Friday, June 25, 2010

Family-Friendly Friday: Great Audio Versions of Favorite Tales

Summertime means travel, and for many people that means lots of books, movies and other "stuff" in the minivan/car to keep people busy on long trips.  Audio CDs can be a great way to while away those hours.

Here are just a few great audio versions of favorite books to delight the whole family.  I can think of many more, but these ones shout out to me, "Summer!":

1.  One of our family favorites is the Radio Theatre production of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Normally, I'm an unabridged snob, meaning that I much prefer the unabridged versions of novels to their abridged or shortened versions.  This 19-CD set is abridged, but so well done and so captures the spirit of Narnia that we listen to it over and over.

2. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster's classic comic tale of the conflict between numbers and words (and a whole lot more), is available in a fantastic narration by actor David Hyde Pierce. I've tried to read this aloud, and it's a real challenge, so I'm grateful for this version. Bonus at the end of this audio version is an interview with Norton Juster about his writing of the book. Terrific!

3. Betsy-Tacy, first in the series of Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, is nicely done by actress Sutton Foster. I wish more of them were in audio format, but I've only seen Betsy-Tacy.

4. We've read many times, but not yet listened to The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall's wonderful summer novel on audio CD. I see one is available now, and I've got it reserved at the library. Birdsall writes multi-sibling stories in the wry and charming style of E. Nesbit and Edward Eager.

5. All-of-a-Kind Family tells the sweet, slice-of-life story of a Jewish family in early 20th century New York's Lower East Side. The narration is lively and enjoyable.

6. E.B. White narrated two of his classic novels, and these are still available as audio CDs. I can't pick a favorite, so I'll list them both: The Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte's Web. White's spare and just right; in Trumpet of the Swan, in particular, there is humor for both the children and the adults.

In our family, we do own some favorite audio books on CD, but often we will borrow them from the  library through the inter-library loan system.  Some libraries have online audio downloads available, and there are services like

What are some of your family's favorite Audio CDs? Or can you share some ways you enjoy your family's favorite books?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Words Wednesday: The Beauty of True Friendship

I had intended for Words Wednesday today to quote from a beautiful section regarding friendship from The Keys to the Kingdom, A.J. Cronin's novel about priest Fr. Francis Chisolm, one of the great dads in fiction I wrote about Sunday.

In the last few days, perhaps because I've had friendship on my mind, friendship (or actually, writing about it) is what I keep discovering.

I was particularly interested in Sally Thomas's fine reflection of childhood friendship, based on a New York Times article that explains how some professionals who work with children say that "best friends" is not a good thing.

And when I opened Universalis this morning to pray Morning Prayer, there was site creator Martin Kochanski's breathtaking reflection on the beauty of passionate friendship and how our modern culture has all but destroyed it. (If you are reading this after today, you might need to search for the "About Today" page of June 23.  The reflection is every year on that date).  Kochanski wrote this based on the first & second reading from today's Office of Readings, about the holy, passionate friendship of David & Jonathan, and St. Aelred's reflection on it.

So there is lots to ponder and consider lately, it seems, about when we consider the nature of friendship and what it means to be a true friend.  In The Keys of the Kingdom, friendship plays an enormous role in Father Chisolm's life.  Isn't that true for all of us?  We are all affected by our friends, both for good and ill.  And navigating the terrain of friendship can be alternately easy and treacherous, and a lifelong work.

In The Keys to the Kingdom, Fr. Francis Chisolm is going back to England after many years living as a missionary to China.  A powerful man in the community who had after much time become Fr. Francis' friend, an influential friend of the town, Mr. Chia, comes to say goodbye.  Earlier in the novel, Fr. Francis had healed (through normal medicine, not miraculous means) Mr. Chia's son, and Mr. Chia had offered to convert out of gratitude.  Fr. Francis would not let him.

On this visit:

An odd silence fell.  Mr. Chia broke it with constraint. "Since our time together is limited it might not be unfitting if we talked a moment regarding the hereafter."

"All my time is dedicated to such talk."

Mr. Chia hesitated, beset by unusual awkwardness. "I have never pondered deeply on what state lies beyond this life.  But if such a state exists it would be very agreeable for me to enjoy your friendship there."

Despite his long experience, Father Chisolm did not grasp the import of the remark.  He smiled but did not answer.  And Mr. Chia was forced in great embarrassment to be direct.

