One-Minute Book Reviews

December 23, 2007

Henry Van Dyke’s Christmas Classic, ‘The Story of the Other Wise Man’

A parable about the meaning of  faith that first appeared in 1896

The Story of the Other Wise Man. By Henry Van Dyke. Ballantine 112 pp., $7.95, paperback. Available in other editions, including abridged picture-book versions for children.

By Janice Harayda

What is the meaning of faith? Does it involve saying prayers? Attending religious services? Making pilgrimages to shrines or holy places?

Henry Van Dyke (1852–1933) never raises these questions directly in The Story of the Other Wise Man. But they lie at the heart of this classic parable about the meaning of faith in a secular age.

Van Dyke invents a fourth wise man, Artaban, who trades his belongings for gifts for “the promised one” foretold by prophets:  a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl. Artaban plans to give the jewels to the infant after meeting up with his companions Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who have gold, frankincense and myrrh. But he misses the connection after he stops to nurse a dying man, and later on, he parts with his jewels. He uses the ruby to ransom a child whom King Herod had ordered slain and the pearl to free a girl about to be sold into slavery.

Artaban believes he has missed all opportunities to meet the promised one until, near the end of his 33 years, he reaches Jerusalem just before the Crucifixion. There he realizes that his search has ended when he hears a faint voice saying: “Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.”

On his journey Artaban wrestles with what The Story of the Other Wise Man calls “the conflict between the expectation of faith and the impulse of love.” But Van Dyke resisted appeals to explain what his book “meant.”

“How can I tell?” he asks in his foreword. “What does life mean? If the meaning could be put into a sentence there would be no need of telling a story.”

Furthermore: Van Dyke was the minister at Manhattan’s Brick Presbyterian Church, where he first told Artaban’s story. He later became a professor English at Princeton University and Ambassador to the Netherlands. Van Dyke may be best known today as the author of the text for the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” set to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony. Click here to read Van Dyke’s words and listen to the music www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/j/o/joyful.htm. You will also see a picture of Van Dyke if you click on the link.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

http://www.janiceharayda.com/


December 7, 2007

‘The Supreme Christmas Poem in the English Language’ Is … Quote of the Day (Reynolds Price)

This is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring …

From John Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”

What is “the Supreme Christmas poem in the English language”? This must have been more of a stumper than I thought, because I asked the question Tuesday, and nobody got it right. I may have thrown you off by saying I’d give an American writer’s answer when the poem wasn’t written here. (Oh, sons and daughters of Cambridge! Where were you when a fellow Cantabrigian needed you?) The novelist Reynolds Price argues – and many others would agree – that the poem is John Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” Price says of Milton and his poem:

“The most powerful early component of his genius became visible in December 1629. While on the winter vacation from his studies at Cambridge, he wrote his initial indispensable poem, an ode ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.’ It was, almost certainly, the result – only two weeks after his twenty-first birthday – of his eagerness to exhibit a first fruit of the high calling he sensed within himself. And in the freewheeling rhetorical rapture which pours out memorable phrases in joyous profusion, in its complex musical urgency, and its unquestioned Christian sense of God’s immanence in nature, the ode continues to be the supreme Christmas poem in the English language.”

Reynolds Price in an essay on Milton in the just-published Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature (Paul Dry Books, $18.95, paperback) www.pauldrybooks.com, selected and edited by Joseph Epstein with wood engravings by Barry Moser. Price, the poet and novelist, is the James B. Duke Professor English at Duke University www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reynolds_Price.

The first lines of Milton’s poem appear at the top of this post. You can read the annotated full text in the Milton Reading Room on the Dartmouth College site http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/nativity/index.shtml. Please note that on this template I can’t indent the lines as Milton did.

Did you know the answer to Tuesday’s question? An easy way to become better acquainted with Milton’s poetry is to go to the free site Cyber Hymnal and listen the hymn “Let Us With a Gladsome Mind,” which you can hear by clicking on this link: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/e/letuglad.htm. (You will hear the music immediately when you click.) The words to “Let Us With a Gladsome Mind” come from Milton’s poem with the same title, which he wrote when he was 15. You can read the poem and listen to the music simultaneously at Cyber Hymnal www.cyberhymnal.org, which also offers at no cost the words and music to thousands of other hymns, including religious Christmas carols.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

http://www.janiceharayda.com

November 21, 2007

Listen to Thanksgiving Hymns and Others for Free at Cyber Hymnal — Downloadable for Free, Too, If They’re Out of Copyright

