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Top Ten Books Read in 2013 -2

Lamy 2000

Lamy 2000

My familiarity with Neil Gaiman came from his penning the comic book series Sandman, which admittedly and ashamedly I’ve never read. He instantly became a cool cat for though when I found out that he writes his novels with a Lamy 2000 fountain pen. So when one of his books, co-written with Terry Pratchett came on-sale in Audible I clicked the buy button. It seemed like right up my alley too. It is a novel about the Armageddon as described in the book Revelation. I speak of Good Omen.Good Omens

I though I laughed a lot at Woody Allen. I was wrong. This novels is hilarious. It follows a demon and an angel who over the millennia have established a friendship. The demon is entrusted with taking care that the anti-Christ grows up as evil as possible. Only neither of the tow want the world to end so they conspire to keep the anti-Christ neutral, only they accidentally switch up babies. From then on there is blunder after hilarious blunder, a perfect comedy of errors.

This is a great book, audio or otherwise, for any occasion.

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 3

The Fathers Tale Last summer we attempted to run a second Reverenced Reading Summer Reading Extravaganza. The book I ambitiously (I repeat … ambitiously) choose was Michael O’Brien’s The Father’s Tale. Yes, I understood it was as large as my dictionary, but oh, the eyes were bigger than my reading stomach.

My sister (who read the book in two days … did she sleep?) had  raved about this book. She said I had to read it. Well, I did. It took 10 months of stop-and-go reading. It doesn’t flow like a Tom Clancy novel where action and suspense or the promise of one or the other moves the words along. O’Brien was content to sit and reflect on a situation. That style was new to me as a reader and I struggled through it, because the pace was pedestrian.

And I am glad it was, because it forced me to reflect on fatherhood through the eyes of Alex Graham who chases he son across the world to save him. The chase though moves through snow instead of in two supercharged automobiles.

This was my first O’Brien novel and I love his prose. I love his characters. I love the way he constructed his plot, and I look forward to the next I read by him.

This would be a great book for a road trip or a Father’s Day gift for that man in your life who loves to read.

Flappers and Philosophers

Flappers and PhilosophersA few years ago, I went on a downloading binge on librivox.com, the proud purveyor of out of copyright audiobooks. One of those books, oddly enough, was a series of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald called Flappers and Philosophers. I suppose I choose the title during binge because it intriguing. I certainly wasn’t because I was a fan of the Jazz Age writer. Back in high school I was forced to read his famous novel, The Great Gatsby, which I found so revolting that I didn’t finish it, which was, in itself, against my personal reading code at the time: finish what you start. I’m sure I had reasons for doing so but with the passage of time those reasons are left in the mists. All that lasts is the bad taste in my mouth when I hear those words.

With that illogical judgement in mind, I entered these stories with a bit of trepidation. What I found were eight clever little stories. From what I gathered on Goodreads, these were written early in his career. The writing, to me, doesn’t reveal that. They are in great prose and play off some fantastic ideas: how to outwit a girl who doesn’t care, what happens when a Southern girl goes North, what if a large cut glass bowl was the central plot turner in a story, what would be like to be the sister of a Jesuit, how did bobbed hair become so popular?, what is a face told a life story, and what happen to a soldier when he comes home from war. Some are downright comical others take on a more serious vein, but all are well written.

In the group, three stuck out to me. The first was “The Ice Palace” which played with the idea of what happens when a Southern girl goes north. Fitzgerald plays well with the cultural differences between North and South and how they are comparable to the respective weather: cold and distant (North) and warm and leisurely (South). I won’t tell you how the story ends but suffice it to say it is darkly comical.

On the whole the stories play with various flappers and only one story really toys with the idea of a philosopher and that is “Head and Shoulders.” It is the story of a philosophical prodigy who falls in love with a stage girl. I found it hilarious that he named his studying chairs Hume and Berkley and that relationship that drives the story begins with the female protagonist (and in a sense, antagonist) sitting in Hume. That is comical because the whole story is one of strange causation that end in the perceived role reversal. It’s ending too is darkly comical. I found myself laugh in public with earbuds on.

