50 Books: zip pop

Self-help books (from yesterday) always make me think of Walker Percy, and Walker Percy always makes me think of Tom Wolfe, and Tom Wolfe makes everyone think ofThe Bonfire of the Vanities , but have you ever read

From-Bauhaus-to-Our-House

From Bauhaus to Our House ?  By Tom Wolfe?

This slim volume (I love saying that) from 1981 tells the bizarre story of how we, the consumer, were quietly conned into accepting “grim and hideous” as the two main pillars of modern architecture — not that pillars have any place in modern architecture.  There has been a small movement back toward beauty and ornamentation in the last few years, but the metal and glass box still has a firm grip on our aesthetic sensibility (gosh, I’m tired.  Well, you know what I mean).

Anyway, even if you’re not normally interested in architecture (and you should be!  What we build tells you who we are, or who we want to be), this weird and hilarious book will open your eyes to What Happened; and it’s a great intro to the non-fiction writing of Tom Wolfe, which I prefer to his fiction.  Ha ha, and Playboy magazine reviewed it thus:  “Sharp serpent’s-tooth wit, useful cultural insight, and snazzy zip! pop! writing.”  So there you have it.  Snazzy and zip pop.

50 Books: Guest Post: Peace and Balance

Today’s book picks are by my sister, Rosie Herreid, who recommends some very timely reads for Advent:

*****

Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Fr. Jacques Philippe

searching for an maintaining peace

I felt noticeable more peaceful while I was reading this book.  At first glance it seems to offer the kind of cliche spiritual advice that is hard to take to heart, but it is actually full of extremely practical advice about breaking destructive mental habits.

Fr. Philippe begins by dismantling the subtle temptation to fight the “wrong battle,” which he describes as the misplaced desire to attain peace by conquering all of our faults and all of the external obstacles to peace.

…if we expect peace…because everything is going well…and our desires are completely satisfied, …then it is certain that we will never know peace or that our peace will be extremely fragile and of short duration.

Instead, the first step towards finding peace is to look for it in the right place: trusting in God.   He describes his own interior peace this way: “The external situation was always the same, there were always problems to solve, but the heart had changed, and from then on, I could confront them peacefully.”  This is a small, extremely easy-to-read little book, written in a gentle and tender tone.

One more snippet, a prayer upon making a decision, which demonstrates how effectively Fr. Philippe cuts through mental confusion and scrupulosity:

“Lord, I have thought about it and prayed to know Your will.  I do not see it clearly, but I am not going to trouble myself any further.  I am not going to spend hours racking my brain….I know well that, even if I am mistaken, You will not be displeased with me, for I have acted with good intentions.  And if I have made a mistake, I know that You are able to draw good from this error….’  And I remain at peace.

*****

God Help Me!  This Stress is Driving Me Crazy: Finding Balance through God’s Grace by Gregory Popcak

god help me popcak

This is the book Fr. Philippe would have written if, in addition to being a wise spiritual adviser, he was also a very practical psychotherapist with an annoying sense of humor.  Dr. Popcak does an impressive job of smoothly weaving together spiritual advice, traditional therapy techniques, and extremely practical, specific, and step-by-step guidelines for extricating yourself from the pit of anxiety.  This is the book for the person who is warily venturing into the field of self-help books, but afraid of running into ideas that clash with Christianity or offer vague psychobabble instead of concrete advice.

Dr. Popcak’s approach combines surprisingly deep theological insights with practical ways to recognize and dismantle bad mental habits.  One of my favorite examples, on the mental habit of magnification:

Imagine standing in the middle of the railroad tracks.  A train is bearing down on you, and all you can think is, ‘How am I ever going to lift this train before it crushes me?’  Never mind that if you stepped five paces to the left or right you would be just fine.  Magnification causes us to feel that our problems are so big there is nothing to do but become paralyzed by them.  We forget that no matter how big our problems are, God always obliges us to act….

Avoid platitudes like ‘Don’t worry.  You’re going to be OK.  God won’t give you any more than you can handle.’  All of these statements may be true, but they lack the weight needed to be any real help to you or anyone else….If you can’t figure out what to do, make that your main mental occupation, not worrying…Put all of your energy into finding solutions, not into nursing your stress.

This book made me realize that God wants me to be healthy in every way, and that includes psychologically; that He blesses psychotherapy and self-help books just as much as spiritual help and taking care of your body, because He wants you to use everything He has provided to make yourself well.

