The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor
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The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor

4.43 of 5 stars 4.43  ·  rating details  ·  1,160 ratings  ·  102 reviews
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Special Award

"I have come to think that the true likeness of Flannery O'Connor will be painted by herself, a self-portrait in words, to be found in her letters . . . There she stands, a phoenix risen from her own words: calm, slow, funny, courteous, both modest and very sure of herself, intense, sharply penetrating, devout but nev...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published August 1st 1988 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1978)
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Mar 07, 2013 Michiel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: catholic, memoir
This was the book that converted me. I don't like anything else that O'Connor writes, and I never read collections of letters: never did before and never have since. I truly believe that the Holy Spirit led me to this book and allowed my mind and heart to open to conversion.

O'Connor is funny, thoughtful, thought-provoking. This is absolutely one of my favorite books of all time.
I have been taught by those older and wiser that I should continually educate myself towards an understanding and appreciation of excellence. This means that my personal preference is what I like without trying, and what is excellent is sometimes what I must learn to like. So, reading is like food. Stick with a lifetime of twinkies and all you get is bad health and a rotten brain! Teach yourself to like excellent reading, just like you teach yourself to like excellent food (which for me is a ste...more
I like how the singular Ms. Mary Flannery O'Connor signs off:

I hope you are finished with the grip and feel well again.
I didn’t get any Guggenheim.
Let me hear how you do.
They look like domesticated vultures.
My momma sends hers for the season..
Hey nonny nonny and ha hah ha…
No great hardship.
I am going to be the World Authority on Peafowl, and I hope to be offered a chair some day at the Chicken College.
I don’t make no plans.
I manage to pray but am a very sloppy faster.
My word.
This refers to the f...more
"I have come to think that the true likeness of Flannery O'Connor will be painted by herself, a self-portrait in words, to be found in her letters," writes Sally Fitzgerald in her introduction to The Habit of Being. This extensive collection of letters provides an invaluable glimpse into O'Connor's world, beginning with her first query letter to her agent in 1948 and ending with her last note of 1964, left on her bedside table. The Habit of Being traces the development of an enigmatic human bein...more
This is probably the third time I've read this book. There's something about this woman's humor and vision in the face of her illness that is so strengthening. I like her responses to those who wrote offering to marry her after they heard that she had published "A Good Man is Hard to Find." She makes me laugh so much. Her letters are an open windows to her gritty, gritty, life-loving soul.
O'Connor's letters are funny, pungent ---and surprisingly, deep.

I'm not so sure about her religious sentiments which are old school Catholic. But I admire her bravery, her bemused take on life's endless banality, and her wicked sense of humor.

I didn't realize how seriously she took her art and admire that, too.
I came to this book through a general knowledge of Flannery O'Connor and attempts over the years to read her fiction. Reading someone's letters is like receiving an invitation into their entire world, especially geography/setting, their relationships (the other correspondents end up being as central as the writer), and the daily details of one's life (which I always find to be the most interesting part of the correspondence).

Flannery O'Connor suffered from lupus and was mostly confined to live h...more
Julie Davis
This is by my bedside and I am really enjoying reading Flannery O'Connor's letters which at this early stage of the book are mostly to her publishers about problems OR to pals about life in general. A definite personality is emerging and I like her.

Update: this is so super-long and I keep comparing it to The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey and Song (also very long) and wondering why I don't just pick one of them? Answer: both are very different and very good. I am growing to love Flannery...more
"I feel that if I were not a Catholic, I would have no reason to write, no reason to see, no reason ever to feel horrible or even to enjoy anything." (p.114)

"I am largely worried by wingless chickens...I only know I believe in the complete chicken. You think about the complete chicken for a while." (p. 21)

I can hardly begin to write a sufficient review for this marvelous, marvelous volume of Flannery O'Connor's letters. Her wit, faith, tremendous humor, and earthiness continue to reverberate in...more
i can't quite call reading a third of this book and then putting it down because you're tired of trying to figure out the logistics of taking a 600 page hardcover book, your lunch and your gym bag to work every day "couldn't finish."

