The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 September 2013

Let us talk of books

Let us talk of books; let us speak of words and ideas and stories; let us discourse on the great questions of the age; let us revel in the thoughts of great men long gone. Let us talk of books.

Extreme makeover: women transformed by Christ, not conformed to the culture, by Teresa Tomeo.
In this book, Teresa Tomeo reviews the role media has played in leading women away from the truth of their dignity and worth, the distortion wrought by radical feminism, the harm done by abortion, and contraception. She writes about finding and valuing our real beauty as opposed to the ideals presented by our present culture, and about Jesus and women, and the Church and women. (This was of particular interest given Pope Francis' recent comments about a necessary theology of women in the Church.)
Thankfully, saving the book from a doom-and-gloomy tune of all the ways women have been done wrong, the author includes helpful advice on how to recognize and eliminate the bombardment of misinformation and error that comes at us through the media. There is a chapter sharing signs of hope that there is change in our culture, and the book concludes with personal testimonies of women who found healing and home in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
This book was helpful as it put some pieces of the puzzle together for me, such as the history of abortion in the US. Teresa also provides excellent information about media studies on the effects of media - that section got me a little riled up. I've been doing a fair amount of reading on women and the Church (I'm tempted to call it Catholic feminism, but I don't want that to be misconstrued as being aligned with those agitators for female ordination who call God 'Our Mother who art in heaven') and this book fits nicely into that section of my bookshelves. It is wise to gather as much information as possible, isn't it?  So thank you, Teresa Tomeo for this book.

By one of my literary heroes, Dorothy L Sayers,  'Are women human? : astute and witty essays on the role of women in society'. This very slender and quick-reading volume contains two essays by the great Sayers: Are women human? and, The human-not-quite-human.
As mentioned above, I have a particular interest in matters relating to Catholic femininity (if you're interested in reading more, I contribute to The Feminine Gift) and my focus tends to be on the inherent, by-design differences between men and women. Sayers managed to take my views and readjust the lens somewhat so I saw some issues differently. Have you ever had that eye test done in which the doctor flips different lenses in front of your eyes asking, "Is this one better, or this one? The first one... or the second one?... flip flip... flip flip." And you're not entirely certain you can tell which one is more clear, or even if there is a difference! That's how I feel after reading 'Are women human'.
Because she did not reiterate what affronted traditionalists were saying about women returning to the home, and being content to be wives and mothers, she was assumed to be aligned with the feminists. That, she was not, and these two articles are an explanation of why she was not. It is important to know that Sayers wrote them in the 1930s, after the suffragette movement won for women the right to vote, and well before second wave feminism told women to burn their bras in the 1960s.
Sayers proposes that it is ridiculous to say that a woman is as good as a man, because a woman is not a man, but both are human beings. Likewise, she dislikes the notion of 'women's work' or jobs that only men can do, believing that the person who can best do the job, should, in fact, be allowed to do the job. Sayers also reminds the reader that if we were to send women back to the Middle Ages, a lot of the work now done by industry would return to the home, the woman's domain, as women used to be the weavers, the bakers, preservers, chandlers, seamstresses... etc. Men, in essence, usurped those jobs and eventually declared women unfit to do them.
There are several good passages where Dorothy admonishes women for 'aping' men - in other words copying them for the sake of being like a man, rather than because one naturally wanted to do something, "...if it is done "because men do it," it is worse than silly, because it is not spontaneous and not even amusing."
She also has a humorous take on the question of women wearing trousers that would be of interest to my friends who often visit the question of what is truly modest, and whether women 'should' wear trousers: "We are asked: "Why do you want to go about in trousers? They are extremely unbecoming to most of you. You do it only to copy the men." To this we may very properly reply: "It is true that they are unbecoming. Even on men they are remarkably unattractive. But, as you men have discovered for yourselves, they are comfortable, they do not get in the way of one's activities like skirts and they protect the wearer from draughts about the ankles. As a human being, I like comfort and dislike draughts. If the trousers do not attract you, so much the worse; for the moment I do not want to attract you. I want to enjoy myself as a human being, and why not? As for copying you, certainly you thought of trousers first and to that extent we must copy you."
About innate characteristics of men and women in terms of work, she says this: "Few people would go so far as to say that all women are well fitted for all men's jobs. When people do say this, it is particularly exasperating. [...] What we ask is to be human individuals, however peculiar and unexpected. It is no good saying: "You are a little girl and therefore you ought to like dolls"; if the answer is, "But I don't," there is no more to be said. Few women happen to be natural born mechanics; but if there is one, it is useless to try and argue her into being something different. What we must not do is argue that the occasional appearance of a female mechanical genius proves that all women would be mechanical geniuses if they were educated. They would not."
These two articles so obviously come from the convictions of the author, for I recognize the voice and the principles from reading her novels. These are ideas that Peter and Harriet would have been familiar with, and in fact espoused.
This was one book from my recent haul of Dorothy Sayers finds. I'm looking forward to diving into the biography of her, next. 

The Pioneer Woman: black heels to tractor wheels, a love story, by Ree Drummond. I've not been an avid reader of The Pioneer Woman blog, only visiting from time to time when recipe searches would lead me there. This book crossed my desk at work a few months ago for cataloguing and the premise intrigued me, so I put it on my list of books to read 'someday'. I needed a respite from more serious things recently, so snapped this up when it was returned in our drop box.
First of all, the story of a city slicker throwing the bright lights over for a ranching life and nights of star gazing is a sure winner. The 'love story' bit of the title should have prepared me for the focus of the tale, as Ree gave a lot of ink to the embraces and kisses of her Marlboro Man. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the mushy love stuff, but reading about his strong arms on what felt like every page got a little wearing. I appreciate her discretion in not over-sharing intimate details, but still feel I would be uncomfortable meeting Mr. and Mrs. Marlboro in real life, having read the story of how they met and married. And kissed and embraced. The attention to those details is at the cost of portraying in greater depth her brother Mike, for example. Ree comes across as impatient with him (he is developmentally delayed), and self-centred when she runs over the family dog, or learns of her parent's deteriorating marriage. While I admire an author for revealing themselves honestly, warts and all, I thought in this case it was unfortunate because I have a feeling they really aren't accurate portrayals.
Overall, 'Black heels to tractor wheels' was a very enjoyable, light read. It also reminded me that the qualities to admire in a man  have more to do with his integrity and honour... his character, than anything else.

On the go: I have begun Dorothy Sayers' translation of Dante's Inferno. I'm well into the introduction... what an accomplishment! I'll have you know, though, that it stretches for over 70 pages. I will eventually reach the first canto, and begin the adventure in earnest.

Interestingly, I recently saw an interview with Roberto Benigni, who performed a staged version of The Divine Comedy. It ran in Italy, where roughly 40% of the population saw it, and brought it to England where not as many people saw it.
I also saw an interview with Joseph Pearce discussing his commentaries on Shakespeare. He was asked why people should bother with old Will these days, when the language is so unfamiliar to us, even difficult to grasp. He talked about the importance of reading good writing as it forms our thoughts, influences our vocabulary, feeds our imagination. And while it may be difficult, up a level or two from what we may be comfortable with, what we gain from it are so worthwhile. Good literature lingers, has an impact, can be transformative, whereas much of the 'dumbed-down' books students are assigned in current day classrooms are empty filler; they don't last or contribute much of substance.
Hear hear!

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