Paul Lakeland is the Aloysius P. Kelley, SJ, Professor of Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.
By this author
I remember the day five years ago when the head of a conservative Catholic congregation of women religious asked me what I taught. “Catholic studies,” I replied. “Oh,” she said, in a fairly good but probably unintentional impression of Lady Bracknell, “and what exactly is that?”
I just finished reading David Plantes old (1991) novel, The Accident, having also delved a few days ago into Jens Peter Jacobsens older (1880) Danish novel, Niels Lyhne. Plantes short book takes place in Leuven in the days when it was still known as Louvain. Its central character is an American undergraduate spending a year abroad, uncomfortable in the Catholic atmosphere of the city because he is, he says, an atheist.
Alan Hollinghurst is to me that rare find, a novelist in total control of his material. His latest novel, The Strangers Child, stretched over most of the twentieth century and taking up the perspectives of multiple individuals as the scene moves from one era to another, tests this capacity to its utmost.
It was only a matter of time before the New Atheists were challenged from within their own ranks. Hitchens and Dawkins and Dennett and Sam Harris, the leading figures among the self-proclaimed brights (seriously, with no sense of irony) offer sometimes serious and thoughtful challenges to the possibility of theism but fail spectacularly to present an alternative vision with any charm or warmth orlets face itany brightness at all.
One of the blessings or perhaps curses of Netflix is that you can sit down any time and fill in the episodes of The Sopranos or Inspector Lewis that your busy schedule forced you to miss. You can even start at the beginning and go through to the end. Which is just fine if there arent too many episodes.If you are addicted to police procedurals you might want to take a look at Midsomer Murders. Then again, you might not.
Because I spend quite a bit of my working life talking and thinking about the Catholic intellectual tradition, I was more than a little humbled to read Patrick Hayes excellent new book, A Catholic Brain Trust, which is the history of the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs (hereafter the CCICA) during its first twenty years of existence from 1945-1965. Who knew? Certainly not me.
Milkweed Editions, $25, 407 pp.
The Rhetoric of Death
Berkley Books/Penguin Press, $15, 376 pp.
Ive been reading a marvelous new collection of essays edited by Penelope Rowlands, Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light, and I just saw Woody Allens latest movie, Midnight in Paris, so it wont be a surprise that Im wallowing in nostalgia, even though my own visits to Paris have been infrequent.
Im pleased when one of my students is excited to discover that something we are talking about in the course Im teaching actually connects to something in another course! But I found myself falling into the same set of feelings without the justification of inexperience or youth when two of the eight or ten books I am currently reading (that is, periodically picking up and putting down) revealed the same serendipitous connection.
If you know Walter Mosley for his series of Easy Rawlins stories, already an established classic of the mystery genre, be prepared to be very surprised by his latest novel, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Mosleys protagonist is a 91-year old semi-recluse who depends for his lifeline to the world on his nephew Reggie. When Reggie is suddenly out of the picture, the 18-year old Robyn steps in.