"My friend, I have often said: There are many religions and each has its gate to heaven." A faint color crept beneath his dark skin.  "Now it would appear that I have the extraordinary desire to enter by your gate."

Dead silence.  Father Chisolm's bent figure was immobilized, rigid.

"I cannot believe that you are serious."

'Once, many years ago, when you cured my son, I was not serious.  But then I was unaware of the nature of your life. ..of its patience, quietness and courage.  The goodness of a religion is best judged by the goodness of its adherents.  My have conquered me by example.'

Father Chisolmn raised his hand to his forehead, that familiar sign of hidden emotion.  His conscience had often reproached him for his initial refusal to accept Mr. Chia, even without a true intention.  He spoke slowly.  'All day long my mouth has been bitter with the ashes of failure.  Your words have rekindled the fires in my heart.  Because of this one moment I feel that my work has not been worthless.  In spite of that I say to you ... don't do this for friendship--only if you have belief.'

Mr. Chia answered firmly.  'My mind is made up.  I do it for friendship and belief.  We are as brothers, you and I.  Your Lord must also be mine.  Then, even though you must depart tomorrow, I shall be content, knowing that in our Master's garden our spirits will one day meet.'

At first the priest was unable to speak.  He fought to conceal the depth of his feeling.  He reached out his hand to Mr. Chia.  In a low uncertain tone he said, --

'Let us go down to the church.'

Sunday, June 20, 2010

For Father's Day: Great Dads in Fiction

When I had this idea for talking about great dads in fiction, I didn't realize how hard it would be to come up with a number of great dads, or at least pretty good ones!

Many dads and moms in fiction I love are absent, dead or not a factor.  In others, the dad is considerably less than ideal, and that's kind of the point.  But here's a fair, by no means exhaustive, list of good and great dads to consider.

I am indebted to my almost-teenaged daughter, who helped me immensely in ideas for great dads in the youth fiction in particular, especially why they are so good, and for helping in describing Emma's father so well.

1.  Mr. Henry Woodhouse, Emma's father, in Jane Austen's Emma.  As those who know me know, I am a huge Austen fan, and I dearly love the novel and the title character.  Emma's father is overly concerned about safety and health of those he loves, always fussing and forecasting doom.  While he is a bit of a comic character (but really, I ask you, who isn't in Emma?), he is loving, kind and generous.  The love and respect shown to him by his daughter & future son-in-law by their decision to live at his house after marriage rather than have him separated even by a mile from his younger daughter, speaks volumes.

My husband has never read Emma, but enjoyed watching with my daughters this winter the excellent most recent adaptation that aired on PBS, and they took to calling him "Mr. Woodhouse" as he is a teensy bit of a worrier.  He could be heard to say on a number of occasions since then, "Are you not taking a scarf? You might get chilled." and "No cake, especially for the children. There must not be cake."

2.  Lavrans Bjorgulfsson, father of Kristin in Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset.  Lavrans is by no means perfect, but so real, like many fathers.  I find him honorable, steadfast, so realistic in many ways, from his work among his farmer tenants to his sacrificial work on behalf of his family, to his fierce loyalty to and protection of Kristin's honor, both when she does and does not deserve it.

3.  Father Francis Chisolm in A.J. Cronin's The Keys of the Kingdom.  This fantastic novel follows the life of Father Francis's entire life, though it primarily takes place and his missionary work in China.  The 1944 movie starred Gregory Peck, and while it is wonderful, it is a bit more pat and wrapped up nicely than the novel.  If you've seen the movie, give the book a try, and vice versa.

Why is Father Francis Chisolm such a great father/Father?  First, how he lives the Gospel through his life more than his words.  Second, Father Chisolm has a passionate, Catholic ecuminism that spans cultures and promotes the deepest kind of friendship.  Finaly, he is brave and good, and only wants the best for his spiritual children, both temporal and spiritual goods, and seeks to provide them.

4.  Caddie Woodlawn's father in Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink.  This is a children's book, but would be enjoyed by anyone.  He is noble, calm-headed, kind, but firm with his children.  I don't want to give anything away from the novel (because if you haven't read it, please do! It's a treat!), but his American spirit of hard work and equality brings tears to my eyes whenever I read this children's novel.

5.  Pa in The Little House books.  Pa's total love of his family, his dear affection for his brood, is so charming and winning.  Most of us who grew up reading the books and watching the television show immediately think, "Where's my little half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up?"

