wise blood


“The Church Without Christ…where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.” – Wise Blood

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I’m a huge fan of Flannery O’Connor so when someone asked me to name my favourite novel I said Wise Blood.

Partly because the characters are, if not wholly understood, at least wholly familiar. Despite growing up around an assortment of Evangelicals and Foundation types I managed for the most part to maintain a pretty superficial view of them. Things like snake handling and female oppression were odd but ordinary and because of this ordinary I never spent too much time thinking about the misguided spirituality that a lot of it sat upon. Through a glass darkly, and all that.

Mostly, I’m moved to recommend Wise Blood again and again because it’s such a brilliantly layered and grotesque comedy with powerful and appealing themes of integrity, the disaffected young and redemption. It’s just one of those books you never really walk away from. Not really.

What about you. If you had to name your favourite novel: What would it be?

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21 Comments

  • Sarah
    Sep 23, 2007 at 23:42

    Beloved by Toni Morrison.

  • hattigrace
    Sep 24, 2007 at 1:27

    Pillars of the Earth

  • melissa
    Sep 24, 2007 at 4:27

    I have never gotten over The Bean Trees by
    Barbara Kingsolver. Talk about characters that
    make me feel like I’m back home! Of course, Kingsolver grew up about 30 minutes away from where I did in KY. The first time I read it I was happily working far away from home in another
    state, and it made me so homesick I cried. I didn’t want to go home exactly, but it made me sad about home and my not wanting to be there. I had grown out of being there, but had been so busy trying to get away that I hadn’t recognized the beautiful parts about that place/people. And the book isn’t even about KY, really! Does that make sense? I felt a lot older & wiser when I got done with that book. And wow, that all happened 18 years ago….hard to believe.

  • David
    Sep 24, 2007 at 5:55

    I think I would have to say…Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I know, it’s not a literary achievement or anything like that but I love it. I’ve read it and re-read it a million times and each time I fall in love with it just a little bit more.

  • Buffy
    Sep 24, 2007 at 10:36

    Hattie, I’ve never read Pillars of Earth. I’ll have to look it up.

    Melissa, I know EXACTLY what you mean…being a WV girl myself…the growing out of being there…the not seeing the beautiful bits. 🙂

    David…I’ve recently taken to studying these two in a whole new light after listening to and reading some commentary by Joyce Carol Oates…who also lists these as two of the books most influential to her writing and her career.

  • Matt
    Sep 24, 2007 at 11:37

    “Still life with woodpecker” by Tom Robbins. I’ve never heard of Wise Blood, sounds quite like a fun read.

  • Andrea
    Sep 24, 2007 at 15:16

    The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I read it two years ago and I still think about it. Probably about time to dust it off and read it again.

  • Night Writer
    Sep 24, 2007 at 16:47

    My all-time favorite is “A Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin. It’s many things: a love song (actually, more like an entire opera) to Manhattan; a love story; an allegory of life and faith, eternal struggles and eternal balances; an intricate and compelling mystery, and still more. It’s a huge book, and the many distinctive characters and plots make it seem even bigger, yet Helprin’s prose will often make you stop dead just to absorb the imagery and craftsmanship in a single paragraph. I’ve read it through three or four times, and if you strung together all the times I simply picked up the book and read a chapter at random I’ve probably logged two more complete readings.

    Though my roots are in the Ozarks, because of this book I think I loved Manhattan long before I ever got there. As for O’Connor, Kingsolver, et al; I like their work and depictions of a world I’m all too familiar with. To that list I’d add Donald Harington’s “When Angels Rest” (part of his Stay More cycle). Though ultimately a disturbing book, his descriptions of life in the Ozarks is spot on. And land sakes – how can I not mention the Harold Bell Wright classic, “The Shepherd of the Hills”! Few today remember it, and those that do are apt to dismiss it as lightweight, but I’ve loved reading it outloud to each of my daughters as they’ve grown up.

