Friday, October 19, 2018

Thou shalt have no other…

 “Mom, can I believe in the Greek gods and still be Catholic?” asked my 10-year-old the other day.

After reminding him about a little list called the Ten Commandments, he seemed satisfied with my answer of “Ummm…No.”  

Apparently I have this series  to blame thank for so successfully capturing his imagination.

Friday, October 12, 2018

68.5 million

Did you hear this story on NPR?

Someone out there did and sent me the book it features, Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini.

The book follows one family, one out of an estimated 68.5 million currently displaced people, and their memories of before. And after.

Even if the one line that haunted me fades…

“I said to you,
Hold my hand.
Nothing bad will happen.”

the watercolor illustrations by Dan Williams will remain indelibly etched.

Author proceeds from this book will go to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and to The Khaled Hosseini Foundation. So thank you. 

Friday, October 5, 2018


“If they kill me, you can say that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully they will be convinced it is a waste of time. A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish.” - March 1980

Blessed Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador martyred in 1980, is scheduled to be canonized on October 14.

In celebration, I offer a brief list of biographies, compilations of his writings, and reflections to inspire us all. Thanks go to my colleague Joe Hastings for the recommendations.

Oscar Romero and the Communion of the Saints by Scott Wright
An accessible biography for readers of all ages, illustrated with quotes and photographs

Romero: A Life by James R. Brockman
A biography published nine years after his death

Archbishop Oscar Romero: Voice of the Voiceless
A collection of his four pastoral letters

Oscar Romero: The Violence of Love
A selection of his sermons


Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic by Maria Lopez Vigil
A compilation of interviews with peasants, friends, theologians and pastoral associates

Oscar Romero: Reflections on his Life and Writings by Marie Dennis, Renny Golden, and Scott Wright
A reflection by three faith activists on the 20th anniversary of his death

Friday, September 28, 2018

“I made endless vows according to their lights, for I believed them”

When you read a book once every thirty years, you’re bound to notice different things with each reading.

During that first read of An American Childhood by Annie Dillard all those years ago, I remember being fascinated by her introduction to the natural world, broken open by her discovery of the library.

The Field Book of Ponds and Streams was a shocker form beginning to end,” she writes. “Where – short of robbing a museum – might a fifth-grade student at the Ellis School on Fifth Avenue obtain such a legendary item as a wooden bucket?”

This time around I was more attuned to Dillard’s awareness of the spiritual.

“It was not surprising, really, that I alone in this church knew what the barefoot Christ, if there had been such a person, would think about things –grape juice, tailcoats, British vowels, sable stoles.”

As she looks around the congregation of her 1960s Pittsburgh Presbyterian church, Dillard wonders if people are just pretending to pray. Aptly, she evokes her experience of the natural world to describe some new stirring within.

“I was alert enough now to feel, despite myself, some faint, thin stream of spirit braiding forward from the pews. Its flawed and fragile rivulets pooled far beyond me at the altar.”

As for the next reading thirty years from now?

I imagine the scenes featuring her grandmother Oma will resonate the most: “the expression on her thin lips was sometimes peevish, sometimes doting.”

Friday, September 21, 2018

He Said/She Said

It’s rare, but occasionally I’ll pick up a book on a whim that just happens to resonate with what’s happening in the news. In this case, the events of Frederik Backman’s Beartown eerily echo the allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Backman, the Swedish writer best known for A Man Called Ove, goes deep into the hockey culture of a small town. As the novel opens, the town’s junior ice hockey team is headed into the semifinal. Resting on the team’s victory is the chance to open a new hockey school which will rejuvenate the economy, and spirit, of struggling Beartown.

We meet the players (both the stars and the third stringers), the coaches, the general manager and his family, as well as the has-been players and multiple fans and parents who will do anything to see their team (and its start player Kevin) succeed. There are no “almosts” in hockey.

When Maya, the general manager’s daughter, accuses the star player of raping her at a party the morning of the final, the crowd, literally, goes wild.

Although Backman presents us with the he said he didn’t/she said he did of the rape’s aftermath, the most striking portrayal is the fear. The fear the girl feels not just in the moment of the act, but in every waking moment after. The fear her parents feel in not being able to protect her. The fear his mother feels that he’s not telling the truth. The fear he feels of being found out.

In the end, Maya makes her peace with what happened through an unconventional means of revenge. As is repeated several times in the book, “People round here don’t always know the difference between right and wrong. But we know the difference between good and evil.”

If you haven’t already, Caitlin Flanagan’s interview about her own personal experience with attempted assault is worth a listen. And Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion examines the awakening of one young woman after an incident on her college campus. Find more stories on this subject here.

Or just open any newspaper.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Back to School Edition

After a three day teachers’ strike, school is back in session for my fifth grader and eighth grader. And the Mom Taxi is back in service. Between music lessons, cross country practice, service projects, and everyday errands, I’ve hardly had time to read. So when I can catch a few minutes on the Kindle, I want something I can dive in and out of easily.

These three authors fit the bill perfectly:

And since it’s been (more than) a little while since I relied on this to get in the back-to-school-mood, I’ve found a couple of YA authors that evoke the spirit of September:

Jenny Han – Start with her series that begins with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (now on Netflix)

Alice Pung – Look for her novel Lucy and Linh

Friday, August 31, 2018


Wired after watching The Commitments one evening, we flipped through the Netflix suggestions and happened across this Japanese television show. Like most Japanese television, it’s somewhat bizarre.  Most likely, you’ll turn to your viewing partner a couple of times and say “whaaaa?!” Admittedly, it’s also strangely addictive.

Kanae Minato’s Confessions another product of Japan, has the same mesmerizing but perplexing quality. Even as you read about the book’s central tragedy from varying viewpoints, you might also find yourself thinking one or more of these expressions.

Confessions opens on the last day of school. After giving a brief lecture on being a “model middle school for the Health Ministry’s campaign to promote dairy products,” a teacher who is retiring slips into a long, painfully personal, soliloquy. She ends by explaining what revenge she’s exacted on the two students she blames for the accident involving her young daughter Manami.  One by one, these students, as well as their family members and classmates, recount the tragedy from his or her perspective as well as lay bare the horrifying consequences of her accusations.

Who knew reading a “book of genre fiction intranslation” could simultaneously evoke multiple senses of the word sensational?