Selections from My Commonplace

Happy Friday! Today I thought it would be fun to go through my old commonplace books and pick a few quotes to share. (If you don’t know, a commonplace is a notebook where you can copy your favorite quotes from books, essays, and poems so that they’re all in one place.) It’s always fun to flip through and remember what I was reading, and it’s a great resource for finding the perfect quote when you’re writing an essay. Here are five quotes to inspire you–I hope you find something here to think on deeply.

The armor of falsehood is subtly wrought out of darkness, and hides a man not only from others, but from his own soul.

A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster

A Room with a View is one of my favorite books, and this quote is so, so good. When we lie, we tend to think we’re only deceiving others, but falsehood affects the liar too, by obscuring our souls in a dark, murky cloud and separating us from God.

As soon as beauty is sought, not from religion and love, but for pleasure, it degrades the seeker. High beauty is no longer attainable by him in canvas or in stone, in sound, or in lyrical construction; an effeminate, prudent, sickly beauty, which is not beauty, is all that can be formed; for the hand can never execute anything higher than the character can inspire.

“Art,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

For Emerson, art itself was a kind of religion, but I picked this quote because it shows the power of art to either degrade or elevate us. I especially love Emerson’s assertion that art, in order to attain to “high beauty,” must draw inspiration from the truly good. You can find more of my thoughts on beauty and faith here.

In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.

The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis

You didn’t really think I’d write a post without referencing C.S. Lewis, did you? This blog is quickly becoming a Lewis fan club. I love the special emphasis he places on friendship in The Four Loves; as he points out, friendship was venerated by the Ancients, but tends to be forgotten and under-appreciated by modern society.

“Yes, we’re not angels but humans,” said Dame Clare, “and human nature is made so that it needs variety. The Church is like a wise mother and has given us this great cycle of the liturgical year with its different words and colors. You’ll see how you will learn to welcome the feast days and saints’ days as they come round, each with a different story, and, as it were, a different aspect; they grow very dear, though still exacting.”

In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden

In This House of Brede is another favorite of mine, and this quote is the best summation of the liturgical year I’ve ever read. Just as there are different seasons in a year and in our lives, so there are seasons in our spiritual lives and in the liturgy of the Church that help to keep us from becoming spiritually stagnant.

Even more profound, if we reflect on our own reflection, we receive a more beautiful proof, a demonstration that we have, in our reason, a power to grasp immaterial truths—a power that somehow exceeds the particular, physically defined powers of our senses and imagination and is capable of grasping universal truth. Could this be a proof of the immateriality of the soul?

A Meaningful World, by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt

I’m currently reading this book for school, and quite enjoying it. This quote followed a passage discussing the elegant beauty of Euclidian proofs and the human ability to think in the abstract, which implies that there is something more than survival instinct driving our discoveries in science and mathematics.

My Favorite Books of 2020!

I had the best of intentions to get this up on the blog within a few days of New Year’s, and then was promptly overwhelmed with some important deadlines. Well, better late than never, I suppose. Most of 2020 was spent at home, and reading was a welcome escape. As Richard Peck quipped, “When I read a good book, it’s like traveling the world without ever leaving my chair.” I was thrilled to discover many new favorite books this year, among them some that will certainly merit multiple rereads. So without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2020, in chronological order.

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

This was the first book I finished in 2020. It’s the story of a family living in Wales during the Industrial Revolution, and it addresses a lot of heavy topics, like the different ways in which people adapt to a changing society, the strikes and unionization of Welsh miners, the idealogical divides between generations, and even the environmental impacts of industrialization. Despite all this, it’s still a book filled with poignant beauty, made more precious because Llewellyn helps the reader understand its fragility.

Who Does He Say You Are? by Colleen C. Mitchell

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I chose this book as my Lenten devotional this year, and it was fantastic. Each chapter spotlights a different woman from the Gospels whose life was impacted by an encounter with Christ. The reflections are beautifully written and the book is well-organized and easy to use. This is the kind of devotional that keeps on giving, and I think I’m going to be revisiting it often over the years!

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I started this book at the beginning of quarantine–the perfect time! I found the fortitude and cheerfulness of the Dashwood sisters comforting and inspiring. Like so many of us this year, they had to deal with unexpected and difficult circumstances, and they did so with grace. Austen’s personification was masterfully done, and I appreciated her insight into the very different ways in which we face suffering: in Elinor’s case, by stuffing down her feelings and putting on a brave face, and in Marianne’s, by wallowing in self-pity. By the end of the novel, we come to realize that the best way of dealing with life’s trials is some combination of the two: like Marianne, we need to allow ourselves to process our feelings, and like Elinor, we must then move forward.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

This is the first of Montgomery’s standalone novels I’ve read, and it took me a bit to get into it, but by the end she had–of course–won me over. The plot is driven by the question, “What would you do if you only had a few months to live?” It was an enjoyable read. I really liked the unexpected romance and as always, Montgomery’s descriptions of the landscape and changing seasons were on point. I think this is a great, fun option for grown-up Montgomery fans who have already finished the Anne and Emily books.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

This classic needs no introduction, and I think everything that can be said about it has been said already. It’s an epistolary novel, composed of letters between two demons sharing advice and anecdotes about their line of work. Lewis skillfully illustrates the various strategies employed by the devil to tempt us, and also makes it painfully clear that Satan (along with all the rest of the demons) is a weak, pitiable creature who is unable to understand the concept of love. It’s absolutely phenomenal. If you’ve yet to read it, what are you waiting for?

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

You know you’ve found a true gem of an author when they appear not once, but twice, back-to-back on your list of favorites! This is the first book in Lewis’s science-fiction trilogy. I actually started reading it a few years ago but just couldn’t get into it. This year, I decided to give it a second chance, and I couldn’t put it down! It’s a fantastic story that grapples with the theological and ethical consequences of discovering extraterrestrial life. Lewis paints a vivid picture of a world without a Fall, where all things are rightly ordered. I was blown away; I would never have expected so much spiritual insight from science-fiction. I can’t wait to read the other books in the trilogy!

Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson

For me, this book was pretty much an instant favorite–it’s an ode to the adventure of reading and the power of story, and it would be perfect for hardcore bookworms and wannabe readers alike. I have since added a copy to my own personal library and am finding Sarah’s booklists invaluable. It’s an all-around lovely read that I can’t recommend highly enough. You can find my full review here.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

I’ve always had a fondness for mysteries, but they don’t usually qualify as favorites. This one took me completely by surprise: I was definitely not expecting to like it as much as I did. It’s incredibly well-written and most of the story takes place in Oxford–a winning combination which makes it almost a guaranteed success! There’s no murder, but there’s plenty of mystery, not to mention philosophical insights, intriguing characters, playful banter, and a proposal involving Latin. What more could you possibly want?