Once again in its long life, the Book of Hours was in danger. And Alphaios had put it there…
While recreating a resplendent fifteenth century Book of Hours as a gift for the pope, Brother Alphaios and archivist Inaki Arriaga discover ancient shreds of parchment thrust into its covers. Though warned away by a visibly shaken Prior Bartholomew, they pursue the few haunting words that remain only to stumble on a dark secret that undercuts one of the very pillars of Catholicism. They find themselves in a battle between the Church, which wants to destroy the parchment or bury it forever, and its owner, real estate mogul Salton Motice, who wants to use it for nefarious purposes.
Meanwhile, the brothers of St. Ambrose learn that Motice intends to buy their mid-town cloister and replace it with a skyscraper. The monks will be displaced from their home of nearly two centuries with no certainty at all about their future.
Wandering the city, Alphaios finds a strange young woman obsessed with painting enormous replicas of master artworks under one of the city’s great bridges, and a couple who, decades later, are still coping with having to flee from… Continue reading
And so we continue…
Just a few months before, I’d had the pleasure of attending a series of seminars on ancient sacred texts—including illuminated books—at St. Martin’s University just up the road in Lacey. They were given by an international panel of scholars of the Dead Sea scrolls and other ancient manuscripts. They were paleographers, all four of them: experts in early languages, writings and religions. Unfortunately for me, none of them had directly addressed the part of the craft I now needed to understand. Even so, I called St. Martin’s and explained my problem. No one here with that expertise, they said, and suggested that perhaps only Harvard University or Oxford might be able to help.
Daunted by that prospect, and preferring to meet with someone in person, I Googled “paleographer” and added the modifier “northwest United States”. Nothing. Deciding that the expertise I needed was more about the forms of scripts rather than their history, I typed in the words “calligraphy, northwest”. Down in the weeds I found a reference to Reed College in Portland (some forty miles south), and an undated press release. In the last couple… Continue reading
I’m pleased to post a newly produced video trailer for Book of Hours: The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios.
Many thanks to Mark E. Dykstra for the concept and production of the trailer. I want to note that it contains music of his own composition as well. Mark is a gifted painter and musician and composer, and has a number of book covers and trailers to his credit.
Click on the button below to watch.
It’s also embodied as a permanent feature under the “Books” tab above, and available on YouTube.
Thank you, Mark. Well done.
If you’re drawn to stories of the art world (and who isn’t?), the beauty and the money and the chicanery, you might have considered picking up the following books. For me, aspiring writer that I am, they illustrated some of the differences between rather ordinary storytelling and the remarkable. I didn’t set out to make such a comparison, but the rather startling weaknesses of the first were all the more apparent upon reading the second.
The Art Forger is a debut novel by B.A. Shapiro (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013). Glossy and sexy, the cover is clearly intended to draw the attention of what I’ll call the airport patron: quick choice, disposable, and full of positive reviews (“engaging”, “addictive”, “ingenious and skillful”, “blazingly good”, etc.). It was the subject matter, though, that drew this reader.
It’s a twist upon a twist in the art forgery sub-genre: Is the stolen, now-recovered Degas the original work or a forgery? If the latter, is making a forgery of a forgery a crime? It’s an interesting concept, and in more sure hands it might have been pulled off.
For me, the term “insouciance” came to mind. (I can’t tell you quite… Continue reading
One of the reasons I’m convinced of its sublimity is that I’m really not keen on poetry, and in fact don’t care for anything else Eliot ever wrote.
But this particular poem encompasses, encapsulates, the entirety of human existence, in a way no other type of writing could. A novel would make all the subtext into text, and rob it of its nuance; a play would make it mundane and common by forcing the words to be spoken by mere mortals; setting it to music would limit and trivialize it. It has a solemn, tragic beauty that would be diminished in any other form.
The poem isn’t flawless (“I should have been a pair of ragged claws …” is a tad goofy), but the missteps add to the poem’s overall perfection, the way a slightly “off” feature on a beautiful face makes it even more beautiful.
