Monday, December 15, 2008

Read Anything Good Lately?

Time for a Book Talk

It has been a long time since I last wrote about one of my favorite subjects - BOOKS. I just love 'em! One of the favorite activities of librarians is the "Book Talk", in which the books just get talked right off the shelves and into the hands of readers, especially the reluctant ones. As a former librarian, I find myself still doing the "book talk" bit to whoever will listen. And one of my favorite questions to ask when conversation lags is, "What are your reading these days?"

Today I put up a new list of recommended books in the sidebar of this blog. There is more variety than usual because my reading taste are very eclectic - non-fiction, good novels, mysteries, self-help, and psychology with spirituality and religion always topping the mix.

The first is another fine book by the Trappist monk, Michael Casey. Everything he writes is so fine. Living in the Truth explores the teachings of St. Benedict concerning the virtue of humility. Humility is defined as the total self-acceptance of our humanity. Here we find what may be said to be the under pining of a modern and very popular book entitled The Spirituality of Imperfection which is also well-worth reading.

Waldron's book, Thomas Merton - Master of Attention, accompanied me on my retreat last October. Interwoven with Merton's thoughts on prayer as attention are the reflections of the French writer Simone Weil and the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. To look, to see, to observe, to pay attention is to enter more deeply into the mystery of life, the mystery of God. Simone Weil said, "Looking is what saves us."

Your reaction to This Republic of Suffering - Death and the American Civil War may be, "Oh, how very depressing." I wouldn't say depressing. I would say sobering and necessarily sobering at that. More American lives were lost in the Civil War than in all the wars in which our country has been engaged from its beginning up to and including the Korean War combined. The author seems to have read every book, letter, journal, diary, or military report about or from the period and uses these primary sources to communicate, the psychological, sociological, cultural and religious ramifications of such horror. The chapter entitled "Killing" is a lesson in what must happen to the human person interiorly in order to engage in such slaughter. As I read it, I could not help but think of the men coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the horrors they bring with them and the life-long consequences of their experience.

In 2004, Maryilynn Robinson's novel Gilead received great applause and a Pulitzer Prize. I recommend it highly. Her new book. Home, is about one of the characters introduced in Gilead. A father is dying. His dutiful daughter has returned home to care for him. Also returning is the prodigal, alcoholic son. So this a family story about disappointment, forgiveness and healed relationships; things about which we all know only too well.

Given recent work concerning the life and poetry of my Sicilian grand-aunt, I have been reading a lot of books about Italy and Sicily in particular. Dacia Maraini, a well-known Italian author has drawn my attention. And now I have decided to pick up again a book I rejected as a college student. It has now become a classic of 20th century Italian literature. The Leopard, by Lampedusa, takes place in the middle of the 19th century and portrays the demise of Sicilian nobility in the midst of political and class reform. The novel's focus is the drama of one fading noble family, emblematic of a disappearing world.

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