Book Review

Books in Brief: Willa Cather, Miguel Pro, & Agatha Christie

I’ve read a few books recently.  If you’re interested, my thoughts are below.

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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

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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.

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It has great pictures too.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

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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.

Book Review

Tobit’s Dog: Book Review

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.

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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.

 

Book Review

New Biography of Michael O’Brien and Some Novelties of Summer

If you’ve ever read any of Michael O’Brien’s books, chances are you’ve wondered, just who in the blazes is this man who writes so well?  As soon as I discovered that his biography, On the Edge of Infinity, was for sale, I bought it and was not disappointed.

I couldn’t put it down.

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You need this book written by Clemens Cavallin.

Not only do I consider Michael O’Brien the greatest Catholic novelist since J.R.R. Tolkien, but I also wonder about this man’s sainthood.  He’s got an amazing conversion story, going from such things as Ouija boards and seances to being attacked by malevolent spirits and spontaneously reciting Psalm 23.

This book is not boring.  And the neat thing is, as one suspects from reading O’Brien’s fiction, many of his stories come straight from his own life.  For example, has anyone ever read O’Brien’s A Cry of Stone?  This book features the story of Tchibi, a boy who experiences abuse from his headmaster at his private school.  O’Brien modeled this boy on his own experience of abuse at Grollier Hall in Canada.  It’s excruciating to read.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Back to On the Edge of Infinity.  Clemens Cavallin begins this biography of Michael O’Brien (born in 1948) with stories from Michael’s parents and grandparents.  Then Cavallin moves into detailing O’Brien’s childhood in the Canadian arctic and then chronicles the turbulent years following the Second Vatican Council wherein suddenly altars were stripped and destroyed, statues of saints disappeared, and families were discouraged from praying the rosary.  O’Brien’s family was deeply affected by these radical changes.

Naturally the book goes on to relate Michael’s conversion, his meeting of Sheila, their marriage, and his momentous decision in 1976 to devote himself wholly to God and to art – specifically icon painting.  (Writing fiction would come later.)

Probably what fascinated me the most in reading Cavallin’s biography, however, was Michael and his wife Sheila’s utter trust in God, to the point of downright poverty.  Seriously, at one point, Michael and his eldest son had to push the wheelbarrow to the local convent, because they didn’t have a working vehicle, to get the leftover vegetables from the sisters, just to eat for the week.

The other thing that I greatly appreciated about this book was its focus on art and beauty.  I’ll never get tired of this subject, because in our culture it is of extreme importance that we get it.  Art ought to be beautiful because it’s a reflection of the Divine.  Beauty matters!

Finally, if any of you have children and homeschool them, you will probably enjoy hearing about the trials and experiences of the O’Brien family.  Michael and Sheila homeschooled their 6 children.  And it wasn’t easy.

The Novelties of Summer

  1. I hope you’re all enjoying summer.  We are.  Normally the children start a little Summer School by now, but we haven’t yet.  For we’ve had this to contend with:
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This is our backyard.  We’re in the process of planting grass, trees, bushes, and a garden.  Oh, the work!

2.  We have had time for ice cream, however.

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3.  And we did just recently make a little pilgrimage to a beautiful rural church in Strasburg, North Dakota, named Sts. Peter and Paul.

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Here are the children on the front steps.

Even though this church is in the middle of nowhere, people still go to see it.  Why?  Because beauty is attractive.  The following is what one sees when walking in.  I apologize for the lack of lighting.  We didn’t know how to turn all the lights on.

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Check out those sweet confessionals flanking the sanctuary.

Of course you can see the high altar behind that newly inserted wooden table altar from the 1970s.  Here’s a closer look of both altars:

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And an even closer look of the high altar:

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Just look at that detail.

Question of the day:  Which altar speaks to the greatness of God?

 

Call Me Catholic

Fr. Fessio of Ignatius Press Speaks Out

Anyone still following the latest in the Church Crisis?

I came across this article from LifeSite News, wherein Fr. Fessio of Ignatius Press speaks out about Pope Francis’ silence.  It caught my attention for a number of reasons:

  1. I’ve always admired Fr. Fessio.
  2. I love Ignatius Press.
  3. Apparently Vigano reads Michael O’Brien, as he mentioned Father Elijah.*
  4. Anyone who has read anything of O’Brien’s finds his writing eerily prophetic.
  5. And finally, Fr. Fessio takes the words right out of my mouth, “Be a man.  Stand up and answer the questions.”

Here’s an excerpt from the article.  If you’re interested, click HERE for the whole thing.

“He’s attacking Viganò and everyone who is asking for answers,” Fessio told CNN. “I just find that deplorable.”

“Be a man. Stand up and answer the questions,” he added.

The publisher-priest told LifeSiteNews that he meant no disrespect for the Pope by saying this. Fessio observed that words said in conversation look “worse” in print but defended his opinions.

“I think the idea that I’m expressing there is a valid idea, and even if I tempered it somewhat, I think it should be said. And maybe … it will help the Pope to have some straight-talking. He seems to want to have openness, doesn’t he? He talks about frankness and openness and don’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind.”

“So I said what was on my mind–and not just my mind; it’s on a lot of people’s minds.”

Thank you, Fr. Fessio.

*Haven’t read Father Elijah?  Pick yourself up a copy today and be prepared to stay up all night, because it’s that good.  You won’t be able to put it down.

Book Review

Humility Rules: Book Review

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.

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Notice the monk carrying a skateboard?   This book is full of funny pictures.

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.

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I couldn’t resist showing one picture of his monks.  I love that they’re lifting weights.

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.

Wetta’s Homework

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:

  1. Clean a toilet.
  2. Drive somewhere with the radio and the cell phone turned off.
  3. Clean up someone else’s mess.  Bonus points if it’s on the floor.
  4. Spend an entire day without looking at a screen.

Now who wouldn’t want their teenage boy (or girl) to read this awesome book?