31 December 2013

The 500 Club

After spending some time in grad school immersed in library ROI (return-on-investment) research, I decided to start a little personal tabulation. Just how much does the library save me in a year? Since I moved in February, I began comparing my library borrowing record with Amazon prices, and kept a running total. In less than a calendar year, I've borrowed over $500 worth of library materials, the vast majority of them still books. Considering that I only borrow 1-2 items at a time, with only the very occasional movie, I was surprised that my total rose so high. Just goes to show how remarkable a library's savings can accumulate. People sometimes complain about their local taxes going to this or that service or infrastructure, but considering the tiny fraction of each individual's taxes that local libraries receive, their return on investment is really quite amazing. Not to mention the really low barrier to entry.  Most public library cards can be obtained with a driver's license or state ID-sometimes without an address even. What other institution is just waiting to give you free stuff basically just for proving that you exist? That in itself never ceases to be an object of wonder for me.

How did you do? How much money did your local library save you this year?

30 November 2013

Advent Tidings: Annunciation

The Annunciation and Two Saints [St. Ansanus & St. Maxima/Margaret], Simone Martini (1333) 
cf. Lk 1:26-38

For more about this remarkable painting, check out this quick video from Khan Academy. With each passing season, I am always progressively amazed and delighted with some previously undiscovered-by-me piece of sacred art. 

If you're looking to work through the Jesse Tree this year, check out this great set of printable ornaments. I always struggle each year to find a quality set of ornaments that aren't preschool-grade felt cutouts, and I love that these feature fine art.

Check out Busted Halo for a fun alternative Advent Calendar.

Finally, if you haven't already read the third part of Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth, Advent is a great time to pick up The Infancy Narratives. It's a short little book, but packs a good punch for Advent prayer and reflection.

Worth a Thousand Words: Libraries of the World

Merton College Library, Oxford

CNN now has up a lovely collection of photographs of libraries throughout the world. It is always interesting to see the wide variations in style and architecture of library buildings, especially those that were constructed as works of art in themselves (I personally can never concentrate on research in the more ornate spaces). Like churches, the great libraries of the world were designed to lift up the mind and soul. See the rest here.

17 October 2013

Neil Gaiman: Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming

For the 'reasons to read fiction' files:

 "...the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using you imagination, create a world and people it and look out through their eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You're becoming someone else, and when you return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed. 

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals."

On the digital divide:

"I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old; there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand; they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them."

And more:

"We writers -- and especially writers for children, but all writers -- have an obligation to our readers: it's the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were -- to understand that truth is not in what happen but what it tell us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all."

Read the whole thing here.

Related: MIT scientists discuss the importance of science fiction in nurturing inventors.

03 September 2013

Malala Yousafzai: "Books Are Very Precious"

"Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism. I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through educating not only our minds, but our hearts and souls. This is the way forward to our destiny of peace and prosperity.

Dear sisters and brothers, Books are very precious. Some books can travel you back centuries and some take you into the future. In some books, you will visit the core of your heart and in others you will go into the universe. Books keep ones feelings alive. Aristotle's words are still breathing, Rumi's poetry will always inspire and Shakespeare's soul will never die.

There is no better way to explain the importance of book than to say that even God chose the medium of a book to send His message to His people."

Read more here.

28 August 2013

The Quotable Flannery O'Connor

"I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic. This is a fact and nothing covers it like the bald statement. However, I am a Catholic peculiarly possessed of the modern consciousness, that thing Jung describes as unhistorical, solitary, and guilty. To possess this within the Church is to bear a burden, the necessary burden for the conscious Catholic. It's to feel the contemporary situation at the ultimate level. I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it."

-From a letter to 'A,' 20 July 1955

28 July 2013

Virgin Mary: Book of the Word of God

"The Virgin Mary is called βιβλος του λογου της ζωης (the "book of the Word of life") by the Greek Church. The book of the Gospel, the book of Christ's origins and life, can be written and proclaimed because God has first written his living Word in the living book of the Virgin's being, which she has offered to her Lord in all its purity and humility-the whiteness of a chaste, empty page. If the name of Mary does not often appear in the pages of the Gospel as evident participant in the action, it is because she is the human ground of humility and obedience upon which every letter of Christ's life is written. She is the Theotokos, too, in the sense that she is the book that bears, and is inscribed with, the Word of God. She keeps her silence that he might resonate the more plainly within her."

