In Which Children and Plot Twists Disappoint Me But Pretty Words Do Not: Reviews, in Mostly List Format, of 10 Books

I think there are 10, at any rate. These are the books I’ve read so far this year.

(Hi and what’s up, guys. Been a while. May be a while again, not sure. My summer is busy, which means blogging time is hard to come by…but I do have a working laptop now, which means writing posts is so, so much easier.)

Cytonic

(a book about aliens & stuff by Brandon Sanderson)

Where Skyward was Star Wars: A New Hope* and Starsight was Ender’s Game, the classic sci-fi Cytonic is modeled after is less obvious…but I think I’ve decided it’s Star Trek. Not quite TOS, so maybe TNG? I haven’t watched enough Next Gen to know, really.

*[ok so my sisters and I rewatched the Star Wars trilogy, and we enjoyed the whole thing, but we were like wow, the first one really is a quality story]

Good Bits:

  • That signature Star Trek-ish philosophicalness. M-Bot’s identity crisis comes to a head, there’s Chet and his whole character, Spensa once again questions her beliefs, that plot twist…also people having memory loss from the nature of this in-between reality place, what is reality actually? And just. Questioning the origins and implications of things. Even though it comes from a completely different place than me (and makes assumptions I don’t necessarily agree with), it’s fascinating.
  • The setting (also Star Trek-ish?) is literally the coolest sci-fi setting I’ve ever read. Ever. The nowhere, the belts, the in-betweenness, the different-and-slightly-untethered relationship to time—I was silently screaming inside while I read it. IT’S SO COOL.
  • Chet. I love him. Explorer through the “nowhere,” very bold and gallant and amnesia-afflicted. Calls Spensa “Miss Nightshade” and M-Bot “abomination.”
  • Doomslug is still the best blue-and-yellow-striped galaxy-travelling snail.

Bits That Drove Me Batty:

  • Sanderson’s prose in general is not all that good, but this was extra not all that good.
  • Why, pray tell, was there not more Jorgen?
  • The plot twist was cool in some ways, but mostly it was a letdown. It explained too much, I guess? Or was too mundane an explanation for things that seemed way cooler before? I don’t know. The climax fell quite flat for me because of it.
  • And DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON WHAT THE PLOT TWIST DID TO CHET—
  • Spensa pre-character growth was endearingly and stupidly defiant. By this point she’s just…annoying? She’s supposed to have improved, but I liked her better even at the beginning of Book 1: she was unique and she was driven and you understood why. You cringed when you knew she was about to do something stupid—and you knew she was going to, because she was Spensa. Now she’s slipped into Generic-YA-Heroine-ness. Do you know how much I hate it when good characters do that???

In short: I will read Book 4 (I’m even excited about it), but what I like best about this series is Book 1. It’s exciting, endearing, Star-Wars-y, and it has all the good characters in it and an epic ending (with a plot twist that does knock your socks off, in all the right ways). I see no reason one couldn’t just read it happily as a standalone.

The Tall Stranger

(a book about shooting people, also building a good life for your family or something idk, by Louis L’Amour)

I’m 99% sure I read a shorter novella form of this a long time ago and L’Amour expanded it into a novel. I remember the plot twist. Also I remember my identical feelings of disgruntlement about it.

Some Opinions in No Particular Order:

  • The main character is boooooring.
  • Oh, of COURSE he’s related to him.
  • This is a fine trope, it really is. But I DO NOT LIKE IT, SAM-I-AM.
  • “I’m a MAN so I’m gonna do MANLY THINGS” (sometimes it just gets to a point where it’s hilarious)
  • The bit where he crosses the ridge in the lightning storm is awesome though. L’Amour’s love of the land and gift for vivid scene-setting always comes through somewhere, seems like, even in his most mediocre novels.

Plain Tales From the Hills

(a short story collection set in the hills of British India by Rudyard Kipling)

This is the first I’ve read of the set of Kipling books my sister got me. The titles of all the other ones are in normal letters with the appropriate capitals, like: “Soldiers Three,” “Barrack Room Ballads,” etc. But this one, for whatever reason, is in all caps: “PLAIN TALES FROM THE HILLS.”

Rendering me unable to know if I was supposed to capitalize “from” or not. Why.

Anyway, there were a few duds (including the first story), but OH BOY CAN KIPLING WRITE A SHORT STORY. His prose, you guys, his PROSE—*weeps*

Qualities of Kipling’s Prose:

  • Reserves judgment (I love when authors write like this, and Kipling does it to the extreme, so you genuinely have no idea what he actually thinks; he’s kind of just making fun of everyone involved, including the narrator)
  • Makes my mom laugh, sentence after sentence, when I read a bit of “The Rescue of Pluffles” to her over the phone
  • Ironic
  • Comic
  • Descriptive
  • Horrifying
  • Patronizing
  • Mock-disapproving
  • WHATEVER IT NEEDS TO BE FOR THE STORY. IT’S SO GOOD.

One must also love the recurring characters, particularly Mrs. Hauksbee.

A Sampling of Favorite Passages (or, the 3 passages I remembered to write down):

Very many women took an interest in Saumarez, perhaps because his manner to them was offensive. If you hit a pony over the nose at the outset of your acquaintance, he may not love you, but he will take a deep interest in your movements ever afterward.

from “False Dawn”

When a man is a Commissioner and a bachelor and has the right of wearing open-work jam-tart jewels in gold and enamel on his clothes, and of going through a door before everyone except a Member of Council, a Lieutenant-Governor, or a Viceroy, he is worth marrying. At least, that is what ladies say. There was a Commissioner in Simla, in those days, who was, and wore and did all I have said. He was a plain man—an ugly man—the ugliest man in Asia, with two exceptions. His was a face to dream about and try to carve on a pipe-head afterward. His name was Saggott—Barr-Saggott—Anthony Barr-Saggott and six letters to follow. Departmentally, he was one of the best men the Government of India owned. Socially, he was like unto a blandishing gorilla.

from “Cupid’s Arrows”

His business was to stir up the people in Madras with a long pole—as you stir up a tench in a pond—and the people had to come up out of their comfortable old ways and gasp—“This is Enlightenment and Progress. Isn’t it fine!” Then they gave Mellishe statues and jasmine garlands, in the hope of getting rid of him.

from “A Germ-Destroyer”

To Say Nothing of the Dog

(a book about cats, sleep deprivation, and overbearing women in all time periods by Connie Willis)

This book features:

  • So much Victorianness
  • And so many Lord Peter references (that whole “you look just like Lord Peter in that boater—oh, Ned, it’s just like Harriet and Lord Peter!” sequence, oh my)
  • Time-lag (“One of the first symptoms of time-lag is a tendency to maudlin sentimentality, like an Irishman in his cups or a Victorian poet cold-sober.”)
  • The narrator’s sleep deprivation being embedded in how the book is written
  • Me being very very sleep-deprived while I read it and therefore every nonsensical thing Ned thought making a disturbing amount of sense to me—yes, yes, that’s exactly how the world works, I am not questioning any of this, why would I?
  • Professor Peddiwick and his excellent theories on the importance of the great individual in history (and his unparalleled hatred for Overforce)
  • A most impressive butler
  • A pure-hearted bulldog, by name Cyril
  • A man taking care of cats who does not know how to Cat. (He thinks if you put them down they hop back into your arms upon request, a misapprehension which leads to Problems)
  • Really, really funny writing. So very deadpan. I love that kind of writing
  • Time travel

I should by all rights hate it for the time travel, but I don’t. The thing is that they don’t make you think about it too hard; instead they make worried speculations that they don’t know the answers to, wave their hands a lot, and say: “chaos theory!” which soothes me considerably. Plus it hits me right in the wish fulfillment—historians who have developed the technology for research purposes??? They get to go back to these historical eras and learn about them and actually see and meet the people???

The Legend of Sam Miracle

(a book about a time-travelling priest and a vulture-man with pocket watches chained to his heart and a twelve-year-old gunslinger with snakes instead of arms, don’t ask, it’s by N. D. Wilson okay?)

Things that gave me glee:

  • The Ranch Brothers. Bless these borderline criminal orphan kids, looking after their brother Sam
  • Glory. Can authors trying to write strong girl characters, and just real, smart kids in general, take notes
  • “His father had always been as sure as sunlight, as full of laughter as the great gold maples in fall.”
  • Sam just being Confused, about everything, all the time (relatable)
  • Father Tiempo
  • “Time is the Poet speaking the next word.”
  • The Southwest (the desert ❤️)
  • The high stakes and the intensity and the pain
  • Cindy being horrible
  • The fact that I had just watched Tombstone before reading it, so I heard all of Doc Holliday’s dialogue in Val Kilmer’s voice (and saw it coming out of his face) and it was grand
  • N. D. Wilson’s writing is just beautiful, always, and I love his sense of setting and scope and meaning and morality

The Fatal Flaw:

  • TIME TRAVEL DOES NOT MAKE SENSE AND YOU CANNOT MAKE IT MAKE SENSE NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO
  • TIME TRAVEL IS FURTHERMORE A NATURAL EVIL AND AGAINST THE NATURE OF REALITY
  • TIME TRAVEL IS FURTHERMORE A MORAL EVIL IN THAT IT UNMAKES THE CHOICES OF HUMAN BEINGS AND I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS, NO SIREE BOB I WON’T

So in case it wasn’t clear…I really hate time travel.

Mistress Wilding

(a book about the Monmouth Rebellion and why you should probably equally steer clear of politics, gossip, marriage, and treason by Rafael Sabatini)

This should be a movie. It would have great action sequences, set-pieces, and dialogue, with minimal adapting. I also think the character arcs (which are great, if a little brushed over in favor of excitement) would show to advantage in the movie format.

Characters in this book who need to stop being headstrong fools and have a little humility:

  • Anthony
  • Ruth
  • Richard
  • Sir Rowland
  • Gray
  • Monmouth
  • EVERYONE, pretty much

Blessings be on the heads of:

  • Trenchard
  • Diana

…for they are, respectively, surely the only reason Anthony or Ruth survives anything in life.

