31 December 2012

2012: Books in Review

Always carry a sword an a book-it worked for St. Catherine.

2012 is almost at its end. It has been an interesting, and at times, sporadic, reading year. I'm not about to offer a litany of book reviews, first because I tend to have lengthy opinions about nearly everything I read, but also because I have this terrible habit (or wonderful, depending on how you look at it), of moving on so quickly to the next book that book reviews get neglected (save my personal notes). But here is a rough approximation of what I read in 2012, in no particular order (* indicates titles I have started):

Eugenics and Other Evils, G.K. Chesterton

On Being Human, Bl. Fulton Sheen

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen, Christopher McDougall

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain

Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade

30 December 2012

Making Christmas Books

During my time in college and grad school, I had the great pleasure of working in book preservation, which was both fun and relaxing. After hours of class and studying, there was nothing like sewing pamphlets and re-casing books to make me feel both productive and rejuvenated. A special pleasure comes from constructing books by hand, seemingly creating something out of nothing.

This year, as in the past, I embarked on some Christmas book-making. I decided to make a sketchbook for one of my relatives.

Getting started with book-binding can require a substantial initial investment in tools and supplies (there is always the pipe dream of having my own iron book press...). I splurged this year and acquired some colorful linen thread, and also made my own book cloth using material from this fabulous fabric boutique in Chicago (they have the rare distinction of making me excited about fabric shopping-and they have an online store!). 

Supplies, ready to go.

Books have two major parts-the text block and the case or boards. I first made my book cloth using the fabric, iron-on adhesive, and tissue paper, and adhered that and the endpapers to the boards. Next, I assembled the text block by cutting down letter-size paper and folding the sheets into individual signatures, or gatherings of 10 pages each. I then marked and punctured holes in the signatures and boards for sewing.

Signatures and boards, ready to be sewn.

Since a sketchbook was the desired result, I opted to bind my book by sewing the boards and signatures together with a Coptic stitch, which is both easier than making a full case (no glue required) and provides a functional and attractive result. Coptic binding allows for the book to lay open flat on its own-perfect for a sketchbook.

The finished product.

Sometime in the near future I'll be working on a regular full case, and will post pictures then. If you'd like to see some beautiful examples of bookbinding from more seasoned and gifted artists, search for journals or hand-made books on Etsy or through a Google image search.

Merry Christmas!

13 December 2012

Dreaming of a White Christmas...

Where is that snow-conjuring book? ::sigh:: One can always pray for snow.

08 December 2012

Two Years Later: Why Library School Isn't So Bad After All

Seeing as final exam time is upon us, and I find myself, for once (for all?) free from the usual deluge of papers and tests, I thought it an appropriate time to write about the topic of grad school. Fall in particular seems to be the traditional high season for moaning, reflecting, and issuing doomsday warnings about graduate school in general and library school in particular. Letters to a Young Librarian and Academic Librarian have recently published some of the many classic "Things I Didn't Learn in Library School" posts, and Hack Library School regularly features posts about library school life (most of which I wish were more brutally honest).

Outside of Libraryland, the off-the-wall Penelope Trunk (whose blog you should really read if you don't already-be warned of occasional foul language and adult content) has numerous posts addressing stupid attitudes towards graduate education (see also here, here, and here), with many pieces in other media outlets trumpeting the same tune. Usually theses posts, and those written by librarians, serve as opportunities to complain about the vast inadequacies and injustices of LIS/grad education, for which there is ample justification. But here I would like to take a slightly different tact, and highlight some of the reasons why I found Library School (and life afterward) to be a refreshingly different experience than graduate studies in other liberal arts or social science disciplines that I could have pursued otherwise.

02 December 2012

Book Apocalypse-Not Now

Almost as soon as e-books came on the scene, there have been talks of the demise of the book as we have long known it. These doomsday predictions are far from being true. While rapid technological reform (a more accurate term than 'progress' I think) has become the norm in today's world, it is far too soon to make such a forecast about books. E-books have been on the market in a significant way since just the mid-2000s; the codex has existed in virtually unchanged form for more than 1,500 years. In just that short time, we have already discovered that the amazing convenience and storage capacity of e-readers come with a price, with draconian (i.e. anti-sharing and ownership) DRM policies and rapid generational updates ensuring that e-readers function without some of the most useful features of the traditional codex.


While I am quick to refute those who claim the traditional book has run its course, I am often disappointed by the overly-sentimental apologias that are usually put forward by defenders of the traditional codex. The chorus of sappy humanists defending books on the basis of emotional significance and sensory experience (see here and here) does contain a few grains of truth, but books don't need such a subjective appeal in their defense. It makes for nice drama and all, but the traditional codex will not continue to endure because of its emotional power (or use as an ironic prop), but rather due to their remarkable technological persistence. The practical value of books lies in their function and design-not aesthetics.