Further update at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 1: The Cyber Hymnal site is back up. I just listened to the Doxology and “The Snow Lay on the Ground,” the carol often used as an anthem (the first I remember singing with youth choir at my childhood church). But I’m leaving up the Nov. 29 update because you may want to use Hymn Site as a back-up if Cyber Hymnal goes down again. Jan

Update at 5:25 p.m. Nov. 29: The Cyber Hymnal site seems to have crashed — let’s hope temporarily — since I posted this. The link worked without problems for days. But at this writing you can’t reach Cyber Hymnal either from here or the link on Google. Until the site is up again, you can hear the music and find the words to hymns at HymnSite www.hymnsite.com. HymnSite isn’t as easy to search as Cyber Hymnal and may have fewer hymns, but has many of the same elements. Jan

Update, Nov. 2010: Cyber Hymnal is now NetHymnal, and the links in this post have been changed to reflect it.

Today I was looking for facts to add to a quote of the day about a Thanksgiving hymn and found a site called NetHymnal that lets you listen for free to the music of more than hymns and Gospel songs.  NetHymnal also has the words and background of tunes, pictures of authors or composers, a few musical scores and more. It offers 29 hymns by J. S. Bach alone, including such chart-busters as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Von Himmel Hoch.” The site is just what its name implies — the online equivalent of a hymnal you might find slotted into a pew except that it lets you listen to the music instead of reading the scores. And you can download for free anything that’s out of copyright.

So this is the place to go if you’d like to hear the Thanksgiving hymns “Now Thank We All Our God,” “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “We Gather Together” (the only one of the three that’s non-Trinitarian in all verses). Cyber Hymnal also lets you listen to Christmas carols and patriotic songs such as “O Canada,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” (the Navy Hymn). And if you’re getting married in a church soon, you can hear any hymn that could be played at your wedding. Be sure to listen to the traditional — and best — version of the classic wedding hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” on Cyber Hymnal before somebody talks you into the alternate setting that has become popular without my consent. (Are you going to invite me to the wedding?)

If you don’t care for Thanksgiving hymns but want to hear to some of the most stirring music ever written, use the title search tool on Nethymnal to look for “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” (the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony), “Thine Be the Glory” (“See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes” from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus) and “Be Still, My Soul” (“The Song of Peace” from Sibelius’s Finlandia). Like the Colorado Rockies, that quote of the day that I planned to post will have to wait till next year, because I’m off to Cyber Hymnal to listen Beethoven’s “The Heavn’s Resoundeth” (“The Heavens Are Telling”), nearly as glorious as the “Ode to Joy.”

The picture above from the old Cyber Hymnal shows Catherine Winkworth (1827-78), who translated “Now Thank We All Our God” (“Nun Danket”) from the German.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 17, 2007

10 Percent of Americans Think Joan of Arc Was Noah’s Wife — Quote of the Day (George Barna via Stephen Prothero)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:00 pm
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American are reading less of all kinds of things, including religious books. What are the effects? Here’s an example from a survey of religious literacy:

“Ten percent of Americans believed that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.”

Stephen Prothero in Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t (HarperOne, $24.95). He’s citing research published in George Barna’s The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996). Prothero www.stephenprothero.com chairs the religion department at Boston University www.bu.edu. You can find more statistics like the one above if you go to www.amazon.com and use the “Search Inside the Book” tool to find page 30 in Religious Literacy.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

September 17, 2007

Why Do Some Synagogues Abstain From Blowing the Shofar When Rosh Hashanah Falls on the Sabbath? Quote of the Day (Wendy Mogel)

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee is the best book I’ve found about applying Jewish teachings to everyday child-rearing. This quote relates to this week’s holidays:

“We think of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the days of the year yielding a bigger synagogue turnout than any others, as the holiest of holy days. The powerful blare of the ram’s horn can seem like the spiritual highlight of the religious year. But the tradition in some synagogues is to abstain from blowing the ram’s horn when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat. Why? Because according to Jewish law, on Shabbat you are forbidden to carry musical instruments, and Shabbat takes precedence over Rosh Hashanah. A prescribed weekly day of rest and renewal ranks above a high holy day.”

