Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Merton's Love of Books - part 1

Thomas Merton was afforded the privileges of being an educated man throughout his life by means of various boarding schools, travel opportunities and university experiences.  But regardless of the geography of where he attended class, his love for reading superseded all.  Reading was where he found inspiration, hope, motivation and beauty.  Merton’s love of books led him into such genres as poetry and prose studying subjects like art and eventually religion.  “All his life he was a voracious reader, a compulsive notetaker, and a committed writer.”[1]  There are many instances of his appreciation for literature woven throughout his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain.  In it he writes of his time backpacking through Europe taking only some rum and novels while he walked along the coast. 

This is evidence of what held utmost importance to him at this time in his life.  Even “after spending the day in museums and libraries and bookstores and among the ruins,” Merton wrote, “I would come home again and read my novels.”[2]  Anytime he had a little extra cash he would spend it on books, excited for what lay underneath the new covers.  He mentions one day in New York where he “happened to have five or ten loose dollars burning a hole in [his] pocket…attracted by the window of Scribner’s bookstore, all full of bright new books.”[3]  Books opened up new worlds for Merton; his excitement as he entered Columbia came through the brand new books he walked out of the library with.  He did not know in his early years that he was searching for Christ through them, but he eventually came to the acknowledgment of his need for the God of Creation as many of his books opened up such dialogue.  Eventually he came to the realization that there was “a deeper sense of power of literature to carry spiritual truth.”[4]  Because of this, Merton found himself being “drawn back into the Catholic atmosphere”[5] through his studies of French Medieval Literature, among other literature, during his time at Columbia and could feel its importance as he wrestled through his own convictions.

[1] William H. Shannon, ed., “Preface,” in The Courage for Truth: the Letters of Thomas Merton to Writers (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1993), vi.
[2] Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, 50th ed. (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1999), 119.
[3] Merton, Seven Storey, 187.
[4] Lawrence S. Cunningham, Thomas Merton & the Monastic Vision (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 163.
[5] Merton, Seven Storey, 187.

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