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A book is a literary compass that has the potential to direct our thoughts and actions:

"Everything we read stimulates our mind to think, and what we think determines what we desire, and desires are the seedbed of our actions. Given this iron law of human nature--from reading to thinking, to desiring, to acting--we are shaping our destiny by the ideas we choose to have enter our minds through print." - Fr. John Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

Welcome to my own personal exploration of life through reading the great books of the world.

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Location: Spokane, Washington, United States

"Every soul that uplifts itself uplifts the world." --Elisabeth Leseur

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Healthy Catholic Podcast

It's not exactly literature related, but there is a new video podcast by Fr. Roderick Vonhogen of the Netherlands called The Healthy Catholic. Fr. Roderick is a dynamic, friendly web presence who is rapidly becoming an Internet celebrity. He is the host of The Daily Breakfast podcast and he is also the founder of SQPN, a Catholic production network. Here is the first episode of The Healthy Catholic:

For more about Fr. Roderick and the SQPN podcasts, visit the SQPN website.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:13 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, February 26, 2007

The 10 Best Books for New Catholics

Do you know someone who is joining the Catholic Church this Easter? Maybe you're enrolled in RCIA classes yourself. The following books are what I consider to be the best books for newcomers to the Catholic Church, and would be especially appropriate to read during Lent, as preparation for Easter Vigil (assuming one already has a Bible). With exception of the first two titles, they are not listed in any particular order:
  1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church: next to the Bible, probably the most indispensable book for Catholics
  2. The Basic Sixteen Documents--Vatican II: An excellent collection of the results of the Second Vatican Council, for those two young to have experienced it, or too far away from the Church to have noticed or cared
  3. The Catholic Sourcebook: a great reference book full of tidbits and lists and definitions; helpful for absorbing Catholic culture and tradition (with a small "t")
  4. Being Catholic Today by Bert Ghezzi: A terrific survey of what it means to live a Catholic lifestyle, written in an accessible, friendly format; includes reflection and discussion questions, as well as practical action ideas
  5. The Words We Pray by Amy Welborn: A beautiful explanation of the origin and meaning of many of our formal prayers, including the Our Father, Hail Mary, Act of Contrition, and the Jesus Prayer; don't miss the chapter on the Liturgy of the Hours
  6. The School of Prayer, an Introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians by John Brook: Speaking of the Liturgy of the Hours, this book is the defintive resource for learning how to pray the official office of the Church; okay, it may be a little intimidating for new members of the Church, but I'm sure there are some who would appreciate it, and I can't resist putting in a plug for the Liturgy of the Hours whenever I can
  7. The How-To Book of Catholic Devotions by Mike Aquilina and Regis J. Flaherty: A basic primer on Catholic devotions, from morning offerings to offering it up, from novenas to scapulars, from First Fridays to...well, you get the idea
  8. Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft: Dr. Kreeft does his usual superb job of taking difficult concepts and making them clear and logical; this would be an excellent supplement to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  9. Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly: One of the church's most energetic young minds brings a hopeful message to all Catholics
  10. Catholic Social Thought: One of the Church's least appreciated heritages is its social justice teaching; this book gives the full text of her most recent documents regarding work, labor, war and peace, poverty, and other social concerns; again, maybe too much for a new Catholic to digest so soon, but essential nonetheless
I'd love to hear your comments on these choices, or your suggestions for people preparing to enter the Catholic Church this year.

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posted by Nick Senger at 11:12 PM 1 comments Links to this post

Happy Birthday!

Today is the birthday of Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

But the most important thing about today is that it is also my wife's birthday and my mom's birthday.

I want to wish both of them a very Happy Birthday!

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:44 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Video Book Talk: Mother Teresa Books

Here the second Lenten book talk in a series of three, which features the books No Greater Love and Thirsting for God by Mother Teresa:

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posted by Nick Senger at 7:44 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by Sir Frank Dicksee (1853-1928)

Today is the anniversary of the death of John Keats, one of the major poets of the Romantic era. He died of tuburculosis on this day in 1821 at the age of 25. In his brief life he wrote several poems that are considered major works in English literature such as "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode to Psyche," and "Endymion."

