The staff and friends of InsideCatholic have a variety of interests and backgrounds. But we do have one thing in common: We all enjoy reading.
In the hopes that you’re a reader as well, we thought we’d share some of the better titles we’ve recently come across. You should find something here for every interest and temperament — from fiction to history, light to complex.
If you do pick up a copy of a book we recommend, let us know what you think of it. And by all means, please add your own personal picks in the Comments section.
As I have mentioned previously, this is the 100th anniversary of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Whether you have or have not read it before, it really should be read again, it is such a profound and delightful book.
Msgr. Robert Sokololwski’s new book Phenomenology of the Human Person is one of the really fine books to have been published in a long time. It is a remarkable study in the meaning of truth and its relation to our experience and capacity to speak of it.
Another book that I have learned an enormous amount from is Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, a book that was published in English by the Catholic University of America Press in 1988. All the theoretic background of Spe Salvi is here. If you read these three books this summer, plus Spe Salvi, you will come close to knowing everything about what is really the point of human existence.
Rev. James V. Schall, S. J., teaches political science at Georgetown University. His latest book, The Order of Things, is recently published by Ignatius Press.
Benedict’s handling of Scripture (law, prophets, psalms, synoptics, Johannine, Pauline, and Petrine texts) is glorious — and magisterial. Also his irenic but mordant scrutiny of the disastrous drift of biblical studies for the last 150 years.
A complete canvass of “spirituality” from the apostolic age to the 20th century. Immensely rewarding.
This Dominican philosopher mounts a crushing rejoinder to the apostle and high priest of the “new” atheism.
Tom Howard is retired from 40 years of teaching English in private schools, college, and seminary in England and America.
A fascinating read, bringing to life the completely vanished Britain of the 19th century, the veneration in which Queen Victoria was held, and the mixture of magnificence and manipulation that she brought to her task as sovereign. Ideally, this should be read at or near Osborne on the Isle of Wight, overlooking the Solent, with a big pot of tea and a lot of strawberries. But anywhere will do.
Tender and haunting, it will make you very, very solemn, and nothing else around you will be able to lift that for a while — but the young men who are at the heart of this book deserve that. Impossible to put down until you reach the last page, and impossible to forget.
If anyone has told you that Joseph Ratzinger’s theology is hard to grasp, they are lying. Let this book be an introduction to his fascinating and refreshing insights into the Christian faith. You’ll be startled and challenged, and you’ll enjoy it all hugely, too.
Joanna Bogle is an author and broadcaster living in London.
I’m on a Tim Powers jag right now. The guy’s amazing — as fertile an imagination as I’ve run across in some time. Mentored by Philip K. Dick (who dedicated Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to him), Powers is an orthodox Catholic who writes what he calls “secret histories,” tales of the fantastic that include historical characters. Powers makes it a rule to always make certain the known historical facts about the character fit the action of the novel. So if Kim Philby, the British double agent responsible for the betrayal of many Western operatives to the Soviets, was in a certain city on a certain date doing such and so, then Powers makes sure he is doing it in the story.
But Powers, like a delightfully undemented Art Bell listener, then asks (in his novel Declare), “What was the character really doing? Why did he make that cryptic remark recorded by his biographer? What accounts for this anomaly in the historical record?” The answer will include djinn, fallen angels, MI-5, the horrors of Lubyanka prison, Noah’s Ark, and a story that moves seamlessly from a John LeCarré-style spy thriller to a bizarre tale of the occult: “spycraft meets Lovecraft,” as Powers puts it.
So, for instance, when Lord Byron records in a letter that friends of his swear to seeing him in London on a particular date when Byron knows he was lying sick a-bed in Greece, Powers goes to work to provide the real explanation in The Anubis Gates. That explanation will involve Egyptian sorcerers, an evil clown, time travel, and a magic spell for switching bodies, plus a great deal more.
Similarly, in Three Days to Never, we will be thrown into a story in which Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin somehow play a role in creating a device that can alter the past and simply uncreate people by preventing their births — all involving English professors, Israeli agents, and sinister cults that get their intelligence by consulting ghosts and employing a blind woman who can only see through the eyes of others.
I have just finished reading While Europe Slept by Bruce Bawer (Doubleday). Fascinating . . . and scary, too. If Bawer is correct, Western Europe is well on its way to being overwhelmed by expanding Muslim enclaves that cling to values incompatible with liberalism and democracy.
