The Librarian’s Shelf: A work in translation

July around these parts has a tendency to be hot and humid and thoroughly uninviting. Its opposite from the winter but just as inhospitable if you aren’t used to it (spoiler: I am not). Fortunately, this afforded me enough time to get through my next book, a work in translation/over 500 pages. Yes, I know I wrote about a 500 page book earlier, but the truth of the matter is I’ll be getting through one part of Kristin Lavransdatter, not all 3, so there’s a bit of a category swap needed.

So what else is there that’s a work in translation and over 500? I mean aside from Tolstoy, which I did not read. I picked up Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. And yes, I am late to the Eco party but this happens in a world where there are so many books to read and so little time.

Now, if you pick up The Name of the Rose, don’t make the mistake I did and think this is a mystery. Yes, there is a mystery inside but I can’t really call it a full fledged member of the genre. I read mysteries: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penny. Father Brown would make the list too, and I just finished every Phryne Fisher mystery I could get at the local public library. And if you’ve read any of those authors you’ll detect a theme: enjoyable mystery, solvable, but the characters make the piece. They stand out, they’re funny or witty or just good people, or more importantly, *interesting* people.

Eco was, first and foremost, a semiotician and a philosopher. And it shows. This book is long; it clocks in at 512 pages and they are dense pages. There are explorations of symbols, meaning, and a rather intricate look at the life of a medieval monastery. The chapters are even arranged around the liturgy of the hours, which was a nice touch. I did enjoy the book, but I enjoyed it a lot more once I decided it wasn’t a mystery. Think of it as historical fiction that will give you a window into a very rich medieval world and, oh yes, there are a few murders and mysteries and a labyrinth.

In terms of other works in translation, your best friend on campus is the Ballroom. This houses the collection of works in original languages, heavy on the Latin and Greek. This is also where you’ll find all literature that’s not American, with a smattering of English works that predate Shakespeare. The good Bard is our dividing line between the Ballroom and the Newman room, and you could safely argue that a number of those old English works are in translation.

The Librarian’s Shelf: A Book you can read in a Day

Happy summer to you all! And a very hearty congratulations to the class of 2018 who join me in the alumni ranks. I would say we have cookies, but, well, we probably don’t. But we have a reunion! So you should totally join us for that 🙂

Once again, I’ve run into the next month. I will confess, its particularly amusing for a book you can read in a day. Yet here we find ourselves. This month’s pick can be finished in a day, but you could also stretch it into 2 or 3 if you want to take more time with it, and it wouldn’t feel like it was dragging. This was originally a lecture delivered at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN. Today we’re focused on The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “women’s work” by Kathleen Norris.

Funny enough, this book is probably a better fit for alums over current students, and alums who aren’t able to spend a lot of time reading or studying or simply thinking like they used to. Norris is focused on the everyday here:

We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing, and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places– out of Galilee, as it were– and not in spectacular events, such as the coming of a comet.

It is very easy, in the grind of the every day, to lose sight of, as Norris puts it, the “sacramental possibility in all things.” After all, to borrow a Saint’s phrasing “The Lord walks among the pots and pans.” It was so easy, when I was young, to imagine I would always feel the greatness of things, to realize the importance of life’s work. It is so hard, when I am less young, to feel those same things when the dishes need washing and the floors vacuuming and there’s work outside the home to be done and a school project to oversee for my son and a hundred and one little nagging duties to be attended to. If you are fortunate enough not to feel those things, good on you! But if there are days you are weary or you can’t see the forest for the trees crashing down, I found Norris’s little book to be a helpful reminder.

It is also a really good, gentle way to get back into reading if you haven’t been for a while. She touches on a lot of important themes and connects them with the everyday, and there is value in that (I think).

Recommendations are hard this month, because what one person can read in a day, another will read in a week. Some potential options, though, would be:

  • an encyclical or apostolic exhortation. Those are generally short but full of goodness
  • A childhood classic. Like a truly good childhood book– Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, A Wrinkle in Time, Little Women all come to mind (although let’s be honest, Little Women is likely not getting read in a day.) Any children’s book that really stuck with you is probably worth revisiting in adulthood, to see if things look different from this point of view.
  • Would it be cheating to say short stories? Flannery O’Connor is always a favorite around these parts, and I feel like PG Wodehouse is probably a good summer pick