Part Two of "The Best Books I Read in 2008..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Staff | Part One
Lorraine V. Murray, Ph.D., is the author of Confessions Of An Ex-Feminist, and the religion columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also writes an award-winning column for The Georgia Bulletin and is the author of Grace Notes, Why Me? Why Now?, and How Shall We Celebrate? Murray lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband.
Below is a list of books that were my favorites in 2008, in no particular order:
Beginning to Pray, by Anthony Bloom. A great book for people who still believe, as I do, that there is some mysterious formula necessary to pray "correctly." Bloom reminds me that it is really quite simple.
What's Wrong with the World, by G.K. Chesterton. His section on feminism is especially chilling, illuminating quite brilliantly what is still wrong with the world today.
The Habit of Being, by Flannery O'Connor. Her letters reveal that she was a true defender of Catholicism and a refreshingly down-to-earth model of true holiness.
Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. A reliable cure for the blues.
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. Some letters are especially relevant for people who suffer through the Marty Haugen version of the Mass, because they remind us that the devil is most active at the foot of the altar.
The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. Wonderful tips on encountering God in all moments in life, even while singing Marty Haugen's maddening hymn "Enter the Journey."
Divining Divinity, by Joseph Pearce. Poignant, powerful, and perceptive poetry, along with lyrical and lovely illustrations! (Disclaimer: The artist is my husband, Jef).
Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Letters from Tolkien to his children, along with his very endearing drawings.
Michael O'Brien, born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1948 is a self-taught painter and writer. Both his written work and visual art have been reviewed and reproduced widely. He is an author of several books, notably his seven volume Children of the Last Days series of novels, including Father Elijah, A Cry of Stone, and Sophia House. His most recent novel is Island of the World: A Novel, which is set in the Balkans. He is also the author of A Landscape With Dragons, an examination of the phenomenon of contemporary pagan influence in children's culture. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.
I've read a lot of books this past year, but those which stand out are a mix of old and new works:
Cry The Beloved Country, by Allen Paton. One of the most profound tales about hatred and forgiveness I have ever read. The characters live and breathe and have much to reveal to readers about the human journey and its perils. Though often characterized as a political novel about South Africa , it is universal in significance.
The Children of Hurin, by J. R. R. Tolkien — Tolkien! Need I say more?
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Magnificent, magnificent, magnificent and utterly enthralling. A modern classic that will last long beyond our times.
Testament, by R.C. Hutchison. A novel set in World War I and the Russian Revolution. Published many years ago, it is about the dilemmas of human conscience, love, friendship in a time of maximum fear and confusion. All Hutchison's novels are Dostoevskian, probing deep issues in human nature, but Testament is his best known. Also, his A Child Possessed is perennially interesting.
Private Revelation: Discerning with the Church, by Dr. Mark Miravalle. Much needed clarity on this controversial subject. A book that should be read by every bishop, pastor, spiritual director (and a host of laymen too!)
Bratt Farrar, by Josephine Tey, the British mystery-story writer. Though I'm not much of a fan of the genre, Josephine Tey always grabs my interest and sustains it, because her books are really about the mystery of human "destiny" and character. I've read them all and reread them. There is a deep humanity in her authorial eye, realism and empathy, whimsy and goodness—with neither sentimentality on one hand nor crass cynicism on the other. So very refreshing, realism without sleaze.
I Surf, therefore I Am, by Peter Kreeft. As always, Kreeft teaches even as he plays; or plays even as he teaches. This delightful and instructive book is a small gem. And so is Before I Go, his alternately earthy and sublime reflections on fatherhood and marriage.
In the Shadow of the Faithful, by Corban Klug, a relatively unknown young Christian novelist from Virginia. This beautifully written, very moving "diary" of a woman's life, seen from her perspective as a 90 year old, begins with a horrifying childhood trauma and ends with healing and the wisdom of a sanctified old age. A story about divine providence and many other matters of heaven, hell, and the unique mystery of every person's life.
And finally, a re-reading of Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton's great masterpiece (among his many). First published in 1908, this timeless Christian classic is as pertinent a century later as when it was written—perhaps more so. If the reader finds himself a little lost in the forest of references to sociopolitical and religious figures of the first decade of the 20th century, he might substitute the names of a number of our contemporary world figures, who all these years later continue to charge forward into the "glorious future" with the seemingly inexhaustible determination (and disregard for human dignity) exhibited by social revolutionaries of every age. The names have changed; the dynamics remain the same.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com. He is author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Todays Prophecy Preachers (Ignatius Press, 2003), recognized by the Associated Press as one of the best religious titles of 2003, and co-author, with medievalist Sandra Miesel, of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (Ignatius, 2004). Carl writes for several Catholic periodicals, pens a weekly Scripture column for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper, and is a contributing editor for This Rock magazine. A former Evangelical Protestant who entered the Catholic Church in 1997, he has a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas. Carl lives in Oregon with his wife, two children, two cats, and some books and CDs.
