Well, I had rather expected to do a lot of posting during the 12 Days of Christmas, chatting about some of our favorite books which we enjoy reading aloud at this time of year. Alas, it was not to be. Although our holidays are very quiet ones without the frantic stress which so many people experience at Christmas time, this year I got caught up in a special project. I'd decided to sew Christmas dresses for two of my little granddaughters, and I was determined that, contrary to my well established family reputation, this project would be finished, and finished on time!
Well, I achieved my goal, but only just. In fact, I'd already phoned Fillius Major to warn him that the dresses could not possibly arrive in time. Nevertheless, I kept on sewing and finally finished them at around 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. Not knowing what time the post office was scheduled to close, I shoved the dresses into Priority Mail cartons and drove to the post office. My heart sank when I saw that the parking lot was empty. The post office had closed at 3:00 p.m. With little hope I trundled across town to the postal annex which is hidden in the back of a Hallmark shop. Mirabile dictu -- it was open till 6:00! I mailed my packages and the dresses reached their destination on Christmas Eve.
Of course, my house was a mess having been neglected for several days. Not only were dishes piled in the sink, but many of the moving boxes shown in my first blog posts were still cluttering the living room. Most of them were piled in front of the fire place where I'd hoped to display my Nativity set. And I still needed to shop for Christmas dinner (to which I'd invited two guests).
All was accomplished though it left no time for blogging. Since Christmas I've been busy with recuperation and neglected but necessary errands. Also, um, a new sewing project about which more later. For now, I'm off to bed. Tomorrow I plan to go back to talking about books and reading. Until then . . .
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Deus homo factus est, natura mirante;
Mundus renovatus est a Christo regnante.
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
(Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary.
God is made man; nature marvels.
The world is renewed by Christ the King.
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary.)
I've always loved this song. I particularly like the rendition done by Broceliande on Sir Christèmas: Songs of the Season. You can hear a very tiny snippet here. (I heard this group sing at Mythcon last summer and bought a couple of their CDs after the performance.)
Posted by Catholic Bibliophagist at 7:51 AM
Sunday, December 16, 2007
- "Hmm! Books, you know, Charles, are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development."
- --Lord Peter Whimsey in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers
Friday, December 14, 2007
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Catholic Bibliophagist not only loves reading, she loves languages. That's one of the reasons I fell so in love with The Lord of the Rings. For me, it was the philological groundwork in Tolkien's writing that gave such reality to the mythology of Middle Earth. I suppose that's why no other fantasy "in the tradition off J.R.R. Tolkien" ever seems to have the same depth and resonance.
I never had the opportunity to formally study linguistics, but I love catching glimpses of the connections between the different branches of the tree of language.
In honor of yesterday's Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Zero Summer has posted a link to a site which offers the text of the Hail Mary* in dozens of languages from Afrikaans to Zurituutsch.
By chance, I found myself looking at the Norwegian translation, trying to puzzle out possible links with English:
Hill deg, Maria, full av nåde, Herren er med deg, velsignet er du iblant kvinnene, og velsignet er ditt livs frukt, Jesus. Hellige Maria, Guds Mor, bed for oss syndere, nå og i vår dødstime. Amen.
Okay, maybe I'm jumping on a lot of false cognates, but I'm betting that "Hill" is the equivalent of "hail," and "full av" reminds me of "full of" in the phrase "full of grace." Could "kvinnene" be related to our word "women"? Hmm, would "frukt" be related to the English "fruit"? The Latin is "fructus" Did Norwegian do any borrowing from Latin?
"Hellige Maria" has got to be "Holy Mary" just from the position, "Guds Mor" -- "God's mother," obviously. "Bed for oss" must be pray for us since "bede" is a very old word for "pray" in English. "Syndere" must be "sinners" from its position, and now we notice that both words begin similarly. Looking at "nå og i vår dødstime" I'm guessing that "nå" means "now" just because I know what the prayer is supposed to say at that point. Since I can't pronounce Norwegian I have no idea how much it sounds like the English word. But look at the last word, "dødstime" -- doesn't it look like "deathtime"? The English at this point is "hour of our death."
That was fun! (Okay, not as good as chocolate, but what is?)
*English text here if you aren't familiar with it.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, another one of those festal days sprinkled throughout Advent, the celebration of which helps to remind us that we are the party-church. Since we were homeschoolers, I always gave my kids a day off on December 8th, and of course we went to Mass. And we probably had a special dessert. (Someday I'll write a book called The Role of the Stomach in the Assimilation of Catholic Culture.) But unlike the Feast of St. Nicholas, we never had a special book which we always read in honor of the day.
I was thinking about this today when it occurred to me that I had never read The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel. The author of this fictionalized account of St. Bernadette was neither a Catholic nor a Christian. He was a Jewish playwright whose satirical plays lampooning the Nazi regime were a hit in Vienna, so he had to flee to France when Germany annexed Austria in 1938. He found refuge in the town of Lourdes where various families took turns sheltering him and his wife. It was there that he heard the story of Bernadette Soubirous and her visions of a Lady who identified herself only as "the Immaculate Conception." In gratitude, he vowed that if he and his wife escaped to safety he would write Bernadette's story as a novel. The book was hot stuff when it was published in 1942. It was on the New York Times Best Seller list for over a year and was made into a movie in 1943.
It's one of those books I've always heard of, but have never actually read. So just to be seasonal, I think I'll give it a try and will let you know what I think.
In the mean time, have a blessed Advent and "Party on, dudes!"
Friday, December 7, 2007
I was planning to post something about St. Nicholas yesterday, but all of my free time got funneled into finishing a project which is due at my next class meeting. I staggered to bed at 2:00 a.m. But this morning I see that Rhinemouse at Zero Summer has posted my favorite legend of St. Nicholas ever: "How Saint Nicolas Met and Overcame the Goddess Diana." It's from the book, The Twenty Miracles of Saint Nicolas written and illustrated by Bernarda Bryson. It's out of print, but well worth picking up if you can find a used copy.
As Rhinemouse points out, he's an all-purpose saint: "[the] patron of mariners, moneylenders, thieves, children, travelers, turners, dyers, coopers, boatmen, bootmakers, sawyers, seedmen, mercers, merchants, Greeks, cities, Jews, packers, spinsters, pirates, Russians, pickpockets, haberdashers, children, fishermen, pilgrims, prisoners, parish clerks, sailors, unwedded maids, and little boys chopped up and packed into pickle barrels. (Which I suppose would also make him the patron of characters in slasher films.) According to legend, he attended the Council of Nicaea and smacked Arius, which I guess would also make him the patron of cranky Catholics . . . . "
Our family always celebrated his feast day by reading aloud stories from this book on the days leading up to December 6th. On the evening of December 5th we had the children put their shoes near the front door and they were miraculously filled with cookies, gold wrapped chocolate coins, and sometimes small gifts, thanks to the agency of the saint.
Many families make a point of celebrating the liturgical year with their children as a means of teaching the faith and passing on their religious and cultural traditions. Certainly that was one of our reasons for doing so. But I think that it also served to instill in our children the firm conviction that Catholics just have more fun.
