Sunday, June 17, 2012

For Father's Day: Great Dads in Fiction (A Re-Post)

I'm re-running this post from 2010 because I had an idea to write a post like this for Father's Day, and then I realized that I had already!  I thought it was worthwhile sharing again, and I'd love to hear your favorite dads in fiction.  Next year, I resolve to write a post for Mother's Day on great moms in fiction, but I suspect that would be even harder to write.

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."

(Mr. Woodhouse looks kind of scary in this photo, but he's really dear in the book, as well as in this excellent 2009 BBC adaptation of the novel.)

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. (For our family's literary pilgrimage to the places that inspired the books, you can read all about it here.)  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 16, 2012

A Literary Pilgrimage--Jane Austen

My account of our literary pilgrimage to Minnesota to see Betsy-Tacy sights proved so popular that I resolved to try to post more about my favorite authors and places.  I'm not going to post photos of England and Jane Austen sights today, but I do want to let Midwest readers know about a great play adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, since in my mind it qualifies as a literary pilgrimage.

Some years back, I had discovered a great Jane Austen fan blog called Austenblog. Margaret Sullivan writes there are about Jane Austen books, movies, adaptations, and spin-off books.  If you are a die-hard Janeite like me, it's really a lot of fun to get updates on Austen-related things.

Last year, through Austenblog, I found out about an adaptation of Sense & Sensibility at Northlight Theatre in the Chicago suburbs.  My older daughter and I went up to see the play--wonderful--and so enjoyed our time up there.  I think because I got on Northlight's mailing list, I received a postcard this spring about Lifeline Theater's production of Pride & Prejudice.  I resolved to take some combination of our family to see it in the spring, but life was too busy, and we never made it.  Finally one day a few weeks back I noticed the postcard on the fridge and thought, "Oh, we wanted to see that!"  Fortunately, the play was extended through July.  I was able to get tickets for myself and my daughters, and now that we've seen it I know why.

The actors were charming, the story was true to life, and we had a very fun day seeing a 4 p.m. showing one Sunday recently.  I highly, highly recommend seeing the play if you get the chance.  It's still around for a few more weeks.

So I've already described two pilgrimages already (the trip to see the play versions of Sense & Sensibility, and Pride & Prejudice). In another post I will share with you some photos from England and Jane Austen sites.

But I would like to end this post, for those who have not  had enough about Jane Austen already (how is that even possible?).  Please take a moment to view these two short and wonderful videos....

The first is a utterly charming video by a New Zealand singer, Holly Christina, of her song, "Dear Jane Austen."

Ashamed true confession here: when I first watched the video, on Austenblog, I left a comment saying that the non-Regency dress worn by Holly was distracting to me.  But the song was super catchy, and the singer and the entire video could NOT be any more appealing.

Even more ashamed true confessions:  the very singer, Holly Christina, sent me a very kind e-mail afterward the comment (she had found me through the explaining that she lives in New Zealand, and it was nigh impossible to find the right sort of Regency dress, but she really loves Jane Austen and hoped that I liked the video despite that.  I so meant to e-mail her back apologizing and saying how much I dearly loved the video, but I only remember at strange times, like while I'm out running or  elsewhere and not near a computer.   I also wanted to offer the sewing service of my teenager daughter, who made herself a Regency dress from a pattern, and I'm sure would love to travel to New Zealand and make one for Holly.  At least it's nice to imagine that she could!

In any case, I never sent Holly Christina a message back, and so this becomes my blog apology, for all the world to see.  Holly, your video is delightful, you are gracious, and I look forward to even more great music from you in the future.

Finally, here is another great video put together by Margaret Sullivan and some others as a Henry Tilney spoof of the Old Spice commercials.  Favorite line: "I'm asking you to dance, unlike some gentlemen who refuse to dance. I love to dance, and you are handsome enough to tempt me."  Also LOVE that Henry Tilney has a puppy:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Great Kids Book: The 7 Habits of Happy Kids by Sean Covey

In my occasional series of highlighting great picture books that are worth "having," not just reading, here's another "great kids book":

As I mentioned in my review of The Temperament God Gave Your Kids, I am a big fan of "numbers" books--the 7 Habits, the 5 Love Languages.  There's something about categorizing personality types, productivity and self-improvement that I find irresistible.   It just helps me understand these kind of concepts better, as well as put them into practice.

