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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

— 1 —

 

Back from NYC Sunday night, and nowhere near as productive a week as I had hoped this week, especially with one kid in piano camp all day every day. I’m hopeless. Well, maybe not. I did get a sample for a book proposal done, and will send it off to the editor today for his perusal when he returns from vacation. But that’s about it. Sad!

— 2 —

We have some ch-ch-changes in store for the next school year, about which I’ll write more when August hits. Short version: we are returning to Homeschool Land with my youngest for 7th grade.  The situation is disappointing for him (it was basically his

"amy welborn"

Never cleaned it up…a good thing.

decision) because he wanted to like it, and it’s possible that in the future, things will refashion themselves and it might work out for him. It’s difficult to discuss – impossible to discuss without getting specific, which I don’t want to do and would be unfair. Who knows what will happen in the future? We don’t know – for right now, he’s looking forward to next year – Mom has promised  – promised – that except for math, it will be Unschooling all the way, plus he doesn’t have to get up so darn early, he’ll be able to maintain the friendships he forged during the year, he’ll have more time to work on his music and it will be quality time – not I’m-exhausted-from-school-and-I-have-to-squeeze-practice-in-before-homework time, and he gets to start off the school year in September with a photography class at the local Catholic homeschool co-op – a far better way to spend your Thursday mornings than parsing participial phrases.

— 3 —

I got a little frustrated with myself last night because it occurred to me I haven’t been reading many books over the past few weeks. I spent several minutes searching the house for Doctor Thorne, which I never did find, and can’t even recall the last time I saw. What? How did this happen?

Then I realized…television. After a desert time, over the past few weeks, good (to me) shows have been airing again – namely Better Call Saul and Fargo, and, at a far lesser level, Veep and Silicon Valley. Seriously – far lesser level. But BCS and Fargo have been absolutely intriguing this season (I watched season 1 of Fargo but not 2, btw), but since they are structured like novels, with an endgame in sight, I find it impossible and fruitless to try to write about them until the season finale has aired. It’s that way with Fargo in particular, which is either a pretentious collection of arresting images about truth, falsehood, 1960’s LA, Peter and the Wolf and Communist East Germany or something almost profound – but I’ll only know when I see how it all turns out this coming week.

— 4 —

That said, I was interested in something the AV Club guy wrote about Fargo (don’t read the original if you plan on watching and don’t want to be spoiled for a major plot event – I’ve chosen the excerpt so it doesn’t reveal it)

[Reference to a feud between two brothers….]  without understanding that the feud wasn’t a cut-and-dry case of extortion, it was just some cartoons poking other cartoons. I appreciate that this reveal was always in the cards, but the timing of everything means that not everything lands quite as it should.

Image result for fargo season 3What the writer is referring to is a conflict between brothers – he is saying that the feud didn’t seem to him to have depth as it played out because we didn’t know the specifics about the events causing it until this second-to-the-last episode.

But here’s the thing: What we did know was that the basics of the feud involved one brother trading something of value in a moment of weakness.

Does that sound familiar?

Yeah, it’s Jacob and Esau, blindingly obvious to me since we first met these two.

So this interests me. The feud had some resonance and more depth for me over the season because I understood it as an expression of another story I know very well. Perhaps the series creatives could do better in not assuming that familiarity and drawing themes out more explicitly, but it’s interesting to me that they don’t think they should have to, and what people are missing without that familiarity.

 

— 5 —

That said, and without seeing the last episode yet, I have hope that I won’t be disappointed in a series which has the Worst Bad Guy With the Grossest Teeth admitting:

The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Because otherwise, who would care.

And it happens in an episode called “Aporia” – which forces me to look stuff up and get a little more knowledge in my brain. Always a good thing.

— 6 —

 

I was talking to someone who has another high-school age kid, and this kid is an athlete. The parent was telling me some things about the experience and it took me a second to process what he was telling me…I thought I didn’t understand…I thought he was kidding…but…

Every family is responsible for raising $2000 for the team, plus there’s a $300 fee for participating, plus we’re responsible for selling a certain number of ads for the programs….plus..

…there was some other fee, but I don’t remember what it was.

You know, there are a lot of aspects to American culture I look at and grumble, That’s what’s wrong with us today…but this? This expectation that for a high school sport for which a family already sacrifices much of its summer and free time during the school year….that family still has to raise/fork over $3000 or more??  Really?

