Finished in February
1. The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3) by Neal Stephenson
In the end I really liked the Baroque Cycle. Though I found much of Quicksilver tedious and parts of the beginning of The Confusion made me want to give up, Volume Three made it worth my while. I was not disappointed after slogging through almost 900 pages (that’s just the page count for System, by the way). and though Stephenson tends to end his novels on a weak note, I thought he wrapped this one up rather well. Or maybe I’m so used to the weak endings I had lowered my expectations just enough. No. I think it really worked for me.
Stephenson has a way of pulling together plot lines you’d long forgotten about and making them pay off in unexpected and delightful ways. There were some laugh out loud moments. One passage just begged to be read out loud to Dom. (I wish I’d copied it out before I took the book back to the library so I could share it here.) Stephenson’s books are more about ideas than characters. I don’t love many of the characters in his novels, though I often find them fascinating. I did thoroughly enjoy Dappa’s series of letters from prison after he’s been unjustly incarcerated as an escaped slave. They are very in the spirit of the popular writing of the day and wonderful satire.
Red flag, because I know some of my readers are more easily bothered by some things than I am. I should mention that like all of Stephenson’s books I’ve read there is quite a bit of explicit fornication and some violence. I don’t think Stephenson throws in gratuitous sex, it always is a function of character development, but yes, it is described in more detail than I would find strictly necessary. If that kind of thing bugs you and you can’t just skim over it, skip these books.
2. Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution by Mary Eberstadt.
I didn’t go to February’s book club meeting for obvious reasons, but I checked the book out from the library to read it anyway. I’ve read one or two of Eberstadt’s articles before. Nothing in this book felt really new, I’ve been thinking about the big picture effects of contraception for a while now, but if you haven’t this book might well be a real eye-opener. At the same time, it was engaging enough I was never really tempted to stop reading before the end. I think I would have enjoyed a discussion on it. Reading it on my own left me feeling I had nothing to say about it. Or maybe that’s just baby brain talking.
3. My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell
I really enjoyed this spiritual memoir, but I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts about it into words. I was glad I didn’t know the ending of Campbell’s story as I was able to enjoy each twist and turn of the narrative with a kind of immediacy that wouldn’t have been there if I ‘d known more about her before I began to read. I already knew all the saints she discusses. What is really interesting in this book is not her portraits of these saints but of the way her own journey was so formed by these encounters.
I spent the most of the book feeling quite frustrated by the story. As attractive as Le Billon makes French culture sound, she also makes it quite clear that it is very foreign from American ways of doing everything. I kept thinking that unless I moved to France there was no hope for me to implement her rules. But in the final chapter she and her family move back to her native Canada and she brings you along as she tries to continue to live her vision of her family’s new improved relationship with food. Compromises are made, battles are fought and lost. But eventually she finds a certain equilibrium. What I liked about this book was the encounter with French culture that didn’t insist that it was always and everywhere better than American culture. Le Billon leaves it up to her readers to decide what lessons they should take away from her story. She proposes her rules but makes it quite clear that they are really more like suggestions. I think I can live with that. The book encourages families to take small steps toward better eating habits only where they feel a need to do so. /p>
5. Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, OP
This month’s book club book didn’t fill me with huge anticipation. I figured I should read it and knew I’d probably get something out of it since I’d seen favorable reviews in several quarters. But I didn’t long to read it. I was pleasantly surprised. Though it got off to a rather slow start, I found this portrait of Francis to be quite engaging. A new perspective that tries to find the historical Francis behind all the myths, legends, and hagiography. I haven’t yet read the extensive notes about sources and methods but the main text strives to portray Francis as a man of his time and place. It emphasizes his reverence for the Eucharist, for the written word of God, for the persons of priests, for physical churches and for liturgical prayer more than his poverty and love of animals. It especially portrays him as a man who was terrible at governance and leadership, overwhelmed by the task of caring for his many followers. A man who didn’t set out to found an order and didn’t know what to do with it but who loved God and wanted to be obedient in all he did. This book has forever changed the way I think of Francis in a very positive way.
1.Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherri Wedell
I have one major reservation about this book which is making it hard for me to read it and it’s that Weddell often sounds like she’s talking inside baseball. In short, the books language feels very jargony to me. She never stops to define her basic terms, especially “disciple” which she uses in a very specific way that it’s taken me a while to grasp. Otherwise, I absolutely am loving this book. I find myself referring to it all the time in conversations with Dom. I think Weddell’s insights are very important to the project of the new evangelization. And did I mention before how much this book seems to be an answer to many of my musings last fall about Church community? I really need to come back and write a much longer post about it when I’m done reading and have let everything stew for a while.
2. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict was such a gift to our Church, to the whole world, in the eight years he served as our holy father. Above all he is a consummate teacher. I love reading his books, always I learn so much. In these books about Jesus he makes the Gospels lively and new. Every few pages there is a passage that makes me put down the book, stop and really think: Wow! I had no idea. I mean, once you put it like that, it’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? But I had never looked at it that way before. I want to write up a separate blog post, cataloging some of those moments. God willing, I may even get to it some time this year.
3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo So far I’ve read the first few pages. Then I got sidetracked. I will finish it this year. That is my plan.
The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours by Daria Sockey of Coffee and Canticles. When I found Daria’s blog I was so excited to see someone writing so clearly and insightfully about the Liturgy of the Hours. When I learned she was writing a book I was over the moon. I will definitely publish a review as soon as I’m able to finish it. So far the first parts I’ve read have been as marvelous as I expected.
Waiting for Easter
Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
The year I gave up reading fiction for Lent it was a particularly effective fast. Two weeks before Easter I got my pre-ordered copy of Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest novel, The Last Light of the Sun. Waiting to open it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I came home from the Easter vigil, crawled into bed, and read late into the night. That was the first Easter I spent with Dom’s family, before we were officially dating yet when I was rather uncomfortable with everyone making the obvious assumption that I was his girlfriend.
I loved having a special book waiting for the end of the Lenten season. It’s like having a basket of chocolate after giving up sweets. So even though I haven’t completely given up reading fiction, I decided to hold of starting Black Narcissus until Easter when I can eat it while nibbling on all the chocolate I buy for myself. Yum what a treat to look forward to from one of my favorite authors.