as my hand. I love small, hardcover books.)
I immediately and randomly flipped it open to Chapter 8 How to Organize Your Bookshelves, and I was hooked. I love books. And I love organizing. But I snapped it shut. No! I won’t buy another book for myself. I’m here to find something for my husband after all. (Our anniversary was just days away.)
Somehow, though, the book stayed in my hand.
I wandered over to the Beer and Wine section. Hmmm, maybe he hasn’t gotten me anything yet? Maybe I should help him out and buy Anne Bogel’s book and then give it to him, so that he can give it to me? Yes! That’s just it.
And that’s just what I did. I bought the book, gave it to my husband, who gladly accepted it, and then had to wait two days before opening it at dinner on our 13th Anniversary.
Thank you, Honey!
So, I’d Rather Be Reading
I read this book in 24 hours, and this was restraining myself. You know, like putting the book down to make supper and attending to the baby. It was such a short, fun read, though, that I didn’t even have to lock myself in the bathroom to finish it.
But man is she crazy! I’m not sure she sleeps at all, with all those books she’s reading, and I found this a little inspiring. I really shouldn’t waste time putzing around on my phone or the internet. Rather, I should just pick up a book. And this should never be a problem either because I should keep a book on me at all times. (Another reason that I love small, hardcovers. They easily fit into my purse/diaper bag.)
Anyway, I thought I’d answer a few of her questions that she poses in her book.
What was the last story you wished would never end?
Easy. My kids’ book,Jock’s Island by Elizabeth Coatsworth. If she was still alive, I’d write her a letter and beg her to write an extended adult version. Like 10 volumes long. Who doesn’t like volcanoes and islands and seas and a hopeful, young couple separated by it all?
Which was the last volume you hurled across the room?
Hmmm…besides Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford? Maybe Anthony Trollope’s The Warden. I tried reading that one last week. Nope. Not gonna happen. Boring!
Can every devoted reader point back to the book that hooked them on the story? …one that made them decide, for themselves, to make reading a part of their life, forever?
The first book I ever remember reading, on my own, and loving, was L.M. Montomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I still love that book.
And finally I’ll recommend Bogel’s book for the following kinds of people:
Those of you who max out your library check-outs.
Those of you who like to rearrange your bookshelves for the practical reason that you do not have enough space.
Those of you who think Dust Jackets present a Dilemma. (I hate them and chuck them, by the way. If there happens to be any interesting material on them, I will cut it out and tape it to the inside cover of that book, but the rest goes.)
Those of you who have “ever finished a book under the covers with a flashlight when they were supposed to be sleeping.” (That’s Bogel’s official Book Dedication.)
In the end, I am a bit concerned for myself, however, after reading I’d Rather Be Reading. You see, she has a chapter titled Book Bossy, and I’m afraid that I fit the bill, and this is not good. Dear Readers, I sincerely apologize for all my bossiness. You should pray for me.
P.S. She’s read all of Evelyn Waugh’s books and loves Brideshead Revisited. Ergo, she can’t be that crazy because Waugh is awesome.
Some of you may be wondering what the children have been memorizing as of late?
Every winter there are a few poems that I like to go back to, for I think it is better to repeat poems and truly have them interiorized, rather than to continually introduce new material.
So recently my little children ages 5 and 7 just finished up Robert Louis Stevenson’s Wintertime, which can be found in his A Child’s Garden of Verses. (This is a book that you must own, by the way, for all the poems in it are gems.) Now the little children are memorizing Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. I can’t help liking this poem too because it’s one of the few poems I remember memorizing as a child.
The twins, age 10, have recently revisited the The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson because my husband wanted to learn it. It also happens to be one of their all-time favorites anyway, so they were more than happy to, “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” Now, however, they’ve moved onto the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, which is Psalm 43 .
My Eldest has been working on the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel for her homeschool coop. She also has another poem for her online Writing and Rhetoric class, but I haven’t seen it, so I can’t tell you what it is at the moment.
Books: Read Alouds and Lunchtime with Audible
Our last two read alouds were excellent. In fact, you should own them too. The first was Mary Fabyan Windeatt’s The Children of Fatima.
This true story blows me away every time I read it. I mean, 70,000 people witnessed the Miracle of the Sun. 70,000! And there are real newspaper photos from it. Just google it.
