Category Archives: books

An eleven-book day.

Later in the spring, 2019.

The bookishness of today was out of the ordinary in my recent life; shall we say, the last 20 years of it? And it only slightly resembled former days when going to the library was a regular thing, and between the several children and me we’d I bring home bagfuls of books every few weeks, after browsing the shelves as long as we could manage.

This morning I visited our church library, looking for a specific book on the Psalms, but couldn’t find it. I did borrow two related books, though, and three more on other subjects.

On the way home I stopped at my town’s public library to pick up what I had placed on hold via the library’s website. They email you when your holds are ready, you drive to the library and phone them, and they bring your books out in a bag and put them on a table. I have formed a habit of going to the library every Friday, so that I can return books too; currently you can only do that on Fridays and Saturdays. I had four books ready to pick up, as it turned out.

When I pulled into my driveway a few minutes later, it was pleasantly warm in  my car, and I knew the house was chilly, so I sat there and looked over those four books, which were all children’s books. The three that were by the same author I left in the car, because I will just take them back; I didn’t like the particular theme that the author seemed to be stuck on.

The fourth book I had borrowed because I noticed this week that two Orthodox priests I follow on Goodreads had given it five stars, and it was a book I wasn’t familiar with. I began to read it and didn’t stop, just sat there behind the wheel for the next hour being charmed, by The 13 Clocks. I have over my life enjoyed many things James Thurber has written, so I’m not surprised. It was really fun, and I’d have liked to read it through again right then.

But I was getting ready to go back to church, this time for a service. My priest wrote me that he was sure he’d seen that book I wanted in a box of titles that hadn’t been shelved yet (lacking enough shelves), so I went back early and looked through not one but four boxes. There was a book with a similar title by the same author, Fr. Patrick Reardon, not about the Psalms, and which I already own. But I found two more books in those boxes that called to me, to take them home, one of them being Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, which I read a long time ago but don’t remember much of. So eleven books came home with me, and three stayed in the car. Here are the eight books that remain.

What is strange is to bring so many books into the house in one day, and not one of them did I buy! I can take them back to their places whenever I want, no remorse. These days there isn’t such pressure even with the public library system to return books promptly; they stopped charging overdue fines even before covid, and the books take a long time in process once you do drop them in the return slot, so they have to be lenient about everything.

Maybe I won’t have any of these very long, but for now, I have happily filled more crannies and nooks with more delicious books!

To gather all the elements.

“Positivist man is a curious creature who dwells in the tiny island of light composed of what he finds scientifically ‘meaningful,’ while the whole surrounding area in which ordinary men live from day to day and have their dealings with other men is consigned to the outer darkness of the ‘meaningless.’ Positivism has simply accepted the fractured being of modern man and erected a philosophy to intensify it.

“Existentialism, whether successfully or not, has attempted instead to gather all the elements of human reality into a total picture of man. Positivist man and Existentialist man are no doubt offspring of the same parent epoch, but, somewhat as Cain and Abel were, the brothers are divided unalterably by temperament and the initial choice they make of their own being.”

-William Barrett, Irrational Man

These paragraphs are from a book I’ve had on my shelf for a couple of years, since it was highly recommended to me by one of my most philosophical Christian friends. The subtitle is A Study in Existential Philosophy. I bought a paperback copy, but probably was unconsciously put off by the size of the print and the absence of white space on the pages.

Recently I discovered that the book is on Audible, so I began yesterday on my drive  to the beach to listen to it, though I wasn’t very hopeful about being able to attend to the subject matter that way, having an “ear gate” that is extra narrow or full of obstacles or something… It’s particularly hard for me to read non-fiction when I can’t underline or take notes.

It’s a testimony to the clarity and beauty of Barrett’s writing that I was swept up into the story, as he tells it so engagingly, of the context and development of Modern Existentialism. As, in his words above, the need is for true philosophy “to gather all the elements of human reality into a total picture,” so also Barrett shows us a holistic picture by describing the interplay of cultural and historical roots of existentialism and of its effects.

Since high school I’ve had an inkling, or an awareness, that I needed to understand existentialism, but I feel that I’ve made little progress toward that goal. This book and I came into the world in the same decade, but I’ve been waiting for it my whole life!

Intersecting losses make a harbinger.