-Erasmo Leiva Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Matthew

Review: The Good Reading Guide (Free Trial!)

Sometime in the middle of last summer, I was very interested to hear of the existence of a new book-reviewing initiative on the web. The Good Reading Guide grew out of a small family-run bookstore in Australia in 2011, as an effort to facilitate personal reading selection in sync with the respect of human dignity. 

Here is The Good Reading Guide's reviewing philosophy:
At the Good Reading Guide we believe that books can have a significant impact on a person Just as people thrive in a society that recognizes their dignity, so can they thrive when their reading material in some way reflects this dignity, and if possible, enhances their understanding of it.  
We aim to source literature that is of quality in both style and substance. Structure and vocabulary should be at a sufficient standard, characters well-developed and believable, plots engaging and themes appropriate for the intended reader of each book. We recommend books that contribute to readers' culture and character and are broadly compatible with Christian values, but more than just seeking 'clean' books we aim to recommend books that will enrich the lives of readers in at least one of the following areas: 
Culture: we seek books that build culture by expanding  the world of the reader and teaching them new things, helping them to see beyond a superficial vision of life;
Humanity: we try to select books that help readers to deepen their understanding of humanity by 'living in someone else's shoes' for a time;
Language: we look for books that enhance readers' language and logical reasoning; and
Character: we seek books that help to build character by offering criteria for developing maturity in judgement and action. 

22 July 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Library of Congress

Library of Congress, via Ken Kaminesky

Staying for the Credits: The Problem of Reverence

I absolutely love going to the movie theater alone. To me, there is no pleasure quite like attending a late Saturday morning matinee, free from the gaggling primetime crowds-- just me, the film, and about three other quiet pleasure-seekers, all silently brimming with excitement as we enter our nearly empty sanctuary. I've always been told that I'm a picky movie-goer-I'm one of those people who scowls at animated crowd reactions and insists on staying until all the credits have rolled (usually out of principle to give everyone the credit they deserve, but also secretly to see if this film is the one out of every few dozen that rewards our loyal patience with a brief post-script). Call me a scrooge, but remaining silent for two hours inside a dark theater shouldn't be too much to ask (especially at today's ticket prices). I usually explain my movie-going rituals in terms of the receptivity required in order to fully experience art in any form-it can be difficult to truly observe the drama in front of our eyes if we are preoccupied with instantly responding to it. The film can too easily be replaced by meta-experience, and we miss some of its richness. Not every film is a bastion of moral seriousness or provocative texture, but I always thought it was quite obvious that we go to the theater to engage ourselves with a story-not to listen to ourselves talk. We can't fully take part in the adventure unless we let ourselves sink back into the woodwork and let the drama take center stage.

21 July 2013

"We Must Protect Our Souls With the Sword of the Spirit"

"Ann Veronica is not an immoral book in any imaginable sense; but that is not the primary point. The primary point is that, that it is no business of the State or of any coercive power to suppress immoral books. The business of any coercive and collective power is to suppress indecent books; books that violate fixed verbal and physical custom in such a way as to be a public nuisance. We have a right to be guarded against bodily indecency as against bodily attack; but do not let us call in the police to protect our souls; we must protect our souls with the sword of the spirit. If once I am to test books by whether I think them profoundly and poisonously immoral, I could furnish a very long list to the police. I should at once ask the magistrates to forbid the sale of Froud's History of England, Burke's French Revolution, Hobbes's Leviathan, Smiles's Self-Help, Carlyle's Frederick the Great, all the works of the Imperialists, Eugenists, Theosophists, and Higher Thinkers, and at least half the works of Socialists and of Jingoes. If once we begin to speak of whether things do harm to men's souls, our Index Expurgatorious will begin to fill the British Museum. Ann Veronica  does not urge immorality; it does not urge anything; it intentionally ends with a note of interrogation. I myself even read it as a note of irony; the upshot of the tale, if anything, seemed to me to be rather against modern revolt that in its favor...But the question is not whether my spiritual version is correct; the question of indecency is, comparatively speaking, a question of fact. And the fact is that the book is no more indecent than Bradshaw...Suppose that it were (as it is not) spiritually evil; suppose it were as profligate as Froude or as foul as Smiles and Self-Help, the point is that these spiritual repugnances must not be enforced politically, or we shall lose the very name of freedom."

