New book blog

I’ll stop posting about books here.

Go now to:



The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983. p.228 (End)

This is my last post on this great book.

I have to say it was an eye opener, almost shocking, to hear this great man’s conflicting thoughts. But eye opener on the deep reality of Orthodoxy in the US.  Sounds like not much has changed since his time, unfortunately.

His constant reminder that the deep characteristic of the Church should be JOY, the Joy of the Kingdom, was refreshing, and highlighting what it should be in my life and the life of the Church today.

Fascinating and very familiar to me to see how much he communed with his God more in nature than in some hyper clerical circles.

a great man!

It is sad that people do not see
what is most important,
which is not one’s occupation,
but its transformation,
its crowning in life
and in the fullness of life.
September 20, 1979

Books I read in May 2010

This past month, I read 4 books and listened to 2 audiobooks.


Katherine ELKINS, The Giants of French Literature [interestingly, this is not available on amazon right now, you have giants of Irish or Russian literature, but not French!, so this link is to a public library catalog]

I found this audiobook totally by chance: another library user had left the catalog open to this item. It sound interesting and the person had not checked it out, so I did!
It’s part of the
Modern Scholar Series, an interesting series of lectures on all kinds of topics, by excellent teachers.

This teacher focuses on Balzac, Flaubert, Proust, and Camus.
She highlights what’s specific to that author, presents some of his major works, and draws interesting parallels between these 4 novelists.
I have to say, though I read and studied most of the works presented here many years ago, these classes were better than most of the classes I received by French teachers back in France!

Madame Leon GRANDIN,
A Parisienne in Chicago: Impressions of the World’s Columbian Exposition

This book was one most fascinating. She came to spend 10 months in Chicago, as her husband was working on a big fountain for the Exposition.
She goes everywhere, looks at everything, and has funny and to the point comments between American and French life style and characters of the time. review:


“An excellent foreign traveler’s account of Chicago, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, New York City, and travel by ocean liner and train. The book provides wonderful commentary on gender relations and the contrast between Americans and the French.” –Perry Duis, author of Challenging Chicago: Coping with Everyday Life, 1837-1920

Product Description

This fascinating account of a French woman’s impressions of America in the late nineteenth century reveals an unusual cross-cultural journey through fin de siècle Paris, Chicago, and New York. Madame Leon Grandin’s travels and extended stay in Chicago in 1893 were the result of her husband’s collaboration on the fountain sculpture for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Initially impressed with the city’s fast pace and architectural grandeur, Grandin’s attentions were soon drawn to its social and cultural customs, reflected as observations in her writing.

During a ten-month interval as a resident, she was intrigued by the interactions between men and women, mothers and their children, teachers and students, and other human relationships, especially noting the comparative social freedoms of American women. After this interval of acclimatization, the young Parisian socialite had begun to view her own culture and its less liberated mores with considerable doubt. “I had tasted the fruit of independence, of intelligent activity, and was revolted at the idea of assuming once again the passive and inferior role that awaited me!” she wrote.

Grandin’s curiosity and interior access to Chicago’s social and domestic spaces produced an unusual travel narrative that goes beyond the usual tourist reactions and provides a valuable resource for readers interested in late nineteenth-century America, Chicago, and social commentary. Significantly, her feminine views on American life are in marked contrast to parallel reflections on the culture by male visitors from abroad. It is precisely the dual narrative of this text–the simultaneous recounting of a foreigner’s impressions, and the consequent questioning of her own cultural certainties–that make her book unique. This translation includes an introductory essay by Arnold Lewis that situates Grandin’s account in the larger context of European visitors to Chicago in the 1890s.

David KING,
Finding Atlantis: A True Story of Genius, Madness, and an Extraordinary Quest for a Lost World

Another very interesting book, found on the month display of weird things at my public library.

It’s the life and work of Olof Rudbeck, a Swedish genius and eccentric character. Beyond his madness, there were some interesting parallels between civilizations, and you can also see that there’s danger at trying to absolutely find what you look for, pushing things a bit too much…

From Publishers Weekly

Few lives are as sadly instructive as that of the dreamer who, by reaching for the stars, falls crashing to earth. Such is the tale of a 17th-century Swedish polymath and gifted eccentric, Olof Rudbeck. Univeristy of Kentucky historian King relates how Rudbeck, trained in his youth as physician (he discovered the lymphatic glands), mastered fields as diverse as architecture, botany, shipbuilding, etymology, musical composition and mythology, among others. It was an ancient Norse saga that set him on the path to what he believed would lead to his greatest triumph. Enchanted by circumstantial evidence and supported by his own breathtakingly inventive archeological and etymological research, Rudbeck in 1679 astonished his Uppsala University colleagues with the announcement that he had discovered Atlantis—in Old Uppsala. Fiercely disputatious and uncompromising when it came to his own genius, Rudbeck had previously poisonously offended many influential colleagues; his work was ridiculed and he died in obscurity. King is marvelous at elaborating Rudbeck’s theories and his heroic defense against charges of forgery and “foul-ugly fraud.” One wishes, however, that King had dealt definitely with the forgery charges. His trust in his own subject despite the evidence is honorable but perhaps misplaced. Still, King tells his tale with the pace and appeal of a classic whodunit. 20 b&w illus. Agent, Suzanne Gluck.(June 14) –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Center stage in this history of a history book is the rollicking, fantastical figure of Olof Rudbeck (1630-1702). After reading Rudbeck’s monumental Atlantica (1679), historian King unpacks its plausible but reckless chains of reasoning and reassembles the mass into a marvelous account of the Swedish scholar’s obsessions. Rudbeck was a professor of medicine at Uppsala University, and his restless mind seems to have seldom been idle. Rudbeck switched from physiology, in which he made his name as discoverer of the lymphatic system, to the study of the Viking sagas, just then coming to scholarly light. Connecting the sagas with the gods of Norse and Greek mythology, and with Plato’s lost continent of Atlantis, Rudbeck proposed an astounding theory: Atlantis was located in Sweden! Odd though the idea was, King explains that Rudbeck’s protomodern research methods in archaeology and etymology gained acceptance for his theory. Restoring this colorful eccentric to life, King reveals his talent for narrative flow and portraiture in a biography that will thoroughly inveigle history readers. Gilbert Taylor

Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way

This year for Great Lent, I asked my husband to pick up a book for me to read, and this is the one he chose.
It’s an excellent ook, presenting all facets of prayer, with lots of excerpts of the Fathers at the end of each section.
I loved it a lot, and copied lots of excerpts in my blog, you can find the posts in the 2 previous months.

Product Description

Saints who experience the power of prayer say it gives them wings to fly: wings of elation from being in proximity with Jesus Christ and relief from the burden of a sinful conscience. Once engulfed in the grace of the Holy Spirit, the person in prayer experiences death to sin, resurrection in the Spirit, and mystical ascension to the Father. The visible touches the Invisible, and joy wells up in the human heart. This volume evolved experientially: the fruit of fifty-five years of solitude by a contemporary desert monk besieged by prayer. Father Matta’s prayer life initially was formed under the direction of the sayings of the Russian Fathers, and later expanded under the direction of other Fathers, both Eastern and Western. He spent whole nights in prayer, reciting one or two passages from these luminaries and begging these saints to enlighten his understanding. Father Matta discloses: Whenever physical hunger turned cruel against me, I found my gratification in prayer. Whenever the biting cold of winter was unkind to me, I found my warmth in prayer. Whenever people were harsh to me (and their harshness was severe indeed) I found my comfort in prayer. In short, prayer became my food and my drink, my outfit and my armor, whether by night or by day.

About the Author

Father Matta El-Maskeen (Matthew the Poor) is a monk in the Monastery of St Macarius the Great, Wadi El-Natroun, Egypt.


Philippa GREGORY, The Constant Princess

This is my 2nd or 3rd audiobook by P. Gregory. I thought I would read the whole series, but this time I have enough.
It’s basically always the same thing, same style.
I should really always be careful with popular authors…

Here is a more positive presentation:

From Publishers Weekly

As youngest daughter to the Spanish monarchs and crusaders King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Catalina, princess of Wales and of Spain, was promised to the English Prince Arthur when she was three. She leaves Spain at 15 to fulfill her destiny as queen of England, where she finds true love with Arthur (after some initial sourness) as they plot the future of their kingdom together. Arthur dies young, however, leaving Catalina a widow and ineligible for the throne. Before his death, he extracts a promise from his wife to marry his younger brother Henry in order to become queen anyway, have children and rule as they had planned, a situation that can only be if Catalina denies that Arthur was ever her lover. Gregory’s latest (after Earthly Joys) compellingly dramatizes how Catalina uses her faith, her cunning and her utter belief in destiny to reclaim her rightful title. By alternating tight third-person narration with Catalina’s unguarded thoughts and gripping dialogue, the author presents a thorough, sympathetic portrait of her heroine and her transformation into Queen Katherine. Gregory’s skill for creating suspense pulls the reader along despite the historical novel’s foregone conclusion.

Sharan NEWMAN,  The Devil’s Door

Here is another series I started some time ago.
Also historical novel, this time on the Middle Ages, but at such a better level than Gregory’s books.
Sharan, whom I met at Kalamazoo Medieval International Conference, does really her homework about theological debates of the time.

I was very disappointed when I finished the last book in the Brother Cadfael series, but this one is a very good replacement, with Sr Catherine.

From Publishers Weekly

Countess Alys of Tonnerre, victim of a brutal beating, is barely alive when her husband Raynald brings her to the Abbess Heloise at the convent of the Paraclete in medieval France. Young Catherine LeVendeur, who helps care for Alys, is disturbed by scars that attest to the woman’s prior mistreatment. Upon the Countess’s death, the Paraclete inherits a small piece of unimpressive land, which sets off a furor: Raynald claims the convent stole the property, and the prior of a nearby monastery makes a handsome offer for it. Catherine maintains her intense curiosity about Alys’s unhappy end even through the arrival of her betrothed, Edgar of Wedderlie, with Peter Abelard; after Catherine and Edgar’s wedding, the pair travel to Troyes and, at Heloise’s request, search for information on the mysterious bequest. Catherine soons stumbles on another mystery: the discovery of a headless corpse that may ignite the anti-Semitism that is running high during this Easter season of A.D. 1140. With this meticulously prepared work, Newman ( Death Comes as Epiph any ) adroitly crafts a puzzle in which the intriguing medieval material, providing much more than mere background, informs the entire novel with a vivid sense of past and guides the responses of the engaging, lively cast.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Fresh from her sleuthing in Death Comes As Epiphany (1993), 12th-century novice nun Catherine LeVendeur will leave the convent of Abbess H‚lo‹se and marry Edgar, student of the now frail Peter Abelard. The pair will take on dangers with derring-do to solve the curious murder of a young countess named Alys, whose death has something to do with property bequeathed to the convent and the tangled fortunes of a particularly nasty family. Among the puzzlements: Alys’s sister, a silent nun presumed dead to the world, and her bitter secret; the death and dismemberment of a mild gossip; an assault on a convent nun; the tangled motives of the dead countess’s horrid mother, who has lethal plans for snooping Catherine. Throughout, there are congenial chats with kin, the like-minded, and the high-minded. Catherine’s father, a “Jewish apostate,” has ongoing problems, as does the beleaguered Abelard, headed for condemnation by the Council of Sens. With richly satisfying settings, this smooth mystery is tight as a tambour. Top-notch sleuthing, classy with Latin saws and observations.

