June 30, 2015

Fiction: A Church Refreshed: A dispatch from an American Catholic future — Dateline: Chicago, March 13, 2063

Song leader Sophia Santiago stood to the right of the altar of St. Gertrude Church in Chicago and invited those in the crowded pews and in folding chairs to greet their neighbors. “All are welcome,” she proclaimed. To the simple notes of a single piano, the parish choir and the congregation sang a sweet, lilting version of “Come to the Water” as liturgical dancers, altar servers, ministers of the word, parish chancellor Emma Okere and pastor Rev. Antonio Fitzgerald processed up the center aisle. The song filled the soaring interior of the 131-year-old structure. On a banner high behind the altar, in large, easily readable lettering, was a quotation from Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge?” This was one of thousands of celebrations across the globe marking 50 years of rejuvenation and renewal dating from the election of Pope Francis in 2013, popularly called “refreshment of the faith.”   “Prisoners of our past” Consider St. Gertrude and the rest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In 2013, St. Gertrude had been one of 356 parishes in the archdiocese, each with a church and one or more ancillary buildings, such as a rectory, a school and a former convent. Today, though, […]
June 24, 2015

Marina Abramovic’s page at artsy.net

I’m a fan of Marina Abramovic’s performance art. I wrote about it three years ago in a review of “The Lovers” which was the catalogue for the work that she and her partner at the time Ulay carried out in 1988  a walk toward each other on the Great Wall of China. There’s also a wonderful video of her work The Artist is Present, put on in 2010 at MOMA.  A nice clip from it is available on YouTube. Now, artsy.net has put together a nifty and comprehensive webpage about her career, featuring images from scores of her works.  It appears to be a great resource. Patrick T. Reardon 6.24.15  
June 24, 2015

Book review: “Storm” by George R. Stewart

Early in George R. Stewart’s Storm (1941), the new Junior Meteorologist in the San Francisco office of the U.S. Weather Bureau is putting the finishing touches on a map that spans a good portion of the Earth, from the eastern edge of Asia, across the Pacific, across North America, to the western edge of the Atlantic. In these early pre-dawn hours, he has been recording temperatures, wind velocities and barometric pressures on the large piece of paper so that the Chief Meteorologist will be able to use the map to make his forecast for the day. Then, Stewart writes: He laid aside his eraser and colored pencils, and sat back to look at the work. Involuntarily, he breathed a little more deeply. To him, as to some archangel hovering in the ninth heaven, the weather lay revealed. In many ways, this scene captures the whole of Storm. The map that covers such a large swath of the planet is an indication of the great sweep of Stewart’s story of a single January storm that hits San Francisco and its region. Like the weather, Storm is a sprawling saga, ranging across the oceans and land masses of the Junior Meteorologist’s map […]
June 23, 2015

Book review: “Staring at the Sun — Overcoming the Terror of Death” by Irvin D. Yalom

Here’s an experiment: You wake up in the middle of the night, and standing next to your bed is an angel or a devil or a genii or some spirit of some kind. This being tells you that you are going to have to live your life again — exactly as you have already lived it. You will make the same choices, suffer the same pains, say the same words. Everything will be identical. This will not only happen once, but again and again and again on into eternity. What’s your reaction? Do you wail and gnash your teeth? Or do you think that would be just fine?   Shock therapy Friedrich Nietzsche laid out this “mightiest thought” in his late 19th-century book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom includes it in his 2008 book Staring at the Sun — Overcoming the Terror of Death. And he adds: The idea of living your identical life again and again for all eternity can be jarring, a sort of petite existential shock therapy. It often serves as a sobering thought experiment, leading you to consider seriously how you are really living.   This scenario is like shock therapy, he writes, because […]
June 18, 2015

Book Review: “The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio” by Andrea E. Mays

There is an image at the end of the glossy photo section in The Millionaire and the Bard by Andrea E. Mays. It shows 82 copies of the First Folio — the first full collection of Shakespeare’s plays, printed in 1623 — resting horizontally on thirteen shelves at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. This group, worth perhaps $100 million, represents more than a third of all the surviving First Folios known to exist, and each was purchased by Henry Folger during his intense four-decade-long career as a collector of all things Shakespeare. But Folger never saw his collection of First Folios together in this way — or together in any way.   “Never enjoyed” From 1889 until his death in 1930, Folger and Emily, his wife and collecting partner, never had their treasures on display. Their rented home in Brooklyn was filled with “books, books, books,” but not for show. The massive number of Shakespeare documents and other relics, purchased through lavish though prudent spending, ended up in crates in warehouses where no one — including the Folgers — ever saw them. Thus, Henry Folger had never enjoyed the collector’s privilege of seeing all his books shelved together […]
June 12, 2015

