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.
The River, by Flannery O’Connor
I enjoyed this short story of O’Connor’s so much more than I did A Good Man is Hard to Find (which I read the previous month). However, this one actually broke my heart a little more. The story of poor little Bevel/Harry is so easy for me to picture, and the neglect that he suffers is far too easy to believe. What I am really enjoying about O’Connor’s writing is that it is actually pretty similar to what I aim for in my own writing, even though I had never read or studied any of her work until recently. There are no over-explanations in what she is trying to tell you, instead she just lays out the story and the scenes and lets you come to your own conclusions. She makes her readers work and think for themselves rather than spoon-feeding a particular message, and that is something that I admire quite a lot.
Goodbye, Good Men, by Michael S. Rose
It’s not often that I read such a topical book, but this one was quite illuminating to read in the midst of so many scandals breaking news in the Catholic Church. It was written after Rose conducted hundreds of interviews with priests, seminarians, and former seminarians, and looks closely at what the Catholic seminaries were actually like, especially in the 80s and 90s. It’s slightly horrifying to see how there were those that were actively working to undermine and sabotage not just the Church but the priesthood itself. And it makes me even more grateful for the incredible, holy priests that I have been blessed to know in the few short years that I have been a part of the Church. The priests who have inspired me the most since my conversion are almost all my own age, which has been an amazing and humbling experience, and is also not that surprising after reading about the reforms that have been happening in the seminaries in the last couple of decades.
Are You Anybody? by Jeffrey Tambor
This isn’t a book that I normally would have picked up on my own, but one of my best friends really enjoyed it and insisted on loaning it to me and I actually enjoyed it much more than I was expecting. I really only know Tambor from his role on the show Arrested Development, but that alone is pretty wonderful. Tambor is over 70 years old, has been an actor since college, and has not led a perfect life, but who has? He has picked up a lot of wisdom, and candidly shares his own faults and mistakes with an inspiring humility. Not only does he share the most embarrassing moments of his long acting career, but also the times that he was enthralled by Scientology and a few charismatic but unhealthy mentors. He is also very honest about the role his family and upbringing has played throughout his life; an alcoholic, abusive mother, a brother who died of a drug-overdose, etc. And how his Jewish heritage is vital to who he is as a person and what he brings to his roles as an actor. One of my favorite sections is where he talks about the importance of telling others “attaboy.” Because no matter how confident or self-assured any of us might appear to be, we all still need some encouragement and reassurance from time to time.
The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis
I don’t remember this Narnia installment much from my childhood, and I’d only ever listened to the audiobook once before as an adult. I very much missed the Pevensie children while reading this one, but I still enjoyed it overall. It has a more developed plot line than some of the other Narnia books, in my opinion. Puddleglum is easily one of my favorite characters of the whole series, which is good because the characters of Jill and Eustace are not particularly likeable, though it can be argued that this was done on purpose. After having Lucy as our heroine in the other books, with her boundless faith and optimism, Jill is endlessly frustrating as she bickers with Eustace and is constantly forgetting Aslan’s very specific instructions. But Lewis was also trying to make a point about the modern education system by making the two children so disagreeable, so I guess it can be forgiven.
What’s Wrong with the World, by G.K. Chesterton
Originally published in 1910, Chesterton very easily could have been writing about problems in our world today. If at times it can come across as a bit dated, that is only because the world has gone beyond the worst of even Chesterton’s imagination. His descriptions of womanhood and the true dignity of women are more empowering than anything I have heard from any modern Feminist. He thought that by demanding equality with men that women were actually lowering their own worth. He talks about the supreme importance of domestic life, as it is the foundation of our physical and mental well-being, and how it requires a homemaker to manage such a diversity of tasks and disciplines, compared with the relatively narrow and specialized focus of those who work at specific jobs outside of the home. And there is no greater challenge than raising children, whose constant questioning of everything will certainly broaden your own mind. There is a great deal of wisdom in this book, not just in the relations between the sexes but also about education and how we relate in society.
Introduction to the Book of Job, by G.K. Chesterton
By far the best explanation of Job that I have come across. The Book of Job was the first book of the Bible that I was ever really exposed to, during college in the “Literature and Philosophy” course, and I have been fascinated by it ever since. Chesterton points out that it is doubtful if the Israelites would have survived as a nation, through all their many misfortunes and times of exile, if not for the Book of Job. It directly negates the concept of the “Prosperity Gospel”; that concept that the virtuous are always rewarded and the sinful are always punished. Job acknowledges that ultimate mystery that bad things do in fact happen to good people, and Chesterton’s introduction acknowledges that acknowledgement with the great line, “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of Man.”
The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, by Michael Walsh
I love reading a book that makes me aware of how much more I still need to read and learn. Not only did this book caused me to add even to more to my reading list, as well as operas and symphonies, but also to occasionally look up words and how to pronounce them. Walsh’s whole thesis is one that is so very close to my heart: that the instinct for story, what he calls the “Ur-narrative”, is fundamental to our humanity and that culture is the most powerful tool that comes out of that. And as a Catholic, Walsh also understands the deeper spiritual consequences of the stories that we tell. In addressing our current cultural crisis, Walsh echoes many of the points that Chesterton had made a century before. He especially echoes GKC’s thoughts on Feminism, countering it with the idea of the Eternal Feminine which is present in every great story from the beginning of time.
The Storytelling Animal, by Jonathan Gottschall
Reading this right after Michael Walsh was a bit of a shock to the system. They both talk on the same theme, the importance of storytelling, but Gottschall is very clearly a modern, Liberal, atheist academic, who tries to cover the topic from an evolutionary and scientific perspective. He references novels and authors, but they are all from just this past century. He makes some wonderful observations, and the scientific studies on dreams and the actual mechanics of the brain are fascinating, but he still completely misses the bigger picture and the point of it all. He poses all of these questions about why we tell stories, but he is unable to provide any answers because he denies a reality where humanity was made with an actual purpose. I did appreciate the different research that he shared, especially on the topic of dreaming brains and the play of children. He even admits to the fundamental differences in the play between girls and boys, though it certainly seems to pain him to admit it. I would love to read the book again more slowly and look at some of his research with a more theological interpretation.
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