-G.K. Chesterton, Daily News, 12 February 1910 (via Gilbert Magazine) 

06 July 2013

'Catholic and Bookish': Lumen Fidei, Libraries, and the New Evangelization

I'm still working my way through Pope Francis' new encyclical, Lumen Fidei. It's nice to pause between sections to really drink up the whole thing. I love when new encyclicals are released-nothing like some new fresh breath to revitalize us. And thanks to the wonders of the internet, we all flock to the virtual watering-holes to excitedly share what we're reading. As one friend of mine pointed out, it's like a virtual Harry Potter release party...only with encyclicals. We all wait giddy with anticipation, and then rush to read the whole thing immediately. Technology enables us to share the faith with greater speed and facility than ever before. It's a shame that Brandon Vogt's eagerness to share the new encyclical in e-reader formats was suspended so quickly...but I guess even the Good News is subject to quibbles over distribution rights these days. 

Then, today, I was delighted to see that some friends of mine have banded together to encourage people to request that a print copy of Lumen Fidei  be added to the collection at their local public library. I hope that many more people decide to do the same. I'm especially excited to see this happen because it strikes many chords with things I've previously written about evangelization and libraries. I think we all spend so much time tinkering around on the internet and caught up in discussion of 'the new evangelization' that we forget that books have a tremendously important role to play in spreading the faith-after all, "tolle lege" got St. Augustine's conversion going, and as St. Josemaria once said, "Reading has made many saints."

I think it's relevant here to revisit the words of Mr. Thomas Loome (of Loome Theological Booksellers fame) as he highlighted the great destruction of many Catholic library collections in the wake of Vatican Council II:
"The only other lesson that occurs to me is this: as believing Catholics we have a responsibility to preserve the patrimony of the Church, certainly in so far as it has been entrusted to us as librarians and as professionally interested parties. Much has been destroyed forever. Those who wreak the damage have mostly passed from the scene (although one would like to think that in the end they acknowledged their wrongdoings and perhaps clothed themselves in sackcloth and ashes). And so only we, presiding over the wreckage, are left to tell the tale. 
"What is the lesson for us? To start afresh. Slowly to recreate, in some small measure, what is gone forever. We shall do this, however, only if we are both Catholic and bookish: commmited to the Church, passionately devoted to books, and, as a consequence, deeply rooted in the Church's literary and theological tradition. This is the indispensable condition for an even tolerable future for Catholic libraries. Absent this profound commitment to Catholicism and books, I frankly see virtually no hope at all for Catholic libraries."

05 July 2013

Lumen Fidei

"Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us."

-Lumen Fidei

It's here! Nothing like a new encyclical to get the weekend rolling. Click the image below to read online or download in several formats, including an ebook!

And if that wasn't enough, we're also getting two new papal saints this year!

09 June 2013

The Roman Canon, Comfort, and the Communion of Saints

Of all the variations of liturgy that we hear today, the one that puzzles me the most is a habitual over-use of Eucharistic prayers that omit the Roman Canon. I always tend to notice this acutely when I'm in a spell of loneliness, as I was recently. There are many things the mind and spirit strive to do when one is craving company, and at the right moments, the reassurance of needed friends can be found in the persons of the imagination, only found in the fictions of stories. Thus, books can sometimes be a welcome antidote to loneliness, providing us with an invisible sustaining comfort. But often books cannot cure the problem. I recently found myself in a funk that would not be appeased by stories of any kind, their comforts more illusory than ever. Both the beauty and curse of books (and television) is that they cannot talk back.

But without fail, I was relieved (as always) when I went to Mass and heard:

"...the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her spouse, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, and Jude; Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and all your Saints..."

And if that wasn't enough:

"...graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs; with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Macellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and all your Saints; admit us, we beseech you, into their company..."

And just like the crucial cheering party towards the end of a race, here is the roll call of the Church Triumphant, reminding me that I am far from alone. There are real stories-the most spectacular stories-of saints and martyrs, that we don't have to imagine. There is a certain virtue of the imagination that we need to practice faith and hope, but it is an in sufficient substitute. The written word can rightly act as a catalyst for true comfort, but in the end, the Word that became flesh gives us to most real reassurance.

21 April 2013

The Limits of Human Charity

"'But, hang it all,' cried Mallow, 'you don't expect us to be able to pardon a vile thing like this?'

