Friday, September 16, 2011

Perennial Bestseller

Paul Elie's excellent four-subject biography, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, came out eight years ago, and it remains one of our best-selling books in the Andalusia gift shop. Elie, a senior editor at Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, tells the story of four twentieth-century Catholic writers - Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O'Connor - whose lives rarely intersected and yet all shared a common vocation to holiness. According to a review in Publishers Weekly, these authors, whose work was steeped in their shared Catholic faith, "come together in this masterful interplay of biography and literary criticism. Elie...lays open the lives and writings of the monk Thomas Merton, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, and novelists Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy. Drawing comparisons between their backgrounds, temperaments, circumstances and words, he reveals 'four like-minded writers' whose work took the shape of a movement. Though they produced no manifesto, ... they were unified as pilgrims moving toward the same destination while taking different paths. As they sought truth through their writing, he observes, they provided 'patterns of experience' that future pilgrims could read into their lives. This volume (the title is taken from a short story of the same name by O'Connor) is an ambitious undertaking and one that could easily have become ponderous, but Elie's presentation of the material is engaging and thoughtful, inspiring reflection and further study. Beginning with four separate figures joined only by their Catholicism and their work as writers, he deftly connects them, using their correspondence, travels, places of residence, their religious experiences and their responses to the tumultuous events of their times." On a personal note, I can only concur with the PW reviewer. After finishing Elie's book, I was inspired to read Dorothy Day's The Long Loneliness and since then have been re-reading many of Merton's works that have been sitting on my bookshelf for decades.
- Mark

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