“Everywhere have I sought rest and found it not, except sitting
apart in a nook with a little book.” Thomas a Kempis
Our first “Best Books I Read in…” compilation appeared
nine years ago on Ignatius Insight and it has grown in both popularity and
length each year. This year we have 40 entries (if my blurry vision can
be trusted), all from CWR contributors, editors, and friends, each of whom was
asked to respond to the simple question, “What were the best books you read in
the past year?” The books chosen did not have to be published in 2013, nor did
they have to be about a specific topic. So, pull up a chairor find a nookand
prepare to discover a few new books. Carl
E. Olson, editor
Amanda C.R. Clark, Ph.D.
Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
David Paul Deavel
Thomas M. Doran
R. Michael Dunnigan
Daniel B. Gallagher
Joseph Martin, Ph.D.
Dorothy Cummings McLean
Dr. Christopher S. Morrissey
Father James V. Schall, SJ
Catechism of Hockey
by Alyssa Bormes. Okay,
technically I had already read the manuscript before it was published, and even
more technically, I was the one who actually published it. But the unexpected
ingeniousness of using hockey as an analogy to teach the Catholic faith
continues to please me no end. The book is wonderful. Forgive me.
Breakthrough by James O’Keefe. The liberals hated
James O’Keefe for the corruption he uncovered. The conservatives hated the way
he uncovered it. In spite of all the people hating him, this guy has beat them
all. His book is unputdownable, and I came away with nothing but admiration.
by John Durant. In a
nutshell, the thesis is that cavemen were healthier than we are. I admit, I don’t
care. And there are one or two fundamental premises that are flawed in this
book, but it’s an absolutely fascinating and provocative read. Another one I
couldn’t put down.
Reed of God by Caryll Houselander. I
can see why Houselander appeals more to girls than to guys, but these
meditations go deep, very deep. Read it in a monastery or on retreat.
of the Living Dead Christian
by Matt Mikalatos. An Evangelical dissects (or shall we say “vivisects”) modern
Protestant churches in a lively (or shall we say “deadly”) narrative that
marvelously combines horror and humor. He gets everything exactly right
exceptwell, read it.
Principles and the New Order
by Vincent McNabb, OP. Let me lay them out for you. The first principle is that
there is a God whom we must serve. The second is that the family is the basic
unit of society. The third: we cannot expect more than average virtue from the
average man. Those circumstances demanding more than average virtue (i.e.,
heroic virtue) are called Occasions of Sin. The fourth: we need to create a
society that does not offer so many Occasions of Sin. Chesterton called Father
McNabb the greatest man in England. Incidentally, Father McNabb called
Chesterton the greatest man in England.
of Chesterton, I re-read the Illustrated
London News columns from
1929 to 1936, his collected short fiction, and the first volume of his poetry,
all from the Ignatius Collected Works of Chesterton. Also
read from the newly collected (and prohibitively expensive) Chesterton in
the Daily News. In the uncollected department I
continued to dig into Chesterton’s essays from the New Witness, which
include this prophetic line: “We are not divided now into those who know and
those who do not know. We are divided now into those who care and those who do
Dale Ahlquist is president of the American
of the list is George Weigel’s The End
and the Beginning, with its wide and deep look at the life and
pontificate of John Paul II. Some fascinating info about the extraordinarilyweirdly, fanaticallydetailed files that
informers had to compile for the secret police in the days of Communist-run
around for information on what toothpaste a man used and how often he had his
hair cut. They were disappointed and baffled, of course, by Karol Wojtylatotally lacking anything
they could use for blackmailing, the man lived in simplicity and poverty and
with a wide circle of friends…odd, really, to think of all that energy on the
part of spies and informers, dedicated to creating miles and miles of paper
files, and it all crumbled in 1989. The life of JPII continues to inspireWeigel’s overview is
thoughtful and explores territory that the mass media too often ignored: JPII’s
intellectual gifts and love of study, his sense of missionary imperative, the
impact he had on Africa and Asia, his deep concern for the future of Europe.
Fatima for Today
by Andrew Apostoli, with its foreword by Cardinal Raymond Burke, came my way
only because I got tired of being sent emails from lobbyists for the “all-the-recent-popes-have-lied-to-us”
conspiracy theorists, and wanted to get some serious information. It’s
important to get the full picture, and this book is a detailed read and is sane
and authoritative. The conspiracy-types will, alas, go on campaigning: they are
sounding a bit desperate now, as their end-is-nigh stuff keeps passing its
various sell-by dates and getting more and more frantic. Meanwhile Father
Apostoli and Cardinal Burke have done a good job: recommended.
Moore’s Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized
Biography is a must-read and does not disappoint. Extraordinary to read
the heady innocence of her letters to her sister from Oxford, all dances and
dresses and nice young men. The seriousness was never far away, howeverone
young man was clearly put off, on a visit to the family home, at having to do a
lot of churchgoing on the Sunday, including listening to sermons from Alderman
Roberts, Margaret’s father, who was a self-taught Methodist preacher. Clearly
Dennis Thatcher, when he came along later, was able to copeand the rest, as
they say, is history. Interesting to seeno surprises herethat Margaret
applied herself while young with huge dedication to every academic task, got
qualified in chemistry before turning to law, took her religious duties
seriously, and had strong views about what was right for Britain and for the
world. All that, plus excitements over a new dress and a slight worry about the
propriety about a young man giving her an expensive gift (a handbag): should
she accept it, while not really returning his evidently ardent affection? Decades later, she’d be busy with the
Falklands War, Britain’s economy, and the rights and wrongs of merging the
finances of the European nations. And still taking an interest in clothesand
handbags (she always carried a rather elegant one).
loved James Hitchcock’s History of the
Catholic Church: a good read and an excellent reference book. Too heavy
to carry around, but a great dip-into for your desk or armchair. The
post-Vatican II material is especially good, balanced, well-informed.
annoying book? He Liked Tuesdays Best: An Everyday Life of the Blessed John Paul.
Full of charming snippets of daily life with the great Pope, but hopeless
translated (even the title, with that extra “the” which makes the whole thing
read awkwardly). Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki has some good things to say and lots of
fascinating material to impart, but is let downbadlyby
his editor and translator. In fact the whole thing annoyed me so much I
contacted the publisher and offered to put the whole thing into decent English,
producing a sample chapter by way of good faith. But they evidently want to see
if this first edition can sell first. They should pulp it and produce a new and
corrected version. We all want to know more about this beloved pope, who in
2014 joins the ranks of canonized saints, and already has a place in our hearts
and in the life and future of the Church. We’d love to know more about his
everyday life: we need a book in good English about it!
Bogle is a journalist in the United Kingdom.
My preface: As usual, I don’t include
Ignatius Press titles on my list. There are plenty of them, either in published
form or in manuscript form, that would make my list. Here are the non-Ignatius
Press titles for 2013 I would list as the Best Books I Read in 2013 or at least
as among the Best Books I Read in 2013, the others being in sectors of
the hard drive not readily accessible. I probably should keep better track
of what I read. Oh well. Perhaps after I have done this for a decade I’ll
remember to write stuff down.
Rebuilt by Michael White and Tom Corcoran. The rights and wrongs of
parish renewal. Another “must-read.”
The Giver by Lois Lowry. A book club pick I
expected to find just ok but which I wound up thinking is an outstanding book.
Evangelical Catholicism by George Weigel. The second most
important new book on Evangelization. Some folks might find it challengingand not just intellectually so. If you
are among them, you’re probably reading the book correctly.
The City of Man by Pierre Manent. An interesting work
by one of the more notable political philosophers of our day.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Re-read it for book
club. Gets better with each reading. A complex take on what are for some folks “the
good old days” and for others not so good, at least in certain key respects.
Ah, the persistent harm of the Benign Institution. Doing the right thing
because it is the right thing. Also, the advantage of befriending the
friendless. Hey, Boo!
Utopia by Thomas More. Companion pick to The
Giver in the book club discussion on dystopia. Of course I read the book as
an undergraduate and re-read it once thereafter. This makes three times. It’s a
complicated mix of satire and political critique. For a variety of reasons the
book is easily misread. That is one reason it should be read and discussed.
Certainly a great book. For a book about “no place” it certainly has wide
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. Another book club
read. Holds up well, despite the fact that the stories were written more than
half a century ago. Don’t look too closely at the pictures. You might find
yourself in one of them.
Dangers to the Faith by Al Kresta. The title says it all.
Of course Al Kresta is no ordinary “radio host.” He is well-informed and
thoughtful in his analysis of things.
Manalive by G.K. Chesterton. A re-read of an
eminently re-readable book. A masterpiece.
33 Days to Morning Glory by Michael Gaitley. Marian
consecration for the 21st century.
The “One Thing” is Three by Michael Gaitley. Why the Trinity
matters. And why the Church is a communion and the whole world is called to be.
The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright. I read this book when
it first came out some years ago. At the time, I thought, “Ok. Fine, as far as
it goes.” Then in preparing for a Christology class I’m teaching, I decided to
re-read it. It got a lot better. Or, more likely, I got more perceptive. In
some ways it’s more helpful than Simply Jesus, which is, nevertheless,
also a very good book by the Anglican bishop New Testament scholar.
Mark Brumley is president and CEO of Ignatius Press.
reading constantly, but it’s almost all non-fiction and piecemeal, old
historical primary sources, books, journals, newspaper articles, and such.
Putting all that aside, my “nightstand” reading this past year has been:
Study of Gregory Palamas by John Meyendorff; trans.
George Lawrence (Crestwood, NJ: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998),
originally published in London, 1964. The feast of St. Gregory Palamas should
definitely be added to the Roman calendar.
of the Reformation by Hilaire Belloc (Rockford,
IL: TAN Books, 1992), 1st ed., London, Sheed & Ward, 1936. “If you like
your monasteries, you can keep your monasteries.”
for the fun of it I also revisited:
(An Béal Bocht) by
Brian O’Nolan (“Flann O’Brien,” aka “Myles na gCopaleen”), trans. Patrick C.
Power (New York: Viking Press, 1974), written in 1941. Ralph Steadman’s
illustrations for the English translation are particularly welcome, “for our
likes will not be seen again.” While re-reading it this time, I recalled
several times the Monty Python skit about testing the weapons-grade joke that
is so funny that one dies from laughing after hearing it.
Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge (Boston:
John W. Luce, 1911), written in 1907.
Eejits by Matthew Fitts, a hilarious 2008 “translation” of Roald
Dahl’s The Twits into Scots dialect.
And I finally and uneasily bonded with my Kindle, finding
that it was a good medium for dispatching a whole series of works in a lighter
genre, as if working through an entire tube of Pringles or firing a rolling
broadside; and so, I sailed right through all of Patrick O’Brian’s sea stories,
then all of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories, and then all of Dorothy Sayers’
Lord Peter Wimsey stories.
Buescher received his Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of
Virginia. He is the author of several books.
Great Bridge by
David McCullough. Next time I take a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge, I’ll do
so with a greater appreciation for what went into building it, not only the
engineering challenges (building a foundation under water, for example) but
also the corruption in New York City government at the time that almost
derailed the project.
of the Fatherless by
Paul C. Vitz. Dr. Vitz this year updated his work on how some of the world’s
best known atheists have lacked one very important thing in their livesand
what it means for rearing children today. Their fathers were either absent,
negligent, abusive, or uninterested in the lives of their children.
Peace I Give You by
Dawn Eden. Herself a victim of childhood sexual abuse, Dawn Eden offers a path
toward healing for others, which includes getting to know saints who have
suffered similar abuse.
What Is Marriage? Man and
Woman: A Defense by
Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George. A cogent defense of the “traditional”
view of marriage (the “conjugal view,” in the authors’
parlance) over the “revisionist” view, and why it matters for the future of
Urgency of the New Evangelization
by Ralph Martin. The president of Renewal Ministries lays out in accessible
language just what we mean when we speak of “the new evangelization” and how
every Catholic can (and must) participate in it.
didn’t read it cover-to-cover this year, as I did once. But let’s not take it
for granted. We who attend Mass or Divine Liturgy weekly or more often “read”
it on a regular basis. We might “zone out” when a passage comes up that we’ve
heard a thousand times, but if we’re growing in the faith, we will hear new things
in that passage each time, because each time it rolls around in the cycle, we’ve
Faith Goes Viral.
Editor Phil Lawler presents 11 stories of evangelization initiatives that have
not only been faithful to the Church but have actually been successful. I was
honored to have contributed a chapter to this book.
and Cosmos by
Thomas Nagel. This and the atheist philosopher’s The View from Nowhere made me feel like I’d taken a graduate-level
course in philosophy.
Deathbed Conversions by Karen Edmisten. Fun
read on how people like John Wayne, Kenneth Clarke, and Oscar Wilde made their
way into the Church, just in time.
Al Kresta's Dangers to the Faith, a great summary of the challenges, both external and internal, to living out a Christian life in 21st-century America. It was the jumping-off point for my interview with him on this website back in September.
Also, I’ve been rereading
Dante’s La Commedia Divina, that is, Dorothy Sayers’ translation. It’s
the only place where one can truthfully say, “I’m going through ‘Hell’ right
now and really enjoying it.”
Burger is a veteran Catholic journalist and editor.
Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers:
Will Many Be Saved? What
Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization
by Dr. Ralph Martin. I found Dr. Martin’s analysis of Karl Rahner’s “Anonymous
Christian” theory and his insights into the soteriology of Hans Urs von
Balthazar particularly interesting.
Thought from Aquinas to Ockham by Russell L. Friedman. It
was often thought that no significant development in Trinitarian theology
occurred during the late medieval period. This well-researched and eminently
readable book provides a great overview of the theologians who utilized
philosophical analysis in the Aristotelian tradition to further the Church’s
understanding of the Trinity.
Dangers to the Faith:
Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st-Century Opponents
by Al Kresta. A straightforward, no nonsense cultural critique of the ills
plaguing the Catholic Church and contemporary society today.
Pornland: How Porn Has
Hijacked Our Sexuality by
Gail Dines. Not a Catholic book by any means, this penetrating sociological
analysis describes how the pornography industry has negatively shaped and
distorted human sexuality. The author also examines the devastating effects of
pornography on society in general and families (especially children) in
particular. Be warned: this eye-opening book pulls no punches. Not for the
What is Marriage? Man and
Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George.
The redefinition of marriage is arguably the critical moral issue of our time.
Traditional marriage is falling like dominoes around the world as many
governments fail to make the distinction between public and private interest.
