Sunday, August 10, 2014

Summer Reading

Long time since last I posted anything.  I guess it's about time I wrote up something, and what could be easier than giving a run down on what I've been reading lately (or at least since I last gave such an update).

I've actually read quite a bit.  One of the benefits from being in multiple book clubs and having an academic career.  But I'm only going to focus on what I read for fun, only throwing in a few of the books I've tackled for school.  If anyone wants to keep up with my reading life in real time, just hunt me down on Goodreads, as I use Goodreads regularly to track my reading progress.

Also, I should say that I've committed myself to reading all the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction, so that's also given me a goal that has been directing my reading.

The last time I provided an update was nearly a year ago, in September of 2013, so I'll use that date as my starting point.

I'll link each book to its site on Goodreads, and you can find any reviews I might have posted about the book there.

Here goes ...

Warren Moore's Broken Glass Waltzes - "4" star ranking (out of five possible stars) - (This was a crime noir novel that I read on my Nook.  I'm not much for this kind of literature, but it was a book published by a blogger whose writing I have come to like, so I figure I'd give it a go.)

James Martin, SJ's My Life with the Saints - "4" star ranking - (From my spiritual readings book club.  Wonderful, engaging writing.  I really enjoyed it.)

Juan Gabriel Vazquez's The Sound of Things Falling - "4" star ranking - (From another book club.  A great addition to the Latin American literature collection.)

C. Alan Ames's Through the Eyes of Jesus: A Trilogy - "2" star ranking - (Bordering on the lowest "1" star ranking.  Another book for my spiritual readings book club; but one which I didn't pick.  I only read the first of the Trilogy and that's all I think I ever will read of it.  I found it to be less than inspiring and very poorly written.  Out of charity, I won't say anything else about it.)

Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones - "4" star ranking - (From the couples book club.  A hurricane Katrina novel.  Very worthwhile read.  Jesmyn Ward will now be teaching at Tulane University, which is very exciting.)

Miguel A. De La Torre's Reading the Bible from the Margins - "4" star ranking - (My pick for the spiritual readings book club.  Vociferously despised by my more conservative, orthodox brothers in the club.  If you want a radical re-reading of the bible as a testament to its social and political emphasis on solidarity with the poor, this book is for you.  It's sometimes a bit in-your-face, but its liberation theology message is one that really resonates with me.)

Roberto BolaƱo's The Savage Detectives - "4" star ranking - (A selection for my men's book club.  Loved it. Unique style of writing.)

Georges Bernanos's The Diary of a Country Priest - (One I have started on and off since college and finally just buckled down and read it.)

[NOTE: I'll have to come back and flesh out the details and links for the following books appearing below that I've read, but I'll just simply list them for now.]

Michael Cunningham's The Hours - (Pulitzer winner for 1999)

Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons - (Pulitzer winner for 1919 and my selection for my men's book club.)

Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heart - (Couples book club pick.)

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass - (My book club with my youngest daughter.)

Homer's The Odyssey (My book club with my oldest daughter,)

Ernest Poole's His Family - (First Pulitzer winner for 1918.)

Janet M. Tavakoli's Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits - (Spiritual book club selection.  Not mine.  Pulpy trash fiction.)

Robert E. Barron's And Now I See...: A Theology of Transformation - (Spiritual book club selection.  Very sophisticated theology and philosophy, but very good.)

Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex - (Pulitzer winner for 2003.  Excellent book.)

Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter - (Pulitzer winner for 1973.)

Robert Graves's I, Claudius - (Couples book club choice.)

Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies - (Pulitzer winner for 2000)

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter - (My book club with my oldest daughter.)

Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey - (Pulitzer winner for 1928.)

Jack London's The Call of the Wild - (My book club with my youngest daughter.)

William Kennedy's Ironweed - (Pulitzer winner for 1984.)

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath - "4" star ranking - (From the Pulitzer Prize winner collection and also  the quintessential American novel classic.  Definitely a worthwhile read.  Odd that I had never read it until now.)

Currently reading and almost finished with:

Thomas Pynchon's V - (Men's book club selection.)

Margaret Ayer Barnes's Years of Grace - (Pulitzer winner for 1931)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Morning

Saturday Morning

A cacophony of alarm clocks in each room
Buzzing or beeping met with outstretched arms
Blind-slapping "off" buttons.

