Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Few Notes on Rereading The Lord of the Rings: Luthien and Beren

The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I reread this at the beginning of the year for discussions at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast where we covered the book in two parts: one, two. (We also discussed the movies in relationship to the books in a separate episode.)

Also, if you'd like an actual review;I really cannot do a better than Joseph R. did, so please go read his.

Recently I felt the call of the book and was forcing myself not to pick it up again. "You JUST read this behemoth. For the third time! Enough already!"

Evidently not. I finally gave in and am relishing every word.

I had jury duty yesterday. There's nothing like several hours in the jury pool room for getting a lot of pages under your belt.

Interestingly, as I surveyed the huge room, there were very few people using e-readers. Almost everyone had newspapers, magazines, or actual books. Some had computer printouts and were using markers as they read. I know what the sales number say about print being dead but you couldn't have told it from that large cross-section of humanity.

At this early point in the book, on the road to Rivendell while running from the Black Riders, I'm struck by how difficult it is to navigate without a compass, even for Aaragorn.

I never noticed how Aaragorn seems masterful until Glorfindel comes along to help, as which point Aaragorn is grateful for help and advice.

And again I'm touched by the Beren and Luthien poem, thinking of Tolkien putting Beren on his headstone and Luthien on his wife's. A beautiful gesture of love and devotion.

It made me think about whose names I could put on our own headstones that would so neatly sum up my feelings about my relationship with Tom. Not Beren and Luthien. That implies the lady lifted up her husband to higher levels.

Then it struck me. Of course.

Faramir and Eowyn.

Not as we have seen them portrayed in the movie, which does a fair job on Eowyn but completely changed Faramir's character. But as we see them in the book. Telling Tom this would make no sense to him since he hasn't read the book. But I can give him this tribute here where people will see it who have read it and understand how the husband has gently enlightened and taught the lady a better way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Summer

Alphonse Mucha, Summer, 1896
via WikiArt
I love this Art Deco style and the depiction works, right down to the sultry, languid expression.

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

The Naked Sun (Robot, #2)The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the beautiful Outer World planet of Solaria, a handful of human colonists lead a hermit-like existence, their every need attended to by their faithful robot servants. To this strange and provocative planet comes Detective Elijah Baley, sent from the streets of New York with his positronic partner, the robot R. Daneel Olivaw, to solve an incredible murder that has rocked Solaria to its foundations. The victim had been so reclusive that he appeared to his associates only through holographic projection. Yet someone had gotten close enough to bludgeon him to death while robots looked on.
What a shocker! I suspected the murderer but not the ending Asimov gave us. Wow.

The Naked Sun gives us a look at the mysterious Outer Worlds, first mentioned in The Caves of Steel. Solaria has never had a crime, due to their extremely privileged population served solely by robots who, of course, never commit crimes of passion. Lige Bailey finds this open, practically empty environment poses both the challenges of solving the mystery and of adapting his agoraphobic nature, thanks to a lifetime of living in underground cities on overpopulated Earth.

Asimov has fun looking at the sociological effects of a high-tech, low population world. I was fascinated by Asimov's contrast of Elijah Bailey, used only to an overcrowded Earth, with the outworld Solarian society which had open space, eugenics, and many robots. There is no way Asimov could have foreseen our computer-oriented society today, but I found the Solarian society's preference for "viewing" through screens rather than "seeing" in person to be a disturbing echo of what we ourselves seem to be moving toward.

I originally read this long ago and remembered a lot about the Solarian society but almost nothing about the mystery itself. Listening to William Dufris' excellent narration, so long after my first reading, I found this a wonderful mystery which kept me guessing. Dufris surpassed his performance in The Caves of Steel as he voiced a wide range of Solarian characters from sensuous to prim, blowhard to reserved, blustering to withdrawn. My favorite voices actually were the Solarian robots which were precisely what you'd expect, and which we hadn't heard yet though several robots spoke in The Caves of Steel.

If you haven't revisited this series lately I recommend it highly, especially this audio version which brings it to life in a fresh way.

