What We’re Reading Wednesday

Linking up for the first time with Jessica, AKA the brilliantly named Housewifespice, and what’s probably my favorite blog link up yet.

A Burnt-Out Case, by Graham Greene

A Burnt Out Case

I guess technically I finished this a couple days ago, but it really cemented my admiration of Graham Greene’s writing. This is the fourth novel of his I’ve read, and I love how different each of the stories were:

The Power and the Glory — probably his most well-known, especially among Catholics: the horribly flawed “whisky priest” trying to evade anti-Catholic forces, and his own conscience, in 1930s Mexico.

The Human Factor — a British intelligent agent with a previously quiet, predictable desk job is targeted as a leak.

The End of the Affair — probably my favorite; an embittered atheist looks back on what caused his late, former mistress — and Catholic convert — to end their affair.

And now, A Burnt-Out Case — a world-famous architect, known for his cathedrals but disillusioned with both his faith and work, arrives unrecognized at a leper colony run by a religious order in the Belgian Congo.

So that’s one thing I really like about Greene — his ability to fashion such wildly different plots and settings, and have all of them (at least what I’ve read so far) be so compelling.

I love his style. It’s spare and deliberate, and it makes me savor each sentence. Even short phrases and snatches of dialogue can describe so much. One of my favorite scenes was when the religious superior and the colony’s non-believing doctor express their mutual disdain of Rycker, a Catholic businessman whose faith looks more like Jansenism and whose showy knowledge of theology masks his immaturity and neediness.

“When a man has nothing else to be proud of,” the Superior said, “he is proud of his spiritual problems. After two whiskies he began to talk to me about Grace.”

“What did you do?”

“I lent him a book. He won’t read it, of course. He knows all the answers — six years wasted in a seminary can do a lot of harm.”

Bam. I love it.

I told Luke that I appreciate how seriously Greene takes the character of the unbeliever or the bad/doubting Catholic. They’re not there just as foils to the holy hero, or as strawmen against some clever argument for faith or the existence of God. They’re people with believable problems with faith. Likewise, even the “good” Catholics aren’t always the most likeable characters. I remember being struck in The End of the Affair, when the priest who brings the main character’s mistress into the Church is just a mediocre priest, and kind of a social bore. I don’t know much about Greene’s own faith, other than being a convert, then becoming seemingly lax, then returning to the Sacraments in his last years (thank you Wikipedia),  but his books all evoke something real about the drama of faith, that tension between belief and unbelief. Give me that over those terrible Pierced by a Sword books and the like any day.

I’m also slowly reading Wendell Berry’s book-length essay, Life is a Miracle

Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition

My recent discovery of Wendell Berry’s novels/poetry/essay really deserves its own post, but let’s just say he really, really intrigues me 🙂 (And makes me want to do things totally contrary to my personality, like garden, and be in nature, and own a cow 🙂

Bedtime reading with almost-3-year-old Lucia has included a lot of Jim Aylesworth this week. I’ve come to appreciate him not just as a children’s author, but as a good storyteller as well. His books are just plain fun to read out loud. My favorite this week is The Tale of Tricky Fox.

The Tale of Tricky Fox

Luke just finished all 14 Wheel of Time books and is now filling the void in his life with … I don’t even know which book by Brandon Sanderson. I assume there are dragons or something. 😉 It did, however, spark an interesting conversation on Mormonism’s weird corner on the science fiction/fantasy market, and (not related at all, but somehow followed naturally in the discussion) the even weirder popularity of Amish romance novels (don’t ask how I know).

Anyways. Dinner’s uncooked and the kids are soaking in the pathos of 1930s Disney cartoons. Parenthood calls!


5 thoughts on “What We’re Reading Wednesday

  1. I just wrote a ridiculously long comment, but my computer decided to spare you and eat it!
    It boiled down to:
    I really want to read Graham Greene now.
    Pierced by a Sword is highly ineffective as either a work of art or a tool of evangelization, and it drives me nuts.
    I just discovered Wendell Berry, too, but only a few poems and was wondering whether you could recommend a volume.
    And the Mormon/Amish publishing niches…yes, very strange. 🙂
    I like this link-up…may have to join in sometime.

    • So, the only novel of his I’ve read is Jayber Crow, and while I thought it got a little preachy at points, it was really, really beautiful. I’ve never read anything quite like it. For poetry, I read through most of his “Collected Poems” (don’t remember the years…) I think you’d enjoy him!

  2. Hee-hee! We have always called it “Pierced by a Fork.” I’ve read the Power and the Glory, but none of the others. Word on Fire did a book discussion on The End of the Affair. And now you have introduced me to Wendell Berry too. So glad you linked up! one more thing: Jim Aylesworth is close to my heart. Did you know he taught Kindergarten at my husband’s grade school? Of course, Patrick had the “other” teacher. Wah-wah.

  3. I’ve read the same 3 GG novels you have! Plus “The Heart of the Matter,” which has another really great bad/doubting Catholic character. I tried Brighton Rock but it was just too dark for me to get through. I’ll have to try A Burnt-out Case.

  4. There are no dragons in my book. But that’s because he decided to make all animals crustacean for some reason… maybe it’s his thang.

    Very interesting though as a fantasy novel since it starts in media res. The characters are all well on their journey when we meet them, and the central war has already been going for six years. It took me a little while to find my footing since I was expecting the typical “hero’s journey” beginning.

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