Each essay is interesting enough, but taken as a whole they do not live up to the title.

THE CATHOLIC IMAGINATION

Greeley, the controversial Catholic sociologist who moonlights as a popular novelist (see Irish Eyes, above), offers a slender

investigation of the Catholic imagination. We are soon presented with a dichotomy between what Greeley claims to be demonstrating about the Catholic imagination and what he actually accomplishes. He would have us believe he has set out to illuminate the deep religious sensibility that votive candles, stained-glass windows, vestments, and incense only hint at—a sensibility Greeley calls "sacramental" (because Catholics see all "created reality" as revealing "the presence of God"). What Greeley in fact provides is not nearly so grand: in a handful of essays on loosely related themes, he examines various Catholic subjects, such as sacred time and salvation. In one chapter, Greeley explores the idea of how the Virgin Mary embodies the maternal aspects of God and suggests that American Catholics tend to have a very positive view of her. (An added tidbit: married couples who are gung-ho about the Virgin Mary also tend to say they are very sexually fulfilled.) In later chapters Greeley considers the role of hierarchy and community in the Catholic imagination. Catholicism, he states, is an intensely communal religion—but it is one where communities are organized hierarchically (although Greeley prefers the less threatening word structure to hierarchy). Nevertheless, Catholics are not simply taking their marching orders from Rome—according to Greeley, the local parish priest is the authority figure to whom most Catholics look. The second chapter features a refreshing discussion of the erotic aspects of religious art. Drawing on the Song of Songs, the writings of Saint John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, and the Book of Tobit, Greeley urges Catholics—and Protestants—to consider erotic art as "quite necessary to a Christian worldview." Other findings, however—like Greeley’s musings on the relationship between church attendance and fine-arts consumption—should be viewed with suspicion. In the end, the book fails to hang together.

Each essay is interesting enough, but taken as a whole they do not live up to the title.

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-520-22085-4

Page Count: 231

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2000

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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