Books I read in April 2010

In April, I read only 3 books, but one them was 22 CDs long…


I finally read Foulcault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Ecco.
This guys know how to write. It was helpful though to know some Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and a few other things. Sometimes it was kind of reading Ulysses.
here is a review posted on amazon:

Student of philology in 1970s Milan, Casaubon is completing a thesis on the Templars, a monastic knighthood disbanded in the 1300s for questionable practices. At Pilades Bar, he meets up with Jacopo Belbo, an editor of obscure texts at Garamond Press. Together with Belbo’s colleague Diotallevi, they scrutinize the fantastic theories of a prospective author, Colonel Ardenti, who claims that for seven centuries the Templars have been carrying out a complex scheme of revenge. When Ardenti disappears mysteriously, the three begin using their detailed knowledge of the occult sciences to construct a Plan for the Templars[…] In his compulsively readable new novel, Eco plays with “the notion that everything might be mysteriously related to everything else,” suggesting that we ourselves create the connections that make up reality. As in his best-selling The Name of the Rose, he relies on abstruse reasoning without losing the reader, for he knows how to use “the polyphony of ideas” as much for effect as for content. Indeed, with its investigation of the ever-popular occult, this highly entertaining novel should be every bit as successful as its predecessor. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/89. — Barbara Hoffert, “Library Journal”

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
I actually listened to it, 22 CDs, not boring one second.
She writes so well, and have you travel all over the world, in time and space. fascinating, very well researched.
I rigth away read her other available novel in English, see in the upcoming post of books read in May.

Here is an excerpt of a review posted on amazon. I don’t think any of their reviews really honor this book enough though.

The marketing campaign is underway and Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is already being hyped as the “Dracula Code” or some similar slogan. I disagree with that approach, not just because they are quite different in more ways than just storyline, but because “The Da Vinci Code” was a good thriller with elements of history mixed in, but it is not even in the same league with this book.

“The Historian” is an epic work of historical fiction that sweeps across Europe during the four decades between 1930 and the mid 1970s. It just also happens to involve the Dracula myth and a good dose of suspense. Now, some people may object to me calling this novel a work of historical fiction because it is mostly fiction and contains very few real characters. That is true, but Kostova does such an amazing job of making the Dracula myths come alive that you can’t help feeling that the legends and the story are real. Her research is stunning in its attention to detail and the wide range of topics Kostova must’ve studied. A previous reviewer slightly criticizes Kostova for spending too many pages describing the pilgrimage routes of monks hundreds of years ago. While sections like that do slow down the pace of the novel somewhat, they don’t distract from it.


Now, I start hearing so much about 2012 that I wanted to read something about it, to have an idea what this Mayan calendar was about.
So I read:

The Everything Guide to 2012, by Mark Heley
I think the author does a great job of presenting things impartially, at all levels, and telling you when some ideas are honestly gooffy.
The Mayan calendar explanation was inofrmative, but that was not at all the scary part of the book, rather it’s all the more natural events in our planet system, current and supposedly upcoming. Not to read if you are depressed!

Here is amazon presentation:

The winter solstice in 2012 is the end of the current Mayan calendar cycle. There are lots of theories about what will happen on this date. Will all life on Earth end? Will humans reach a higher spiritual plane? Will visitors from another planet arrive? Noted Mayan expert Mark Heley leads you through all the theories and debates surrounding this mysterious event. He takes a reasoned approach to the subject, relying on astronomy and climate changes, rather than myths and stories.

This book features fascinating information, including:

  • The Mayan cyclical view of time
  • Modern interpretations of prophecies and predictions of rapid change
  • Galactic alignment and Mayan theories on the origin of the universe
  • Earth changes, the fall of civilizations, and apocalyptic theories

You will learn about the possible cultural and social impacts of the predicted events. The author also shares his ideas on what life might be like around and after 12/21/2012. This guide also includes an easy-to-use Mayan calendar date conversion chart. With this chart, you can use the calendar as a personal predictive and astrological tool as you prepare for the quickly approaching date.

About the Author

Mark Heley (Glastonbury, England) has been a pioneering researcher of Mayan culture and the theories surrounding 2012 for nearly a decade. He is the producer and director of the 2012 documentary called Frequency Shift and has spoken at events and conferences across the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe, and the United States on the subject. He has been a professional journalist for twenty years and has an honors degree in philosophy from Cambridge University.