The third I feel deserves a whole other post so I will continue then .

The Top Ten Books Read in 2012, #3

#3 was the relative surprise of the bunch. The other books were connected with authors, pop culture phenomenons or publishers with whom I was familiar. Murder in the Vatican by Ann Margaret Lewis was a whim purchase. I had heard Sarah Rienhardt mention this book on her blog, Snoring Scholar.

As you well know, I love mysteries. Sherlock Holmes is the popularizer of the genre (I tip my hit to Dupin as the originator). So, to connect Holmes with Catholicism, with religion being a sticky situation to Holmes character (most in part due to his atheistic author Doyle), I was really excited to read it.

The stories are the normal Doyle length. The three stories read more like novellas. Two of them are set in the Vatican, wherein the main Vatican character is none other than Pope Leo XIII, the reviver of Thomism and the writer of the first social encyclical. Lewis showed a great deal of knowledge about Leo and the goings on of late 19th Century history in Europe. She played well with the depth of intellect that both the real man and the fictional man had. It made for great dialogue and a certain development within the character of Sherlock Holmes.

Two of the stories, as well, welcomed a beloved character in the halls of Reverenced Reading, Fr. Brown. One of them mentioned him while he was still a seminarian and the other featured him.

This book was a delight to read. I’ve landed it twice since reading it. Currently my father, who reads a book a year ,is flipping its pages. I thoroughly recommend it.

The Top Ten Books Read in 2012, #4

So #4 was probably one of the biggest clean books (down with the smut!) of 2012, even though it was published a few years earlier. This was due in large part to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games being brought to the big screen.

In our most popular guest post and second most popular post all time, our friend Katherine spoke about it here.

As for me, it takes me a week or two to read a book of fiction. I read Collins’ dystopian teenage drama in less than 24 hours. I couldn’t put it down. I was surprised the way it sparked my reading.

The concept is both apropos and scary at the same time. It takes the culture of death that has been invading our national culture and brings it to the end game. Children are put on national display in a contest to kill each other. You can tell that the hunger is not just for food but for true freedom, which from all quarters is sorely lacking. In the outlying districts they are enslaved to work and production. In the Capital they are enslaved to pleasure. It is overall a quite depressing book.

All this is played out in the confused life of Katniss Everdeen. She herself seeks freedom but can never find it. All she see is predetermined ends. In the end, she exerts her free will to disrupt the ‘tradition’ of the Hunger Games and awakes in the hearts of many a desire for the freedom she exhibited.

It has some food for thought from a Catholic perspective. It asked all the right questions, but where Collins failed is she never provided answers. More questions occurred and no answers were forthcoming. Even if her answers were wrong, bringing up the right questions would have still made for a satisfying book.

It was fast paced and like a speed boat never entered the depths. This is made even more evident in the second and third book of the series. Nonetheless, this book caught me off guard and hit me square in the shin (which when I read it had metal sticking out it). I couldn’t ignore its profundity even it never realized it itself.

The Top Ten Books Read in 2012, #5

Book #5 has garnered one of the most popular posts on this blog, Trains are Not Safe Places. Agatha Christie’s (the only other author to make a repeat appearance on the top ten) The Murder on the Orient Express is an exercise in the masterful craft of confusing the reader.

The characters are rich and greatly described. The setting, hence the reference, makes for a great place to do a character study because once it’s set it doesn’t change.

It was my introduction to Hercule Poirot. I have now watched one season of the BBC television show Poirot due to enjoyment of this detective. He is the synthesis of Arsene Lupin and Sherlock Holmes. He is both suave and deftly deductive.

This is my second Christie novel and probably one of her best. She might not make the list again. I started from the top and fear that I have only down to go, but I’m looking to be surprised. I haven’t even enter the world of Ms. Marple.

