As I almost NEVER read fiction, and have taken significant flack for my stubbornness in avoiding it, I thought just maybe there would be something on his list I could consider to pacify my detractors. As it turns out,I have actually read the first in the list mentioned in the article---“Lord of the World,” by Robert Hugh Benson, published in 1907. (I actually do recommend it.)
I read a lot more than most people I know. I didn’t as a child or an adolescent, nor even as a young adult. I read only what was required in school. There was never any pleasure for me in sitting long hours reading stories by myself. That attitude changed somewhat when I discovered biographies and for a brief spurt in my thirties I was reading true crime detective stories. I still enjoy biographies, but the crime stuff got old in a hurry.
Some of my favorite bios are of Golda Meir, Theodore Roosevelt, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Ulysses S. Grant, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and Whittaker Chambers. An odd mix to be sure, but all their lives have had a distinct impact on history.
I have to admit it was Glenn Beck (of all people) who actually lit the fire under my reading habits. Back when he had an afternoon program on Fox News, I was impressed with his presentation of one title after another that held the keys to understanding history and modern politics. I told myself then, that whereas I had not filled my brain with these things when given the opportunity in college, there was nothing to say I could not invest the time as a mature adult to get the education I refused to soak up when my parents were paying for it. It was about that same time we all were introduced to Barack Obama and my instincts told me NOW WAS THE TIME to start paying attention to what was going on in the world.
I began by reading aloud to my husband, Spencer, on a car trip, selecting a book that would interest him. (People say they can’t read in the car, but I find the solution to car sickness is to read aloud. It puts pressure on your diaphragm and actually stills your stomach. Humming has the same affect. Try it.)I would never have selected WWII as a place to start my reading life, but there it was and so it began. The pill went down rather easily and a true fascination of war and conflict and the human lives and stories invested in it took over. I discovered a book titled “Conduct Under Fire” on a table at Costco that looked interesting. It turned out to be so gut wrenchingly sad I put it down after only about 40 pages, unwilling to open my eyes to the horrors of combat against godless blood thirsty enemies. Guilt led me to pick it up again after a few days, for the sake of the brave men who endured it, and for their sake, I forced myself to know their experiences and remember their suffering. It is written by the son of one of those brave men in the story.
This initiated my search for why things happen, things so heartbreakingly sad, and so incredibly violent and unimaginable, which has taken me on a G.K. Chesterton trip around the world to get back in my own front door. I have concluded that it is ever, and can always be, reduced to a struggle between good and evil, the Catholic Church and the devil—the defender of truth and what is good vs. every evil Satan can throw at it. This is at the root of all things in this world.
But back to the fiction article…. To my surprise Fr. Cush had this to say about C.S. Lewis:
There are some books that tangentially touch on Catholic themes as part of general Christianity, like the fiction of the Anglican C.S. Lewis. I do not include his work here because he himself is not a Catholic. There are other works of fiction that are steeped in cultural Catholicism, but do not necessarily offer substantial, in my opinion, insights in a Catholic sacramental/moral/theological worldview, like Frank McCourt or even James Joyce. There are others that have a deeply Catholic sensibility, even if they are in a fantasy or a science fiction genre, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. Even though they are epic, I did not include them here. And there are other books, although popular and that have Catholic themes that, for one reason or another, I simply do not recommend, like Endo’s Silence.This was music to my fiction loathing ears because I can’t stand any of that stuff. ICK!!! Maybe it is because I too see the polyester quality of it all, the “looks like but isn’t quite” nature of pretend Christian creatures, plots, and conflicts. What surprised me when I read his list was the number of stories he included about Catholics with serious struggles with their faith, their self control, and their avoidance of sin in the midst of dire poverty, alcoholism, and persecution. Whew!!! Are there no happy Catholics in the world to write about? Not much of a sales pitch for the Church if being Catholic is so difficult and the life so wretchedly unpleasant. What’s the difference in that and a good description of the Battle of the Bulge, one might ask.
No. I don’t like mysteries. No. I don’t like science fiction.I don’t like romance novels that go on for long stretches describing the well toned slender body of the heroine whose raven hair falls gently over her bare unblemished shoulder. Or the hero who exudes strength and whose dashing good looks, demand the attention of a room full of people from the moment he enters. If you do like those things, I simply wonder why. How much better off are you for taking the days and weeks to read them? I can tell you right now, the real stories, of real people, whose real lives, have been recorded are more worthwhile than any of this stuff called fiction. If you are living in a fiction world, then perhaps you are one of those people Mary Ann Kreitzer mentioned in a recent post who only wants to take “the blue pill.” Maybe your life is so filled with trouble you can only deal with fiction that takes you away from the reality that surrounds you.
My mother may have fallen into that category. She had a somewhat unhappy life and she absolutely loved novels, the thicker the better, particularly English romance novels with castles, and swords, and armies, and intrigue. They were a never ending escape for her. How I wish she had spent as much time finding her way into the Catholic Church where true peace of soul can be found and where suffering can be embraced for our own good.
(to be continued…….. In the next “episode” hints to improve your reading habits and light the fire in you to read more of the right things.)