Stop. Step away. 

— 7 —

My book sales are certainly seasonal – the saints books and Friendship With Jesus peak from Easter to early June, Bambinelli Sunday at Christmas (duh), and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days around Mother’s Day and Christmas.

The Prove It books have a couple of bumps during the year as well – in the early summer when schools publish their textbook lists for the coming school year, and then August-September when more people (like me) are paying attention and finally getting with the program.

If that’s you – I have a few here for sale. Check it out!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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At some point in the flood of Hourly Outrage that is apparently the course of our lives now, it was found necessary for a few hours last week to strongly defend the press.

Ernie Pyle!

Well, yes, thank you Ernie Pyle.

But as most intelligent people know, there is no institution on earth that is 100% noble or immune from human weakness and flaws of all kind. We all do our best, yes, and yes, great good is accomplished by almost every human institution, but at the same time, every human institution operates with the limitations of human weakness and sin.

Of course, we are also in an era in which extreme language is the norm. So that when Trump attacks, which he does using exaggerated and simplistic language, those attacked will inevitably respond in kind.

But guys, about the press…

Think of it this way: consider any area of life in which you modestly consider yourself an expert: medicine, the law, small business, religion, the issues that impact your community, the environment, your favorite justice cause, whether that be pro-life issues or health care or prison reform, or even just What Life is Like in Your Community…

….does the press ever get it right?

Here and there, yes. But as a whole, I don’t know of a person who’s an expert in any field or area of life who feels as if the press “gets” the truth about their area of expertise, and some people even write blogs about it.  (And some people even write chapters in books about it.)

The problem really is just hubris and, in this country, the silly ruse of objectivity. We are so much better off, I do believe, when ideological cards are on the table, and we can sift through reportage and narratives with that in mind.

This is not earth-shaking to anyone, and is offered by way of introduction to a critique of the press that’s over a century old.

I’m reading a bunch of Trollope, and last night finished The Warden. I have several passages I’ll be highlighting in a future post, but given the heated discussions and defenses, I thought it might be worth a reminder that DJT didn’t invent harsh and cutting press criticism. Trollope devotes an entire chapter to dissecting and drilling The Jupiter, a fictional newspaper,and its editor, one Tom Towers.  His focus is on pride and hubris. It’s chapter 14 and you can read it all here:

It is true he wore no ermine, bore no outward marks of a world’s respect; but with what a load of inward importance was he charged! It is true his name appeared in no large capitals; on no wall was chalked up ‘Tom Towers for ever’–‘Freedom of the Press and Tom Towers’; but what member of Parliament had half his power? It is true that in far-off provinces men did not talk daily of Tom Towers but they read The Jupiter, and acknowledged that without The Jupiter life was not worth having. This kind of hidden but still conscious glory suited the nature of the man. He loved to sit silent in a corner of his club and listen to the loud chattering of politicians, and to think how they all were in his power–how he could smite the loudest of them, were it worth his while to raise his pen for such a purpose. He loved to watch the great men of whom he daily wrote, and flatter himself that he was greater than any of them. Each of them was responsible to his country, each of them must answer if inquired into, each of them must endure abuse with good humour, and insolence without anger. But to whom was he, Tom Towers, responsible? No one could insult him; no one could inquire into him. He could speak out withering words, and no one could answer him: ministers courted him, though perhaps they knew not his name; bishops feared him; judges doubted their own verdicts unless he confirmed them; and generals, in their councils of war, did not consider more deeply what the enemy would do, than what The Jupiter would say. Tom Towers never boasted of The Jupiter; he scarcely ever named the paper even to the most intimate of his friends; he did not even wish to be spoken of as connected with it; but he did not the less value his privileges, or think the less of his own importance. It is probable that Tom Towers considered himself the most powerful man in Europe; and so he walked on from day to day, studiously striving to look a man, but knowing within his breast that he was a god.

 

 

 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Busy week. Let’s get started.

First off, Publisher’s Weekly carried a brief notice about the book I’m working on with Loyola – the exciting completion of the Loyola Kids trilogy! Well, at least the third book I’ll have "amy welborn"written under that brand. It’s simple – a collection of Bible stories, but with an angle that I hope will make them particularly helpful to Catholic children, parents, families and catechists. When I wrote the Loyola Kids Book of Saints sixteen years ago, I never thought it would still be selling as well as it does – usually one of the top two or three titles in children’s religious biography on Amazon, and really still unique in approach.

