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What’s On Your Nightstand?

Fast Food Nation  by Eric Schlosser is an amazing read. While I don’t agree with many of his solutions, the terrible and largely unforeseen consequences of Fast Food and Big agriculture are brought to light (and it’s not just about health concerns). Like it or not, the fast food industry has changed the way we farm, eat, advertise and shop. Throughout the book Scholosser seems to be pushing for unions and more government regulations to solve these problems  but in the end it’s about getting people to opt out on a large scale.  It’s informative, gripping, disturbing and yet he also maintains a sense of humor- Investigative journalism at it’s best.

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The Lost Traveller by Antonia White.

I’ve read her first book Frost in May last year and found her storytelling simple and completely engrossing. The second book, The Lost Traveller, is just as engaging and accessible as the first, the characters absorbing and writing clear. I am waiting for the heartbreak though. You sense a tragic tone from the onset.

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I’m also reading (thoroughly skimming?) Nourishing Traditions, rereading Woods Etc., avoiding journaling and in denial about my lack of interest in Theodore Roethke’s  poetry, despite my love for his poem the Root Cellar.

My husband’s nightstand, however, remains focused and avoids such disillusionments:

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What’s on your nightstand this month?

A Bedtime Shadow Book

I stumbled across this book today at a local thrift store. When I opened it up I knew  I had found that perfect gift for my girls. I’ve never seen a book like it with its window illustrations designed to cast shadows on the wall as you read. I quickly bought it  along with some glow in the dark flashlights -Yes, glow in the dark flashlights!-The story line itself, although short, is rather sweet and among the light and shade you will find fireflies, a skunk, a night owl, a raccoon, a  girl and a cat.

-Mrs. Cooper

4 (more) Things To expect From an Anita Brookner Novel

10 Things to Expect from a Brookner Novel  and 4 (more) :

1.Alice-like protagonist.

2.Yearning for offspring.

3. The rewards of solitude.

4. The unpredictable.

1. Alice-like protagonist. Anita Brookner does not write fairy tales. She could even be said to write anti-fairytales. However her novels are anti-fairytales the way Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is an anti-fairytale. Like Carroll’s Alice, Brookner’s female protagonists/heroines have heads full of rules and meet situations in which they don’t seem to apply, characters who betray no awareness of the codes that they hold sacred. They are well-brought up little girls trapped in Mad Tea Parties, conscientious people blandly trampled by sociopaths. Like Alice, they scold themselves. Like Alice, they doubt themselves. The dynamic that results when people with principles too vaguely grounded run up against an unprincipled world is one of the main sources of interest in Brookner’s fiction. The obscure frustrations, the repetitive situations endured by her heroines have the dream quality of a mundane Wonderland.

2. Yearning for offspring. Anita Brookner does not write fairytales. However, the archetypal yearning for a child that begins so many fairytales is at the marrow of her fiction. The women she writes about have husband, lovers, friends, mothers, in various combinations. And, yet, those without children (almost all of them) are in a state of constant longing (more or less conscious) for a child. There is a profound recognition of the good that motherhood is for a woman, a good so fundamental to her that no other earthly good can substitute or compensate for its lack.

3. The rewards of solitude. Though Brookner makes no claims, explicit or implicit, that the rewards of solitude are equal to the rewards of motherhood, she does acknowledge them. Each of the Brookner books that I have read contains at least one lyric passage in which the experience of the details of ordinary life, without losing a jot or tittle of its ordinariness, in fact because of that very ordinariness, becomes a source of wonder. A person, a woman, in solitude, has a sudden access of freedom and becomes her true self. Becomes a child. These moments are delicately, all but imperceptibly, entered into and easily passed out of. But they verge on the mystical.

4. The unpredictable. Anita Brookner’s novels are never boring. They’re often characterized as books in which nothing, or very little, happens. But, within the limited “claustrophobic” scope of her fictional situations, nothing that happens can be clearly anticipated. What her characters think, say, do and fail to do continually surprises, while it almost never — and never gratuitiously — shocks. You observe human life as if watching the chaos at work in sunlit dust motes. You are fascinated by chaos held in a deeper, greater, obscurely intuited order.

-Mrs. Aldertree

 

 

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Linnaeus

He was born in 1707 at 1:00 a.m. on May 23rd,
When spring was in beautiful bloom, and cuckoo
had just announced the coming of summer
From Linnaeus’ s biography

Green young leaves. A cuckoo. Echo.
To get up at four in the morning, to run to the river
Which steams, smooth under the rising sun.
A gate is open, horses are running,
Swallows dart, fish splash. And did we not begin with an
overabundance
Of glitterings and calls, pursuits and trills?
We lived every day in hymn, in rapture,
Not finding words, just feeling it is too much.

He was one of us, happy in our childhood.
He would set out with his botanic box
To gather and to name, like Adam in the garden
Who did not finish his task, expelled too early.
Nature has been waiting for names ever since:
On the meadows near Uppsala, whit, at dusk
Platanthera is fragrant, he called it biofolia.
Turdus 
sings in a spruce thicket, but is it musicus?
That must remain the subject of dispute.
And the botanist laughed at a little perky bird
For ever Troglodytes troglodytes L.

He arranged three kingdoms into a system.
Animale. Vegetale. Minerale.
He divided: classes, orders, genuses, species.
“How manifold are Thy works, O Jehovah!”
He would sing with the psamlist. Rank, number, symmetry
Are everywhere, praised with a clavecin
And violin, scanned in Latin Hexameter.