Besides the well known stories of "The Three Schoolboys and the Salting Tub" and "The Miracle of the Three Dowerless Maidens," the book includes "Saint Nicolas and the Prophet Mohammed," "Of a Woman Who Left Her Baby to Boil," "The Legend of a Boy Possessed by the Devil," "The Pawnbroker and the Greek," and many more.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
"Nothing is too wonderful to be true," was one of my husband's favorite sayings. By the same token, almost nothing is too appalling for belief when it comes to the public school system. I hasten to assure my readers that I am well aware that the Onion is a parody (unlike the poor, souls who mistook its famous article about Harry Potter and childhood Satanism for serious journalism). Yet as I read this spoof, I experienced an uncanny sense of deja vu remembering the various educational fads that I have experienced, especially in regards to the teaching of reading.
And having seen the grammatical contortions inspired by political correctness and gender politics, the thought of grammatical loss caused by simple financial straits seems almost charming.
Posted by Catholic Bibliophagist at 12:04 AM
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
In "A Good Mystery: Why We Read"* Motoko Rich asks, ". . . what is it, exactly, that turns someone into a book lover who keeps coming back for more?" He posits that discovering the right book at the right time is what transforms an ordinary person into a rabid reader. He devotes the rest of his article to describing the characteristics of particular books which can trigger a lifetime of continuous reading.
I don't doubt that some people can look back on the reading of a particular book which marked the boundary between reading as a chore and reading as a pleasure. Though I think, particularly when this transformation takes place in childhood, that what is really taking place is an increased facility in reading which allows a person to finally experience the pleasure of the written word.
I can't seriously believe in the trigger theory.
That's like believing that somewhere in the world is one particular person who is your Own True Love and that unless you meet him, romantic love will be a closed book to you. But once you do, bingo! Personally, I would think that having developed the capacity to love unselfishly would be the crucial prerequisite.
Similarly, I have my own ideas about what makes a child develop into a voracious reader. I think that it is crucial that a child should have discovered the joys of listening to stories long before he is old enough to begin to read. And for that to take place children should be exposed to verbal stimulation early on.
In other words, parents should talk to their little ones in a playful, interactive way. And they should read aloud to them. Even when the story is a little over their heads, the language pathways are being laid down in their little brains. You're giving them a chance to associate reading with pleasure. However, for optimal results you've got to cut back or eliminate television viewing. (Ditto video games.)
I think it also helps if you continue to read aloud even after your children have learned to read. Children can understand and enjoy more complex stories than they are able to read to themselves. Hearing their parents read aloud helps children to increase their vocabularies -- which will help to make reading easier.
Anyway, that's what worked for me. And I guess it worked for my mom. She wasn't trying to turn any of us into bookworms, but the first couple of children did become voracious readers. And those were the kids with whom she'd had time to regularly read aloud stories. As the family grew larger (Twins! And More!), she no longer had time to read aloud. And the later children didn't get into reading in the same way that the early ones did.
N.B. Catholic Bibliophagist is aware that both nature and nurture are involved in a child's development and that not all children will become avid readers. But she thinks that most kids are capable of becoming better readers than they might otherwise.
*Free registration at the New York Times site required.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
The other day I finished rereading Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott. At one point the book mentions that Ben, a young boy who has run away from his former life in a circus, is attempting to read a hymn book, but “the long s in the old-fashioned printing bewildered him . . . ."
When I was young they bewildered me too because they look so much like the letter f . I hadn't thought about them in a long time until last night when I was flipping through my copy of the Rambler. My eye fell on those funny s’s and I couldn’t help wondering what rules governed their use, for the regular letter s is also to be found scattered throughout the text.
After a bit of skimming I can see that the long s seems to have been used at the beginning and in the middle of words. A double s seems to have been written with one long s and one regular one. It also looks as though words ending in s use the regular letter. But why did they use the long s at all? There must have been some typographical reason, but I don’t know what it is or even how to look it up. Can anyone relieve my ignorance?
Update: The Wikipedia article to which Bill White links in the comments box gives links to two fascinating articles at BableStone:
"The Rules for Long S" which is far more detailed than than Wikipedia's description and "The Long and the Short of the Letter S" which discusses the origins of this letter form and includes lovely pictures of manuscript examples.
"Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack."
-- Virginia Woolf
It sounds cool, but what does she actually mean?
I'm getting a mental image of used books, like feral kittens or impounded strays, rescued by philanthopic bibliophiles who buy them in order to give them loving homes. Part the charm of used books is that they do come with a history: bookplates, inscriptions, marginalia. And they are time travelers on our shelves, adding visual and historical interest simply as artifacts.
As I look up from the computer I can see to my right the Johnson section of my library. A 1794 edition of The Rambler, with its thick paper and the old fashioned "s's" that look like "f''s," is sitting next to the 1963 Yale edition of The Idler and The Adventurer with its critical introductions, varient readings, and explanatory notes. The latter is a useful and informative edition. The former gives a sense of immediacy to the past.
Posted by Catholic Bibliophagist at 3:54 AM
Friday, November 30, 2007
Brideshead Revisited is one of my favorite novels of all time and the standard against which I compare all Catholic novels. (Not surprisingly, hardly any of them measure up to it.) I have read it countless times, but not until quite recently did I realize that that the British edition is different from the American one.
I stumbled across this website, A Companion to Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, which has annotated notes for both editions. There I discovered that fifteen years after its publication Waugh, having become a little embarrassed by the lushness of the novel's style, made come cuts and revisions in the 1960 British edition. The American edition has always kept to the original text. (Interestingly, "there was an even earlier limited edition of 50 copies, printed privately for friends, which differs from both the later published editions.")
I am relieved to discover that my copy is the American edition because I always like to see a work as the author originally released it.* (It annoys me no end when an artist can't let go of a piece of published work and keeps on diddling with it. I'm thinking of George Lucas revising Star Wars, Spielberg's multiple versions of Close Encounters, and my mother-in-law who, decades after their completion, revised details on her oil paintings so many times that they lost whatever virtue they had originally possessed.)
On the website David Cliffe points out one revision which he feels is notable. The passage deals with Charles Ryder's attitude to religion in contrast to the way Catholicism pervades the consciousness of Sebastian and his family. I take the liberty of of quoting the two versions.
I had no religion. I was taken to church weekly as a child, and at school attended chapel daily, but, as though in compensation, from the time I went to my public school I was excused church in the holidays. The view implicit in my education was that the basic narrative of Christianity had long been exposed as a myth, and that opinion was now divided as to whether its ethical teaching was of present value, a division in which the main weight went against it: religion was a hobby which some people professed and others did not; at the best it was slightly ornamental, at the worst it was the providence of ‘complexes’ and ‘inhibitions’ - catch words of the decade - and of the intolerance, hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity attributed to it for centuries. No one had ever suggested to me that these quaint observances expressed a coherent philosophic system and intransigent historical claims; nor, had they done so, would I have been much interested.
I had no religion. I was taken to church weekly as a child, and at school attended chapel daily, but, as though in compensation, from the time I went to my public school I was excused church in the holidays. The masters who taught me Divinity told me that biblical texts were highly untrustworthy. They never suggested I should try to pray. My father did not go to church except on family occasions and then with derision. My mother, I think, was devout. It once seemed odd to me that she should have thought it her duty to leave my father and me and go off with an ambulance, to Serbia, to die of exhaustion in the snow in Bosnia. But later I recognised some such spirit in myself. Later, too, I have come to accept claims which then, in 1923, I never troubled to examine, and to accept the supernatural as the real. I was aware of no such needs that summer at Brideshead.
