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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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Monday, April 30, 2007

Important Announcement Tomorrow

The world is about to change. My world, anyway. Tomorrow I have a Big Announcement to make, and I hope you can join me as I try to make a difference in the world (Is that hint vague enough?).

One thing is certain: after tomorrow you'll never look at the word ROMAN the same way again.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:24 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sunday, April 29, 2007

To Proclaim the Faith in Word and Action - A New Deacon is Ordained Today

I've been teaching in Catholic schools for almost seventeen years, and today was a first for me: one of my former students was ordained to the deaconate. I've had former students become teachers, writers, politicians and nurses, but Matt's the first one to be ordained.

I teared up more than once as I sat in the church watching him respond to the bishop's questions:

Bishop: In the presence of God and the Church, are you resolved, as a sign of your interior dedication to Christ, to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind?

Candidate: I am.

Bishop: Are you willing to be ordained for the Church's ministry by the laying on of hands and the gift of the holy spirit?

Candidate: I am.

Bishop: Are you resolved to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, as the Apostle urges, to proclaim this faith in word and action as it is taught by the Gospel and the Church's tradition?

Candidate: I am.

Bishop: Are you resolved to maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer appropriate to your way of life and, in keeping with what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the liturgy of the hours for the Church and for the whole world?

Candidate: I am.

Bishop: Are you resolved to shape your way of life always according to the example of Christ, whose body and blood you will give to the people?

Candidate: I am, with the help of God.

It was a beautiful ritual, and the emotions caught me off guard. I've often wondered if God has called me to be a deacon, and after watching the ordination I don't know if I could ever accept such a heavy responsibility.

Please pray for Matt as he begins his service to the Church. God willing, he will be ordained to the priesthood this time next year.

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posted by Nick Senger at 7:45 PM 3 comments Links to this post

The New Alternative Fuel?

A little off-topic humor for your Sunday:

Stop, Look and Listen (1967)


Hat-tip to Boing Boing.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:49 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Made to Stick Will Stick with You

I began Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood a few weeks ago, but I got sidetracked by a few nonfiction titles that grabbed my interest. That happens to me every so often. I'll make up my mind to start a book, and then another one will grab me by the shirt and say, "NO! Pick ME!" That's what happened with the Heath brothers' Made to Stick, a fantastic exploration of what makes ideas memorable. I started reading it in the bookstore and couldn't put it down. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I never buy new hardcovers, but this one was just proving to be too fascinating--I had to take it home. And was it worth it.

Teachers, writers, public speakers, anyone with an interest in spreading ideas should read Made to Stick. It's absolutely brilliant. Chip is a professor of organizational behavior and Dan is a consultant and former business researcher. Together they have put together a fascinating history of some of the ideas that have "stuck" with us, from urban legends about Elvis' motorcycle to memorable ad campaigns like "Where's the Beef?"

But Made to Stick is really about how to make your ideas memorable, and this is really the heart of the book. Using the simple mnemonic device SUCCESs, the Heath brothers have identied the essential elements of a sticky idea: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotion, and Story. Sure, these elements have been talked about before, but not with such clarity and insight.

One of the great features of the book is what they call the "Clinic." At the end of each chapter Chip and Dan take a situation and show how applying one or more of the six elements can make
the idea more "sticky."

I'm a teacher, writer and speaker, and Made to Stick has already had an impact on my work. It's one of the most practical and insightful books I've read in a long time, and I highly recommend it.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:17 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, April 27, 2007

Music to Listen to While You Read, Part II - Don Quixote

Yesterday I wrote about the music I like to listen to while reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series. I know that the reading group Tilting at Windmills is about to begin Don Quixote, so today I want to share the kind of music that helps set the atmosphere when I read this most excellent novel. (Sidenote: If you've never read Don Quixote you should join Tilting at Windmills and read it--it's my favorite book, hands down, and in my opinion the greatest novel ever written.)

To achieve a Spanish ambience when I read it, I love listening to Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra. Its light and lively melodies remind me of the relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and it makes me feel like I'm in a Spanish villa. If you can't get a hold of Rodrigo's music, almost any CD of Baroque guitar concertos will provide a good substitute.

