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Open Book, September 2016

A roundup of what’s been on the bookshelf lately.

The first Wednesday of each month brings #OpenBook, a blog linkup co-hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com with a roundup of what participating bloggers have been reading lately.

I’ve been re-reading two old favorites from my fiction shelves. It’s pure coincidence that my first #OpenBook entry happens to include two books mentioned by other bloggers last month: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.

The first time I encountered A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was about 40 years ago in a Reader’s Digest condensed version for kids (“Best-Loved Books”). “Condensed” makes it sound about as appealing as canned soup, but Smith’s Francie Nolan came to life for me and sent me hurrying to the library for the full novel in its unedited glory. A book about a child, yet not a children’s story, it has drawn me into Francie’s Brooklyn of 1912 over and over again.

Each time I re-read this book, I’m struck anew at how such a rich, moving story is conveyed in thoroughly unsentimental prose. Fair warning: at whatever age you pick up the book, the characters and what their creator calls their thin invisible steel will not let you walk away easily.

And then there’s Brede, Rumer Godden’s story about a Benedictine monastery and the delayed religious vocation of a forty-something woman. Reading it now, I see texture and depth that I missed when I first picked up the book as a teenager. And for heaven’s sake, if you come across the TV movie made from the book ages ago, turn it off and pick up the book.

Where my recent fiction reading has brought me back to familiar ground, I’m discovering a lot of nonfiction that’s new to me. After reading Edmund Morris’s The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt a few months ago, I’m now well into Theodore RexThe second book can stand on its own, but it’s best appreciated after reading the first volume. Next stop will be volume 3, covering Roosevelt’s post-Presidential years.

I’ve read plenty by C.S. Lewis and a little by G.K. Chesterton, but this is the first time I’ve opened Mere Christianity and The Everlasting Man. I’m feeding my inner poli sci grad with Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason and John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. With the possible exception of Mere Christianity (much of which is based on a series of radio broadcasts), none of these lends itself to reading-by-nibbles. Giving these books the time they deserve means cutting back on screen time, except of course with my trusty Kindle – and the fact that I find that a bit wearing startles me.

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By Ellen Kolb

Writer, pro-life activist, Granite State walker.