I’m indulging my love of politics and American history not by watching the news non-stop this election season, but by reading Author in Chief: the Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote, by Craig Fehrman. Fehrman shows that there’s more to the presidential genre than campaign biographies and memoirs. He puts each president’s work in historical context, and he offers a writer’s view of the relative merits of various books. He has sparked my curiosity about presidential works with which I’m unfamiliar, and perhaps there’s an #OpenBook post ahead mentioning some of them.
As a trail-loving New Englander, I’m loving Following Atticus. This is the true story of an out-of-shape Massachusetts journalist, Tom Ryan, who adopted a pint-sized schnauzer puppy named Atticus, and set out to hike New Hampshire’s “4000-footer” mountains with his little canine friend. This sounds like the makings of a comedy, but Ryan delivers something very different. Thoughtful musings on his life, work, and friends alternate with accounts of challenging hikes with his intrepid little dog.
I continue to make my way through The Gospel of Life by St. John Paul II. Perhaps because I’m older, or perhaps because I’m giving the words time to sink in, this has been very different from my earlier quick readings of the document a couple of decades ago. I’ve been reading a section at a time as lectio divina for each day.
It’s been awhile since I’ve contributed to the Open Book linkup, hosted by blogger Carolyn Astfalk and the team at CatholicMom.com. Time to catch up and find out what other folks are reading.
I’m looking forward to reading more than just excerpts from Pope Francis’s Fratelli Tutti, released a few days ago. Headlines seldom do justice to encyclicals. At the same time, I’m re-reading St. John Paul II’s The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), which was released 25 years ago.
I just finished this one, and I highly recommend it for anyone who likes good stories and elegant prose: West With the Night is a memoir by Beryl Markham (1902-1986), probably best known for her pioneering transatlantic flight in 1936. I picked up the book out of mild curiosity about how she described her own accomplishment. What I found was one of the most beautifully written works I’ve read. The epic flight rates a single chapter near the end, and those few pages are a small treasure in themselves.
I’m reading a book of G.K. Chesterton mysteries that I found in a bookshop, knowing nothing about them except the author’s name. The Man Who Knew Too Much contains eight short stories with an interesting common bond: to borrow from the book’s cover, “justice does not take its usual course.” These are eight quick little diversions.
Every time John LeCarré puts out a new book, I read it in the usually-vain hope that he can match the perfection of his Smiley trilogy, published about 40 years ago. That’s hardly fair. I’m in the midst of his latest, Agent Running in the Field. So far, so good-ish.
When this year started, I made a list of all my yet-unread literary finds from yard sales and used-book shops. It’s an imposing list. The idea, or rather the good intention I had on New Year’s Day, was to either read them and then pass them on to someone else by the end of the year. I’m actually about halfway through the list at this point, three-quarters of the way through the year. The giveaway box is filling up. That’s progress.
It’s Good to Be Here by Christina Chase (Sophia Press, 2019)
Christina Chase’s book “It’s Good to Be Here” is as straightforward and challenging as the subtitle promises: “a disabled woman’s reflections on God in the flesh and the sacred wonder of being human.” This is not a book for the bedside pile, to be picked up at odd moments. I tried that, but “It’s Good to Be Here” demanded more from me. Chase drew me into sharing her reflections, not just observing them. Each chapter provoked thought as well as prayer.
The declaration “it’s good to be here” is strong stuff, coming from a woman living with physical challenges in a culture that devalues disability. Fortunately for herself and her readers, Chase doesn’t look to culture for validation. “When we think of living divine lives in a sanctified place, we may think of a world with no imperfections…[n]o suffering. However, that is not the definition of a sanctified place, of a holy place in which God dwells. For Christ dwelt here.”
This is neither a memoir nor a how-to manual for dealing with adversity. The book jacket calls Chase a “twenty-first century Thérèse of Lisieux,” and while the comparison is apt in some respects – chronic illness, profound faith in God, appreciation of The Little Way – Chase’s voice is very much her own. As I pondered her words, I felt as though I were with a down-to-earth mystic filled with warm good humor (though not flippancy).
Take time with this book. Haste will not do it justice.