Posts

Featured Post

Don't Shoot the Elephant or You'll Kill Education

Image
The Asian parable of the blind men and the elephant is as potent as Plato's myth of the cave. I don’t usually touch on hot button issues on this blog, preferring instead to focus on perennial wisdom that can benefit us all. To my mind, too much bloggery deals with narrow, sectarian rants (of the right and the left), radiating heat but very little light. I prefer to try to preserve a space in which we can put cant aside and try to contemplate truth, as it can be seen refracted and reflected in literature, history, philosophy, art, and the other liberal arts.  You see, I have this funny idea that if we all look toward the light, from whatever direction our perspective may take, we can all be illuminated and, in that way, united, even if we disagree about the things we see. Perhaps we will even recognize the limitations of our own personal perceptions, like the proverbial blind men who each grasped a different part of the elephant. Individually they had their own (equally limite

The Story God is Telling at the Present Time

Image
AFTER A YEAR OR TWO of particularly alarming and distressing events in the world and the Church, many of us have begun to think of the present day as something like the End of the World (at least, "the world as we know it") and to wonder if things will ever get better instead of continuing to get steadily, and ever more rapidly, worse. Some even claim that we are in the End Times and look forward eagerly to the Second Coming of Christ, so that we can all be put out of our misery and admitted into the paradise of Eternity.  Plenty of other people pooh-pooh this apocalyptic fervor and point out that there have been many previous periods of Very Bad Things Happening, and yet the world did not end but continued to totter on -- why should our own age be any different? In between these two views stands the great mass of humanity alive today, bewildered, distressed, but trying to get on with their lives as best they can, much as they have always done. In the pagan worldview, even t

Books Can Save Our Dying Culture

Image
On Renewing “A Catholic Reader” I’VE BEEN WANTING to get back to writing on this blog for some time now, after several years of neglect. When I started it, ten years ago, I was recovering from a severe case of burnout, so I wrote mostly to give my frazzled brain something to do. I had spent the past ten years or so teaching in college classrooms, so a bit of that showed up in my blog posts, but mostly I was trying to express what interested me about the books I read and just putting that out there to see if it interested anyone else. I originally called this blog “A Catholic Reader” because that describes my reading tastes—“catholic” with a small “c”—and because it also describes my perspective as a reader, “Catholic” with a capital “c”, a worldview that permeates my understanding of, well, everything. Now that I want to get back to blogging about books and reading, a part of me still wants to teach others, about how to read and why to read and how to get the greatest pleasure and ben

Peacocks, Vanity, and the Possibility of Redemption

Image
Flannery O'Connor and her peacocks “Vain as a peacock,” we used to say, back when vanity was a vice rare enough to be remarked on. I used to have an aunt who, like Flannery O’Connor (probably their only similarity), loved all sorts of barnyard fowl. She lived on the family farm, breeding, raising, and selling all sorts of chickens, ducks, geese, and their eggs, as well as more exotic kinds of birds, such as rheas (a cousin of the better-known ostrich, native to South America). Each of these bird species has its own native personality; you couldn't act around a goose the same way you could with a duck, for instance. Geese are bossy and territorial and, if you stray into a part of the farmyard where the goose doesn't think you should go, it will bite you on the backside (yes, it will “goose” you). The rheas, tall stately birds with a kind of innate dignitas , were my aunt's favorite -- they had a special pen with a high chain-link fence, intended to keep them safe from

The Secret to Reading Flannery O'Connor

Image
A very young Brad Dourif played Hazel Motes in John Huston's incomparable film adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's  Wise Blood. Veiled Mystery About forty years ago, I read the work of Flannery O’Connor for the first time, at the suggestion of my college English professor, John Glass. I was immediately hooked, although at the time I had no idea what her stories were about. Mr. Glass, who liked to set us reading challenges, had assigned one of O’Connor’s short stories, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” for class. I read it and was suitably shocked by it but also intrigued. For reasons I won’t go into here, I felt I knew the family in the story — in fact, it could have been my own family, except that none of us had ever been gunned down by escaped felons while on a family road trip. (Not yet, anyway.) If I could make sense of that senseless slaughter, maybe I could make sense of my own life. After that, I read her two novels,  Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away (I e

Authors I Call Friends: Andrew Seddon

Image
Some books I've edited, translated, and/or designed in the last few years. I've been away from blogging for a while, and this blog has moved to an independent WordPress site and back to Google's Blogger platform since I last wrote here regularly. Despite my neglect of A Catholic Reader over the past few years, I owe a lot to this blog because it helped launch me into all the other activities that have been keeping me busy: writing, editing, and translating, as well as publishing and book design. As a way of easing back into talking about things I read, I thought I would introduce you to some of the authors I've gotten to know as friends and acquaintances (through reading, editing, or translating their stuff) through this blog. These are writers whose work I can heartily recommend to other readers. First, I must mention Andrew Seddon , with whom I first got acquainted after he found me (I think) through the (now defunct) Catholic Blogging Network and offered to se

The Great Flood in Literature: Wrestling with Proteus

Image
Walter Crane illustration of Hercules wrestling Proteus There is a figure in Greek mythology called Proteus (sometimes called the Old Man of the Sea), a minor sea god with two remarkable powers: shape-shifting and oracular utterance. To get the truth out of him, however, one must first catch him. When anyone attempts to grasp him, he rapidly changes from one form into another in an attempt to evade his captor’s clutches. But if a person is tenacious enough to hold on until Proteus tires and resolves into his true form, the god will render up the truth his captor seeks. Orally transmitted stories share with this mythical sea god a “protean” character. Handed on by word of mouth, each time a story is told the teller gives it a slightly different form and a different shade of meaning, so that over time many different versions of the same story emerge. The literary author who works from an oral tradition is like the hero who captures Proteus: first he must wrestle with the many v

Put on the Armor of Light, on St. Patrick's Day and every day

Image
Illustration from Slate.com As this article from Slate acknowledges, very few concrete facts about Ireland's patron saint have survived. Much that we think we know is merely legend. Keeping that in mind, did you ever wonder why Saint Patrick is credited with expelling snakes (not wolves, not badgers, not even demons) from the Emerald Isle? I'm not going to dispute whether holy Padraic literally chased serpentine creatures from Ireland, but you have to admit that on a symbolic level the story is apt. Serpents have a long history in Christian iconography, representing the deceptions of the devil. As an early missionary to the island, the fifth-century monk we know as St Patrick was successful in converting many from their pagan superstitions, and for more than a millennium Ireland was known as one of the most thoroughly Catholic lands upon Earth. Since pagan gods have long been regarded as being inspired by fallen angels, who presented themselves as deities, there could b