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

4.46  ·  Rating details ·  1,674 Ratings  ·  159 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
Paperback, 640 pages
Published August 1st 1988 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1978)
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Joe Valdez
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: letters
Don't know when I'll send those stories. I've felt too bad to type them.

Flannery O'Connor wrote the last sentence of her last letter on August 3, 1964, six days before the systemic lupus she'd been fighting since her diagnosis in 1951 attacked her immune system and took her life. This makes me wonder what the last sentence I'll ever write is going to be. The prevalence of social media does not bode well for cosmic insight.

O'Connor had returned to Midgeville, Georgia to be cared for by her mother
Cindy Rollins
Nov 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
I did not expect to love this. Up until now I have not loved Flannery O'Connor's writing. Now I love her writing and herself. I have spent almost the entire year reading these letters. At first it was slow going, I pictured myself getting through them quickly and that was not happening.

Eventually reading a few letters a day became a habit for me and now I am forlorn. I have finished my conversations with Flannery. She is silent. Her life was short. Her wit, skill, and friendliness remains.

Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Julie Davis
Dec 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Again, this is by my bedside for occasional perusing. Original comments and review below.


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 j
Jul 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
David Withun
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
Reading this collection of the letters of Flannery O'Connor alongside Mystery and Manners, The Complete Short Stories, and both of her novels was quite an experience. Without the intention of doing so, it seemed that I was frequently keeping pace with her fiction as I read through her letters, which granted a great deal of insight into the background behind the stories--the things that were going on in her life as she was writing them, the conversations she was having, the books she was reading, ...more
Paolo Gianoglio
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Una raccolta di lettere credo abbia lo scopo di approfondire la conoscenza di uno scrittore. Nel mio caso, per motivi su cui non è il caso di soffermarsi, è stato invece il primo incontro con Flannery O’ Connor. È quindi evidente che ho potuto cogliere solo in parte alcune delle tematiche, intrinsecabilmente legate ai suoi racconti e romanzi. L’ho letto con la consapevolezza di capire solo in parte i suoi discorsi, lasciandomi affascinare dall’ironia e insieme dalla disciplina di questa donna. C ...more
Aug 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cara Annie, è così che voglio chiamarti anche se tu non mi conosci, ma io adesso penso di conoscerti bene, di comprenderti. Nelle tue lettere ho sentito la tua età avanzare e la tua consapevolezza farsi più forte; sei passata dall'essere una ragazza saccente che ha un'opinione su tutto, a diventare una donna che si è adeguata ai tempi e alla malattia senza mai perdere di integrità. Non posso dire di più su di te se non che ti capisco quando dici che scrivi non per espiare, ma perché lo sai fare ...more
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jeff Crompton
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this book from cover to cover around 25 years ago, and have frequently pulled it off the shelf to read bits and pieces since then. About two weeks ago, I decided to read the entire thing again.

I was reminded that here, more than in any other of her writing, is where a reader can really get a sense of who Flannery O'Connor was. She was one of the best fiction writers our country has ever produced, but her strange, intense novels and stories, while rooted in her strong Catholic faith, don't
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, christian
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
Jul 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
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
Dec 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
"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
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
"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
Jul 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
If it were possible to find anything better than Flannery O'Connor's stories, it would be her letters. This collection is a must-read for those who wish to gain a broader understanding of her stories and novels. The letters are also a window into the personal beliefs and fine sense of humor of this amazing writer.
Michael Perkins
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
"I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky."
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Biography. Letters. Literary. Religion. So much more...
Apr 29, 2018 added it
Shelves: library-book
It took a year and a half of dipping in and out for me to finish this. What an exhilarating trip through the life and mind of a writer..."one damm book after another"...with peacocks.

"I am about convinced now that my novel is finished. It has reached the stage where it is a pleasure for me to type it so I presume it is done. I sit all day typing and grinning like the Cheshire cat. There is nothing like being please with your own efforts - and this is the best stage - before it is published and b
Marco Freccero
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americani
Sally Fitzgerald è alta 1 metro e 60 e pesa a dir tanto 43 chili tranne quando è incinta, cioè quasi sempre.

La lettura di un epistolario è forse una pratica che può essere considerata poco interessante, anche quando il suo autore è uno scrittore (o scrittrice, come nel nostro caso). In fondo, si pensa, chi scrive offre il meglio di sé nei racconti, nei romanzi. Le lettere a editor, confidenti, amici o amiche, cosa possono aggiungere alla sua grandezza? Non esiste il rischio di farcelo vedere tro
Dec 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: couldnt-finish, 2010
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
Mariella Mavrakis
Feb 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
"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
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Confession: I love reading other people's letters. I do aim to stick to published ones, though -- it's sinless that way but it still feels a little whoo whoo and peekish.

Flannery's letters take the cake. For many years now I've kept this book out handy, and I read a letter at a time -- okay, sometimes a half dozen or more -- whenever the mood hits me. O'Connor is witty, wise, brilliantly expressive and even a tad gossipy by turns.

This book is always fresh. I once saw it listed somewhere as one
Oct 25, 2009 marked it as to-read
Recommended by James Schall in Another Sort of Learning, Chapter 2, as one of Five Books Addressed to the Heart of Things.

Recommended by James Schall in Another Sort of Learning, Intro to Part Three, as one of Schall's Unlikely List of Books to Keep Sane By---Selected for Those to Whom Making Sense Is a Prior Consideration, but a Minority Opinion.

Recommended by James Schall in Another Sort of Learning, Chapter 14, as one of Eight Collections of Essays and Letters Not To Be Missed.
Rebecca Vincent
Jan 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's hard to read a book of letters through, but this one was worth the effort. Flannery's personality, wit, depth, and faith are front and center in a compilation of letters she wrote to various contacts throughout her life. Her literary insights, observations of her own writing failures and successes, as well as her challenging thoughts on faith are all here.
Terri Jacobson
Apr 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
A comprehensive collection of the prolific letters of Flannery O'Connor. Very interesting to any great fans of O'Connor's work. I found it fascinating, and it really helps me appreciate her writings with more depth and detail.
Oct 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
While reading letters compiled over a lifetime can be difficult -- there isn't exactly a narrative, as lives are much more complicated than they let on -- this one was very encouraging to me in my own writing.
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely incredible.
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Constant Reader Classics Corner 22 64 Jan 05, 2009 04:46AM  
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Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925. When she died at the age of thirty-nine, America lost one of its most gifted writers at the height of her powers. O’Connor wrote two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and two story collections, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1964). Her Complete Stories, published posth ...more
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“I don't deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.” 1127 likes
“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” 480 likes
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