Review: A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century

A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth CenturyA Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century by Robert Royal

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book could be the single (or primary) textbook for a course on modern Catholic intellectuals. It covers theology, scriptural studies, philosophy, poetry, prose, and historiography of the great Catholic minds of the 20th Century.

It’s a very large book, both in page number and content. It took a long time to read but it is worth it. It provided me with at least a dozen more “Want to Read” books on GoodReads.

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Review: Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About 10 years ago I saw the 80’s mini-series of Brideshead Revisited, starring Jeremy Irons, and really fell in love with the story. Since then I have read other Evelyn Waugh novels, but finally got around to reading this one. At first it was hard not to picture what I had seen on the television, but as I read I got wrapped up in the beautiful prose, the choices of the characters, and the elegance of the formality and manners of the time period (1920’s and 30’s England).

This is a religious novel, not because it delineates theology, but because it tells the story of a Catholic family, their weaknesses, and their adherence to the beauty of their faith, even though they may not understand it fully or be particularly good at it. Life is so filled with mystery, and this is a story about imperfect people embracing the beauty of that mystery. As St. Augustine wrote, “If you do understand, then it is not God.”

A lot of times when reading a bad novel, I hear the gears of the author’s mind in the background. Waugh, especially in this novel, is invisible and is completely out of the way of the story and the characters.

I recommend this novel to anyone wanting to read a master of the English language and those who enjoy the spiritual journey.

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Review: The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall I enjoyed the plot of this novel, and the story moves quickly. However, I think it is the sort of bad fiction that tries too hard to awkwardly wedge philosophical concepts into the dialog instead of accurately describing human nature through the choices of the characters.

Much of it seemed liked science fiction. The main characters and the choices they make resemble no human being that I have met along my life’s journey. It was like an episode of Star Trek where a species of beings on a different planet has a different sense of justice and interdependence.

First of all there are no children anywhere in the 700 pages. It is as if human beings are fully formed out of the womb. This is magnified by the not-so-subtle philosophy that we are to live for ourselves and not for other people. But children and their upbringing as well as the self-sacrifice good parents make for their kids are completely left out of the equation. Perhaps this is why college kids like this novel – they think they are all grown up, mature, and that all aspects of children in their lives have been removed. The only example of parents are the spineless Mrs. Keating and the paternally impotent Guy Francon.

In Ayn Rand’s philosophy known as Objectivism, there is an idea that the only form of knowing is reason. She weaves this idea throughout the fabric of the novel, suggesting that the heroes of the story also believe this. I only ask, then what purpose does fiction have? Why not just write non-fiction? It is because story telling also transmits knowledge in a way that is complimentary to and not subservient to reason. A novelist, by the very medium, rejects that reason is the only form of knowledge.

I understand the time period that this was written, and I recognize her need to make a statement about the evils of Marxist Communism. Losing one’s own identity within the mass of society is not good for anyone. For a true atheist, the only alternative is self-seeking.

That is because we all define and come to understand ourselves, as the philosopher Martin Buber put it, in an I-Thou relationship. I am myself and not another. Those of us who open ourselves up to God (who has with non-physical and non-temporal personal characteristics) have a consequent I-Thou relationship, discovering ourselves as a person other than God. Atheists must designate that relationship to other physical human beings and so must always put the self first in order to not lose themselves in an amorphous population.

But even the atheist has to see that biologically we a the combination of two people. Our very being is dependent upon human interdependence.

From the final courtroom testimony of the main character Roark, I think Ayn Rand really does think that she is writing something Promethean. But the fire she is offering is as old as that associated with the serpent in the first pages of the Hebrew Bible. She has created her own following of “second-handers.”

I give it 4 stars because it is worth reading, but only as a glimpse into the poorly-formed 20th Century intellectualism that expedited the self-centered mess that we are currently in.

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Review: The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints

The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints
The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints by Ralph Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was given to me as a gift by a friend. It is a large book of about 420 pages, and it took quite a long time to read, mostly because it is a book on prayer, and each small section requires time on which to meditate.

I can’t imagine any better book to read during Lent. Taking the wisdom of several of the spiritual giants of the Western tradition – Augustine, Bernard, Teresa, John of the Cross, and Thérèse of Lisieux – Ralph Martin groups together common threads of all of these authors’ writings.

If you are interested in growing deeper in your Christian faith or just understanding how it all works, then this might be a good book to commit some time to.

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Review: Charming Billy

Charming Billy
Charming Billy by Alice McDermott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Good fiction wrecks me, and this novel wrecked me. At least intermittently. It is a story about an extended Irish Catholic family from New York, their loss of a friend and husband (the story starts at the funeral so that is not a spoiler), and how the trajectory of their lives are changed by the choices that all of them make.

I enjoyed that it was not written in chronological order, as some events in the past carry more weight by knowledge of the future. The narrative voice was confusing at times, sometimes easily identifiable as one of the characters and at other times seeming omniscient, describing the person who the reader thinks is the teller of the story.

There were religious undercurrents but not the abstract theology that gets awkwardly wedged into bad Christian novels.

By the end I cared deeply for the characters.

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Review: A Thread of Grace

A Thread of Grace
A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a good story, but not a great novel. I did start to care about the characters, but there were so many characters that I didn’t have time to get to know each one better.

This is historical fiction about the end of World War II after Italy surrendered but the Germans did not. The Germans began attacking Italy and coming after Italian Jews. An attempt was made by Italian Catholics to protect Jews as much as they could.

Sometimes I felt the author got in the way of the characters by inserting an attempt at cleverness that made me stop thinking about the story and start thinking, “the author is trying to be clever” or “the narrator is in the 21st Century, not the 1940’s.”

The characters all speak Italian or German although the novel is written in English, therefore it is a little weird when the phonetic spelling of English-speaking Germans or Italians is employed in the dialogue.

I did enjoy the story and finished it to find out how it ends. Russell portrays both Jews and Catholics in a positive light. This book was a gift, and I’m glad I received it.

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Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I wish I had known about it sooner. It is a post-nuclear war futuristic story about a series of monks whose job is to preserve the knowledge of the past. It’s rare to find books where more than a few of the protagonists have right reason and strong faith and where the author is aptly skilled in the human side of storytelling. I found it to have the wartime type of humor you might find in Catch 22 or the TV show, MASH.

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