'No,' said the priest; 'but we have to be able to pardon it.'

He stood up abruptly and looked round at them.

'We have to touch such men, not with a barge pole, but with a benediction,' he said. 'We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favourite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; means as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came...'

'You say that you could not commit so base a crime. Could you confess so base a crime?'"

-G.K. Chesterton, The Chief Mourner of Marne

13 April 2013

Roosevelt Island: Confrontational Reading

I rarely ever carry my camera with me, especially on long runs and hikes (too much looking through the lens instead of at what's in front of it), but I wish I had brought it along on my run this morning. On my trek over the river, I spent some time at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial on the island. Flanking the central statue of Roosevelt himself are four giant stone panels with some of his most memorable words. A nice little hidden inspirational place. Below is an image of one of the panels. I have reproduced the text of the others below. I was so struck by the timeliness of Teddy's proverbs. Hardly anyone seems to favor 'righteousness over peace' anymore. Conservation, both in respect to natural resources and intellectual and cultural heritage, continues to have a reputation as a static, rather than dynamic activity. And the world, in various regions, seems unduly obsessed with 'order without liberty' and promoting 'liberty without order.' I just love how the bold and chiseled words confront and challenge the viewer so directly (each panel is probably taller than 20'). I think public sculpture plays a surprisingly important role in nurturing contemplation, especially when books are increasingly being sold and consumed as entertainment.


A man's usefulness
depends upon his living up to
in so far as he can

22 March 2013

Our Bookish [Former] Papa

Head in the Sand...

Sisyphus, Titian

Goodness, it's been a while. But they say that a neglected blog is a sign of a full life, right? Among other things, the non-blogging adventures that have occupied the last month or so have included moving. Again. If you include the times I have changed residences within cities, I have moved eight times in the just-under three years since I finished college. To say that I am eager to settle down is an understatement. 

Among the things that preoccupy me far more than they should during the moving/settling in process is how much it disrupts reading. Notice how the thumbnail at the right has not moved since December. The whole planning-moving-post-moving process and its corresponding practicalities have siphoned off most of my reading time and energy, which is significant, considering my usual manner. One would think Lent would help to remedy this problem. But both slowing down and interior silence have been hard to come by recently. I spend my drive home nearly every day contemplating the large stack of delicious books sitting by my armchair at home, only to collapse into bed shortly after dinner, due to body, mind, and soul fatigue.

This hasn't been helped by the fact that I've had to trade my train ride for a car ride, which has really been a cramp in the daily reading time to which I'd been accustomed. Thankfully, I am slowly being rescued by Julie and Scott at A Good Story is Hard to Find. Listening on my commute is beginning to feel like riding home with lovable, bookish friends. I've enjoyed re-living books and stories I read ages ago, and being reminded of titles that have been long-buried in the depths of my reading list. I'm so glad they do movies too. I finally feel vindicated after all those years of burdening my movie-going friends and siblings with irrepressible post-credit analysis. I foresee that I'll soon be venturing into the exciting world of audiobooks.

Soon, I hope, I'll be able to stop dragging the boulder up the mountain and slide gleefully down the other side.

21 February 2013

Chesterton on Fairy Tales

"Fairy tales, then are not responsible for producing in children fear...The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tales provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terror had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God. That there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear."

-G.K. Chesterton

On a related note, check out this archived podcast discussion on censoring Harry Potter, from Julie and Scott at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

15 February 2013

The Deceit of Reading and Moral Seriousness

I opened my computer this morning to find this fascinating pair of pieces from First Things and the New Yorker, two great additions to my 'philosophy of reading' files. In the latter, Teju Cole chronicles his initial hope, and then disappointment, in our most recent 'literary president':
Barack Obama is an elegant and literate man with a cosmopolitan sense of the world. He is widely read in philosophy, literature, and history-as befits a former law professor-and he has shown time and again a surprising interest in contemporary fiction...We had, once again, a reader in chief, a man in the line of Jefferson and Lincoln... 
The plain fact is that our leaders have been killing at will. 
How on earth did this happen to the reader in chief? What became of literature's vaunted power to inspire empathy? Why was the candidate Obama, in word and in deed, so radically different from the President he became? In Andrei Tarkovsky's eerie 1979 masterpiece, "Stalker," the landscape called the Zona has the power to grant people's deepest wishes, but it can also derange those who traverse it. I wonder if the Presidency is like that: a psychoactive landscape that can madden whomever walks into it, be he inarticulate and incurious, or literary and cosmopolitan.