Island of the Aunts

(a book about kidnapping children and de-oiling mermaids by Al Gore Eva Ibbotson)

My Reasons for Reading Such a Disappointing Book:

  • I’ve been meaning to try Eva Ibbotson forever
  • It was 25 cents at the thrift store
  • I like whimsical middle-grade fantasy

Disappointments:

  • The characters started off interesting, with potential, and then…were never developed or focused on any further
  • I’m sorry but I just don’t like cartoon villains
  • The portrayal of Lambert, which is something that’s begun to bother me more and more in kids’ books. It’s not that he was an awful little snot with no appreciation for the Things That Truly Matter in Life; it was that he could never be anything different. It wasn’t that he refused the enlightenment achieved by Minette and Fabio; it was that he was incapable of receiving it. Apparently. Some people are just inferior. (To be clear, I do believe some people are evil. There are moral differences in people, but there are not differences in worth based on what you like and don’t like, are interested in or not interested in.) Like, as a kid I read so many books that treated people like this. And I feel like it really messed with my perception of reality and human worth? So I do not believe it’s an attitude that should be present in children’s books.
  • The author was trying to inspire wonder and delight in nature, and she just failed because (I think) there were no margins? Like, the kraken was the greatest most wondrous thing there could possibly be, so of course it fell short. It wasn’t the tip of the iceberg, it was the iceberg, and suddenly, when the iceberg was fully exposed, it wasn’t that impressive anymore. This is all??? This is the pinnacle??? There needed to be More than the kraken. (I think this is a principle that applies broadly to stories? There always needs to be More than what you show, if inspiring wonder is one of your aims. Maybe.)
  • Also the conservation messaging. Like golly gee, I’m not a tough crowd here, conservation is something I really care about and I think people should care about, I think everyone’s life is enriched by nature and a love of it…so to make ME bored and weirded out by the conservation elements of your story is quite a feat, but Eva Ibbotson accomplished it without breaking a sweat. Somehow.

Sorcerer to the Crown

(a story about magic and idiot British aristocrats by Zen Cho)

Reminds me of:

  • Georgette Heyer
  • W. R. Gingell (a little)
  • Faulkner (in that sometimes yes, you can use fifty-five words to say “please pass the mustard” but should you?
  • Weird feminists (because women are powerful because BLOOD or something)
  • A Sorcery of Thorns (because the heroine was unscrupulous Chaos and I loved it)

It was overall quite enjoyable.

Decline and Fall

(a book about an unfortunate schoolteacher by Evelyn Waugh)

Things Considered, in This Book, Suitable Matter for Farce:

  • Racism of so many varieties (including racial slurs)
  • Religious doubt
  • Sex trafficking
  • Death
  • (of children)
  • Suicide
  • Also murder (with saws)

Anyway, this book was hilarious. And so dark.

Writing style: understated British comedy—“That is the man who shot my son.” “Oh, how too shattering for you! Not dead, I hope?”

(The fate of Tangent in general, guys. Treated in matter-of-fact parentheses. I don’t know how to explain how dark it was.)

Main classic British mid-century trope utilized: Main Character Who Does Nothing But Things Happen to Him and His Life Falls Apart While He’s Infuriatingly Passive But Also Endearingly Normal.

Most relatable line: “The next four weeks of solitary confinement were among the happiest of Paul’s life.”

Margot Beste-Chetwynde can go and die.

So she was a bad human being, but I can’t decide if she was supposed to be charming? I mean, her character’s introduction was “eccentric racist socialite,” so maybe not. Maybe she was supposed to be as painful as she was, but Paul, being but a Human Male, was fascinated and we were supposed to pity his fascination. (Pity is what most things that happened to Paul evoked, so.)

As far as prose goes, this Evelyn Waugh fellow certainly has a Gift.

Liesl & Po

(a book about a girl and a ghost and many coincidences by Lauren Oliver)

A good book, but disappointing. (I just…wanted it to be better? And more my thing? There were a lot of elements that muted my enjoyment that weren’t necessarily bad; they just weren’t my Vibe, if you know what I mean.)

Things That Weren’t Bad (But I, Being Unreasonable, Insisted on Disliking Them Anyway):

  • Cartoonish villains
  • Kinda one-note characters? (Like do I really demand deep characterization from my whimsical middle grade? Apparently yes, at least if it’s a book about the Human Experience in some way. I’m not even a little bit interested in some universal human experience; I’m interested in each human’s experience…but this means that if your character is a stand-in for The Average Human Dealing With Human Stuff, I will be unfortunately bored.)
  • The whole…Vibe??? I feel like the kind of person who really likes A Series of Unfortunate Events would really like the vibes of this. I happen to loathe the vibes/setting of A Series of Unfortunate Events (that sort of comically macabre steampunk variation on our real world??), so…
  • Ghosts (even though there were nice things about how this book did them)
  • Coincidences

Things That I, in My Magnanimity, Admit Were Good:

  • Henry Morbower. Bless this man. My favorite character. Should have been in it more.
  • The prose was lovely!
  • The good characters, although pretty one-dimensional and all that (in my opinion), were without a doubt dears. Which I do appreciate.
  • Po Amused me.
  • Mo. Bless this man as well; bless him for his insistence on boys who need hats getting hats, his large heart, his small brain, and all strays (animal or human) he adopts.

Things it reminds me of:

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (as aforementioned)
  • Oliver Twist (one of the only Charles Dickens books I don’t like…heh)
  • this webcomic (because…steampunk? I guess?) (also this webcomic is excellent and should be read) (and should be caught up on by me) (oops)
  • Winnie-the-Pooh (because Mo is just that wholesome)

Well, and that’s it, you guys. I have…not read that many books this year. What are outros I hate them

Confessions Read-Along: Books 8 & 9

’Sup.

This post is late, but hey. Being disciplined is for Lent. It’s Easter now.

Kidding, kind of?

Here is a new, beautifully celebratory, Easter-colored version of the graphic:

Ain’t it purty? Let’s all take a moment to appreciate Megan’s graphic design skills.

But anyway! Augustine’s Confessions! I read Book 8 and wow, you guys, the whole thing is so great I don’t even know what to say.

The story of Victorinus? “I shall not believe it or count you as a Christian until I see you in the Church of Christ.” Victorinus’s rejoinder: “Is it then the walls of the church that make the Christian?” (Somebody studied his rhetoric.) But, eventually: “Christ might deny him before his holy angels if he was too faint-hearted to acknowledge Christ before men.” This reminds me, first, of some of the things my mom told me as a kid getting ready to be baptized, about the importance of an outward, public profession of faith (rather than merely an internal, private belief), and also that quote by C. S. Lewis or somebody about how courage is the form taken by the other virtues at the testing point. Christianity is not merely intellectual; it is also in living, in the blood of the martyrs and the sweat of the nervous man ashamed to admit before people who will mock him that he believes in the risen Christ but more ashamed yet to deny his Savior. That stuff is kind of the same deal as courage, I feel like: the form your faith takes where it intersects with the resistance of the real world, the testing point: the proof of its vitality. (I could be way off with that analogy, though. Just a thought.)

But not just Victorinus’s story. The garden scene??!?!? Augustine’s reluctance being finally broken? The joy? Alypius’s conversion? Monica being told? Just EVERYTHING?

So, 3 takeaways:

  • Get you a friend like Alypius.
  • God’s grace, y’all. *words fail*
  • “Can you not do what these men and these women do? Do you think they find the strength to do it in themselves and not in the Lord their God? It was the Lord their God who gave me to them. Why do you try to stand in your own strength and fail? Cast yourself upon God and have no fear. He will not shrink away and let you fall.”

I also read Book 9 (high time). Which, besides Augustine tying up loose ends in his life (like quitting teaching rhetoric) and heading back to Africa, is mostly an account of the end of Monica’s life. And a loving son’s…eulogy, I guess you could call it. And a repository for this (needed) reminder: “Yet if any man makes a list of his deserts, what would it be but a list of your gifts?”

Takeaways here:

  • Get you a mom like Monica…?
  • Also be a mom like Monica

And that’s a wrap for this read-along. Kind of weird that it’s over. Thanks for doing it with us?? (Thanks to Megan for semi-suggesting it, and running along with undiminished enthusiasm when I pounced upon her suggestion like a cat upon a dragging shoelace??) I’ve loved it so much. I’ve wanted to read the Confessions for forever. Doing it with other people is the way to go, apparently. Not only as far as keeping on track (ish), but also the interesting conversations and new insights!

Obviously, there are four more books. I may or may not read them, since my copy is due back at the library Very Soon Indeed and I am, moreover, Very Busy Indeed. If I do read them, I might do a post? But for now, this read-along is officially over on my end, and will be on all counts as soon as Megan posts her last ones!

I decided it might be a good idea to compile a list of all the posts for reference, just in case that’s helpful, so here you go:

See y’all around. ✌️

“Spring Herself, When She Woke at Dawn” // One Quirk Later

I’m not even sure that pretentious-literary-allusion of a title is accurate, but it stuck and I cannot get rid of it. So Spring Herself, When She Woke at Dawn it is, for the title of this quirk.

Which, by the way, has context! It’s a scene from a novel I have mostly not written. This scene takes place well into the story, which means there’s all sorts of backstory and world-building and things you don’t know about leading up to it.

So it may possibly not make sense, and it also may possibly not mean things to you the way it does to me, because you don’t know the characters and what has happened to them…but ah well. I thought of this scene immediately upon seeing the wonderful prompt Jem cobbled together for us this month and…simply couldn’t not write it.

It’s also really long. Like definitely too long to qualify as flash fiction. Oops?

Well, enjoy, I guess.

Or don’t.

But you should enjoy it if at all possible. It’s spring, a time to enjoy yourself. (Or…fall? Is it fall in the Southern Hemisphere? Is that how that works? At any rate, also a time to enjoy yourself.)

Does anyone else adore this graphic? It is the perfect blend of quirky and whimsical and mysterious and the color scheme is just *chef’s kiss*

Spring Herself, When She Woke at Dawn

As it was the first dance of spring, Eden wore white. Eden loved white (like Easter lilies and the rarest daffodils), and she knew it fit her – even without looking in the mirror to see the way her skin bloomed against it: vivid rose and cream, and the light gold-brown given to it by the sun. She knew by how free she felt, by the flash of her hand across her vision, and (when she felt like admitting it) by the way Jeffrey looked at her. And tonight she wanted to be beautiful. She took the necklace from its drawer.

The door burst open.