I also enjoy Richard Strauss's tone poem Don Quixote, conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

Next time I'll talk about music I like to listen to while reading Tolkien.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:28 AM 4 comments Links to this post

Review of Children of Hurin

Elizabeth Hand at Powell's Books reviews Tolkien's The Children of Hurin:
If anyone still labors under the delusion that J.R.R. Tolkien was a writer of twee fantasies for children, this novel should set them straight. A bleak, darkly beautiful tale played out against the background of the First Age of Tolkien's Middle Earth, The Children of Húrin possesses the mythic resonance and grim sense of inexorable fate found in Greek tragedy.
See the rest here.

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

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Music to Listen to While You Read, Part I

Picture yourself curled up on the couch with a good book and your favorite drink. No interruptions. What music is playing in the background?

Some people like to read in silence, but I'm not one of them. The right music helps me become more involved in my book by creating a kind of environmental blanket that envelops me and keeps the world out. I thought I'd share some of my favorite music to read by with you in the hopes that you might share yours with me.

If you've ever read Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series then you know how important music is to the story. Both Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin play musical instruments and they try to play together in Aubrey's cabin whenever they can. ESS.A.Y Recordings has put together a trio of cds featuring music mentioned in the novels: Musical Evenings with the Captain, Musical Evenings with the Captain, Volume II, and Musical Evenings in the Captain's Cabin. They feature works by Locatelli, Handel, Mozart, Bach, and Haydn.

I love listening to these cds while I'm reading not only the Patrick O'Brian books but any book set in England in the early to mid 1800s (Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, for instance).

Another great cd to listen to while reading Patrick O'Brian is Roast Beef of Old England: Traditional Sailor Songs. This collection features songs that the men on board ship would have sung together: "Spanish Ladies", "Roast Beef of Old England", "Heart of Oak, " 24 songs in all. Confession: I love to sing along with this cd while I'm driving to work in the morning, especially "Heart of Oak." Of course, I wait until all the kids have been dropped off first, so I can really belt it out.

Check back tomorrow for more music to read by.

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Prayer by Thomas Merton

One of my favorite spiritual writers is Thomas Merton, and one of my favorite prayers comes from his book Thoughts in Solitude:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
It's a great prayer to print out and slip inside a graduation card.

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posted by Nick Senger at 7:56 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Who is Hurin, Anyway, and How Many Children Did He Have?

Want Tolkien's new book, Children of Hurin, but not sure who Hurin is? Visit The Encyclopedia of Arda, a reference guide to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. It's a fantastic resource, a real must-see for all Tolkien devotees.

By the way, you'll discover several different entries for Hurin, but this one is the one you want. (He had three children.)

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:45 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

11 Free Audiobooks from SimplyAudiobooks

Cover art for "Madonna of the Future" by William James

Books by William James, Mark Twain, Jack London, Sun Tzu, T.S. Eliot, Kafka, all for free. Get them here. (Hat Tip: Lifehacker)

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posted by Nick Senger at 4:31 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Can You Help Suggest a Book about Grace?

Mark at the ReadySteadyBlog asks:
"A favor: do any readers know of a good theological/philosophical book on the (Christian) concept of grace? Any tip-offs? Thanks so much."
So far he's only got one response, What's so Amazing about Grace, by Philip Yancey. If you can help him out, please visit ReadySteadyBlog and leave your comments.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:29 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Monday, April 23, 2007

Save a Reader - Stomp Out Manchegan Madness!

Today I decided to save a life. If you've been reading Literary Compass lately then you know about my battle with Manchegan Madness. Well today I decided to do something about it.

I created the Manchegan Madness blog, whose mission is to educate the world about this insidious disorder. Please help me stop this devastating disease before it's too late.

Do you know someone who's built a hobbit-hole? Does one of your "friends" have a cat named Chaucer? Then visit Manchegan Madness and tell me about it so I can share it with the world.

Together we can make a difference.

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posted by Nick Senger at 8:46 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Another Outbreak of Manchegan Madness?