Though the later Waugh may have perferred a more asustere style, the earlier version does a better job not only of capturing Charles's religious background, but the attitude of the age toward religion. Time and place is an important element in Brideshead Revisited, which is why I think that the richer language of the first edtion, which so well evokes it, is more appropriate.
The next time I sit down to read Brideshead, I shall certainly have my browser open to David Cliff's website.
I would also like to point readers to Evelyn Waugh in his Own Words, where you can listen to excerpts from Waugh's talks and interviews. I particularly enjoyed hearing his description of Forest Lawn given on the BBC radio in 1948 (which is when The Loved One was published).
*Except of course those cases when the cutting and slashing has been ordered by the publisher over the author's protests.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Right now I'm reading a book from my biography section called Promises to Keep: A Family Close-up by William E. Walsh. It is not his memoir as such, but that of his family considered as an organic entity. The story begins in 1929 with their first date and was published in 1953 by which time they had 13 children, whose names and birthdates are listed at the beginning of the volume under the heading, “By The Same Author.”
The author writes about himself and his family the third person and so it took me a little while to realize that he was actually the “Bill” of the narrative. (Okay, so I’m not at my brightest when I’m home sick.)
The father had a large collection of books -- though he sometimes resorted to selling them when money was particularly tight. I wanted to share the following quotation. The parents are counting their blessings and the father comes to the conclusion that though many blessings are seasonal in nature, their books are permanent blessings.
But the books are constant companions, enlargers of the human experience. They are the autobiography of the family of man. They are not possesions, they are defiance.I hope that's what our children picked up from being exposed to their parents' love of books.
. . .They are the great rebels against stupidity, parochialism, injustice, dullness, indifference, and blindess. They are defiance against mediocrity, because each book is a sharp awareness of personal experience, an individual savoring of the meat and drink of existence. They are flavored with the intimate moments of man’s best and surest living. Books are, like fear, the beginning of wisdom, because, like fear, they remind us of mortality and awaken in us the deep longing to live well while we have ‘world enough and time.’
. . . and I want the kids to like books, too, so they’ll know that the fight isn’t hopeless and that other men have faced every problem they will have to face, and solved it. (p. 118-119)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Because we are so into primary source material:
ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION - 1863
It is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe their
dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their
sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured
hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon;
and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy
Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are
blessed whose God is the Lord.
We know that by His divine law, nations, like
individuals, are subject to punishments and chastisements in
this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of
civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment
inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins; to the needful
end of our national reformation as a whole people?
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of
heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and
prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no
other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We
have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace
and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have
vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all
these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and
virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have
become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming
and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made
It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be
solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one
heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do
therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the
United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are
sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last
Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to
our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.
Posted by Catholic Bibliophagist at 1:21 AM
Monday, November 19, 2007
"When one stops to consider what life would be like without the ability to read after age forty or thereabouts, and the consequences for the life of the mind in general, eyeglasses suddenly appear as important as the wheel." --Barbara Tuchman
I was in the seventh grade when I got my first pair of glasses. Even though the frames looked like those worn by the fat lady in Gary Larson's cartoons, I loved them. That first pair of glasses endowed me with the high-definition eyesight of Tolkien's elves: a crispness, a clarity, a capacity to distinguish detail that I hadn't even known I lacked. And every year the miracle was repeated when the optician dispensed a new pair with a stronger perscription.
Though The Wisdom Of The Age affirmed that "Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses," and also considered "Four-Eyes" a perjorative, I loved my glasses because I thought they were waaaay cool. I considered them my badge of intelligence, a symbol of my love for books, and my pass into a fraternity of the mind. (Or perhaps I had already discovered the proverbial wisdom, "if you like what you have, you'll have what you like.)
Now that I've added presbyopia to my nearsightedness and astigmatism, and have discovered an inability to wear bifocals, glasses seem more like a sad neccessity than a badge of honor because I have to juggle multiple pairs of them. I have one pair of glasses for driving, another for reading, a third for ordinary tasks around the house, and one with a very short focal length for sewing. Yet it seems that I'm always moving into little pockets of poor vision where something is too small or too close or too far away for me to bring it clearly into focus. O, for the days when a single pair of glasses could do it all. Scotty, beam me a prescription for Retinax V!
Friday, November 16, 2007
What I think of as the "Harry Potter Effect" - a renewed interest in YA or children's fantasy - has resulted in the welcome recent republication of authors who had been well-known in certain circles, like DWJ, or well-known from the past, like Edward Eager. It has also seen the reprinting of some rather more obscure but equally deserving works, like A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond or Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard. I've been thinking for a while of beginning a series of posts on old forgotten treasures from my own collection - not necessarily SF or fantasy, but books I loved that I wondered if anyone else had heard of, that I think deserve a bigger audience and potential reprinting.
I enjoyed reading all of the comments to this post. So many of the books mentioned were books that I checked out of the library time after time. Others are books I've never heard of but now intend to find. I'd been trying to make up my own list of Forgotten Treasures, but most of the ones I could think of had already been mentioned or were too well known to qualify as "forgotten" (such as Little Women or Alice in Wonderland).
But tonight the the springs of memory sudddenly started burbling and brought forth a surprising collection of titles.
Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink (also the author of the more well known Caddie Woodlawn).
As a Navy brat I got to know many school and public libraries. Baby Island was only to be found in one of them. It's the story of two sisters, Mary and Jean, who are traveling on an ocean liner to join their father in Australia. When the order comes to abandon ship, they find themselves in a lifeboat with four babies under the age of two. The lifeboat conveniently drifts to a desert island where the girls enjoy playing Robinson Crusoe with their boatload of babies until they are eventually rescued. (BTW, I just checked Amazon and this book is back in print. But the copy I read was published in 1937 and had the most beautiful color illustrations.)
Redskin Summer (?) I'm not sure about the title on this one. It was about some kids whose families always spent each summer vacationing by a lake. There was an island in the lake where the kids were allowed to camp and pretend to be Indians. But this summer there's a new Boy Scout camp across the lake and the "redskins" find themselves at war with the "palefaces." I particularly remember an exciting segment where one of the girls is captured and "scalped" by the Scouts, i.e. they cut off one of her braids.
I read Mysterious Island by Jules Verne over and over when I was a kid. It's a shipwreck story, but this time the castaways are dropped onto the desert island from a balloon having just made their escape from a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. Unlike the characters in The Swiss Family Robinson, who had a whole shipload of goods to help them colonize their island, the plucky Americans in Mysterious Island had only the contents of their pockets and the magnificent brain of Cyrus Harding, an American engineer, to help them survive.
I was also very fond of My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craigshead George, though I guess it doesn't qualify as "Forgotten" since it's been popular and in print ever since I was a kid. The main character runs away from home to the wilderness where he lives off the land. He carves out a home in a hollow tree, makes his own deerskin clothing, grinds acorn flour and trains a wild falcon to hunt for him.
Are you noticing a theme here? It's a surprising one. I don't even like camping. I hate getting dirty. I'm scared of bugs. Why did I love all these shipwreck/camping out books? Maybe it's because I always had a fascination with doing things from scratch. Even if I never wanted to do those things in real life. Spinning wool, baking bread, skinning rabbits -- you name it, I read about it. I even remember devouring a children's novel about canning vegetables and fruit for a 4H competition. Yup. And I must have read it at least three times.