My deadline for this manuscript is early February, so I’ll be working to get that done over the next few months as well as on some smaller projects.

— 2 —

The past week has been busy, with an odd recurring theme of organization and information – or really, a lack of it.

High Point climbing gym is one of my youngest son’s favorite places. It’s a huge gym in downtown Chattanooga, notable for the outdoor climbing wall.

They’re building a branch here in Birmingham, and last weekend, they had an open house for their still-under construction facility. So we started there – it looks good, although not as large as the Chattanooga place and sadly, no outdoor climbing wall. It’s also a bit far from our house on road that is often marked by horrendous traffic, but I told my son that if got up early on Saturday mornings to go, I’d take him once in a while. He was all in. What have I done?

— 3 —

After a brief stop back at home, I headed out and up the hill behind our neighborhood to the Altamont School, which was hosting a celebration in honor of the 100th anniversary of Walker Percy’s birth. You’ll recall that he was born here in Birmingham, and it was from here that his mother moved the family after his father’s suicide. Percy attended a school that was the predecessor of Altamont, which explains the event. Unfortunately, it was barely advertised – I only knew about it because someone in my parish sent me an email saying, “Whenever I see something about Walker Percy, I think of you. Have you seen this?” No, I hadn’t. Neither had many other people, for the panel discussion part of the afternoon, which is what I attended, featured four people on stage and ten in the audience. Even with the Crimson Tide on the field at the time, that’s surprising. A few days later, I spoke with someone local who is a big Percy fan, well-connected into the local cultural scene and he was astounded that this event had occurred – he’d heard nothing about it.

Anyway, what I took away – besides marketing, people – was, first of all, how challenging it is for people to get a hold of Percy’s Catholicism, probably because hardly anyone understands Catholicism properly, not getting the fundamental point that a character who defines himself as a “Bad Catholic” is actually expressing a sort of ideal Catholicism. Secondly, I was struck again by the Percy Effect, best summarized on this occasion by the young academic on the panel who described his feeling upon first encountering Percy’s writings. “I was splayed open” – he said, and then filled with an urgent sense that Percy was onto something and that it was important, even essential, to follow and see where he led. The person I was talking to a few days later said that when he was in campus ministry he would often give The Last Gentlemen to students, and after reading three chapters, they would return to him wondering…was Walker Percy in my dorm room? How does he know?

Something I wrote about Percy for CWR a few months ago.

 — 4 —

Then it was back down the hill, fix dinner, and then my younger son and I headed out to the Alabama Theater to see Post Modern Jukebox. It was a good concert – even with a couple of dicey moments that I think went mostly over his head anyway. The talent level is amazing, which you know from watching the videos. Two of my favorites – Casey Abrams and Aubrey Logan– were both in the troupe for that performance, although a major, major disappointment was that Scot Bradlee himself was not. My 11-year old pianist son was quite let down by that – the pianist performing that night was excellent of course, but my son has really enjoyed Scott Bradlee’s stylings and style and was a little stunned that he wasn’t actually there – I wouldn’t say I was stunned, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that he wouldn’t be performing.

— 5 

Sunday morning – serve Mass at Casa Maria.

In the afternoon, we went to a big local state park – Oak Mountain State Park – for an advertised “reptile program.” Here’s what was advertised – come see reptiles from noon to three. Really not much more than that. We arrived at the interpretive center at 1:30 to an room empty but for refreshments. The program would be across the road in the other building, at would start at 2.

Which it did, to a full room, and with lots of interesting animals and expert educational offerings. But it was far more formal than advertised and did go on. So instead of the drop-in and see and chat about animals at your leisure during a time frame experience I thought we were getting, we sat in chairs for 90 minutes – including thirty minutes past the advertised ending time. Yes, snakes, lizards and tortoises are well worth our time – why do you think we were there? – but there was certainly a big difference between advertising and reality. Do people not even read their own copy and think about how it matches their plans?

amy_welborn5

6–

Back to school on Monday, and then Tuesday night, Birmingham – in the form of Rev. Peter Leithert’s Theopolis Institute – welcomed Joseph Bottum to town.

