Book Meme: Mel’s Day Two

Book Meme Challenge:

A Book You Have Read More Than Three Times

Seriously? Almost all the books I own have been read more than three times. At least! Some more like eight or nine times.

This challenge needs a tighter paradigm. Maybe . . . a book I’ve studied in a class three times? a book I have written about three times? a book where I noticed a different theme each of the first three times I have read it? a book that I cried over on three separate readings?

Well, how about I go with those last two criteria. After much interior debate and long-staring at my bookshelves, the winner is . . . .

Death Comes for the Archbishop,

by Willa Cather.

Like most of Cather’s work, this book is exquisitely written. She can create both sentences and characters with a fine detail and beauty. I first read this book freshman year of High School, and the opening image of the story has stayed in my heart ever since; that of a French priest traveling through an American desert in on his way to create a new parish, and stopping to say his breviary and gather his courage under an old tree that has been petrified in the shape of a cross.

And so the true tale of the first Archdiocese of Santa Fe begins, with a pilgrimage, a faint heart moving forward, and a beautiful and supportive friendship. Willa Cather was not Catholic, but her treatment of these historical figures is very Christian Humanist, with a broad view of all that was going on New Mexico at this time.  There are many encounters with the natives, traders, explorers, and pioneers. It is a book about history in the specific, mankind in the universal, and spiritual life in the practical. (Notice that I am staying within the ‘three’ theme!)

Father Latour, the main character and later the Archbishop of the title, is a refined, quite, strong, intellectual, gentleman who struggles to adjust to his strange new situation. And ultimately – even if it takes him until his death – he does find the salvific sacrificial life for which he was searching.

I love everything of Willa Cather’s writing that I have read, but this was the first of her books where I identified strongly with the people and their personal growth. (I enjoy My Antonia, but I don’t really feel the motivations of any of the characters.) Each time I read Death Comes for the Archbishop I find a new insight into how I can live my own life better; be it spiritually, intellectually, or emotionally.

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3 thoughts on “Book Meme: Mel’s Day Two

  1. I like what you have to say about this book. My Antonia is the only Cather I’ve read, and it left me unimpressed. Her narrative style could be quite beautiful, and I gradually grew to like some aspects of her characters and the sense of nostalgia she evoked. But there was hardly any plot, the characters were held at arm’s length, and when it ended I asked myself, “What was the point of that? Did anything worthwhile actually happen?” It left me feeling melancholy, but empty. I think Cather was more interested in watching her characters slowly grow old than actually doing something worthy of a story.

    But I like what you’ve said about Death Comes for the Archbishop, although I don’t like the title. If I ever give Cather a second chance, maybe it will be through this book.

    • Cather does seem to me to be more of a history painter than a novelist. And My Antonia deeply depressing. (My dad read it to our family when we were little, and I still remember my mom frustratedly asking “WHY isn’t he marrying her???”) But I enjoy her writing anyway, if only for the incredibly vivid scenery.

  2. Pingback: Alphabooks: G is for Gladness | Egotist's Club

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