A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka

Last week we finished reading Living in the House of God, and began to read Lev Golinkin’s memoir:  A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka.  The vodka refers to eight crates of it that his family fled with as they left the USSR in 1989.  Bottles of vodka were used to bribe officials along the way to the West.  (This is no doubt the most unusual title for a book we have read at table.)

While a sad story of living and leaving the Soviet Union as a Ukrainian Jewish family, Golinkin has an amusing narrative style.  Consider this passage from early on in the memoir:

“Parades were the gold standard of the Soviet Union.  Worker’s parades, women’s parades, Revolution parades, the Great Patriotic War parades, we had them all.  We had perfected parades; we had the best parades in the whole damn world.  St. Patrick’s Day?  Thanksgiving?  Please.  Macy’s had balloons.  We had intercontinental ballistic missiles rolling through Red Square.”

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Iris Murdoch and solitude

One of my favorite authors was recently referenced in a monastic text we are reading at table, Margaret Malone’s Living in the House of God.  In the section on solitude, Malone cites a passage from the literary critic John Bayley, describing his marriage to the great novelist Iris Murdoch:

“So married life began.  And the joys of solitude. No contradiction was involved… To feel oneself held and cherished and accompanied, and yet to be alone. To be closely and physically entwined, and yet feel solitude’s friendly presence, as warm and undesolating as contiguity itself.”

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Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

As is our custom during the Triduum, we put aside regular table reading, and read the four passion accounts from the Gospels in sequence.

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Living in the House of God

We are currently reading Living in the House of God:  Monastic Essays by Margaret Malone, SGS.

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Review of The Wars of the Roses

We finished Dan Jones’s The Wars of the Roses a few weeks back.  While an excellent narrative history of fifteenth century England, the book does not lend itself easily to being read at table.  It is hard to keep all the players straight when you are only hearing the book read, and not seeing the words on the printed page.  You almost have to do homework (e.g. looking up royal genealogies) to keep up with table reading.  How many Dukes of Clarence were there?  How do you keep all the various Richards and Edwards straight?

Given that King Richard III will be reburied in a few weeks, reading about the wars of the roses was in fact timely.  Jones claims that the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York did not end the tensions of Lancaster versus York.  In fact, he opens the work with a story of the judicial murder of the last Plantagenet, Margaret Pole, during the reign of Henry VIII in 1541.  Margaret Pole, the niece of two Yorkist Kings, was not only a countess in her own right, but is considered a Blessed by the Catholic Church.  The dynastic struggles of the fifteenth century are seemingly replaced (and transformed) by the struggles of Protestant versus Catholic in the next century’s English Reformation.

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Gateway to Freedom

We are currently reading Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad at table.

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Monasticism and the New Evangelization

Late last week we finished reading Dan Jones’s The Wars of the Roses, and began reading a series of two talks by Father Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B., a monk of Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon, on “Monasticism and the New Evangelization.”  These talks were published in the December 2014 issue of the American Benedictine Review.

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