Closing her hand around the chain, Eden twisted to look over her shoulder. She grinned happily. “Jeffrey!”

He flailed to a stop. “How many times do I have to tell you my name isn’t Jeffrey?”

Eden spun on her stool to face him all the way. “Yes, it is. And you shouldn’t really barge into my room without knocking.”

“Oh, sorry.” He looked as rueful and flustered as his hair, which could never decide which way to grow or whether to lie down or stand up and was hence always full of the wildest compromises. “Sorry, Eden.”

“It’s okay, I’ve got a lock.”

They smiled at each other.

“Anyway,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets, “I came to tell you it’s important what you wear tonight.”

“How?” asked Eden, despite knowing the general uselessness of such questions.

He shrugged. “That’s all I know.”

She looked down at the necklace, clutched and many-times-folded in her hand. She lifted the hand and opened her fingers to show him. “I was thinking of wearing this.”

That was why she didn’t wear it often, despite the strange, grave beauty it lent her. That sudden flicker of expression in his eyes – it was the same every time. A little puzzled, a little sad, like peering through a window into a dark house.

Eden was not a dark house. She was an Easter lily, born under one sun, come through darkness to greet another. She had been a finder of hidden doors and an explorer of secret passages, and now she was a girl who’d come home. That was how she knew, whatever sun it was, the sunlight was all the same, and it was all sunlight. Even the fall of dusk meant sunlight: for it to fall into.

“I don’t understand you sometimes,” she said to him, and realized as she said it she was frowning. She hadn’t meant to frown – still less to say it.

He returned her gaze (but not her frown) and, after consideration, nodded. “I don’t understand you sometimes.”

Pique flared in Eden. “I’m under no obligation to—” She paused, and said, less icily—“explain myself to you.” Then she felt wretched. “And you’re under no obligation to explain yourself to me,” she added wearily. “Of course. Sometimes—I just wish we knew things. And weren’t always guessing and being considerate. Of course, I want to be considered—only—”

He smiled at her.

She didn’t smile back, yet. She put her free hand on the dressing table, her fingers sliding down the grain of the wood. “I do understand the thing that matters. We’re friends.” She raised her eyebrows, as if it had been a question, and when he nodded she finally returned his smile.

***

Dusk fell in sheets from the mountains, filling the bowl of the valley. Eden thought how nice it was to know the dances, so they could stroll down the path together now, and talk, and wait and feel the rhythm of the dance growing in their hearts. No need to practice or count the rhythms or ask Jeffrey to teach her the next step. (“My name isn’t Jeffrey,” he would say.)

“I hope you’ll dance with me some,” he was saying now, gravely.

“Of course I will,” said Eden.

“You didn’t last time.”

“Dance with the churl who insulted my abilities? Ha.”

“I know you had to keep up appearances till he left, but you didn’t dance with me then either.” The stream flowed at their feet, its clear throaty murmur as cold as the touch of the night wind on their arms. (After all, it was only the very, very beginning of spring. Eden hadn’t even gone looking for hyacinths yet.) When he spoke again, his voice seemed (to Eden) to have grown together with the stream and to run with it. “You don’t have to. It’s just I keep thinking – sometimes – a little – you don’t want to. I just want to know.”

Eden shivered involuntarily. He stopped quickly, took off his jacket, and put it around her shoulders. Eden stood still in the warmth of it, looking downstream into the deep shadows – and up, barely lifting her eyes, to the velvet purple sky, washed with the watery shadows of shadows. Very soon the first stars would be out, and the dance would begin. For now, though, she was out here in dusk’s last deepest purple with the boy. Her boy. And he wanted to know.

Eden could appreciate his directness. She had been direct, after all, that afternoon. But she was wary, and her childhood was slipping from her shoulders like snow from the thawing cedars, and that was why she didn’t always dance with him now. Only it would be either very cruel or very foolish to explain it all to him. Cruel if he was as innocent and happy as she was. Foolish if he wasn’t. She said, “Do you think I’m pretty?”

He stood just behind her elbow, and because she was looking down the canyon she couldn’t see him, but she would have felt him move, and that was how she knew he didn’t. “Yes.”

Eden laughed and turned to him. “You’re a dumb fish, rising to bait that obvious.”

He grinned widely at her. “Some compliments like being caught.”

She narrowed her eyes, listening to the stream. “Jeffrey.”

His head lifted.

“I would rather be happy than pretty.”

Down in the canyon, from the lake’s edge, frogs sang out.

And Eden, looking into the sky above the mountains, brought her gaze back down, down, to the path and Jeffrey’s face, waiting to see if it ought to be anxious. “Fortunately – ” she said, with a smile that crinkled her eyes like a laugh – “unless I find you have lied to me – I don’t have to pick.”

And Jeffrey smiled back, believing her, yet unconvinced.

They turned to walk back. Eden brought her hand up within the cover of his jacket and uncurled her fist. She poked at the necklace all crunched in her palm, till the single pendant uncovered itself. It glowed with strange potency in the twilight.

Eden realized she had stopped walking. She looked up, into Jeffrey’s watchful gaze. Her lips tightened. “Why did you give it to me, if you don’t like it?”

When he laughed, Jeffrey’s face looked seventeen, just like her. When he was grave, he looked younger, much younger even than when she’d met him, younger in a different way. An ageless way. This was the same beauty the necklace gave to Eden, and she was afraid of it. She was afraid of Jeffrey’s face now, like a twelve-year-old’s, impossibly simple. Again his voice ran with the voice of the stream, so that they came low and swift, deep and sweet, clear and uncapturable, to Eden’s ears bearing the same words. “I gave it to you because you wanted it.”

And she had.

Only – she was realizing – she could only have it by losing it. Either way. If she kept it forever, adorned and set apart by its alien beauty, she herself lost the mortality that made it potent. And if she could go back, and have it – have Margo, have the Kowalskis, have the blue hyacinth blooming in the purple dusk at the edge of the soccer field (her breathing and Margo’s, her small and battered purple Converse cocked next to Margo’s spiffy new black ones, the grass tickling their legs, the moist warm press of coming summer against their bodies) – then she would lose it too, because that was what it meant to have it.

The first star was out, overhead. The small drop of light swimming in the pendant’s lilac (it was the same warm color as the lamplight in Mrs. Kowalski’s house) shimmered brightly up into her eyes. She squinted.

“It’s starting,” Jeffrey said.

Eden knew. She wasn’t afraid to be fashionably late, attired in white and wearing her necklace – if she was going to wear it. It did more than make her beautiful.

In her hands, the blaze of the little star ebbed. She could see its shape clearly again.

“Come on, Eden,” urged Jeffrey, half laughing.

Eden, giving her left hand to him, ran in his wake. To the door, where they stopped. Music floated out to them, merry music that teased at the stars. Eden gave him back his jacket.

He looked up at her, from under half-behaved hair, fixing his buttons. He was grave again, but not so young. Eden wanted to push his hair out of his eyes and make it lie down properly. “You should wear it,” he said.

Eden looked down at the necklace still in her hand; her mouth tightened again.

“I really think you should.”

She lifted it to her neck – cold, thin iron bars and ribbons like ice laid on her skin, the chains were – and breathed in the scent of his hands as he took it from her (they smelled like dirt; he must have been gardening, and he’d better not have planted any of the bulbs without her) and the tight cold scent of the spring night. He fastened it in the back without any fumbling—the only boy Eden had ever met who knew how to accomplish that—and then they went in.

***

Eden didn’t dance as much as usual. She danced with Jeffrey; she danced with just Maralee, and with Maralee and her friends. She exchanged smiles with the grandfather, her favorite dancing partner, but of course he rarely danced in spring – that, when she first came, had been an exception. And she was not unaware of the people – mostly boys her age and a little older – who saw her as she passed by, smiling gravely, with a cup of mead in her hands, and who paused, and hesitated, and would have asked her to dance. But she didn’t need to enact silly dramas with Jeffrey to discourage them tonight (on another night, she wouldn’t have wanted to discourage them). In fact, she was keenly aware that as the necklace gave her that power of drawing them, so it was that power she turned to her own use now – the measuring glance from gentle eyes, the slight turn of a shoulder at the proper time, the fall of a hand to her side, the imperceptible lift of an expectant chin. So no one stopped her. No one approached her but her friends. Wherever she stood, at the foot of the hall or the head of the stairs, or lingering (as she did for a short time) with the grandfather behind the mead tables, people looked at her: people she didn’t know well and people she didn’t know at all.

It was like being Queen of the Fairies, she thought; that was what it was like. Well – no – it was the King of the Fairies who was always a mortal. But perhaps it still worked in a mixed-up way. It didn’t matter.

Now the evening was late. The strings played softly; the night outside pressed against the windows like ink squeezed into too small a bottle. To Eden’s tired eyes, the lights seemed to lengthen and leap across the floor and the air. She smiled at Maralee, Tom, and Rosalind, chattering beside her about the picnic planned for tomorrow; then smiled at Jeffrey, standing quietly on her other side. It was only certain lines in his face that made him look seventeen. You would know him at once for the same fourteen-year-old he had been. Eden had thought she wouldn’t dance anymore tonight, but now she changed her mind: before the night ended, she’d dance again with Jeffrey.

If he wanted to, but she wasn’t exactly uncertain on that point.

He looked over – pretty quickly, really, if one considered how long it sometimes took him to realize she was there when he’d been absorbed in something else – and smiled quickly back at her.

“Do you want – ” Eden began.

A movement at the foot of the hall caught her eye. She mightn’t have paid it any attention – or would have finished her sentence before she did – if it hadn’t been for a suddenly renewed consciousness of the coldness of the necklace around her throat (the thin chain-work trailed melted snow-drops across her skin, and the curve of the lowest loop touched the hollow of her collarbone like a bead of ice) and, entirely un-physical, of the tiny lilac pendant in the midst of all the cold. It wasn’t cold. Even when she thought about it, she couldn’t feel it.

At the door, the porter was letting someone in, with curiosity as obvious as his reluctance. The someone – the two someones – were coming in – the taller one looking about her; the shorter, stouter one looking up-hall – both drab in jeans and T-shirts and ripped jackets and hair in unwashed ponytails – Eden hadn’t seen anyone wear jeans in so long, and these were so dirty – and the short one was looking at Eden’s necklace. That was all she was aware of, Eden knew: the sweet, humid, lilac-flavored evening at the park, burning with a blaze as orange as Mrs. Kowalski’s study lamp, fierce as her hugs.