Sounds of morning life are slowly crescendoing to pleasant pitch.
Chickens are clucking in the yard, clamoring to be uncooped.
The house dog’s tail wags a rhythmic thumping of the hard-wood floors,
      Slowly picking up tempo as dawn’s dimmer switch rises brighter.
The house joists themselves creak awake as they expand with the
      Temperatures of the solar appearance.

But the beds stay filled with the slowed breathing of
Still slumbering bodies,
Blankets nudging up necks,
Heads burrowing deeper under blankets,
Stealing minutes more of sleep,
A few more minutes.
Eyes closed, but pupils still adjusting dilation
Under their lids to the emerging daylight.
Just a few more minutes, please.
Please.

Today this house will not wake early.
It’s Saturday.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Poem: "11th Birthday"

11th Birthday

Today a birthday, ably made and quite happy, indeed.

This flushed, pink perennial rising lightly from her tussled bed,
Hair in right angles crossing in wispy strands,
Angled dandelion petals poised for flight at the
Hint of the breathy disturbance of morning’s call.

How she floats dreamily to the breakfast table, unperturbed!
Her line of approach a bit akilter, though she
Alights unfailingly on her proper perch, and settles
Softly in nourishment’s nest, eyes still squinting, half-closed.

As for me, a kind of birdwatcher I become,
Observing this wondrous peregrination from
Behind my binoculars, with breath caught,
Held for as long as possible, to prolong the moment
Before she catches my scent and, with a sly eye,
Spies me watching.

Our eyes locked, her slender neck slightly tilted in my direction,
My heartbeat suspended, she
Leans forward
And effortlessly, easily, unhesitatingly, even brazenly
Blows out the birthday candle.

Back on the Blog

Well, my gosh, it's been some 3+ months since I put anything up here.  My last post dates in May of this year, and it's now September.

I think it's quite obvious that I've lost a bit of the taste for blogging.  Well, not just "a bit" but perhaps the most of it.

And I can't really put my finger on the reason why.  Maybe I've just wearied in general of the ideological and political fight that I've always thought as the the blog's purpose.   I do notice that I've also been much less engaged publicly in this fight even on other social media sites.

That doesn't mean that I've sworn off politics or that my views are in flux.  They're most definitely not.  I'm still as fierce a liberal as I always was.  And I still don't shy away from my convictions.  I just don't seem to have the desire to project them as publicly as I have done in the past.

In any case, what drew me back to the blog was more the idea of using it as a creative writing platform than as a tool of political/ideological propagandizing.

Maybe I should start with a brief update of my life since May.  I finished out the academic year at Tulane where I teach.  I prepared for and conducted a six-week summer study abroad program in Costa Rica.  And I returned to New Orleans to work on the slow and tedious job of painting the exterior of my house myself and to prepare for the start of the new academic year.  I also caught up a lot on my reading.  I've become a fan of the "Goodreads" application and program that allows me to chart my reading progress, so if you are really interested in following my reading habits in more detail, you can always check out my Goodreads profile, where you can even find my reviews on many of the books I've read recently.  For now, though, I'll just try to list the books that I've managed to get through over the past year.  (It also helps that I participate in 4 book clubs, which keeps me plugging along.)  Here is my list:

Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man (which is a re-read, and which I'm doing in a bookclub that involves me and my eldest daughter, who picked this book, and which she is still -- supposedly -- working on.)

Geraldine Brooks's March (which is part of my own literary crusade to work my way through Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction)

Earl Lovelace's While Gods Are Falling (which I read because one of the Ph.D. students in my department is doing his dissertation on Lovelace and so, having witnessed this student's enthusiasm for this Trinidadian author, I was drawn to give Lovelace a go)

Leonardo Boff's The Prayer of St. Francis: A Message of Peace for the World Today (which is the first book in a new "spiritual readings" book club that I organized with my two younger brothers.  I picked Boff's book because of my enthusiasm for the new Pope -- the first Jesuit Pontiff -- and his fondness for Boff on the one hand, and his choice of St. Francis as his papal namesake on the other hand.)

