Quarterly Media Review – Winter, 2018

Current Slow Reads:

  • Adam Zagajewski, Slight Exaggeration. (Sigh. This is an extraordinary ‘memoir’ that has had a hold of me for weeks, now. It may become, I think, a vade mecum, which means that I really ought to purchase my own copy and return this one to the library . . .)
  • Jean Vanier, Becoming Human.
  • Rowan Williams, Being Human.

Page Turners:

  • Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust (1): Belle Sauvage.
  • Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
  • J.M. Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus.
  • Michael Ondaatje, Cat’s Table.
  • Keigo Higashino, The Salvation of a Saint.
  • Margane Satrapi, Persepolis.


  • ABC’s The Minefield, Scott Stephens and Martha Nussbaum.
  • Home-brewed Christianity, John Swinton.
  • Nomad, Kallistos Ware on the Jesus Prayer; Liz West on the Enneagram; Paula Gooder on Phoebe and Pauline spirituality; Danielle Wilson and Brad Jersak in a reflection entitled ‘Nativity at the Edges’.

On Screen:

  • The Light Between Two Oceans.
  • Paterson.

Quarterly Media Review — Autumn, 2018

Not terribly varied media-wise this quarter, but quite voluminous on books and podcasts! Made possible by a spell of time out of time in late June.

Page Turners:

👏🏻 Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant

👏🏻 (🤯!) Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (3); The Story of the Lost Child (4)

Kate Atkinson, When Will There Be Good News?

Joan Chittister, Welcome to the Wisdom of the World

Alexander McCall Smith, The House of Unexpected Sisters

Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust, 1: La Belle Sauvage 


On Being: 

Frank Wilczek, ‘Why is the World So Beautiful?’

Maria Shriver, ‘Finding my “I Am”‘


Walter Brueggeman, ‘Sabbath as Resistance’

👏🏻 🌈Vicky Beeching, ‘From Shame to Pride’

👏🏻 Elaine Heath, ‘Spiritual Practices’

Guardian Books Podcast:

👏🏻 Marilynne Robinson on contemporary politics and her book What Are We Doing Here? ( AND entelechy! time as matrix!)

Team Human:

Interview of Jeremy Lent (of the lauded The Patterning Instinct) by Douglas Rushkov

Better Listen (not a podcast but a free download)

Marion Woodman and Robert Bly on ‘The Maiden King’

The Sacred Podcast:

Interview of Krista Tippett by Elizabeth Oldfield

Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations:

👏🏻 Barbara Brown Taylor, ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’

Fresh Thinking (via Centre of Theological Inquiry)

Kanan Kitani

On Screen:

50 First Kisses (Japanese)

Quarterly Media Review – Summer, 2018


Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant

Neil Gaiman, American Gods


Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name

Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory

Donna Leon, Falling in Love

Slower Reads:

Kathleen Duffy, Teilhard’s Mysticism: Seeing the Inner Face of Evolution

Laurence Freeman, Jesus: The Teacher Within


Academy of Achievement: Interview with Kazuo Ishiguro

Aspen Ideas to Go: Panel discussion, ‘Living a Moral Life’

Intelligence Squared: Panel discussion, ‘If you’re a Citizen of the World . . . ‘

The Minefield: Scott Stephens & Walid Ali, ‘Is Speed Worth the Moral Cost?’

On Being:

Rebecca Solnit, ‘Falling Together’;

Maria Popova & Natalie Batalia, ‘Cosmic Imaginings’

Philosophers’ Zone: Rai Gaita, ‘A Common Humanity, But How?’

RSA: Rutger Bregman ‘Utopia for Realists’

Sounds True:

👏🏻 James Hollis, ‘A Summons to a Deeper Life’

👏🏻 Sr. Joan Chittester, ‘Lighting a Fire with Faith’

👏🏻 St.Paul’s Cathedral: John Swinton and Rowan Williams: ‘Who Am I? Identity, Faith and Being Human’

Talking Politics: James Williams, ‘Stand Out of Our Light’

TED Radio Hour: The Act of Listening

Uehiro-Carnegie-Oxford Lecture (2016): Michael Ignatieff, ‘Is Globalisation Drawing Us Together or Tearing Us Apart?’

