Book Review Bonanza Part I

Years ago, I read a book called Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water by some woman I had never heard of before. What Catholic mother of preschoolers wouldn’t be drawn to that title? I loved that book, and the author, Susie Lloyd, became synonymous with “hysterical” to me.

When I heard she had written a new book, Bless Me, Father, For I Have Kids, it went immediately on my mental “must-buy” book list. Last April, I went to the CHAPLET Homeschool Conference in New Jersey, and not only did I find her book for sale there, Susie herself was the one selling it, and signing copies, too. I checked her out from a distance and thought, “Gosh, she looks younger than I imagined…and cooler, too.” She was wearing a denim skirt, but unlike the uniform of most Catholic homeschool mothers of many, hers risquély revealed her knee caps. “Wow, funny and hip!” When I confronted myself with these thoughts, I realized I could not be trusted to express my admiration without looking like a groupie-stalker type. I took some advice from Abraham Lincoln, spoke as few words as possible, purchased my book and beat a hasty retreat.

She was also at the IHM Conference, and I smiled and waved from a distance before scurrying away. At that point I still hadn’t cracked her book, being a bit consumed with my husband’s imminent deployment. When Bill left, this book was a welcome distraction from the pain of his departure and my concurrent miscarriage.

It was this book I took with me to the hospital when I had an emergency D&C while my husband stood on a tarmac waiting for the plane that would carry him overseas. One minute, I was answering the question, “Do you have anybody here with you?” with a sobbing, “No!” And the next minute I was laughing – out loud and loudly – at another description of life with lots of girls and one toddler boy. I actually had the nurses questioning me about the book, since it was obviously very amusing.

So, there you go. What better endorsement can you get than, “So funny you’ll laugh while suffering through the worst time of your life”? Or how about, “The perfect escape from life’s tribulations”? This is definitely a book to be enjoyed by any Catholic mom.

Disclaimer: apparently, bloggers are getting huge rewards for doing product reviews and government authorities are clamping down on those who do not clearly state any compensation they receive for their endorsements. Hence, those of us who do these sorts of reviews are being encouraged to be upfront in explaining any money or products we receive in exchange for such exposure. I bought both of Mrs. Lloyd’s books with my husband’s hard earned money. I did not receive any compensation in any form from any person or company for this review.

A Guide for Spiritual Survival

Tracking Virtue, Conquering Vice: A Guide for Spiritual Survival by Rev. Joseph F. Classen is a book for nature enthusiasts who see God in the beauty of the world around them. Each chapter begins with a story, generally centered around a hunting trip, which serves as a platform to discuss one particular vice. Each chapter concludes with a virtue which serves to combat that vice, and Father Classen offers some general ideas on how to employ those virtues in a practical way.

Although I love, really love, the outdoors, I am not a hunter. In fact, I’m pretty squeamish about killing animals in general. Don’t get me wrong: I love to eat meat. I’m just thankful that I don’t have to personally kill it, dress it, butcher it. If I did have to do that, I just might eat more vegetables.

But I don’t think there is anything wrong with hunting. In fact, I agree that there is something wrong with me. Father Classen paints beautiful pictures of the areas where he has been hunting. I fully appreciate his joy in seeing God’s vistas. I, too, feel as though my heart will burst when confronted with a perfect blue in the sky contrasting with brilliant colors on changing leaves. But Father Classen goes on to express his appreciation for a deer or a turkey, a gift from God, which He has given to mankind to sustain our life. I do not have as much appreciation for my turkey bought at the grocery store, as Father Classen has for his Thanksgiving dinner. And that’s my problem. My homemade bread tastes so much better than store-bought, and my appreciation of homemade bread is deeper due to my personal labor. The more removed we are from the process of procuring food, the less gratitude we feel for it.

But I digress.

Reading this book is like sitting around a campfire listening to hunting stories with theology mixed in. The lessons are short, entertaining and easy-to-understand. These are not deep discourses in metaphysics, but rather clear and practical homilies.

I do think hunters and fishers will enjoy the book more than non-hunters and fishers. I did know what I was getting into when I selected this book; I picked it mostly for my husband, who wants to hunt but has always lacked time, opportunity, and/or equipment (I helped him out with some of the equipment not too long ago, the other issues will have to wait until after his deployment). The book went off to the Post Office today. I think he will enjoy it.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find out more about Tracking Virtue, Conquering Vice.