Of course, fantasy has always been my favorite genre though there wasn't as much of it available when I was young as there is now. However, all my childhood favorites have already been mentioned in the above linked post and its comments. Except, I think, for some books by Evelyn Sibley Lampman such as The Shy Stegasaurus of Cricket Creek and The City Under the Back Steps. The former is about two children who discover a live dinosaur in the Southwest and the latter is about a boy and girl who are shrunk down to the size of ants and taken prisoner in an ant colony. (My goodness! Someone else besides me must have liked that book. The cheapest copy listed on Amazon is $59.40! Nyah, nyah -- I still have my childhood copy. Update: I just checked the shelf. I only see Stegasaurus, not City. Arrrgh!)
And I don't think any of the posters mentioned Time at the Top by
Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw got checked out repeatedly when I was in junior high. The main character is a slave girl in ancient Egypt who has a gift for languages. She is bought by the supporters of Hatshepsut to act as a spy against the pharoh's brother
Tutmose. But due to complicated circumstances, Mara is forced to become a double agent. It's an exciting, swashbuckling adventure which even includes a romance.
The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum used to be a Forgotten Favorite, but her books have now been republished by Bethlehem Books. The Winged Watchman is about a Dutch family during the Nazi occupation of Holland. I loved it because the characters were Catholic and there was actually some theological discussion that was absoutely germane to the story and very naturally presented.
The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. Originally published in 1954, this memoir tells the story of a young white couple who adopted eleven children of various ethnic backgrounds at a time when trans-racial or trans-ethnic adoption was inconceivable both to professional social workers and to the general public. I still have the Scholastic Book Services paperback edition I bought in the 1960s which has my name carefully printed on the inside front cover in a large childish hand. It is very well read. I think I liked it because it was about a family that was even larger than ours. It was also my first glimpse of the fact that not everyone thought that a brown Mexican baby was much prettier than a pasty blond one.
The last book I'll mention is by Elizabeth Enright. Actually, I loved all of her books. But The Saturdays, published in 1941, was a special favorite because it struck me as being the most exotic. The four Melendy children decide to found the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club. (I.S.A.A.C for short.) Each week the children will pool their allowances (a whole $1.60!) and take turns using the entire sum to to fund a special, individual adventure. All but the youngest are old enough to travel into The City (New York) alone. So twelve year old Rush, a music fanatic, goes to the opera and hears Sigfried. Ten year old Miranda visits an art gallery . Thirteen year old Mona goes to a real beauty shop and has her long braids cut off. And on each of their adventures they meet seemingly ordinary people who turn out to have fascinating stories.
If you have Forgotten Treasures to share, please post them in the comments box.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frost-bitten garden.
"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo pensively . . . ."
--Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
If I lived in New England, I'd probably loathe November too. But when you live in California there's a lot to like about this month. For one thing, the infernal heat of summer is pretty much over. The roses are still blooming, and I'm harvesting lemons from my dwarf lemon tree. And if you're also Catholic you get a jump start on the end of the year holidays with All Hallow's Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day.
On All Souls Day, and indeed during the whole month of November, we remember and pray for the dead. Naturally, departed family and friends are at the top of everyone's list, but since praying for the dead is one of the spiritual works of mercy, many people also make it a point to pray for those poor souls who have no one to pray for them. Or for those souls most in need of prayers.
It is perhaps no surprise that in our family we included in our November prayers a special subset of the departed: dead authors. I always liked to include J.R.R. Tolkien among our November intentions. Since he was a devout Catholic, I knew he would appreciate it. And my husband always included James Boswell. For not only was The Life of Samual Johnson one of his favorite works, but Boswell probably needed the all the prayers he could get. (In a fit of youthful rebellion, Boswell converted to Catholicism but could not be said to have lived a good Catholic life. Libertine is the word that springs to mind.)
I hasten to assure my readers that the Bibliophagist family does not restrict its special intentions solely to Catholic authors. We are equal opportunity intercessors. And it seems not only charitable but just to pray for authors who have given us pleasure in this life regardless of their denomination. Perhaps someday they'll be praying for us.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
By his own account, Jim Rosenau was given a proper upbringing.
"I was raised with a near-religious relationship to books. Never write in a book. Don’t lose someone else’s place. How to protect its vitally-important spine. Rules pertaining to the avoidance of moisture. And, like all observant families, we were taken once a week to the library for worship."
But then, several years ago, he began to engage in unspeakable practices. He built bookcases -- out of books!
Yes, those are real books . The pages in these red volumes have been replaced by salvaged wood, making the shelves strong enough to hold actual books. (So the covers are actually being used as a kind of veneer.)
Some of his smaller shelves, though functional, are also humorous works of art. Click here to see a slide show of his "Funniest Shelves Gallery." The titles of the books from which they are composed are aptly chosen. And don't forget to look at the "Procedures" page for a factory tour, starting with the harvesting of ripe books from the Tree of Knowledge.
Catholic Bibliophagist has mixed feelings about Mr. Rosenau's enterprise. I find his work to be clever and visually amusing. And yet . . . I also view it with a horrified fascination. Intellectually, I realize that he only works with books that nobody wants, books that "look better than they read." But I can't help feeling a little queasy at their vivisection and their transformation into bibliofrankenstein constructions. And I find myself straining to read the titles of the books in his photos. I hope I won't see a copy of Aristotle's lost work on comedy.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
There are few greater pleasures than reading a wonderful book -- except, perhaps, that of persuading a friend to read it also. But do you actually lend him your copy? And if you do, will you ever see it again? Anatole France seems to have been skeptical, but his well known advice betrays that he is also part of the problem:
"Never lend out books, because no one ever returns them. The only books I have in my library are books that other folk have lent me. "
I no longer lend books because at my age I have trouble remembering to whom I've lent them. Perhaps incribing a book curse (like this one from the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona) on the flyleaf might jog a book borrower's conscience:
"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails...and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever."
Just a gentle hint, you know. Unfortunately, all of my friends are about the same age as I am. So even if they intend to be honorable, they probably can't remember where the book came from. (Okay, I finally found a replacement copy of C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome. Not that I'm bitter or anything.)
Monday, November 5, 2007
Connections was a television series on the history of science and invention that was a much beloved part of our homeschooling curriculumn. (Actually, the kinder didn't know it was part of their education. Since videos were severely rationed in our household, they thought that being allowed to watch an episode was a special treat.)
Its delightfully interdisciplinary approach sought to demonstrate how seemingly random discoveries, scientific achievements, and even historical events were actually part of an interconnected series of cascading triggers that brought about certain aspects of modern technology.
I think that one reason we enjoyed it so much is that the human mind is always searching for patterns, even where they don't exist. I know I always get a thrill when I discover unsuspected connections.
This morning I was struggling to complete a post that had been in the works since Halloween. Well, struggle is probably too strong a verb. I like writing when I'm in the midst of it. I love having written. But I absolutely HATE to begin writing. So I wasn't so much struggling as engaging in really high level procrastination. ("My, wouldn't this be a good time to totally rethread my serger?")
When I'm in this state almost any stray thought blossoms into a full blown distraction.
Halloween. Hmm. Fillius2's Jack-o-Lantern. And those potato people he carved. Should have taken a picture. They used to use turnips in England. Oh, remember the illo in that Church Mouse book? I wonder if there's a copy on the Web? (Never mind that I have a copy in the other room.) Google. Diary of a Church Mouse.
Graham Oakley's book didn't turn up until the second page of results. It turns out that there's also a poem called "Diary of a Church Mouse" by a fellow called John Betjeman. Apparently, he was rather well known, so I suppose that Oakley might have been referencing the poem in his title. Connection!
