7QT: The Joy of Reading

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The house I grew up in

My father is a college librarian, my mother’s a writer, and we ran an internet bookstore out of our house. We also lived right down the street from the library, so I was a book-a-day kid until I hit about 12. At that point I was reading so fast that I realized I was skimming, so I slowed down to make sure I was getting everything. In fact, I was so worried about skipping things that I got neurotic about it. I started reading and re-reading so slowly that pretty soon I would get burnt out, give up, and skim ahead to the end. I started to worry that I would only be able to read a very small amount of books in my lifetime, so I better pick them carefully. What a depressing thought!

The good news is that my mental health is so good these days that even my reading is healing! Not only can I focus and stay calm long enough to read at a normal pace, but I’m enjoying it like I haven’t since I was a kid. I’m re-discovering the joys of diving into a good book, getting lost in it, not being able to put it down. I’m so happy.

What are you reading these days? Here’s a fun little list to get you started. Let me know in the comments, or link to your post!

1. What book are you reading now?

With God in Russia by Father Walter Ciszek. What an astonishing read. I’m surprised that he doesn’t talk more about the spiritual battles he went through, trying to discern God’s will and providence in all his sufferings in prison and Siberia, but it’s thrilling and inspiring anyway. (I guess the sequel,He Leadeth Me, is more of a spiritual testament–that’s on my to-read list!) This is just a basic account of what his years in Russia were like, and you can get a good picture of his character and his faith by reading between the lines. He seems like a very observant person–the entertaining and infinitely varied descriptions of the priests, prisoners, interrogators, and guards keep the simple narrative interesting. I’m especially intrigued by his description of the difference between the political prisoners and the actual criminals, and the various ways the Russians dealt with the discrepancy between the ideal of the communist state and the reality.

I’m also working my way through A Fiber Artist’s Guide to Color and Design, a really fantastic book which my husband got me for Christmas. Very simple and unpretentious, lavishly illustrated with quilts and other fiber arts, and covers everything from basic color and design theory to skills specific to quilting. There are several specific “assignments” at the end to put what you’ve learned into practice. I love designing quilts, but I don’t have a great eye for color, and this book has been wonderful so far.

2. What book did you just finish?

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown. This book was extremely helpful for me. It’s about how to stop being driven by fear and shame: how to live up to your potential and your ideals without worrying about what others think of you, or what you think you’re supposed to be like. There’s a really good section on the pressures that men and women face to live up to cultural stereotypes, but she also addresses parenting, teaching, and leadership styles that depend on fear and shame. There’s a certain amount of self help-y buzzwords and repetition, but for the most part Brown’s style is refreshing, direct, and practical. I especially appreciate her use of swear words. You can watch a quick TedTalk here to get an idea of Brown’s style and thesis.

I also just devoured Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. This is a light romantic comedy, based on The Taming of the Shrew, full of Tyler’s wit and incisive understanding of how people work. I loved Kate’s absentminded scientist father, who runs the household in a nice efficient, clueless way: they eat “meat mash” every day for supper, and he can’t understand why everyone doesn’t eat that way–a perfect balance of nutrition, and it takes all the decision-making out of cooking! Kate herself is lovingly drawn as an awkward, practical woman who doesn’t know what to do with her half-realized longings for more purpose and normality. Just a fun, quick read, but Tyler’s characters are so real and her writing is so unobtrusively effective, she’s a pleasure to read. She always make me feel like writing. (I wrote about another of her novels, A Patchwork Planet, in this post.)

3. What do you plan to read next?

Mindfulness for Dummies, which has been languishing on my Kindle for a while, and A Stitch in Time, by the actor who played Garak in Deep Space Nine–another present from my awesome husband. (I wrote a bit about the fascinating character of Garak here.) I also want to get my hands on He Leadeth Me, and I’ve heard great things about The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, which my brother gave me for Christmas.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy. I read a big chunk of it in college and loved it, and I think I finally feel emotionally healthy enough to pick up politics and history again.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I loved Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles so much.