👏🏻 University College Dublin Humanities: Marina Warner, ‘The Truth of Stories’

The Why Factor: ‘Listening’

On Screen:

An Education (2009)

Wild Oats (oh dear!😬)



Half Nelson


The Saint of Siena & the Flying of Spinnakers

You, O Eternal Trinity,

Are a deep sea into which,

The more I enter,

The more I find,                                         billowing-sails.jpg


The more I find,

The more I seek.

O Abyss,

O eternal Godhead,

O Sea profound,

What more could you give me



God’s grace, unsought and unearned,

Blows through my life,


All I need to do is

Raise my sails

to catch the full wind.

~ Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380.

Image: Morris Rosenfeld, American 1885-1968. Silver gelatine photograph (edited), 1938.

Quarterly Media Review, Spring 2018

Page Turners:

  • Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising. — Read this over Winter hols with a horde of Tweeple who follow @RobGMacfarlane. Great fun!
  • Alan Jacobs, How to Think. — A practice we might all slow down and try to do with more care, more faithfully. 
  • Elif Shafak, Three Daughters of Eve. — I enjoyed the portrait of Turkey in this, its cosmopolitanism, the mix of old and new, and the strength of the women characters. Good YA novel.
  • Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name. — Blown away! I know there are those who don’t have the stomach for this series and I myself find a recovery period necessary before I open the next one. Thoroughly intense and a unique kind of dark, generous brilliance.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names. — A slim, substantial novel that I took ages to read because it was, as the blurb said, ‘stunning’. And I found it literally so. I basked in its warmth; I cried, heartbroken, knowing, resonating (or was it shivering in shocked recognition?) by the end.
  • Donna Leon, Earthly Remains. — After those demanding reads, and a period of feeling like Goldilocks around books, I found a nice little Venetian break did me good.

Slow/er Reads:

  • Graham Ward, Unbelievable: Why We Believe, and Why We Don’t. 
  • Ursula LeGuin, The Farthest Shore. — I hardly want to read this. I don’t want to run out of LeGuin’s books…
  • Shaun Tan, The Arrival. — I’ve never been much of a ‘reader’ of the graphic form, This book expresses tender, human genius and is therefore, unsurprisingly, beautiful!
  • Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things. — This is a book of essays I recently picked up from the library. I remember enjoying ‘Open City’ some years ago.

Essays & Shorts:

  • Tom Berry, ‘The New Story’.
  • From the Knock Twice anthology, Vol 2. (ed.Andrew Simms):
    • Jayati Ghose, ‘Chitrangada’
    • Sarah Deco,’Baba Yaga’s Mission’
    • Marion Molteno, Tales I tell my Grandchildren
    • Ed Mayo, There are Alternatives
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Nobel Acceptance Speech
  • Teju Cole, ‘Double Negative’ — Reading this (review) essay and having been drifting toward a different level of photography (i.e. I got a ‘real’ camera and have been trying to learn how to use it properly…), I was reminded that I lost the energy to continue with Ivan Vladislavić’s novel Double Negative. Was it too androcentric for my tastes? It was some time ago; I really don’t remember. Reading Cole’s essay piqued my interest to return to it (maybe). (I watched this feeling of stimulation having just read Gloria Origgi’s short article, ‘Say Goodbye to the Information Age; it’s all about Reputation now.’)


  • London Review of Books:
    •  Lauren Elkin on the ‘Flaneuse’
    • Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Storyteller’
  • Nomad: – Mark Vernon
  • St Paul’s Cathedral – On Shusaku Endo’s Silence
  • BBC Hard Talk – Moshin Hamid
  • Ahead of Our Time – Mario Juarez: Tell Your Story

On Screen/s:

  • True Story
  • 5 Flights Up
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Blind Side
  • RSA Shorts  (what a resource!)