I read parts and pieces of nearly everything published by Ignatius Press in 2008 but, like Mark Brumley, will leave those books out of my list.
Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. A clearly written work by the recently departed dean of American theologians that is ideal for anyone—professor, student, lay man—wanting to understand both the big picture and the details of that mysterious thing called the Magisterium.
Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, by Tracey Rowland. Succeeds in illuminating essential features and nuances of Ratzinger's thought while masterfully explaining the historical, theological, and cultural context of his work.
Theological Highlights of Vatican II, by Joseph Ratzinger. Fascinating stuff from the young Ratzinger, written during his time as a theological expert at the Council. The section on Gaudium et Spes (discussed quite a bit by Rowland) is especially compelling.
Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition, edited by Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering. I've not yet read all twenty-two essays—by Dulles, Romanus Cessario, Francis Cardinal George, and others—but I've read enough to know this is a significant work that will, hopefully, receive proper and deserved attention.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. I don't agree with all of Pollan's philosophical premises, but I'll also never look at food the same way again. Nor, more importantly, will I have quite the same diet as before.
The Seven Sacraments: Entering the Mysteries of God, by Stratford Caldecott. Beautifully written and spiritually edifying.
Revelation, by C.J. Sansom. The fourth historical novel/murder mystery featuring Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in mid-sixteenth-century London. Sansom's treatment of the complicated religious and political turmoil of the time is both stark and sympathetic.
The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays, by James V. Schall, S.J., and Not With a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline, by Theodore Dalrymple. Two stellar collections of essays by two of the finest essayists writing today. The American priest and professor Fr. Schall is well-known to readers to Ignatius Insight (and this collection contains an essay from this website). Dalrymple is an atheist and an English doctor, now retired in France. Both are brilliant wordsmiths and keen observers of humanity.
The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, by Jean Leclercq. This highly regarded study of monastic culture is a nice antidote to many of the silly notions about monks and the "Middle Ages" that prevail in today's popular imagination.
Jesus, The Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement, by Brant Pitre. One of the most challenging books I've read this year; in fact, I'm still reading it. Pitre, who is a professor at Our Lady of the Holy Cross College in New Orleans, proffers arguments that make sense of apocalyptic passages in the Gospels that have often been ignored or handled dismissively by many Scripture scholars.
Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic, by Francis J. Beckwith. Gracious, thoughtful, and honest, this is the sort of "reversion" story that should give both Catholics and Evangelicals plenty to think about.
The Drama of Atheist Humanism, by Henri de Lubac; The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, by Vox Day; and The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, by David Berlinski. Three books about atheism by three very different authors. De Lubac's work (yes, published by Ignatius Press--but not in 2008) is dense, scholarly, measured. Day, who is an Evangelical and libertarian, is polemical, often witty, and steeped in pop culture. Berlinski, who is French and an atheist, is also polemical, but also often philosophically devastating, and with flair.
A Program for Conservatives, by Russell Kirk. I first read this book (which was first published in 1954) in the mid-1990s, then re-read it recently. It may well be Kirk's best book, a beautifully written work that shines with the author's eccentricities, brilliance, and Catholic sensibilities. The title, by the way, is surely ironic; Kirk had little patience for political and social programs.
Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation, by Matthew Levering. Dr. Levering, a young and prolific Catholic theologian, examines biblical exegesis in light of mistaken notions of history, and suggests ways to recover and develop better means of reading and interpreting Scripture. Heavy but rewarding sledding.
The Gospel of John, by the Apostle John. I taught a weekly study of the Fourth Gospel through most of 2008, and it was immensely rewarding. There are so many fascinating and unique qualities to the Gospel of John. Highly recommended!
Joseph Pearce has firmly established himself as the premier literary biographer of our time, especially in interpreting the spiritual depths of the Catholic literary tradition. He is the author of acclaimed biographies of G.K. Chesterton, Oscar Wilde, Hilaire Belloc, and J.R.R. Tolkien, and books on English literature and literary converts. His most recent book is The Quest for Shakespeare. Pearce is Writer-in-Residence and Associate Professor of Literature at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, and is the Co-Editor of the St. Austin Review and the Editor-in-Chief of Sapientia Press. He is also the editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for more about his work and a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.
The most enjoyable new novel I read during 2008 is Exiles by Ron Hansen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). It was inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins' sublime poem, "The Wreck of the Deutchland", and weaves the events narrated in the poem with the life of the poet himself. The action switches from the storm-blasted ship to the seemingly tranquil life of the Jesuit poet, weaving the theme of exile, in the sense in which it is evoked in the salve regina. For those who like their novels to be unproblematically "Catholic", this fits the bill perfectly.
