Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Except for the Korean War and the Cold War and racial segregation and a few other things, 1953 was a pretty good year. Hopefully, 2011 will be pretty good, too.

Eclectic Reading

Here's what I read in 2010:

1. The Church of Our Fathers by Roland Bainton
Completed January 8, 2010

2. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
Completed: January 16, 2010

3. The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton
Completed: January, 2010

4. Marginal Catholics by Ivan Clutterbuck
Completed: February, 2010

5. The Second Coming by Walker Percy
Completed: February, 2010

6. Walker Percy: The Last Catholic Novelist by Kieran Quinlan
Completed: February, 2010

7. Science Fiction The 100 Best Novels: An English Language Selection: 1949 - 1984
by David Pringle
Completed: February 27, 2010

8. Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction by Michael White
Competed: February 27, 2010

9. 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939, A Personal Choice
by Anthony Burgess
Completed: March 5, 2010

10. The Gargoyle Code: Lenten Letters Between a Master Tempter and His Diabolical Trainee
by Dwight Longenecker
Completed: March 6, 2010

12. Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church
by Michael S. Rose
Completed: March 8, 2010

13. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
Completed: March 19, 2010

14. The Light Invisible by Robert Hugh Benson
Completed: March 20, 2010

15. The Age of Consent: The Rise of Relativism and the Corruption of Popular Culture
by Robert H. Knight
Completed: March 21, 2010

16. I Alone Have Escaped To Tell You: My Life and Pastimes
by Ralph McInerny
Completed: March 27, 2010

17. What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained
by Ralph McInerny
Completed: March 29, 2010

18. How Far Can You Go by David Lodge
Completed: April, 2010

19. Judith’s Marriage by Bryan Houghton
Completed: April, 2010

20. The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture
by Philip F. Lawler
Completed: April 16, 2010

21. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Completed: April 17, 2010

22. Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff
Completed: April 24, 2010

23. A Short History of the Mass by Alfred McBride
Completed: April 24, 2010

24. Teacha: Stories From a Yeshiva by Gerry Albarelli
Completed: April 24, 2010

25. Voodoo & Hoodoo by Jim Haskins
Completed: May 3, 2010

26. The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson
Completed: May 15, 2010

27. The Executioner Always Chops Twice: Ghastly Blunders On the Scaffold
by Geoffrey Abbott
Completed: May, 2010

28. Questions and Answers About Your Journey To God
by Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R.
Completed: June 1, 2010

29. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
Completed: June 5, 2010

30. The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor
Completed: June, 2010

31. Tudor England by S.T. Bindoff
Completed: June, 2010

32. The Abbess of Andulusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey
by Lorraine V. Murray
Completed: July, 2010

33. The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism
by Mary Eberstadt
Completed: July, 2010

34. Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity
by S.E. Cupp
Completed: July, 2010

35. A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story
by Diana Butler Bass
Completed: July 20, 2010

36. Sir William Blackstone and the Common Law: Blackstone’s Legacy to America
by Robert D. Stacey
Completed: July 29, 2010

37. Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future by Fr. Seraphim Rose
Completed: August 5, 2010

38. The Last Night of a Damned Soul by Slimane Benaissa
Completed: August 14, 2010

39. Understanding Flannery O’Connor by Margaret Earley Whitt
Completed: August 18, 2010

40. Heathen Valley by Romulus Linney
Completed: August, 2010

41. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Completed: August 26, 2010

42. A Study in Greene: Graham Greene and the Art of the Novel
by Bernard Bergonzi
Completed: August 29, 2010

43. The Celestial Bed by Irving Wallace
Completed: August 31, 2010

44. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Completed: September, 2010

45. The Third Woman: The Secret Passion that inspired Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair
by William Cash, Completed: September, 2010

46. Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces - and How We Can Change Them Back Again by Michael S. Rose
Completed: September 26, 2010