Lenten Reads:

  • Christopher Page’s Lent project on his blog, In A Spacious Place, reflections on sayings in the Gospel of Thomas
  • David Brooks, The Road to Character. [— If you haven’t already, I recommend you read this. You will be better off.]
  • Jonathan Rowson, Spiritualise

Otherwise, currently absorbed by: 

  •  Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman.



Magnolia copy

*Rood-Lotus (Magnolia)

A fountain of stars has gushed up and leapt over a neighbour’s wall. I see them lit by the sun from my terrace, magnolias looking for all the world like they’re climbing the wavy silver-slate-coloured roof tiles tumbling down from the spine of an old Japanese house.


The laundry flaps nearby.

Petal confetti lie around the skirts of the ornamental plum trees. Our first hope in winter, the plums begin to bloom in late February around the time the baby nightingales start to sing. The unstinting generosity of this song, this ‘fresh-peeled voice’ (Larkin), embroidering lines with brio, thrills me to the core. I wait for it, even hunt for it sometimes, simply to be showered, indiscriminately, in the full, reconciling joy of it. A vivid sign of life, it is one of the things that gets me through the difficult transition from death to life in the often veiled, sometimes turbulent, month of March.

Daphne is another reminder of life, one that comes through the nose. Her small clustered flowers pack a wallop of sugary-citrus fragrance that regularly arrest my feet on paths.

The sun has been out, jackets occasionally unzipped. Bodies are becoming less brittle. Sap is rising.

Buds on the sakura, relaxing knots now, are turning neon yellow-green. Dawdling at breakfast I look through branches over the river and see that the willows alongside the castle moat have suddenly transformed their violently pruned branches back into dipping trains, hippy boas, the same colour as the buds. Evenings at the moat, just after sunset, gazing on the silvery mirror, a swan slowly and surely captures my attention. Dream dancing we are and while I’m thinking-without-thinking of the things going on under water. I see the bird’s reflection and am hypnotised by the grace of those slightly raised wings, that slow ease, the dipping neck. The cold begins to settle and I lift my soul and  hasten home.

Some mornings, lately, consciousness has cracked gently into waking accompanied by birdsong, love letters, Ikkyu, the poet, knew. Today, I wake to rain.

“Love Letters”
By Ikkyu

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.

(Thank you, Parker Palmer)

*Rood Lotus is a name I’ve made up in honour of Passion-tide. I recently learned that ‘mokuren’, the Japanese name for magnolia, is a combination of tree+lotus.

Praying with Persephone

Open in a window beside this note that I am beginning on Ash Wednesday, 2018, is Jan Richardson’s gorgeous image entitled “Into Earth“. I’ve been staring at it for a long time now. Enjoying my absorption in it. The scent of the potted narcissus on my desk wafts delicately, now absent, now teasing, now fully present, now gone again. My mind drifts as I lift my eyes from the picture to look at the dipping heads on the fresh green stems of these impossible, late winter beauties: how these light-bearing blooms flourish! I am thinking of Persephone, the maiden abducted, snatched and disappeared in a brutal instant, into the wild unknown of the Underworld. Blindsided.

suissenSeed girl, core, inner feminine: from the earth we have come, like you, and to the earth we shall return.

I begin this Lent brought low, blindsided myself. Chaotic and storm-laden within. Which is, perhaps, a fitting place to begin the season. The prophet Hosea’s words that popped in via @digitalnun’s blog not only affirms this intuition, but offers a certain consolation, too:

‘I will lead her into the wilderness, and there I will speak to her heart.’


Joy. Ah! (The Midnight Bells)


There are one hundred and seven on the one side of midnight, and a single one on the other. The division between the old and the new is accompanied by the sonorous clang of wood colliding with metal, swung, often with great effort, by teams of religious men, to mark the threshold of the New Year. ‘Joya no kane’ they call the tolling; a toll it is, not a peal.

