August 17-24, 2015
St. Augustine was a comic genius. Is there a funnier one-liner in all of theology than his prayer in the Confessions , “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet”? He was high-minded but rangy, embracing sexual and scatological humor in City of God , where he notes with no little envy that “some have such command of their bowels, that they can break wind continuously at pleasure, so as to produce the effect of singing.”
March 2, 2015
The year 2014 boasted one of the great serialized American dramas of the last 20 years and the debut of another wonderfully quirky one. Neither starred household names. And neither was broadcast on AMC, FX, Netflix or HBO. In fact, they were not onscreen performances at all. They were podcasts.
Like all its tech-lingo brethren— cyberspace, blog, emoticon — podcast is a blighted word, colorless and sickly, the linguistic...
February 23, 2015
The world’s most popular saint has much to say for our times and was, in a way, “saying” some of it in Brooklyn this winter. This is not magical realism, but a point of fact. An exceedingly rare exhibit of textual artifacts related to the life of St. Francis of Assisi and the formation of the Franciscan order was on display for one month at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. The stated purpose of “Friar Francis:...
October 20, 2014
A cynic might suggest that one way to keep immigrants from wanting to come to the United States would be to show them a dystopian exposé like To the Bone, Lisa Ramirez’s affecting if wildly uneven new Off Broadway play about undocumented female poultry workers slaving away thanklessly in Sullivan County, N.Y. That is not entirely fair, though, since the tense, gnarly tale that unfolds among a quintet of Central American women and a few men in their lives is...
August 4-11, 2014
My wife and I recently drove out to Sauk Centre for an overnight stay. It’s the kind of short trip we enjoy taking. The town, about 75 miles due west of the Twin Cities on Interstate 94, is the birthplace of Harry Sinclair Lewis and was immortalized by him as Gopher Prairie in his hugely successful fourth novel, Main Street . The book sold two million copies in its first few years, added a new term to the language and was eventually instrumental, along with...
October 28, 2013
I love horror movies because they show me the sublime. I love them for a lot of other reasons too, I admit, depending on my mood. I don’t believe in a grand, unified theory of horror, or of any other genre of film; most genres are a welter of traditions and counter-traditions. Sometimes you want to see evil defeated by the triumphant “final girl”; at other times, by contrast, you want to see that even the most competent and loving heroines can’t win. You...
October 14, 2013
The cries, it was recorded, could be heard on shore. The piteous shrieks of men “drowning like rattens.” They were the crew of Henry VIII’s beloved flagship, the Mary Rose, the pride of the English Navy Royal, which sank before his very eyes during the Battle of the Solent on July 19, 1545.
Just why the Mary Rose, the “noblest ship of sail,” sank is a mystery. Too many bodies and armaments aboard, some claimed. A sudden gust...
September 23, 2013
In the 200 years since the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, women’s rights have risen, empire waists have fallen and many manners of the day have disappeared with the barouche and the bonnet. But a good love story is timeless, and Jane Austen’s novels still have a place in the hearts and on the bookshelves of readers worldwide.
Romance is not the only timeless element in Austen’s novels, however. Her works...
March 4, 2013
Thirty years ago, I met Robert Frost’s close friend, Rabbi Victor Reichert, who lived only a mile down the hill from the poet in Ripton, Vt. Reichert told me about the time Frost came to his synagogue in Cincinnati. There Frost delivered a passionate sermon, explaining to the crowd that he had no time for “irreligion.” He considered Scripture a live, ongoing revelation, and he considered himself a mouthpiece for the word. In describing this, Reichert seized...
January 21-28, 2013
The thread of Jack Kerouac’s literary and personal life in the American imagination might be unwound succinctly in the following terms: ambitious and fun-loving young man leaves behind his small-town upbringing to chase heroes and dreams in the American West, finding along the way new paths to enlightenment while blazing a trail for generations of seekers to follow.
It is a theme familiar to most of us, because more than a few of our favorite novels...