Sunday, November 30, 2003

Reading for one's life

I've been in a particularly intense reading mood recently. Reading about reading and writing and about readers who write and writers who read.

First, I read a review in The Atlantic (scroll down to the second book reviewed) of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie. The book is about four mid-twentieth century Catholics: Flannery O'Connor (novelist and short story writer); Thomas Merton (monk and writer); Dorothy Day (a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and a writer); and Walker Percy (novelist). One of the themes Elie brings out is that (at least for the converts to Catholicism—Merton, Day, and Percy)
it was in literature, first of all, that they found religious experience most convincingly described. As they read Dickens and Joyce, Blake and Eliot, Augustine and Kierkegaard, they recognized themselves as people with religious temperaments and quandaries.

Emboldened by books, they set out to have for themselves the experiences they had read about, measuring their lives against the books that had struck them most powerfully. (pp. x-xi)

Of course, they all went on to write, in one genre or another, about their firsthand religious experiences, enticing us to seek and taste and see for ourselves, too.

Another book I came across while browsing the poetry shelves is Planet on the Table: Poets on the Reading Life edited by S. Bryan and W. Olsen, a collection of essays by poets about reading. The essays combine pedagogy, autobiography, and criticism. The recommended books and poems to read, as well as ways of reading, are quite diverse.

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