I rather liked Betjeman's poem. (It rhymed and was easy to understand. I know, my taste in verse is rather hobbitish.) It's about a church mouse who's always on short commons except when the church is decorated with agricultural products during the Autumn Harvest Festival.
But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes… it's rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher's seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away
Come in to hear our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar's sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical, and High,
Yet somehow doesn't think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong,
While I, who starve the whole year through,
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.
(Reminds me of a curmudgeonly friend of mine who used to complain every Christmas and Easter when his pretty little church was invaded by "outsiders." Not quite the right attitude, I think. But that's a different story.)
So then I went over to Wikipedia to read about the fellow and discovered that he "famously brought his teddy bear Archibald Ormsby-Gore up to Magdalen with him, the memory of which later inspired his Oxford contemporary Evelyn Waugh to include Sebastian Flyte's teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited."
Connection again! Brideshead Revisited is right up there among my top ten favorite novels and is certainly the best Catholic novel I have ever read. (Sometimes it seems that everyone knew everyone in that period of literary England. So guess who Betjeman's Oxford tutor was -- C.S. Lewis.)
Oakley's The Diary of a Church Mouse is one of a charming series of picture books about the adventures of the mice living in the vestry of the parish church of Wortlethorpe. In exchange for chores such as polishing the brasses and picking up the rice after weddings, the vicar makes them a weekly allowance of cheese. It's a jolly lifestyle, especially because Sampson, the church cat, has taken a vow of brotherly love and friendship to mice though they try his patience sorely. The illustrations are lavishly detailed which both amplify and contradict the text, adding an extra dimension of humor to the stories. Fortunately, we have a complete set because they are now out of print and selling for outrageous prices at Amazon.com.
This is a nice webpage about the Church Mice series which includes a fan-written interview with Arthur and Humphry, the spokesmice of the vestry. (This fellow does a good job with his "interview," lifting most of the dialogue's wording from the text of the books.)
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I've always loved Halloween. One of the many advantages of being the oldest child is that as long as you're willing to supervise younger siblings, you're allowed to go trick-or-treating long past the age when you might reasonably be expected to give it up. (Though, nowadays it seems that great big hulking teenagers with, little pretense of a costume, turn up on one's doorstep with an open pillowcase in shameless expectation of treats. And I'm not going to argue with those big guys.)
When you have small children, trick-or-treating is going to take up most of the evening. But our family also had a tradition of holding a Halloween Read Aloud party. Everyone had to bring a short story appropriate to the season and read it aloud to the group. Sometimes this party consisted only of ourselves; sometimes it included our adult friends and their children. The only rule was that outright horror was prohibited in deference to those of tender years and Catholic Bibliophagist (who finds enough to scare her silly in real life without even trying).
I thought I would share some titles with you even though it's really too late for you to go out and find any of these in time for tonight.
"The Accountant" by Robert Sheckley, - A nice middle class family of wizards discovers that their 9 year old son Morton has bound himself to a more sinister profession. In the anthology Tomorrow's Children, ed. by Isaac Asimov.
"The Perfectionist" by Margaret St. Clair - Aunt Muriel was a tender hearted and generous old lady. Drawing was her new hobby -- but her model had to remain absolutely still. In Stories of Suspense, ed. by Mary E. MacEwen.
"Swept and Garnished" by Zenna Henderson - How wonderful to be free of the obsessive fears that used to haunt her! Then Tella discovered something even scarier. In Holding Wonder by Zenna Henderson.
Oh, dear! Time for me to leave. Fillius2 and I have a long trek to the dentist's office this morning. I'll try to finish after class tonight.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
First evidence (from Scythia, modern day Crimea) of a four-wheeled book cart. Within two generations this design was adopted throughout Europe and Asia, replacing the more maneuverable, but much less stable two-wheeled book cart.
The National Library of Babylon, finally switching to papyrus, ceases maintaining its clay tablet shelflist, but is unable to discard it for nostalgic reasons. Two years later, under seige by the Persians, the city finds a new use for the old tablets and manages to inflict severe losses on the beseiging army by pelting them from the ramparts with large quantities of shelflist tablets.
First attested use of an ISBN (for the special collector's edition of Caesar's Gallic Wars with an introduction by Marc Anthony): IXIVVIIXVIIIVIIIVIVII.
The Library at Alexandria decides to contract out its annual weeding project; Vandal hordes are the lowest bidder.
Click the link above and read more librarian geekiness, including an account of "St. Minutia, patron saint of catalogers."
Saturday, October 27, 2007
In a cartoon appropriate to the season, Savage Chickens offers this nightmare for librarians.
Doug Savage is running a series of Halloween themed cartoons right now, so click on over and have a look. (I don't always "get" his cartoons, but the ones I do get are often very funny.)
For instance, check out this "Tolkien vs. Austen" cartoon.
Friday, October 26, 2007
People say that we don't have seasons in southern California, but that is untrue. We just shuffle them around a bit. Our brief winter is marked by a few confused deciduous trees who hastily change color after an overnight cold snap. Spring takes place while most of the country is having winter and sometimes includes an optional Rainy Season. Summer extends through most of the rest of the year usually climaxing with the Santa Ana Fire Season.
Catholic Bibliophagist has been keeping her windows tightly closed. Nevertheless, the very high winds forced dust and dirt through my doors and windows. The area we live in is growing rapidly, and all of the surrounding construction sites must have lost a good deal of their real estate, most of which seems to have ended up in my patio. The winds shook the house so hard one night that I was kept awake for several hours. The next morning I went out to buy milk. The winds were still buffeting us, the air was crystaline, the skies were blue, and a plume of smoke was rising in the east.
We are not near enough to any of the fires to be in actual danger (I think -- our new house is much closer to the mountains than any of our previous homes), but every morning the sunlight shining into my library has been the reddish light of late afternoon. The skies have been beige with dust and smoke; the mountains have been mostly invisible. We've been getting some ash, but not as much as some years according to my next door neighbor. It all depends on the direction of the wind, I suppose.
Earlier this week I was sitting in my library wondering which books, if any, I would grab if I ever had to evacuate. Some books are precious because of the words between their covers. But when you get right down to it, another copy would do just as well. No sense toting those.
Other books have an added sentimental value because of the history attached to them. My childhood copy of Little Women. My Latin-English missal which I've had since fourth grade. My copy of Declare which my daughter had autographed at a convention because she knows her mother is too shy to ask for autographs. And the slim one volume Lord of the Rings from Allen & Unwin (it's printed on bible paper) which is not only a beloved work, but was a terribly affirming gift from my parents when I was still in college, a symbol of their acceptance of who their daughter was.
When I first started writing this blog post, I thought I'd conclude by saying that I could leave even these behind because any of them, even in those particular editions, could be replaced. But then I got to thinking about what it might be like to actually live through an evacuation. What would I want to have at hand to read during a time of dislocation when I'd probably be without ready access to books and probably surrounded by the oppressive sounds of television and radio? I think I'd want books that provide comfort, stability, distraction.
- My copy of A Short Breviary published by Liturgical Press in 1962.
- My Oxford World Classic editions of Jane Austen's novels because Jane never lets you down. Though hardcover, they are small enough to slip into a pocket. (I used to take them to the hospital with me for post labor reading.)
