Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis

I kept thinking about etiquette books while reading this book, sort of "Rules for Proper Behavior Befitting Monks in the Middle Ages."  Not in the "You shan't pick up your salad fork until the abbot tastes the dressing" sort of way.  But more in the sense that it is exhortations and encouragements on how a Christian ought to live, where their mind ought to be focused, and the fruit to look for from said behavior.  It is an exposition on proper human deportment in light of the Gospel.  In spite of the vastly different age in which it was written, I felt that most of the lessons translate well to modern times.

As a quick side note, these 2011 eyes are continually surprised and delighted by Dr. Eliot's painstaking attention to cultivating the moral fiber of the readers of this series.  In an age where testing, results, and a dermatillomaniacal attention to one's own navel have become the focus of Western education, I find this educational view inclining toward the goal of producing a society whose reigns are held by good human beings a refreshing view.  Although refreshing like Frank Capra films, which always leave me melancholic over how far reality is from the optimism of what's flashing across the screen.

I would hasten to add that I feel that this book may not be for everyone.  It was originally written for his fellow monastics in the early 15th century or thereabouts.  There are a few passages, for instance instructions on giving the Eucharist, which will not apply to most of the blessed, contemporary, literate, chosen few.  There are also passages which I found astonishingly Catholic (we are 1400 years into the evolution of the religion at this point.)  Specifically, Purgatory makes a palpable appearance and the Eucharist is hinted at having spiritually meritorious effects.  It was not exactly meant for the laity and certainly not for the Non-Christian.  Not that I feel that it is any less of a great book.  I am just uncertain that the book would have much practical application for those outside of the sphere of Christian belief.  It is, after all, mainly a treatise on the effects of Christian doctrine on the thoughts and behaviors of the believer.

Indeed, much like Socrates (right down to phrases like "If you think that you know many things and have great learning, then know for certain that there are many more things you do not know"), some of the super-objective of the book seems to be an exploration on what exactly is a good life, that is to say a life well-lived. 

Humility, anti-materialism, enduring temptations, immovable truth, refraining from judging others, choosing poverty, finding peace within as an act of peace toward the external world, patience, and even a rather Eastern argument for letting go of all desire in order to find enlightenment, are all covered.  I look over that list and I think about so many contemporary issues we hear about daily at this particular junction in space-time.  Corrupt and unfettered bankers leading directly to peaceful, angelic youths being pepper-sprayed.  Foreclosures, unemployment, rampant debt, while the cake-eaters come into our homes through our standard-issue lighted squawk-boxes to make millions off of 72 day long marriages and tell people frantic about not being able to get a job to "get a job."  A culture of polarization, the decay of civility, the death of compromise, all heralding economic collapse.  Rage over the disproportions in the distribution of wealth.  All of which I feel could be addressed by some of the service based (read: Slave Morality) behavior encouraged in this book.  The message is not "there'll be pie in the sky when you die" but rather "love one another" and, perhaps more to the point, "If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."

I would also like to say that I found the voice of the author to be pleasant and humble.  I liked Thomas à Kempis quite a bit.  He lived a very quiet life and it shows in his writing. 

Upon reflection, I may dial back my earlier statement about recommended audiences.  I would recommend that every Christian run, not walk, to the nearest location of a copy of this book accessible to them if they haven't had the pleasure of reading it yet.  Every Christian ought to read this book.  But I also feel like the book will, at the very least, provide occasion for a great deal of thought and self-assessment for anyone.  I also put forth without reservation that the life outlined in this book is "the good life."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christmas Wish List 2011

After many exhortations and prompts and cues from my mother, today I publish my Christmas wish list for this year.

1. Bad As Me- by Tom Waits: I still don't have the new Tom Waits album.  Life has a way of getting away from me.

2. The Journals of Spalding Gray: As soon as I learned this book existed, I knew I must own it.  From about ages 15 through 26ish, if asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my stock answer was "the next Spalding Gray."

