Do You Know Poe?

Pizza and Poe Trivia Party

I tend to avoid trivia games. It has always been that way. Name that tune was naught but an embarrassment for me. Yet, I have a knack for remembering stories, characters and their author’s biographical information so the idea of a Pizza and Poe Trivia Party in the maker’s room at the Modesto Library was tempting.

My daughters came with me. We studied the timeline of a children’s biography of Poe in the car. We were ready to win.

Author trivia is so challenging when you’ve read a tiny fraction of the author’s works. Nevertheless, we ended in 4th place, respectable considering I sat beside a mathematician and a woman from a Shakespeare non-profit was in the room. The best moments were when my 9-year-old made guesses that were absolutely correct. How did she know Rue Morgue was a street in Paris? I’m so proud. Those Portuguese classes and Latin lessons must be paying off.

The take away, beyond the competition and camaraderie, was that Poe is not who I thought Poe was.

Do you know Poe?

I knew him from Tiny Tunes’ rendition of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

But Poe? I do not know Poe.

I thought he was a tortured soul, torturing readers with his tales of terror.

Not Poe.

Poe was a poet.

Poe was an editor.

Poe was a literary critic.

Poe also has a fan base of people who like to wear black, read spooky things and cosplay with Victorian steam punk attire. But beyond the black, that is not me.

Hillari DeSchane, co-chair for the upcoming PoeCon recognized this gothic attraction. In looking to expand the Story into Song Literacy Initiative’s January production into another conference to rival 2020’s JaneCon, DeSchane knew Poe fit the bill.

But is he just for the goth at heart?

No. DeSchane explains, “Poe has broad appeal across age groups, educational levels, gender and life experience. He’s a perennial favorite for personal reading, and look at the myriad of adaptations into other formats, including pop art and culture! … in the last several decades Poe has been undergoing a critical reappraisal, of both his work and his life. He is increasingly acknowledged as a consummate craftsman, an incisive critic, a prolific practitioner of multiple genres, is almost unanimously acknowledged as the father of the modern detective genre, and—he’s wittily and wickedly funny, too! In his personal life, his reputation as a drink- and drug-addled wreck is now known to have been the smear campaign of a jealous contemporary. This is an author who’s been resurrected, if you will.”

For all his macabre, Poe it still relevant today.

DeSchane explains, “EAP’s fiction examines the core fears and crises of the human existence: love, loss, fear, pain. He also, I believe, explores the consequences of unbridled, undisciplined emotion, of living as if one’s own needs are the only consideration. The battle between ‘I want’ and ‘others need’ is certainly current, and the consequences of selfism—alienation, unhappiness, disfunction, disintegration—are current too.”

It sounds heady, but as I saw with the Launch Party and Trivia, the events are family-friendly, which means I can immerse my children in a study of something that has become part of our American cultural canon. They can meet others who love to read just as much as they.

Poe knew sadness.

His father abandoned the family when he was one, his mother died when he was two. His foster father never really showed love to him and his foster mother died when he was still young. He was deeply devoted to the mother of a friend and she also died. He married and his wife, Virginia, died, too. Times were tough in the 1800s. Times are tough, in their own way, always.

Poe explains in his essay “On the Philosophy of Composition,” that his creative process was intelligible. David Gosselin writes in The Imaginative Conservative, “He begins by recognizing the universal sentiment, the “immortal instinct” found in each individual. From that universal, he then details what themes, subjects, and images he thought would be most conductive to affect the desired outcome on a reader.”

Death was the answer. And what was the most melancholy topic that was likewise be the most poetic? The death of a beautiful woman. A melancholy Poe knew inside and out.

So there we have it.

There is more to know about Poe than the reputation that precedes him.

Check him out at PoeCon January 13-15, 2023. For more info, visit modestopoecon.com.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Yesterday’s Books is Closing

An Ode to Good Bookstores

“It happens to us once or twice in a lifetime to be drunk with some book which probably has some extraordinary relative power to intoxicate us and none other, and having exhausted that cup of enchantment we go groping in libraries all our years afterward in the hope of being in paradise again.”

Jeff Deutsch, In Praise of Good Bookstores, 58

In Praise of Good Bookstores published in April 2022 by Princeton University Press explores the important social-cultural role of the local bookstore. While it appears on the surface to follow the usual mold of commerce where inventory is stocked, sold at a profit and stocked again, the local bookstore, beyond this veneer, is a markedly different animal.

The store goes beyond a commodity sold. Deutsch runs the Seminary Co-op bookstore in Chicago, the first-ever non-profit bookstore that exclusively sells books. In his book, Deutsch distinguishes between “the economy of the gift” and the “economy of the commodity.” Most booksellers, cannot turn a great profit, or sometimes any profit at all, unless they stock their shelves with bookmarks, socks, notebooks, calendars and the like, alongside books.

Books are expensive to produce and so the profit margin is relatively small.

It seems natural that large-scale booksellers like Barnes and Noble and Amazon exist. Buying in bulk means being able to sell at a discount. Selling books marked 30% off shifts the buyer’s perception of the value of the book.

Our perceptions further shifted when Amazon, the unavoidable elephant in the world of bookselling, shifted books to a loss leader, intentionally taking a loss on their sales to attract traffic towards more profitable items.