About a month ago I wrote about Manchegan Madness, and it now appears that certain members of the blogging community may be experiencing early symptoms. Sylvia at Classical Bookworm reports that she has joined Tilting at Windmills, a group of readers who will be spending May and June reading about the exploits of the famed Don Quixote of La Mancha.

I've seen this before. It starts as a reading group but ends as a support group. Pretty soon they'll be naming their pets Rocinante or Sancho Panza.

Be careful! Manchegan Madness takes on many forms. It has definitely affected a young lady named Obelia medusa. Just take a look at this. And this. Poor girl. She probably never even saw it coming.

Take it from me: Manchegan Madness is nothing to be trifled with. How do I know? I'm in recovery myself. In fact, I'm listening to Don Quixote on audio cd to prove that I'm cured. Now, you'll have to excuse me while I feed my dog Pippin. He gets snippy when he doesn't get his second breakfast.

Update: There is now a Manchegan Madness blog for all the afflicted. Check it out!

Related Posts:
Sancho Panza on Death
Do You Recognize the 7 Early Signs of Manchegan Madness?
Video Book Talk: Don Quixote
Don Quixote as You've Never Seen Him

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:13 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Sunday, April 22, 2007

How to Make A Secret Hollow Book

If you're looking for a clever gift to make for someone who loves books, try taking an old hardcover and turning into a secret hiding place. From How to Do Stuff.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:34 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Saturday, April 21, 2007

New to My World

Blogs and websites of note from the past few weeks:
  • Julie D's Happy Catholic Blog is an award-winning blog with an awesome tag line: "Not always happy, but always happy to be Catholic."
  • Robert Fielding has a great blog called Imaginary Conversations where he engages writers and thinkers from the past in a fictional dialogue with himself to explore their ideas.
  • Here's a useful site for Catholic book-lovers: the Pope St. Nicholas V Yahoo! Group. Their mission: "to help Catholics make purchasing suggestions to their public libraries." What a great idea!
  • Jean's Catholic Fire blog has been nominated for Best Religion Blog, and with good reason.
  • The Sci Fi Catholic: "Science Fiction News, Book and Movie Reviews, Religions Topics, All from a Catholic Perspective"

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:40 AM 3 comments Links to this post

London's New Attraction: Dickens World

I doubt the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come would have predicted this: a theme park based on the life and works of Charles Dickens. From the Boston Globe:

The indoor attraction includes a central square of cobbled streets and crooked buildings, where staff dressed as pickpockets and wenches will mingle with the crowds. Visitors who pay the $25 admission charge -- $15 for children -- will have the chance to see the Ghost of Christmas Past in Ebeneezer Scrooge's haunted house, be hectored by a schoolmaster at Dotheboys Hall -- the dismal school from "Nicholas Nickleby" -- and peer into the fetid cells of Newgate Prison.

Tourists can also have a meal in the cafeteria, which has resisted the temptation to offer "Please, sir can I have some more?" 2-for-1 specials. The little ones can play in Fagin's Den, an area for preschoolers named after the gangmaster of the band of thieves in "Oliver Twist."

Excuse me for saying so, but I believe the management has Great Expectations for the new theme park...

(Hat tip to Boing Boing.)

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:27 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Pair of Russians on First Line Friday

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

"The town was a little one, worse than a village, and it was inhabited by scarcely any but old people who died with an infrequency that was really annoying." Anton Chekhov, "Rothschild's Fiddle," from Ward No. 6 and Other Stories

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:26 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Thursday, April 19, 2007

In Honor of Lord Byron

On this day in 1824 George Gordon, Lord Byron, passed away. Byron is one of my favorite poets and in his honor I offer you this breathtaking poem of his:

So, We'll Go No More a Roving

So, we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears the sheath,
And the soul outwears the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And Love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:09 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Who is Sick in Your Area?

I'm home sick today, so when Lifehacker blogged this morning about the Who is Sick? website I went there immediately. The site uses Google Maps to let you post your symptoms and see who else is sick where you live. Check it out, and start pumping that Vitamin C if your city is contagious.

