"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, January 29, 2016

Faith Filled Friday: My First March For Life [UPDATED]

UPDATE, 31 Jan 2016: I was able to upload the videos through Youtube.  Thanks Kelly!

I finally got to go last week to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.  I had been trying to go for a number of years.  Either something at work conflicted or one year there was a snowstorm the day before which, having missed getting on the Church bus, left a drive down impossible.  This year I signed up for the bus early and despite the coming snowstorm that afternoon I ventured it.

It was an inauspicious start.  Driving to the church where the meetup was to take place, I got stopped by a cop for—of all things—a taillight that was out.  I thought I had ran a stop sign or a red light.  He gave me a summons that said if I took care of it and took the receipt to the police precinct within 24 hours it would get dropped.  Where was I going to find the time with an approaching snowmageddon?  Well I didn’t, but that’s another story.

When I got to the church at 6:30 AM I didn’t realize there would be a mass and then a sendoff.  So we got on the road a good fifteen minutes after seven, made another local stop to pick more people up, and we headed out.  We only had half a bus full, given a lot of people bailed because of the weather, which was to hit D.C. by that afternoon.  So I had a nice comfortable double seat on the bus and napped and read all the way down.  Except for a quick breakfast stop in one of those Delaware rest areas.  We got to D.C just before noon and were marching by twelve-thirty.

Here are some pictures.

Here are some sights and sounds with a movie clip.

By two o'clock, it started to snow.  You can see here.  From what I was told by the veterans who had been to these annually this was about half the turn out of other years.  The storm did have an impact.

There were plenty of silly signs, like this silly face.

Here's a picture of our bus group, or a few of us from the bus.  i'm the ugly guy on the right.  We had green scarves to identify each other so we could keep close and not have a difficult time gathering for our return.  Still we had a "lost sheep" that required time and effort to find before we left.  

Here's another movie clip.  There was a Scottish fife and drum band.

And finally we got back on the bus as the storm picked up.  We got ahead of it at some point.

I can’t wait for next year.  Pro-life is a lifelong passion of mine.  If this was half the typical turnout, I'm looking forward to experiencing a regular turnout!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Language: Donald Trump’s Mastery of Political Speech

First let me preface this that I am not a Donald Trump supporter.  Personally I think he’s a demagogue and opportunist.  I hope he does not win the Republican Primary, though some of the other candidates would also be problematic for other reasons.  This is not a political post, but a post on the use of language.  Don’t construe this as an endorsement of Trump in any way.

I have been amazed at the remarkable rise of Donald Trump.  He is a complete novice in the world of politics, and yet his rise has been incredible.  Everyone said he would come crashing down, and everyone keeps waiting for that moment that he does.  It now has been more than half a year and he hasn’t, and if anything he only seems to rise in the polls.  You can’t just say it’s because of demagogic positions.  He has rebuffed attacks and defended his positions masterfully.  Everyone has been baffled as to why he keeps rising, and all I could pinpoint to was that he connects with people.  That’s kind of general, but this analysis nailed it.  It’s Trump’s use of language.  What you’re going to see is Trump give a minute long answer to a question, and the analyst then broke it down to show how it works. 

Now that is fascinating.  Yes, the analysist was completely biased, and actually demeaning.  But that is irrelevant to the analysis. 

So what it comes down to is that Trump speaks the language of the common man, not the intellectual, not the overly educated, but the language of the guy on the street working through the issues and applying common sense.  It’s the language of common sense.  Whether the solutions to the problems are right or wrong, good or bad, is not the point.  The point is that through his language he has bonded with the listener, and bonding is the foremost element to politics. We support and vote for those we bond with, even above ideas.  Trump may be inexperienced in politics, but he is a natural.

I wanted to post this just prior to the debate on Thursday night, so you could listen to Trump speaking and pick up on his language techniques.  But I have just heard he will not participate in the debate.  Oh well, you’ll have to save it for another opportunity.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Matthew Monday: King of the World

As many of you may have heard, we had an intense blizzard this weekend hit the East Coast.  In all we in New York City got a bit over 31 inches (some 79 cm) of snow.  Everyone seems to be calling the storm a "snowmageddon," which is a new word for me.  It was a true blizzard in that the wind was howling and biting cold.  Luckily we started the clean up on Saturday before the storm was over, and so we go half of the snow piled up that night and then we did the other half on Sunday.  If we had done it all in one day, it might have killed us.