Add inflation. Add the higher cost of living. Add all the things that make us shudder at spending $14.99. We order, we reserve, and we’ve lost the art of browsing.

A necessary art

When browsing we slow down, meander the stacks and discover something unexpected. The art of the bookseller is stocking one or two copies of different titles and organizing them for that serendipitous find. The shelves cannot hold everything. The best bookseller will have a mix of new and old, cutting-edge and classic. The best bookseller stocks curated shelves.

Yesterday’s Books

Before there was Lightly Used Books, our only local, secular bookstore was Yesterday’s Books. I was in junior high when my father began taking me there.

In college, friends and I looked for low-cost destinations. For that, there were bookstores, and so I dated my husband and Yesterday’s Books. I told this to Paula Kiss, the woman who has owned Yesterdays Books for nearly 15 years. After working there for 17 years, she purchased it from Larry and Kathleen Dorman, the original owners.

On October 26, 2022, Kiss informed the public that she has decided to close Yesterday’s Books, a result of rising operating costs and lost sales that never returned to pre-Covid levels. Immediately, “overwhelming loving” responses of “shock and sadness” poured in, which Kiss said she is ‘hoarding those little stories like a dragon horse their jewels.”

Through social media comments, emails and in-person conversations people are sharing those stories with her. One patron told Kiss how she and her daughter would come in, shut their eyes and pick a book at random to purchase. Kiss never met them before hearing this story, but remembers seeing them in the act more than once.

The closure of Yesterday’s Books, one of the few books stores left in Stanislaus County, is a loss to the community.

When asked what Kiss thinks a bookstore brings to the community, she responded at first by saying, “everything.”

“We have generations of people that come. I have people telling me, ‘this is where I would come, when I was feeling anxiety, feeling stressed because it was calm, and I could come and sit and, get lost in the stacks.’” Kiss continued, “I think books are friends.”

Kiss sees a community bookstore as a safe space, a source of friendship and love. 

How can we ensure these spaces are not lost in our community?

I propose, just by making the drive. It’s easier to order online. It’s easier to order used online than ever. But when we drive to our local bookshop, browse the stacks and stay a while, we slow down, contemplate, and discover. It’s an art that we need more in life, where the stacks are low and the rewards are high. It’s healing, it’s creative, and it builds relationships.

We may not be able to save Yesterday’s Books. But if you have a story, reach out to Kiss and share it with her.

When you visit a new town, see if there is a bookstore you can visit and make a purchase.

Consider shopping locally before online.

And see what a difference it can make.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Next Steps on this Poetic Journey

How poetry came to be to me

From love poems to horses to angsty free verse poetry to rhyming poems about the faith, my journey into poetry began at a young age, slept during the years of fiction and college essay writing, and awoke only briefly in my AP English class in high school. “The Gray Squirrel”, a bit of Shakespeare, “Little Elegy” all from one teacher. If there were more I cannot remember them. I encountered none in college.

In college, G.K. Chesterton introduced me to Gabriel Gale and taught me the definition of a poet in The Poet and the Lunatics. “Genius oughtn’t to be eccentric!” he cried in some excitement.

Cover of The Poet and the Lunatics by G.K. Chesterton

“Genius ought to be centric. It ought to be in the core of the cosmos, not on the revolving edges.” The poet sees not only the material before him, but sees into its inner meaning and its connectedness to the rest of the world. It is musing on this and inner light of things that brings about the burst of words called poetry.

Next steps in poetry

This year I learned who Dana Gioia is. Former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts and California poet laureate, Gioia is teaching me about poetry through articles and podcast interviews. Gioia made the case in a 1991 article for The Atlantic “Can Poetry Matter?” that, for various reasons, poetry became to be seen as the purview of the elite, something the regular man or woman could not “understand.” It was a pedagogical error that most approaches toward poetry were based on analytical, asking always, “what does this mean?” “What concepts does the poet express?”

Gioia explained,

“But, poetry is not conceptual thought. If you are writing a poem, you’re using language fundamentally differently from how an economist would use it. You are using things in a semi-abstract language to make it absolutely clear about a general case. But, poetry, even if it’s about big issues, is always about a particular case. And so, a poet uses words in such a way that they don’t address primarily your intellect. They simultaneously address your intellect, your emotions, your physical senses, your memory, your intuition in a way which does not ask you to divide them.”

 It is not intended to be unfolded into an essay, but for the listener to step into the moment of wonder or musing with the poet. Gioia explains elsewhere that the muses, referred to as one’s inspiration, stem from the idea of goddess of inspiration. According to Hesiod’s account, the Nine Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (i.e., “Memory” personified).

The poem captures a moment and a sense or feeling like calling up a memory, if not a connection of our own, than one of humanity.

For the past year or two I have been buying up poetry books in the hopes that I would then begin to read poetry. I occasionally encountered a poem that moved me, but little else in the collection around it. “My Heart and I” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, for example, or “Lead, Kindly Light” and “The Two Worlds” by John Henry Newman found in A Newman Reader.

A Newman Reader, which includes poetry by John Henry Newman

And now, introducing Czeslaw Milosz

I tried The Collected Poems of John Donne, apparently in the original English lacking standardized spelling, another vintage compilation of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poetry, Poems Every Catholic Should Know, and more, but nothing stuck.

