The-Theory-of-Everything-Poster-2Next to 1930s Busby Berkeley musicals my favorite kind of movie is one based on a book. It is my personal rule to always read the book before I see the movie and I judge the film primarily by how true it is to the spirit of the book. But a couple days ago I had to kill some time before a plane arrival and I broke my rule and went to see “The Theory of Everything” without reading the book first. In fact I did not even know until the next day that the film was based on a book. It turns out is based on a memoir called Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking, professor of romantic languages and ex-wife of Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and cosmologist. I enjoyed the movie, so here is my very first film review…..

I did not know going in that this film has been nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress. I did think it was a wonderful film and still felt the warm buzz a whole day later. The story is good: dramatic, unusual, and thought-provoking but the quality of the acting was what really drew me in.

The film begins in leafy Oxford c. 1963 where a healthy young Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne, is a doctoral candidate at Oxford. We see the rumpled bespectacled young man riding bicycles, joking with friends, attending classes, and  going to parties. Just when he is on the brink of a proving his astounding scientific theory about the origins on time while dating pretty Jane Wilde, played by Felicity Jones, Stephen suddenly starts dropping pencils and falling down. After a serious fall he finally gets the grim diagnosis that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and can expect to live only two more years. I really started to think I could not sit through the agony of watching this guy descend into the full-blown disease, but I did. The main story here is that Jane sticks by him even though everyone including Stephen and Stephen’s father tells her to turn away and get on with her life.

Well obviously Stephen Hawking defied expectations and lived longer than two years. In fact he has now lived more than 50 years with this disease, has published books, and achieved fame and renown. This movie tells the story of the beginning years:  how against the odds, he and Jane marry, become parents to three children, and struggle with making it all work. Eddie Redmayne’s performance manages to infuse Hawking with strong personality even when he gets to the point that he can only move his eyes. Strangely I found him rather unappealing when he is young and mobile and wondered what Jane saw in him, but then somehow as the disease progressed, he sort of grew on me. Perhaps this is due me getting to know and care about the character, a tribute to Redmayne’s acting skill. I’d vote for him for Best Actor but I haven’t seen the films of any of the other contenders. By the way Redmayne looks remarkably like Stephen Hawking, but the same cannot be said for most of the other actors and their originals, although I suppose Felicity Jones is a reasonable physical match for Jane Wilde. You can see the comparisons at History Vs Hollywood.

Anyway, apparently beautiful intelligent Jane Wilde loves this nerdy awkward rumpled guy and that’s that. You have to accept that premise for the rest of the movie to make sense. Felicity Jones gives an amazing performance as a delicate lady with a core of iron. She proves her mettle by marrying Hawking in the face of his grim diagnosis and becoming his primary caretaker while also caring for her growing family. This aspect of the day-in day-out grind is suggested in a few scenes such as the one in which Jane is struggling to get a sweater over her husband’s head while an infant screams in another room, but I don’t think we get the full sense of what if must have been like. The scenes are often on the idyllic side – English gardens, beaches, and cozy dining rooms, which frankly, suits me fine.

We see clearly enough that the strain of tending to Stephen’s medical and maintenance needs is gradually wearing Jane down and it doesn’t help that he resists the idea of outside assistance. The movie does show a bit of Hawking developing his ideas on black holes and the nature of time to but the main focus of the film is his home life rather than his work. We do get to see a scene in which he begins Brief History of Time shortly after he receives the computer device that enables him to type and speak. By the way, the machine voice used in the movie is provided by Hawking himself. As the  years pass (as signaled by the ages of the children and changing hairstyles and fashion), Jane supports Stephen in his work and helps him through some daunting physical challenges. We watch as Jane’s saintliness wears down to the bone and she begins to betray weariness and frustration, opening the door to further complications in their marriage.

One complication comes in the form of an adorable choir director named Jonathan Hellyer Jones, played by Charlie Cox.  Jane meets Jonathan when she joins a church choir to relieve tension and perhaps seek some spiritual support. The existence of God has been a sort of undercurrent of tension throughout her relationship with Stephen as he is an atheist and she a Christian, if a casual one. Another complication is Elaine Mason, played by Maxine Peake, the nurse and therapist who comes into the home to assist with Stephen’s care after a serious medical crisis.