High on the list of these books is The 7 Habits of Happy Kids by Sean Covey, son of Stephen Covey, who brought the world the many 7 Habits books.  My favorite "7 Habits" book for grown-ups, not surprisingly, is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, though I have certainly read quite a few of the series at one time or another.

But truly, if you want a great distillation of the "7 Habits," as well as teaching certain concepts/virtues to yourself or your children in a relatable way, nothing beats The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.

In the book, Sean Covey creates the sylvan community of "7 Oaks" populated with cutesy (but not too cutesy) animal characters like Goob Bear, Jumper Rabbit and Sophie Squirrel. (Stacy Curtis provides the charming illustrations).  Each of the 7 Habits is illustrated in a story featuring several of the animal characters.  For "Have a Plan" (which corresponds to the Covey habit "Begin with the End in Mind"), Goob Bear plans carefully how he will spend his lemonade-stand earnings, and Jumper Rabbit does not.  Jumper blows all his money on junky toys and candy, while Goob buys the bug-collecting kit he previously spotted, as well as some other well-planned treats.

We've read The 7 Habits of Happy Kids many times at our house, both as a group and and individually.  I put it out from time to time so kids can peruse it again.  We always come away with fresh insights.  At one time, though my now-aging children deny it, we had a song to go along with the 7 Habits that I found very catchy and endearing.  Even if our song didn't stick, I'm hoping the message of the 7 Habits did.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Meet a Reader: Lee Hall

You may notice that the blog (and the book page in the print Catholic Post), has something of a sports theme going this month.  I've reviewed Alberto Salazar's powerful memoir, 14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death and Life.  Also this month on the book page, and here, “Meet a Reader” features local sportscaster Lee Hall. 

Hall not just a local on-air personality (at WEEK-TV), but also a tireless champion of the St. Jude Memphis-to-Peoria Run, which over the years has raised more than $22 million for St. Jude and its Peoria affiliate.   Hall has been part of the Run for 25 years, and shows that he is not just a “reader,” but a writer, having written--as a labor of love--the recent Running for Their Lives: The St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run.

Running for Their Lives is a thorough account all about the Run and its many personalities, interspersed with stories of patients and their families.   Hall says that the annual August 465-mile, four-day run is “part athletic endurance event, part summer camp, and part encounter group.”  It’s a lot of ground to cover, and Hall manages to share stories ranging from touching to silly about run personalities, St. Jude patients & their families who touch lives forever, some of whom go onto become longtime St. Jude runners. 

Hall’s dedication, like those of all St. Jude Runners, is heartfelt and deserves our praise and support, as Former Peoria Mayor Jim Maloof writes in his foreword to Running for Their Lives.  Maloof himself is the original St. Jude champion, since he brought the St. Jude affiliate to Peoria many years ago.

My thanks to Lee for being such a great "Reader" this month!

Meet a Reader:  Lee Hall

 How you know me:  

I have been Sports Director at WEEK-TV since 1988, where I started as an intern in 1984.   I’m also in the IHSA Network, where I do play-by-play and sideline reporting. 

I’m a member of Blessed Sacrament Church in Morton, where my four children have all attended and played sports, so many people may have seen me in your parish gym at one time or another.   

Why I love reading:
You might was as well ask why I like breathing. Reading has been a huge part of my life since I was a young boy. My Mom & Dad both grew up during the Depression and didn't get as much education as they would have liked, so they encouraged me to read and study. They didn't have to push too much on the reading part. I loved reading about Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln and other real-life heroes. Non-fiction and biographies continue to dominate my interests.

What I'm reading now: 

I am currently reading a couple of sports books: Landry's Boys: An Oral History of a Team and an Era by Peter Golenbock and Where's Harry?: Steve Stone Remembers 25 Years with Harry Caray by Steve Stone and Barry Rozner.

