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 Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
I’ve been wanting to read this one for a long time, and finally had the excuse as it was assigned for the book club I am in. The story is a superb look at what decadence, idleness, and idolatry can do to people and to society. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, as they are all basically self-centered narcissists to one degree or another, and that seems to be Wilde’s primary point. Another of his most fascinating points is how we instinctively associate beauty with goodness, and how this falsity of Dorian’s character is so unnatural because of that, and isn’t that something we are constantly falling victim to in these days of celebrity culture? Perhaps that is why our instincts rebel against the lies of Photoshop and other manipulations that toy with our natural senses. Physical beauty does not make someone a good person, but good people have a natural beauty that radiates from within. Likewise, evil people have a quality that no amount of physical comeliness can hide; until now, that is, in our days of technological “advancement”.
The Good News About Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions About Catholic Teaching, by Christopher West
West does a great job of laying out the Catholic Church’s teachings on chastity, clarifying the many ways it has been misconstrued by modern culture. The question and answer format of this book is great, not only because it makes it easier to find the answers you need but because it also helps in knowing how to format responses to the questions of others. This would be a good book to review on a fairly regular basis, not just for guidance in one’s own life and relationship, but to help in facilitating conversation in the wider culture. Chastity, sex, and marriage have all been wildly misinterpreted these days, and this is one of the few books I’ve come across that gives clear answers that are easy to understand and apply to your life.
To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father, by Donald Miller
I picked this book up randomly at a used book store, and I am so glad that I did. It’s a wonderful memoir about what it’s like to grow up as a young man without a father, which is such an important perspective to have in our current age of widespread fatherlessness. Obviously, I am not the target demographic that the book was aimed to relate to, but I still got so much out of it because of that. Miller is a great writer and very adept at telling his story while also interweaving relevant trivia and anecdotes from the wider culture, such as the orphaned elephants on the nature preserve. The adolescent male elephants didn’t know how to behave properly because they had no older male elephants to model good behavior for them, and that links directly back to Miller’s main point of how disadvantaged young men are when they don’t have decent male role models in their lives. His grounding in Christian thought and morality was also very refreshing, because it didn’t come across as preachy at all. He is very down-to-earth, having learned to value integrity and hard work, and has a healthy perspective of God and the supernatural aspect of life.
A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War, by Joseph Loconte
This is a brilliant look at the First World War, through the perspective of two of the most iconic writers of the age: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Loconte highlights exactly how much the world changed with the extreme advances in technology in general and warfare in particular that the Great War brought about. He then goes on to show how this change, and the devastation that it caused, specifically influenced the works of Tolkien and Lewis. The book is a very sobering look at the realities of war and its effects on individuals but also on society, and Loconte shows how the experience directly affected the ways that both Tolkien and Lewis portrayed war and battles in their books. But it’s also inspiring to see how those two men did not give in to despair or pessimism, like so many others of their age, instead they saw the reality of life in this world but also recognized that there is more than this world. Inspired by their fellow soldiers, they knew that there is goodness and valor, even as they recognized that there is also true evil at work in things. I would highly recommend this book to everyone, whether they are Tolkien or Lewis fans or are just interested in the important history of this era.