This book is just inspiring too. If those little children can sacrifice the way they did, then I need to step it up.
The second book we just read was also very good, but too short! I didn’t want it to end. It was Elizabeth Coatsworth’s Jock’s Island. And if you can get the version illustrated by Lilian Obligado, you’ll love it even more. The pictures are lovely.
On Audible we just finished listening to Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. This book was entertaining, but a little sad because someone steals the children’s puppy and mistreats him. However, it ends well.
Currently we’re listening to The Moffats, also by Eleanor Estes because the children can’t get enough of her right now.
And what about me?
I recently read Suzanne Wolfe’s The Confessions of X, which is a historical fiction account of St. Augustine’s concubine. I was a little worried going in that it would be full of immorality, but that wasn’t the case. I found the book entertaining, but lacking in something. Depth, maybe? I can’t analyze it at the moment because I have three children begging for breakfast, so maybe I’ll come back to it later.
Many of you sharp readers are aware of my admiration for Michael O’Brien. It is no secret that I consider him one of the most talented and brilliant fiction authors of the last 100 years. I’ve read most of his work, and I can’t praise it enough. Seriously, you need to read him. I recently highlighted his book Strangers and Sojourners, but if you’ve never read him before, you might also consider the widely popular Father Elijah. You won’t regret it.
The Apocalypse: Warning, Hope & Consolation
Today, however, I’m going to highlight a lesser known work, a nonfiction piece, which was recently published by Wiseblood Books. It’s The Apocalypse: Warning, Hope & Consolation. (Click HERE for it on Amazon.)
This book is a collection of talks, short essays, and selected readings all pertaining to the End Times – the Great Apostasy, the confusion in the Church, the Antichrist, Jesus’ warnings, etc. And for O’Brien, this thing is short. It’s only 161 pages long.
So, why read it? I’ll offer you two reasons:
The End of the World will happen. Jesus says so in the Bible. No, it’s not for us to know when, but it’ll happen. O’Brien’s book explores that. Many in the Church would have you ignore the Sign of the Times. Of course (do I need to say this?) O’Brien in not a sensationalist, but rather a realist. Just what is going on, on a Supernatural level? He has a few provoking thoughts.
Have you noticed the mass exodus of Catholics leaving the Church? (This problem isn’t just a Catholic one, by the way, it goes for all Christian denominations.) O’Brien’s best chapter is The Great Apostasy. Here he tackles the difference between apostasies in the past and the Great Apostasy that is now taking place. For example, O’Brien writes,
“A civilization that has known Christianity (and is now largely ignorant about how dark paganism can be) is choosing to go back down into the swamp…”
This chapter is so awesome. O’Brien quotes G. K. Chesterton and Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman and Christopher Dawson and Joseph Pieper and St. Paul and Jesus. You need to read it.
Lastly, I Came Across This the Other Day
Here’s the latest Gallup Poll on Mass attendance for Catholics. Yikes.
As a reflection, just think of what has happened in the Church since 1955… We’ve had the complete stripping away of our once beautiful churches. Latin has been thrown out. High altars have been ripped out. Gregorian chant is almost nowhere to be found. Religious Sisters shunned their habits. Ember Days are gone. And Catholics know more about their favorite sporting teams than their own faith.
You can’t tell me something isn’t going on. Michael O’Brien thinks so, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Wake-up, people! And go read his book.
Would you like to read a small book of poems without a dictionary on hand or a history professor on the line? Would you like to sit down with a cup of coffee and finish both within an hour? Do you like pictures with your poems? With good photographs, not sentimental slop?
Yes? Then I found the perfect collection for you.
From Dust to Stars
Jake Frost recently wrote and published a slender volume of poetry called From Dust to Stars. (Click HERE for it on Amazon.)
He has an interesting little bio that I found online:
Jake Frost is a lawyer in hiatus, having temporarily traded court rooms for kitchens and depositions for diapers to raise his pre-school aged children. He comes from a large family in a small town of the Midwest, and currently lives near the Mississippi River with his wife and children.
From it, I gather that he’s a stay-at-home dad.
As I said above, I like this book for its great pictures and short length. My baby happened to be sleeping, so I was able to read it straight through in one sitting.