24 November 2012

Shillelagh Saturday; Or, How I Really Feel About Touchdown Jesus

Deo gratias.
After  quite a few very long and painful football seasons, our day of reckoning has finally come. While I love to make a sport out of feigning my apathy for Notre Dame football during the offseason, I am as excited as any fan for tonight's game against the Trojans of USC. Win or lose, this has been a season of great drama and joy-so cheers to that.

While part of me stands in strong solidarity with those who are sickened by the excessed of collegiate athletics, I also cannot deny that a winning football team also reaps rewards for the libraries and academic programs of the schools involved. Whatever skepticism I may still have about head coach Brian Kelly, his arrival gift to university libraries and research made me slightly more receptive to his style. And as much as getting to the National Championship game would make any alum's heart sing, the thought of the libraries receiving their share of the $6.2 million BCS payout, win or lose at USC, is enough on its own to make this librarian happy.

Notre Dame's library has also been fatefully synonymous with the football program since the completion of the Word of Life mural on the facade of the current library building in 1964, popularly known as "Touchdown Jesus," which can be seen peeking out from behind the North end of the football stadium.

Now I have a big confession to make: 

           I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sentimental lover of Touchdown Jesus.


15 November 2012

Some Things Never Change...

What my office looks like to non-archives corporate staff:

What my office looks like to me:

Who thought that a mere pile of boxes could be the cause of such shock and awe?

13 November 2012

Less is More

Unlimited data. All-you-can-eat buffets. Endless credit. Unlimited streaming. Hundreds of channels. Bottomless pasta bowls. We hear a seemingly endless litany of 'no limits' every day (if only health insurance companies would join the chorus!). It seems that the principle of boundlessness is now being practiced by many public libraries, which continue to enforce increasingly generous item limits. I am sure it is a boon to the amateur armchair scholar with no access to a university library, but I am not sure how one manages to enjoy 21 CDs or 10 books at a time. 

I used to be rather Spartan-esque in my commitment to reading only one book at any given time, imagining that my reading life could practically exist in a vacuum, unlike my day-to-day adventures. I have relaxed a bit since then, letting the various chunks of story and ideas freely fertilize one another. But I have also long since observed a limit of not reading more than two or three books at a time (exceptions always for articles and letters, of course). This also applies to buying books, which has, needless to say, saved me a countless amount of money. There is something tremendously liberating about focusing on just a couple texts at a time. For a time, even if just a few moments, one is free from the frenetic cadence of micro-consumption that dominates many of our reading lives (just about everyone reads everyday, but it usually consists more of status updates, tweets, and headlines than multi-stanza poems, encyclicals, and novels). Instead of skipping across the water, one is allowed to relax and swim around. 

I still have not mastered the practice of carrying only one book in my handbag at all times, and I likely never will. But observing these limits has often saved me from the easy trap of endless meta-experience, in which I see that something is happening, but don't give half a moment's thought to what I am seeing or what it means. Trapped in meta-experience, our thoughts and consciousness resemble the input/output of computational machines more than those of a personal being capable of practical reasoning. Meta-experience not only allows one to observe a phenomenon from the outside, but this is only something that we can do outside of our individuality. I have always had a special admiration and appreciation for authors and thinkers who have treated literature and philosophy as a marriage of disciplines, rather than two separate subjects. The reason for this is that ideas cannot exist practically without their arena. Plato did not write treatises-instead he composed dialogues, in which philosophy was being worked out in the 'atmosphere' so to speak. Reading remains a barren and de-personalized experience when circumstances turn it into mere consumption. 'Reading' is distinct from consumption and computation precisely because it involves our personal relation to the text. If we wish to remain a culture of readers, we must ensure that we abide by limits that keep our humanity incheck.

Midweek Basilica Beauty

Milwaukee, WI

Papa Benedetto...

And in order to read, it helps to know Latin.

24 October 2012

Feast Day Bookishness

"If people do not have good books they will read bad ones. Books are the food of the soul, and just as the body is nourished by wholesome food and harmed by poisonous food, so it is with reading and the soul."

-St. Anthony Mary Claret

10 October 2012

Quo Vadis: What is the Future of Catholic Libraries?

