Last week we finished Jamie Sayens’s You Had a Job for Life: Story of a Company Town at table. Those of you who have been following this blog for a few years know that there are certain genres of non-fiction that we read frequently for table reading. In addition to all manner of Catholic fare we do have a tradition of reading many histories, especially presidential biographies. A small genre that we occasionally read has to do with works about New Hampshire. We read a book about a German POW camp in Stark , NH [before I started blogging] and then another work more recently about the sweepstakes in NH. The Sayens book falls into this category.
The town of Groveton, NH had had a paper mill since the nineteenth century and Jamie Sayens, through both documentary and oral history, captures the life of that paper mill, and a plus-one-century old paper machine, and its employees until the plant’s closure in 2008. The narrative picks up steam as the author moves through the decades, especially as we get to know individual employees and their characters well when he, Sayens, moves into his conversations with living former employees of the mill.
While the book worked well for our table, I’m not sure how well it would transfer to monastic table reading for non-New Hampshire monasteries. It also would require a fair bit of editing, as some of the former employees use rather (ahem) colorful language in their descriptions of their time at the mill.
Also a candidate for heavy editing would be a gruesome section that dealt with industrial accidents at the mill where employees were maimed or even died on the job. One especially unnerving description of the death of an employee occurred at the end of our table reading one day. It was thus repeated at the beginning of the following meal (as per our custom). The employee describing it (p.50) said, “It was horrifying… I didn’t eat for a few days afterwards.” And yet we, the monks not the paper mill employees, all kept dining, though perhaps a bit paler, through this description!
We recently finished a book at table, Victoria Sweet’s God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine that took me by surprise by the amount of its monastic content. I suppose the use of the word “pilgrimage” in the subtitle should have tipped me off. Dr. Sweet worked at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco for twenty-years and recounts her time there with a great spiritual sense and an appreciation of “slow medicine.” On the explicitly monastic front, Sweet wrote a doctoral dissertation on St. Hildegard of Bingen, and the great medieval benedictine nun makes several appearances in the narrative. Sweet also has a lovely section on hospitality (tying it into host, guest, and hospital). And finally one great thread of the work is her description of her undertaking a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
The book works very well for monastic table reading, but needs some editing for it is after all set in a hospital, and it does have descriptions of open sores, diseases, etc. But well worth the editing effort.
A few weeks ago we finished reading A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory, and the Fight for the Vietnam War Memorial by James Reston, Jr. The author gives an excellent narrative of the controversy caused by the blind competition that ended with a winning entry by a Yale undergraduate, Maya Lin. Reston details the saga of the design and placement of the memorial as well as the subsequent statue for Vietnam War veterans by Frederick Hart adjacent to the wall.
My favorite line in the book occurs when someone asks Maya Lin, “How Chinese are you?” She replies, “As apple pie.”
Professor Maria McKenna leaves stage after receiving AAUP award from Professor Kevin Staley
Every year I get to see a photo of myself carrying the mace into commencement, often with the commencement speaker immediately ahead of me in the procession. See at the bottom of this entry for a photo of myself with Bob Shieffer (2014). The following year I was photographed with Mitt Romney (2015). In looking through the college’s Flikr account last night I was disappointed not see such a photo this year, or for that matter any of me carrying the mace. This is why I was so pleased in looking more carefully through the photos to find this one of professors Kevin Staley and Maria McKenna leaving the platform shortly after Prof. Staley had given the annual AAUP award to Prof. McKenna. I love this action photo of them exiting as in the background I return to the podium with the mace clearly visible to its left.
Bob Shieffer, Commencement Speaker, 2014
We are currently reading Lawrence Wright’s Thirteen Days in September: The Dramatic Story of the Struggle for Peace about the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel reached in 1978. Wright as usual tells a good story. In 2007 we had read his The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.
We are currently reading Bishop Robert Barron’s To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age. The book is co-authored by John Allen. We have read a couple of books by John Allen previously at table, but I believe this is our first encounter (at table reading) with the bishop. Bishop Barron however was an honorary degree recipient at Saint Anselm College’s commencement ceremonies last May, and was the celebrant and homilist at the Sunday mass in the abbey church the following day.