I just finished reading The Little Paris Bookshop, an international bestseller. It’s a delightful novel about a man who sells books from his “The Literary Apothecary” located on a barge. He has a gift for “reading” people and presenting them with just the right book to meet their needs. The book is a love story on many levels as well as a travel book as the man makes his way through France. Any word-lover will savor the language in this book: “a man with a leathery skin like an iguana’s,” “the countryside beneath glittering stars and red summer moons,” “hair like coarse flax on a spindle,” cats’ “tails bristling like scrubbing brushes,” “weeping willows trailed their branches in the water like playful fingers,” “thinking felt like wading through treacle,” “wallowing in our happiness like roast beef in gravy.” The book conveys the lesson that books have the power to change lives. This lesson has been borne out in the lives of several notable people like Ignatius of Loyola. When he was a soldier recuperating from serious wounds, no romantic novels were available, so he read The Life of Christ and a book on the lives of the Saints. Those books set him on the path to being one of the greatest saints himself. A friend of mine became a Catholic after reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain.
I’ve always loved books. As a child, I spent many summer days in our local library, not only choosing books to read but stamping cards for Miss Kuchera and sticking red dots on the chart for the summer reading club. My favorites those days were the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books and the Betsy, Tracy, and Tib series. The best though were the Bobbsey Twins books. Each time my mom took me downtown to get my braces tightened, she let me go to the May Company and pick out a new Bobbsey Twin book. Later, of course, I was introduced to the classics and religious favorites like Malvern’s books on Ruth and Esther and de Wohl’s books on the lives of some saints. Eventually I became, not a librarian, but an English major, an English teacher, and now an author of many books myself. My childhood in which I devoured books shaped me for this.
There is truth in the adage “The pen is more powerful than the sword.” The written word can change lives. Another example is St. Augustine. He was a typical playboy in his time and his mother’s grief. But then came the day when he heard a childlike voice chanting, “Take and read.” He picked up a Bible. Providentially it opened to Romans 13:14–14: “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” These words led Augustine to turn his life around and become a bishop and a saint.
The Bible is God’s book and the best bestseller of all time. God was wise to choose a book to connect with us. The Bible’s words are alive and active, for God speaks to us and touches our lives through the Bible. Sometimes a passage from the word of God strikes us like lightning. It’s just what we need to hear. Sometimes it changes us. The figures of speech in the Psalms rival those in The Little Paris Bookshop. (Psalm 56:8 presents God as lovingly gathering and saving our tears in a bottle. Then there is the exquisite verse “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” Ps. 139:13 and the poignant “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God” Ps. 42:1. Anyone in serious trouble can immediately identify with the psalmist’s description “The waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold” Ps. 69:1–2.) Furthermore, the love story recounted in the Bible is the greatest yet because it is our love story.
By the way, a friend who was a cook Sister with the Sisters of Notre Dame for many years has just published a lovely book called Cooking My Way to Heaven. It’s a memoir about her convent days and a cookbook with recipes from the community’s German heritage. Would make a delicious treat for summer reading. It’s available on Amazon.com.
What books shaped your life? What are your favorite books?
What is your favorite book of the Old Testament? Why?
What is you favorite book of the New Testament? Why?