48. Last Rites: The Death of the Church of England by Michael Hampson
Completed: October, 2010

49. The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith
by Irshad Manji
Completed: October 11, 2010

50. A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes Edited by Scott M.P. Reid
Completed: October 12, 2010

51. Liturgical Time Bombs In Vatican II: The Destruction of Catholic Faith Through Changes in Catholic Worship
by Michael Davies
Completed: October 16, 2010

52. Purity: Sex, Marriage & God by Johann Christoph Arnold
Completed: October, 2010

53. The Red Hat by Ralph McInerny
Completed: October 24, 2010

54. After This Life: What Catholics Believe About What Happens Next
by Father Benedict J. Groeschel
Completed: October 31, 2010

55. The Catholic Church and American Culture: Why the Claims of Dan Brown Strike
a Chord
by Eric Plumer
Completed: November 7, 2010

56. If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem by William Faulkner
Completed: November 12, 2010

57. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
Completed: November 20, 2010

58. The Man Within by Graham Greene
Completed: November 22, 2010

59. Labels: A Mediterranean Journey by Evelyn Waugh
Completed: November 27, 2010

60. Striptease by Carl Hiaasen
Completed: December, 2010

61. Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism
by Melinda Selmys
Completed: December 4, 2010

62. Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen
Completed: December, 2010

63. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference
by David Berger
Completed: December 21, 2010

64. In Search of the New Testament Church: The Baptist Story
by C. Douglas Weaver
Completed: December 27, 2010

65. Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism)
by Frank Schaeffer
Completed: December 29, 2010

66. Justifiable Homicide: Growing Up a Baptist Christian Fundamentalist
by Dean H. Auginbaugh
Completed: December 31, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Carl Hiaasen's Tourist Season

First the chairman of the Miami - Dade County Chamber of Commerce is found stuffed into a suitcase covered with sun tan lotion, wearing a flowered Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts, and sunglasses. He was murdered by having a rubber alligator stuffed down his throat. Then tourists and “snow birds” (Yankees who have moved south to Sunny Florida) start disappearing and being murdered all over Miami. A terrorist group calling itself Las Noches de Deciembre takes credit for the killings. Las Noches are headed by a disgruntled columnist for the Miami newspaper who is a rabid environmentalist, a former professional football player and a Seminole Indian who want to wage war against the white man, and a Cuban who was thrown out of a right wing anti-Castro terrorist group because he could never make a bomb which went off properly. Las Noches want to rid Florida of the pollution caused by tourists and out of state transplants and return it to the pristine untouched wilderness which it once was.

The above is loosely the plot of Carl Hiaasen’s wild dark comedy, Tourist Season (1986). Hiaasen, a columnist for the Miami Herald, is passionate about environmental concerns in his native Florida. In this, his first solo novel (Hiaasen had previously co-authored a couple of novels with another writer), Hiaasen writes the Florida environmentalist fantasy: Kill the tourists, run the snowbirds back up north to Yankee land, and blow up the condos and hotels.

While not nearly as funny as Striptease, Tourist Season has its comic high points. Anyone that can’t find anything funny about cold blooded murder should pass on this book. Taken all in jest, however, this is pretty funny stuff. The old widow from New York City whose husband insisted that they retire to Florida and is now stuck in the condo he bought even though she hates it, is murdered by Las Noches by being fed to a crocodile and goes to her death thinking that she hopes her husband is satisfied now. This is about what she expected from Florida. She would rather have stayed in New York where she could walk to the market.

The madcap comedy aside, like all of Hiaasen’s novels, Tourist Season has a very serious point: the destruction of the environment. Although the words are those of the psychotic environmental terrorist Skip Wiley, I am sure that the sentiment is Hiaasen’s:

Today the Florida most of you know - and created, in fact - is a suburban tundra purged of all primeval wonder save for the sacred solar orb. For all you care, this could be Scottsdale, Arizona with beaches.

Let me fill you in on what’s been going on the last few years: the Glades have begun to dry up and die; the fresh water supply is being poisoned with unpotable toxic scum; up near Orlando they actually tried to straighten a bloody river; in Miami the beachfront hotels are pumping raw sewage into the Gulf Stream; statewide there is a murder every seven hours; the panther is nearly extinct; grotesque three-headed nuclear trout are being caught in Biscayne Bay; and Dade County’s gone totally Republican.

