31 July marks the feast day of Saint Ignatius Loyola (b.1491), the founder of the Society of Jesus (more commonly known as the Jesuits). In a breviary, I was interested to read a passage from the Acts of Saint Ignatius taken down by Luis Gonzalez, which describes the reading habits of the young saint:

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Primo Levi

“A country is considered the more civilised the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak and a powerful one too powerful.”

— Primo Levi, If This Is a Man

“You can take everything from me except the freedom to look up at the sky occasionally.”

— Halldór Laxness, World Light (trans. Magnus Magnusson).

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Lydia Davis

“What should the diet of your reading be? Read the best writers from all different periods; keep your reading of contemporaries in proportion—you do not want a steady diet of contemporary literature. You already belong to your time.”

— Lydia Davis, Essays One

I recently finished re-reading Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, one of my favourite books. Now, I am dipping into the multi-volume edition of his letters. All of the books are secondhand copies, and I am sure that some of them have their own stories to tell. My copy of the first volume once sat on the shelves of a branch of The New York Public Library at 455 Fifth Avenue in Mid-Manhattan.

The letters are collected according to theme. There’s a volume of correspondence covering Merton‘s close friendships; there’s one devoted to poetry, literature, and the vocation of writing; and yet another two that deal with religious experience. The fifth and final volume collects together his letters on “Times of Crisis”. I think I might start with that one.

Sad to hear that Deirdre Bair, who wrote the first major biography of Samuel Beckett, has died at the age of 84. Her work continues to exert an influence on contemporary Beckett scholarship, to say nothing of its inspiration to modern practitioners and performers of his writing. She also wrote a biographies of Simone de Beauvoir, Anaïs NinCarl JungSaul Steinberg and Al Capone. Most recently, she was the author of Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me – a Memoir. She will be sorely missed.

Neil Genzlinger has written an obituary for Bair in The New York Times.

The coronavirus has sparked a widespread cultural revaluation of writers who touched on themes of solitude in their work. Holland Carter takes a look at Henry David Thoreau’s WALDEN, and suggests that “there’s plenty to learn from standing still”. Source: The New York Times.