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Ignatius Loyola: A Saint Reads the Saints

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 come across a passage from the Acts of Saint Ignatius taken down by Luis Gonzalez, which describes the growing influence of religious reading on the young saint…

Primo Levi: The Weak and the Powerful

“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

The Life of Saint Pambo

Reading Butler’s Lives of the Saints, I come across a passage on St Pambo, an Egyptian monk (c.390) thought to be a disciple of St Antony. I was struck by the following passage…

Halldór Laxness: The freedom to look up at the sky

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

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

Thoreau: “A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature”

“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 on Reading Contemporary Literature

“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

Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett’s first major biographer, dies aged 84

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 Nin, Carl Jung, Saul 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.

Rebecca Solnit: Lessons of Disaster

“The first lesson a disaster teaches is that everything is connected. In fact, disasters, I found while living through a medium-sized one (the 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area) and later writing about major ones (including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan), are crash courses in those connections. At moments of immense change, we see with new clarity the systems – political, economic, social, ecological – in which we are immersed as they change around us. We see what’s strong, what’s weak, what’s corrupt, what matters and what doesn’t.”

Rebecca Solnit

Reading Walden in the age of Coronavirus

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”.