It is strange how books, sometimes, seem to spring into your life as if they had been lying in ambush. I began to notice this some years ago, when I picked up A Canticle for Leibowitz for the first time and was deeply intrigued by its vision of a world in which a nuclear holocaust had spurred a world-wide revolt against science, sending the world into a new Dark Age. The book, on its own, was fascinating, but I got chills down my back when I began reading, at the same time, Alasdair MacIntyre’s renowned philosophical text After Virtue, which begins with a thought experiment based on the exact same scenario as Canticle. Weird.
More recently, I’ve been working my way through a book that has been on my short list for about a decade, Etienne Gilson’s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy. While I have to admit it’s a little above my head, I’ve been fascinated by its discussion of how the medieval philosophers expanded and refined our concept of God, especially of God as Being, far beyond what thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle had been able to accomplish. I have found myself engrossed in Gilson’s erudite discussion of the ideas—which in his hands turn into more than ideas—making you almost feel the presence of that Being behind the words on the page, and leaving you thirsting for more.
In that sense, the latest book I received in the mail has me thoroughly intrigued: Andrew McNabb’s Eight Days & Virtue, which was just published this week by Divine Providence Press, an imprint of Wiseblood Books (for full disclosure, DT’s managing editor, Joshua Hren, is also editor in chief of Wiseblood, and I sit on the press’s board of directors, a volunteer position through which I am not involved in any editorial decisions). You may remember Andrew McNabb from The Body of This, a fine collection of short stories he published in 2009, and which was widely discussed in both Catholic and secular media sources. Andrew served last year as one of our fiction prize judges, and one might consider him as one of the more promising Catholic young talents writing fiction today—if it weren’t for the fact, as his new book suggests, that he may be permanently turning from writing (though not from reading) fiction. Eight Days & Virtue, which I have not yet finished reading, and which I plan to review in full later on, is something entirely different: two books in one, the first a spiritual memoir, the second a book length prose poem/mystical prayer/treatise on virtue. What makes the book so unique, and such a good pairing with my reading of Gilson’s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, is that Eight Days narrates nothing less than what the author—an ordinary dad and literary writer from Portland, Maine—describes as an experience that brought him into “direct ecstatic union with the individual members of the Blessed Trinity.” While in the case of an extraordinary claim like this one I can’t help but withhold judgment until I’ve had a chance to read the entire book and reflect upon it for a while—even in the case of someone with whom I’ve collaborated and greatly respect—I have to say, at the very least, that I am fascinated and intrigued. I’d love to have a chance to discuss the book with anyone else who decides to read it. My hunch is that, very soon, readers of the book will not be in short supply.
If you’re intrigued too, you can listen to Deal Hudson interviewing the author on Church & Culture. And if you read the book, come back and give us your two cents in the comment box.