Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To Begin and End with Willa Cather

Dear Misfits,

Our December book, My Antonia by Willa Cather, ended 2011 on a very high literary note.  My Antonia truly deserves its place in American literature as “one of the finest novels of the twentieth century”.   Many critics place her firmly among such highly regarded  American authors as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.  The Misfits at our discussion last Wednesday certainly agree with that claim.  We rate it as one of the best novels we have read since we began our Men’s Reading Group in September, 2002.  (It is fitting that we end another year of reading with Willa Cather, the author with whom we began our Reading Group in 2002.)

I could go on for pages on why you should read My Antonia but I won’t.  I don’t think I could do justice to all that is contained in the novel and power of Cather’s story about the life of a young woman on the plains of Nebraska in the pioneer days of our nations history.  It is a classic and should be on the required reading list of all High School or College Freshman literature classes.

And now to the future:  Our fist novel of 2012 is A Canticle for Leibowitz by William M. Miller, Jr.. This is Miller's only major novel and is not simply a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel but also a multi-layered meditation on the conflict between knowledge and morality .The novel  follows a Catholic monastic order over a period of 18 centuries as it seeks to preserve the legacy of human knowledge even as mankind repeatedly destroys itself in nuclear flames.  Six centuries in the future,  the world suffers a “Flame Deluge” and mankind violently rejects all learning in a period of history called “The Simplification”.  The title character, a widowed former weapons scientist named Leibowitz, gathers followers and establishes a monastic order dedicated to preserving the remnants of  human knowledge. Leibowitz is martyred and by the 26th century is up for canonization. The world has returned to a hunter-gatherer economy, and the Catholic Church is struggling against marauding barbarians and shamans.  It is science/apocalyptic fiction at its finest.

I have [linked to] an insightful review of the novel by a Catholic professor that I found at the Ignatius Press web site.  I think makes an excellent introduction to the novel [].

But more to the future of our Reading Group:  I need some recommendations as to what you want to read/what we should read in 2012.  Please do respond.  I need and will value your input.

Finally, let me wish all of you a Blessed Christmas.  And may God bless each you and grant you great happiness and good health in the New Year. 

Misfit Buzz

Share |

Wendell Berry For Catholics

[From the Editor: it has been a while since I've posted Misfit Reading Group blogs, so this first one is already out-of-date]

Dear Misfits,

A World Lost and its author, Wendell Berry, were given great praise at our last meeting.  The novel has brilliantly detailed characters and subtle social observations that are a distinguishing characteristic of  Berry's writing style.  Berry effortlessly captures the dialect and social mores of a backwater Kentucky rural area during WWII  The narrative of the story is impelled by a chain of subtle revelations about the interior lives of the characters in the novel.

Berry shows us the psychic costs of misplaced family pride and social rigidity, and yet he also celebrates the benevolent blessing of familial love. This is a simple, soul-satisfying novel wonderfully augmented by understated humor and quiet insight. It is one of the best novels we have read.; certainly in our top 10. For the errant Misfits we haven’t seen in awhile--go get a copy of this book and read it.  Your lives will be enriched! 

On to the future: 

Our December book is My Antonia by Willa Cather.  Noted author and critic H.L. Mencken once wrote, "No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as 'My Antonia.'"   I am really looking forward to reading and discussing this novel.  As you may recall, the first book read by the Misfits, was Cather’s wonderfully written Death Comes for the Archbishop.  It will be a pleasure to return to Cather to read My Antonia which was first published in 1918.  The novel is set in Nebraska in the late 19th century and is the story of the spirited daughter of a Bohemian immigrant family planning to farm on the untamed land ("not a country at all but the material out of which countries are made").  It is told through the romantic eyes of Jim Burden, newly orphaned and arriving at his grandparents' neighboring farm on the same night Antonia’s family strikes out to make good in their new country.   The novel is widely available and sells at Amazon for $8.99.

Our January book is A Canticle for Leibowitz which has been highly recommended by one of our Misfits.  Personally, I’ve been intending to read this novel for over 40 years!  The following is a recent review of the novel:

“Winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel and widely considered one of the most accomplished, powerful, and enduring classics of modern speculative fiction, Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz is a true landmark of twentieth-century literature -- a chilling and still-provocative look at a post-apocalyptic future.

In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From here the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes. Seriously funny, stunning, and tragic, eternally fresh, imaginative, and altogether remarkable, A Canticle for Leibowitz retains its ability to enthrall and amaze. It is now, as it always has been, a masterpiece.”

Misfit Buzz

Share |