Flotsam & Jetsam (2/28)

The Most Offensive Verse in the Bible – Love this.

Peer Pressure Review – “The world runs on accusation. They will accuse your going out and coming in. If deacon Jones goes on a bender, they laugh at his hypocrisy. If deacon Jones declines to go on a bender, they laugh at all the scruples he has wound around his axle.”

C.S. Lewis: A Life – Another one for the TBR pile.

Reaching Catholics in Your Community – “It is not enough to understand Catholic doctrine; we must also pause to consider assumptions, priorities, attitudes, fears, and common commitments.” Some interesting distinctions here.

Anathem – $1.99 is a pretty awesome deal for a book this massive. I haven’t read it yet, but it comes highly recommended.

Book Review: Science and God – “The issue of science versus Christianity and more specifically the issue of creation is one that all believers need to wrestle through. Given that fact, I am sorry to write that I was disappointed in Science and God.”

“No state is healthful which tells its members to take no thought of the morrow because the state underwrites their future.” – Richard Weaver

Ears to Hear


A good friend of mine sent these lectures my way, and now I’m passing them on to you. Ken Myers (author of the fabulous All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes) does a smashing job here: over the course of four lectures, he highlights the importance of music in our culture, examines the objective nature of music, and lays the groundwork for further discussion of “the possibilities of musical meaning.”

This is good stuff, folks. I recommend you take time to watch the videos, but MP3s are available as well. The first lecture is featured above – you can find the rest here.

Also, a warning to my fellow bibliophiles: you’re reading list may explode when Myers starts dispensing book recommendations. Arm yourself with a notepad.

Contrast

W.E. Hensley, Invictus:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Dorothea Day, Conquered:

Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.

I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.

That Great and Lasting Desire Which Possesses Them

“In ages of faith, the final end of life is placed beyond life. The men of those ages, therefore, naturally and almost involuntarily accustom themselves to fix their gaze for many years on some immovable object toward which they are constantly tending; and they learn by insensible degrees to repress a multitude of petty passing desires in order to be better able to content that great and lasting desire which possesses them… This explains why religious nations have often achieved such lasting results; for whilst they were thinking only of the other world, they had found out the great secret of success in this.” – De Tocqueville

Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

310612Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, a 30-year-old savant who lives at home with his mother and fills his writing tablets with sophisticated musings on history and modern culture (he intends to publish them someday, of course). Reilly’s quiet existence descends into chaos when he is nearly arrested by an overeager policeman – who mistakes him for a “prevert” – and then involved in a car accident with his inebriated mother at the wheel. One thing leads to another (and another and another), and in the end, our hero finds himself doing the unthinkable: hunting for a job.

*audience utters a horrified gasp, begins whispering excitedly*

All this happens in the first fifty odd pages of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. The remaining three hundred fifty are dedicated to showing us that finding a job and keeping a job are two different things – and Ignatius J. Reilly isn’t particularly good at either one.

I was drawn to this book for two reasons. First, because it won the Pultizer Prize and is widely regarded as a comic classic. Second, because it was highly recommended by Russell Moore, a man whom I greatly respect and admire:

… [A Confederacy of Dunces] is comic genius. Toole is able to plumb the accents and mindsets of the different communities and neighborhood of New Orleans better than any author I’ve ever seen. He also examines what it means to be a sojourner in a strange land. The protagonist is a native New Orleanian who never got past Baton Rouge in his travels beyond the city. Even so, he’s a stranger as one who is trying to grasp medieval philosophy as an “anchor” in a changing and shifting world.

For the record, I still respect and admire Mr. Moore – and I wouldn’t presume to set myself up as a better literary critic than he. I must, however, confess myself puzzled at his love for this book; puzzled at the accolades it has received; puzzled that it won any prize at all, let alone the Pulitzer.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m missing something. All I know is that A Confederacy of Dunces is the least hilarious “comic masterpiece” I have ever read.

There’s no denying Toole’s talent as a wordsmith. He writes in a beautifully zany way, and the dialogue sizzles and snaps like bacon in a skillet. And though I’ve never been to New Orleans, I fully enjoyed his lively, color-saturated description of the place. What I missed was the humor: and that’s not something you want to miss in a book that’s purportedly a laugh-riot.

The New Republic calls itone of the funniest books ever written… it will make you laugh out loud till your belly aches and your eyes water.” “You simply sweep along, unbelievably entranced,” says The Boston Globe. “It’s a masterwork,” declares The New York Times, “nothing less than a grand comic fugue.” The Washington Post dubs it “a corker, an epic high comedy, a rumbling, roaring avalanche of a book.”

And these reviews make me wonder… Did we read the same book? Is there a Special Edition I failed to get my hands on? Am I, perhaps, an idiot?

(The Answers, Respectively: Yes. No. Mebbe so.)

My non-enjoyment of this book had much do with the fact that I detested the hero from start to finish. I say “hero” with my tongue in my cheek and a grimace on my face. Ignatius J. Reilly is loathsome, despicable, mean, uncouth, overeducated, arrogant, beastly, obnoxious, and downright gross. Enduring four hundred pages worth of this whiny, flatulent manchild didn’t simply push my buttons; it ruddy well smashed them.

Following Reilly’s attempts at finding and maintaining a proper job did have its amusing moments, but no matter how much I wanted to be blown over by gales of laughter, I never was. I don’t recall laughing out loud even once during the entire book. What about those bellyaches, New Republic, those streaming tears of mirth? Pish. I’ve read toothpaste labels that were funnier.

Maybe one day I’ll revisit Toole’s work and a lightbulb will suddenly flicker to life inside my skull and I’ll finally “get” why so many readers find it all so hilarious. For now, I’ll just stick to my Pratchett, my Wodehouse, and my Jerome. If you’ll excuse me…