Monday, June 29, 2020

Review: My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart


My Brother MichaelMy Brother Michael by Mary Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Stewart is fun. She takes a little work for fun, sometimes it takes a month or 9 to build up momentum. I started this in September and didn't accomplish much until Friday when I read it in two days.

As romances go, this one was pretty subtle, but I appreciate that. Simon and Camilla kind of fall in instant love, but no one talks about it - they keep dancing around it, even joking a little about it, but it's never really obvious and if the reader were a skimmer, or not reading carefully she might miss the oblique comments between them. It's rather realistic in an unrealistic way. I have to say, I like that.

I'm also glad that I'd just read Euripides - a different play to be sure - so the epigraphs were especially meaningful. Stewart is obviously really well educated and well read. Her allusions are spot on and worth looking up to if you don't know them. The setting - in and around Delphi - is so beautifully crafted with words that you feel as though the ancient Greek landscape is, in itself, a character in the story.

It can be hard to work so diligently to enjoy a light read, but Mary Stewart is worth it. My "guilty pleasure" book for the 20 for 2020 reading challenge with The Literary Life podcast.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Review: The Moment of Tenderness

The Moment of TendernessThe Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this collection of short stories - being a L'Engle fan I was really excited about them being compiled and released - but I only just liked it.

There is an intriguing mix here, from the everyday to suspense/horror, to Sci-Fi. We can see how L'Engle is working out ideas in her own life through her stories - from young girl finding her identity to ultimate faith in the Science Fiction story.

There are some weird stories. Disturbing. One that maybe took place in a boarding school-brothel? The hints are there, but never details. There's bad language in some of them.

Some of the stories are - part or whole - in the Crosswicks Journals which I have just finished. The woman across the way looking at herself in the mirror, the seeking out a hotel in Baltimore, and the Brechsteins moving into the small town that bothers so many people in a memoir.

One story has a mother-in-law suffering a crisis of faith because of her perfect daughter-in-law. It's an interesting commentary on appearances.

Overall, many of the stories were weird. One was happy (it was my favorite). There were some male narrators, which I think is unusual for L'Engle and I enjoyed that.

Always she talks about seeing people, their selves, their hurts, their needs, their graces. Not necessarily doing something, but seeing. That seeing is the Moment of Tenderness that overarches the whole book.

It does feel a touch like "juvenalia" even though she was an adult when most of the stories were written. They're imperfect: many are incomplete, her humor only occasionally makes a play, maudlin from time to time, of an immature style; but the glimpses are there. The moments of Madeleine ... of her tender storytelling.

I've almost talked myself into 4 stars ...

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Review: Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture

Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture by Makoto Fujimura
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really loved this. I set it as my "Sunday book" that I saved and savored on the Lord's Day. I'm glad I did so.

Makoto Fujimura has written a brilliant book of essays about the intersection of faith art and culture (no commas, on purpose). These essays begin with September 11 and finalize with considering the published writings of those who experienced the Iraq and Afghan war(s) in the aftermath of those attacks.

At first, while I enjoyed each individual essay, I didn't have the view of how everything fitted together. The second to the last essay, on his experience viewing Leonardo's The Last Supper in Milan, provided the key,

As an artist, I naturally try to identify the source of light in a painting because I know that artists often use light to reveal what they want the viewer to see. When looking at this painting, it would be easy to assume that the light is coming from behind, from the windows through which we see a Renaissance landscape. But the source of light in this painting is actually in the face of Jesus reflecting on all of the disciples but Jesus, who is underpainted with black and denied a brightened countenance. (pg 149, emphasis mine)
He also, in that same essay, says

To Leonardo, such a foundation was immediately accessible. In order to paint as he did, he had to be convinced of a center that holds.

So who is at the center? Where does the vanishing point end?

It ends on the forehead of the Savior. (p 155, emphasis mine)
Every essay is Fujimura seeking the light on the shards of what was shattered. The light of Christ glints, refracted, on angles of broken glass. He helps to give us eyes to see Christ in dance and music, architecture and wrapped buildings, art of our day and days past. To see the light glinting in Japanese culture, China, and the US. The shards are small and large, flat, and angled, imprecisely sized and fitted together. They aren't polished gemstones cut just so to reflect light perfectly. Our world post 9/11 ... post WW1 ... post the Fall ... is more like shattered glass that the refractions go every which way and the light that can be seen is not always clear or straight on - but we must move and look to find it. Fujimura shows us how to do so: to sit under and receive.

By doing so he helps us appreciate what artists do even when it isn't Christ they're trying to promote, even when he isn't purposely the center holding things together.
Art is an inherently hopeful act, an act that echoes the creativity of the Creator. (p 69)
Highly recommended. I think it's my favorite book of the year so far.

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

Review: The Daughters of Troy by Euripides

Euripides I: Iphigeneia at Aulis/Rhesus/Hecuba/Daughters of Troy/HelenEuripides I: Iphigeneia at Aulis/Rhesus/Hecuba/Daughters of Troy/Helen by Euripides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I only read The Daughters of Troy. I have no idea how close the translation is, but Way's poetry was fantastic and the story - what becomes of the women and children after Troy's fall - harrowing. How do they deal with one another? How does the matriarch advise, console, rebuke, and sorrow for herself and the daughters of Troy?

It's interesting how the gods are there, but not. The men are there, but not. The idea of free will and determinism is explored. Poseidon says, in the intro, " He, sowing desolation, reaps destruction." Athena and Poseidon team up to destroy the victorious Greeks and then we don't see them again.

Helen proffers a defense. Hera's greatest good is marriage to Zeus - how could she improve? Athena needs no man, why would she want the apple? Cypris (Aphrodite) wins the golden apple, but "why would the gods even care?" Hecuba sneers. She's not buying it and sees Helen as the force of destruction of her son, her husband, her city.

"false kindness were unkindness" (line 466) is an idea that needs more exploration. In our days of virtue signaling and platitudes, we would do well to contemplate Hecuba's words. To see how she applies them practically in this play.

I'm excited to listen to the literary life podcast episodes to see what they have to say. I would never have chosen this on my own, but it was very readable and interesting. Perhaps I'll read some others

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The Literary Life Podcast provided this link to The Daughters of Troy in The Loeb Classical Library edition and I downloaded the pdf. I opened in Adobe and printed the pages I wanted (minus 1 oops) as a Booklet. Used my long arm stapler, and I have a book :)