I had met Jody years ago at an informal event First Things organized for me on a visit to New York. He was here from his South Dakota home to speak on “The Novel as Protestant Art” –  the article upon which his talk is based is here. It was a good talk with interesting engagement from the audience. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed that kind of in-person adult intellectual engagement, and what made it even better was that Avondale Brewery, where it was held, is about two minutes from my house. Always a plus.

amy_welborn2

We won’t have that level of activity this weekend. What’s on tap? One kid gone Friday and much of Saturday at a robotics competition, the other serving a Saturday retreat Mass and having a make-up piano lesson (his teacher was on a short recital tour earlier in the week and had to reschedule). A family Halloween party Saturday night – almost forgot about that! – and then..it looks like Sunday is going to be what I hate most – Finish The Project Day – around here. One has an Archimedes project, the other on The Scarlet Letter.

"amy welborn"

Have a Happy Halloween, Slash.

— 7 —

Oh, I did do a bit of television watching, aside from Rectify. I have been poking around for a show to binge on – I missed the Stranger Things fad. By the time it had cycled through from New Hotness to Old and Almost Busted, I lost interest. But then I started hearing about this Australian show called Glitch just come to Netflix, so I thought I’d try it out.

And I did, and I watched the whole thing, sort of hating myself by hour four. Not exactly hating, but knowing by that point that this was going to be a Lost kind of experience in which an initial intriguing hook ends up taking you for a fairly contrived ride. And Lost was a lot better than Glitch.

The conceit is that several people have risen from the dead, crawling out of their graves in the cemetery in a small Australian town. Those first scenes are quite arresting, and a couple of the story lines are affecting, but the writing is formulaic and stiff, serious questions are glossed over and really, it all comes down to the fact that the reaction of a widower to his once dead, now-standing-in-front-of-him wife is not much more intense than if she had surprised him by arriving  home early from work. It’s clear by the end that this event has not been caused – as the devout Catholic among the resuscitated exclaims – by any miracle – but by pharmaceutical hijinks of one sort or another, and there’s a major twist at the end of the series that makes the, er, dead affect of one of the non-risen characters finally understandable – and so that’s where this first season ends. So yes, I kept watching for that dumb reason we all do – just to see what happens – but I’m not proud, especially in light of the intelligent, nuanced experience of Rectify a couple of nights later. I should have spent those six hours reading a book instead. Walker Percy, probably.

“Yes. Death is winning, life is losing.”
“Ah, you mean the wars and the crime and violence and so on?”
“Not only that. I mean the living too.”
“The living? Do you mean the living are dead?”
“Yes.”
“How can that be, Father? How can the living be dead?”
“I mean their souls, of course.”
“You mean their souls are dead,” says Max with the liveliest sympathy.
“Yes,” says Father Smith tonelessly. “I am surrounded by the corpses of souls. We live in a city of the dead.”

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Today’s her feastday!

She’s in The Loyola KIds’ Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  Here are the first two pages of the entry:

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on today’s saint, Therese of Lisieux.  From the General Audience of 4/6/11:

"therese of lisieux"

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. Thescience of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science.

“All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew thatwonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266).

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r).

In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r).

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).

Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others.

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A Birmingham-based writer and acquaintance of mine had a piece about mental illness and faith published in the Washington Post today. It’s very good, and I’d recommend anyone in any kind of pastoral ministry read it:

The Scripture for this morning was John 16:16-24. The pastor read the verses aloud and said a short prayer. As soon as he began talking through his main points, I braced myself for the disappointment I knew was coming. I suspected he wouldn’t take this opportunity to discuss things such as depression and anxiety in the Christian life.

I was right.

Although much of what he said was good and biblical, he didn’t mention mental illness. Instead, he said if you aren’t experiencing joy, you should examine your life and repent of any sin that might be blocking it.

I don’t want to hijack Charlotte’s excellent piece for my own purposes – but, well, old habits are hard to break. My tangent is to observe how this attitude reflects the dangers of superficial religious practice in which definitions of things like “joy” and “peace” have been untethered from hundreds of years of tradition – which means, basically, “human experience” – and come to mean not much more than what the culture-of-the-moment says they mean.

For indeed, traditional, historic Christian spirituality may not have understood the nature of mental illness the way we do today, but it did embody an understanding of the complexities of the human person, accept a mystery of how our particular personalities interact with the transcendent, and provide understanding pathways of how to navigate that.

It also points out to me, once again, why emotion-based religious events are so terrible. Usually I say something like “inadequate” or “flawed” when I talk about this, but I think I’ll just move on and say that gatherings in which individuals are manipulated into a certain emotional state by music, environment, rhetorical tricks, guilt and even personal witness are terrible.  Defining “great worship today” by the tears shed or emotions felt by the hundreds swaying along to your music makes me think, Fascist! 