Public authorities must protect and encourage what is in the best interest of
the public, and the State must only guarantee freedom to pursue private
interest. Hence, in issues of public interest, public law intervenes while
issues of private interests must be referred to the private sphere. In just
over one hundred pages, What is Marriage
presents excellent secular arguments for the Church’s perspective on marriage
emphasizing in a clear, decisive, and convincing manner the fact that marriage
between one man and one woman, and any children produced from that union, is a
public interest. Marriage, the authors argue, serves as the fundamental nucleus
of society and should be recognized and protected as such.
Liberation Theology After
the End of History: The Refusal to Cease Suffering
by Daniel M. Bell, Jr. Dr. Bell assesses the tenets of Latin American
liberation theology in light of global capitalism, which he sees as a
discipline of human desire. Using postmodern critical theory, he adeptly
critiques the failure of liberation theology to adequately address what Pope
Francis has called “the thirst for power and possessions [that] knows no
limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the
way of increased profits, whatever is fragile…is defenseless before the
interests of a deified market, which become the only rule” (Evangelii Gaudium, 56). Bell argues that
the solution lies in the refusal to cease suffering that portends the
liberation of desire from its “capitalist captivity.” Although I disagree with
some of Dr. Bell’s’ conclusions about the future of liberation theology (he is
a proponent of liberation theology, I am not), his analysis is challenging and
insightful. Not an easy read but provides much food for thought.
The Eucharist: A Bible
Study Guide for Catholics by Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ.
This book is comprehensive in its breadth and scope, and is very accessible at
all levels of interest: for the average parishioner who wants a deeper, more
personal experience of God’s word, for the armchair apologist who is looking
for sound biblical exegesis to explain the faith, and even those with a more
scholarly or academic interest will be satisfied by the rich fare served in
this book. This guide is also particularly relevant for students and young
adults who are often searching for reasons why they are Catholic, and who
desire to connect the teachings of the Church with their everyday lived
Politicizing the Bible: The
Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture 1300-1700
by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker. A tremendous overview of the philosophical
and political roots of modern biblical criticism.
Physics, Philosophy, and
Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding
by Robert John Russell, William R. Stoeger, SJ and George V. Coyne, SJ
(editors). A series of academic essays compiled by the scientists, philosophers,
and theologians of the Vatican Observatory on the occasion of the 300th
anniversary of the publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.
History of the Catholic
Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium by James Hitchcock. Although
published in 2012, I didn’t get around to looking at it until this year. There
have been many histories of the Catholic Church written but Dr. Hitchcock’s is
one of the best…ever.
Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers is a Catholic speaker and evangelist
and the founder and director of DynamicDeacon.com.
C.R. Clark, Ph.D.:
to Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80
Days, 2013 literally took me around the world. My husband, Anthony E.
Clark, and I travelled by air and land from the US to China to France and back
to the US again, completely circumnavigating the globe, with books in hand to
ease the strain of travel. In reverse order below is a selection of tomes that
passed beneath my reading glasses this past year:
connected with my farming rootsgranddad specialized in corn and soy in the
Middle West, as it was calledby reading Epitaph
for a Peach by David Mas
Masumoto, the account of a third-generation Japanese-American which reveals his
joys and trials in organic peach farming.
to both friends and family alike, I had never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. This was remedied curling and uncurling my toes before a fire in
a cabin beneath the pines of Central Oregon.
Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography
was more difficult than expected. I had long wished to better understand this
mystic’s experiences but found myself challenged to bridge the gap in time and
culture between us. Undefeated, I am resolved to attempt reading another of her
writings under the pen of an alternate translator.
Gladwell has a way with words and his The
Tipping Point is, as usual, insightful and engaging. This is a man who
makes the results of social science fun (I’m convinced that this must be
because he has a humanities mind). While I still find Blink to be his best work, I frequently return to tales told in The Tipping Point.
is a delight to find a sharp literary mind putting talent to work in creating
simple joys. This was the case with Cautionary
Tales by Hilaire Belloc. Read at the dinner table by candlelight with
my dear husband, we rhymed and giggled, and sometimes merely stared at each
other with eyebrows raised in quizzical astonishment.
by recent blockbuster movies (that I did not watch), I decided to reread F.
Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which had been completely lost on me
in high school when it was assigned; this book is likely understood best by
thirty-somethings attempting to make sense of unachieved expected futures.
finding myself a leader this year, I read everything I could lay my hands on
regarding this unexpected undertaking. Former Whitworth University president,
and friend, Bill Robinson wrote Incarnate
Leadership, a concise book on
how he infused his life as a leader with Christian principals. B-Robas he was
affectionately called by the student bodyis unpretentious in this most-helpful
nearly always for meit’s fun to turn back the clock and wander the lamp-lit
streets of yesteryear. This was achieved in reading Little Lord Fauntleroy, written
in 1885 by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a delightful moralizing tale that still
enamored with the eccentricities of brilliant minds and prodigiously productive
lives, I was enthralled reading The
Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story
of Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth by Paul Hoffman. A pursuit of
mathematical perfection expertly told.
One for the Books, Joe Queenan’s comical and sometimes
irreverent account of a lifetime romp with books, bookstores, and booksellers
is a great reminder of why the physical book matters, and perhaps matters now
more than ever.
indulged in a serial reading of books regarding persecuted Catholic
missionaries in China, all of which were inspirational on several levels; the
best read was perhaps …But Not
Conquered by Columban Father
Bernard Smyth, a volume of collected stories both humorous and heart-wrenching
of Columban missionaries in 20th-century China. While currently out of print, Father
Smyth’s book is a volume worth pursuing and reading.
began the year nestled into a large black leather chair, reading under the
perfectly overcast skies of the Willamette Valley while raindrops gently
pattered on the roof. The book in my hands matched this environment well: The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald
recounts the hardships of “pioneer days” in the Seattle area as told through
amusing and earthy prose. A must-read for anyone living in the Pacific
C.R. Clark, Ph.D. is
director of the library at Whitworth University and co-author of Understanding
Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.:
The German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke,
once said, “I don’t think of work, only gradually regaining my health through
reading, re-reading, and reflecting.”
This has been a busy year, spent
mostly breathing unhealthy smog in Beijing, and conducting hours of tedious
research; reading was nourishing and I am certain improved my health.
By far the
most spiritually penetrating book I read was the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila! I was not well disposed
to her writing through the first several chapters, but how can one avoid being
stirred by her later chapters, in which her visions bring her suffering,
ecstasy, and spiritual insight that few have experienced?
I also read
Msgr. George Mouchampe’s A Sketch of the Life of Father Victorin
Delbrouck, OFM. This biography recounts the harrowing life, struggles,
and summoning martyrdom of a humble Franciscan. Difficult to find, but worth a
finally read the entire Rule of St.
Benedicta short work that in many ways rivals the Exercises of St.
Ignatius. I could not help but skim over the temporal punishment he recommends
giving “bad monks,” but the thoroughly scriptural tenor of this Rule is an apt
guiding principle for the Christian life.
I can now
say that I have now read and digested Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity. The middle chapters were a bit
challenging to wade through, but the first and last sections of this
masterpiece should be required reading for all who follow Christ. Ratzinger’s
clarity is a welcome oasis in this era of obscurity and pedestrianism.
Josef Pieper’s Guide to Thomas Aquinas. This
was a surprising work! Pieper’s open-minded approach to St. Thomas was a
welcome reflection on the Angelic Doctor.
Hesiod’s Theogony was a short but profound reminder of
the rich origins of Western thought. I followed Hesiod with Theognis; Hesiod
wins the contest of literary and philosophical wisdom, at least in my mind.
Walsh’s delightful biography Father McShane of Maryknoll was among the most literary and
enjoyable books I have read in the past decade. This book is crucial for those
wishing to understand the New Evangelization.
Jonathan Watts’ When A Billion Chinese Jump, to my freshman class. We were all
astonished by how serious China’s environmental abuse is impacting our planet.
May we better respect the world God has given us.
vacation in Oregon, I finished Erwin Panofsky’s Gothic Architecture and
Scholasticism. Brilliant! Panofsky
is what scholars today should aspire to be.
McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage.
Here is a small work by a Catholic intellectual who understood the “technological
rabbit hole” we have all fallen into. We are Alice. Pray for Alice!
Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. is
an associate professor of Chinese history at Whitworth University and the
author of China’s Saints: Catholic Martyrdom During the Qing,
I am currently working on a book concerning Islam’s war on Christianity,
and while I have been obliged to read numerous volumes about the subject, the
best single work is without doubt Raymond Ibrahim’s Crucified
Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (Regnery, 2013). The son of
Egyptian Copts, Ibrahim is a master of the various aspects of this gruesome
theme, and the picture he paints is as accurate as it is disturbing. While
Christians certainly suffer outside of the Muslim world in such places as India
and China, it is only Islam that is so viscerally and ideologically committed
to Christian persecution, and no degree of relativism and denial should be
allowed to obscure this. It’s simply too late to be ecumenical with the truth,
and every senior Catholic should read this book and think and pray hard about
Speaking of martyrdom, I have been
fascinated by St. Thomas More since I was a teenager, have visited pretty much
every place in England in any way linked to the man, and revere him as an
intellectual and politician who refused to compromise with powerful forces of
reform and betrayal. John Guy’s A Daughter’s Love: Thomas More and his
Dearest Meg (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was published in 2009 and it’s to my
shame that I hadn’t read it until this year. I somewhat proudly assumed that I
knew all there was to know, having studied 16th-century history at university
and read all of the previous More biographies, but I was wrong. Guy’s approach
is radically and delightfully different from his rivals and he explores his man
through the prism of fatherhood, paternal love, and the extraordinary influence
daughter Margaret had over this most compelling of Catholic heroes.
It’s also been a year for reading some of the modern literature
and contemporary authors that I’ve neglected. I’d read some William Boyd in the
past but chose Any Human Heart (Penguin, 2010) after seeing a few
minutes of a television adaptationnothing at all wrong with this, by the way,
and only snobs argue that great books shouldn’t be transferred to the screen.
The book mingles its fictional hero with actual characters, from the 1930s
through to the end of the 20th century,
but it’s less historical fiction that an exploration of emotion, loss and
relationship. Some critics were outraged by the approach, but not this one.
Boyd is a gifted storyteller.
Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth (Knopf, 2012) was recommended to me
because one of its central characters is depicted as coming from my hometown
and having attended the same university as me. Pure coincidence of course, but
intriguing nonetheless. I, however, did not go on to work for the intelligence
services! McEwan is one of the most consistently reliable novelists of this
generation, and without giving too much away I can predict a surprise, a dance
of a device, in this sadly underrated book.
I came across Rachel Joyce from reading a brief review in Britain’s
The Oldie magazine of her The Unlikely
Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel (Random House, 2013), and God bless
whoever the author of that review was. This is one of the most remarkable works
of fiction I have read in some years, and certainly the most surprising in that
I had not heard of the author before. The leap from simplicity, almost banal
simplicity, to complex and multi-layered plot and character is seamless and charming.
I wept at the denouement, and middle-aged Englishmen don’t say that and
certainly don’t admit such a thing very often. When a novel leads a reader to
readdress his own life and opinions, we know it’s a triumph.
While I had read the entire series some years ago, I decided to
take another run at Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books this year and I have
no regrets. My original reading of the 20 novels was over a period of some
years, and the whole experience is far better if taken in one set period.
Arguably the finest historical fiction ever written, this is stellar prose,
finely observed character studies, and intricately researched history. The
maritime language and some of the late 18th and early 19th century
references do take some work, but the effort is supremely worthwhile. A
life led without having read O’Brian is a life incomplete. There is also a
poignant Catholic thread that runs through this grand tale of a British sea
captain and his trusted surgeon/spy friend, and for once the Church comes off
It was once said that we read to know that we are not alone. I’ve
always known that, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded.
Michael Coren is the host of The
Arena, a nightly television show
broadcast on the Canadian network Sun News, a columnist whose work appears in
numerous publications across Canada, and the author of more than a dozen books.
David Paul Deavel:
I was pleased to be rereading C.S.
Lewis’ Screwtape Letters on the 50th anniversary of his
death. Father James Schall has always
advocated that one can’t simply read the Great Books alone, but needs “Little
Guides” like Lewis. The advice of Uncle Screwtape brought to vivid life the
truths that my undergraduates had been wrestling with in Evagrius of Pontus’
treatment of the “Eight Thoughts,” the Seven Deadly Sins’ precursors. With
another class I reread Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and Christopher
Dawson’s The Historic Reality of Christian Culture (found,
along with other Dawson essays, in Christianity and European Culture,
edited by Gerald Russello). Both books strike me as perfect
introductions to the whole of their authors’ mental worlds.
Other “Little Guides” I read
included the 20th-century Dominicans A.D. Sertillanges and Gerald Vann.
Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life should be read by any
Catholic who desires or pretends to a vocation as an intellectual. Vann’s
The Divine Pity examines the Beatitudes in connection with the sacraments
and the different modes of prayer that make up a true Catholic spirituality.
Each age produces its own little
guides and apologists. Ours is no exception. Jason Stellman’s The Destiny
of the Species provides the kind of broad biblical apologetic for
Christianity that is too often lacking in Catholic writers. Alyssa Bormes provides
a different kind of apologetic that is also needed. The Catechism of
Hockey shows that even the most “unbelievable” aspects of Catholic life
and teaching have their own analogues in the world of sports, where they are
easily accepted by people of all ages.
Not an apologetic per se, Ralph Martin’s Will Many Be Saved?
provides Catholic apologists an excellent guide to what the Second Vatican
Council taught about salvation inside and outside the Church, arguing that they
need to preach the Gospel’s bad news as well as its good news.
On the topic of the Church’s
teaching about the earthly city, Samuel Gregg’s Becoming Europe and
Tea Party Catholic both advance the case that, while many people assume
that the modern European social order doesn’t just produce better results, but
more perfectly reflects Catholic thought and teaching on political and economic
life, the case for the American experiment in ordered liberty and free markets
is both strong and rooted in Catholic principles. In short, the Church and the
Founding Fathers have more in common than suspected. The late Emile
Perreau-Saussine’s Catholicism and Democracy argued a similar
line of thought from the perspective of French Catholicism. Irish historian
Stephen Kelly’s A Conservative at Heart? The Political and Social Thought
of John Henry Newman shows compellingly that Blessed Newman himself
came to advocate and approve of various aspects of modern liberal political
orders, reflecting the Church’s adaptation to every age, discerning what is
good in every age.