- For distraction, a short story collection -- because short is good when you're under stress. I have a 666 page anthology, The Most of P.G. Wodehouse, which ought to get me through any immediate crisis.
- And if we're talking comfort books, I'd also grab that copy of Little Women and the one volume Lord of the Rings. (Alas, for the three volume Folio Society edition! Too bulky.)
Thursday, October 18, 2007
"For certain voracious readers, April 1 has become a red-letter day: It's the one time of the year when they get to eat books. They won't eat just any book, only those prepared especially for the occasion, known as the Edible Books Festival . . ." Blake Eskin, "Books to Chew On," NY Times, March 26, 2006.
I will never make the claim, "You heard it first, here at Catholic Bibliophagist!" because I am generally the last person to know about anything.
The International Edible Book Festival, was dreamed up by Judith A Hoffberg, a California librarian, during a Thanksgiving dinner in 1999. It is observed annually on April 1st which is not only an appropriate day for biblio-silliness, but also the birthday of the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who wrote "The Physiology of Taste" in 1825.
Here are some pictures from the 2006 celebration held at Duke Univerity. Warning: some of these entries get rather pun-ish. (I think my favorites are "Flan of Green Gables" and "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss-shimi.")
Naturally, all of these edible books need the Dewey Decimeal (from the Seattle 2006 Festival) to keep them in order.
I will have to seek out a local observance of the Edible Book Festival in 2008. If I can't find one, perhaps we can hold one online here at Catholic Bibliophagist.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
But just a little one. According to the preliminaray report, it was a 4.2 magnitude located 3 miles north of Wrightwood, CA. (So I probably wouldn't have even felt it down here had I not been awake and blogging.)
Being a native Californian, I was under the the computer table within nanoseconds. And I scarcely had time to be glad that I'd bolted the bookcases to the walls before it was over.
Public Service Announcement: Catholic Bibliophagist urges her readers to hoard books responsibly! Get those bookcases properly bolted to the walls. She lived in a neighboring community during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, so she knows what she is talking about!
At that time we did not have any of our bookcases properly bolted, but I had taken the precaution of placing all tall bookcases is a separate library room which was not also a bedroom. Let me repeat that: Never put tall bookcases where they could fall on you while you sleep! We lost several bookcases during that quake. The Billy bookcases from Ikea were pretty stable. But several other kinds either fell over or collapsed. One of them collapsed sort of sideways across the closed door of the library which blocked our entrance to the room for quite some time.
Our kids still remember that earthquake fondly because after Daddy checked for major damage and gas leaks, they all got to huddle in our bed and listen to him read aloud The Hobbit. (He thought it would provide a distraction and help them to calm down. He was right.)
Posted by Catholic Bibliophagist at 2:19 AM
Okay, I don't really need these. I know perfectly well which books are where in my home library. But they appeal to the library geek in me. When you click the link, scroll down to the bottom of the page to read their suggestions on how to set up and label your library "so that your reading flourishes." La!
Posted by Catholic Bibliophagist at 1:58 AM
Monday, October 15, 2007
When I was young I could remember everything I'd ever read.
Even now I can recall a story in one of my early grade school readers about a king who set a seemingly impossible task: the fulfillment of his desire for a dessert that was both hot and cold. Naturally, a clever young boy solved the problem by inventing the first hot fudge sundae. (It wasn't much of a story, I suppose. But it made a deep impression on me -- probably because it was head and shoulders above the boring exploits of Dick and Jane.)
But with the passage of time and the increasing muliplicity of books under my belt, it's sometimes hard for me to recall whether or not I've already read a particular work. Yet once my eyes run over a page or so, connections in the brain start snapping and I know if I've read it before. And I don't just remember reading it, I recognize the look of the the page. (That's also the reason I don't need bookmarks; a page always looks different after it's been read. Almost as if it had become a different color.)
But now it's finally happened. Yesterday I read Tomorrow The Stars, a short story collection edited by Robert A. Heinlein. My copy has a bookplate in it with my maiden name, so I'm almost certain I bought this while I was in college. In those days I didn't own many books, so no book I bought ever went unread. But as I worked my way through the stories in this volume, I didn't recognize any of them. How could this be?
Then I got up to the ninth story in the collection, "Betelgeuse Bridge" by William Tenn. Within a page and a half I was certain I'd read it before. In fact, I'd remembered details about it that could not have been the result of a lucky predictive guess. (Towards the end of the collection I also found a second familiar story, "Misbegotten Missionary" by Isaac Asimov. But Asimov is so widely anthologized that I could easily have read it elsewhere.)
So what am I to think?
That I read only one story out of this collection which I bought at a time when I was an even more voracious reader than I am now?
That I forgot all of the stories except one?
I suppose this is the sensible hypothesis, but it scares me. One of my elderly relatives has Alzheimer's disease, which to me seems like a fate worse than death. And they say there are genetic factors involved. . .
I discussed this once with my daughter, Fillia, who brightly assured me that if I ever got Alzheimer's she'd keep me happy by sitting me in a chair with a book to read. "You could just read the same one over and over again, Mom." Somehow, that was not as comforting a prospect as she'd intended. Yes, I know that not every middle-aged memory lapse is a sign of creeping dementia. But so much of my mental landscape is made up of things I've read that it's disconcerting to have even the smallest pebbles of it evaporate.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
I haven't posted here since October 2nd which, in the blogiverse, is probably equivalent to about an eon and a half. What can I say? Sometimes life happens. A lot of mine has taken place in hospitals or emergency rooms in the company of elderly relatives. And then we lost our phone service (and therefore email and Internet access) for a day and a half.
So while I catch up with things I am posting a link to Heros in Storytelling, Barbara Nicolosi's notes for a talk which she gave to the San Diego Christian Writers Guild. She surveys the contemporary audience's perception of and attitude towards heroes. She asks why we should care if there are no heroes. She talks about what a hero is -- and about what things are not heroic. Her field is movies, but I think her observations are applicable to the writing of any kind of fiction.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Monday, October 1, 2007
Quilting is my other passion, and it's reflected in my library. Yesterday I was unpacking my collection of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. I have issues going back to 1970. Though I've been fascinated by quilts ever since I was very young, I was not a subscriber in those days. In fact, I had never even heard of QNM.
I discovered the magazine in the early 1990s. At that time, in response to an unhappy family event, I took one of my earlier abortive attempts at quiltmaking out of my cedar chest and sewed it together. At about the same time I discovered an online quilting community, the Online Quilters, through Prodigy, an early Internet Service Provider. It was a heady experience not unlike my previous discovery of fantasy and science fiction fandom. Despite the strictures of an online environment, we Online Quilters used Prodigy's bulletin boards (and the US Postal Service) to swap quilt blocks and fabric squares; to place group orders for specialized tools; to give lessons and hold workshops; and to participate in co-operative projects such as group quilts and round robins.
Outsiders wondered how we could become such close friends of people we'd never met face to face. Actually, we did occasionally meet at quilt shows. We wore blue fabric stars (based on Prodigy's logo) to identify ourselves and held "show & tell" (a traditional quilt guild activity) in the parking lots outside the shows.
(Later, due to conflicts with Prodigy's restrictions on content and its erratic deletion of bulletin board messages, most of us migrated to GEnie where we merrily continued our online quilt life.)
A lot of my basic knowledge of quilting came originally from the Online Quilters, including the merits of Quilter's Newsletter.
