Saturday, December 10, 2016

My Journey Through War and Peace: Explorations of a Young Filmmaker, Feminist, and Spiritual Seeker

My Journey Through War and Peace: Explorations of a Young Filmmaker, Feminist, and Spiritual Seeker by Melissa Burch   208 Pages

Melissa Burch’s story is based on her experiences as a freelance journalist during the Afghan War. When she was only 21 years old, Burch, and her cameraman, was on her to become the first journalist to capture the mujahedeen rebellion against Soviet invaders on tape.

The book opens with Burch sleeping a dirt floor with seven heavily armed Afghan soldiers, ranging from 19 to 20 years old. The tales of journey through Afghanistan will cause the hair on your arms to stand on end. The relentless heat, hunger and fear never left her. The hiding from the Russian soldiers was perilous and terrifying.  She must have covered the entire country either on horseback, motorbike or foot.  I felt her pain as she described a march through the rocky, mountains with Afghan soldiers

There was on anecdote where she and he soldiers were hiding when the Soviets were passing by. They had no sooner left the safety of the deserted compound, than it was blown up. 

One of the things that surprised me about Burch’s time is Afghanistan was that she was never raped. A lone woman traveling with many men had to be vulnerable. Not to say that she didn’t take up with one of the leaders, but it seemed more mutual consent.

My favorite parts of the book were after her return to the States. Maybe it was because I could relate more to that experience.

I approached Burch’s memoir with a bit of negativity. Earlier this year I had tried to read Malala Yousfzai’s I am Malala. I was prepared to be pulled into to that story, but I didn’t past page 50. I was a little afraid that I might experience the same issue with My Journey Through War and Peace: Explorations of a Young Filmmaker, Feminist, and Spiritual Seeker. But from the opening scene that I described earlier, I was hooked. Although places were a little choppy, but it is riveting.

I give My Journey Through War and Peace: Explorations of a Young Filmmaker, Feminist, and Spiritual Seeker 5 out of 5 stars.

Beauty and Belief

Beauty and Belief: Aesthetics and Religion in Victorian Literature by Hilary Fraser, 233 pages

During the nineteenth century, and particularly in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, traditional religion came under pressure from many sides, especially developments in science, criticism, and philosophy.  Partially as a response, religious believers sought an "alignment of imagination and the transcendent" - finding a new appreciation of beauty as a pathway to God.  This emerged out of the Romantic movement, particularly Wordsworth and Coleridge, and proceeded to be reconceived in turn by the theologizing Romantics Newman and Keble, the moralising Romantics Ruskin and Arnold, and finally the decadent Romantics Pater and Wilde.  Hopkins occupies a unique place, chronologically last, recapitulating many of the views and preoccupations of the others while remaining distinctly himself.

For the Tractarians, poetry was necessary to express the mysteries of God - poetry spoke truth because reality itself is somehow poetic, and the means by which we recognize beauty is intimately related to the means by which we recognize truth.  As Fraser guides us through the Victorian period, art shifts from being a handmaid of religion to religion being a form of art to art being the highest form of religion.  Art likewise revealed truth for Ruskin and Arnold, but for them the relevant truth was primarily ethical and therefore political rather than theological, while Pater and Wilde were more interested in the truth of beauty than the beauty of truth.  Fraser explores this development, and other related matters, in detail, with considerable care and apparent sympathy for his subjects.  The reader is left not only wishing that the book reached back to properly cover Wordsworth and Coleridge, but also that it continued on to consider twentieth century figures such as Chesterton and the Inklings.

Friday, December 9, 2016


Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill.  307 pages.

So you think that the Victorian era is romantic?  Aren't those clothes just dreamy and swoon-tastic?

Well, there are lot of things that are swoon-tastic.  As the book says, "Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there's arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn't question.) "

Never crass, this book completely explains what it would be like to live as a woman in the Victorian era.  Completely with images from Victorian publications, this is an eye-opening look at topic such as "what to wear," "where to relieve yourself," and "what to expect on your wedding night."

This is one of those books where you find yourself laughing, even while you're learning some pretty interesting information.  It's also the kind of nonfiction where you find yourself feeling grateful that you live in the current age.  There were some things that I knew, but many that I didn't, and which actually gave me a lot of insight on just how tough the women in this era were.  The illustrations are funny, although some are a bit sobering, as well. The author has a great writing style which makes some of the things quite funny, but she's got a sharp wit and doesn't shy away from uncomfortable topics. Lest you think the author made up some of the things in the book, it's very well-researched (so there's no avoiding the facts of some of the, well, facts of life in the Victorian age).