Well Said: Sorrow Doesn't Mean Having to Feel You're Sorry

Sincere sorrow for sin does not necessarily require having to feel sorry. Just like love, sorrow is an act of the will, not a feeling. And in the same way as one can love God deeply without any emotional reaction, one can also be truly sorry for sin without experiencing anything sentimental. Real sorrow is seen principally in the way one unhesitatingly avoids all occasions of offending God and is ready to do specific acts of penance for any infidelities committed.
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation With Christ, vol. 4
I know this. It's just that I catch myself falling into the familiar, popular shallow thinking of our times. That one must have an emotional reaction for a feeling to be sincere. Once I figure it out then it is a great relief to remember I can be sincere without kicking myself for not feeling.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Sympathy

Briton Riviere, Sympathy, c. 1878
via Arts Everyday Living
Since we featured a cat recently, it is only fair to give equal time to a dog. This is one of my favorite paintings featuring, as it does, a dog doing what they do best — empathizing with their loved ones.

Well Said: Approaching Christ While Leaving the Church to One Side

Those people who claim to approach Christ whilst leaving his Church to one side, and even causing her harm, may one day get the same surprise as Saint Paul did when he was on his way to Damascus: I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. And, the Venerable Bede reflects that He does not say 'why are you persecuting my members,but why are you persecuting me?' For He is still affronted in his Body, which is the Church." Paul did not know until that moment that to persecute the Church was to persecute Jesus himself.
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation With Christ, vol. 4
It's kind of interesting that people know well Paul got his comeuppance by persecuting Christ's church, and yet they themselves will go right ahead and do that same thing. People within the Catholic Church do so as well as those outside of it.

Fernandez goes on to point out that Paul spoke about the Church later as the Body of Christ. Bringing up the logical conclusion, he mentions it is not possible to love, follow, or listen to Christ, without loving, following, or listening to the Church, because she is the presence, at once sacramental and mysterious, of Our Lord, who prolongs his saving mission in the world to the very end of time.

Food for thought, isn't it? The saints worked to improve the Church but through obedience and love. How do we go about it when we see something is going astray? Do we treat Christ's body with medicine or with hatred? Do we love it as we should? This opens up myriad topics for reflection.

Set All Afire by Louis de Wohl

Set All AfireSet All Afire by Louis de Wohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a historical fiction account of St. Francis Xavier who, inspired by Ignatius of Loyola to "set all afire", took the faith to India and Japan. I really enjoyed this quick moving book with accurate depictions of past societies and attitudes. I especially enjoyed the looks into the way that Hindus would have seen the Catholic faith. These days it is considered incorrect to embrace one religion as being True (or "truer") than others. However, de Wohl illustrates just what Christianity brought to the common people which helped open them to the light and love of God.

It also made several points which I found illuminating in the context of a recent conversation with someone who adheres to a metaphysical idea of different levels of consciousness mixed with belief in reincarnation. (Which always makes me think of Bender's, the robot from Futurama, mot juste: "If I'd thought I had to go through a whole 'nother life, I'd kill myself right now.")

A Brahmin is talking to Francis Xavier:
"For the sake of my soul and for the sake of the soul of India, answer me: if God became incarnate on earth and suffered for all men, be they Brahmans or Sudras or any other caste, then is final salvation possible for a man even if he has not achieved perfection by himself?"

"No man can achieve perfection by himself," said Francis gently. "But by cooperating with Our Lord and on the strength of Our Lord's death on the Cross a man will be acceptable to God."

"If he can do that, there is no need for him to be reborn on earth,"" said Ramigal slowly.
I had thought of the example of Jesus telling the "thief" on the cross that he would be with him in paradise that day, but not of the larger answer to the reincarnation question. God fulfills the lack in man so that we don't have to do it all by ourselves. And what a relief that is.

Ramigal converts and later writes to Francis Xavier:
Do you remember the first talk we had, in Tiruchendar, when I mentioned reincarnation, and you taught me that by the Grace of God all could be achieved a single life? Now that I am Father Pedro, I can see so clearly that more than one incarnation can be compressed into a single life. In a sense, a new life started for me when I joined an ancient and wise man high up in the North. But in baptism I was truly reborn from water and in confirmation I was truly reborn from the Holy Spirit....
This struck me mightily when I read it as the "different levels of consciousness" issue was swirling through the back of my mind. Again, God does it all in one go, if we cooperate with him. Wow, Christianity really does have it all! And I kind of love that.