i love flannery o'conner's dry wit that is so evident in some of her shorter letters, particularly to those on the publishing side. every time i thought of quitting, another correspondent would be added in the mix and i couldn't do it. and i told myself to read thro...more
Mariella Mavrakis
Les lettres: une façon de mettre par écrit tout le fonds de sa pensée sur tout et sur tous... Au moins il n'y a pas de souci de non-dits... Elle ne mâche pas ses mots, elle se laisse aller à tout divulguer, sans souci de choquer, rien ne la retient, elle est authentique, franche, cassante et directe!!! Elle balance tout, sans pincette, sans remords, elle se lâche... Elle ironise, elle est sarcastique, elle joue avec les mots... Elle n'a rien a perdre, vu qu'elle est malade sur le point de mourir...more
John Cooper
This remarkable book, which I've read over a period of years, distills and reveals the great personality of our best Southern writer, particularly as it is revealed and expressed by the two pillars of her life: fiction and faith. There is a stunning directness here, a deliberate willingness to be herself, that underlies every letter, from the most formal, carefully considered letters to strangers, to the most whimsical and idiosyncratic dispatches to intimates. She is sharp, but never mean; mode...more
Absolutely incredible.
Love, love, love Mary Flannery O'Connor!

I hope to worship God in the New Jerusalem with her. I wish she hadn't had to go through suffering to get there, though. I wish none of us did. But Adam and Eve tripped on a snake with a lie in its fangs.

She was beautiful, though, really beautiful.

I love this quote about her faith, "Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy--fully armed too as it's a highly dangerous quest."

I love her funnyness, "At Emory they had a list of questions for me to answer an...more
John Wiswell
Aug 11, 2007 John Wiswell rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: O'Connor fans, literary readers interested in deeper understanding on composition
If you can get passed the fact that these are the letters of a dead woman who might not have wanted you to see them, Habit of Being is a treasure trove. You get to watch one of the great writers of her time worry for other writers and for her own fiction, see what interested her in religious and social studies, and get a sense for what went on in her life when she read anything. You also get some hilarious moments, such as her summarizing the desperate short story of "Greenleaf" as the story of...more
The letters are interesting, if you're a voyeur. In one letter she sounds ecstatic after reading one novel. In her letters she's not pretentious, she just uses plain English and some dialect. We also get an air of her sarcastic personality through her letters. It was this same sarcasm that makes her (in my opinion) the best short story writer of all time.
Interesting correspondence, esp. O'Conner's relationship with her family, other writers. It feels like eavesdropping...hearing about her daily activities, mundane tasks, her sense of humor, her wry observations, little things like peacocks and appointments and townfolks. What really showed forth was her resoluteness, faith and quirky observations.

Someone on mentions that O'Conner writes to Andrew Lytle that the fact that she was a Catholic kept her from being a regional writer and th...more
One of Flannery O'Connor's biographers once wrote: "The story of her life is the story of her inner life." I think this is key to pursuing an understanding of O'Connor's faith and work. She was an intensely private person, both by temperament and circumstance, so she reveals the most of herself in one-on-one interactions with those she was close to. Luckily for the rest of us, O'Connor spent a considerable amount of time corresponding with friends and professional contacts over the years, and th...more
A book that is pretty much unbearable to read on its own, not because it's challenging, but simply because it's a little tedious to read multiple accounts of the same thing because she was writing different people.

Worth a read if you know O'Connor's work, or are curious about a Southern writer in the mid-1900's. Had to remind myself throughout the book that her word choices and opinions were an example of much of the white south at the time, getting used to integration (not that bracing myself f...more
This was a good but also difficult book to read. The difficulty was purely personal, since I have lupus as Flannery did and I knew where her story was going.

The good was manifold. The extent and variety of letters represented create as full a picture as I could want of their writer. I feel I have a much better idea of Flannery O'Connor than I have ever gained from her stories or essays. Though I do not share her particular religious convictions, I share her love of spiritual reading and desire f...more
O'Connor impresses the reader with her apparently calm acceptance of a diagnosis of Lupus, a disease which killed her father at a young age and which is a sure death sentence for her. Her disability is treated as a slightly humorous inconvenience, when in reality it must have been heartbreaking.