I liked the honesty of the movie and found the story both unique and relatable. I feel like the “theory” of the title has more to do with the theory that love conquers all than they theory that time has a beginning. But does love conquer all? The film gives us a small window into one very unusual love story and leaves the answer as susceptible to debate as the most theoretical idea about the physics of time. But it’s an interesting window and a very satisfying exploration of the hopes, disappointments, triumphs, and defeats of one family. You don’t have to be interested in theoretical physics to relate to this movie. You just have to be a human who has had challenges, has had to make difficult choices, or may have challenges and difficult choices in the future.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov


Colorful glass by Aaron Apple, Conscious Photography

Colorful glass by Aaron Apple, Conscious Photography

My blogging buddy Marcie Light, writer of a really fun blog called (Don’t Be) Too Timid and Squeamish, is hosting a link party with the theme of “glass.” Since January is the time to revamp my writing resolutions and since I’m up for a writing challenge, I figured I’d try it. After all I recently did a post on rocks and an element in glass making is sand – so maybe it’s all part of an emerging pattern.  When I began considering the topic, the first thing I realized it how much I can take for granted and how I can fail to notice a thing that plays an essential part in my life. Maybe the problem with glass is that it is so often something you look through and not at.

What if all glass suddenly disappeared? I imagine such an event would result in a serious disruption to my life. For starters, what would become of my laptop, my iPhone, and my Kindle Fire? After I took in the damage to my mobile devices I would probably notice the holes in my house and car. I’d be cold and I would not be able to see anything further than five feet away. Certain urban buildings would dissolve and the streets would run with wine, condiments, and Classic Coca-Cola.

As I got to thinking about the hundreds of ways glass figures in my life I discovered that there is one glass-related image that shines more brightly in my mind than any other. Is it the crystal star on the Christmas tree? A precious antique vase passed down through the generations? The stained glass windows in a beautiful church? None of the above. It is Cinderella’s glass slipper. Say the word “glass” and that’s the image that’s going to pop into my mind every time.

Maybe this is testimony to the power of symbol or the power of story, especially if it is a story you heard early in life. According to reliable sources, the first movie I ever went to see in a theater was Disney’s Cinderella. This momentous event seems to have escaped my memory but I do dimly remember its impact on my life: a closet full of swirly “Cinderella” dresses and a family doctor who used to ask me if he was still my Prince Charming every time he saw me. Apparently as a toddler I said something embarrassing to this man. How we set our patterns into motion….


Glass slipper

Anyway, the fact that Cinderella dances for hours in glass shoes without cutting her feet indicates that these shoes symbolize the world of fairy tales and dreams. Come to think of it, there are other works of literature I have loved that feature the symbolism of glass. A story, a play, and a memoir come to mind:

  • Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Breaking through the looking glass is breaking free of one’s own narrative and into a world of other.
  • The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Glass animals symbolize psychological fragility.
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Glass symbolizes a beautiful pipe dream.

There are hundreds of titles that feature glass as well has a whole category of glasses-wearing characters. Who would Harry Potter be without the specs? Or think of Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” or Piggy in The Lord of the Flies. And it always means something important when the glasses break. Glass also makes a famous and revealing appearance in the King James Bible:

“For not we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Glass, in both life and literature, is all about illumination, seeing, knowing, sometimes clearly and sometimes in distorted ways.


MultiMEDIA Splice #7

I finished reading The Children Act by Ian McEwan a few weeks ago but am just getting around to writing a review. It’s a novel that takes a while for the mind to digest anyway.

The Children ActThe Children Act by Ian McEwan

Publisher: Nan A. Talese, 2014

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Judge Fiona Maye is a 59-year-old family law judge who has built a career making Solomon-like decisions. Guided the law (the Children Act) that all family court decisions must be weighted in favor of the best interest of the child, the judge has earned a reputation for being fair, compassionate, sensitive, and wise, but her success has been achieved at the cost of having her own children. As the story opens Fiona’s husband, a 60-year-old college professor, has just informed her that he intends to engage in one last passionate affair with a younger woman. Despite his frank honesty, Fiona is devastated. She responds by continuing to throw herself into her work.