Alejo Carpentier The Kingdom of This World (as part of my participation in a longstanding book club that involves my wife and another couple)

Donald Cozzens's Notes from the Underground: The Spiritual Journey of a Secular Priest (which came recommended to me by my Maryknoll affiliates group, and which resonates with my own sense of place within the Catholic community)

Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow (which was Tulane's freshman book selection and for which I had to moderate a discussion in a Freshmen intro-to-college kind of course -- it's a fascinating and provocative explication on the racial dimensions of our current age of mass incarceration for drug crimes)

Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President (for one of my other regular men's book clubs) -- it's about the murder of James Garfield and his life and times.

Phillip Roth's American Pastoral (another selection from my Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction, and which was my selection for the book club that involves my wife and another couple following the Carpentier novel)

Ronald J. Drez's Gallant Fighting Sons: The Jesuits, Louisiana, and Their School in New Orleans (which is a history of my high school and which, unfortunately, was a rather dreadful rendition that made my high school seem important only for its athletic achievements)

Richard Russo's Straight Man (which was just a random selection from my library that I had wanted to read for a long time and finally got around to doing)

Willa Cather's My Antonia (which was another random selection from my library that I had been intending to read for a while and finally pushed myself to read -- and which I liked a lot, by the way)

Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which was my selection for the book club that involves my eldest daughter, but which she never got around to reading.)

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (which is the first choice in the book club that I established with my youngest daughter -- actually, I'm still reading Through the Looking Glass, but I did finish Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)

Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement (another selection for the men's book club -- this one was my choice)

Those are the books I've actually finished.  I currently am actively reading the following:

Gregory M. Colon Semenza's Graduate Study for the Twenty-First Century: How to Build an Academic Career in the Humanities (school related)

James J. Martin, SJ's My Life with the Saints (the second choice for the "spiritual" book club I participate in with my two younger brothers)

Warren Moore's Broken Glass Waltzes (a book written by a blogger/academic that I came to know by pure chance)

Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives (the latest selection for my men's book club)

Juan Gabriel Vazquez's The Sound of Things Falling (the latest selection for the couple's book club)

Michael Cunningham's The Hours (my Pulitzer Prize winner list)

*******

I also plan to be writing more creatively -- both poetry as well as academic research.  And to the extent that I can, I hope to use this blog as a mechanism to spur my creative writing output.  In fact, in my next blog post, which I'll be putting up immediately after I post this, I'm going to upload a poem I wrote recently on the occasion of my youngest daughter's 11th birthday.  I'd welcome and appreciate any critical feedback or commentary on any of my creative writing output, so please don't hesitate to post some comments.  That's about it for now.  Peace.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Conservative Nihilism

Is it just me, or is the obsession that many conservatives have with taking down the Obama administration reaching unseemly and gross proportions?  Are they really to the point where the talk of impeachment is being considered with any measure of seriousness?  Really?!?  And this coming after a Republican administration that actually committed war crimes and engaged in unapologetic torture?


Well, let the prosecution games begin!

While Congressional Republicans start their impeachment games over bureaucratic inter-agency mumbo-jumbo infighting in emails about the Benghazi tragedy, perhaps the Obama administration can start war crimes investigations against the entire Bush/Cheney apparatus.

As to the whole IRS targeting Tea Party groups, well there is a problem at one level in the sense that the IRS needs to be an equal opportunity watchdog against violations of the law.  But all this means in my eyes is that the IRS's mistake is not in questioning the tax-exemption legitimacy of the OBVIOUSLY PARTISAN AND POLITICAL conservative Tea Party groups, but rather not also doing the same to the OBVIOUSLY PARTISAN AND POLITICAL Liberal groups.

And let's not be so dense, people.  We absolutely know that Karl Rove's Super-PAC is, without a doubt, blatantly partisan and political in just about 100% of its activities.  It's laughable to think that Karl Rove's Super-PAC is a "social welfare" organization that would make it a tax-exempt organization.  And EVERYONE knows this.

If conservatives want to cry foul and say that the mean old IRS is only concerned with the illegality of conservative groups, and not also with the illegality of similar liberal groups, they can go ahead and cry foul till they are blue in the face.  But, that STILL doesn't change the FACT of the illegality of these conservative groups when they fraudulently claim tax-exempt status.  The IRS SHOULD be investigating these groups.  And the IRS should also be targeting and harassing liberal groups who play fast and loose with this tax-exempt boondoggle.