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posted by Nick Senger at 8:38 AM 0 comments Links to this post

3 Character Meme

I've been tagged with a meme by Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor. Here it is:

Name up to three characters...

1. ...you wish were real so you could meet them:
  • Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings (so I could ask him who he was and where he came from)
  • Stephen Maturin from the Patrick O'Brian Master and Commander series

2. ...you would like to be:
  • Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings
  • D'Artagnan from The Three Musketeers
  • Lord Peter Wimsey from the Dorothy Sayers mysteries

3. ...who scare you:
  • The White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The lord of the Nazgul from The Lord of the Rings
  • Lady Macbeth from Macbeth
I tag Kimbooktu, Bibliophilic and Classical Bookworm.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:24 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New Tolkien Release: The Children of Hurin


From Amazon.com:
The first complete book by J.R.R. Tolkien in three decades -- since the publication of The Silmarillion in 1977 -- The Children of Hurin reunites fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with Elves and Men, dragons and Dwarves, Eagles and Orcs. Presented for the first time as a complete, standalone story, this stirring narrative will appeal to casual fans and expert readers alike, returning them to the rich landscape and characters unique to Tolkien.

The Children of Hurin, begun in 1918, was one of three 'Great Tales' J.R.R. Tolkien worked on throughout his life, though he never realized his ambition to see it published. Though familiar to many fans from extracts and references within other Tolkien books, it has long been assumed that the story would forever remain an unfinished tale. Now reconstructed by Christopher Tolkien, painstakingly editing together the complete work from his father's many drafts, this book is the culmination of a tireless thirty-year endeavor by him to bring J.R.R.Tolkien's vast body of unpublished work to a wide audience.

Just in case you hadn't heard...

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posted by Nick Senger at 3:22 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Free Ice Cream Today Only

The good people over at Lifehacker remind us that today is Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry's. I don't do dairy products anymore, so I'll pass, but you probably deserve a treat so go get one.

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posted by Nick Senger at 8:19 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Fiction so Bad It's Good

I just came across the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and if you want a good laugh you should really check it out. The goal of the contest: write a single sentence of awful prose. Here's last year's winner, by Jim Guigli of Carmichael, CA:
Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.
Be sure to visit the Sticks and Stones page to read unintentionally bad writing found in published works. Here's an example from Danielle Steele's Star:
She wore a dress the same color as her eyes her father brought her from San Francisco.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:16 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, April 16, 2007

Prayer for a Busy Life by St. Teresa of Avila

How is it God, that you have given me this hectic busy life when I have so little time to enjoy your presence? Throughout the day people are waiting to speak with me, and even at meals I have to continue talking to people about their needs and problems. During sleep itself I am still thinking and dreaming about the multitude of concerns that surround me. I do all this not for my own sake, but for yours.

To me my present pattern of life is a torment; I only hope that for you it is truly a sacrifice of love. I know that you are constantly beside me, yet I am usually so busy that I ignore you. If you want me to remain so busy, please force me to think about and love you even in the midst of such hectic activity. If you do not want me so busy, please release me from it, showing others how they can take over my responsibilities.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:43 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Will Free IQ Change the Way We Learn and Earn?

Any learner, writer, expert or entrepreneur should visit FreeIQ for three reasons:
  1. Free educational video, audio and document files: Whether you want to know about writing, parenting, coaching basketball, or making money with Google's Adsense, FreeIQ is increasing in educational content daily. Unlike other video sites, it's not interested in bloopers or college pranks. FreeIQ is where anyone who wants to learn can go for free video, audio or written content. And if you join the FreeIQ community you can review and rate the content that you find.
  2. Add your own content: If you are a teacher, writer or other kind of expert, FreeIQ makes it easy to add your own content so that you can share your expertise with others. It's just a matter of uploading and tagging, just as you would with Flickr, Youtube, or any similar site--and it's all free!
  3. Get paid: You can also add content for sale. If you've written an ebook or created an instructional video, FreeIQ will host the files, sell the files, and manage all your customers--again, all for free. They also have a great affiliate program.
By making educational content free and easy to obtain, FreeIQ is helping to teach the world. Much of the content is business oriented right now, but as educators and other experts discover FreeIQ, I think it's going to revolutionize learning.