And then her eyes came up a little. They saw beyond Eden’s throat and saw Eden.

The music didn’t stop, but all the dancing did, when she ran across the floor. She didn’t run much faster than she ever had, so Eden had a moment to be frozen: untouchable, stolen away and changed as little Kay in the story. But with a fierce, quick tightening of her mouth, she broke the spell and stepped forward to meet Margo. Margo (impossibly, really here) galloped up the steps. She was out of breath, and so she sounded half-strangled as she shrieked, “Eden!” She barreled into Eden.

Eden had never hugged anyone so tightly, not even the grandfather.

Well, kids, that do be all for this time around. Many thanks to Jem for doing this linkup! It’s one of my favorite things, and I really look forward to it every month. Which isn’t to say I manage to write something every month…but I do get to read the scrumptiously angsty things other people write (I mean, they’re usually angsty), so it’s a win-win. Happy spring to you guys (you know…the ones for whom it’s spring)! I hope your spring is full of robins and dancing and excitement!

An Easter Sonnet

I walked most often lonely in the spring,

My footstep slow upon the velvet grass,

With none to know or guess my sorrowing,

Nor any that would greet me should I pass.

My heart was heavy as (but not so sweet)

The cherry’s pink, perfumed, emblossomed mass.

I heard a song I knew once in the street,

But found it not—nor heard it more, alas.

The flowers held the night; beneath my feet

The earth was softer than the newborn sky

Where in the rain I longed each day to meet

The one I hoped could live. (I saw him die.)

Yet when the sun came up that holy morn,

I wept no more, and all the stars were born.

It’s Easter Monday, and I have two motivations for posting this. One, it’s a poem I wrote last year around Easter that had to do with…Easter. Clearly. Or not clearly. I don’t actually know how clear it is. So if you liked it and it made sense to you, great. It was in hope of such an eventuality I shared it.

If it didn’t make sense, well…at least I am joining in a long and illustrious tradition: poetry that makes no sense. Also known as just poetry. Generally speaking.

Uh. Anyway.

The second motivation is to talk about sonnets. Specifically Spenserian sonnets, because this was…maybe one of those?

So, what all sonnets have in common is that they’re fourteen lines long and the lines are in iambic pentameter (da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA). Rhyme schemes and content requirements vary.

Spenserian sonnets have three abab stanzas with a rhyming couplet at the end; however, some of the rhymes get shared, or repeated, or however you want to think about it. Basically, the overall rhyming scheme for Spenserian sonnets is abab cbcb dcdc ee. Or possibly abab bcbc cdcd ee. Or something similar to that. The thing is that I don’t actually know…

The way I look at it, it doesn’t matter that much. What’s clear is that there are two a rhymes and two d rhymes but four b and c rhymes, and the rhymes within each stanza follow an abab pattern. So if you stick to that you’re all good, in my (clearly expert) opinion.

Which I kind of did. I think my rhyme scheme in this poem was abab cbcb cdcd ee. Close enough.

The other thing a Spenserian sonnet is supposed to have (I think) is a volta. A volta is like…a change. A switch. An answer following a question. It’s the turn in the road of the sonnet, you might say.

Now, Petrarchan sonnets (my favorite kind—maybe I will do another post talking about them, if you all don’t find this one incredibly boring) also have the turn. But Petrarchan sonnets are clearly divided by their rhyme scheme into the octet (the first eight lines) and the sestet (the last six lines). That break between octet and sestet is where the turn is supposed to happen. It makes intuitive sense to the poet!

Not so with the Spenserian sonnet. Here (apparently) the turn is also supposed to come after the eighth line. Did I do this in my sonnet? No, I did not. The turn wanted to come right at the last two lines, the change in the rhyme scheme. It’s what’s intuitive, you know?

And I must say, in this particular poem at least, I like that the turn is purely contained within the final couplet. I think it has more punch that way.

But anyway…that’s all the knowledge I have of Spenserian sonnets to afflict you with today. I may or may not have written one (and may or may not have been inspired to write this post by Elisha’s experiments-with-poetic-forms posts, which I love), and I may or may not really, really want to know what you guys think of sonnets? Have you written them? They are so intimidating for me to start, but once I have started I can pretty much wrestle them into shape. And it’s been so good for my writing—both poetry and prose—to practice within a rigid form. And I don’t know, you guys, I’m just a fan of sonnets.

Lastly, but far from leastly, happy Easter, my friends! He is risen!

Confessions Read-Along: Books 6 & 7

’Ullo, mates. There was no Confessions post last week, for which I am sorry…but also it was because of various life things, one of which is that I finally have a reliable car (thank heaven), and so I’m not beating myself up. Acquiring reliable cars is important business.

And besides, Megan isn’t able to post this week, so getting a double header from me is kind of perfect, right?

Anyway, here’s Megan’s post for Book 6, and here is mine for Books 6 & 7 both:

Book VI

  • So Monica finally follows her son to Milan and she is just the literal best. She’s that lady in stories who comforts the sailors on the passage over when they’re even scared, because she knows they’ll survive the trip, because God told her so and she just has that much faith in what He tells her. She’s that lady in stories who gets visions from God and cherishes them. She’s somehow not that lady in real life who thinks God speaks to her but can’t actually discern God’s gifts from her own fevered imaginings.
  • Still can’t get over how relatable Augustine is. His intellectual doubts, and the way it’s all such a muddle he begins to doubt if you even can know anything for sure, because how could you? And his whole attitude of like, “I’ll stop sinning! I will! Just not yet.” (Which, that’s why he’s famous for that, I guess. Because it’s so relatable. Doesn’t reflect well on us, does it?)
  • I love how he and his friends really want to know what’s true. They’re over here clinging to their worldly ambitions, because that might be the best the world has to offer, but they genuinely want to know the truth.
  • Alypius is a fascinating fellow. Kind of reminds me of some people I know: a good kid. (He’s always what I remember most strongly from that post Megan wrote about the friendships in the Confessions: totally would never take a bribe, but to dishonestly get more books for less money? now that is temptation.) (But he is a good kid and he doesn’t yield to that particular temptation. The ones he does yield to are interesting. It’s like he has so much self-control on the conscious level and it’s balanced by almost none on the subconscious level.)
  • Also Augustine’s meditation, concerning Alypius, about how you can do really small things and God uses them POWERFULLY? So true, I have realized more and more, and so important to keep in mind for both encouragement’s and humility’s sake. In this case Augustine found out about it later, but sometimes you never do.
  • It’s so sad that Augustine feels like he can’t have a convo with Ambrose and hash out his doubts because Ambrose is so busy…
  • “Woe to the audacious soul, which hoped, by forsaking Thee, to gain some better thing! Turned it hath, and turned again, upon back, sides, and belly, yet all was painful; and Thou alone rest.” (Pardon all the thees and thous; I wrote this one down when I was rereading some stuff in the version I found online, which is an older translation I do believe.) “And behold, Thou art at hand, and deliverest us from our wretched wanderings, and placest us in Thy way, and dost comfort us, and say, ‘Run; I will carry you; yea, I will bring you through; there also will I carry you.’”

Book VII

  • “If it did not, or could not, have qualities related to space, such as density, sparseness, or bulk, I thought it must be nothing. For my mind ranged in imagination over shapes and forms such as are familiar to the eye, and I did not realize that the power of thought, by which I formed these images, was itself something quite different from them. And yet it could not form them unless it were itself something, and something great enough to do so.” Poor Augustine, still caught in the toils of materialism, unable to conceptualize the forest because all he sees are trees. He tries to conceive of God as a substance dispersed throughout all other substances and notes it’s a false conception because (I thought this was interesting) that would mean more of God was present in bigger slices of the universe and less of him in smaller slices, which is untrue.
  • Ah, the philosophical impossibility of actual dualism. Way to go, Nebridius. Put those Manichean heresies to shame.
  • Great quote: “I repudiated [the Manicheans] with all my heart because I could see that while they were inquiring into the origin of evil they were full of evil themselves, since they preferred to think that yours was a substance that could suffer evil rather than that theirs was capable of committing it.”
  • Augustine is making progress toward understanding God, but he’s getting hung up on how evil even exists and how free will works. And I think his confusion makes a lot of sense? Like, if God is wholly good, how could he make something that can even entertain the idea of evil, or that could ever choose evil over good? Free will, sure, but…I dunno.
  • God as the sea and creation as a sponge, lol
  • Augustine finally definitely renounces astrology, hurray! All he needs is that one clear counter-example, which God in his grace provides. And Augustine takes what’s personally convincing and shapes it into something generally convincing: the case of any old pair of twins works just as well as of Firminus in particular.
  • Aww. He’s really in mental agony trying to figure this out. Which is really just God refusing to let Augustine rest in a false conception of Him. Which…is cool.
  • ACK THE WAY HE READ PLATONIC PHILOSOPHY AND COMPARED IT TO JOHN like these philosophy books grasped that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, but they didn’t get the astonishing, beautiful, world-altering fact that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. AHH
  • God is piercing Augustine’s confusion with His light. It’s so lovely. He’s figuring out how truth IS, and how evil is perversion of the will away from truth; in a sense it doesn’t exist, because everything that exists is some level of good…because existence is good, being derived from God, the ultimate Good. I love it.
  • Oh man. The beauty, goodness, and desirability of God has hit Augustine, but he’s still not grasping hold of it, because he’s stuck in his slavery to the sins of the flesh and the world. RELATABLE
  • And he gets a big head about having figured it out. Ha.
  • Augustine believes that God brought him to the Platonic works before the Bible (vague similarity: C. S. Lewis reading George Macdonald before Scripture? the baptism of the imagination? the preparing of the soil to be actually ready to receive the Sower’s seeds?) so that they could make the great impression on him that they did, and then God in the fullness of His truth could fulfill it. And so Augustine knew (as he might not have realized had he studied the Platonic works after the Bible) that they alone are not fulfilling or the fullness of the truth.
  • AND THEN HE STARTS TO STUDY THE BIBLE, specifically Paul, and he’s like “Grace??!?!” And it kind of blows his mind. I love it.

