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The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage
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The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  690 ratings  ·  108 reviews
The story of four modern American Catholics who made literature out of their search for God

In the mid–twentieth century four American Catholics came to believe that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about them—in works that readers of all kinds could admire. The Life You Save May Be Your Own is their story—a vivid and enthralling account
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published April 5th 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2003)
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Webster Bull
I have decided that instead of a patron saint, my blog will have a patron book, this one. (My blog is called "Witness,", and no I don't know how to make that appear in this review as a link!) I have just finished reading TLYSMBYO for the second time, greedily, the way I read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (three times) or Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean (five). Do you have books like this, that somehow answer deep wishes of your heart? How do you explain y ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
What a herculean task this was: writing about the lives of four great writers. Four great American Catholic writers. Their common faith defined their lives and their works. They are all dead now but for many years in our recent history they had all been living and looking at the same world. I enumerate them here in the same sequence they had passed away:

1. Flannery O'Connor
2. Thomas Merton
3. Dorothy Day
4. Walker Percy

O'Connor was just 39 when she died of lupus, Day was 84. Percy died of cancer,
May 11, 2008 MichelleMarie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: if you like fiction, their authors, spirituality, philosophy
Recommended to MichelleMarie by: Eighth Day Books
This book was unlike every other book I have ever read, which was perhaps why I enjoyed it. It follows the life of four authors: Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy.
I wasn't expecting their lives to run into each others, and I wasn't expecting it to intrigue me into reading more of their writing now that I know so much about them.
Paul Elie writes like that of an esteemed professor, while I feel like a pupil of his sitting in his class every other day, and briskly ke
ok as a left-brained american catholic i am EXTREMELY predisposed to dig this book, and also i have awarded it five stars despite only being halfway through it, but basically if you are a left-brained american catholic or have any positive feelings toward flannery o'connor, thomas merton, dorothy day, and/or walker percy, read this immediately. this book is seminal, even if the rest of it is just random strings of characters. go buy this.

update: i finally finished this 2.5 months after starting,
James Smith
Fantastic book that left me with a deep conviction about the necessity to cultivate more time and space for contemplation in my life.
The title, taken from a Flannery O'Connor short story, sums up a key theme developed by Elie: one's spiritual experience, no matter how public or inspirational, always starts and ends at the deeply personal, individual level. As Elie says in final chapter, "The clear lines of any orthodoxy are made crooked by our experience, are complicated by our lives." This quote also sums up E's main achievement in this masterful group portrait of 4 American Catholic writers, O'Connor, Dorothy Day, Thomas Me ...more
This book entertained and inspired me; it felt like a combination of literary analysis, biography, and spiritual reflection about each of the four writers: O'Connor, Merton, Day, and Percy. The book enabled me to see O'Connor and Merton in a new light, and got me more interested in the lives and writings of Day and Percy. I was also fascinated by the correspondence that they maintained with each other, and how their dialogue with one another helped each of them to discover and refine their authe ...more
When I was a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the English Department, one of the assigned stories was Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find. The students found the story disturbing as I always did. Undoubtedly O’Connor meant to discomfit the story readers and force them, as if by gunpoint, to examine their lives and perhaps to save it from a life unexamined and in the dark. The misfits in her stories were dragged up from her own discomfit in her parochial South and her personal torment.

If you'd like to be informed about the life of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy and how these individuals became important to the Catholic church, then take the time to read.

I was very impressed at the author since he was basically an editor for each of these individuals and some how wove them perfectly together.

The book engaged me to keep up with my reading and afterwards, I became thirsty for more about the people mentioned in the book. There are many excerpts fr
B. Rule
A very interesting book and an ambitious attempt to sketch the outlines of American Catholicism through four of its most preeminent practitioners. However, as a biography of each of the four, it leaves something to be desired. The interweaving of four distinct stories that only occasionally and tangentially intersect renders it difficult to trace the line of each life. I was left at places wondering "how did Merton get here?" or "what could have motivated O'Connor to do that?" The book is much m ...more
A somewhat interesting look at Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Flannery O'Connor and how their lives (particularly their religious (particularly their Catholic-y religious)) intersect and mirror each other. The writing is a little forced at times (any time you want to trace a theme through the lives of multiple people, you are going to have to occasionally stretch a little -- a fault for which we cannot be too hard on the author, except perhaps to say that maybe he should not have ...more
John Powell
This may be one of my favorite books of all time. It makes the argument that there was a great Catholic literary moment in the 20th century. The best part is how Elie integrates the stories of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. If you are interested in any of these great writers, you will be interested in the others after you finish the book. These spiritual writers were aware of each other's work, and in some cases, interacted. The title comes from a Flannery O'Con ...more
Doug Tattershall
This is supposed to be about the convergence of four great contemporary Catholic writers, but the author spent too little time on that theme. Instead, he writes four biographies and shuffles them together. Because of this, the narrative is disjointed. On top of this, the writing is dry. There are good biographies on all four authors, and in a couple of cases, great autobiographies. Their relationship and their message is worthy of a book; hopefully, the publication of this one won't prevent a mo ...more
As a cradle Catholic, I thought I learned everything there is to know about Catholicism in elementary school, but of course I was wrong. I knew very little about Catholic writers and Catholic literature. This is a wonderful, four-part biography that weaves together the stories of four Catholic writers in the 20th century. It focuses on their background as well as their growth and development as artists. All four of them were wonderfully unique. Just be prepared to come away with a new reading li ...more
Carol Apple
The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie was not on my reading list. In fact until I stumbled upon a review of the audio book last week, I had never heard of it. Yet the summary compelled me enough that five minutes later I was listening and kept on listening, sometimes re-listening, until I listened to all 22 hours of the audio text. The book, its title taken from a short story by Flannery O’Connor, tells the story of four 20th-century writers: O'Connor, Walker Per ...more
Light reading, this was not. However, I recommend it to anyone who is interested in spirituality, literature, the contemplative life, social justice, Catholicism, and mid-century American culture- all at once!!! These topics are explored through the life stories of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy.
Paul Elie manages (as Krista Tippett does on Speaking of Faith) to discuss the spritual quests of Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day in ways that are neither patronizing, idolizing, sentimental, or cynical. I want to learn to think this clearly, compassionately, and comprehensively.
This is a love story, in the sense of a story told with care and attention to the complete lives of four seminal Catholic writers—Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor— of the last century, a story it took the author years of study to understand, compile, and finally decide to write. It is not adoration or hagiography; Paul Elie is objective and honest about the contributions and the limitations of each of the people he focuses on.