Matthew had a great time, though he was a bit of a pest.  He wanted to use the little electric snowblower I had bought in the Fall.  And he liked to climb the snow piles we had built up, which meant he knocked down snow unto the cleared paths.  The problem with huge amounts of snow in the city is that you don't have enough space to put it, ans so it piles higher and higher as one creates trenches.  

Still he, upon climbing to the top of a five foot (about a meter and a half) mound he declared himself "King of the Mountain!"  

Then moments later I heard him declare he was "King of New York!"  And then "King of Alaska!"  Why Alaska?  Well, there's a lot of snow there, mountains and mountains full according to Matthew.

And then I heard him declare he was "King of the world!"  

"I'm king of the world!"

I think I've got a son with a Napoleonic complex.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Notable Quote: The Duty to be Grateful

I have never heard of Forest McDonald.  Apparently he was a well know historian who died a few days ago on the 19thFrom the New YorkTimes

Forrest McDonald, a presidential and constitutional scholar who challenged liberal shibboleths about early American history and lionized the founding fathers as uniquely intellectual, died on Tuesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He was 89.

And he was a conservative, which surprises me that I had not heard of him.  But I don’t read a lot of historians.  More from the obituary:

As a Pulitzer Prize finalist in history and a professor at the University of Alabama, Dr. McDonald declared himself an ideological conservative and an opponent of intrusive government. (“I’d move the winter capital to North Dakota and outlaw air-conditioning in the District of Columbia,” he once said.) But he refused to be pigeonholed either as a libertarian or, despite his Southern agrarian roots, as a Jeffersonian.

But what caught my eye was this quote from his memoir that was highlighted over at The Imaginative Conservative:

I can describe that attitude no better than by saying that one has a duty to be grateful and joyful in the very fact of one’s existence, and in the existence of one’s fellow human beings…. And given the existence of human beings, the probabilities against my own existence—or yours—are again as high as those against the existence of man. You can attribute this to God, or to big bangs, or to sheer blind luck; all I can do is shout hallelujah, I got here! My God, I got here! In the face of this colossal fact, I must exult in my gratitude, for everything else is trivial; no matter what the uncertainties, whether things are better or worse, whether I am hungry or well fed, whether I am sick or healthy, or cold or comfortable, or honored and respected or despised and kicked and beaten, even that I shall soon be leaving, all is trivial compared to the fact that I got here. I am a miracle, and so, dear reader, are you. Let us rejoice together.
-Forrest McDonald, Recovering the Past: A Historian’s Memoir

That truly is a memorable quote, and so true.  We should be grateful for every moment.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Faith Filled Friday: The Art of Ladislav Zaborsk

I had never heard of Ladislav Zaborsk  until I saw a post on Melanie Jean Juneau’s blog, Joy of Nine.  

He’s from Slovakia and he’s Catholic, and looking over his work I would guess he’s devout.  From the Wikipedia entry:

The essence of his work is linked to the experience of his inner life. Each painting is an attempt to discover God and a dialogue with eternity. He is more than a religious painter; he is a painter of spiritual light. He says about himself: "The substance of my work is the experience of God transferred into my heart (...) Art that seeks truth and beauty, is the anticipation of eternity."

Here are a couple of samples.

You can see more of his work at Melanie’s blog post, and you can read about her profound transfigurative moment that Zaborsk’s art helped her understand.  Here’s how she starts her blog:

I was struggling to put down in words an encounter with God which happened on Friday, January 15, 2016 . . . yesterday.  I knew for the change to take root, I had to articulate the experience so I would remember and not fall into old patterns once again, as I have a thousand other times. The joy was too wonderful to allow it to dissipate. Then I ran across paintings by the Catholic artist Ladislav Zaborsky this morning.  His art helped clarify and communicate my experiences with God because the essence of his work is linked to the experience of his inner life.

