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

4.29  ·  Rating Details ·  918 Ratings  ·  130 Reviews
The story of four modern American Catholics who made literature out of their search for God

In the midâ“twentieth century four American Catholics came to believe that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about themâ”in works that readers of all kinds could admire. The Life You Save May Be Your Own is their storyâ”a vivid and enthralling acco
Hardcover, 560 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 it was amazing  ·  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
Feb 08, 2013 Pete rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
Jul 12, 2011 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
James Smith
Aug 13, 2012 James Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book that left me with a deep conviction about the necessity to cultivate more time and space for contemplation in my life.
Jul 30, 2007 Ellen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 03, 2012 Adriel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Mar 29, 2016 Jared rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The greatness of this book doesn't come from Elie's writing style, which can be a little formulaic and plodding at times. It is also not primarily a work of literary analysis. While Elie explains well the ideas captured in these authors' works and the way their writings relate to the times they lived in, the spirit, or "magic" of actually reading the books he discusses doesn't quite come through here. Rather, The Life You Save May Be Your Own's greatness is in the way Elie interweaves the lives ...more
David Wright
This is a fantastic book and I found it revelatory for all four of the book's subjects (O'Connor, Day, Merton, and Percy) and American Catholicism in the 20th century. To move in time with each of these four people and keep drawing together themes and historical intersections for each writer must have been a tremendous undertaking and one fraught with difficulty--though I think Elie succeeds strikingly well. One virtue of the book was that it never spent too long on discussing any particular per ...more
Jan 18, 2010 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
B. Rule
Nov 11, 2012 B. Rule rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 13, 2008 Gilbert rated it really liked it
Shelves: spiritual, cursillo
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
Oct 08, 2011 Leif rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 Winston 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
Mike Melley
Apr 26, 2016 Mike Melley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ok, remember in college when you were going through the course offering book and came across one of those cross curriculum literature/philosophy/religion classes that looked real interesting? Well this is the required reading for that class. I personally considered that class for 30 seconds and promptly chose Cinema As An Art Form. So I took a shot on this one 25 years later. Don't get me wrong, it's a great book, but it's long and dense. O'Connor, Merton, Day, and Percy are complex characters a ...more
Philip Palios
This is a good book, but for me it could have ended around page 200. I was primarily interested in learning about how these Catholic writers came into the faith and how it related to their writing. Elie does a decent job covering this information in the first 1/3rd of the book. By the time I got to about page 250 I decided I was done as everything I was interested in had already been covered and as good as the writing is, it is still dense and I found myself frequently falling asleep when I trie ...more
Doug Tattershall
Nov 03, 2011 Doug Tattershall rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: catholic, read-by-me
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
Dec 25, 2015 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: catholic
Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor. A look at their lives and their writing. They lived very different lives and wrote in unique styles. But they had one similarity. They were Catholic. They all tried to live the Gospel but did so in their own individual ways. Day was an anarchist and pacifist who was arrested a number of times. She was a journalist. Merton was a monk who wrote about the faith. Percy wrote essays and novels about a search for meaning and truth. O'Conn ...more
Jan 11, 2009 Stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 31, 2007 Kristin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual-growth
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.
Aug 20, 2015 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Four Catholic writers - whose lives intertwined, and who read each others' publications. Their life and literature are heavily influenced by their belief in the Roman Catholic faith.
Burke Ingraffia
Dec 29, 2015 Burke Ingraffia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very good book about the lives of four 20th Century Catholic writers.
Jun 28, 2008 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really got into this book; a great weaving of lives.
Dana Kraft
Nov 01, 2016 Dana Kraft rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book compares the lives and faith journeys of four well-known American Catholic writers. It is long and dense and took me a few months to finish but was well worth the effort. Before starting, I had read some of Merton's books but nothing from Day, O'Connor or Percy. I stopped in the middle to read at least one book from each of those, which turned out to be very helpful.

I took so many notes and recorded so many quotations that it's difficult to summarize my lessons learned or favorite thin
Trey Meadows
Nov 21, 2016 Trey Meadows rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Today's social justice minded Christian would do well to read this book solely for the writing about Dorothy Day. So much of her life is a real picture of what is today pop culturized orthodoxy. When lived out this life is far from the comfortable middle class that seems to be self soothing with the same language Days Catholic Workers used almost 75 years ago. I enjoyed the work but the authors own take in the final pages was an abrupt synopsis of an in depth writing.
David A.
Sep 30, 2011 David A. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Carol Apple
Sep 18, 2014 Carol Apple rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 07, 2015 Carl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 19, 2015 Ruth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

I liked this book quite a bit. It is a comprehensive account of four Americans: Thomas Merton (now that I think about it, he was born in France, but he ended up in Kentucky), Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. They were all wrote about faith and religion. The author, Paul Elie, connects their books, as well as the way they lived, with the 20th century question of how to live a religious, faithful life in a time when the Bible has lost its authority.

Here, the answer is become a Ca
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“The point is, however: God save us all from the moral zealot who places himself above the law and is willing to burn my house down, and yours, providing he feels he is sufficiently right and I sufficiently wrong.” 1 likes
“life lived in search of God is real life, the only life worth living.” 1 likes
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