Books I read in March 2010

 6 books this month, but only 1 novel – I guess that’s good for Lent. I’ve been actually listening to a novel as audiobook, but am not done yet – see next month, it’s a very long one: 22 CDs


Paolo Giordano, The Solitude of Prime Numbers

I kept reading about this European best-seller, which has hard time having the same success over here apparently. Very good for a first writer I believe. Interesting perspective on the solitude and brokenness of human nature.

Giordano’s deeply touching debut novel immediately thrusts the reader into the lives of two individuals, at the moment when each of their young lives takes a sharp turn toward painful solitude: Alice has been crippled in a childhood skiing accident, Mattia is consumed by guilt after playing an unintended but key role in his twin sister’s disappearance. Upon meeting in their early teens, they develop a frequently uncomfortable yet enveloping friendship. What follows is a beautiful and affecting account of the ways in which seemingly inconsequential decisions reverberate so intensely as to change a life forever. Translated from the Italian, this is a book about communication: in lacking a facility for self-expression, our stunted protagonists exist almost solely, and safely, in their own minds. Despite its heavy subject matter, it reads easily, due in part to the almost seamless translation. A quietly explosive ending completes the novel in just the fashion it was started, as an intimate psychological portrait of two “prime numbers”—together alone and alone together. –Annie Bostrom


Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language

Interesting point: I was lead to this book through a comment read on Facebook. A friend of one of my friends has always posts in all kinds of languages, some I speak myself. So we ended up being friends. She has a vast culture. She commented on this book once, and I was not disappointed reading it. Eco at his best, with fascinating stuff about the search for Adam’s possible language – didn’t he name the animals? Also on issues related to Babel – there was already a diversity of languages BEFORE Babel, according to the Bible, so what? And all kinds of intriguing and crazy inventions of languages that could work for everyone everywhere…well, almost.

So yes, Facebook can ALSO be used as a window opening on culture, all depends how you use it.

Here is what you can read on amazon, minus the 1st sentence which is wrong and makes us wonder if they really reads the book before posting this review…:

In this erudite study, which will be heavy going for most readers, famed Italian novelist and linguist Eco mines a wealth of esoteric lore as he investigates a neglected chapter in the history of ideas. He begins with Dante’s proposal for a universal vernacular in place of Latin, and Catalan friar Raymond Lull’s combinatorial system of letters and symbols designed to explore metaphysical connections. He goes on to examine the Kabbalistic search for hidden messages in sacred Hebrew texts, the Rosicrucian society’s symbolic writing in 17th-century Germany and French Enlightenment thinkers’ invention of philosophical languages organized around fundamental categories of knowledge. He also surveys the search for a primordial language assumed by Augustine to be Hebrew and by later mother tongue-seekers to be Aramaic or various other languages.

Marilyn Johnson, The Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

Working in a library, helping dozens of people every day on the computers there, and having participated in the Strategic Plan of our Library to gear more deeply towards the technological era in libraries, I had to read this. Really good and funny, sounds so familiar. Very well documented on library blogs and the like.

Contemporary librarians are morphing into undisputed masters of the information cosmos. An Internet-savvy, database-crunching cohort of multimedia manipulators passionately dedicated to empowering the data-deprived, they democratically distribute all the fruits of the emerging hypertext universe. Johnson’s paean to this new generation of librarians demolishes superannuated myths and stereotypes of fusty librarians filing catalog cards and collecting fines for overdue books, and replaces that with a vision of the profession’s future where librarians serve as guardians and guides to information in cyberspace. These rock-star librarians maneuver their way through a labyrinthine network of glowing computer-terminal screens to retrieve whatever answers patrons may seek. If that’s not high calling enough, librarians stand tall as superhero sentinels bravely beating back every assault on civil liberties and Constitutional government. Johnson offers portraits of American librarians, both institutional and freelance, already achieving fame as cybrarians and informationists, and she affirms and celebrates their conquests. Take that, Nicholson Baker! –Mark Knoblauch

Russell Martin, Beethoven’s Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved

This book was recommended by a friend we met through our neighbors: you never know how you are going to find the next good read!

Through a little locket of Beethoven’s Hair, you’ll know what he was suffering of and died of, but this book is also so much more: because of the long journey of that locket in WWII, you will find yourself in that context, amidst fleeing Jews, of course also in the society of the great musical geniuses of the time, and much more! Very interesting at many levels. The only reproach I have for this book: the flashback technique: I think the journey was in itself complex enough the author didn’t need to use that genre, that makes it almost confusing at times. Sometimes I wonder why so many writers use this genre these days: it just doesn’t work well for everything.

A well-publicized 1994 Sotheby’s auction listed, among other musical artifacts and ephemera on the block, a lock of Beethoven’s hair. The high-bidders of the hair, two Beethoven enthusiasts, were easy enough to identify by their oddball names: one was a doctor named Che Guevara, the other a retired real estate developer named Ira Brilliant. But the real story, as author Russell Martin attempts to explain in this book, is how did the lock end up on the auction block? More important, can we learn anything from a 175-year-old snippet of hair? Somehow, author Russell Martin attempts to weave biographical information about Beethoven’s life with scientific findings about his hair (the two buyers had the lock DNA-tested), as well as trace the path the hair took, from the great composer’s head right into the present.

