Friday, February 5, 2016

Beautiful Birds and This Strange Wilderness (Flying Eye Books and University of Nebraska Press)

Nature is a beautiful thing, if you take the time to stop and appreciate it. Unfortunately, we seem to be moving non-stop lately. The concrete jungle is also ever-expanding. Technology is becoming pervasive and people can't seem to take their eyes off their phones. Today, I invite you to appreciate some beauty and check out these two books on birds. The first one, for young children, is called Beautiful Birds and is from Flying Eye Books. The other book is for the older crowd and is called This Strange Wilderness from University of Nebraska Press.


Beautiful Birds is a 12" x 9" fully illustrated "A is for" book. By this description, I mean that each letter of the alphabet has a bird associated with it. For example, "A is for albatross, the admiral of the skies. B is for bee-eaters, BEWARE any bug that flies." Each page is dedicated to one bird, with a vibrantly colored illustration, and a one-line descriptor, as seen above. As you can also see there is a bit of a rhyming scheme to this book, but a lot of the descriptors are too advanced for the intended audience of this book. "Q is for quetzal, a god among us." How many 7 year-old children will know about the Aztecs and their deities? If you take this book at face value, which is a gorgeously illustrated book that can teach your children the alphabet and birds at the same time, then it is a top-notch book. If your children have more questions after reading about some of these birds, then you could make expand the lesson for this book and research the birds that interest them. You could also use it as a beginner's field guide. Overall, a quality made book that your kids will enjoy reading through.

One could argue that no one loved birds more than John James Audubon. He devoted his life to discovering and painting every North American species of birds. The book This Strange Wilderness is a biography of Audubon and also includes some of his artwork, which is stunning if you have never seen it. The book begins with Audubon's birth in Haiti and the death of his mother he never knew. His father, a French sea captain and plantation owner, took him back to France where he and his wife Anne raised James and his half-sister Rose. James' father was responsible for his love of birds and his passion for illustrating them. Audubon was never happy with his drawings. He was so disappointed with them that he burned the drawings every year on his birthday with a vow to do better.

The book then chronicles the horrors in France, including the French Revolution, and Audubon's engineered escape to America. It was here where Audubon met his wife. He had three children by her, two boys, and a girl who died at a very early age. Audubon had several failed business ventures and contributed much to the study of bird migration, ornithology, and taxonomy while attempting to provide for his family in these business ventures that failed. There are times in this book that Audubon didn't come off as a particularly great husband or father, as he left his wife (albeit with her blessing) to pursue his lifelong ambition of finding, painting, and cataloging every bird in North America. The book continues to trace Audubon's journey across America and his keen insight into birds and sadly their eventual extinction.

Reading through this book felt like reading a story, not a dry biography. The Audubon quotes demonstrated both his intelligence and his personality. The book also is full of photographs of the Audubons and Audubon's beautiful paintings. I also learned a lot about Audubon that I never knew, such as his early childhood and the fact that he drew mammals after he completed his book of birds. This was a fascinating read and one that I would recommend for middle-school and up. It contains a nice blend of science and history and would also make an excellent book for the homeschooling crowd!

These books were provided to me for free by Flying Eye Books and University of Nebraska Press respectively. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

On the Family and Love Unveiled (Ignatius Press)

On the Family is a 120 page book, which contains 28 General Audiences given by Pope Francis from December 17, 2014 to September 16, 2015. The talks began shortly after the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in October 2014. Each talk is approximately four pages long and serve as the middle period between the Extraordinary Synod in October 2014 and the Ordinary Synod in October 2015. Pope Francis begins by talking about Nazareth and the Holy Family. He then takes a methodical approach to the topic of family by discussing individual roles in the family including mother, father, children, siblings, grandparents, etc. He then discusses the topics of male and female, marriage, death, wounded families, and of course evangelization.

The General Audience on Community I found most enlightening. We tend to think of our families as those we are related to by blood. However, Pope Francis reminds us that the Church is our spiritual family. All who believe in Jesus are part of the brotherhood, the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis also instructs that Jesus formed His own family by surrounding Himself with the Apostles, i.e., Peter and John. However, He also surrounded Himself with tax collectors, the elderly, the sick, and the margins of society. This book was a very quick read, because Pope Francis delivers a message that is straightforward and easily understood. Due to the approachable nature of his talks, one could read this book an hour or two at most, but they would miss the chance for reflection and meditation. I therefore recommend that you read through one chapter/talk per day. This will mean you finish the book in a month, but it will also give you proper time to chew on and digest the message.