6. What is your current reading trend?

Mental health and politics. I keep meaning to try various science fiction and fantasy novels, but I guess I’m just not into them any more.

7. What book did you recently give up on? [I added this question.]

C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. This was helpful to me in the past, but gosh, it sure wasn’t this time around. I found all his arguments easy to answer, and I didn’t get any comfort from it. Sorry, C.S. Lewis! I still love you!

Hop over to Kelly’s to see the rest of the Seven Quick Takes!

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7QT: Why I love Magnificat

Happy Friday! Have you ever seen an issue of Magnificat Magazine at the back of the Church and wondered if it was worth the price? It’s so worth it. One year I used part of my birthday money to subscribe and I’m on my third year as a loyal reader. (I wasn’t asked or paid to endorse this, by the way, but if they want to send me some freebies that’s okay with me!) Here’s 7 reasons I love it:

      1. It has everything in one place. For me, it’s very helpful to have prayer written down, because I have a very hard time focusing on unguided mental prayer; and having a set of prayers for the day in one handy little book makes it much more likely that I’ll pray that day. It’s pathetic, but it can be overwhelming for me to look up the daily Mass readings, look up the saint of the day, find my Divine Office and find the right prayers for the week, and so on.
      2. There’s enough that you can pick and choose your favorite devotions, but not so much that it’s overwhelming: a shortened version of morning and evening prayer, night prayer, and the daily Mass readings. In addition, there are saints’ stories, reflections from various authors, special devotions for holy days and seasons, and special sections on Christian art, history, conversion stories, and more. Everything is short, and introduced with quotes, context, or biography when necessary, to help you grasp the theme of the day.
      3. I love the “Saint Who?” section. There’s a different saint almost every day, aside from whoever’s feastday it is, under a different theme each month: saints who were parents, saints who cared for the imprisoned, saints who did great work in their old age, etc. I find out about so many new people this way, including St. Benedict Menni, a man who cared for the mentally ill and suffered dementia himself at the end of his life. I’ve taken him as a special patron for my mother.
      4. It’s gentle but timely. I’m sure there is a lot of grace involved in the editors’ selection of excerpts for daily reflection, because they speak directly to me so often. They’re usually very practical, relevant to modern life, and encouraging. There’s also a wide variety of authors quoted, from saints, Church fathers, and popes to contemporaries like Dorothy Day, Caryll Houselander, Fulton Sheen, Fr. Walter Ciszek, even Ann Voskamp. I’ve discovered so many new authors to look into. I’ve especially loved everything I’ve read by Fr. Alfred Delp, and I want to read more.
      5. Hymns! A hymn for each morning and evening, usually ones I’ve never heard of that are directly connected to the readings or the saint of the day. Again, another place to make great discoveries, if your parish sings the same few hymns over and over again
      6. Each issue is carefully themed to the liturgical seasons, as well as devotions like the year of mercy, month of Mary, and so on. It feels so good to stay in tune with the Church around the world, even if you can’t get out of the house.
      7. I have some cheap trial subscriptions if you want them! For $5, (which I’d be glad to cover for you), you get three free months to try it out. If you’re comfortable sending me your address (you can send it privately to sunsetblog@aol.com), I’ll sign you up–I’d love to share the blessings this magazine has brought me. I’ve done this trial offer before and it works great, my friends didn’t report any difficulty with discontinuing after the 3 months.

Head on over to Kelly’s for the rest of the 7 Quick Takes!

 

A Patchwork Planet

Jigsaw World

I just finished my first Anne Tyler book, A Patchwork Planet. Where to start! This is a beautiful, piercing book. Tyler manages to use first-person narration to deliver an convincing, emotionally honest book that never descends into sentimentality or cliche. The narrator, Barnaby, is the black sheep of his family, a former juvenile delinquent working a dead-end job. So many people in his life want him not only to improve, but to live up to their particular standard of worthiness, that he’s constantly tempted to act up and justify their bad opinion of him out of spite.

Back when Natalie and I were still married…I happened to be knocked down by a car after an evening class. Ended up spending several hours in the emergency room while they checked me out, but all I had was a few scrapes and bruises.