I’m in the middle of reading a wonderful old novel (1946) by Helen Howe, We Happy Few, a satirical look at some Cambridge/Harvard types circa 1940. Often hilarious. For example, our heroine’s mother believed that “Jesus Christ was a very, very good man who quite possibly never existed.”
I’m also rereading some of Plutarch’s Lives, in particular those of Athenians of the 5th century BC: Themistocles, Aristides, Cimon, Pericles, Alcibiades, and Nicias. One never grows tired of Plutarch.
I listened to McCarthy on the radio for nearly two hours talking about his experience prosecuting the “Blind Shiekh” for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and I was totally engrossed. McCarthy speaks with the voice of authority warming us that we accept politically correct views of Islam at our own peril.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski
One of those heavy-looking novels that surprise you with their lightness. This one reads beautifully from the first page and the story, and thus far, is seems totally original — its doesn’t derive from any kind of contemporary fiction I am familiar with.
Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, by Mo Yan
A Chinese novelist writes about life under Mao in a fractured but entertaining style — a novel about survival.
This one’s a few years old, but it’s worth a look. Elie writes a fascinating and inspiring account of how Catholicism shaped the lives and writings of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy.
If you like a good mystery, but are deflated by the poor writing of the average summer thriller, there’s hope! Chabon’s novel, published last year and now available in paperback, is both a hard-boiled detective story and an alternative history: The setting is Sitka, Alaska, which replaces Israel as the Jewish refuge after World War II.
Before J. K. Rowling, Scott was the Wizard of the North. He’s at his best here: A young man trying to save his father from financial ruin finds himself caught up in the intrigues leading up to the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. Plenty of romance, action, and Scottish scenery — and a fair share of anti-Catholic sentiment from the narrator. (I recommend the Oxford World’s Classics paperback edition.)
Christopher Scalia is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He joins InsideCatholic as our Literary Editor.
Exiles, by Ron Hansen, is a slim volume of some of the most evocative prose it’s been my pleasure to read. The novel is a fictionalized account of the tragic shipwreck of the Deutschland in 1875. Aboard were five young religious sisters, exiled victims of Bismarck’s purgation of religious orders, en route to St. Louis via England. The morning after the wreck, a Jesuit seminarian, Gerard Manly Hopkins, read an account in the London papers of the death of the ship’s passengers, and was moved to write his famous “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” Hansen’s story weaves in and out through the lives of the sisters and the Jesuit poet they had never met. Along the way, the reader catches glimpses of life at 19th-century Oxford, tea with John Henry Newman, and the rigors and rewards of Jesuit formation at Stonyhurst. Don’t miss this elegantly written novel by the author of Mariette in Ecstasy and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — and the entry under consideration in InsideCatholic’s upcoming Book Club.
Trianon: A Novel of Royal France, written by Elena Maria Vidal, sweeps one into the streets of Revolutionary France. This sympathetic portrayal of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI has been meticulously researched, yet its history is offered as lightly as a one of Proust’s Madeleines. Marie and Louis lean on their faith, grow in courage, and provide images of love and hope in a time of unremitting horror. This historical novel is suitable for older teens, too.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is a classic whose relevance slashes through contemporary headlines. We modern societies are at war over the meaning of the human person; Shelley’s artificially created “monster” has already asked what his place in the “human kingdom” might be. Does he have a soul? Was he stitched together from the good and the bad? It is impossible to read this novel without an immediate projection of its force onto our own near-future world of cloning, embryonic stem cell research,h and the manufacture of “surrogates” for body parts. The moral questions posed will chill your summer day. (Also treat yourself to the movie Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, starring Kenneth Branaugh and Robert De Niro.)
Mary Jo Anderson is a contributing correspondent for www.WorldNetDaily.com and a columnist for InsideCatholic.com. She is also the co-author of Male and Female He Created Them: Questions and Answers on Marriage and Same Sex Unions (Catholic Answers).
This book has everything one could want in summer reading — a true story of romance, conversion, and loss, with C. S. Lewis acting as best friend and spiritual parent to the narrator and, by extension, the reader. Be prepared to find Vanauken and his wife somewhat unsympathetic at the start of the tale — their initial romantic bond is what Erich Fromm called a selfish “nation of two” — but stick with it and you will discover a deep and compelling vision of Christian love.
