Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is one of my favorite novels, and unquestionably my favorite Catholic novel. (Spoiler warning for those who haven’t read it — this post has to do with events which take place at the very end.) Not only does Brideshead give powerful and beautiful expression to Catholic themes, but having read it in my late teens, not long before leaving home, it represents one of those crystallizing experiences for me through which Catholicism became not merely something I was brought up in, but something deeply my own and at the root of my understanding of the world.
And yet, there’s a key element of the plot which clashes with the modern experience of joining the Church — as I was reminded tonight when attending the opening RCIA meeting as a member of this year’s team. Near the very end of the novel, Julia (a cradle, though intermittently lapsed, Catholic) tells the man she has been living with for several years (they’re in the process of divorcing their estranged spouses so they can marry): Continue reading
I was thinking of writing a lengthy piece over lunch, when I wrote up my task list and realized that “lunch” needed to be no more than twenty minutes long. So instead, I present a number of pieces that struck me as interesting lately, but which I don’t have a whole post worth of things to say about.
InsideCatholic just reprinted a lengthy piece by medievalist Sandra Miesel discussing the realities of witch burning in the Middle Ages through “Age of Reason”. It’s an article well worth the time to read, avoiding both the slanders of anti-Catholics and the overly rosy rebuttals used by some apologists.
Entrepreneur Paul Graham has an interesting essay on what an essay should be, why people ought to write them, and how high school English classes do a pretty poor job of teaching people this skill. Continue reading
Judging from our posts, I believe it is safe to say that we at The American Catholic are a bookish lot. I think this applies also to most of our learned commenters. I have always loved books, a trait I inherited from my sainted mother who had a deep passion for the printed page. If I were not married to a fellow bibliophile, and a librarian of course !, I can imagine my love of books perhaps having been a sore point in my marriage. “Another bookstore?” “Can’t we go anyplace without you dragging me to a dull bookstore?” “You paid what for that history of the Peninsular War!?!” “The books are in the dumpster. Say a word and you may end up there too!” Instead, both I and my bride of 27 years view bookstores as homes away from home, to the vast amusement of our kids.
In this post I am going to list ten books I would recommend. These ten books have all had some impact on my life. I invite everyone who is interested to also give their book recommendations in the comments.
1. The Bible-Since my parents gave me my first Bible, at my request, on Christmas Day 1970, I have attempted, and usually succeeded, in reading a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New each day. The varied type of literature in the Bible I find endlessly fascinating: novels, court chronicles, proverbs, otherworldly prophecies, military history, gospels, letters, an endless literary and intellectual feast. Aside from the spiritual benefits of the Bible, which of course is the main reason for reading the Bible, no one in our civilization can be considered to be well-educated if they are bone ignorant of this book. Continue reading
With all the discussion of whether British behavior in the Colonies justified the Revolutionary War, I can’t help being reminded of an exchange in one of my favorite books, 84, Charing Cross Road:
August 15, 1959
i write to say i have got work.
i won it. i won a $5,000 Grant-in-Aid off CBS, it’s supposed to support me for a year while I write American History dramatizations. I am starting with a script about New York under seven years of British Occupation and i MARVEL at how i rise above it to address you in friendly and forgiving fashion, your behavior over here from 1776 to 1783 was simply FILTHY.
Catholic writer Matthew Lickona has the first issue of a graphic novel out, and the topic is an interesting one.
1. An animal, a plant, or other organism having structural defects or deformities.
2. A fetus or an infant that is grotesquely abnormal and usually not viable.
- The American Heritage? Medical Dictionary
Alphonse is the story of eight lives that intersect because of an attempted abortion. Why “attempted?” Because while there are no angels or demons on either side, there is definitely a monster in the middle: Alphonse.
Rendered “grotesquely abnormal” by his unwitting mother’s use of controlled substances, he is both sentient and freakishly coordinated. He is also deeply wounded, twisted by fear and rage after the attempt on his life – and bent on revenge.
