Old books

Last week I found myself in bed for two days resting a swollen ankle with nothing to do but read.

At first I hated it, but after a while it felt like freedom.

I read Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, two books I’ve always wanted to read but kept putting off. I then started Kierkegaard’s Either/Or but gave up after the first chapter. I don’t plan on going back to it.

It is always disheartening to compare the amount of time one spends reading internet articles (mostly regurgitated cant commenting on other people’s regurgitated cant) to the amount of time one spends with real books. I think back to my school days and all the serious reading I did and feel a little guilty. One or two of my professors thought I had an academic career waiting for me (the rest just saw me sleeping in class). Little did they know how claustrophobic I felt in a University environment.

I’ve decided that before the year is out I will read Henri de Lubac’s two great works Catholicisme and Le Surnaturel which I’m told are available in good English translations.

When I was in school I always intended to read De Lubac once I got through Joseph Ratzinger’s main works, but instead found myself sucked into a short thesis on Cyril of Alexandria’s commentaries on the Book of Hebrews which ended up taking all my time. (If you ever want to do a thesis on an ancient author, do yourself a favor and pick one whose work is translated into a modern language. I spent weeks trying to make sense of the Greek. I got an ‘A’ on the thesis, and was very proud of it, but lost both the hard-copy and the file got corrupted; the last evidence that I used to be smart is now gone forever.)

Have you ever been afraid of a book? Sometimes there is a certain attraction mixed with apprehension. I’m terrified of one book, both afraid of reading it and more afraid of never getting around to it.

It isn’t really one book, I guess, but Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Trilogy, which really isn’t a trilogy either. Part one, Glory, consists of seven volumes; part two, Theo-Drama consists of five; part three, Theo-Logic is a mere three volumes. All that plus Epilogue makes sixteen volumes.

I’ve enjoyed von Balthasar’s short articles and I want to read it because the premise is fascinating: understanding the whole of theology from the perspective of the third eternal value, beauty. It is a theology of aesthetics.

I don’t know why I have a craving to read something like that, but I do know why I’m afraid of it: it would eat my life.

The last time I tackled a multi-thousand page work, Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, I was cooped up for a month with Lyme’s disease. I guess I should not despair: given the fact that I live in New England and spend a lot of time in the woods, sooner or later I am going to get Lyme’s again.

Then I’ll have plenty of time for reading.





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