Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review: Kidnapped

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this books to my boys, ages 11 and 13, for a book club discussion with some other boys.

This is an adventure story which explores ideas of loyalty and friendship, and how different loyalties might conflict. I strongly recommend it.

However, I do also strongly recommend that you don't just pick it up and read. The book has a lot of Scottish-English dialogue, and it also assumes a familiarity with the conflicts between the Jacobites and the British in Scotland in the mid-1700's. Late into the book I picked up a SparkNotes summary and read through the couple pages of explanation of the history and context. It really helped me to understand it, and I found my enjoyment of the book grew tremendously.

So, read the book, but spend a few minutes studying the context first. You'll be glad you did.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Review: The Donkey Dialogues

The Donkey Dialogues
The Donkey Dialogues by Michael D. O'Brien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a tremendous respect and admiration for Michael O'Brien, and this book has raised it to new levels.

This book is a series of letters between Michael O'Brien and Mate Krajina. They were written between May 2012 and February 2014. In them, the two men discuss their lives as writers and fathers. Both have known, and continue to know, hardship and want. Both have a deep desire to live as faithful Catholics, sharing the love of Christ with their families, friends, and readers.

If there is a modern writer who is the antithesis of a "prosperity Gospel" preacher, it is Michael O'Brien. His books are filled with characters who suffer terribly, but in their suffering they find they are not suffering alone, and they are not suffering without purpose. They find Jesus, and they find happiness and love, even as they continue to suffer. His novels are so powerful because they illustrate and make visible the Christian understanding of suffering. This understanding is almost impossible to grasp simply through the intellect, but it can be seen and felt through the portraits painted with words in his novels.

In the Donkey Dialogues we get a glimpse into the lives and the minds of two men who especially appreciate the danger modern Western culture poses to our souls. Mate Krajina faced persecution under Communism, and sees that mass-produced cults of pleasure-seeking and consumerism might do to the Church what direct persecution could not accomplish.

Both men understand what I believe to be the true state of the world: We are at war. It is not a war with a nation or a people, but a spiritual war with the devil. He wishes us to move far from God, rebel against Him, and turn in on ourselves. It matters not to the evil one if we do that through laziness, pleasure, sloth, and addiction to trivialities (the modern Western problem), or through direct persecution meant to intimidate and kill (the Communist and Islamist approach).

This book was very inspiring to me as a father. It renewed my desire to build up and defend my family, to make sure each of my children knows he or she is loved by God and will find his or her ultimate happiness in loving and serving Him.

Some favorite quotes:

[O'Brien] "In the post-Communist era, there are fewer dangers to the body but more perils for the soul."

[Krajina, describing how they got to calling themselves "donkeys", especially as it relates to protecting their families] "I was using a parable of a donkey, the shepherds loading on him everything they need for a long stay in the mountains, telling you about its 'defensive' role in the sheep pack. Namely, he is there so that the wolves may attack him first because it is the unwritten law of nature that wolves attack donkeys first, and only then the sheep."

[O'Brien] "...I see a gift in every opportunity to overcome fear."

[O'Brien] "Always, it is the path of selflessness. If a father/husband wishes to give life to his wife and children, he must die to what is selfish within himself."

[Krajina] "The wife's smile has a truly therapeutic effect. It becomes easier to find a seed of hope in one's own heart and bring joy."

[O'Brien] "In his encyclical on the family, _Familiaris Consortio_, Pope John Paul II emphasized to parents...that we should raise our families from the beginning with a simplicity, a slower pace, a gentler and more human way of life. ... I must underline also that to resist the spirit of the world, we should always do it with love and good humour."

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: Voyage to Alpha Centauri

Voyage to Alpha Centauri
Voyage to Alpha Centauri by Michael D. O'Brien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As with most of Michael O'Brien's novels, it takes a little time to get going. But once it did, the story was extremely compelling.

Also, as with all of Michael O'Brien's novels, it is just overflowing with insight into human nature and our relationship with God.

The story took several unexpected and very interesting turns. Just when I thought I had it figured out, it would twist in a different direction.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: Catholic Guide to Depression

Catholic Guide to Depression
Catholic Guide to Depression by Aaron Kheriaty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you or a loved one suffer from depression, anxiety or related disorders, then you need to read this book.