Thursday, December 8, 2016

From September 11, 1967, to March 29, 1978, comedienne Carol Burnett along with her regular cast of Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner (Tim Conway, although a frequent guest star, didn’t become a regular until Season 9 [1975]), beamed into homes across America, causing howls of laughter.

Carol’s new book, In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox, takes readers back to those days, when comedy---and the variety show format---reigned supreme. In order to write this memoir, Carol re-watched ass 276 episodes of the Carol Burnett Show.

She explains how the show came to be, how it was bounced around through three different time slots, how the character skits developed.  She didn’t leave out anything. She discusses those who worked diligently and tirelessly behind the scenes, the reoccurring sketches, the movie parodies, the guest stars, the Q&As, and the list goes on.

This is an easy read and fun read. It can be read at any point. Say you couldn’t wait to read about Jim Nabors or how Mama’s Family came about. It’s easy to ski ahead and indulge yourself.

Reliving favorite memories with Carol about a favorite guest star, a hilarious sketch, or, my personal favorite, the Went With the Wind parody of the movie Gone With the Wind  is like watching old home movies. You savor the moments, relish the laughter, smile at the disappointments, and generally just feel good when you flip the pages and take a turn down memory lane.  

Carol, thanks for letting us relive the memories with you; it was a hoot!  I give In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox 5 out of 5 stars.

Crooked Heart

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans  Audio Book – 8 1/3 hours  Book 284 pages

When 10 year-old Noel is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he ends up living in St. Albans with Vera Sedge, a women drowning in debts and dependents.  Noel's got no family left, and no real connection with Vera. However, Vera, always looking for new opportunities to make money, sees a gem in Noel. Together, they cook up an idea, and as Vera starts to make a profit, Noel regains his interest in life. However, it's a dangerous way of life.

There is nothing like a war to bring out the entrepreneurial spirit in people.   Shameful profiteering made funny by two unlikely bilkers, a brilliant 10 year old orphan named Noel Bostock and a 36 year old gal, named Vee Sedge,  who is down on her luck and up to her eyeballs in debt and not above doing whatever con it takes to get by,  .     Noel was raised by his eccentric former suffragette godmother Mattie, who despised authority and found education to be an embraceable concept to experience rather than observe.   Hence, Noel grew up very worldly, socialized and well informed as opposed to other children his age who tended to have a more street-wise grasp and disdain for education in any form.   We know already with these characters good things are coming.    Bombs keep dropping, WWII England is undergoing Hitler’s Blitzkrieg and poor Noel is evacuated with a bunch of other children to the suburbs to keep them safe from the bombs in London.    Bullies abound,  it’s so hard to be understood when you are 10 years old, speak fluent Latin and find the behavior of other children your age uninteresting and vulgar.   Noel is smarter than most of the adults he comes in to contact with in the story.   Vee is trying to support herself, her grown son Donald, and her mother, who became an invalid when at 17 Vee told her mother she was pregnant by a married man.   Her mother who was standing at the stove cooking at the time, fainted hitting her head and concussing at the news.    She was rendered an invalid (or just gave up doing anything anyway after that) and Vee feeling it her fault takes care of her mother out of guilt waiting on her hand and foot.   Enter an evacuee (Noel) and an opportunity to make a little something from taking the poor lad in for Vee.    Always seeing dollar signs Vee sets the example when she sees possibilities in the tragedy of the war to make a little money by going door to door in neighborhoods a bus ride away, collecting financial donations for the war effort to build Spitfires, or for Widows, or for orphans and needless to say putting the money into her own pocket.    Vee goes for the better con taking Noel along having him limp and look shell shocked.    Together they come up with more lucrative cons but as hard times continue roguish brutes come out to prey.  It seems everyone is running some type of scam or just being scandalous as food is rationed, people are hiding in bomb shelters and dodging destruction.   Rats aren’t the only vermin on the streets.   A good read, I enjoyed it.   A sweet treat to find humor in WWII.

The Little House Books - Volume One

The Little House Books - Volume One by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  648 pages.

This is the first volume of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and includes Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek (in publishing order).  I found this book on the shelves in Fiction and realized that while I had read and re-read all of the books when I was growing up, it had been a really long time since I had revisited them.

It's interesting to read the books as an adult, with the knowledge of American history.  When I was a child, I was fascinated by the stories and the people, and all of the descriptions of Laura's life.  I didn't think too much about her parents' homesteading, or what they thought of the Indians they encountered.

