Speak What We Feel (2004)

(Not What We Ought To Say)

Reflections on Literature and Life

Book Description

In this compelling book, the great contemporary spiritual writer and novelist Frederick Buechner plumbs the mysteries and truths behind the literature that speaks to him most powerfully. Buechner presents the four authors who have been his greatest influences, focusing on the question that has emerged at the center of his life—how to face mortality, failure, and tragedy. Through sensitive biographical exploration and close reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins' sublime later sonnets, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, and William Shakespear's more powerful play, King Lear, Buechner invites readers to discover the deeper joy and purpose of reading. He shows how these writers—by putting their passion and pain into their work—have enabled him to bear the weight of his own grief and sadness by "speaking out from under the burden of theirs." Buechner's ruminations on their writings leads to the revelation that God accepts us for doing the best we can, even if our lives are in some ways a failure; even if we have lived a life haunted by tragedy, as Buechner's has been haunted by his father's suicide. Buechner connects his readings to the fabric of his life and the lives of his subjects as he explores the ways in which these writers have shaped him and enhanced his faith. Buechner's insights into the power and imagination of their work resonate with his love for all that literature has given him throughout his life—a passion he generously shares with us in Speak What We Feel.


"Hopkins and Twain? Chesterton and Shakespeare? Buechner takes these four writers, never mentioned in the same breath, and shows us a hidden affinity among them, in the process allowing us to see them as we never have before. Speak What We Feel is a book of uncanny insight."
— John Wilson

"I look to Frederick Buechner as a mentor in literature and faith, and this book marvelously combines both."
— Philip Yancey

"A hauntingly terrifying and beautiful book about the depths of human existence."
— Dallas Willard

"Serves to illuminate a path through the ambiguities and complexities of human life."
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"[Reverberates] with particular poignancy...speak[s] honestly and eloquently."
Presbyterian Outlook