The founder of the Christophers media ministry may not have been as compelling a writer as his contemporary Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (whose Peace of Soul is another great summer-reading tome), but those wishing to share Catholic values this election season would do well to read his 1948 treatise on evangelizing the culture. Still in print and available from the Christophers (www.christophers.org), You Can Change the World is a quick, inspiring, and surprisingly relevant read, even for — especially for — those of faith who have been working in journalism and PR for some time.
Summer-weight comedy of manners from the undisputed master of such things. Part of Wodehouse’s lesser known (compared to his Jeeves stories) Blandings Castle series, Heavy Weather is a sweet cocktail containing all the usual PGW ingredients — bumbling peers, imperious grandes-dames, and vapid young men of leisure; mistaken identities, sundered romances, and reversals of fortune — measured and mixed to perfection. Sip with pleasure.
Early January is usually more closely associated with fitness resolutions, but I think summer is the perfect time to turn our attention to those physical needs that are all too easy to neglect when the days are short and sweaters thick. Fit for Eternal Life is the rare — perhaps unique — fitness book that integrates Catholic spirituality and classical wisdom into a practical plan for strength training, cardio, and diet. Here’s a book that will not only make you stronger and healthier (in my case, it also broke me of bad habits I’d picked up in many years of sporadic self-directed gym-going), but helps focus your pursuit of physical fitness on its proper ends: namely, God’s glory, and the vigorous service of others.
I lack the vocabulary and training to praise intelligently the work of Catholic poet (and current NEA chairman) Dana Gioia, but I know that I like what I read — particularly in Interrogations, Gioia’s third and most recent collection. Here are poems about the soul and the interior life, free of piety; about human emotion, memory, and loss, stripped of sentimentality. The styles are a diverse mix (though a majority are vers libre), but each poem displays a precise use of language — in terms of diction, sound, flavor, rhythm — that reminds me of Eliot or Pound or Wallace Stevens. If you want to change things up a little this summer and get some contemporary Catholic poetry into your system, you could do no better.
The subject of the Democratic Party’s longtime ties of intimacy with the Catholic Church, and the pair’s latter-day estrangement, has interested me for years, but especially since I edited David Carlin’s Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?
in 2006. From what I hear, Why the Democrats Are Blue
from InsideCatholic’s own Mark Stricherz both complements Carlin’s understanding and advances it — showing not only that these two great institutions have diverged, but chronicling how
it happened. When I’m reclined on beach or patio this summer, Stricherz’s book will be at my elbow.
Todd M. Aglialoro is the editor for Sophia Institute Press and a columnist and blogger for www.InsideCatholic.com.
Set primarily in 14th-century Germany, this novel focuses on Father Dietrich, a Paris-educated scholar who has come to live in a small village to escape what we are led to believe is a dark past. Father Dietrich is the town sage, to whom everyone turns for wisdom as well as sacraments, and as the story begins, the town is experiencing a phenomenon that requires lots of explaining — a massive buildup of static electricity (an unknown phenomenon to the people of the town) that sets everyone on edge. A glow emanates from the forest, and when Father Dietrich goes to investigate, he discovers that strange, grasshopper-like aliens have crash-landed in the woods.
His first instinct on seeing one of the badly wounded creatures is to baptize it — which he immediately doubts was the right thing to do. Did the creature have a soul? Had he committed a sacrilege? The stage is therefore set for a story woven with deep philosophical and theological questions, as a race of beings from across the universe comes directly into contact with medieval Catholic scholasticism while trying to survive in an unfamiliar world and find their way back home.
Belloc is one of my favorite Catholic writers, and here describes his first pilgrimage to Rome. Inspired while walking through the valley where he was born in France and praying there before a statue of the Blessed Mother, Belloc vowed to walk to Rome to take advantage of nothing with wheels, to hear Mass every morning, and to be present at St. Peter’s Basilica for High Mass on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The book is filled with adventure, delightful encounters, and Belloc’s highly enjoyable wit. Written in 1902, the story paints a picture of pre-war Europe still attached to its Catholic roots and is an early example of excellent narrative non-fiction.
German novelist Martin Mosebach wrote this modern classic not long before the papal motu proprio on the Traditional Latin Mass, Summorum Pontificum. It approaches the question of post-Vatican II liturgy from the perspective of an author and aesthete rather than from the more well-worn perspective of a theologian. Mosebach’s book is a rich, poetic examination of the Faith as expressed through signs and sacraments, and he makes compelling anthropological and anecdotal arguments that what made the change in liturgy following the council destructive was the way it cast off the beauty and formality of the old ways in favor of a liturgy where reverence was really only one option among many.