Here’s one more of Zaborsk’s paintings.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Plans for 2016 Reads

Well, it’s time to put together my reading plans for 2016.   I am not going to over plan as I did last year, only to come embarrassingly short of my goals.  First off, let me list the works I had promised last year, but didn’t get to them.  I had wanted to concentrate on German literature in 2015, and I failed to read them all.  I’m going to pull those unread German works into my 2016 plans.  The classic novel that will probably occupy a good deal of time this year will be Thomas Mann’s epic family and historical novel, Buddenbrooks.  I mentioned last year that this was in Ernest Hemingway’s top ten novels of all time, so how can one go wrong?  If I can get my hands on an English translation of a novel by Herta Müller, a recent Nobel Prize winner in literature, I will also include it.  The novel I’m thinking of is called The Hunger Angel.  And to round out my German experience will be from an American novelist of German ethnicity, Thomas Berger.  I’m going to read his comic novel Crazy in Berlin about an American soldier stationed in occupied Germany shortly after World War II. 

The other epic work that will occupy a good deal of my time will be the third canticle of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Paradisio.  I had started last year with the Robert and Jean Hollander translation and got to about mid-way.  I’ll finish that off and read the Anthony Esolen translation as well.  Why?  Because one translation of Dante is just not enough.  Also on the to-read list from last year was D. H. Lawrence’s novella, The Virgin and the Gypsy.  I will finally complete Adrian Goldsworthy’s biography, Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, and if I don’t after two years of nibbling through I deserve to be horsewhipped.  My annual read on writing will also be a 2015 unfinished business, Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. Unread last year was Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.  Since the person who I promised I would provide my thoughts seems to have stopped her blog, I’m going to hold off reading this until next year.  I don’t think I’m going to have time for it, but if in the unlikely circumstance time opens up I’ll read it.

I will continue on with the two series I’ve been reading.  I’m up to Volume III of Victor Hugo’s large scale work, Les Misérables, titled “Marius.”  And I’m up to the third novel in Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy under the heading Parade’s End, titled, A Man Could Stand Up.  For those that have either forgotten or not aware, instead of reading both these huge works in a single year, which would probably take up the better part of the year, I’m breaking them up into a Volume per year of Hugo’s—each volume about a novel length—and one novel per year of Ford’s tetralogy. 

The other novels on my list to read this year will be Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  Can you believe I’ve never read it?  Pushing my way through the classics of early American novel, I will be reading Jack London’s White Fang.  I don’t know if it’s any good, but I enjoyed The Call of the Wild a few years ago, and this is supposedly its companion work.  While Buck, the dog central character of The Call of the Wild goes from domestication to wild through his experiences, White Fang, the dog wolf central character of this novel goes from wild to domestication.  Should be interesting.  Another interesting work will be William Faulkner’s Old Man, a novella taken out of his more comprehensive work, The Wild Palms.  And finally I will read another novella, this also by a German writer, Gertrude von Le Fort, The Wife of Pilate.  It’s an imaginative conceptualization of the New Testament’s wife of Pontius Pilate.  I may try to read that through the Easter Holy Week, along with some Lenten reads.

Which brings me to my devotional reads.  I’ll be participating at Catholic Thought Book Club at Goodreads, reading St. Theresa of Avila’s spiritual classic, The Interior CastleIf anyone wants to join, sign up at Goodreads and join our book club, it’s free and easy and it's starting this week.  It should be fun.  For Lent, I’ve decided to read Peter Kreeft’s Prayer for Beginners, which sounds like a how-to book, but being that Kreeft is a philosophy professor and a deep thinker, his book promises to get into the philosophic underpinnings of various types of prayer.

For non-fiction this year I’m going to add to my knowledge of cats that I started last year with the ASPCA’s Complete Guide to Cats.  That gave me some basics.  This year I’m going to try to understand how cats think with animal behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett’s Think Like a Cat.  If I have time, I’m also going to read Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter.  It’s a historical work on the legacy of the ancient Greeks.