Landry's Boys is a history of the Dallas Cowboys organization. I have been a fan since the Roger Staubach days and find the behind-the-scenes fascinating.  I love Where's Harry? because I miss Harry Caray terribly.  He made baseball games into an event.

I recently finished The Kennedy Detail: JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence by Gerald Blaine, Lisa McCubbin and Clint Hill.  Anything Kennedy, Lincoln, or Civil War related is right up my alley.

I also read from Jesus Calling everyday. Its daily readings are Scripture-based, but written in modern English. I happened upon the book while trying to market my own book, Running for Their Lives, and it has changed my life!

My favorite books:

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of my favorite books of all time. It documents how President Lincoln formed his rivals for the Republican nomination into a wartime cabinet, convincing them to put their personal interests aside for the country’s best interests. If only today’s politicians could do the same!

Another favorite is Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer, chronicling the story of a college graduate from a wealthy family who turns his back on that lifestyle to live off the land.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"14 Minutes": Life, Death, and Faith

Here is my column that appears in this weekend's print Catholic Post.  I write in my review how I liked it because I'm a runner, but this isn't just a book for runners--it's a book for people who like good books! 


Pop quiz:  Who created the following prayer?

Please, Mother, when I die, don’t let me be afraid.  Bring me straight to heaven to your son Jesus.

When I first read it, I thought, is that St. Therese, the Little Flower?  I’m pretty sure it’s not St. Francis, but it does sound a bit like him.  Maybe one of the obscure early child martyrs?

Wrong on all counts. It was a spontaneous prayer--repeated throughout his life-- by a child who had just witnessed something terrible-rescuers unsuccessfully try to revive a drowned boy.

That child grew up to be a regular person.  Okay, maybe not so regular—he’s Alberto Salazar, one of the finest distance runners ever, three-time winner of the New York Marathon and part of America’s glory days of running in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Salazar, with help from gifted sportswriter John Brant, writes about this prayer—and a whole lot more---in 14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life.  The “14 minutes” refers to how long Salazar was without a heartbeat after experiencing a massive heart attack in 2007.  14 Minutes chronicles that (and another) near-death experience, as well as his youth growing up as a Cuban-American immigrant, his dramatic running career, and current life as coach of the Nike Oregon Project, a training program for top distance runners.

14 Minutes isn’t by any stretch a “Catholic” book, and it isn’t an “America’s running glory days” book either, thought it has a lot about both.   Salazar is especially wary of being held up as a Catholic role model, but wants to share honestly his life experience and how much faith has been a part of his journey. 

Mid-book, he writes, “I am not trying to portray myself as a religious expert here, any more than I tried to make a political point when describing my father’s relationship with Castro; I’m simply relating my own experiences and interpretations.”

Instead, 14 Minutes is the memoir of someone who has lived through much, including: the excesses inherent in becoming a world-class athlete; the heartbreak of injuries and illness that cut his career short; family dysfunction and healing; depression and mental health issues; and a reflective Catholic faith. 

Salazar sees the hand of God in every part of his life, but writes, “You have to look hard and long for it and accept that most of the time the touch will remain ineffable.”

14 Minutes reveals a spiritually and emotionally mature Salazar, who looks back on his achievements and his mistakes with equal measure of humility and compassion.

My disclaimer here is that I am a runner, but that isn’t why I liked 14 Minutes so much.    Even though I’ve finished a marathon, all I wanted to do was finish, unlike Salazar, who confides to a close friend in college that he plans to set a world record in the marathon (and then does just that).   It’s clear from the earliest chapters that Salazar is in a different category than the rest of us, when it comes to running.

So while there aren’t training tips to be gleaned from 14 Minutes, readers will learn much about persistence, maturity and faith, all wrapped up in a great sports story.

As I’ve said many times before, I’m decidedly not a fan of the current trend of irreverent semi-fictional memoirs, often written by people far too young to be reflecting on their life “so far.”

