Books for 2015

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February 14, 2015 by lucieromarin

I don’t think I wrote a word about books last year, and that shows you what kind of year it was. So, here are three I’ve enjoyed this year so far (it’s only by accident that they’re all religious. I just haven’t read a good novel yet*):

Edmund Campion, Evelyn Waugh.

I used to think that no one should be allowed to write a saint’s life without first reading Sigrid Undset’s Catherine of Siena. My recommendation of that book still holds good, but now I have to add Evelyn Waugh’s Edmund Campion.

The first reason for my recommendation is simply Waugh’s prose style. In an age where high-salaried characters can force the rest of us to read sentences like, “Moving forward, we have to make sure we leverage all our stakeholders, creating dynamic synergies under the same motive umbrella,” Edmund Campion was spiritually refreshing simply because it was intellectually refreshing.

Second, I found myself drawn into the life of a saint who never interested me. When you love someone, you can read almost anything about him, no matter how bad, but I had no devotion to Edmund Campion, and, while I don’t know why I thought a biography of a hunted priest-martyr would be dull, I must admit that that is what I thought. In fact, I was hooked from the first line; some of the scenes were as clear as cinema, the players were whole (no cardboard cut-out villains), and the account of his trial had the immediacy and energy of current news (the experience of Peter Greste comes to mind).

The Divine Pity, Gerald Vann O.P.

This is another example of good prose being something more important than a flourish, an adornment, or a trick. Here, the author’s rich-and-readable style gave me a fresh approach to subjects such as the Divine compassion or mercy (which topics can, in works of spirituality, sometimes read to me as though the writers haven’t ever watched the news) and the even more tricky subject of how to relate to God through humility and meekness (well, it’s tricky for me!)

I’m still undecided as to whether this is a general Wow-book (i.e would be equally loved by all readers) or was simply the right book for me at the right time. But I really did find it unique in its perspective on praying for sinners. It showed me how to reconcile the advice ‘You have to save your own soul first’ (I’d like to think I was less danger than an axe-murderer on his deathbed) with avoiding a them-us mindset in which sinners are everyone-but-me.

Approach to Monasticism, Dom Hubert van Zeller.

It doesn’t matter that this is about how to be Benedictine monk; I keep finding sentences that I have to write down and use for meditation. It’s like listening in to lesson given by an experienced monk and novice, expecting nothing more than the slight thrill of eavesdropping, and then being startled by the realisation that you could ask yourself the same questions, and that that challenge might be as great for you as it is for the younger monk.

So, this isn’t the kind of book where the monk tries to give the lay reader ideas for lay life based on monastic experience. It is directed to monastic experience proper. But I think I’ll be a better laywoman for reading it.

*I have been rereading some of the novels of Angela Thirkell. They’re set in Anthony Trollope’s fictional Barsetshire around the wars, and you do have to be be in the exact right mood to enjoy them, otherwise all the young people dancing to gramophones and saying “Now see here,” and “It’s ever so ghastly,” are annoying. I reread ‘Summer Half,’ and ‘The Brandons’ and only this time round did I catch the notes of compassion and anguish in these otherwise light stories. But, as I say, your mood has to be exactly suited to them, or that mood will get even worse!

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