In Which We Say Farewell to Gus (till next week)

The best part about reading this this week was just how perfect the whole meditation on the Word becoming flesh and everything that entailed was for Holy Week. Especially for me, especially this Holy Week. Because reasons. Because it…I don’t know? It made me really excited? Kind of like Augustine getting all excited about Paul? I dunno.

I’m also really intrigued by Augustine’s confusion about how God could make creatures capable of evil. I’m pretty sure I know how that works with free will, but it’s not clicking in my brain at the moment. Maybe I need to go reread Mere Christianity.

Anyway. These were hopeful books. I liked them. I am so loving hearing Augustine’s journey (and…extensive ramblings) in his own words. I always feel weird posting on holidays, but seems to me this is actually a pretty appropriate Good Friday post? Happy Good Friday, my friends! When next I see you, ’twill be Easter.

Chesterton, twenty one pilots, and Abortion

I’ve read The Everlasting Man twice. It’s indubitably my favorite Chesterton book. And my favorite chapter, both times, has been “The War of the Gods and Demons.”

Which is kind of weird, honestly.  Why not, say, “The Strangest Story in the World”? That’s a good chapter.  And it’s nice.  It doesn’t involve human sacrifice.

But “The War of the Gods and Demons,” you see, is the chapter that changed my mind.

In it, Chesterton accuses his countrymen of habitually siding with their European ancestors’ enemies in historical conflicts. Poor Carthage (the popular conception of the Punic Wars apparently goes), ruthlessly destroyed by those empire-building Roman fanatics.

Not that I’m English, but that is about how I always felt.  Mostly because of Hannibal – he’s such a compelling figure, the way he stands grave and upright in my imagination, leading his pachyderms down through the mountains, begging for reinforcements (hey, guys, we could lose this, you know! you’re underestimating the Romans! please stop underestimating the Romans!), racing home to defend his city as his magnificent success crumbles overnight into ruin.

Hannibal is still cool, don’t get me wrong. Chesterton didn’t change my mind about that.

But really, I guess, it wasn’t just Hannibal that made me side with the Carthaginians. It was the fact that I knew.  I knew Rome was going to win. Rome was going to rise bigger and bigger, crushing all the rebellions, drawing the world into its net.  Rome was inevitable.

I do not like the inevitable.  It rubs me the wrong way. It…offends my underdog sympathies.

And sure, my history book told me Carthage wasn’t exactly the underdog in the situation. Carthage was an ancient empire, civilized and flourishing, with a long and heavy arm.  It mentioned that Rome was a mere upstart, a relatively new face around the Mediterranean.  Rome did not yet possess the certainty, backed by centuries, that Rome always wins.

But, although my history book told me this, it didn’t emphasize it.  In fact, it de-emphasized it by also telling me how the Second and Third Punic Wars marked the beginning of Rome’s greatness.  How Carthage was its last significant rival.  How Rome paved the way for its own imperial future by burning Carthage, razing the merchant empire to the ground, and sowing its fields thick with salt.

I think the Romans’ fury about the whole thing offended me.

Like, gee whiz, guys.  Maybe chill a little?  Have you ever heard of being a gracious winner?

Chesterton offers a bit of explanation for that fury, but before we get to that, let’s shift gears a minute and talk about music.

You have perhaps heard of twenty one pilots? Well, there’s a song of theirs I quite like. (Actually, there are a number of songs of theirs I quite like, which has always puzzled me, considering how very much Not My Type of Music they are.) It’s called “Hometown.”

I’m never sure why I like it so much.

It sounds really cool, and that used to be all I knew. I couldn’t have told you any of the words, or what the song was about, because I didn’t know what the lyrics were saying. I only knew I found them strangely and insidiously unsettling.

But this one time, as I was listening, one of the lines struck me. “You can bring the fire, I can bring the bones.” And again, “You can make the fire, my bones will make it grow.”

That’s weird, I thought. It sounds like the person talking is being…sacrificed?

And then, “Put away, put away all the gods your fathers served today. Put away, put away your traditions. Believe me when I say: we don’t know, we don’t know how to put back the power in our souls. We don’t know, we don’t know where to find what once was in our bones.”

Those lyrics, to me, sound like they should be just a little angry or desperate. But they aren’t. The mood of the song is strangely peaceful, and there’s not a single moment of anger in it.

So, okay.

Let me preface the following paragraphs with the disclaimer that I have no idea what the song is actually supposed to mean.  I’m only saying what I got out of the song. What was originally put into it, I have no idea. (But Death of the Author surely translates somewhat approximately into Death of the Songwriter, right?)

Anyway, it struck me.  They were deliberately using the imagery of sacrifice and religion here.

And look at this line: “Be the one, be the one to take my soul and make it undone. Be the one, be the one to take me home and show me the sun.”

What does that mean, in light of the repeated line that “our hometown’s in the dark”?

Seeking an answer to this question, my mind lighted on Chesterton.

The Carthaginians practiced infant sacrifice to their god Moloch and goddess Tanit.  My history book didn’t tell me that.  Maybe that’s because, in the later twentieth century (according to my cursory Internet research), some scholars decided they didn’t.  That was just Roman propaganda, designed to inflame the hearts of the citizenry and justify their anti-Carthage policies. Those heaps of burned-up baby bones? Just the graves of infants who died and were cremated according to, apparently, ancient Carthaginian custom.

It was not until, I believe, our very own century that further investigation revealed that, nope, it appears the Carthaginians did burn their newborns at the altar.  The Greeks and Romans and historians through the ages up till the 1970s were right after all. (One article I read flipped the whole “Roman propaganda, designed to incite outrage!” angle on its head, to my amusement.  The ancient chroniclers did indeed record that the Carthaginians sacrificed their children, but they didn’t express undue surprise over it or act as if it was something unusual. They merely recorded it as they would record any fact about a foreign culture. Even so must we endeavor, although child sacrifice might seem barbarous to our modern sensibilities, to understand where the Carthaginians might have been coming from. We must be careful not to condemn their religious practices as somehow inferior to our own.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think infant sacrifice is horrific. Human sacrifice in general is horrific, but there’s something particularly demonic about the wanton destruction of the innocent. Good Christians all, we think of the cross as something triumphant and beautiful, but what it really was, was Satan’s ultimate triumph. The destruction of what is most holy, innocent, and good: God Himself. God’s ultimate triumph, you might say, was taking that away from Satan.

And babies…babies are very close indeed to God. They have just left His hand. They possess an innocence that time will soon take from them, but for now they are one of the purest glimpses we have of the unsullied image of God that we all bear (some of us very reluctantly and shamefacedly). And they are given to us as gifts of inestimable price and are ours to protect. They cannot yet protect themselves.

Which is why Carthaginians tossing infants into the belly of Moloch to burn alive will never be anything but utterly, utterly horrific. Try and think of something worse; personally, I don’t think I can.

Which is why the destruction of a civilization that did that, that traded the lives of its children for the supposed blessings of its gods, that had so decayed and gorged itself on all the goods of the world that it sold its soul to the devil for more and richer food and did not notice when he began to feed it with its own flesh, is not – cannot be – the tragedy I once thought it. The despair of Carthage was complete, and so her end was final.

But you can still imagine, can’t you, a son of Carthage weeping for her lostness and the loss of her?

We present-day people, with our modern sensibilities, do not worship any gods named Moloch or Tanit. Our gods and goddesses have quite different names – Convenience, Fear, Shame, Immaturity, Career, Women’s Rights, Freedom. Some of them have dressed themselves in garments very alluring indeed.

And these gods have no stone temples and no flaming altars. The high places on which we sacrifice our children to them are the quiet kitchens where women fill glasses of water from the tap and swallow two pills. They are the sterile back rooms where doctors suck babies from the womb, cut them in pieces, or drag them halfway free of their mothers’ bodies and stab them through the head.

Again, I don’t know what Tyler Joseph wrote his song to mean. But every time I listen to it now, what I hear is the voice of the children.

The slaughtered children of Carthage: You can bring the fire, I can bring the bones. You can make the fire, my bones will make it grow.

The slaughtered children of America, drowned in their parents’ confusion: Put away, put away all the gods your fathers served today. Put away, put away your traditions.

The children of Carthage, echoing their parents’ desperation: Believe me when I say: we don’t know, we don’t know how to put back the power in our souls.

Of America, echoing their parents’ despair: We don’t know, we don’t know where to find what once was in our bones. Where we’re from, we’re no one.

Of Carthage, screaming in the fires of Moloch, lynchpins of a dreadful bargain: Be the one, be the one to take my soul and make it undone. Spirits in the dark are waiting.

Of both, not quite as lost as their parents, pleading in hope of change: Put away, put away all the gods your fathers served today. Be the one, be the one to take me home and show me the sun.

And of America, in compassion and sorrow for the people who have ignorantly offered them up to devils and unworthy gods: Our hometown’s in the dark.

Basically…that was a little all over the place. But I was trying to express, first, a sort of new perspective I’ve gained on judgment. I naturally think of “judgment” and the things associated with it (destruction, fire & brimstone, loss of a civilization, etc.) as…bad. Sort of unfair and extreme. Which is very un-Biblical and un-Christian of me, obviously, and I can think through the judgment of God logically and conclude, “yeah, that’s just.” But this particular way of looking at Carthage (and devil-worship and infant sacrifice) has changed that a bit for me, where in this case at least I can also feel the justice of it. Because it is just. And the invevitability of God’s ultimate triumph is…good, actually?

At the same time, though, I don’t lose my sorrow at it. I don’t exactly rejoice in the destruction of a civilization. It was a civilization. It had pride and beauty and strength; it was built by the hands of men. It is now perhaps so wholly corrupted that none of that can be salvaged—or, if you think of God’s response to Abraham concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, most likely there is nothing left to be salvaged because they’ve already destroyed or traded away all those things themselves—but not to be sad for the loss of it (and not to  be sad for what it became, of its own free will) doesn’t make sense to me.

And so, for me, whatever it may have been in the beginning, “Hometown” will always be this tender, wearied lament for the lost children…but still more for the lost parents who gave them to the fires.