Whenever I encourage people to make more use out of their local library, there are several commons complaints that I receive. Checking out books from the library takes too much time or energy, the hours aren't ideal, the book I want is always checked out, they never have what I want to read, etc., etc. Quite often the last complaint is the one I hear most often from those who are making valiant efforts to regularly fit some good spiritual reading into their schedule. It is true-you are unlikely to find titles like Boylan's Difficulties in Mental Prayer in your local public library. I was amazed that there were the likes of some classic Chesterton, Fulton Sheen, and St. Josemaria (albeit very old and worn out copies) in the massive stacks of my very secular graduate school library. Despite the size and relative breadth of the collection (over 7 million volumes), I was often disappointed that what I most longed to read could not be found. As Coleridge would say, water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

Catholics and other individuals who want to read good Catholic books faced with this situation today have a few options:
  • Request the desired titles at the local public library. Wait an eternity for them to be ordered and processed if the library does not own the item(s) already and actually decides to purchase them.
  • Exercise their resourcefulness by scouring all the local parish and university/seminary libraries. Even if the desired title is found, access to it is usually restricted by parish membership or university affiliation (which in some cases can be purchased for a fee of $50/semester).
  • Just buy the darned thing, ensuring relatively quick and on-going access for reading and reference.
All three courses of action can, I think, positively contribute to the preservation of Catholic book collections, but I think that the last will be particularly crucial to this task.

There are books everywhere...

"There are books everywhere and only a few are necessary."

A.G. Sertillanges

04 October 2012

03 October 2012

Wherein I Rant about Banned Books Week

It is that time of year again. The week when nearly every librarian and their brother give enthusiastic exhortations to "Read Banned Books!" and proceed to superficially discuss the importance of 'intellectual freedom.'

It would be an understatement to say that I am deeply exasperated by the annual celebration of Banned Books Week. Like a lot of other ALA advocacy efforts, it is emotionally charged, politically correct, and does not facilitate a rich discussion of the issues it aims to address. I hope this post enables a bit of that discussion. My heart was warmed earlier this week by a post from Annoyed Librarian which addresses the mis-direction of Banned Books Week. Like many modern librarian activities, it involves a healthy dose of pretend progressivism:
"This is such a typically radical librarian thing to do: pretend to be subversive and daring by doing something that's not remotely prohibited by law, including some apparently xenophobic laws in Arizona. Unless the underground librarians are planning to sneak into classrooms and start teaching kids Sandra Cisneros, all the feelgood drama is completely unnecessary."
As someone who doesn't abide by the ALA's fake subversiveness, I guess I get a prize for having a truly radical librarian view (?).

In regards to the discussion of intellectual freedom and 'spreading awareness' about the lingering impact of censorship in today's libraries, I am almost always disappointed by the tone of articles, blog posts, etc. that inevitably end in a disparagement of so-called 'inquisitionist' or 'crazy' parents who wish to thrust their mind control upon the rest of society. While it is true that virtually all instances of what are now colloquially referred to as 'book banning' are mere challenges placed by individual parents in school or public libraries, many parents who submit such challenges do so with the good intentions of properly stewarding their children's media consumption. I still think it is naive of them to presume that all libraries, even the children's section, are completely tailored to their value system and parenting methods, and also think it is silly to think that said libraries should be punished just because you did not double-check junior's book bag. Nonetheless, this is the very population of 'pro-censorship' people that Banned Books Week Advocacy seems to be aimed at, yet I rarely hear anyone charitably engage book-challenging parents in a logical dialog about why censorship might be problematic. Such respect is often feigned, albeit well, by reference desk staffers with short tempers. Usually what one hears is akin to "Stop being difficult. You are annoying. We are right. You are wrong. Read banned books!"So much for library neutrality.

Aside from its feigned radicalism, my two biggest criticisms of Banned Books Week are 1) that it only perpetuates myths and misconceptions of censorship rather than educating the public about reality and 2) its false subversiveness and one-dimensional slogan do not encourage the public, whether young or old, to critically examine their attitudes about reading and media consumption.

27 September 2012

20 September 2012

Embarassing Faux Pas of the Searching [Library] Employer

It amazes me that career advice columnists manage to survive. I am not sure if I am alone on this. But every time I see a new headline for '10 Things to Never Say in an Interview' or '5 Ways to Make Your Resume Shine,' I read the same common-sense or inane advice that has been repeated from time immemorial. Anyway, in libraryland there are many sites dedicated to navigating library school and the hiring process: Hack Library School, I Need a Library Job, Hiring Librarians, and Open Cover Letters. Letters to a Young Librarian also occasionally features some young career advice. Hiring Librarians has a regular feature where hiring manager at library organizations are interviewed about what advice they have for job-hunting candidates, covering everything from preparation and salary negotiation to etiquette and fashion. There should be a similar list for employers.

