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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Benedict, Elizabeth: The Practice of Deceit | Main | Hocking, Ian: Déjà Vu »

Larsen, Deborah: The Tulip and the Pope

  

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Alfred A. Knopf © 2005, 265 pages [amazon]
4 stars

Anyone who ever attended Catholic school will understand why Deborah Larsen was so curious in her youth about convent life. Surely we girls all wondered, at least--we shapeless lumps in knee-highs and pleated skirts--what the nuns who taught us did behind closed doors, how their communal life was organized. That same curiosity is what will draw readers to Ms. Larsen's memoir, The Tulip and the Pope, an account of the nearly five years the author spent as a nun some forty years ago among the BVMs, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

One could see the appeal of this trouble-free existence, it being a kind of extended childhood, if the price of not having to balance a checkbook and make mortgage payments and pick out one's own clothes were not deemed exorbitant.To most of us the lifestyle Larsen and her fellow postulants to the order adopted upon "entering religion" would be anything but appealing: not only was complete obedience to one's superiors in the order required, but postulants had also in effect to renounce their individuality. One could not own anything: even the habit a nun donned with such attention, pinning and snapping it into position with the greatest care, was considered communal property. All mail, incoming and outgoing, was screened and might or might not be delivered at the discretion of one's superiors. Nuns were forbidden to establish "particular friendships" with one another lest anyone among them be left out. Postulants could not bring their own books into the convent and could thus read only the religious publications provided there for them. Nuns were to practice "custody of the eyes," not making eye contact with one another, not looking about willy-nilly at the world around them.

The convent as Larsen describes it is a stark, black-and-white place, a sensory-deprived world in which a young woman might understandably look forward, as Larsen did, to the task of cleaning out the convent's walk-in freezer: a perk of this job was that the person performing it had to wear a particular sweater, one that happened to be green rather than white or black and thus set its wearer apart from her Sisters. Almost as if she were an individual. In this world the responsibility for decision-making was taken from the individual, who lived content in the knowledge that in doing anything by order of her superiors she was doing God's will:

"...the day-to-day living of Holy Obedience was pretty simple. Simple in the extreme as a matter of fact: your Sister superior's will for you is expressive of the Will of God. If the superior has you on the duty list for scrubbing toilets, that is God's Will for you. How positively joyful that you are certain that when you are cleaning the toilets, that is God's Will."

One could see the appeal of this trouble-free existence, it being a kind of extended childhood, if the price of not having to balance a checkbook and make mortgage payments and pick out one's own clothes were not deemed exorbitant.

What is remarkable about Larsen's thoughtful book is that she does manage to convey to readers what the appeal of the convent was for her. One understands her decision to commit herself to that ascetic lifestyle at nineteen, and one understands equally well her decision some five years later to walk out the convent's front door onto the snowy streets of Dubuque, Iowa, no longer wearing her habit. But while she is implicitly critical of the religious life when explaining the intellectual process by which she came to reject the convent, Larsen is by no means disdainful of it.

Although the outcome of Larsen's memoir is foreordained--the author's bio, after all, makes it clear that she did not remain in the convent--the book offers readers a sort of suspense. We know that the heroine will emerge safe, if you will, at the book's end, but fear nonetheless in the reading that she won't make it, that she'll surrender herself to the Church and live with her eyes perpetually downcast. Fortunately Ms. Larsen did not choose that for herself forty years ago, and she has, among many other things no doubt, a highly readable memoir to show for it.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.