Tag Archives: book

‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ — the human condition and the carnival

In Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, a mysterious, dark carnival has come to town. Charles Halloway, father and library janitor, tries to understand the human condition in relation to the carnival:

“So, in sum, what are we? We are the creatures that know and know too much. That leaves us with such a burden again we have a choice, to laugh or cry. No other animal does either. We do both, depending on the season and the need. Somehow, I feel the carnival watches, to see which we’re doing and how and why, and moves in on us when it feels we’re ripe.”

New review of Peter Sagal’s ‘The Book of Vice’

Elsewhere on this blog, I have published a review of Peter Sagal’s The Book of Vice: Very Naught Things (And How to Do Them). The host of NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” has written a funny, amusing, and at times even a bit insightful, book on the worlds of swinging, gambling, adult entertainment, conspicuous consumption, and more. Click here to read the review, or see the links at the top of this page.

Christian Wiman on poetry

Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry, published by The Poetry Foundation, was recently interviewed by Books & Culture. In the interview, he said: “…I believe very strongly that poetry exists for the sake of life in general, exists to help people, all people willing to work at it, live their lives.”

Interviewer Aaron Rench asked about Wiman’s book Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet: “In the chapter on poetry and religion you start off by saying, ‘Art is like Christianity in this way: at its greatest, it can give you access to the deepest suffering you imagine.’ Would you say this is why art resists sentimentalism?”

Wiman replied in part, “Well, the adjective is important there: greatest. I was trying to point out how the highest moments of art can at once enact our deepest sufferings and provide a peace that is equal to them, and how this is similar to (though lesser than) what I understand to be the deepest truth in Christianity. The peace does not eliminate the sorrow or the tragedy: great art acknowledges intractable human suffering, and Christianity’s promise of the resurrection is empty without a clear, cold sense of the cross.”

I also liked a quote by Wiman that appeared in direct-mail solicitations for Poetry magazine — I was unable to subscribe, but I kept the card on which the quote appeared and taped it to a mirror in my office. On the card was a brief statement that seemed to explain the highest and best uses of art, literary and otherwise. Wiman wrote, “Let us remember…that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”

‘Eternity’ recurs in Simic’s ‘That Little Something’

That Little Something: Poems, the new collection by Pulitzer-winner Charles Simic, carries numerous religious images and references.

Even Cotton Mather makes an appearance.

Simic returns to the word eternity several times in the first three parts of the book; then Part Four is devoted to several short pieces under the title “Eternities;” plus the concluding “Eternity’s Orphans.”

In Part Three, the poem “Metaphysics Anonymous” begins:

A storefront mission in a slum
Where we come together at night
To confess our lifelong addiction
To truth beyond appearances,
Of which there are clues everywhere,
Or so we tell ourselves.

Classic childrens’ books live on, despite Potter

Here’s some good news: The “What Kids Are Reading” report from Renaissance Learning shows that classic childrens’ books like Charlotte’s Web and Green Eggs and Ham and The Outsiders and Because of Winn-Dixie and Sarah, Plain and Tall are among the most popular books for our nation’s school children.

The report includes a chart of the Top 20 most popular books by grade level, with one chart per grade from first grade through eighth grade, and then a combined chart for ninth through twelfth grades.

And while Harry Potter moves up the report’s charts with each grade level, he doesn’t occupy a single No. 1 spot.

Take a look at Renaissance Learning’s report — scroll down through some introductory text and you’ll find the graphs that map the 20 most popular books by grade-level, both by gender and combined (overall).

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Are college students changing their minds about casual sex?

Author Donna Freitas recently wrote this shocking article in the Wall Street Journal; here’s an excerpt:

After conducting a national college survey of over 2,500 students, I found that among those who reported “hooking up” — a range of sexually intimate acts, from kissing to intercourse, that occur outside a committed relationship — at Catholic and nonreligious private and public colleges and universities, 41% are profoundly upset about their behavior. The 22% of respondents who chose to describe a hook-up experience (the question was optional) used words like “dirty,” “used,” “regretful,” “empty,” “miserable,” “disgusted,” “ashamed,” “duped” and “abused” in their answers. An additional 23% expressed ambivalence about hooking up, and the remaining 36% were more or less “fine” with it. And 45% of students at Catholic and 36% at nonreligious private and public schools say that their peers are too casual about sex. Not a single person at these schools said that their peers valued saving sex for marriage, and only 7% said that they felt that their friends wanted to reserve sex for committed, loving relationships.

When last semester I taught Wendy Shalit’s “A Return to Modesty,” in a class at Boston University called “Spirituality & Sexuality in American Youth Culture,” I assumed that my mostly left-leaning students would reject her arguments about the terrible effects that the hook-up culture has on young women and the positive effects of traditional religion and morality on young women’s well-being. Instead, my students ate up her critique and were fascinated by her descriptions of modesty as a virtue, especially within the context of faith. One student said that she felt empowered to stop tolerating vulgar remarks about sex made by peers in her presence.

The class was equally attracted to some evangelical dating manuals, like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Joshua Harris and “Real Sex” by Lauren Winner, that I asked them to read. They seemed shocked that somewhere in America there are entire communities of people their age who really do “save themselves” until marriage, who engage in old-fashioned dating with flowers and dinner and maybe a kiss goodnight. They reacted as if these authors describe a wonderful fantasy land. “It would be easier just to have sex with someone than ask them out on a real date,” one student said, half-seriously.

Interestingly, most of the study respondents do identify with religious traditions that have rules about sexuality. But, with the exception of evangelicals, American college students see almost no connection between their religious beliefs and their sexual behavior. This radical separation of religion and sex tells us important things not only about the power of the college hookup culture but also about the weakness of religious traditions in the face of it.

Donna Freitas is the author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses, new this month from Oxford University Press.

Related issues were briefly addressed in the LiturgicalCredo.com interview with Peter Augustine Lawler.

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BustedHalo.com interviews Anne Rice about her Catholic faith; video of interview with Anne Rice

Bill McGarvey of BustedHalo.com conducted this interview with Anne Rice.

See more clips from the interview here.