In their imaginary fantasy world, library
hiring managers probably wish all of
 their candidates are like Rex Libris.
One of my favorite job-search related blogs to peruse is You Ought to Be Ashamed, which focuses on the disastrously absurd in archival job postings, a la "Must have an MLS, Ph.D., be fluent in 5 languages, have 7 years programming experience. Salary: $32,000"). Sadly it is not updated that often. But I wish there were more ways for potential employers to improve their end of the job-search. In recent months, I have heard all kinds of embarrassments from job-hunters librarian and non-librarian alike, and one wonders what this world is coming to. To begin, here is a brief list potential employers should avoid.

19 September 2012

The Belgian & The Hobbit

While I am here, let me remind you to indulge in a few days of opportunities for semi-literary excitement and celebration of two beloved characters of short stature and a propensity for fine meals. Tomorrow, 20 September, we have Talk Like a Poirot Day, a tribute to the legendary Agatha Christie detective, and an apt postlude to the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day. Dust off your moustache and monocle, and prime your Belgian accent for a day most grand! A little fine dining won't hurt either.

The next day, Friday, 21 September, marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (not quite as momentous an occasion as an eleventy-first birthday, but it will do). Fans all around the world will be celebrating with second breakfast, at 11 o'clock sharp (Owing to the demands of the work day, I will be having a very late second breakfast). The very next day, 22 September, is Hobbit Day, the shared birthday of our beloved Bilbo and Frodo. If ever I had an excuse to bake scones, this is it! Oh, and read. Hobbits love to read:

Catholic Speaker Month: Alice von Hildebrand

Before the entire month gets away from me, I'd like to take some time to welcome any new readers in observance of Support a Catholic Speaker Month, organized by Brandon Vogt. It is my pleasure to introduce you (or re-introduce you) to Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, who is a favorite speaker and writer of mine.
I first encountered Alice myself when she spoke a few years ago at a conference sponsored by the Right-to-Life Club at my alma mater. She spoke with passion about the pains, both socially and spiritually, that abortion has caused, and continues to cause, in our society today. She is a petite little lady, but she has a lively spirit about her. Not one to draw attention to myself, I didn't immediate introduce myself to her after her talk. But as luck would have it,  a large number of students involved in organizing the conference were obligated to attend a wedding that same evening, which left only myself and a good friend of mine available to take her out to dinner and return her to the airport the next day. It was a delight to listen to her more throughout our hearty Italian meal as she spoke about Aristotle and friendship, and especially her husband, Dietrich, about whom she speaks with joyful admiration (more about him later). It was also quite a sight to see her ride shotgun in my friend's bright red Ford Mustang on the way to her flight.

28 August 2012

More Awesome People Reading...

As I am still buried in things both at the office and at home due to moving, here is a delightful photo to make up for my lack of writing (H/T Julie D.). Like Happy Catholic, I also admire Matt Damon.

18 August 2012

"A backup isn't a backup if it's your only copy."

I recently had a hard drive fail, as it wont to happen at the busiest and most inconvenient times. After a couple days, an efficient technician, and a large hole in my wallet, everything is back up, running normally, and safe. This experience was much less traumatic than it could have been had I not had an established habit of regularly backing up my data.

I recently ran across this article regarding data storage safety. The author recounts a stressful close-call with hard drive failure:
"Last week, one of my son's friends lost a summer of work he'd done filming a documentary. It was a crucial college project for which he'd solicited and received considerable financial support via Kickstarter. He'd backed up months of footage garnered from extensive travel and interview to an external hard drive. Secure that he had a backup, he deleted the source data to gain more room on his Mac. It wasn't until the external hard drive failed that it dawned on him that a backup isn't a backup if it's your only copy."
Luckily, for the student of the article, all the data was able to be recovered with a little forensics, but one cannot count on being so lucky if your hard drive unexpectedly fails. The author has a few very simple points of advice for safe backup practices as the school year begins once again:

  • Backup regularly to a drive that won't be lost or damaged with the source
  • Periodically confirm that what you backup is present and recoverable
  • Never carry your backup media in the same backpack or bad as your computer.

I echo all this advice. If you don't have an external backup drive, get one. Nowadays, storage devices are very spacious and are relatively inexpensive for the security they provide. Ideally, backups should be stored in a different physical location from the source drive. That way, if one gets damaged, there is a greater chance that the other copy will survive unharmed and recoverable. I'd like to strongly emphasize that backing up must be a regular  activity, like doing laundry, balancing the checkbook, or going to confession. Otherwise, you're more likely to end up with several weeks, months, etc. of lost work.