When I finally got home, about midnight, there was Natalie in her bathrobe, walking the baby….”It’s nothing to me anymore if you choose to stay out carousing. But how about your daughter, wondering all this time where you are? Didn’t you at least give any thought to your daughter?”…I said, “No, I didn’t, since you ask. I was having too good a time….”

… “If you think I’m such a villain, just watch: I’ll act worse than you ever dreamed of,” I said. I said it during my teens. I said it toward the end of my marriage.

None of the characters in this book are stereotypes–not even the snobby mother, the hostile ex-wife, or the comical old ladies. Barnaby has a piercing ability to penetrate the outer appearance of many of the characters; yet he remains a mystery to himself. He often laments that “[s]o many things, it seemed, my body went ahead and did without me;” but he doesn’t use that to excuse his actions. He doesn’t descend into self-flagellation either, most of the time; instead, he just observes his thoughts and actions with the honesty and puzzlement of an outsider. He’s truly mystified about why he does the things he does, and why his life has turned out the way it has:

Oh, what makes some people more virtuous than others? Is it something they know from birth? Don’t they ever feel that zingy, thrilling urge to smash the world to bits?

Isn’t it possible, maybe, that good people are just luckier people?

Because Barnaby is so ignorant about his own character, Tyler deftly uses his thoughts and actions to show us that he’s a much more honorable and kind person than he thinks he is. He’ll often spit out a one-word response that makes him sound callous or tuned out, but his thoughts will show the reader the depth of his emotions and perceptions, even when he doesn’t see them himself. It’s telling that he never even physically describes himself, so that when, towards the end, a woman tells him how handsome he is, it comes as a total surprise.

So many other things make this book worthwhile: the spare but evocative description, the unique cadence of Barnaby’s speech and narration, and most of all, the tender and realistic portrayal of the old people Barnaby does odd jobs for at “Rent-a-Back.” Each of these characters is fully formed, not just a type, and the way Barnaby understands and relates to them brings out an unexpected side of his character. The descriptions of old age are among the best but saddest parts of the book. But don’t worry, it has a happy ending! I don’t like books with sad endings. Here’s a link where you can read the first chapter, which is what got me hooked.

image: http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/spekulator-53353

Books, Books, Books!

Book, Read, Relax, Lilac, Bank, Old, Book Pages, Rest

Sorry for my long absence!  It’s birthday season here–3 in the last 2 weeks and one more coming up.  Here’s a fun questionnaire, found on The Anchoress, to help me get back into the groove.

1. Most treasured childhood books

      • anything by Edward Eager, especially the hilarious Half Magic, which explores what would happen if four very realistic children found a magic talisman that answered only half their wishes, in unexpected ways–what’s half of wishing to be a medieval knight?  what’s half of a desert island? what’s half of wishing you belonged to a different family?
      • almost anything by John R. Tunis, especially The Kid from Tomkinsville and its sequels.  I loved the baseball action, the larger-than-life characters, and the 50’s slang.  This is great Americana and great character-building literature for kids, while still being a fun read.  A few of my favorites–Keystone Kids, about anti-semitism on the baseball diamond, and Highpockets, about a self-centered star who learns humility, are pretty heavy-handed, but they’re such enjoyable reads that I didn’t mind at all.
      • The All-of-a-Kind Family series is a funny and realistic portrait of a Jewish family in WWI-era New York City that manages to handle things like the family’s friendship with their Irish Catholic neighbors, the oldest daughter’s boyfriend going off to war, and the parents’ struggles to shield their children from the disappointments of poverty, without being preachy or heavy-handed.  A delicate, loving, and tear-jerking portrayal of a close family.

2. Classics you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read

  • Anything by Dostoevsky except Crime and Punishment.  Blah.  I hate Raskolnikov.  Who needs the grief.
  • Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, and all those depressing high school books.  Again, who needs it?

