Category Archives: Witticism

Bibliophile Break Up

I can see it out of the corner of my eye–cumbersome, yet stately–resting silently on the coffee table. The flimsy front cover curls up at the corner, evidence of my ungentle treatment. The spine, not yet broken, shows a worrisome crease around the fifty-page mark. Its gargantuan mass dwarfs all other volumes in the vicinity. And so it sits, inanimate and imposing, mocking me.

Oh, Boswell’s Life of  Samuel Johnson, why won’t you let me be??

I never should have started it: this whole thing is my fault. Why didn’t I just leave you to spend your days in obscurity on the dusty shelf of eighteenth century British Literature. Sure, Whalen considered excerpts of you important for Victorian Literature, but why wasn’t I content with those tidbits? Why did I think I could tackle you? Your rambling, endless pages?

Samuel Johnson Reading My Dear John Letter

Now I can never escape you. Every other book I read will make sly allusions to your content, bits of wit hidden within your thousand pages of tiny print. Dickens will never shut up about your wisdom. Chesterton will never get over your jokes. All of my favorite British authors love you: why can’t I love you, too? Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, why can’t we ever be together THAT way?

Now you must join the ranks of other prestigious volumes and authors that I have failed  in my career as a reader, teacher, and lover of great literature. Fortunately for you, the very names that make me cringe ought to provide you with good company. You’ll have the entire works of D.H. Lawrence by your side, I’m afraid. And while you may find Rudyard Kipling quite enjoyable companionship, Joyce’s Ulysses might prove a little too radical for your tastes. Virginia Wolfe will not leave one of your traditional sentiments unchallenged, but you might find a kindred spirit in the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne (except the Scarlet Letter, which alone is exempt from this list of rejected geniuses).

Yes, Boswell’s Johnson, (may I call you that?) my failures are impressive and varied, especially considering the four years of undergraduate work wherein I paid thousands of dollars to be told what to read. A fortunate few have escaped the legions of important, yet neglected classics. Moby Dick used to lead the line-up, but he has broken rank: my husband persuaded me of Melville’s merits, over time, and last year I found the will to get through it. (The experience was not unlike Jonah’s three days of symbolic death, but I was a fool in love! Now I’m just in love.) Anna Karenina broke free during my first trimester reading binge lat fall (though, honestly, War and Peace could have easily taken her place). I also avoided Steinbeck’s East of Eden for years, only to discover its brilliance in my mid-twenties.

What I’m trying to tell you, Boswell’s Johnson, is that you should never give up hope. Just because I’m not ready to be with you right now, doesn’t mean that this is forever. Yes, the sight of your poorly designed Oxford World Classic edition makes me shudder today, but I won’t always feel that way. Someday, I’ll read you. But, today is not that day, Boswell’s Johnson.

Today is not….that….day.


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Filed under Faith, Reading, Witticism, Writing

Favorites from Orthodoxy

In between nesting and working and frequent trips to the bathroom, I’ve been enjoying a leisurely re-read of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. His chapter on “The Ethics of Elfland” is probably one of the most true and most beautiful essays ever written. Here are a few of my favorite passages, so you can enjoy his thoughtful prose without having to dig up your own copy.

Surly-looking old fellow, isn't he?

“In short, oddities only strike ordinary people. Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dullness of life. This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he his normal. But in the modern psychological novel, the hero is abnormal: the center is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately and the book is monotonous.”

“Progress itself cannot progress. It is worth remark, in passing, that when Tennyson, in a wild and rather weak manner, welcomed the idea of infinite alteration in society, he instinctively took a metaphor which suggests an imprisoned tedium. He wrote–Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of change. He thought of change itself as an unchangeable groove; and so it is.”

