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.
History of Philosophy, Volume I: Greece and Rome, by Frederick Copleston, SJ
I will not pretend that I actually understood the majority of the ideas discussed in this book, as I am still pretty new to the study of philosophy. This collection of books was written by a Jesuit priest for use in seminaries, and the academic depth to it can be a bit intense at times. But I still greatly enjoyed it, and I feel as if I got a lot out of it, even if I didn’t understand everything that it contained. I feel like I have a better overall view of what philosophy looked like in ancient times, and I have a better context for the works of Plato and Aristotle especially, even if I am likely to get their contemporaries all jumbled together.
The Fiery Angel, By Michael Walsh
The follow-up to Walsh’s The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, which I read in September. This book continued Walsh’s previous themes of the importance of stories in our culture, and he also continued to echo the thoughts and themes of G.K. Chesterton in regards to Feminism and femininity, as well as orthodoxy and tradition. He had a chapter that was particularly fascinating to me, on the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast (which Chesterton has also commented on) and the ideas that it is meant to convey: namely, the complimentary aspects of femininity and masculinity and the concept that you must love something before it can become lovable. Of course, one of my favorite inclusions in Walsh’s book is that he has a bibliography at the end that will now be informing my reading list for next year.
The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature, by Viv Groskop
I’m slowly developing a love affair with Russian Literature, and this book was a real gem of a find! I actually found it in a bookstore in Bratislava, Slovakia, during my recent trip to Europe. Groskop is an excellent storyteller in her own right, and weaves her personal history and experiences into the narrative of how she discovered the works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc. and the life lessons that she learned from their works. The “Russian Soul” is certainly a unique thing, as their entire history is so drear and tragic and yet they continue to persevere, showing such a hard realism and yet also a beautiful romanticism as well. This book was exactly the encouragement I needed to continue tackling “the Russians”.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
After my most recent re-read of this most beloved book, I could go on quite a long rant about how angry Peter Jackson makes me by his complete botching of the movie adaptation (when it had so much going for it to begin with!). Instead, I’m going to focus on how wonderful the actual book is. Bilbo Baggins is easily one of the most relatable and also admirable characters in literature. He is down-to-earth, loyal, and brave in the true sense, where even when he is terribly frightened he still does what needs to be done. Poor Bilbo often gets outshone by the characters that come after him in the Lord of the Rings, and yes, Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam are all wonderful examples of heroism, but Bilbo is admirable because of the simplicity of his heroics. He isn’t trying to save the whole world; he is just trying to help his friends and honor his own word. This book will always be one of my all-time favorites.
An Actor Bows, by Kevin O’Brien
I had the good fortune to meet Kevin O’Brien at the Chesterton Conference in Orlando this past summer, and to see him perform in his two-man show about J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. This memoir on his life, acting, and faith was very inspiring and thought-provoking, with some wonderful insights into the world of an actor and a true believer in Christ. Though not an actress myself, I have a deep love and appreciation for theater and have enjoyed the times when I have been able to work behind the scenes on different plays, and so I really enjoyed this look into that unique world of the stage. Especially having also recently read Jeffrey Tambor’s memoir, which chronicles about five decades of his acting career, I’m very fascinated by the personalities and worldview of actors. It’s a craft and an art form that I have a great deal of respect for. O’Brien also gives an important perspective on the state of the arts within the Catholic Church these days, which are often under-funded, under-patronized, and under-valued, and yet are also vitally important to our culture. As a Catholic artist myself, it’s a good reminder that what I am aiming to do with my life is indeed a worthwhile goal.
My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok
This book was a selection for a new book club that I joined (because my own reading list wasn’t keeping me busy enough…), and I was really pleased at how much I enjoyed it. I hadn’t been aware of Potok at all before picking up this book, but I recommend looking him up if you also aren’t familiar with him. This book is told from the perspective of Asher Lev, who grows up in a very orthodox Jewish community in the 1940s and ’50s. From a very young age, Asher has a strong artistic ability and inclination and the story is about his struggle as he grows up wanting to honor his parents, his faith, and his community but also feeling that he must honor the gift and natural ability that he has been given to paint. It’s a wonderful exploration of what it means to be both an artist and a person of faith. The ultimate question the book asks: is art worth the pain that it can cause?
A Preface to Paradise Lost, by C.S. Lewis
It’s been over a decade since I read Paradise Lost in college, and I remember very little of it at this point. I’ve been really wanting to re-read the poem, but felt rather intimidated at trying to tackle it again after all these years and without a good context for Milton anymore. But Lewis came to the rescue! This little book, which I think was originally a series of lectures that Lewis gave, was exactly what I was hoping to find. Lewis goes over the basic tenets of Epic Poetry, the differences between the format of Homer’s poems in contrast with Virgil and Milton’s, and then he launches into the explanations of Paradise Lost itself. I especially appreciated that Lewis addressed the basic theology that Milton was working with, the potential heresies that he has been accused of, and the overall effect that Milton was trying to achieve. I feel much better prepared now, as if I were actually back in a literature course again.
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