A Good Author Can Be Hard To Analyze

Oh my yes.  As a book club reading Catholic women authors only, we have definitely read Flannery O’Connor.  Twice.

In 2002 we read Wise Blood.  We are actually a Book and Occasional Movie Club, so we watched the Wise Blood movie in that same year.  In 2007 we read a Good Man is Hard to Find, a collection of short stories.  We also watched the movie Displaced Person which is based on a story from that collection.  It has been so long since I’ve read her books that I can’t make specific comments but I’m sure someone will have something to say once I put it in the Books section!  However I do remember many articles and analysis were consulted and our members were all over the Love or Hate Flannery scale.

Gina sent out the link to this fantastic correspondence between O’Connor and a college literature class.  It was posted today at Letters of Note, which I am now thinking I should check out for more possible letters by authors we’ve read.  The letter published today comes from The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor.

I love that here we have the professor’s admission that, “we are not convinced that we are missing something important which you intended us to grasp.” I am not convinced that we did not say something to the same effect at our discussion night!!  Hopefully I can get commenters to post some of our collective memories.

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What Should We Read Next Month?

What We Read

We read books by Catholic women.  It’s just a theme we began when we started to meet regularly.  We first read the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, which was written by a Norwegian Catholic author named Sigrid Undset,  before we were actually a book club. Then when we decided to become a book club it seemed like a novel yet logical idea to go ahead and read more books by Catholic women, partly just to see what we could find.

Books by Catholic Women are Not Always Religious

Many of our books have a Catholic or Christian or spiritual theme and quite a few don’t.  That’s because our only criteria is that the author be a female Catholic.  So we’ve read some very diverse themes and genres.

A Very Resilient Book Club Theme

I’m glad we decided to stick with this idea through thick and thin.  Really, it never has been very “thin.”  We have almost always had multiple ideas about what to read and if we didn’t we’ve had a steady stream of sources from which to glean.  Plus, it provides a handy framework for that perpetual book club question, “What should we read next month?”

Where We Find Books by Female Catholics

Without a doubt two of our top sources would be classics by saints and spiritual writers and leads from other books and periodicals.

A Few Good Sources

We take titles from the Book sections of the National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor because a few of us read those weekly newspapers often.  I’d say the number of titles by men outweighs those by women but that’s not a bad thing for us, because like I said we usually have plenty of ideas floating around.  We certainly do read the Denver Catholic Register, being in Denver and all, and have found a few titles there over the years.

I am sure we’ve taken some ideas from First Things, a monthly journal.

One ongoing source of an amazing amount of reprinted and new fiction and non-fiction is the Ignatius Press catalog.

Resourceful Book Lovers

We have a couple of members like Amy and Dianne who collect far more than the average amount of used books and Gina who checks out more library books in a week than some people do in a year.  They are bound to run across unique and fresh reading material by all sorts of authors.  Sometimes we can tell by the material if our author is Catholic.  Other times we have to dig a little online or by skimming a biography.  Many times we infer that the author was baptized a Catholic (if not still practicing); for instance a woman writing about her devout Catholic mother was probably brought up Catholic.

A Great Idea

If you have a women’s book club and you’re not quite satisfied after a few years of the classics or you’re annoyed by picking a best seller out of a hat only to have it turn out badly I’d recommend you give our idea a try.  I will soon have a more comprehensive list of the titles we’ve read over the past 12 years, and I estimate it is more than 60 so far.  It is an amazingly fun way to learn about people (past and present), places, redemption and spiritual growth, history, politics and tons of other topics!!

In the Beginning–There Was No Food

What is dinner without food?  In our early years we did not eat.  For one thing, we were all younger moms (and one single friend) with lots of kids and we met every couple of months for a few years in a library meeting room that closed at 8:45p.m.  Seriously, they
closed at 9p.m. but we were conditioned to believe that 15 minutes was needed to push in our chairs and turn out the lights and so we obeyed and complied.  As I recall, no food was allowed in the Denver Library.  So we met at a conference table without beverages or snacks to have a time of fellowship among friends and engage in a book discussion.

After a couple of years, the Catholic Easter feasting gene took hold and we booked Celeste’s condo clubhouse for an Easter potluck feast.   Celeste was (and still is) one of our single women members; dedicated to supporting families in the Church….but single (now she is a Consecrated Virgin Living in the World, consecrated in the Denver Archdiocese by Archbishop Charles Chaput–and that is another story we will revisit again)!

We enjoyed our first Easter potluck so much it became an annual tradition.   After a few years Celeste blessed the whole book club by hosting our “meetings” in her condo each month and a half or so.  And that is when we began eating, drinking and….eating!

We never have an official theme or designated potluck dish to bring.  We have between 5 and 8 women typically and almost without fail we have a varied spread of proteins, greens, nuts, finger foods, fermented grape beverages and chocolate.

Sometimes one or more of us have tried to coordinate our offering with the country of our current book be it Morrocan, Italian, Rwandan or Mexican, but it is never anything organized or mandated.  In June, we read The Seven Lies About Catholic History which does not cover any particular country or ethnic group. Dianne brought a delicious marinated chicken and Laurence prepared a picturesque Leek and Feta creation.

Also on June 20th the Summer Solstice is imminent, and Amy brought a very generous helping of Poached Salmon with Horseradish Sour Cream, taken from Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking.  Oh. My. (This is a recipe for that dish but not the recipe from the cookbook.) We do have a special attachment to the Norwegian affinity for the Solstice!  For one thing, our first 3 books, the trilogy that cemented our new bookclub friendship, was Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. This masterpiece of literature, winner of the Noble Prize, is set in Norway in the 12th century.  As I said in one of my very first posts, we will be talking about these books again!

The solstice is an important day in Norway, second to Christmas.  It is already mostly light most of the day in summer in Norway.  The solstice of course is the longest day of the year. So Amy (who is Norwegian) thoughtfully marked our humble beginnings with Norwegian literature by making a yummy Norwegian dish.

the Rules, and Breaking Them

At least a couple of times we’ve had the discussion about whether we want to drop our Catholic women authors only requirement and branch out into other books.  We’ve stuck with it for all these years and frankly I think we have more titles in our queue than ever.

It’s been a blessing for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, we have discovered many more authors from so many eras and cultures that we might not have sought out had we read only Best Sellers, or Classics, or even just Catholic authors in general.

For another thing, and this is the big plus for me, we’re getting to know so many of our sisters in the Communion of Saints and they so often teach and inspire us as single women, wives, mothers and daughters. There are the memoirs, which recount so much suffering, courage and joy.  The fiction leads us to universal themes of sin, Truth and redemption (or is just plain funny).  And the biographies of the saints always point out that God’s grace WILL be available when He decides we need it.

This is not to say we haven’t strayed from time to time.  We had to read John Paul II’s Letter to Women because we are, after all, a woman’s book club.  Then there were the female authors who had men’s names, the male authors who had women’s names, and the woman who should have been Catholic and wrote Catholic books.