The first issue of QNM was published in September, 1969. At that time there were few quilting books available, no quilt stores, and none of the specialized tools quilters now take for granted. One hundred per cent cotton was difficult to find having been replaced with polyester-cotton blends. It was the age of bonded double knits. (Shudder!) Bonnie Leman began publishing QNM just ahead of the explosion of renewed interest in quilting which began in the early '70s which has continued unabated to the present day.
I acquired most of my back issues in the mid '90s when my local quilt guilt decided to sell off its collection at the annual Trash 'n Treasures meeting.
And what a treasure it was! I managed to snag over ten year's worth. Paging through the early issues was a time-traveling journey back to a day when hand piecing was still dominant and templates did not include seam allowances. Rotary cutters had yet to be invented and it was still rather daring to assert that machine quilting could be a legitimate option. Wall hangings, (i.e. small quilts that are hung up for decoration) were looked down upon by a certain faction of quiltdom who felt that a quilt wasn't really a quilt unless it covered a bed.
Paging through my collection, I've watched the rise and fall of various techniques and styles of quiltmaking. (I recall at least two articles on how to make quilts from scraps of bonded polyester knit!) I've read early articles by people who are now big names in the field. Through the pages of QNM I've watched the quilting community grow from scattered, isolated people swapping copies of patterns published in the 1930s by newspapers like the Kansas City Star, to a large diverse group of individuals ranging from those who consider themselves to be mere crafters to those who see themselves as serious artists. And they are supported by an enormous industry selling fabrics and tools that were undreamed of in 1969.
And occasionally the world of the Online Quilters and the world of QNM intersected. In the April '91 issue, p. 37, is a picture of Diane Rode Schneck's quilt, "Ugly Tie Contest." She made it with fabrics from our annual Ugly Fabric Swap. I can see the fabric I contributed, right there! The peach colored one with the little black locomotives.
Thanks to the Internet (and a current subscription), I now have a fairly complete collection of Quilters Newsletter. But I'm still missing quite a few issues between 1969 and 1972. If anyone out there has some that need a loving home, let me know.
Friday, September 28, 2007
When I was young bibliophagist I was much exercised in my mind by the question of what I should be when I grew up. I was not looking forward to adulthood with much eagerness, for it seemed to me that childhood was a pretty cushy berth. At the cost of a few household chores and some pretty easy schoolwork, one was allowed to occupy one's mind as one wished and to bury one's nose in a book just about all the time.
I didn't think I would be able to follow my mother into the noble profession of housewifery. Though I had not yet read A Very Young Housewife, I realized the absolute neccessity of a husband, a prerequisite which I instinctively sensed I was unlikely to acquire. (I was not a prepossessing child and did not expect my appeal to increase as I grew older.)
I knew I couldn't work in a store because I wouldn't be able to make change. I had never learned my addition and subtraction facts and this was long before idiot-proof cash registers. Being a nurse would be rather icky. And you couldn't be a nun unless you had a vocation. That pretty much covered all the possibilities except being a teacher. I thought I might be able to do that. After all, how hard could it be? They had all the answers at the back of the book.
It is odd, given my love of books and libraries, that I never imagined becoming a librarian. I think I must have considered them to be exalted beings whom the Deity wrought in finished form, suitably annointed, and installed into their positions accompanied by a respectful chorus of angel trumpets. Not the sort of thing to which a mere mortal might aspire.
However, by my senior year in high school I had finally realized that I could join their exalted ranks. I worked in the high school library, in the public library, and at my college library. I majored in British and American literature as an undergraduate and had even finished a post graduate semester of library science when, much to my astonishment, I suddenly found myself in possession of a husband.
Making one of those sudden U-turns in the career path, I devoted myself to building a home library and raising little bibliophagists. It’s been a satisfying life, but I still take an interest in professional librarianship. So I was delighted to discover The Classy Librarian’s blog and especially her post linking to Peep Research: A Study of Small Fluffy Creatures and Library Usage. If you’ve ever wondered about the advanced research skills of Peeps (hasn’t everybody?) or longed to read a serious comparison of the library behavior of Peeps vs. college students, this is the site to visit.
If you are primarily interested in scientific research on Peeps themselves, I recommend Peep Research. (Be sure to click on “Medical Miracle! Quintuplet Peep siblings, conjoined at birth, have been separated through this daring application of modern medicine!” Fillius2 and I were helpless with laughter.)
Posted by Catholic Bibliophagist at 12:33 AM
Monday, September 24, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I had a fortunate childhood. Unlike some bookworms who grow up in a family of nonreaders, I was never berated for reading too much. As I’ve said before, my parents valued education and were pleased that I could and did read. There was only one time I got in trouble for it.
When I was a kid I used to sometimes sneak books into the bathroom. I’d never do that now, but when I was a kid it didn’t occur to me that the same book I was reading in the bathroom would also be in my hands while I ate lunch. (Maybe I thought germs just didn’t stick to books.)
I suppose that the attraction of taking a book into the bathroom was that privacy was at such a premium in our family. And you were also out of sight of the adults who were sure to interrupt you by assigning you a chore. But the danger of reading in the bathroom (besides your feet going numb) is that it was so easy to lose track of time. We had a very large family, and in those days the average house didn’t have as many bathrooms as they do now.
So one day I came to the surface to hear my mother pounding on the bathroom door and shouting, “Bibliophagist, have you got a book in there?” Somehow I sensed she would not be pleased that my little brothers and sisters were hopping up and down in the hallway just because I was trying to finish a chapter.
“No, mom!” I replied on the Jesuitical grounds that I no longer actually had the book, having just slid it under the clothes hamper. I skipped out of the bathroom lickity-split intending to retrieve my book later. But I didn’t get around to it before my mother decided to do the laundry and discovered my deception.
She said it was the lie I was being punished for more than the location of my bibliophagic behavior. But she made the punishment fit the accident of the crime. I was forbidden to read for a week!
It was the longest week of my life. I couldn’t read anything except my school assignments. The one brief oasis in that howling wilderness was when my mother asked me to look up something in the encyclopedia for her. A sip of cold water to my parched soul!
I don’t think I ever read a book in the bathroom again.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
This morning I was trying to think of which books I’ve read that deserve the Dorothy Parker Flung Award. But since I routinely eschew genre that I know I won’t like and am not required to read books I don’t choose, I can’t think of any candidates right now. I must let this percolate through my hind brain and see if it dredges up anything from the past.
Certainly I've stumbled into novels I didn’t like. But since I don’t feel obliged to finish them, I usually don’t feel the need to fling them. Sometimes I’ve finished a novel I wasn’t enjoying because I kept thinking that sooner or later there was going to be a payoff that would turn the whole thing around and make it all worthwhile. The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies was one of those. I’ve liked other books by this author, but this one just left me feeling soiled.
Some books are so badly written that you end up finishing them simply from a sense of appalled fascination. Like catching sight of a road accident that makes you turn your head and keeps your eyes helplessly glued until it's out of sight.
But bad enough to be “thrown with great force”?
Okay, guys: nominate some titles. I promise not to read them.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Maureen left a comment on my post about St. Columba which I'm bumping up here because of the really cool picture:
"Here's a picture of the little book that started the big war. The Cathach (Battler) of St. Columba."