This is my favorite stanza:
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail… Continue reading
It was mountains of sound—vast parapets and promontories and cliffs of sound. The deep bass notes were born of thunder, or the roar of a great fire, or the eruption of a volcano. They filled the space completely, as thoroughly as the air, as densely as water.
Somewhere in the interstitial spaces between the notes, the trills of the higher ranges could be heard flitting overhead. It was as if the very songs of the birds had been captured for the pleasure of the composer.
It was the last few bars of the benedictory song being played one ordinary Sunday morning on the great pipe organ of New York’s Trinity Church.
It shook the air.
It was the roar of an immense waterfall. A roar of booms. It was primordial, as if left over from some great cataclysm. Or beginning.
It shook the air and vibrated the body and the soul.
It was sublime.
Though it was one of my mother’s great joys to finally obtain a Hammond for our small town church, I’ve never been enamored by the sound architecture of the ordinary organ. And though my favorite aunt Marian sang… Continue reading
I have suggested in a previous post (June 19, 2014) that George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue may reach that pinnacle of human accomplishment which is incomparable, transcendent, even sublime; that it is a composition—a musical invention—beyond the possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. That it is an accomplishment of the human spirit which moves us to a place of great visceral, intellectual, emotional or spiritual wonderment.
Following is how Brother Alphaios (Al-fay-us) hears this amazing piece. He’s a cloistered monk and the protagonist in BOOK OF HOURS: The Beguilement of Brother Alphaios, a novel written by this author and available to you at the click of a link.
Today, Alphaios was especially happy to escape the confines of the monastery. The morning had been spent in a dull chapter meeting that Brother Richard, possessed of a good heart but small mind, had stretched out interminably. And lunch had been uninspired even by monastery standards.
It was a false spring day. More rain and cold would come before winter released its grip on the city, but today he would enjoy the contrast of warm sun and chilled air. The… Continue reading
It was a more innocent time.
The grounds were not unlike a small college: a circle drive in front of the administration building; two rows of two-story, red brick residence halls; spacious lawns and great leafy trees rising above it all. But in this instance the halls were wards, and the grounds those of the Idaho State School and Hospital—the state’s institution for the mentally retarded. Residing there were six hundred and twenty-seven developmentally disabled children and adults, all of them requiring twenty-four-hour assistance and supervision. Another couple hundred people worked on staff.
A member of administration (in a vaporous position somewhere in the loose space between administrative assistant and assistant superintendent), I had drawn manager duty on that Saturday. It was breezy, jacket-and-scarf cold, and the trees were bare of leaves. It was a weekend day and an inside day.
I was walking from the hospital building to administration (almost certainly with my best hand-carved pipe only just lit) when I saw him. A man I did not know was standing nearly at the center of the campus, two… Continue reading
Several recent blogposts notwithstanding, I have never been one to lean on the quotations of others, great or not. I have preferred most of my adult life—but to less effect, I suppose—a more experiential search for wisdom. So I have been surprised at the strength of my appreciation for the series of literary plaques set into the sidewalk near the New York City Public Library.
From the concrete below, a bronze rectangle faces upward to the sky and warns, “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.” (From The Awakening, an 1899 novel by Kate Chopin, 1851-1904.)
Lest one think only of race or ethnicity (and why might one not, for it is true there as well), the context for this particular remark is womanhood—the quiet constraints on the freedoms of women at the turn of the twentieth century. It would be two decades before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution finally recognized (not “gave”, as some might say, but recognized) the right of women to vote. That was a necessary step, but a hundred years later we know it was not anywhere near sufficient to dissipate the hard… Continue reading
“Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.”
So says Hanta on the first page of Too Loud a Solitude, a novella by Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997).
What more could any writer wish than to have such a reader?
And, too, the words are so vivid as to create the very physical sensations of which he speaks.
I considered posting the sentence with only a simple “wow,” but found myself wanting to know more about these words and their context.
I was in for a surprise.
This happy sentence, chock full of the delights of discovery (and the savoring of it) stands out in the novella as brilliantly as a diamond—not so much for the quality of its construction or insight (for that is superb throughout), but in its brightness of mood. Too Loud A Solitude is full of oppression and darkness and even the putrid. And… Continue reading