I’m now listening to more books by audio than I read on page. I’ve heard the following:
“The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair
“Thunderstruck” by Erik Larson
“A Place on Earth” by Wendell Berry
“The Little Flowers of St. Francis” by Brother Ugliono
Every one of these I either got from my local library or I’ve found free online. I don’t at all feel that audio books make text books less important to me. There are serious weaknesses, inflections in the text that would strike me differently were they read instead of heard. Regardless, I’m enjoying it. If anyone else knows of any good stockpiles of audio books in the areas of theology, church history, social history, or quality fiction (literature) please leave me a comment.
It’s been an interesting year. In the spring I began intensive work on a book with a schedule worked out for a release date in the summer. After all that work the book was “backburnered” and then placed in other hands. That really set the year off strangely. I got into Dorothy Day until the Fall when I began teaching a class on Richard Foster’s book “Streams of Living Water.” It was not received well. After a month of what felt like being burned in effigy by word of mouth I held a class wherein I offered to completely restructure with less reading. In time I came to lower my expectations over all and resigned myself to just finishing as best I could. It was my turn to be the “unapproachable old man” teacher. In previous years it was someone else. And so it goes.
During this same time I stopped writing and settled into a depression of sorts. This fostered more reading, which is really good. When life slows down inside I start to notice things I’d usually overlook and value little jobs I wouldn’t normally do. I took up bus driving for two and a half months. I’ve shoveled the walk in front of the office building twice now.
I’m still reading Wendell Berry and I’ve started Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge” again. I’ve also picked up Dag Hammerskjold’s “Markings.”
Life is not always as I would have it, but failing to appreciate it for what it is, a gift, is to miss God’s opportunity to grow. Running away from life is not an option. Stopping dead in my tracks is not an option. Moving slower and reaching out works well but also complicates things. Life always works better in theory than in practice.
I recently received a review copy of Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader’s Guide by Matthew J. Bonzo and Michael R. Stevens, Brazos Press. Dipping into it has piqued my interest in Berry’s novels, as I’ve only been reading his essays and poetry up to this point. I checked out a copy of Three Short Novels [Nathan Coulter, Remembering, A World Lost]. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2002.] from my local library and went to work on Nathan Coulter.
In a word it is delightful. It’s his first book and I’m reading it slowly every night, allowing its lessons to soak in. I say lessons, and this sounds odd because the story is told by a boy who is himself ever perceiving and is only so self aware, but the way he sees his father, Grandfather, brother and uncle are so rooted in longing for more. Everything is broken in a way: the land, the work, and the heritage. I read portions aloud for my wife hoping she’ll find them funny, but she remarks that they are sad. And it doesn’t occur to me that the cruelty to birds (a blasting cap in a pet crow’s bung-hole, ducks tied to rocks at a carnival and forced to “duck”) or fish (dynamited out of the stream) is sad. I feel a kinship with the character’s outrageous antics for something to do.
What I appreciate most of all is the sense of place in this story. The tragic and broken and sympathetic and wonderful are all woven together into one simple place with so much attention to detail that I really care about this world. The book teaches me that with story it’s far less about what happens than about what it looks like. The why always follows the where, and sometimes there is no why and that’s okay.
If, like me, you’re traversing the world of Wendell Berry for the first time you must see the Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky pages. One visit there and you’ll feel ever the neophyte, but we must start somewhere right? Of particular help is The Port William Membership page, a geneology of sorts for all the families in Berry’s books.
Maybe this sort of thing isn’t of interest to the average reader. I find the way books are made fascinating. I’m currently reading Book Business: Publishing Past Present and Future by Jason Epstein. It’s kind of his life story in the ever changing world of publishing. You may be interested in this latest venture of his known as the Espresso Book Machine (EBM). Library books in 7 minutes. Fascinating.