6.  Robert Ray, the father of Betsy Ray, the central characters in the Besty-Tacy series of books, that fabulous semi-autobiographical collection of stories by Maud Hart Lovelace.  There are ten altogether in the series, set in early 20th century Minnesota; the firs four are best for younger kids, and the rest good for older kids and adults.  Mr. Ray is a benevolent, hardworking patriarch to three daughters, and lends a loving, mischievous paternal presence in these books full of fun and love.  In Betsy & Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, Mr. Ray successfully referees a "terrible" quarrel between Betsy, Tacy & Tib, and older sisters Julia and Katie.

Any great dads in fiction that you care to share?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Kristin Lavransdatter: A Review of Sorts...

Some time back, I visited a well-respected blog by a Catholic convert that I respect highly and consider spiritually mature.  So I was shocked when I found myself disagreeing with just about everything I read on the recommended blog, about a mom and her desire to live a simple life, cleary an admirable goal.  I was especially saddened by the blogger’s frustration at her husband for not agreeing to her more dramatic efforts.

I don’t want to get too specific about the blog.  I don’t know IRL (in real life) personally either the blogger I respect, or the blog I was shocked to see her recommend.   But as I read around a little on the blog I very much disagreed with, I found myself thinking, “This blogger is like that nun from Kristin Lavransdatter.” 

If you don’t know Kristin Lavransdatter, it is a three-volume novel by Nobel prize-winner Sigrid Undset, first published in the 1920s and never out of print, about the life of the passionate Kristin and her 14th century Norway, medieval and richly Catholic.   I have the older version from when I first read Kristin, but Tiina Nunnally's newer translation is luminous., and I'm glad to own both.  

In the novel, Sister Cecilia, a nun in the convent where Kristin goes to stay for a time, one night at dinner begins to grovel before the other sisters and confess that she has done things out of arrogance, not out of love of God:  “She had served her sisters with arrogance, she had drunk vanity from her water goblet, and she had spread her bare bread thick with conceit while the sisters drank ale and ate butter on their bread.”

For punishment, the abbess proclaims that the sister must sit in her (the abbess’) chair for eight days, during which time the other sisters will show her respect “that you will grow sated from the tribute of sinful people.  Then you must judge whether this is worth so much struggle, and decide either to live by the rules as the rest of us do or to continue the trials that no one demands of you.  Then you can contemplate whether all the things that you say you do now so that we might look up to you, henceforward you will do out of love of God and so that He might look upon you with mercy.”

After this punishment during which she “wept as if she were being beaten,” she has a new spirit:  “She continued to live in almost the same manner as before, but she would blush like a bride if anyone looked at her, whether she was sweeping the floor or walking alone to church.”

Now, even as I write, I am surprised to see how I am comparing or even judging a real person with this character.  My friends and family, I hope, know me as someone who is definitely not a “judger.”   I’ve been known to say, “You don’t know that person’s story, even if they tell you."  (This I freely lift from the Chronicles of Narnia, where Aslan tells several characters this very thing).  And it sounds so much like I am judging this blogger’s motives and spiritual life.

But as a literature lover and reader, I don’t think I’m the only one who finds myself comparing certain situations, especially when they are far removed from me, to characters in novels.  And I couldn’t help thinking the blogger could benefit from being “punished” by an abbess.  So I’ve promoted myself to abbess and handed down this punishment:  this unnamed blogger shall use the money she is saving by trying to live a simple life not to give to the poor or some other noble goal, but to lavish on her husband and herself for a time—expensive dinners out, fancy dinners at home, babysitting so they can go see the latest frivolous goofy movie, a spa treatment or two, even-- and see if that doesn’t help the situation, both in her family and in her own heart.

As Catholics, we are so fortunate to have the liturgical seasons--times of fasting and times of feasting--to balance our human selves that might tend toward one extreme or another.  It’s not always Lent, and it’s not always Eastertide.   We can do more penance than the church prescribes, but primarily with the help of careful and wise spiritual direction. 

There’s a famous story about St. Francis about a time when his disciples were arguing about whether it was proper to eat meat on Christmas Day—that year it fell on a Friday.  And Francis, took the raw meat and dragged it along the walls, saying, “It’s Christmas Day; even the walls should eat meat!”

