It might seem a bit odd to review a book that was published almost 30 years ago and that I’ve read many times before. But having recently re-read Patience of a Saint by Father Andrew Greeley, who died in 2013, I wanted to talk about him and his writing.
In 1987 I wouldn’t have been able to understand or appreciate Father Greeley’s work. I’d read about him, of course–what Catholic hasn’t been horrified at the idea of a priest writing “racy novels” with actual sex scenes? (Such very mild and tasteful scenes, by the way.) I’m sure at the time, without having read any of his books, I disapproved. I’m sure I thought that a priest ought to have better things to do than write sexy novels. I’m sure I assumed it was notoriety the man was after.
Of course, Father Greeley, a sociologist as well as a priest, was doing other things too. In addition to his priestly duties, he was cranking out scores of non-fiction books in his field. But he considered his novels a ministry too, something that is obvious to me when I read them now. In his own words: “I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish.”
Anyone who reads Father Greeley will see that he loves Chicago, the Irish, and the Church. That doesn’t mean he won’t point out what he thinks their flaws are! And I don’t always agree with his perception of the Church’s flaws–I’m no authority on Chicago or the Irish! But always the love is there, and his conviction of the truth of the Church and of the power of the love of God to transform people’s lives.
Red Kane, a somewhat dissipated Chicago journalist, is a perfunctory Catholic when Patience of a Saint begins. A conversion experience comparable to St. Paul’s on the Road to Damascus propels him reluctantly into a reformation of his life which simultaneously delights and threatens his friends and family. He comes to realize that “if one party in a relationship undergoes a transformation, then the other party in that relationship must be transformed too,” and that this is scary for those around him who have grown comfortable with the roles they were used to playing.
In a climax that is foreshadowed throughout the novel, Red’s family decides he has had a nervous breakdown and they send for the men in the white coats. In the end, in what to me was a particularly moving passage, Red asks himself where he can go for help. “The answer was still obvious. The only institution in the world that could help him now was the Roman Catholic Church–the real Catholic Church. Send in the first team.”
I’ve read many–not all, by a long shot–of Father Greeley’s novels. He’s a good writer, not a great one. He does have what to me is crucial–the ability to anchor his novels firmly in a particular place and time. Chicago and its environs are intrinsic to his books. His characterization is terrific, his dialogue not so much, although to me in Patience of a Saint it rings most true. But most important is that his books are deeply Catholic, even the “sexy parts.” It’s a misunderstanding of and a disservice to Church teaching to claim that Catholicism believes sex is bad, or base, or dirty. Greeley’s novels elevate sexual love within marriage almost to a sacramental level–the ultimate act of self-giving that reflects God’s love for us.
- Author you’ve read the most books from (the grammatical construction of that question is NOT MY FAULT): Isn’t that an interesting question! If we could count Carolyn Keene as an actual person, and only one person, then she might win, since I once had about 50 Nancy Drew books. I’ve read all 23 of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone mysteries (three letters left in the alphabet!). No, wait! I know, it’s Agatha Christie! She wrote around 80 books, and I have almost all of them.
- Best Sequel Ever: don’t ever read a “sequel” to a classic novel that you loved written by some new person after the copyright on the original expired. Just. Don’t. Do. It. ACTUAL good sequels I have read: Little Men and Rose in Bloom (both by Louisa May Alcott), Innocent by Scott Turow, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (both by Madeleine L’Engle) I’m sure there are more that are not rising immediately to mind.
- Currently Reading: I’m embarrassed to admit I am not in progress on anything at the moment. My problem is I get so absorbed in my books that I neglect everything else in order to read. So sometimes I have to neglect reading in order to get things done. I am SUPPOSED to be reading Something Wicked This Way Comes for my book club. I had better get on that!
- Drink of Choice While Reading: Coffee.
- E-reader or Physical Book? Physical book. Bet you could have guessed that!
- Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School: Jamie Fraser comes to mind. 😉 Seriously, just about anyone would have done, I was so desperate at that time.
- Glad You Gave This Book A Chance: Pillars of the Earth, which my sister kept badgering me to read. It was WONDERFUL. Now she is badgering me to read the sequel.
