Strangers in a Strange Land by Archbishop Charles Chaput
Apparently the message about debate not being the preeminent means of changing hearts and minds is one I need to hear, because Chaput goes after it in this book. Instead, he says, we need to “colonize and reshape” the culture with beauty and goodness.
Chaput also identifies public opinion as the main source of individual conviction, and also as a source of tyranny that thrives in democratic societies. I’d love to explore how this is connected to technology, the rapid spread of information and misinformation, and ubiquitous use of social media.
He identifies the lack of shared first principles as the reason our ethical and moral debates are circular and fruitless, and the reason that the role of government has devolved into mediating conflicts between bickering parties.
My most significant criticism is that in his overview of the history of America’s philosophical roots, he describes the intermingling of Enlightenment thought with classical Protestantism in a way that tries to make it seem as though the two can be combined in a way that is intellectually honest. In reality, they cannot, warp and weft analogy aside.
Out of the Ashes by Anthony Esolen
This one was a big disappointment for me. I like Dr. Esolen’s work in other publications like Magnificat, and was looking forward to Out of the Ashes, because it touches on a lot of my favorite topics; education, culture, literature, etc. But I just didn’t love it.
Esolen makes some valuable points, like when he identifies the corruption of language as the foundation of tyranny, and when he discusses the cultivation of personal virtue as necessary for true freedom.
However, the book was an overall flop for me because I think Esolen is excessively nostalgic for a past that never really existed, except perhaps for a few midcentury years among affluent, suburban Protestant Americans. Even then though, it wasn’t the simple, virtuous world of harmony and familial bliss that Esolen portrays.
Maybe it’s just the teacher in me getting defensive, but the chapter on schools made me ragey. Teachers are not a group of ignorant government agents out to indoctrinate your children in radical gender ideology with their godless Communist whiteboards. Really, they just want your kid to learn to read and regroup across three place values. Promise.
Esolen’s strongest arguments are those addressed to the culture in universities (where he works, and therefore has a better understanding of the realities). For example, he discusses the “new orthodoxy” that does not admit rational analysis, thereby making itself immune to criticism. One thousand times yes. This trend plays itself out across the larger culture too, as I’ve written about (ad nauseum, no doubt). Question whether or not a person with a Y chromosome and male genitalia can reasonably call themselves a woman? You’re a bigot. Want to discuss a topic that might upset someone, somewhere? You must preface it with a trigger warning so that no one has to hear ideas that make them uncomfortable and everyone can dwell in the echo chamber of their choice.
Overall, Esolen does make some good points, but they aren’t unique to him and are dragged down by some of his ranting. I much prefer his writing about classical literature and it’s role in education, as well as his spiritual reflections.
The Memory of Us by Camille de Maio
This was a fun, light romance read. Julianne, a young British socialite, falls in love with a working class Irish seminarian, Kyle, during the years leading up to WWII.
de Maio does a good job of working in Catholic rites and explanations of Catholic practices and beliefs that are accessible to the average reader.
Some of the plot points are far-fetched and not entirely believable, but I don’t think they are necessarily intended to be realistic. Though not explicit in the narrative, de Maio also highlights the dignity of the human person whether it is Charles, Julianne’s institutionalized brother, the baby she loses, or the working poor like Kyle’s father.
(I was given a free copy of this book for review. Opinions are my own.)
After Virtue by Alisdair MacIntyre
I read some of After Virtue when I was in grad school (the first time), for thesis research, but I think most of it went over my head then. I asked some friends if they wanted to read and discuss it together for accountability and I’m so glad I did. Luckily for me, a few of them have philosophy backgrounds and one got to take a class with MacIntyre at Notre Dame, so my reading was greatly enriched!
After Virtue is dense and academic and not great material for summarizing, but a couple of my favorite points:
~When it comes to a coherent, sustainable philosophy of virtue, the choice is really between Aristotle and Nietzsche.
~A sense of story and coherent narrative is critical to understanding and developing virtue.
I’m thinking of doing a chapter by chapter series on After Virtue, to discuss his ideas in more detail. Thoughts?
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead is tied with Kristin Lavransdatter for my favorite novel of all time. This was maybe my 5th reread and every time I read it, I see more of Waugh’s skill in his masterpiece, and I’m more in awe of his mastery of language.
If you’ve never read Brideshead, you should! Preferably soon. Be warned that this is not a plot driven book and upon first read, you might be like, “What is this book even about?” It’s fine. Keep reading. It all comes together in the very final pages, and it’s a book that gets better with every reread because of the subtleties and depth of the characters, and the beautiful language. Also, it is my firm belief that, much like bacon, everything is better with a British accent.
If you’re reading for the first time, I recommend following along with the Close Reads podcast. The discussion is engaging and helps clarify some of what Waugh is doing here. (Not sponsored in any way, I just love Close Reads.)
The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor
Another WWII novel, on the heels of last month’s glut. The setting switches between 1980s/90s Los Angeles and 1940s Austria, and ties in the fall of the Berlin Wall pretty skillfully. It’s an engaging read, and draws you into genuinely caring for the characters. The way that everything ties together is a bit predictable, but overall a good novel. (And, in fairness, Brideshead is a hard act to follow.)
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