On a similar note, if you have not already done so, it is a good idea to take an inventory of just where all your data is on the web. Where do you have accounts? What are the usernames and passwords? How much data are you sharing, and when did you last use an account/service? Organizing all this information can help you mitigate personal data needlessly floating around cyberspace, and will make you more conscious of your information-sharing habits on the web.

It is important to think of managing personal digital assets and data in the same way as we care for other non-static organisms. More helpful resources for personal digital archiving from the Library of Congress can be found here.

13 August 2012

Who is John Galt?

Since the announcement of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate late last week, the ever-blazing fire of political hysteria has had a fresh burst of fuel. Luckily, we will not discuss politics on this blog. We shall leave that unpleasant pastime to other blogging heads. But what is pressing my buttons is all the hysteria that is being generated about Paul Ryan's relationship with Randian literature. I know very little about the extent and exact nature of the influence of Ayn's canon on Ryan's politics. I have sampled a few anecdotes. Far and wide, people are crying fowl that Ryan has demonstrated positive interest in Rand's works. And then denying their influence on him-or not?

Really, Atlas is just holding his head in his hands and
 weeping about the modern state of political discourse.
Now really, I could read as much as my puny litter grey matter could handle and I still wouldn't know up from down about the whole truth of the interior life of this country's dear politicians. But suffice it to say, I've already become annoyed at some who have severely recoiled at Ryan's association with Rand, as if reading a book and finding it fascinating and insightful somehow generates incurable Objectivist cooties. Ryan certainly got some measure of excitement from Rand, but his interest does not appear to be fanatical. I don't deny that Rand's Objectivism is downright frightening, but I don't think Ryan's significant engagement with her writing should necessarily alarm folks. I may stand corrected as I do my duty and reluctantly listen to more political banter as this election season progresses, but I think the general public is wrong to use Ryan's Rand connection to impulsively label him an enemy of the people (IMH non-political opinion).

Pope Benedict's Dream Job

So late last week we got a taste of what the Holy Father would really prefer to be doing. Forget fostering Christian unity and writing encyclicals. The man just wants to be a librarian.

And Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, Librarian of the Apostolic Library and Archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives, had this to say of the role of the library for the Church: "It must be like the keel of the ship, which is not seen. In fact, few people are able to see it. So it is with the library: there are few, apart from specialists...who understand the amount of work that takes place in the Library and Archives.

"It is really theses institutions that allow the barque of the Church to stay afloat and move forward...If it were not for the keel, the ship would be subjected to doctrinal winds of any nature or fashions. It is this keel which gives depth to the catechetical work of the Church and her teaching."

09 August 2012

St. Lawrence Day!

Tomorrow, August 10th, is the feast of St. Lawrence of Rome, deacon, really stellar martyr, and patron of, amongst other things, librarians. When once asked to produce the treasures of the Church, St. Lawrence  is said (by St. Ambrose, no less) to have gathered all the poor together and presented them as the true riches to be sought. 

Sixtus ordains St. Lawrence
St. Lawrence was brutally martyred by being roasted alive. Legend has it that he possessed so much fortitude and good humor that, after being thoroughly toasted on one side, he alerted his executioners: "I am done on this side-you can turn me over now!" I have a feeling he did not want his martyrdom to be 'over-easy'.

This makes me wary of the possibility that I may share this fate with a patron of my profession. St. Lawrence's patronage of cooking and comedy is sensible, but it is at least a little ironic that a man who was burned alive now serves as a patron for a profession for which fire is highly dreaded. Perhaps a divinely guided pre-meditation to the cautionary tone of Fahrenheit 451

In addition to St. Lawrence, Sts. Jerome and Catherine of Alexandria have been claimed as patron saints of libraries and archives. Triple the opportunities to celebrate. Let's hope that nobody calls for a roasting of librarians anytime soon.

Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, Valentin de Boulogne

08 August 2012

St. Dominic, Reading

St. Dominic reads, in a healthy balance of prayer and study.
Happy Feast Day!

07 August 2012

Reading Time...and Time Again

The Doctor reads, then, and now. 

Reading is My Drug

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

There's an oft-repeated old story about a tropical island on a vast sea that was surrounded by a massive wall. Explorers thought this was a shame, for the natives were missing out on all the beauty of the surrounding waters. So they knocked down the wall, and shortly a storm came along that destroyed the island, which, but for the absence of the wall, would have not caused such devastation. With all the wonders of the information age, one can easily get too enthralled in the wonders of technology and also those of information. It is justifiably exciting when we can pull up maps on our iPhones, instantly look up that random useless fact that has been nagging us all day, or especially when we have the ability to have a whole reference library in our backback, such as the Logos Bible software allows us to do. E-readers give us the exciting ability to store most of a personal library in our pocket, with nearly endless potential for reading enjoyment.