3. Classics you read, but hated

  • The Scarlet Letter.  I hated every single character, especially Dimmesdale.
  • Anything by Faulkner.  Depressing, gross, barely intelligible sometimes.  But hey, it’s Southern Lit, so it’s cool.
  • Walker Percy.  I hate him.  He reads like a preachy, bombastic, second-rate Michael Crichton.  No offense to Michael Crichton.

4. Favorite light reading

  • P.G. Wodehouse–the Jeeves and Wooster novels, of course, but also a fantastic little short novel that’s lesser know, which I’ve read a dozen times: Quick Service.
  • Dave Barry, natch.
  • Hester Browne’s The Little Lady Agency and sequels.  (Thanks to Laura’s recommendation, I let my kids totally trash the house with paint one day because I couldn’t put this book down.)  This is a romantic comedy with a pretty original premise–a woman who’s smart, organized, and efficient, but who can’t seem to find the confidence to stop being a doormat, puts on a wig and adopts the identity of Honey, the “little lady” that every bachelor needs in his life to give him a wardrobe makeover, a crash course in small talk, an escort to an awkward party, or a gift-shopping expert.  I enjoyed the concept and the humor, but also Browne’s writing, which is a head above your normal chick lit; she’s obviously very well-read and capable of writing something more serious.  I also enjoyed her take on Americans (she’s British).

5. Favorite heavy reading

  • Father Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth.  So wonderful, and much more accessible than I was expecting, but still a slow read.  I can’t believe that he actually wrote two more while I was still slogging through the first one.

6. Last book you finished

7. Last book you bailed on

8. Three books on your nightstand

  • Eifelheim by Michael Flynn.  I got bogged down in the middle, but I’m really hoping to finish and review this marvel.
  • yikes, that’s about it.  I’m in a re-reading, skimming, light reading mood these days.

9. Book(s) you’ve read over and over again

  • Jurassic Park.  I just enjoy the characters, the writing, and the ridiculous philosophical rants so much.

10. Book(s) that changed the way you look at life.

  • The whole Space Trilogy, but Perelandra in particular, taught me so much about temptation, about sin and holiness, and about an ordinary sinful person’s role in God’s plan.
  • Tolstoy’s Fables taught me things about love that I constantly need to remind myself of when things get unnecessarily complicated inside my head.
  • Madame Bovary taught me a lot about being honest and realistic with yourself.

11. Books you plan to read this year

  • Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  I love Norse mythology, and I’ve heard so much about this book.  I’ve been waiting until I feel emotionally stable enough.
  • A history of India, and hopefully a few books that will remedy my shocking ignorance of Native American and Inuit culture, without making me cry.

12. Desert island book

  • All the King’s Men.  It’s not perfect, but I’m thinking you can find about 50% of everything you need to know about life in this book.  Gut-punching, lyrical writing, over-the-top but too-close-to-home characters, soaring themes made flesh.

I’ve skipped some of the categories that didn’t mean much to me, and left out things like the Bible, because that goes without saying.  I’d love to hear your answers!

 

 

Self-Help Books that Really Help: Sex and Marriage

“Tobias and Sarah Awake” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfelt

Well!  Let’s start with the most embarrassing one first.

The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex by Sheila Wray Gregoire.  This book is for you if:

  • You’re a nervous virgin
  • You never really got any sex ed, except for “wait for marriage”
  • You got plenty of information on the mechanics, but you don’t understand why sex is sacred
  • You got plenty of information on why sex is sacred, but you don’t understand the mechanics
  • You have bad associations with sex, from past abuse, bad relationships, physical problems, or being brought up with the mindset that sex is necessary, but it’s kind of dirty, and we don’t talk about it
  • You’re a reasonably well-adjusted person who needs some help with any of the above, but you realllllly don’t want to have to wade through all the secular offerings at the library.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it manages to be tasteful while still being practical and explicit (where it needs to be).  Gregoire covers everything–the biology, the sacred symbolism, the basic mechanics, and the trouble-shooting–in a concise, friendly, and unembarrassing way.  Please note–Gregoire is Christian, but not Catholic, so there are a couple of ideas in here that are not quite kosher.  But for the most part, she does a wonderful job of explaining that God intended sex to be beautiful, meaningful, and fun.  This would be a good gift for a mature engaged woman.  Don’t be like Edith: (“the talk” starts at about 15:00)

Also check out Gregoire’s wonderful website and other resources at To Love, Honor and Vacuum.

