Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Book meme

I'm not back five minutes, and I've been tagged already. OK, here goes...

1) Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

Well, I'm a bit of a snob about language, and I'd always rather read stuff in the original than in translation - which means that I'd probably irrationally cringe away from reading anything that's been translated into English. I just think it always loses some nuances in translation, and ends up not quite how the author intended. The irrationality of this is that there's only one other language that I actually can read fluently in, so I'm shutting myself off from most of the world. Having said that, I'll make exceptions for books that I really really want to read...

2) If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

Hmmmm. I'm going to cheat a bit here, as all three of these are real characters - two the subjects of autobiographical works, the other the subject of various biographies I've read. I think it would be fascinating to take Emperor Pu Yi, Chairman Mao and Jan Wong together and see their reactions both to what they were seeing and to each other as they wandered round a modern Chinese city.

3) (Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for a while, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy. OK, probably partly at least because of my peculiar hatred of translations. But I've started that book about 18 times, and never got past page 2. And it's got a looooooot more than two pages...

4) Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

I own lots of books that I haven't read yet - one of the hazards of 'buy two, get one free' offers when you're too busy to read more than one at a time. I don't think I've ever pretended that I've read any particular one of them, although their presence on my shelves probably suggests that I may have done more than glance at the cover and think, "This'll do for my 'get one free' book".

5) You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (If you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead and personalise the VIP).

OK, the VIP is someone who's coming to visit England or is about to have regular contact with English people. I'd tell them to read 'Watching the English' by Kate Fox. It's hilarious in places, insightful in others, and it's perfect for someone who doesn't read much, because you can dip into it and just find that you keep flicking through and finding more interesting sections, so that in the end you can't help but read the whole thing. And if you've ever spent more than five minutes in England, you'll find yourself nodding your head and thinking, "It never occurred to me, but that is a peculiarly British thing, and it's totally, absolutely true". For Brits, too, it's an eye-opener - of the "you mean the rest of the world doesn't do that too?" variety.

6) A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Only one? But I want to be able to read EVERYTHING in the original...! I suppose, since I'm only semi-literate now and it's frustrating not to be able to read better, it would have to be Chinese. I even have a pile of Chinese novels sitting at home just asking to be read.

7) A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

'When We Were Very Young' by A A Milne. OK, not only is it a children's book, but it's a book of poems, and I can recite most of them by heart anyway, but I love it, and could read it out loud to my numerous nephews, nieces and godchildren (and their descendants, I suppose, if it's for the rest of my life). And because it's short, I'd still have plenty of time left to read new stuff too.

If I had to choose a proper grown-up book, I suppose it would be 'London: The Novel' by Edward Rutherfurd - a great doorstopper of a book, which I have always found absolutely fascinating. The highest praise I can think of for this book is that several years ago I gave a copy to a friend. Last year, she gave me a copy of the same book, with a note saying, "Someone gave me a copy of this years ago, and I loved it so much I was sure you would too".

8) I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

Well, if we're talking about book blogging... I've discovered that there are all sorts of people out there who have the same sort of fragmented memories as I do of books that they've enjoyed, and I enjoy visiting the abebooks forum from time to time to see the number of vague questions to which someone has managed to find an answer, often after years of looking. I have asked a couple myself, and been reintroduced to gems of childhood that I thought were lost forever (Bernice Reubens, Catherine Storr, Elizabeth Gorell, Mary Gehr...)

9) That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leather bound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

It's a huge room, lined with good, strong shelves. The shelves are well filled, but there's always room for a few more books when I've gone mad at the bookshop. There are windows at each end, to catch both the morning and the evening sun, and a comfy chair by each window. There's a sofa pulled up to an open fireplace for the winter, a cosy rug on the floor, a ticking clock with Westminster chimes on the mantelpiece, and a radio discreetly in one corner. The books vary - some trashy paperbacks, some well-thumbed favourites, plenty of reference books, and all organised by subject and by author (not, as New Man prefers, by size and colour!). And all the books are catalogued, so that I can instantly put my hand on whichever one I'm looking for.

I've just realised that, apart from the cataloguing and the size of the room, I'm pretty close to having all of that in the room I'm in at the moment. My cup runneth over...

And now it's time to tag someone. Well, not many people have yet stumbled across the fact that I've started this blog up again. If you're here and you're interested, fill your boots.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Some great news

Yesterday I was visiting an internet forum that I look at from time to time. The people who post on this forum are from all walks of life - a spread of ages, educational backgrounds, family circumstances and religious beliefs or lack of them.

Someone had posted that she had a terrible problem - basically, having been told that she wouldn't be able to have children and taken a long time to come to terms with that, she had just found out that she was pregnant. Her post was very negative, talking about how this was the wrong time in her life for this to happen, and she just knew that she wouldn't be able to support a baby. She was obviously thinking very seriously about having an abortion.

In the course of a few hours, she had dozens of responses. Every single one said what a wonderful thing this was and what a miracle this baby was. At the same time, nobody criticised her for the way she was feeling, and they sympathised with her for her concerns. Most people don't use their real names in this forum, and most have never met each other, but several people offered her financial and practical help, and some offered to send her baby equipment.

Today she posted again, thanking everyone for helping her to clarify her thinking - and saying that although she thinks it's going to be very tough financially, she's decided to keep the baby. I'm so pleased for her and the baby, but I'm sure she's also going to have a few tough times ahead - please pray for them.