I’m not sure if this post qualifies as a “review” of Kristin Lavransdatter, except to say that the book is such a part of my life’s fabric that I fairly often find myself comparing a situation in the novel to one in real life.  If you tackle this three-volume novel, I think you’ll find it well worth the effort, both for reading reasons and for its spiritual insights.

Have you read Kristin Lavransdatter? Do you agree or disagree that it is spiritually insightful?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Family-Friendly Friday: Voyage of the Dawn Treader Trailer

I had a post about the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books all set to publish this morning (with an aside about why are movies rarely as good as the book version?), when I happened upon the first sneak peek trailer of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third of the Chronicles of Narnia brought to life.

Special Narnia Sneak Peek » Life » Lifestyle —

I discovered the trailer at Melissa Wiley's excellent blog, often a source for great family-friendly fiction.  (She herself is author of the Martha and Charlotte books in the Little House series. )

Are you excited to see the newest Narnian adventure?  Do you think it will be as good as the book?

I'm not hoping for that--nothing could really match any of the Narnia Chronicles--but I do hope it is better than Prince Caspian movie version, which strayed so far from the book as to be almost unrecognizable.  We still enjoyed Prince Caspian at our house, and I consider it a "Narnian" movie, but was frustrated by how much is changed.  I hope that don't do that for Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  There's so much good story there the filmmakers don't need to change a thing.  I admire greatly Michael Apted, director of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for his excellent Amazing Grace and the moving and groundbreaking "Up" series"Up" following the lives of a group of English people every seven years.  So I have to confess I have pretty high hopes for this one.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Words Wednesday Poem: Mary's Girlhood by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

This is that blessed Mary, pre-elect
God's Virgin. Gone is a great while, and she
Dwelt young in Nazareth of Galilee.
Unto God's will she brought devout respect,
Profound simplicity of intellect,
And supreme patience. From her mother's knee
Faithful and hopeful; wise in charity;
Strong in grave peace; in pity circumspect.

So held she through her girlhood; as it were
An angel-water'd lily, that near God
Grows and is quiet. Till, one dawn at home,
She woke in her white bed, and had no fear
At all,--yet wept till sunshine, and felt aw'd:
Because the fulness of the time was come. 


Feel free to share any poems or "novel" quotes in the comments!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teen Tuesday: A Good Laugh for Teens and Others

Okay, I freely admit this is not a teen review or even a good link, but it is a good laugh, always important on a Tuesday.  I think teens and lots of others who are not teens will enjoy this.  What are some grammatical gaffes that really bother you?

HT to Rebecca at Faith & Family Live!

Friday, June 11, 2010

What Are You Reading? Feature: Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB

This week's Catholic Post Book Page features a new article series called, "What Are you Reading?"  Each month, we'll highlight the reading of someone, almost always from within the Diocese of Peoria, who shares a love of books and reading.

Our inagural "Reader" is Sister Catherine Cleary, and I've had a delightful e-correspondence with her in preparing this month's feature.  I look forward to meeting her someday soon!  Thanks, Sister Catherine, for sharing your selections and your love of books. 

Who:  Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB
Spiritual director and retreat leader, Benet House Retreat Center
St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island

Why I Love Reading:

My love for reading developed as I was growing up with my nine sisters and brothers on a farm between Gridley and El Paso, Ill.  Both of my parents read a lot and read to us. Saturday afternoon was synonymous with a trip to catechism and to the library.  My father would often quote a line of poetry and challenge us to finish it and name both author and poem.  The line usually fit the circumstances of our lives at the time.

My childhood reading experience was excellent preparation for Benedictine life, since the Rule of Benedict directs us to read Scripture, to do Lectio Divina and encourages us to read and to study as part of our spiritual life. 

I love reading because books can take me to another century, another country, and/or to new areas of interest. Words can transform my day, my thinking and my attitude from the ho- hum to a new level of beauty. 

What I’m Reading Now:

­*Mildred Walker’s Winter Wheat tells the story of Ellen Webb, growing up on a desperately poor wheat ranch in Montana in the 1940s. One can see the ruggedness of the land, feel the cold and heat, taste the blowing dust and experience the joy and the pain of Ellen's relationships.

*Three Cups of Tea, Cups of Tea highlights social entrepreneur Gregory Mortensen’s mission to promote peace by bringing education to children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The writing is lively, but book’s chief value is showing how one person's passion and sacrifice can make an enormous difference.