Throughout the novel Fiona’s domestic troubles play out in the background of her mind as she works her way through her difficult cases, most of which deal with the tension between religious tradition and secularism. In the scope of this short novel Fiona rules on cases involving Hasidic Jews, Catholics, and Jehovah’s witnesses. Another case involving an Islamic father who wants to take the disputed daughter away from her mother to live in the Middle East is mentioned briefly but not in detail. Perhaps the author wants to acknowledge that Islamic child custody cases do happen but does not really want to go there.

Of the three “religious tradition versus secularism” cases covered in the novel, Judge Maye rules in favor of secularism in all three; but her rulings are shown to be sensitive, well-reasoned, and in the best interest of the children involved. Despite a clear bias toward secularism in this judge’s fictional court, I was fascinated by the intricacies of the cases as well as the interplay between the law and humanity and I could not help but sympathize with Fiona’s decisions.

The central case in the novel is that of a seventeen-year-old boy with leukemia who is a Jehovah’s Witness. Along with his parents the boys wishes to refuse a blood transfusion that will save his life because mixing blood is forbidden by the sect. The boy needs the transfusion within a day or two to save his life. The hospital requests a court order to force the boy to undergo the procedure and Fiona must hold an emergency hearing to decide whether to grant it.

In this case adherence to religious belief means certain death and secular science means life, and yet after hearing testimony from the boys’ parents and the doctor involved, Fiona hesitates to force a medical procedure against the will of the recipient. She decides to interrupt the hearing to go to the hospital and speak to the boy in person, a highly irregular proceeding. Through this hospital bed meeting Fiona develops a strange relationship with the charming poetry-loving boy and the that causes her to question her motivations and objectivity.

My bottom line about this novel is a feeling of ambivalence. I liked the novel for its smooth lyrical style, the warmth of its main character, the compassionate depictions of all other characters, and its insight into our complex culture. However, I have to say that the subtle put-down of religious tradition and glorification of secular values is sort of a sneaky undercurrent running through the novel.

As a thought-provoking piece of literature I think The Children Act makes a good contribution to cultural dialog. In the end it comes down to whether you believe this world is all there is or whether you see this existence as only the beginning of a longer spiritual existence. This novel might make you think about how our philosophies might have real consequences in how we live our lives. Obviously some people make evil decisions based on their understanding of their religion, but this certainly does not settle the question in favor of secular atheism. Lots of people make evil decisions to satisfy their secular belief systems as well. Fiona herself seeks higher meaning in her own life through music, wine, and service to others, so there is that suggestion that life is pretty flat and empty without access to some kind of higher meaning. The novel’s ending leaves us with more questions than answers.

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If you have ever wanted to know more about the Bubonic Plague that once wiped out half of Europe’s population or what the Hundred-Years War was all about or perhaps you have wondered about that time the Catholic Church had two competing Popes or whether armor of a medieval knights was really all that shining, A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman will satisfy your curiosity. It will also make you sadder and wiser about the state of the human race. It’s a long and tragic story but so far the human race is still thriving and if we want to keep thriving, it’s better to know these things than not. Here’s my review…..

A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th CenturyA Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman has been collecting dust on my bookshelf for years. I flipped through the pages every now and then, knowing I needed to fill in this medieval gap in my knowledge of history, but was always a bit put off by its bulk and density. Then several months ago I read two books that increased my eagerness to read this one. The Guns of August sold me on the readability of Barbara Tuchman and Ivanhoe whetted my appetite for the Middle Ages. It was time to tackle the 14th century. Still it took me two months to finish the book, mostly because I had to put it aside and take breaks from this horrifying saga of human cruelty, greed, lack of wisdom, and disease.

If you choose to embark upon this book, I strongly suggest you do not skip the introduction. Besides being entertaining and well written it describes the difficulties Tuchman encountered in her honest attempt to write accurate objective history. For example she describes the challenges of working with original sources that are less that accurate: “First are uncertain and contradictory data with regard to dates, numbers, and hard facts.” In addition there is a gap between the mindset of the medievals and that of our era. They had an entirely different notions about the purpose of earthly life and the nature of the body so the way they looked at reality can seem almost alien.