I listened to Professors Jennifer Frey and Thomas Pfau discussed the work and world of Czeslaw Milosz on the podcast “Sacred and Profane Love”, Episode 36. More and more I heard about this man who lived many years in Berkeley. To be honest, the first time I remember hearing his name was in the film Under the Tucson Sun.

The protagonist tells a Polish contractor,

“Czeslaw Milosz – I like him”

In the podcast interview, they read and referenced his works and I was spellbound.

I owned the book already, 1931-2004 Selected Poems Czeslaw Milosz having discovered it in the stacks at Lightly Used Books.

Cover of Selected Poems by Czeslaw Milosz

It took me back to the poetry that moved my heart and stirred my imagination in middle school. Milosz captures something, lets the words glaze over and over the center, piecing together the whole picture.

One life. One life is not enough.

I would like to live twice in this sad world.

My senses have to be fully alert to understand any of it. As I read, my eyes light up as sparks flit in my brain, dancing from image to image of the poem, stringing the meaning together into one coherent whole.

I understand why I could not read this stuff when I was drunk tired from life or baby care. It wasn’t the season.

Now tides have changed and I welcome it. One more step on the journey. One new area to learn about. One new step unfolding the mystery of all there is to discover here in life.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

“Sweep” swept my heart away

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Book Cover of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (May 5, 2020) written by Jonathan Auxier is one of those remarkable, read-aloud books for all ages. Sarah Mackenzie, the host of the Read-Aloud Revival described Sweep as having “won a place in my all-time tippy top favorite books” and rightly so. She described it thus,

“He’s large and lovable and Nan, our heroine will raise him almost like her own child. He is in the end, her protector. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is a book by Jonathan Auxier… It’s a Charles Dickens-like adventure about the everlasting gifts of friendship and wonder. The deep moments reflect the reality and nature of parenting and the wonder we experience when we see the world through the wonder of our child’s eyes.”

Mackenzie’s description, her incredible taste in good books, and the interview with the author pushed this book to the top of my list. I immediately reserved it at the library. The Saturday after it came, we settled down in the living room ready for me to read aloud. I have read only one other chapter book to my children, the name of which escapes me because I yawned through it and disliked the ending so much. It was not the ending it should have had, not the one the story led up to, and so it cheapened the emotions the author drew out of the reader.

Sweep does not do this at all.

The ending is joyful but did not come cheaply or without difficult things happening without which it never would have been possible.

C.S Lewis wrote

“To love is to be vulnerable.”

So all love will come with some sacrifice, some pain.

Auxier knows this and the vulnerability of love, for which one gives of himself or herself, is at the heart of this book. He writes, through his characters,

“We save ourselves by saving others.”

This is the gift of self through which we can truly find who we are, as Pope Paul VI wrote about in “Guadium et Spes.”

We can try to hold onto what we love by asking them to promise never to help others, never to give of themselves, but this is wrong. It is wrong to desire others to not sacrifice themselves because you want to see them preserved at all costs.

It means a great deal to me when an author will not shy away from the full nature of love.

In an interview, poet Dana Gioia told Russ Roberts,

“’There is no holiday without ghosts.’ And, I think that’s true. As you get older and you lose people, every joy you have is qualified by your losses. But, in a weird way, that amplifies your joy and makes your memory bearable.”

It isn’t the darkness of the book that matters to me. It is the willingness of the author to allow loss to amplify joy. This is when I find real life on the pages. And I found that realness of life in Sweep.

Indeed, in the end notes, the author wrote his daughter has down syndrome and was born with a congenital heart defect that required open heart surgery,

“I had to make a choice to love someone who I knew could very likely break my heart beyond repair.”

And so we read Sweep aloud.

While the above reflections span the deep, we laughed a lot during the book.

Every scene counts. The structure is perfect. We read chapters that represent “before” and my daughter points out to me that these always come following a chapter end in which she goes to sleep. These are her dreams, they are not merely flashbacks inserted here and there.

The book is divided into two parts, “Innocence” and “Experience,” taken from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and draws in Blake’s work through two poems both titled, “The Chimney Sweeper.”

The last chapters of the book perfectly recall the past, where we have been through all these chapters. Reading aloud brought out the impact of this.

The dialogue and language throughout are wonderful. The dialogue offers some regional subtleties that are there for those with ears to hear, but not so much that it distracts us. The characters are utterly consistent and true to their nature.

The villain is real. For the secondary villain, we are given a glimpse of how one can actually become a monster. We are allowed to see how Charlie could become a monster. Auxier references Frankenstein here – the novel – which addresses this lesson exactly. The man and monster formed in his custody, the lessons taught to the naïve monster, the question of who is the real monster. Roger is in Crudd’s custody. Charlie is in Nan’s.

Busy hands stopped to listen as I read on and we bonded in the discovery of what came next.

Sweep is recommended for ages 8-12 years old but this is a mere measure of literacy. As a read-aloud, I found my husband, children, ages 6-12 years, and myself captivated.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

What Flannery Recommends: Non-fiction and Catholicism

Part 4: Non-fiction and Catholic works that Flannery O’Connor recommends

“I suffer from generalized admiration or generalized dislike.” 

The Habit of Being by Flannery O’ Connor p. 241

In The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (August 1, 1988) edited by Sally Fitzgerald, lovers literature and students of literature are treated to a rare treat, this 640 volume that contains her passing comments, recommendations and critiques on over 100 titles.