On the other hand, O'Connor is clearly somewhat narrow-minded and prejudiced. This also comes through clearly.

And yet...she's got a nice sense of humor that leavens somewhat her heavy, heavy emphasis on...more
Jim Hale
This was a unique reading experience, which took me awhile to get the hang of. But it really took hold, and as I neared the end, I didn't want it to stop. This is my favorite of all of Flannery's writings. Such hope, wisdom, and humour on these pages. Habit of Being gives you insight and appreciation for this vast human being, and all the terrible struggles she faced, with profound grace and courage. I cherish this volume more than just about anything in my library and am eager to re-read.
I can't imagine people wanting to read this unless they had some sort of fascination with O'Connor. My friend who begged me to read it is such a person. While I found lots of referrals for my future reading, and while I really liked meeting O'Connor through her letters and seeing her comment on her contemporary authors, I felt like the first 100 pages or so were an utter waste - just correspondence between her and her editors/publishers, etc. I can't imagine O'Connor herself would have much like...more
"Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic." -Flannery O'Connor

A favorite patron actually pulled me into the stacks with her to look for a copy of this book when she realized I had not read it (many thanks to you Sister M.). Religion, writing, and the South are explored in these weekly letters to O'Connor's best friend Betty Hester. Works great as a companion book to O'Conn...more
Simply incredible book. Big fan of her writing, but these letters give you a real glimpse of the writer herself. I plan on writing a longer piece about her, a sort of extended review of the letters. Loved it
It's not required, but any reader of The Habit of Being would benefit from having read her stories and a biography or two. Having suggested that, I relished Flannery's letters and couldn't wait to open her letters each day and hear from her, despite knowing she wasn't writing to me. What a treasure of literary (writing fiction, authors), spiritual (theology, Catholicism, Protestantism, doctrine, devotion), historical (Americana 50's-60's, Presidents), and personal insights. I greatly enjoyed her...more

As in: O'Connor, I'm gladjer literary estate published these letters and supply me with more more more.
I don't usually like reading collections of letters, but this one is so filled with humor and profound observations about the writing life that it's one of my favorites. O'Connor was truly one of a kind, and when I got to the end and read the last letters she wrote in her life, I was so sad that she died so young. This contains that great story about the students that wrote her and asked why the Misfit's hat was black--did it symbolize evil? did it stand for the emptiness of his soul? She wrote...more
I don't do letters - I get a creepy, "going through the dresser drawer" feeling from them. Nonetheless, Flannery's voice is so strong, her writing so assured, that her grocery lists are worth a second perusal. Helps to be Roman (her Catholicism is of the "no use discussing it" variety); helps to like making fun of your mom at times. Regina is almost a second voice in these, and worth the trip by herself. But the humor wouldn't hold were it not for the presence of her deep sense of mystery. Laugh...more
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Constant Reader Classics Corner 22 63 Jan 05, 2009 04:46AM  
  • Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor
  • The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage
  • Signposts in a Strange Land: Essays
  • Theology and Sanity
  • One Art
  • The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods
  • Leisure: The Basis Of Culture
  • The Robber Bridegroom
  • The Mind of the Maker
  • The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Vol. One, 1888-1912
  • Christianity and Culture: The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture
  • The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing
  • The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers
  • The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey
  • Not-Knowing:  The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme
  • Plant Dreaming Deep
  • The Idea of a University
  • A Guide for the Perplexed
Mary Flannery O'Connor was an American novelist, short-story writer and essayist. O'Connor's writing often reflected her own Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics.

Her The Complete Stories received the 1972 National Book Award for Fiction. In a 2009 online poll conducted by the National Book Foundation, the collection was named the best work to have won the...more
More about Flannery O'Connor...
The Complete Stories A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories Wise Blood Everything That Rises Must Converge: Stories The Violent Bear it Away

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“I don't deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.” 1021 likes
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