3. The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton: Laurie and I have been fascinated by the existence of this book and are amazed that we don't already own it.  It's not as grim as the title might suggestion, but rather a book of medical theory from the early 1600s.  Reviews lead me to believe that the New York Review Book Classics edition is the one to get. 

4. a bicycle- I plan on riding to my new job, which is in biking distance.  I shall become all lean and lissom and no longer sweat while I eat.  You'll hardly know me.

5. Last and certainly not least: The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick-  A book which I've waited over a decade to see the light of day.

I should probably also add that Laurie very much wants me to get a laptop and I am not objecting to the suggestion.

Speaking of bigger ticket items, I also wouldn't turn down a Kindle.

Or the entire Harvard Classics Library.

I thank you for your attention.
Ta and bisous!

Friday, November 11, 2011

15 Things To Do In This Life

My friend Megan asked, out of the blue, on Twitter the other day to tell her 15 things we, her followers, should like to do in our lifetime so as not to be the martyred slaves of time.  Much like New Year's Resolutions, she mentioned how clicking off a "bucket list" seems kind of horrible and, I would add, might leave one at the end feeling a bit like Alexander (weeping over the dearth of worlds left to conquer at almost precisely my own age, by the way.)

So, I thought it might be an interesting thought experiment to explore what sprung to mind in my own skull.  I find it interesting that so few of my choices revolved around things having little to do with virtue per se.  Rather than that pointing to a bad direction, I found it indicative of moving in directions in my personal life that speak to a life being well lived.  These are "frosting."  I am fairly content with the current state of my life and the seeming future direction thereof.

A few words on do-ability: my experience has been that the experiment mutates rapidly.  So much of my biography has shifted in ways I never would have imagined.  I consider nothing on this list outside of the realm of possibility and, as is so often true in life, may offer a few of those much needed fences in further life choices. 

But, enough.  On with the list.

1. Visit India- I have a deep love for India and its people.  I think it is a beautiful culture.  I also have friends I should very much like to see.  This was an easy #1 choice for me.

2. Attend the Bayreuth Festival- The Mecca for Wagnerites.  Wagner himself supervised the design and construction of the theater.  To see a Ring Cycle at Bayreuth would be near to one of the peak experiences possible for me on this planet.

3. Tour the Vatican- As an art lover, a theology and church history student, and an aesthete, I would love to tour the Vatican.  I know Laurie would too.

4.  See one of my plays produced- Strictly speaking, this has already happened, but not in a profit making environment and only with a one-man show.  I would love to have the play I am currently writing be produced by a professional theater company.

5.  Finish the Harvard Classics Library- which will happen if I simply live long enough to make it through.  I am working on it.  I would hazard a guess that I still have years in front of me to go, but if Augustine didn't stall the project, nothing shall.

6. Meet - One of my living heroes and, I think, one of the more fascinating people alive.

7.  Also would like to visit Athens- Having already trod the streets where Shakespeare, Wilde, and countless others had trod, I can only imagine the hallowed feeling of the truly ancient beneath one's feet. 

8.  Master Greek and Latin- I don't know about mastering, but this is another project that I am working on.  I am currently at a very stumbly level of Latin.  Laurie and I plan on learning Greek together one of these days.  She has some experience in that classic language.  I have none.  One of these days we will take it up.

9.  Create a mixed drink- Wouldn't it be fun to have a signature drink?  Or having a dessert or sandwich named after one's self?  Maybe it's gauche to think so, but I think it would be a hoot!

10.  Have a poem of mine in the Norton Anthology- Yes, I'll admit vestigial and highly unlikely wishes to join the immortals of literature.

11.  Name a star or asteroid after Laurie- While there is no permanence in this universe, I have plans to buy a high-powered telescope when Ezekiel gets a little older to take out into the wild and look out at the wonder of the macro.  I would love to be able to find Laurie Mathers in the heavens.  In case you haven't guess by now, I am a silly and romantic marshmallow of a man.

