Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lucy Beckett's The Leaves are Falling

Dear Misfits,

Last week we had a very good discussion of Lucy Beckett's new novel, The Leaves are Falling.  In a word, we thought it was great!  However, a few did comment that it got a bit didactic at times.  In effect, Beckett uses the story line in the novel to express her deeply held Christian beliefs and theology.  She also presents a haunting portrait of two of the most terrible atrocities of the Second World War; one committed by the Nazi's and the second by the Soviets. The first atrocity is described by Josef, a young Jewish boy whose family was murdered by Nazi death squads who visited his village, Vilna.  The second story line is told by Josef's father, Jacob, a Polish Army doctor captured by the Soviets and taken to a place called Katyn, where he and 8000 of his fellow Polish officers were massacred.  We were deeply impressed by the meticulous research done by Lucy Beckett in recreating the thriving pre-War Jewish population of Vilna in Lithuania, the Soviet prison camps and the dreary streets of post-war London while simultaneously charting the political and spiritual struggles of ordinary people caught up in horrific events that were always beyond their control. This book serves as a stark reminder of the evils unleashed on the civilized world by both the Nazis and the Soviets.  It is also a moving testament to the courage and humanity of those who managed to live through it.  The novel is high on our list of "must read" Catholic literature!


And now, a few comments about our next novel.  We will continue our reading about the horrors of the Soviet system and the people affected by that Godless enterprise.  We will read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s classic novel, In The First Circle.  “The novel was published with great acclaim in the West in 1968. Written in the mid-1950s just after Solzhenitsyn’s eight years in the gulag, his nearly fatal bout with cancer, and his sentence to “perpetual” exile in Kazakhstan, this novel of tyranny and transcendence, set in a secret Soviet prison research facility, appears for the first time in full and in sterling English, following the Nobel laureate’s death at age 89 in 2008. In this many-voiced, flashback-rich, philosophical, suspenseful, ironic, and wrenching tale, Solzhenitsyn interleaves the stories of a grand matrix of compelling characters (women are accorded particular compassion) trapped in a maze of toxic lies, torturous absurdities, and stark brutality.”  (From review by Booklist)

We will read the novel in two parts as follows:

October:  Chapters 1-48 (Pages 1-367)

November:  Chapters 40-79 (Pages 368-729)

And to remind, our next meeting will be on Wednesday, October 8th, 2015, at 7:00 pm in the St. Thomas More Library at the Church of St. Michael in Stillwater, MN.

Warmest regards
Misfit Buzz

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

As Kingfishers Catch Fire in The Father's Tale

Dear Misfits,
We did it!  We’ve finished The Father’s Tale .  At 1076 pages, it is decidedly the longest novel we’ve read to date. It was also the heaviest novel we’ve read.  I think I put on several pounds of muscle mass just carrying it around.  It is definitely a book you would want to have on a Kindle, Nook, or iPad!  But what a story!  We gave it some big thumbs up and a few small thumbs down.
The big thumbs up were:
            -It is a sweeping novel that spans continents, discusses wide-ranging literary subjects and Catholic authors, while expressing a deep understanding of both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic psyche. 
            -It is one of the most faith-filled Catholic novels we have read.  Every aspect of the Faith was treated with respect and complete honesty. 
            -It manifests a deep love and respect for the Russian people and their Orthodox beliefs and practice.
            -It is a “primer” on Russian authors and literature.  Michael O’Brien is an expert in that regard.
Some small thumbs down:
-The story begins in a book store called “The Kingfisher” in Halcyon, Ontario:  population 1200.  Misfit Rieckens noted that no book store in a town of 1200 would ever survive.  Misfit Chris Hagen, proprietor of  Loome Theological Books,  nodded in vigorous agreement!
            -At least 200 pages could have been cut/edited without really affecting the story.
            -Some events were beyond credulity as when the hero is captured by Russian Intelligence agents, tortured, and then “freed” by a Chinese counter-intelligence operation.  One or our Misfits did remark, “But hey, miracles do happen!” 
I should mention that our meeting was held on Claret Farm, home of Loome Theological Books.  It was a perfect setting for our discussion:  outdoors on a warm summer evening sipping cold beer, munching pretzels (all supplied by Misfit Hagen), and arguing the merits of a novel! 
But it does get better than that…we also welcomed Misfit Druffner back from his highly successful medical mission to Bwambo, Tanzania.  (He took The Father’s Tale with him on his iPad!)
An added pleasure was a wonderful recitation by Misfit Wessel of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”.   Hopkins and Wessel at their best!