This book reads somewhat like a short history book, beginning with biblically themed poems and then moving on to saints and angels. My favorite of the former is Shiphrah and Puah. This story comes from Genesis and tells of the two midwives refusing to obey Pharaoh’s command to kill baby boys born from Hebrew women. This story has always struck me as funny because of those faithful midwives. For in Frost’s words, the midwives say to Pharaoh,
“There is nothing we can do,
Before we even come
Their labor pains are through
And they hold their new born sons.”
Those robust Hebrew women sure do know how to have babies quickly!
But my favorite poem might be The Ones Who Went Before. It laments that we often forget the great people and courageous deeds that went before us. Frost writes:
Then the stones were raised to mark the days
In remembrance evermore
Of the darkness stayed and the price once paid
By the ones who went before
But the sands of time swirl and blind
And weather the graying stone
Till worn away like a passing day
More is lost than known
And tales once told in hall and hold
In time are told no more
Like shadows in shade, memories fade
Of the ones who went before
Maybe it’s the melancholic in me, but I find this poem very true and beautiful, and yet frightening for the times we’re currently living in. For our tales, our Christian tales, are now forgotten by many people. Sigh.
In the end, this is a good little book. And it would be good for your children too. Maybe you’re studying the Old Testament and would like to read poems on Abraham, Joseph, and Jonah? Or, maybe you would enjoy reading about the terrible English reformation? (There are poems on such men as St. Richard Gwyn and St. Thomas More.) Or, maybe you’d like a new poem to read on Christmas morning?
Parting Note: I love that he gets dragons right. They are always evil and ought to be destroyed. Deo gratias.
So, when I recently read on New Liturgical Movement about the reprints of five books, put out by Os Justi Press, which is Kwasniewski’s republishing entity, I immediately took notice and clicked over to Amazon and threw one in my cart.
Let me advise you, run over to NLM, read the article, and do yourself a favor and buy one or more, especially if you homeschool, and especially if you happen to be studying the English Reformation, for two of the books are historical novels written by Robert Hugh Benson.
In an email to a friend of mine Kwasniewski wrote, “These two novels by Benson are simply the best unit studies for the periods of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. We read them aloud in our family and couldn’t put them down. My children have returned to them. They make this crucial piece of Catholic history come alive.”
I need no convincing that these novels are excellent, as I am already a fan of Benson, having devoured Come Rack! Come Rope! a few years ago. But I’m also excited about the little book on vocation discernment that Kwasniewski is also reprinting. It’s called Vocations by Fr. William Doyle, and really, you should go read the description of it on NLM.
What am I reading right now?
In the end, I want to thank Dr. Kwasniewski for his hard work in putting out good material for us to read. My husband is currently reading Pius Parsch’s The Breviary Explained, also reprinted by Os Justi Press. It’s excellent, and I’m learning so much, as my husband likes to read passages out loud to me.
And I’m reading Kwasniewski’s Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, and honestly, right now, it’s making me mad. I feel as if I’ve been cheated out of our rich Catholic heritage. Maybe I’ll do a book review of it later on.
Anybody reading children’s books these days? No? Then this post isn’t for you. See you next time. Yes? Then read on.
I came across Chris Van Dusen’s work a few years ago with the Mercy Watson pig books. He was the illustrator for this series, not the the author, who was Kate DiCamillo. But I don’t like the Mercy Watson books, however. They’re BORING. But my kids like them, so I let them read a few. I tend to agree with C. S. Lewis though, who once said, “If an adult finds a children’s book boring, then it sucks.” Ok, those weren’t his exact words, but something like that. *
Anyway, I do really like Van Dusen’s two books that he both wrote and illustrated, If I Built a Car and If I Built a House. They rhyme after all and are fun to read. These books have great illustrations and articulate every kid’s dream of cars sporting swimming pools and houses featuring no-gravity flying rooms.
So, since I liked those two books, I thought I’d check out a few more Van Dusen books. He has a Mr. Magee series, which is ok and Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit, which is fine. They’re worth checking out at a library. But his Hattie & Hudson is bosh. First of all, it doesn’t rhyme. Secondly, Hattie is disobedient, sneaking out of her house at night. And thirdly, I don’t like big sea monsters portrayed as kind and misunderstood creatures. Nope. Quit mixing up your symbols, Van Dusen. Sea monsters and dragons should be evil. Always. Don’t agree with me? Read Michael O’Brien’s Landscape With Dragons and drop me a line. (Maybe I’ll do a post on that some day. By the way, if you have children, you should really read that O’Brien book.)
