7 Quick Takes: What I've Read In January

I'm early to the party, I know.  Story of my life right now:  it's called now or never.  

1.

J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zoe

Somehow in all my years of schooling, I never had to read anything by J.D. Salinger. I decided to remedy that situation in early January, when I picked up this character-driven novel filled with masterful, witty dialogue.   (I could have done without the excessive use of the Lord's name in vain.  And I'm not saying that because I'm a prude.  It was compulsive and over the top.)

Franny and Zoe Glass are two siblings who grew up as child radio stars, but are now having a hard time adjusting to adulthood.  After a nervous breakdown, Franny has returned from from college and Zooey, her brother who is also an unfulfilled actor, attempts to help Franny through her mental collapse.

The book is sprinkled with interesting religious discussion and a deep purview into what I decided was an extremely dysfunctional family. 

I had several favorite quotes but here is one of them: 

“I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It’s disgusting.” 

(To think, Salinger wrote this before the age of the Internet and blogs and social media where  everyone's egotism is excessive and nauseating.)

2.

Stephen Grosz's The Examined Life:  How We Lose and Find Ourselves

This book intrigued me because Grosz is a practicing psychoanalyst with 25 years of experience.  I liked the concept of this book which was to take patients' stories/case studies and use them to illustrate universal themes like love and loss and loneliness.  Unfortunately, Grosz's approach is a bit too Freudian for my taste and I found the presentation of his patients' struggles sensational.  He took the private pain and suffering people shared within the confines of therapist/patient and exploited them for the purpose of selling books.  I found only three of the chapters worth reading.

3.

Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller

I've only read one other Picoult novel (My Sister's Keeper) and I'm not quite sure what made me pick this one up, except it was available from the library.  It was an engaging enough story (especially the bulk of it which describes a woman's experience during a WWII concentration camp) but I didn't love the novel.  It's a typical, modern-day mass produced tale designed to sell, but not really make you think.

4.

Simcha Fisher's The Sinner's Guide To Natural Family Planning

I love the Catholic Church and I embrace the church's teachings on Natural Family Planning.  However, I've said for years the American church today

must

revise the manner in which they sell NFP to engaged couples.

Teach the truth.  Teach that contraception prevents the unitive and procreative aspects of sex.

Teach the method.  Show couples how to chart and take temperatures and all the other ridiculous rigmarole necessary to use NFP.

But don't, for the love all things good and holy,

don't

forget to discuss the sacrificial aspects of NFP.  Don't launch couples, as Fisher states, into the practice of NFP in a way that will leave them "expecting sunshine and buttercups".  To do this, leaves a naive, newly-married couple sideswiped when they

encounter the CROSS

and

not

the the rosy picture painted by their former NFP instructors.

Fisher's book is helpful and needed and practical because anyone who loves the Church but doesn't love NFP will feel normal.  (I wish I had this information ten years ago!!!) 

I recommend this short, quick read for:

any couple who has ever used NFP,

any couple thinking about NFP,

any couple who loves the Church's teachings but struggles with the implementation of NFP,

but I especially recommend for couples who are dedicated to the Church's teachings, but have failed to discover the warm and fuzzies from practicing them.

The book is only available via e-book right now but I think Our Sunday Visitor has picked it up and will be publishing hard copies by the Spring.

One of my favorite quotes:

"What are the other things we have to discern, besides "having a baby vs not having a baby"?  We should try to discern if God wants us to learn self-control, or learn trust; if God wants us to focus more on the things around us, or focus more on the long-term view of our life; if God wants us to shower our spouse with extra care and attention for a time, or to stretch our concept of what our marriage is for; if God wants us to have a better understanding of generosity, or a better understanding of prudence; if He wants for us a better acceptance of our own limits, or more sympathy for the struggles of others.  And so on."

 5.

Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

I started this one in the Fall when I was pregnant and had to take a break from it because I got weighed down by the biographical details.  I picked it up again this week and have almost finished it.  The second half of the book is decidedly more interesting than the first because it details Bonhoeffer's arrest and experiences in concentration camps.  This book is well worth the read.  I'm inspired by Bonhoeffer's life but especially the following: 

--He was an intellect, classically-educated (just like my own children) and his work reflects the type of education he received as well as an astute mind. 

--His religious convictions motivated him to join the multiple assassination attempts made on Hitler. (As an aside, I never learned about all the attempts made--and there were several-- by Germans to kill Hitler.  I must have missed that day in history class.)

--He was a martyr in the truest sense of the word, willing to die for his faith and combat evil. 

-- He was a man with a deep prayer life and an abiding belief in God.  This motivated everything he did.

--He did not fear death, even the worst kinds.  As Metaxas put it,  “Bonhoeffer thought of death as the last station on the road to freedom.” Witnesses testified that during times of great danger Bonhoeffer was calm and peaceful and brave.

I'm including a poem he wrote to one of his good friends while he was in prison. 

Stations on the Road to Freedom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Discipline
     If you would find freedom, learn above all to discipline your senses and your soul. Be not led hither and thither by your desires and your members. Keep your spirit and your body chaste, wholly subject to you, and obediently seeking the goal that is set before you.  None can learn the secret of freedom, save by discipline.
Action
     To do and dare--not what you would, but what is right. Never to hesitate over what is in your power, but boldly to grasp what lies before you. Not in the flight of fancy, but only in the deed there is freedom. Away with timidity and also reluctance! Out into the storm of event, sustained only by the commandment of God and your faith, and freedom will accept you with exultation.
Suffering
     O wondrous change! Those hands, once so strong and active, have now been bound. Helpless and forlorn, you see the end of your deed. Yet with a sigh of relief you resign your cause to a stronger hand, and are content to do so. For one brief moment you enjoyed the bliss of freedom, only to give it back to God, that he might perfect it in glory.
Death
     Come now, Queen of the feasts on the road to eternal freedom! O death, cast off the grievous chains and lay low the thick walls of our mortal body and our blinded soul, that at last we may behold what we have failed to see. O freedom, long have we sought thee in discipline and in action and in suffering. Dying we behold thee now, and see thee in the face of God.
6.

Caryll Houselander's The Reed Of God

My friend, Karen, gave me this book for my birthday and in it she penned the most beautiful inscription I've ever received in any book ever.  After her rave recommendations, I just knew the book was going to be good.

It is

awesome

.

I'm only half way finished, but I know this is going to become one of my favorite go-to spiritual reads. Houselander's insights about the importance of Mother Mary's role in Salvation History are almost mystical and her remarks about how we should be treat those caught in serious sin moved me to tears:

"We should never come to a sinner without the reverence that we should take to the Holy Sepulchre. Pilgrims have travelled on foot for years to kiss the Holy Sepulchre, which is empty. In sinners we can kneel at the tomb in which the dead Christ lies". 
 "In many people Christ lives the life of the Host, Our life is a sacramental life"
 "The Host life may be lived in prisons, in prisons of war, in internment camps, in almshouses, workhouses; by blind people, mental patients...."

I also loved her take on personal weakness:

"Each one of us --as we are at the moment when we first ask ourselves:  "For what purpose do I exist?"--is the material which Christ Himself, through all the generations that have gone to our making, has fashioned for His purpose.
That which seems to us to be a crumbling point, a lack, a thorn in the flesh, is destined for God's glory as surely as the rotting bones of Lazarus, as surely as the radiance of Mary of Nazareth."

There's hope!  There's much hope.

7. 

In other book related news, I recently decided to become an Amazon affiliate.  I link to so many books/movies via Amazon, I figured it couldn't hurt.  If you are inclined to buy any of the titles listed above, click through the links, buy the products from Amazon, and I'll earn referral fees.  This blog doesn't get an excessive amount of traffic, but every little bit helps to support my book buying habit.

Now go see Jen, who I'm sure has far more entertaining quick takes.

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