Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Catholic fiction on the Internet: CatholicFiction.net

This morning I discovered a website called CatholicFiction.net, which offers, "news, views, and reviews" on fiction by Catholic writers. The site is sponsored and maintained by Idylls Press, a Catholic publishing concern with an interest in promoting a "new Catholic literary renaissance." The Catholic Fiction site looks like a good place for anyone interested in finding books written from a Catholic perspective (they cover "fiction in every genre, both classic and contemporary .. [as well as] literary biography and criticism) or reading reviews that give a Catholic "take" on fictional works that may or may not have been written by Catholic authors. They also have a Catholic Fiction Reading List, where you may find authors you may not have read before, or may not have realized were Catholic.

Mary Flannery O'Connor
One of my all-time favorite
writers, Flannery O'Connor
What makes a "Catholic writer" is a more complicated question than you might think. A number of years ago, I bought a book from Ignatius Press called The Catholic Writer, containing a variety of papers from an academic literary conference sponsored by the Wethersfield Institute. After I got it home, I flipped through to look for a discussion of one of my favorite Catholic writers, Flannery O'Connor -- but there was none! In the introduction to the volume, the editor explained that they only included writers who wrote on Catholic subjects -- i.e., stories about Catholics doing Catholic stuff (presumably attending Mass, praying the rosary, burying statues of St Joseph upside down in their front yards to help sell a house). I thought this was an insane definition of the term "Catholic writer,'' particularly as it necessarily excluded writers like O'Connor, whose stories are positively incandescent with the light of her Catholic faith.

Fortunately, the Catholic Fiction web site does not embrace this narrow definition -- in fact, they cite Flannery O'Connor's definition that Catholic writing is “a Catholic mind looking at anything.” (This is precisely the idea I had in mind when I called this blog "A Catholic Reader.") You can read more about their criteria for what constitutes "Catholic fiction" here. They also have a section devoted to "the conversation about Catholic fiction," with links to articles that discuss this topic -- "what it is (or isn’t), its history, its current state, its usefulness as a literary category."
Flannery O'Connor
by John Murphy

It looks interesting. When I've had a chance to peruse it more thoroughly, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, cruise around, check out the Catholic Fiction site, and check back in here to let me know what you think.

UPDATE Sept 2012: The Catholic Literature website has been updated, and is now called CatholicNovel.com. They've got a cleaner, better-organized website, which should make browsing easier. Also, the sponsoring publisher, Idylls Press, is about to debut a new website, too. Give 'em a look, and maybe buy some of their merchandise sporting illustrations of famous authors by John Murphy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

If books were snow-cones: Martha Grimes & Clive Cussler

novelist Martha Grimes
Martha Grimes
I have recently gone through a spate of what, for me, constitutes the equivalent of "beach reads" -- books that you read just for the fun of it, knowing that they provide more amusement than edification or cause for reflection. Such books are the mental equivalent of buttered popcorn or snow cones, tasty but probably not good for you if taken in quantity. I find that, as with such junk food, after a couple of servings I lose my taste for such stuff and the thought of going back for another helping any time soon makes me feel a bit nauseous.

novelist Clive Cussler
Clive Cussler
My recent "junk reads" of choice have been novels by Martha Grimes and Clive Cussler. Grimes writes British-style murder mysteries (although an American herself) that have come to occupy a prominent place in the subgenre of "cozies" (i.e., atmosphere and quirky characters predominate over plot and characterization), while Cussler's brand of story-telling almost defies description -- I suppose I would say his novels are action-adventure stories that rely heavily on maritime escapades and odd bits of ancient history. Cussler himself says:
I have never considered myself as much a writer as an entertainer. I've sincerely felt that my job was to entertain you the reader in such a manner that when you reached the end of the book you felt that you had got your money's worth. ... [I] believe you will find the novels a great summer reading escape and an everyday, anyday adventure.
I would say he has a keen understanding of both his audience and his literary product. Both Cussler and Grimes have produced long series that repeat the core cast of characters, making their books always familiar and cozy to return to, a pleasant intermezzo to a steady diet of more substantial reading fare. Too much of either at one time, however, would probably cause mental indigestion and rotting of the intellectual incisors.