Category Archives: Current Book


It seems that I’m putting off doing these write-ups until just before the next meeting.  I’m going to have to shape up!

A very lively and satisfying get-together centred around our April book, The Land of Spices by Kate O’Brien. Our discussion leader was Randy, and he presented a number of questions for us to consider, in the areas of heartbreak, convent life, moulding of character, and resemblance to the life of the author. The book is beautifully written, and Randy also asked us if we considered O’Brien to be a top-ranking author, which made for some interesting discussion.  The consensus seemed to be that she is, in our opinion, high-ranking, but not at the very top of her field.

We also talked about the spiritual, cultural, and literary aspects of the book, and really gave it a thorough going-over.  Members also chimed in with their personal connections, mostly from school and from our experience of working or volunteering side by side with sisters from various religious orders.

We will be moving on to our May meeting on the 8th, when the book under examination will be Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden. Dolores has volunteered to lead our discussion.




St. Margaret Clitherow

For those who have access to EWTN,  that network will air an hour-long program on the life and death of St. Margaret Clitherow, who was executed in a particularly terrible way for hiding hunted Catholic priests during the reign of Elizabeth I.  This should be very interesting as it relates to our reading of The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest.  The program will be on May 23 at 11 a.m. and May 25 at 3 a.m. Pacific times.

Click on the above link to see what Wikipedia has on this remarkable woman.  This drawing of the saint is taken from Wikipedia.

English: Margaret Clitherow old depiction. Sou...

English: Margaret Clitherow old depiction. Source is here (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some Info on A. J. Cronin

I thought that bringing forward some facts about the author of The Keys of the Kingdom might add to our discussion at our next meeting, March 14.  Here’s what I have gleaned.

                                                          A.J. Cronin, c. 1930. [Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

A.J. Cronin, in full Archibald Joseph Cronin   (born July 19, 1896, Cardross, Dumbartonshire, Scot.—died Jan. 6, 1981, Montreux, Switz.), Scottish novelist and physician whose works combining realism with social criticism won a large Anglo-American readership.

Early life

Cronin was born at Rosebank Cottage in Cardross, Dunbartonshire, the only child of a Protestant mother, Jessie Cronin (née Montgomerie), and a Catholic father of Irish extraction, Patrick Cronin, and would later write of young men from similarly mixed backgrounds. His paternal grandparents were the proprietors of a public house in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire. His maternal grandfather, Archibald Montgomerie, was a hatter who owned a shop in Dumbarton. After their marriage, Cronin’s parents moved to Helensburgh, where he attended Grant Street School. When he was seven years old, his father, an insurance agent and commercial traveller, died from tuberculosis. He and his mother moved to her parents’ home in Dumbarton, and she soon became the first female public health inspector in Scotland.

Cronin was educated at the University of Glasgow and served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy during World War I. He practiced in South Wales (1921–24) and then, as medical inspector of mines, investigated occupational diseases in the coal industry. He opened a medical practice in London in 1926 but quit because of ill health, using his leisure to write his first novel, Hatter’s Castle (1931; filmed 1941), the story of a Scottish hatmaker obsessed with the idea of the possibility of his noble birth. This book was an immediate success in Britain.  

 Cronin’s strengths were his narrative skill and his powers of acute observation and graphic description.

Enough of That!

I’ve had enough of commenting on the book bit by bit.  I started doing it to help myself work through an immediate dislike of the characters, and to force myself to take a closer look at what O’Connor might be intending to accomplish.  I was successful enough, but now I’ve become bored with the idea, so I shall drop it.   I’ve not heard from anyone, not gotten any comments, so my not going further would appear not to affect any other readers.

I think I’ll wait until after our meeting on the 13th to do any further commenting on the novel, except to say that it’s taken me to some places I didn’t expect to go.  I’m looking forward to hearing what other members will have to say about Wise Blood.

Two Seducers, a Major Clean-up, and a New Prophet

Chapters Seven,  Eight and Nine

Hazel and Sabbath have each decided, separately, that they will seduce the other.  Sabbath is more active in trying to get her way, while Hazel is in no hurry, “considering her innocence”.  Neither is successful.  Hazel has trouble with his car, although he still proclaims it to be a good machine that will get him anywhere he wants to go.  O’Connor’s sense of humour shines through.

Meanwhile, Enoch finds himself giving his room a good cleaning, for no reason that he is aware of.  He washes the furniture, buys chintz curtains, and gilds the inside of the cabinet in his washstand.  His blood rushes around and around, giving him a hard time, making him feel something is going to happen.  When he sees Hazel Motes preaching, standing on his car and explaining that his Church Without Christ is in need of a new jesus, Enoch suddenly realizes what he has to do, and his blood suggests that he keep it a surprise.

Hazel Motes keeps trying to get Preacher Hawks to notice him and try to save his soul, but he only succeeds in having Sabbath harass him further.  His preaching is unsuccessful and he has no followers until an unexpected disciple shows up who tries to convince Hazel that the two of them can work together and charge money to have people join their church, but Hazel is outraged that the man is wanting to con people, to exploit the idea of the Church Without Christ and turn it into something else.