However, reading these stories now has a different flavor.  Understanding how much hard work it took to homestead, and the amount of just hard, grinding work it could be, makes me see these stories a little differently.  It's still easy for me to envision the people and places (even without any illustrations) and I enjoy the stories.  However, it's interesting to read, for example, about Laura's Pa's feeling about going out West and how it's land for the white men to settle (and the Indians to move off of).  It's sobering to read the stories now, with my knowledge of American history and the shameful treatment of the native people here.  Laura's Pa is more tolerant of the Indians, although Laura's Ma is less so, and it's a little cringeworthy to read some of that now.

However, I can appreciate the stories for what they are, and for when they were written.  This edition, published by The Library of America, has a great Appendix which contains the text of a few speeches Laura Ingalls Wilder gave, along with a chronology of the family, which contains a lot of details.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness  Audio Book:  4 hours, 1 min.   Book: 216 pages

"The monster showed up after midnight.  As they do." However, this isn't the monster that Conor has been expecting and is, instead, something ancient and wild. And, it was something very dangerous from Conor.

What a haunting story!   I don’t mean haunting in the sense that something scary is going to jump out at you,(although it kind of does)  but, haunting in the sense that once you start the story you continue to think about it even when you are not reading it.  The story takes place in the United Kingdom.     Conor O’Malley, a teenager dealing with his mother’s deteriorating health due to cancer has a full-on hard life.    He’s in denial of just how sick his mother really is and the bullies at school tease him relentlessly about his mother’s condition (she has lost all of her hair from the chemo treatments) and beat him up so often he just comes to accept it as part of getting through his school day.   His grandmother has such an overbearing manner he hates her visits to help out and loathes staying at her house when his mother has  to go in for treatments at the hospital because his grandmother doesn’t allow him to touch any of her things and she is anal about keeping things neat and clean.   His father left Conor and his mother six years prior to marry another woman with whom he now has a baby, also they  moved to America.   Conor’s father’s new wife is very possessive and tries to keep him from Conor and his Mom.   His Dad has a very blasé attitude toward Conor, he doesn’t really get him.   Conor asked his Dad if he could live with him and his new wife but his father won’t take him.    The poor kid has all this stuff going on in his life to deal with and then the giant Yew tree outside in the cemetery they live by starts walking over to talk to him.   The Mystic Isles have stories of the Green Man in their culture (and fairies, leprechauns, etc) .     So is the Green Man there to help?    Why is a giant Yew tree walking around and talking to Conor O’Malley?    Has he finally got a little muscle on his side against all the bullies?    Wait till you find out.    You won’t forget this story.

The Wonder

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.  304 pages.

Tourists flock to the cabin of 11 year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be fed on manna from heaven, existing for weeks on only a few sips of water.  Lib Wright, a veteran nurse off of Florence Nightingale's Crimea campaign, is employed to watch this girl and observe if she is, indeed, a miracle.  Lib doesn't observe Anna partaking of any food -- but how much longer can that last?

I have enjoyed other books by this author, and was happy to (finally) get my hands on this newest book of hers.  I really enjoyed the first-person perspective because I felt I was learning things and experiencing them right along with the main character.  It's interesting to read along as she goes from having assumptions about the people around her to her unfolding awareness of what is really happening.  This book has a steady pace that's akin to a thriller, where keep turning the pages because you aren't sure what's going to happen (and can't wait to find out). The story is also an insight into faith, and how faith can compel people to make impossible choices.

Covenant and Communion

Covenant and CommunionCovenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Scott Hahn, 196 pages

In Covenant and Communion, Scott Hahn seeks to explicate key features of Joseph Ratzinger's lifetime of theological work, both before and after becoming Pope.  Hahn's essay has three primary areas of investigation - his view of theology, his approach to Scripture, and his understanding of the nature of the Church.  These three are, of course, interrelated - indeed, it is Hahn's theme that, for Benedict, the three are, or should be, entirely interdependent.  Theology must begin, and constantly refer back to, the deposit of faith.  Scripture cannot be properly appreciated or understood separate from the creeds and liturgy of the Church.  The Church is rooted in and renewed by her encounter with the Word in Scripture and sacrament, her understanding formed by the contributions of her faithful theologians.

Hahn stresses that Benedict's work does not represent a retreat from modernity.  To the contrary, Benedict's work flows out of the Second Vatican Council.  Far from being an obscurantist flight from the world, it is Benedict's claim that his emphasis on continuity rather than rupture, faith instead of suspicion, communion rather than private interpretation, possesses greater explanatory power than the alternatives.