Monday, September 04, 2006

A book meme.

Lisa has tagged me for a book meme, and I'm happy to oblige:

1. One book that changed your life: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius have had a profound impact on my life, intellectually as well as spiritually. My first encounter with the book of the Exercises came in a course on Ignatian spirituality that I took as a senior at Georgetown. Reading the text of the Exercises helped me understand some of the dynamics of Ignatius' thought and gave me a better sense of "what makes Jesuits tick," as the Jesuit who taught the course put it. During the Long Retreat, I encountered the Exercises in a much more intimate and ultimately transformative fashion. If reading Ignatius' text in class had helped me understand the Society of Jesus a bit better, making the full Exercises deepened my sense of being a companion of Jesus. In the Exercises, I encountered a Jesus who ministered to people in a deeply personal way, treating those he served not as representatives of a class but as unique individuals with particular needs. There's a lot more I could say about my experience of the Exercises, but for the moment I'll simply say this: you should experience them for yourself.

2. One book that you've read more than once: One book I have eagerly reread (and hope to return to) is With God in Russia, by Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. and Daniel L. Flaherty, S.J. In With God in Russia, Ciszek writes the twenty-three years he spent in the Soviet Union as a political prisoner and as a priest ministering in the underground church. With God in Russia and its companion volume He Leadeth Me were first recommended to me by Jesuits at Georgetown, but I didn't read either book until I was at Notre Dame. Both of Ciszek's books moved me and influenced my vocation, and I found great confirmation and consolation in rereading each of them as a novice. In his lifetime, Ciszek described With God in Russia being "the book they [i.e., his superiors and publishers] wanted me to write" and He Leadeth Me as "the book I wanted to write." Though many readers share Ciszek's preference for He Leadeth Me over With God in Russia, I don't believe you can fully appreciate either book without reading the other as well. With God in Russia provides a vivid and detailed narrative of Ciszek's experiences, while He Leadeth Me largely eschews narrative in favor of thematic chapters offering diverse spiritual reflections on the experiences recounted in the earlier book. Though He Leadeth Me is the more purely spiritual of the two books, many pearls of spiritual wisdom may be found within the pages of With God in Russia as well. Personally, I also derive much spiritual benefit from the details of Ciszek's harrowing and ultimately inspiring life story, which is probably why I'm such a fan of With God in Russia.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island: I'd probably want Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, though one could question whether a seven-volume novel counts as "one" book or several. As a teenager I read the first volume, Swann's Way, but as of yet I have not picked up any of the subsequent volumes. Though I'd like to start over at the beginning and read all of In Search of Lost Time, the sheer length of the novel and the many other books that I'd like to read in the meantime tempt me to despair. Left alone on a desert island with nothing to read but In Search of Lost Time, I could use the isolation and solitude of my locale to finally get through Proust's magnum opus. More realistically, some time in the next few years I hope to budget the time (most probably during the summer) to give Proust his due.

4. One book that made you laugh: Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall left me in stitches, as have other satirical novels by Waugh and his contemporaries. I have a dark and very dry sense of humor, and I love social satire, so the books that make me laugh are very often British.

5. One book that you wish had been written: I'd love to see a general history of Jesuit involvement with the Eastern Churches. The Society of Jesus has had diverse and often extensive engagement with Eastern Christians - Catholic and Orthodox alike - from its earliest days until the present, but the scholarly literature devoted to this area is limited and in general this aspect of Jesuit history isn't particularly well-known. I hope that someday a qualified scholar will step forward to write a work that will fill this lacuna in Jesuit studies.

6. One book that you wish had never been written: I can think of a few, but following Rich's lead I'm going to keep my answer in pectore.

Most of the blogs I read regularly have already featured this meme, so there aren't many people I can tag in turn. That said, I'm interested in how Matt would answer the above questions. AMDG.


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