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The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An…
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The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage

by Paul Elie

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Oh dear, this is the second time I've started to read this book and then had to return it to the library without getting very far. I really should buy it, I think, because it doesn't seem to be the sort of book I want to race through.
  auntieknickers | Apr 3, 2013 |
Paul Elie groups together the biographies of four famous Catholic writers - Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. He has beautifully shown how they were shaped and help to shape the current culture as well as their particular style of writing about their faith. One similarity they all had in their writing was the need for their writing to address faith amidst the backdrop of the murk, mess, and grime of daily life. This is not the fluff and cheese espoused but much of 'Christian' literature today. This is deep wrestling with lived out faith confronting faithlessness and all the grey in between. If you've never heard of the above authors or never read any of their work, my suggestion is skip this book and pick up one. If you have read Day, Merton, O'Connor, or Percy and wish to know how did they begin to write such works of faith then keep Elie's book in mind to discover their struggle. The only caution I have with this book is that he switches back and forth between each author and their work. For me, the switching was done in disjointed intervals and I started to mix particulars. While it was easy to remember the broad strokes of each author's bio; the fun minutiae is often lost in the shuffling back and forth. I wish I would have read each author's bio fully then moved to the next author. ( )
  revslick | Dec 12, 2012 |
What do Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Walker Percy have in common? For starters, they are all authors who struggled not only with identity, but religious faith as well. It's this search for religious truth through writing that binds them together. They conducted their searches and tested boundaries of Catholicism through the art of writing. Mary Flannery O'Connor began her writing career in Georgia at a very young age and was considered a prodigy by many: Thomas Merton, just a couple of states north in Kentucky began his writing as a Trappist monk who wrote letters about his faith: Dorothy Day, while older than all the others, founded the Catholic Worker newspaper in New York: Walker Percy started out as a doctor in the furthest south of them all, in New Orleans, but quit medicine to become novelist. In time the group became known as the School of the Holy Ghost because of their pursuit of the answers to religion's biggest questions. Paul Elie brings that School of the Holy Ghost back together again in a 2003 book called The Life You Save May Be Your Own containing biographies and literary criticisms of all four writers. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Oct 27, 2009 |
This is a fascinating book that acts as a quadruple biography for four American Catholics - Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, and Flannery O'Connor. All four are tied together not just by their faith but by the ways in which they write about Catholicism in a distinctly American way. Even though the four subjects didn't really associate together much beyond correspondence, Elie masterfully ties together their parallel pilgrimages into one coherent narrative. Interestingly, only O'Connor was born Catholic, and the conversion stories and reasons for conversion for Merton, Percy, and Day are fascinating and surprising. This is one of the most inspirational and just plain good books I've read in some time.

Kimberly Burge wrote an excellent review of this book in an article for Sojourners called 'Christ-Haunted' Journeys

Favorite Passages
Peter Maurin’s “Easy Essays”

“The world would be better off

if people tried to become better.

And people would become better

if they stopped trying to become

better off

For when everybody tries to

become better off,

nobody is better off.

But when everybody tries to

become better, everybody is better off.

Everybody would be rich

if nobody tried to become richer.

And nobody would be poor

if everybody tried to be poorest.

And everybody would be

what he ought to be

if everybody tried to be

what he wants the other fellow to be.” – footnote on p. 72

“Percy’s point – in the language of pilgrimage – is that the modern predicament makes pilgrimage impossible. In the modern world (now generally called postmodern), all experience is always secondhand, planned and described for one’s consumption by others in advance. Even the rare authentically direct experience is spoiled by modern self-consciousness. The modern person is doomed to an imitation of life; the self cannot escape itself and know the world or the Other.

The self can try, however. That is Percy’s real point.” – p. 278

“O’Connor had regarded Christianity as a timeless truth, Merton as a quandary forever unfolding. Percy had come to see it as something akin to his Uncle Will’s ideal of the Old South: ancient, noble, run-down, disrespected, clearly flawed and yet worth cherishing while it was still around.” P. 428 ( )
  Othemts | Jun 26, 2008 |
An astounding work that masterfully weaves the lives of four remarkable literary and religious figures in contemporary America. Elie is a terrific writer who's created a real "page turner" out of a subject and in a genre where such is unexpected. While not Catholic, I was somewhat familiar with Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Flannery O'Connor (though not Walker Percy) and their respective writings. But Elie describes their lives with such wonderful detail and insight - the book is obviously thoroughly researched - that his narrative left me seeing each of these "giants" as both more human and more gigantic than ever before. This is one of the best books I read in 2007, if not all time. ( )
  bookem | Jan 8, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374529213, Paperback)

The story of four modern American Catholics who made literature out of their search for God

In the mid-twentieth century four American Catholics came to believe that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about them-in works that readers of all kinds could admire. The Life You Save May Be Your Own is their story-a vivid and enthralling account of great writers and their power over us.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk in Kentucky; Dorothy Day the founder of the Catholic Worker in New York; Flannery O'Connor a "Christ-haunted" literary prodigy in Georgia; Walker Percy a doctor in New Orleans who quit medicine to write fiction and philosophy. A friend came up with a name for them-the School of the Holy Ghost-and for three decades they exchanged letters, ardently read one another's books, and grappled with what one of them called a "predicament shared in common."

A pilgrimage is a journey taken in light of a story; and in The Life You Save May Be Your Own Paul Elie tells these writers' story as a pilgrimage from the God-obsessed literary past of Dante and Dostoevsky out into the thrilling chaos of postwar American life. It is a story of how the Catholic faith, in their vision of things, took on forms the faithful could not have anticipated. And it is a story about the ways we look to great books and writers to help us make sense of our experience, about the power of literature to change-to save-our lives.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:12 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In the mid-twentieth century four American Catholics came to believe that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about them, in works that readers of all kinds could admire. This book is their story, a vivid and enthralling account of great writers and their power over us. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk in Kentucky; Dorothy Day the founder of the Catholic Worker in New York; Flannery O'Connor a "Christ-haunted" literary prodigy in Georgia; Walker Percy a doctor in New Orleans who quit medicine to write fiction and philosophy. A friend came up with a name for them--the School of the Holy Ghost--and for three decades they exchanged letters, read one another's books, and grappled with what one of them called a "predicament shared in common." In this book Paul Elie tells these writers' story as a pilgrimage from the God-obsessed literary past of Dante and Dostoevsky out into the thrilling chaos of postwar American life. It is a story of how the Catholic faith, in their vision of things, took on forms the faithful could not have anticipated. And it is a story about the ways we look to great books and writers to help us make sense of our experience, about the power of literature to change--to save--our lives.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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