- Hidden Gem Book: While I wouldn’t exactly say they are hidden, when I hear people talking about the Anne of Green Gables books I always put in a plug for the Emily of New Moon series by the same author, which in many ways I like even better, with their hint of the supernatural and a heroine who is in my opinion more flawed than Anne.
- Important Moment in your Reading Life: Either when my mother first pulled out the giant card with the word MOMMY on it in red, when I was about two years old, thereby initiating me into the wonderful world of reading, or when after all my books burned up, and I couldn’t even bring myself to read for an entire month, I started reading and collecting books again.
- Just Finished: I recently finished W is for Wasted, Sue Grafton’s latest. Before that I read How Shakespeare Changed Everything, and before that it was Damned by Chuck Palahniuk . Oh, and I also re-read The Runaway Jury somewhere in there, just for fun. I know, John Grisham, but the plots are engaging.
- Kinds of Books You Won’t Read: Anything that is going to scare me.
- Longest Book You’ve Read: I read some Civil War novel in high school that was around 1,500 pages long. If you consider (as did its author!) The Lord of the Rings to be one book, that’s 1,200 pages and I’ve read it out loud! Also Gone with the Wind is 1,034 pages and I’ve read it uncountable times, the first when I was only 8.
- Major book hangover because of: Even though everyone else is saying it too, I’d have to go with Harry Potter. I read the last book from midnight to 6 a.m., then immediately read it again.
- Number of Bookcases You Own: Pre-fire, we owned at least fifteen, from floor-to-ceiling built-ins to nightstand sized. I always dreamed of a library in which to put the boxes of books stored in the garage, but I don’t need that any more. 🙁 We have purchased only two pieces of furniture for this house (all the rest was given to us), and one was a bookcase (pictured above). Scattered throughout the house are four others, and then the sooty books are on a couple of utility shelves in the garage.
- One Book You Have Read Multiple Times: SO MANY. I love re-reading old books more than reading new ones, honestly. It’s so comforting. In fact, any book I keep will be re-read!
- Preferred Place To Read: In my wonderful spa tub.
- Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read: “It’s a known fact . . . yuh got to go there to know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got to do fuh theyselves. They got to go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.” (From Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston)
- Reading Regret: That working, exhaustion, and the internet keep me from reading as much as I used to; and the loss of my favorite, most comforting books in the fire.
- Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series): If I like a series and all of it’s out, I’ve already read it! I would like to re-read the Sookie Stackhouse series from the beginning, though.
- Three of your All-Time Favorite Books: The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy, The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (And y’all know that’s really an impossible question, don’t you?)
- Unapologetic Fangirl For: The Lord of the Rings
- Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others: I guess the next thing to get excited about is Patricia Cornwell’s next book. There aren’t many books I buy new, but I always buy hers.
- Worst Bookish Habit: I just can’t seem to get into bookmarks. I’ve stopped dog-earing the pages but now I leave the book lying open.
- X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book: Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (not really necessary in this Internet age, but nice to have on the shelf)
- Your latest book purchase: W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton. Usually I get her latest as a Christmas gift but I saw it in Kroger on sale and couldn’t resist. I don’t buy books, in general–I get them from McKay’s, or the church book swap, or as gifts.
- ZZZ-snatcher book: (last book that kept you up WAY late): See above. However, I will stay up way too late virtually any time I read something at all absorbing, which is one reason I have been avoiding absorbing reads lately!
Gone with the Wind.
The Lord of the Rings.
The Lords of Discipline.
The Dark is Rising series.
The Chronicles of Narnia.
A Tale of Two Cities.
Little House on the Prairie.
What do the above books have in common (besides being awesome, of course!)?
They are all books that I have read aloud in their entirety. This might make you think I am a great mother, carrying on the bedtime reading well past the early childhood years. You’d be wrong.
Because I did not read these books to my kids–I read them to my husband.
I don’t remember how it started, but way back when we were first married–maybe even before–I started reading aloud to John, sometimes at bedtime, often on long car trips (there were many in those days), and even just sitting in the living room, when we got so absorbed in a book we just didn’t want to stop.
I picked the books–favorites of mine that I wanted to share. Sometimes I picked authors–like Dickens–that John was doubtful about, just so I could prove him wrong. 🙂
We continued this even after we had kids. I can remember sitting out on the balcony of our last apartment, reading David Copperfield and feeling sad at the end of the nearly 1,000 pages, because we were going to miss the characters we had spent so much time with.