Wendy Mogel www.wendymogel.com in The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teaching to Raise Self-Reliant Children (Penguin, 2001) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/12/15/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 24, 2007

Robert Cording’s Poem “Pentecost in Little Falls, New Jersey’

Filed under: Poetry,Religion — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:34 pm
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A reminder for anyone observing Pentecost (Sunday, May 27) …

Robert Cording’s eloquent collection Common Life: Poems (CavanKerry, $16, paperback) includes the poem “Pentecost in Little Falls, New Jersey.” A review of Common Life appeared on this site on April 5, 2007, and is archived in the “Poetry” category and with the April posts. You can find more information on Cording, a professor of English at Holy Cross, at www.cavankerrypress.org. Click on the “Reading Room” page on that site to read his poem, “A Prayer to Adam,” the first poem in Common Life.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 5, 2007

Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’: What Do You Say to God Besides, ‘I’ve Always Been a Big Fan of Your Work’?

After a bruising divorce, a woman in her 30s finds her way back to herself with rest stops in Rome, Mumbai and Bali

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. By Elizabeth Gilbert. Penguin, 352 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

In her early 30s, Elizabeth Gilbert kept thinking about something her sister had said while breast-feeding her firstborn: “Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.”

Gilbert took her words to heart. She quit trying to get pregnant, divorced her husband, moved out of their house in a New York suburb and took a year-long break from life as she had known it.

As she puts it in Eat, Pray, Love, she went to Rome for “pleasure” and to an ashram near Mumbai for “devotion” or spiritual renewal. Then it was off to Bali for “balance,” though this goal took a hit when she had so much sex with her island boyfriend that she got a bladder inflection. (A medicine woman cured her by making her drink a foul-smelling brew made from roots, leaves, berries, turmeric and a “shaggy mass of something that looked like witches’ hair.”) Gilbert, a writer for GQ, has some interesting things to say about the places she visits. But she’s nowhere near as good at highly inflected travel writing as, say, Geoff Dyer, whose Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It offers much more thoughtful writing on Indonesia and other countries. Great travel writers sell you on a personal vision of a place. Gilbert is selling something else: the idea that you can fix what’s wrong with your life buying a few plane tickets to spots that you’ve always wanted to visit. In her case, “recovery” sounds a lot like another form of consumerism.

Best line: Gilbert says that as her marriage fell apart, she wanted to ask God for help but wasn’t sure how to pray: “In fact, it was all I could do to stop myself from saying, ‘I’ve always been a big fan of your work …’”

Worst line: “A word about masturbation, if I may. Sometimes it can be a handy (forgive me) tool …” This kind of wordy and cute-instead-of-witty prose turns up often in Eat, Pray, Love.

Published: February 2006 (Viking hardcover), January 2007 (Penguin paperback)

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 27, 2007

Young, Jewish and Hoping for a Short Seder

A short story collection for people with more than four questions — way more — about how to reconcile their Jewish faith with their Phish bootlegs

You’re young, you’re Jewish, and you’re praying – well, maybe not praying – for a short seder. Who understands you? Elisa Albert, author of How This Night Is Different (Free Press, $18.95) a smart, funny and often bawdy collection of stories about young Jews looking for meaning in rituals that include a seder, a wedding, bat mitzvah, a Yom Kippur service and a packaged tour of Auschwitz. As a Nov. 22 review on this site noted, Albert’s writing transcends the label “Jewish fiction.” But How This Night Is Different could still make a fine Passover gift for anyone hip enough to see the comic potential characters such as a 31-year-old single woman who goes home for the holiday with that least inappropriate of ailments, a yeast infection. How many short story collections have, as this one does, a cover inspired by a bottle of Manishevitz?

Links: Author site www.elisaalbert.com. One-Minute Book Reviews review
www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/11/22/elisa-albert/

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 26, 2007

Robin McGraw’s Faith in Herself

Dr. Phil’s wife writes about her $50,000 Mercedes, her crystal chandeliers, and those tabloid rumors

[Note: I picked up Inside My Heart along with Love Smart, reviewed on this site on Feb. 8, planning to do a dual review. The books were so different I decided to do this one separately.]

Inside My Heart: Choosing to Live With Passion and Purpose. By Robin McGraw. Nelson, 223 pp., $24.99.

By Janice Harayda

Robin McGraw devotes four pages of Inside My Heart to a vasectomy reversal that her husband had without telling her – an incident that included, as she puts it, “fabricating” a cover story for his whereabouts during the surgery. This is by far the most revealing anecdote in her memoir of her marriage to Dr. Phil McGraw. What would her husband say if a man on his talk show confessed to doing the same thing?