*Finally, Hemlock at Vespers by Peter Tremayne, is a collection of mystery short stories, and an enjoyable way to learn about the culture and history of 7th century Ireland.  Sister Fidelma, a qualified attorney, travels about the country solving cases, much to the dismay and surprise of the men of the Church, her own monastery, and the legal profession.

My Favorite Book:

It is difficult to pick one favorite book, but one is Thomas Merton’s Dialogues with Silence; here his writing echoes the conversations of his inner spirit, the world around him and his dialogue with God. What appeals to me most is Merton’s honesty, his sheer truthfulness about his inner self, his seeking his true self and his abandoning his false self.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Word on Fire: Summer Fiction for the Catholic Reader

This is my Catholic Post column for this month:

Summer and fiction just seem to go together, as vacations and summer schedules provide time for catching up on the latest. But what are some good reads for the Catholic reader?

When I say “Catholic reader,” I mean not just reading Catholic authors or works with Catholic themes, but reading whatever we do mindfully in light of our Catholic faith.

Here are some choices:

* Angel Time. Anne Rice is the Charles Dickens of 21st century novels; like Dickens, she writes lush, complicated novels designed to move people. Some years back, Rice reverted to her Catholic faith and resolved to write only for the Lord. (Before this, she was most famous for her vampire novels, like Interview with the Vampire). Since then, she’s written two well-regarded novels on the life of Christ, and a moving spiritual autobiography, Called out of Darkness.

Her latest is a “metaphysical thriller” that is really two novels; one the life of an efficient contract killer, Toby O’Dare, and his anguished relationship to his Catholic faith; the other is a time-travel mystery about the Jews of 13th century England. You may wonder, “How does that work?” but it truly does.

Angel Time isn’t for everyone. I’m not a big fan of crime or thriller novels, particularly because of the over-realistic depictions of violence. The violence here is intense, but like Dickens, her novel is masterfully moving.

* Theophilos is the newest novel by Catholic artist and writer Michael O’Brien O’Brien’s style is poignant and spiritually sensitive. It takes some work to enter into the rhythm of the novel, but it is well worth it.

O’Brien imagines that the “Theophilos” mentioned in Luke’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles is his uncle and adoptive father. The novel consists of Theophilos’ journals and his “examinations” (interviews) with those who knew Jesus, as his Greek skepticism gives way to wonder and awe in the face of the early Christian’s firsthand accounts and their love for one another:

“What happened here is so remarkable that the minor blurring of the eyes, the small embellishments, are easily picked out. What remains is astounding. I write this, and then my mind springs awake. What have I just written! What remains is astounding only if it actually happened. Thus I am caught in a fracture between the unbelievable story and the characteristics of fact.”

The novel is beautifully written and conveys a sense of urgency about the events of Scripture.

One classic:

*In This House of Brede is Rumer Godden’s best-known and probably her finest novel,. Brede tells the story of a cloistered order of Benedictine nuns, modeled after the Stansbury Abbey in England. The novel starts, and focuses on, on Phillipa Talbot’s transformation from London career woman to cloistered nun, but really follows the ebb and flow of life in a monastery and the fascinating personalities who inhabit it.

I’m a huge kidlit (children’s literature) fan, and fortunately for younger readers there are a lot of Catholic and catholic (as in universal) selections out there.

*The Midnight Dancers. If your teens (and pre-teens) haven’t read Regina Doman’s fairy tale novels, run, do not walk, to your nearest bookseller and purchase her Fairy Tale novels. There are four so far (a fifth, Alex O’Donnell and the 40 Cyber Thieves is due out this month), but if you have to choose only one, pick The Midnight Dancers, a retelling of “The 12 Dancing Princesses. “ It might appear a girls book, but boys will enjoy the martial arts skills of the main character; all readers will enjoy the appeal to truth and beauty.

*The Ranger’s Apprentice series by Australian author John Flanagan is an fantastic series about a teenager who becomes apprentice to a ranger, a kind of intelligence officer for this England-like kingdom. These are action-filled novels that appeal to boys mostly (but girls also love) and effortlessly inspire natural way virtues like perseverance, honesty, and faithfulness. The first is The Ruins of Gorlan; and The Kings of Clonmel, 8th in the series, was released just last month. Read away!

