Books on Culture: Week Three of Booked by Karen Swallow Prior

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Grave post

My mom thought I should become a flight attendant—mostly so she could get discounted travel. But I wasn’t quite tall enough, and my vision was less than perfect.

I’d read The Nun’s Story by Kathryn Hulme. So I wanted to be a nun. Or a missionary nurse in Africa. Or both.

I never considered how I could earn a living with my love of nature and books and paper and pens. Anyway, women’s career choices were limited in the 1960s. A nurse would always have a job.

Karen Swallow Prior wanted to be a social worker. Until she went to college.

It never crossed my mind,” she writes, that I would go on to become a professor and never, ever leave college once I’d begun . . . in college I learned to take wonder in the world around me. In focusing my attention on things bigger than myself, ironically, I learned who I was.

Would my life be different had I gone straight to college instead of to a hospital-based nursing program? Would I have known myself better and learned to see deeper sooner?

This week we read chapters 7-9 of Prior’s Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. Prior explores the themes of sex, symbols, satire, and perspective in Gulliver’s Travels. She discusses the fate of the romantic Madame Bovary when she builds her life around false images and can’t enjoy the mundane moment.

I used up a lot of ink in those chapters.

But in chapter 8, “Know Thyself: Death of a Salesman,” I’ve underlined more highlights and scribbled in more margins.

Death of a Salesman, this play by Arthur Miller, premiered on Broadway on February 10, 1949—less than two weeks after I was born. (This is where you gasp and exclaim, “No way!”) And it’s that question of who I am—those themes of self-discovery that speak deep to me.

. . . many, if not most of our daily choices deal not with right or wrong but with shades of right. Probably the most significant area in which this is true is in our choice of daily work, and it is in the area of work that Willy . . . experiences the tragic consequences of failing to know who he is.

Maybe nursing was a shade-of-right decision. But it seems I’ve spent a lifetime as a people pleaser and a follower of others’ dreams and callings. I’ll be 64 in four days (you may gasp again), and I’m still learning who I am. I’m still trying to separate real passion from passing fancy. I’m still trying to discover what Thomas Merton called the treasure of true self.

Prior quotes Gene Edward Vieth from his book God at Work.

The doctrine of vocation has to do with the mystery of individuality, how God creates each human being to be different from all the rest and gives each a unique calling in every stage of life.

Maybe—just maybe this seed in my soul was never meant to unfurl until later. Maybe it had to lie dormant until the ripe of time. Until this stage of life. The beauty of Booked is that it makes me want to learn more—to fall in love with story all over again and write this story that I live better. It makes me want to read more and find myself in these books. I want to become who I’m meant to be.

I plan to read these three books soon. But I’ve also ordered The Nun’s Story.

I want to rediscover the part it played in the soul of me.

Want to join the discussion? If you are reading along and post on Booked on your blog, drop the link in the comment box. Or just leave your thoughts here. Join us next week as Ann Kroeker wraps up our discussion of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. For the discussion on chapters 1-3, click here. For chapters 4-6, here. Our book discussion in the month of February will be on Tim Keller’s latest: Every Good Endeavor. Hope you will join us for that one too!

Image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Sandra Heska King.