Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Small Desk, Big Plans

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 22, 2011

I have a little desk (66” wide but just 20” deep) tucked into the corner of a tiny bedroom office, which also houses some bookshelves, file cabinets, and bunk beds in case anybody is so incautious as to come for a visit. This desk, with its bulletin board on the wall behind it, is the nerve center of Trinity Communications. Okay, it doesn’t take a huge space to run a web empire. But just now the desk is presenting a problem.

The weather has turned cool enough in Virginia for me want a cup of hot tea instead of a Diet Coke to get the old ticker ticking, and my RC (“Roman Catholic”) mug—jealously saved from the days when we sold a line of RC merchandise—is just large enough that it won’t fit in the clear space left by yesterday’s Coke can. And why, you ask, is so little of the desk clear?

Well, there’s the laptop of course, and the calculator. There’s the cup of pens, pencils, scissors and ruler. There’s the largish free-standing plastic upright divider thingy that holds the file folders to which I need the quickest access. You know, like the one holding information on the RV I was interested in several years ago (but never purchased as it wouldn’t fit in a desk drawer), and tax stuff, and insurance information, and the payoff data for the employees in the retirement plan when Trinity Consulting closed its doors at the end of last year. Some memories there, but most of it, I promise, is current.

There’s also the house phone (the company phone is on my hip), and the little sticky note dispenser, and the bills pile. There’s my Kindle, used for testing our eBooks, along with the list of a thousand items I’ve written on , so I can go through it to select some of them for future eBooks. There are various notes to myself. There is the external hard drive I use for backing up the laptop’s all-important file system. And there are the books.

Now that we come to it, the growing stack of books is the core of the problem. My business plan, which is always in the forefront of one’s mind when arranging one’s desk, calls for rotating books in and out efficiently, like clockwork. Do I need to consult something? I’ll use it and put it away. Do I want to review a new title? I’ll read it quickly, write the review on schedule, and recycle the book. Am I hoping to get back to something soon? Oh wait, now I see the pattern!

On the top of the first stack today is a new novel, A Parliament of Monsters by Gail Caress. It is billed as a fitting continuation of the literary tradition of Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. And while it is not really in that class, it is far better than most claimants to the throne; I’ll have more to say about it later, as I’m only two-thirds through it now. Underneath sits Sherry Boas’ “Lily” trilogy, a brand new set of shortish novels imagining different responses to the care for a child with Down Syndrome. According to the promotional literature, the trilogy is self-consciously Catholic and deliberately explores most of the issues presented by the culture of death. That’s actually a literary warning sign. Does didacticism substitute for art? We’ll see.

Another stack holds non-fiction books it might be important to explore. On top is the 2011 issue of The Catholic Social Science Review, published annually by the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. Among other things, this volume holds symposia on Caritas in Veritate and on John Courtney Murray’s We Hold These Truths (now 50 years old); and articles on significant topics: The sociology of religion, “Sacraments and the State”, Catholic-inspired non-governmental organizations, a comparison of Tocqueville’s “administrative decentralization” and the principle of subsidiarity, and even “Lessons from the Friendship of Jacques Maritain with Saul Alinsky”. Surely some of these are must-reading for the Catholic commentator who wants to go just a little deeper.

Underneath we have Thomas Tweed’s America’s Church, which attempts to reveal something about 20th century American Catholicism from the extended construction of the National Shrine. Also an Oxford University Press edition of the apocryphal gospels, edited and translated by Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Plese: I really want to find an occasion to refer to the Apocrypha to prove some point or other going forward. And then there is F. Flagg Taylor IV (such a self-consciously conservative name!) and his careful collection of essays on ideology and totalitarianism, entitled The Great Lie, from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Considering contemporary secularist/statist trends, that title is hard to shelve and forget.

In stack number three (no prize for guessing) we find Roger Dubin’s 2008 novel The Coin of the Realm, given to me kindly by the author when I was reviewing a string of new Catholic novels, but not brand new so somewhat outside the scope of that inquiry. It looks intriguing, and I seriously want to do Roger the honor of reading it. Underneath that is Richard Swinburne’s Was Jesus God (see Richard Swinburne and God’s Timelessness ). Despite my quibbles with Swinburne, he is very good at seeming to derive Christian doctrine from natural theology: real apologetics, but as if Revelation isn’t quite necessary. It is surely a project that can “work” only because we already know what Christian doctrine is, but it is fascinating to see how far he has gotten in this and three other small volumes along the same lines. Unfortunately, it is always one of those things “I want to get back to.”

Finally, there is Joseph Pearce’s new biography of Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, from Ignatius. This book is sitting on the bottom of the pile only because both Phil Lawler and I received copies of it, and Phil has promised to do something with it. He is better qualified to do so, having followed Solzhenitsyn far more closely than I. But I hate to ignore the book.

Works by Blessed John Henry Newman and Fr. William Most are by the couch in the living room. I can read them in the late evening, as old friends. Thus positioned, they are the opposite of clutter. And the Pope's writings, of course, I can read online or print out from the web site to take with me when on the move. It is all the potential new friends who cause the problem.

Ah, well, my tea is cold now. So perhaps a larger open space on the desk is not so important. Still, we do try to keep informed, in order to keep you informed. I ask you to remember that during our Fall campaign.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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