For younger readers, and family read-alouds:

*The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden, is available in a newly released edition by Bethlehem Books. Sadly, most of Godden’s children’s novels are out of print, but they are suffused with a bit of sadness and a sense of wonder and magic of the everyday. The Kitchen Madonna is a story of a boy’s work to make his Ukrainian housekeeper feel less homesick.

* Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink. It wouldn’t be summer in our house without plenty of Carol Ryrie Brink, a prolific 20th century author most famous for Caddie Woodlawn. Baby Island tells the hilarious exploits of two preteen sisters shipwrecked with a group of babies. It’s like “Survivor” without the angst, and a whole lot more fun.

* For those GK Chesterton fans, Nancy Carpentier Brown’s The Father Brown Reader is an adaptation of four of Chesterton’s Father Brown mystery stories for younger readers. A sequel to it is due out later this year.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Words Wednesday: Quote from "Till We Have Faces"

I'm not giving anything away from the plot of C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces to quote from near the end.   After all, the novel is a retelling of a well-known Greek myth, and follows fairly closely the story, though with interesting and beautiful twists. This quote from when Orual finishes her story, is the passage from which the book derives its name:

"The complaint was the answer.  To have heard myself making it was to be answered.  Lightly men talk of saying what they mean.  Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, 'Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's the whole art and joy of words.'

A glib saying.  When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer.  Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?  How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"

Any great quotes you'd like to share from books you are reading?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Teen Tuesday: A Good Resource for Tween and Teen Friendly Books

This week, I want to share a gem of a blog that I discovered recently that is a great source for books and authors for tweens.

Treasure Chest for Tweens is by a Catholic mom, a former middle school teacher, who reads and reviews a range of books, from specifically Catholic fiction to popular fiction.

What I really like about Treasure Chest for Tweens are the "safety flags," 3 flags for "read with abandon," (for the age group specified), down to the "Da Vinci pile, " (cute) for books not worth picking up.  She also points out books that are girl or boy friendly, and also books that are for older tweens or younger tweens.

Here is her review of The Penderwicks, long one of our family favorites.

Here's also one review about a book by crime writer Andrew Klavan; I discovered this book and the sequel through Treasure Chest and they are just as good as promised.

For parents who don't have time to read everything that their kids read (and isn't that all of us? I'm sad to admit), and either want to encourage strong readers to read good healthy fiction, or encourage reluctant readers to discover great authors, Treasure Chest for Tweens is a great site.

I don't always agree wholeheartedly with her reviews; I can think of a few authors she loves and I don't, and even some content issues she doesn't catch, but mostly they are literary quibbles than anything else.  I appreciate this great site, and I hope you have a chance to visit the site and search for some good books  there.

Do you have any favorite blogs or websites to discover new authors for your tweens or teens?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Review: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

I love books that make me cry, and I love books that make me laugh. The Loser Letters, the new book by Mary Eberstadt, made me laugh out loud on almost every page; that's why we're reading it next month at the Catholic Post Book Group. Go get it now so you'll be ready. You'll thank me, I promise.

But Till We Have Faces is one of those that make me cry.

A lesser-known novel of C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, told from the perspective of a sister of Psyche. I believe C.S. Lewis considered it his finest novel, and though our family is completely enamored of all things "Narnia," (the books for which he is most famous these days) I have to agree.

I have read this book multiple times over the years, and I can't recall a time it didn't bring tears with it. I read it once as a newlywed while traveling with my husband on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. I vividly remember being on the ferry, with the water all blue and shimmery around me, and there I was, crying profusely as I read, saying over and over to my husband, "This is so beautiful." And he, poor husband, having grown up with only brothers, learned a little more about women that day.

Almost from the time I open up this book, my eyes start to well up. 

There is something so powerful in Greek mythology, and Lewis taps into this. Lewis called mythology "good dreams" from a culture that understood the sacred but had no revelation from God.  Mythology is a way to represent the longing for love and the transcendent universal in all cultures, and can be a kind of prefiguring of the truth of Christ.

In the myth of Cupid & Psyche, Psyche's older sisters and evil and jealous of Cupid's love for her.  In the novel, Orual, an older sister, is the narrator, and she is not jealous of Cupid's love, but possessive of Psyche and anything that would separate them, in particular any kind of faith.  When Psyche is not killed as Orual has thought by being offered to the gods, but instead claims to be married to Cupid, Orual  pleads with Psyche to abandon her love:

"Oh Psyche, ... you're so far away.  Do you even hear me?  I can't reach you.  Oh, Psyche, Psyche! You loved me once....come back.  What have we to do with gods and wonder and all these cruel, dark things?  We're women, aren't we?  Mortals.  Oh, come back to the real world.  Leave all that alone. Come back where we were happy."