To know what’s worth keeping, we
need to know what we have. The philosopher James Otteson’s Adam Smith,
a brilliant and brief introduction to a much-maligned but little understood
figure, helps readers understand why Russell Kirk labeled him one of the three “pillars
of order” in the West. I also read two recent (not new) books on the late
William F. Buckley, Jr. Linda Bridges
and John R. Coyne, Jr.’s Strictly Right: William F. Buckley, Jr. and the
Conservative Movement and Rick Brookhiser’s Right Time, Right
Place are useful and entertaining looks at a devout Catholic and
dynamic writer with strong political views. What’s fascinating is that the
conversion of figures like Frank Meyer and Willmoore Kendall are as much a part
of the story as Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
In fiction, I tackled the
forgotten comic genius Peter De Vries, whose clowning often masked a serious
wrestling with God in Slouching Towards Kalamazoo, The
Tunnel of Love, and particularly The Blood of the Lamb.
Bruce Marshall’s The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith gives
a priestly protagonist whose wrestling with God is no less poignant than De
Vries’ characters, but more successful in the atmosphere of Catholicism. I also
re-read the first book of Sigrid Undset’s The Master of Hestviken.
It’s just as good this time (and I hope to read the rest this spring).
Finally, The English Poems
of George Herbert (ed. C.A. Patrides) provided spiritual sustenance.
Mother Teresa carried around his poem “Love (III)” on a scrap of paper. It begins,
“Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,/ Guiltie of dust and sin.” It
concludes, “‘You must sit down,’ said Love, “and taste my meat.’/ So I did sit
David Paul Deavel is associate editor of
Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture and adjunct professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St.
might say that this year I went over to the dark side, reading-wise. I read
because I love to read, but also to learn the craft of writing: storytelling, style, pace, and technique, from
year included Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, The Heart of the
Matter by Graham Greene, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak,
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, and The Violent Bear It Away
by Flannery O’Connor.
always have a pure enjoyment book on my bedside table, but none of these
stimulating, demanding stories qualify.
Vile Bodies is a dark farce about pre-WWI British society, at once a
humorous and troubling chronicle of people who are adrift, who seem to know it,
but whose inertia makes them incapable of changing their trajectories.
The Heart of the Matter tells the story of a colonial civil servant whose
compassion and sense of propriety drive him to a terrible choice. What struck
me about this story is the way Greene depicts how rational this choice seems to
Scobie, and how events “cooperate” in driving him toward this decision.
Doctor Zhivago is an exploration of human freedom within the cauldron of
societies, movements (chiefly, the Bolsheviks), and human passions, a dense
story packed with characters, subplots, philosophical reflections and
disputations, and even original poetry.
The Moviegoer reminded me of Vile
Bodies in its depiction of self-absorption and inertia, rather than
momentous decisions or events, directing lives; not an inexorably dark story,
as Percy is a deft humorist who connects real films and actors with his main
manages to make The Violent Bear It Away humorous, in spots anyway, in
spite of a relentlessly dark theme and protagonist. Violent contrasts extreme ideologies: militant atheism and
fanatical, self-defined religion, and depicts the clash of these ideologies in
the persons of the two main characters. Not for the timid…
do these stories have in common, besides masterful writing? Keen insights into
fragile human nature, connecting choices and consequences, and contrasting
human freedom with bondage to a variety of psychological and moral ailments. I’ve
had to train myself to be patient when reading books like these, as they don’t
hook you in the first five pages, or even by the 50th page, in the case of
As for non-fiction: a re-reading of Peter Kreeft’s The
Philosophy of Tolkien, a brilliant exploration of philosophy and first
things, and Russell Kirk’s biography of
Edmund Burke, a man who transcended liberal-conservative-libertarian
categorization, and a person who has much to say to us today.
M. Doran resides in Michigan, where he is an author, adjunct professor at
Lawrence Technological University, and a member of the College of Fellows of
the Engineering Society of Detroit.
R. Michael Dunnigan:
Phantastes by George MacDonald (1857).
C.S. Lewis credited George MacDonald with baptizing his imagination, and
he said that he never wrote a book that did not draw on MacDonald in some way. Phantastes,
one of MacDonald’s fairy tales for grown-ups, is a delightful and intriguing
story about a young man’s journey into Fairy Land for purposes that are not
altogether clear. The reader might be frustrated at the surprising number of
questions that MacDonald leaves unanswered, but by the same token, some would
say that this circumstance only contributes to the enchantment of the tale.
Popular History of the Catholic Church by Philip Hughes (1947). This brief
one-volume history certainly leaves the reader wishing for more. In particular,
one wishes that the author, the highly regarded Church historian Philip Hughes,
had completed the anticipated fourth volume of his more expansive A History
of the Church (3 vols., 1914-1948). Had Hughes written that fourth volume,
it would have covered the period since the Protestant Reformation. However,
this slim volume gives the reader the benefit of at least a brief treatment of
the modern period by Hughes. The author’s main theme throughout the work is the
struggle of the papacy to free itself from the Catholic princes’ excessive
interference in the life of the Church. Despite the brevity of the Popular
History, it amply manifests Hughes’ vibrant prose, clear vision, and
J.F. Powers (1956). This is a poignant, funny, penetrating, and gently cynical
story about a high-powered religious priest whose order exiles him to the
Minnesota prairie. The author, J.F. Powers, unfortunately has been neglected in
recent years, but he had a remarkable gift for writing about priests and
deserves a revival.
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of the
Candice Millard (2011). If, like me, you have been accustomed to thinking of
the US presidents in the last quarter of the 19th century as a bunch of
mediocre guys with beards, then Candice Millard’s biography of James Garfield
will be a welcome corrective. Garfield was a remarkable manskilled in
mathematics, classical languages, and oratoryand also a daring and effective
Civil War general. He rose from poverty to the nation’s highest office, without
any presidential ambition whatsoever. Garfield is little remembered because he
was assassinated so early in his tenure, but Millard shines a light on his achievements,
and even more importantly, illumines his heroic character.
Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray (2012).
Political scientist Charles Murray believes that the country is “coming apart,”
not along racial or ethnic lines, but along class lines. Class distinction is
not new, of course, but the degree of class separation that has occurred over
the last half century, Murray argues, is unlike anything that the country ever
has experienced. Moreover, unless this trend is reversed, it will result in the
disappearance of any common kinship between the new elite class and the new
working class, and will bring an end to “the American project.” In particular,
Murray documents the decline in marriage, industriousness, honesty, and
religious practice over the last half century. (Although Murray focuses on
white America, he is by no means unconcerned with non-white communities.
However, he believes that the usual comparison of statistics on whites with
those on African-Americans and Latinos tends to obscure the deterioration
within the baseline itself. That is, the much commented upon decline in
African-American working-class family life and community life is, in fact,
characteristic of the new working class as a whole, both white and non-white.)
What may be of special interest to readers of Catholic World Report is
Murray’s documentation of religious practice, and his surprising conclusion
that secularization has been more pronounced among the new working class than
among the new elites. Murray’s book is both fascinating and profoundly
Michael Dunnigan is a civil attorney,
writer, and canon lawyer.
year I enjoyed the great pleasure of reading the works of an excellent novelist
I’d never heard of before. He is Riccardo Bacchelli (1891-1985), very well
known in his long career in Italy, profoundly Catholic, and a “modern” writer
in a way that Eliot would have approved. That is, he is steeped in Scripture,
in 2,000 years of Roman and Christian intellectual and artistic history, and in
the heritage of Italian literature, but he makes them his own, speaking to
modern man, disjointed and existentially troubled as he is. His great work
is The Mill on the Po, a long novel that owes much to Tolstoy and
to Alessandro Manzoni, about the history of a rugged family of millers on the
Po River, fighting for their livelihood between the Papal States and the
Austrian Empirewith sons and daughters sometimes pious, sometimes profligate,
sometimes cold and cunning, sometimes passionate and violent. It is a
masterpiece of characterization and meditation upon historical movements, like I Promessi Sposi and Kristin Lavransdatter and Doctor Zhivago.
I enjoyed two other novels of his just as much: The Three Slaves of
Julius Caesar and The Glance of Jesus. I read these in
Italian, so I don’t know whether they are available in English, but they ought
to be. The first book tells, with many flashbacks, about the conversations and
the deeds of three of Julius Caesar’s slaves, determining what to do after
their master has been assassinated. One of the slaves is a German warrior who
grew up with Caesar and fought alongside him in battle; one is a shy and
slender youth, an intellectual and religious mystic, a devotee of the “unknown
God”; one is a stolid Celt who seems to care about nothing in the world but to
do whatever his duty to his pagan god requires him to do, including to give up
his life. We see that they are three men who do not know that they waiting for
a revelation that is soon to come.
other novel, The Glance of Jesus, is told from the point of view
of the man of the Gesarenes who was possessed by demons, whom Jesus cured. He
spends the rest of his life both loving and hating the look that Jesus gave him
when He told him not to follow Him, but to go and tell his family what had been
done to him. It is a page-turner, far better than the more popular biblical
fare (The Robe, Ben-Hur),
and at least as fine as Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis?, though shorter and more powerfully concentrated.
with Bacchelli, I’ve “discovered” the novels of Franz Werfel, the Jewish
novelist who was an almost-Catholic (The Song of Bernadette), and
of the once popular Taylor Caldwell (Pillar of Iron, on Cicero).
Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at
and Civilization by Carle Zimmerman. If you
are interested in the history of marriage and the family, and its impact on
civilization from pre-Christianity forward, you simply must read this book. Considered
Zimmerman’s magnum opus, Family and Civilization analyzes three types of
families seen throughout history: the trustee, the domestic (seen at the height
of any civilization), and the atomistic (the type of family we are seeing now.)
Zimmerman was quite prescient in his views on what the family, and by
extension, civilization, would look like in the 20th century and beyond. If you
are like me, and think things have been going to Hell in a hand basket since
the 12th century, Zimmerman’s research and analysis will do much to confirm
the West Really Lost God
by Mary Eberstadt. While many scholars and researchers have argued that the
family weakens due to a lack or decline of religious observance, Eberstadt, an
engaging writer and social critic, takes the contrarian view that people lose
their belief in God because they reject marriage and children. She ends her
book, which took five years to write, on an optimistic note, affirming that
devoutly religious peoplethose most likely to have large familiesare on the
right side of history.
Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a
Good Life by Rod Dreher. As Dreher
tells the story of his sister, Ruthiea beloved schoolteacher, wife, and mother
who died of cancer in her early 40she also recounts his own life and the
complicated relationships he had with Ruthie, the rest of his family, and in
particular, his small hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana. He eventually
moves awayfirst for his education and then for a career as a writer in
metropolitan areas. When Ruthie gets sick, Dreher is amazed at how the town
rallies around her and her family. Following her death, he and his family make
the decision to move back to his hometown, which he saw differently following
Ruthie’s illness and death. An excellent pick for a book club, this work
tackles an array of issues, including sibling rivalry, the importance of
community, and the pain of regret. Beautifully written, the stories and
struggles of the people of Dreher’s St. Francisville will stay with you long
after you finish the book.
Leslie Fain is
a freelance writer who lives in Louisiana with her husband and three sons.
Daniel B. Gallagher:
am not sure if Erasmus was vaunting a virtue or confessing a sin when he wrote,
“When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and
clothes.” I hope it was a virtue, so that he might help me when I show up at
the Pearly Gates naked, famished, and clutching my Kindle Fire, begging Saint
Peter to let me in if for no other reason than to give me time to finish the 500
books I downloaded this year. But I fear I may have to hand over this
amazing(ly addictive) device. When I do, I’ll recommend that Peter (and perhaps
Erasmus) swipe through these five jewels:
as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. Most of us don’t get
enough art in our lives, and if we try to get more, it’s usually for the wrong
reasons. We want more culture, more prestige, or just a more refined form of
stimulation. But what about psychological healing? We could shell out the big
bucks for a shrink or we could visit a local museum. De Botton and Armstrong
don’t just argue that art is as good as a shrink, they guide us through some
sample counseling sessions. Art helps us to remember the past, to hope in the
future, to grieve over our losses, to rebalance our priorities, to understand
ourselves, to grow beyond our comfort zones, and to appreciate what’s in front
of us. No time is wasted by standing in front of a Vermeer and letting yourself
Dispensable Nation by Vali Nasr. When it
comes to American foreign policy in the Muslim world, Nasr combines a depth of
knowledge with a breadth of practical experience. He laments that the current
administration has steered away from complex issues in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Pakistan, but also makes concrete suggestions for the future. The book is
backed by serious research and peppered with personal anecdotes as Nasr
recounts the sad tale of political infighting and face-saving that has resulted
in shoddy diplomatic choices. Perhaps most prescient is his analysis of how
China is taking advantage of the diplomatic vacuum in the Middle East by
building infrastructures that will make it virtually impossible for the United
States and its allies to impose sanctions. Nasr is one of the few who look at
trouble spots in the Middle East through the lens of geopolitics rather than
merely regional factionalism.
Ways by Tim Parks. Mr. Parks has written yet another book that
filled my eyes with tears of mirth as I soaked in his seriousness. Italy’s
efforts to make its rail system faster and more efficient demonstrate that a “national
character manifests itself most clearly when the things you thought couldn’t
change finally do.” Parks explores Italian culture and politics by taking
virtually every possible train route up, down, and across the peninsula. He
compares his experiences in three time periods2005, 2007-2012, and 2012revealing
Italy’s evolution (and devolution) through its rails. This is a must-read for
any foreigner who has lived under the tricolore
for more than a year.
of Bohane by Kevin Barry. This, Barry’s first novel, won him the 2013
International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and rightly so. Anyone who has read
his short stories should not be surprised. But be forewarned. The violence and
language makes A Clockwork Orange look
tame. Yet Barry is bursting with an imagination that exceeds what Burgess put
on display a half-century ago. Barry takes us to a fictitious west Ireland town
in 2053 devoid of computers, Internet, and selfies. Bohane is ravaged by family
strife fueled by the same love, jealousy, and vengeance that plagued the houses
of Capulet and Montague. Take my warning, but keep in mind that Barry’s
extraordinary talent for characterization and language will make him one of the
best fiction authors of the early 21st century.