Five speeches that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave  in the U.S. and in Britain in 1975 and 1976 make the book, Warning to the West. Today I sat on a log at the beach and got on with reading this collection that I’d started before Christmas; a while later I sat in my car overlooking the ocean and finished it.

It’s a nice little book, if you’d like a taste of Solzhenitsyn but don’t feel up to tackling one of his novels or The Gulag Archipelago. He said he prefers to write, but his speeches are powerful, and complement his writings. Taken altogether, these talks present a lot of history “from the inside,” and the perspective of someone whose analysis is based on thorough knowledge. His unique vantage point combines with true wisdom.

In different striking and blunt words to different groups, such as U.S. legislators and BBC listeners, he gives his prophetic message. While he uses details of events that were then recent history to make his points to his audience at the time, the heart of his concerns is ever pertinent and enduring.

“There is a German proverb which runs Mut verloren — alles verloren. ‘When courage is lost, all is lost.’ There is another Latin one, according to which loss of reason is the true harbinger of destruction. But what happens to a society in which both these losses — the loss of courage and the loss of reason — intersect? This is the picture which I found the West presents today.”

-Aleksandr Sozhenitsyn, 1976

From a rock, with my feet in wet sand.

Looking upstream from mouth of creek.

On my drive to the coast today, I listened to “How Satan Deceives People” by Elder Cleopa of Romania. That story certainly set the tone for my visit, to make it even more contemplative than usual.

I had missed my Alone Time on the beach for exactly three weeks. Because wind seemed to be in the forecast a lot, I had been wondering if I would be able to get out there very much this spring, but when the wind died down here, it did there, too. I think the air temperature was about 60 degrees, but the water felt colder than ever; it was the first time I felt it to be somewhat uncomfortable right away.

The water temperature on the beaches I frequent ranges from about 50-55 degrees over the year, with the coldest months being April and May, and the warmest, September. By the time you get as far south as San Francisco the water is five degrees warmer on average. Anyway, that’s not much variation, and I’m wondering if the water felt colder because I am older (not to say old). What I like about that reductive explanation for certain perplexing changes is that it can quickly free up time and mental energy for other more interesting inquiries.

Today I was thinking about too many things to let the water temperature take over my mind, though I walked in the surf as much as ever. Tears came to my eyes, for joy at being there in the elements, my senses refreshed and my mind having encouraging things from Elder Cleopa to rest on. It was convenient that the elements were fairly gentle, and that the tide had gone out just enough to reveal comfortable sitting rocks at the north end of the beach where no other people were. I sat.

The tide had peaked high about two hours before I arrived, and as each wave fell away from the shore, it looked as though it were pulling back on itself; I wonder if that was an optical illusion from me seeing the steep slope of the beach as the wave retracted. The way tides work is pretty complex! I just read this online, when I was looking for the opposite of ebb:

“The incoming tide along the coast and into the bays and estuaries is called a flood current; the outgoing tide is called an ebb current. The strongest flood and ebb currents usually occur before or near the time of the high and low tides. The weakest currents occur between the flood and ebb currents and are called slack tides.”

I learned three things in that short paragraph. If I could find the time to study it, I would like to learn much more, from this book, Tides and the Ocean, that I borrowed from the library. I may have to take it to the beach and sit on a rock to read it, where I have no other books, and few other “tasks” to distract me. Pippin read a bit from it when she was here (away from her own books and usual tasks) and explained to me about some other things that affect the tides, like the sun, and local weather. There are many great diagrams and pictures to help explain everything.

The view from my sitting rock.

One idea from Elder Cleopa’s story that impressed me was that the only thing demons can do to us is suggest thoughts. We think they are our own and we build habits out of them, and follow a path away from repentance leading to salvation.

But God, through our conscience or our Guardian Angel or maybe many means, also gives us promptings, which it’s best to follow hard on. Otherwise the demons will come right along and suggest that we procrastinate. Merely procrastinating doesn’t seem too bad… But watch out!

The kindness of God quite overwhelmed me this afternoon. I got home a little late, with not enough time left to tell you all I had planned, about my outing — especially what I saw on the way home. If I am here tomorrow maybe I will work on that part. It’s easy to get behind in recounting the gifts of our Creator and Lover and Friend.