I remember sitting in the living room of our first house, reading Gone with the Wind by the light of the Christmas tree, and hearing little Emily in the hallway, listening in. It was a great way to spend time together, doing something special without leaving the house, which would have required a babysitter.
What I can’t remember is exactly when we stopped, or why. It was probably about ten years ago. Maybe we got too busy, having four kids and lots of outside activities. Maybe it was too noisy on car trips and we had to focus on amusing the kids instead of ourselves. Maybe we were so tired at bedtime that we just fell asleep. For sure, part of it was that Emily got old enough to babysit, and we were able from then until recently to leave the house whenever we wanted to spend time together without the kids.
But now that has changed. The big boys are still at home, but not much. They have active social lives that keep them out of the house most of the time on weekends. If we want to be assured of a babysitter for a special occasion, like a wedding or an anniversary, we have to make a plan with them in advance (because we are not THOSE people, who expect their teenage kids to take care of their little siblings no matter what–we always ask.).
William is 11–old enough, in our opinion and his, to stay alone at home for an hour or two, in the daytime hours. But he is not old enough to be responsible for seven-year-old Lorelei, day or night.
So we are spending more time at home in the evening than we have in years. And it occurred to me that reading aloud would be a much nicer way to connect than playing on our separate computers all night. I’ve been wanting to read Jane Eyre to John for some time. Then Wuthering Heights. I can’t wait!
[UPDATE: I’m embarrassed to admit that we couldn’t get through one chapter. We can’t stay awake while reading in bed anymore. However, I’ve gotten back into the reading aloud groove in order to help William with his school English assignments. In the past year I’ve read him War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, and Unbroken. And right now I’m reading The House with a Clock in Its Walls to the whole family.]
I have a Tumblr, which you can find here. I don’t do much with it; I think I’m not really in the demographic it’s meant for, but I signed up so I could see what my daughter posts. And recently I happened upon this list of questions from timaspublishing via bookaddict24-7. Y’all know how much I love to read so I thought this would be fun. (It’s self-indulgent, I know.)
55 Reading Questions
1. Favorite childhood book?
2. What are you reading right now?
Well, this is a little embarrassing. I can’t recall the name of it and I will no doubt forget all about it within 24 hours of reading it. It’s one of my guilty pleasure books, a Love Inspired Suspense paperback that I got for free by temporarily joining their book club. (Update: That’s what I WAS reading when I started writing this. Since then I’ve read Up Country for my book club, The Horse and His Boy which I found laying around the house somewhere, and probably more that I can’t remember. I’m actually currently reading Freakanomics.)
3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None. I only do libraries in the summer.
4. Bad book habit?
I’m actively training myself in the use of bookmarks right now. I usually leave my books lying open and face down. I have, however, stopped bending the corners of the pages down. [UPDATE: Mission Accomplished.]
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Nothing (see above). I think my privileges are probably suspended at the moment anyway. I am just terrible about returning books on time.
6. Do you have an e-reader?
Nope, and I don’t want one. Hope I never cave on this. (Update: My birthday has come and gone and now I own an iPad with an app on it that opens the doors to the wide world of e-reading. I have a friend who only e-publishes a lot of her work and I want to read her stories. Don’t look to find me curled up with my iPad reading Gone with the Wind any time soon.)
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
One at a time.
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
No. I would not be reading right now, I’d be working. Or perhaps doing dishes.
9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far)?
I have probably read 50 books or more this year and I don’t keep a list. I don’t recall actively hating any book but most of the romances are pretty forgettable.
10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Probably The Quiet Game.
11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Never. Why would I take something that’s a pleasure and make it unpleasant? Besides, my zone is pretty big.
12. What is your reading comfort zone?
See above! I like stupid romances, mysteries, suspense, religious books, parenting books . . . I especially like legal thrillers.
13. Can you read on the bus?
As a child I did it all the time. These days I would get sick. I can only read on the interstate (not, of course, while driving).
14. Favorite place to read?
In my bed. [Update: Not any more. I can no longer see well enough to read in dim light. And I’m too tired to read at night. New answer: front porch.]
