Thursday, May 3, 2012

If You Can Bear to Be Seen Reading a Book That Looks Like This

I belong to and am, sort of, the leader of a Catholic women's book club. We don't read only Catholic authors, and you don't necessarily have to be Catholic to come (although so far everyone is), but we try to read books that have something about them that would recommend them to Catholics. I'm always pushing O'Connor, Percy and that ilk and others are not, so we have a pretty eclectic list of books.

Grandmother and the Priests by Taylor Caldwell was not one of my suggestions, and I wasn't sure that I would like it much, especially when my husband, after picking the book up from a friend, walked in the door saying, "Well, I brought home your Harlequin Romance." However, in spite of the pictorial evidence against it, this has turned out to be a pretty good book. I don't think I've ever read anything by Ms. Caldwell before and I found her to be a good writer. She recognizes sin in all its disguises and isn't afraid to call it sin. She's familiar with Satan and all his lies and all his empty promises. She tells a good story and she has a sly sense of humour.

At the age of four, Rose Mary Cullen is sent to Leeds to stay with her grandmother, her namesake, during the Christmas holidays because her parents are having marital difficulties. The elder Rose Mary is a wealthy widow who left the Church when she married a Protestant. Because this is a lean time for Catholic priests in England, she invites them to her home for dinner, and they come to eat, but also with the hope of bringing her back to the Church. Every night, one of the priests tells a story, and the bulk of the book consists of these stories told by the Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh priests. Each of these stories is a little gem, not a diamond, certainly, but something more humble like a garnet. They are full of the hardships, faith, prejudices, and fancies of the people in the villages in which most of them take place. They are also full of sin and temptation, grace and redemption. They are very down-to-earth, but the supernatural is always evident in the background, in fact, the devil appears in disguise in at least three of the stories. One of the most engaging aspects of the book to me is that the priests are almost always telling stories on themselves. The events of the book reveal their weaknesses and lead them to small conversions.

This would be a great book to take on a trip or just read in leisure moments. It divides itself naturally into small portions and doesn't suffer from being read in bits and snatches. It's well written, but not intellectually challenging--just a good read. And you can always get one of these.

Sadly, it appears that later in her life Ms. Caldwell fell away from the faith. This is not only sad, but a little frightening when one considers how well she obviously understood the wiles of the enemy. There are several articles on the internet about how she came to believe in reincarnation, but in a 1978 interview with George F. Smith which was published in Writer's Yearbook 1980, she says she doesn't believe in reincarnation. She says that she is a Catholic, but a Catholic atheist because of all the tragedies of her life. That's a bit ironic, since this is the biggest tragedy.

AMDG


10 comments:

  1. As I mentioned in email, I had some sort of similar "this can't be good...wait, this is pretty good" experience with something by Taylor Caldwell, but am now totally unable to recall what it was. I'm pretty certain it wasn't a novel. Maybe some sort of essay in a collection by Catholic authors..?..I don't know. I'm sorry to hear she left the Church.

    Interesting stuff in the Wikipedia bio. Those last years were very grim, it seems.

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  2. I knew there was something else I wanted to say but I was very busy yesterday, and I just remembered it: I've often speculated about how Flannery O'Connor would have fared in the '60s (later '60s). And '70s. It seems unlikely, but I can't help wondering if she might have gone the way of people like Rosemary Radford Reuther, who, if I'm not mistaken, was not always a nut.

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  3. I would need the Hide-A-Book!

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  4. I believe I can remember that author's name on the covers of thick airport type books in the late 1960s or early 1970s. By thick of course I mean large :) or heavy weight :)

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  5. She was a really popular author. Two of her novels, Captains and the Kings, and Testimony of Two Men, were made into miniseries.

    I'm pretty sure I must have read something by her in the past, but I'm not sure what.

    Craig--Maybe if we all got together, we could buy those covers in bulk and save some money. Then we could read whatever we wanted. My copy of one of my favorite novels in the world had a cover like that, but then it fell off and I was happy.

    AMDG

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  6. Mind you, some of those Hide-a-Books are pretty awful too. Do they not make any with spacemen on them?

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  7. True. I was thinking they were all pretty girly. I'm sure we could find a manly version somewhere online-maybe something in brown paper.

    AMDG

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  8. I know what I want mine to look like:

    http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/52/5b/9ff3828fd7a0534451455110.L.jpg

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  9. Oh yes, that's very manly.

    AMDG

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  10. Actually, it's more boyish. I had this book when I was about 12 or 13. I really liked it. I even remember that the plot involved redirecting an asteroid by setting off nuclear explosions on its surface. I think I got it for Christmas--at any rate I have some vague association of Christmas with it. I found it at my parents' house 10 years or so ago when they were moving out and it may be at home somewhere now, or I may have decided holding on to it was silly.

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