The introduction also includes the author’s well-known statement about history’s over-emphasis on negative events known as Tuchman’s Law: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five to tenfold (or any figure the reader would care to supply).” The 14th century had so many deplorable developments that by the time you finish this book you will wonder how, between the Bubonic Plague, constant war, insurrections, and brigandage, there could have been a peasant left standing by 1400.

Also in the introduction, Tuchman introduces us to the person whose life she chooses to follow as a sort of focal point through the calamitous century. She needed a person whose life was documented in enough detail to give her readers a useful window to the events, someone who was not a king or queen, not a saint or cleric, and not a commoner…..”because commoners’ lives, in most cases, did not take in the wide range that I wanted.” She chose Enguerand (hard “g”) de Coucy VII (1340-1397), heir to a spectacular castle and an ancient dynasty located in Picardy. Coucy was knight who lived an extraordinarily lucky life: he always seemed to be in the middle of major events but was able to avoid most of the pitfalls that befell so many of his contemporaries – until at age 56 his luck ran out during the Last Crusade, “the culminating fiasco of the century.”

The book is well-written and Tuchman’s deft organization of the sheer volume of material is nothing short of miraculous, and yet I found it one of the most difficult books I’ve ever tried to get through due to the never-ending parade of gloom, doom, stupidity, violence, and death. Lots of death. As in pyramids of skulls and mountains of bodies. Over and over. Burning, torture, impaling, and beheading.

Tuchman observes toward the end of the book that frequent and widespread exposure to violence and death did not have a positive effect on the population in terms of character, culture, or outlook on life. Instead it seems to have resulted in not only an increased tolerance for violence but an insatiable hunger for ever-increasing levels of horror in life and entertainment. A “cult of death” developed in which art and drama featured increasingly gruesome depictions of death and personifications of death. Tuchman theorizes that people needed this sort of thing to penetrate the psychological numbness.

Many of the events described in this book are things I have heard about all my life but never looked into in-depth: the Black Death and its effects on society, the Hundred Years War, the Papal Schism, the crusades, and the whole Chivalry thing. It was good to finally be able to place all these things where they belong in history. I was especially surprised to find out how profound and actually how damaging an impact chivalry had on people and society. I always sort of thought chivalry was a good thing. And maybe it could have been— except that it seems most of the knights failed to live up to its better ideals while using the “code” as an excuse to make stupid decisions that resulted in lots of early and unnecessary death.

The century’s culminating fiasco, the defeat of the entire French army by the Turks at Nicopolis (the Last Crusade), was one example of chivalry gone horribly awry. In 1396 a huge French army marched into battle with great pomp and ceremony to help the Hungarian king stave off the advance of the Ottoman Turks who were encroaching on the failing Constantinople. The French crusaders carried more luxury items than weapons and more bravado than wisdom. When their allies advised them to wait to confront the Turks until more armies could join them they ignored the sound strategic advice because they wanted all the glory for themselves. When they marched ahead and encountered the Turks things got ugly, as ugly, violent, and sad as anything I’ve ever heard of.

The century comes to a somber end as a handful of survivors return from the crusade and the people learn the magnitude of the loss. The last chapter is titled “Hung to the Heavens in Black.” Can things possibly get any worse for France? Tuchman provide an Epilogue that gives us a peek beyond 1400 in which we see that yes, things can indeed get worse. The war with the English continues and there is a horrible defeat at Agincourt. The people are desperate and completely demoralized, on the brink of giving up on the whole idea of France and merging with England. Then a simple village girl, Jean d’Arc, leads the army to a victory at Orleans and Tuchman shows us how this may really have been the thing that turned the tide and saved France. History is an amazing thing, so much stranger than fiction, and books such as A Distant Mirror are a great way to find out why.

By the way, the title is brilliantly appropriate. The parallels with our own time are many – but distant echoes. There is so much to be learned from the events and human behavior of this century, if only we would.