Real Women, Real Saints

I have finally finished reading Real Women, Real Saints by Gina Loehr. This book compiles brief accounts of the lives of 100 people (99 women and one husband) and concludes with a short chapter on the Queen of All Saints. The saints (*) surveyed come from various backgrounds, from all vocations (single, married, religious), and from all time periods (early martyrs to 20th century models of virtue).

Unlike many compilations, this book arranges the saints thematically based on how they exemplify the virtues of faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Although the information about each saint is limited, it delivers a targeted message on how real women have managed to live virtuous lives.

Gina Loehr’s subtitle, Friends for your Spiritual Journey, is apt. In these pages you will find women who suffered joyfully. Many were the victims of violence (torture, rape, incest), many were notorious sinners, many came from or inherited dysfunctional families. All encountered the same trials that make the command ‘Love thy neighbor’ so difficult to follow. Their steadfast adherence to the virtues encourages us to do the same.

As an example, Blessed Anna Maria Taigi (1769-1837) was married to a man of such violent temper he was known to grab the corner of the tablecloth and yank the entire meal to the floor if something displeased him. Although I doubt I would ever be as patient in my response if my husband pulled a trick like that, her devotion to making her home a calm and loving one is worthy of emulation, and any wife facing a tantruming husband can find spiritual support in Anna Maria.

This book review was a long time in coming, because I do not think this book is best when read quickly. I imagined myself like a teacher grading 15 student essays that all answered the question, “How does your saint demonstrate the virtue of charity?” when I sat for an hour and read that chapter all the way through. It is better taken one saint at a time, perhaps one a day as part of one’s spiritual meditation.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book for any woman’s library, and I think it would make an excellent gift for teachers, or lay ministers, or perhaps that new mom who needs something to read while she’s nursing her infant.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Real Women, Real Saints.

(*) The term “saint” is broadly applied in this review. Some of the women are “Servants of God,” some are “Venerable,” and some are “Blessed”, official Church titles for the stages preceding “Saint.” Each person’s “rank” is clearly given in her biography and the table of contents.

The Faith Database

I received The Faith Database CD as part of the Catholic Company product reviewer program.

This is a mixed review.

First of all, what is The Faith Database CD?

The Faith Database is a CD-ROM that provides access to over ten Bible translations, a Greek Bible, papal encyclicals, writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the Catholic Encyclopedia, over 1,500 books by famous Christian writers, Church history, Bible art, maps, and much more! The Faith Database is completely searchable, printable, and portable (PDA) — everything is linked together for instant research of any faith topic.

Obviously, having so many resources at your fingertips is a great thing. I thought the Database was fairly easy to navigate, and I was impressed by how much information they squeezed on one CD.

But, I’m not sure there isn’t the same information (or more) to be found just using an ordinary search engine on the internet. In my reluctance to pay for something I can get for free, I’m not convinced I would buy the Database.

However, I do think that I would be much more comfortable having my non-web savvy students browsing the Database for research on Catholic subjects. So, for safe, yet diverse, browsing, the Database would be a great idea.

Lastly, I did have some technical problems and the third or fourth time I looked at the Database, the whole thing crashed and had to be re-installed. Not sure what the problem was, and I’ve only looked at it once or twice since then, so I’m not sure if it will happen again. Routine failure would annoy me if I used it regularly.

Heaven’s Song

I finished reading Christopher West’s Heaven’s Song days and days and days ago, and I’ve been struggling with what to say about it (for days and days and days). It’s not that I have nothing to say about it, rather that I have too much. Where to begin? How can I be brief?

The book is easy to read and easy to understand. The concepts are not revolutionary, but, for me at least, finally connect the dots of various vague thoughts that I have pondered from time to time. It is as though I had been staring at the pieces of a puzzle, and West finally showed me how they all fit together.

Although I’m familiar with Theology of the Body, I confess that I have not read any significant amount of it, and certainly knew nothing of other talks edited and compressed by Pope John Paul II due to their “adult” nature. Having recently, and uncomfortably, sat through a homily on Humanae Vitae with my two young sons, I can understand why the Pope would choose to remove much of his discourse on the Song of Songs from lectures delivered to a family audience.

It is good, though, for the Pope’s deeper thoughts regarding sexuality and marriage to be made available for mature audiences. On page 54, West quotes Theology of the Body with “…the dignity and balance of human life depend at every moment of history and at every point on the globe on who woman will be for man and who man will be for woman.” Is that true? If it is, and my heart feels it is, who is woman for man (and man for woman) today? And most importantly, to me, who am I to my husband and he to me?

And does the condition of my marriage matter to you?