Van Dusen’s The Circus Ship is entertaining, however, and mostly appropriate. Once again, the pictures are beautiful, and it rhymes. There is a really fun page where one must find all 15 animals that are hiding from the terrible circus boss. It’s great. The only problem I have with this book is that all the animals are of course friendly. Even a big, fat snake. Humph! Snakes belong in the sea monster and dragon category – just plain evil. The only reason why I could still recommend this book is that he’s not saying anything at all about the snakes actually being good. He’s only showing that they can be tamed, which is true.
One final note about The Circus Ship. I know some of you are sensitive about anything circus related. I know I am. This is because shriners are typically associated with circuses and most of us don’t want anything to do with shriners, as they’re in turn connected to the Masons. Yikes. If you’re a Catholic, that should really bother you. That said, I see no such connection between this particular book’s circus and the shriners.
* C. S. Lewis’s real quotation is as follows. And I couldn’t agree more.
“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” C. S. Lewis
I’ve read a few books recently, which might be of interest to some. Here are my brief remarks.
One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler
This is Fulwiler’s second book wherein she details the process of writing her first book and discovering her “blue flame.” Her first book Something Other Than God was better.
However, I think One Beautiful Dream would interest those mothers who are really struggling and maybe drowning in diapers and Cheetos because she’s hilarious to read. And let me tell you, her life sounds very chaotic. The reason why I can’t give it a full, hearty recommendation is that I think it’s lacking something. It would be a richer book if she had included what her family’s prayer life looked like (or didn’t look like) during those hectic years.
I recommend this book for: Struggling mothers looking to commiserate or mothers who are feeling guilty about working a little on the side.
The Fields of Home by Ralph Moody
This is the fifth book in Ralph Moody’s Little Britches series. Our family read and listened to the first four books via Audible, and I cannot tell you how much we enjoyed them. They are excellent. If you do not own the first four books in this series, you are missing out. Yes, it is true that sometimes the language is rough, including such words as hell and damn, but they are always used in a such a way that the reader knows that it’s not the way one should speak. Let me repeat, Moody’s first four books are awesome.
So, the fifth book, Fields of Home. I intentionally previewed this book because my older children naturally wanted to read it after devouring the first four, but had held off because I heard that they contained material requiring a more mature audience. And this is true. While Ralph comes to live with his cranky grandfather, he notices a beautiful neighbor girl and wants to kiss her. This gets a little tricky.
In the end, I’d hold off on this book until your children are a bit more mature. The book just isn’t as good as the other four books anyway. I was bored from time-to-time because he waxes technical in his descriptions of farm life around the turn of the twentieth century. But maybe older boys would like that?
Shaking the Nickel Bush by Ralph Moody
This is the sixth book in Moody’s Little Britches series and also not as good as the first four. Again, my attention drifted from time-to-time, especially in his detailed descriptions of early 1900 cars. This book, like the fifth, also requires a more mature audience, but for a different reason. The main character, Ralph, lies to his mother about what he’s doing so as not to worry her. This is problematic. But then he also hooks up with a good-for-nothing mooch who in the end teaches Moody a lesson, which is good.
I was fascinated and horrified by this book and couldn’t put it down. Edith Hahn Beer, a young Jewish law student, survived WWII by taking upon a false identity, which eventually gets her married to a German officer. But that didn’t happen until about halfway through the war, after she was forced into the ghetto and sent to work as a field hand. She watched in horror as the world around her became a living Hell.
The eery thing is, many of the movements leading up to this war remind me of what’s going on in our culture, and this book exposes it all.
Warning. There is definitely mature material in this book. If you’re up for it, however, read it.
The other day I picked up a G. K. Chesterton book that I hadn’t thought of in ten years: St. Francis of Assisi. I remember enjoying it then, if only understanding a 1/3 of it. Now, that I’ve reread it, I understand more. I love books that one can return to, because there’s such great depth.
