Open Book: Welcoming Spring

Welcoming spring, observing Lent: it’s a season of new books for me.

I often select a familiar devotional to read during Lent, and sure enough, there’s Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ in this year’s rotation. I’ve added a work of fiction that’s a stretch for me on several counts: Silence by Shūsako Endō, first published in 1997, translated from Japanese by William Johnston. The story of a handful of Portuguese priests and the Japanese people they evangelized in the seventeenth century is painfully illuminating. What does it mean to be a missionary and an apostate (a word seldom heard in my neck of the woods)? What is Christian witness? How do Christian neophytes grow in faith – sometimes to astonishing degrees – when priests are scarce and persecution is everywhere? I’m still in the midst of the book, and already I know it will leave me with even more questions. It’s a beautiful work, understated rather then melodramatic, difficult but not obscure.

Book cover for "Silence" by Shusaku Endo

I’m loving the fresh look at Dorothy Day in a book by Kate Hennessy, her granddaughter, who writes like a dream. Dorothy Day: the World Will Be Saved by Beauty is subtitled “an intimate portrait of my grandmother.”

Book cover of "Dorothy Day: the World Will Be Saved by Beauty" by Kate Hennessy

I’m not sticking to spiritual fare this month. I’ve just finished Carl Bernsteins’s memoir Chasing History: A Kid In the Newsroom. Anyone of my generation will remember Bernstein’s journalistic partnership with Bob Woodward, but I know younger readers might not know of him. I recommend Chasing History to one and all, whether familiar with Bernstein or not. The book covers the first years of Bernstein’s professional life, beginning as a high school student who was much more interested in journalism than in classwork. He brings the now-defunct Washington Star newspaper to life for readers of this generation. He writes with a sharp eye for events and with affectionate memory for the pros who served as his mentors and co-workers. I read this for fun – and learned a thing or two while I was at it.

book cover of "Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom" by Carl Bernstein

#OpenBook is a monthly blog linkup by Carolyn Astfalk, featuring a roundup of bloggers and the books they’re exploring.

Open Book, January 2021

child in space dreaming with book

Timely reading, entirely coincidental: a few days before the U.S. Capitol became the scene of violence and death, I began reading Jailed for Freedom: the Story of the Militant American Suffragist Movement by Doris Stevens. Written a century ago, it’s almost painfully relevant now. Stevens was one of the “Silent Sentinels” who stood in ongoing vigil outside of Woodrow Wilson’s White House, urging him to get behind women’s voting rights.

Not only did the President refuse for far too long, but he stood by when the women who were demonstrating were abused, arrested, and jailed. Note well that the violence was on them, not by them. These were not passive women; they were living proof of how tough nonviolence needs to be in its goals, persistence, and commitment.

That’s not an academic point. Witness the recent events in Washington.

TLDR, spoiler alert: President Wilson finally got the message, and so did Congress. The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920.

book cover Carrying the Fire by Michael Collins

A friend told me about Carrying the Fire, and I have no idea how I missed it before now. It’s wonderful. The author is Michael Collins, a man of parts, probably best known for his time as an astronaut. This memoir covers flight training, Air Force service, and his time at NASA including his role as command module pilot for Apollo 11. Collins writes like a dream; I read pages out loud just to revel in his style.

He offers unsparing (though not unkind) brief character sketches of his fellow astronauts. It’s interesting to read contemporary accounts of men who are now part of history.

Pioneering pilot Charles Lindbergh provides two fitting grace notes to the book. The first is his foreword. The second, shared by Collins at the end of the book, is a letter he wrote to Collins after the Apollo 11 flight. In the years since 1969, Collins has sometimes been treated as a footnote to the moon landing; he was the guy who had to stay in the ship while Armstrong and Aldrin left footprints on the moon. Lindbergh took a different view. The man who flew solo across the Atlantic understood the particular beauty and peace of solitude in purposeful flight. In his letter, he greeted Collins as a man who could understand that.

book cover Litanies and Legacies, Mystics and Mysteries by Rev. Paul G. Mast

Litanies and Legacies, Mystics and Mysteries: Themes for living life as a Spiritual Litany is a source of refreshment for me these days. It’s a good companion to Adoration. These are not the usual litanies. From author Rev. Paul G. Mast: “Each litany is different in biographical details and reflection material. But, all the litanies are pathways to God.” (GospelSoft Books, gospelsoftretreats.org)

Open Book is a monthly blog linkup hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com.

Featured photo: Pixabay.

Faith and Wonder Amid “Littleness”

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.

Review originally published at Amazon.com.