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.
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.”
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.
#OpenBook is a monthly blog linkup by Carolyn Astfalk, featuring a roundup of bloggers and the books they’re exploring.
I’m pleased to put on my Granite State Walker hat and join a small army (strictly peaceful!) of Granite Staters in a 24-hour fundraising event to benefit the Manchester City Library Foundation. Around the clock on April 7, we’ll take turns reading aloud, with a different theme each hour. Midnight on the 7th is for Nature, and I’ll be reading from The Cohos Trail guidebook. Author Kim Nilsen included some New Hampshire natural history in that wonderful guide, and I’ll share a few pages.
Night owls can catch my 12:20 a.m. segment at www.twitch.tv/mcl_foundation, barring tech glitches. Not a night owl? No problem. Tune in anytime on April 7. It’s going to be a virtual grab bag of assorted readers and books.
I stepped aside this year from professional public policy work at the state level. Dear to me as that vocation was (and is), it was time to take a break from the noise. During this time of transition I happened upon Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise (Ignatius Press). The Guinean prelate’s name was familiar to me from news coverage and some of his social media work, but I had not known of the book before coming across a review of it.
Cardinal Sarah argues for silence as something to be cultivated as an indispensable condition for encounters with the sacred. The book is in the form of a conversation between the Cardinal and journalist Nicolas Diat. Each paragraph can be the inspiration for a period of contemplation. I’m finding it timely and challenging in the best ways.
Another book found via a review (h/t Wall Street Journal for this one): The Border by Erika Fatland (Simon and Schuster). I’m only one chapter in, and I’m hooked. The subtitle sums it up: “A Journey Around Russia Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, and the Northeast Passage.” There’s history, of course. There’s a travelogue of sorts, but that’s not how to classify this book. The author’s encounters with people are at the heart of her work. I’m eager to follow her on the rest of her journey.
I rescued Upon This Granite from a neglected shelf recently. It’s a history of the Diocese of Manchester (New Hampshire), my home diocese, published in 1998 (Peter E. Randall Publisher, Portsmouth NH). It was a labor of love by a diocesan priest, Rev. Msgr. Wilfred Paradis, and it’s as close to an “official” history as can be found. It’s no tell-all. I’m finding it a good guide to the history of various parishes, particularly the ones founded by and for Catholics of specific ethnic or language groups. I like thinking how those communities have changed over the years, adding to our little state’s cultural texture.