Although the title sounds like it could be something from The Onion, it really is apropos. This is a truly Catholic guide to depression. Aaron Kheriaty has done a masterful job of bringing together rigorous science and lively orthodoxy to explain how the *whole* person needs to be treated. John Paul II talked of how faith and reason, when both are rightly understood, never stand in conflict. This book is a wonderful example of truth that flies on "both wings" of faith and reason.

Since humans are both material and spiritual, it is important for doctors and therapists to consider the entire person in treatment. Depression is a complex and often elusive condition that can have physical, emotional, and spiritual causes. These causes can be interrelated and can contribute to each other. Treatment of depression, therefore, must deal with all of these facets of the human person. I wish I could find the exact quote, but he summarized this thought roughly like this: The Sacrament of Confession doesn't cure brain chemistry imbalance, and the analyst's couch cannot forgive sin.

The book consists of two main parts. The first is a thorough overview of depression itself. It is insightful and deeply sympathetic, written by someone who has obviously worked with many people over many years. The second part is "Overcoming Depression", dealing with medication, psychotherapy, and spiritual help for depression.

I found his discussion (starting on pg. 192) of the role of work (ordinary, daily work) in the recovery from depression as particularly insightful. It is a great meditation on the meaning and purpose of work, and it has inspired me to take a new look at how I view my job and family life.

This book is both accessible and inspiring. It will give you insight into depression, and tools to help yourself or others who struggle with depression.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

C# keyword: dynamic

Here's the latest C# feature I've come across: The dynamic keyword. I needed to call a generic function but wanted to pass it an object of anonymous type, and dynamic came to the rescue. This is really cool.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Another cool C# language feature: yield return

I just came across yield return in some C# code.  I didn't know about this feature.  If you don't, you should.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review: One Man, One Woman: A Catholics Guide to Defending Marriage

One Man, One Woman: A Catholics Guide to Defending Marriage
One Man, One Woman: A Catholics Guide to Defending Marriage by Dale O'Leary

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an excellent resource. Dale O'Leary provides a thoughtful survey of recent research on the development of same-sex attraction (SSA), how it manifests differently in men and women, and views on how people experiencing SSA cope with it, and how therapists and counselors approach treating people who come to them for help in dealing with it. It is absolutely fascinating.

Following that, O'Leary discusses marriage and its role in society, and how redefining marriage to include homosexual relationships is likely to affect society. She devotes significant space to looking at how children and vulnerable women will be affected by widespread acceptance of this new definition of marriage.

In one sense, it is unfortunate that the books is subtitled, "A *Catholic's* Guide to Defending Marriage". It is true she writes from a Catholic point of view, but she is neither strident, nor partisan, nor does she spend a great deal of time on Catholic theology per se. Any Christian, indeed, any person of good will, who would like a better understanding of the dynamics of the development of SSA would benefit from reading this book.

One of the main points of this book is the need to draw a sharp distinction between same-sex attraction and the acting-out of that attraction by engaging in sexual acts. SSA is a psycho-sexual developmental disorder that has a large number of factors involved in its development. There is no sin involved with having SSA. The vast majority of people who are sexually attracted to people of the same sex have no choice in how they feel, and would gladly not feel that way if they could. In this way, SSA is very analogous to alcoholism or clinical depression. People who suffer from any of these disorders need our compassion, support and care.

But that compassion and care can not include affirming people with SSA in the acting-out of those desires through sexual encounters. Those *actions* are harmful and degrading. They lead to a whole host of negative outcomes that are well-documented through research and which resonate with common sense. People suffering from SSA need to know love, acceptance, hope, and freedom. They should know our friendship and genuine care. And that care needs to be in accord with the truth, not with the politically-correct fads that would consign them to a life of self-destructive behavior.

It's getting very late and I need to get up for work early tomorrow morning. Let me just finish by recommending this book to anyone interested in a deeper understanding of the current political and social trends and conflicts involving homosexuality. It will be especially helpful to those with friends, family members, co-workers, or loved ones who have same-sex attraction.

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