We have since had the language of marvel: atlases
A tulip with its dark, mysterious inside,
Anemones of Lapland, a water lily, an iris
Faithfully portrayed by a scrupulous brush.
And a bird in foliage, russet and dark blue,
Never flies off, retained
One the page with an ornate double inscription.

We were grateful to him. In the evenings at home
We contemplated colors under a kerosene lamp
With green shade. And what there, on earth,
Was unattainable, over much, passing away, perishing,
Here we could love, safe from loss.

May his household, orangery, the garden
In which he grew plants from overseas
Be blessed with peace and well-being.
To China and Japan. America, Australia,
Sailing-ships carried his disciples;
They would bring back gifts: seeds and drawings.
And I, who in this bitter age deprived of harmony
An a wanderer and a gatherer of visible forms,
Envying them, bring to him my tribute-
A verse imitating the classical ode.

-Milosz

Spiritual Reading for Young Children

 

The Song of Three Holy Children Illustrated by Pauline Baynes: 

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Renowned artist Pauling Baynes, Who is well known for illustrating the Narnia Books and The Hobbit also  illustrated The Song of the Three Holy Children from the book of Daniel. It is a beautiful book, thoughtful and meditative. The song, “O ye Heavens, bless ye the Lord; praise him, and magnify him for ever.”rings out again and again yet each time it seems anew as the text and illuminations inform each other page after page. The illustrations are intricate and the book has a rather serious tone to it that children appreciate.

Small Rain Selected by Jesse Jones and illustrated by Elizabeth Jones 

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Small Rain is a book of traditional prayers and selected verses from The inestimable King James Bible. The verses are beautiful, the language is high yet the  illustrations are cutesy. The combination works surprisingly well.

Manner’s in God House and My First Missal

Manners in God’s House is a classic. It explains the concept of reverence and its importance in God’s house. It also gives concrete examples of reverence, rules that we should emulate when visiting Christ our King. It is a simple book  instructive but not too preachy. The illustrations are endearing and well done. My First Missal is the second part of the book. It is a Traditional Missal for the Extraordinary Form. It illustrates each stage of the Mass and explains what is happening, comparing the Mass with parts of Scripture. My children love this book and it is in their little “Church Bag” every Sunday.

-Mrs. Cooper

Five Catholic Chick Lit Writers (That You May Not Know And May Be Happy To)

1. Rumer Godden. She did not convert to Catholicism until the year she turned 61 but she continued to publish novels for almost 30 years after that. Included in her post-conversion writings are two famous novels about women’s religious communities: In This House of Brede (Benedictines) and Five For Sorrow, Ten For Joy (Dominicans). Both are beautiful stories, both provide a glimpse of traditional communities touched by the first tremors of the cataclysmic changes that followed Vatican II in large sections of the Church. Earlier novels with significant Catholic themes include: The Lady and the Unicorn (about a struggling Anglo-Indian Catholic family), The River (the wise nanny is a Catholic), A Candle for St. Jude (mostly about ballet), and An Episode of Sparrows. Among her wonderful-to-read-aloud children’s books, The Kitchen Madonna has a Marian icon as its centerpiece.

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2. Isobel English. Her novel Every Eye was reprinted by Persephone, an intricate little labyrinth of a book, in which alternations between memory and present experience lead at last to understanding and acceptance of the past — though the novel’s climax, in a weird and holy place, is approached only with trepidation. The beautiful prose sets a slow, attentive pace for what turns out to be a pilgrimage. Of her other novels, I have not been able to locate The Key That Rusts but I look forward to reading Four Voices someday soon.

3. Antonia White. Her quartet of autobiographical novels holds a special place in my heart. Nanda/Clara, the central character, deals with being a convert’s daughter, convent school (a world in itself and a lost world today), becoming a writer and the trauma of having her early work grossly misunderstood, tense and complex relationships with her parents, growing up an only child, the pull of the old pagan religion, catastrophe, violence, Bohemian life, invalid marriage and annulment, mental illness/madness and hospitalization. This is not St. Paul’s list of trials. However, I found it powerful to see, amid challenges in large part specifically modern and characters thoroughly, humanly, weak, a vision of the unchanging Faith. And Clara, by being nearly completely broken, in the end is more than conqueror.

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4. Alice Thomas Ellis. She died in 2005. Her style combines delightfully sharp satire with equally delightful lyric moments and the most exquisite hint of Welsh magic. Her lampooning of the modern world is balanced by a shrewd and ultimately loving insight into human nature. My favorites are The Inn at the Edge of the World, Fairy Tale, and The Summer House. The Inn at the Edge of the World and Fairy Tale I love for their juxtaposition of the discontents of today’s world with the world of ancient (sometimes benign, sometimes threatening) magic. The Summer House I love for the voices of the women who tell it and for its courageous and beautiful treatment of the sensitive topic of sexual abuse.

5. Caroline Gordon. So it may not be fair to call Caroline Gordon’s books (or any of the above, really) “chick lit.” We read her stories in grad school alongside Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty and the most famous of American Catholic writers, Flannery O’Connor. I recently read The Strange Children. Here we have an almost uninterpreted story, near raw experience, with the advantages and disadvantages of a child’s viewpoint, in which the lives of skeptical intellectuals contrast with the “lower” culture of Protestant Christians who pray by the river, theatrically seek miracles for the sick, and handle deadly serpents. Into this world, the lone Catholic comes as a sign of contradiction. The South appears with a truth that only fiction can utter. I’ll want to be reading The Women on the Porch next.

-Mrs. Aldertree