As you may have read yesterday, I already added some content of my own, a free reading list for junior high students. It's not much, but it's a beginning. Visit FreeIQ

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:13 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Friday, April 13, 2007

Emily Dickinson for First Line Friday

I couldn't help but think of this quote by Emily Dickinson as I was writing about Geoff Hunt and Patrick O'Brian, and since April is National Poetry Month I wanted to share it with you:
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away...

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posted by Nick Senger at 10:25 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Books to Be Tasted - A Reading List for Junior High Students

I just posted my eighth grade reading list at FreeIQ for those of you who are teachers or who might have teenagers. The list contains over 300 titles of various levels that have been compiled during my last sixteen years as a teacher. I hope you find it helpful.

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posted by Nick Senger at 10:13 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Geoff Hunt, Master Painter and O'Brian Cover Artist

This week's cover artist is Geoff Hunt, the master painter behind Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin nautical series. Take a look at the following two covers for a good example of how much impact a cover can make. The image on the left is from the first edition of Master and Commander, and the second image is Geoff Hunt's painting for the same book:



To me there is no comparison. I'm no art critic, but I know what I like. And I love Geoff Hunt's covers. Hunt painted the covers of all twenty-one books in the series, and I think they capture the flavor of the books perfectly.

I was in a bookstore one day when I stumbled across a stack of Geoff Hunt calendars. I immediately snatched up two of them; one I kept in its cellophane wrapper, the other I cut up and put into picture frames. If you've watched any of my video book reviews you may have caught a glimpse of them on the wall behind me. Here are a couple of pictures of the framed calendar images:



Someday I hope to afford actual prints, but for now these framed calendar pages do just fine.

If you're interested in learning more about Hunt's work, the following links may be helpful:

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posted by Nick Senger at 8:00 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Intellectual Devotional

I never buy new hardcovers because they're too expensive, but I made an exception yesterday and bought two: The Intellectual Devotional and Made to Stick.

At first I was a bit worried when I saw the title for The Intellectual Devotional, thinking it was going to be a kind of anti-prayer book for atheists, pitting faith against reason or science against religion. As I thumbed through the pages, though, it doesn't appear to be any such thing. Like a devotional, it consists of daily readings, but rather than meditations, these are readings in different intellectual areas: History on Mondays, Literature on Tuesdays, Visual Arts on Wednesdays, Science on Thursdays, Music on Fridays, Philosophy on Saturdays, and Religion on Sundays.

I like these "daily reading"-type books, and I had some money burning a hole in my pocket (a rare thing), so I decided to pick it up and give it a try.

Today's reading was all about cloning, and it doesn't take any kind of moral stance on the issue, it simply recounts what cloning is and focuses on the story of Dolly the sheep. As I peek at this Sunday's topic, I see that the subject is the Torah. A quick browse through the rest of book reveals readings on Dickens, the Last Supper, Chemical Bonds, Real Numbers, the Manhatten Project, Rainbows, Verdi, the Battle of Midway, and Confucianism.

It does bother me a bit to see the word "devotional" in the title, since it implies religious enthusiasm towards something non-religious, but the book doesn't appear to be anti-religious. In fact, the Sunday readings in religion appear to be respectful and informative, more like a survey of world religions.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it, and if my opinion changes I'll let you know.

As for the other book, Made to Stick, I'll talk about that another day.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:15 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Book Review: The Samurai by Shusaku Endo

I just finished reading Shusaku Endo's The Samurai, and it was eye-opening in so many ways. It is the story of two men: Father Velasco, the flawed but well-meaning missionary to Japan, and Hasekura Rokuemon, the quiet Samurai who only wants to do his duty. Both men have a mission, both of them are forced to compromise their integrity for the sake of that mission, and neither of them get what they want. In the end, however, The Samurai is a gentle reminder that God "writes straight with crooked lines," and no matter how hard we try to bring the gospel to others, it is Jesus Christ alone who has the power to convert hearts. Endo, a Japanese Catholic, reminds us that "the essence of Christianity is determined not by bureaucratic fiat, but by the private yearnings of each and every believer."