It’s a tall order and one at which Martin partially succeeds. His facts about Beethoven and Ferdinand Hiller (the original keeper of the lock) are solid, but he hypothesizes at length about how the hair ended up in a small port town in Denmark during the Nazi occupation. Likewise, he spends nearly the entire second half of the book describing the lives of Guevara and Brilliant, occasionally sounding more like a press agent than a journalist. Subtitled “An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Musical Mystery Solved,” Beethoven’s Hair doesn’t truly solve any musical mysteries, but it is a fascinating, original read for Beethoven-philes who want to learn a little bit more about their favorite composer. –Jason Verlinde

Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence

We won this book at a bingo game !! How à propos for a French lady… This book is sooo funny, and so right on the mark. Though I never lived in Provence, I could identify with everything, including recognizing the special characters in my little village. It’s even more funny if you speak French, as the author uses some French for jokes and remarks. Good relaxing book by a British lover of France. This book has been made into 4 movies, one for each season, but you lose a lot of course from the book.

Who hasn’t dreamed, on a mundane Monday or frowzy Friday, of chucking it all in and packing off to the south of France? Provençal cookbooks and guidebooks entice with provocatively fresh salads and azure skies, but is it really all Côtes-du-Rhône and fleur-de-lis? Author Peter Mayle answers that question with wit, warmth, and wicked candor in A Year in Provence, the chronicle of his own foray into Provençal domesticity.

Beginning, appropriately enough, on New Year’s Day with a divine luncheon in a quaint restaurant, Mayle sets the scene and pits his British sensibilities against it. “We had talked about it during the long gray winters and the damp green summers,” he writes, “looked with an addict’s longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards, dreamed of being woken up by the sun slanting through the bedroom window.” He describes in loving detail the charming, 200-year-old farmhouse at the base of the Lubéron Mountains, its thick stone walls and well-tended vines, its wine cave and wells, its shade trees and swimming pool–its lack of central heating. Indeed, not 10 pages into the book, reality comes crashing into conflict with the idyll when the Mistral, that frigid wind that ravages the Rhône valley in winter, cracks the pipes, rips tiles from the roof, and tears a window from its hinges. And that’s just January.

In prose that skips along lightly, Mayle records the highlights of each month, from the aberration of snow in February and the algae-filled swimming pool of March through the tourist invasions and unpredictable renovations of the summer months to a quiet Christmas alone. Throughout the book, he paints colorful portraits of his neighbors, the Provençaux grocers and butchers and farmers who amuse, confuse, and befuddle him at every turn. A Year in Provence is part memoir, part homeowner’s manual, part travelogue, and all charming fun. –L.A. Smith

Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha

I read this book 6 years ago, and I believe another time way back in French, but that was good reading t again, now that I am at last Orthodox myself. The author helps us live Lent deeply, through a real dive in liturgy and its real meaning, and doesn’t mince his words when criticizing those who remain at the superficial level of Orthodoxy. Indeed I’m sad myself when I see how much they miss of the treasure we have in Orthodoxy. His Appendix on Communion is very enlightening.

This revised edition of Father Alexander Schmemann’s Lenten classic examines the meaning of Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, the Canon of St Andrew of Crete and other neglected or misunderstood treasures of Lenten worship. Schmemann draws on the Church’s sacramental and liturgical tradition to suggest the meaning of Lent in our life. The Lenten season is meant to kindle a ‘bright sadness’ within our hearts. Its aim is precisely the remembrance of Christ, a longing for a relationship with God that has been lost. Lent offers the time and place for recovery of this relationship. The darkness of Lent allows the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn within our hearts until we are led to the brilliance of the Resurrection.

About the Author

One of the foremost Orthodox Christian theologians of the twentieth century, Fr Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983)was a renowned preacher to the East through his Radio Liberty broadcasts to Soviet Russia; and a priest to the West and Professor of Liturgics and Dean at St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, NY. Known primarily for his eucharistic centered theology, Fr Alexander was named by Skylight Publishing as one of the ‘Spiritual Inovators: Seventy-Five Extraordinary People Who Changed the World in the Past Century.

Books I read in February 2010

 5 books read in February, 3 non-fiction, 2 fiction


Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

 “A collection of meditations like polished stones–painstakingly worded, tough-minded, yet partial to mystery, and peerless when it comes to injecting larger resonances into the natural world.” — –Kirkus Reviews

“Teaching a Stone to Talk is superb. As with the flying fish, Annie Dillard doesn’t do it often, but when she does she silver-streaks out of the blue and archingly transcends all other writers of our day in all the simple, intimate, and beautiful ways of the natural master.” — — R. Buckminster Fuller

“The natural world is ignited by her prose and we see the world as an incandescent metaphor of the spirit…Few writers evoke better than she the emotion of awe, and few have ever conveyed more graphically the weight of silence, the force of the immaterial.” — — Robert Taylor, Boston Globe

“This little book is haloed and informed throughout by Dillard’s distinctive passion and intensity, a sort of intellectual radiance that reminds me both Thoreau and Emily Dickinson.” — — Edward Abbey, Chicago Sun-Times

Here, in this compelling assembly of writings, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard explores the world of natural facts and human meanings.

I had not read that classic yet. Very good, very poetic, deep, prompts reflection. Gives me the desire to read more by her.


