Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Updike on the Writing and Making of Books

“From earliest childhood I was charmed by the materials of my craft, by pencils and paper and, later, by the typewriter and the entire apparatus of printing. To condense from one’s memories and fantasies and small discoveries dark marks on paper which become handsomely reproducible many times over still seems to me, after nearly 30 years concerned with the making of books, a magical act, and a delightful technical process. To distribute oneself thus, as a kind of confetti shower falling upon the heads and shoulders of mankind out of bookstores and the pages of magazines is surely a great privilege and a defiance of the usual earthbound laws whereby human beings make themselves known to one another.”

from here


John Updike, 1932-2009

Sad news. The world of fiction is the worse for his passing. Here’s the AP obit.


Thoughts upon Finishing Cormac McCarthy’s Novel Blood Meridian

This little snippet from the Wikipedia page about sums it up.

After reading Blood Meridian, Richard Selzer declared that McCarthy “is a genius – also probably somewhat insane.”

Heavy Metal Band Name Flow Chart, or, The Coolest Thing I Have Seen This Year So Far


From here via here. (Click image for full size.)

My Year in Books

About a week ago I did something unprecedented in my life. I instituted for myself a one-year book-buying moratorium.

I told myself I would never do this.

But for several reasons it seemed like the best thing to do. For one, I’ve bought many books in the past year that were both very expensive and that I want very much to read. And even with my extremely limited book-buying budget, I can still buy much faster than I can read them. For two, every time I passed the section of my bookshelves that housed all my recently purchased to-read books, I wanted to read them all at once. But as the year wore on, the larger that section of the shelf got. (This of course is the perennial problem for any book lover and one that I myself have actually refused to acknowledge as a problem in the past, but read on, dear friends, read on!) The tipping point came this Christmas when I glutted myself at Eighth Day Books, as I often do when I visit my home in Kansas. Now the section of my shelf that I wanted to get to immediately was simply overwhelming; the very top, the burning edge, of my to-read list kept getting larger and larger. The books I had bought over a year ago and simply just meant to get to some time I would never get to at the rate I was going. I had reached a sort of critical mass, if you will. (Actually, that is exactly what I had reached: a critical mass. That is the perfect term for it.) I needed a plan.

Hence the book-buying moratorium. Not only did I now have in my possession every book that I really wanted to read, I felt I also needed to prove to myself that I did indeed want to read books more than I wanted to buy them. And for me that meant hunkering down for at least a year and tucking in.

So a week or so ago I pulled off all the books on my bookshelves that I had bought and not read in the past five or so years, piled them in front of the couch, and opened an Excel spreadsheet.

By far the three categories that I read the most are: fiction, historical or patristic theology, and dogmatic or culturally oriented theology. (There are others, but these form the backbone.) So throughout 2009 I will generally be cycling through three books per month, one from each category. This is soothing to me, as writing down lists of overwhelming things often is. The void has been circumscribed, the unnecessary cordoned into oblivion. (I’ve been reading Cormac McCarthy lately.) I typically just read whatever suits my whimsy at the time, but as I’ve pointed out, that was resulting in a lot of bucks spent at the bookstore and a lot of unread books. So now when my recently purchased books call out to me from the shelf, I say to them, “Don’t worry! You are scheduled for March. Not too long!”

Not that whimsy is all bad, mind you. Whimsy got me through all the major works of Dostoevsky in 2008, so I’m not complaining. But this is what the moment calls for. So in the fiction deparment this year I’ll be reading a lot of Michael Chabon, among others. And in the theology department I’ll be spending most of my time in the fourth century with Nicene theologians, a good bit with the Byzantines in the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries, and then on to some Thomists near the end of the year.

Of course none of it will work out like this, but it feels good at least to have a plan.

Charlieboy Is Two Today

Happy birthday, son.


Contest Results

I wouldn’t actually call them results, and contest might be too generous a term, but my dad is the “winner” of the “contest.” I guess that’s what I get for posting words from a work that is online in its entirety. The words come from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi, which I read over Christmas and is very, very good. If anybody would have actually played in the contest (besides my dad, who cheated!), I thought it would have been entertaining, funny, and a little misleading to use a quote by the pope that criticized institutions. But alas, nobody reads my blog!

I would have also accepted “Joseph Ratzinger.”

Contest: Name That Theologian

Welcome back after the New Year.

What currently living theologian wrote these words?

The right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone, however good they are. Such structures are not only important, but necessary; yet they cannot and must not marginalize human freedom. Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order. Freedom requires conviction; conviction does not exist on its own, but must always be gained anew by the community.