Mosebach examines the way abrupt changes in the way we worship — like changing our posture for receiving communion from kneeling to standing — affects our psychology regarding the sacrament and how serious it should be taken at all. For anyone who longs for more beautiful liturgy, even if they have no specific affinity to the Gregorian rite, the book is a compelling and enjoyable read.
I recommend this book for two reasons: It’s the quintessential work by Chesterton, and though I was aware of it at least since college, I only read it for the first time just recently. I imagine that despite its status as a Catholic classic, many Catholics may also not have read this excellent book. Orthodoxy is sort of a spiritual autobiography for Chesterton, and it looks at the world and the faith through his unique perspective, which is essentially that described by H. L. Mencken: “The Latin Church, which I constantly find myself admiring, despite its frequent astonishing imbecilities, has always kept clearly before it the fact that religion is not a syllogism, but a poem.” Chesterton’s chapter titled “The Ethics of Elfland” elucidates this idea rather beautifully, and I’ve gone back to it on more than one occasion to help me explain some aspect of the Faith when I needed a description more poetic than those found in my Catechism.
This is one of those Christian classics that I have never read. Augustine writes about Christianity’s relationship with competing religions and philosophies, as well as to the Roman government. It also deals with issues of God, martyrdom, and other Christian philosophies. Given that I live in Rome and love Augustine, I thought it was high time that I read this!
Introduction to Christianity, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
This is a great book that really captures the mind of the man we call pope. Cardinal Ratzinger gives his spiritual outlook on the foundations of Christianity. With his encyclopedic knowledge of scripture and history, it’s a book that is worth reading slowly.
It’s a page turner — a smart man’s Da Vinci Code. The story is set in Princeton, 1999, on the eve of graduation. Two students are on the verge of solving the mystery of a Renaissance text famous for its hypnotic power that has eluded scholars for centuries.
Habit of Being, by Flannery O’Connor
We’ve been getting tastes of this from Zoe’s Flannery Friday posts. If you are a Flannery fan, this gives insight into her life, personality, and work. It’s a compilation of O’Connor’s correspondence with friends and acquaintances, in which some of her simple but profound insights into faith and the human condition are revealed.
Irene Lagan is a journalist for Vatican Radio and a columnist and blogger for InsideCatholic.com. She writes from Rome.
I am wary of this book. Perlstein is the author of the acclaimed Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. It seeks to blame Richard Nixon primarily for causing the polarization of American politics, rather than the New Left and the liberal revolutionaries on the McGovern Commission; Perlstein dug through only five or six archives and relied extensively on second-hand material; and it betrays no understanding of the immense role the Church played in immediate post-war American life. Still: This is the book for those fascinated with American history from 1965 to 1972 and want a compulsive, rollicking-good read.
All I know about this book is that the author, who has taught creative writing at universities, e-mailed me to ask if I would like a copy; Amy Welborn wrote that the author possesses “a Catholic sacramental sensibility” (Is there any other?); and that part of the novel takes place in Iowa, the beloved home state of my wife. That’s enough for me.
The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, narrated by Rob Inglis
I’ve never been a big fan of books on tape, so when my sister suggested we listen to The Hobbit on a recent road trip, I thought it must be in protest of my incessant nattering. But this was a treat: Rob Inglis has that perfect sonorous British accent for Tolkien’s fantastical tales — and yes, he does all the characters’ voices. This version also has the distinction of being the only unabridged copy of the book available on disc (he also has releases of the complete Lord of the Rings series as well). When you’re tempted to chuck the kids out the window on those long road trips this summer, try popping this in the stereo instead.
A sweeping historical novel that recounts the life of Alessandro Giuliani, a young Italian student of aesthetics coming of age just as World War I is sinking Europe in chaos. An unwilling soldier, Alessandro sees it all — death, destruction, desertion, execution . . . the near-total annihilation of everything and everyone he holds dear. And yet, he’s unable to completely give in to the madness around him, clinging instead to a hope that he himself barely understands, one that dogs him through his long life. A beautifully told story of war, revenge, beauty, love, and faith — there’s truly something for everyone here.
