Do Stories Matter? A Summer Reading Appetizer

by Dan Lord on July 8, 2014

gkc cartoon

A lot of creativity in that belly…

Once upon a time not very long ago the civilized world eagerly read excellent stories by Catholic writers. The stories were everything that great literature is: captivating, intelligent, poignant, universal, liberating, but also imbued with a deeply Catholic sensibility.

The early and mid-twentieth century is the era I’m thinking of here. My personal list of favorites is topped by Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, but I know that you, TSOW reader, could add many more: A.J. Cronin, for instance, Evelyn Waugh…who am I missing?

And here’s something important to note about their books: they were read by everybody. There was no such thing as the “Christian fiction” section in bookstores. Readers were (and are) people of all faith backgrounds, or with no faith at all—they were simply lovers of fiction, and they considered the books of the above writers to be enriching and relevant, important as well as entertaining.

Another thing to note: the truth and goodness being conveyed by these novelists wasn’t ever saccharine or trite. Because truth and goodness aren’t saccharine and trite. In O’Connor and Green stories, in particular, we meet awful people doing terrible things; we discover hatred and prejudice and lust and murder. The great truth that Catholics want to transmit to the world includes (and doesn’t exclude) an encounter with all of that terrible stuff. If you prefer more modern fiction, check out Dean Koontz’s books—What the Night Knows, for instance. That’s a terrifying book, with evil characters committing atrocities, but Koontz, as usual, keeps the flame of hope and good burning at the heart of it, and it’s unmistakably Catholic (he even invents a new sacrament, only instead of the grace-giving vehicle being bread or wine or oil, it’s…Legos! Very nice.)

So, I don’t know what your summer reading is. No doubt there is plenty of non-fiction on your To-Read List, which is great. But don’t forget to include a good novel or novella. Other than prayer, there is no faster, more gut-level way to encounter truth, beauty and goodness.

The TSOW Recommended Reading List:

3 By Flannery O’Connor. IMPORTANT! There are plenty of Flannery O’Connor collections out there, but I link to this one because it is one of the few that has “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” WITH the St. Cyril of Jerusalem quote at the beginning. For some weird reason, a lot of versions omit the St. Cyril quote*, and I don’t know why because it provides a nice key for better understanding the story.

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene. The Power and the Glory is Greene’s best, but this one is no slacker. It’s gritty, passionate, and desperate, and all the characters turn out to be completely different than what you think at the beginning. Mrs. Moxie Wife didn’t like it, but I’m officially overruling her.

What the Night Knows, by Dean Koontz. I know his Odd Thomas series is really popular, but if you just want one really frightening, self-contained horror story, I liked this one a lot.

The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton. I read this roughly once a year. It is a tremendously clever, funny, dark tale that will nearly take your breath away at the end with a pile of profound revelations. This Ignatius Press version has great annotations and original artwork by Chesterton himself!

And, of course, if you can wait until August 24, you can check out By the Downward Way by Yours Truly. As we speak, the TSOW gnomes are hard at work gluing the pages together. Soon I’ll even have a fabulous cover to show you AND a book trailer! Stay tuned, and happy reading!

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Dan’s right! Come on, fellas–let’s go read some novels!

*The full quote by St. Cyril: “The dragon is by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”

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A Cool Lullaby

by Dan Lord on June 26, 2014

As you may or may not know, our house is a House of Many Humans, and our latest one year-old, Charlie, combines very nicely with this charming classic by Paul Simon. Whether you know this one yet or not, enjoy! (And it’s a nice bonus for those of you who might happen to have your own male Weeble Wobbles currently keeping you awake. It also just seems to go well with all this warm summer weather):

By the way, I did write my own lullaby for Charlie–something far, far inferior to Paul Simon’s tune, of course, but enjoyable, nonetheless! Look for it in your inbox this weekend, and if you haven’t signed up for the Dan Lord Mailing List then do it now,  yo!

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Spike Jonze’s Her and Me

by Dan Lord on June 14, 2014

HER

Theodore and Samantha (in front pocket)

Did you share my disappointment at the end of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are when little Max is told definitively that there is no King, nor is there any real destiny waiting for him? And all the longings of his heart don’t really point to anything? But, hey kid, at least you’ve got a mom who loves you. You can be glad about that! But ultimately your life is meaningless.

I remember just making a low snorting sound and mumbling something like “well, that’s dumb.” And I went on with my evening.

That disappointment is nothing at all compared to the disappointment you’ll feel after seeing Spike Jonze’s latest, Her. Frankly, I recommend not watching it at all and finding a good way to use your valuable time, and so to encourage you, here’s a quick critique.

In Her, Theodore (played to perfection by the always marvelous Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with Samantha, an OS (Operating System) he’s installed on his computer. She’s basically an incredibly sophisticated App, who can learn from her experiences (and at an exponential rate), and she in turn falls in love with Theodore.

It would have been interesting to follow Spike Jonze’s exploration of their relationship, except for the premise that is clearly established towards the beginning of the movie: what we call a person, whether human or OS, is nothing more than received DNA and whatever experiences he or she may have throughout life. That’s it. That is the sum total of a person. The movie’s philosophy ipso facto rejects the soul, God, transcendence, and ultimate meaning; persons do nothing other than wander around trying to satisfy personal needs, and what the director seems to think is love is mostly just self-gratification.

It’s depressing. As Samantha quickly increases in experience, she becomes more complex. Somehow, this complexity means that she doesn’t have to love Theodore exclusively anymore, and Theodore is presented as an immature baby for resenting it. She ends up being in a “love” relationship with over 8,000 people, yet she assures him that fact doesn’t mean she loves him any less—in fact, she says, she loves him even more. Yay!

So, ready to not watch Her now? Great. Get going, you crazy kids, and have a great night!

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Why 2015 will be the Year of Wall-Blasting Ecstatic Jocundity

June 10, 2014

The Legend of Zelda is the Official Lord Family Video Game of This Century or Any Century, so perhaps you can imagine the wall-blasting ecstatic jocundity  that overcame our tiny, subterranean residence when this very cool video hit YouTube:

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A Great Priest You’ve Never Heard Of

May 13, 2014

After reading my crummy poem from a few days ago, you’re probably ready to meet a truly good poet. So, allow me to introduce Father Abram Ryan (1838-1886), known as “the Poet-Priest of the South.” He was a charitable, lovable fellow by all accounts, but also kind of otherworldly (Catholic Encyclopedia offers this quaint description: […]

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Farewell, My Beard

May 1, 2014

We’ve shared some good times, Beard. And some not-so-good times. We’ve been together since…what? The beginning of Lent? That’s a long time, Beard. But the time has come at last. I’m hereby removing you from the lower part of my face, and I won’t be reattaching you. Not anytime soon, anyway. Please don’t take this […]

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Something Other Than God

April 30, 2014

My friend Jen Fulwiler, author of Conversion Diary and star of that most unique of reality shows, Minor Revisions, has at last released upon the world her epic autobiography, Something Other Than God. Because I’m so special and cool and “in with the right people” and “unselfconscious about begging for gifts from people who eventually […]

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