But more and more recently, I have been noticing just how easy it is to become a slave to reading. It's not just for books anymore. Reading material is everywhere these days-in our books, on our phones, on billboards, in the doctor's waiting room, and our computer screens. I am generally a voracious reader under normal conditions, but when stress is added to that mix, I am especially susceptible to reader's binge. Somehow, I have still not perfectly mastered control over the backwards instinctual logic that attempts to remedy stress and excessive mental preoccupations with adding yet more preoccupations to the mix. In the midst of perusing too thoroughly the latest in the Catholic blogosphere, my Twitter feed,  the newly arrived issues of professional association publications, and the rest of todays news, and eyeing the books on my tea-tray, I had to stop myself.

Sometimes we are more chained too books than we realize.

01 August 2012

Things I Long to Say to ALA...

Nathan Fillion + Childhood Literacy

I've got about ten odd posts that have been floating around my gray matter for weeks, but time and space have not been aplenty. Thus, I leave you with this gem:

More info about "Kids Need to Read," a Fillion brainchild, can be found here and here

While I think literacy projects are great-as-can-be, I was a little disappointed at their official booklist, of which I recognized maybe 3% of the titles. This is probably just a sure fire re-confirmation that I am aging and not a children's/YA specialist, but I at least expected Huck Finn and some of the other classics to appear in non-graphic novel versions. I understand that they are targeting youth from mainly 'at-risk' communities, but these kids still deserve better. At least Twilight is nowhere to be found.

31 July 2012

St. Ignatius Of Loyola

Ignatius of Loyola reads, when not founding religious orders and doing radical mission work.

Happy Feast Day!

25 July 2012

Books to Read Before the Summer is Out

Usually I anticipate Summer reading like a shopaholic preparing for Black Friday. The few spare moments of the Winter months are spent compiling a master list of books I ought to read but have little freedom to during the academic year, which I pounce upon as soon as I'm able. When this Summer began, however, life just got busier. Consequently, this year's list of 'books read is depressingly meager when measured against an average season. But as Summer is only half-over, after all, it is not too late to fit in some good reading. Here are a few titles that I have recently [re-] read, and are well worth your while.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture
Josef Pieper
I first read Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture towards the beginning of library school, and found it refreshing after years of rationalizing workaholic behavior and living in a culture obsessed with work (even if, sometimes, for the right reasons). This short essay, paired with The Philosophical Act, examines the fundamental roots of leisure in celebratory sacrifice. Anyone tired of modern workaholic culture or its equally frustrating counterpart of commodified recreation will enjoy this little book. It is a very timely read for Summer, or if you are trying to regain a sense of balance, peace, and order in your life. And at just around 75 pages, it doesn't require a huge investment of time.

Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength)
C.S. Lewis

"A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered...You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?"
So an inquisitive alien asks in the first volume of this marvelous sci-fi trilogy from the mind of C.S. Lewis. The delight of the trilogy for me definitely seems to grow progressively with the remembrance of each read. One can think of this series as a slightly more grown-up segway from Narnia. As someone who loved Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time series growing up, I quickly adopted the Space Trilogy as a natural favorite, with its unique blend of space adventure, philosophy, and theology (more like sci-fi with a bit of the latter two sprinkled in). That Hideous Strength, with its blend of militaristic drama, academic politics, sorcery, and subtle commentary on love, stands out as my favorite of the three. Those who have only explored Lewis' more theological writing (e.g., Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce) will enjoy a new dimension of his imagination in the Space Trilogy.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen
Christopher McDougall
As a rule, I normally treat most contemporary writing as a secondary concern, to be explored after the more enduring works essential to a lifetime reading list. But Born to Run was just too intriguing to save for later. Motivated by the mystery of foot pain, journalist Christopher McDougall presents a delightfully entertaining narrative of his search for the Tarahumara, a reclusive Mexican people who drink corn beer and run ultramarathons in the canyon desert in bare feet. My favorite chapter has to be McDougall's discussion of the ancient practice of persistence hunting, wherein packs of men essentially chase animals to death (the human body never fails to amaze). With its energy-filled story-telling and exploration of human physiology and anthropology, Born to Run is sure to inspire the runner within to hit the road with new life. And it may tempt you to abandon your sneakers and go 'au naturale.'

