“The Smithsonian Goes to Church”: Ivan Plis

has a fun piece on what the Museum of American History says is its very first exhibit on religion: The Smithsonian—with its new religion curator, Peter Manseau—appears to recognize how monumental and daunting a task it is to convey the contents of a society’s soul. Instead, Manseau is at his best taking snapshots of individual lives: a West African slave jotting down all the Islamic teaching he can remember, a fourteen-year-old girl stitching devotional poems in New Jersey, a Massachusetts churc … [Read more...]

99 Dreams I Have Had, Every One a Red Heifer: I read “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”

So I finally read Michael Chabon's novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and in spite of its serious flaws, I was still left with that wonderful feeling, Where have you been all my life? Why didn't I read this thing sooner?The novel's delights lie in its setting, its genre, and its prose. The setting is an alternate history in which the state of Israel was never founded, but the United States agreed to resettle Holocaust survivors and other European Jews in the Alaskan territory. So now … [Read more...]

Alone in the Commune: I Review One Scandinavian ’70s Free-Love Flick But…

...then without warning swerve into reviewing another, better one:“The Commune,” the new 1970s period piece from Danish writer/director Thomas Vinterberg, begins when architect Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) inherits a huge house. His own family, with wife Anna (Trine Dyrholm) and daughter Freja (Martha Sophie Wallstrøm Hansen), is too little to fill it, and they can’t afford its upkeep. So they have a sweet, laughing romp-through, the wife and daughter mimicking bird calls from the most distant rooms … [Read more...]

Post-Demon Stress Syndrome: Some horror-flick reviews

Stake Land: A teenage boy and his grizzled mentor travel north through a vampire-ridden, devastated America, picking up vulnerable people, encountering security cordons and emptied towns, and seeking a haven they've heard all about on the radio. They forge a found family by killin' the dead. Also there's quite lush cinematography and big sweeping shots. If this is starting to sound familiar, you are correct, this is basically 28 States Later. Even the "vampires" are actually zombies with big … [Read more...]

“The challenges of being both gay and Catholic”: I’m in the Washington Post

reflecting on Fr James Martin's new book. FWIW I think it's worth either reading or skipping to the end of this fairly long piece: After the Pulse shooting, Washington area houses of worship held an interfaith vigil. The participants were of every sexual orientation and many beliefs; celibate gay people stood alongside those in same-sex marriages to mourn and pray. Sometimes it can be harder to come together in ordinary times than in the wake of crisis. But our challenge is to be honest about … [Read more...]

If We Shadows Have Offended: I read “If We Were Villains”

So you don't have to!No, this trashy novel by M.L. Rio, set at an exclusive arts conservatory where the Shakespeare-obsessed fourth-year students probably kill a dude, could be cheaply summarized as, "The Secret History, but dumb." That's not even necessarily a criticism--lots of smart books are painfully dumb, and some dumb books are unexpectedly smart. I found myself enjoying this book and finding unexpected pleasures in it. It's frustrating and I think for most readers its flaws … [Read more...]

“It Was the End of Solo Singing”: I revisit a monarchist’s epic about the Spanish Civil War

for the University Bookman: When Eric Hobsbawm suggested that the period 1914–1991 could be called “the short twentieth century,” he not only defined an era but separated it from our own. Few conflicts are as emblematic of that final modern century than the Spanish Civil War; the familiar English-language writings on the war can seem remote from us, Orwell and Hemingway. If you want to see what’s only too contemporary in the Spanish clash of ideologies, turn to a novel by a man of the Spanish Ri … [Read more...]