Back to Charlotte’s point. This is an important one, and I think her treatment is balanced and fair. It’s not, she says, that every word spoken should revolve around the reality of mental illness, but neither should it be ignored, especially when speaking of the practice of spirituality.

Therese Borchard has been writing about the issue of spirituality and depression for many years.

I know someone who read this book – A Catholic Guide to Depression –   and found it very helpful.

****

This brings another, somewhat related point to mind.

I was talking to someone who knew a younger teen who was experiencing some faith questions. In fact, this young person had reluctantly determined that he must be an agnostic. Why? Because he didn’t and couldn’t seem to feel anything. 

When I heard this, my heart cracked a little and then I experienced a moment of clarity, in which my sometimes inchoate skepticism about youth ministry all pulled together and made sense.

I thought about all of the youth ministry programs that I see and am somewhat familiar with, that my kids are invited to participate in. They’re all emotionally-based. One one level, they’re about the emotion of enjoyment and fun, based on the assumption that this is necessary in order to just get them in the door. Moving to another level, they tend to emphasize other emotions – joy, remorse, connectedness, excitement –  from retreats to Adoration events that feature praise music and personal witness.

What if you’re a kid who searches for evidence of truth mostly through your head and not through your emotions? 

Adults can look at all of this with some perspective. We can separate the emotion from the core of faith. We can understand that for a lot of us, that emotionally-based stage – the affective stage  – is important and maybe even necessary. It was for me, when I was a senior in high school, and was deeply moved and felt an individual, very emotional encounter with Christ at a class retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta. But that was one moment, and perspective taught me that there was more to faith. The holistic nature of Catholic spirituality taught me that this type of intensity was rare, and didn’t define faith – my faith.

But teens?

Most of them probably don’t understand this. I’d say that the vast majority don’t. They just haven’t lived long enough. And so picture a kid whose personality and character is not oriented towards truth-seeking via emotion. Perhaps this stuff even makes them feel uncomfortable. They’re in all of these youth ministry events in which they’re constantly preached at about feelings of joy and happiness as the definition of faith, in which other kids are crying because Jesus is so real to them…

…and they’re not feeling it. They’re not crying. It’s not intense for them.

Does that mean I maybe don’t have faith? At all?

*****

(What helps? Correctly defining faith, to begin with. Start here.)

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Looks like Fall Project is definitely a go. I’ll start work in earnest next week, with a deadline of mid-November.

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

It’s September! That means if you are in parish, school  or diocesan ministry you are definitely thinking about Advent now. Well, think about this – the daily devotional I wrote for Liguori Press. It will be available in a month, and in Spanish, too. So check it out and spread the word. 

— 3 —

 

School’s going fine. Cuneiform tablets are being made by some, element symbols being memorized by others, and I think life is starting to flow a little more smoothly now. We do need this weekend, though.

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(Via snapchat – amywelborn2)

 

 — 4 —

Recent reads:

Tonight I dashed through Maugham’s novella Up at the Villa. It’s slight, melodramatic, with rather unbelievable stock characters doing foolish (and worse) things. Obviously not Maugham’s best, but not a waste of an hour of my life, Vols and Hoosiers winning in the background.

They made a movie of it back in 2000 starring Kristin Scott Thomas (I saw that and I thought..of course) and Sean Pean (What?).  From the trailer, it looks dreadful and A.O. Scott says as much in his review. The trailer also tells me that the film goes in a slightly different direction that Maugham’s story, but life is too short for me to bother to find out why or how.

— 5 

Earlier in the week, I read another Mauriac I checked out of the library – The Frontenacs which seems to be called The Frontenac Mystery in most English language editions.  The Frontenacs are a family, and while they are, as is usually the case in Mauriac, flawed and limited  by money and propriety concerns, the takeaway here is a bit less mournful than usual. Unfortunately, that means that the book itself feels lighter, the characters more sketchily drawn and the ultimate sentiment more…sentimental. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are determined to Read All the Mauriac.

Weekend reading will be The Razor’s Edge. 

(Go to a post earlier this week on The Good Companions, if you are interested.)

6–

If you want a long, jaw-dropping read, take a look at this LA Times series (running through Saturday) about the Stanford Law-graduate married couple who planted drugs in the PTA president’s car because they decided she’d dissed their son in aftercare.