“It cannot be a coincidence that glass is so common a substance in folk-lore. This princess lives in a glass castle, that princess on a glass hill; this one sees all things in a mirror, they may all live in glass houses if they will not throw stones. For this thin glitter of glass everywhere is the expression of the fact that the happiness is bright but brittle, like the substance most easily smashed by a housemaid or a cat. And this fairy-tale sentiment also sank into me and became my sentiment toward the whole world. I felt and feel that life itself is as bright as the diamond, but as brittle as the window-pane.”

“A woman loses a child even in having a child. All creation is separation. Birth is as solemn a parting as death.”

Ah, Chesterton…do you ever tire of having just the right turn of phrase? Good reading. Just so you know, it looks the doc’s official due-date has come and gone without so much as a Braxton-Hicks.  I’ve been eating pineapple. Earlier today, the baby had the hiccups. Two more days of work. Pray for patience!




Filed under Faith, Reading, Witticism

Seven Quick Takes – Husband Edition

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The format and inspiration for this post are brought to you by Conversion Diary. Jennifer Fulwiler runs a great blog where she shares her thoughts about motherhood, Catholicism, writing, and the struggles and triumphs that accompany each. I highly recommend her.

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I’m midway through Week 3 of p90x. Along with everyone else in the western  hemisphere, I resolved to eat better and work out in the new year. So far, with the help of my fellow X-men (i.e. work out buddies/former housemates, Leroy, Josh, and Brad, and remote support from college roommate Mike) I’ve been sticking to both a high protein/low fat diet and a daily workout that alternately makes me feel like one of the super-ripped Uruk-hai and Steve Urkel.

Mike has been chronicling his X-journey on his blog. It’s witty and challenging, and you should check it out.

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Last night Laurel and I attended our second Preparing for Birth class. So far I’m pleased with the instructors and the information they’ve been giving us. The biggest source of anger and worry I’ve had since we found out we were having a baby has been on account of the general incompetency of doctors. Laurel’s dad, a longtime family physician, told us early on that many doctors lack experience in natural child birth. We’ve heard and seen since that incompetency manifests itself in the manipulation of due dates in order to pressure mothers to induce labor and a the unusually frequent resort to a C-section when any aspect of the process is less than ideal.

The women at Preparing for Birth, however, have been excellent about explaining the physical processes that happen during pregnancy and labor, as well as empowering the expectant mothers (and fathers) with the knowledge that childbirth is a natural process that happens more often than not in the home (worldwide) and should not be treated like a surgery or the removal of a tumor.

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This semester I’ve begun teaching an elective called Lyric Poetry. The class is small and the students are motivated, and so we’ve set out to conquer the Norton Anthology of Poetry. Alongside our reading we’re beginning to memorize and compose poetry with the aid of Sound and Sense, an introduction to the principles and conventions of poetry analysis and composition. This week we read selections from Robert Herrick, Andrew Marvell, and George Herbert. I especially liked returning to Herbert’s poem “Prayer (I)”.

PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth ;
Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner’s towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear ;
Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.

While he’s (in)famous for his oft-anthologized shape-poems, George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” is not representative of his best work. He is a fine theological thinker, and I recommend his work as worthy devotional writing and an excellent aid in grammar instruction (Notice that this poem is a giant series of appositives with no main verb).

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I’d like to share with you a quick snapshot of my son at age 5:

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Does anyone out there have personal experience with aquaponics? Since reading Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State this summer I’ve been thinking more and more about the possibility of liberty, private property, human dignity, and wealth being coexistent and the means by which such a state might be widely or universally attained.  Along with a number of other resources I’ve found the writers and resources gathered at The Distributist Review to be helpful. John Médaille, a regular contributor and instructor at the University of Dallas, posted an intriguing article yesterday called “The Economics of Abundance”. Check it out and while you are there read Dr. Peter Chojnowski’s  “Distributism: Economics as if People Mattered,” which provides a general outline of Distributism. Then, let me know what you think.

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Finally, I’d like to close with the most entertaining video I’ve seen so far in 2011. Check out Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric circa 1994 putting their heads together in order to define “an internet”:


Filed under Catholicism, Marriage, Reading, Witticism, Writing