The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
by J.R.R. Tolkien, narrated by Andy Serkis
William Morrow, originally published 1954
Amazon Link | Audiobook Link
Well, I did it. I finally did it. I finished Fellowship of the Ring. I had tried a few other times in my life and just couldn’t do it. But with some Amazon TV-show inspiration, an adult appreciation for slower narratives, and the help of Andy Serkis’ incredible narration, I did it!
And I really loved this book, especially once I slowed down and accepted it on its own terms. I still think Tolkien could have tightened this narrative quite a bit (many first-time readers have crashed on the rocks of its long travel sections or Tom Bombadil–still a baffling character to me). But Tolkien makes it all worth it in the end and makes me excited for more.
I came with minimal Tolkien or fantasy experience. I read and enjoyed “The Hobbit” as a middle-schooler, and I watched its creepy 1970s cartoon version a bunch. I’ve watched the theatrical versions of the movies once or twice, but mostly forgot them. I grew up hearing bad “Lord of the Rings” sermon illustrations. So if you are like me, what should you know about the book?
Foundation and Empire
by Isaac Asimov
Spectra, originally published 1952
It’s weird. I think this is a “better” novel than the first, though it is not as “interesting” or impactful as the original Foundation novel, hence the lower rating. I appreciate how Asimov, in this book breaks the formula of his previous book a bit. It doesn’t cover as much time, it’s not as many small stories, but a few larger chunks of narrative. So rather than feeling like a short story collection, it feels more like a proper novel.
In this book, we continue the history of the Foundation–the eponymous organization created in the first book as a haven for human knowledge in anticipation of the Galactic Empire’s imminent collapse.
The first book saw the Foundation come out victorious over several enemies due to the careful planning of the mathematician-prophet Hari Seldon, who anticipated a series of what became known as “Seldon Crises” based on the natural profession of nations. In this book–again, following historical precedence–we see what happens after the Foundation becomes the de facto Empire, having conquered those competing interests in volume 1 to find themselves now looking very much like Empire they hated.
by Isaac Asimov
Spectra, originally published 1951
Okay, in preparation of the upcoming television series, I finally read Foundation, Isaac Asimov’s first book in what is widely considered the greatest science fiction series ever written.
As one who usually doesn’t seek out science fiction in his reading, I’ve got to say, this was fantastic, and represents what everyone says about the best sci-fi: the actual science and premise itself isn’t so much the point as it is seeing the human condition play out against its backdrop. On those terms, this book is a masterpiece and success in nearly every way.
Not of flesh nor will of man
But of heart by will of Him.
Deep within a shot was cast and burrowed in the bow
The fine line of ecstasy and horror homoousion‘d among
Obedience was found on worthy lips, blessing bestowed for ages come.
Yet the blessing’s joy was as a bell in the mist:
Neither found or seen. Until the rocks came.
Because we all need some meditative music to get away from all the talking this year. Enjoy. https://blog.prodigalpaul.com/epiphany-mixtape/
Tenth of December
Random House, 2014
This was my first foray into the mind and writings of George Saunders and it was fantastic.
Yes, I am a little late to the Saunders bandwagon, as his writings have racked up awards, and the audiobook production of his first novel Lincoln in the Bardo had a 166-person cast including the voice work of the other short story writer I feel embodies a similar casual-yet-earnest linguistic style, David Sedaris.
Regardless, Tenth of December, was the collection that put Saunders on the map, and deservedly so; it ought to be everyone’s starting place for his work.
The book is a short story collection, but an odd one. The stories in both theme and at times setting bleed into one another fairly seamlessly, with a generally consistent narrative voice throughout. In lesser books, this would cause confusion and make the entire collection feel like a homogeneous blob; but here the distinctions come from plot and character. The stories are darkly hilarious. He’s never “cute” funny, but existentially so.
This Advent meditation is part of the Liberti Church 2019 Advent and Christmas Prayerbook, and it is by Liberti member Maria Lipkin.
When I read some of the episodes of David’s story I often think, “what a coward! How did God let him get away with so much?!” I feel this way especially when I read the story of David and Bathsheba. Here is a king who was supposed to be fighting with his men but is instead lounging around his palace. At the first sight of a naked woman, he makes her have sex with him even though she is married to one of his own valiant soldiers! They conceive a child and David kills her husband to cover up his act. The child dies because of David’s sin.
Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent 2019, a period of time which the Christian Church has historically set aside to meditate on Jesus’ coming into the world at Christmas. It’s usually a time of reflection, meditation, and preparation, leading up to the full-on celebration that is Christmas.