Noel Riley Fitch, Appetite for Life: Biography of  Julia Child

Noel Riley Fitch’s savory new biography, Appetite for Life, reveals a woman as appealing as the good food and serious cooking she popularized. As a California girl and Smith College undergraduate, Fitch writes, Julia McWilliams was notable for her high spirits and voracious appetite. Performing intelligence work in Asia during World War II, she met Paul Child, and their marriage of mutual devotion and affection endured until his death in 1994. His postwar assignment took them to France, where she discovered her true calling.Fitch reminds us that Child championed fresh ingredients at a time when frozen foods and TV dinners dominated American supermarket shelves, and that she demystified haute cuisine with her earthy humor and casual attitude toward mistakes. This affectionate portrait of the remarkable Julia Child reflects her fervent belief that the pleasures of the table are a natural accompaniment to the pleasures of life.

Well, it all started when a friend posted on her Facebook wall that she wanted to watch Julie and Julia. I joined her to watch it at some common friends. I enjoyed VERY much that movie, and after I checked out books by Julia and started following some delicious recipes. My husband then had the great idea to check out this FANTASTIC book on her life. what a woman! and so wild as a kid! excellent book, with all the background of what she changed in the American relation to food. Well, it didn’t end up here for me: I just received the 2 volumes of Mastering the Art of French cooking for my upcoming birthday!

Randal Stross, Planet Google: One Company’s Audacious Plan to Organize Everything We Know

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this spellbinding behind-the-scenes look at Google, New York Times columnist Stross (The Microsoft Way) provides an intimate portrait of the company’s massively ambitious aim to organize the world’s information. Drawing on extensive interviews with top management and his astonishingly open access to the famed Googleplex, Stross leads readers through Google’s evolution from its humble beginnings as the decidedly nonbusiness-oriented brainchild of Stanford Ph.D. students Sergey Brin and Larry Page, through the company’s early growing pains and multiple acquisitions, on to its current position as global digital behemoth. Tech lovers will devour the pages of discussion about the Algorithm; business folk will enjoy the accounts of how company after company, including Microsoft and Yahoo, underestimated Google’s technology, advertising model and ability to solve problems like scanning library collections; and general readers will find the sheer scale and scope of Google’s progress in just a decade astounding. The unfolding narrative of Google’s journey reads like a suspense novel. Brin, Page and CEO Eric [Schmidt] battle competitors and struggle to emerge victorious in their quest to index all the information in the world. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

I enjoyed this audiobook, explaining all the intricacies of google


Maggie Anton, Rashi’s Daughters, Book II: Miriam: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France

The engrossing historical series of three sisters in eleventh-century France continues with the tale of Miriam, the lively and daring middle child of Salomon Ben Isaac, today known as “Rashi”. Having no sons, he continues to teach his daughters the intricacies of the Talmud in an era when educating women in Jewish scholarship was unheard of.
Miriam, emboldened by her knowledge and mourning the death of her betrothed, is determined to become not only the community’s midwife, but also their mohel–performing circumcisions. As devoted as she is to her chosen path, she cannot foresee the ways in which she will be tested and how heavily she will need to rely on her faith. And when a shadowy new suitor arrives in Troyes, an exceptionally learned and handsome young scholar who struggles with a secret that, if revealed, would expose them both to ruin. Somehow the formidable and independent Miriam must decide if they can forge a life together.

Author Maggie Anton brings the 11th century to vivid life with MIRIAM, which poignantly captures the struggles and triumphs of this strong Jewish woman.

I enjoy Maggie Anton’s books, though this second volume had less interesting passages on the Talmud than the first volume, and a bit too much on issues related to sexuality in the Medieval Jewish world> I hope I won’t be disappointed by the last volume.


Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

From Publishers Weekly

Atwood has visited the future before, in her dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. In her latest, the future is even bleaker. The triple whammy of runaway social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event. As Jimmy, apparently the last human being on earth, makes his way back to the RejoovenEsencecompound for supplies, the reader is transported backwards toward that cataclysmic event, its full dimensions gradually revealed. Jimmy grew up in a world split between corporate compounds (gated communities metastasized into city-states) and pleeblands (unsafe, populous and polluted urban centers). His best friend was “Crake,” the name originally his handle in an interactive Net game, Extinctathon. Even Jimmy’s mother-who ran off and joined an ecology guerrilla group when Jimmy was an adolescent-respected Crake, already a budding genius. The two friends first encountered Oryx on the Net; she was the eight-year-old star of a pedophilic film on a site called HottTotts. Oryx’s story is a counterpoint to Jimmy and Crake’s affluent adolescence. She was sold by her Southeast Asian parents, taken to the city and eventually made into a sex “pixie” in some distant country. Jimmy meets Oryx much later-after college, after Crake gets Jimmy a job with ReJoovenEsence. Crake is designing the Crakers-a new, multicolored placid race of human beings, smelling vaguely of citron. He’s procured Oryx to be his personal assistant. She teaches the Crakers how to cope in the world and goes out on secret missions. The mystery on which this riveting, disturbing tale hinges is how Crake and Oryx and civilization vanished, and how Jimmy-who also calls himself “the Snowman,” after that other rare, hunted specimen, the Abominable Snowman-survived. Chesterton once wrote of the “thousand romances that lie secreted in The Origin of Species.” Atwood has extracted one of the most hair-raising of them, and one of the most brilliant.

