Recommended diversions

The Rhythm of Life

Subtitled “Living Every Day with Passion & Purpose,” Matthew Kelly’s The Rhythm of Life is in many ways no better or worse than the hundreds of other inspirational books that flood the market every year, and yet something about the simplicity of his advice makes this book special for me. He advocates guidelines — rest, spiritual endeavors, intellectual development — that most of us know, but infrequently practice. I also like the beginning of the book, which presents this paradox: “On the one hand, we all want to be happy. On the other hand, we all know the things that make us happy. But we don’t do those things. Why? Simple. We are too busy. To busy doing what? Too busy trying to be happy.” A good book to retune the engine and to remind us that we are human beings rather than machines.

Krysztof Kieslowski

Several years ago in this column, I mentioned this Polish director and his fine films, “White,” “Blue,” and “Red.” This past week I’ve spent a good bit of time watching “The Decalogue,” Kieslowski’s version of “The Ten Commandments.” Set in contemporary Poland, these movies subtly explore human nature through the Commandments. These films move slowly enough that we feel as if we are moving with the characters through their lives. Sometimes the plot may leave us baffled, uncertain as to the director’s final intent, but always these stories leave us intrigued and filled with wonder at the many manifestations of the human spirit.

Castra nerdorum (Camp of the Nerds)

Recently I attend a six-day seminar during which the participants were only allowed to speak Latin. All the lectures, all the tours, all the church services were in lingua Latina. While I learned a good many things at this seminar — not just about Latin, but about teaching, learning, and people — I was especially surprised to see the week become a sort of retreat for me. We met at a Franciscan convent on the Hillsborough River in Tampa, Fla., a beautiful place with five acres of grounds and an enormous screened-in back porch. Because we prayed the liturgy of the hours in Latin four times daily, my time there took on a spiritual aspect that I hadn’t anticipated. I was reminded again of the great goodness that can be found in silence and of the value of peace that is so often missing from our hectic lives. Pax vobiscum, legentes boni (Peace be with you, good readers).

— By Jeff Minick

Book Mania: Showcasing some up-and-coming writers

Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell. Random House, 2007. 368 pages

Readers planning to attend Book Mania in Waynesville have several treats in store for them. A welcome reception for the participating authors will be held Friday evening, Aug. 3, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Osondu Booksellers. Tickets for this reception cost $15 each, money which will be used for local educational purposes. On Saturday, Aug. 4, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Book Mania, a creation of Mountain Writers Alive!, will sponsor an entire day of writers sharing their work through readings, signings, and conversations at the Haywood Justice Center in Waynesville.

Deer hunting in the twilight of American culture

The Twilight of American Culture by Morris Berman. W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. 224 pages.

When I think of political curmudgeons, of gloomy prognosticators, of bleak Cassandras prophesizing doom, my mind turns to either extreme environmentalists or to right-wing survivalists whose garage shelves still hold Y2K canned goods. Both groups routinely predict the end of the world, the first by heat and global chaos, the second by global chaos and violence.

Author’s bias shows through

What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and “Bias” in Higher Education by Michael Berube. W. W. Norton, 2006. 288 pages.

In What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and “Bias” in Higher Education (ISBN 978-0-393-06037-9, $26.95), Michael Berube, professor of literature at Pennsylvania State University, attempts a defense of political liberalism in the liberal arts programs of our country by taking us inside a college classroom — mostly, his own — and showing us that few professors actually bring any sort of political agenda into their teaching.

Summertime and the reading’s hazy

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Penguin Classics. 310 pages

Summertime, and the living is easy ...

For most of us Gershwin’s line remains true. The pace of life slows in the summer; the days grow longer; the evening air fills with the scent of cut grass and grilled burgers. July and August offer a welcome hiatus from planned activities for parents and children alike. For teenagers, summer also offers a shift from the worries and cares of the academic year. Many teens work during the summer, putting money aside for a car or college. Others travel, flying off to Romania on a church mission trip or to South America on different American ambassador programs. Others sleep the morning away, hang out, lift weights to play football in the fall, work at various volunteer activities, or engage in a myriad of other diversions.

A Frank look back

From Violins to Violence: A Memoir by Marshall Frank.
Fortis Book, 2007. 308 pages

In Tom Stoppard’s Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon, a character says: “My problem is that I am not frightfully interested in anything, except myself. And of all forms of fiction autobiography is the most gratuitous.”

And so it is. Many of us reach an age, the October of our lives, when we suddenly become garrulous in speech, particularly around the young. We are like the old men who once gathered on courthouse lawns, the old women who once sat at quilting bees; we who were silent so many years, bound by the necessities of making a living and raising our children, feel compelled at age fifty or older to offer listening ears the sum of what we have observed and learned. Our sentences often begin “When I was a boy” or “When I was a little girl” or “Folks back then ...,” followed by a singular moral pronouncement with an apt accompanying tale.

Literature deprived

Certain genres of literature fare better when critically judged by the standards of that particular genre rather than by any general literary criteria.

Christian fiction, for example, while entertaining and appealing to a certain audience, would be buried — with no hope of resurrection — if reviewed by critics from the New York Times or The Atlantic Monthly. Romance novelists attract different fans, but the reputations of those novelists yellow and fade faster than the cheap paper on which their books were printed.

Dad’s take on father’s day

Father’s Day, surely a boon to the greeting card industry and certain segments of the male apparel industry, has taken on greater meaning than ever for me this year. My own father is in reasonable good health. I am a father of four children and a grandfather. I feel very much a link in a paternal chain these days especially when I take my grandchildren into my arms. I hold them and feel as if through them I will somehow live another eighty years or more into the future.

Schwartz discusses impacts of Catholicism on four British writers

A country which has accepted the mantle of “empire,’ however inimical that mantle may be to its professed destiny; a country which sells itself off to its competitors, which elevates cheap goods for consumers at the expense of its own safety and welfare; a country which forces its citizens to remove their shoes at airports to search for sock bombs while leaving thousands of miles of its borders open to intruders; a country obsessed with sports, games, and entertainment, which worships at the altars of “American Idol“ or “Lost“: such a country, such an empire, will not only founder one day, but will be cheered in its death struggles by most outside observers. We need read only the histories of Rome and Great Britain to see the fate that, given our present course, awaits us.

Another look at Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe: An Illustrated Biography by Ted Mitchell. Pegasus Books, 2007. 341 pages.

Thirty-three years ago this month, at the dreg-ends of an evil winter and a harsh spring, I went to the library at the University of Connecticut and obtained a copy of Look Homeward, Angel. My personal life had become a mess, I felt lost and alone in New England, and I looked for a touch of home in Thomas Wolfe’s first novel.

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