March 10, 2010

I Know Great Book You Must Read

The title comes from Enrique, a young Spaniard. During the semester of college in which I was alleged to be studying philosophy in Ireland, a bunch of my friends at home made a tape of their greetings and sent it to me. It was all very funny, but most amusing was how this Enrique, whom I hardly knew, would occasionally burst in with reading recommendations delivered in a thick Spanish accent. He would say, "I know great book you must read; is called...Hoog [sic] of St. Victor, On the Sacraments of the Catholic Faith" or "I know great book you must read; is called...Icelandic Sagas!" Seventeen years later I'm happy to say that I've almost read the first (in Deferrari's translation), but have not yet approached the second.

One of my ascetic principles is that I don't tell anybody what to read unless specifically asked. This is one of my particular applications of 'do unto others as I would have them do to me.' For whatever reason, I don't like being told what I need to read. I might even want to read something, but I can't. Sometimes I'm just not able to get through a book at a certain moment in my life; I tried to read The Ascent of Mount Carmel many times without success. Then, all of a sudden, on a certain retreat, I read it all the way through. Providence was saving it for the moment when I would have the right combination of desire and experience. If you really want me to read something, it would be better to tell me not to read it, so that I might do it out of curiosity and contrariness. This is how I came to read Kazantzakis's life of St. Francis when I was a novice; an older friar had told me that reading it had messed up his spiritual life when he was in novitiate. Something for the inner dualist, I guess.

Right now the thing I'm supposed to read is The Shack. If I had a nickel for every parishioner who has told me about my absolute need to read this book, I could go get tacos al pastor and a Dr. Pepper for lunch every day of the Easter season. I even tried to read it, but was unable. I got about two-fifths of the way through and was unable to proceed. Now someone has even given me a commentary on the book, but I don't want to be the guy who reads a commentary without reading the thing itself.

I love you and I thank you for your solicitude about my spiritual reading. I am sure that it is your prayers that hold me together through the day. But I can't always read the things you think I should. So world, let's come to an agreement. I won't give you unsolicited reading advice and you won't give it to me. Enrique is excepted.

For anyone who is curious to make up my negligence in the larger spiritual economy, check out the Icelandic Sagas Database.


Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, I agree with you there. Reading recommendations are like music; who knows what will appeal to whom? It's actually a pretty intimate thing, in that proposing a "good read" to someone connotes you are familiar enough with their tastes and proclivities to know what might tickle their fancy (I made a new years resolution to use that phrase once this year, and now that's finally done). If I tell you I'm in a spiritual crisis and you come back with "you know what you should read? The New Adventures of Pipi Longstalking-- Pipi gone wild." then I'd definitely question your knowledge of the topic at hand, as well as your understanding of me and my situation.

So, yeah, I agree. In these matters it's always best to tread lightly. I hear Dr Phil has a book on the subject that goes into this in depth.

Warren said...

"The Shack" is pure evangelical dreck. It fits in there on your shelf between "The Purpose Driven Life" and "The Be-Happy Attitudes".

If you want to read something actually good that was written by an Evangelical (a tall order, but not an impossible one), ask me and I can recommend some good stuff.

But I shall not make any recommendations. I'll only say that if you're looking at a protestant's book shelf and he has Nouwen, Buechner, and Vanier on his book-shelf already, then you can trust this is one of the 'good guys'.

There, I came perilously close to recommending a book. But I didn't. Yay me.



Tina aka Snupnjake said...

Interesting post. Never thought of it that way. This might explain the problem I'm having with someone who keeps "demanding" I read certain things and how it will make it all clear to me. I just can't do it.

I did try and read The Shack. I got to around page 40 and gave up.

Sarah said...

The Shack: I've had this book recommended to me over and over again. In fact, its sitting on my shelf--in the exact spot I put it a few months ago. I tried reading through it, stopped. Skipped ahead, read to see if the story would pick up a bit... it did not.

I don't know what it is about this book that doesn't sit right with me.

So here's what I recommend: Get someone to read it for you. Have them tell you in detail what happened. This is what I did.

From George said... must never, never read St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul, especially Bk. One that deals with the spiritual life's seven deadlys....sorry, I had to tease you, I love your blog.

James said...


I would read the book if only because (I have heard) it is heresy (Tritheism among other things) wrapped in the attractiveness of a spiritual novel, and therefore might be detrimental to the souls of your parishioners.

Other readers of your blog probably know more about it than me.

Brother Charles said...

Wow, everyone. Thanks for the comments and the comfort of knowing I'm not alone, and just maybe not crazy.

QR: I do not trust Dr. Phil

Warren: I shall be unable to file the book now, having neither of the two others. When I was a novice I was given another such book as a gift, and had to create a new heading in the library: "Theology--Specious"

Tina: I got a little farther than that, but not much. :)

Sarah: I have used the same practice with several things I didn't want to read.

eastsilica: I have it on CD in my car, and that first part is my favorite.

Admiraldinty: pastoral concern can be a motivator; that's how I got through The Da Vinci Code.

Julia said...

I agree with Admiraldinty. If lots of parishioners are recommending it to you, it might be beneficial to at least know the heresies it promotes so that you can briefly point them out to the recommend-er.

I have to say, though, I love getting good book recommendations from trusted Catholics. :) Someone gave me this one book once that I read and thought was excellent. After I read it I passed it along to a seminarian friend of mine. He loved it and said he shared it with a couple of other guys. This book really got around!

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, I KNOW you didn't take my joke as an endorsement of Dr Phil : )

-Phil said...

You have to read the Spring 1978 edition of The Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. Then go at 'The Shack.'

Brother Charles said...

I don't know, the Spring of '78 was rather a rough time in my life, and I don't want to be reminded of it.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, whoa! Yeah! What the heck was it about '78?? Horrible year-- Even for the 70's. Bad on sooo many levels.