Monday, July 26, 2010

What I Did On My Summer Vacation; Or Rather, What I Read

Last week, I went on vacation up north with my family. While I had plenty of fun swimming, playing on the raft with the entire family (parents, siblings and dog-who-is-not-a-fan-of-swimming), jet skiing, getting sunburned, etc., I also read and wrote a decent amount of non-work related material. It was fabulous to do so and thus submit my thoughts on the books here:

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse 
by Michael O'Brien

This book is long-- a few pages shy of 600. Needless to say, I started this book when I graduated college and finished it two months later. I've been ignoring it for the past month at least, so I don't feel too bad about how long it took me to finish it. It was my first specifically Catholic thriller and truly was an intriguing read. A good friend recommended it and my Uncle Mark gave it to my Dad a while ago, so it's been tantalizing me for the past semester. I don't know if I'd read it again, but I am glad I read it once. I'm at least going to have to go over all the passages I underlined, checked, starred and parentheses'd off again. O'Brien made many acute observations and phrases things beautifully, but a little high-handed. Overall impression: he's a good story-teller.

Desert Wisdom: Sayings From the Desert Fathers
Translated and art by Yushi Nomura
Introduced by Henri J.M. Nouwen

I saw this book in a box with towels and goggles and picked it up, expecting a much heavier read. What I found was a delightful and thought-provoking read, accompanied by Nomura's ink sketches. The Desert Fathers were early monastics who fled the cities to make a new life in the wilderness in asceticism and solitude. I don't know if this book is explicitly Judeo-Christian, but it was definitely God-centered. A few favorite passages include:

"Abba Anthony said: The time is coming when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane, they will attack that person saying: You are insane because you are not like us."

"A brother asked an old man: What is humility? And the old man said: To do good unto those who hurt you. The brother said: If you cannot go that far, what should you do? The old man replied: Get away from them and keep your mouth shut."

"The brothers asked Abba Agathon: Father, which of the virtues is our way of life demands the greatest effort? He said to [them]: Forgive me, but there is no effort comparable to prayer to God. In fact, whenever you want to pray, hostile demons try to interrupt you. Of course they know that nothing but prayer to God entangles them. Certainly when you undertake any other good work, and persevere in it, you obtain rest. But prayer is a battle all the way to the last breath."

I recommend picking it up.

The Southern Critics: An Anthology
Edited by Glenn Arbery

The first of the three books I'm reviewing this summer (so far). I got the second one in the mail last week and the third one today. Both should be excellent to read and review.

The first part of this book is four cultural essays on the South, the second part is eight academic essays on poetry (which shows the Southern Agrarians' immense influence scholastically) and the third part is four essays on religion and literature in the "Sacramental South". I really like the compilation of essays' flow and have a new interest in Caroline Gordon's writing. Donald Davidson's too, even though he technically does not take his stand with the Agrarians, interestingly enough. His defense of the South in "Why the Modern South Has a Great Literature" is very moving and grounded.

The quote at the beginning of the book, by Flannery "my favorite American writer" O'Connor, is really neatly phrased:

"The image of the South, in all its complexity, is so powerful in is that it is a force which has to be encountered and engaged. The writer must wrestle with it, like Jacob with the angel, until he has extracted a blessing."

And, finally:

Wise Blood
by Flannery O'Connor

An impulse buy a few weeks ago when I went South to visit my oldest friend Bianca. I want her second book 'The Violent Bear It Away' more, but this book is highly acclaimed and so far, a good read. I can't wait to get further into it.

Mom bought me one book as well when we were visiting Charlevoix-- 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' by Baroness Orczy -- but Dad read it and never gave it back. Odds Fish, m'dear! I bought Tacitus' 'Histories' yesterday. So excited! I was looking for Percy's 'Lost in the Cosmos' but, alas. I have been to four book stores so far and cannot find it! I am going to be an optimist and think it's because people bought it out, but know that is definitely not true for at least two of them.

I started buying books in the 8th grade (that's when I decided I wanted my own library) and have accumulated at least.... well, the number is high. We have a great half-price book store near my Dad's work and I really bulked up during high school. College only fueled the fire. Most are at home still, but I have enough here in German Village to keep me happy for a while. Do not worry, I'm still carefully budgeting; I won't go bankrupt for books.  I'm more interested in paying off my student loans and not having any debt. :) I suppose I should re-title this post "Just Another Reason It's A Really Good Thing I'm Employed."

1 comment:

  1. Nice collection! "Desert Wisdom," so you know, contains just some of the many sayings of the first monks. We read the whole collection (this edition: in Prof Siegel's Ancient Christianity class. For me it was alternately a source of confusion, laughter, reflection, and humility... but definitely always thought-provoking as you say.