Now to the future:
This month we are reading Lucy Beckett’s latest novel, The Leaves are Falling. It is a sequel to the author’s A Postcard from the Volcano.  (I am told that the novel “stands alone” and that you don’t really have to have read the first novel…though it helps.)  I am very excited about reading this novel.  Lucy Beckett is a literary treasure with a Catholic sensibility.  I look forward to discussing it with you at our next meeting on September 10, 2014 at the St. Thomas More Library in the Church of St. Michael, Stillwater, Minnesota.  As always, our meeting will start at 7:00 pm.
Yours in Christ,

Misfit Buzz

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

To Hell or not to Hell

Dear Misfits,

The Misfits at our meeting . . . concluded that Charles Williams is an intense, imaginative, often baffling author.  He was a member of the Inklings, the group of creative Oxford Christians of the 1930s and 1940s that included C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Though he excelled in many literary genres, Williams is best remembered for his poetry and his original fiction.  As regards his fiction,  Descent in to Hell is the second novel we have read; we read All Hallows Eve last year (October, 2013)  We conclude that Descent in to Hell is the better novel.



As told in the novel, the "descent" in the title happens to an ordinary (if extraordinarily selfish) historian named Wentworth, whose daily choices to cheat on the truth slowly but surely lead him into a terrifying state of isolation and egotism. Heaven, by contrast, is increasingly inhabited by the novel's heroine, Pauline Anstruther, who learns to face her fears and to love the truth exactly as it is.  In the end, Pauline finds salvation while Wentworth is destroyed psychologically and physically.
Descent into Hell is not an easy read. Although we recommend the novel, it definitely needs to be read:

(1) Repetitively (more than once)
(2) Not rapidly. Read it slowly as it is not “popcorn fiction”.
(3) With access to Google to reference obscure facts and numerous historical characters.
Pax Christi,
 Misfit Buzz

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Charming Billy: Ripped apart and plowed through

Dear Misfits,
We’ve finished another wonderfully written novel.  Alice McDermott’s story of Charming Billy depicts a man beset with an uncontrollable addiction to alcohol.  The novel is a poignant evocation of an Irish American Catholic family as they struggle to understand the tragic affliction of one of their members, a man who lived a life completely in the grip of alcoholism.  The novel asks this basic question: Was Billy Lynch's death by alcohol the result of being told that Eva, the love of his life, had died shortly after she returned to Ireland.  Billy finds out 30 years later that she had not died as he was led to believe by his cousin but that she had betrayed him by marrying another man in Ireland?  Or was his death caused by a genetic weakness for alcohol?  These two questions are tough to answer. 
Long Island Beach

As we see in the story of Billy, alcoholism can be a deeply troubling, family destroying affliction.  Perhaps the most telling line in the novel is expressed by the narrator when she observes at Billy’s funeral that he had “ripped apart, plowed through, as alcoholics tend to do, the great deep, tightly woven fabric of affection that was some part of the emotional life, the life of love, of everyone in the room.” 
In end we are left to decide for ourselves if Billy’s alcoholism was “a disease” as thought by many in the family or was it a personal choice as observed by his cousin Dennis when he says  Billy always had a reason to drink because, “an alcoholic can always find a reason but never needs one”. 
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Something "Wicked" at Loome



The Book of Common Prayer and administration of the Sacraments, And other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church of England. [&] The Psalter, or Psalmes of David, After the Translation of the great Bible, Pointed as it shall be sung or said in Churches. [2 books bound in one volume]. 

London: Robert Barker and John Bill, 1638.
This particular printing is known as the "Wicked Prayer Book", so called because a typographical error in Psalm 37:29 causes it to declare, "The righteous shall be punished." Small octavo, unpaginated. Hardcover rebound in brown cloth with original brown calf label (title gilt) grafted to spine. Overall good condition. Edges of page block darkened. Title page deeply tanned. Pages lightly foxed and occasionally smudged; margins periodically notated in an old hand. Names of multiple previous owners and their children, together with some dates of birth, baptism, marriage, and death, notated to versos of three pages, with dates ranging from 1643 to 1758. Binding is firm and square, with light shelf-wear to cloth. Regular price $1,500.

Sale Price: $1200.00 

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Stephanie Landsem's Publication Secrets at Loome Theological Booksellers


There are many who aspire to publish books.  There are few who do so.  Stephanie Landsem shared her publication secrets recently at Loome Theological Booksellers.



Christopher Hagen, the proprietor of Loome Theological Booksellers, grilled Stephanie Landsem in a hard hitting wide ranging 45 minute interview accompanied by challenging and penetrating questions from the audience (which included a surprisingly articulate group of 13 year old young ladies!).  From the conception of her story ideas, through writing, critiquing, submitting to contests, publication offers, and marketing Landsem unstintingly gave of her experiences and insights.



After the interview Landsem generously signed copies of her books, answered more questions, held the Hagen's infant son, and gave away a copy of The Thief.


Landsem's visit was the first of many this year at Loome Theological Booksellers.  There will be more authors and speakers coming to Loome every month of 2014.  If there is a particular author or speaker whom you would recommend to Loome and whom resides in or will be visiting the Twin Cities this year, please let us know.

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