Category Archives: Books

Vale La Stupenda

I heard the news this morning about “La Stupenda”: the Grand Dame of Australian Opera, Joan Sutherland. As pathetically commercial this may sound to opera buffs who can probably name a better recording than this, but the first time I heard Dame Sutherland on record was with Luciano Pavarotti on the iconic Decca recording of Puccini’s “Turandot”. The damn near purity of voice she had in her early recordings, on the Decca “Turandot” and even on her later recordings still blows me away today. The world has lost not only an opera icon, but an icon of singing too. My thoughts are with her husband, the esteemed conductor, Richard Bonynge and her family this evening.

Vale “La Stupenda”, 1926-2010.

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So I’ve had my celebrity moment of the year. And I will have to get back in the kitchen and get some more cooking practice. With the basics.

Lunchtime photo with Bill Granger outside Angus & Robertson, Post Office Square

I’d heard about Bill Granger’s new basics cookbook, which funnily enough is titled Bill’s Basics, being released a few weeks ago on episode #69 of The Monocle Weekly when he was a guest on that episode of Monocle’s weekly podcast. So you can guess what happened today then…

Bill Granger, me, a signed copy of Bill's Basics & a brown paper bag with a tandoori chicken bagel in it from Bagel Nook for lunch

The food photography in this cookbook is gorgeous. The recipes are basic enough for a putz in the kitchen like me to pull off. As much as I love Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, I can’t quite pull off some of those recipes in a quick fashion. Plus while I love steak frites, there is no way in the world that I am cooking that when I get home from work at 7pm or later. Maybe I should take a flick through my copy of the New Concise Larousse Gastronomique for inspiration as well. Who knows, I may just end up surprising the parents in the kitchen on a Saturday morning.

He’s a very amiable guy and very personable, even for the tiny amount of time he has with those waiting in line. One thing I don’t like about my pics with Bill today though.

I can’t smile in photos to save my life. At best, I look like I have a smirk on my face. At worst, I look like I’m in a police photo. I’d kill for a smile like Bill’s. Then again, he’s probably had plenty of practice at book signings before. Or maybe that’s the smile of a chef hearing the tills ringing from book sales. =)

2124hrs

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Bread, water, oil, wine

Currently reading a few books at the same time.

Geoffrey Robertson QC’s The Case of The Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse (2010, Penguin Special) is an honest and fair-minded argument against the current state of affairs in various Roman Catholic archdioceses and dioceses around the world regarding child sexual abuse by clergy. Canon Law can be a thing used for good. But in this layman’s view of things, the current use of Canon Law to shield errant clergy from trial in secular courts doesn’t only offend against natural justice and human rights but also is a perversion of justice. At a RRP of A$14.95 at good Australian booksellers (ok, maybe not Catholic bookstores…), it’s a very good read for anyone (Christian or not) who has been shocked and devastated at the abuse of power wielded by churchmen against minors.

Archimandrite Meletios Webber’s Bread & Water, Wine & Oil: An Orthodox Christian Experience of God (2007, Concilliar Press) is another thing that I’m reading too. The Eastern Orthodox approach towards Christian faith really is a side that is missing from Western Christianity (as I think I’ve said before). Fr. Meletios writes passionately about how God uses material things (of his own creation) in the Church for the benefit and cure of our souls. His approach towards the seven “Holy Mysteries of Mother Church” (that’s sacrament to Western Christians) makes for a highly readable introduction to the seven sacraments in Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Liturgical Gangstas (LGs) are back again at Internet Monk. And it’s on a topic that is something that may be lacking in churches today: Pastoral Visitation. It is very interesting reading the responses and how they differ: there’s more commonalities with the Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican LGs compared with the other three LGs who responded.

Also have seen a couple of very good recent articles at the iMonastery regarding “The Plain, Hard Truth about Spiritual Formation” and an iMonk classic riff about “Confession”. Very practical, life-application oriented articles by Chaplain Mike and the late Michael Spencer.

+ 2351hrs

Thoughts

Tomorrow we shall meet,
Death and I—
And he shall thrust his sword
Into one who is wide awake.

But in the meantime how grievous the memory
Of hours frittered away.

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What you have to attempt—to be yourself. What you have to pray for—to become a mirror in which, according to the degree of purity of heart you have attained, the greatness of life will be reflected.

