Books Read in 2018

to be updated as the year progresses

underlined is a reread; * means recommended

*The Cat Who Wanted to Be a Man, Lloyd Alexander

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray or whatever, I don’t even care, only about a quarter of the book was actually gripping and then she managed to ruin it
Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo, (5/5/18) eeeeeeeh we’ll see if the series gets better
Siege and Storm, ditto (5/?/18), an improvement but the beginning was very weak and the whole series would be better if MWT wrote it
Ruin and Rising, ditto (5/30/18), definitely improved and I think makes reading the previous two worth it though still not 100% satisfying (to me, but I am weird)

*My Life in France, Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
Two Gardeners, Elizabeth Lawrence and Katharine S. White, ed. Emily Wilson
Stirring the Pot with Benjamin Franklin: A Founding Father’s Culinary Adventures, Rae Katherine Eighmey (SO MANY COMMA SPLICES)

Into the Deep, Dan Burke (the business PD version of Lectio Divina)
*Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II
Embracing Edith Stein, Anne Costa

Gardening? Outdoors?
*A Southern Garden, Elizabeth Lawrence (would like to own)

Radically Simple, Rozanne Gold (definitely interested in several of the veggie sides)
What Should I Bring?, Elizabeth Heiskell (it literally has a recipe that she describes as “impossible to transport” if that gives you any indication of quality)

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Imagining the Trump Supporter

A friend of mine emailed me about my last post, saying that she simply DOES NOT UNDERSTAND TRUMP SUPPORTERS. Another friend of mine recently mentioned somewhere that he was shocked to discover that racism actually exists within the Republican party. And I’ve read several articles about Trump’s popularity, ranging from “people are angry” to “people feel disenfranchised” to “people feel like they lost the culture war and want someone who will fight for them,” and all those things are true. And there are probably several more articles out there that already say what I’m about to say (this Atlantic piece is a good outline), but all the same, I thought I’d put out a few details. In this approach I am not attempting in any way to condone any of the opinions or viewpoints that I theorize the average Trump supporter holds; but I am attempting to present them with relatively little commentary on their merits or lack thereof.

Side note: Sunday afternoon, Trump held a rally in my home state, and one of our senators became the first sitting senator to endorse him. I heard about it during the hourly NPR news update, and for the first time in my life, I was ashamed to be from Alabama.

Let me be clear: I’m from Alabama. I know, okay? I’ve lived in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, driven through much of the rest of the country, and spent a fair amount of time on the East Coast. If I stopped to count I think I know someone from almost every state in the Union. I’m descended from the sister of a Confederate general and there are absolutely slaveholders in my ancestry. My hometown, though the first to integrate its school system (peacefully, no less), is still under a desegregation order. [Side rant about all the schools in the rest of the country that have never been under a desegregation order but are no less segregated.] We keep electing Roy Moore to be Chief Justice of our State Supreme Court, even after he was kicked off. I get it. There’s a lot to be embarrassed about.

Embarrassed. But it’s my home, and I love it, and I want the best for it. It’s part of why I always planned to move back, no matter how far away I went. I’m a strong believer in the value of getting out and in the power of going home. I’m an eternal optimist.

But when I heard Senator Sessions giving his endorsement, for a moment, my spirits were absolutely, totally crushed.

Side note the second: Trump is performing well, but his competitors are still in the fight. Not every person who fits into one or more of the categories I’m about to describe is a Trump supporter. (This means, of course, that Cruz and Rubio possibly also have racists voting for them, ironically enough.) Not every Trump supporter fits into all of the following categories.

So who are these people, and why are they supporting Trump?
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Part of my “get on top of life” resolution has included trying to keep at least a token sense of being up-to-date with the world’s news. This of course has coincided with the primary season (aka, when all the campaigning actually starts to matter). I’ve been ignoring most of the campaigning itself–I’ll almost certainly be voting third party, and I have better things to do with my time than listen to adults hurl invectives at each other and make vague promises in the meantime–but now that votes are starting to roll in I’ve been reading a lot of analysis about why things are happening the way they are, and how they might get better or worse as time goes on. And being me, I’ve had some thoughts. I don’t know how coherent I’m going to be able to make them, but it’s worth a shot.

Some background reading:

On the potential progressions of the Republican nomination battle.
Why evangelicals are voting for Trump, i.e.
How Wag the Dog ruined me.

I went looking for the genesis of other thoughts of mine, but those have mostly taken place in non-public Facebook threads.

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A Brief Note of Concern

Okay. I’ve seen a couple young ladies on my newsfeed link to a blog post entitled “The Day I Decided to Stop Listening to What Everybody’s Saying I’m Supposed to do & Why I’m Not Ready to Get Married in 44 Days.” The first time I read it, most of the comments were still sensible, but apparently many more people have discovered it since then and the sense has mostly been buried.