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I am having a rare perfect day, doing almost nothing but reading. It is cold and rainy and I have no pressing reason to leave the house. So I have a fire in the fireplace and have been reading My Sister the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell for my book club, which is touching me deeply, and also trying to digest the last grueling chapters of A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century which is, I believe, next to Moby Dick, the most difficult book I’ve ever been determined to finish.

My dogs love to hang out with me when I sit down to read or write. They are quality time seekers and consider it a treat when I sit still long enough that they can get comfy at my feet. My son Aaron took this lovely picture today. I think it expresses the mood of this peaceful day.

Cocoa loves a fire

Cocoa loves a fire

This is my dog Cocoa. She is what we call a Springador – half Springer Spaniel, half Labrador Retriever. You can see she inherited the Lab genes. Her brother Pippin looks like a hefty Springer Spaniel. This February they will celebrate their tenth birthday and are the healthiest happiest dogs you can imagine. You are not supposed to play favorites I know, but although Pippin has his charms, Cocoa is the one who has truly won my heart. She is sweet and incredibly intuitive, knowing when to be there and when to keep her distance, when to play, and when to put her head on my lap.

I’ve known many dogs through the years and I find some are “dog’s dogs,” the ones who remain faithful to the rules of the pack, the dog rules. They’d really rather hang out with other dogs, but people, as long as we feed them, will serve the purpose almost as well. These dogs are perfectly normal and usually make fabulous animal companions. But then the there are the special ones, the dogs who seem to cross an invisible line and become almost human. They seem to have some enhanced a awareness that sets them just a little apart within the animal kingdom. They are just a little more affectionate and a lot more sensitive than the other dogs. Maybe these are just the ones who, like The Velveteen Rabbit, simply love and are loved into a new level of life. You can see the spark of it in their eyes. Cocoa is one of these.

Cocoa. Taken Jan. 3, 2015 by Aaron Apple

Cocoa. Taken Jan. 3, 2015 by Aaron Apple

new year 2015Happy new year friends, fellow bloggers, and visitors. Ordinarily around this time I enthusiastically zip together a list of several New Year resolutions and last year I even kept some of them. I worked pretty hard on improving my art skills and I surpassed my 52-book reading goal by five books. I did write a lot, almost daily, but still have not achieved the disciplined approach a la Anthony Trollope that I was going for.

I know not everyone is into New Year resolutions. Yesterday at work I overheard a perky female voice say, “So have you made any New Year resolutions?” followed by a flat surly male voice saying, “I never make New Year resolutions.” His tone implied that making resolutions was beneath his dignity. This wasn’t the first time I has heard this sort of anti-resolution vibe from a guy and I just don’t understand it. As if they have no room for self improvement or as if they are too cool to jump on the resolution bandwagon.

To test this perception I asked my son J.T., age 22, if he had made any resolutions this year. “No,” he said. “Why would I?” Because, I explained, some people see a new year as a clean slate, a new beginning, a chance to improve something about their life or commit to a goal, etc etc. “Oh,” he said. “I don’t need to do that. I’m already perfect in every way.” He said this with a straight face and gave me permission to quote him. After I pointed out a few things to the contrary he remembered he does have a goal, something to do with making a certain amount of money. I think I am going to buy him the DVD of “Citizen Kane.”

Well like I say, I don’t understand this animosity toward make resolutions, but then there are lots of mindsets I don’t understand: non-readers, NASCAR fans, zombie enthusiasts, and people who enjoy killing mammals and birds for sport. But I get that we are all different animals with different value systems and motivations.

I have always liked to think of a new year as a crisp freshly minted book full of blank pages ready to be filled in with a new story. I like hoping I can make the story better than the one I wrote last year. I like thinking maybe I will write stories about other people that will become part of my story. And yet this year I am actually having trouble punching out a list of resolutions. Yes I am going read at least 52 books. Sure I am going to write every single day and send more of this writing out into the world for possible publication. I said I was going to do that last year, but this year I will try again. And yes I am going to do exciting new things with my artwork. Those are my standard plans and they always excite me, so I don’t really need a new year to rekindle my enthusiasm for reading, writing, and drawing.

Then I have a few second-tier ideas like learning to cook lavish gourmet vegetarian meals, cultivating a taste for wines (i.e., learning the difference between red and white), and working out more seriously. All of these things would be nice to do but none of them fire me up with more than a sort of lukewarm interest. Which means the chance they will happen is somewhere between modest and highly unlikely.

