Missed this because we were on the road at the time, but last week, Jonathon Yardley had a nice re-assessment of The Habit of Being, the collected letters of Flannery O'Connor (not that his re-assessment was any different than his original view)
This very large book (more than 600 pages) appeared in March 1979, a few months after I had joined the Washington Star as its book editor. I revered O'Connor's fiction and essays, and leaped at the opportunity to read and review her letters. I fully expected to like and admire them but never bargained for falling in love with them. That is exactly what happened. The review I wrote bordered on the ecstatic:
"She was, these letters tell us in ways her other writings cannot, a great woman. Like all of us, she had her vanities, her moods, her fits of petulance and selfishness -- but these only made her more human. She had saintly qualities, but she was no saint. She was a great writer who, out of a clear and unwavering vision, told stories that at moments reach the luminous borders of perfection. These letters must be counted among her finest and most durable work; they will be read so long as there is room in the world for love, faith, courage and laughter." Rereading these letters now, after a quarter of a century, I find no reason to alter anything in that judgment except, perhaps, to make it even more emphatic. "The Habit of Being" is a great American book by one of the greatest American writers. Meticulously edited by Fitzgerald (who died five years ago) with a minimum of editorial intrusion, the letters are not so much correspondence as conversation, between the reader and a woman who turns out to be the perfect conversationalist: a bit gabby, hugely funny, reflective, informative, impudent, wise and -- yes -- inspiring.
I agree. I frequently recommend The Habit of Being as rather essential spiritual reading. I gave a copy to my mother a couple of years before she died, and a few months before she passed away, she told me how tremendously helpful and meaningful the book had been.
One thing Yardley misses, however. He says that the identity of "A," one of O'Connor's correspondents and one who brings out some of her most serious theological reflection in the letters, is still a mystery. Well, no.