Please note: I have intentionally decided not to include Amazon links (unless something is available exclusively on Amazon). Instead, if you are interested in reading any of the books I mention, I encourage you to check out your local library or independent bookstore. These places (and the communities around them) need your support, and they are generally quite willing to order any book if they don’t currently have it in stock. However, if Amazon is still the more practical choice for you, it is easy enough to search and find any of the titles that I mention.
Mystery of the Magi, by Dwight Longenecker
This was a fascinating look at the historical facts surrounding the story of the Wise Men found in the nativity story in the Gospel of Matthew. While Longenecker is in fact a Catholic priest, the book is written more as a straight-forward presentation of the historical facts rather than as a theological discussion. There is indeed a lot of mystery surrounding the story of the magi, but Longenecker does a great job of discussing what is actually known and then positing his own theories. He seems most interested in simply getting a discussion going on this topic, and I think the book would be very interesting to believers and non-believers alike.
The Clothes Make the Girl (look fat)?, by Brittany Gibbons
This is Gibbons’ second book, and I loved the first one (Fat Girl Walking) so much that I had this one pre-ordered after the first announcement that I saw. And I was not disappointed. What I love about her books is that reading them is just like hanging out with your best girlfriend, talking about the reality of life as a woman these days. This isn’t the autobiography of a celebrity whose life you can only imagine and look at from the outside. This is an autobiography of your best mom-friend (and I’m not even a mom). The chapter about her “thunder thighs” was my personal favorite, and the chapter dedicated to her daughter legitimately made me cry.
Little Sins Mean a Lot, by Elizabeth Scalia
One of the things that I have struggled with most since joining the Catholic Church is how to make a good confession. I know that I am far from perfect, but I am also not in a habit of contemplating where I’ve messed up unless I’ve messed up BIG. But Scalia’s book is a boon, because she helps to point out all of the little things which society has normalized but are still venial sins nonetheless, sins that weigh on the soul and can lead to the larger ones. A very insightful read, that led to a lot of soul-searching.
Barhopping with Bukowski (A Short Story), by L. Davis
I love a good short story, and this one was particularly engaging. An intriguing narrator and moving prose, it’s a beautiful snapshot into the mind an interesting, modern character. “Our unnamed protagonist is stuck in a mundane life. She works, she pays the bills, she goes to her therapist, and nothing ever changes. Until one night she decides to be free. Step one: buy a book of Bukowski poems.”
The Life You Save May Be Your Own, by Paul Elie
I found this book by chance (or grace) at a used bookstore in DC, and it was one of those books that I didn’t even know that I needed so badly. It’s kind of a joint biography of four different American Catholic writers: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor. I was fairly unfamiliar with all of these writers before picking up the book, though I recognized all of their names. But over the two months it took me to read through the 400 pages, i felt like I was discovering my own tribe; people who weren’t necessarily very much like me but who were still a community that I also belong to. I have friends who are writers, and I have friends who are Catholic, but finding friends who are Catholic writers is a bit more problematic. And combining those two labels into one makes a big difference on your perspective of the world. Reading about these four writers has definitely given me a deeper appreciation of my own work, and also how I would like my faith to influence and contribute to that work.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
I have read this book more times that I can remember, and it seems that I buy endless copies of it because I have such a tendency to give them away to people. I think that I was about twelve years old the first time that I read it, and as an adult I am still discovering all of the ways that it has shaped me both as a human being and as a writer. The prevailing theme of empathy, the idea that when you truly understand your enemy you can’t help but love them the way that they love themselves, is something that feels so fundamental to my own character. Orson Scott Card was also the first author that I actually encountered as a real person, and not just a name on the cover of a book. As a teenager, I went to multiple book-signings of his, and even attended two different multi-day writing workshops that he taught. I still have great respect for his writing style, and I’m always so happy when I re-read one of his books and discover that it still holds up even as I get older. Ender’s Game is definitely a book that I recommend that everyone should read at least once.