Besides being the oldest extant Irish manuscript of the Psalter, the Cathach is also the earliest example of Irish writing. It is traditionally thought to have been the one which St. Columba secretly transcribed from a book owned by St. Finnian. (Would that make Columba the patron saint of software and DVD pirates?) Their dispute over the rightful ownership of Columba’s illegitimate copy ultimately led to the Battle of Cul Dremne in 561. The manuscript can be dated late 6th to early 7th century from its script, but modern historical scholarship has cast doubt on the dating and whether Columba actually wrote it. (Phooey on them!)
I love the large initial letters at the beginning of each psalm. Do you notice the way that the letters next to the initial start out large and then gradually shrink back down to the size of the regular text?
There are more pictures here at the Royal Irish Academy where you can also download a longer description of the manuscript which includes an account of the manuscript's original condition when it was discovered and the various kinds of restoration that it has undergone:
"Pieces of degreased fish skin were used for joining butted edges in the vellum mounts." (Besides a voracious love of reading I am fascinated by bookbinding.)
Posted by Catholic Bibliophagist at 11:58 AM
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
"When my son was eight months old, it could truthfully be said that he devoured literature. Presented with a book, he chewed it. A bit of Henry's DNA has been permanently incorporated into the warped pages of Goodnight Moon, and the missing corners of pages 3 and 8 suggest that a bit of Goodnight Moon has been permanently incorporated into Henry. He was, of course, not the first child to indulge in bibliophagy. The great Philadelphia bookdealer A.S.W. Rosenbach deduced that one reason first editions of Alice in Wonderland were so scarce was that so many of them had been eaten."
--Anne Fadiman, "The Literary Glutton" in Ex Libris
Monday, September 10, 2007
Starting with the library of the Strahov Monastery in Prague, Curious Expeditions has assembled a compendium of beautiful libraries here. If you scroll all the way down through all the libraries, your mouse finger will go numb and your brain will go into visual overload!
Saturday, September 8, 2007
“When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in YOU than there was before.”
Hmmm. This is clever and basically true, but aren't these two items simply the same thing stated in different words? I think that in rereading you see more in the book because there is more in you. Since your original reading you now have more experience, more perspective and more background, so things that previously flew over your head (or were just off your radar screen) are now apparent. But that "something more" which you've now discovered in the book was really already there.
Here's a different process than the one Fadiman describes: having a new bit of insight in response to rereading a book. Insight is a conclusion triggered by what you've read, but it's not necessarily the author's conclusion and it's not something that was in the book already. Insight comes from inside you, a flash of truth ignited by the Holy Spirit, though whether or not it bursts into flame or weakly flickers out is dependent on our will and whether or not we've gathered enough good tinder for it.
I still like the quote though.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
I was taking pictures of the library to email to my oldest son when I noticed this interesting juxtaposition, Our Lady of Vladimir right next to the novels of Tim Powers. Some people might think think they make strange shelf-fellows. After all, Wikipedia's article on Tim Powers summarizes Declare (my favorite of his novels) thusly: "...a Cold War espionage thriller which evokes Lovecraftian horror and the Epic of Gilgamesh, involving Kim Philby, djinn and the Ark on Mount Ararat." That probably doesn't fit most people's notion of Catholic fiction, but in this case it certainly fits mine.
Is there such a thing as Catholic fiction, and if so, what is it? This was a frequent topic around our family dinner table, and I think the consensus we finally reached was that Catholic fiction is fiction which takes place in a universe in which Catholicism is objectively true. It isn't necessarily literature that is "nice" or "safe." It may have bad people doing bad things and using bad language. It need not overtly proclaim the author's religious beliefs, though they will be implicit in the work. And only the poorest specimens of Catholic fiction will be thinly fictionalized apologetics. So for my money, Declare qualifies. It's a book in which Catholicism is the underlying physics of the world, so baptism has a real effect on a person's identity and prayer can be surprisingly efficacious.
(By the way, I also think that not every book by a Catholic author is neccessarily a Catholic novel. Tim Powers also wrote Drawing of the Dark which takes place in a universe in which reincarnation is true.)
Catholic fiction is a topic I hope to explore frequently in this blog. In fact, I had originally planned to call my blog "Catholic Fiction," but discovered that there is already a very good blog by that name here. I invite my readers (all two or three of them!) to list in the comments box those books which they think might qualify as Catholic fiction and to explain why.
By the way, IgnatiusInsight.com interviewed Tim Powers about fantasy, science fiction, and the relationship between literature and faith, here. If you are interested in reading one of his short stories which is overtly Catholic, check out "Through and Through" which was reprinted with permission at JimmyAkin.org. Another good interview can be found here at Strange Horizons.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
There's nothing like having to pack up and move forty years' worth of book collecting to make a person become a just little ruthless in the matter of duplicates. I tried to weed them out as I was packing, but they still keep turning up.
I know that some of our duplicates were due to the vagaries of our shelving system. For example, my husband divided the history section into rough subject catagories, but didn't alpabetize by author or title. Consequently, duplicates, overlooked in the jumble, crept in without our knowledge. Or sometimes they would hide themselves by being filed in two different catagories -- one copy of Tom Aquinas in the religion section and another in philosophy.
As I unpack I've rigorously alphabetized by author and then title and have turned up a fair number of unsuspected duplicates. (Would you believe three copies of Religion and the Rise of Western Culture? How did that happen?) In general, I've decided to keep hardcover copies rather than paperbacks though allowing some exceptions based on sentiment. For example, even though I also own a hardcover copy, I could never discard my paperback edition of 84 Charingcross Road. It's got the romantic inscription from my husband who was a bookseller before we married.
I had to steel myself to relinquish my battered childhood copy of Tom Sawyer in favor of the very nice hardcover collection of Twain's Mississippi writings. And I do feel some regret. The older copy was one of my very early book purchases. I'd bought it at the local Woolworths which, for a time, had a big stack of used books which they were selling off cheaply. I used to walk there (it was about a mile from my home) and root through the pile looking for books I had already read. My allowance was only 25 cents a week, so I seldom took chances on a book I hadn't read yet. I see that the copy of Daddy-Long-Legs which I bought there was priced at 50 cents. So that gives you an idea of my limited purchasing power.
Lately I've been unpacking the paperback fantasy, science fiction, and literature.
Hmmm. Two copies of Voyage to Arcturas. I still haven't read that! And we bought it way back in the '70s because we'd read that C.S. Lewis had been impressed by it. And look how many volumes we have from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series! I'm embarassed by how many I haven't read. And judging by their pristine condition, some of them were never read by either my husband or myself. (Blush!) But it seemed so important to buy them back when, thanks to the popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, old works of fantasy were finally being reprinted and new ones were being published. We always thought we'd get around to reading them sooner or later. I still intend to, but I never imagined it would be during my retirement.
I'm trying to be ruthless about culling the dupes, but I find that there are limits. Can I really part with my Ballantine copies of Lord of the Rings -- even though I have the Allen & Unwin one volume edition (slipcased and printed on India paper) and the Folio Society's edition (with illustrations by Ingahild Grathmer)? I know that Tolkien never liked the covers of the Ballentine edition (especially the little emu critters), but nothing brings backthe '60s, the era when I first read LOTR, like those battered paperbacks which lined up side by side to form a continuous landscape. In cases like these a book is more than a work of literature -- it's also an artifact of personal history. Besides, my Ballentine LOTR has little paper bookmarks scattered throughout the pages with penciled drawings of elves, hobbits, and Vulcans which I doodled while working at Telecredit in the mid '70s. And they just wouldn't fit in my newer, nicer editions.