But violence begets violence. Alphonse is pursued even as he is pursuing, and haunted by the insistence of his only friend that there is another way…
Out today from Ignatius Press is The Death of a Pope, a new novel by Piers Paul Read, a mainstream novelist (his survival novel Alive about a rugby team whose plane crashes in the Andes topped the New York Times bestseller list when it came out 25 years ago, and was later made into a film) who has also written both fiction and nonfiction on Catholic themes. He wrote a popular history of the templars a few years back, and On the Third Day, a thriller about the discovery in modern Israel of a crucified skeleton that some allege to be proof that Christ did not rise from the dead.
I had not read any of Read’s previous books, but when Ignatius emailed me and offered me a review copy, the premise of the novel sounded interesting and I could not resist the lure of a free book. However, I did not initially expect much of it, my idea of modern “Catholic thrillers” having been formed by the likes of Pierced By A Sword, whose prose style treads that delicate line between incompetent and downright laughable.
However, I need not have feared. Read’s prose is deft and indeed literary, though the modern device of using present tense narrative to convey immediacy is not necessarily my cup of tea. Those inclined to literary snobbery will not find themselves holding their noses as they read this novel by any stretch. The less pretentious reader will enjoy the fast-paced plot, which whisks him from a terrorist trial in London, to the refugee camps of Uganda, the chemistry labs of Cairo and at last to the 2005 papal conclave.
Over Holy Week some strange force caused the Harry Potter controversy to suddenly break out (like the story of the villagers of Eyam, subjected to a delayed-action outbreak of the Plague when a bolt of cloth carrying the fleas was brought out of storage) on our local Catholic homeschooler email list.
These discussions always seem to have two parts, first an explanation of how reading stories in which characters perform magic tempts children to occult practices, than an apologia for Tolkien and Lewis in which it is explained how these authors were Good Christians and their books are deeply Christian because: Aslan is God, good characters never do magic (unless they’re not human characters, at which point it doesn’t count), Galadrial is really Mary, the elves’ lembas is the Eucharist, etc.
Two things annoy me about this whole set of arguments.
For those American Catholic readers who aren’t familiar with my previous online life, I’m on my third year of blogging through Dante’s Divine Comedy on my personal blog as a Lenten exercise. On the category page here you can find entries for the entirely of the Inferno and nearly all of Purgatorio, which I should be wrapping up by Easter.
Time and motivation permitting, I may start Paradiso during Easter season — or perhaps I’ll have to save that for next year. If you’re interested, feel free to stop by and read along in this timeless spiritual and literary classic during what remains of Lent.
One of the major resources that I used to educate myself on my Christian faith were reading books. I am a book-hound. I have a stack of books that I haven’t even begun to read yet that are all on Catholicism. Whether if they are about saints, history, mysticism, philosophy, or our Holy Bible, I am just enamored with almost anything Catholic in book form. Right now I’m reading several books (not all at the same time). Render Unto Caesar by Archbishop Chaput, St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, and Father, Forgive Me, for I Am Frustrated by Fr. Pacwa just to name a few.
I am always hunting for books at my favorite Catholic bookstore here in Houston, Veritas, or Half Price Books. Yes, I even browse the books at Barnes & Noble and Borders. And if that’s not enough, I go online to Amazon.com. I have always enjoyed reading books and this love of reading helped me a lot in learning as much as I could about Christianity. Having to hold a book in my hand and read it rather than going online to learn more about Catholicism, it is difficult to explain but it just can’t be beat.
So in order to share my love of reading to you all, I’ve decided to post Amazon’s* Top Ten Bestsellers for Catholic books. I find Amazon’s to be more concise than other providers. Enjoy!:
Some may recall that there was an episode of media hysteria a couple weeks ago over fears that the GOP vice presidential nominee couldn’t read — based upon Governor Palin’s failure (or refusal) in an interview with Katie Couric to name magazines and newspapers that had “formed her worldview”.