At any rate, it is a fascinating and adventurous tale and one I can recommend.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Well Said: Preparing the Soil

All men, whatever their lives may have been in the past, are able to become soil that is prepared to receive God's grace. God pours himself into our souls in accordance with the degree of welcome He finds there. God gives us so many graces because He trusts each one of us; there is no soil that is too impervious or too uncultivated for him, so long as it is prepared to change and to respond to him.
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation With Christ, vol. 4
Listening to the Gospel reading last Sunday with the parable of the sowers, this was the very thought that ran through my head. Yes the soil may be packed down hard from people walking on it, but if someone hoes it up, adds some compost, and the soft rain falls? Then it too may be fertile.

I get the point Jesus was making, of course, but considering the farming analogy it seems to me that He also expects us to cultivate our own gardens ... so that we may cooperate with the farmer. In my own life, I can see that the more often I examine my conscience, cultivate the virtues, repent of my sins in confession, and so forth, then the more God's grace can enrich my life.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“[...] We keep a record for every member, and for every customer who might yet become a member, in order to track their work." He paused, then added, "Some of them are working very hard indeed."

"What are they doing?"

"My boy," he said, eyebrows raised. As if nothing could be more obvious: "They are reading.”
Clay Jannon was lucky to find a job at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Times are hard and jobs are scarce. However, the bookstore sells very few books and the few regular patrons seem to have a strange mission that no one will talk about. Then there's the fact that most of the books can't be found in any index of published books. Naturally Clay begins investigating and winds up on a fascinating quest that includes secret societies, museums, ancient artifacts ... and e-books, virtual reality, and Google.

This book feels like a nerd's dream come true. Not only is there the high tech point of view but also the typographer's inside details. Ok, key figure Griffo Gerritszoon is made up, but Francesco Griffo was actually Aldus Manutius' employee. Who was Aldus Minutius? Every time you read something in italics, you can thank him for inventing them.

There is an interesting tension between the old ways and the new: old knowledge in books versus Google, bookstores versus e-books, tradition and innovation. These are things that all of us cope with in our own ways but it's kind of fun to see it all linked together and hanging off of bits of real history, a la DaVinci Code, but with less of a mean spirit than in Dan Brown's book.

If you ever played Zork or Baldur's Gate, if you ever thrilled to a quest in a fantasy book, if you ever played a scavenger hunt or lost hours to solving mysteries, then this book is going to push your buttons. Mix that in with the idea of a "fellowship" and you've got a sense of where this book excels.

It doesn't have deep character development, but that's not the point of this book. It is skimming the surface of some themes but it still manages to present them and give you food for thought while having a good time. In that it is very much like The Haunted Bookshop or Agent to the Stars or The Rosie Project, just to mention a few light books that I love.

It's a light, fun read with a sense of being an adult Harry Potter-ish book. Perfect summer reading.

Worth a Thousand Words: Superdame Gale Allen!

—”Gale Allen” in Planet Comics #12 (1941), writer & artist uncredited
via Not Pulp Covers
Gale Allen, outer-space adventurer and leader of the “Girl Squadron!

We all want to be a superdame like Gale Allen, don't we ladies?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Sleeping Time

Sleeping Time
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar
Is it a dream? Is it an artist's fabrication? It is a rare moment in nature. I can almost hear the minute rustling of grass, the silence except for small night creatures' movement.

Well Said: A special kind of serenity

Complete trust in God, using whatever human means are necessary in each situation, gives an incomparable fortitude and a special kind of serenity to the Christian, whatever may happen to him and whatever the tribulations he may have to face up to.
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation With God, vol. 4
So there are two things to think about here, for me anyway.

First, how complete is my trust in God? Do I have that special kind of serenity?

Second, am I using whatever human means are necessary in each situation? I know people who will say they have complete trust in God and then laze around waiting for whatever they've been praying for to drop into their lap.

It takes a fine balance to encompass these two things well.

Children's Books: A Little Book About Confession for Children by Kendra Tierney

A Little Book about Confession for ChildrenA Little Book about Confession for Children by Kendra Tierney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

11. What does going to confession do?

The Sacrament of Penance heals our souls when we hurt it by sinning. When we confess our sins to a priest, it is God who hears us and forgives our sins.18 God always forgives us if we are sorry, no matter how big or how many our sins are.

The Bible tells us the story of how Jesus treated a woman who had committed a big sin.19 She had been arrested, and the people were going to throw rocks at her.

Jesus came and told the people, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." One by one the people put down their rocks and left.

When only Jesus and the woman were left he told her, "Go, and do not sin again."