You know, the delusional blindness that caused conservatives to make complete asses of themselves during the last Presidential election (remember Karl Rove's embarrassing meltdown on FoxNews?) seems to still be at work here as well.  The average, sane person who looks at what's going on today with the GOP obsession with Benghazi and with the manufactured outrage at the IRS, can clearly discern what's going on and will certainly arrive at the conclusion that the GOP has lost its friggin' mind.

I have never seen such nihilism have such a profound grip on a huge part of a political movement in my entire life.  It's just pure ugly to watch.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Christian Argument for Marriage Equality

There is a way to engage to Christians on the subject of marriage equality from the perspective of Christianity, even from the perspective of Christian fundamentalists (Christianists), though I never hear anyone discuss this.

So much intellectual energy is spent by marriage equality proponents arguing the justice of civil marriage in a secular democratic polity (which is as it should be); but those lines of argument are never going to resonate with a fundamentalist Christian mentality in which secular civil rights arguments regarding marriage equality simply don’t matter and are always trumped by theological arguments.

So, in a way, I think constantly making secular arguments for marriage equality, as persuasive as they are to a mind oriented towards the virtues of secular civil democracy, to a mind that understands the virtue of the foundational church-state separation idea, is barking up the wrong tree if the goal is to persuade Christianists to rethink their position.

To persuade Christianists of the justice of marriage equality requires making an argument for marriage equality within the theological framework that Christianists value and embrace. I think there is a way to do this.

I am a Catholic, and in my faith tradition, marriage is a sacrament, imbued with a particular and special grace. Catholics (and all Christians, I believe) would hold to the idea that the sacramental grace of marriage is a gift from God available to all of God's human creation. It strikes me that the theological dimensions of Christianist opposition to marriage equality requires an active embrace of the idea of permanently denying gay individuals access to this grace, access to the fullness of God. I believe having to face this idea would make even the most ardent Christianist with an honest conscience a bit squeamish. In essence, if forces Christianists to believe that the theological implication of their stance against marriage equality is not only to drive a wedge between God and his gay son or daughter, but also even to accept their advocacy of keeping the fullness of God away from his children. Fallible and sinful Christianists have to accept the presumption of themselves as the policers of God’s grace. And what God-fearing Christianist would ever presume to be the policer of God’s grace? In fact, presuming as much flies in the face of the entire Christian ethos of forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.

One could develop this line of thinking even more fully and eloquently than I’ve done; but I’ve always thought that this line of argument from within the Christian theological tradition of marriage-as-sacrament would go a long, long way towards changing how Christianists think of the marriage equality debate. In the end, Christianists don’t pay attention to secular, civil rights arguments for marriage equality because marriage, for them, is wrapped up exclusively in theology.  So to persuade them, one has to speak to them in the language of the theological milieu through which they understand the issue.

The debate regarding the secular civil justice of marriage equality is over.  Marriage equality advocates have won that debate. Now it's time to win the Christian theological argument for marriage equality.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

War on Christmas?

John Stewart, in typical masterly fashion, just skewers the Christian Christmas Jihadists at Fox News in their annual "War on Christmas" outrage:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The War on Christmas: Friendly Fire Edition
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

I made somewhat similar points back in 2009 in response to a "War on Christmas" poem I received by email. But Stewart's segment is so immensely superior in driving home the absurdity of the "War on Christmas" meme, that I just had to share it. One of my favorite lines: "Christmas is so big now, it's eating other holidays."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Texas Secession

Just a quick thought: Although I think it's pure foolishness and childish sour-grapes whining, there is a movement among some conservatives disgruntled by Obama's re-election to call for states to secede from the Union.  I'd even say that this idea is being treated as a semi-serious thing, at least in terms of its symbolic significance, in some fairly mainstream corners.  In no state has this secession craziness received the biggest reception than in Texas.  Here's my zany contribution to the secession silliness:  Let Texas secede.  This would remove Texas's reliably "red" electoral college votes from the national presidential race and give Democrats an almost insurmountable ability to control the White House.  It will also even the score a bit more in the US House.  Then, when the state's demographic character changes such that a new Democratic and Hispanic majority emerges along with a reliably Democratic electoral college advantage in the state, a "blue" Texas can be welcomed back into the Union, cementing the Democratic party's lock on the Electoral College (and thus the Presidency) long into the future.