Three questions may help readers discern which literature is worthy of their time and effort. First, is the book recommended by tradition? Is it a “classic” in the broadest sense possible? Have great literary thinkers throughout history acknowledged the worth and the artistry of this book? This can be a difficult question when books which have traditionally been considered valuable and worth reading are being dismissed and replaced with other, often more contemporary books of questionable quality. G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, explains the problematic error of this trend, particularly when it is enacted as a way of “democratizing” the literary canon.
Words, be they written or spoken, texted or tweeted, are under intense scrutiny these days. Publicly spoken or written words are met with criticism, anger, and even a rush to censor and punish the person who said them. We bristle, we shake our heads, and perhaps we even protest such unfortunate myopia, especially when we agree with the censored speech. Why, then, in certain Catholic and Christian circles, is the propriety of reading words that come at us from the other direction, from voices that challenge us or clash outright with our sense of morality, truth, and virtue, such an enduring problem?
As an ardent lover of literature, I have long been selective in my reading choices. Subsequently, I have encountered countless exceptional works communicating wisdom, truth, and beauty with surpassing skill. Occasionally, however, a novel does even more than that: it sears my very soul. I now count Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Unset, among such priceless works.
Growing up, I can only remember ever receiving two types of gifts from my paternal grandparents: a book or a guardian angel statue. Which gift I received depended on which grandparent was in charge of the gift. If it was Grandma, I received something related to angels. Grandpa, however, always chose books. Although both gifts have impacted my life, the love of literature has been a connection that has continued to unite me with my grandparents long after they passed away.
Following Jesus. Isn’t that what we all long to do each day? I don’t know if you are like me, but sometimes the how of the matter isn’t so clear. How do I love my teenager who is withdrawing from me? How can I follow Jesus when others in my family don’t seem to have the same desire? How do I follow Jesus when I am discouraged with the crosses He gives me? How do I follow Him in the grief of loss and loneliness that is sometimes part and parcel of my experience as a mother? How do I love Him well when the path is unclear, and my efforts do not always put forth success?
We Christians tend to underrate Jesus as a storyteller. Often in his public ministry, he tells his disciples stories that help them understand who God is and how they are supposed to live. He even answers the challenging theological questions of the Pharisees and Sadducees with parables. Stories are a fundamental part of how we understand who we are.
In an interview, Bishop James Conley from Lincoln, NE, once said: “All of us who wish to bring forward a renewal of Christian culture in our world should begin on our knees, in prayer. But we must also begin with books in our hands, being formed in the great tradition of the classical mind.”
You acclaim the benefits of reading; in fact, you’re convinced that we need to read more as a society. Yet, in the secret recesses of your heart, there is tension. For a woman wearing many hats and juggling many activities, reading a novel seems like a waste of time.
The child of staunch atheists, Lucette Le Goulard, would hardly appear a likely candidate to one day lead a cloistered community of Poor Clare nuns as Mother Veronica Namoyo Le Goulard. Reared in an emotionally neglectful home and given scant opportunity to experience both lasting, intimate human connection or the deep love of God, Lucette would seem more liable to exhibit despondency and desolation than spiritual depth. Yet, in exploring the extraordinary events of an earthly pilgrimage, one recognizes the glimmers of beauty and truth woven subtly yet movingly throughout the main character’s life—hints of the Divine, which slowly, perhaps even imperceptibly at times, led Lucette on a Salvific path. A Memory for Wonders: A True Story relates Mother Le Goulard’s unpredictable journey toward God: a journey marked by its incredible and adventuresome episodes, as well as its seemingly insurmountable impediments to discovering God, Faith, Love, and Truth. The unlikely nature of her wondrous odyssey should serve as a reminder to us all that Christ’s Truth is ubiquitous and often shown to us through the most unlikely of events, encounters, or even relationships.
When I consider what entices me to read a literary work, I find myself focusing on specific criteria: Is the reading style pleasurable? Is the content informative or inspiring? Does it bring joy, peace, or truth to my spirit? After all, there are only so many hours in a day to devote to reading (however earnestly I wish there were more). A busy mother must be somewhat picky in her literary decisions between juggling work and kids’ schedules, chores, and errands. While it is natural to have partialities—favorite authors, subject matter, or writing styles—there is merit in persevering through works that do not immediately resonate with us or perhaps, even repel us. Indeed, plenty of literary works are devoid of value and should be something we avoid. However, a myriad of offerings exists that, while they may jar our sensibilities, still relate universal truths.
My ten-year-old daughter, Josie, has been obsessed with the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery for two years. She dressed as Anne for Halloween, carries her pencils in an “I’d Rather Be in Avonlea” case, and has read the entire series three times. She tried to persuade me to read the books many times.