September 26, 2012

Book review: “Measuring America” by Andro Linklater

There is a photo on page 224 of “Measuring America” that, I suspect, anyone who has ever flown across the continental United States west of the Alleghenies will recognize. It’s an aerial view of a few square miles of farmland in South Dakota, but they could just as well be in Ohio or Iowa or Minnesota or New Mexico. They’re all squares and rectangles. The property lines are sharply delineated and bounded by right angles. The roads that run along those lines are straight as straight can be. Forty years ago, looking out an airplane window and seeing a similar scene, I wrote a poem that began, “Patchwork of earthwork, pattern of soil…” Andro Linklater, describing an eastbound flight from Los Angeles in “Measuring America,” notes that the same sorts of squares and rectangles can be seen in the property lines of that city. Then, after passing over desert, he writes: High up in the mountains [the pattern] emerges again in patches of cultivated bottomland where the edges of rectangular fields are aligned with the cardinal points of the compass. All at once, looking down through the clear air, you can imagine the surveyor’s straight line, drawn west to east […]
September 24, 2012

Why is the Mass like baseball?

Let me say first off that there are many times when I find Mass routine and less than exciting. It’s not like going to a movie or reading a book. It’s not an entertainment. It’s more like……well, like playing in a baseball game. In a baseball game, there’s a lot of standing around, on the field and in the dugout, waiting. Every once in a while, there’s something to do, such as fielding a grounder or taking a turn at bat. If you don’t know the game, it’s pretty boring. But the more you understand the strategy of how the fielders arrange themselves for each batter, and what a batter has to take into consideration in terms of the pitch count, the number of outs and the score, and how a pitcher and catcher work together to figure out how to deal with each batter, and how a manager decides when to pinch hit or bring in a reliever — the more you know, the richer the experience. For me, Mass is like that. There are times when it feels like I’m a right fielder, just standing out there daydreaming. But the more I put myself into the experience of […]
September 24, 2012

Book review: “A Killing in the Hills” by Julia Keller

Julia Keller’s novel “A Killing in the Hills” is on a par with the best of James Lee Burke and P.D. James. It is a mystery story of high literary ambition and quality. Like her bestselling peers, Keller employs the mystery formula as vehicle for looking at the way people act, live and breathe in a particular spot on the world and for examining the meaning of life. For P.D. James, the spot is London, and murder is a breaking of the social compact, a disordering of the order of life. For James Lee Burke, the spots are New Orleans and Texas, and murder is an outbreak of the violence just under the human surface, a violence that sparks more violence. In “A Killing in the Hills,” Keller is writing about Acker’s Gap, a small ragged town in West Virginia, the state where she was born and raised. For her, murder here is a spasm of despair and greed, coming out of physical and economic isolation, a cry of anguish from the margins of human society.
September 19, 2012

Did Jesus have a wife?

Yes, yes, it may be a hoax of some sort. But I’m excited by the news that a small rectangular piece of papyrus, seemingly from the writings of early Christians, has come to light which includes the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’ ” Historian Karen King of Harvard Divinity School, who translated the eight lines from the ancient Coptic language, thinks it’s authentic, and so do several of her colleagues. But, either way, real or fake, I’m excited. Here’s why:
September 13, 2012

Book review: “Looking for the Possible Dance” by A. L. Kennedy

After an idyllic four days, the fight begins on the drive home. Margaret notices with delight that she and Colin have had such a restful time that they’ve forgotten to latch on their seatbelts. “It’s called being relaxed,” Colin says. “Some people do it all the time.” Margaret thanks him for the weekend, and Colin responds, “You don’t have to thank me. I wouldn’t have gone without you, wouldn’t have thought of it. And it’s been so lovely to see you so happy. So calm. You were almost like a different person.” Ah, that’s the seed of what comes next —
September 9, 2012

“Not always night”

I was at an archdiocesan meeting the other day, and the remarks of a prelate in attendance seemed to argue that the Catholic Church has a corner on Truth. I don’t think I buy that. Throughout my life, I’ve learned a lot from lots of people, many of whom weren’t Catholic. Such as Gwendolyn Brooks. Brooks, who died in December, 2000, was a poet of soaring lyricism and flinty vision whose work and way of living were rooted in the black experience in the United States. She was also more than a little skeptical about organized religion.
September 5, 2012

Book review: “Rocket Ship Galileo” By Robert A. Heinlein

It happened that, a week or so after the death of Neil Armstrong, I picked up this 1947 novel, and to say it’s quaint is an understatement. It’s sort of a lunar version of a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show” story.