11 August 2014

God as Watermark

"God writes his name on the soul of every man. Reason and conscience are the God within us in the natural order. The Fathers of the early Church were wont to speak of the wisdom of Plato and Aristotle as the unconscious Christ within us. Men are like so many books issuing from the Divine press, and if nothing else be written on them, at least the name of the  Author is indissolubly engraved on the title page. God is like the watermark on paper, which may be written over without ever being obscured."

-Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, 'Life of Christ'

14 July 2014

The Virtue of Unread Books

"...the array of books in our home is intended for ongoing, well-rounded usefulness. They're there to show us what's possible, not venerate what's already been. Even the history books, which are expressly about what has already been, are there to light an inquisitive fuse and point us forward into new exploits."

-Scott James

Although we didn't have a terribly sophisticated home library growing up, I can remember countless hours sprawled out on the floor, or in a chair, or on Mom & Dad's bed, paging through whatever 'looked interesting' on the shelves in various corners of our house. I spent a lot of time paging through our illustrated children's dictionary, our large family bible, and the many chapter books left behind by older siblings at college (A Wrinkle in Time, Anne of Green Gables, etc. ). There were also times where I picked up something that turned out to be less than interesting. And we must not forget the old, worn, copies of Fulton Sheen on the end tables that sewed the seed for a life-long reading adventure. Or the subconsciously comforting notion that the presence of Catholic books on marriage exuded-that they lined the head-board shelves in my parents' bedroom sent a clear message that Mom & Dad were focused on being Mom & Dad. (The same thing went for magazines-thankfully our house only subscribed to the 'family-friendly' ones...I now laugh when I think back on how miffed I was that other kids at my Catholic school were totally clueless and grossed out about things like NFP when I had been leafing through old copies of CCL magazine for years. Ha.)                                  

We keep books around as reminders both of what's been and the unknown to come. It's true that browsing is still one of the best ways of discovery. I'm delighted whenever a friend visits and finds something that intrigues them on one of my shelves, after which I usually insist that they borrow it. While not the bibliophile that I am, I was so tickled that my parents automatically took part in this great pastime on their recent visit, each picking out something that looked good, and then promptly reading themselves to sleep.

Read the whole thing here.

07 July 2014

Bibliotheca: The Bible Re-imagined on the Page

Courtesy of Julie, I heard about this remarkable Kickstarter project today. Adam Lewis Greene, an intrepid book designer, has set out to produce an edition of the bible free from all the numbers and footnotes, fresh and pure like any other story in print. I've seen many neat Kickstarter campaigns before, but this is the first that I've felt compelled to directly be a part of. Bibliotheca looks like a truly awesome project, and I can't wait to see the beautiful results. As someone with a very marginal book-making hobby, I can attest to the sheer amount of work that goes into the production alone, not accounting for the truly ambitious design, type design, setting, and editing that Adam has set out to do. There is a lot of truth in his remarks about our modern bibles being very 'encyclopedic.' We typically experience the text in a very quantifiable, analytical fashion, with verse and chapter marked, asterisks everywhere. Although I've been reading scripture and hearing it proclaimed at Mass my entire life, I just remember the time a couple years ago when a change in my commute led me to begin listening to the daily readings, instead of just reading them on the page-and it was surprisingly striking. I am very excited to embark on a fresh reading experience when my copy arrives in a few months!

25 March 2014

The Gilmore Challenge

I can't say I entirely agree with all of Rory's tastes, but it's hard not to be delighted that Australian writer Patrick Lenton has compiled a comprehensive list of every book mentioned in the series run of Gilmore Girls. Over seven seasons, the total is over 300. That averages to about 49 books per year, or roughly one per week. Life of Johnson certainly isn't helping me keep pace! Quality over quantity.

17 March 2014

Worth A Thousand Words: Writing & Collages

'A Pound of Flesh, Or An Eye for An Eye': At the Crossroads of Empathy and Forgiveness

Hard times in the Chateu D'If
As I go through the routines of my dad-to-day, it's hard not to notice that so much of the world seems constantly in the throes of 'getting what is owed to them.' Hardly a day goes by without something I read or real events pressing onward with the seemingly universal desire revenge or some kind of material justice. This most recently struck at me deeply several months ago, while the violence was escalating in Syria, particularly the church bombings, and news broke that a serious wave of new sexual abuse allegations was being leveled at my home archdiocese. One of those intersections of daily events that make me acutely aware of our human fragility, pain, and division.

