Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Book of the Year Award

Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Book of the Year Award

Article excerpt

This year the CCL Book Award Committee, comprised of Ann Hostetler (Goshen College), Elizabeth Morgan (Eastern Mennonite University), and Robert Siletzky (State Department in Cairo, Egypt), read a wide variety of accomplished works ranging in genre from literary criticism and biography to poetry and fiction. Although a number of remarkable works grace the list of submissions, this year's award winner, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), stands head and shoulders above the rest in its readability, originality, and contribution to the field of Christianity and literature.

"Magisterial" is an adjective that members of the Committee used repeatedly to describe Paul Elie's quadruple critical biography of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. In discussing the merits of this book, we achieved a remarkable consensus. "The four narratives are beautifully interwoven, and together they produce a compelling portrait of modernist Catholicism," commented Elizabeth Morgan, succinctly summarizing the opinions of the Committee. Robert Siletzky remarked on the copious amount of original research compiled in a very usable way: "Elie has a knack for sifting through reams of paper and then creating (I use the word advisedly) a coherent story." Several members further remarked on the book as a model of organization that could show many graduate students the way to writing better dissertations.

As Elie tells the stories of Day, Marton, O'Connor, and Percy, he recreates them vividly, with emphasis on their faith as lived experience. He also reconstructs their pilgrimages as writers in search of the genres commensurate to their calling, showing their struggles as well as their successes. For instance, Elie shows us how Day and Merton, both autobiographical writers, used fiction as a means of expressing their most egregious sins, events left out of their nonfiction. …

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