As well it might be. To be on the threshold of the new is a solemn rite. There is joy embedded, as you can hear, even across languages, but the bell is meant, above all, to be a reminder; each slow bong should bring a surfacing of reflection, should, while ringing out, echo within: the bell must ring inside you. In the dark, it must waken you. Remember you to yourself. The western rite of confession acts similarly.

There are 108 ‘misses’ (sins, worldly desires, passions or attachments) we humans repeatedly make, according to Buddhist tradition. The ins and outs you will know according to your interest. Suffice it to say, these increase suffering in the world. People here say that the last bell is rung after midnight to ‘seal the deal’ as it were; to mark the resolution, to let go what has gone before. I’m all for ‘starting again’. I’m glad, in fact, for any and all opportunities to do so. I also acknowledge my anxiety about finishing sometimes, being finished, letting go, moving on.

The sacred rite of bell-ringing between the worlds of past and present I conceive with the ancient image of the yin-yang diagram, with the last ring, in the earliest moment of the new, as the light particle, a seed, a star, falling into the dark, a quietly, dynamic background. Call it soul-soil.

Readying for its mission.

Quarterly+Quarterly Media Review

(I can’t make up my mind whether a quarter plus a quarter equals a bi- or a semi-, hence the title.¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Over the summer break, I was disappointed not to feel lit up by any fiction. I read Shafak’s Forty Rules of Love and I hoped to love it through and through and didn’t. I had been teaching on exophonic writers and learned about this esteemed Turkish woman writer. It was a lovely recalling of the passions of Sufism. I was left, alas, un-ignited and slightly frustrated by it. I very much enjoyed Coetzee and Kurtz’s (non-fiction) conversation and remain engaged by the questions raised about change, in particular, the relation and possibilities that exist in and between the individual and the collective.

Changes at work have taken an enormous amount of time and energy in the past year and I have been through some doldrums on the reading front. Happily, I have a large stack on the TBR pile, including the 3 later volumes of Ferrante’s Neapolitan series. Each time I pass the cobbler’s shop near my place, I get chills and a wicked thrill of the memory of the ending of My Brilliant Friend! I’m very much enjoying the early stages of NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut (and feeling proud and nostalgic). Just as well semester ends in a few days before a week’s break over the New Year.


  • A Greater Music, Bae Suah
  • Forty Rules for Love, Elif Shafak
  • The Good Story, Arabella Kurtz & J.M.Coetzee
  • Tales of Literacy for the C21st, MaryAnne Wolf
  • Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
  • My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
  • The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
  • Make Me, Lee Child
  • The Seed Thief, Jacqui L’Ange
  • Writing in the Dark, David Grossman


  • Speaking into the Air, John Durham Peters
  • The Incredible Need to Believe, Julia Kristeva
  • Doing English in AsiaHaseltine & Ma (eds.) 


  • Clarice Lispector (trans. Dodson), “And it’s going to rain”; “Better than to burn”; “Forgiving God”.
  • Ted Chiang, “Tower of Babylon”, “Understand” “Division by Zero” 
  • Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Exchange” 
  • Wendell Berry, “The Loss of the University”
  • The Vatican, “Educating to Fraternal Humanism” 
  • Edwin O Reischauer, “The Meaning of Internationalisation” 
  • Adam Kirsch, “World Literature & Its Discontents


  • WNYC, Apocalypse, Now
  • The Spirit of Things, Rachel Kohn & Krista Tippett
  • The News Quiz (I miss Sandi Toksvig)
  • Slow radio
  • Pray as you go (I’ve enjoyed a restart for Advent)


  • The Theory of Everything
  • The Midwife (French)
  • The Circle


  • Three Daughters of Eve, Elif Shafak
  • Knock Twice, ed. Andrew Simms
  • The Road to Character, David Brooks
  • We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo
  • The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper (#thedarkisreading – a twitter experiment with @RobMacfarlane and @juliamarybird, starting on Winter Solstice eve. So much fun!)

