We read many fine books at table in the past calendar year. I would say the three that were the most popular were John Allen Jr.’s The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church; David Hackett Fischer’s Champlain’s Dream: The European Founding of North America; and, Viktor Sebestyen’s Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. In my opinion, these were the books that were the most successful for public table reading in the refectory.
One book that I personally enjoyed was not favorably received. This book was Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence. I confess that I suspected it might not work well for table, and so I pared it down to just three chapters. One of those chapters, dealing with the silence of the Desert Fathers, was appreciated, but it was not enough to overcome the dislike of the remaining chapters. Maitland tells the story of a period in her adult life when she wanted to explore living in silence much in the same way that a mountain climber would want to climb the highest peak. Living on your own in silence in an isolated part of Scotland naturally leads to some eccentricities, and these eccentricities did not engender a sympathetic response from the table listeners. Maitland, a practicing Catholic, tells her story in the context of her background as a socialist and feminist, formerly married to a high church Church of England minister, and later in the book she explores the difference between the silence which monks seek and that which creative artists seek. However, sometimes even books that seem to have a natural monastic hook do not succeed as table reading texts.