12.  Have a rose garden- We should always have roses.

13.  Own an Irish Wolfhound- Such majestic canines!  I am drawn to their temperament as well as their stunning presence. 

14.  Reconcile with everyone- Life is short.  The Living are just the Dead on vacation.  People should live gently and be quick to forgive.

15.  Die before Dementia- Ending on a characteristically dark note, my vocation has taught me the horror of Dementia/Alzheimer's.  It is an awful disease and I should like to go without experiencing it firsthand.  I encourage everyone to get informed about it and, where they can, search and see if there is some place in the world where they can improve life for another.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chronicle Books' Happy Haul-idays Contest

As you may remember from last year, Chronicle Books hosted one of the more exciting contests of the holiday season.  They are hosting an even more enhanced version of the contest this year.  If one has a blog, one posts on that blog $500 worth of items they would like from the Chronicle Books catalog.  One fortunate blogger who does so shall win their wish list!  One commenter on that blog entry also wins the blogger in question's list as well (see, you're in this too.  All you have to do is comment on this post to have a chance to win the $500 worth of books I am about to list.)  Apparently I get to choose which commenter wins, so dress nice for your user photo.

This year, they've added an additional winner: the charity/library of your choice.  The charity gets to choose their own $500 worth (which is probably wise.  While I love my library, I'm not sure they would share my first choices.)  My choice for a charity is, most likely not surprisingly, the Chico Public Library.  I love the Chico Library, spend a great deal of my free time there, and worry about them in these days of rampant defunding.  I should like to be the champion of lending libraries whenever I can.

And so, here is my Chronicle Books wish list for this year.  I am trying not to simply duplicate last years list and, in fact, this year we have a grandchild coming in December, which opens a Narnian wardrobe door of interest in children's literature for me.

As a side note, I have provided links to the Chronicle Books page on each of the listings.  I usually like to zazz these kind of posts up a bit with photos of the items in question, but I'm having a devil of a time with blogger today.  So, please do check out the books in question.  Don't just take my word for it that they look lovely.

1. Dante's Divine Comedy- Illustrated
Boxed Set
By Sandow Birk,and Marcus Sanders

Be that as it may, I start with the book set in their catalog that I still covet one year later.  A beautiful adaptation that proves that Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are not the last two humans to have read the second two volumes of the Divine Comedy.

2.  MoMA: My Museum-

Little Ezekiel will need to learn about modern art and begin making his own.

3. The Domaine Chandon Cookbook
Recipes from étoile Restaurant
By Jeff Morgan,Photographs by France Ruffenach

Epicurean cookbooks orbiting around wine are some of my favorite things.

4. Nests
Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them
By Sharon Beals

This looks to be an absolutely gorgeous photography book.  I would add that it is also a beautiful idea for a photography book.

5. Bixology
Cocktails, Culture, and a Guide to the Good Life
By Eve O'Neill,and Doug "Bix" Biederbeck,Photographs by Sheri Giblin

Oh dear me, who doesn't love a charming mixology book, filled with guideposts for the bon vivant.  I have an alley.  You will find this book right up it.

6.  Andy Warhol's Colors
By Susan Goldman Rubin

This is how I would choose to teach a small child about color.

7. My Milk Toof
The Adventures of ickle and Lardee
By Inhae Lee

A book from a delightful and creative blog that I have enjoyed for some time now.  It is a charming "photo-comic" series.

8.  The Architectural Detail
By Edward R. Ford

A work on what a "detail" is in architecture, which rather reminds me of the long discussions I've had over what "an action" is in acting.

9. Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres
By M. Christine Boyer

A book about one of the most fascinating people in recent history and a major force in the world of architecture.

10.  Edie: Girl on Fire
By Melissa Painter,and David Weisman

Edie Sedgwick is, to me, one of the most captivating figures of the 20th century.

11. The Vatican and Saint Peter's Basilica of Rome
By Paul Letarouilly

Oh my goodness, I can't tell you how much Laurie and I would love to have this book in our home!

So, there you go! Comment away for your chance to win this list along with me!  And thank you to Chronicle Books!