  • For books on the craft of writing that Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.
  • For the authors that Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.
  • For the novels and short stories Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.
What Flannery Recommends, author recommendations from The Habit of Being

Word of God and the Word of Man

Barth, Karl.

About the trials of Biblical scholars since about 1880. Very enlightening to me. It’s certainly easier to be a Bible reader in 1962 than in 1904.

Three Mystic

Bruno, Father De J. M.

Highly enjoying the beautiful book

The Eclipse of God

Buber, Martin.

these boys have got a lot to offer us/I think this book you sent me is wonderful…Buber is an antidote to the prevailing tenor of Catholic philosophy which…is often apologetic rather than dialogic. Buber is an artist. That is one thing. Thomism usually comes in a hideous wrapper, but Buber’s thought is cast in a form that is always readable.

The Phenomenon of Man

de Chardin, Teilherd.

this is a scientific age and Teilhard’s direction is to face it toward Christ. / I might suggest you look into some of the works off…

(Book on Fenelon)

Fenelon, François.

Born Catholics

Frank Sheed.

Forced on me…I found it more interesting than I had thought as there are many and diverse degrees of experience in it

The Unity of Philosophical Experience

Gilson, Etienne.

A book that might help you

History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages

Gilson, Etienne.

I surprised to come across various answers to Simone Weil’s questions to Fr. Perrin.

The Unity of Philosophical Experience

Gilson, Etienne.

I am an admirer of

Religious and the Psychology of Jung

Goldbrunner, Josef.

Jung is with the uncles and not the great uncles; which is not to condemn him. I admire him…to my way of thinking, Goldbrunner has used Jung in the only way that I think he can be used, which is in helping the person face his own psychic realities, or those realities that the great mystics have always faced and that the Church teaches (in spite of Jung’s insistence that she does not) we must face. Goldbrunner can do this because he believes in the objective reality of God.

Christian Thought and Action

Graham, Dom Aelred.

A very good book, heathen friend – amazed a Catholic writer could be so flexible

The Faith and Modern Man

Guardini, Romano.

The Lord

Guardini, Romano.

Very fine/there is nothing like [it] anywhere, certainly not in this country.

The Virgin Mary

Guitton, Jean.

Have had considerable light thrown on the subject for me

The Reformation in England

Hughes, Philip.

Certainly am enjoying…I feel like I was at it

The Lives of the English Poets

Johnson, Samuel.

Modern Man in Search of the Soul

Jung, Carl.

I am conscious in a general way of the world’s present historical position, which according to Jung is unhistorical. I am afraid I got this concept from…

The Conservative Mind

Kirk, Russell.

Which I admire

Miracles

Lewis, C.S.

Which is very fine. Deceptively simple. You really need to read every sentence twice.

On Prayer

Lewis, C.S.

This book is a good one but I don’t like to pray any better for reading it.

Christ and Apollo

Lynch, Fr. William S.J.

Has some good answers to the question of what-are-you-saying.

Art and Scholasticism

Maritain, Jacques.

The book I cut my aesthetic teeth on, though I think even some of the things he says get soft at times. He is a philosopher and not an artist but he does have a great understanding of the nature of art, which he gets from St. Thomas. / your freshmen may be improved by a look at [it]…he dwells on St. Thomas’s definition of art as a virtue of the practical intellect, etc.

The Mystery of Being

Marcel, Gabriel

are readable

God and Mammon

Mauriac, François.

References for writing advice

Mémoires Intérieurs

Mauriac, François.

I am going to send it to you to read what he says about Emily Bronte. He sounds so much like you he might be you. He also has some good things to say about Hawthorne.

a book on Greece

Miller, Henry.

Very fine

The Grammar of Assent

Newman, John Henry.

On the Theology of Death

Rahner, Karl.

It is great but difficult to read.

Two Portraits of St. Thérèse of Liseuix

Robo, Fr. Etienne.

He does away with all the roses, little flowers, and other icing. The book has greatly increased my devotion to her.

Interior Castle

Theresa of Avila.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism. It is a mine of information

Israel and Revelation

Voegelin, Eric.

He gets away from the Spengler-Toynbee business very effectively and instead of seeing history as civilizational cycles sees it as an exodus from civilization.

The World of The Polis

Voegelin, Eric.

2nd volume on the Greek polis, a masterful analyses of the Illad & of Aeschylys but other hunks and dull and over my head/parts were very exciting but for the most part you need to be a Greek scholar to read it.

Essays and Addresses

Von Hugal, Baron.

I like the book very much.

God and the Unconscious

White, Victor, O.P.

Know the terrific pleasure these books are going to give me / I think it is full of psychological explanations of dogmas and rituals, which requires that he ignore the accepted meanings of them.

What Flannery Recommends: Fiction

Part 3: Fiction works that Flannery O’Connor recommends

“I suffer from generalized admiration or generalized dislike.” 

The Habit of Being by Flannery O’ Connor p. 241

In The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (August 1, 1988) edited by Sally Fitzgerald, lovers and students of literature are treated to a rare treat, this 640 volume that contains her passing comments, recommendations and critiques on over 100 titles.

  • To read which authors Flannery O’Connor recommends, click here.
  • For books on the craft of writing that Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.

We are sharing those recommendations with you now.

