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Not Your Oprah’s Book Club – Jan. 2020

How many people make New Year’s Resolutions at the end of January? It was a sure way for me to keep the promise to myself beyond the average 21 days, after which most of us give up.

So, after a delightful conversation with one of my nieces, who is planning to read more books this year, I decided to organize a plan to read those books sitting in stacks on MY desk and nightstand that I’ve been ‘meaning to get to’. Anyone can join the club, or, even better, start your own.

I used Oprah’s book club as a guide and decided to do the reverse – going out to the peripheries, speaking boldly, going where no woman has gone before, being my own person, etc.

Instead of recommending a list of current hopefuls to be featured on the NY Times’ Bestsellers’ List, I’ll be reading an array of books from anyone (popular or not) from any time period (including ancient texts) who is going to help me grow in wisdom and understanding and build a ‘Life of the Mind’. It’s my, ‘I’d like to go to heaven one day and would like to start learning what God wants me to know while I’m still on earth’ reading list. It’s not a cool, with-the-times, book club, but more about having an Interior Life that brings me closer to Him.

The process is simple: Each month I’ll read a few books and briefly comment on them, and then, if you decide to read them, great! You won’t know what I’ve read till the end of each month because I want to comment on the books after I’ve read them, not before. I’m keeping a book diary so that by writing it down I’m encouraged to read a little of something nearly every day. That’s the other benefit.

January – This month I’ve read four excellent books – one was actually an essay printed in book form.

Book #1The Life of the Mind: on the Joys and Travails of Thinking – a collection of essays by James V. Schall, S.J.

I didn’t begin this book until Jan 9th, the day after my birthday, as it arrived the day of, as a very thoughtful gift from my husband. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it was only 184 pages. Essays on subjects like ‘The Metaphysics of Walking’ appear in the book, and if you’re having those winter-time blues, this book will get you out of your funk in a jiffy. C.S. Lewis once opined that if you’ve read a book only once you haven’t read it at all. This book is so juicy that I can’t wait to read it again!! 

Book #2The Intellectual Life by A.G. Sertillanges (French author – this edition was translated by Mary Ryan with a foreward by James V. Schall). Are you detecting a pattern here? The beauty of finding a great author is that he can lead us to other great authors, and Father Schall (may he rest in peace), former Professor of Political Philosophy from Georgetown University does this in spades, which is why he’s one of my favorite authors. It’s like having a best friend who introduces you to other wonderful, fascinating people. So what if that person lived during the 5th century? Pleased to meet you!

From time to time I hear people say, “When I die and go to heaven (sin of presumption, by the way) I’m going to talk to Charles Dickens, or Beethoven,” etc. Well, my thing is, why wait? If he’s (or she – henceforth I’ll use ‘he’ to refer to both in general) an author, you can read his books now, or a composer – go ahead and enjoy that elegant symphony with dinner tonight.

The Intellectual Life is a practical guide on how to have one. Every one of us can find more time in our daily life to read good books, like this one.

Book #3 School of Darkness by Bella Dodd. This was a bit of a change of pace, and it wasn’t something I had planned on reading. However, it can never hurt to know a bit of history from someone who lived it. I’m a New Yorker (Upstate version) by birth, and this autobiography of a woman originally from Italy who lived and died in 20th century New York City, seat of American Communism, and was deeply entrenched in it, makes for a riveting read. Since New York tends to be a state that influences the politics of other states, everyone can benefit from this honest, first-hand account of what happened. Tighten your seat belts; you’re in for a ride. Oh, and it was such a page-turner that I read it in three sittings.

Book #4 Liberal Learning by James V. Schall – This was an essay in book form, and the recommended books throughout will keep you busy reading exceptional authors for a lifetime. What a find! And it’s only 49 pages long. I read it twice because I don’t have the best memory and always miss some things the first time around.

An acquaintance of mine brags about not reading any books EVER. To me that would be like going through life without oxygen. But, if you are interested in developing your own ‘Life of the Mind’ or keeping abreast of my current reading, check out this blog at the end of each month.

Happy Reading!