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Every deed and every relationship is surrounded by an atmosphere of silence. Friendship needs no words—it is solitude delivered from the anguish of loneliness.

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If your goal is not determined by your most secret pathos, even victory will only make you painfully aware of your own weakness.

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Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one fear is possible—not to have run away.

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We carry our nemesis within us: yesterday’s self-admiration is the legitimate father of today’s feeling of guilt.

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Your cravings as a human animal do not become a prayer just because it is God whom you ask to attend to them.

Selections from “Vägmarken” by Dag Hammarskjold (trans. W.H. Auden & L. Sjoberg), Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage Spiritual Classics

+ 2049hrs

Skepticism

[ now playing? ] Robyn – Body Talk, pt. 2 | Agnes – Dance Love Pop [Australian Deluxe Edition] | Leonard Bernstein – Mass [CHANDOS CHSA 5070(2)]

[ now reading? ] Addison Hodges Hart – Knowing Darkness: On Skepticism, Melancholy, Friendship, and God (2009: Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans)

I picked the book linked up above in the remainders bin at Koorong Springwood a few months ago in the midst of a serious moment of despair; discounted by from A$20.95 to A$10. Yet another solid book that gets shafted to the remainder bin while all the big names get primo shelf space and promotion. I’ve waited until I’ve been of sounder mind before I began reading it.

I know the author’s name given that he is one of the contributing editors of Touchstone magazine (a periodical that I’ve been subscribed to for the last couple of years). The articles he has written have always been thought provoking and challenging so I kinda had an idea of what I could be in for with this book. I’ve started reading it now and I have to say that it is one of the most accessible books on a topic that too often is blithely dismissed in churches, fellowship groups and even the Christian publishing world. And by dismissed, I mean thrown away with facile, one-dimensional “answers” that more often than not exacerbate the initial malaise that one in the grasp of despair feels into something far worse.

What I have read so far is solid and biblical. Fr. Addison writes with with a warm, irenic voice with wit and dry humor that makes this book very readable.

Here are a few of the nuggets of wisdom in here deals with the place of skepticism in a Christian’s life:

… skepticism is wrongly considered to be synonymous with “doubt,” akin to blasphemy, and a singularly unhealthy frame of mind to bring along with one to church. Some might very well think it best to leave skepticism outside the door and proceed docilely and brainlessly to one’s pew, but in fact skepticism has every good reason to be in church. … It possesses a place of distinction as a laudable quality which keeps religion honest, obliging us to have our eyes open and our brains functioning, making sure that good sense isn’t stifled by claptrap, status, fakery, and mummery. …

The true skeptic is someone with faith at his core, or perhaps the person with authentic faith is a skeptic at his core; because otherwise he will be a stooge, a patsy, a “good soldier,” or else a nihilist and a mental black hole. … Skepticism is the intellectual correlate of melancholy: a direct consequence of distress or dissatisfaction. It is the form intelligence takes when it has been egged on to scrutinize things more sharply and critically. In the Christian context, this has usually meant an increasing avoidance of accepting the neat packages provided by unthinking biblicism, dogmatism, traditionalism (not to be confused with tradition — a point made by the late historian of theology Jaroslav Pelikan when he defined tradition as “the living faith of the dead,” and traditionalism as “the dying faith of the living”), moralism (not to be confused with morality), or so-called liberalism. … There’s a genuine place in the household of faith for the work of skepticism. It eliminates, or at least reduces, the excesses and potential nonsense of religion.

Skepticism within the context of Christian belief is, I think, a good thing. It is firmly rooted in a Hebrew concept of faith, one that instinctively distrusts human reason, recognizing its fallibilities and limitations, but embraces relational trust (the true meaning of “faith”) in a self-revealing and self-interpreting God. It is a faith open to questioning God, examining his ways, complaining to him, and even expressing exasperation and impatience at his silence. It is a faith that admits sorrow and sadness and mental darkness, one that places melancholy before God in a place of legitimacy, as well as a sense of humor. It allows that anger at God can be expressed without blasphemy, that a man may have honest reason to demand, with Abraham, justice from his Creator: “Shall not the Judge of the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) … Such a faith embraces the best aspects of conventional piety and yet goes beyond its limitations. In modern jargon, it “thinks outside the box.” More to the point, this is the kind of faith we find in the Bible itself.

