Michael N. McGregor

A New Thomas Merton Book on Mysticism

Liturgical Press has just released a new Thomas Merton book, A Course in Christian Mysticism, edited by Jon M. Sweeney, with an introduction by me.  Here’s a description from the book’s Amazon page:

“Thomas Merton’s lectures to the young monastics at the Abbey of Gethsemani provide a good look at Merton the scholar. A Course in Christian Mysticism gathers together, for the first time, the best of these talks into a spiritual, historical, and theological survey of Christian mysticism—from St. John’s gospel to St. John of the Cross. Sixteen centuries are covered over thirteen lectures. A general introduction sets the scene for when and how the talks were prepared and for the perennial themes one finds in them, making them relevant for spiritual seekers today. This compact volume allows anyone to learn from one of the twentieth century’s greatest Catholic spiritual teachers. The study materials at the back of the book, including additional primary source readings and thoughtful questions for reflection and discussion, make this an essential text for any student of Christian mysticism.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Christian mysticism or want to go deeper in your own contemplative experience, this book is for you.  Here’s a quote from my introduction:

“Although these lessons are heavy with intellectual content, with history and reasoning, what they are leading to is simple.  Therein lies the dichotomy at the heart of the Christian mystical tradition: training leads only to being.  As Merton writes in his essay The Contemplative Life in the Modern World, ‘Contemplative wisdom is then not simply an aesthetic extrapolation of certain intellectual or dogmatic principles, but a living contact with the Infinite Source of all being, a contact not only of minds and hearts, not only of “I and Thou,” but a transcendent union of consciousness in which man and God become, according to the expression of St. Paul, “one spirit.”‘”

Available directly from Liturgical Press or from Amazon or from your local independent bookstore..

I’ll be READING in BOSTON 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 18 at Brookline Booksmith

If you live in or near Boston, I hope to see you at my reading from Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax at 7 p.m. this coming Thursday.  The reading will be at the great independent bookstore Brookline Booksmith at 279 Harvard St. in Brookline.

PURE ACT Paperback Out on April 3

Video of Fordham Editor Talking About the Acquisition, Design and Selling of PURE ACT

I didn’t know this was available online but found it yesterday: It’s a video of my editor, Fred Nachbaur, talking about the acquisition, design and selling of my book, PURE ACT: THE UNCOMMON LIFE OF ROBERT LAX. It was presented at a conference as an illustration of what university presses can do beyond their usual markets:

 

A Year of Pure Act

The image here is of the bottle of vintage French wine Sylvia and I opened to celebrate signing my book contract with Fordham University Press two years ago.  Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax has been out in the world just over a year now, and what a year it has been.  The unofficial end of the book’s debut year came three weeks ago when we attended the Washington State Book Awards in Seattle.  Pure Act was a finalist in the Biography/Memoir category.  It didn’t win but it was a great honor to be recognized in my home state.

All told, Pure Act was a finalist for four awards: the WSBA in Biography/Memoir, the Religion Newswriters Association Book Award for best religion book of the year, the Association of Catholic Publishers’ Excellence in Publishing Award in Biography (it won second place) and the Catholic Press Association’s Book Award in Biography (it received an Honorable Mention).  It has been nominated for an Oregon Book Award too, but the finalists for that won’t be announced until early January 2017.

For a big book by a first-time author about a little-known poet published by a small publisher, it has done pretty well.  It’s in its third printing and a paperback version will be published in March 2017.  It was favorably reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement in the U.K., Publishers Weekly, the Oregonian and over 20 other publications.  The American Association of University Professors recommended it as one of ten nonfiction books and only two biographies (the other was of Mark Twain) in the area of American Studies for libraries to purchase in 2016.  I’ve had a chance to read from it at bookstores, universities and community events across the country.  And it has led to my being asked to be a keynote speaker at the 2017 International Thomas Merton Society conference at Saint Bonaventure University.