Things by Seamus Heaney. One of the housing projects in Barry’s
novel is named after Seamus Heaney, though not one of its residents seems to
remember who he was. I pray Barry is not playing the prophet here. If you haven’t
read Heaney, who died in Dublin this past August, don’t wait until 2053. I
recommend you start with the title poem of this 1991 collection. You’ll soon
discover why Heaney will forever be numbered among the likes of Yeats, Joyce,
and Eliot. Requiescat in pace.
B. Gallagher is a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan.
am a compulsive reader. I read more than 100 books this past year. These
are the five best:
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.
For years several intelligent friends had recommended this classic 1901 novel,
but I assumed that it would be as slow and cerebral as some of the later
novels. I finally resolved to read it last New Year’s Day. Within five pages I
was hooked. It is not only a masterpiece of European Realismperhaps the last
true masterpiece in that lineageit is also a compelling and moving story of a
great family in decline across four generations. Novels don’t get better than
A Canticle for Leibowitz by
Walter Miller, Jr. I reread this award-winning sci-fi novel from 1960 as I
researched an essay on Catholic writers. (I had first read it in high school.)
I was delighted and impressed by this deeply Catholic visionary and
ultimately apocalyptic novel, the only one Miller ever finished. There are many
Catholic works of sci-fi. There is none more powerful than Miller’s.
What Happened to Sophie Wilder by
Christopher Beha. Despite my first two selections, I actually do read a lot of
new fiction, but most of it isn’t all that good. Beha’s novel, however, is the
real thinga deeply observed, beautifully written, and eventually harrowing
story of a young woman’s conversion to Catholicism. A first novel this fine
promises much for Beha’s future.
The Vernacular Republic: Selected
Poems by Les Murray. Australian Murray is now probably the preeminent
living Catholic poet in English. Prolific, mercurial, and sometime odd, his
huge body of work can be intimidating. This fall I decided to dig in and read
or reread most of it. Night after night, Murray’s poems kept me riveted with
their profligate verbal force and capacious imagination.
Dante’s Divine Comedy, translated by Clive James. This new
version of Dante’s epic allegory is also by an Australian, this one a
fallen Catholic. James is not only a poet but also one of the few truly
great literary critics now active. His version of Dante is designed to be read
without the plethora of scholarly footnotes that customarily accompany the
poetic text. I began the book with skepticism, but James allows one to read the
poem with a narrative ease unmatched by any other version. I would not
recommend this translation as one’s first choice. That honor still goes to John
Ciardi’s translation in verse (or Charles Singleton’s prose translation). But
as a second version to reread the poem, James offers certain virtues no other
Dana Gioia is
the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Judge
Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern
My Antonia by Willa Cather. I was on a bit
of a Willa Cather kick at the beginning of the year (partly as a
palate-cleanser following the Graham Greene kick I was on at the end of last
year); this one was my favorite.
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. A perennial
favorite, reread more times than I can countbut always going to be among the
best books I read any year I read it.
American Church: The Remarkable
Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America by Russell Shaw. A balanced
short history of the Church in the United States that dispels myths held dear
by those on the left and the right about American Catholicism’s past (neither “the
bad old days” nor a gleaming golden age) while pointing out today’s causes for
continued concern as well as hope for the future. Shaw is a regular CWR contributor,
and you can read his interview with CWR about his book here.
Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols
in Everyday Life by
Elizabeth Scalia. Basically everybody in the Catholic blogosphere has been
raving about this book since its release last spring (Russell Shaw reviewed it on
the CWR Blog, here).
The praise is justified; this book is just as thought-provoking and unsettling
(in a good way!) as everyone says.
Sisters in Crisis by Ann Carey. Another
fascinating read on a critical aspect of American Catholicism, this book
examines women’s religious communities and how they’ve gone from being the
backbone of American Catholic institutions to the controversial subjects of
sensational headlines and Vatican inquiry. I interviewed Carey about the book
for CWR over the summer; you can read that interview here.
Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. This was a fun
summer read; fans of Gaffigan’s stand-up comedy will find the same hilariously
subversive humor here, in his book on fatherhood and family life. My better
half reviewed the book
for CWR in August.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. This was a
book club read, and I have to admit I don’t know if I would have reread it on
my own (I read it, and didn’t love it, in college). But I really loved the book
this time around, and am thinking I might read it yet again this coming year.
A Stay Against Confusion by Ron Hansen. A collection of
essays by one of today’s great Catholic writers, this book includes lively
discussions of the life of faith, the craft of fiction-writing, the sacraments
and the sacramental, and much more. A particular favorite is Hansen’s
biographical sketch of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. Several
friends have been nagging me to read Berry’s novels for years, and I am glad I
have finally started. I did read this
one on my Kindle, however; I can’t imagine Mr. Berry would approve.
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor. I received this book as a Christmas
gift and it is a last-minute addition to my 2013 list. Believe the hypethis
little book is simply beautiful.
Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
Achilles and Hector: The
Homeric Hero by Seth
Benardete. Benardete’s astonishing attention to textual detail issues in a
fascinating, sensitive, brilliant work of exegesis that moves beyond exegesis
into a genuinely philosophic reflection on the Iliad. Reading this book will almost certainly enhance your
appreciation and enjoyment of the Iliad.
On the God of the
Christians (And On One or Two Others) by Remi Brague. You can read
my full CWR review soon, so I’ll just say that Brague manages in this rather
slim volume to demolish the facile relativism of religious pluralism that sees
no difference between the three “monotheisms”Christianity, Judaism, and Islamand to show the immense
importance of an understanding of God for man’s place in the world, even
against the backdrop of an intellectual climate that tries to shoehorn religion
into the merely private sphere of individual sentiment.
Deification and Grace by Daniel A. Keating. Keating
weaves together contemporary, medieval, and patristic texts, employing his keen
eye for the theology of the Eastern Churches in clarifying and expressing the
Church’s tradition of reflection on grace and its effects. Excellent text for
upper-level undergraduate students or graduate students interested in a good
introduction to the topic of grace in the Catholic tradition.
The Voyage of the Dawn
Treader by C.S.
Lewis. I’ve begun reading the Chronicles
of Narnia to my five-year-old. Any of the first four books could fit here,
but Dawn Treader gets my nod because
of the sheer number of delightful vignettes Lewis strings together. The
beginning of the book alone is worth the cost of purchase, where Lewis
cheerfully shreds the fashionable theories of education, both in the home and
at school, that were common in mid-century England, but that still have plenty
of resonance now. It’s the Abolition of
Man in a nutshell, completed later with his reflection on the dangerous
temptation of magic and technology on the island of the Dufflepuds. Of course,
the transformation of the execrable Eustace of Dawn Treader into the rather gallant young man of The Silver Chair is both satisfying and
Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. Smart, philosophically and
theologically astute science fiction novel that does science fiction the way it’s
supposed to be done: pose a speculative, what
if question and draw out the implications. In this case, Flynn asks, what
if a UFO had crashed in a medieval German village? Demonstrating a high degree
of knowledge about medieval society and its intellectual climate, Flynn ably
explores a perennially hot topic among theology nerds: what would the status of
aliens be in the economy of salvation? It’s a slower moving book than most
other entries in the genre, but that’s because of the fascinating, thorny
intellectual problems Flynn takes up. Bonus for same theology nerds: William of
Ockham makes a cameo appearance.
Harmon is assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in
was an easy task for me this year, although my favorite book for 2013 is a book
I read first in 2012a book of poems by Dana Gioia called Pity the Beautiful. Poetry like Gioia’s keeps calling
you back, and I have re-read some of the poems so many times in 2013 that I
would have to say it is indeed my favorite book of the year; so much so that I
have purchased several more copies for Christmas gifts for my sisters, my grown
children, and a few special friends. As I write this, I am looking at a
stack of Gioia’s book of poetry with the angel on the front cover, ready to be
wrapped for Christmas morning.
whose name means “joy,” is a poet who truly understands the experiences that
can delight us. His poem “Shopping” speaks to some guilty pleasures that I too
have sought at the mall. But Gioia understands sorrow also. His “Finding
a Box of Family Letters” spoke directly to my heavy heart as I first read it
shortly after the death of my father. And his “Special Treatments Ward”
is a heart-wrenching story of a hospital “where the children come to die…where
they wear their bandages like uniforms and pull their IV rigs along the halls.” Gioia
knows sorrow, having lost a child many years ago.
Catholic who is quiet about his faith, Gioia knows that there is something else
beyond this world. He also knows that many of us have forgotten that. But
anyone who reads his “Angel With the Broken Wing” cannot help but be reminded
of the faith that can sustain us. The poem is narrated by a statue of an angel
that has been “broken” and shut away “in this quiet room” where the “staff
finds me too fierce, and so they shut Faith’s ardor in this air-conditioned
tomb.” The angel statue remembers a faith-filled past when “I heard the women
whispering at my feetPrayers for the lost, the dying, and the dead. Their
candles stretched my shadow up the wall, And I became the hunger that they fed.”
Gioia understands how faith has declined into secularism, yet his broken angel
still has “so many things I must tell God!” Yet Gioia’s
angel sits anxiously waiting to be rediscovered: “nailed to a perch, a
crippled saint against a painted sky.”
me, discovering Gioia’s newest book of poetry is a bit like rediscovering the
gift of faiththe reminder that we should never take it for granted because it
can be so easily lost.
Hendershott is professor of sociology at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
started using public transportation again this year to commute, so I spend at
least two hours a day on train and light rail. It’s given me a new opportunity
to read, and I’ve tried to alternate between non-fiction and fiction. Six of my
favorites this year, in no particular order:
Are You Poor by the late, great Father
Thomas Dubay is always a wonderful, painful read. He reminds us that Gospel
poverty is something we are all called to with no exceptions. He shatters
myths, makes you shift uncomfortably as he prods you to examine your
conscience, and shows how truly transformative an effect we could have on our
culture if we took this command of our faith more seriously. I’ve read this one
before and I will undoubtedly read it again.
and Sanity by Frank Sheed supplies
what’s sorely missing in a lot of debates about political issues; namely, a
Catholic understanding of what society is, and what man is, and how the two fit
together. In this book, readers of all ideological stripes will find challenges
to their way of thinking.
Turning Point for Europe? by
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) is another book packed
full of sharp observations about the origins of modern political and social
thought. Ratzinger’s analytical mind takes up and examines cultural trends,
pointing out how Catholics (and Christians in general) can teach the world
where to look for fulfilling answers. He’s also very realistic about the
failures of some ways in which Christians try to communicate with a
secular culture, and challenges us to find ways to articulate faith in a manner
that is compelling to our current age.
from non-fiction to fiction:
in the Ruins is Walker Percy’s
wince-inducing satire on American culture and Catholicism, using a
post-apocalyptic setting to good effect as he skewers sacred cows left and
right. By the end, those cows are roasting on the barbeque as transcendence peeks
through the smoke.
of Your Life and Others
by Ted Chiang is a collection of science-fiction short stories, many of which
have religious or philosophical underpinnings that recall writers such as
Philip K. Dick. One story takes us to the construction of the Tower of Babel,
another explores Hell, and one gloriously weird tale takes Aristotelian ideas
about the natural world, fuses them with Jewish lore, and produces a thoroughly
inventive meditation on eugenics and human worth.
of Innocence by Dorothy Cummings McLean
had me riveted when I read the manuscript in preparation for designing the
cover. Several months later, once I had the actual book in hand, I re-read it
and became so engrossed again that I missed my train stop. The less said about
the plot, the greater the surprise when you read it. (Note: the author has also
been blogging at www.IPNovels.comyou should come check it out!)
John Herreid works in the marketing
department at Ignatius Press, and contributes to the blog at Ignatius Press Novels.
Believe in God by Paul
Claudel. Excerpts edited from his many works, on every article of the
Creed. Luminous stuff. All the mysteries unfurl in their glory.
This account (4th century) of the fiery trials and theological struggles of
the Early Church should be read once every five years.
Last Things by Romano
Guardini. Required reading, especially on Purgatory. Glorious stuff.
Letters by C.S. Lewis. Almost the best of Lewis.
All of his powers glimmer through these letters, including his delighted love
of small animals. 3,000+ pages.
Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester. A titanic three-volume
treatment of this titanic man.
of Mercy, Heart of the Word by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis. This (almost)
syllable-by-syllable meditative scrutiny of Matthew’s Gospel is, without
question, the richest scholarly/devotional thing of its kind that I have ever
encountered. It is, starkly put, a drop-everything work.
Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich. Pure,
sheer delight. Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages, the Merovingians,
Valois, Tudors, Habsburgs, and everyone else will spring back to lifeall in
one small volume written, in effect, for children. Read it.
Thomas Howard is a poet, bestselling author of many books, professor, and
Marc Guerra’s Christians
as Political Animals. Guerra has penned an outstanding book that should
be required reading for anyone particularly interested in the
theologico-political problem, and for Catholic university students in general.
Along with a foundational analysis of the theologico-political problem as it
was revivified by Leo Strauss, Guerra also provides in-depth accounts of the
political philosophy of two 20th-century giants of the Catholic intellectual
tradition, Ernest Fortin, AA and James V. Schall, SJ. Among other things, there
are three great achievements in Guerra’s book that should be mentioned: first,
relying upon Augustine (and Aquinas as well), Guerra highlights that modern and
post-modern reflection upon political matters must restore the primacy of what
he calls the “transpolitical character” of the Christian faith. Christianity
does not offer a specific social or political program that it determines to be
most fully in accord with the tenets of the faith. The mission and essence of
the Church is to save souls by bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth;
this is why she exists in the first place. The second point of praise for
Guerra’s work is that, following Aquinas (with the help of Aristotle), he
highlights that while the transpolitical character of the faith is primary,
this need not entail an indifference towards civil society. Furthermore, that
man is made for communion with God should not be a justification for giving
limited, or grossly inadequate, accounts of man’s properly political life, and
the content of the common good. This is explained in chapter 5, “The Two Poles
of Christian Citizenship.” Guerra also provides good insights on Augustine and
Aquinas, showing where they are in agreement, but nevertheless still holding
that the two doctors vastly disagree in certain areas. Finally, Guerra rightly
affirms that the Church must be a “friendly critic” of democracy, thereby
acknowledging its positive elements, but also calling attention to the dangers
of the philosophical liberalism that undergirds it. Democracy can be in accord
with Catholicism, but the danger is seeing democracy and Catholicism as if they
both presupposed the other. This would harm both democracy and the
transpolitical character of the faith.
St. Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship. This
unfinished work of Aquinas is perhaps one of his most unknown works, but a gem
nonetheless. A letter written to the Christian king of Cyprus, Hugh II of
Lusignan, it is a practical guide for how a king ought to rule. What stands out
in this short treatise are two fundamental points: that the common good of the
polis is nothing other than communal virtue, and that this virtue is a means to
the further end of supernatural happiness. Since man gathers in society for the
sake of virtue, then the common good will be nothing other than the imperfect
happiness of its members. And yet, as Peter Augustine Lawler says, this need
not make us forget “that strange truth about our souls.” Aquinas is ever the
realist; while providing a substantial account of the common good, he
emphasizes that it is not the ultimate end, for seeing God face-to-face
transcends the political community. No thinker can hold together this
harmonious balance quite like St. Thomas.
Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer by Father Thomas Dubay. Saints are made, not born, at least
in most cases. Father Dubay is always refreshing to read, for he reminds us of
the essential recipe for sanctity, something so often neglected and unheard
from the pulpits: daily fidelity to intimate, and deep, personal prayer. Plenty
of people are nice; what our culture needs is saints. This is a great book to
begin upon, and endure, the road less traveled.
Augustine There is nothing quite like reading the Confessions. At first, when we examine some of the particular
incidents of Augustine’s life that he reflects upon as an aged bishop, they don’t
immediately strike us as that profoundnot being able to carry out his own
actions when he was a baby, crying profusely because his parents wouldn’t give
him what he wanted, loving studies because of the possibility of fame, and
stealing pears with his friends. Perhaps it seems strange that Augustine would
spend so much time reflecting upon these apparently mundane events. However,
when one sees them, and the entirety of his life, in terms of Augustine’s
action theory, one can see his story as centered around those kinds of actions
that make one fit for proper orientation toward the City of God. Then, the
massive light bulb turns on.
Brian Jones is currently an MA
philosophy student at the University of St. Thomas in Houston; he received an
MA in theology from Franciscan University.
Here’s a selection from this past year’s
The Vulgate. For me, at least, there’s something
encouraging about reading the Bible in the version so many great figures used,
and a language some of the characters actually spoke. You need some Latin, but
what’s there is mostly pretty straightforward, and the Douay translation is a
I also read a few books that seemed
relevant to the problem of restoring a Christian culture:
The Historic Reality of Christian
Culture: A Way to the Renewal of Human Life by Christopher Dawson. Cult is the basis
of culture, and we need a lot more of it if we’re going to get out of the hole
our civilization is digging for itself. In reading the book I was struck once
again by the comparative optimism of serious Christians writing before the
1960s. There really was a turn for the worse then.
The Church Confronts Modernity:
Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era by Thomas E. Woods. His first book,
based on his Ph.D. thesis, and a straightforward account of a time when
Catholic intellectuals in America had a strong sense of the Faith as something
ultimate and real, and the Church as a divine and public institution.
The Reactionary Revolution: The
Catholic Revival in French Literature, 1870-1914 by Richard Griffiths. How Catholics
went from outsiders to leaders in French letters. A situation can turn around
very quickly when accepted views are going nowhere and something better is on
I also read some travels from days when
traveling was really traveling:
Discovery of Muscovy by Richard Hakluyt. For the
Elizabethans, going to Russia was like going to the moon.
Society, Manners, and Politics in the
United States by
Michael Chevalier. Not as brilliant or insightful as Tocqueville, but a very
interesting account of everyday political and economic life in Andrew Jackson’s
The Vanished Pomps of Yesterday, Being
Some Random Reminiscences of a British Diplomat by Lord Frederic Hamilton. Diplomatic
life in the late 19th century, before the bureaucrats took over. It’s not about
pomp so much as life in an aristocratic society that was rather like a small
town with elaborate manners and many idiosyncrasies.
A Ride to India Across Persia and
Harry de Windt. It was wild country in 1890. This book led me to read a
slightly later book dealing with the inner life of that part of the world,
Claud Field’s Mystics and Saints of Islam. It’s a collection of profiles,
mostly based on a famous 12th-century Persian work by Attar of Nishapur.
should also mention Summer, by Edith Wharton, a deeply humane novel
about flawed but largely admirable people in provincial New England.
James Kalb is a lawyer,
independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York.
McLuhan’s academic comet ride once lent his name celebrity cachet on college
campuses, but he wrote with more prescience than he knew. Even as his fame evaporates,
his uncannily spot-on predictions and maxims about technology’s warp-speed
escalation more and more are taken for granted. Less known is the fact that
McLuhan himself was ardent Catholic convert. Quirky Gen X author Douglas
Coupland portrays the man as a latter-day prophet without honor in Marshall
McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! Informing and entertaining, this little monograph is the best matching of
biographer and beast I can recall, a virtual “Vulcan mind-meld” of two cultural
Everything Bad is Good
for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter,
Steven Johnson provides reflexive counterpoint to McLuhan. He probably wouldn’t
convince the Canadian professor, but he might make some of those Santas who
just bought Xbox 360s feel a bit better. From a more theological
perspective, Arthur Hunt’s The Vanishing Word is an overlooked
coda for Christian logophiles.
introduction of a revised ritual roused my own liturgical interests, so N.T.
Wright’s The Case for the Psalms made for timely reading. But, even as a
fan of some of Wright’s earlier stuff, I wasn’t ready for the semi-poetic
quality of his prose achievement here. Older (much) but also affecting are
William S. Plumer’s Studies on the Book of Psalms (incidentally, also fun to
mention simply as the physically largest commentary on a single book of the
Bible I have ever seenso oversized that even describing it as a “thick
doorstop of a book” doesn’t quite fit), and C.C. Martindale’s Towards
Loving the Psalms. A last-century British Jesuit and compatriot of
Maisie Ward’s, Martindale also wrote four consecutive books on the Mass for
laymen. Of these, The Words of the Missal is best, with the bonus of an appendix
that’s a sort of miniature “Latin for Dummies.”
with my Anchor Bible Dictionary’s
insistent obfuscation sent me back to some clear-headed evangelical sources on
Scripture. In The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozertaking cues from Hans
von Balthasar, no lessshreds linguistic deconstructionism and proves Hans Frei
and George Lindbeck to be sporting the Emperor’s New Clothes. Elsewhere, J.I.
Packer’s “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God reminded me how
essentially “fundamentalist” Catholic teaching on the Bible arguably is; and Thy
Word is Still Truth, an anthology materializing out of Philadelphia’s
quite reformed Westminster Theological Seminary, reminded me how very sane it
is as well.
My graphic designer’s hat probably explains why I
may be the only conservatively-inclined person I know with kind words for
Martin Erspamer’s faux-iconic engravings in The Liturgical Press’
typographically savvy if contemporarily-bent Ritual Roman Missal. Another writer who weighs in with
convincingly friendly comments on the larger topic of Modern Art: The Men, the Movements, the Meaning is Thomas
I remain a fanboy of Lemony Snicket, who made me
happy by cranking out a second installment of All The Wrong Questions. Questions aplenty are also part of the
mix in the volatile-if-mournful post-conciliar Molotav cocktail poured by Anne
Roche Muggeridge in The Gates of Hellthough
I’m not at all sure her answers make me too happy. Much the same can be said of
Alice von Hildebrand’s necessary The
Dark Night of the Body. There’s more wisdom on sex in what she doesn’t
say than most of what is saidand
incessantly sonowadays. The presence of more inflammatorily counter-cultural
wisdomand this on the uncomfortable gay questionalso distinguishes Rosaria
Butterfield’s Secrets of an Unlikely
Last loose ends…David Main’s terrific novel on the
WWF champ of the O.T., The Book of
Samson, is compulsively readable. Victor Davis Hansen’s The End of Sparta is another
worthwhile candidate for those non-existent Men’s Reading Groups. In
Coincidentally, Father George Rutler’s amusing mind whirs along so fast
you’ll likely find yourself reeling at the thought of keeping upso you’re better off just enjoying it with the
assist of some heavily-spiked New Year’s punch. Three very different books,
each hinging on the question of race, provide positive perspectives on a hot
button issue: Robert Norrell’s Up from
History: The Life of Booker T. Washington; Caroline Hemesath’s story of
Augustine Tolton, From Slave to Priest;
and John Piper’s autobiographical Bloodlines. And lastly, race, faith, and
masculinity comprise three panels that make for a not-to-be-missed Mandarin
conversion triptych in John C. Wu’s Beyond
East and West.
teaches communication, rhetoric, and graphic design at Hampton University in
Dorothy Cummings McLean:
Madame by Antoni Libera (translated by
A. Kolakowska) is the best book I read this year. It is a Polish, 1960s-era Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,
describing a teenager’s artistic and intellectual rebellions against the stale
and gloomy oppression of Communism. His dabbling in music and theater gives way
to a crush on his glamorous French teacher so intense that it brings to mind
the courtly love tradition. “Madame” and, by extension, Western high culture
transform and redirect the young Pole’s life. Kolakowska’s translation
perfectly transposes the elegant Polish of the original into an English that
captures both the liveliness and the intelligence of the narrator. I so love
this book that I bought the Polish original and sent a second English copy to
my French-teaching sister for Christmas.
The Summerhouse Trilogy by Alice Thomas Ellis contains
three novels, each telling the story of an impending 1950s English wedding from
a different perspective: the bride’s, the groom’s elderly mother’s, and the
bride’s mother’s half-Egyptian schoolmate’s. The narrators are all Roman
Catholics, and Catholic spirituality imbues each narrative in increasingly
surprising ways. Alice Thomas Ellis is one of the best English Roman Catholic
novelists of the post-Vatican II era. After reading the first book in the
trilogy, The Clothes in the Wardrobe,
I began to gobble Ellis’ books like candy.
Enigma by Robert Harris is a thriller
about a Cambridge University student who is recruited early in the Second World
War to help break the Enigma code used by German U-boats. When he begins to look
for his missing ex-girlfriend, the hero stumbles on one of the Allies’ most
shameful cover-ups. Harris knows how to paint a scene, sketch believable
characters, do his historical research, and set a plot in motion. The book and
film were controversial in some quarters for downplaying the crucial role of
Polish mathematicians in cracking the Enigma code, and the promiscuity of the
hero’s girlfriend makes the book unsuitable for the very young. Nevertheless, I
was touched by the depiction of a young man who refuses to separate sexual
desire from love.
Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts:
Seventy Poems by Wisława Szymborska (translated
by M. Krynski and R. MacGuire) is perhaps an unusual choice, but 2013 was the
year I read a lot of Polish literature. The greatest Polish poets of the period
between the Second World War and the fall of Communism were Zbigniew Herbert,
Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska. Szymborska was the one most in cahoots
with the Communist regime, hence her popularity with Western left-wing intellectuals.
(Herbert, a staunch Catholic rebel, has been overlooked by our pinko commie
tastemakers.) But there is no denying that Szymborska wrote moving poems that
retain much of their beauty in English translations. They are solemn and
humorous by turns. I am particularly fond of her “The Joy of Writing,” “Family
Album,” and “Laughter.” This edition is bilingual, Polish on one side of the
page and English on the other, and thus is helpful for learning Polish, should
you ever attempt such a rewarding, if crazy, thing.
American Bride in Kabul
by Phyllis Chesler is a remarkable memoir of an American Jewish feminist who
married a rich Afghan student in 1961 and went with him to Afghanistan. She
soon discovered that married life for rich Afghan women was akin to house
arrest. It was the defining moment of Chesler’s life and made her one of the
few American feminists to confront the collusion of family members (including
the women) in culture-linked domestic abuse. Despite her sufferings, Chesler
has maintained ties with her Afghan ex-husband and his family and studied
Afghan history and culture. Her sympathy with and forgiveness of her abusive,
demented mother-in-law and her charitable approach to her frankly appalling ex
are extraordinary and edifying. Chesler is to be admired also for having the
guts to argue that Islamic Afghan culture is incompatible with Western notions
of freedom and flourishing, particularly for, but not limited to, women,
children and the poor.
Cummings McLean is a Canadian writer living abroad. She is the author of the novel Ceremony of Innocence,
published by Ignatius Press.
Vincent Meconi, SJ:
for the mind:
The Age of Insight: The
Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain (From Vienna 1900
to the Present) by Eric R. Kandel (Random House, 2012)to answer why the brain
responds to the beautiful.
The Riddle of the
Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
by Margalit Fox (Harper Collins, 2013)to learn how some
pretty kooky scholars came to read the Aegean Bronze Age by deciphering Linear
In the Self’s Place: The
Approach of Saint Augustine by
Jean-Luc Marion (Stanford University Press, 2013)exploring the layers of the
self as expressed by the great Doctor of the human heart.
Unity and Christian Divisions: The Church 450-680
by John Meyendorff (St. Vladimir’s Press, 1989)for the symbiosis between
emperor and ecclesia early on.
A Very Short Introduction by Roger Scruton (Oxford,
2011)a primer on the philosophy of beauty.
in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering
by Eleonore Stump (Oxford, 2012)a “must read” that I go back to each year it has
been out, answering how God can save in the most disconsolate of stories.
Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to
1950 (Harper Collins, 2003)a history of the human need to
manifest concretely the glorious.
from Within: Spirituality and the Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar by
Mark McIntosh (Notre Dame, 2000)an insight to the Christian life as the
continuation of Christ’s life as understood by a great 20th century Churchman.
of Battle: The Twenty Clashes that Changed the World
by James Lacey and Williamson Murray (Bantam, 2013)a decidedly sobering read
on the history of warfare.
Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life
by Frank Burch Brown (Oxford, 2000)a good reminder never to confuse the
Christian with the dandy.
for the heart:
Poems (1962-2012) by Louise Glückby a woman who converted great suffering
into rich verse.
Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percywhy is it we all have a tinge for the taste
Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation
by Jon Sweeney (Image Books, 2012)who could not return to Celestine V after
Perfect by Anthony Lane (Alfred Knopf, 2002)a side-splitting
Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures
by Paul Lukacs (Norton, 2012); Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine,
ed., Barry C. Smith (Oxford, 2007); The History of Michigan Wines by
Lori Hathaway & Simon Kegerreis (History Press, 2010)coming from a vintner’s
family in Michigan, these books warmed me (along with a good Barolo!).
Cohesion by Clive James (Norton, 2013)what his translation of Dante
lacked, these short insights make up for.
for the soul:
Living Body of Christ by Metropolitan Anthony of
Sourozh (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2008)a wonderful read by one who has known
the Church’s disunity.