Holy Sex! by Dr. Gregory Popcak.  This is a dense, thorough book.  Popcak’s style can be pretty annoying, but it’s worth pushing through.  He is that wonderful and rare thing, an orthodox and well-read Catholic who is also a respected psychotherapist.  Holy Sex is the best of both worlds: explicit without being offensive, practical but also theologically rich.  The woman’s perspective of Gregoire’s Good Girl’s Guide is irreplaceable, but this book covers a much wider range of topics, from NFP and marriage-building exercises, to solutions for specific problems and discussions about what’s acceptable in married sex, and why.  I found Popcak’s “Four Pleasure Principles” especially helpful: along with the “One Rule” that a married couple can do whatever they want, as long as both are loved and respected, and the man climaxes inside the woman, he poses four correlative requirements: that there should be continuity between your daily relationship and your sex life; that spouses should be respected as persons and not used as mere producers of pleasure; that any technique, lingerie, position, etc. should be used as a means to the end of a loving union, rather than being the focus of the whole thing; and that each spouse’s comfort zone should be respected.  Popcak gives specific case studies of many couples which illustrate these principles in detail, and give the reader useful prompts to figure out what is wrong or missing in their relationship.

The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning by the amazing Simcha Fisher.  This book covers so much, it’s hard to do it justice.  There’s a lovely depiction of how NFP can really mature and deepen your relationship, not in the advertised, immediate “honeymoon effect” way, but in a more profound and gradual way.  This is extremely encouraging for someone like me, who’s just starting out.  There’s some excellent theology in here, with candid anecdotes and original, spot-on analogies that really hit home more than most discussions of theology of the body.  There are practical and specific tips for having difficult conversations about sex and marriage, because “silence is where problems grow.”  There are sympathetic and straightforward discussions of topics that are really important, but that no one else is willing to talk about, like how to deal with the frustration that builds up when a woman’s libido is only high during off-limits times, or when a woman can’t climax.  There is help to escape the anxiety, fear, and scruples that often surround family planning decisions.  There is sympathy for good Catholics who secretly wish they could just have care-free, spontaneous, happy sex like the secular world, and a reminder that, in reality, “there is no such thing.”  There are ways to deal with periods of abstinence, and prompts to use NFP as a way to grow closer, “learning to let go of struggles for fairness and equality, and learning to look instead for unity and harmony,” by “work[ing] towards a place where the woman’s problem is her husband’s problem” and vice-versa.  And when you reach the end of the encouragement and advice, when you’re ready to hear it, there’s the reminder that

love…sometimes looks like a Cross.  There you hang, trying with all your might to remember why you’re doing this, and not knowing how much longer it’s going to go on.

For Fisher, the very real cross of NFP is not something to suck up, or something to be bitter about, but an opportunity: an opportunity to turn the confusion of sex in a fallen world into a path to deeper union with your spouse.  Take your time reading this book!  There’s a lot to take in.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman.  This is set up like more of a typical self-help, popular psychology book, but don’t let that fool you; Gottman’s work is based on extensive research, observation, and counseling of real couples, and his advice is extremely practical and relevant.  He teaches you how to identify key problems that are wounding your communication, which can often turn into unconscious habits, including his “four horsemen” (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) and the aggressive “harsh start-up” to a sensitive conversation.  This book is a wonderful guide for people who are trying hard to communicate better, but not being very effective; if you can swallow your pride and teach yourself how to use the “scripts” he recommends, you can teach yourself new habits of communicating.  Gottman has specific guidelines for expressing simple “complaints” to your spouse without turning them into blaming “criticisms;” listening to a stressed-out spouse without giving hurtful advice or implied criticism; and “nurturing fondness and admiration” by doing specific exercises to build up a habit of appreciating and respecting your spouse.  I especially liked his discussion of “repair attempts” during arguments, which involve using specific scripts to structure your argument and keep it from getting out of control: “I feel blamed–can you rephrase that?…I need your support here…I’m sorry.  Let me start over again…That’s a good point…I’m getting overwhelmed, I need a break.”  Gottman makes an important point here:

Many, if not all, of these phrases probably sound phony and unnatural to you right now…But their phoniness is not a reason to reject them.  If you learned a better and more effective way to hold your tennis racket, it would feel ‘wrong’ and ‘unnatural’ initially, simply because you weren’t used to it yet.

This book taught me that you have to grit your teeth and do uncomfortable things like using scripts if you want to really improve your communication.  It taught me that self-help books in general should not be written off just because they sound cliche or cheesy, because the truth often does.  Guides like this can really improve your marriage, especially if you grew up in a family that did not have a good way of dealing with conflict.  If you learned a faulty way of communicating–and most of us did, to a greater or lesser extent–you are going to need to unlearn a lot of things and teach yourself a new way to think and talk, from the bottom up.

What are some of your favorite self-help books?  Are you reluctant to read this kind of book?  What can I do to change your mind?  More book reviews to come!  My husband pointed out that Christopher West is conspicuous by his absence.  That wasn’t intentional–I just haven’t read his stuff recently enough to review it.

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image via Wikimedia Commons

Bloghop! Good Catholic Moms and Maternal Depression

Hope for the Future 2 (1)

“This is what I’ve always wanted!  So why am I unhappy?”

This was my dominant thought when I was postpartum with my first child.  My husband and I both came from large families, and we had joyfully planned for a life like our parents’: lots of kids, starting right away, and a stay-at-home mom.  I felt shocked, angry, guilty, and disillusioned when my first year at home with my baby was horrible.

To begin with, I was bored.  I didn’t really know what to do with a newborn besides nurse him, and I didn’t know how to keep busy while I was holding him, and I felt guilty whenever I put him down.  And I do mean every time.  He would be sitting there happily, staring at the pictures on the wall, and I would look at him and think, “I’m a bad mother.”  Looking back, these were two tell-tale signs of depression: irrational guilt, and uncontrollable negative thoughts flooding my mind.  And always in the background there was the meta-guilt of my inability to enjoy motherhood the way I had pictured.

Two years later, my dread of another postpartum like that one outweighed my fear of pills, and I agreed to try antidepressants a few days after I gave birth to my second baby.  I clearly remember my ten-day checkup at the midwives’, when they asked me about my depression and I realized that I hadn’t cried AT ALL since giving birth.  Even for someone not prone to depression, that’s practically a miracle!  (I’m not trying to recommend antidepressants as a cure-all for everyone, but I do hope that anyone in this situation will consider them as a real option.)  The second step, in my case, was therapy.  The greatest gift my therapist gave me was to help sort out an identity for myself, separate from that of a wife or mother.  This allowed me to invest some energy into finding fulfillment outside of the sphere of motherhood, which is crucial.  If you’re at all prone to depression, anxiety, guilt, self-comparison, or low self-esteem (that covers just about everyone, right?), investing your self-worth entirely into some ideal of motherhood is guaranteed to invite depression.

Not everyone’s experience will be like mine, and therapy and antidepressants may not be the right course for everyone; but the important thing is to realize that something external must be done about your depression.  You can not pray or will your depression away, because its origin is not in your failings.  Maternal depression can feel like it’s your fault, because motherhood seems like something that should come naturally and easily; but this is a fallen world, and what’s natural is not always easy.  Even if motherhood is what you’ve always wanted, there is nothing wrong with needing help.

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Thank you so much to Katherine at Half Kindled for hosting this much-needed conversation!  I’m really thrilled to be a part of this.  Please read what my fellow bloggers have contributed at A Knotted Life, Call Her Happy, Half Kindled, This Felicitous Life, and Mama Needs Coffee.

