Thursday, April 24, 2014

Careers for Bookworms and Other Literary Types

I was browsing the career section of my local library the other day and came across this gem of a book: Careers for Bookworms & Other Literary Types, Fourth Edition (McGraw-Hill Careers for You). As a dedicated bookworm, how could I resist checking it out? Authors Marjorie Eberts and Margaret Gisler provide an astounding number of careers that might appeal to those who love to read, from the expected, such as a librarian or book reviewer, to ones people might not ever have considered, such as becoming an indexer or doing government research. They also include interviews with various individuals about how they got their jobs and how they find them interesting. If you are a bookworm, there is certain to be a job (most likely more than one!) in here that will appeal to you! It would be a great book to give to a young person who loves to read, but is unsure what to do with his or her life.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What is Catholic Fiction/Poetry?

What makes a piece of writing "Catholic?" It is an ongoing debate and one which I freely admit I don't have the definitive answer to. I was recently sent a copy of St. Peter's B-list: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints to review. It is a collection of poems inspired by the saints. Compiled by Dr. Mary Ann Buddenberg Miller, a professor of English at Caldwell College, the book adds to that debate.

Her criteria for including poetry in this book is "that the content of these poems contains a basic underlying assumption that is essentially Catholic: the voices in these poems reflect belief in and hope for, often in spite of themselves, eventual union with God. . . Catholic poems, as well as Catholic novels, remind us of our need for Christ, regardless of whether the poems themselves explicitly profess this concept in their poems."

I have no place judging poetry. I always did poorly in literature classes because I don't "get" multi-layered symbolism. I can get one level of symbolism - that's about it. I enjoy a good story/image that I don't have to work too hard to understand. Most of the poems in St. Peter's B-List are beyond my intellectual ability, but I admire the courage and innovation it took to compile this collection. It is a valuable addition to the conversation of what it means to be a Catholic writer.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Novel Thoughts - Blog on Ignatius Press

Interested in Catholic Fiction? Ignatius Press has a blog called Novel Thoughts on their website. I recently discovered it and think it is well worth following.

Cemetery Mystery Explorations

Nearly two years ago, I came across this stone in the St. Rose Cemetery in Chicopee, MA. I blogged about it here: and resolved that someday I would find out more about it. I then ordered some photos through the mail and ended up getting 300 copies of this photo by mistake: which truly cemented the need to find out more. I've had some "extra" time on my hands recently and was able to make good on that promise.

I contacted the parish affiliated with the cemetery and a very helpful woman dug out "a book that looks like it could contain magic potions" and found the burial record. The young man buried here is Clarence Brodeur. He was buried on April 25, 1935. I was then able to look on and discover more about him and his family. (I felt a bit like I was stalking a dead man).

He was born in Webster, MA, the second of four sons of Albert and Rose (Provencal) Brodeur. At some point in the early 1920s, his family moved to Chicopee. His mother died before 1930 at which point, according to the census, Albert was married to Emma Berneche, with whom he would have two more children. I was able to find the address of the home he was living in when he died, which is one I have driven by often in my life.

I tried to find his obituary and even contacted the archivist at the Holyoke Public Library (the city where he died), but there was none to be found. It was in the midst of the Depression and it seems that this family was very poor. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that this stone was made by his older brother, Albert (a.k.a. Telephore). Albert died in 2000 and was a long-time member of the parish I grew up in. I did not know him, but it is certainly possible that I saw him many times in my life.

And so, I guess the road ends there. I requested to have a Mass said for Clarence at my parish. Maybe that's what he needed - someone to pray for him. I honestly don't know, but I hope that someday, in heaven, I get to meet him and find out the story behind that smiley face on his tombstone! 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Love Letter to the Letter

Letters have the power to grant us a larger life. They reveal motivation and deepen understanding. They are evidential. They change lives, and they rewrite history. . . 

This is a book about a world without letters, or at least this possibility. It is a book about what we have lost by replacing letters with email – the post, the envelope, a pen, a slower cerebral whirring, the use of the whole of our hands and not just the tips of our fingers. It is a celebration of what has gone before, and the value we place on literacy, good thinking, and thinking ahead. 

Thus writes Simon Garfield in his latest work, To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing. Garfield takes on an ambitious task: to chronicle the history of the letter. Any such undertaking will automatically fall short – there are simply too many letters in the world. Much of the history of civilizations is held in epistolary form. So, Garfield offers highlights, including letters from such notables as Pliny, Henry VIII, Napoleon, Jane Austen, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and John Keats. He also intersperses a set of letters written during World War II by a couple of young lovers who ultimately married. Reading some of the letters included in these pages seemed downright voyeuristic. No doubt the letter writers would blush, knowing that their private correspondences had been made public. 

Garfield also traces the development of the postal service and the fate of “dead letters” as well as the business of selling letters written by famous people and the development of letter writing hand-books. At the end of the book, he explores the development of email and how it has marked the death-knell for the written letter. Perhaps even more sad, the email (which can at least resemble the letter in style and substance) is being replaced by the text and tweet. 

In many ways, To the Letter is a love letter to the letter itself. I wanted to love this book, but didn’t. Still, I admire the author’s intent and learned much in its pages. 

I’m old enough to have written actual letters – both ones in the mail and ones passed between junior high and high school classes (Do students still pass notes? Or has it all been replaced by texting?). I remember the excitement of checking the mailbox each day to see if there might be a letter for me and the pleasure of storing old love letters in a locked box to be opened and reread at will. 

Email didn’t really enter my life until my senior year of college. Truly, I love email. I love the convenience and immediacy of it. My best friend and I have remained in contact for nearly 20 years via weekly emails, and I am so thankful for that. I can’t imagine that given our busy lives, we would have found the time to have written that often long-hand. My emails retain the form of letters. An email from a friend in my inbox gives me the same pleasure a letter in the mailbox gave me as a teenager. It is a gift from someone who cares about me enough to take the time to write.

And yet, I understand the concern that we are losing our historical record in the process. I think that the greater concern is that younger people are losing the tradition of writing letters of any type. Will my sons ever write a young lady a letter explaining the depths of their love? For their sakes, and the sake of their future wives, I hope so. There are things that can be said in a letter that somehow are never said in person. 

I’m glad that I lived in a time in which people still wrote letters. I hope for humanity’s emotional well-being that people continue to do so.