If you go back through the comments, I highly recommend reading the original comment from “Nathan” and also one from “Sandy.” If you’re too lazy/anti-internet-comments to do so (understandable), have a soapbox moment from me instead:

1) This post very much reads like it was written by a young twenty-year-old. There is nothing wrong with being twenty years old! It is a transition time from teenagerdom to adulthood. And some people are older at twenty than others, and this young lady falls into the latter category.

2) On that note, I’ve read blogs and talked to people who were married at twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two. Some of them were young, like the author of this blog post, and those whose marriages have lasted will unabashedly tell you how difficult being young and unready (which in this case often means “completely unaware of the sacrifices involved”) made the first few years of their marriages.

Others were older, and though unready in the sense that it’s impossible to truly understand what the sacrament will do to you until it’s done, had a sense of the responsibilities involved–had the sense that they still had growing and changing to do, but were committed to going through those experiences together.

3) In that sense, being “ready” to get married can, in part, be understood as being “ready” to submit yourself to God and to your spouse–and in THIS is freedom.

4) The author of the blog post defines freedom as “God created me as a [free spirit/the person I am right now and therefore I can do whatever I want because that’s who he made me to be.” This is not Christian freedom. Christian freedom does not elevate the individual above the community, nor does it provide justification for your every action. Christian freedom is the freedom to follow God, freedom from the slavery to sin, freedom to serve one another as Christ served us.

5) This is what God created us to do, to be. Each in our own unique way, with our own gifts, yes–but we are called to submit those things to him, and to do with them as he wills. Oftentimes that means submitting ourselves to the authority or will of others–rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, or honoring our fathers and mothers.

So ironically, the message the blog post author wants to convey is, technically, correct–we are called to the freedom of God’s children, which often bucks conventional “worldly” wisdom. She is, however, completely INcorrect as to what that actually looks like. Her words are quite romantic, but it’s an adolescent understanding of freedom–a young twenty–that fails to understand that her “free” (in this case, we could charitably call it “blind”) spirit is not the primary nor final arbiter of right and wrong, nor even of the path God wants her to follow.

God doesn’t always speak to us directly in our hearts. Sometimes he uses those around us–because after all we Christians are a communal people, one body bound in the breaking of the bread–to be his voice in our ears. True discernment–of marriage, of moving, of all the decisions we make–lies in learning to hear his voice, to see past the cloud of our desires into the clear sky of his light–and then learning to align our desires with his. Again, THAT is true freedom. Not walking barefoot at your wedding (a neutral act), nor putting your feet on someone else’s desk (actively willful–and somehow, I doubt that will is God’s).

So please, when reading this article, take it with a grain of salt. Or better still, skip it. But at the very least, recognize the difference between ramblings and wisdom, between a young woman experimenting with her understanding of the world and a young woman who understands that the world does not revolve around her.

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Upset is Not an Emotion

One of my best friends from college majored in psychology, and while in undergrad she worked in one of the professor’s labs studying the interaction between families and schools and education. You know, totally not depressing stuff at all. Anyway, she spent a lot of time “coding,” which I’m still not 100% sure is what it sounds likes, but senior year she also got to participate in family interviews. Before she did this, she had to practice, and since I was right across the hall I was one of the lucky few selected to pretend to be a six-year-old while she asked me questions about my family life.

I’m sure you’re all shocked to learn that I make an excellent squirmy six-year-old.
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NFP: A Few More Thoughts

Probably I’ll come back to the subject eventually–it is part of my life, after all–but for now, just a few more things.

I talk about NFP because it’s what we practice and because it was an awareness week, but really I’m mostly just trying to encourage general non-hormonal methods that are actually reliable (sorry, condoms and withdrawal). So, in my book, if you’re looking into FAM, that’s awesome.

“But you’re Catholic aren’t you trying to take away all my pills ISN’T THAT YOUR REAL AGENDA?” asks the reader of this blog who’s new around here.

I don’t want to take away pills so much as I want to encourage a worldview where a woman’s fertility is something to be celebrated, not dreaded or feared or dismissed, and as long as the Pill is an assumed norm that’s probably not going to happen. Also, I want to encourage education and knowledge and freedom and taking charge of one’s self. Also, I weep for those mothers who feel like they have to put their daughters on birth control just in case they get raped. Talk about the exact opposite of female empowerment. (I vote for the spike-toothed female condom in that instance, myself.)
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Different Approaches to Love: Submission

So when I referenced Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in my last post, I quoted from the end of it, where he says “this is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.” For those of you unfamiliar with the passage, I’ll be honest and quote the whole thing:

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
“For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21-33)

You probably know this reading either from a) those Sundays in church where Mom and Dad elbow each other mercilessly throughout the epistle or b) rants about how Christianity is anti-feminist. I don’t want to go too deeply into the latter point today (definitely another post), but I do want to reflect a little on that darn “subordinate” word.