I also have another category of potential resolutions, things that might happen, ways I might change over the coming year. But these sparks, urges, and dreams are too freshly conceived to expose to the harsh light of an enumerated list. They are ideas that are too fragile, too embryonic, and not ready to show to the world. They need to hide safely and secretly in my mind and heart for a while longer, growing and getting cultivated, deciding what form they want to take, what name they want to go by. But they are there, generating energy, feeding my life and imagination in exciting ways.

So my best wishes and blessings to all of you in the new year whether you are a resolution maker or not. I for one am glad it is January, my favorite month of the year (or at least it ties with October). January is clean and cold, it is brand new, it is relaxed, and sometimes it comes with a snow day or two.

For someone who doesn’t know what she is doing when it comes to web technology I have been doing it for long time now. I’ve been doing this blog for almost 4 1/4 years, beginning in July 2010. WordPress gives bloggers a cute little annual report that shows your year in blogging. It kind of gives you a sense of accomplishment. Here is mine if you want to see it.

Most often I have no idea what I am going to write until I write it. Of course, book reviews are the bread and better of this blog because books are the bread and butter of my life. Sometimes I will do a special thematic series and I like doing these because then I actually have some idea what I am going to write next. Last March and  April I did a series  for Lent called “Forty Days of Poetry.” I got a lot of benefit from that series, in writing practice, spiritual insights, and as an excuse to completely indulge myself in poetry. I may do it again this year.

When I did the Lenten poetry series I was idly contemplating the idea of returning to Catholicism. I grew up Catholic and although I fell away from church during my college years, I have always continued to observe Lent as a time of reflection. Beginning this weekend, I am going to be actually exploring Catholic churches, deciding if I actually want to go that route. A few months ago I was sure I did, but after reading some medieval history, which includes some really mind-blowing papal scandals, some of which shenanigans lasted literally for centuries, I feel like I need to give this decision a lot more thought. There was the great ugly Schism of the 14th century, there were the Crusaders, some of whom were not exactly pure of heart, there was the whole Inquisition thing, and there was that business between Mary and Elizabeth in England which involved burning heretics. Like I say I am going to explore. But cautiously. I don’t want to be hasty about signing up for membership in any more organizations, especially a religious one, even if it is the organization I grew up in.

I have recently joined a small book club in which we read and discuss books that are spiritual in nature. I think this will help me in my exploration of what to do next about my religious life, and I will probably be sharing some of those books with you this year.  The next one the group has decided the read is called My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell, which as I understand it, is about the author’s spiritual journey with the help of a group of female saints, one of whom is Teresa of Avila, a favorite of mine.

The current situation is this: I have been attending a Baptist church for years, singing in the choir, sometimes teaching Sunday school. My kids grew up there. I have loved singing the songs and have made some wonderful friends in this church, but increasingly I found is no longer a good spiritual fit and at the same time began gradually to feel more and more drawn to Catholicism. I am attracted to its sensible balance of the practical with the spiritual and the way it seeks to meet human needs where they are, on a human-sized scale – needs for ritual, the rhythm of seasons, and meaning that is deeper than what the material world offers. It offers a viable framework for approaching the incomprehensible mysteries of the divine as expressed by G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy (even though I think he was closer to Russian Orthodox), as well as certain other writers. Also my singing voice is worn to a shred. So I gave my notice three months ago and last Sunday I sang my last piece with the choir:  “Gloria Hodie” (pronounced Ho-dee-ay). Which is not one of my favorites.

This blog’s most popular post this year was not even one I wrote. It was my one and only guest post, a piece called An Eastern Orthodox Perspective on the  Eternal Destiny of Animals by guest contributor Robert Ainsworth. It went with my section on animal philosophy and I found  the topic interesting. This fascinating article is still getting lots of visits. Maybe I will invite more guest bloggers in the coming year.

reader2Other plans for my upcoming blogging year include continuing to read a mix of classics and modern lit and sharing reviews and thoughts here – because reading books and writing about books tops my list of life’s pleasures. I’ll come up with a working reading plan for 2015 soon but I reserve the right to deviate from the list as the spirit leads me. I will also probably do one or more series, one for Lent again and at least one other. I will continue doing artwork, designing cards and hopefully other illustration work, and will revive my neglected other blog ( to share the art part of my life.