Here is one of my favorite Keats poems:
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
Much have I travel'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then I felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific -- and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise --
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.


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posted by Nick Senger at 5:39 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Millay, Euclid and Beauty

On this day in 1892 Edna St. Vincent Millay was born. If you are a mathematician you may enjoy this poem of hers:
Euclid Alone Has Looked on Beauty Bare

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.


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posted by Nick Senger at 5:21 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Video Book Talk: The Imitation of Christ

I'm planning three video book talks over the next couple of weeks corresponding to the three Lenten activities of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Here is the first one, on The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis:

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:14 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lenten Books

If you are giving up something for Lent that frees up some time (i.e. TV, video games, surfing the web), one great way to use that extra time is by reading spiritually enriching books. Here are few suggestions:
  • The Bible (of course) especially the gospels, or the books of Jeremiah and Exodus: you could buy a book that contains the daily Mass readings and read along with the Church
  • The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri: use this great book to begin your meditations on the afterlife
  • The Confessions - St. Augustine: read this classic spiritual autobiography--it will change your life
  • Frequent Confession - Benedict Baur: learn the value of receiving the sacrament of confession often
  • This Tremendous Lover - Eugene Boylan: a forgotten classic that gives practical advice for living a spiritual life
  • Abandonment to Divine Providence - Jean Pierre de Caussade: discover how to give up everything to God's will
  • Introduction to the Devout Life - St. Francis de Sales: another classic that can help you begin your spiritual life anew
  • The Rhythm of Life - Matthew Kelly: this young Australian does a fantastic job of synthesizing great spiritual and life advice into an easy-to-read, practical format
Also, watch this week for the first in a series of three Lenten video book talks.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:13 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, February 19, 2007

Video Book Talk: The New Lifetime Reading Plan

I wanted to get one more book talk out before I began a short series of book talks for Lent. Here is a talk about The New Lifetime Reading Plan:

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:13 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Video Book Talk: The Iliad

This week I talk about Stanley Lombardo's translation of The Iliad:

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:35 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Best Thing I Read Today

The best thing I read today was "The Lady of Shalott" with my eighth grade literature class. One of my favorite stanzas:

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

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posted by Nick Senger at 12:17 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, February 16, 2007

‘Screwtape Letters’ to be released on film

From CNA:
‘Screwtape Letters’ to be released on film:

Los Angeles, Feb 13, 2007 / 09:06 am (CNA).- The company that produced The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is planning to adapt C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters into a major motion picture that will open in theaters nationwide in early 2008.

This is the second effort of Walden Media to bring C.S. Lewis to the big screen, following the very successful Narnia. The company also plans to release the sequel to Narnia, Prince Caspian, sometime next year.

First published in 1942, The Screwtape Letters features a series of letters between senior demon, Screwtape, and his wannabe diabolical nephew, Wormwood. As a mentor, Screwtape advises Wormwood on how to undermine the faith and promote sin to an earthly man known only as “the Patient.”

Like The Chronicles of Narnia, which grossed $744 million worldwide, The Screwtape Letters will be shot as a live-action movie. "
The Screwtape Letters is a terrific book, but I'm a little skeptical of its effectiveness as a film. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.


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posted by Nick Senger at 6:43 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Google Books

This item comes from The New Yorker by way of Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed blog:
The New Yorker: "Google intends to scan every book ever published, and to make the full texts searchable, in the same way that Web sites can be searched on the company’s engine at google.com. At the books site, which is up and running in a beta (or testing) version, at books.google.com, you can enter a word or phrase—say, Ahab and whale—and the search returns a list of works in which the terms appear, in this case nearly eight hundred titles, including numerous editions of Herman Melville’s novel. Clicking on “Moby-Dick, or The Whale” calls up Chapter 28, in which Ahab is introduced. You can scroll through the chapter, search for other terms that appear in the book, and compare it with other editions. Google won’t say how many books are in its database, but the site’s value as a research tool is apparent; on it you can find a history of Urdu newspapers, an 1892 edition of Jane Austen’s letters, several guides to writing haiku, and a Harvard alumni directory from 1919."
Give it a try with a book I spoke about recently, Mortimer Adler's How to Think About the Great Ideas, and let me know what you think.