Anyway. I wrote most of this post a good while ago. Grim’s lovely Lenten penance party—Remember, O Thou Manwhich I did not use the graphic for! even though I wanted to! because WordPress isn’t letting me put images in my posts all of a sudden! thanks, WordPress, you’re a pal!—was the perfect excuse to finish it, pretty it up (I mean…it would’ve been. if I’d done that.), and actually post it. Despite it being a tad incoherent and definitely way more serious than I generally like to be. But you know what? There are times to be serious and things to be serious about. So yeah. Uh. What do you guys think? Of Chesterton, TOP, and child sacrifice? And stuff?

Confessions Read-Along: Book 5

First off, did anyone else LOVE this book? Especially much? Because I did. Very much a book of Moving Forward and Going Places and Good Things Happening and Good People Being Met.

So yeah, we’re on Book 5 in our read-along of Augustine’s Confessions, which is a thing Megan and I are doing…if you hadn’t noticed.

(I believe the plan was originally for these things to be posted on Wednesdays. OH WELL.)

The Facts of the Case, Watson

  • Augustine is living in Carthage with Monica, his mom, teaching. Apparently the students in Carthage are…not good little boys. Like you thought modern college students are given way too much license to do stuff they shouldn’t? Try moving to ancient Carthage. You’ll bless your stars you’re back at the state U, where the students are comparative angels.
  • Study of science leads Augustine closer to philosophical truth. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH.
  • Augustine finally meets this guy Faustus who he’s wanted to meet for forever, and he can’t answer all Augustine’s skeptical questions about the scientific verity of Manicheanism, despite being, like, the Manichees’ go-to guy on learned topics. Very frustrating and disillusioning for young(ish) Augustine. (But he respects Faustus, who sounds like an honest guy.)
  • Augustine moves to Rome.
  • Aww look Monica does have one flaw: being too possessive of her son. I guess if she was going to have a besetting sin, makes sense it’d be that?
  • BUT God ends up using what Monica considers a heartbreaking occurence (being straight-up tricked by her son so she’ll let him leave) to accomplish the actual TRUEST wish of her heart: her son’s conversion.
  • IT’S JUST BEAUTIFUL, YOU GUYS.
  • From Rome, Augustine moves to Milan, where he meets Ambrose, a really cool bishop who takes him under his wing.
  • Augustine gets really sick, but he recovers. He ascribes his salvation from dying of this illness (as well as his eventual salvation from unbelief) to his mother’s prayers.
  • It’s just. So beautiful. Faithful prayer MATTERS.
  • At the end of the book, Augustine decides the Manicheans can’t possibly be right and gives up the last of his faith in that heresy.
  • **A note which you probably already know about: Augustine mentions the Catholic church a lot, by which he means the Church in general (that’s what “catholic” means, after all, universal), the (little “o”) orthodox Church, united and distinct from any heresies, because this was pre-East-West Schism and the Church was all one back then. Pretty cool to think about, actually.**
Honestly, doesn’t Ambrose just look so nice and benign?

The Quotes

You alone are always present, even to those who set themselves apart from you. Let them then turn back and look for you. They will find that you have not deserted your creatures as they have deserted their Creator.

I’m not sure which Psalm it is, but there’s a Psalm this brings to mind…anyway, isn’t it lovely?

He was a great decoy of the devil and many people were trapped by his charming manner of speech. This I certainly admired, but I was beginning to distinguish between mere eloquence and the real truth, which I was so eager to learn. The Manichees talked so much about this man Faustus that I wanted to see what scholarly fare he would lay before me, and I did not care what words he used to garnish the dish.

I just like this. But: “which I was so eager to learn.” *pats Gus fondly on the head*

Even if [a man] knows them all [all the facts of science], he is not happy unless he knows you; but the man who knows you is happy, even if he knows none of these things.

Good wisdom to keep in mind for maybe-slightly-knowledge-obsessed people like yours truly…

Those who have the gifts of your Holy Spirit will laugh at me, in all kindness and charity, if they read of this confusion in my mind. But this was the man that I was.

*hugs Gus*

For although I did not trouble to take what Ambrose said to heart, but only to listen to the manner in which he said it—this being the only paltry interest that remained to me now that I had lost hope that man could find the path that led to you—nevertheless his meaning, which I tried to ignore, found its way into my mind together with his words, which I admired so much.


And if this is not why Christians should create beautiful work, with all the craft at their command, I don’t know what is.

Concluding Thoughts

• Okay, so it sounds like Manicheans believed that humans were good and it was something alien in them that sinned, not their true self, which…I definitely see the appeal of that. And are we sure there aren’t any Manichean devotees in modern America?

• Augustine’s big snare preventing him from believing in the Christian God is that he can’t shake materialism. Which is just interesting. And again, are we sure Augustine isn’t a twenty-first-century American academic?

• Augustine loves Ambrose first as a man who shows him kindness, before he loves him as a man who teaches him the truth. Yes.

• “But I did not feel that I ought to follow the Catholic path simply because it too had its learned men” – I admire Augustine for this attitude; he’s going to be so grounded in his belief when he finally accepts it. And also, like, it’s true. Or I’d have to be Calvinist, Arminian, Catholic, Jewish, and atheist (at the very least).

• So, finally, there’s one quote from this book – my favorite one – which I did not put in the quotes section. That’s because I wanted to put it here.

But in your wonderful, secret way, my God, you had already taught me that a statement is not necessarily true because it is wrapped in fine language or false because it is awkwardly expressed. I believe that it was you who taught me this, because it is the truth and there is no other teacher of the truth besides yourself, no matter how or where it comes to light. You had already taught me this lesson and the converse truth, that an assertion is not necessarily true because it is badly expressed or false because it is finely spoken.

Just everything about it is so beautiful. It struck me as the centerpiece of the book: Augustine wants truth and nothing less. He’s not deceived by how it’s packaged, because God in His grace has given him discernment. He’s given him many other things as well, out of grace…and to me it feels like the first step upward. Out of futile false religion and hedonism.

Also just like, how often have you thought about the fact that God is the teacher of all truth?

Also the converse truth about things not necessarily being false because they’re well-expressed? …..Little old hipster Mark-Twain-devotee me needed to hear that.

Also it reminds me of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2.

Anyway. That’s it. My burning question for you guys is: do you pronounce it “AH-guh-steen” or “uh-GUS-tin”? That’s kind of been…on my mind.

The Bookworm Tag

My dear darling blogger pals, hello!!! Wouldn’t you know, I have been meaning to post some things that I have not yet posted. Specifically two things, specifically for Grim’s penance party. One of them is almost completely written, but as I have been doing absolutely the bare minimum (or less – since I think answering comments would fall under this heading) keeping up with Internet responsibilities while I catch up in the long-neglected realm of sleep and figure my life out, I have not yet summoned the mental energy to finish it and post it.

I will, one of these days.

One of these days before Easter.

I hope.

Anyhow, I was reading Elisha’s blog (over at The Voyaging Storyteller, a wonderful corner of the Internet whereunto I do highly recommend you mosey and look around a bit; you may like it there and decide to take up permanent residence), and I saw this post she’d written that I’d somehow missed (thanks, WordPress feed, have I ever told you how great at your job you are?), and it was a tag, and I read it, and I had a grand old time doing so (and I really do need to read The Count of Monte Christo), and she tagged me! Whereat I rejoiced, because tags are fun and easy to do (even when you’re altogether too tired for most forms of mental exertion, like writing regular blog posts) and I liked her questions immensely. Hence why this post is me answering them.

So thanks, Elisha, for the tag! 😊

What’s the longest book you’ve ever read and what made you stick with it?

Probably The Lord of the Rings? Being in the thousands of pages and all. (I feel like this is such a boring answer. 😂) What made me stick with it was that I couldn’t put it down – proof positive that it matters not how long your story is, but only how gripping (and, like, how good, that matters too).

What’s the funniest scene you’ve read?

Well, it’s got to be one of two in Frederica.

(…I think. I am remembering some of the scenes from Friday’s Child and second-guessing myself.)

Wait, but what about Bill the parrot’s escape in Jill the Reckless?

Wait, I know, it’s this one:

“What’s happened?” said Pooh. “Where are we?”

“I think we’re in some sort of Pit. I was walking along, looking for somebody, and then suddenly I wasn’t any more, and just when I got up to see where I was, something fell on me. And it was you.”

“So it was,” said Pooh.

A. A. Milne, “The House at Pooh Corner”

That’s how the scene begins; it would, alas, be impractical to write out the whole thing, much as I want to, because it goes on for pages. But it’s the one where Pooh realizes they have fallen into a Heffalump Trap for Poohs, and he explains to Piglet how he will deal with the Heffalump when it comes to gloat (which involves many “Ho-ho”s and hums), and Piglet wistfully imagines what it would have been like if it was he who had thought to have such cool courage in the face of the gloating Heffalump. And then the Heffalump does come, but Pooh is asleep, so now it’s up to Piglet to face him (but not really face him, because as A. A. Milne wisely notes, if you look round and see a Very Fierce Heffalump looking down at you, sometimes you forget what you were going to say) with cool nonchalance.

Only things don’t go quite as they did in his head.

“This is Terrible,” thought Piglet. “First he talks in Pooh’s voice, and then he talks in Christopher Robin’s voice, and he’s doing it so as to Unsettle me.” And being now Completely Unsettled, he said very quickly and squeakily: “This is a trap for Poohs, and I’m waiting to fall in it, ho-ho, what’s all this, and then I say ho-ho again.”

What?” said Christopher Robin.

“A trap for ho-ho’s,” said Piglet huskily. “I’ve just made it, and I’m waiting for the ho-ho to come-come.”


Culminating in Piglet deciding to run away to Sea and be a Sailor, a certain Small someone being found, Piglet deciding not to run away to Sea and be a Sailor after all, and Eeyore being The Most Relatable (because if people acting like they told you things they never told you is not The Most Relatable, then pray what is?).

You know the one.

Have you cried reading a book and if so, why?

When I was nine years old, I read Little Women and cried. That’s because Louisa May Alcott is a cruel murderess.

When I was nine, ten, and thirteen years old, I read Great Expectations and cried. That’s because of a variety of factors, including that Dickens has great skill with the pen, Pip is relatable in the least flattering way possible, Abel Magwitch is Some Human Being, and people are Messed Up.