15. What is your policy on book lending?
16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
I used to but I’ve stopped. I don’t want to mutilate the books I’m keeping and I want the ones I’m getting rid of in good enough condition to be accepted by the used book store.
17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
Not since college.
18. Not even with text books?
LOL. See above. It was hard for me even to get used to doing that. I know people make notes in books and sometimes it seems like it would be a good idea but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
19. What is your favourite language to read in?
English. I am proud of having at one point been able to more or less read books in French but now that my French, Latin, and Old English texts are gone I doubt I will be replacing them.
20. What makes you love a book?
A gripping page-turning story. Characters I get emotionally involved with. A sense of place and time.
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
I will recommend non-fiction books that made enough of an impression on me to actually influence what I DO (or try to do). As for fiction, that depends on what the people I’m talking to are looking for.
22. Favorite genre?
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?
Spiritual/Theology. I have tons of them but most days my brain is too tired.
24. Favourite biography?
You know, I get these but never seem to get through them. I had a lovely one of St. Thomas More that I read part of, and another enormous one about Dickens. These were in the to-be-read pile pre-fire. I cannot remember when I’ve read one as an adult. Now, as a child, I read tons. There was a shelf in the school library with somewhat simplified stories, always starting with the famous person’s childhood, and I loved those. I was especially fond of Helen Keller and read every book about her I could find.
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
I’m sure I have. My husband is a big fan, and he had a couple of shelves full. But I can’t really remember any, unless you call parenting books self-help books. In general, I’m suspicious of any books that promise smooth sailing and a happy life in a few easy steps. Life is hard and I don’t know any shortcuts.
26. Favourite cookbook?
I’m not a huge cookbook collector. Mostly I don’t use recipes. The two go-to books I relied on were the 1970s edition of The Joy of Cooking and the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. If I needed to make a pie crust or cook a lobster tail that’s where I turned for advice. I had a couple of beautiful cookbooks with gorgeous pictures and never got around to making a single thing out of them. The exception to all this is Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, which I loved loved loved and made almost every single recipe in. I even broke my writing in books rule to put personalized comments on the recipes, how we liked them, what changes I made. And later I bought the author’s second book on making soups. These are books I will definitely be replacing, because not only are the recipes good, they are spiritual books filled with interesting and inspiring stories. And the premise of the bread-making book is that making bread is a spiritual experience–the author examines his conscience as he mixes his dough each day. [UPDATE: I did indeed get a new copy. I highly recommend it.]
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Couldn’t tell you. Can’t remember. I guess I wasn’t that inspired.
28. Favorite reading snack?
N/A since I usually read in bed.
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
For me, it’s usually the opposite. I’m suspicious of hype. I did not read the Harry Potter books for years because I figured a book everyone was making such a fuss over was probably lowbrow (I’m an intellectual snob.).
30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I don’t really seek out critical comment in advance. I read what looks good to me.
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
Since I don’t have a huge reach and am not likely to end anyone’s career with my opinion, I enjoy it. [UPDATE: If someone gives me a book to review, I would be unlikely to give it a scathing review–that just seems ugly. I generally try to find some nice things to say about it to balance out my critical comments.]
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
I guess Madame Bovary, in French, for a college French Lit class. It was exhausting and took forever, and I had to cheat and read the last few chapters in English. And then after all that suffering I hated the book anyway.
34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I wouldn’t say I’m nervous but I know I should read things like War and Peace and Ulysses and the thought makes me exhausted.
35. Favorite Poet?
Oh, William Wordsworth, definitely, courtesy of Professor Betz and his Sophomore Honors English course. Professor Betz was my advisor in college. He’s a renowned Wordsworth scholar who spends summers hanging out in the same places Wordsworth did. I find that when someone is that passionate about a subject, he cannot help but transfer some of that passion to his students. I’m also fond of William Blake and all the Romantic Poets. I love Poe. I can appreciate modern poetry, but I will always prefer the kind that rhymes.
36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Probably around ten.
37. How often have you returned books to the library unread?
Not too often, occasionally at the end of the summer when I know that if I don’t I will probably never remember and will end up with another enormous fine and be stuck without the use of my card until they have another one of those days where I can trade them cans of food to erase the fines!