On the surface, The Samurai is historical fiction, recounting the journey of Hasekura Rokuemon and other Japanese emissaries to Mexico, Spain, and eventually Rome to see Pope Paul V in 1615. Rokuemon and his companions were the first Japanese emissaries to the Americas. It's a fascinating story, and Endo tells it with great restraint, avoiding the temptation to over dramatize the events.

At its heart, however, The Samurai is an honest, unsentimental look at religious conversion, and the frustration of trying to bring about conversion in someone else. Father Velasco, as good as his intentions are, makes the mistake of thinking only he can bring salvation to Japan, and that only he understands God's will. Velasco is a compelling character, because he is so much like so many of us--trying to do the right thing, thinking we know what God has planned for us, and hurt when things don't go the way we expect them to.

Despite all of Velasco's manipulations, Hasekura Rokuemon resists Christianity, continually asking the same question: "How can you revere such a miserable, wretched fellow? How can you worship someone so ugly and emaciated?" Yet all the time it is the "ugly emaciated man on the cross" that Rokuemon cannot get out of his head. It is not Velasco's catechism classes, nor his rational arguments, nor his manipulative machinations. It is simply the man on the cross, the companion in our suffering. In one of the most beautiful scenes from the book, the power of Jesus is summarized in two lines:
"From now on...He will be beside you." "From now on...He will attend you."
Unlike Velasco, Jesus makes no promises to us in this life, except that he will always be with us, especially in our suffering.

The Samurai is beautifully written, and an essential book for all Catholics to read, especially those engaged in active evangelization. Highly recommended.

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posted by Nick Senger at 5:33 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Feeling Stressed Today? Take Some Advice from Herodotus

"People with bows string them when they need to use them and unstring them when they've finished with them. If they kept them strung all the time, the bows would break, and then they wouldn't be able to use them when they needed them. It is no different with people's temperments. Anyone who is serious all the time and never allows himself a fair measure of relaxation will imperceptibly slide into madness or have a stroke."

--Amasis, king of Egypt, in Herodotus' The Histories

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:19 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sancho Panza on Death

I've been listening to George Guidall reading Don Quixote, and the other day I was struck by this description of death by Sancho Panza:
"By my faith, Señor," responded Sancho, "you mustn't trust in the fleshless woman, I mean Death, who devours lamb as well as mutton; I've heard our priest say that she tramples the high towers of kings as well as the humble huts of the poor. This lady is more powerful than finicky; nothing disgusts her, she eats everything, and she does everything, and she crams her pack with all kinds and ages and ranks of people. She's not a reaper who takes naps; she reaps constantly and cuts the dry grass along with the green, and she doesn't seem to chew her food but wolfs it down and swallows everything that's put in front of her, because she's hungry as a dog and is never satisfied; and though she has no belly, it's clear that she has dropsy and is always thirsty and ready to drink down the lives of everyone living, like somebody drinking a pitcher of cold water."

"Enough, Sancho," said Don Quixote at this point. "Stop now before you fall, for the truth is that what you have said about death, in your rustic terms, is what a good preacher might say. I tell you, Sancho, with your natural wit and intelligence, you could mount a pulpit and go around preaching some very nice things."
From Don Quixote, translated by Edith Grossman

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Cover Artist Feature - Michael Whelan

Yesterday I wrote about how important book covers are to me, and this week's featured artist is Michael Whelan. If you've read with any depth in the science fiction/fantasy genre then you probably already know his work. From Anne McCaffrey's Pern series to Michael Moorcock's Elric series, Michael Whelan has been illustrating fantasy novels for over twenty-four years. He has won the Hugo award an amazing fourteen times.

The biography on his official website includes Whelan's artistic statement which, interestingly enough, is a quote by renowned Catholic author G.K. Chesterton:
"The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world."
Michael Whelan certainly lives up to that statement. I love his attention to detail and use of rich colors. My favorite of his covers are from Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy:

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Book Covers and the Imagination

While you can't judge a book by its cover, a beautiful cover makes a book all the more enjoyable. During the next few weeks I am going to be featuring some great book cover artists.

