I’ve been reading a lot these past few months. Early in the lockdown, I turned to old favorites – it’s nice to have old friends beside us in new situations. Kierkegaard, Camus, Tolstoy, and my beloved Rilke were there for me during those stressful spring evenings when I marveled at the speed of oppression and mandated fear.
But as new levels of tyranny became common and unsurprising, I began to broaden my reading. I made new friends and picked up as yet unread books by old ones.
These days, my reading is less of an attempt to maintain the connection to the optimistic woman I used to be and more of an exploration toward the hopefilled, scrambling sacramental-realist I’m becoming.
Of course it’s still primarily a study in the moody colors of Rilke’s poetry – his voice dominates my internal dialogues. But this summer, while my children are wallowing in joyful childhood magic, my head is full of hope, fear, and the wisdom of those who understand them both.
If you’re also looking for books that speak to the deep emotions and uncertainty we’re experiencing, give one of these at try and let me know what you think!
Books of Understanding
The Present Age (Soren Kierkegaard). “talkativeness is afraid of the silence which reveals its emptiness.” Though he’s writing about a present age of the past, his critique relates so well to the world we find ourselves in today. Kierkegaard can be harsh and mocking, but his writing always sounds like the poetry of a friend to me.
Rebellion, Resistance, and Death (Albert Camus). “Despite men’s suffering, despite the blood and wrath, despite the dead who can never be replaced, the unjust wounds, and the wild bullets, we must utter, not words of regret, but words of hope, of the dreadful hope of men isolated with their fate.” Most of these essays were written during or directly after WWII, in occupied Paris. His words are renewing and alive as I read them now. They continually challenge and inspire me.
A Handful of Dust (Evelyn Waugh). “You can’t ever tell what’s going to hurt people.” Waugh is famous for his fantastic Brideshead Revisited, but his other books are worth a read as well. A Handful of Dust is a mocking, satirical look at the careless cruelty of a self-absorbed society. Painful and funny, like so much in life.
What are you reading in this strange summer season, friends?
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These books sound wonderful! Waugh’s book particularly intrigues me-I’ve only read a few of his books, but I very much enjoy his satirical tone in The Loved One, so I’d probably enjoy A Handful of Dust.
For reading, lately I’ve been reading my usual mix of nonfiction and light contemporary fiction reads, but I’ve put a special focus on children’s classics. I’m shocked to see how many classic novels I missed out on as a kid, and I’ve found it comforting to slip into these comforting, lighthearted-yet, at times, quite deep-stories. I’m currently reading Heidi, a book that I never read growing up (aside from a heavily abridged version) though I loved the movie, and I’m loving it. I’m partially reading through all these books in preparation for doing read-alouds with my young kids in the next few years, but also in large part because it’s a nice change of pace. I started out 2020 with Steinbeck and Walker Percy, so between those heavy-hitters and the pandemic, it’s nice to pick up some lighter-but still worthwhile-fare.
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