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

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

I love the look, feel, and smell of books; but I confess, I’ve not read many of the Classics. So I was nervous about reading my friend Dr. Karen Swallow Prior’s Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me.

I’ve known Karen for many years. We met through church when she moderated a series on the role of Beauty and Truth in faith. She was articulate, passionate and thoughtful. I was simultaneously inspired and challenged (and slightly intimidated). I’d never considered Beauty as a theological concept until then. Immediately and since, I’ve been hungry for food I never knew existed.

My copy of Booked arrived in a manila envelope in mid-November, just days before I was to travel to Laity Lodge for The High Calling staff retreat. I packed the book with the pear on the cover in the outside pocket of my backpack and it kept me company on the long flight to Texas. I smiled through the first three chapters, wishing I were seated next to a girlfriend so I could share the many quotes I had underlined. Instead, I was seated next to a slender, leather jacket-clad Notre Dame Philosophy Professor who seldom lifted his head from the book he was reading. (I did, however, recommend Booked to him.)

I’ve never read Great Expectations or Jane Eyre and until reading Booked, I’d never even heard of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. By Chapter 4, purple ink was beginning to line more and more of my pages.

Remembering the torture of my own junior high years, I underlined the following in the chapter about Jane Eyre: “Modernity is eighth grade stuck on ‘repeat’” and “There is no tyranny like the tyranny of eighth grade girls.” Or any high school-age girls—as evidenced by my own 16 year-old daughter’s infatuation with the movie, “Mean Girls.”

Then there was this about identity:

…so much of our becoming comes not from within but from without, from the revelations others give us about ourselves, from beholding ourselves in the mirror held up in the world around us. ‘Beholding is becoming.

And the weight of truth in these words caught me by complete surprise: “I mistook non-conformity for freedom and in so doing, found myself anything but free.”

In reality, I suppose this is a universal truth, but that day—somewhere over the Mississippi—her words felt intensely personal.

Prior goes on to say about Jane Eyre:

Jane is ultimately reunited with a man who will not oppress her or overpower her but will let her be herself. I, too, ended up with such a man.

With a heart of sheer gratitude I smiled at this thought, because God indeed gave Karen a strong, talented and humble husband. They are perfect for one another.

Chapter 4 also contains what is perhaps my favorite quote in the entire book—the one that made me laugh out loud beside the non-interested professor: “I should have seen it coming—Algebra has never treated me right.”

I wasn’t able to finish Chapter 6 until late one night in the Frio Canyon. My roommate and I talked well into the early morning about, among other things, a recent vision problem I was experiencing. I couldn’t quite get to sleep so I found my boarding-pass-turned-bookmark and opened the book to page 103—the paragraph after the indentation.

I could barely breathe.

What is frightening is that this blindness can exist in the best of us…as well as the worst. This blindness, whether physical or metaphysical, literal or metaphorical, is a recurring theme throughout literature across the ages and genres.

Most of page 104 is purple.

Prior finishes chapter six with a brilliant exposition on grace.

Grace is an interesting word. It can mean unmerited divine favor, help, or reprieve. Or beauty, decorum and elegance.

Once again, Karen was pointing me to Beauty.

Note: Karen Prior is a friend. Before there was a Booked I believed in her work and was thrilled to introduce her to our friends at TS Poetry Press. I received a copy of Booked as a gift. Regardless, I recommend this book because I have read it and believe its content to be of great value for readers of The High Calling.

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 Sandra Heska King leads the discussion on chapters 7-9 of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. For the discussion on chapters 1-3, click 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 Marty Hadding. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Cheryl Smith.