Christian Unity

Today is the last day of the octave of prayer for Christian unity. This prayer by Cardinal Newman (which was reproduced in our parish bulletin a couple of weeks ago) is my favourite prayer for Christian unity:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who when thou wast to suffer,
didst pray for thy disciples
till the end of time
that they might all be one,
as thou art in the Father
and the Father in thee,
look down in pity
on the manifold divisions
among those who profess thy faith,
and heal the many wounds
which the pride of man
and the craft of Satan
have inflicted on thy people.
Break down the walls of separation
which divide one party and denomination
of Christians from another.
Look with compassion
on the souls
who have been born
in one or other of these communions
which not thou,
but man hath made.
Free the prisoners
from these unauthorised forms of worship,
and bring them all
into the one communion
which thou didst set up
at the beginning:
the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Teach all men
that the See of Peter,
the Holy Church of Rome,
is the foundation,
centre and instrument of unity.
Open their hearts
to the long-forgotten truth
that the Holy Father, the Pope,
is thy Vicar and Representative:
and that obeying him
in matters of religion
they are obeying thee,
so that as there is
but one company in heaven above,
so likewise there may be
one communion
confessing and glorifying
thy Holy Name
here below.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Feed my lambs

Never let it be said that New Man is henpecked, but some of our conversations turn out to be a little short. Like this one, last Sunday:

New Man: "I suppose if we have children, we'll have to think about what is the appropriate age for them to start going to Mass with us."

Me (looking at him as if he's just grown an extra head): "From birth. Obviously."

New Man: "Oh... Right... OK."

So, let's be fair to New Man here. My nephews and nieces have all been taken to Mass from birth, as were my brothers and sisters and I. It seems a no-brainer to me. But obviously for some people, even people who really believe and are good Catholics, it isn't. So I need to look at the arguments.

They don't get anything out of it, because they don't understand what's going on. You can take them when they're old enough to understand.

But we do all sorts of things with babies before they can understand. We sing songs to them, talk to them, read them stories. Research has shown that you could read random lists of nonsense words, newspaper reports or even the draft of your biochemistry PhD thesis to them, and babies would enjoy hearing your voice just as much. But we don't - we read them stories and repeat rhymes and tell them what we're doing, and that's how they learn language. A child who is never exposed to language won't learn to talk.

So how do we expect them to figure out what Mass is all about if we never expose them to it? Sure, they won't understand at first. They might even learn to join in with some of the prayers and responses without having a clue what they mean. But gradually, it sinks in, as we tell them to watch what Father is doing, as we point out Jesus above the altar and the statue of Jesus' Mummy, as they learn to connect the bedtime prayers we say with them to the prayers that the family of God is saying together in church. They learn their religion as they learn everything else in early childhood - through experience, practice, a bit of loving explanation, a bit of watching others.

They don't know how to keep quiet, and they disturb other people.

A toddler who is learning to feed himself can be pretty messy. He might throw food on the floor, smear it over his head, bother other diners with his lack of table manners. Does that mean you never let him eat until he can do it tidily? No, he needs the opportunity to practise his hand-eye co-ordination and to experience how the food feels in his hands, on his spoon and in his mouth. Similarly, children learn to sit still and listen by doing it, and until they've learnt that, a couple of special quiet toys or books can help when they start to get restless.

Babies and toddlers can be noisy at times - but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me". Now, I admit that I'm not always as tolerant as I should be of disruptions in church - I sometimes find the behaviour of some parents and older children fairly intolerable. But if I can't ignore the babbling of a baby or a little bit of wriggling from a toddler, maybe I need to take a good look at myself and think about whether I'm really concentrating on my prayer, or whether I'm too busy judging other people to understand what I'm really there for.

OK, I've seen the argument used in a slightly different way by a mother of five who taught her children that going to Mass was a privilege which they had to earn by proving that they could sit still, keep quiet and not disturb others. In some ways, this is great - to her children, Mass was a treat and a reward. But... God came to call sinners, and might it not be the case that the naturally exuberant and boisterous child can benefit from trying to stay still and listen for an hour or so, even if he can't quite manage it? And might it not also be the wrong message to give the child, implying that they won't be welcome at God's house if they haven't been good enough?

We don't have children yet, but I can't see my mind being changed on this. If I believe in God, and if I accept the teachings of the Catholic Church, how can I deprive my children of the chance to develop a relationship with God and begin to develop a spiritual life of their own from the earliest possible opportunity?

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Well, maybe not quite all...

I couldn't do it - my fingers have been itching to get back! I certainly won't be posting as often as I used to, but I am going to post from time to time - mostly because I want to keep some sort of record of things that are going on at the moment, and I'm rubbish at keeping a diary.

So, what's been happening while I was away? Well, we had New Man's birthday, then Christmas and the New Year. I've ordered my wedding dress, gone to the gym three or four times a week, taken on more management responsibilities at work, ordered our wedding rings (that bit we did together last weekend), started making a very large new rug for our front room, arranged to have the house decorated, had our first meeting with the priest about the wedding, booked the photographer, reluctantly said goodbye to my lovely old car and bought a more sensible one... In other words, I've kept myself busy.

Today's plans - an appointment with the registrar to give notice of the wedding, an appointment with a colleague who lives nearby for coffee and a catch-up, a visit to the gym, several hours in my study (I'm working from home today, and have a lot to get through), a bit of house-cleaning ready for the arrival of my parents for the weekend tomorrow, paying a couple of bills, and perhaps pausing to breathe for a few minutes at some stage.

I'd better get going...