Walking a Literary Labyrinth A Spirituality of Reading by Nancy M. Malone has been one of those books that I have stretched out over several weeks and only read a chapter at a time, finally finishing a few days ago, but it seems like a good book to share on the first day of a new reading year.
There was a great deal to reflect on and reshape to fit my own life which it must be said bears little resemblance to that of an Ursuline nun, now living alone, who has struggled to overcome prescription drug addiction, alcoholism, and maintains a life of prayer and devotion alongside. Except we all have books and reading as a common denominator, so surely somewhere along the way Nancy and I would be in step to the same tune?
And yes indeed, there were sudden flashes of real congruence as I understood exactly what Nancy Malone was suggesting with her expressions of just how important reading had been in the grand scheme of things.
The first warning is that inevitably there will be a Christian religious underpinning to this book but that said I coped with it because Nancy Malone writes personally and from the heart with an honesty that belongs only to her, nothing is flaunted as the truth that shall exceed all other truths.This is Nancy Malone's view on how her own life and faith has been both destroyed and rebuilt and how books and reading have been a fairly constant and life-affirming presence in that process.
Nancy likens reading to meditation,
'the words we read fix our attention. We pause over them and the thoughts they suggest, comparing them in unbroken silence with our own experience.Sometimes, as can happen in contemplative prayer, we're taken completely out of ourselves as we read, and return to ourselves refreshed.'
With little awareness it would seem of the impact on her reading life, which Nancy also likens to the act of eating for her, 'the devouring of the words on the page', entry into a convent back in 1953 meant a very narrow and limited reading diet verging on starvation for someone who had previously read anything available at every opportunity.That there would eventually be sequelae and fall-out was inevitable, though for Nancy many years coming but devastating when it did.
Nancy cites countless authors along the way, Virginia Woolf. Nadine Gordimer, George Eliot, Margaret Atwood and many others who have helped shape and form her world view and her thoughts on the people in it and I emerged the other end feeling that I could perhaps now analyse my own literary labyrinth with an increased degree of clarity given such useful visual imagery.
Sometimes this reading life can feel like a maze but there is a subtle difference between a maze and a labyrinth which I hadn't really appreciated.The eleven-circuit labyrinth from the floor of Chartres Cathedral which Nancy uses has no dead ends or blind alleys to confuse or fool, the path always leads to your true self at the centre and followed outward, safely back to the rim.But you need the entire grand design to make it all work.
For those of us who love reading with a passion and that's probably just about everyone reading this, that feels like a comforting analogy to hold dear, that no reading is wasted and certainly no time spent reading is mis-spent, it will always lead you somewhere and always add something to the whole.
A pensive read as that brilliant last year of books draws to a close and a new one begins so here's to a happy new year filled with books and all things good for every one of you.