I went on a vacation last week and took with me Charles Singleton's beautiful updated edition of John Payne's translation of Boccaccio's Decameron. It's a perfect vacation book: large (952 pages in my edition), escapist (the characters retreat to the country to escape the Black Death ravaging Florence), and diverting. My intent was to read the tales of the book as they are told by its characters, ten per day. My vacation was cut short by unhappy circumstances, but my reading of the Decameron has continued, and continued to be a delight.
John Dickson Carr's Hag's Nook is an old whodunit the first of Carr's mysteries with Dr. Gideon Fell as prime inquirer. An amateur lexicographer living outside London with his wife in a modest cottage, Fell is fat and disheveled, blustering and eccentric in manner, and it is said that he is based upon Chesterton, whose Father Brown mysteries Carr admired.
Carr's fiction focuses on puzzles, like the “locked-room murder” in which a victim is found inside a locked room and there is no apparent way the killer could have escaped. Hag's Nook poses the same kinds of impossibility, and to enter Carr's 1930s English world after a day of protests in Union Square, cars rushing past booming a benumbing hip-hop beat, and construction taking place on the other side of my office wall is a calming reprieve.
R. R. Reno
I've been reading Auguste del Noce's Crisis of Modernity, slowly. He was an Italian philosopher, formed intellectual and spiritually by the fascist era in Italy, one of the moments when European modernity was in crisis. He was attracted to Communism, but came to see that it was Catholicism that offered a humane way to be modern. Crisis of Modernity is a collection of essays rather than a systematic book, but it offers readers one of the most insightful diagnoses of post-war Western culture.
J. David Nolan
Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth pairs an alchemically inclined geologist with his doubting nephew (the narrator) for a grand subterranean adventure. It’s such a successful science fiction novel in part because every wild proposition and plan concocted by the uncle is related in the voice of nephew—skeptical, yet unable to resist the former’s enthusiasm. Thus the reader, similarly suspicious, finds himself pulled into the story because of his doubts, not despite them.
I've been reading Flannery O'Connor's A Prayer Journal. Between the ages of twenty and twenty-two, while a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, O'Connor recorded her prayers in a Sterling notebook. The pale, slim book I’m now reading includes both a transcript of these journal entries and scanned copies of the original pages.
The author who would later become famous for her grotesque characters was able to examine her own grotesqueness with a clinical eye. As her first short story saw publication, the twenty-first-year-old O'Connor felt the power of her talent swell within her. She struggled to stop approaching writing as a craft when she opened her prayer journal, and this frustrated her immensely. Once, after writing that she couldn’t envision heaven, this sentence slipped out: “If we could accurately map heaven some of our up&coming scientists would begin drawing blueprints for its improvement, and the bourgeois would sell guides 10¢ the copy to all over 65. But I do not mean to be clever although I do mean to be clever on 2nd thought and like to be clever & want to be considered so.”
O'Connor made one recurring plea. It opened a September 23rd entry: “Dear Lord please make me want you. It would be the greatest bliss. Not just to want You when I think about You but to want You all the time, to think about You all the time, to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me. It would kill me like a cancer and that would be the Fulfillment.”
Many of the journal entries are indictments of her darker desires, and all of the entries are beautiful.