This sounded to me like Margaret Atwood at her scariest. It was an audiobook, and even the reader’s voice was creepy. I enjoy her books very much but at the same time wonder if I should go on reading her – so bleak and scary stuff

Books I read in January 2010

Starting 2010 at a good pace: 6 books read in January, 5 non-fiction and 1 fiction.


Robert Darnton, The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future

From The Washington Post’s Book World/ Reviewed by Dennis Drabelle This book distills Robert Darnton’s years of musing — as a historian, university professor and librarian — on the history and future of the book, whether printed or electronic. Though he is an unabashed partisan of books as they have existed since the codex replaced the scroll about 1,700 years ago, Darnton sees at least one ideal use for electronic publishing: to make widely available the results of scholarly research, with hyperlinks to the research itself where possible. “Any historian who has done long stints of research,” Darnton writes, “knows the frustration over his inability to communicate the fathomlessness of the archives and the bottomlessness of the past.” Cyberspace is the perfect solution, a medium in which such complexities can be not only suggested but also explored via links for the curious. At the end of this chapter (“E-Books and Old Books”), the director of the Harvard University Library makes clear how he thinks e-books will be classed: “as a supplement to, not a substitute for, Gutenberg’s great machine.” Darnton is alarmed about another aspect of publishing: the loss of old newspapers in their physical form, a state of affairs that Nicholson Baker has also lamented. Both writers are incensed by the way in which some libraries toss out archived newspapers (and many other items) without alerting the public. Darnton would change this, requiring “libraries that receive public money” to publish lists of their prospective throwaways, and he urges “libraries around the country [to] begin to save the country’s current newspaper output in bound form.”

good stuff, especially the first essays on the future. great balance between books in digital forms and tradicitonal shape

Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave–“Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”–wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

I finally read this book, now a classic. i was actually happily surprised and found it quite good, in its emphasis on some core values.

Archimandrite Sophrony, We Shall See Him As He Is
Now at the close of my life I have decided to talk to my brethren of things I would not have ventured to utter earlier, counting it unseemly…. Thus wrote Archimandrite Sophrony, then ninety-two years old, in We Shall See Him as He Is, his spiritual autobiography. In this book Fr. Sophrony, one of the most beloved orthodox Christian elders of our times, revealed to the world his own experience of union with God, and the path to that union. drawing near to God with intense love and longing accompanied by struggle, self-emptying and searing repentance, Fr. Sophrony was granted to participate in the life of God Himself through His uncreated Energies. Like orthodox saints throughout the centuries, he experienced God s grace as an ineffable, uncreated Light. It was in this Light that Christ was transfigured on Mount Tabor before His Apostles, and it is in this Light that we shall see Him as He is (I John 3:2). Born into a russian orthodox family in Moscow in 1896, Archimandrite Sophrony embarked on a successful career as a painter in Paris. There he delved into Eastern religions for a time, before repenting bitterly of this and returning to the faith of his childhood. After a brief period of theological study in Paris, he left for the ancient orthodox monastic republic of Mount Athos in Greece, where he spent fifteen years in a monastery and a further seven as a hermit in the desert. on Mount Athos he became the spiritual son of a simple monk of holy life, Elder Silouan. It was under the guidance of Saint Silouan that Fr. Sophrony experienced divine illumination, knowing God intimately as Personal Absolute as the one Who revealed Himself to the Prophet Moses as I AM and Who became incarnate as man in Jesus Christ. In 1959, Fr. Sophrony founded the Monastic Community of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England, which has since become a major orthodox spiritual center for all of Western Europe. Elder Sophrony reposed in 1993, at the age of 97.
Very deep autobiography touching to many essential Orthodox themes. I loved very much the chapter on LIGHT. This is a book with which you can meditate, or share with others.
Allan Smith, The Volokolamsk Paterikon
Funny, Amazon didn’t even manage to type the title correctly!!
This is the first time this Paterikon is translated and published in English. It is accompanied with many notes and explanations about the historical and political context, quite complex.
I am not familiar with the source language of the Paterikon, but the translation does not flow well. too bad.
Bruce Wilkinsen, The Dream Giver

Bestselling author Bruce Wilkinson shows how to identify and overcome the obstacles that keep millions from living the life they were created for. He begins with a compelling modern-day parable about Ordinary, who dares to leave the Land of Familiar to pursue his Big Dream. With the help of the Dream Giver, Ordinary begins the hardest and most rewarding journey of his life. Wilkinson gives readers practical, biblical keys to fulfilling their own dream, revealing that there’s no limit to what God can accomplish when we choose to pursue the dreams He gives us for His honor.