I’m reluctant to let this wonderful year end, but time marches on, of course, and I’ve already drafted my next book, a memoir about a year spent in the San Juan Islands.  A huge thank you to all who were part of a marvelous experience.

PURE ACT a Finalist for a Washington State Book Award

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax has been named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award in Biography/Memoir.  You’ll find a full list of finalists and information about the awards ceremony here.

If you live in the Seattle area and are interested in attending, the awards ceremony will take place 7-9 p.m. in the Microsoft Auditorium at the Seattle Public Library’s central branch (1000 Fourth Avenue).

The ceremony is free and parking is $7 in the library garage.
wsba_auditorium

PURE ACT a Finalist for the Religion Newswriters Association 2016 Book Award

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax has been named one of ten finalists for the Religion Newswriters Association’s 2016 Religion Nonfiction Book Award.  A full listing of finalists for all awards is here.  Winners will be announced on September 24.

PURE ACT Wins a 2016 Excellence in Publishing Award and NCR Reviews It

I learned this week that Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax has won a 2016 Excellence in Publishing Award from the Association of Catholic Publishers.  It received second prize in Biography.  First prize went to my good friend Angela Alaimo O’Donnell for her biography of Flannery O’Connor.  The ACP announcement is here.

On the same day I learned about the award, a nice review of Pure Act by Dana Greene, biographer of Denise Levertov, appeared on the website of the National Catholic Reporter.  You can read it here.

Last Portland PURE ACT Reading at 6:30 p.m. This Tuesday, February 23…and Future Plans

After over 30 readings and other appearances over the past few months, I’m down to my last scheduled talk.  It will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 23, in room 333, Smith Memorial Union, on the Portland State University campus.  If you live in the Portland area, please join us.  To mark the occasion, we’ll have copies of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax available at a discounted price.

A big thank you to those who came to last week’s readings in the Bay Area, where a standing-room-only crowd listened to poet John Beer, author S. T. Georgiou and me talk about our friendship with Robert Lax at City Lights Books in San Francisco, and another good crowd heard me read from Pure Act at Pegasus Books in Berkeley.

Among those in attendance at City Lights were Gerald Nicosia, one of Jack Kerouac’s biographers, and Mike Antonucci, a Bay Area journalist who is the nephew of Lax’s first publisher and close friend, Emil Antonucci.  It was fun for me to read a passage from my book about Lax’s friendship with Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in a space where their spirits lingered.

My readings around the country have kept me from writing as much on this blog as I would have liked, and now that they’re over, I hope to write more.  Starting some time in March, I plan to try a unique experiment.  I’ll be teaching two courses in memoir writing while working on a memoir of my own AND a book on writing about other people.  I’m planning to make two posts a week from my research and thinking, one on memoir and one on writing about others (biography).  It will be interesting to contemplate how these two types of writing, one looking inward and the other outward, parallel and diverge.

Review of PURE ACT in The Catholic Worker and Other Online Lax Posts

Peace activist Jim Forest, who has written biographies of Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, has published a warm and intimate review of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax in the latest Catholic Worker newspaper.  This review is especially pleasing to me because Lax was a great believer in the things the Catholic Worker stands for: peace and voluntary poverty in service to the truly needy.  Lax knew CW founder Dorothy Day and was a frequent guest at CW headquarters in NYC, where he once read his poetry (and I read from Pure Act back in September).  You can read the full review here: http://www.robertlax.com/jim-forest-reviews-pure-act-in-the-catholic-worker/

My writing about Lax has been mentioned in a couple of other online posts:

  1. Prophetic Voices: Martin Luther – William Barclay – Robert Lax–written by Lawrence Birney, whose Pure Vision Foundation supports a number of great causes, including The Thomas Merton Prison Project (to which my publisher just donated four copies of Pure Act).

  2. The Pure Act of Robert Lax–a lovely meditation on living humbly in the moment by a blogger named Robert Sylvester, inspired by my essay on Lax, Poetic Man of God, in the Winter 2015-16 issue of Notre Dame Magazine.