Margaret Cabaniss is the managing editor of InsideCatholic.com.
This handsome book is your essential guide to the literary classics. Guinness seeks to introduce the essentials of the Western canon in a “clear and simple style that is mature in seriousness and tone and Christian in perspective.” Reading the classics can be pretty daunting at times, but true to its title, Cowan and Guinness make good on their “invitation” by providing well-written biographical and historical sketches, not to mention beautiful art and portraits of authors, that whet the appetite and will soon have you heading to the bookstore to pick up that classic you’ve always wanted to read.
Have you ever been in a situation where your friends debate what temperament you each have? It’s an amusing scenario, if not confusing. I just got this book in the mail, and even having only read a few pages so far, I’m recommending it based on the fascinating subject matter. I believe myself to be phlegmatic, but I’m prepared for a different verdict after I’m done with the book. I look forward to being entertained and edified.
Agnes Bunagan is the development associate for InsideCatholic.com.
It’s hard not to like a book that begins with: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Or maybe that’s just me. Pollan’s latest book, on the heels of his best-selling The Omnivore’s Dilemma, looks at the rise of “nutritionism” and proposes a way of eating that focuses on real food. The prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach to food, Pollan argues, has destroyed the pleasures of the table, and ultimately our physical health and cultural traditions. Pollan’s writing is reason enough to pick up this short read. You may even find yourself adopting his eater’s manifesto.
John Gottman has spent years using rigorous scientific procedures to study the habits of married couples in detail. This book is the culmination of his work and focuses on seven principles that make marriages last. Gottman’s research flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom of marriage exerts, challenging the assumption that communication is key to a happy marriage, and debunking many myths about divorce. Gottman can predict, with a 91 percent degree of accuracy, whether a couple will last, after spending just five minutes watching them interact. The book is informative and offers questionnaires and exercises for enhancing your marriage.
This was a hard one to put down. Kinzer, formerly a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and a best-selling author, argues that regime change has been dominant in American foreign policy for over 100 years. Beginning with the toppling of Hawaii’s monarchy in 1893, he explores the various foreign governments the United States has formally or informally had a hand in overthrowing — whether it be for political, ideological, or economic reasons — and almost always for the worse. Kinzer weakens the book by presenting caricatures of a few major players and making some far-reaching assertions. That said, he’s a masterful storyteller of complicated foreign policy. Whether or not you find his premise substantiated, the book is compelling.
Zoe Romanowsky is a development consultant for InsideCatholic.com.
In Deep Economy, McKibben makes the argument for moving away from a “growth” economy that is currently held as the model for prosperity and national well-being. Instead, he proposes embracing more local economies — think mom-and-pop diners, radio stations that follow local sports, and family-owned and operated farms. McKibben concedes that this will mean saying good-bye to Walmart-cheap prices, but the trade-off is closer-knit communities, vibrant local culture, and more equitable spread of wealth. He also examines why pushing growth economies on developing nations is ruinous to their communities and way of life. Catholic readers will no doubt see principles of subsidiarity in McKibben’s thesis.
Tired of the rat race in the Big Apple, Logan Ward and his wife yearn for the simple life. In an extreme move, they abandon their jobs, their comfortable New York City lifestyle, and move with their one-year-old son to the foothills of Virginia where they fulfill their dream of living for an entire year as their ancestors did one hundred years ago — no car, no electricity, no running water. See You in a Hundred Years follows the Ward family as they live off the land and achieve self-sufficiency (sometimes with the help of their concerned neighbors). The Wards find that the “simple life” isn’t so simple, but it brings them closer in innumerable ways. t’s something their complex lives in New York City could never give them.
We were asked to review books we’re currently reading — and, as it turns out, I’m currently reading a cookbook. I picked this up because we’ve decided to work more local, organic foods into our diet — which means we’ve been frequenting our farmer’s market and have been encountering all kinds of unusual vegetables that I’m not quite certain how to prepare. Enter Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters, a pioneer in the “eat local” movement. This book is a wonderful compendium of preparations for all kinds of vegetables you would find at your local farmer’s market. Alphabetically ordered, Waters gives a quick summary of the nature of each vegetable and offers several simple recipes to prepare it. This book has been a welcome addition to my cookbook collection, and I’m quite thankful to now know what to do with that Mediterranean squash that’s sitting my fridge.
Ann Waterman is the business manager of InsideCatholic.com.
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