April 24, 2017

Book review: “Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving” by Barbara Mahany

Kids go to school and learn things like geometry and the Magna Carta and chromosomes and similes and square roots and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but none of their textbooks has much to say about parenting. If educators and the American society that hires them ever see the light and recognize the need for children to learn how to grow up and take care of children, one of the first textbooks in the classroom should be Barbara Mahany’s new Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving. Consider this insight about what it means to take on the job of mothering a child: Motherhood is not for the faint of heart, and the heart needs to triple its size, so it seems, to pack in the requisite vast and infinite wisdom — and patience and sheer calculation and imagination and stamina and worry and second-guessing and, yes, full-throttle pangs of remorse when we get it wrong, time after time. “Mother-ing Day” Yes, we, parents, do get it wrong a lot, but it’s not for want of trying. Motherprayer is a primer on how to think about being a parent, and that’s what’s really important. It’s not a manual for how to raise the brightest or […]
April 17, 2017

Book review: “Reading, Praying, Living Pope Francis’s ‘The Joy of Love’: A Faith Formation Guide” by Julie Hanlon Rubio

A year ago, Pope Francis published his apostolic exhortation on marriage and families, Joy of Love (Amoris laetitia), which, at about 60,000 words, is believed to be the longest papal document ever written. It would be difficult to find any papal document written with the beauty, simplicity, gusto and accessibility that Francis brings to the task. Nonetheless, Joy of Love is no simple read. It wrestles with important and complex theological ideas in ways that are refreshingly and, for some, unsettlingly, innovative. It’s good to have a guide, and that’s what Julie Hanlon Rubio, an ethicist at St. Louis University, provides with her newly published Reading, Praying, Living Pope Francis’s “The Joy of Love”: A Faith Formation Guide,” from Liturgical Press. And the bottom line — if I can jump ahead to the final page of her text — is this: What Francis offers is beauty with plenty of weeds.   Joy and pain That may seem so cryptic as to be useless, but bear with me. Rubio, who is speaking on the Pope’s exhortation on Wednesday at 7 pm at Dominican University in River Forest, writes this in summarizing the Pope’s analysis of marriage in the context of Catholic beliefs. […]
April 17, 2017

Book review: “Tenth of December” by George Saunders

In a diary he’s been keeping, a 40-year-old husband and father of three writes about winning $10,000 with a lottery ticket, and, since he expects these jottings to be read years and years down the line, he adds: Note to future generations: Happiness is possible. And when happy, so much better than opposite, i.e., sad. Hopefully you know! I knew, but forgot. Got used to being slightly sad! Slightly sad, due to stress, due to worry vis-à-vis limitations. But now, wow, no: happy!” This paragraph comes almost exactly halfway through George Saunders’ 2013 collection of ten short stories Tenth of December.   All but impossible And, by this point, the reader knows that happiness is all but impossible in the universe that Saunders describes — a universe of chain-stores with names such as YourItalianKitchen, of jobs so boring and meaningless they’re filled with dread and difficult to stomach, of good being equated with affluence, of economic winners living plastic lives, of everyone else scrambling to avoid falling further and further behind, of near-constant daydreaming about something happy that might happen if fingers are kept crossed. A universe in which female refugees from the Third World, known as SGs, are hooked […]
April 12, 2017

Chicago history: Turn-of-the-century Chicago in Willa Cather’s “Lucy Gayheart”

Much of the first half of Willa Cather’s novel Lucy Gayheart is set in the first few months of 1902 in downtown Chicago. Written in 1935, the book is an existential novel in which the main characters strive purposefully through life only to discover that the meaning they thought was present and the control they thought they exercised was illusory. In the context of this, Chicago is a metaphor for human activity and energy and enterprise.   “A very individual map of Chicago” Early in the novel, Lucy is returning to the city from a visit to her small Nebraska home of Haverford: Lucy carried in her mind a very individual map of Chicago: a blur of smoke and wind and noise, with flashes of blue water, and certain clear outlines rising from the confusion; a high building on Michigan Avenue when Sebastian had his studio — the stretch of park where he sometimes walked in the afternoon — the Cathedral door out of which she had seen him come one morning — the concert hall where she first heard him sing. This city of feeling rose out of the city of fact like a definite composition, — beautiful because […]
April 10, 2017

Book review: “Lucy Gayheart” by Willa Cather

Willa Cather was a writer of frontier novels in which Nature — the landscape, the weather, the seasons — is a major character, frequently set in contrast with the big city, usually Chicago. So it is with Lucy Gayheart, written in 1935, as I  discuss in a separate post. Yet, something else is at play here as well. When she wrote the novel, Cather had just turned 60 and was in tune with the zeitgeist that, shortly, would produce the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. In her homey yet subtle way, she tapped into the modern loss of faith. And she created an existential novel.   A romance, a feminist story It doesn’t seem that way at the beginning. Indeed, Lucy Gayheart appears to be nothing more than a confection of a romance. Lucy is the bright, lively, musical girl, a stand-out among her young adult peers in the small Nebraska town of Haverford where Harry Gordon, the banker’s son, is the most eligible bachelor. They seem made for each other as they skate together on the Platte River in the novel’s opening scene. They have always seemed made for each other. But Lucy wants a career and […]
April 5, 2017

Book review: “Redwall” by Brian Jacques

In the menagerie of literature, fantasy is a curious animal. By its nature, fantasy is supposed to bend reality — but not too much. Fantasy only works if its tethered to the real world in some way so that the fantastic story can comment on the life its readers are living. For instance, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are all about dwarfs and vampires and golems and witches and wizards and trolls and the undead, but what they’re really about is racism and evil and religion and politics and higher education and the lower classes and the sheer ornery oddness of life and, of course, Death — who isn’t only a theme but also a major character in the books. A lot has to do with the audience. Pratchett’s books seem like books for kids, but those under the age of, say, 13 would miss almost all of their humor, and so would many under the age of 23. That’s not the case with the 22-book series of books by Englishman Brian Jacques that are centered on Redwall, a redstone abbey with an abbot, monks and a community of people, all of whom are mice. They are neighbors to and friends […]