Societal reaction to the priestly abuse scandals is emblematic of the strange concept of justice that we've come to expect in our modern world. Many allegations have be made over the past decade with financially and legally exploitative motivations, some of them truthful. But in most cases we hear over and over again how victims want not only emotional and spiritual healing, but also financial restitution. The mystery of how we expect large sums of money to heal such rifts is a topic for another post, another day, but it's certainly not reserved for clergy sexual abuse. Divorce? My ex has to pay. College degree didn't get me a job? My school has to pay. Short-changed childhood experience? Parents have to pay. Bakery won't make a cake for my wedding? The owners have to pay. The litigiousness is astonishing, especially here in the U.S., where "fighting for what you deserve" seems to reach new levels of ridiculousness every day.

It's even more ridiculous given that 'tolerance' has become the new global mantra. Here's the world, beating it into us that 'live and let live' is the only noble way to engage with society and build peace, while simultaneously demanding an eye-for-an-eye at the turn of every petty (and not-so-petty) disappointment. Strangely Old Testament for a world that seeks to free us from ancient oppressive moral codes.

As I read and thought over the past several months, I have chewed on this topic often. Why are we always at odds with each other? Why are we never satisfied? The human urge for revenge is certainly not reserved to the modern world-some of the greatest stories ever written have revenge at their very core (Hamlet, Coriolanus, and The Count of Monte Cristo among them). But the modern kind seems to be particularly insatiable. The strange realities of our world's sense of 'practical justice' seems to dovetail with something else often present in my intellectual cud-our similarly distorted understanding of forgiveness.

Bookish Art

Catherine Alexandre, The books are in search of readers

26 February 2014

Librarian Problems...

When your friends mistake John Dewey and Melvil Dewey for the same person:

No, the Dewey Decimal System is not part of some pragmatist philosophical conspiracy. It's actually pretty great.

Monuments Men: Fact and Fiction

When I first heard that Robert Edsel's Monuments Men was being made into a feature film, I was excited. The stories he captured about Allied efforts to save art, historic buildings, libraries, and archives in the wake of WWII are harrowing, remarkable, and inspiring, and make for perfect movie fodder. Plus, who doesn't like a feel-good museum story? The A-list casting made me skeptical (and George Clooney directing? Really?), but an extended preview featuring interviews with the cast about their passion for sharing the stories of the American Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) division and art preservation had me reassured (I'm also generally a sucker for Matt Damon films). But ultimately, the film disappointed me.

It fell short in so many of the ways films fail when they dramatize historical vignettes. With the exception of Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett, no members of the main cast were believable as art experts. The way in which the film played-up the team as 'mistfit soldiers' didn't allow the characters' individual stories as artists to breathe. I did enjoy Dmitri Leonidas' portrayal of Sam Epstein (Harry Ettlinger in real life), who had a soft, but striking personal narrative as a Jewish-American immigrant. But mostly, it felt as if I was seeing a caricature of the MFAA, rather than earnest stories. 

I was especially disappointed and irritated by the film's portrayal of Rose Valland (Claire Simon in the film-more French-sounding for American audiences, I guess?), who was arguably the most important figure in the preservation and recovery of French art during the war. This unassuming but sharp museum overseer remains one of the most decorated women in French history for her work in the Jeu de Paume during the war. First, the film deprives her of her credit by renaming her character (many of the men in the film kept their real names), and then creates a completely fictional, awkward, and gratuitous sexual tension between her and James Granger (played by Matt Damon). Instead of the intelligent, meticulous, and driven museum patriot she was, these moments in the film make her seem much more like a pathetic old maid who is desperate for male attention. A real missed opportunity to highlight a true heroine of WWII. You can read more about Rose Valland and other women of the Monuments Men here.

21 February 2014

Immediate Book Meme

(DarwinCatholic started it, Happy Catholic passed it on, so...what the heck?)

1. What book are you reading now?

2. What book did you just finish?

Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. I don't usually mind long books, but man, even good psychology can be a drag. I triumphantly finished the audio today after pushing through it on my drives  for the past 3 weeks.

3. What do you plan to read next?

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

I keep getting stuck part-way in Joseph Dane's What is a Book?. Also, Transformation in Christ.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

I've picked up Whitman's Leaves of Grass on numerous occasions, but the right time hasn't come yet.

6. What is your current reading trend?

WWII history/libraries/art, I guess? Monuments Men started me on a tear, and I have a brand new beautiful coffee table book from the Newberry Library sitting on my side table.

02 February 2014

Before Goundhog Day: Candlemas

"That's all very beautiful, you might be saying to yourself, but how can my heart - stony as it is, be illuminated by the light of the Holy Spirit? Let's take the candles we have received today as an example. How does a candle produce its light? By being consumed. The fire consumes the wax. The fire of love consumes our very substance - sacrificial love. I mean, radical self-giving, death to self. Don't be afraid of giving your life completely to God. We will shine with a great light if we allow ourselves to be consumed by a greater light: the light of Christ who, after being totally extinguished on the cross, blazed up in the glory of the Resurrection, an undying light which shines, radiates, casts light on all the world, now and always and forever and ever. Amen."