When I was nineteen? or so?, I read Kim and cried. To tell you why I cried would be difficult (impossible, probably) (not to mention…involved and highly personal), but I do know that this is the exact spot I started crying:

“She will not weary thee. I have looked to that also. Holy One, my heart is very heavy for my many carelessnesses towards thee.” An hysterical catch rose in his throat. “I have walked thee too far; I have not picked good food always for thee; I have not considered the heat; I have talked to people on the road and left thee alone…I have—I have…Hai mai! But I love thee…and it is all too late…I was a child…Oh why was I not a man!…” Overborne by strain, fatigue, and weight beyond his years, Kim broke down and sobbed at the lama’s feet.

“What a to-do is here,” said the old man gently.

Rudyard Kipling, “Kim”

Do with that out-of-context information what you will.

What’s something you wish more books had?

Cousins. Siblings who have to work together and tell each other stuff. Parents who are involved in their kids’ stories in fun ways. Magic elements that could technically actually exist and it would make sense with science and history as we know it and be compatible with the Christian worldview. Stories centering on best friends. Middle America (but accurately drawn). Fantasy protagonists who have no special magical skill; they either have to gain knowledge or be cunning or have a magical object they can wield…but they don’t in themselves have any superpowers. Best friends who stay best friends and work together the whole time and maybe rescue each other and their friendship is the center of the story. GUNSLINGER DADS.

In short, so many things. But I do have specific things I’d really like to see more of.

Can you read more than one book at a time?

This question is just making me think of a church choir director who, one time, started to say something, then stopped and looked around at us, then said, “I can say this here, because there’s no one—some choirs I’ve directed, well…but what I say is, if you can sing two notes at once, I don’t want you in my choir!”

I have no idea how that applies to reading two books at once, but yeah.

I can read two books at once, and I do it sometimes, but I don’t prefer it.

Ebook or hardcover, for a massive tome like Les Miserables?

The thought of reading Les Miserables as an ebook makes me break out in a cold sweat of horror. Barely even exaggerating.

Whether or not I can bear to read something in electronic format (there’s no question of liking it) depends on two factors, I think: the author’s style and the length. For style, it has to do with how cerebral it is: I can do nonfiction sometimes; I’ve read two Chesterton novels (The Club of Queer Trades, The Napoleon of Notting Hill) online. Whereas, the grounded beauty of a style like Sabatini’s or Dickens’s I utterly refuse to read except on an actual page made out of paper and ink: feelable. I think Hugo would fall into the latter category?

As for length…short books are the only ones I can contemplate reading electronically without a measure of horror. I don’t know why this matters to me, but I like to have a grasp of where in the book I am at a given point and how much physical space, in pages, different parts of the book take up…and somehow, I have trouble keeping the book as a coherent whole in my mind without that? So no electronic tomes for me, please. Hand me the heavy, heavy hardcover off the shelf and be careful not to drop it on your toes.

I mean, it’s hardcover too. That makes this choice all the easier. Hardcovers are my favorite. They kind of take reading up a notch? This in my hands is Indisputably A Real Book.

Heck, if someone gave me a real brick hardcover of Les Mis, I’d probably get around to actually reading it.

If you could only read one book for the rest of your life (besides the Bible) what would it be?

Hey, you stole my answer.

Well.

It would be Assignment in Brittany. That should probably be harder than it was, but yeah.

I’ve read it so many times and never gotten sick of it. I can reread so many little pieces of it that I like. It has one of my favorite character tropes in it: Village Cynic Who Is Not As Much of a Cynic As He Thinks He Is. It has my favorite romance (tied with Farawyn). It has such a variety of all the things I like: down-to-earth slice-of-life farming vibes; lowkey picture of a specific culture at a specific point in history; high-stakes spy shenanigans; the sort of mystical beauty (and horror) of the Mont Saint-Michel episode; unlikely friendships formed under unlikely circumstances; a quiet, practical, self-sacrificing, and wryly humorous main character; actual good female characters; very appropriate philosophical and literary tangents; BOATS; POTATO FIELDS; outfacing the bad guys while completely in their power…and just, on and on. It’s not even like it was my favorite book the first time I read it. I just liked it very well. But every time I reread I like it more, find it more rich, till at this point, with how many times I’ve read it, it couldn’t not be my favorite book.

It just…covers the most bases as far as things I want from books. I have other favorite books, but they don’t cover as many bases. And it’s even better reheated!

What’s the first book you ever remember reading?

Not gonna lie, I think it was one of those “Dick, Jane, & Spot” books. Why do I have such boring answers for so many of these??? 😭😭😂

I don’t know why kids have to read those books, either. They’re boring and dumb, and it gives me a wretched feeling thinking back on reading them. 😂

In general, do you think books are better or worse now than they used to be?

Wonderfully interesting question.

There’s the obvious point of, “Look how many good old books there are compared to how many lame new ones!” and the obvious counter of, “Lame books don’t tend to stand the test of time; just because we don’t still talk about the Twilight of the 1880s and nobody’s ever heard of it doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of Twilights written in the 1880s.” (Note: I haven’t read Twilight and I don’t mean to pick on it unfairly. I’m just using it because it’s so widely synonymous with “terrible book” in popular parlance.)

And like, there are definitely good modern books? Maggie Stiefvater is not always My Jam, but All the Crooked Saints and The Scorpio Races are good books (with not just well-written characters, thought-through plots, and ably drawn settings, but also their own level of thematic and metaphorical richness). I think the Queen’s Thief books are brilliant (if not to everyone’s taste). I think N. D. Wilson’s books are beautiful (if, again, they don’t speak to everyone). W. R. Gingell? Excellent writer. I’m as fond of Spindle and Blackfoot as I am of many classics I like (and not just because they’re brain candy).

Yes, all those books have flaws (except maybe Queen’s Thief), but so do nearly all the classics I can think of. I love Sabatini, and I think Scaramouche is amazing, but there’s one element of the ending that I find somewhat disappointing…even weak, you might say. Dickens himself has flaws. Tolkien doesn’t, but there’s always got to be an exception somewhere.

My point being…it’s not as if the best old books are necessarily always better than the best new books (in my opinion).

I do think there were certain standards (for content) older books tended to abide by that made them, when they dealt with certain topics, better than a lot of new books that deal with those topics. Restraint and subtlety actually help your writing, contrary to the belief of many artists. And it seems older generations of publishing were less bound by some of the rules we’ve since invented for story structure. Pre-Joseph Campbell days and whatnot. That has both a positive and a negative side, I imagine? Positive because authors and editors did not feel the same pressure to squeeze their stories into the three-act Hero’s Journey, thus having more freedom to experiment and create fresh structures, and it thus, when their stories fell naturally into a Hero’s Journey pattern (as often happens), feeling more natural. Negative because no conscious structure sometimes leads to rambling, disjointed, unsatisfying stories.

(On the other hand, people treated diversity weirdly back then. So it being normal to have characters from different cultures and backgrounds and it be its own type of normal, rather than something strange and exotic, is a plus for new books.)

There are types of stories I think used to be more common, also: we have a glut of coming-of-age stories now, I feel like, and while a good coming-of-age story is great, I think positive character change arcs at more advanced points in people’s adult lives are also good and important stories to tell? Maybe I just read the wrong things, but I seem to find those kinds of stories solely in old books?

Another consideration is that good prose has somewhat gone out of fashion. Prose is just as important an ingredient in a novel as anything else. It may not be what you’re communicating, but it’s how you’re communicating it – that makes it essential! Nowadays, though, there are so many people who don’t care about the prose – as long as the story is good – and this is reflected in a lot of bad prose. Brandon Sanderson is one of the most successful writers of our time, you guys. Nothing against his plots, characters, or worlds (they’re all incredibly impressive, actually), but his prose is Not Good. And not that there isn’t such a thing as bad nineteenth-century prose (believe me, there is), but all (or most) of the famous writers who spring to mind from back then are notable for excellent prose. Catch a modern bestselling author writing like Kipling. You might get a dash of Chesterton or a breath of L. M. Montgomery, but you will get no Kipling. You won’t even get any Twain.

And then consider that we live in a post-modern world, where the very meaning of art and literature has begun to be lost, in many people’s minds. Narrative suffers when you don’t even understand what makes narrative work. Nihilism (which is woven into the fabric of so many modern books) makes bad stories. At the least, it makes incoherent stories. It makes meaningless stories. It distorts your view of a story’s primary value…and thus you tend to only write good ones on accident, and to misattribute their success to causes that have nothing to do with it.

In short…I am a curmudgeonly grandma, and I do believe, upon consideration, that old books in general are better than new books in general. Which just means all you writers need to get out there and change that!

How do you resist going broke at bookstores?

By being broke already.

Works great, let me tell you.

…I mean, for real though. I usually just take a twenty-dollar bill in with me (or ten, sometimes), and that’s all it’s physically possible for me to spend, so that’s all I spend. Sometimes even less, because I have Rules. Including not buying books I haven’t read, unless I can’t get them from the library (to see if my money is worth spending, ya feel?) or the author is one of like…two…special authors whose books I will buy regardless. (Seriously. That category may be just Dostoyevsky.) And I don’t buy books new, and I don’t buy them off the Internet because it ruins the fun of book shopping and unexpected discoveries, and anyway you don’t know for sure what you’re getting.

I’ve…actually never understood the “I’m always broke from spending all my money on books!” thing. I’ve just never…had that.

*shrug*

Okay! That’s the end of the tag! Now I must needs come up with my own questions and tag my own people. And you know what, it’s been so long since I properly tagged anyone? I’m gonna do it today. I’m gonna go old-school. Pass on this tag in the way God and nature intended.

So I tag (thereby meaning I would like to see their answers, not that they should feel obligated to do it):

• Megan @ Only Mildly Mad

• Grim @ The Grim Writer (I almost wrote “The Grim Blog,” Grim 😂)

• Maya Joelle @ when through the woods

• that most temperamental of writers (and Victorian bankers) Elizabeth Hyde @ Trivialities

• and you! if you want to. please do. I only put four people inconsiderately on the spot, but not for lack of wanting to do the same to many more of you.

And here are my questions:

• What author has your favorite prose to read? Is this the same author whose prose you most aspire to emulate, or a different one?

• Opinions on ancient literature like Homer: valuable but not enjoyable, neither, or both? Why?

• What Rules do you have for yourself when it comes to buying books?

