Literature That Lives On

A Reader’s Guide to Religious Literature, by Beatrice Batson (Moody, 1968, 114 pp., $3.95, paper $2.95), is reviewed by Thomas Howard, teacher of English, St. Bernard’s School, New York, New York.

“What actually makes a work live as literature is a vividness and depth of perception in presenting honestly and realistically the conflicts, dilemmas and experiences of life.” This statement from the preface of this book does two things: it gives us the criterion by which Dr. Batson chose works from the almost infinite number of “God-oriented” works in Western history since the first century, and it articulates for us the principle that is the watershed between worthy and mediocre literature, whether religious or non-religious.

What makes some pieces of writing last, and others molder? Why are some works worth keeping alive in a book like this? Talent, for one thing: the ability to say the thing well. It is the simplicity as much as any observable complexity that beguiles us about things well done and fools us into believing that we could do as well. We can all see that an excellent table is excellent, and, if it is not intricately carved or painted, we might think we could make one, too. It is the same with works of literature: if we take any given phrase apart, there is nothing particularly new or unknown to us in it. All the words are in our vocabulary. The author has not done anything that we could not have done, we think. But the rub comes when we try to equal his work. Talent is an elusive thing.

But prior to talent is the vision that sees things that are worth saying. It is this “vividness and depth of perception” of which Dr. Batson speaks. It is greatness of imagination, that is, the ability to see ...

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