My poetry reads are going to be twofold, and both will have a World War I theme.  There were quite a few poets who fought in the war, and many died in its course.  Max Egremont collects their poetry in Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew.  What’s interesting is that Egremont is an historian and provides historical context to the poems.  The other poetic will be T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which I’ve read many times.  But the Modernist critic, Lawrence Rainey, has put together a book where he provides the background to the poem, his highly detailed annotations, and Eliot’s other contemporaneous essays to show what was on Eliot’s mind at the time.  The book is called The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose.  I’m also going to squeeze in another Shakespeare play I’ve never read, and I’m thinking of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, though I may change my mind.

Finally my read through the Bible will consists of what I failed to read last year.  I’ll push forward and complete the Psalms, and I’ll read both of Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians and I’ll read them in both the KJV and a modern translation. 

I don’t have any plans for which short stories to read, but I’ll continue through the Hemingway and Nabokov collections and include as many diverse as possible.  Yikes, I just realized I failed to include a Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown short story in last year’s reads.  I wanted to do one of each every year.  I’ll try not to forget this year.  I intend to average my usual goal of two short stories per month, but I’m counting great historical speeches as a short story length work in that twenty-four.

Sigh, I guess I’ve still over promised.  I’ll do my best.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Notable Quote: Tapping Out Messages from the Past

I came across this wonderful quote on Julie Davis' blog, Happy Catholic.  I've never heard of Connie Willis before, but looking her up I see she's a Science Fiction author.  I don't read much SiFi.  But this is a perfect quote for this blog.

That's what literature is. It's the people who went before us, tapping out messages from the past, from beyond the grave, trying to tell us about life and death! Listen to them!

-Connie Willis, Passage

Thursday, January 14, 2016

My 2015 Reads


The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe.
“Give Me Your Heart,” a short story by Joyce Carol Oates.
“The Triumph of Night,” a short story by Edith Wharton.
Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith, a non-fiction memoir by Holly Ordway.
“Master Misery,” a short story by Truman Capote.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, a non-fiction book of theology by Pope Benedict XVI.
“Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” a short story by Herman Melville.
The Book of Job, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
“Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” a short story by Sandra Cisneros. 
“The Portobello Road,” a short story by Muriel Spark.
Orthodoxy, a non-fiction book of philosophy by G. K. Chesterton.
“Queen of the Tyrant Lizards,” a short story by John C. Wright.
“The Key,” a short story by Eudora Welty.
“Extricating Young Gussie,” a Jeeves Collection short story P. G. Wodehouse.
Vol 2 of Les Misérables, “Cosette,” a novel by Victor Hugo.
“An Alpine Idyll,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
Dare We Hope that All Men be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell, a non-fiction work of theology by Hans Urs von Balthasar.
“Henry Lee Remembers George Washington,” from Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, selected by William Safire.
“A Pursuit Race,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Today is Friday,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats: Everything You Need to Know About Choosing and Caring for Your Pet, a non-fiction work by James Richards.
“Banal Story,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, a novella by Stephen Crane.
Feline Catastrophe, a collection of short stories by Victor S E Moubarak.
“Now I Lay Me,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Sounds,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
Crime and Punishment, a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. 
“The Quest,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“Tobermory,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“The Sisters,” a short story by James Joyce.
No More Parades, the 2nd novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.
Death in the Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Seven Words of Jesus from the Cross, a non-fiction work of theology by Richard John Neuhaus.
Comedy of Errors, a play by William Shakespeare.
“The Human Fly,” a short story by T. C. Boyle.
Robert Lowell: Collected Poems, an anthology of poetry edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter.
Psalms 1-50 from The Book of Psalms, a book of the Old Testament, KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.

Unfinished Reading:

Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
The Book of Psalms, a book of the Old Testament, KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, a non-fiction book on writing by Virginia Tufte.

Let me start by saying that this was not a good year for my reading, though as I put together this summary it turned out to be not as disastrous as I had speculated.  Here are the links to the various milestone updates I provided:

As you can see, there was no Third Quarter Update, which would have come sometime after the end of September.  Between the end of June and the October was almost a black hole of reading, and so I did not feel a quarterly update was warranted.  What happened?  I started Crime and Punishment somewhere while I was on vacation in that last week of June, but after vacation my reading was completely sporadic.  It had nothing to do with the novel—it was a great and intense read.  I read it in spurts, which means I had gaps where I did not pick it up.  In these gaps I did pick up a few less mind consuming reads, but I was kind of burnt out over the summer.  I guess I can give excuses: we now had a cat to go along with the dog, which required adapting, this dog was and still is more time consuming than past dogs, Matthew was a year older and now needs more attention, the baseball season preoccupied me more than other summers, and I had one of those intense periods at work where a project was culminating.  Sigh, I just couldn’t keep up with my plans.

In the end, though, I approximated my usual average number of reads.  But it’s somewhat deceiving.  Though the completion numbers were not far from average, the works tended to be on the shorter side, so if I were to calculate the number of pages read I don’t think I came close to average.  But I don’t know what my average number of pages read per year would be.  Last year I estimated I read somewhere over 4300 pages.  This year I estimate I read about 3600 pages, a good 700 pages less than last year.

Perhaps I should start with what I had intended to read and never got done.  The fiction works, I had planned to read were Dante’s Paradisio, Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Thomas Berger’s Crazy in Berlin, and D. H. Lawrence’s The Virgin and the Gypsy.  I had intended to have a German literature theme to the 2015 reads, but I only got a few of the German works I planned read.  I am embarrassed to say that for the second year I did not complete the Adrian Goldsworthy Julius Caesar biography.  I was about a hundred pages in at the end of last year and I read another 200 pages this year.  200 more pages to go: do you think I’ll finish it this year?  That’s sarcasm.  It’s a really good biography.  I also didn’t finish my one work on writing that I read every year, this year being Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style.  I’m about 40 percent through, and it is fine work.  It shows you how to use every element of grammar to craft fine sentences.  I’m going to post a few times this year on various things that caught my attention from this book.  I only read the first third of the Psalms.  I have to say I got caught up on how I should analyze and categorize them, and wound up letting perfection tie me up in knots.  I should have just read them.  And since I didn’t finish the Psalms, I never got to the two Epistles to the Corinthians.  Even under the best of conditions, I could never have completed all I planned.

Interestingly and not intentional, the novels I completed had a 19th century bias.  Four of the five works were from the 19th century, and they were all what would be deemed classic novels: von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, Volume 2 of Hugo’s Les Misérables, “Cosette” (I’m treating each volume as a separate novel in this huge tome), Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and Crane’s short novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.  Crane’s Maggie was a disappointment.  I believe it was his first novel, and it showed.  Though there were moments of brilliant prose, it was not up to his more well-known works.  Unless you’re a Stephan Crane scholar or aficionado, I don’t recommend it.  Goethe’s Young Werther was also his first novel, and though I could quibble with elements of the work, overall it was enjoyable and interesting.  It was a huge international sensation in its day, one of the foundations of the Romantic era, and so an important work to have read if one wants to complete the important works of literature.  Les Misérables and Crime and Punishment are also important works, but they are truly great works.  Dostoyevsky’s novel just could be rated in the top five of the greatest novels ever written, which would give Dostoyevsky two of the greatest novels ever written.  The one work not of the 19th century was Ford Madox Ford’s No More Parades, which is the second novel of his tetralogy, Parade’s End.  This is a very modernist work (stream of conscious, time dislocations, psychological theories, disjointed narrative), and you have to enjoy modernism to like this novel.  It’s difficult but worth it if you enjoy high artistry in literature.

I had made it a goal to read more non-fiction works in 2015, and I did; I read six, more than the novels.  Three of the non-fiction works were theological works, all of them excellent: Pope Benedict XVI’s third in his series on Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, Richard John Neuhaus’ Death in the Afternoon, and Hans Urs von Bathalsar’s, Dare We Hope All Men Be Saved.  I have to say that all three are great theologians, offering incredible insight.  The Infancy Narratives focus on just that, the Christ child sections of the New Testament, Death in the Afternoon focus on the seven last words of Christ on the cross, and von Balthasar’s book delves on the possibility that salvation is universal, meaning that eventually everyone could be saved.  Urs von Balthasar took a lot of criticism for this very controversial position.  The Catholic Church, as most Christian denominations, do not support such a notion.  I have to say that I have always been sympathetic to the notion of universalism, and this book reinforced my thinking.  I’ve been meaning to write a detailed essay on the subject, but I don’t know if I want to be so controversial.  I never planned at the beginning of the year to read the Neuhaus and the von Balthasar but things happen that inspire me to improvise.