Once, while my husband was deployed, I went to an adult ed class on this reading once because hey, who can resist hearing it dissected, especially by a husband-wife team. Each took the lesson aimed at their sex and broke it down, and the wife’s explanation went more or less like this: “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands” can also be translated as “wives, submit to” or “be submissive to” their husbands. To be “submissive” or “subordinate” means to subject oneself (or place oneself under) the “mission” or “order” (think not only in terms of being boss, but also what it means to belong to “an order”—usually there are strict codes of conduct involved) of another. And what is the husband’s mission? To love his wife as his own body, to lay himself down for her as Christ gave everything of himself for the Church. (Love is of course the action of willing the good of another, and Christian love is the action of willing the good of another above the good of oneself; “there is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.”) The speaker was in tears as she described, then, a wife’s duty: to let her husband love her, to submit to her husband’s love for her.

So really, the wife comes off pretty easy in this passage (and you’ll notice Paul’s instructions for wives are shorter than his instructions for husbands): all you have to do is submit to the fact that your husband has to lay himself down for you. Honestly, if the word “submit” wasn’t used there, you could probably read it as “walk all over the husband who has laid himself down for you.” It doesn’t even say you have to love him back!

But what does it mean to submit to someone loving you? This was the question I posed my dad, and his response was more or less, “You have to let him love you.” Say what? “When he tries to do something for you, let him do it, even if it’s not exactly how or what you wanted him to do.”

This is the answer you see in the “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” section of Ladies’ Home Journal, where the wife is complaining about how she is overworked trying to raise the kids AND keep the house clean AND possibly hold down a job on top of it and the husband complains that whenever he tries to help he is rebuffed because he “wouldn’t do it right” and then his wife is exhausted and rejects all his other advances and instead of being a caretaker he just ends up being another thing to be cared for within his own home. “Let him do the dishes,” the counselor advises. “He might not load the dishwasher the way you would, but he is a grown man and fully capable of doing it. Let him help.” Respect him and his abilities—trust that he’s capable—let him take care of you for a change. Wives are called to submit to their husbands’ love because it is so hard to give up control of our fears and our doubts and our insecurities and our million things that we are thinking about it, to just let ourselves be loved.

And you are called to love him back. You’re submitting to him as the head of the body as the Church submits itself to Christ. Because Christ gave everything of himself, the Church is called to return it all to him; because God created and sustains everything we are and have, we are called to give all the glory back to him. Obviously the wife doesn’t get her glory from her husband, but in giving the gift of letting go and accepting the love he pours out for her she understands and accepts the love and glory of Christ, and loves both of them all the more. And the husband, in pouring himself out as Christ, sees in the return love of his wife the model of how he himself ought to love Christ, and in more fully loving Christ he is more fully able to give of himself.

Confronted with each other’s submission to the love of the other—the husband in pouring himself out, the wife in giving it back—and seeing in it the love between Christ and his Church, how can they not exclaim gloria in excelsis Deo?

and on earth, peace to people of good will.

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when things of heaven are wed to those of earth

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending my friend Katie’s wedding at an Antiochian Orthodox church on the South Side of Chicago. Unlike probably most of the people on the bride’s side of the church, I have attended Orthodox (and Byzantine Catholic) liturgies in the past, and one of my good friends is Antiochian Orthodox (we took a Mariology class together at Notre Dame and shenanigans ensued). But this was my first Orthodox-of-any-kind wedding, and I was incredibly excited about witnessing a liturgy most people recognize only from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

People complain about those Roman Catholic papists with their elaborate churches and decorations and gold everywhere but let me tell you, we ain’t got nothin’ on the Orthodox.


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A Day Late and a Dollar Short: Literary Criticism

Part of the purpose of this blog is to make me write, instead of spending all my time simply reading and scrolling through endless newsfeeds, but yesterday instead of squeezing in a post at the last minute I ended up reading through a Battle of the Books hosted by a friend of mine back in March.  I won’t link you to the whole thing, because if you haven’t read any of Megan Whalen Turner’s books I have to command you to go pick up The Thief and come back once you’ve finished A Conspiracy of Kings, but I will happily spoil you for the results of the battle.  Or at least, the comment section for the results, mostly because there’s a conversation about literary criticism, a subject near and dear to my heart.

