I resumed my commonplace book after a three year absence and am so glad I did. It has forced me to read more slowly and to savor words and sentences when I am naturally a speedy reader. It paid off this month. I read some fantastic books and was aided by writing out particularly lovely quotations. Without further ado, here’s what I read the past month:
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene // An author’s “record of hate” for God after the woman he was having an affair with unexpectedly breaks it off, this book started out a bit slow, but about a third of the way in, I was captivated. I spent a Sunday morning reading this in bed and I felt like I had a major emotional experience thinking about what promises to God mean and how expansive His love is. He uses very human miracles to draw Sarah, the mistress, to Himself. “How good You are,” she writes in her diary, “You might have killed us with happiness, but You let us be with You in pain.” I had trouble not copying whole chapters into my commonplace. The themes reminded me a lot of C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory. (You can read the whole thing here. It’s quick – it was a sermon, after all – and one of my favorites.) It’s one of Lewis’ examples of the argument from desire: we often settle for fleeting happiness when “infinite joy is offered us.” Sarah allowed her love for Maurice to be elevated to lead her to God’s love, but not without earthly sacrifice. I’m still unpacking it and almost want to read it again before the year is over.
Next, I read The Heart of the Matter, another of Greene’s “Catholic” novels,
follows a bureaucrat in colonial West Africa as he struggles with making his unhappy wife happy, his Catholicism, and, yes, his young mistress. This novel was darker than dark and the ending was dark enough for those angler fish at the bottom of the ocean to survive in. Not a huge fan.
Graham Greene became a somewhat intriguing and tragic figure to me after I read he dedicated this book to his own mistress. I so badly wanted to read somewhere that he had a deathbed confession or something, but can’t find anything certain. This old First Things article was fascinating and I think hit the nail on the head with regards to why I think The Heart of the Matter did not reach the heights of The Power and the Glory or The End of the Affair. (P.S. There are spoilers for all three books in the article.)
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber // A British pastor is hired by a mysterious corporation to evangelize the native population of a far away planet named Oasis, leaving his wife behind on a troubled Earth. This book is a total page-turner and it is surprisingly kind to Christians, even though our hero was a tad unorthodox. I enjoyed it a lot more than The Sparrow, a darker entry into the missionaries-in-space subgenre of speculative fiction. I thought the ending of Strange New Things was a little underwhelming and some aspects of the characters, especially Prter’s wife, were frustrating, but I would still recommend it. My husband is a sci-fi nerd in addition to being a theology student, so he’s binge reading it now.
The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew B. Crawford // Crawford wrote the popular ode to the value of manual labor, Shop Craft as Soulcraft, and
in his new book, he turns to the battle for our attention and how the modern love of the autonomous will unfettered by the “contingencies of reality” is making us unskilled and unfulfilled. I absolutely loved this book and felt especially convicted by its conclusions. I have a long post about it in the works. In the meantime, go grab it from the library or the bookstore.
I have My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante on hold at the library waiting for me to pick up and I’m working through Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake to learn more about Charlotte Mason. I’m spending too much time watching Grand Hotel on Netflix.
What are you reading? Linking up with MMD for Quick Lit!