Lewis comes back to this theme again and again in this work; I can think of a character in The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters who are possessive in spiritually unhealthy ways.  There are many other themes explored in Till We Have Faces, such as friendship, beauty, powerful women, the Greek search for truth and beauty leading inevitably to Who created them.

I'm only kidding a little bit here when I say I'm shocked (shocked!) to find that not everyone loves this novel as I do. Some years back I proposed this book as a parish book club read, and it was a big fat failure.  I can't remember one person among those faithful, lovely people, who loved it or even liked it.  So clearly it's not for everyone.

But if you do enjoy Greek mythology or are a fan of anything by C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces is a great read.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Family-Friendly Friday: If at First You Don't Fricassee . . .

Do you read together as a a family?

One of the great joys of reading books out loud as a family is the shorthand that develops.  A book everyone, or nearly everyone, in a family has read or the whole family has listened to aloud, is fodder for great family memories.

One of the most hilarious of these for our family relates  to Caddie Woodlawn, one of our favorite novels from one of our favorite authors, Carol Ryrie Brink.  Caddie Woodlawn is about a pioneer family in Wisconsin; I like to describe it as a funnier and more energetic version of the Little House books.

In the novel, Caddie's little brother finds it difficult to memorize even his short little poem ("If at first you don't succeed, try, try again...(a poem you can find in Favorite Poems Old and New....)
 for a school recitation. His older brother taunts him with "If at first you don't fricassee, fry, fry a hen" until he freezes at the recitation and recites the "fry a hen" version instead of the original. The teacher is mad until Caddie and the guilty brother explain the situation, and all's well that ends well.

Some years back, halfway through a long drive to visit my parents (sans husband, with children), I thought it an excellent time to rig up our portable DVD player to let the kids watch a movie. It was intensely frustrating to get the straps "just so" to make my little movie critics in the back reasonably happy with the set-up, and I have to admit I was doing it with more than the usual amount of "irritable monologue."  If you're a parent, you know what I mean by "irritable monologue."

When it was all in place and movie was about to start, and I could continue driving the long hours onward east, my  oldest daughter said encouragingly, "See, Mom, you didn't give up and you tried different things and you made it work!! Good for you!" Pause. Then, in her then sweet 9-year-old voice, "If at first you don't fricassee, fry, fry a hen!"

Giggles all around.  We still like that expression.

What are your favorite book lines from a book your whole family has read or knows well?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Summer Fiction Month!

As I think you'll be able to tell from this month, fiction is my passion and first love when it comes to reading.  I'm a Catholic reader, in that I am a Catholic and love Catholic fiction, old and new, but I'm also a catholic reader in that I read and enjoy lots of different kinds of fiction.

My biggest problem was trying to figure out how to narrow things down here.  Specifically I want to organize and structure a month of talking about books from a Catholic and a catholic perspective, and inspiring discussion about these topics.

Here's what I've come up with, loosely based on the  days of the week:

Teen Tuesday:  "Kitlit" or children's literature, is one of my passions, both because I have children, but also because in a busy lifestyle, children's and young adult fiction can be less demanding and just plain more fun than the adult stuff.  Here I plan to feature great young adult fiction that teens and adults can enjoy.

Words Wednesday:  This day I hope to share some great "quotes" from Catholic (and catholic) poetry and fiction, and invite you to do the same.

Family-Friendly Friday:  This day we'll talk about books that the whole family can enjoy.  Here is also where we'll share great ideas for family summer travel, like audiobook versions of great novels.

Weekend Review:  On Saturday and/or Sunday, I'll post a review of a great Catholic novel and invite your comments.  I hope we can all inspire each other to discover new authors and re-discover worthy classics, whether from last decade or several centuries back.

Sprinkled occasionally through the month (Mondays or Thursdays perhaps?  those days is looking a little lonely right now)  will be ideas and links about reading--how do we approach reading as Catholics?  Does the author's life have any impact on his/her fiction?  And should that influence how we read a work?

As always, I invite your comments and ideas.