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 Grace of Enough, by Haley Stewart
This book is so many things that I love: minimalism and sustainability, literature and pop culture references, and devout Catholic theology. I sincerely want to be real life friends with this woman. Stewart’s main theme is about combating what Pope Francis calls our “throwaway culture”, where we treat everything as if it is cheap and disposable, even people. Her messages about sustainability, simplicity, and the Slow Food movement were all very familiar ideas to me and spoke to my heart, but I also really appreciated her message of how it should all be informed and influenced by our faith, trust, and love for God. The importance of hospitality and connection with others is one that is especially emphasized by its link with the Gospel and the teachings of Christ. This is a book that I really wish everyone would read, because it is so important and could truly help to heal our culture.
Dear and Glorious Physician, by Taylor Caldwell
This historic novel based on the life of St. Luke was delightful and inspiring to read. At nearly 600 pages, Caldwell is not exactly fast-paced in her exposition; but she is an excellent writer and the long expositions were simply the literary tradition of her era. Her descriptions are marvelous and really help to immerse you in those ancient times and places. I would love to know more of her research and how she came to depict St. Luke as she did. There is a selected bibliography at the back of the book that would be worth investigating, but it looks like there is only one book listed that is specifically about St. Luke. Even though Caldwell’s book is fictional, it is still nice to give a more tangible perspective on the Gospels and the times that Christ was living in. She also has a book based on the life of St. Paul, which I am excited to read at some point.
Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation, by Josef Pieper
A small little book of short philosophical meditations on art. I particularly liked the last section, which contained three talks that Pieper gave in a sculptor’s studio. He talked about the Muses and how art is all about remembrance. And it is so true; all art is about remembering something: a thought, an event, an emotion, a revelation. Without artists, the past would merely drift away from us and lose all value. I also enjoyed his talk on the importance of celebration and feasts, and how Plato said that we are given the Muses as guests at every festival. And again, how true. What is any celebration without the arts present? Music, dancing, decoration, ceremony; all of these things are necessary to truly celebrate a festival mood. Art makes everything richer and more enjoyable.
The Napoleon of Notting Hill, by G.K. Chesterton
This is the first novel of Chesterton’s that I have read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can definitely see his influence on the likes of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and I would suspect Douglas Adams, as well. This story is a wonderful look at what patriotism is really meant to be: a love of place simply because it is yours. Chesterton has some great personalities drawn in this story: Quin, who lives only for his own amusement; Barker, who lives only for business; Wayne, who lives with such a diehard seriousness; Turnbull and Buck, both such genuises in their utter practicality. Chesterton has the same great talent for wit that I grew up loving so much in Gaiman and Adams. I can’t wait to explore more of Chesterton’s fiction.
Folks, This Ain’t Normal, by Joel Salatin
Even when I was in the midst of reading it, this book felt foundational to how I want to live my life. It’s also an excellent companion to Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which Salatin and his farm were featured in. Salatin’s common sense way of looking at the world is so logical and rational that you really can’t argue with him. He is well-educated as well as being experienced in the areas of farming and food production and also in the government and industrial realities of our current food system. In a way, a lot of what Salatin has to say are things that I already knew or suspected (especially having read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and watched documentaries like Food Inc), but it was still very validating to have him say it with experience and data to back it up. The biggest takeaway for me is that it really is worth it to eat and shop as local as possible, not just as an ethics question but because that food will be substantially better nutritionally. This book has really inspired me to take more responsibility for how I live and the choices that I make about my food and so much more.
Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton, by Joseph Pearce
This was a great biography of Chesterton, and a wonderful place to start my study of the man. Pearce is so thorough in providing the details of Chesterton’s life, but also includes observations on the times that he was living in and how he was received by his peers and contemporaries, while also noting the influence that Chesterton’s work had on the generations that followed him such as C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers. It would be hard not to fall in love with G.K. Chesterton after reading such a full and illuminating portrait of his life. I’ll be completely honest, I cried through the final chapter as Pearce described the end of Chesterton’s life and his passing. I had only the vaguest of pictures of Chesterton’s life before reading this biography, but my love for him has certainly been cemented now. His personality and temperament was certainly one that I can relate to, with his child-like wonder, good humor, amiability towards everyone that he met. His indifference to success when he was at school. His disorganization and need for management in his professional career. I also related a great deal to the process of his conversion to the Catholicism, for it seems as if he never had any particular objections to the Church in the first place; he just needed a final push to show him that that was where Truth was ultimately found.
Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer
This book was recommended by some friends when I told them how I’ve been searching out books to recommend to my nieces and nephews, and I have to say that I greatly enjoyed this one. I hesitated over the fact that Artemis is supposed to be a criminal mastermind, coming from a long line of criminals, and so isn’t really an ideal moral example, but he is still a pretty decent character all things considered. The storytelling was excellent, and I spent many nights reading far longer than I intended because the writing was so engaging as well as being satisfying. Colfer’s conception for the fairy world was fun and unique, being based in traditional Irish folklore but then adding in futuristic technology. I always enjoy it when someone is able to come up with something new while also still honoring old traditions and conventions.
The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander
A book club read, this was my first exposure to Houselander. I absolutely loved this book, which is a series of reflections on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I found myself highlighting whole paragraphs at a time, and when I downloaded the notes from my Kindle it was about ten pages worth. I know that this is a book that I will end up reading over and over again. Some of the reflections that stood out to me the most were all about the ordinariness of Our Lady’s life. She was asked to carry out the most incredible event in human history, the Incarnation of God, and yet to all outward appearances her life was a very simple one and didn’t even noticeably change after she gave her fiat. She married, as was orginially planned for her, she was a wife and mother, she lived a modest life in a small and poor town. But oh, how Christ has sanctified such a life by sharing it with her and St. Joseph. If such small, everyday tasks such as cooking and cleaning were worthy of Our Lady, the Mother of God, how could we ask anything more or less for ourselves?
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