The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Christmas List of Books I Haven't Read

Recommending books for others to read can sometimes be a bit problematic. For example, some years ago I posted a list of books for summer reading and received a rather hostile email from someone who began by complaining about the "conservatism" of several of the authors on my list. Then he got to the real point of his email. "How come," he asked, "you listed books only by Catholic authors?" Well, Duh! -- Let's see...I'm a permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, this blog tends to address subjects of interest to Catholics, and that particular list was aimed at Catholic readers who wanted to deepen their theological knowledge. (Actually, one of the authors on the list was David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian from the University of Virginia. Another author on that list, Robert Alter, is a Jew who published a translation and commentary of The Five Books of Moses.) A few weeks later I received another complaint from a reader who purchased one of the recommended books, but didn't particularly like it. I think he expected me to reimburse him. I answered neither of these emails.

I mention this so you know I won't pay any attention to complaints about the following selection of books.  The titles I have listed below are simply books that have piqued my interest recently. Although I have yet to read any of them, I hope to do so once time and budget permit. Some books are included because I have read others by the same authors and enjoyed them. Some were added simply because their subject matter interests me. In a few instances I have read reviews written by people I trust. And some are "classics" that I have meant to read for years but just never seemed to have the time. In a sense, then, these are all second-hand recommendations, so I suggest you Google the titles and check out a few online reviews before buying. In any event, I seek neither praise nor blame. Save either for the authors.

Here's my list:

Imagination in Place, by Wendell Berry; Counterpoint Press, 2010. Berry, American poet and essayist, social critic and farmer, is a true man of letters. He is the kind of writer who can change minds through the eloquence and passion of his writing. He is a man with whom I occasionally disagree, but always with great difficulty. I look forward to reading this latest collection of essays in which he examines those writers who have helped form his own thought.

Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind, by Michael Murray; Frederick C. Beil, 2011.  Jacques Barzun is now 105 years old and still writing. And so I suspect this will not be the last biography of the man. Who knows how long he will be with us? Born in France, Barzun came to the United States as a youth and embraced his new country. A prolific writer on a wide variety of subjects, he taught at Columbia for almost 50 years and then began a second career as an editor at Scribner's. I have read only a few of his books -- From Dawn to Decadence (2001); God's Country and Mine (1954); and The House of Intellect (1978) -- and enjoyed them all. I look forward to learning more about the life of this remarkable man.

Firmly I Believe and Truly: The Spiritual Tradition of Catholic England, by John Saward, John Morrill and Michael Tomko; Oxford University Press, 2011. This anthology of writings spans 500 years of England's post-Reformation history from a Catholic perspective. The selections, put together and introduced by a team of scholars, include writings of historical, theological and literary value. As someone who has long been interested in the lives and struggles of English Catholics during this period, I intend to read this book soon I can afford the rather hefty price tag.

The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy Sayers; Continuum, 2005 (first published in 1941). This book is one of those classics that has sat unread on my bookshelf for a few decades. (My copy is an older, now out of print, paperback edition published by Harper Collins in 1987.) I've enjoyed reading Sayers ever since I was introduced to her when I was in high school and assigned to read her series of plays on the life of Jesus, The Man Born to be King (1941). After that I turned to her mystery writings, particularly her Lord Peter Wimsey Stories, which I continue to reread on occasion. But Sayers was more than a playwright and mystery writer. She was also a poet, a respected translator of Dante, a noted essayist, a cultural critic, and a Christian apologist. I intend to pull this book of the shelf this week and finally read it.

The Order of Things, by James V. Schall, S. J.; Ignatius Press, 2007. Once you read one book by Father Schall, you want to read everything he has written. This book happens to be one of his I apparently missed. I intend to order it this week, envelop it in colorful Christmas wrapping paper, and discreetly place it under the tree -- thus ensuring that I receive at least one wanted gift this year. Father Schall, a Professor of Government at Georgetown University, is a must-read author for anyone struggling to understand the ongoing intellectual and spiritual conflicts in the city of man and the city of God. I can hardly wait to open my present. If you feel inspired to read more of his work, try the following: Another Sort of Learning (1988); On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs (2001); and The Life of the Mind (2006).

The Peasant of the Garonne, by Jacques Maritain; Holt Rinehart Winston (1968). A friend gave me this book a few years ago, but I've never found the time to read it. Written by the great Catholic theologian and philosopher at the age of 85, it created quite a furor when it was published. In it Maritain attacked the modernism of the "new theology," claiming its evolution posed a real threat to the Church's spirituality and its core doctrinal beliefs. He apparently pulls no punches as he takes on those who would bow down to the modern world and its ephemeral fads and trends. In my younger days I made my way slowly through a number of Maritain's philosophical works, so perhaps it's time I read this book, which promises to be a bit more accessible to my aging mind.

The Myth of Hitler's Pope, by Rabbi David C. Dalin; Regnery, 2005. This book, which has the subtitle, How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis, provides a well needed defense of Pope Pius XII who has been viciously and dishonestly attacked by the enemies of traditional religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular. This well-documented book, written by a Jewish rabbi with a Ph.D. from Brandeis University, goes a long way to correct the disinformation surrounding Pope Pius XII and the spiritual battle he fought against the Nazis before and during World War II. It, too, was a gift, given to me by a Jewish friend earlier this year. I intend to read it during the Christmas season.

I think that's enough reading for this Christmas. While most of the authors on my list are Catholics, I've also included a Baptist (Berry), a Jew (Dalin), an Anglican (Sayers), and a maybe-believer (Barzun). That should appease those enamored of diversity.

God's peace.,..

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