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Review: Andrew Seddon’s Saints Alive!

Saints Alive! by Andrew Seddon

I love the way the blogosphere can bring like-minded people together, especially when it means I get a wonderful new book to read. This happened recently when Andrew Seddon sent me a nice email after visiting my science fiction blog. When I learned he is a writer, too, I asked if he would like me to review one of his books, and he kindly sent me a copy of his Saints Alive! New Stories of Old Saints.

There are a number of things I like about this book, the first being that he chose to write about saints that most of us probably know very little about (many of whom you’ve probably never even heard of). The saints selected for this volume all lived in the first four or five centuries of the Christian era, before the Roman empire collapsed, and many of them died as martyrs to the faith. But they lived so long ago that many of them have fallen into obscurity.

For a writer, this presents a challenge, as Seddon admits in his introduction, because so much of the little we do know of these heroes of the early Church is based on legends that have been so embroidered by the Christian imagination that it is difficult to tell how much of what has come down to us might be based on, or at least inspired by, fact.

Why take such a risk? Seddon indicates his reason in the book’s forward:

In many ways, Imperial Rome resembled our own culture. Rome was an expanding, powerful civilization which catered to the rich at the expense of the poor. […] But some refused to collaborate with the pagan society, and paid for their faith with their lives. The situation is no less dire today […] It is my hope that these stories, based on the lives of real people […] will inspire us to courage and faithfulness in the challenging times in which we live.

He goes on to say that he hopes the stories will make a valuable contribution to the current Year of Faith, and I think they do.

Bernini’s Santa Cecilia

A few of the saints, or at least their names, will be familiar to many readers: St Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop whose letter to the Romans has been preserved; St Cecilia, to whom an ancient church in Rome was dedicated and is often visited by tourists and pilgrims today (and Bernini’s famous sculpture also immortalizes her in our imaginations); St Martin of Tours, the Roman soldier turned Christian hermit, who was tricked into letting himself be made bishop. But I’m sure that most of the saints chosen — Saints Ariadne, Sabinus, John the Dwarf — will be unfamiliar to most readers.

Despite their obscurity, Seddon manages to shed light on each of them, not by recounting their entire life stories but by narrating a key moment in their lives — often, but not always, the moment of their deaths — which illuminates the distinctive  sanctity of each. These moments are well-chosen and well-narrated, turning the accounts into enjoyable short stories as well as instructive examples.

Saints Alive! will appeal to adults and youngsters alike. In fact, I think they would lend themselves to being read aloud and discussed afterward — wouldn’t that make a nice project for this Year of Faith! I think you’ll find that these stories really do bring these early saints to life in your imagination. And if you do fall in love with these heroes of the early Church and would like to know more about these saints, you can turn to the “Notes & Sources” at the back of the book.

You might also want to read some of Andrew Seddon’s other books.

Found it on Kindle Blogs: Reading Clive Cussler

This is a new feature I’m adding: reviews of blogs that you can subscribe to via Kindle. I’ve been subscribing to the daily Kindle feed of the National Catholic Register for almost as long as I’ve had my Kindle (includes Register columnists’s blogs and news stories that are available for free on their website), but hadn’t really started sampling other blogs via Kindle until recently. Since I can try each one for free for 14 days, I thought I would sample some and, if I like them, cancel my Kindle subscription and just read the blogs online for free.

Clive Cussler
Clive Cussler, maritime
adventurer, prolific author

The first one I’ll mention just called out to me because, as I’ve said before, I enjoy Clive Cussler’s novels, even though they are formulaic (in fact, Cussler apparently just outlines the books, then has various “co-authors” write the actual novels). Anyway, the idea that someone wanted to annotate Cussler’s books just caught my fancy. The blog is called, simply, Reading Clive Cussler, and its author (who calls herself The Thunder Child) is a woman after my own heart. Since each Cussler novel involves some legendary figure, article, or place from the distant past, and many contemporary readers are so poorly versed in history, art, and legend, the Thunder Child is probably performing a useful service in providing annotations on references to things arcane and unusual. I suspect, though, that she simply likes having an excuse to do a little quick research on such things and parsing out which references are based in fact and which are pure fiction.