    I really liked Robbins’ “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and that got me through “Woodpecker”, “Another Roadside Attraction” and “Jitterbug Perfume” before I finally decided the bursts of inspired creativity weren’t worth all the self-indulgent twaddle wrapped around them.

  • Rosie
    Sep 24, 2007 at 17:13

    You can’t really go wrong with Flannery. She’s been such a huge influence on me. Though my interest is more in the intersection of beauty and the grotesque. I think “Greenleaf” is my favorite of her stories.

    I have hugely plebeian taste in my personal day to day reading. There was this book “Perfume” by Patrick Suskind that made a very big impression upon me. I think it was his masterful use of sense memory throughout the text…even in the translation.

  • The G-Ma
    Sep 24, 2007 at 19:41

    Hand’s down, John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” I re-read it every two years or so and, like all great books, discover delicious and unexpected newness each time.

  • flip flop momma
    Sep 25, 2007 at 0:28

    my favorite book of all time is Catcher in the Rye..

    dont ask me..I just like it;)

  • Nancy
    Sep 25, 2007 at 5:11

    Ooh, ooh, and ooh! I loved Pillars of the Earth, but mostly for the description of the building of gothic cathedrals (I’m a freak that way). Perfume is on my list, and since I am SUCH a sucker for Ackerman’s Natural History of the Senses, I know I’ll love it, too… most recently Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters wrenched my heart out in that quiet way that familial love always manages to do – couldn’t say it’s my ALL TIME favorite, but I’m resisting picking a favorite child, so to speak, so we’ll say it’s “up there’.

  • Nancy
    Sep 25, 2007 at 5:34

    I take it back. I WILL name a favorite child – To Kill A Mockingbird. I loved that book for so many reasons, but the movie for just one – Gregory Peck (but the book is still better).

  • Valley Girl
    Sep 25, 2007 at 20:44

    OMG I love Flannery O’Connor too! Ever since high school. =)

  • Major Bedhead
    Sep 26, 2007 at 4:02

    I don’t know if I could name one favourite novel. There are a few that I recommend all the time, though:
    The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
    The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
    Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
    Harriet The Spy – Louise FitzHugh
    Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver

    There are scores more that I love, that I re-read for comfort, when I’m down or lonely or feeling ill. Books that I can wrap myself up in, like an eiderdown, books I can go to, like an old friend.

  • Dee
    Sep 26, 2007 at 21:40

    The Great Gatsby

  • Dating Dummy
    Sep 26, 2007 at 21:58

    I’m currently reading Water For Elephants, but my favorite all time book would be Ender’s Game.

    I’ll have to look up your book sometime.

  • pia
    Sep 27, 2007 at 14:38

    In Cold Blood and almost anything by Truman Capote
    There’s something about “My Dog Skip” by Willie Morris
    Any play by Tennessee Williams to read

    Doris Lessing’s Martha Quest series about a young girl growing up in South Afric

    And cliche of cliches “A tree grows in Brooklyn” which I read first when I was 11 over Christmas an it became my Christmas book–read it every Christmas for the next 20 years

    Francie was from the next neighborhood as my mother though older and Irish

    It was so easy for me to relate to. It changed my life and I so hate it being Oprah and others favorite book–makes it feel like I say it just because they do

  • Buffy
    Sep 27, 2007 at 15:10

    I know what you mean Pia, about “looks like I say it just because they do”. That’s how I feel about ‘As I Lay Dying’. Part of me is thrilled that a whole different group of readers were led to discover the Bundrens. Another part is pure jealous. I wanted them all to myself.

  • Buffy
    Sep 27, 2007 at 15:12

    I’m so excited about all the varied favourites… Am forming an amazon order as we speak. So many things I haven’t read. So many more I want to read again. Keep ’em coming. Anytime.

  • Brittany
    Sep 29, 2007 at 13:41

    Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

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