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Edited by Humphrey Carpenter
"Well, there you are, a hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them. You are inside a very great story!"
-J.R.R. Tolkien to Christopher Tolkien (at war), 6 May 1944

Influenced by a recent conversation with a good friend, I decided to take up The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (after all, it serves a good prelude to a necessary re-reading of The Hobbit before its big screen debut this winter). I have only cracked the surface of this tremendously heart-warming collection of correspondence, and already feel compelled to recommend it without reservation. Like an ageless child, Tolkien's pen seems to be the gateway of a conduit to his heart. The letters to his editors are playful and humble, while those to his wife and children read as effusive parcels of love. His correspondence clearly shows a man with an expansive heart and boundless imagination. Tolkien writes frankly about moral principles and virtue in the wake of wartime, which largely formed the backdrop for his composition of The Lord of the Rings. Not to mention his notes to his sons are frequently sprinkled with Elvish, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon turns of phrase and remarks on the liturgical calendar. Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien is sure to inspire Tolkien fans and captivate new ones.

Happy Reading!

15 July 2012

Tolkien's First Love

"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament...There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires."

-J.R.R. Tolkien, from a letter to his son, Michael, 1941

08 July 2012

Tolkien, in the study...

J.R.R. Tolkien reads (between smokes).

And, another reason why Tolkien is awesome.

The Angel at the Chalkboard: Fulton Sheen, Catechesis, and Information Literacy

When life gets busy, blog gets neglected. All I can muster about the past several busy weeks is a big Minnesota "Uffda!" As usual, the internet blazes forward without me. Its loss.

Late last week there was word that one of my favorite, favorite priests of all time-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen-has been named 'Venerable'. I have not used much space on this blog to expound on my undying love for this man, but trust me, it is indeed very expansive and undying.

My first memories of Sheen go back to seeing him occasionally on EWTN and hearing him on the radio when my parents were tuned in. I later rediscovered him in college, when I found that some brilliant individuals had made nearly all of his talks available to stream for free on the web (Behold: http://www.fultonsheen.com.)

I consider Sheen the anti-dote to the modern TV personality. His effectiveness is surely attributable to his commanding personality, wit, and his exceptional rhetorical skill, but at the root of it all is his unabashed focus on the pursuit of truth. In describing how one goes about how to talk, Sheen, while  making the disclaimer that he is not the model orator, explains that the best way to prepare any speech is to fully immerse yourself in the subject matter until it is a part of you, for as the gospel tells us, "from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks" (Lk 6:45). Contrary to his own claim, Sheen was a tremendous speaker, not only because of his wit, but because he was both incredibly instructive and pastoral (sincerity, clarity, and flexibility served as his main precepts for speaking). 

So what does Sheen have to do with libraries, you ask?

At it at the blackboard.

Well, he did indeed write a lot of books, but that is beside the point. Whenever I start thinking of Sheen, my mind inevitably gravitates to two things: the significant attention being given to information literacy today, and the sad state of the modern catechesis.

With the advent of the internet and the abundance of information that has accompanied the recent explosion of information technology and advances in both personal and scholarly communication, there has been a growing emphasis on what is known in the library world as "information literacy." According to the ACRL, "Information Literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information." But this is what students are supposed to be learning in the first place, isn't it? Ideally, yes. However, the reality is that most students are taught how to do research, but this usually amounts to professors teaching them how to synthesize information gleaned from multiple sources and then make inferences and draw conclusions from it. The process of finding those sources and understanding how information is organized in the first place is usually left to the students themselves. Hence the occasional class trip to that one computer lab in the library where the librarian attempts to teach them about databases, other e-resources, and how to do a book or citation search (although many students tend ignore this and resort to the classic 'Googling strategies work universally' frame of mind). 

Information Literacy is a rather hot topic in the library world right now. Higher education is certainly suffering from a myriad of crises, and most librarians want to do their utmost so that these problems don't get the best of students. Instructional librarians are very passionate people-in many cases, they do more to educate students than professors do.

It is no secret that Catholic catechesis has been in a similar state of crisis over the past few decades, and in some ways, longer than that. Cardinal Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, alluded to this educational crisis when recenetly speaking about the formation of priests. The most common problem is that the faith is not taught well in the first place. The other significant problem is that when catechesis is initially done well, many Catholics are ill-equipped to continue that catechesis throughout the remainder of their lives. Only a madman would claim that one could learn everything there is to know about the faith in a few months of confirmation class, but many Catholics act as if their Confirmation is an anointing to live in ignorance for the rest of their lives, not a sacrament that strengthens them for the journey ahead. It is true that we are not all called to be expert theologians, but every Catholic should be equipped with the skills and resources to continually learn and integrate the faith into his or her daily life, and to critically examine issues of the modern world in light of their beliefs. 

