Thursday, January 31, 2008

Not reading a book

I have a confession to make.

I stopped reading a book.

I know many of us have done that - for a variety of reasons. (My best previous excuse was when I was reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and it got in the laundry bag and, well, ended up as pulp in the washer. I took that as a sign from God to stop reading stuff that might damage my soul!)

But in this case, it was a book I wanted to read, about a person I was interested in learning more about: Hilaire Belloc.

Last year, I bought an autographed copy of Joseph Pearce's Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc, at the Chesterton Conference in Rochester.

I couldn't finish it.

That's not a criticism of Pearce. I've read others of his books that I have enjoyed.

It was Belloc.

The more I read, the less I liked him, and the less I cared to read more about him. (Sort of like the people who discovered the more contact they had with Rudy Giuliani, the less they liked him. Thus his Florida flop.)

I was reminded of what happened with my planned biography of Bishop Sheen many years ago.

At the time I was a writer for the diocesan paper in Rochester, where he served as bishp from 1966-69. We have his archives, and I had access to many people who knew him.

I decided to write a multi-part series about his years in Rochester for the paper, and then to expand the series into a book.

I interveiwed, read, searched the archives, and wrote the series. I won an award for it.

But the more I dug into his life, the less I wanted to spend time with him. A biographer (can't remember who) once commented that to write a good biography you have to be willing to live with the subject for several years.

I could not imagine living with Bishop Sheen.

Nothing against him per se. And not a judgement of his morality or character: He may well be in heaven praying for my soul right now.

I just didn't like him as a person. There have been a lot of saints who would have been murder to live with. That doesn't mean they are not saints.

Anyway, that's how I began to feel about Belloc.

Guess I'll stick with Chesterton. I never get tired of hanging around with him.


Joe said...

Good post, Lee. My wife had the same reaction reading Old Thunder.

Mine was different; I am attracted to the person of Belloc, in part, because I see some of my own failings reflected in him. He may have been far from the kind of saint listed in the canon of the Mass, but he remains likeable to me because his heart was in the right place, where I struggle to keep my own.

Here is where I disagree with you: with your comparison to getting to know Giuliani. Because getting to know Rudy Giuliani is like getting to know Judas Iscariot.

A Secular Franciscan said...

Good point on Rudy.

Enbrethiliel said...


Joseph Pearce once compared Belloc's defense of the faith to a tank. I'd say the metaphor applies to Belloc's whole personality. =)