Thursday, October 28, 2010

Book Recommendations Welcomed

Not too long ago, Robbo mentioned reading Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. I'd never read it and probably wouldn't have appreciated it in my non-Catholic youth anyway, but when I was at the library and happened to walk past the C's on the shelf, I nabbed it, read it and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was a German literature major in college.  I have an MA in it too, and yet I haven't taught my kids German and I seem to read very little literature these days that doesn't have pictures on every page. I know that Joshua and Prudence have many nice and useful parts. I've got The Big Red Barn down pat. I have been rereading some of my favorite L.M. Montgomery books lately, but I doubt they'll be on the great literature lists any time soon.

However, what I liked about Death Comes for the Archbishop was, in some ways, what I like about books Montgomery's Blue Castle or Tangled Web. They are about life and not always beautiful or perfect lives, but at the same time life is worth the living. In other words, they aren't like the German books I spent my early adulthood reading.  One reason I decided not to get a PhD in German lit (besides discussions like this) was an ever growing weariness with a feeling that all great literature seemed focused on misery and death.

Sure death comes for the Archbishop in the end, but it isn't the kind of tiring, romantic death that someone like young Werther seeks.  It isn't the painful, pointless, frustrating death of Gregor Samsa.  If Cather had focused the story on Magdalena and her misery, the book would have seemed more like the German literature I spent so much time reading. Instead, Fr. Latour's and Fr. Vaillant's small and large sufferings seem to have a purpose and bring them through long lives to a worthy end.

I appreciated the book, because it was a good story; one I wanted to stay up late reading.  It wasn't a slog to get through. Not a book I had to spend time analyzing to understand and enjoy, but one that later on, I am still thinking about.

Of course, this means that I am now back to entertaining myself with One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and need to figure out what to check out next time I'm at the library. Fun reads. Fine literature not necessary, although certainly welcome as long as it isn't on the German model. Suggestions?

10 comments:

Gardenia said...

Hi, I'm here from Familia Catolica. I just love your coloring pages. St. joan of Arc and St. peter are great!! I've been meaning to check out this book, Death comes to the archbishop -- to see whaether it's a good read. thanks for the review. I shall put it on my TBR list.

nicole said...

I've suggested it to a million people and perhaps you have already read it, but Peace Like a River is a beautiful, haunting book (by Leif Enger). Last year (I think?) I read The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb and loved it, as well as The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, and one other book that I can't remember now. Darn.

Robbo said...

I'm very glad you enjoyed it! I'm always a leetle apprehensive about waxing enthusiastic about something only to have others look at each other with a wild surmise and ask "What on earth was he thinking?"

My next two projects are Waugh's biography of Edmund Campion and Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday.

melissa said...

With your brood, you just have to read Shirley Jackson's biographical books about her family. You'll just laugh and laugh. One's called 'Life Among the Savages' and the other is 'Raising Demons' but I prefer the first one.

Her novels are some of my favorites as well...'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' at the top. :)

Amy said...

I'm adding Death Comes.... to my reading list - thanks for the recommendation!

I am reading books by Louis de Wohl right now - a Catholic fiction author. The Quiet Light was fantastic - historical-fiction about the life of St. Thomas Aquinas. I LOVED this book.

I also recommend The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Excellent.

And I recently read Mark Twain's book about Joan of Arc and it was amazing. I highly recommend.

Patricia Tryon said...

Barbara Pym. Ruth Rendell's Wexford series and P.D. James' Dagliesh series. I like the way she makes Dagliesh ponder and sometimes struggle with the imponderable.

Recently, I liked Deborah Devonshire's memoir (she is a Mitford sister, in case you know that name), John Ciardi's translation of the Divine Comedy (which I am still working on), Heschel's The Sabbath (non-fiction, but highly readable), Reginald Hill's Daziel (sp?) series (excluding Arms and the Women), haiku in various translations, the Patrick McManus books with his hilarious essays about outdoor life...

Oh, I could go on and on.

Wait. I see that I did ;)

Tony Woodlief said...

I'll second Peace Like a River and The Book Thief. If you've not read Cather's My Antonia, you might prefer it to Death Comes for the Archbishop. The characters have more life. Others:
1. Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory (about a "whisky" priest hounded by Mexican revolutionaries demanding that all priests leave the country or convert, who is convinced he will go to hell, but who can't leave behind his faithful flock)
2. Walker Percy's The Moviegoer (set in New Orleans, about a young man's alienation and slow discovery of love)
3. Anything by Flannery O'Connor
4. Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter

Herb of Grace said...

I love several of the suggestions you've already gotten (especially The Book Thief), but had to add my own :)

I recently finished reading The Unincorporated Man and loved it. It's defintly sci-fi, but it you like the genre (which I do), you'll love it!

Meredith said...

I haven't been reading of anything noteworthy, but I'm taking advantage of the comments and adding to my library list. Thanks!

Ellen said...

Gotta check out Kristin Lavransdatter. It's long... but it's totally worth it. Best book I've read in a long time, and I finish about a book every week or two around here. P.S. I have two children who nap pretty well...

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