What Flannery Recommends, author recommendations from The Habit of Being

Diary of a Country Priest

Bernanos, George.

So far it seems to be only a slight framework of a novel to hang Bernanos’ religious reflections on. The diary form gives him leave to do this, otherwise he would have a hard time…Bernanos stands very high with Catholics, at least with the ones who read.

Cary, Joyce. Herself Surprised. The Horse’s Mouth. To be a Pilgrim. I must have liked them or I wouldn’t have read three…it must have been the most interesting one. He has gusto.

The Lament

Chekhov, Anton.

I Choose to Die

Cheney, Brainard.

I like it all but the song and dance.

Secret Agent

Conrad, Joseph.

Under Western Eyes

Conrad, Joseph.

I don’t have one perception about the novels, but I keep reading them hoping they’ll affect my writing without my being bothered knowing how.

A Sea Change

Dennis, Nigel.

A wonderful novel

Gothic Tales

Dinesen, Isak.

Some of them I like right much…I can’t take too much of her at one time

Murder in the Cathedral (play)

Elliot, T. S..

A marvelous play

Medea

Euripides.

More to my taste (compared to Alcestis…It’s a pretty untragic play with only 1 dead body & that eventually brought back from the shades of Heracles)

Poor Harriet

Fenwick Way, Elizabeth.

I enjoyed her and also my mamma enjoyed her

The Simple Truth

Fenwick, Elizabeth.

I liked it…Elizabeth is a lot better writer than she gets credit for

Oedipus Rex

Fitzgerald, Robert with Fitts, Dudley.

A very fine translation/I’m much taken with it…I think it must be the best, and it certainly very beautiful.

The Odyssey

Fitzgerald, Robert.

Arrived to my great improvement, I look forward to carnage at the end

Passage to India

Forster, E. M.

Still my favorite

Lord of the Flies

Golding, William.

I think you would like it

Summer Dust

Gordon, Caroline.

Impressionistic story. You read it and then you have to sit back and let your mind blend it together…She is a great student of Flaubert and is great on getting things there so concretely that they can’t possibly escape…this is real mastery doing, and nobody does it better than Caroline. You walk through her stories like you were walking through a complete world. And watch how the meaning comes from the things themselves and not from her imposing anything. Right when you finish reading that story, you don’t think you’ve read anything, but the more you think about it the more it grows.

The Malefactors

Gordon, Caroline.

With all my usual admiration for everything she writes. I look at it from the underside, thinking how difficult all this was to do because I know nothing harder than making good people believable.

The Tin Drum

Grass, Gunter.

I’m enjoying…That Grass is really something. I’ll be all year reading it…

The Simple Truth

Hardwick, Elizabeth.

I think she’s a mighty good writer

The Lime Twig

Hawkes, John

It came last Sunday and I read that afternoon and evening in a sitting that was unwillingly interrupted once or twice. The action seems to take place at that point where dreams are lightest (and fastest?), just before you wake up. It seems to me that you have retained all the virtues of the other books in this once, but added something that will hold the reader to the reading I can’t make any intelligent comments about this book an more than I could about the others; but I can register my sensations. You suffer this like a dream. It seems to be something that is happening to you, that you want ot escape from but can’t. It’s quire remarkable…Meanwhile, my admiration is 90% awe and wonder.

The Story Hour

Hay, Sara Henderson

I enjoyed them thoroughly—the poems— and thought the illustrations were funny too.

The Disinherited Mind

Heller, Erich.

I like, essays on Goethe, Nietzsche, Rilke, Spengler, Kafka and a few others

Catch-22

Heller, Joseph.

I enjoyed reading…I think it gets funnier after page 36.

The Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway, Ernest.

[Faulkner] says that Hemingway discovered God in the Creator in this one. What part I like in that was where the fish’s eye was like a saint in a procession; it sounded to me like he was discovering something new maybe for him.

The Living Novel, a Symposium

Hicks, Granville (ed).

I like the book very much and am glad to find myself in it/nine others in it of varying degrees of sense

A High Wind in Jamaica

Hughes, Richard.

Small enough to be perfect

The Fox in the Attic

Hughes, Richard.

(Implied it is as good as A High Wind in Jamaica) this other thing is part of something larger and can’t be judged by such standards

Portrait of a Lady

James, Henry.

You have to judge James by this book.

The Dead

Joyce, James.

The Dubliners

Joyce, James.

Study these stories, you can learn an awful lot from them

The Odyssey: a Modern Sequel

Kazantzakis, Nikos.

a wonderful book, just finished Book I and felt I was in the presence of something

The Lotus and The Robot

Koestler, Arthur.

I recommend it highly

The Velvet Horn

Lytle, Andrew.

I was entirely taken with it. I didn’t follow all the intricacies of the symbolism but it had its effect without working it all out/very readable. I usually can’t read a book that long.

The End of Pity

Macauley, Robie.

I want you to see…Not all the stories in this one are good but the good ones are as good as anybody’s

The Legend of Two Swimmers

Macauley, Robie.

The Chevigny Man

Macauley, Robie.

The Good Soldier

Maddox Ford, Ford.

I like…

The Assistant

Malamud, Bernard.

I don’t like his novel as well as his stories but it’s still a good novel

The Magic Barrel

Malamud, Bernard.

