Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior

41aSZ4YjW-L._SY445_QL70_Well Mr. Hemingway, there’s blood all over this typewriter so there has to be a writer somewhere. Apparently, she’s a reader too.  In her masterful work Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior delivers an intimate confessional journaling her life through the lens of authors with which she has interacted.  Though none of us can appreciate the nuance of these brilliant essays better than she, we nonetheless find ourselves in hushed appreciation of her bold vulnerability.

In his postscript to The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco wrote “Thus I rediscovered what writers have always known (and have told us again and again): books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.”  Somewhere in the middle of Prior’s book, I realized our kinship in the matryoshka – those nested Russian dolls.  As Dr. Prior’s life has been shaped and informed by the books she read, so now was her book affecting my own.  I was at once seized with my accountability to further the conversation.  I wondered: Who was in the mind of Austen, Donne and Miller?

It is of course impossible to write compelling prose without drawing out and examining the experiences of one’s life, but that feat should not be underestimated.  One must, as they say, name names. Steinbeck barely disguised his subjects from his real world inspiration and Hemingway, in the end didn’t even try. More so, writing compelling prose (as Prior does here) is much more than calling on remembrance.  With literature as our sounding, writing becomes an exposure of the soul.  Only she knows the agony of the decisions she made in choosing what and how much to reveal.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “’That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” The same can be said of those rare friends who illumine own journey by the light of their own. This business of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is tough business, but thanks be to God for those that do.

Rick Wilcox