West (and the Pope) argue that it does. “Contrary to the modern world’s treatment of it, sex is not a light matter. It is not entertainment. Sex is something existential – that is, it concerns the very reality and foundation of human existence, of human life” (p 141). For many, that is a very difficult idea to swallow. Who wants such weighty thoughts accompanying them to bed?

And yet, to disregard the sacredness of sex, which is all too easy to do, leads to a general disregard for marriage and ultimately for the opposite sex. And then woman is enemy to man, and man is enemy to woman. “When the cradle of life – the family – breeds death and destruction, it inevitably produces an entire ‘culture of death'” (p 159).

Heaven’s Song is a book of hope that encourages married couples to seek a purer love. By shunning lust and striving for a total self-giving love, couples can “…[transform] something that is worshipped into something that is worship (p 130). It is small wonder that West concludes his book with the encouragement to read it again. There is much to mull and to discuss, especially with a spouse.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Heaven’s Song.

Book Meme and book review

Tagged by Cmerie

Here are the rules of the meme:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

However, in a presentation based on the responsibilities of an officer when dealing with innuendo and slander, the judge advocate concluded his case by saying that a man could be indifferent to scandal, “but a woman has no defense save that which may be found in the arm of some avenging friend.” If the wife of a brother officer was so accused, it was the responsibility of other officers “to confute and resent that slander and not to aid in its circulation.” Reno was found guilty and dismissed from the army.

Bill gave me this book for Christmas, and I finished reading it a few days ago. It was an interesting glimpse into the hardships of life on the American frontier in the late 1800s.

Most of the women in the book were officers’ wives, because, back then, they were the ones who knew how to write and sent letters home to family. These women, often from wealthy families, gave up a comfortable life in the Victorian East to follow their husbands into a hostile environment. Considered mere “camp followers” by the Army, they lived and raised a family to the sound of bugles. They dealt with severe cold, blistering heat, bugs, snakes, wolves, hostile Indians, all-too-friendly Mexican women, starvation, disease, lack of good drinking water and no indoor plumbing. They gave birth in the middle of nowhere with soldiers delivering their babies and then throwing them both right back in a wagon to get back on the march. They tended to the wounded and the sick. They prepared the dead for burial. They defended themselves, their modesty, their children, their husbands, their livestock and even their country’s forts with guns, knives, and iron skillets. They enjoyed a much greater degree of Independence, freedom, and prestige than they would have in the rigid civilian society of the established East.

I enjoyed this well researched book. As an Army wife on what was the beginning of the American frontier back then, I found an even greater appreciation for my military housing – even with a furnace that only chooses to work 16 – 18 hours a day. I’ve already promised my copy to a local friend, then I’ll be mailing it off to my sister.

Good read

I’ve been reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. This book was first issued in 1418. Note that it wasn’t “published.” The work pre-dates movable type by nearly 50 years.

Originally written in Latin, my version was translated in 1900. It is supposedly one of the most widely read spiritual books, second only to the Bible. Of course, books that have been around for six hundred years have quite a head-start on anything written in the last century.

I confess that, knowing nothing of this book or the author, I was extremely intimidated at the thought of reading it. It is one of three books in a nice, leather-bound volume that Bill gave me for Christmas. All three are books I intended to read at some point in my life. I took one look and decided to save it for Lent when suffering is expected.

Bracing for the headache that was sure to come, I began on Ash Wednesday. Surprisingly, it is easily digested. The chapters are fairly short, and it reads much like the book of Proverbs. Because of the hundred year old translation, there are plenty of “thou”s and “didst”s and some archaic spellings like “contemn” instead of “condemn.” But the original Latin must have been so plainly written, that the more flowery style of prose I’ve noted in many “great” works of literature is absent here.

Although written for those with a religious vocation, many of the recommendations for how to live life are applicable to the lay person’s life, even six centuries later. No, perhaps the lay person can not withdraw from human interaction to the extent that a cloistered nun can, but the exhortation to minimize negative contact with others is a valid one: it is one thing to spend time chatting with other moms about recipes, child-rearing tips and good shopping deals and quite another to spend the time complaining about your husband, gossiping about the neighbors and criticizing the upbringing of the other children on the tot lot.

If you are looking for a five-minute spiritual meditation for Lent or any time, I have to recommend this as a bedside companion. One caveat: if you were to buy a copy, I would suggest vetting the edition. My volume, by a secular publisher, has an annoying introduction focusing on this book’s role in the Protestant Reformation (a hundred years later) and barely indicating it’s ties to Catholicism – especially not to modern Catholicism (as though, had a Kempis lived a century later, he would have been right there next to Martin Luther nailing those 95 complaints to the church door).