I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself. / The stories deal with Jews and they are the real thing. Really spiritual and very funny.

The more I read it the better I like it.

The Voices of Silence

Malraux, Andre.

I am working my way through it slowly. It is really fine.

The Mechanical Bride

Marshall, Herbert.

Has to be read completely and slowly…I appreciate the book…the meat is in the text and has to be read carefully

The Book of Knowledge

Mee, Arthur.

the only good things I read when I was a child were the Greek and Roman myths which I got out of a set of child’s encyclopedia

The Wandering of Desire

Montgomery, Marion.

Wonderful. 100% solid and alive throughout. The Southern writer can outwrite anybody in the country because he has the Bible and a little history, but you’ve got more of both than most and a splendid gift besides. IT all adds up to a really fine novel and I’ll be proud to say the same or something similar to … all I can say is you’ve done it.

Under the Net

Murdoch, Iris.

Well written but I don’t remember it

Bend Sinister

Nabokov, Vladimir.

I Have always like Nabokov, I have forgotten everything about it except that I was impressed, even possibly influenced

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

Nabokov, Vladimir.

If you don’t know Nabokov, you ought to

Dr. Zhivago

Pasternak, Boris.

Really something/it is a great book.

Lanterns on the Levee

Percy, Walker.

Percy’s masterpiece…now in its 16th printing

War

Pirandello, Luigi.

Ship of Fools

Porter, Katherine Ann

May not be a great book but it is in many ways a fine one. It has a sculptural quality. I admire the bulldog in it the same way I would admire a bulldog carved to perfection. Essence of bulldog…

Humorous Tales

Poe, Edgar Allen.

These were mighty humorous…this is an influence I would rather not think about

Morte d’Urban

Powers, J. F.

[The review] was so favorable someone might have thought I was in your employ. I chiefly said that it was a novel and all the people who said otherwise were nuts. I thought it really hung together as a whole piece and that it was worth holding onto for ten years or however long you held on to it.

Prince of Darkness

Powers, J. F.

Likes

The Presence of Grace

Powers, J.F.

I admire your stories better than any of the others I know of even in spite of the cat who, if my prayers have been attended to, has already been run down

Remembrance of Things Past

Proust, Marcel.

I am eating through it like a mole. I think it would make good Iceland reading for either you or the Caption. Maybe you could keep him quiet with it.

The Leopard

Purdy, James.

this is very fine.

The Nephew

Purdy, James.

I really think it is quite a good book, on a small scale

(Title not given)

Ripley, Dillon.

I certainly have enjoyed his book and if you are speaking with him, tell him he has one ardent fan in the state of Georgia.

They Don’t Dance Much

Ross, James.

Very fine book

Troilus and Cressida

Shakespeare, William.

His clotted, odd, inspired…

The Girls of Slender Means

Sparks, Muriel.

Which came at 12 o’clock noon and I finished before I went to bed. I really did like it, better than the others.

The Foundling

Spellman, Cardinal Francis.

If we must have trash this is the kind of trash we ought to have.

Lie Down in Darkness

Styron, William.

I find it very impressive so far

much too much the long tedious Freudian case history, though the boy can write and there were overtones of better things in it.

The Man of Letters in the Modern World

Tate, Allen.

A Meridian book worth reading—that I think is very fine.

A Long Fourth

Taylor, Peter.

likes

The Straight and Narrow Path

Tracy, Honor.

Too long but better sustained than most funny books

Domestic Manners of the Americans

Trollope, Frances Milton.

I like [Anthony] Trollope. Have you ever read his mother’s account of her visit to American in the 1830s? Shouldn’t be missed.

Kristin Lavransdatter

Undset, Sigrid

Remember being much gripped with that love and that writing, although in those days I wasn’t thinking of it as writing…could she have done it without returning to the 13th century

All the King’s Men

Warren, Robert Penn.

I suggest you read…

The Loved One

Waugh, Evelyn.

Right length for that kind of book.

Sword of Honor

Waugh, Evelyn.

I really liked this last one…of Waugh’s best.

Check back next week for the round-up of authors that Flannery O’Connor recommends.

What Flannery Recommends: Authors

Part 2: Which authors that Flannery O’Connor recommends

“I suffer from generalized admiration or generalized dislike.”

 The Habit of Being by Flannery O’ Connor p. 241

In The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (August 1, 1988) edited by Sally Fitzgerald, lovers and students of literature are treated to a rare treat, this 640 volume that contains her passing comments, recommendations and critiques on over 100 titles.

  • For books on the craft of writing that Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.

We are sharing those recommendations with you now.

What Flannery Recommends, author recommendations from The Habit of Being

There were certain authors Flannery O’Connor read and referenced regularly. When a correspondent asked her for guidance on what to read, O’Connor knew how to respond.

All the Catholic novelists

the best Southern writers:

The Russians:

She write she “learned something from” these:

Joseph Conrad

“I’m a great admirer, read almost all his fiction”:

James, Henry

This may affect my writing for the better without my knowing how/ read almost all of, when I read James, I feel something is happening to me, in slow motion but happening nevertheless/I identify with James’ felt life and not with any particular moral system.

Kafka, Franz

I think reading a little of him perhaps makes you a bolder writer.

To read “What Flannery Recommends” on the craft or writer, click here.
Check back next week for more recommendations.

