Book review:
Books that Saved My Life

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Book review: Books that Saved My Life

by Shirley Claughton

McGirr is a teacher at a Melbourne school, father of three and lifelong lover of literature. His background is remarkable. Having trained as a Jesuit, he left the priesthood just before he turned 40. A prolific reviewer of books, publisher of Eureka Street, and author of several best-sellers, he has now combined his knowledge and love of literature together with his significant theological understanding and strong sense of spirituality, to produce this wonderful, enticing and satisfying 300-page book.

‘Reading is as much a part of investing in yourself as are gyms, financial planning and relationships’.
He chooses forty texts that enriched him – he says he could easily have chosen forty more . . . and forty more.

We first meet a student, Antonio, who he finds ‘a little authoritarian but not unkind’. Antonio was against safe injecting spaces, wanted rapid solutions to youth homelessness, and saw crime as never far from its shadow- punishment.

Antonio had just received excellent marks in his English exam but admitted that he had not ever read the set book, To Kill a Mockingbird. He only learnt the plot summaries on Google! McGirr suggests that had Antonio read the book he might have had, for example, some empathy and understanding of the drug-dependent around us without jumping to cut and dried solutions.

This book, says McGirr, is ‘about why Antonio should have read -really read, To Kill a Mockingbird’. An hilarious trip into Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed is the retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and includes laugh-out-loud examples of questionable language. Atwood centres her novel on a production of The Tempest inside a jail. If the cast want to swear, they can only use the curse words found in The Tempest. The examples here are very funny and, like nearly every book mentioned, entice us to want to read (or re-read) that entire book.

Included are authors such as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen and J K Rowling. McGirr admits he must have been the last person to join the Harry Potter bandwagon. He compares Rowling to Tolkien as she creates a narrative that embraces an understanding of the whole of life, not just her corner of it. All the incidents of the Harry Potter stories ‘fall under an overarching sense of right and wrong and the significance of moral choices’. Each of the forty chapters introduces novels, authors, characters and spin-offs. McGirr says Tim Winton once told him that he has never read a book without learning at least something.

Each chapter will stretch the mind and also the available space on your bookshelf.

BOOKS THAT SAVED MY LIFE, Reading for Wisdom, Solace and Pleasure. Michael McGirr

Available from St John's Bookstore, Fremantle

Published in Messenger, December 2019

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