A Prayer Journal

Flannery O’Connor’s personal prayer journal was published in 2013. I do tend to feel uncomfortable with the exposure of personal writings but then I also feel ravenous for new words from favorite authors, so I nearly always read them.

A Prayer Journal is a prolonged plea for closeness to God, humble acceptance of her gifts (even if they must be mediocre), and for the literary excellence O’Connor craves. She is impatient with her own weakness and wary of pretense and ego. Often her prayers simply ask for the ability to want what she knows she should but the overriding theme is the twin desires to become both a saint and a genius.

It is a devotional work and the wrenching honesty and grief in it are steep and nearly tragic.

The books two weaknesses are it’s brevity and it’s clearly private nature. Her creative spelling and casual punctuation could be a distraction but only if you lose sight of the intelligence and clarity of her thought.

A few compelling quotations:

“Dear God, I don’t want to have invented my faith to satisfy my weakness. I don’t want to have created God to my own image as they’re so fond of saying. Please give me the necessary grace, oh Lord, and please don’t let it be as hard to get as Kafka made it.”

“no one can be an atheist who does not know all things. Only God is an atheist. The devil is the greatest believer and he has his reasons.”

“When something is finished, it cannot be possessed. Nothing can be possessed but the struggle.”

“Virtue must be the only vigorous thing in our lives. Sin is large and stale. You can never finish easting it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited.”

A Year’s Worth

Every year since 2006 I have kept a list of the books I read each year. An interview I did in 2006, in which I claimed to read over 100 books a year (much to my interviewer’s disbelief), prompted me to start keeping track. In 2008 I engaged in a 200 book challenge (and read 201 books), but otherwise I have merely kept track of my “natural” reading progress. I write titles and authors into a journal in the order I read them and “star” new-to-me books (ratings are out of a possible five). Books without stars are re-reads and obviously rate high if I am returning to them. Amazon Affiliate Links for recommended books.

The List of 2016 (with notes):

The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkein

Furies of Calderon  – Jim Butcher **

Gilead – Marilynne Robinson ****

Gourmet Rhapsody – Muriel Barberry **

The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis

The Theory of Everything – Stephen Hawking *** (A Brief History of Time is more readable)

Juvenescence – Robert Pogue Harrison ***** (A fantastically engaging history of intellectual development)

Louder and Funnier – P.G. Wodehouse ***

Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman ***

Mansfield Park – Jane Austen (A yearly re-read. Deeply moral in a quiet way.)

The Republic – Plato (One I teach each year. )

Realms of Gold – Leland Ryken ***

The Poetics – Aristotle (Another work I teach.)

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (Another annual re-read. A demonstration of the necessity of mutual respect and friendship in marriage.)

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen (There is a pattern here… This one is light and funny, especially if you’ve enjoyed any Gothic romances.)

The Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle (Still teaching.)

C.S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid – A.T. Reyes *** (Worthwhile only for the student of The Aeneid or the Lewis scholar.)

Emma – Jane Austen

The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. LeGuin ***

American Nations – Colin Woodard **** (A fascinating alternate view of American history that privileges understanding the differences in American culture rather than the commonalities. I found it enlightening.)

Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis ** (Amusing but light.)

Scipio Africanus – B.H. Liddel Hart **** (A history of the greatest general the world has ever seen – according to Liddel Hart who is a noted expert.)

Livy’s Early History of Rome (Another work I teach.)

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

Gratitude – Oliver Sacks ***

The Zombie Survival Guide – Max Brooks ** (Greatly inferior to World War Z – also by Max Brooks.)

Persuasion – Jane Austen

The Aeneid – Virgil (One of the greatest of the greats of Western Civilization and a book I’m privileged to teach.)

The Enchiridion – Epictetus (We could all use more Stoic Philosophy.)

On the Shoulders of Hobbits – Louis Markos ** (Fine, but pretty basic for any devotee of Tolkien.)

When I Was a Child I Read Books – Marilynne Robinson ***

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson ** (I’ve enjoyed other Bryson much more.)

A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller Jr.

Gumption – Nick Offerman*

Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford ***

African American Religion (Very Short Introductions) – Eddie S. Glude Jr. **** (This was the first Very Short Introduction that I read. This series from Oxford is absolutely fantastic and includes over 500 volumes. The six I’ve read were each intriguing in their own way. Those about things with which I am unfamiliar have stimulated my interest. Those about things with with I am familiar have shown themselves to be original and reliable.)

Better Living Through Criticism – A.O. Scott ** (It did not live up to its title.)

Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves – Roy Maynard **** (This is a nicely annotated edition of the first book of Spencer’s Faerie Queene. Occasionally the annotator is a little to full of his own cleverness.)

Innumeracy – John Allen Paulos **** (Ought to be required reading for Elementary Educators for its urgent call for teaching mathematic literacy to young people.)

Storm Front – Jim Butcher ***

The Life of Elves – Muriel Barberry ***

Ben-Hur – Lew Wallace (I’ve been reading this one over and over for 25 years.)