Honorable Mention

de Chardin, Teilherd

Weil, Simone (life)

About the life of Simone Weil: “is the most comical life I have ever read about and the most truly tragic and terrible”

O’Connor, Frank. Frank O’Connor

“likes”

Celine, Louis Ferdinand.

He did feel life at a moral depth—or rather that his work made me feel life at a moral depth; what he feels I can’t care about

What Flannery Recommends: On Writing

Part 1: What Flannery O’Connor recommends on the craft of writing

“I suffer from generalized admiration or generalized dislike.” 

The Habit of Being by Flannery O’ Connor p. 241

Every reader of Flannery O’Connor who then goes on to read her letters and write to tell the tale of that massive volume will comment on what a voracious reader Flannery was. Indeed she was. O’Connor (March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964), was a regular correspondent, read daily, discussed the books she read in her letters and personal interactions.

In 1951, Flannery moved with her mother to Andalusia Farm where she would live until her death in 1964 at the age of 39. Her daily routine was to attend Mass, write in the morning, then spend the rest of the day recuperating and reading.

In Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.), Francine Pose reminds us that “Long before there were creative writing workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries.” O’Connor had the benefit of formal education in writing, but a good education is never finished, especially as one hones the craft by practice. The best way to read well, is to read great works, and the best way to write well, is to read great works.

O’Connor may be one of the greatest American writers of all time.

While her themes do not appeal widely, the quality of her craft, her sense of time and space, not using a wasted word, is masterful. Writers do well to read her.

O’Connor read for pleasure, to instruct her craft, for spiritual education, and for reviews. In The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (August 1, 1988) edited by Sally Fitzgerald, lovers and students of literature are treated to a rare treat, this 640 volume that contains her passing comments, recommendations and critiques on over 100 titles.

Rather than a list of 124 book recommendations in one post, let’s start here. In subsequent weeks, I’ll share the authors she recommends, fictional works and non-fiction or spiritual works.

Not all recommendations are a blanket affirmation of the work, and some of her praise is given more because the work tickled her ironic sense of humor than that it she saw in it the makings of a classic, but they were good enough to write to her friends.

  • For the author’s Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.
  • For the non-fiction and Catholic works Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.
  • For the novels and short stories Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.

Flannery O’Connor’s book picks on the craft writing:

What Flannery Recommends, author recommendations from The Habit of Being

Understanding Fiction

Brooks, Cleanth and Warren, R.P.

An invaluable help to me and I think it would be to you/it sounds elementary but it has its virtues in that it has a variety of stories in the book and you get some idea of the range of what can be done./ it is pure textbook and very uninviting and part of the value of it for me was that I had it in conjunction with Paul Engle who was able to breathe some life into it; but even without him, it might help you some.

How to Read a Novel

Gordon, Caroline.

I think you would find it valuable, it’s really more for writers than readers, and it is uneven I think, but you would still find it valuable

The Craft of Fiction

Lubbock, Percy.

I think would help you in your writing, this sounds like a how-to-do-it book but it is not; it’s a very profound study of point of view.

The American Novel and Its Tradition

Chase, Richard.

A book on the romance-novel which is very good…I wish you would take a look at it if you haven’t seen it.

The House of Fiction

Tate, Allen and Gordon, Catherine.

Textbook with writing advice.

The Novel in France

Turnell, Martin.

Enjoyable

Check back next week for the works of fiction Flannery O’Connor reads and recommends.

What God Had Emptied

The story of the other book

I did not expect to write this post so soon. In fact, I had almost no expectations of when or what year I would write this post. It is with great joy and still some surprise that I share with you that my third book is now published, titled What God Had Emptied: How I Found Hope After My Children’s Diagnoses.

This was the book I wrote in 2018, the book about which I told my counselor, “I think I am ready to write our story.” It tells the tale of two years, two positive pregnancy tests, two prenatal diagnoses, and two different outcomes. 

In 2018, I gathered up the pieces of my heart scattered here and there, through emails, blog posts, journal scribblings, prayer books, collections of quotes and poetry that sustained me, and a eulogy. These I put in chronological order in a Word document and called it “raw material.” Then I began to connect the pieces of the narrative, filling in the blank spots, giving it flesh and blood where it warranted, making digestible the parts we would rather look away from. 

I read The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith, The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman, The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo, and Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. By reviewing the books of other authors in the same genre, I learned about how memoir is regularly presented today and in Catholic publishing. I made the most of my time as a member of Hope Writers. 

After many hours of editing, it was time to craft the book proposal. The document requires you to pour yourself in, and then start pitching. The rejection letters were encouraging and surprisingly positive. Through one, we began a conversation about presenting a devotional that drew from my experience. That book became Journey in Love: A Catholic Mother’s Prayers after Prenatal Diagnosis. The conversations that led to my June release, Peace in Pregnancy: An Expectant Mother’s Prayers After Prenatal Diagnosis, of which I already shared about here

Meanwhile, the memoir waited. I decided to save up to self-publish. This is our story, and whether or not the market demands to hear it, I felt in my heart that it need to be on our table.

In June, around the same time my shipment of Peace in Pregnancy arrived unexpectedly after supply chain delays, I took a writer’s retreat.