Book review: “Poetry in the Bible” by Garry Wills

Garry Wills was just 25 years old in 1960 when he completed Poetry in the Bible, a 63-page booklet that was part of the Catholic Know-You-Bible Program. He was at the start of a long career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, historian and journalist. Poetry in the Bible is rarely mentioned. Few people know that Wills wrote it. Yet, as one would expect, it’s an interesting little book, filled with insights about biblical verse, most from the Old Testament, and with Wills’ palpable joy in poetry and his religious faith. This book was written more than half a century ago, a few years before the start of the Second Vatican Council. Since then, there is much that has changed in the Catholic Church, and also a great deal of biblical research that has been conducted. So, there are some aspects to Wills’ text that he might write differently today. But the core of his book is still vibrant.   “A strange song” The book’s audience was apparently adults and older children new to thinking about the Bible and its meanings. As a result, Wills writes in a simple style, taking his readers by the hand in a careful, instructive way.
June 10, 2015

Book review: “The Hollywood Catechism” by Paul Fericano

If someone comes across a copy of Paul Fericano’s book of poems The Hollywood Catechism (Silver Birch Press, $16, 110 pages) a hundred years from now, I’m not sure what they’ll make of it. I’m not sure what someone today under the age of 40 would made of it. This is a book that seems to be firmly rooted in the American culture and mythology of the 1950s. Consider “Poem for Ralph Edwards” which is a single line: “This is your poem.” That’s hilarious — but only if you know that, during the 1950s, Ralph Edwards was the host of a sappy pseudo-reality show providing well-scrubbed video biographies of celebrities, called “This Is Your Life.” (By the way, in the Notes section of the book, there’s one for this poem that reads in toto, “This is your note.”) Sure, a reader can check the internet for background information about Edwards, but that makes for a clunky reading experience. So Fericano is running the risk of unintelligibility to many potential readers. My guess is that he doesn’t give a damn. After all, here is a guy who, for the central section of his book, has an 11-page poem called “The Howl […]
June 8, 2015

Poem: We are all Elijah on the mountain

The still, small voice is still an itch in the corner of the skull, a catch of breath, a comma, a hesitancy, a heartbeat, a hush, a scratching at the edge, a bloom in the storm,, a sideways glimpse, small as a spirit. Patrick T. Reardon 6.8.2015
June 8, 2015

Book review: MOON SINGER SERIES: “Moon of Three Rings,” “Exiles of the Stars,” “Flight in Yiktor” and Dare to Go a-Hunting” by Andre Norton

A year and a half ago, I read Andre Norton’s Moon of Three Rings (1966) and described it in a review as one of her best novels. I liked it so much that I got copies of its three sequels — Exiles of the Stars (1971), Flight in Yiktor (1986) and Dare to Go a-Hunting (1990) — which I read recently. For a long time, I have tried to figure out why I enjoy reading Norton’s novels. She’s not as good a writer as Robert Heinlein or Edgar Pangborn. Indeed, her characters tend to talk in a stilted, almost fairy-tale like way. “There will be many coming and going — and we shall make us a path through such a gathering to the Faxc entrance — from there it is but a step to the Street of Traders,” says one character in Flight in Yiktor. Neither is she very inventive in the way of science fiction writers. Her books don’t ponder theoretical speculations or try to figure out the physics of space travel. Almost always in her sci-fi books, her characters are landing on planets where the air is breathable and the gravity just fine.   “Hair to clothe her” […]
June 4, 2015

Book review: “Images of the American City” by Anselm L. Strauss

Near the end of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, five-term Mayor Carter Harrison Sr. gave a speech in the Music Hall to a crowd of visiting mayors and other officials. His subject: the “beautiful White City” that had been built in Jackson Park to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the Americas but, even more, to trumpet the greatness of Chicago. When [the Great Chicago Fire of 1871] swept over our city and laid it in ashes in twenty-four hours, then the world said, “Chicago and its boasting is now gone forever.” But Chicago said, “We will rebuild the city better than ever,” and Chicago has done that. (Applause) The White City is a mighty object lesson, but, my friends, come out of this White City, come out of those walls into our black city….The second city in America! Harrison’s use of the term “black city” was to contrast the busy, crowded, ever-growing, money-making metropolis with the pristine beauty of the temporary fairgrounds where uniformly gleaming white buildings had attracted more than 27 million visitors over a six-month period. For him and for other Chicago boosters, it was the “black city” — which undeniably […]