Sudden Monday – The Morning Light

I won’t be able to do this every Monday but today is one of those days I can. Ryan Charles Trussel of Ora et Labora et Zombies fame has started something in the vein of Jennifer Fulwiler’s 7 Quick Takes. He calls it Sudden Monday. He invites the courageous writer in all of us to write a small piece of flash fiction and connect it back to him so without further ado.

The Morning Light

To say that it is bright is really unnecessary, although it has encroached on my well deserved and much desired darkness. It remains constant and yet, in the haze, seems to dispel something. What that something is has yet to be determined because, well, determining things are not an available ability at this current juncture.

Amber is the color, which reminds of an ale I had not too long ago. To give a date or time of how long ago requires for me to make something definitive, and I’m definitely not ready for definitive. Nonetheless, that color is intoxicating in and of itself. It begins to elicit in me motion. It draws me; attracts me. I can smell it. No, no, I can’t smell it. Although if I could, I’m sure its odor would be pleasant for such a color cannot create stench.

This amber becomes a lens with which to see shadows and shapes, not like trees. I know trees. They smell. No, the shapes have angles, right and isosceles. Despite they’re shape and angle,  definition remains beyond grasp. What is in grasp is that darkness is slowly slipping away receding like the shoreline in low tide making a promise to come back but not saying when.

Do I let it slip away? I do love this darkness. It is devoid of responsibility. It is not within the limits of the necessary cogitation of human interaction. It is safe.

But this sweet smelling color is calling me. I can hear it clear as a bell ringing the knell of some joyous occasion. It’s lens now provides definition. Angles and shapes become things instead of ideas.

Awake from sleep. Arise, for a new day dawns.

The Integral J.R.R. Tolkien

‘I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of though and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell. 

‘Naked I was sent back – for a brief time, until my task is done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined star was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone. forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was a long as a lofe-age of earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away.

 ‘”Ever am I fated to be your burden, friend at need,” I said

‘”A burden you have been,” he answered, “but not so now. Light as a swan’s feather in my claw you are. The sun shines through you. Indeed I do not think you need me any more: were I to let you fall, you would float upon the wind.”

I wish I could claim this writing as my own. We are taken in a realm that is beyond sense while simultaneously being hyper sensory. Am I in a dream? Or is this real? It sounds sort of like Scripture until Saxon-like name appears.

This is the writing of one J.R.R. Tolkien. To the fan-boy, the first paragraph will sound familiar. It is Gandalf speaking of his defeat of the Balrog from Khazad-Dûm in The Two Towers.

(via http://www.theonering.com/ )

In his magnum opus, Tolkien left us something rich and complex. It is not merely an imitable fantasy story nor merely the perfect story to translate into motion picture. It is a myth and myths are powerful. They contain within them much more than mere words and stories and lessons. They contain and communicate Truth.

The excerpt above is my example. Among the mysterious syntax and hazy description comes forth something almost other worldly. For the mind seeking Truth, “naked I was sent back …” has a familiar ring to it. “Do we return to our mother’s womb?” Nicodemus asked. “You must be born again of water and the spirt.”

“The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined star was choked with burned and broken stone.” Babel had been destroyed. The veil in the Temple was torn in two. The Light of the world was place in a new tomb hewn from rock.

Tolkien forcibly communicated that he had no intention of writing a ‘Catholic’ novel, or so I here from many sources. While having never reading those words from his pen, I can see why he would be so adamant. That being said, he did write a Catholic novel – not because it was intended to be one, but because he was Catholic. “Nominal” was not in his religious vocabulary. He was singularly dedicated  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He lived that dedication as a father, as a professor, as philologist, and as a writer. When you dedicate yourself to one thing, that one thing permeates all other parts of your life. “I desire that they may all be one as You and I are one.” Integrality.

What we have to learn from Tolkien is that to be Catholic is to allow Christ to permeate our entire existence, from breathing to washing the dishes to filling TP reports to calculating the amount of fuel needed for a rover to arrive at the planet Mars.