Remember your Genius

Two orthodox Jewish gentlemen who’d flown over from NY were in the Seoul, Incheon lounge at crack of dawn when we arrived. One, finishing an audible, online but to me incomprehensible (Yiddish? Hebrew?) conversation, opened up what looked like a prayer book – brown, well used, worn, with hanging page mark strings – and read quietly for a while. I was inspired to do the same and opened up my Office app on the iPad. It was Lady of Sorrows. I was struck by the readings’ images of water, mud and overwhelm and reflected on the destructive waters experienced by the country I had just left. Leaving the lounge to board for my next flight, I passed a small dining room with a tv screen broadcasting the strident, scolding and triumphant tones of the lady anchor from ‘NoKo’. I didn’t understand that either; nor did I know about the missile until late in the afternoon when I was back home safe and sound.


The grass on the river banks is knee high and setting out for a walk to lessen the effects of jet lag I feel as if I am walking on clouds; clouds, I find, of cricket song. This is wonderful! The leaves of the sakura are looking desiccated as they do having endured the heat of the summer, and I am surprised that autumn feels quite so close. My own skin, pleasantly sweat-free, registers the change first. My sneezing faculties tickle, too, signaling dry air settling in.

Walking south I catch the boys rowing at sundown and sit on the wall to watch. On the far side of the river a soccer game is going on, shouts and laughter rise into the air. Happy sounds, they make me smile. Near me is the regular shush of oars pulling in and out; an occasional bout of bellows resounds from the diminutive cox on one of the larger skulls. The boys are all berry brown, lost in loose concentration, full of grace.

How could we tire of hope? / -so much is in bud. 

(Denise Levertov, Beginners)

All weekend long we waited for the typhoon that had been roiling around taking its own sweet time dawdling north-east. The suspense grew dreadful. Finally, on Sunday night, after a weekend of odd gusts and a bucket of rain here and there, it was upon us, howling and violent. Waking the following day, it was to a world washed clean.

I have been wrestling with Julia Kristen this week reading an interview published as ‘This Incredible Need to Believe‘. Such a compelling title and connected with so much else I’m trying to wrap my mind around. (For example, Coetzee and Kurtz’s ‘The Good Story’ and Ward’s ‘Why We Believe…’) In particular, I’m trying to get to grips with a section on genius and ‘great men’, thinking about the individual and the collective. In particular, I’m interested in the turning point between when people were in touch with the Angel/Daimon/Genius that made you You (where the human was seen as a ‘co-presence’ with the Divine, a fresh expression, a never-before-or-since kairotic emergence; a deeply original, creative, loved and actively loving Singularity) and when people decided that rather than honoring this god/(aspect of) God, they’d project that power instead onto the so-called ‘Great Man’.

Kristeva refers to Arendt who noted that during the Renaissance it was down to ‘men, who were losing God, to displace transcendence toward the best among them. Frustrated to see themselves assimilated to the fruits of their activities … the subjects of galloping secularization endeavored to confer the traits of “genius” and/or the divinity with each of them upon …’ others. From here, the beginnings of celebrity culture can be traced. (Though to say giving power/devotion to the ‘best among us’ is no longer, or quite so undoubtedly, true. It is, at least, open to interpretation: who counts as a member of the group, and what, and for whom, is ‘best’?) Along with the rise of celebrity culture, comes the atomization of the body social and the gradual erosion of pan-human dignity. There’s something to the biblical first commandment that I begin to appreciate as I live into my years and my questions.

The next part I’m going to try to figure out is how the notion of genius animates a ‘loving desire to surpass oneself’ notably in the Jewish and Christian traditions. For the time being, though, to remember one’s own dear Genius seems a small and necessary awareness to bring to the resistance against, if nothing else, creeping despair. This ‘self-surpassing’ I hope, will say something about how we all belong to a bigger story.


In other wrestling news, I realized the Autumn sumo tournament was on and tuned in to watch the live broadcast on a day when I’d arrived home early and tired from work. It was great fun to watch again. There’s been a long interval in which I have not paid it much mind at all. A little excitable edge-of-your-seat squirming and jeering and cheering at the screen was an enjoyable release of tension.

So ends a week of Now.Heres. Wishing you well.