Very easy read, but not bad at all. Writen as a parable. Energizing


Philippa Gregory, The Boleyn Inheritance

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Returning to the scene of The Other Boleyn Girl, historical powerhouse Gregory again brings the women of Henry VIII’s court vividly to life. Among the cast, who alternately narrate: Henry’s fourth wife, Bavarian-born Anne of Cleves; his fifth wife, English teenager Katherine Howard; and Lady Rochford (Jane Boleyn), the jealous spouse whose testimony helped send her husband… and sister-in-law Anne Boleyn to their execution. Attended by Lady Rochford, 24-year-old Anne of Cleves endures a disastrous first encounter with the twice-her-age king—an occasion where Henry takes notice of Katherine Howard. Gregory beautifully explains Anne of Cleves’s decision to stay in England after her divorce, and offers contemporary descriptions of Lady Rochford’s madness. While Gregory renders Lady Rochford with great emotion, and Anne of Cleves with sympathy, her most captivating portrayal is Katherine, the clever yet naïve 16th-century adolescent counting her gowns and trinkets. Male characters are not nearly as endearing. Gregory’s accounts of events are accurate enough to be persuasive, her characterizations modern enough to be convincing. Rich in intrigue and irony, this is a tale where readers will already know who was divorced, beheaded or survived, but will savor Gregory’s sharp staging of how and why.

 wow, first time I read something by P. Gregory. I actually started by listening to it, and there was one reader for each character, and excellent readers at that! Sounded almost like theater. When I had to give back the audiobook and finished by reading the book, I ciould still hear the voices.
this is great historical novel stuff, and I will now go back to the whole series, reading them by chronological order of events – which is not the way the books came out. but I found a link on the web putting all her books in the historical chronological order

About the 62 books I read in 2009

My friend Trisha wrote a fantastic blog post on the books she read in 2009. See for yourself:

So it gave me the idea to try and do something similar: here it is, with some different categories sometime.

Books read in 2009: 62. This is an average of 5.16/month, my highest number of books read in a year since 2001.
Among these 62, 16 were Audiobooks: I try to paint my rocks ( every morning, and I discovered that I could listen to books at the same time! It took me a while to dare the plunge, as I first could not consider an Audiobook as a real book, shame on me again, but my library ( has an amazing collection of audiobooks and MP3. I have never been disappointed: the readers are excellent, and I even listened to several books read by the author himself/herself.
I also listen to audiobooks when I do my ironing!

Books started and abandoned:  I don’t keep track of those usually, and actually there are very few – still under St Benedict’s injunction to read a book from A to Z, so when I start, I always have a hard time to stop, unless it’s a real bore, or totally against my deep principles, or I just don’t get it, or so very poorly written that I really think I’m losing my time, and as I would need at least 3 lives to read all I want to read, better stick to the best!
But I do remember I had to stop Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque Cycle, to my total shame, because I really wanted to discover the baroque style. It was a bit too confusing for me.
As for Joyce Carol Oates, I tried several books of hers, as she was invited by Elmhurst Public Library for the Elmhurst Read Program, but I just couldn’t go further than a few pages – I did read We Were the Mulvaneys in 2008.

Fiction/Non-Fiction ratio: 39/23
I’m surprised, I thought I had read many more Fiction books than Non-Fiction.

Male/Female authors ratio: 26/18

Books by the same author:20! wow! When I love a writer I keep going back to him/her

  • Ellis Peters: the last 7 books of the Brother Cadfael series – and I was so disappointed when I reached the last one and there was no more to come!
  • David Sedaris: 5. The funniest writer, even better if you are French/American. This year I read/listened to When You are Engulfed in Flames, Naked, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Live at Carnegie Hall, Holidays on Ice
  • Archimandrite Vasileios: 5, that I had to review for a monastic spirituality periodical to which I regularly have to send reviews. These were 5 short books on spiritual matters related to monastic life written by a very famous Elder of Mount Athos
  • Sigrid Undset: 3, the 3 books constituting Kristin Lavransdatter

Re-Reads: 3, all books I had read in French only, a looooooooooooong time ago, and that I listened to this time in English:

  • Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick – as you see, I try to go back to the big classics I read in French a long time ago – these audiobooks were AWESOME

Oldest: I had to research to fill this one in!: Wuthering Heights (1847)

Newest: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, probably my favorite female writer. Just published a few months ago (2009).

Best title: Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet. The subtitle tells you about the book: “Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant”. VERY interesting

In translation: 9

Set in other countries: 20

Set in the Middle-Ages: 13 – yes this is my favorite period

Favorite:  this is soooo difficult to choose!

                     – Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin
                     – Life List: a woman’s quest for the world’s most amazing birds, by Olivia Gentile – that’s the biography of bird enthusiast Phoebe Snetsinger
                     – Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson. About John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, two deep-sea wreck divers who in 1991 dove to a mysterious wreck lying at the perilous depth of 230 feet, off the coast of New Jersey, and found out it was a German U-boat. They spend years to identify what U-boat in was. The author will come in 2010 to Elmhurst, for the program Elmhurst reads

Shortest: Grendel, by John Gardner

Funniest: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Best spiritual reading: B. Cooke, Royal Monastic: Princess Ileana of Romania

And finally:

  • books from my personal bookshelf: 1
  • books received for review: 9
  • books from Elmhurst Public Library: 52! Am I supporting enough my library?

I hope you enjoyed this post and I encourage you to do the same: it’s fun and you may find some surprises.
I started listing the books I read every year many years ago, but at some important transition in my life, I stupidly got rid of the list!!
I restarted listing my reads in March 2001, when I arrived in the US. Between March 2001-2009, I read: 433 books, which is an average of 48.1/year, but actually 4.08/month (as I started counting only starting in March 2001).



Good book for this winter!

Here is a good book for your next winter:

it gives you a short spiritual text on light for everyday on the winter season.

A Light to Enlighten the Darkness :
Daily Readings for Meditation during the Winter Season
Selected by Emma Cazabonne

ISBN: 978-0-87907-227-8

Only $16.95

See and buy here: