Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review - The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison.

This small novel, Winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, is the story of an 11-year old black girl in America, Pecula Breedlove. Her love for blonde, blue-eyed children is so great that she prays constantly for her eyes to turn blue -- so others would look at her and admire her. She feels she is ugly and that no one likes her. Children won't sit by her in school, and she has few friends. If only her eyes would be blue she would be loved and admired…she thinks.

She has no love at home, with her father a drunkard and wife-beater, her mother a strange sort of woman with strange friends. In fact, the book itself seemed strange to me when I began reading it. But "strange" is not what one calls a Nobel Prize book! I soon found it most unique, different, and at times most creatively written, as: "Hereisthehouseitisgreenandwhiteithasareddooritisverypretty…" There are escapades that Pecula and her black friends are involved in, pages of conflicts between blacks and whites depicting stereotype racial patterns, colloquial language at times, such as: "What's she gone do? The mama?" "Keep on like she been, I reckon. He taken off."--(after a friend discovers that Pecula, then 12, is pregnant, having been raped by her father.)

The book is a bit raw at times, and puzzling. The author ends with an 8-page "Afterward" that explains some of what could puzzle the reader. A review in the New York Times offers the comment that "Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye is an inquiry into the reasons why beauty gets wasted in this country. The beauty in this case is black. (Her) prose is so precious, so faithful to speech, and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry… but it is also history, sociology, folklore, nightmare, and music." I invite you to read the book and see what you think.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review - The Making of the Pope, 2005, by Fr. Andrew M. Greeley.

Fr. Greeley is a distinguished sociologist and bestselling author; a professor of social sciences at the Universities of Chicago and of Arizona, and a research associate at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. He has done perceptive analyses of events and political forces in the Roman Catholic Church. He tells of the daunting task of selecting the next pope after the twenty-six year's leadership of the charismatic and socially conservative Pope John Paul II. The potential candidates were as many as twenty shortly before the conclave began in 2005.

American Catholics admired and loved John Paul, but were less prone to respect his authority. Following Vatican II, American Catholics were increasingly dismissive of papal authority, Europe appeared to be more and more secular, and the more conservative Catholics of the Third World were seen as the hope of the future. The Catholic Church since the Vatican Council had become destabilized, causing crises, confusion and conflicts. In analyzing the Post-Vatican Church, Fr. Greely claimed that the most serious problem was communication on every level. The new pope, along with other Church leaders, would need above all to listen. It appears that Pope Benedict XVI was considered to be the one who could best ensure stability and continuity after Vatican II and John Paul II's long term of leadership. At 78 and in poor health, he himself said his would not be a long papacy. His principal aim was to renew the faith in Europe and around the world. (He very likely did not know in those early days that he would soon resign.)

Fr. Greeley's description of the 2005 conclave is most fascinating: First ballot… black smoke; second ballot…black smoke; third ballot…black smoke; fourth ballot…jet black smoke, then turned to gray. People shout, "It is white!" Ten minutes later the bells of St. Mary's begin to ring. Way up front German Flags are waving, especially flags of Bavaria. German bands are playing. The crowd is going wild! All are sure it is Cardinal Ratzinger. He is being received wildly by some people. Some women are squealing as though he were Frank Sinatra.! (shortened version.) Why did he choose the name Benedict? An Italian became pope in 1914,a pastoral and sensible man, and he chose the name Benedict. He wanted to be known as a healer. This is what our Pope Benedict XVI wants to be.

Fr. Greeley says Pope Benedict is misunderstood by many. He gave a brilliant homily in the Mass that ended the conclave, filled with grace and charm….and copied in full in this book. In his Concluding Reflections Greeley adds ten revealing quotes from our Pope Benedict on key concepts; and while John Paul II was still in office, the official survey center in Chicago asked a series of seven questions of the laity in 7 countries..Italy, Poland, Cermany, Spain, Ireland and the United States.