It was in Hope Writers that I learned about this concept. One author they interviewed books a cruise to make her retreat, something that would take her far away, isolate her, and make her do the hard work. On my retreat, I booked two nights at Fallon Hotel in Columbia Historic State Park. With a copy of Peace in Pregnancy alongside me, I planned to reread the memoir, Peace in Pregnancy, and prepare two book proposals for the next project, a book on self-care while caregiving for one’s children and a literature-based devotional. Nothing came of the latter proposal. The former shaped up a bit, enough to convince me to keep at it.

On Friday morning I woke and worked in bed, a privilege I rarely possess at home with my littles. Without a plan, I opened the old proposal for the memoir. On my computer desktop, I had a list of publishers and their requirements. Half of them were crossed off until I got to Our Sunday Visitor. The other half I never contacted. En Route Books and Media was the next on the list. Their requirements for a proposal were ones I could meet at the moment. I sent the email. 

Then, I went for coffee.

When I returned, there was an offer waiting for me. The contract followed. In a whirlwind I did not expect possible, we made agreements, edited, designed book covers, proofread, formatted, and now present What God Had Emptied: How I Found Hope After My Children’s Diagnoses.

What God Had Emptied Book Cover

This lengthy title begins with a fraction of a quote Mother Teresa wrote in a letter to her spiritual director, “There would come a time when God had filled what he had emptied.” This expression buoyed me up in the darkest of our dark days when it felt like all had been taken from us and we were alone. 

We never could have imagined what good would come from those two years, but good has come. It is from this perspective that I write in this column so often. There is meaning to what is happening. We have a purpose. Be present in the moment to see what it has for you. You matter and what you do matters.

What God Had Emptied is available now on Amazon and from En Route Books and Media. For more questions or local purchases, please feel free to email me at writer@kathrynannecasey.com.

Best Western Films for Your Summer Watch-list

The best western films to watch this summer

A new season, a new watch-list, this time featuring the best family-friend Western films for summer.

For us, summer means an end to the traditional school year in our household. It means time for extra-curricular we cannot fit into the school year: swimming, baking, sewing, horseback riding, art, soccer and so on. There are so many things.

And of course, as the afternoons heat up, we look for indoor activities to fill the time. This year we implemented tea time. Right around 4 o’clock I pour sweet tea or lemonade or in the toddler’s case, milk, and serve up a treat like scones, zucchini bread, blueberry muffins, fruit, cheese and so on in fancy dishes and we have tea time, which holds us over until dinner time.
The English concept of tea time, I learned is intended to give one a mental boost and hold one over until supper time. High tea would present a larger selection of savory foods and takes place later in the day. Tea time need not be fancy. It is essentially snack time. This new tradition allows me to sit with my children, talk a bit, go over upcoming plans, and review what chores need to be done after tea time. When we finish, they begin their evening chores while I clean the kitchen and prepare dinner. They work better when they see an adult working on chores, too. After that the evening begins, the father comes home, and if we watch a movie that night, this is when it happens.

When summer starts, I go for adventure films: Swiss Family Robinson, Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and the like.

But the hotter it gets in California, the more inclined I am to watch Westerns. I grew up in an age of cynicism regarding this genre, and to be sure, it has many problems. The best western we knew of was Back to the Future III. Over time, I’ve encountered a smattering of really terrific films all available through our local library or Hoopla.

Photo by Sarah Lachise on Unsplash

Stagecoach

1939, directed by John Ford, with John Wayne’s Hollywood debut. You will see amazing stunt work in this film. This is where all the stereotypes from so it’s worth watching to know their source. It is set during the Apache wars and Native Americans are not given a role beyond this. I do not recommend a steady diet of that kind of storytelling but we counteract with some education, good books and more nuanced movies later. Your typical road movie, for all its simplicity, the characters are fleshed out and interesting.

Dodge City

1939, directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Errol Flynn smiles and plays the good guy bringing law and order to a wild western town dominated by murderous bad guys. It’s a mafia movie with horses. Olivia de Havilland writes for the newspaper and is a well-enough written character for the genre. The power of the press is on display as the editor puts his life on the line to print the truth.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

1962, directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Vera Miles. Jimmy Stewart plays a city slicker lawyer representing law, order and education. John Wayne plays the west in which a man “handles his own problems” by packing a gun. The relationships are rich and nuanced, the moral choices are worth a discussion following the film.

High Noon

1952, directed by Fred Zinnemon, starring Gary Cooper with Grace Kelly in her 21-year-old Hollywood debut as a supporting character. He plays an old lawman, she plays a Quaker in a Western that shows establishing law does not come easily or always work as it ought. A man Gary Cooper sent to prison gets out and aims to kill him. He can stand his ground and face the man or run. We get the iconic clock ticking scenes, the shoot-out in the deserted, dusty streets, and the trope of the bad guy using the woman to get the good guy to come out and save her.

Broken Arrow

1950, directed by Delmer Daves, starring Jimmy Stewart and Jeff Chandler. I love this movie. While the female lead character lacks development, like many others, what makes this movie remarkable is its willingness to show good and bad actors on both the US and the Native American side of the Apache Wars. Too many films tell the story, us against them, villainizing either one side or the other. Stereotypes still exist, but if you or your kids enjoy the genre, this one is a must for the list.

Photo by Cayetano Gil on Unsplash

These are the family-friendly films. It’s after-hours when my husband requests we watch The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and yes, Back to the Future III.