I don't know about you, but when I try to picture what I'm reading, I find that the cover of a book often provides the color palette that my imagination uses to form the pictures. For instance, I have a very hard time reading science fiction paperbacks from the 1960s with those washed-out, almost abstract cover images. It's like watching a grainy, dirty film. I almost always try to find a reprint with more bold colors.

When I first tried readin
g Foundation by Isaac Asimov, I just couldn't get into it--it seemed so dingy. But when I came across a newer edition of the book with a brighter cover I gave it another try and I ended up loving it.

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Does this happen to anyone else, or is it just me?

Sometimes it bothers me to think that a book cover has that much sway over my reaction to a book, but I've always had difficulty in picturing things in my mind. I would make a horrible interior decorator. Over the years I've gotten better at ignorning "bad" book covers, but it takes quite a bit of mental effort. That's why cover artists are so important to me.

I'll begin tomorrow with one of the acknowledged masters of cover art, Michael Whelan. Who else would you like to see featured? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Top 10 Catholic Prayer Books - Daily Devotionals

With the Easter season rapidly approaching, this is a great time to re-commit to daily prayer. Here is my top ten list of the best Catholic daily devotional books. Each of these books is designed to be used every day, and most of them are interwoven with the liturgical year.
  1. The Liturgy of the Hours: Also known as the Divine Office, this is more than simply a daily devotional; the Liturgy of the Hours is the public prayer of the Church, the official set of prayers for each day of the year, as many as seven times a day. Those who pray the Office join with the entire body of Christ in praising God. The bulk of the prayers come from the book of Psalms, arranged for daily use. There is a pretty steep learning curve for praying the Liturgy of the Hours, but the benefits far outweigh the beginning struggles. They are a continual source of inspiration and guidance for me. I'd be happy to help anyone who wants to learn to use them. Email me or leave a comment if you have any questions.
  2. The Vatican II Daily Missal and the Vatican II Sunday Missal: Here you will find the complete texts of the scripture readings used during Mass for each day of the year, accompanied by useful meditations and reflections.
  3. My Daily Catholic Bible: This Revised Standard Version of the Bible is arranged in 20 minute segments that are meant to be read over the course of a year.
  4. Prayers and Devotions by Pope John Paul II: This collection of meditations is drawn from the documents, writings and homilies of the late Pope John Paul II. This is a beautiful edition, containing some of the most eloquent and spiritually nourishing words of the twentieth century.
  5. Fr. Peyton's Rosary Prayer Book: Of the several rosary meditation books I've used, this is the one I keep coming back to. The meditations are clear, simple and relevant to everyday life.
  6. Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel: This book of meditations has probably been the one that has influenced me the most in my spiritual growth. The wisdom pours out of this book like the wine poured out at Cana, miraculous and surprising with each new sip. The only difficulty is that since it was written before the Second Vatican Council, it can be challenging to find the correct meditation for the day. This is not a major problem, though, since a person could read straight through it, regardless of the day. I do NOT recommend the updated version.
  7. In Conversation with God: This set is a major investment, but the price is worth it. You get seven volumes of meditations covering every day of the liturgical year. Each day contains a set of three extensive meditations, usually based on the gospel text for that day's Mass. The reflections are thoughtful, relevant and challenging, and the dust covers are beautiful works of art.
  8. Lives of the Saints for Every Day of the Year: Simple and brief, this collection is great for sharing with your family. We use it in our house each day at dinner with the kids.
  9. Thirsting for God by Mother Teresa: The profound wisdom of Mother Teresa is served in bite-sized portions in this collection of daily thoughts. Perfect for morning meditation.
  10. Daily Readings in Catholic Classics edited by Fr. Rawley Meyers: This is the one book on this list that I don't yet own. Judging by the brief preview I saw on Amazon it looks terrific. Meditations include excerpts from works by Aquinas, Augustine, Chesterton, Guardini, Maritain, Merton, Pascal, Sheen, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux.

