Recently the Misfits met to discuss Lucy Beckett's remarkable novel of the Reformation, The Time Before You Die. What a wonderful way to spend an evening! Lucy Beckett must certainly be ranked in the top 25 (if not the top 10) Catholic novelists of all time. We, to a man, immensely enjoyed the novel finding it to be an informative, very sensitive portrayal of the struggle Catholics faced during the traumatic years of the 16th Century. Medieval Christendom was sundered and the Catholic faith in Tudor England was shattered. Beckett tells the story of this tragic period in Church history through the life of Robert Fletcher, a Carthusian Monk who was driven from his monastery when the altars of the Catholic churches and monasteries in England were largely destroyed. The story of Fletcher's life is told in counterpoint to that of Reginald Pole, one of the most interesting men in all of English history. Pole became a Cardinal of the Church, a papal legate at the Council of Trent, and Archbishop of Canterbury during the tragic reign of his cousin, Queen Mary Tudor. Beckett uses Cardinal Pole to relate a wonderful and thoroughly convincing conversion dialog that brings Fletcher back to the Faith as the novel concludes. Or did he bring Fletcher back? We believe that he did bring Fletcher back to the true Faith but you can decide that for yourself by reading this highly recommend novel.
Now to the future.
For October we will read number 27 on The Catholic Truth Societies list of “100 Books You Really Should Read"-- The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria, by John W. Kiser. The Monks of Tibhirine is the true story of seven French Trappist monks who were willing to die serving a Muslim flock during the political nightmare that unfolds in Algeria during the 1990’s. The the monks were decapitated after being kidnapped from their monastery in the village of Tibhirine. The story portrays the sacrificial love shown by these Christian Monks who willingly put their lives at risk for their Muslim friends. It also shows the Muslims who risked their lives for the Christians. The book is extremely topical given the present day turmoil in the Middle East as radical Islam seeks to consolidate it's power within the bloody borders of modern Islam. You may also wish to view the excellent film Of Gods and Men from Sony Classics which is based on the story of The Monks of Tibhirine. The book, The Monks of Tibhirine is widely available on-line.
For November we will read number 33 on The Catholic Truth Societies list of "100 Books You Really Should Read"--Fabiola or The Church of the Catacombs by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman. The story is set in Rome in the early 4th century AD, during the time of the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The heroine of the book is Fabiola, a young beauty from a noble Roman family who becomes a convert to the Faith. I think the Misfits are going to really enjoy this story of conversion. The novel is no longer in print but you can find it on-line as a used book at Amazon.com. Better still you can read it on-line at:
The Internet Archive: http://archive.org/details/fabiola00wise
Or Google Books: http://books.google.com/books/about/Fabiola_or_The_church_of_the_catacombs.html?id=f6B53lLcQuYC
(Is this a wonderful world or what?)
For December and January we will read a book we have long considered reading: Confessions, the autobiographical work of St. Augustine of Hippo, written between AD 397 and AD 398. The work consists of 13 books which outline Augustine's sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity. It is widely seen as the first Western autobiography ever written, and was an influential model for Christian writers throughout the following 1000 years of the Middle Ages. It is not a complete autobiography, as it was written in his early 40's, and he lived long afterwards, producing another important work (City of God); it does, nonetheless, provide an unbroken record of the development of his thought and is the most complete record of any single person from the 4th and 5th centuries.
But, ahh, here's the rub--what translation of Confessions should we read and how should we divide the book for December/January?
For February we will read another book that we have long been planning to read: Marilynne Robinson's highly acclaimed novel, Gilead which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was a 2004 National Book Critics Circle Winner. Gilead is the fictional autobiography of the Reverend John Ames, an elderly Congregationalist pastor in the small, secluded town of Gilead, Iowa who knows that he is dying of a heart condition. The novel begins in 1957 as the Reverend Ames explains that he is writing an account of his life for his seven-year-old son so his son will have memories of him after he is gone.
The story spans three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century. It is a profound examination of the relationship of fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. “Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate)”. The luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. The novel is available at Amazon.
That should keep us busy reading into the New Year! Please feel free to send me your comments on our book selections for the coming months and please send me your recommendation for a good translation of St. Augustine's Confessions.
Yours in Christ,
“I was born with a reading list I will never finish.”
- Maud Casey