But as Sir Walter Scott wrote, “There is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, but is a heroic poem of its sort, rhymed or unrhymed.”  A well-told memoir like 14 Minutes is a testimony to the heroic in one man’s life, and offers each reader a chance to reflect on the heroic is every person.

Friday, June 1, 2012

First, What Are You Reading? Volume 22 June 2012

Well, I completely and totally neglected to post "First, What Are You Reading?" on the first of the month.  I usually prepare these posts well in advance, but that just didn't happen in May.  I could offer many excuses, but the shortest and best of many is that I've been doing much more reading than writing lately.  

Even though I didn't write about what I'm reading before the first of the month, through the magic of blog dating, this post is dated June 1, so that I don't have to rename this, "Fifth, what are you Reading?"  That might get kind of confusing.  It's likely that e-mail subscribers to the post may think, "Why didn't I get this several days back?" since you will receive it, and read it on June 5.   This is why! 

So, without further ado, here are my answers to the four questions I ask on the first of each month:

first, what are you reading?

what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what's next on your list to read? 

As always, I hope you'll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?  

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by the super-popular and super-productive Michael Hyatt.

I actually found this book via Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt, who put up a link to the book on Facebook. It seemed like an interesting read, and I've heard lots of great things about Michael Hyatt over the years.  

Elsewhere, I've also been reading, and preparing to read aloud, many, many picture books that are retelling of classical myths.  I’m teaching two classes at a local “College for Kids” summer program, one being “Classics for Kids.”

What do you like best about them?

Hyatt has an great encouraging writing style, and there’s a lot of good information.  I especially felt great when reading suggestions I’ve already implemented.  And I definitely gleaned a lot of worthwhile tips for a re-design of my blog and increasing my "sphere of influence."

Classics for Kids is a meant to be a little bit of Greek, a little bit of Latin, and with luck, lots of fun. The kids are 4th to 7th grade, but I will be reading a “Classical Picture Book of the Day” each day to introduce the kids to a Greek or Roman myths, or classical concept.

You might think of picture books as “little kid” books, but they are great for all ages.   I’m very influenced on this by Cay Gibson, who wrote A Picture Perfect Childhood about the importance of reading and enjoying great picture books.

Cay ran a now-quiet yahoo group called “Literature Alive!” where moms, librarians and others and others talked about books for kids.  One year, she set up a picture book author “study,” one per week, and members would share their favorite books from each author.   The binder filled with the authors and books that we studied is still around the house.  I loved that year!  I only know Cay online, but someday I hope to meet her in person.  She’s really a kindred spirit and I am eternally grateful to her for her guidance and influence on me through the years.

Here are just a few of the Classical PBOD (picture books of the day) I’ll be reading:

The Trouble With Wishes by Diane Stanley (Narcissus)
Pandora by Robert Burleigh
King Midas and the Golden Touch by Charlotte Craft, (with wonderful illustrations by her mother, Kinuko Y. Craft)
Theseus and the Minotaur by Leonard Everett Fisher
What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras? By Julie Ellis

What do you like least about them?

Platform is subtitled, A Step-by-Step Guide for Anyone With Something to Say or Sell and it really outlines very concrete, specific steps to take to grow your online presence.  But I find some of these kinds of books, and Platform fits in this category, not as applicable to mere mortals like me, and especially for a mom whose main role (happily!) is taking care of a family.

I’m not, nor do I desire to be, a “huge name” blogger, nor do I have all the time he recommends to be a recognizable “brand” at this point in my life by following all his steps. At the same time, I do have a sphere of influence, starting with my own family, out to those I know personally (or, as we bloggers like to say, IRL –in real life), as well as those I know online and people who visit the blog.  Being aware of this, and being mindful of how one can have a big impact on others, is a helpful take-away from this book.

What’s next on your list to read?

Clearly, I’ve been doing a bit more reading than writing, so I’m going to try to remedy that.  But summer is also a great time for reading, I’ve got many books on the shelf for reading or re-reading, and I will be sharing lots more great books this summer.

So, what are you reading these days?  Any books you would like to share?