I read The Iliad earlier this year and never expected to read it again, but here it is again in a different form. Anne Fortier’s take on the ancient story is different, entertaining, and very imaginative. The events of the The Iliad from a female point of view? You bet. I finished The Lost Sisterhood only yesterday and couldn’t wait to write about it.

The Lost SisterhoodThe Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I found The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier on a Libertarian book list. I loved the book even though it is a far-fetched adventure thriller. Come to think of it, all my favorite novels are far-fetched stretchers of plausibility: Ivanhoe, Les Miserables, Kate Atkinson ‘s Life After Life. In the end this novel stirred my imagination and sent thrills of possibility down my spine.

The story begins in the stuffy academic world of the Oxford Ancient Studies department where a 27-year-old philologist named Diana Morgan is counseled by her adviser to keep quiet about her unhealthy interest in the existence of ancient Amazons. It is does not bring respectability to the department to conjecture about the historical reality of sensationalistic comic book characters. But Diana cannot restrain herself from speaking on her favorite topic and one such speech results in a mysterious invitation to fly to Amsterdam view evidence that an Amazon culture really existed. The invitation comes with a photograph that shows mysterious writing in a newly discovered ancient alphabet.

Diana’s interest in the forbidden topic is rooted in her childhood relationship with her grandmother who came to live with Diana’s family after being released from a mental institution. Granny secretly tutored nine-year-old Diana in the ways of the Amazons until her parents got wind of it and began taking steps to put her grandmother away again. With the help of Diana’s piggy bank savings, Granny is able to escape on a bus, never to be heard from again. Only years later does Diana remember the notebook Granny filled with writing from beginning to end. Diana retrieves the notebook from her parents’ files and discovers it to be a dictionary of an ancient language. When she realizes the letters match the ancient letters in the photograph, Diana risks her career and possibly her life to pursue the answers to her questions about the Amazons and the truth about her grandmother.

What is meant to be a one-week research trip turns into a worldwide jaunt involving two sets of pursuers who are after either the notebook, the jackal-headed bracelet on Diana’s wrist, or perhaps Diana herself. Of course there has to be some romance involved, in this case in the form the man with multiple identities who is sexy enough to make Diana forget about her lifelong crush on the young Lord who grew up in her neighborhood and was just beginning to finally show some interest in her at Oxford.

An especially delightful feature of this novel is that as Diana and her colleagues make astounding discoveries, alternate chapters take us to the ancient world during a time just before the fall of Troy where characters from Homer and Greek mythology come vividly to life – Paris, King Priam, Hercules, the evil King Minos, Medusa, and others. I enjoyed how the novel poses some fascinating speculations about possible historic roots of many of the familiar myths.

It takes a while to get that soul-stirring spirit of freedom that put this book on a Libertarian reading list, but when you get the concluding chapters it’s worth it. You realize that while no novel is more far-fetched than the dream of individual freedom there is also nothing that makes life more worth living. I was fascinated by how the story incorporates ideas about living free in a dangerous world – ideas that include living in loosely connected communities that are able to help each other as needed, being flexible about picking up and moving, being well armed, and not being overly dependent on technology. The female point of view was a truly fresh take on the freedom theme and worked excellently since no group has been so consistently enslaved and oppressed throughout human history as women.

In reading the Wikipedia bio on the author I noticed she has a Ph.D. in The History of Ideas from Aarhus University in Denmark. I had no idea there was such a degree but if I were beginning my education now, that’s the degree I’d  go for! The Lost Sisterhood is an entertaining novel that offers so much more than mere entertainment. It might to considered a philosophical novel, but not in a heavy-handed way. The entertainment outweighs the philosophy. I look forward to reading Anne Fortier’s other books, beginning with Juliet.

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The Lost Sisterhood: A Novel by Anne Fortier. Published by Ballentine Books, March 11, 2014


The Lost Sisterhood: A Novel by Anne Fortier. Published by Random House Audio, March 11, 2014. Narrated by Cassandra Campbell.