DVD Study Programs have revolutionized the way we can share the Catholic faith with others. There have been some great ones produced, including Catholicism and Symbolon. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or resources to commit to these studies. Dr. Sri took that into account when he wrote the book Love Unveiled, which is based on Symbolon. In this book, Dr. Sri explains the Catholic faith in a way that few have tried to do. The main premise of the book isn't the tradition or rituals of the Catholic Church. (Though, they are important.) Instead, he tells us "The Catholic Church stands for the God who is madly in love with you, who has a plan for you and wants you to be happy - the God who even sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for you, who wants to forgive you and help you in your life, and who, most of all, wants an intimate, personal relationship with you so that you can be with him forever in heaven." Re-read that and let it sink in. If every Catholic could adopt that message and share that message, we could set the world on fire!

The book is sixteen chapters long and covers all the tenets of the Catholic faith. It discusses who God is, Divine Revelation, Mary, the Sacraments and so much more. However, instead of a dry presentation of this is what we believe and this is why we believe it, Dr. Sri presents all these aspects through the lens of God's love. For example, people can choose to look at the cross as a torture device, but we instead look at it as the ultimate symbol of love. Some might choose to look at Confession as unnecessary or even an invasion of privacy. Why do they need it if they can just go to God and confess their sins? Instead, the Church views it as a loving way to reconcile man with God and His Church. As you can see from just these two examples, love is the underlying theme of this book and of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, too many people have forgotten that truth.

Dr. Sri has a way of explaining the faith that makes it simple without taking away the profound nature of it all. If you are in an RCIA program, new to the faith, or just looking to deepen your appreciation of the Catholic faith, then this is the book for you. It is highly recommended for all and would make a great gift for graduating seniors who might be moving away for the first time ever.

These books were provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Divine Comedy (Quarto Knows and Oxford University Press)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri is the greatest poem ever written. Because of its importance to literature, there have been many translations, editions, and texts written on it. I am not qualified to judge translations, but I do know someone who is. So instead of pointing you toward the best translation, I will instead tell you about two editions I have recently been reading.

The Knickerbocker Classics version of The Divine Comedy is the translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was the first U.S. translation of The Divine Comedy, and because of that it is a very accessible translation. It's not the best translation I have read in terms of beauty, but it is an easier read than others which I have attempted. The best part of this edition is the images of Gustave DorĂ©. The illustrations of DorĂ© are easily recognized and you will also find them in the works of John Milton. Like all books in the Knickerbocker Classics line, the pages are thinner than my liking, and that creates both word and image bleed-through. This is not a textbook edition, but more a bookshelf edition. Because of that, it is missing footnotes both for translation and literary references. Those are helpful and I'd argue essential for anyone reading through Dante the first time. There is a brief introduction on Dante, a section on "The Life and Times of Dante Alighieri," and some keys to studying the text at the end. However, for a thorough study, you'll want a more scholarly translation and perhaps a textual guide or commentary on it. Overall, this is a good book for an affordable price and you could walk away from it with a basic grasp and appreciation of The Divine Comedy. I recommend it for someone who has never read this great work or someone looking to re-introduce themselves to this work.

If you are a bit more experienced or adventurous in your reading of The Divine Comedy, then you could check out the three-volume paperback set from Oxford University Press. Like any translation, there are pros and cons to this edition. Even though, the poem is meant to be read as one work, the fact that they are in three books makes it a bit more portable if you want to read one at a time. The biggest plus to these books though is that they are a parallel translation. That means you get the original Italian on one side (if you are smart enough to know the Italian, which again, I know someone who is), and John D. Sinclair's translation on the other. The translation loses the beauty of the poetic verse in doing a translation of this type, but it adds a scholarly level to it, if that's your thing. There is also commentary included in these volumes, which while helpful can be leading. Works need to be read on their own before you start listening to what other people have to say about them. Overall, this is a solid translation and one that I would recommend if you are experienced in Dante and if you have an interest in reading what others have to say about Dante.

This book was provided to me for free by Quarto Knows and Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!