Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer Reading Re-cap.

As summer winds down (although here in the Deepest South we can expect another month of triple digits), I cast my mind back over the reading riches it offered. I missed out on the reading binge last year, since Isabella was still nursing three times per night. This year was different. Here is a quick list of this year's favorites.

1. The Cypresses Believe in God (Jose Maria Gironella) Definitely the top read this summer. I reviewed it back in July, and it certainly merits another mention.

2. Seeking Spiritual Direction (Fr. Thomas Dubay) This one also gets a double (I think at this point it is a triple) shout-out. I'm waltzing slowly to the end and will say more when I'm done, but for now it continues to be one of the best spiritual guide books I've read (right up there with Fire Within, He Leadeth Me, I Believe in Love, and Teresa's Castles).

3. Nuns and Soldiers (Iris Murdoch) I started this because I studied Murdoch in a virtue ethics course once. I enjoyed her Sovereignty of the Good, a philosophical work, and thought to foray into her fiction a little. I enjoyed the first half and then started to feel pretty dragged down. The characters were interesting and well-crafted (they certainly seemed to take on a life of their own, even to the point of getting away from Murdoch's control). I think a huge problem for her characters is their slavery to Murdoch's own metaphysics, which basically says that you can get rid of God but not the Good. As Alan Jacobs wrote in First Things:

"Murdoch is a Platonist, to a degree and with a purity almost unknown in modern thought: it is the Good that she seeks, the Idea or Form of the Good. (Platonist thought requires the frequent use of capital letters.) All else, including God, is an image or a substitute for this utter Good, and may be useful to us as we move toward perfection; but because our human tendency is to substitute the image for the reality, the guidepost for the destination, even the worship of God may distract us from our proper pursuit."

Her characters are busy for most of the novel moving through various images of the Good in order to get at the true and pure Good. The problem is, of course, death. Because... if there ain't anything after, there ain't anything now. Bleak. But a good illustration of how a philosophy can influence fiction.

4. Shadows on the Rock (Willa Cather) On the other hand, here is fiction that does not drag down everything we know. If Murdoch is a Platonist, Cather is an Aristotelian. She receives the world as it is--in all its awe-striking particularities. I loved this book in particular because it moves from her usual venue (the prairies) to Colonial Quebec. Her descriptions of the world's natural beauty are without peer.

5. Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters (Peter Kreeft) This is excellent vacation or bed-time reading. Kreeft's various little snippets address the big questions in language even I can understand. If you're looking for some good brain and soul food--for you or your (older) children, this is it.

6. St. Edith Stein: Essential Writings (ed. John Sullivan) The title really says it all. I quoted Stein, and the excerpt was an excerpt from this volume. I love the way Sullivan brings together her myriad virtues--philosophical depth, spiritual vision, educational prowess, and of course her personal love of every human person. It is a beautiful portrait of a remarkable saint.

4 comments:

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

If you like Fr. Thomas Dubay's books, I suggest The Book of Privy Counseling and/or The Cloud of Unknowing (anonymous author/s) as the next stop. They are wonderful, just as Dubay's books are, and are in the same vein albeit much older. (They are my favorites.)

e2 said...

Thanks! I always love more suggestions.

Maica Kozak said...

Thanks Erika. I have been pondering Mother Teresa's "No Greater Love" this week. It has been very good for me.

I especially like this quote (which reminds me of another Teresa):

"Always be faithful in little things...
Practice fidelity in the least things...
Deliberately renounce all desires to see the fruit of your labor, doing all you can as best you can...
What matters is the gift of your self, the degree of love that you put into each one of your actions."

+JMJ+ said...

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God bless you.