He takes each of them from birth to de
This book was slow going for me in the beginning, but I stuck with it and it was worth it. Elie manages to bring together the lives of these four American Catholics into a compelling and even surprising narrative. There are moments when Elie allows too much of his own voice and opinions to come out, but mostly he is content to recede into the background. What I appreciate most about this book, in the end, is how the author brings out the humanity of his main cast of characters. All of them strug ...more
I really got into this book; a great weaving of lives.
Erudite, engaging look at four contemporary Catholic writers: Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.
The links between the four are not entirely obvious at first and I thought Elie might be stretching, but it's interesting to find the different ways that the four responded to each other over the course of their careers.
I enjoyed learning a lot more about all four writers (and their writing). O'Connor's early life before she was slowed down by lupus is fascinating, for on
David A.
It's hard to communicate how very much I enjoyed this book. It took me forever to read, but that's partly because I didn't want to rush my way through it. On its face it's pretty innocuous--four Catholic writers from the mid-twentieth century and how their lives intersected--but the intersections are more profound than mere acquaintance, correspondence or coincidence. Walker Percy and Thomas Merton, for example, apparently only met once and didn't actually click, and Merton and Dorothy Day never ...more
This is one of the most amazing books I've read in a while. It's long, and not an "easy read," but has sort of changed my life. It's an intertwined biography of four major Roman Catholic writers of the 20th century - Dorothy Day (who we don't often remember was a great writer), Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. I can't really hope to be like any of them - what tremendous human beings they all were - and yet Elie's narrative and research on their striving to live faithfully and ...more
Excellent book. 4 parallel biographies with primary focus on spiritual and artistic biographies of 4 20th century writers/Catholics - Flannery O'Conner, Walker Percy, Thomas Merton (his Seven Storey Mountain still probably my favorite spiritual autobiography) and Dorothy Day. In essence, you get roughly 100+ pages of biography on each all woven in together across a total of nearly 500 pages. Not the book to go to if you are looking for the kind of depth that a normal 300-400 page biography would ...more
In the wake of Easter, I finally tackled this long, complex book that's been on my shelf for years. I knew sadly little about these important mid-20th-century Catholic writers, and I'm glad to have taken the time to get to know them. The most interesting thing about the book-as-book is the multiplicity of ways, large and small, in which the four main characters ultimately crossed paths with one another (though they did not constitute a "circle" in the traditional sense of the word). Surely Elie ...more
Paul Elie groups together the biographies of four famous Catholic writers - Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. He has beautifully shown how they were shaped and help to shape the current culture as well as their particular style of writing about their faith. One similarity they all had in their writing was the need for their writing to address faith amidst the backdrop of the murk, mess, and grime of daily life. This is not the fluff and cheese espoused but much of ...more
Beverly Swerling
I loved this. I thought it was a bit patchy in some places, mostly to do with the Walker Percy segments, and once or twice when Elie got what to me seemed too deep in the literary criticism weeds. The great strength of the book is that it's a discussion of four extraordinary Catholics writing in the same period. And please note that I did not say Catholic writers. It seems to me it's the placement of Flannery O'Conner, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy in the same part of the world (m ...more
Featuring biographies of two of my favorite writers, Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, this book introduced me to the world of two other religious writer/thinkers, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. It also expanded my limited knowledge of Roman Catholicism since I was raised a heathen (Methodist version). Of course, these writers were not necessarily orthodox in their religious beliefs, but they were definitely interesting.
The book is a rich tapestry that features connections, both curious and s
Lucy Pollard-Gott
An interesting approach--Paul Elie offers a joint biography of four Catholic writers: Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. Strands from these four lives are interwoven throughout, to chronicle the course of their spiritual journeys as reflected in their writing.

Elie wrote a recent New York Times Book Review article, "Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?" which led me to his book. The combined biography is instructive, but also a bit dis
Matt Evans
Mr. Elie is an editor Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, and his book ties together the spiritual and literary lives of Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Dorothy Day. More than anything, the book encouraged me to pursue writing as a means of discovering for myself what other authors have discovered for themselves: something hidden and fascinating at the core of any given subject, and it's a place you can't get to as a tourist. In fact, the book advocates a life of pilgrimage (i.e., wa ...more
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