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A few resources I have found helpful:

  • therapy: ask your midwife or OB/GYN for a recommendation.  They may be able to give you the name of a therapist who’s been recommended by other patients in their practice.
  • self-help books: I really appreciated Gregory Popcak’s book, God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, which is an extremely helpful and practical mix of tried-and-true psychotherapy techniques and spiritual advice and encouragement.  (I have a few reviews of Popcak’s books in the works.)  I haven’t read Aaron Kheriaty’s Catholic Guide to Depression yet, but it’s been recommended to me by so many trusted friends that I feel comfortable passing it on to you.  I hope to tackle it soon and review it for you.  I find this blurb extremely encouraging: “…the confessional can’t cure neuroses, nor can the couch forgive sins.  Healing comes only when we integrate the legitimate discoveries of modern psychology and pharmacology with spiritual direction and the sacraments….”
  • NaPro technology.  I know many people who have been helped by NaPro, which specializes in helping women overcome infertility, postpartum depression, and other reproductive problems through natural and morally permissible means, specifically through the Creighton method of natural family planning.  I know a few people whose postpartum depression was linked to low progesterone, and NaPro doctors were able to prescribe progesterone supplements that changed their lives. Here is a website for locating NaPro doctors in your area.
  • For those of you who are nervous about antidepressants during pregnancy or breastfeeding, I found these studies from Mass. General Hospital, which were given to me by my midwife, extremely comforting.

The Nephilim Effect

the-nephilim-effect

I never thought I would read a book that reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength.  But I just finished J. B. Toner’s The Nephilim Effect, and it has it all–a blending of Greek, Judaic, and Tolkein-esque mythologies, a startling portrayal of physical battle against spiritual attack, and a sense that magic, science, and grace may have different boundaries and spheres of action than the modern world understands–plus more, including a sort of theology of martial arts.  This is a fun and terrifying book.

Toner does an impressive job switching voices between the three main characters: romantic, motherly Faith, goofy and innocent Tommy, and skeptical, cocky, chivalrous Roy, who has this this hilarious reaction on his first visit to the land of Faerie:

…a tower cut from a single hundred-foot-tall diamond.  What did they cut it with?  Who cut it?  Was there a working class here, supporting the monarchy?  Or maybe slaves?  If they had diamonds and wine just lying around in the open, then what was the basis of their economy?

The book is probably best categorized as Young Adult, because Toner’s depiction of the three teenage heroes–especially their dialogue–is accurate, and consequently a bit annoying to the adult reader.  But although this book should easily attract teenage readers of popular fantasy novels, there’s a lot more going on under the surface.  Without being preachy or explicitly religious, Toner manages to incorporate a chilling portrayal of demonic possession and temptation, as well as a heroic Christian response.  In the words of Faith, the characters are discovering that “whatever else [the discovery of supernatural forces at work] might mean, it meant the world was a different sort of place than I had thought.”

These spiritual themes will not slow the teenage reader down.  Toner does an excellent job of pacing the novel, alternating between different points of view, action, thought, speculation, and description.  His action scenes are fluid, his chase scenes are breathless, and his dialogue is realistic.  (The only exception was the world of the Elves, which I found a bit stiff; but Tolkein is a hard act to follow!)

A few quotes which made me really sit up and take notice:

My eye twitched.  There was something lice about him, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  He was extremely average-looking, with thinning gray beetles and dismal brown eyes.  Conservatively dressed, in oozing leprosy and a grey tie, with brown loafers and flies breeding in sores.

‘I represent an organization called, ha, called The Eye,’ Wingrove said dully.  ‘We’re interested in speaking with Mr. Connor if that’s, hee, if that’s all right.’

Brr.  Shades of Wither from That Hideous Strength.

One last thing worth mentioning: Toner’s lovely portrayal of family life.  While most of the male characters are better developed than the female ones, the character of Roy’s mother is lovingly and fully realized.  Good job, Mrs. Toner.

Go buy yourself or your kids a copy!  It’s only $2.99, and you’ll be helping a deserving new author get off to a good start.