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posted by Nick Senger at 6:29 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Favorite Romantic Movie

My favorite romantic movie combines great literature with great cinema: it's Kenneth Branagh's interpretation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. My wife and I love watching this movie together, but the first time we watched it on DVD we got a bit of a surprise we weren't counting on. We had watched it several times on a videotape I had recorded from PBS, so when it came out on DVD I was looking forward to watching it in its original widescreen format so we could see every bit of what was filmed. What we didn't realize was that the opening credits had been edited for public TV because of an extended bath scene showing the men and ladies of Messina au natural. So, in fact, we did get to see "every bit" of the film.

Much Ado About Nothing is funny and romantic with a terrific cast, especially Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. One of the highlights for me, though, is Michael Keaton as Dogberry. Don't miss this great movie.

For another take on Much Ado About Nothing, take a look at this sight from the Stratford Festival of Canada, where they have turned the play into a Flash animation movie and set it in a modern high school. Nicely done--a good way to get high school students interested in the play.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:38 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Where have all the readers gone? | csmonitor.com

Where have all the readers gone? | csmonitor.com: Robert Klose ruminates about the decline of reading in America and tells this story:
"This reminds me of another anecdote, this time about Charles Dickens, who published his novels in installments in British periodicals. In 'The Old Curiosity Shop,' the main character, a child named Little Nell, becomes deathly ill. American as well as British audiences were captivated by her struggle. The last chapter of the novel contained her fate, and it, like all the other installments, was sent to America by ship. As the vessel approached its mooring in New York, Americans streamed to the waterfront, calling out, 'Did Little Nell live? Did she live?'"
A far cry from "Who shot J.R.?"


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posted by Nick Senger at 6:23 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, February 12, 2007

Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog

Here's a new title from Ignatius Press that looks terrific:
Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: "Lucy Beckett's In the Light of Christ is remarkable in depth and scope, a highly learned excursion through twenty-five centuries of writings, beginning with Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Plato, and ending with Czeslaw Milosz and Pope John Paul II. Along the way, Beckett reflects on the deeper meanings and purposes of works written by Augustine, Benedict, Anselm, Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Pascal, Johnson, Coleridge, Newman, Hopkins, Santayana, Eliot, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Beckett, Weil, and Bellow, as well as many others.

Her goal is to elucidate these texts--even those written before Christ or by non-believers--in the light of Christ, and to show how they reflect not just literary greatness, but goodness, truth, and beauty, and thus bring readers into contact with God. 'There is no need for a Christian to have any idea of the work of Dante or Dostoyevsky,' she contends, 'But there is surely a need for those who are drawn to Dante or Dostoyevsky to have some idea of Christianity.'"

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:20 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Video Book Talk: How to Think About the Great Ideas

Here is my first attempt at a video book talk, an informal introduction to Mortimer Adler's How to Think About the Great Ideas:

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posted by Nick Senger at 4:33 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Free Literary Valentines

Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen in Pride and Prejudice

Does your special someone love to read? This gift will put a little spark into your relationship on Valentine's Day, and it'll only cost you a little time and some printer paper: customized classic literature.
  1. Find a piece of romantic literature that's in the public domain using Project Gutenberg. Let's use Pride and Prejudice as our example.
  2. Download the text to your computer and prepare it for eReading using these instructions.
  3. Now for the fun part: using the Find and Replace feature of your word processor, replace the names of the romantic leads with your name the name of your beloved. In Pride and Prejudice, for instance, I would replace the name Elizabeth with the name Brenda (my wife), and replace the name Darcy with my last name.
  4. Make sure you check for nicknames as well. Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, for example, also goes by Lizzy, so you would want to replace that name as well. Picking a familiar book will help with this.
  5. Add page numbers, change fonts, do anything else you want to do to make it look fancy and/or romantic, then print it out.
  6. You can embellish it with pictures (clip-art or personal pictures from your digital collection), you can bind it in a decorative three-ring binder, or you can just staple the pages together and give it as-is.
Here are some other books that you might consider:
Try it out!

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:32 AM 0 comments Links to this post