My problem ten years ago was that I had little understanding of the history of the Church, and that’s the great strength of this book. Chesterton doesn’t just start by saying Francis Bernardone was born on a rainy day in Assisi in 1181. Nope. He devotes the first couple of chapters to describing the world in which St. Francis was born. He answers such questions as, what was going on in the Church? Or, why was there a great need for a man like St. Francis anyway?
St. Francis of Assisi is just as relevant today as when it was published in 1923. In fact, it is probably more relevant as our culture has completely forgotten its roots, and if it remembers St. Francis at all, it remembers flowers and birds. Nothing really of the man Francis – of his uncompromising holiness. He didn’t just preach to birds and admire the flowers. No. This was the man who willingly embraced a leper because he wanted to overcome his cowardice. This was the man who walked straight into the heart of the Crusades and demanded to speak to the notorious Sultan to tell him about Jesus Christ. This was the man who bore the Stigmata and asked to be moved to the bare ground to die upon, in nothing but his hair-shirt.
Chesterton does an excellent job of startling our drowsy senses into wakefulness with this book. He clears up our dull and hazy vision to reveal a truly great saint.
If you’re in need of a good nonfiction book, get this one. But be warned, even though it is meant only to be an introduction to St. Francis, I found it helpful to be somewhat familiar with a basic outline of St. Francis’s life, as Chesterton seems to take that for granted.
Chesterton for Kids
If you’d like to introduce Chesterton to your children, check out these excellent readers put together by Nancy Carpentier Brown. My children love them.
Want More For Yourself?
There is an excellent magazine that my husband and I have been enjoying for years. It’s called Gilbert! Perhaps some of you may be familiar with Dale Ahlquist? He’s the publisher and editor. Subscription to the magazine comes with membership to the American Chesterton Society. I strongly recommend it.
This magazine features various essays from Chesterton and other current writers such as Dale Ahlquist, James V. Schall, and my favorite, David Beresford.
If you’ve never read Chesterton before, begin now. And don’t be intimidated by him. Many start with Orthodoxy or his Father Brown series. Both are excellent. If you love fiction, go with Father Brown. If you’re a lover of nonfiction, go for the former.
4 Parting Smidgeons
Since I’ve recently mentioned Evelyn Waugh on these pages…Chesterton wrote a scorching review of one of Waugh’s early books, Decline and Fall. (Waugh wrote that book prior to his conversion.) At the time, Waugh thought it was hilarious and put Chesterton’s condemnatory remarks on his 1929 Christmas card.
After Waugh’s conversion, he became great friends with Hilaire Belloc, who happened to be best buds with Chesterton. I’m not sure, however, if Waugh and Chesterton ever met. (If anyone knows the answer to that, drop me a line.)
In England, the Church is investigating Chesterton’s life with a view for opening his case for canonization. This is only the very beginning stage of a long, long process. Read about it HERE.
What’s my favorite Chesterton book? Everlasting Man. And I recommend THIS copy because it contains Everlasting Man, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Thomas Aquinas – three of my favorite Chesterton books.
Anyone need a good book for teenage boys? That’s inspiring, short, and hilarious?
You’re in luck. Ignatius Press has just the thing:
Humility Rules: Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem
This is the title of Brother J. Augustine Wetta’s book. Click HERE for it at Ignatius Press.
A friend of mine gave this book to me, and I read it in a day or two. It’s set up in 12 “steps” and offers practical advice after the fashion of St. Benedict’s Rule. It’s good for anyone to read, but the reason why I emphasize teenage boys is because Wetta is a monk, a high school teacher, and a rugby coach. Furthermore, he’s got a great sense of humor, used to professionally juggle, and loves surfing. He’s a manly man–perfect for teenage boys.
Wetta even has a little chapter on dating wherein he addresses the infamous question, “How far is too far?” He ends his rant on the wrongness of this kind of thinking with, “Feel free to do anything you could brag about to your mom.”
Then there’s a chapter on impure thoughts. He describes his own struggle with this. “While reading a biography of Saint Benedict, I learned that when he was tempted, he threw himself into a rose bush; so I said to myself, if Saint Benedict can do it, so can I. I went out into the garden behind the monastery and jumped right in.” You can imagine what happened next…getting stuck for an hour and half, and then having to explain himself to a brother monk…poor guy. It’s a great story for teenagers.
