Friday, May 1, 2015

Exploring Book Reviews - Carl Sisolak's Unfamiliar Genre Project

As part of the journalism practicum this semester, Carl Sisolak, a Theology One seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Seattle, worked with book reviews through the Unfamiliar Genre Project.  He reviewed Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Father James Martin, SJ, and also shares his final reflection on his work.

The Unfamiliar Genre Project is an opportunity for a student to learn about the characteristics of a genre with which he has never worked.  The project includes researching samples of the chosen genre, writing an annotated bibliography, and keeping a research journal.  It concludes with the student writing their own piece in their genre, as well as a final reflection on the project.

Carl Sisolak with Jesus: A Pilgrimage
Credit: Sister Hilda Kleiman, OSB

A Walk in the Footsteps of Jesus Becomes Our Journey Too: A Review of Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin

"Getting to know Jesus, like getting to know anyone, has been a pilgrimage" explains James Martin, SJ.

Martin offers this beginning to a deeply reflective view of the Gospels as seen from one who is walking in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land.  In his book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, James Martin takes us along with him on a journey not only to present day Holy Land sites but also on an introspective journey into the Gospels themselves.  This is a journey all are invited to take, whether one is a faithful believer or a non-believer.

James Martin, prior to becoming a Jesuit priest, was a graduate from the Wharton School of Business and had been working at General Electric.  Martin has experience writing and editing on various aspects of his faith for different kinds of media.  He had written for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  He has been interviewed for TV and radio.  His accomplishments include his books The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, Between Heaven and Mirth, and Together on Retreat.  He is currently editor-at-large for America Magazine, where he has published articles such as "Life's Second Half."

Martin mentioned a number of sources that were beneficial to him in his writing of this book.  He mentions the Sacra Pagina series edited by Daniel J. Harrington as a line-by-line analysis of the New Testament.  He also mentions A Marginal Jew by the Rev. John P. Meier as having been helpful during his travels.

In beginning this journey, Martin reminds us that Jesus was a real person and not just an imagined person conjured up to make a good story.  The element of knowing the reality of Jesus provides a deeper dimension to go along with the experience of exploring the world that Jesus knew and participated in.  Martin reminisced, "Overall, the pilgrimage made the Gospels more vivid, deepened my understanding of specific stories, and afforded me an enormous amount of fascinating information about the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.  This is why the Holy Land is often called the Fifth Gospel."

The book also provides personal insights of the author's reactions to what he learned about himself.  Martin realizes in his reflections of Jesus' rejection by those from his own hometown that when others reject or disagree with what he has written or done, that he could escape from an overwhelming desire to be liked by others.

Martin says it felt like God was asking him on that retreat, "Must everyone like you?  Mustn't the desire to be liked by everyone die?  Doesn't it need to die if you are to have any sort of freedom?"  Even though Martin acknowledges that he can truly need correcting, like Jesus who also was rejected, he does not have to always be worrying about being liked either.

Martin designed Jesus: A Pilgrimage to read as an itinerary of travel and spiritual reflection.  Each section describes a new location related to biblical locations found in the New Testament.  Martin also includes biblical references so that, in his own words, "I hope to bring you [the reader] into that trip as I experienced it."

I found this book really made me feel as if I could go to these places that Martin visited, find the person of Jesus there, and have a conversation with Him as though I were visiting a friend.  I also felt as if I could see the news headlines describing the events in Jesus' life taking place as current events that just happened yesterday and today.

I do believe this book would be an excellent spiritual experience for other seminarians and readers who wish to learn about Jesus' ministry and come closer to encountering the real person of Jesus that we proclaim through our Scriptures.

Journalism With A Purpose: Final Reflection

I began this journalism class Unfamiliar Genre Project with a feeling of excitement.  When I read a good book or piece of literature, I often want to share it with others in hopes that they might experience the same enthusiasm I had with the book.  I hope that other readers find the book useful to their spiritual growth as well.

I appreciated the idea of taking a piecemeal approach to building up this project.  First, in starting with attaining examples from other reviewers, I was able to see what techniques they employed to make their reviews more effective.  I could tell after reading their reviews that I could decide which books they were reviewing that I would want to read or not read.  I begin to think of the book review as an advertisement for the book.  In many cases this is one of the goals of these reviews.

I had not been aware of the amount of time and work it takes to be a skilled journalist until I began taking journalism classes at Mount Angel.  At the same time, though, I found that I can express myself and be creative in my writing without losing the main message the subject matter is supposed to convey.  I have learned how writing respects and engages the audience who would read what I have written.

This creativity and honesty is just as important in doing a book review project like the one I did.  There is definitely a commitment on the part of the reviewer to present an accurate understanding of the book and subject being covered.  I thought at first that book reviewers just quickly made a review up of their opinion in the few minutes they had after reading the book they were covering.  I am realizing this is not the case at all.

What I could not allow myself to do with this book review was to make it all just one subjective rundown of my opinion, even though that is an important part of it.  I had to remind myself that I had to do my review based on the author's perspective as well as my own.  I could see the need for this balanced approach in the impact that quotations from the author have in both the sample book reviews and in the project I was doing.

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