The Roman Empire (Very Short Introductions) – Christopher Kelly ***

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Another favorite from childhood.)

The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis

The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu *** (Worth reading if you like your science fiction to be physics-y and odd.)

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius (The Philosopher-Emperor’s reminders to himself. Again, Stoic Philosophy is a helpful antidote to the modern world.)

The Riddle Master of Hed – Patricia McKillip **

The Last Battle – C.S. Lewis

The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis

Infectious Disease (Very Short Introduction) – Wayne & Bolker **** (Another great Intro.)

Xenocide – Orson Scott Card ***

Fool Moon – Jim Butcher **

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

Letters to Malcolm – C.S. Lewis

Villette – Charlotte Bronte ** (Disappointing for one who loves Jane Eyre.)

The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis

Half a King – Joe Abercrombie ***

The Place of the Lion – Charles Williams ***

Kullervo – J.R.R. Tolkien **** (A charming, but short, retelling of a Finnish legend.)

Silence – Shusako Endo (Well worth frequent re-reading.)

You Are What You Love – James K.A. Smith ***** (Fantastic examination of how our unspoken, unconsidered habits shape us.)

How to Grow Old – Cicero **** (Thoughtful, meditative, and challenging.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy – James B. South **** (An enjoyable combo of pop-culture and philosophy.)

Making All Things New – Henri Nouwen *****

Are Women Human – Dorothy Sayers (A witty and thoughtful examination of how women had been regarded and how they might be better understood.)

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Fault in our Stars – John Green (Ugh.)

Tehanu – Ursula K. LeGuin **** (Original and provocative in wonderful ways.)

The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie ***

The Way of the Heart – Henri Nouwen *****

Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis

The Last Unicorn (Graphic Novel) – Peter S. Beagle **** (I couldn’t find the graphic novel to link, so this just goes to the paperback novel.)

Gifts – Ursula K. LeGuin ***

The Mongols (Very Short Introduction) – Morris Rossabi ***

Surprised by Hope – N.T. Wright ****

The Telling – Ursula K. LeGuin ***

Till We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis (A longtime favorite that I now get to teach!)

Earth Abides – George R. Stewart **** (A unique post-apocalyptic novel that realistically examines the fate of a minority of humans surviving.)

Grave Peril – Jim Butcher **

The Epic of Gilgamesh (Another book I teach.)

The Book of the Dun Cow – Walter Wangerin ***** (The great modern beast fable.)

The Geek Feminist Revolution – Kameron Hurley **

The Metamorphoses – Ovid (Look at all these cool books I get to teach!)

The Real American Dream – Andrew Delbanco ***

Silence and Beauty – Makota Fujimura ***** (An artist’s appreciation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence. Absolutely exquisite.)

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson **** (The president read it this year too!)

The Shadow of the Torturer – Gene Wolfe  (Re-reading The Book of the New Sun tetralogy for book club. Very challenging but very good.)

Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson

White Trash – Nancy Isenberg ****

Antigone – Sophocles (Teaching again.)

Oedipus Tyrranus – Sophocles (Yup. Teaching.)

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

Ancient Philosophy (Very Short Introduction) – Julia Annas **** (Annas makes excellent use of her limited space and gives a very engaging intro to the major schools of ancient philosophical thought.)

The Claw of the Conciliator – Gene Wolfe (More Book of the New Sun.)

The Wave in the Mind – Ursula K. LeGuin *** (An uneven collection with some excellent essays in it.)

The Physics of Superheroes – James Kakalios *** (What else do you read when you’re staying with your friend and her husband: the experimental physicist?)

On Friendship – Alexander Nehamas ***

Lexicon Urthus – Michael Andre-Driussi (A companion to The Book of the New Sun.)

The Art of Loving – Erich Fromm ***

The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (Yes. Again. I can’t help it. Austen is perfection, especially on cold winter nights.)

Total: 102 books read, 63 new and 39 re-read. Of course, my to be read pile is still happily extensive.

Go Read Mansfield Park

Here are ample reasons.

 

“If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.”

“I should have thought,’ said Fanny after a pause of recollection and exertion, ‘that every woman must have felt the possibility of a man’s not being approved, not being loved by someone of her sex, at least, let him be ever so generally agreeable. Let him have all the perfections in the world, I think it ought not to be set down as certain, that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself.”

“Human nature needs more lessons than a weekly sermon can convey.”

 

Fanny Price is often accused of insipidity, and I do prefer a femininity less retiring, yet the power of seeing the truth so very clearly is perhaps most safely granted to a quiet character; Elizabeth Bennett benefits from being wrong on occasion.

Aeropress

As former coffee shop owners my husband and I are a little snobbish about our coffee. We have used everything from a basic flat-bottom brewer to a French Press and even, on occasion, a Keurig. The French Press had become our preferred method, but it still left us with some dissatisfactions. We prefer a sweeter taste to our coffee, and really just wanted espresso most of the time. However, as we really wanted an expensive plumbed-in machine, we were out of luck.