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My LibraryThing Anniversary

One year ago today I opened up a free LibraryThing account, and I loved it so much that a few days later I converted it to a lifetime account. What is LibraryThing? Here's the official answer:
LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. You can access your catalog from anywhere--even on your mobile phone. Because everyone catalogs together, LibraryThing also connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, and so forth.
I love everything about LibraryThing--how easy it is to add books, the way I can sort them or tag them, the fact that I can see who else likes the same books I do--the list is endless.

If you have a LibraryThing account, check out my library and see what we have in common. Leave me a message while you're there. If you don't have an account yet, check the site out and it won't take long to see what I'm raving about.

After a year of using LibraryThing, here are some statistics about my books:
  • As of today I have 1,267 books written by 608 authors.
  • The first book I entered was my favorite book of all time, Don Quixote.
  • The last book I entered was A Passion for Books, which I purchased yesterday and added this morning.
  • The most frequent tag in my library is fiction (780 tags), followed by religion (287) and Catholic (228).
If you can't tell yet, I'm crazy for LibraryThing. It's one of my 101 Essential Web Sites for Readers of Literature, and if I would have ranked them, LibraryThing would definitely have been in the top 5. Check it out.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Book Review: The Book on the Bookshelf

The ordinary is always more fascinating than we think. Chesterton knew this, and Henry Petroski knows it. Petroski's The Book on the Bookshelf traces the development of the bookshelf as a reflection of the changing nature of books, and in the process he reminds us that nothing is too ordinary to be written about.

The book is part history, part personal reflection and part social science. From descriptions of medieval libraries to debates about where to place bookshelves in a library, Petroski writes in an engaging and warm style, peppering his book with illustrations, photographs and maps.

I especially enjoyed the appendix, in which Petroski lists the many ways people organize their home libraries. They range from the obvious (author's last name) to the interesting (by color) to the just plain bizarre (by opening sentence!).

The book is well worth reading, both for bibliophiles and for those who enjoy insights into the seemingly ordinary foundations of daily life.

1999, Knopf

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The Lazy Person's Guide to Memorizing Poetry

You can memorize a poem in five minutes. Really. You just have to have the right poem. Don't believe me? Try these:
On His Seventy-fifth Birthday by Walter Savage Landor

I strove with none; for none was worth my strife,
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life,
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
Too long? Try this one:
In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Today's activity for National Poetry Month is to commit a poem to memory, so make it a point today to etch one into your brain. Give it a try! If you already have a poem memorized, tell us which one, and why you memorized it. On a good day I can recite "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe and "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. For more poems to memorize see Committed to Memory: The Best 100 Poems to Memorize, edited by John Hollander.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Book Gadget Contest

Kimbooktu is sponsoring a book gadget contest, complete with prizes:
"I want you to come up with a reading gadget / bookish thingy. (Do not take the phrase ‘gadget’ too literally.) You can let your creativity run free and make it as wacky as you like. It can be – for instance - a piece of jewellery, clothing, a book shelf or some nifty product that comes in handy when reading. It can also be a piece of art that has something to do with books and/or reading. It is all up to you, as long as it’s bookish."
The deadline is June 1st, so put on your designing cap and enter.

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posted by Nick Senger at 9:53 AM 0 comments Links to this post

April is National Poetry Month

In 1996, The Academy of American Poets established April as National Poetry Month. They've suggested thirty ways to celebrate, one for each day of the month. Today's suggestion is to read a book of poetry. Here are some great places to start:

Anthologies:
Specific Authors:
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson - Over 1700 poems. Read a poem a day for four and a half years, then start over again.
  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman - Includes "Song of Myself," "I Hear American Singing," "O Captain! My Captain!" Perhaps my favorite poet.
  • Collected Poems, 1909-1962 by T.S. Eliot - Features "The Waste Land," "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," "Ash Wednesday," "The Hollow Men," "Journey of the Magi." I could study a line a day, and still there would be more for me to learn from Eliot.
  • Poems and Prose by Gerard Manley Hopkins - Includes "God's Grandeur," "Inversnaid," "The Windhover," "Pied Beauty."
  • The Poetry of Robert Frost, Complete and Unabridged - "Mending Wall," "The Road Not Taken," "Nothing Gold Can Stay," and others.

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