 

— 7 —

 

I was poking around looking for some historical material on ad orientem and related matters and ran across this archive of the Catholic Northwest Progress newspaper (Archdiocese of Seattle). There are any number of reasons you might find it interesting, but I was looking for what people were told about the Mass changes and how they were reported. For that, look in the issues of late 1964-1965.

Interested in Mother Teresa material? Here’s my blog post on her – and what I wrote about her in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes – from earlier this week. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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I finished this over a week ago, but am just now getting some time to write about it.

A thoroughly enjoyable, even absorbing book.

Long. So be prepared. The copy I read was 640 pages.

The story fills those pages, though, and it was great to have a book to settle into in the evenings, knowing that I’d be carried along but with more to look forward to tomorrow.

As I mentioned before, The Good Companions was an enormous best-seller in England when it was published in 1929. It’s the story of a “concert party” or pierrot troupe, which was a variety traveling entertainment company, very popular and common between the wars.

It takes a bit – about a third of the book – before we meet that troupe, named the “Dinky Doos” at that point. No, before that, we are immersed in the stories of three very different people whose paths will cross with each other, and eventually with the performers, changing their lives in the way chance encounters at the end of winding paths do.

Jesiah Oakroyd is a Yorkshire worker – a mechanic of some sort with a challenging family life and a hankering for the road.  Fear that he’s being accused of a crime and the actual reality of being fired from his job inspire him to set out and see what he can see.

Elizabeth Trant is a woman in her mid-30’s who has spent her adult life caring for her "good companions"recently deceased father. We meet her as the estate is being auctioned off and she senses the opportunity for change. This potential change is moved along by a visit from her nephew Hilary (whose accounts of his intellectual set – the “Statics” – is priceless), who leaves her his car.

Finally, there’s Inigo Jollifant, a young man with literary aspirations and musical talent who teaches in possibly the worst public school in England. After offending the wife of the headmaster one too many times, he, too, sets off late one night, determined to experience The Road and write something Literary about it.

These three experience various adventures, misfortunes and accidents that bring them all to the same place, which happens to be the same place that the members of the Dinky Doos are sadly gathered, having been abandoned and financially wiped out by their former manager.

And so, within a short time, characters respond to their inner promptings: to be of use, to do something brave and different, to meet a need, to have a lark – and The Good Companions are born.

Now, this isn’t a deep work of social commentary or the most profound character study ever penned, but it does pain a detailed picture of the England between the wars as well as the lives of a bunch of quite different people, all clearly and affectionately drawn. To get a taste, here’s a minor character who’s courting one of the female members of the troupe. His name is Dulver, and he’s a hotelier:

He was a bachelor about forty who liked to clothe his pink plumpness in sporting tweeds, wore a fair clipped moustache, and looked at the world out of prominent light-blue eyes that had about them a kind of hard amiability. His manner and phraseology suggested the confidential, but his voice was loud and carried far and he made full use of it, so that he always gave the odd impression that he was bellowing out his innermost secrets. Actually, however, he had no difficulty in keeping to himself whatever was best known only to himself, and was in reality a far more astute man of business than he appeared to be, like all the Dulvers, who for several generations now had been ordering drinks all round and slapping everybody on the back and talking at the top of their voices while they quietly contrived to feather their nests….

I can’t tell you how much I love, admire and envy that kind of quick sketch of character-drawing, and this book is full of that sort of thing.

I found The Good Companions a very satisfying read, and not without moments of authentic human emotion. The end is very satisfying, with a bit of closure, but also a reminder that the future and even the present is a mystery for all of us, whether we live in flesh and blood, on the stage or in a book:

In this place, whether we call it Bruddersford or Pittford Falls, perfection is not to be found, neither in men nor in the lot they are offered, to say nothing of the tales we tell of them, these hints and guesses, words in the air and gesticulating shadows, these stumbling chronicles of a dream of life.

(The novel has been adapted many times for film, stage and television. There’s a 1933 version with John Gielgud as Inigo that you can watch in chunks on YouTube. There’s a 1950’s film adaptation in which the action is moved to the present day, and the trailer is one of the more deeply painful things I’ve ever watched. I’d like to get my hands on the BBC series adaptation – it looks sort of fun, but then I don’t think I want to spend 9 hours watching it…life does go on, after all.)

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