Now the story has some momentum gathering, and I am interested to know what will happen next.  The author is quite adept with description and dialogue, and the scenes are livelier.

Enoch’s Blood Acts Up

Chapters Three – Five

Hazel’s negotiations to buy a car have an easygoing humour, and we see more of his stubbornness, but I still don’t feel that I’m getting to know him.   As he struggles to drive the roads of the town and on into the country, it seems that the landscape is without any distinguishing features, and Hazel doesn’t really know what he wants to do, until he remembers Enoch.

What is all this about Enoch’s blood?  We’re told he “had wise blood like his daddy”,  his blood gives him knowledge that something is going to happen, and he uses the messages of his blood to direct him.  Okay, let’s think about this as a symbol.  Blood can symbolize life or life force;  blood is essential to the functioning of the body; the blood of Jesus is redemptive.  (Jesus and redemption figure importantly in Hazel Motes’ preaching and his conversations.)  So how are we to take the “wise blood” of Enoch?  And what does it mean that, at the end of Chapter Five, he hears his “secret blood” beating in the center of the city?

In considering the book so far, I have to conclude that the author has a purpose in presenting to the reader such unattractive characters, such grotesques.  My reaction has been, “I don’t know anyone like this, nor do I want to. ”  But perhaps O’Connor is saying, in effect, “Push past those feelings and look at these people, consider them as possibly another level, another side of yourself.  What if?  What if you acted like this, said these things?  Are you really so different?”

Getting Started in “Wise Blood”

Since this is such a small book, I think I’ll write about my reactions to it as I go.  I’ve waited a while before getting started, because I didn’t want to have forgotten the book by the time our meeting rolled around.


The first thing I notice is the author’s ability to describe using few words.  I like the “few hogs nosing in the furrows look(ing) like large spotted stones” from the window of the racing train.  I feel as though I have been put down into the  landscape of a black-and-white 1940’s movie, but the place is utterly foreign to me and the people unlike anyone I have known.  And, perhaps fatally for the story, the author has not yet drawn me in, has not made me want to know more about them or what will happen to them.

John Henry Newman’s Influence On Literary Figures

I discovered this interesting interview while reading the Ignatius Press blog.  The original is from Zenit.  Pearce gives us some insight into famous literary figures who were influenced by Blessed Newman, and credits him with being the father of the Catholic revival in England.


from a drawing by George Richmond


“Newman is rightly considered to be the father of the Catholic revival…”From a wide-ranging ZENIT interview with the tireless Joseph Pearce:

ZENIT: Could you say something about your own reflections — as one who has spent significant time studying Newman — regarding the beatification ceremony?

Pearce: As an admirer of Newman, as an Englishman, and, more to the point, as an English Catholic convert, I was simply overjoyed by his beatification.

Newman is rightly considered to be the father of the Catholic revival and the seismic power of his conversion continues to reverberate throughout the English-speaking world.

The number of converts who owe their conversion, under grace, to Newman, at least in part, are too numerous to mention. As such, a few will suffice to illustrate the point.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, arguably the finest poet of the Victorian era, was received into the Church by Newman in 1866.

Oscar Wilde fell under Newman’s spell as an undergraduate and continued to admire him throughout his life. Wilde’s ultimate deathbed conversion, the culmination of a lifelong love affair with the Church, was due in part to the beguiling presence of Newman’s enduring influence.

Hilaire Belloc and J.R.R. Tolkien both studied at the Birmingham Oratory School, which had been established by Newman, the former during Newman’s own lifetime and the latter in his ghostly shadow a few years after his death. In both cases, Newman’s role in their Christian formation contributed to the faithful fortitude that animated their lives as Catholic writers of the utmost importance.

Others such as Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark could be mentioned among the many others, documented in my book “Literary Converts” (Ignatius Press), who owed their conversion, at least in part, to Newman’s benign influence.

Last, and indubitably least, I must mention that Newman’s beautiful and profound “Apologia pro Vita Sua” played a significant role in my own path to conversion.    

Read the entire interview, by Genevieve Pollock, posted today. [Sept. 27]

A Pertinent Quotation from Blessed Newman

In today’s gospel we heard the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Here is an excerpt from Newman that takes a look at what can happen in this life if we in the First World take our fortunate lifestyle too much for granted:

A smooth and easy life, an uninterrupted enjoyment of the goods of Providence, full meals, soft raiment, well-furnished homes, the pleasures of sense, the feeling of security, the consciousness of wealth–these, and the like, if we are not careful, choke up all the avenues of the soul, through which the light and breath of heaven might come.

The excerpt is from John Henry Cardinal Newman:  In My Own Words.

John Henry Newman — companion on the journey

Check out my blog where I talk about my journey along with our book for the month at A Son of Saint Philip.