11 February 2013

Viva Il Papa

At the Holy Sepulchre

 There are not words sufficient to describe the affection I have for our Holy Father. His writing and intellectual work, as well as his quiet and gentle, yet strongly abiding sense of charity, joy, and above all, humility, have been such a gift and example. He has shown us how to listen, how to serve.

I still remember the day if his election, albeit fleetingly. Everyone was still in the throes of coming to terms with the death of John Paul II. As a high-schooler, I remember feeling in a strange state of limbo. I did not have a special attachment to John Paul other than the general affection one feels for the Holy Father, but being so young, John Paul II was THE POPE. In my experience, the office had never belonged to anyone else, so to see it change hands was strangely surreal. As I sat in Spanish class on a Tuesday afternoon, our lesson was interrupted to watch the news unfold on TV. At first glimpse, teen-aged me wasn't sure what to expect. The new pope was clearly different and hard to read, so unlike the charismatic John Paul to which we were all accustomed. 

But since then, I have come to feel a special closeness with Benedict XVI. Like he has been to so many others, he has been a resolute paternal guide during my spiritual coming of age. Somewhat disillusioned by common casual religious attitudes, I was captivated and refreshed by his personal piety, intellectual seriousness, and attentiveness to tradition. This is a man who deeply understands our need for faith and truth. 

His influence on my professional formation has been no less. In a world where the information professions seem increasingly directed towards indulging individualistic curiosity and faddish research and activism, there is great need to return our focus to humble service of the truth. In Salt of the World, Pope Benedict explains:
"In the course of my intellectual life I experienced very acutely the problem of whether it isn't actually presumptuous to say that we can know the truth-in the face of all our limitations. I also asked myself to what extent it might not be better to suppress this category. In pursuing this question, however, I was able to observe and also to grasp that relinquishing truth doesn't solve anything but, on the contrary, leads to the tyranny of caprice. In that case, the only thing that can remain in really what we decide on and can replace at will. Man is degraded if he can't know truth, if everything, in the final analysis, is just the product of an individual or collective decision. 
In this way it became clear to me now important it is that we don't lose the concept of truth, in spite of the menaces and perils that it doubtless carries with it. It has to remain as a central category. As a demand on us that doesn't give us rights but requires, on the contrary, our humility and our obedience and can lead us to the common path" (66-67).
As such, I have come to see a clear part of my professional vocation as not simply empowering people with knowledge, but helping them on the path to freedom through the pursuit of truth. In hindsight, I am very glad that the Holy Father never achieved his dream of being the Vatican librarian, otherwise we'd likely be at a large loss for his wisdom. Grazie, Il Papa-you have been a true gift to us all.

Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Benedicto-Dominus conservet eum et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.

28 January 2013

An Austen Anniversary

"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! --When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."

-Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice

Happy 200th!

18 January 2013

Life [Kind of] Resembling Art

Inevitably, the simplest default explanation of the archival profession to an outsider:

With one notable exception: I refuse to idolize Masons.

13 January 2013

The Mystery of Reading

Fra Angelico, The Conversion of St. Augustine 

"We must never assume that we now exactly what is happening when anyone else reads a book...The same book can move another's will and understanding differently than it does our own. We ourselves are receptive to different books at different times in our lives. It is quite possible for one to get nothing out of reading a book, whereas someone else, reading the same book, goes out and changes the world. Likewise we can be excited by reading a book that our friends find dull. There is a mystery here of how mind speaks to mind through reading."

-C.S. Lewis & Fr. James V. Schall, The Life of the Mind

05 January 2013

Et Ecce Stella! (Epiphany)

"And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
-Matthew 2: 9-11

02 January 2013

Life is a Mystery...

Fortunately, the quotation above doesn't significantly apply to me (but I do avoid shopping malls like the plague and only cook because I would starve otherwise). All in all, I am a pretty temperate book-buyer. I add to my personal library in small bits, but I make extensive use of libraries, and occasionally borrow interesting titles from friends. Goodness knows I would love more books. Yet every Christmas I am left in a familiar state of bewilderment when I am given no new tomes to carry gleefully home.

I know it is vain to complain about gifts. But yes, you heard that right-my family, my own dear family, rarely gives me books as Christmas gifts.