Also as a non-fiction read was G. K. Chesterton’s brilliant philosophic work, Orthodoxy.  Its central theme is that tradition and the western intellectual heritage is the proper basis philosophic underpinnings.  It stands in complete opposition to modernism.  This is a must read for anyone interested in the intellectual development of the 20th century, no matter which side of the issue you stand on, and it has all the Chesterton hallmarks of sharpness and humor. Holly Ordway’s Not God’s Type is a memoir conversion story of how Ordway went from being a fierce atheist to a believing Christian, and she did through her love of literature.  It was a really enjoyable read.  Finally since in May we found and adopted a little kitten, and since we had no experience raising cats, I read the ASPCA’s Complete Guide to Cats.  That was unplanned.

I did not read the entire tome of Robert Lowell’s Collected Poetry, nor did I intend to at the beginning of the year.  I did read enough to sample through and enjoy his most famous poems.  I posted on four of his poems throughout the year, and I think you would appreciate his work by reading those posts.  At the end of December I snuck in William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, which is one of his earliest plays, shortest plays, and funniest plays.  It was a play I had never read before, and so I have now read 27 of the 37 officially accredited plays to Shakespeare.  I had not clicked off one in a few years.  It’s one of my goals to read them all.  As to my annual Biblical reads, I read the Book of Job (KJV) and the first fifty Psalms (KJV and Ignatius RSV translations).  The Book of Psalms is so rich that I read it in two translations and I decided I wanted to learn them in a much more detailed way than just a read through.  I tried hand copying each Psalm into a notebook, but after the first 19 I realize it would take forever.  I did pick up a lot of nuance by hand writing down each word, nuance that you gloss over as one reads.  Since that was too time consuming, I’ve decided to create a database of types, themes, length, and important images and phrases Psalm by Psalm.  Perhaps that will be more fruitful.

I meant to read several famous speeches from history this year from Safire’s Lend Me Your Ears, but I only read one, Henry Lee’s eulogy of George Washington.  I enjoyed it, and one gets to observe great speech craft, the art of oration.  A speech is roughly the length of a short story.  Another work I read that doesn’t easily fit into a category was Victor Moubarak’s Feline Catastrophe.  You may have noticed that Victor is a frequent visitor to this blog, and I have now read a couple of his books.  Feline Catastrophe is a collection of fictional vignettes centered on a house cat.  The cat outwits the master at every turn.  It’s hilarious, and well worth a read.  It’s one of those books I needed to have as break when I was burnt out from intense literature.  I think you can get it for free as a PDF at his website.

I read twenty-one short stories this year, which was only three short of my annual goal of two per month.  But since the Henry Lee speech was approximately the length of a short story, then I was only two short.  Still, these short stories were mostly on the shorter side which makes it look more impressive than it really is.  There were a number of authors I had never read before: Wright, Spark, Wodehouse, Boyle, all very good writers with distinct styles.  I hope in the future to read more of their work.  The short stories can be classified as good, exceptional, or duds.  There were three duds in the group that I would tell you don’t ever bother: Joyce Carol Oats’ “Give Me Your Heart,” Edith Wharton’s “The Triumph of the Night,” and Hemingway’s “Today is Friday.”  The exceptional were Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Spark’s “The Portobello Road,” Welty’s “The Key,” two by Hemingway, “An Alpine Idyll,” and “Now I Lay Me,” Nabokov’s “Sounds,” Joyce’s “The Sisters,” Boyle’s “The Human Fly,” and two  by Saki, “Tobermory” and “The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope.”  There were four stories by Saki in the year’s read and one could make a case that all four could make the exceptional category.  It probably depends on my impulse of the moment.  He’s that good a short story writer.  “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “The Sisters” were both stories I had read in the past and are classics.  It’s always good to re-read a few classics every year.  You tend to see so much more.  Throughout the year I posted analyzes on “The Portobello Road,” “The Key,” Now I Lay Me,” and “Tobermory.”  You can find them by scrolling down the Labels list.  I read five stories from Hemingway, as I make my way through his entire collection.  I’ve now read more than two thirds.  T. C. Boyle is one of the current top American short story writers and I really wanted to read one of his stories.  “The Human Fly” does not disappoint, and I will try to do one of my analyses on it in the near future.  “Sounds” is my third or possibly fourth Vladimir Nabokov short story that I’ve read.  What is notable about all the Nabokov stories I’ve read so far is that they are perfection in form and style.  There isn’t a word out of place; they are economic in delineation, and perfectly structured.  He may be the most skilled fiction writer I have ever read. 