God always forgives us when we ask, but he also asks us to change our behavior. The Sacrament of Penance helps us with this.20

18. CCC. 1461
19. John 8:3-11
20. CCC 1468
This is a really terrific little book that I think might help parents as much as the children they read it with. For one thing, Kendra Tierney strips matters down to basics, as you can see from the excerpt above, to help everyone see the basis for all the ins and outs of the sacrament.

It begins with a brief glossary and then moves through a series of simple questions and answers. This is followed up with a brief look at a few saints who have links to confession, a simple examination of conscience, and a quick review of what actually happens during the sacrament. A really nice feature is that the cover has a quick reference on the front and back flaps containing the steps of the sacrament, the Act of Contrition, and an extremely brief examination of conscience. Personally, I found the examination of conscience really nice as a way to get back to basics in my own life. That may say more about me than it does about the book but, again, I think adults will find this touches them when they are reading through it.

I'm not crazy about the illustrations since they all look as if children drew them. Skilled children, to be sure, but children nonetheless. Maybe some children enjoy looking at pictures their peers could have drawn. I never found them appealing no matter what age I was. Of course, this is purely a matter of personal taste so don't let that stop you from picking up this gem of a book.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Looks wonderful, tastes delicious, and is much easier than you'd think.

Get the recipe for a Pavlova With Strawberries at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Worth a Thousand Words: Mademoiselle Huquier Holding a Cat

Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, Mademoiselle Huquier Holding a Cat, 1747
This is via Arts Everyday Living where there are many more cat paintings to be enjoyed. Different aspects of the feline personality were so well portrayed that I had a hard time choosing. Eventually I went with the playful nature of this young lady's pet.

I feel as if life with dogs is easier but I do occasionally miss having a cat around the house. However, even if my husband were amenable, our little white Kaylee would surely try to kill any cat we brought home. So for now I will just enjoy them in art.

Well Said: Aliens and working at a fevered pitch

What you need to know before reading this: Gwedif is an alien. The narrator is human.
Gwedif pulled up to me as we walked. "I wish we had more time," he said. "This happened with Carl too. Barely time for introductions, and then off to decide the fate of our peoples. If nthing else, we've learned that you humans thrive on crisis."

"Anything worth doing is worth doing at a fevered pitch," I said.

"I don't know about that," Gwedif said. "I think the first place I'll go when I visit your planet—really visit your planet, I mean, not that little trip I took earlier—I think I'll go visit a monastery. Those people seem to have the right idea. Slow meditative spiritual contemplation."

"I think most of the monasteries these days are either making chant CDs or boutique wines," I said.

"Really?" Gwedif said. "Well, hell. What is it with you people?"
John Scalzi, Agent to the Stars
Scott and I recorded our discussion last night which will come out this week at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

I forgot to mention this bit. And I loved it. So here you go. An appetizer.

Children's Books: Angels for Kids by Donna-Marie O'Boyle

Angels for KidsAngels for Kids by Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Artists have painted, drawn, and sculpted Angels in a variety of styles. Angels are many times portrayed as children. This is most likely to convey innocence.

Beginning in about the fourth century, Angels were usually illustrated with wings. That's how we usually see them in books, paintings, on the walls of churches, in icons, or in the art of stained-glass windows. The wings might even be the artist's interpretation of their swiftness. An Angel is able to quickly come to our aid. However, this also has roots in Holy Scripture, since some of the people in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible describe the angels who appeared to them as having wings.

For instance, we know that Isaiah saw a winged Angel. Ezekiel, too, saw visions of winged Angels. Most times when Angels appear, they look like normal people, always men. Sometimes Angels appear all aglow in awesome splendor. Warrior Angels—like the Archangels—are tremendously tall and powerful.
As you can see from the excerpt, this is a book for older children and might even be good as a quick primer for adults. Donna-Marie O'Boyle has a true talent for explaining the basics about angels, which are a more complex subject than most people might think.

She includes scriptural references, real life stories such as the children at Fatima, and has ways to relate personally to the fact that angels are all around us. The book cover angels in the Bible, their work, what they look like, archangels, fallen angels, a variety of prayers and much more. I also really liked the book design which was simple but beautiful.

I have a special interest in angels myself and consequently have read a number of books about them. This is a really great book that I'm not sure I'll be able to make myself give to the children I know. I might have to buy them their own copy.