50 Books: Who is coming to our house?

One of the sweetest animal Christmas stories I’ve ever seen:

Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Ashley Wolff

who is coming cover

It’s very short and simple.  All the animals in the stable know that someone is coming to their house, and they wonder and wonder who it could be.  They do what they can to prepare for their guest, and at the end, everyone welcomes Him.

A very warm, gentle, and happy book (and Mary is shown lying down and snuggling the baby after giving birth, which I always appreciate!).

who is coming to our house interior

I’ve linked to the sturdy board book version, because I think little guys will appreciate the warm colors and friendly animal faces — but I always find the little story moving and comforting, myself.

 

50 books: Guest Post by Steve Gershom

Okay, so I just completely forgot to post a book pick yesterday.  Today, I’m featuring two good books for Advent reading.  The first recommendation is written by the wonderful Steve Gershom (Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine, Thanks).

****

The Golden Key by George MacDonald

illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Everybody runs the risk of doing what Revelation 2:4 warns about: forsaking their first love. I come back to The Golden Key often, to remind me what my first love was and is.
It’s a children’s story, and my mother first read it to me when I was maybe eight years old, but it laid the groundwork for all the things that, when I am at my best, I am able to remember about life: that it is terribly good and terribly exciting; that the stakes couldn’t be higher; that real goodness is a thing that glows white hot; that our final destination is a beauty so deep you could never hit bottom.
Not that kids will get all of that at first. It works as a standard fairy tale, too: the quest for a magical object, the strange, sage-like figures met along the way, the tests and trials. The adult will see further, and if he’s reading it out loud, should probably have several kleenexes at hand.
                                                                                                                                                                                                   –Steve Gershom
*****
And, since I owe you a book from yesterday, let me remind you that ADVENTHOLOGY has broken free from the murky realms of pre-ordering, and is now on sale.  Here is the cover for my contribution:
Here is an excerpt:

But what if we’re too sick, too busy, or too lazy to enter into a full observance of each season?  What if we’re just half-hearted draftees as the calendar reels by?  Or what if we get so caught up in the preparation that we miss the main event?  What if we’re never sure we did it right?

It’s the liturgical calendar to the rescue again.  Just like any life, the life of the Church includes healthy doses of Ordinary Time.  Mother Church, in her wisdom, knows that her children need regular lulls of boredom and routine in order to process everything that happened to us during the feasts and fasts.  The great celebrations of the liturgical year are a tremendous gift to us, but ordinary time is something just as valuable:  time to unpack the gifts we received.  Time to see what we really have.

And time to remember that Christ was born as a baby.  The thing about babies?  They need time to grow.

Stay tuned for more excerpts from the other contributors, Dorian Speed and Brandon Vogt (and click here for an excerpt of Dan Lord’s contirbution).  Also check out the editor Ryan Charles Trusell’s redesigned website, where he’s recently started blogging!

50 books: speaking of heathen stuff

Today’s book pick is one I just read to my kids last night, and it’s just as good as I remembered it from my childhood.

The Flying Carpet by the wonderful Marcia Brown 

(retold from Richard Burton’s translation of The Arabian Nights)

Very lavish and rhythmic, so much fun to read out loud (warning:  plot spoiler!)

“Alas!  We have traveled far and wide for hope of wedding the Princess Nur-al Nihar.  But in vain!  She lies on her bed, sick unto death.  Her women weep and wail in sorrow.  O my brothers, if you would see her for the last time, take a look before she is no more!”

Ali and Ahmad looked into the tube.  Indeed Nur-al Nihar was about to die.  Ahmad turned to his brothers.  “Come, she is not yet lost.  I can save the princess!” He pulled from his pocket the magical apple and told them what it could do.

“My carpet!” cried Prince Husayn.  “It shall fly us in the twinkling of an eye straight to our beloved!”

The illustrations are like what you’d get if Marc Chagall were an Arab — gorgeously gaudy,  just absolutely perfect to completely satisfy a child’s thirst for brilliant color, emotion, texture, and action.  We love this book!

50 Books: Guest post by Abba

Today’s book pick is from my father, Phil Prever, who not only read us The Odyssey, but he let us act it out as he read, which must have been the most annoying thing ever.

******

   About a hundred years ago when I was a college freshman, I took a survey course in Western literature.  One of the reading assignments was excerpts from Homer’s Odyssey.  The book made no particular impression on me then, but I do remember a comment offered by a bright young woman during a class discussion.  “The only thing remarkable about it,” she said of the Odyssey, “is that anyone could have written it so long ago.”  I knew she was wrong, but I didn’t know why.  Now, after reading it close to a dozen times over the decades, I know why.

