Thursday, July 30, 2009

Miss O'Connor and the Idiot

I've been catching up on some Flannery O'Connor short stories that I haven't read for years. Terrific stuff. A reminder: she died of lupus at 39. Significant, powerful writer. I've also been reading The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, which, if you have not read and you are any kind of fan, you must read. The letters get a slow start, mostly I imagine because of your shifting into an epistolary gear. That being said, you feel as if you get to know this woman, who is hilarious and wise and brilliant and herself. Letter writing ought to be a bigger part of my life, I'm convinced. There's something beautiful there.

I am still reading Dostoevsky's The Idiot, which is excellent. But then it's Dostoevsky. One way in which I prefer Dostoevsky over Tolstoy is that he's an easier Russian writer to follow. I often get mired in all the names (and variety of names) of all the characters in the Russian novel. Tolstoy makes it even more difficult by jumping from one narrative to the next, each with different characters (and all, for an American, with oddly similar names). Dostoevsky is more willing to stick with a single narrative. If you haven't read Dostoevsky, please do so. He's an investment well worth your time.

And, of course, if you haven't read Flannery O'Connor in a while, or if you don't read her because you imagine her stories are too strange or grotesque, give her another try. And read her with the understanding that realism is not her goal as a writer so much as distortion, and distortion that's purposeful. There's something wildly prophetic about her. And something terribly funny. She sticks to the ribs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Funny Movies

My wife has been picking up movies at the library, on top of our Netflix picks. She recently brought home Young Frankenstein and after watching it again, I've decided it has to be one of the funnier movies I've ever seen. So I'm looking at trying to compile a list of funny movies and to watch them, mostly again. Here are some of my favorite comedies, as they say, in no particular order:

  • Young Frankenstein
  • Napoleon Dynamite
  • What's Up, Doc?
  • The Jerk
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Meet the Parents
  • The Pink Panther movies (Peter Sellers)

It's your turn. I want help. Cough 'em up.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Last night I finished reading Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter. It's a fine novel. (I stopped reading Brighton Rock because it didn't hook me.) Greene's novels are fascinatingly Catholic - and I enjoy them immensely. But I also wonder how others approach them and how the Catholicity of the novels affects their readings. The novels are not about Catholicism, but rather about shattered humanity - people who happen to be Catholic. The Heart of the Matter's Henry Scobie, a policeman, wrestles with relationship and sin and peace in the context of brokenness.

At the same time, I am reading Harold Bloom's How to Read and Why. Bloom avers that stories ought to be stripped of ideology and simply be stories. His greatest respect (generally, but specifically here as well) is given to Shakespeare, with whom no personal ideology can be discovered from the stories he tells - he writes about humanity, seemingly without favoritism (though how richly he paints his characters is often telling). Bloom says that we must not pay attention to the one telling the story, but to the story itself. These are good lessons - for readers and writers. Yet Graham Greene's ideology, his Catholicism, at least by the end of his stories, is prominent (always portraying the struggle of one's faith, however, rather than any certainty of faith - always showing us ourselves as fallen men and women). I would like to read Bloom's take on Greene, who does not make Bloom's book - though this list of Bloom's is hardly an effort at exhaustiveness. Bloom covers Graham Greene elsewhere, from my understanding, (I would like to read his opinion) and also believes that Greene has established his place in the "Western Canon."

Greene is a new favorite of mine, because of his Catholicity and regardless of his Catholicity. He writes well. And he is one of the better Christian writers that I've come across in my lifetime. But it is time for a break from Greene, Dostoevsky's The Idiot is lying on my table. And after that I'm going to take a stab at the apocalyptic Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Just Checking In

I haven't been at the computer much in the past week. Since last week I have had a wonderful visit with my parents and grandmother and celebrated my 17th anniversary with my wife. I had an encouraging meeting at the school my children attend about my oldest daughter. I have enjoyed having my wife and children home for the summer. I celebrated the independence of our country (which is also my anniversary) and I read through the Pope's newest encyclical, a social encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate," or "Love in Truth." (And grew tired of the conservative spin even before I was finished hearing of it.) I watched and heard snippets of President Obama's meeting with the Holy Father - and appreciated that the First Lady and other women on staff were veiled (Which I've completely missed - off my radar - from previous administrations). My yellow-haired child has swimmer's ear and enflamed tonsils (and/or strep?) and vomited twice early yesterday making it impossible to see my brother and his family as they passed through the area on their way to the beach. I feel terribly for her as she's not been herself and cried when she heard that she couldn't swim for an entire week.

It's been busy and good and emotional and difficult and, well, just life. Peace and good to all of you.