But he’s got great advice for all walks of life, not just teenagers. For example, he was once asked to preach at his best friend’s wedding, so he sought the advice of the wisest monk in his abbey, Brother Luke, who happened to be napping. Brother Luke opened his eyes and calmly told him, “Tell him [the young married man] that there will come a day when he will want the window open and she will want the window closed.” Then Brother Luke went back to sleep. Wetta was taken aback. What simple, but profound advice!
As a mother, I too found this book inspiring and funny. For example, let me quote a passage that I could relate to:
When I [Wetta] was seventeen, I burned a hole in the living room carpet. I didn’t do it on purpose, but let’s just say I wasn’t thinking when I set the hot kettle of popcorn on the rug in front of the TV. A few minutes later, my mother was standing before me with tears in her eyes, saying, “How much of this house to you plan to destroy before you finally leave for college? Just let me know so I won’t get too attached.” That was a few weeks after I had decided to juggle bowling balls in my bedroom, and several months after I had backed the family car into the garage door.
Any mother who has boys will understand what Wetta’s mother was feeling. How often have I lamented the destruction of my house? From holes in the walls to broken toilet seats, my husband and I joke about how we can’t have anything nice.
Each chapter concludes with Wetta’s homework for the reader. This may be the best part of the book – this simple, practical advice. Let me give you a few examples of his homework:
Clean a toilet.
Drive somewhere with the radio and the cell phone turned off.
Clean up someone else’s mess. Bonus points if it’s on the floor.
Spend an entire day without looking at a screen.
Now who wouldn’t want their teenage boy (or girl) to read this awesome book?
Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been reading lately?
Christopher Sykes’s Evelyn Waugh: A Biography.
Before reading this book, I had a good idea who Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was, but now I’ve got a lovely, full, and ferocious picture him. He was no sweet pastel painting of flowers either. No. I’d compare him to a Jackson Polluck, which he’d probably hate, as he detested modern art, but maybe I could say he was like Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire?
Now I’ve always liked Waugh, as I was introduced to him in grad school with Brideshead Revisited and some of his short stories. I knew that he had a fiery personality and was a bit eccentric, but wow did I underestimate him.
Prior to converting to Catholicism, he was a rowdy, drunken homosexual. After his conversion, he was a rowdy, drunken Intellectual.
Let me quote a passage from the book:
‘Do let me’, he [Waugh] wrote to his young friend, ‘most seriously advise you to take to drink. There is nothing like the aesthetic pleasure of being drunk, and if you do it in the right way you can avoid being ill the next day. That is the greatest thing Oxford has to teach.’
Not only did Waugh drink excessively and raucously in Oxford and beyond, he was also a melancholic insomniac. In fact, it was likely the drugs he was taking for insomnia that killed him at the fairly young age of 63. For you see, these medications were not to be mixed with alcohol, and he just couldn’t not drink.
And then, can you imagine how cranky he was after not sleeping? (I know how cranky I am after nights of insomnia.) His friends remember him saying repeatedly, “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.”
But for all his raw and rough behavior, he really was a good man. He fought in WWII, traveled all over the world, spoke multiple languages, and did a lot of good. For example, he would go out of his way to help fallen-away Catholic friends recover their faith. He also quietly, and unknown to anyone at the time, gave all the profits from his book on Edmund Campion to Oxford specifically for the building of Campion Hall.
Waugh was also funny and witty. When he was courting his wife, he wrote the following in an attempt to convince her to marry him:
I can’t advise you in my favor because I think it would be beastly for you but think how nice it would be for me. I am restless & moody & misanthropic & lazy & have no money except what I earn and if I got ill you would starve. In fact its a lousy proposition. On the other hand I think I could do a Grant and reform & become quite strict about not getting drunk and I am pretty sure I shall be faithful…
In the end, she did marry him, and they had seven children, with one dying in infancy. But this biography doesn’t get into a whole lot of family life; rather, this biography focuses more on his literary life.
If you’d like a good picture of what kind of man produced such famous novels as Brideshead Revisited or A Handful of Dust, check out Sykes’s book. But be warned. Most of the novel discusses Waugh’s literary endeavors.