‘”A burden you have been,” he answered, “but not so now. Light as a swan’s feather in my claw you are. The sun shines through you.

Catholic Bloggers Summer Reading Extravaganza

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are starting something new (well I don’t think it’s been done before but if you know link it in the comments). After speaking with some fellow bloggers who like to read, we decided to do a blogger summer reading club. I’ve done reading clubs before where we read a book and talk about it. We attempted here on the blog, a few years ago, a summer reading thing which turned out to be a monologue (mine, sorry) for way too long (3 months of posts).

After learning from those mistakes, we taken up again the goal of a collaborative and communional reading and writing on a book. We have chosen the book: The Father’s Tale by Michael O’Brien.

My sister has raved about his writing for the last few years and I was given some of his books, as an ordination gift, by some friends of mine. Despite that, I felt drawn to this story of a father who had lost his son, having recently become a father (of souls). This novel is no 200 page detective yarn (to which I’m naturally drawn) but rather a 1,200 page tale.

Joining me on this libraventure (I just made it up but I’m thinking of coining it) is:

Angelica Quinonez from Through a Glass Onion

Claudio Mora from Greater Love Has No One Than This

Emmy Cecilia from Journeys from a Catholic Nerd Writer

Jeff Young from Catholic Foodie

Lisa Schmidt from The Practicing Catholic

Sarah Reinhard from Snoring Scholar and New Evangelizers

Sarah Vabulas from Catholic Drinkie

We will be posting bi-weekly thoughts on the book and (hopefully) responding to each other. Start following each of the blogs and get to see this in action. We will be posting things on Twitter as well. If you want to pick up the book and follow along with us go here. Feel free to chime in as you read the book or if you’ve already read the book share your thoughts.
Here’s the reading plan:
There are four sections in the book. We will be taking each section in bi-weekly increments so you will definitely see posts on:

Section 1 – July 23
Section 2 – August 6
Section 3 – August 20
Section 4 – September 3

There will be sporadic posts here and there about it but you can expect writing at those times. You will also see links to the other posts on each of the blogs bring things full circle. Then at the end, I hope to gather some thoughts from each of the readings for a sort of meta-review.

Looking for the King

During one of the days wherein I was in intense pain along with having a sinus infection, I stayed in bed and read. I normally don’t read books in one day. I haven’t since the time of Redwall back in, well, ’96. Needless, to say I haven’t put myself in the situation where I have the time to finish a book so quickly. Well, in that period of convalescence I had just so the opportunity. The book I chose for this wonderful feat, Looking for the King by David Downing. The book intrigued me because in included in its cast of characters CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, both whom I admire as Christians and writers but most especially as Christian writers.

Downing is something of a Lewis scholar. He has spent much of his published time on the life and work of CS Lewis. The thing about Lewis is that to get in touch with him requires that one get in touch with and get to know his friends, the Inklings, most notably Tolkien and a hitherto mysterious man, Charles Williams. Being so familiar with their works Downing used both actual quotes from them within the book as well as giving a very life like caricature of those men.

Really that is the charm of the book. I found the plot is pedestrian though enjoyable. It’s somewhat predictable and lacks a real spark. The villain is not developed enough to really have much effect on the reader. He is too clouded in mystery to really care what happens to him, good, bad, or nothing at all. The protagonists are likable, and as an American, I found them relatable.

For none of these reasons could I put the book down, rather, I felt that through this book I was getting to know Lewis, and Tolkien, and Williams, in their wisdom, in their humor, in their quirkiness. I couldn’t wait for the next passage with one of them in it because some sort of gem would hidden within Downing’s lines. I felt like I was in the pub joking with them, sitting in on an actual lecture of theirs, walking along the Thames with them.

If your a fan of any of the aforementioned men, I would suggest reading this just for the sheer delight of meeting them in their own context and milieu instead of merely on the pages of Mere Christianity or The Hobbit.

I wrote this review of Looking for the King for the free Catholic book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and First Communion Gifts. Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases. 
I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.