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The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  1,889 ratings  ·  177 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 1979)
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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.

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
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: memoir, catholic
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.
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. ...more
Michael Perkins
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Flannery O’Connor – The Habit of Being

"I was enthralled with Flannery O’Connor: her struggle and how she continued in the face of her physical adversity with lupus. And I was just overwhelmed with this book: mostly letters, which tell us what she was doing every day, how she communicated with her editor, how she spent time feeding the chickens. It talked about the organisation of thought, and the organisation of skill and how you pursue it. If you’re an energised person who has a lot of ideas in
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
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
Apr 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
David Withun
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
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
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
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
Natalie Yuhas
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It feels unfair to rate a collection of letters as they are so personal and obviously never meant to be read publicly, but this collection is so wonderful and a beautiful insight into the witty, devout, selfless, and self-assured person Flannery O’Connor was. They show her dedication to her work, her faith, and to her friends. At several points I was actually laughing out loud at how funny she was. I really felt like I had lost a friend by the end of her letters at the time of her early death at ...more
Brittany M L
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
I find Flannery such a fascinating character and her letters none the less so. By the end I felt like I knew her better and I was sad knowing her death and the end of the letters was coming. I am looking forward to re-reading the stories after having a better grasp on her perspective.

She covers so many different topics in here: theology (I had to go read Chesterton’s biography of Aquinas half way through to have a better grasp of him since Flannery mentions Aquinas so often), politics, writing,
Melanie Page
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sjcpl, dnf
I'm going to DNF at 25%. O'Connor keeps writing to someone named "A," a stranger who wrote to O'Connor on after reading Wise Blood, and the two kept up correspondence for nine years. However, "A" wished to remain anonymous when she gave the editor her letters from O'Connor, so I'm struggling to figure out who exactly she is and why O'Connor is so enraptured with her. Mostly, O'Connor's letters to "A" are full of her thoughts on religion, but without "A"'s end of the conversation, I'm not sure wh ...more
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
Dec 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian-bios
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
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
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
Kim Elder
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
This is one of those books that I didn’t want to end! I have been reading these letters slowly over the last year and feel so blessed to be able to get a glimpse into this woman’s life. I was rereading some of her short stories (on Audible) and one of my children commented, “that woman must have been strange”. I was able to say, “No, she was not strange. She was an intelligent, funny, insightful woman very committed to her faith and her writings.” It saddens me that she died so young, and it is ...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.
Jason Panella
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely incredible.
Martha Woodroof
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Possibly my favorite book ever...
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Biography. Letters. Literary. Religion. So much more...
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Now THAT’s how you write letters
Tom Bensley
Jul 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Letters of Flannery O’Connor (The Habit of Being)

I thought about writing a traditional review, where I ramble on about how I felt about this and that in the book and try and find a consistent point to all my thoughts, but I won’t do that this time. An author’s correspondence covers such a wide range of topics and themes and tells so many stories (and is always a bit mysterious when you don’t get the respondent’s letters) that it’s difficult to write a review that it covers it, and it usually
Paul Jellinek
Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book! Flannery O'Connor, a Catholic author who lived with her mother and her peacocks in Milledgeville, Georgia, and died of lupus while still in her 30's, was one the great American writers of the 20th century. After reading her two novels and her two collections of short stories in the Library of America edition of her work, I'd read a selection of her letters (also included in the LOA edition), but I wanted more--and that's what I got in this superb collection, compiled and e ...more
Jan 04, 2021 added it
Shelves: 1-21
This book was so long and it didn't come in large print. I read three letters- one in the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end. The writing was good and it seemed interesting but I don't know enough about Flannery O'Connor's life and times and works to be interested in all the letters. I put the book down.
Pauline Anderson
Feb 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I decided to read this book because I read Flannery O'Connor's short stories. To be honest, I had a difficult time with them. I am a Roman Catholic and wanted to understand her symbolism better. These letters really help.

If you're interested in reading Flannery O'Connor's works, I suggest you start with her letters. They explain who she was and gives insight to her life.

I plan to go back and read all her fiction.
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
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Constant Reader Classics Corner 22 66 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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