So which of the stories gets the annual prize for best read story of the year?  Of the exceptional listed above, I would say…drum roll please… Let’s Start with the honorable mentions and runner’s up: Muriel Spark’s “The Portobello Road,” and Ernest Hemingway’s “Now I Lay Me.”  Both stories had nuance, depth, and created an interesting experience for the reader.  The winner for 2015 is Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.”  There’s a reason why “Bartleby” is a classic.   The social implications, the psychological insight, and the religious connotations make it a profound story, and Melville’s prose is always sparkling. 

Now one last thing, I have to apologize to one of my commenters who had a request and I didn’t follow through.  A friend, Mary Sue, asked me back in the spring to write up specific posts for Melville’s “Bartleby” and Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.  I said I would and I worked up thoughts for both but never put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard.  Orthodoxy is just too large to do.  When sometime in the future I read it again—and it’s worth another read—I’ll put together some sort of detailed post.  Since I can’t renege twice to the same person, and since “Bartleby” won my annual best short study read, I owe it to Mary Sue to post an analysis of it.  So stay tuned for that Mary Sue.

If there is anything that caught your eye in my 2015 Reads, let me know.  I can discuss it further.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Music Tuesday: RIP, David Bowie

If you haven’t heard, David Bowie passed away yesterday from liver cancer.  From The Hollywood Reporter obituary:  

David Bowie, the genre- and gender-bending British music icon whose persistent innovations and personal reinventions transformed him into a larger-than-life rock star, died Sunday after a battle with cancer, his rep confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 69.

"David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief," read a statement posted on the artist's official social media accounts.

The influential singer-songwriter and producer excelled at glam rock, art rock, soul, hard rock, dance pop, punk and electronica during his eclectic 40-plus-year career. He just released his 25th album, Blackstar, Jan. 8, which was his birthday.

I’m sure there are lots of obits around where you can get the totality of his career.  The BBC summarized his career here.  

Bowie was born David Jones in January 1947 but reinvented himself as David Bowie, in 1966, in order to avoid confusion with the Monkees' Davy Jones.

He went on to study Buddhism and mime, and released his first album, the World of David Bowie, in 1967.

But it was the title track of his second album, Space Oddity, which aroused more than passing interest.

The atmospheric tale of an abandoned astronaut, Major Tom, orbiting the Earth, Space Oddity became a hit in 1969, the year of the first Moon landing.

Initially a hit throughout Europe, it took four years to "break" the United States.

My son Matthew loves “Space Oddity.”  There’s something simple and folkloric about it.  For me David Bowie’s music was either very good or very bad. He experimented with music in a way that suggested to me he didn’t understand music well or didn’t have what Hemingway called a “crap detector.” So when he tried something new it either was brilliant or terrible. That’s probably not true, but that’s my impression. I really thought his Let’s Dance album was very solid as an album. Not sure which of his songs were my favorite, but songs like “Young American” just captured something from the time and place, and of course my youth.

I’m just going to post a few of my favorite Bowie songs.  I just love that hip sax in “Young Americans” and those wonderful lyrics.  

“Rebel Rebel,” might be his greatest song. That was punk rock before punk rock existed.

Here’s some of the lyrics:

You've got your mother in a whirl
She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl
Hey babe, your hair's alright
Hey babe, let's go out tonight
You like me, and I like it all
We like dancing and we look divine
You love bands when they're playing hard
You want more and you want it fast
They put you down, they say I'm wrong
You tacky thing, you put them on

Read more: David Bowie - Rebel Rebel Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Finally I always loved “Let’s Dance.”  It was so 1980s.

And if you say run, I'll run with you
And if you say hide, we'll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower

Finally I heard that his wife posted this on Twitter when he died: “The struggle is real, but so is God.” 