With God’s Will by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri (Tan Reprint, 2013)a short pamphlet
that encourages us to unite ourselves with God first and only then act.
Freedom by Jacques Philippe (Scepter Press, 2002)claiming our own
filiality before the Father means being free from the law and from all decay.
to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments
by Scott Hahn (Doubleday, 2004)from our own time’s leading Christian
apologist, a deceivingly insightful examination of the sacraments’ past and
Mystical Evolution (vol. 1) by Father John
Arintero, OP (Tan reprint  1978)for anyone interested in Christian
deification and our new life in Christ.
David Vincent Meconi, SJ is a professor in the Department of Theological Studies at St.
Louis University; he is also the editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review.
Dr. Christopher S.
The year was replete with magnificent publications.
I have listed below, alphabetically by author, my favorites, all of which were published
in 2013. I am very grateful for the blessing of being a university professor
with the leisure time to read all of them so that I may discuss their ideas
with students, both in and out of the classroom, and thereby share in the joy
of knowing truth and beauty.
for Freedom: A Christian Perspective on Personhood and Psychotherapy
by Benedict M. Ashley, OP (Catholic
University of America Press). Wonderfully shows how
the great Catholic tradition of Aristotelian Thomism provides a solid philosophical
foundation for psychotherapy.
Books 16 by Marcus Aurelius, translated with an introduction and commentary
by Christopher Gill (Oxford University Press). You saw the movie Gladiator? Now read the famous emperor’s
personal notebook, which chronicles his amazing spiritual exercises. There are
inexpensive paperback translations, but this expensive hardback edition comes
with the latest, state-of-the-art scholarly commentary. Contemporary research
on Stoicism at its finest.
Radiance of Being: Dimensions of Cosmic Christianity
by Stratford Caldecott (Angelico Press). The most mind-expanding book on
philosophy and theology that I read this year. This is a dazzling work of
incredible brilliance. The chapter on Islam alone is worth the price of
admission. Not to be missed.
and Friendship: Maritain and the Tradition,
edited by Montague Brown (Catholic University of America Press). Exceptionally
fine essays on love and friendship from today’s friendliest Thomists.
Reason Open to God: On Universities, Education, and Culture
by Benedict XVI (Catholic University of America Press). An indispensable
collection of speeches, letters, and addresses by the Pope Emeritus on faith
and reason incarnated in the intellectual life.
definitionem et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum: Compendium of Creeds,
Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals: Latin English, 43rd Edition, by Heinrich Denzinger and Peter Hünermann, edited by Peter Hünermann (Ignatius Press). The most beautiful
version of this reference work ever published.
A God Torn to Pieces: The
Nietzsche Case by
Giuseppe Fornari (Michigan State University Press). A stunning reflection on
the relationship between Nietzsche and Christianity, provoked by the Catholic
thinker René Girard’s brilliant interpretation of what the former reveals about
and Mimetic Desire
by René Girard (Michigan State
University Press). What do eating disorders have to do with fundamental human
desire? Catholic thinker René Girard
offers us challenging food for thought.
the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of
Scripture 1300-1700 by Scott Hahn and Benjamin
Wiker (Crossroad Publishing Company). What do politics have to do with the
interpretation of Scripture? Since Marsilius of Padua, everything. An ambitious
intellectual history from Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker about matters known to
specialists that should be more widely known, because they have impacted us
all. The eye-opening chapters on Marsilius and Machiavelli are arguably the
ones not to be missed, but you will want to read them all.
Strauss and Anglo-American Democracy: A Conservative Critique
by Grant Havers (Northern Illinois University Press). The definitive treatment
of the highly influential but not-so conservative thinker Leo Strauss has
finally been published. A rigorous work of scholarship that is also
exceptionally well written.
for Conservatives: A Compass for Rediscovering the Permanent Things
by Russell Kirk, introduction by Bradley J. Birzer (Imaginative Conservative
thrilling discussion of eternal truths, which is exactly the sort of discussion
we need to have in order to nourish hope for the future. Published by the
founders of that excellent website devoted to virtue and wisdom, The Imaginative Conservative.
and Imagination: Essays and Reviews by C.S. Lewis (Cambridge
University Press). Collects together 40 book reviews that had not yet been
reprinted, along with four major essays unavailable for decades, as well as a
fifth essay, “Image and Imagination,” published here for the first time.
Matter, and Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind by
James D. Madden (Catholic University of America Press). An engaging
presentation of how traditional Thomistic thought offers the best philosophical
options available in today’s specialized “philosophy of mind” debates.
Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). A deeply
spiritual journal, recently discovered among the papers of this Catholic
literary genius, never before published.
Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F.
Powers, 1942-1963 by J.F. Powers (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). Tremendous
insight into the life and mind of one of the greatest Catholic writers ever to
put pen to page.
Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading
by James V. Schall, SJ (Catholic University of America Press). How are
philosophy, theology, and political philosophy related? Is there a “Roman
Catholic political philosophy”? The wisdom of a lifetime shines thorough in
these essays that show us how to think on the permanent things.
Aesthetics of Architecture by Roger Scruton (Princeton
University Press). Reprint edition of the 1979 classic, now with a brilliant
new introduction for 2013. One of the noblest stands against the barbarism of
our times ever published, from one of today’s very best writers on philosophy
and aesthetics. The new introduction alone is worth the price of admission.
Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions: A Critique of Contemporary Scientism by
Wolfgang Smith (Angelico Press/Sophia Perennis). A revised edition of the
original 2004 publication. A highly unusual yet always stimulating critique of
the ideology of modern scientism addressing multiple contentious issues.
Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
(HarperCollins). After The Hobbit is
done, this is the movie that needs to be made next. But
why wait until then to read it? Published just this year.
of Being: Philosophical Approaches to Reality, edited by
Nikolaj Zunic (Catholic University of America Press). Thought-provoking
essays on metaphysics that pursue wisdom from the standpoint of Thomistic
Christopher S. Morrissey is a professor of philosophy at Redeemer Pacific
College, the Catholic liberal arts college at Trinity Western University in
Langley, British Columbia.
The Price to Pay: A Muslim Risks All to Follow Christ by Joseph Fadelle. A fast and engrossing read, this
is a first-person account of an astonishing conversion and the
toll it takes on an ex-Muslim and his family, compelled to this day to
live under pseudonyms. Particularly useful are the specifics with respect to
the Koran and to everyday customs.
Into the Cannibal's Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Afria by Ilana Mercer. From the book: "Since democracy was ushered into
South Africa, largely thanks to the actions, stance, and charisma of Nelson
Mandela, an estimated 300,000 innocents have been murdered. That makes more
murders in one week under African rule than there were under the abhorred
Afrikaner government over the course of roughly four decades. South Africa
today is the toast of the West, yet Christian civilization is dying out,
replaced by tribalism with its feuds, fetishes, and factions, while an
entire class of people is being dispossessed, because of the pallor of their
The Church Under Attack by Diane Moczar. Not a book with a thesis, but a
lively and condensed history that manages to pin down the many thought systems
that have been assaulting the Catholic faith ever since Luther: from the
Enlightenment to Marxism and from Darwinism to Modernism. Of note here, as in
the press worldwide, is the peculiar fact that Italian events are largely
overlooked, or mentioned cursorily at best, even though one might be justified
in arguing that a closer look at the goings on in the peninsula should be
intriguing to anyone researching the history of the Catholic Church.
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 by Anne Applebaum. An investigation of what went on
in the Eastern-bloc countries after the Western powers abandoned them to the
ferocious utopia of the USSR. The sudden and unexpectedly peaceful end of the
Cold War left most of us with the impression of a completed phase of history about which we had already
heard enough. In actual fact, we in the West know very little of the different
processes by which the nations and lives of millions of people succumbed to
totalitarianism. (In her next book, hopefully, Applebaum will also give us a
much-needed look into the goings-on in Eastern Europe
after the Berlin Wall was torn down.)
America’s Thirty Years’ War: Who is Winning? by Balint Vaszonyi, 1998. The author, who fled to
America from Hungary after the failed uprising of 1956, compares two rival
concepts of governmentAnglo-American principles, based on the rule of law,
and French-German Statism, born of Bismark’s Germanyto show how today even
the US is imperceptibly slipping into totalitarianism.
Alessandra Nucci is an Italian author and
Carl E. Olson:
The four Constitutions of the
Second Vatican Council, although not books in and of themselves, were front
and center in my reading this year, as I led classes and gave talks about each
of them. Lumen Gentium continues to be my favorite of the four
texts, containing a wealth of material that is, I think, essential reading for
all Catholics and anyone serious about understanding the Catholic faith.
I re-read Truth and
Tolerance by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, probably my favorite of his
many pre-papal writings. It is required reading for those wishing to more
deeply understand the thought and pontificate of Benedict XVI. It demonstrates,
contrary to popular misconception, just how much time Ratzinger/Benedict has
spent considering and engaging with a vast array of philosophies, religions,
and belief systems.
Father Alexander Schmemann’s
classic, For the Life of the World, was published 50 years ago,
and has lost none of its unsettling power. I’m not sure why I hadn’t read it
before, but having now done so, I cannot recommend it enough. It will very
likely challenge and deepen how you think about worship, the sacraments,
salvation, and secularism.
I had the great pleasure of
interviewing Dana and Ted Gioia this past summer and fall (read
the interview here), and spent some time reading and re-reading
several of their books in the process. Any and all of Dana’s poetry is
exceptional, and his most recent collection, Pity the Beautiful,
is a perfect place to start, at turns poignant, surprising, beautiful,
hilarious, and challenging. And don’t miss his recent First Things essay,
Catholic Writer Today.” Ted’s first book, The Imperfect
Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture, was published nearly a
quarter century ago, but is as good an introduction to jazz as anything written
since. I also read big chunks of his acclaimed books, The History of Jazz
and The Birth (and Death) of the Cool, both of which situate jazz
within the larger culture with such adroit and elegant insight.
My lone fiction pick is Dorothy
Cummings McLean’s novel, Ceremony of Innocence. Written with a
knowing nod to Graham Greene, it is set in modern Europe and has elements of a
thriller and a character study. But is much more, being very much what Walker
Percy would call “diagnostic,” without ever being a bit didactic or dull.
I’ve been leading a Bible study
through what are said to be the least-read books of Scripture: I and II
Chronicles. It has proven to be a fruitful and even surprising study,
helped in great measure by Scott Hahn’s exceptional commentary, The
Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire. You might not think that nine
chapters of genealogies (1 Chron. 1-9) could prove interesting, but with Hahn
as a guide, they offer plenty of historical and theological substance.
This past year, I discovered the
poetry of Richard Wilbur. Each page of his Collected Poems: 1943-2004 demonstrates
his remarkable, even magical, way with words, rhythm, and rhyme. A special treat
has been his Opposites, More Opposites, and a Few Differences,
which I read to my two sons, who immediately demanded a second reading upon
finishing the first.
I was very impressed with Ryan N.S.
Topping’s book, Rebuilding Catholic Culture: How the Catechism Can Shape
Our Common Life, which reflects, with erudition and rigor, on the many
problems of today in light of the Catholic Faith. Topping writes on theology,
literature, liturgy, art, culture, and politics with wit and wisdom. One of my
favorite books of the past year.
“Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.” So
wrote C.S. Lewis in his 1937 review of Tolkien’s book. That review is one of more
than 40 reviews, along with several essays, collected for the first time in the
delightful volume C.S. Lewis: Image and Imagination. Lewis may
not have been a prophet, but he was a dazzling writer and thinker.
Finally, in the course of writing
a chapter for a book on theosis that I have co-edited with Father David V.
Meconi, SJ, I revisited Matthew Vellanickal’s astounding study, The
Divine Sonship of Christians in the Johannine Writings, a
dissertation published in 1977. Vellanickal also wrote a more accessible (and
shorter) book, Divine Sonship of Man in the Bible. Alas, both
books are out of print, hard to find, and expensive. Still, if the topic is of
interest, they are worth finding.
Carl E. Olson is
editor of Catholic World Report.
Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and Country Music by Dana
Jennings. The autobiographical story of a big city editor with small town, New
Hampshire roots, and how country music circa 1950-1970 not only provided the
soundtrack for that time and place but the context as well. Country songs were
like a Greek chorus in the lives of pretty much everyone in this memorable
tome. The book is also a thought provoking, quasi-deconstructionist take on
late 20th century US history.
Another Shot: How I Relived My Life in Less Than a Year by Joe
Kita. Have you ever wanted a do-over in life? At age 40, journalist Joe Kita
found himself answering “Yes.” He attempted to get back his first car. He asked
that girl out. He tried out for his high school basketball team (yes, high
school)…and made it.
The Tomb of St. Peter: The New Discoveries in the Sacred Grottoes of
the Vatican by Margherita Guarducci, PhD. This book was on my shelves
for years, but I never read it until I started giving talks on St. Peter.
The Bones of St. Peter: The First Full Account of the Search for the
Apostle’s Body by John Evangelist Walsh. Also read to “bone” up on my
knowledge of all things St. Peter.
Catholic Korea: Yesterday and Today by John Chung Jae-sun and Father
Joseph Kim Chang-mun. This huge tome
is a comprehensiveand I do mean comprehensivehistory of the Church in Korea.
In Enemy Hands: A Prisoner in North Korea by Larry Zellers.
Zellers was a Methodist missionary caught by the Korean People’s Army in the
early days of the Korean Conflict. His book details his experience on the
so-called “Tiger Death March.”
March Till They Die by Father Philip Crosbie, SSC. Larry Zellers’
best friend among his fellow prisoners was Father Philip Crosbie. His is a
different perspective on Zellers’ story; if you decide to read both works, you
won’t be disappointed.
Ambassador in Chains: The Story of Patrick Joseph Byrne, Bishop, Missioner
by Raymond A. Lane, MM. Any good hagiography will make its reader susceptible
to hero worship. That was this work’s effect on me.
The Miracle of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier, and Korean War Hero
by Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying. Previously, there has not been a single,
near-comprehensive source for Father Kapaun’s story. Now there is.
Enemies Without Guns: The Catholic Church in China by James T.
Myers. Myers does a fine job with this history of the Church in the People’s
Republic of China.
Stars in the Sky by Father Patrick J. Scanlan. Whenever anyone
writes an account of the brutality and desecration at Yang Kia Ping, once the
largest monastery in the world, this book is their main source.
