Tag: Books

Diabolical

DIABOLICAL

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

Unless, like me, you’ve been under a rock for the last four years or so, you’ve probably heard of Milo Yiannopoulos.  I only learned of him about two years ago; it’s dark under those rocks.

Incendiary provocateur.  Conservative bomb thrower.  Flaming homosexual.  Ultra-orthodox Catholic.  Jewish neo-Nazi.  Bankrupt millionaire.  Pederast.  Or a victim.  Depending on who’s telling the story, they all fit to one degree or another.  Milo gives his legions of fans-and enemies-plenty of ammo. He’s written several best selling books. His speaking engagements are usually mobbed.   Before they turn into riots.  Tech-meister of the universe, he’s been banned by Facebook and Twitter.

Admission Against Interest

On one thing, everyone agrees:  Milo “married” his African-American boyfriend in 2017.  But then he writes a book, Diabolical, about how Pope Francis betrayed the Catholic Church by turning over the Vatican to its gay, Lavender Mafia.  How do you figure this guy out?  Not, certainly, by reading the book’s dedication:  “This book, like all my books, is for my husband, John, who has promised not to read Chapter 2.”

And, to be honest, probably not by reading it the way I have.  I’ve taken to listening to audio books while I drive around-radio has completely lost its charm for me.  Somehow, Diabolical recently came up on my library provided Hoopla app as a suggested book.  And, having heard of Milo, but knowing almost nothing about him other than what an occasional link on Drudge says about a college riot that one of his appearances triggered, I downloaded and listened to the book.

So, should you listen to what turns out to be a complex and closely argued book while driving?  Maybe.  Probably works for an impressionistic, 40,000 foot overview.  But down in the weeds?  Not so much.  So, you might want to take this post with a grain of salt.

But despite that, and to my own astonishment, Milo turned out to be nothing like the merry, but superficial conservative prankster who’d taken up residence in my consciousness.  The book’s profoundly substantive.  It delves deeply into the lore and doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Especially, Pope Francis.  And the institution’s and the Pope’s tortuous, and tortured, interaction with homosexuality.

Go Figure

But the most puzzling aspect of the book?  And there’s really no room for doubt on this score.  Milo writes from the perspective of a devout, Catholic traditionalist.  Moreover, he makes no effort to reconcile his personal conduct with his Catholic beliefs-he runs silent, runs deep on that one.

Milo launches the book with an extended quotation from that bête noire of liberal Catholics, Joseph Ratzinger, the now retired Pope Benedict XVI:

“Is not the Church simply the continuation of God’s deliberate plunge into human wretchedness; is she not simply the continuation of Jesus’ habit of sitting at the table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight?  Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man’s expectation of purity, God’s true holiness, which is love, love that does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the dirt of the world, in order thus to overcome it?”

A Good Milo Introduction?

Diabolical is only one of several best sellers that Milo has authored.  And it might not be your cup of tea.

But perhaps these chapter titles might spark your interest.  Or make you sufficiently pissed off to take a peek.  Is The Pope Catholic?  Feminism Is Spiritual Cancer.  No?  Well, how about this one?  Make The Vatican Straight Again.  

In any event, love him or hate him, Milo’s not a lightweight that can be easily dismissed out of hand.  And, before you show up at the next Milo inspired college riot, it might make sense to find out what all the ruckus is about.

 

 

 

 

 

Ho-hum. Just another day at the library

750x450 arapahoe book

This is not your father’s “World Kissing Day”

I spend a lot of time in Koelbel Library, a very nice facility in a suburb south of Denver.  While I could blog at home, I prefer the library because it lacks two very tempting distractions:  the refrigerator and television.  True, there’s usually a lively background hubbub of little voices who don’t have a clue about traditional library courtesies.  But at this point, that’s white noise I easily tune out.

Each day as I walk in, joining swarms of little kids and their moms, we pass displays that highlight books and themes that are featured for the week or the month.  This July’s?  “World Kissing Month”.  Or was it “World Kissing Day”?  No matter; it’s the books on display that count.

And “Soft Place To Fall” was enough to push me over the edge.  Front and center, it was right where hordes of little kids walked by; I think I’m finally pissed off enough to do something.  More, that is, than complain to the low level library functionaries I’ve spoken to before.  Who patronizingly pat me on the head and say, in effect, “How could you be so prudish?  We have to appeal to all audiences.  Move on; nothing to see here.”

OK.  I can buy that.  But let’s quit kidding around and start appealing to all audiences.  Why not Larry Flint’s Hustler up there next to “Soft Place”?  Or, if that’s a bit on the rough side for the little tykes, at least Playboy?

An attractive nuisance

750x450 arap library door

Once the kids have navigated the gauntlet of “World Kissing Month”, most of them veer left to the children’s section of the library.  It’s the kind of place that draws kids to it like a magnet; a full size sculpture of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat beckons them through a child size door that, obviously, is made just for them.  And they love it; whenever I’ve come with my little granddaughters for “Story Time”, they invariably make two or three passes through their “own door”.

And most of what goes on in that special space that’s been reserved for little children is just fine.  But why not keep it that way?

But no.  In one shelf, literally right down at floor level, in reach of even the smallest hands, is Lesléa Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies.  It’s no wonder that the book, published in 1989, is described as “groundbreaking”; it was the first LBGQT novel aimed at the children’s market. The American Library Association ranked it the 9th most frequently challenged book in the United States in the 1990s.

But by comparison with another “children’s” book, It’s Perfectly Normal, Heather is child’s play.  In the stacks, but at eye level for our four year old grand daughter, Normal‘s only a hop, skip and a jump from Heather.  And, indeed, it is an eye full.  Full frontal “cartoons” of male and female genitalia, many images of people performing intercourse, and an introduction to anal and oral sex and masturbation.  Take it from me, this is one book where words are completely incapable of capturing its “charms”.   Particularly for little kids.

“I READ BANNED BOOKS”

450x450 banned book van

Koelbel is part of the Arapahoe Library District.  Every day as I walk into the building, I pass one of their “Bookmobiles.”  The folks that run the District seem to have a “thing” for bumper stickers.  “I BRAKE FOR LITERACY”  is one.  But the one that grabs me when I’m  in this kind of mood is, “I READ BANNED BOOKS.”

Now, bear in mind that neither Heather Has Two Mommies or It’s Perfectly Normal are banned.  The Library District has, obviously, given them their seal of approval.  In fact, they’re right out where little kids can freely pick them up and page through them.

Which makes me wonder.  Just what kind of books are sufficiently lewd for Library District employees and their bosses to ban them?  And therefore read them?

 

 

 

 

Crawling off the marriage altar

750x450 angle of repose

The trouble with living sacrifices

I’ve been a member of The Bookies book club now for going on two years.  We’re four guys, all current or past members of the same church.

Some of the books we’ve read left me hungry for more.  Hanna Coulter, by Wendell Berry, for example.  Others, like Helen MacDonald’s,  H is for Hawkkept me doing the math on how many pages I had to wade through before the end hove into view.

We just finished Angle of Reposeby Wallace Stegner.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972.  Ostensibly, it’s the story of the hard luck lives of an engineer and his wife as they wonder between mining camps and ne’er do well irrigation schemes in the American west in the 1870’s and ’80’s. Dank, dark tunnels and dry irrigation canals torment Oliver Ward and his wife, Susan, with the allure of riches that remain forever just beyond their grasp.

Angle is the sort of book that left me hungry for more.

The crucible

The book really isn’t about the brutally tough existence of miners in hard scrabble towns like Leadville. (Although, as a Colorado native, it was a nice bonus to read a story celebrating places that I’ve driven through and been familiar with ever since I was a kid.)

The novel is actually about a highly improbable marriage.  The union of two people who could scarcely be more different.  But having made a quality, although probably ill-advised decision to marry, Oliver and Susan Ward personify the notion of “not sweating the small stuff.  And it’s all small stuff.”

The Wards are the kind of people the Psalmist probably had in mind when he wrote,

“Who may live on your holy mountain?
. . . the one who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind.”

Time and again, politicians, speculators and less honorable men cheat “Grandfather;” the story’s narrator is Oliver’s grandson, Lyman Ward.  Who, in turn, is a Berkeley university history professor trapped in a broken body-and time.  Stegner’s depiction of the “liberated,” braless hippies that swarm like so many intellectual gnats around Lyman’s typewriter provides what little comic relief the novel affords.

The story ricochets back and forth between people, place and time.  Sometimes it follows Oliver to his preferred environment, the rough-as-a-cob West, where civilization scarcely rises to the level of a veneer.  Sometimes it follows Susan to her preferred environment in the East, where where she occasionally escapes from the miseries of the frontier to revel in a civilization thickly encrusted with fine art, elite schools for her children, and literary salons.  Lyman, looking back from the tumultuous 1960’s and the ruins of his own marriage, tries to make sense of all he surveys from the wheel chair planted in front of his typewriter.

The two shall become one

Oliver and Susan Ward’s marriage is littered with disappointments, tragedy and betrayal.  By the end of Angle of Repose, their union is little more than a dry husk.  But a union it stubbornly remains.  Held together, probably as much as anything, by the conventions of society.  And the couple’s recognition that their’s is the hand to mouth existence described in Ecclesiastes:

‘Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.”

Those who do not learn from history . . .

Lyman Ward is depicted as a meticulous historian in Angle.  He sympathetically reconstructs the lives of both of his grandparents from from the voluminous letters that flow between Susan and her well-to-do Eastern confidant. In so doing, Lyman, by the end of the novel, changes from a dispassionate chronicler of his grandparents’ lives.  To a student of their lives.

Lyman sees the parallels in their familial stories.  How Oliver, a virtual emotional cripple, had helped drive Susan to a desperate act of unfaithfulness.   And yet how, through it all, the two remained faithful to the quality decision they had made so many years before.

And now, how Lyman’s own wheel chair bound existence had contributed to his wife’s similar fate when she took up with the surgeon who amputated Lyman’s leg.

But there, the stories diverge.  On the one hand, it’s “until death do us part.”  On the other, it’s a bitter, never to be forgiven divorce.

. . . are doomed to repeat it?

But unexpectedly, almost as if by dues ex machina, Lyman’s ex-wife, Ellen, shows up in the novel’s final pages.  No longer married to the sawbones who’d cut Lyman’s leg down to size, Ellen’s reappearance as someone willing to help care for her ex-husband is a puzzle.  After all, by the 1960’s, the societal conventions that had held marriages together in Oliver and Susan’s days were long gone-if, indeed, marriage itself was still was still held to be conventional.  And financial necessity in marriage?  Gone the way of the not-so-great Great Society.

So, what’s up with this last twist in the plot?

Although nowhere explicitly stated (like the rest of this elegantly understated novel), it’s probably about forgiveness.  About how Lyman learns that Oliver’s failure to forgive Susan didn’t maim just her life.  But, even more, his.  

And that, as the historian of the family, Lyman, of all people, was not doomed to repeat his grandfather’s error.