Here’s a sampling of the things she clears up for Cussler’s readers:

  • From Spartan Gold: Balaclava train station 
  • From Pacific Vortex: the Merchant Marine 
  • From The Chase: Mesozoic Sea 
  • From Trojan Odyssey: Caltech (California Institute of Technology)
  • From Spartan Gold: Napoleon’s Reserve Army

Thunder Child has been adding to this blog with some frequency for about a year, and has only touched on three or four of Cussler’s many dozens of novels. At this rate, she’ll be writing for the rest of her life, if she just keeps working through his bibliography. If she stays with  it, I hope she’ll add an index so that readers can easily pull up all references from a particular title. On the other hand, her blogger profile lists dozens of blogs that she writes, with such varied titles as Interlock: The Jigsaw Puzzle Blog, Collecting Amelia Earhart, The Bible Reader, and The Bug Blog, so I suspect that Cussler does not have her full attention.

Anyway, Reading Clive Cussler is fun to dip into. I’m just a little jealous that someone else got the idea before I did.

©2012 Lisa A. Nicholas

Please leave your thoughts or comments below!

Book Review: 21 Ways to Worship, by Vinny Flynn

21 Ways to Worship, Vinny Flynn, MercySong

I thought I would start reviewing the books I picked up recently at the Catholic Marketing Network’s trade show. I’m starting with Vinny Flynn’s 21 Ways to Worship: a Guide to Eucharistic Adoration (published jointly by MercySong and Ignatius Press), because I began to use it almost as soon as I got it. After the New Media conference ended on Friday, I headed over to my parish church (which fortuitously is just a couple of miles from the conference site) to spend some time in Adoration, and I took Flynn’s book with me.

Now, at our church (and maybe at yours, too), on days when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for Adoration, a collection of Holy Hour books is made available in the narthex so that people can have some devotional material to use during their time before the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t know how many people avail themselves of this resource, but probably most of those who adore regularly have gotten tired of just reading the same devotions over and over. Many people, however, don’t know how to spend their time alone with the Lord, and others may find they have fallen into a “prayer rut.” 21 Ways should be helpful to both groups, and really to anyone who wants to deepen their personal relationship with Christ.

precious blood of Christ

The first thing I noticed is that the book is very attractively designed. While this is not essential, it is helpful. So many devotional books are full of such dense, ugly type that it is a kind of mortification to read them. You can see from the cover image above, this is a book that does not want to look intimidating. Inside there is an attractive layout on cream colored paper (not stark white), with attractive typography and enough “white space” to make the book easy on the eye. But, lest the graphic treatment seem too zippy for more traditional tastes, each chapter is illustrated with traditional devotional black and white images taken from old missals and prayer books, similar to those you see here.

Christ cleansing the temple

The text also nicely balances being fresh and accessible while drawing from the wellsprings of traditional devotional practice, in such a way that even the most venerable devotional practices take on a new sheen. Flynn writes in a conversational style, and each chapter title is a friendly exhortation: “Evict the Tenants!” (dispel distractions), “For God’s Sake, Shut Up!” (be silent and allow the Lord to speak), “Go to the Office!” (pray the Liturgy of the Hours),  twenty-one in all. Throughout, the author is encouraging you to try new things, none of which are really new at all but may be unfamiliar or untried. There is nothing “iffy” about the author’s advice: all is tried-and-true, taken from long Catholic traditions of prayer and meditation, just re-packaged to make it appealing and fresh to contemporary readers.

This book has gotten kudos from people such as Jeff Cavins, Fr. Larry Richards, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, and others who will be familiar to most Catholic readers, and it deserves their praise. I think this book should get as warm a welcome from those experienced in meditative prayer as from those who feel that they should spend more time before the tabernacle but don’t quite know what to do when they get there. I know I will be getting lots of inspiration from 21 Ways to Worship — and I may even have to buy an extra copy for the narthex table.