Information Literacy needs to have a place in catechesis. Most Catholics are taught the faith, but are not left with any handy reference library to navigate their future challenges and questions. My home diocese has for a while engaged in the honorable practice of providing every confirmand with a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is a good first step. But more needs to be done. Educated Catholics have no excuse to be ignorant when the vast majority of church documents can be found on the web.

As part of this effort, I have thus compiled a basic list of useful resources for Catholics, found under the 'Catholic Reference' tab above. This list is by no means exhaustive, but serves as a good guide for the information-hungry Catholic (or not) on the internet. I will continue to add to it as I remember or discover other resources.

Fulton Sheen once wrote that "Books are the most wonderful friends in the world. When you meet them and pick them up, they are always ready to give you a few ideas. When you put them down, they never get mad; when you take them up again, they seem to enrich you all the more" (Life is Worth Living). Certainly part of the beauty of an institutional church is that it has such a rich documentary heritage, and it is a serious task to study it. But although books and information literacy enable us to know the faith, "The Church's educational mission, as Cardinal Piacenza says, must continually be reinvigorated, reinforced and restarted from th[e] authentic passion for man, a passion that, as the etymology of the term 'passio' indicated, is first of all the shared participation in the same condition of 'asking about meaning.'" Armed with this attitude and proper information tools, individuals will be properly equipped to both learn about the faith and effectively engage others in conversation about it.

03 July 2012

Holy People Reading: St. Thomas More

St. Thomas More reads.

(Please pray for all lawyers!)

Happy [Belated] Feast Day!

27 June 2012

Thoreau on Libraries in Lean Times

"Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries."

-Henry David Thoreau

19 June 2012

June Mash-Up

A move, a marathon, and matrimonial celebrations have turned June into a perfect storm for derailing my blogging efforts. After all this activity, and at long last valiantly conquering the ISP tyrants, I am now back online. Inevitably, this hiatus has come at a time where I have far too many things to write about. In an attempt to cover some of this ground, I have herded some snippets together so my thought corral does not bulge too much.


I have thus far avoided doing reviews for this blog, since they have a tendency to quickly turn into overwrought intellectualized op-eds, but I think this has to change soon, lest I become too much of a quietist. Some friends of mine are often surprised at how much I follow movies. This is more a symptom of habits acquired on the job last year than any natural inclination, but I am a natural critic (on occasion I've been ordered not to say anything after viewing a movie for the sake of not prematurely ruining the experience for others). This summer's theater line-up includes several highly-anticipated movies, among them "For Greater Glory." On the heels of all the anticipation, I went to the theater opening weekend. I came out of it wishing I was from south of the border. Several other bloggers have published detailed reviews, including both rants and raves, so I won't beat this horse to death. Despite some of the more critical reviews, I found this film very moving, especially for its portrayal of Bl. Jose Sanchez del Rio. "For Greater Glory" has its flaws (unremarkable score, time restraints curtailed some character development, some slightly off liturgical details), but they don't define the film. The story could have benefited from a more raw portrayal of the main character's internal conflicts, but still a film worth seeing, and a story that needs to be told. 

The past several weeks have seen a wide-spread bemoaning of libraries who have opted to take Fifty Shades of Grey off their shelves. What has resulted is a typical flip-flopping of the title going in and out of circulation, depending on the library and the response of the public. What has once again come to light is the discussion of how libraries select for their collections and how they enforce their circulation and collection policies, along with hefty debate over whether or not porn or erotic lit has a place in libraries. Some argue that removing Fifty Shades of Grey  from circulation would be inconsistent, since most libraries have an entire section dedicated to Romance novels, to which I say that if you really can't live without your Danielle Steele, county taxpayers shouldn't be enabling your bad habits. How exactly do romance novels and erotic lit fit into the pursuit of upholding Enlightenment values? It's still ridiculous that some public libraries have decided not to install porn filters out of concern for 'intellectual freedom.' To the best of my knowledge, porn filters aren't expansive enough to prohibit the average patron's internet-browsing needs.

Speaking of censorship, I am tremendously delighted to be the new owner of a 1940 copy of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. After a quick look through, I'm not sure what the historical fuss was/is all about, even at that time. Few popular novels and literature were on the list, which was mostly focused on published works that include serious doctrinal error on religious matters, although there was a general provision that covers heretical books, and most works of some notable authors, e.g. Nietzche, fall under that category. Some works by Kant and Machiavelli, however, did make the 1940 Index explicitly. The next time one of my colleagues starts hyper-ventilating about the "Church's Banned Books List," I really hope they take my suggestion to actually study the real Index. I'm still seeking out a good book that covers the actual history and use of the Index, since there is so little that I know and understand about it myself.