God rest his soul.  He was an entertainer in the fullest sense.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Rest in Peace, Florence King

I was saddened to see this morning that Florence King had passed yesterday. I don't have time to write much here. National Review Online has a proper obituary, written by Jack Fowler, and it’s great.  Here’s an excerpt:

Florence King was one of the premier writers of the 20th century. In particular, as a book reviewer, she was unrivaled. And was there a better scourge of multiculturalism than the crotchety, gin-swilling, chain-smoking, off-colored prose perfectionist who fired off verbal mortars from a nicotine-and-tar patina-d apartment on Caroline Street? I don’t think so. She is an important part of the history and fiber of this institution known for harboring great writers. Her thousands upon thousands of adoring fans — many of whom she counted as pen pals (she loved getting letters from her readers) — will agree.

One private thing: Florence was spiritual — at least that she felt the spirit of a few departed souls, especially her famous Granny. That led her to think, maybe . . .  A few months back she asked me to pray for her, and I did, and she was happy to know that rosaries on Bill Buckley’s old beads were being said for her. It gave her comfort, and maybe there were other consequences. But tonight I will say another prayer for her, and I hope you will too, because if you were someone who derived great enjoyment from reading Florence King, know that, at the end, she sought peace, and if we can help her rest in it, we should.

When I was young and a budding conservative, I devoured the old National Review magazines, and one column I could not miss was the Florence King column, which I believe was on the back end of the issue. When I proclaim the rightful superiority of traditional conservatism, Florence King was one of those writers that had an impact on my thinking. Here's how her Wikipedia entry characterizes her conservative philosophy:

King was a traditionalist conservative, but not a "movement conservative," and she objected to much of the populist direction of the contemporary American Right. King labeled herself a "misanthrope." She was an active Episcopalian (though she often referred to her agnosticism), a member of Phi Alpha Theta, and a monarchist.

Monarchist? Well, she probably was and that's about as traditional a conservative as one gets. To be fair, King's father was British, and so that may be referring to her British, Tory leanings.
But she most definitely was a misanthrope. That characteristic is the one I most remember about her. I pulled up a few of her quotes posted on Goodreads. Let me share a few.

She never married and from what I gathered she was mostly a hermit:

“Keep dating and you will become so sick, so badly crippled, so deformed, so emotionally warped and mentally defective that you will marry anybody.”

She was always ready to touch on her misanthropy:

“Misanthropes have some admirable -- if paradoxical -- virtues. It is no exaggeration to say that we are among the nicest people you are likely to meet. Because good manners build sturdy walls, our distaste for intimacy makes us exceedingly cordial. “Ships that pass in the night.” As long as you remain a stranger we will be your friend forever.”

She had the ability to read the very core of people:

“Hell hath no fury like a liberal arts major scorned.”
“The belle is a product of the Deep South, which is a product of the nineteenth century and the Age of Romanticism. Virginia is a product of the eighteenth century. It's impossible to extract a belle from the Age of Reason.”

Being a southerner, she frequently wrote about it.

“One of the most startling phenomena I ever witnessed occurred in the South after the Arab-Israeli Six-day War. I doubt if the world has ever seen such a rapid ceasefire in antisemitism. I heard one Southern man after another say in tones that i can only describe as gleeful: 'by dern, those Jew boys sure can fight!' One man seriously recommended that Congress pass a special act making Moshe Dayan an American citizen so that he could become Secretary of Defense. He had obviously found a new ‘hero;' as he put it 'That one-eyed bastid would wipe out anybody offin the map whut gave us any trouble.”

“Southerners have a genius for psychological alchemy ... If something intolerable simply cannot be changed, driven away or shot they will not only tolerate it but take pride in it as well.”

But her greatest gift was her wit and way with words:

“A woman must wait for her ovaries to die before she can get her rightful personality back. Post-menstrual is the same as pre-menstrual; I am once again what I was before the age of twelve: a female human being who knows that a month has thirty days, not twenty-five, and who can spend every one of them free of the shackles of that defect of body and mind known as femininity.”

Rest in peace Florence King, I shall forever remember reading you at night in that beloved magazine.