I have read many of the volumes in my home, but there are many more I have yet to read and many which will remain unread when the soft sift in my hour glass is finally spent. And there are eighteen others I have not yet had time to write.

Our home is awash with books. Thousands of volumes adorn the walls, their spines shining forth in multifarious sizes and multicoloured splendour. There are separate sections for theology, philosophy, history, politics, the physical sciences, the visual arts, as well as numerous children’s titles. It is, however, literature which predominates. Literary works and works of literary criticism spill over from the living room into the dining room and into the master bedroom, and they rule the roost in my upstairs office. I have read many of these volumes, but there are many more I have yet to read and many which will remain unread when the soft sift in my hour glass is finally spent. “Read it?” my wife quips when asked about one of these unread titles. “I own it!” We are both aware that we own far more books than we will ever read.

If there are many books that I have not had time to read, there are many others I have not had time to write. At the top of this wish-list of unwritten books is one to which I’ve given the title, “The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful: A History in Three Dimensions.” This will be a history of the world since the time of Christ, one chapter for each of the twenty-one centuries, showing how the web of history is woven with the goodness of virtue, the badness of viciousness, and the beauty of great art. The rationale for the philosophy of history which would inform the book was outlined, albeit all too briefly, in an essay I wrote recently for this very journal.[1]

Another book I’d like to write is a history of my own native land to which I have assigned the tentative title, “Faith of Our Fathers: A History of True England.” In this volume, the writing of which would be a real labour of patriotic love, I would chart the history of “true” England, which is to say the England which has been true to the Faith. Beginning with the persecution of the early Christians during the Roman occupation, especially of the martyrdom of St. Alban, the first English martyr, it would then wax lyrical on the golden age of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England, prior to the Norman Conquest. Later chapters would look at the Merrie England of the Middle Ages and then the three hundred years of heroic resistance to the “dark ages” of persecution, from the sixteenth to early nineteenth centuries. The final chapters would focus on the Catholic revival, which followed in the wake of Blessed John Henry Newman’s conversion, and the literary golden age of the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries.

Other books that I am planning to write, or at least pining to write, are literary studies of some of the great works of literature for which no good or adequate guides currently exist. First on this list would be a book I’ve entitled “Death on Drum: Exploring The Wreck of the Deutschland” which would be an in-depth book-length critique of the deepest meaning in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ best and most ambitious poem. One of the most profound meditations on the meaning of suffering ever written, this poem is difficult to understand and in need of explication. I’ve taught it many times and envisage writing about a thousand or so words on each of its thirty-five stanzas, one brief chapter for each stanza.

Another difficult poem about which much has been written, most of which has been nonsense, is T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” I taught an undergraduate course for seniors in “Twentieth Century Literature” for many years, first at Ave Maria University and then at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, and I invariably included Eliot’s magnum opus on the syllabus. It’s another difficult poem to grasp which is usually misunderstood. I’d call my book “Unreal Cities: A Traveller’s Guide to The Waste Land.”

Having tackled two difficult poems, I’d turn my attention to Brideshead Revisited, arguably the greatest novel of the twentieth century. Giving this book the decidedly unimaginative title of “Revisiting Brideshead,” I’d go through the book methodically, chapter by chapter, highlighting its theme, which Evelyn Waugh described as “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.” I’d then turn my attention to Chesterton, writing a book with the equally unimaginative title of “The Novels of G.K. Chesterton,” which would enable me to spend much rambunctious time on the ramshackle roller coaster rides which each of his handful of novels offers. In a similar vein, I’d like to write a book on “The Literary Works of C.S. Lewis” with separate chapters on each of his literary works for adults: The Pilgrim’s Regress, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and Till We have Faces. Since I have already written a full-length book on Lewis’ children’s fiction, Further Up and Further In: Understanding Narnia, I would perhaps include only one chapter in this future book on the seven books in the Narnia series.[2]

I would also like to write two books which would have separate chapters on individual classics in the literary canon. One would have gravitas and the other levitas. The first would have lengthy chapters of between 3-5,000 words which would critique the books in depth; the other would have short chapters of fewer than a thousand words each, which would offer the gist of what each book is about. The first would be called “Twelve Great Books” and the other “50 Great Books in a Nutshell.”

Straying from books of history and literary criticism, I can imagine writing a book called “The Challenge of Chesterton” which would discuss the wit and wisdom of Chesterton on a whole range of issues. I envisage chapters on “The Challenge of Progress,” “The Challenge of Education,” “The Challenge of Ownership,” “The Challenge of America,” “The Challenge of Religion,” each of which would show how Chesterton challenges modern presumptions in these areas.

As if this wish-list were not daunting enough, I have not even mentioned the most challenging edifice I’d like to climb.

I’d like to write several books offering close readings of the complete works of Shakespeare, following the same critical approach as that pursued in my books Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays and Shakespeare on Love: Seeing the Catholic Presence in Romeo & Juliet.[3] The approach followed in these books is to read the plays closely, scene by scene, to show the deepest meanings integral to the works. Titles of these Shakespearean tomes might be “The Poems and the Sonnets,” “The Early History Plays,” “The Later History Plays,” “The Elizabethan Comedies,” “The Roman Plays,” “The Great Tragedies,” and “The Late Plays.”

On the imaginary bookshelf in my home, I can allow my mind’s eye to visualize these eighteen unwritten books, nestling beside the two dozen or so books of mine that have been published. I suspect, however, as with the hundreds of books on my shelves that I’ve never read, most of these books will never be written.

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Endnotes:

[1] “The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful.” 27 July, 2019.

[2] Pearce, Joseph. Further Up and Further In: Understanding Narnia. TAN Books, 2018.

[3] Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays. Ignatius Press, 2010; Shakespeare On Love. Ignatius Press, 2013.

Editor’s Note: The featured image is “The Writing Master” (1882) by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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