The Pagoda and the Cross: The Life of Bishop Ford of Maryknoll
by John F. Donovan, MM. A great hagiography and a fine introduction to Ford, a
man of many firsts.
When the Sorghum Was High by John Joseph Considine, MM. The
biography of Father Gerard Donovan, MM. He not only resembled actor Mickey Rooney
in looks and stature, he also had the same “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!”
attitude of Rooney’s early characters.
Three Days to Eternity: Being the Story of Father Sandy Cairns,
Maryknoll Missioner and Modern Apostle by Richard Reid and Edward J
Moffett. Cairns was a Maryknoll priest murdered by the Japanese shortly after
Pearl Harbor. Reid and Moffett convey Father Cairns’ heroic personality and
Pedro Martinez, SJ, Martyr of Florida, 1566: Jesuit Protomartyr of the
New World by Rev. Michael Kenny, SJ. A very short book(let) on the life
of a complicated man.
The Life and Times of John Carroll by Peter Guilday, PhD. Msgr.
Carroll, the first US bishop, was an interesting fellow, and Guilday shows us
why. He also shows how difficult American Catholics had it during Carroll’s
A History of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States by
Most Rev. Thomas O'Gorman. O’Gorman gives a thorough-as-can-be description of
how the Church in the US developed. Invaluable for knowing more about Catholicism
on these shores.
Religious Liberty in Transition: A Study of the Removal of
Constitutional Limitations on Religious Liberty As Part of the Social Progress
in the Transition Period by Father Joseph Francis Thorning, SJ, PhD. A
book as exciting as its title implies. Nonetheless, great for research.
The Shadow of the Pope by Michael Williams. A good book on
North American anti-Catholicism, with a particular focus on US history.
Jesuit Saints and Martyrs by Joseph N. Tylenda, SJ. A great
book for knowing more about people such as St. Isaac Jogues.
Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri by Emily Cavins.
Cavins is a really good writer and does
a fantastic job of bringing St. Kateri’s milieu to life. Buy it.
Serpent Wind: Inspired by the True Story of a Small Texas War
by George Davis. I read this novel as part of my research on what was possibly
the most nightmarish massacre of colonists by natives anywhere in the New
O’Neel is writer, editor, and speaker who lives with his wife and six children
in central Wisconsin.
Having spent most of my life in education, the calendar year
is not a category which comes naturally to me. Still, I’ll do my best.
Among the best books I read in 2013:
Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset.
Actually, I re-read this and I am very glad I did. It is even more
remarkable than I remembered (especially in the Nunnally translation). The
novel stayed with me for weeks after I finished it and I was loath to pick up
something else lest I spoil the reverie. The characters are vivid and I
came to love many of them (so much so that I had to remind myself not to pray
for them). The themes were just as powerful: sin as trampling other
people, willfulness versus duty, repentance and backsliding, marrying for love
or stability, death and resurrection, the trajectory of a life…all of this is
done masterfully. I can think of no novel where the interplay of grace and free
will is done betterin the end, Kristin’s freedom, even her freely turning away
from God, perfectly coincides with God’s predestined plan for
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi and translated by
Geoffrey Brock. I had seen the cartoon when I was a child, but had no encounter
with Pinocchio since. Vigen Guroian’s excellent Tending the Heart of
Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Imagination made me want
to revisit it. The story is delightful and profound. I am pretty convinced that
it is really a story about deification, about learning to love your father so
as to come to share in his nature.
Wealth and Poverty
by St. Basil the Great. This is a lovely collection of sermons in the
wonderful Popular Patristic Series of St. Vladimir Press. I read these sermons
with an upper-level patristics class last semester and we were all moved and
challenged. They are particularly timely with Pope Francis in the
news. The sermons themselves are stirring exhortations to simplicity and
love and after reading them I felt convicted to get to know my neighbors
better. I was also very moved by Basil’s insistence that we don’t really
own anything, but we only have it on loan from God and should be ready to give
it away as soon as someone needs it more. Not a political program, but a
theological vision. Very striking.
Beginners in Faith
by St. Augustine. This is Augustine at his pastoral best. Responding
to the desperate plea of a discouraged deacon friend, Augustine writes a
sensitive and moving reply on the struggles of a teacher. I was almost
giddy reading this; it was as though Augustine had sat in on some of my worst
days teaching and saw into my heart.
and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy by Scott Hahn. This is a readable
and compelling case for the liturgy as the proper context for interpreting
Scripture. Reading this opened up the meaning of the proclaimed word to me
in a new way. Some of Hahn’s best work.
and Manners by Flannery O’Connor. This
is a collection of essays and lectures by O’Connor mostly on the craft and
meaning of writing. O’Connor does not disappoint. This should also be
required reading for every aspiring author.
On, Jeeves by P.G.
Wodehouse. This, too, should be required reading for every aspiring author. Wodehouse’s
style is so perfect you can taste it. And it is delicious. I always
come away refreshed after reading the Jeeves and Wooster stories (and there are
27th Kingdom by Alice Thomas
Ellis. For a few years now, I have been trying to read lesser-known but
talented Catholic fiction writers. (Reading the lively exchange between Dana
Gioia and Gregory Wolfe in First Things confirms that I am doing the
right thing.) Ellis’ novel does not disappointfull of British wit and
moments of real beauty, this is an odd but enjoyable saint’s life.
Gaudium by Pope Francis. At
224 pages, I count this as a book. All I will say is that reading Pope
Francis is way better than reading about Pope Francis.
Ortiz is assistant professor of religion at Hope College.
began 2013 with the same book that accompanied my last weeks of 2012: St.
Teresa of Ávila’s Interior Castle (Image Books, Doubleday). Naturally, reading
it was humbling. It reminded me how much work I have ahead just to enter
the outer chambers of holiness.
Helping me with this work were the words and biographical
stories of St. Teresa’s spiritual daughter, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The
Love That Keeps Us Sane: Living the Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
(Paulist Press) by Marc Foley, OCD has a wonderful way of letting St. Thérèse
speak while providing context and commentary that bridges her world with ours.
It’s a good little book to keep within arm’s reach, especially on one’s night
stand, where I keep mine.
In early Lentwhile reeling from the news that Benedict XVI was
retiringI rediscovered a book that I liked quite a lot when I first read it. The
Emerging Laity: Vocation, Mission, and Spirituality (Paulist Press) by
Dr. Aurelie A. Hagstrom, an associate professor of theology
at Providence College, nicely framed for me the arrival and lessons of Pope
Francis. The book also reminded me of my time with St. Teresa of Ávila (its
chapter on “The Laity’s Call to Holiness” was particularly helpful). And as a
bureaucrat for the state who teaches and writes for the Church, I found much of
Dr. Hagstrom’s insights about the role of the laity to be spot on and
extraordinarily helpfulespecially in this age of New Evangelization.
time ago a priest friend gave me a copy of St. Justin Martyr’s The
First and Second Apologies (Paulist Press). I had read some of Justin
in my graduate studies but found him profoundly relevant when I read him again
this yearrelevant and comforting. It’s good to know that the Church has faced
before the sorts of struggles we face today.
me as a teacher and apologist was Henri de Lubac’s Catholicism: Christ and the
Common Destiny of Man (Ignatius Press). If I had to devise a list of
required books for all Catholics, this would be in the top five.
returned frequently to Green Discipleship: Catholic Theological
Ethics and the Environment (Anselm Academic). Edited by Dr. Tobias
Winright, an associate professor of theological studies at St. Louis
University, the compilation includes some 20 chapters written by scholarly
clerics and laity and includes Pope Benedict’s 2010 Message for World Day of
Peace, “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.” Green Discipleship is a fine addition to the classroom or the home.
Either way, it makes helpful contributions to the Catholic understanding of ecological
2013 was illuminated by what is one of my favorite series of spiritual
reflections and theological lessons. Seek That Which Is Above: Meditations
Throughout the Year (Ignatius Press) is a 1984 collection of works
(homilies, talks, etc.) by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The book was reissued
after his election to the Chair of St. Peter. The design of the new,
fits-in-one-hand hardcoverwith its exquisite Christian art and
iconographyperfectly matches the simplicity and beautiful depths of the author’s
words. I don’t know why this book is not better known. It’s perfect for group
studies, catechesis, apologetics, and personal sanctification. I’d put it in the top three on my list of books that all Catholics
William Patenaude has been a regulator and trainer with the Rhode Island
Department of Environmental Management for 25 years. He has also been writing
on Catholic issues (especially the Catholic perspective of ecology) at his blog and for the Rhode Island Catholic since 2004.
relatively new works of fiction that I have enjoyed immensely are The
Book of Jotham by Arthur Powers and Treason by Dena Hunt. The
first of these is a marvelous novella set during the time of Christ, in which
the ministry of Jesus is seen and narrated through the eyes of a mentally
handicapped man, who is adopted by Christ as one of his disciples. It is called
“The Book of Jotham” because it’s a sort of Gospel according to the eponymous
character. The ways in which St. Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot relate with
their disabled brother are particularly powerful. The Book of Jotham is a work that never preaches but which will
evoke a powerful pro-life response from the reader. The second, Treason, is a historical novel set in
Elizabethan England, which serves as a de facto warning of the dangers of
secular fundamentalism and its intolerance towards religious orthodoxy. It is
reminiscent of R.H. Benson’s novel Come Rack! Come Rope!, published a
century earlier, a novel that I would also recommend.
work of classic fiction that has enthused me most this year is Kristin
Lavransdatter by the Nobel Prize winner and Catholic convert Sigrid
Undset. I cannot praise this masterful novel highly enough. It reminds me
somewhat of the novels of Jane Austen but is set in medieval Catholic Norway.
from books to DVDs, I’ve been impressed, in different ways, by three relatively
new movies: For Greater Glory, October Baby, and War
of the Vendée. The first and third of these document the murderous
consequences of secular fundamentalism in 20th century Mexico and 18th century
France, respectively. October Baby is
a wonderful and moving film that delivers a pro-life message with subtlety and
am currently reading through The Chronicles of Narnia series with
my five-year-old daughter and cannot recommend too highly these timeless
classics. I’m not sure what else needs to be said about Lewis’ works of wonder,
except to say that no child should be deprived of them.
wife has been working her way through all the children’s books by Laura Ingalls
Wilder with our five-year-old. Their shared enthusiasm for each of the works is
enough to convince me that these stories of American life in healthier times
are also worthy of a hearty recommendation.
moved imaginatively with the wonder-filled eyes of a child from Narnia to the
American frontier, I’d like to move down-under to modern-day Australia and the
many delightful DVDs of the Wiggles. As one who has an unmitigated aversion to
almost everything produced today for so-called “modern kids,” I have no
hesitation in recommending the Wiggles. Their numerous DVDs produced over the
past 20 years or more are mercifully free of any politically correct agenda and
contain nothing but healthy musical entertainment. Furthermore, the Wiggles
have no problem in bringing the Christian God into the picture, especially in
their Christmas DVDs.
final recommendations are two CDs inspired by the incomparable Jesuit poet
Gerard Manley Hopkins. The first is Back to Beauty’s Giver: Richard Austin Reads
the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the second is The
Alchemist by Sean O’Leary, a double CD of musical adaptations of
Hopkins’ poems. The poetry of Hopkins is best experienced when it is read aloud
and, as surprising as it may seem, is elevated still further in O’Leary’s
impassioned musical adaptations.
Joseph Pearce is writer-in-residence and professor
of humanities at Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and the
author of many acclaimed biographies of Catholic literary figures.
Matthew A. Rarey:
It is strange that men should see sublime inspiration
in the ruins of an old church and see none in the ruins of a man.G.K. Chesterton
I thought I was having a down
dayday more in the plastic sense of the Creation account in Genesis, it
sometimes seems, when God’s graces go unperceived through all-too-human
dimwittednessuntil I started reading about Ned Langford, the hero of Who
Walk Alone. The Chesterton quote is on the title page of my copy of the
National Book Award winner of 1940, bought for a quarter at a thrift shop in
Cambridge, Maryland. The front of the tattered dust jacket proclaims it “A true
epic of great courage and a beautiful life.” The back sports accolades from the
New York Times Book Review and Ivy League elites like Mark Van Doren to
heartland sources like the Kansas City Star. For once, the cover did not
did oversell the contents.
Who Walk Alone is about a man who served in the
Philippines during the Spanish-American War, returned home to take over a
thriving family business in Missouri, and nine years later, on the cusp of
marriage, discovered signs of the leprosy he unknowingly contracted fighting in
that Splendid War: spots on his body that were immune to pain. The diagnosis
became apparent after much consultation, leprosy not being much of a killer in
Missouri. So after leaving his home on false pretenses and spending a year
seeking treatment in New York City to no availand living in near total
isolation in Greenwich Village digs, having no human contact aside from his
doctor; oh, and also changing his name and faking his death to spare his family
the pain and worryhe returned to the Philippines to enter an American-run
leper colony offering the best-known treatments at the time.
In this leper colony he would
spend most of the rest of his lifebut not all: read the bookrediscovering his
humanity in community with thousands of mostly Filipino patients. He early on
befriends the Franciscan chaplain, and later the American minister; brings up a
leper boy seized from his family who becomes like a son; and builds a fishing
fleet and power plant that benefit the colony.
For a quarter, I got an
incalculable return on investment. For a bad day need notno, must not, if we
are to be truly humanpreclude a good life. Not if one enters into the
suffering of others; befriends those who live purposefully, seeking the good,
the beautiful, and the true; and tends one’s own garden, making it bloom
wherever one finds oneself on God’s green earth, no matter how barren the plot
My copy of Who Walk Alone
is the seventh edition, printed in December 1941, which made me wonder the fate
of the colony during the looming Japanese occupation. It was a dark and dire
time, which segues into another book worth reading: a new book dealing with an
old war that continues to rage through the demonic ideologies that did not die
in 1945, but viciously dog our own day. The Nazis may have had forced policies of
eugenics and euthanasia, for example. Today Belgian children can decide for
themselves whether their lives are worth living. If that be progress…
Father George Rutler’s Principalities
and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 is a panopticon of the world at war
in that crucial year. It is based on a crumbling pile of news clippings left
him by a historian friendincluding wire reports from Vatican sources and other
Catholic news agenciesthat otherwise might have turned to dust, both literally
and figuratively. But Father Rutler brilliantly pieces them together, and in so
doing, shows that the war between good and evil is never won, but must be
fought by every generation. Each generation has its call to greatness.
