Tag: reading

Open Book, October 2020

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.

Open Book, May 2017

Open Book is a monthly blog linkup co-hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com with a roundup of what participating bloggers have been reading lately.

My book pile reveals a serious lack of attention to best-seller lists. I take note of them, but they seldom prompt me to chase down a newly-published item. I made an exception for The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher. I couldn’t resist a subtitle like “A strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation.”

Dreher, who is Eastern Orthodox, calls on Christians living in America to evaluate their beliefs, take them seriously, take a hard look at the prevailing culture, and prepare for tougher times ahead. Without resorting to panic or an apocalyptic tone, he offers a chapter-by-chapter accounting of various aspects of culture – education, family life, sexuality, politics, among others – and how they are now in radical opposition to authentic Christian life. He doesn’t write to complain, but to point a way to living in joy and confidence without accepting what he calls “cultural captivity.” “Love is the only way we will make it through what is to come.”

As someone whose professional life involves political engagement, I found Dreher’s assessment of the civic position of Christians compelling and accurate. Unlike some readers of The Benedict Option, I don’t interpret Dreher’s message as an exhortation to withdraw from civic life and into a shell. Instead, I hear him calling on us to reject fear and anxiety, and to keep in mind that our Creator is Lord of all. Civic engagement with that attitude would be a blessed antidote to a “horizon” that extends only as far as the next election.

In practical terms, Dreher calls for a return to the roots of Christian faith, to learn or re-learn what love and service mean, to recognize that there is such a thing as divine order. The formation of Christian communities will be a natural result not of fear, but of recognition of the things that are truly and eternally important.

Read the last chapter first. You’ll then be eager to read the whole book, to learn about the path that led to such a conclusion.

I spent a few recent weeks on Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. (Far in spirit from The Benedict Option!) Her sonnets leave me in no doubt of her gifts as a writer, and Savage Beauty invites even more exploration of Millay’s workNancy Milford, author of Savage Beauty, relies possibly too much on the reminiscences of Millay’s sister Norma. Millay’s own voice comes through nonetheless.

Found on the New Books shelf at my local library: John LeCarré’s The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life. LeCarré’s Smiley trilogy occupies a place of honor on my figurative bookshelf (which is actually a series of shelves, rooms, and piles), and I consider his The Honourable Schoolboy his supreme work. Now in his eighties, LeCarré has published a memoir of sorts for me to savor. The Pigeon Tunnel is not an autobiography or a linear narrative, but a series of episodes from LeCarré’s life that inspired some of the stories he’s written. I loved it.

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Open Book, January 2017

The first week 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.

Not long ago, I was in Boston for a program on Catholic education. Among the speakers was Paul Elie of Georgetown University, of whom I hadn’t heard until that day. As authors are wont to do, he brought a pile of his books for sale and signing, and I’m glad I took the time to visit his table. I picked up a gem, in the form of his book The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.

The Life You Save is a work of spiritual biography, weaving together the lives and vocations of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor. All were Catholic writers, although “writer” was not necessarily the principal earthly vocation. No two of them became and remained Catholic via the same path. As Elie writes in the Prologue,

It is in their lives and their work together that their influence is found, and that this telling of their story is meant to explore. Today, as when they were alive, they are representative figures, whose struggles with belief and unbelief are vivid and recognizable. At the same time, as they venture forth together, their story suggests a series of different ways of pilgrimage, with the episodes highlighting patterns that the yearning for religious experience can take, in their time and in ours.

I’m taking my time with The Life You Save. I find myself re-reading passages two or three times, and then reflecting for awhile before reading on.

I was surprised to see that the book was published in 2003. How did I not come across it until now?


During the recent holiday break I treated myself to a much more casual read-it-in-two-sittings novel: Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham. Pure fun.

Graham was one of the Gilmore Girls, a series my daughter and I know line-by-line (including last November’s Netflix sequel). Her name caught my eye in a recent book review of her new memoir. The reviewer mentioned Graham’s earlier novel. Novel? What novel? I went straight for the library shelves and found Someday, Someday, Maybe.

It’s the story of an actress-in-training, or rather in-hoping, trying to break into the business in New York City. She sets herself a six-month deadline to Make It, after which she’s resigned to returning to her home town. The journey as mapped by Graham is hilarious and touching and hopeful.