As Christmas 2014 winds down I’d like to take a moment to wish my blog friends a Merry Christmas and to thank everyone who takes the time to visit my humble blog. It’s been quite a nice Christmas, if a little bittersweet. Christmas Eve I sang for the candlelight service at my church as I have for done for many years; but this year was probably the last time I will do this. My voice isn’t working well. The high notes begin to disappear after two or three songs. Also for many months I have been feeling a persistent urge for a long time to make some changes in my spiritual life. Some might say that God is calling me elsewhere and is helping me make the break by slowly taking away my singing voice, leaving me just enough sound to sing for one last Christmas. I get this feeling that I have stretched out my transition as far as it will go and my voice is working on borrowed time by the grace of God. And it’s okay. If I were told by an angel that the price of the treasure I seek is that I must sacrifice of one of God’s gifts, my singing voice is the one I would gladly offer and I’d feel fortunate He asked only for that.

So there’s that. And then tonight I asked my son if he has any goals for the coming year. After some hesitation he told me his goal is to move to his own place. It makes sense. He has a good job…..although he’s only had a good job for eight months. He’s 22. He works with two young guys who are also living with their parents and the three of them have already begun apartment hunting.  I knew it was coming, like you know the baby is about ready to be born or a child is about to enter puberty. There’s just a feeling of ripeness in the air, like something has finished and something else is about to begin. I have even looked forward to my sons moving into their own independent lives, and yet I am surprised by what I felt when my son said the words. It felt just a little like the sting of grief, followed by joy that my son is a happy, healthy, excited about his life, and ready to move forward.

But change happens and I will embrace it. I look forward to a fun and productive writing and art year. I have a new rudimentary studio set up in a spare bedroom now which consists of my computer, a wireless sprinter scanner, six shelves full of art supplies, the brand new LED light table I got for Christmas, and an antique drafting table, my sole inheritance from my father. I’ve had the drafting table for years but never quite appreciated what a treasure it is until I recently saw the same model in an antique store with a price tag of (gasp!) $2999.  The bottom is heavy wood and cast iron and the surface is roomy, about the span of my outstretched arms in width. And it tilts. Already having this peaceful little room has been a wonderful thing. I can work here free of the little distractions of the rest of the house.

In the past month or so most of my creative time has been spent drawing card designs. Consider these two my Christmas gifts to you…..

A Christmas Wish

A Christmas Wish


Christmas Pageant

Christmas Pageant

I have completed or nearly completed several odd books recently and will be posting several reviews in the next few days between wrapping gifts and finishing my shopping and decorating. I read Not Cool about two weeks ago. I only rarely read topical politics books but I picked this one up for a bit of comic relief in the midst of an interminable history of the horrific 14th century. There is certainly comedy here but this book is also not without its share of horror. Parts of it deal with a recent massacres and terrorism.

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Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on YouNot Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You by Greg Gutfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an easy read and pretty entertaining Libertarian rant about some very recent (mostly 2013) politics and cultural events. Greg Gutfeld uses the apt metaphor of high school with its cool cliques and outcasts, bullies and hipsters, as an apt metaphor for U.S. culture. For example as an example of our culture’s acceptance of evil as long it wears the appearance of coolness, one chapter is dedicated to how the media swarmed around the cute Boston Marathon bomber (who even appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone), expressing all kinds of fascinated sympathy for the poor lad while ignoring his shattered victims.

Other chapters address gun control mania despite Chicago, obsessions with sexuality while denigrating virgins and traditional values even though the results of early sex are documented to be damaging to both society and individuals, double standards in the way the media portrays Christianity and Islam, vilifying the military and masculinity in general, rejecting the industries the elite depend upon for their lifestyles – i.e., oil companies, and lots of other fun topics. The unifying thread is that most liberal causes get traction because of people’s desire to be accepted at the cultural cool table. In keeping with the high school framework some of the humor is unapologetically sophomoric, but mostly bearable. I recommended it to my college-age kids because I think reading this book might be a fun and easy way for them to imbibe a little useful cultural awareness.

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