• What books that you read as a little kid do you think had the biggest effect on your imagination?

• British- or American-based fantasy?

• What are your feelings on magical realism?

• What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done in a library?

• Any odes or sonnets to libraries you’d like to share with us?

• What almost-great book do you most long to rewrite and make it fully great?

• Who’s better, Lewis Carroll or A. A. Milne? (“Both” not an allowable answer 😈)

Confessions Read-Along: Book 4

Good morrow, bookfellows! (Don’t question it. You’re all bookfellows.) Today I give thee: my short little mark-the-progress post on Book 4 of Augustine’s Confessions…in the hopes that you guys are enjoying reading this even half as much as I am. Like. There’s something to be said for savoring a book, over the course of an appropriate season, you know? I am not really a book savorer (though forced sometimes to be, in recent years, by busyness), more of a book inhaler, but there’s something about savoring a book. Sitting with it, thinking about it over the course of the week, adding slowly to your pile of Things to Have Thoughts About. Especially with a book as cool as this, because, like, Augustine is over here talking about stuff and he’s an ancient African from the Roman Empire and it’s so long ago and yet he sounds so completely normal??? Part of that is the (much-appreciated) simplicity of the R. S. Pinecoffin translation I’m reading, but I read a bit of some other translation online – the Project Gutenberg one, with thees and thous and whatnot and it was still the same thing of like, how is this guy so normal?

I mean. He’s also not normal. He’s clearly very smart. And he only realizes it when he begins to teach other people and realizes that they don’t pick up on things effortlessly the way he did?? Like they have to struggle and have things explained to them and stuff?? Which is just so the way it is with people who are naturally good at something. They don’t even consider what it’s like for people who aren’t, because it’s so natural to them.

All that is tangential, though (I just thought it was really cool how smart he was without knowing it). This book is about friendship, proper and improper love of lesser goods, and Augustine’s early adulthood.

He moved back to his hometown Thagaste, apparently, after acquiring an Education. But then his dear friend Nebridius died, and he hated being in the places he had been with Nebridius. “All that we had done together was now a grim ordeal without him,” he says.

(The…truth of this, though. The most ordinary things will suddenly weigh on you when somebody with whom you associate them is gone. “Grim” is a very good word. As soon as the association is struck, you’re in a different world than everybody else, each step you take in it an act of will, because there is no joy in a world gone so suddenly grey. Augustine’s passages on this are just…good.)

So Augustine moved back to Carthage. Was living with his mistress. Was a teacher of rhetoric, who taught his students honestly but is grieved to think how many people used the skills he taught them dishonestly (can every politician’s high school Speech & Debate teacher relate? probably). Had weird, bad beliefs but some lines he wouldn’t cross.

Anyway. Don’t really know what the point of summary is when you guys have all read it too? Since that’s kind of the point? So I don’t really know what I’m saying. Just that this chapter was interesting. I loved what he had to say about loving things in proper proportion. The love of beautiful things God made should lead us to love of God; they merit our love but not our greatest love, not the focus of our love. And how there’s beauty in some things as they are (inherent beauty) but also beauty in balance between things? And God is beautiful.

AND HOW EXCITED AND PROUD HE IS ABOUT HIS FIRST BOOK?

Just. You’re great, Gus. You’re great. You’re lost, but you’re a dear, and God is calling you and insensibly you are listening.

ALSO. He gets his hands on Aristotle, which is cool, but what I think is really interesting is how to some extent it led him astray. He was given these tools for cataloguing things in the world, and he basically leaped to the assumption that these things are the only kinds of things there are. Which, do you know how many people do that nowadays??? We can observe this and this and this scientific phenomenon; this explains that; that explains this other thing; and…none of that is false, but then people just assume those are the only kinds of things and explanations there can be. Even though they really have no reason to.

Augustine saying how assuming God must be a material being to exist immediately made me think of a passage in Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather which has always annoyed me to no end:

…HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little – “

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET – Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

Hogfather,” Terry Pratchett

“Show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. You can’t? Oh, then those things must not exist! Because everything that exists exists in the form of atoms and molecules! That’s because…because that’s what I’ve assumed, with no real reason to assume it, and in despite of the fact that I have some experiences which do not seem to be explained by it.”

But yeah. Augustine makes a similar assumption about the materiality of everything that exists and it warps his thinking about God. Which makes so much sense. *pats Augustine on the head* *pats materialistic atheists on the head too* If a guy as smart as Augustine can make bad assumptions, who’s to blame them for doing it too?

Anyway. Where was I?

Basically, I really enjoyed this book, despite not understanding what Augustine was getting at in, like, a good third of his rambles. How’s the reading going for you? What do you think about Augustine’s thoughts on friendship, and love of created things, and God’s nature? The course of his life thus far? Are there any confusing passages that you understood perfectly well and can explain to me? (Much gratitude in advance, in that case.)

God bless you, my dears!

Confessions Read-Along: Book 3

I’m a bit late with this (forgive me), but hopefully y’all didn’t really notice or it didn’t bother you if you did. (My excuse is sleep deprivation, and it’s actually a good one, because depriving yourself of sleep to the point of genuinely having trouble thinking straight, and feeling actually physically ill, is a) not fun, b) should be repaired immediately, and c) does not lend itself well to writing coherent blog posts. So like, I’m sorry? But also I had to fix myself? I was a mess at work Tuesday? And this post may be late, but it is here now and what difference does a few days make here or there, anyhow? I hope the reading is continuing nicely for you guys.)

Book 3 is kind of sad to me. Augustine reminds me, in these his university years (basically) of many a college student I know and have known. He’s lost, he sort of knows it but doesn’t think there’s actually such a thing as being found; he’s miserable and vaguely aware of it but doesn’t know how else you could be; and he’s caught a glimpse of something really remarkable (in this case, Cicero, and through him philosophy: love of Wisdom and Truth) and is really Going After It…but you’re just over here like (and future-Augustine-writing-the-Confessions is over here like), “What are you really doing, though? Is it really worth it? Do you have your priorities straight?” (Spoilers: no. He does not. But he kind of does.)

So yeah, Augustine moves to Carthage, to continue his Education. Which he does. His dad dies. His mom lives with him, I think? But there is conflict in that relationship because not only is Augustine behaving Badly (he has also gotten entangled with a Girl, I think?), he’s even all into this definitely-not-Christian religion where you gotta eat magic fruit but you can’t pick it…or something. (Go read Megan’s post. She helpfully explains the Manichean heresy.) His mom even asks this really smart bishop dude to talk to her really smart son about Spiritual Matters…but the bishop believes it will do more harm than good (and Augustine concedes he was probably right) and he simply gives Monica (that’s Gus’s mum) some assurance that Augustine will come around.

And then Augustine tells us it was nine years more till he did.

So yeah, Book 3 makes me a little sad.

Some Favorite Quotes

For men are so blind that they even take pride in their blindness.

But like, truth.

…whose writing nearly everyone admires, if not the spirit of it.

Speaking of Cicero. And HA.

All my empty dreams suddenly lost their charm and my heart began to throb with a bewildering passion for the wisdom of eternal truth.

That’s what a glimpse of truth’ll do to you. I know from experience, actually, kinda.

I did not know that evil is nothing but the removal of good until no good remains.

An interesting way of putting it, I think.

Thoughts & Questions

Okay, but 3.2 though. Augustine wonders about the phenomenon of audiences taking pleasure in the sorrow of fictional people in stage plays. Where does it come from; what does it mean? Is it good or bad? I’ve often thought that a lot of the satisfaction we take in tragedy or bad things happening to characters in fiction has to do with feeling not alone.

Grief is the example that springs to mind (just because it’s one I actually know about from both sides). Like, grief sucks, but one can enjoy a character’s well-written grief—get a kind of emotional satisfaction from it, even. And far more so if you’ve experienced grief in your real life.

I’ve thought about this particular thing a lot. The thing with grief (in particular) is that it’s a peculiarly isolating thing: your particular grief isolates you even from the people with whom you share that particular grief. People don’t have words that express how it feels. People who haven’t experienced it don’t know how it feels. It is very pervasive (into every facet of your life, I mean), and it cuts you off from, as far as you can tell, the understanding of any other person.

And then you watch a story where a character has an experience with grief that has elements in it of your experience of grief—and suddenly you aren’t alone and even if there’s no catharsis, it’s a relief not to be isolated any longer. We hate isolation, human beings do.

So when Augustine talks about how he has wandered from God’s flock – “hence my love of things which made me sad” – it just made a lot of sense to me. Poor old Gus. Lost and sad and not quite knowing it, taking comfort in the lostness and sadness of fictional characters.

Section 3.4 also was really interesting to me. He longs to just be back with God, out of everything in the world, just resting securely in God’s hands as it were. It’s, like, a beginning stage of repentance: wanting God more than the world. But it’s weird because that’s not what God gives us to do, generally. We have to walk with him through the world, hang on to his hand and trot to keep up, and it’s so much harder than if he just picked us up out of it and carried us. That we could do. That we’d consent to in a heartbeat. But if we love him and want to follow his will, we have to do what he gives us to do, not what we wish he’d give us.

Also in 3.4: Augustine loves Wisdom. She doesn’t call all in vain to him (Proverbs 8). And he finds everything ultimately hollow without Christ.

So interesting, too, how he analyzes and classifies types of sin—basically into those reliable old categories of the devil, the world, and the flesh. And he reiterates how it’s you your sins harm most of all.

3.10, ain’t that how it goes. He ridiculed Christian ideas while believing much more ridiculous things himself. And he got things backward: more respect for the earth than for the people for whom it was made; and I feel like that’s a common theme with him? Like, not that you shouldn’t love God’s creations, but you shouldn’t esteem them above God’s children? You shouldn’t steal them, etc? Not wholly corrupt desires, just mixed-up priorities and good desires perverted.

Last thought: his mom rocks.

***

That’s it for today, kids. Thoughts are a little scattered because I am, while recovered from my extreme (and mostly self-inflicted, so don’t feel too sorry for me) sleep deprivation, tired. I hope to get around to answering comments tomorrow, though. Meanwhile, here’s a link to Megan’s post on Book 3. Thanks for reading and discussing with us; hope you’re continuing to enjoy and be blessed by St. Augustine’s story!

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started