Although it’s twenty four years old, Tourist Season is still good for a few laughs and some serious food for thought about the environment.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Carl Hiaasen's Striptease

I thought that my loyal readers, all four of you, might be tired of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh by now. So I read a tawdry comic novel about SEX. I know, this is perfect reading for the penitential season of Advent.

Florida author Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. All of his novels are set in Florida. Hiaasen is an environmentalist who laments the passing of pristine old Florida and the coming of tourists and developments. (In Hiaasen’s first novel, Tourist Season, which I am in the process of reading now, the plot involves “environmental terrorists” who are killing tourists). Striptease (1993) is Hiassen’s commentary on the exploitative practices of big commercial sugar growers.

At the outset, let me say that Striptease is a much better novel than the awful movie with Demi Moore and Burt Reynolds. One of the reasons that this doesn’t work as a movie is that this book really has no stars. It’s an ensemble of madcap characters. The movie would have been much better with a group of unknowns and B-actors rather than a couple of stars. There are entire chapters of the book in which the characters played by Demi Moore and Burt Reynolds do not appear.

Striptease is the story of Erin Grant. Erin’s ex-husband, Darrell, is a petty thief who is a professional wheel chair thief. That’s right, wheelchairs. Darrell goes around stealing wheelchairs from hospitals and nursing homes and then selling them back to other hospitals and nursing homes. Erin works as a secretary at the local FBI office until she is fired for being married to a man with a criminal record.

Darrell, who is an informant for the local police, is able to get his criminal record expunged and fights Erin for custody of their small daughter. Erin, who is desperate to get money to pay her expensive lawyer fees, becomes a stripper because she can make more in a night than she would make in a week at an ordinary job. Everything goes fine until one night when U.S. Congressman David Dilbeck comes in the club and breaks a champagne bottle over another customer’s head. Congressman Dilbeck has a problem: he LOVES NAKED WOMEN but he goes crazy when he's around them.

Dilbeck is chairman of the committee in the House of Representatives which oversees Federal farm subsidies for sugar farmers. The Rojo brothers who own the largest sugar operation in South Florida have Dilbeck in their pocket and want to make sure he gets re-elected and keeps getting them their subsidy. In the educational part of this comic romp, Hiaasen lectures us on how big sugar imports migrant workers from the Caribbean to harvest sugar cane for next to nothing in wages and pollutes the environment by dumping waste water in the Everglades.

A guy in the strip club wants to get a date with Erin. He recognizes Dilbeck and tries to blackmail him to get Dilbeck to contact the judge and “fix” Erin’s child custody case. The plan backfires and the Rojo brothers’ hit man takes care of him. He winds up floating down a river in Montana where Miami homicide detective Al Garcia (one of Hiaasen’s recurring characters) happens to be vacationing. In short order, everybody who knows about Dilbeck being in the strip club fight begins to disappear . . . You get the idea. If anybody who hasn’t read this wants to read it, I don’t want to spoil the fun.

This novel is full of one joke and outrageous situation after another. For instance, the name of the strip club Erin works at, “The Eager Beaver,” has to be changed when the owner is sued for trade mark infringement by the Eager Beaver Chain Saw Company. A local judge, who carries a Bible to the gentleman’s club with him so that he can say that he is just there to witness to sinners, dies while getting a lap dance. Apparently, the judge just had too much excitement and when the young lady removed her bustier his head exploded and the judge died from a cerebral hemorrhage. And on and on and on. Striptease is a very funny book.

Readers might tend to think that all of Hiaasen’s outrageous characters and situations are all made up and couldn’t possibly happen in real life. However, after growing up in the deep South and practicing law in South Georgia for almost twenty years, I personally am aware of personalities and situations which are not too far removed from Hiaasen’s madcap South Florida. For instance, there was the client whose Dale Earnhardt memorabilia collection was worth more than the trailer she lived in . . . I could go on.

Striptease was a lot of fun. I will definitely be reading more Hiaasen.

Carl Hiaasen