At the recommendation of some casual acquaintances, we bought ourselves an Aeropress about six months ago. They praised the sweet taste of the very strong coffee it produced, the ease of use and clean up, and the portability of the set up. Because it only cost about 30 bucks we were happy to give it a go.

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We really, really like it. It makes a delicious – nearly espresso – shot of strong coffee. You can make one serving in about 45 seconds. The device is incredibly simple and so it is easier to clean than your coffee cup. You can drink the strong coffee straight, add hot water to it for an “Americano”, add milk for a latte, or pour it over ice in the summer. The only downside is that it is not great for making large quantities of coffee quickly. If we were having 15 people over for breakfast we might run into trouble. Fortunately, that never happens!

You can heat the water you need on the stove or in the microwave, but we like to use a nice electric kettle with temperature pre-sets to get just-the-right-temp water for brewing. We also have a small burr-grinder for fresh espresso-ground coffee. We also have a unique situation where our pastor roasts us fresh coffee every week. Not everyone is quite as blessed as we are…

The KonMari Method and Me

konmari

I have been hearing of Marie Kondo’s book and it’s overwhelming popularity for some time now. I wasn’t too interested in reading it because my home is not cluttered, I’m minimalist in everything except my library, and I am very happy with my life and house.

But I picked it up anyway. I had a gift card to spend at Barnes and Noble and along with a leather bound journal and some note cards it caught my eye.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Apart from some cheesy personification of objects and a vague sort of spiritualism about them, her advice resonated deeply. She encourages owning only things you love (which has long been mostly my philosophy) and requires that everything have a place to be put away (which is also what I do). But what was most charming in her book was her encouragement to be grateful to your possessions for what the are doing or have done for you. For years I have dealt with feelings of restlessness and discontent by stopping and remembering to be grateful to God for all that I have in my life. I have found it easy to care for my home over the years, despite being an essentially lazy person, because I am so grateful to have this beautiful space and the peace and security I experience here.

But…my home is already minimally furnished. My wardrobe is already made up of only clothes I love. My shelves already filled with books that “spark joy” every time I hold them. But…the boys’ bedroom!

There is one place in the house that has always been cluttered, messy, and chaotic. I have frequently gone up there and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. I have thrown stuff out, organized, dusted, vacuumed, and then three months later done it all over again. Marie Kondo emphasizes again and again that the process of decluttering is very important for her clients. They simply must make the decisions of what “sparks joy” as a way of training themselves to know their own desires. Her book gave me the idea of leading my sons through the process instead of trying to do it for them. How much better to teach them to care affectionately for their possessions by allowing them to choose what they love owning rather than telling them what they can and cannot keep?

And it seems to work. On Tuesday I spent about 3 hours with Alex and Luc in their bedroom. We took everything off the shelves and out of the drawers. We first went through their clothes and, other than their school uniforms, I had them choose what clothes they love to wear. We donated a bag full of their discards. Then they decided they wanted to keep two categories of toys (Star Wars toys and Dinosaurs) but put them away for a while, so we bagged them up to put in the attic. Next I had them choose what pencils, crayons, etc they wanted and we designated a drawer in each of their desks for the ones they kept and I threw the rest away. Likewise papers they had colored on were either thrown away or put into a designated drawer. Legos were picked up and a couple of shelves designated for their storage. Beds were made. And then we sorted through all the miscellaneous stuff. I gave them each a basket and asked them to put their “treasures” in them. Then we looked at all the stuff still on the floor and I asked them to go find every single thing they absolutely loved owning and we would find a place for it. When they said they were done we threw every other thing out. They then hesitated over a few items but I reminded them that they didn’t love owning it and so it wasn’t worth keeping. They both found that standard easy to identify and to hold to. Luc is more of a packrat and so he had more of those hesitating moments but we had no arguments and no grief over any of the process. In all of this “tidying” I didn’t buy a single organizer or tote or tub. In fact, I threw three out!

The strength of this process is in training the decision-making faculty. I am sure that I will need to remind and guide my sons further, but realizing that this was something I could teach them to do for themselves and not something I needed to continue doing for them was a nice breakthrough. We’re a few days in and their room is still clean (other than the blankets strung up around their beds making a fort – they are still kids). When I tell them to pick up, it only takes a few minutes both because they have much less stuff over all and because they know the place for everything. And not to oversell the “magic” of tidying, but with a tidy bedroom Alex and Luc have both been re-energized to work on some of their creative projects (making their own trading card game) and haven’t been having even less than their usual low-level of brotherly conflict.

 

Recommendations

 

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Fellow readers, I am often asked for book recommendations. It can be difficult to make specific recommendations to another reader without long standing reading intimacy. Other than the great books everyone should read, I have a few I recommend often.

I first read The Elegance of the Hedgehog a few years ago. Its alternating stories of the rich inner lives of a 50-something concierge in an elegant Parisian apartment building and a 12-year-old resident of the same are delicate and inspiring. Renee’s story of her autodidactic education alongside young Paloma’s existential despair make for an elegant philosophical and emotional exploration.