To help focus us in this time, people at my church designed a prayerbook built around the women named in the genealogies of Jesus in the gospels: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
You can find downloadable and and web versions of the prayerbook here. Or, if a direct link is easier: PDF / EPUB / MOBI (Kindle) / Web.
Different people put together the daily prayer liturgies, reflections, art, poetry, and seasonal meditations, so there’s variety and depth for those that appreciate and connect with such things. Though it is a product of a particular church congregation, it is put together in such away that anyone, anywhere could engage with it and benefit from it. So download and share it widely and sit with it deeply. We all hope it will be a useful way to stop, reflect, and connect during this season.
I have a very dear, long-time friend who is open about being on the autism spectrum. This has given him the gift of seeing the world and its details in beautiful ways, allowing him to do what Emily Dickinson implores of us, to “tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
Below is a text message he sent me this morning that, with his permission, I’ve turned into a poetic form for you to enjoy. (When I asked him, his exact reply was “You go ahead, Paul!”) Continue reading
For each preaching series at my church, we take time in choosing a piece of art to reflect the content. This is a reflection I wrote for our series going through the Gospel of Mark.
Of all the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is the most stripped-down, earthy, human depiction of Jesus. It is spare and humble, with an earnest pace, and ironic wink. Yet it may seem odd that we’ve decided on Tomasso Laureti’s 1585 fresco Triumph of Christianity as its thematic image—a painting that hangs in one of the most opulent, larger-than-life halls of power in all the world.
Laureti’s piece lives on the ceiling of the Hall of Constantine, the largest room in the Vatican’s Papal Palace. It is not part of the original design: it replaced the original wooden ceiling in 1585, six decades after the room was finished. This being the case, there is an odd tension between this art and the garish displays on the walls below; and this tension embodies much what we will be explore in our sermon series through Mark.
Frank Budgen’s illustration of Proteus from James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses
Well, I made it through the chapter that’s famous for keeping people from progressing further through James Joyce’s Ulysses. And boy, let me tell you: this chapter is a trip.
The narrative of the chapter is incredibly straightforward. Stephen Daedalus walks down a beach on his way to drop off a letter. Along the way, he sees a dead dog on the beach, watches a gypsy couple meander towards him with their dog sniffing and exploring, and then he either imagines or witnesses the recovery of a dead body from the water. That’s it.
And yet, in these pages we find an intoxicating writhing of language in its theme, content, style, and technique. The chapter becomes more like a sense memory, larger than the sum of its parts, but also hazy in its exact contours.
Stephen & Proteus
As I wrote a couple of days ago, I’m blogging my way through James Joyce’s Ulysses, trying to give a layperson’s perspective on the chapters in an attempt to demystify it a bit. I previously wrote about Chapter 1, and how it’s incredibly straightforward. However, in Chapter 2, I’m starting to see the subtle storytelling shifts that he book is known for.
I’ve known that Chapter 3 is the sandtrap that gets a lot of readers stuck. It is a full-blown stream-of-consciousness sensory overload in the mind and perspective of Stephen Daedalus. Every thought, observation, and fantasy run together in a constant flow.
Well, I’ve done it. I’ve finally started Ulysses by James Joyce. I’ve done a deep dive into preparatory materials, I’ve talked to those that have taken this journey before, and I’ve read the books that inform the background of this one. And now that I’ve jumped in and finished the first chapter….
I’m feeling pleasantly over-prepared.
As part of my current deep dive into James Joyce’s magnum opus Ulysses, I attended much of the Bloomsday celebrations at The Rosenbach Museum and Library. They live-streamed the entire thing, which you can find on their Facebook page, but I want to post here my favorite part. And no, you don’t have to have read ANY of the book to understand or enjoy this. Also, there aren’t really any “spoilers” of the plot. Ulysses isn’t really that kind of book….
Anyway, here are the performances of the last two chapters–the “Ithaca” and “Penelope” sections, specifically. The first is narrated in a Samuel-Beckett-ish question-and-answer format, like a religious catechism, and it is hilarious. The second is the end of the book when, for the first and only time, the main characters wife, Molly Bloom, takes over the narration as we enter her stream of consciousness while she tries to get to sleep. The performance of Drucie McDaniel is powerful, moving, funny, and poignant. You owe it to yourself to watch this in full. Happy Bloomsday!
The Remains of the Day
Vintage Int’l, 1989
Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is, as the Amazon product page calls it, “universally acclaimed”. It won the Booker prize the year of its release, and no less a pedigree than Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson graced the screen in its film adaptation. I personally received recommendations for this book from people that both know me well and whom I greatly respect for their taste in literature.
Imagine my surprise, and the depth of my self-doubt and questioning of my own aesthetic inventory, when I read this book and really, really despised it.