What follows is basically an edited version of the late-night ramblings I sent Beth (organizer of the battle) last night.  At some point I will make a more coherent, foundational post regarding my feelings about academic criticism and its currentish state, but today is not that day.  So, in response to this thread:

I will say you COULD do a Marxist reading of Hans Christian Andersen!  It’s all about understanding how the theoretical critical lens works, though–it’s not a magnifying glass to bring out what Andersen put in there–it’s an angle that sheds light on the text’s underpinnings/cultural beliefs/etc., and some lenses are more illuminating than others, and maybe Marx wouldn’t be the MOST illuminating way to read Andersen…but you could try.  Or you could try Foucault.  But basically, you can analyze a text in and of itself (taking into account context and the author–I’m certainly not going to promote the text in isolation), but you can also turn to theory in order to give yourself a groundwork and a language/structure with which to approach the text, especially if you want to compare it to other texts.  (Rather like your thoughts on the necessity of criteria.)

On the other hand, I don’t really know why I am defending it–that sort of literary analysis generally drives me crazy (AUGH FOUCAULT)–and I have no doubt that Jess felt like she was supposed to find Marxism in Andersen’s fairy tales because I’m sure that’s how some people teach it, but–that’s not how it’s meant to be used.  I will say that I try to avoid the “critical apparatus” whenever I can (and when you’re not in academia, it gets a lot easier).

On this subject, my intro to lit theory/criticism class decided to try to teach me about different theories by giving me several essays from various theoretical viewpoints, all on the same work of literature, which happened to be “The Secret Sharer,” which is a terrible horrible awful boring novella by Joseph Conrad.  It probably has analytic value, but as a story I found it completely unengaging, and thus it was the absolute worst possible example to give me to try to make me understand lit crit, because if I didn’t care about the story I certainly wasn’t going to care about the five essays I had to read.  It was a waste of a semester, and I ended up learning what it was trying to teach me by doing critical history papers myself the next semester in 19th-Century Novel, where I was reading things I actually cared about.  And in that class we also talked about the things we cared about, and not just analysis. 

And some of this was probably due to the professors and certainly due to the reading list (I liked my Intro to Lit Crit professor, but I never quite forgave him for substituting Rock’n’Roll for Arcadia and I’ve never quite forgiven myself for failing to go see Rock’n’Roll when it was RIGHT THERE ORIGINAL LONDON CAST CURSE YOU FELLOW TRAVELERS WHO WERE UNINTERESTED IN IT).  And my Intro to Lit Crit professor was probably in his sixties, while my 19th-Century Novel professor was a first-year post-doc with a self-professed crush on George Eliot who started off one discussion with the question “Why do women find Mr. Darcy so attractive?”  So I’ve had both great and terrible lit crit/English class experiences and learned enough to learn to choose to write papers that just examine books as literature (a la criticism from before the 1970s, without all the sexism), taking apart their workings to figure out how they fit together and what makes them great. 

And there’s not as much room for that in academic criticism these days–today I read this somewhat incoherent ramble about how college students don’t know how to do anything but deconstruct, a valid point, but the author completely whiffed on its source, choosing to focus on people’s inability fo allow themselves to be absorbed in a work (a different problem, related certainly, but not quite so fundamental–a symptom of this other point) rather than what he himself pointed out:  “Liberal education in America has long been characterized by the intertwining of two traditions: of critical inquiry in pursuit of truth and exuberant performance in pursuit of excellence. In the last half-century, though, emphasis on inquiry has become dominant, and it has often been reduced to the ability to expose error and undermine belief.”

It was critical inquiry in pursuit OF TRUTH, but since we destroyed truth somewhere between 1888 and 1946 (and discovered its death in the 1960s), the inquiry has nothing to direct it, and THAT’S why it’s been reduced as he describes it.  (Contemporary philosophy has a similar problem: a discussion for another day.)  People have trouble becoming absorbed in works or allowing themselves to consider alternate viewpoints because ultimately their own views or convictions are so vague that nothing need deep consideration because someone thinks it so it’s probably at least somewhat valid.  The greater problem is that without Truth there’s no Beauty, and being unable to identify either, criticism can’t make judgments on Goodness or Meaning, and so it’s reduced to little, petty things instead.

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Polite Outrage

I don’t particularly want to get into it here, as I don’t think this is the fastest way to their customer service (if it even exists?), but Precisely What Exists continues to be plagued by a No Internet At Home problem facilitated and even perhaps promoted by one Comcast/Xfinity service provider, who today announced their second “what appointment in the system” fiasco.

Hopefully sometime next week things will resume as normal.  In the meantime, enjoy this series of pictures of toddlers playing hide-and-go-seek.  And a gif set of sporting fail.  And my personal favorite, the Prince George #peasants meme.  /sigh

edit:  APPARENTLY this layout does not highlight or underline or bold your links in any way?  So it has to go.  But not while I’m sitting in a McDonald’s with a hungry husband because I STILL DO NOT HAVE INTERNET IN MY HOUSE.

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