This compelling collection of letters by Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) covers a time span from 1948, the year this Southern Catholic writer started looking for a literary agent, until 1964 when the last letter she wrote was found on a bedside table shortly after her death. One immediately notices the deep pleasure she found in books. They nourished her mind and spirit.
Many sides of her creative soul are revealed in letters to literary folk, religious friends, individuals in the publishing world, and others. One section of letters gives the best insight into this artist's "habit of being." In them O'Connor talks extensively about her Catholic vision of life, and even more importantly, of the intersection where her faith and fiction meet to transform each other.
Here is a sampling:
"I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it, but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it."
"For me a dogma is only a gateway to contemplation and is an instrument of freedom and not of restriction. It preserves mystery for the human mind."
The Habit of Being zeroes in on the center of Flannery O'Connor's religious and artistic vision. She carried her pain of a long illness without complaint and strove in all her days to be alert to the spiritual presences in the visible world around her. These letters bespeak the energy and the commitment that made Flannery O'Connor both an exceptional artist and an unusual human being.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Special Award
"I have come to think that the true likeness of Flannery O'Connor will be painted by herself, a self-portrait in words, to be found in her letters . . . There she stands, a phoenix risen from her own words: calm, slow, funny, courteous, both modest and very sure of herself, intense, sharply penetrating, devout but never pietistic, downright, occasionally fierce, and honest in a way that restores honor to the word."
—Sally Fitzgerald, from the Introduction
"To compare her with the great letter writers in our language may seem presumptuous and would have elicited from her one of her famous steely glances, but Byron, Keats, Lawrence, Wilde and Joyce come irresistibly to mind: correspondence that gleams with consciousness."
—The New York Times
"These hundreds of letters give O'Connor's tough, funny, careful personality to us more distinctly and movingly than any biography probably would... Remarkable and inspiring."