Matthew A. Rarey
is a writer and education consultant.
For those of us who can’t read Russian, Cambridge University
Press’ A History of Russian Philosophy (1830-1930): Faith, Reason and the
Defense of Human Dignity, edited by G.M. Hamburg and Randall A. Poole,
provides a good overview of a century of Russian thought beginning with the
Slavophile-Westernizer controversies of the first half of the 19th century and
ending with the decade of Joseph Stalin’s “harvest of sorrow.”
Moving from Russian to Hungarian philosophy in Politics,
Values, and National Socialism: Aurel Kolnai, published by Transaction
Publishers, Graham McAleer edited a collection of 19
essays from Kolnai which were translated by Francis Dunlop. Topics include: the
humanitarian versus the religious attitude, Heidegger and National Socialism,
and Max Scheler’s critique and assessment of Freud’s theory of libido.
Late in 2013 Oxford University Press issued Frederick
Christian Bauerschmidt’s Thomas Aquinas: Faith, Reason, and Following
Christ. Bauerschmidt takes
the novel approach of reading Aquinas
through the hermeneutical lens of his Dominican spirituality or, as he
expresses the idea, “reading Thomas in light of distinctively Dominican ends.”
Bauerschmidt’s Aquinas is not a strict observance Aristotelian.
In a similar spirit, Paul Tyson’s Faith’s Knowledge: Explorations
into the Theory and Application of Theological Epistemology by Pickwick
Publications offers a reflection on the inadequacies of secular reason with
reference to Plato, Kierkegaard, and the Gospel of St. John. Tyson argues that
there are intimate ties between faith and reason in both Plato and John.
Moving from secular reason to secularist politics, Father
Schall put me onto Benjamin Wiker’s Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became
Our State Religion. Wiker persuasively makes the case for the thesis
that when people stop believing in God they revert to a neo-pagan worship of
Every Catholic Christmas hamper should include whatever is
the latest book from James V. Schall, SJ and Aidan Nichols, OP. This year from Father
Schall we have Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism,
published by Ignatius Press. From Father Nichols we have Figuring out the Church: Her
Marks and Her Masters, also from Ignatius.
For the musically inclined, I recommend Richard H. Bell’s Wagner’s Parsifal: An Appreciation in the
Light of His Theological Journey (Wipf & Stock, 2013).
For the metaphysically inclined, I recommend Gift and the Unity of Being by Antonio López,
with a foreword by John Milbank (also Wipf & Stock, 2013).
For those who find consolation in the theology of our
beloved Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, I recommend The Word Made Love: The
Dialogical Theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI by Father
Christopher S. Collins, SJ.
Rowland is dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in
Father James V. Schall, SJ:
Two books that I have read and enjoyed are, #1: Assisted: An
Autobiography, which is the account of the Utah Jazz’s John
Stockton. It is a very fine insight into the nature of professional sports and basketball, from an
outstanding player. Stockton had gone to Gonzaga University, managed to win a
place with Utah, and the rest is
history. This is a very family-oriented
book and shows the really good side of professional sports.
#2: I found Marie Arana’s Simon
Bolivar to be especially interesting in the light of the Latin
American pope. Bolivar was one of the great political figures. His personal
life was chaotic, but his determination to rid the continent of Spanish rule as
well as build a free confederation of states were noble. He failed in the
latter and ended up tragically. His heritage, however, still prevails in Latin
Americathe republics, often ruled from top down, unable to unite, finding
their own way.
I am not going to spend my Christmas reading my own books, I might mention that
my three recently published booksReasonable
Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism, Ignatius, Remembering Belloc, St. Augustine’s
Press, and Political Philosophy &
Revelation: A Catholic Reading, the Catholic University of America
Press, are, according to Schall, well
worth Christmas reading. The essay of Belloc on Christmas is not
to be missed.
also found the book of the Argentine interviews with Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words, to
be both entertaining and instructive. It serves to place the new pope in his
own world and reveals many sides of his personality. It is well worth a read.
Father James V. Schall, SJ taught political
philosophy at Georgetown University for many years before his recent retirement.
He is the author of numerous books and countless essays on philosophy,
theology, education, morality, and other topics.
the year past I was particularly taken by three books, each quite different
from the others: The Cruise of the Nona by
Hilaire Belloc, The Fall of Constantinople 1453 by Steven Runciman, and Evening
in the Palace of Reason by
James R. Gaines. None of them is new, and Belloc’s book appeared way back in 1925.
one level, The Cruise of the Nona is
an account of a leisurely voyage around the western and southern coasts of
England. Landlubbers will find the nautical terminology obscure, but Belloc
repeatedly breaks off from seamanship to talk aboutwell, whatever pops into
his head. Usually he talks good sense, occasionally he doesn’t (as in his
effusive praise for Mussolinithis was the early ‘20s, after all), but always
in vigorousdare I say manly?prose.
Nona is a pleasing reminder of a time
when readers liked rambling, chatty, well-written books about everything under
the sun. Belloc might be a blogger today, and a very good one at that.
several early chapters containing highly compressed background information and
many unfamiliar names, Steven Runciman’s Fall
of Constantinople becomes an engrossing tale about one of the turning
points of history. At its heart lies an uncomfortable question: Did
Constantinople have to fall?
fact, it seems, it did not. The city could have been saved if the Christian
powers of the West had bestirred themselves to save it. But self-absorbed
tunnel vision combined with indifference to the fate of the Orthodox Christians
of the East combined to prevent that. Perhaps there is a lesson today as the
West confronts a new threat from a resurgent, militant Islam.
R. Gaines’ Evening in the Palace of
Reason is several thingshistory, biography, musicology. Especially,
though, it’s a new and by no means flattering take on the underside of the
speaking, the book is a counterpoint compositionBach’s towering genius set
against the prosaic coarseness of an eminently successful despot, Frederick the
Great, with Voltaire supplying a leitmotif as aspiring court sycophant.
Informative, amusing, and now and then horrifying, this is cultural history
told with great skill.
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from
1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books.
6. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
by Ross Douthat. According to Ross Douthat, a gifted New York Times columnist, Americans are not becoming less and less
religious. We’re simply becoming less orthodox. Tracing our downward religious
spiral from last century’s golden age, led by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Martin
Luther King, Jr., and Billy Graham, to today’s fashionable blend of prosperity
gospel (Joel Osteen), self-help cults (Oprah), and the
spiritual-but-not-religious boon (Elizabeth Gilbert), Douthat shows how we’ve
arrived at a watered-down faith that “strokes our egos, indulges our follies,
and encourages our worst impulses.” If you want to understand the trends that
have shaped our religious landscape, this is your book.
5. What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense by
Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert George. After co-authoring the most
downloaded academic paper in the history of the Internet, these three
intellects expanded their arguments into a book-length treatise with the same
title. The result, in my view, is the clearest and most cogent philosophical
defense of marriage today (evidenced by its reference in recent Supreme Court
decisions). Anyone seeking to understand why the state should promote man-woman
marriage as the ideal, and why we can’t seriously debate the “same-sex marriage”
issue until we answer a more basic questionwhat is marriage?should read this
4. Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century by
George Weigel. Perhaps no phrase appears more in Catholic circles today than “the
New Evangelization,” but what does it mean and how should it shape the Church?
That’s what George Weigel answers in this missionary manifesto. Weigel’s guide
lays out a plan for applying the Church’s evangelical identity to the priesthood,
the episcopacy, the liturgy, the laity, Catholic intellectual life, and even
the papacy. He calls for a more vibrant, reformed Church, devoted to holiness
and mission, whose central focus is proclaiming Jesus Christ to the world. It’s
an exciting and insightful glimpse at the Church of the New Evangelization.
3. Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity
by Trent Horn. With the increasing popularity of the New
Atheists, and the growth of their many disciples, we’ve seen a whole slew of
books designed to counter this trend. However, many of these books have glaring
issues that make them difficult to recommend (either to theists or atheists).
Most are either too simplistic, too academic, too focused, too broad, or too
caustic. Yet Trent Horn’s book strikes the right balance of breadth and depth,
clarity and sophistication, charity and truth. His main project is to show
there are no good reasons to embrace atheism while there are many reasons to
accept theism. He defends these contentions with fair and accessible prose,
copious endnotes, thick appendices, and helpful Socratic dialogues, which all
make this my go-to recommendation for anyone wondering whether God is real.
2. C.S. Lewis A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by
Alister McGrath. To put it simply, I’ve read several C.S. Lewis biographies and
Alister McGrath’s is the best. What makes McGrath so effective is how similar
he is to Lewis: both were born in Northern Ireland, both followed atheism
throughout their adolescence, both attended Oxford, both became prestigious
dons, and both converted to Christianity. This parallel trajectory allows
McGrath to get inside Lewis’ mind like few others can. Even more, to ensure he
understood his subject, McGrath read Lewis’ entire corpus chronologically
before starting his biography. As expected, McGrath’s book covers the major
events and figures in Lewis’ life, but he approaches them primarily through
Lewis’ books, which presents a fresh and illuminating gateway. Notably, McGrath
also defends a new date for Lewis’ conversion to theism, setting it a year
later than Lewis records in his own autobiography. This significant discovery,
coupled with McGrath’s smooth and perceptive prose, should put this book at the
top of every Lewis-lover’s list.
1. Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) by
Pope Francis. First of all, yes, this is a book. At over 50,000 words, it’s one
of the longest papal documents on record. And second, what a remarkable
book it is. In his first solo work, the Holy Father applies his characteristic themes of joy,
evangelization, and mercy toward building a culture of encounter and a poor Church
for the poor. Touching on almost every aspect of Church life, the wide-ranging
treatise addresses complacent Christians, dispirited missionaries, poor
preaching, and oppressive social injustice, shimmering on every page with
memorable one-liners and powerful summonses. Pope Francis recently called Evangelii Nuntiandi the “greatest
pastoral document ever written.” In my view, his own joyful, vivid call to
evangelization deserves that title.
Vogt is a Catholic blogger, writer, and speaker, and is content director at Word on Fire, the Catholic ministry founded
by Father Robert Barron.
Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret to a
Good Life by Rod Dreher easily tops this year’s list as the best book
I read in 2013. Dreher beautifully chronicles his sister’s struggle with lung
cancer and her eventual deathbut it’s so much more than just a cancer memoir.
It’s a powerful reflection on the importance of family, community, and
location. My full CWR review of it can be found here.
Eberstadt’s How the West Really Lost God is a close second on the list.
Eberstadt’s astute analysis turns traditional secularization theory on its head
and argues that the decline of the family led to secularization (rather than
the reverse). Not only is it a provocative read, but it’s also elegantly
written in a way that only the great Mary Eberstadt can deliver. This will be
considered an important work for a very long time.
by George Weigel offers a bold and attractive vision for
Catholicism in the 21st century. At a time when the Church is receiving a new
wave of public attention, this book is a must-read for all Catholics who want
to contribute to the serious work of evangelization (and that should include
all of us!).
realize I’m a few decades late to the game, but I finally got around to reading
Dorothy Day’s soul-stirring autobiography, The Long Loneliness. The book is
chock full of reflections on her efforts in starting the Catholic Worker
Movement and living life in community. Given the fact that her cause for
canonization is being rekindled, there’s no better time to discoveror
rediscoverthe life of one of the 20th century’s most important Catholics.
of my reading these days is non-fiction, but back in the fall I decided to
impose a new rule for myself: only to read works of fiction while on the
subway. As such, I was finally able to read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead
and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.
the 2005 Pulitzer and the National Book Award and is the fictional
autobiography of a dying Congregationalist minister who wants to pass along his
most important memories and life lessons to his seven-year-old son. Robinson’s
language is rich and haunts the reader long after the novel’s end.
tells the story of the Berglund family over the course of several decades and
explores themes of infidelity, capitalism, environmentalism, and, of course,
the nature of human freedom. It’s not a perfect novel to be sure, but it’s a
thoughtful read and well-craftedearning Franzen high rank among living fiction
writers of our time.
for the sake of accountability, I’ll note I’ve just started Charles Taylor’s
opus, A Secular Age. I’m already sure it will rank high on my 2014 listand
if it doesn’t, I expect to be publicly shamed for not finishing it!
Christopher White is the Director of Education and
Programs at the Center for Bioethics and Culture.
Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands by
Charles Moore (Knopf, 2013). This is the first volume of the authorized
two-volume biography of the late Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, by a
former editor of the Daily
Telegraph, The Spectator, etc. It is the best political biography I
have read since Robert Blake’s Disraeli appeared in the late 1960s. The
book is remarkable for the sweeping pace it maintains, despite a heavily
detailed text that nevertheless fails to swamp the immense narrative drive.
Metamorphoses of the City:
On the Western Dynamic by Pierre Manent (Harvard,
2013). The French political philosopher argues in his latest book that the
civilization of the West is distinguishable from all other civilizations, past
and present, by the fact of its having had, since the Greeks, a political
project that has made its story a history rather than a mere chronology. This
project, he adds, is presently flagging, as words and actions in politics
become separated from one another and Western political life runs down.
L’Anneau du pêcheur
by Jean Raspail (Livre de Poche, 1995). The Ring of the Fisherman,
originally published two decades ago, strangely anticipates Dan Brown’s Vatican
novels. Indeed, it is the sort of book Brown might have written had he
knowledge, wisdom, literary taste and sophistication, imagination, and talent.
The French novelist (author of The Camp of the Saints, Seven Cavaliers,
etc.) posits the intriguing possibility that, at the end of the Western Schism
that ended with the Council of Constance in 1417, the illegitimate of the two
rival “popes” was recognized and the legitimate one, Benedict XIII, “deposed.”
In Raspail’s novel, the successors of “le
vrai Pape,” elected by their few scattered cardinals in conclave and living
socially marginalized lives in the historical shadows, continue to assert their
“papal” authority for the next 600 years. The Vatican, alert for centuries to
the existence of its rumored rivals, determines in the early 1990s to track
down the current (and last) of the Avignon Benedicts, and settle the business
once and for all. Raspail’s skillfully indeterminate presentation, most evident
in the novel’s brilliant but inconclusive conclusion, leaves the reader to
judge for himself the claims of the second Avignon “papacies.” Raspail, a self-described
man of the right, is more forthright in his implied view of the modern Roman
one. No doubt L’Anneau du pêcheur is available an excellent English
Chilton Williamson, Jr. is
Senior Editor for Books at
Chronicles: A Magazine of