Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hot Dog! I Love Good Books

I grew up in Texas, which meant I hated hot dogs.  I loved roasting them on a fire at the beach, don't get me wrong.  I loved the fixings.  In fact, my favorite way to eat a hot dog (if I had to eat one), was covered in chili with onions and cheese and mustard.  I confessed, I didn't really need the dog to enjoy all the fixings.

But I married a man from the Northeast.  He introduced me to "real" hot dogs.  I became an instant fan.  We discovered Chicago hot dogs, fried hot dogs, but my favorite remained the split grilled version, simple with mustard and onions.   But I didn't know I liked "real" hot dogs until I had one. Until that moment, I thought I'd eaten hot dogs and understood enough to dismiss them as a food altogether.    I did not know I was ignorant.

I also received my education at Catholic schools, from first grade through graduate work.   As an Double English major, (Literature and Writing) I studied Chaucer, Shakespeare, Renaissance writers, 18th Century fiction, 19th Century Fiction, Mythology, American Literature, British Literature and those were just the prerequisites of the major.   

So I felt surprised when I discovered Walker Percy after college, and G.K. Chesterton and Sigrid Undset in my late thirties, and now Rumer Godden as I approach 49.  How did these writers not get presented forcefully during the course of my high school and college education?  Even Flannery O'Connor got a cursory look in one class, one book.   I know my parents tried to wave authors in front of me, (it's how I discovered Percy, Chesterton and Undset), but shouldn't a Catholic education present some of its Catholic artists as part of the normal formation of an educated mind?   

I thought further, about the Catholic authors I did meet in the course of classes.  Their works, whether Dante or Chaucer, were treated as texts, as works completed, which were somehow to sing to us, the college students, without the context of faith, but with the detailed context of the politics and historical times in which they were cast.   We deconstructed the works, stripping away some of the meaning, both for the creator and the recipient, like removing the refrain from a song, or rendering a color film, black and white.   We did not know we were changing what we were receiving, we thought we were getting to the essence of things, the form not obscured by faith.   But faith does not obscure, it reveals.    

There were a few exceptions, and their classes caught fire.  One wouldn't think there could be a three day long discussion amongst addle brained college students in a class held after lunch about what made for a true relationship.  A woman wanting all of us to get something of what literature can bring, pushed the conversation to be led through the lens of seeking truth in all things first.  So we talked about what Emma, Wuthering Heights and Madame Bovary revealed about the nature of romance and love. The eccentric philosopher who openly grieved when only three in the class openly rejected a purely scientific/materialistic reality, pushed people to recognize that faith wasn't just a bit of local color about the authors we were reading, but intricately connected to why they wrote.

I remember him ranting....You couldn't dismiss Black Elk's spiritual and interior life and read Black Elk Speaks with any comprehension.   You couldn't read the Ramayana and not get some of the great beauty of the poetry, if you were going to just view it as a whimsical Indian version of the Odyssey.   You couldn't read the Iliad as merely a long long long long long long poem in which Hector dies.  The end.

People did.

But these professors pushed against the dismissive casual handling of any text, as merely words thrown upon a page that could have been typed by a monkey given enough time.  Moving to graduate school, and beyond, they were the exception, not the rule. 

Reading and discovering these authors, I had to wonder, how is it we haven't been served this feast?  

I know there are many who love Catholic fiction, and perhaps it is time to craft a course for students, particularly of the college age, as part of their faith formation if a school is Catholic.  For these stories, all of them, are attempts to harness the Catholic imagination, and use it like a sail, to propel forth lives lived on the page.  They allow the reader to ruminate more deeply than a Facebook conversation on Catholic ethics or the role of law or faith in society, or what it means to be in love, and not merely the thralls of desire.  

Part of the New Evangelization is the rediscovery of where we've come from, recovering from the stupor of perpetual Internet amnesia with respect to what people can write, think, and create, when they aren't seeking to be trending or create the next overnight success.  We need the satire of Evelyn Waugh, the acid texts of O'Connor, the delicate and in depth romance of Undset, the puns and poetry of Joyce, the wit and whimsy of Percy, and the whispered understanding of an interior life, portrayed in Godden, as much as we need Tolkien's middle earth.   

Finally, I've wondered why we've grown so casual and carnal (if the New York Times Best Sellers list is an indicator) in our appetites for literature.   Perhaps we have been living too long on lesser hot dogs, and forgotten how much better it could be.   If so, here's my attempt at serving you, a grilled Chicago dog with all the trimmings.  I know you're thinking, what's so great about a hot dog but trust me, you'll love it.

So if you've stuck with me this long, I've begun a list --which I hope people will add to, of Catholic writers who strike the heart, and get to the marrow of the faith with their fiction.   The list is in order as I thought of them, not in preference.  I've read or am reading all that I'm listing, though I know there are many many more.  But I don't want to list a book I haven't read or am reading.

1. This House of Brede by Rumer Gooden
3. The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor  (Cover is beautiful). 
6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien  (Yes, I love the movies of the LOTR and will watch it any time it's on). 
8. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh  (Yes I know of Brideshead Revisited, I haven't read it so I can't list it in my part of the list but if anyone is needing an idea for my birthday....I don't own it).
9. The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins

If that doesn't get your book juices pumping, there's an obnoxiously long list (I want to read them all) over at Catholic   In the meantime, many thanks to Elizabeth Scalia for the suggestion of the book, and the idea to write about this topic.  I stopped at ten because....I need to feed these people lunch.  Guess what we're having.

As a final P.S. for those poor souls who still don't know what a Chicago dog is, here's the link for the recipe (Just in time for the 4th of July) and a picture: 



Theresa Jabaley said...

Do you mean Walker Percy?

Cherie Peacock said...

The Power and the Glory.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!