38. Favorite fictional character?
How can I answer that? I don’t think I can. There are so many characters that I love. Today I will go with Will McLean from The Lords of Discipline, arguably my favorite book of all time.
39. Favourite fictional villain?
I’m supposed to like the villains? Today I will go with Rhett Butler. I know, he’s a scoundrel, not a villain, but I really do think he gets off lightly. Scarlett would never have gotten into so much trouble if he hadn’t egged her on.
40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Something I’d like to read aloud in the car. This used to be a favorite pastime of mine and my husband’s. I also bring all the magazines I’m behind on. Because I read ALL THE TIME, I have no need for a special “beach book.” I ALWAYS find time to read, so it’s not a priority on vacation and I might actually watch t.v (which I don’t do at home) instead!
41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
I gave up reading for Lent in the second grade. Dumb idea and I was miserable. It sure was a sacrifice though. I did not read a book for about a month after the house burned down. For one thing, all my books burned up. I was also overwhelmed and exhausted. Too, there was some kind of weird element of, “My books are all gone. I can’t read any more.” I didn’t even FEEL like reading.
42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
I can’t think of one. I know I had a few that I put down halfway through but I always planned to get back to them. And that’s rare. Usually if I’ve gone to the trouble to start I will finish.
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Nothing. It’s a problem.
44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
The Lord of the Rings films. I can remember mourning as a child that it would be impossible to bring those books to the screen, but they did it and did it well.
45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Umm . . . most of them? I know that you have to make changes when bringing a book to life on the screen. But when I cannot understand WHY the changes were necessary, I don’t like it. The first thing that comes to mind is “The Secret of Nimh,” loosely based on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, one of the best children’s books ever. WHY was her name changed to Mrs. Brisby in the movie? Why did the rats look like terrifying otherworldly creatures instead of, you know, rats?
[UPDATE: The Hobbit.]
46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I may have spent around $100 at Christmas time. But that’s not typical. I get almost all of my books used.
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
I might look at a book a little first to decide whether to buy it. But once I’ve got it at home I don’t skim it. Why would I want to spoil the surprise?
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
I would have to be either very frightened or very bored.
49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yes, I like to keep series together of course, and I had a whole bookshelf devoted to series. I had all the “best” books in the living room, and they were loosely grouped around themes–literature, language, coffee table . . . I kept the things that I hadn’t read yet, or were very special to me, on the bookshelf in my room. Things are different now, with stacks on the table in my room, the classics we got at the used bookstore at Spring Hill in our one book case in the living room, kids books in the playroom, and soot-stained books in the garage.
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I used to keep a lot more than I do now. Now I only keep them if it’s a series I’m collecting or I really, really love them. Otherwise they go to McKay’s or the church Book Swap.
51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
If I was, they are gone now.
52. Name a book that made you angry?
Breaking Dawn. Waste of money. Waste of time. Waste of potential for the moral uplift foreshadowed in the earlier books in the series. Basically badfic and wish fulfillment.
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
The Harry Potter series. Did it EVER exceed my expectations. The Sue Grafton ABC murders. These are EXCELLENT. I thought they’d be gimmicky but they are first class.
54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
11/22/63. I DID like it, but not as much as I thought I would. It had some problems that I think Stephen King gets away with because he’s, you know, STEPHEN KING.
55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
I call it a guilty pleasure but really, what’s to feel guilty about? I like to read Love Inspired Christian romance novels which I can almost always get for free through book club offers. I like to read them because they are mildly entertaining but I have no trouble putting them down, whereas if I get involved in a good thriller I may be up half the night or neglect other things I need to be doing. And I prefer the Christian ones even though the spirituality can be a bit ham-handed, and even though they are always non-denominational Protestants (one of these days I am going to write a Catholic one, or get my daughter to do it!) because there are no sex scenes in them. No, I don’t have moral objections to love scenes in novels, but after all the romance novels I consumed as a teenager, they frankly bore me. And it’s also nice to read about characters who have the same moral values that I have in that area.
Okay, if you got this far, now it’s your turn. Answer some or all of the questions, either in the comments below, or in your own blog post (post the link in the comments)! I’d like to hear what YOU have to say about books and reading.