McGraw says that she wrote Inside My Heart to get female readers excited about becoming “the woman that God created you to be,” a process that involves learning to stand up for themselves as she says she has done. Presumably to help them get “excited,” she writes about her $50,000 Mercedes, her “Italian Renaissance style” home with its “mosaic floors and crystal chandeliers” and her “black suede bomber jacket” that her husband gave her for Christmas. She says little about her day-to-day spiritual practices and struggles beyond that she gives thanks each morning for how “God has blessed” her.

Although Inside My Heart comes from a publisher of Christian books, God comes across in it as a generic figure with a goody bag that always has something for McGraw. So it’s hard to say who the target audience is. Inside My Heart may offend evangelicals with its glib materialism and lack of references to Jesus and the Bible. But it’s so shallow it has little to offer others, including people who enjoy good celebrity memoirs. Perhaps it’s is aimed partly at all those tabloid readers who wonder if there’s truth to the rumors that its author has been so lonely in Los Angeles, she went door-to-door trying to find someone to play bunco with her? If so, let the record show that McGraw says the stories about the dice game are false. “I had never even heard of it,” she says, “let alone played it.”

Best line: McGraw was startled when she first learned of her husband’s vasectomy reversal: “And then I took a good look at him and saw that he had a bulge under his trousers from a bandage and icepack.”

Worst line: At times McGraw slips into her husband’s nasty, hectoring tone. An example occurs when she urges people to have colonoscopies: “If you’re over fifty and haven’t had one done because you’re too squeamish to deal with it, stop acting like a baby and go have one.”

Consider reading instead: Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd, by Sue Monk Kidd. A review is archived in the “Essays and Reviews” category on this site.

Published: September 2006

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 15, 2006

Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: A Guide to Raising Children With Good Character

A wise and compassionate guide to raising children who have good character, not just good personalities or high “self-esteem”

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children. By Wendy Mogel. Penguin/Compass, 300 pp., $14, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Are you a Jewish parent trying to solve the “December dilemma,” which Wendy Mogel describes as “resisting the allure of Christmas without building Hanukkah up into a high-stature holiday it was never meant to be”? Are you a parent of another faith who wishes your children would express more gratitude for what they have and fewer complaints about what they don’t have this month?

If so, you can walk into almost any bookstore and find good books about how to tone down the materialism of the season. Wendy Mogel deals instead with the broader issue that often lies behind the concerns about holiday excesses: How can you raise children who have their priorities straight? In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, she gives wise and compassionate answers to the question: How can you help your children develop good character and not just good personalities or high “self-esteem”?

Mogel bases her responses on Jewish teachings and her work as a psychologist and leader of workships for parents, and her advice is so refreshing that her book has won deserved acclaim not just from Jewish leaders but from secular critics and publications such as the Episcopal Schools Review. Mogel rightly argues that many parents are so eager to avoid the mistakes of their own elders that they have given away the store: “In their eagerness to do right by their children, parents not only overindulge them materially, but also spoil them emotionally.” They prize their children’s feelings so highly that they fail to instill in them an adequate sense of gratitude and of their responsibilities to others, including their parents, teachers, and community.

How can parents undo the damage? Mogel offers a step-by-step guide in which she is unafraid to use words like “should.” She is rarely less direct than she is in a comment in her section on the importance of manners: “When taking food and eating it in the presence of a parent, friend, or sibling, your child should always make an automatic habit of offering either to share or to get some for the other person. ‘I’m getting myself a glass of orange juice. Would you like one too?’ ‘Would you like some of these chips?’” And if you think you couldn’t get your children to do this, this book may change your mind.

For years Mogel has worked in the Los Angeles area and counseled some of the country’s most demanding parents and privileged children. She knows the pressures that high-octane families face and takes a good-humored and down-to-earth approach to them. (Her advice on instilling respect includes a section called “Curing Sitcom Mouth.”) Because her book has become so popular, you can also find it in most bookstores. If you’re looking for a last-minute Hanukkah present for thoughtful parents, your search has ended.

Best line: “An especially troubling aspect of modern child-rearing is the way parents fetishize their children’s achievements and feelings and neglect to help them develop a sense of duty toward others.”

Worst line: The cover of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee shows a girl and boy wearing fully loaded backpacks that fall to their hips. These backpacks do not appear to meet the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student’s body weight.” http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/augschool.htm The AAP suggests a rolling backback for students with a heavy load, which these two are obviously have. The photo shouldn’t necessarily be held against Mogel because authors may not have the final say in — or even be consulted about — what goes on the covers of their books.

Editor: Jane Rosenman

Recommended if … you’re looking for an antidote to parenting guides with an “anything goes” attitude toward children’s behavior.

Published: September 2001 www.wendymogel.com

© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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