-Homily from Norcia monks, 2011 (read more here)

It's not often that I've seen Candlemas customs actually observed in parishes (likely due to fears of once again putting fire into the hands of the entire assembly for nearly the whole Mass...I haven't seen a church burn down yet), so I was so glad to have Sunday Mass by candlelight this morning. I love the myriad shades of symbolism of the flame: Christ as light of the world, hope, all-consuming love, the Holy Spirit, purgatorial fire. Real flame consumes our attention too - how fixated we are on our slender tapers until we can extinguish them at Communion, just as our attentions should be fixed on the true light. It wasn't until very recently that I learned of Candlemas as Groundhog Day's long predecessor. As much as Punxsutawney Phil provides a fun little annual ritual, Groundhog Day seems to flip the meaning of the day on its head. Rather than rejoice in the hope of new light (whether winter stays for 6 more weeks or not), we tend to fixate on the groundhog's fear - for an abundance of light will surely scare him back into his hole. Our hope is not predicated on chance, but on the real Light of the World.

25 January 2014

Battle of the Books

Illustration from Jonathan Swift's 'Battle of the Books' (from 'A Tale of a Tub'), 1704.

In my leisurely stroll through Matthew Battles' Library: An Unquiet History, I've just finished the chapter on Swift's fanciful story of the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns-emblematic of the 17th-18th century public debate over whether modern learning had superseded classical tradition. Here we see one era of books jousting against another, as if the two ages of learning could not occupy the same space (notice the spider and the bee in the upper left). While our present age of enlightenment and 'universal tolerance' leaves more room for the coexistence of modernity and antiquity, we still see the creeping edge of plenty contemporary faddishness competing for, and in many cases, displacing, essential parts of the traditional liberal arts curriculum. It is becoming increasingly common for students to progress through high school and college without reading large chunks of Shakespeare, Dante, or even staples of American literary tradition, like Walt Whitman. Sometimes it leaves one to wonder if modernity has indeed won--not for its merits and might but instead because of its novelty.

Read more about Battle of the Books here.

22 January 2014

The Best Kind of Intellectual Wallpaper

Certainly something I wish everyone who doesn't keep books in their house would understand.

21 January 2014

January Culture Roundup: Iconography & Shakespeare

Here in the Nation's capital we're lucky to have such a plethora of arts & culture locally. While it can be argued that DC isn't exactly the foremost location for theatre and music, the museums and traveling gems we have are wonderful-with regularity. The icons exhibit currently hosted at the National Gallery of Art is a prime example. It also features books, jewelry, mosaics, ceramics, and manuscripts, most never before on loan to the US. It's only in town through March 2-get there if you can. Then it heads to LA for a few months before returning to Europe. Read more about the exhibit here.

Icon by Andreas Ritzos, from the Byzantine & Christian Museum in Athens. One of my favorites after recently visiting the exhibit.

An additional bonus, which I wasn't expecting, is The Dying Gaul from The Capitoline Museum in Rome, which is also in display in the National Gallery rotunda through early March. 


Recently I've found myself 'rediscovering' much of Shakespeare. I always enjoyed the plays in school, but they just get richer with age. We're lucky to live in a time that is producing some absolutely marvelous new adaptations for stage and screen, that are more accessible to the public than ever. First it was Hamlet and Macbeth from PBS, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart. One of the best things to come out of 2012 was The Hollow Crown, a stunning film production of the four history plays that form Shakespeare's second tetralogy- Richard II, Henry IV (2 parts), and Henry V. Since I was exposed almost exclusively to the tragedies and comedies on school, this introduction to the histories was a real treat for me. The acting is just brilliant, featuring recognizable faces like Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, David Suchet, Patrick Stewart, Ben Whishaw, and Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery (though it is a shame that her character seems mainly to exist for the purpose of making out with Hotspur). The whole tetralogy makes for a bit of a long haul (8+ hours for all four plays), but you won't be looking at your watch at all. Watch a preview below (more video from the BCC here).

PBS has also produced a nice little series that showcases the actors' experiences preparing for Shakespearian roles, which aired last year. Watch Shakespeare Uncovered here.

And, as if Tom Hiddleston in The Hollow Crown weren't enough, he's also starring in the National Theater production of Coriolanus, which is going to be broadcast live in movie theaters around the world on January 30, with encores to follow in the weeks afterword. I am beside myself in excitement for this. Go here to find a screening near you!

Latvians Form Human Book Chain to Transfer Books to New Library

Over the weekend in Riga, Latvia, over 15,000 people gathered to form a human chain stretching more than a mile across the Daugava River to transfer books from the current national library to the new building set to open in August.  The event was reminiscent of 1989 Baltic Way, when 2 million people formed a human chain across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

And it looks like they all had a good time doing it too.