   The Odyssey is remarkable in many ways.  On one level there are the fabulous adventures: magical encounters with the gods, brutal conflicts with hideous monsters, a terrifying visit to the land of the dead, and audiences with wise and legendary kings.  These adventures make the book a wonderful read-aloud, as I believe all eight of my children will attest.

    On another level, Homer probes with startling psychological depth the relations between husband and wife, father and son, and citizen and homeland.  Furthermore, the Odyssey records the reintegration of a man’s soul as he is redeemed from the wreckage wrought by war and pillage by his struggles to reclaim the things in life that are most important.

   Above all, the Odyssey appeals to and satisfies the desire we all have to make things right, to correct injustice, to restore the divine order in our lives.  At the end we can say with Shakespeare, “Jack shall have Jill, nought shall go ill…and all shall be well.”  And even more, we can look forward to the time when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

   So the question is not, how could anyone have written the Odyssey so long ago but, why in almost three thousand years has no one written anything better?  Since I have failed in my feeble attempts to learn Homeric Greek, I have had to read the Odyssey in translation.  If you like that sort of thing, Richmond Lattimore’s version reads like it is incised on marble tablets.  Robert Fitzgerald’s is airy and fast-moving, but I find that Fitzgerald’s Homer sounds an awful lot like Fitzgerald’s Virgil.  Last time around I read the translation of Robert Fagles.

It was delightful, with real meat on real bones, and seemed to me to have the best of everything.  I read it very slowly because I didn’t want it to end.

I’m about 89% ashamed of this . . .

but I’ve just opened a CafePress store.

Check it out. 

T-shirts (including plus size and maternity), Dignerrieres, and even Dignaroos.  It’s all there.

For a little background on this tomfoolery, see

Pants:  A Manifesto

and

Pants Pass

and, just to show my heart’s in the right place, one more post which didn’t spawn any products at all:

WWMD

But really, overall, I’m so ashamed.  But on the other hand, do let me know if there’s another product you’d like to see!

50 Books: Guest Post by Nana

Today’s book recommendation for our 50 Books list, which I’m assuming will even out to about fifty books at some point, is written by my mother-in-law, the inestimable, unflappable, indefatigable Nana Fisher, also known as H. M. (which stands for “Helen Mary.”  She also sometimes goes by “H.”  Crazy side note:  I once met a midwife who was named “Mary Helen,” and she went by M. H., or “Maitch”), who keeps her head when all about her are bugging out; whose cookies and fudge sustained my body and soul through many a pregnancy; who can make anything, anything at all, with a sewing machine or enough papier mache; who will let you stay at her house until you get back on your feet, no matter who you are or what your feet smell like; who can feed a small army in style at a moment’s notice; who cleans with a razor blade and kerosine, but who understands how to step over a mess when other things matter more than cleaning; who is one of the original and most loyal members of the Rocky and Bulwinkle fan club;  who always finds the right music for any occasion; and who never stutters and stammers over the names of her eight children or eleven grandchildren, because she calls all the girls “Toots” and all the boys “Sugar Booger”).  H. M.  recommends for us:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

H.M. says:

The Princess Bride speaks to children and grown-ups in a quirky and familiar way.

Anyone who has seen the movie will enjoy William Goldman’s style in telling the story, set in Renaissance Europe, of adventure, an evil prince, revenge, a ‘dread’ pirate, and of course, true love.

It’s a great book to read aloud boys and girls of any age.

Advent Chain 2012

Sorry for the bad link in the Register!  Click below for the advent chain:

Advent chains 2012

50 Books: Something Completely Different

From Margaret Wise Brown to a book that I can’t believe I didn’t read sooner:

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Boy, did I have the wrong idea about this book.  Maybe because it was so popular when it came out, or (look, I’m shallow) maybe because the author’s name is so snazzy, I somehow assumed that it was a trashy beach book, or some kind of dated, two-bit thriller.  Boy, was I wrong.  This is the real deal — real literature, a genuinely great novel.  Almost Dostoevskian at times.

The characters are so real.  Their sorrows and loves are so real.  The places are so real.  My memories of passages I read are as strong as memories of places I’ve actually, physically visited.  The plot is insanely complicated, but it’s never outside the realm of what might, actually possibly happen to someone who is as unlucky, as talented, as driven, and as flawed, and as Russian as Moscow homicide investigator Arkady Renko.