I’m looking forward to continuing on reading from chapter 3 to the end. While it is a small book at 136 pages in length, from where I sit now, this should be essential reading (along with St. Aelred of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship) for anyone who has felt ashamed at questioning God. That we are “impolite” before God if we do so. For those who have thought that our God cannot handle our rage, anger and impetuousness that we, as believers, “shouldn’t have”. That very same God, our Creator, knows us best. As Fr. Addison puts it, “He can take it.”  At the very least, our piety will not be a mere construct of what and how we think we should act towards God. It will be free and honest, just as God was free and honest with us when he convicted us of who we really are. I’ll take that over a half-assed polite piety anyday.

+ 2105hrs

Coincidence maybe?

[ now playing? ] Emilíana Torrini – Me & Armini | Sally Seltmann – Heart Still Pounding

Some days I head to Mass at lunchtime entirely unplanned. That is, I think that I’m going to be busy through that time period when Mass is on and then my schedule at work clears up. So I end up being able to go to Mass after all.

And I don’t know how many times it is now that this happens, but when a short homily is preached, more often than not, it is on something that is directly pertinent to what is going on in my life at that time.

So when Rev. Hynd (or Mother Pam if one wants to get narky) preached today on the lectionary’s Gospel text, it was as if the Lord was speaking directly to me. Deo gratias. This has happened too often over the last 3 years for it to be mere coincidence. Honestly. And just to clarify: No, I do not plan my lunchtime mass attendance by looking at what lectionary readings are assigned for that day.

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On a weird note, I’m cracking out my books on exorcism again. I remember seeing one particular book called The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio in Kinokuniya Ngee Ann City earlier this year. It was something like SGD$35 for a hardback or SGD$24 for the paperback. I had luggage weight issues at the time: my stockup on shirts from Uniqlo and taking back some of my grandfather’s earthly possessions from Malaysia left me with little room for much else. So I was pleasantly surprised to find it on a book remainder table for A$7.95 here in Brisbane not that long ago.

Then again, why shouldn’t I be really surprised? It’s a freaking book on exorcism and the training a Catholic priest undergoes once he has been appointed by his bishop as an official exorcist of his diocese. Not exactly something that most people would consider light reading, nor even something that is could conceivably be the basis of a non-fiction book.

Not quite as full on accounts as Fr. Malachi Martin’s Hostage To The Devil, but this one is more pastoral and memoir-like. Much easier to read. Though still not as good (if you can call such a book on this topic that) as Fr. Gabriele Amorth’s books (An Exorcist Tells his Story and An Exorcist: More Stories) and a book by David M. Kiely and Christina McKenna called The Dark Sacrament that I read a couple of years ago after I picked it up from Dymocks (and now a paperback copy is available as a book remainder for A$7.95 at the BookStars clearance centre at Macarthur Central).

But to continue on with the weird theme, the last few weeks have seen me be on “strange evil around me alert” more often than usual (y’all don’t laugh now, y’hear). All I’ll ask of you dear readers is: pray for me.

+ Vade retro satana / + Numquam suade mihi vana
+ Sunt mala quae libas / + Ipse venena bibas

+ 2126hrs

Happiness

Yes.

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations is back on the air again. Well, season 7 is on the Travel Channel at least.

Sucks to have to be at work when it’s usually screening on Discovery Travel & Living Australia/NZ (channel 646 on AUSTAR & FOXTEL). But there are ways around that little obstacle of screening time…

Incidentally, Bourdain’s new book Medium Raw is a riot to read. Though if you disdain profanity, look away, look away. If you do like reading little vignettes about the food and restaurant industry, then this is the book for you. The same if you have read his two previous foodie memoirs, Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour, you’ll probably like (if not love) this one too.

Watching Bourdain is so much better than watching Masterchef Australia. Unfortunately, I have to suffer through it (and miss Spicks & Specks on ABC) because my parents watch it almost every damn night of the week. And on Masterchef Australia, give me the original UK version anyday (on Lifestyle Food). Heck, even dad, who watches the Australian version, still prefers the UK version.

Time to watch more Bourdain before heading to sleep tonight.

2213hrs