Two of my favourite Christian writers of the past century, C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox, are brought together in Milton Walsh's Second Friends: C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in Conversation (Ignatius, 2008). Father Walsh has done a great service to students of the Catholic literary revival in bringing together the incomparable Knox and the indomitable Lewis in a way that enables us to understand both of them better.
Last year, I listed The Night is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard (Ignaitus, 2007) as one of my favourite books, this year it gives me great pleasure to list a treasury of James V. Schall among my favourites. Schall's The Mind that is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (Catholic University of America Press, 2008) is a joy and a revelation. Farther Schall's inestimable knowledge, irrepressible enthusiasm and indefatigable pen are simply irresistible, especially when they are given free rein to wax lyrical on the Great Minds of western civilization. The Mind that is Schall on the Mind that is Catholic is quite simply a meeting of minds made in heaven.
I'm pleased that Stratford Caldecott's excellent book on Tolkien's spiritual vision has been published in the United States. Originally published in the United Kingdom under the title, Secret Fire: The spiritual vision of J.R.R. Tolkien (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003), it's made its way across the Atlantic under its new title, The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind The Lord of the Rings (Crossroad Publishing, 2005). Caldecott combines cogency with accessibility and brings Tolkien's Catholic vision to life in easily digestible form.
Lorraine V. Murray's Confessions of an Ex-Feminist (Ignatius, 2008) was a real joy to read. The author writes so well and her exposť of the dark underbelly of feminism and its hideous consequences represents a devastating critique of the culture of death.
Although I wrote the introduction to Bradley J. Birzer's Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson (Christendom Press, 2007) I refuse to allow that to preclude me from extolling its praises as one of my favourite books of the year. Birzer is a fine writer and an excellent scholar and his latest offering can only enhance the reputation he earned for his earlier book, J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth (ISI Books, 2003).
This year saw the death of the great Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of the true heroes of the twentieth century. It was, therefore, gratifying that two of the world's leading Solzhenitsyn experts, Alexis Klimoff and Edward E. Ericson, Jr., should publish The Soul and Barbed Wire: An Introduction to Solzhenitsyn (ISI Books, 2008). Everyone should know something about Solzhenitsyn and this is an ideal place to start.
As I continue my own studies into Shakespeare, I remain impressed with the work of the Jesuit Shakespearean scholar, Peter Milward. The latest of his books to be published is Elizabethan Shakespeare (Sapientia Press, 2008), an engaging guide to the Catholic dimension of several of Shakespeare's early plays.
I'll end, as an Englishman, by urging all Americans to discover, or rediscover, one of the great classics of American literature. I refer to Henry W. Longfellow's long, narrative poem, Evangeline: A tale of Acadie (Goose Lane Editons, 2004). After we named our newborn daughter "Evangeline Marie", my wife and I decided that we should read Longfellow's poem. What an unexpected joy! Not only is it a great poem, and a great story, but it's incredibly Catholic! Longfellow may not be a Catholic but his eponymous heroine is nothing less than a Catholic saint, and an icon of idealized femininity worthy to stand in the company of Homer's Penelope, Dante's Beatrice and Shakespeare's Cordelia.
Edward Peters has doctoral degrees in canon and civil law. He currently holds the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.
He has authored or edited several books and is the translator of the English edition of The 1917 Pio Benedictine Code of Canon Law. His most recent book is Excommunication and the Catholic Church (Ascension Press, 2006. Read IgnatiusInsight.com interview here.)
His canon law website can be found at www.canonlaw.info.
Ten interesting books I read in 2008, arranged by date of original publication:
The Right to Privacy, by Janet Smith (Ignatius Press, 2008)
My Grandfather's Son, by Clarence Thomas (2006)
Silent Witness: Terri Schiavo's Death, by Mark Fuhrman (2005)
A Natural History of Latin, by Tore Janson (2004)
Latin Paleography, by Bernhard Bischoff (1986)
Ecclesiology of Vatican II, by Bonaventure Kloppenburg (1974)
First Vatican Council: The American Experience, by James Hennessey (1963)
De Regulis Iuris Canonici, by Vittorio Bartoccetti (1955)
The Vatican Council and its Definitions, by Henry Cdl. Manning (1905)
The Gift of Infallibility: The Official Relatio on Infallibility of Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser at Vatican Council I, by Vincent Gasser , Rev. James T. O'Conner trans. (Ignatius Press 2008)
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays, is now available from The Catholic University Press. Read more of his essays on his website.
The two outstanding books, intellectually speaking, in the past year are Robert Sokolowski's Phenomenology of the Person and David Walsh's The Modern Philosophical Revolution. Both are published by Cambridge University Press, both are professors at the Catholic University of America, both are profound.
Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D. holds both a Ph.D. in Theology and is Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland. A formal doctoral student under Joseph Ratzinger, Twomey is the author of several books, including Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age (A Theological Portrait), and his acclaimed study of the state of Irish Catholicism, The End of Irish Catholicism?
First on my list is Lucy Beckett's In the Light of Christ: Writing in the Western Tradition. The breath and depth of this overview of western literature from Aeschylus and Sophocles via Augustine and Shakespear through Czeslaw Milosz and Pope John Paul II makes it one of the most rewarding books I have ever read. Inspired by von Balthasar's theology, Beckett not only situates each writer in their historical and cultural setting but also gives the reader an insight into their main spiritual, or rather transcendent, preoccupations. In doing so, she helps recover the significance of tradition as outlined by Alasdair MacIntryre, so that the reader can once again place his trust in tradition, as "a collaborative achievement of coherent intellectual effort with a long history still accessible, that confirms our own experience of what we have found [...] to be good, true and beautiful." This is a book to treasure—and to return to regularly.
By the same author is the novel of the Reformation, The Time Before You Die, which weaves together the lives of an ex-Carthusian monk, a convert to Lutheranism, and that of Cardinal Reginald Pole, cousin of Henry VIII and, under the Catholic Queen Mary, Archbishop of Canterbury. The climax of the novel is the personal encounter of the Lutheran ex-monk, a prisoner of the Catholic Bishop of London, and the Cardinal at Lambeth Palace. Beckett, herself a convert to Catholicism, manages to engage the reader's sympathy for the ex-monk's embrace of Lutheranism as well as our horror at the methods used by both Catholics and Protestants to achieve their ends. In doing so, she gave this reader at least a new insight into the complex human and spiritual issues behind the doctrinal controversies of the Reformation.
This year saw the publication of a number of important contributions to the theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, such as Joseph Murphy's Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, which presents the Ratzinger's theology from the perspective of joy, the mark of being Christian and, for Ratzinger, the object of the Church's mission, namely to bring God's joy into the world. It is a most rewarding read. Another was Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Tracey Rowland. This book offers the reader a succinct, systematic and sympathetic overview of the Pope's theology under seven different headings, which encompass his main theological concerns. A pleasure to read.
Natural Law by A.P. d' Entreves is one of the classical works on the subject, considered primarily (but not exclusively) from a jurisprudential point of view. Refreshingly brief and to the point, it combines a philosophical and an historical analysis into the nature of natural law and its continual re-interpretation down through the centuries. Of particular interest is the author's engagement with the rise of theoretical jurisprudence and positivism in the nineteenth century and its nadir after Nuremburg. Though outdated in some respects, it is still an outstanding introduction to the topic.
I greatly enjoyed C. S. Lewis's essay, The Abolition of Man, once again—always repays a reread. It remains one of the most convincing rebuttals of moral relativism ever written.
In Ireland at least, it is rare to find a poet who treats religious topics objectively yet sympathetically, and so it was something of a surprise to find by accident the collection of poetry by Tim Cunningham entitled Kyrie. These superbly crafted poems find their inspiration in Catholic culture, both Irish traditional and (in all its brokenness) modern. The poet interprets life in terms of Catholic liturgy and Catholic liturgy in terms of everyday life. They inspire and move the reader. Like all true art that expresses the universal in the particular, they will find an echo beyond the shores of Ireland.
Tangents is a collection of short, pithy essays and reflections by Martin Henry, one of the world's foremost authorities on Nietzsche's friend, the anti-theological theologian, Franz Overbeck. Unlike Henry's scholarly work with its massive critical apparatus, this collection is minimalist in presentation. Economy of expression is only matched by subtlety and depth of thought. These essays into every conceivable theological subject are inspired by the author's conviction that "the truth can only be approached, if at all, obliquely, not directly". Familiar topics are given unfamiliar treatment to stimulate reflection and, occasionally, to shake the reader out of his or her lazy assumptions about things theological. A chastening "must" for practitioners of theology and for preachers of the incomprehensible Word.
Finally, I must mention the beautifully presented, privately published, little book entitled The New Windows in St Teresa's Church Clarendon Street by Nicholas Madden, ODC. It is an introduction to a series of windows by the Irish stained-glass artist, Phyllis Burke for the popular Carmelite church near Grafton Street, the most trendy street in Dublin. The illustrations are magnificent. The commentary by Nicholas Madden, a patristic scholar, poet and painter in his own right, is itself a work of art. The windows depict the great saints of the Carmelite tradition from Elijah to Edith Stein in a style that is refreshingly modern and richly symbolic of each saint's personality, history and spirituality. Fr Madden enables the reader to appreciate every nuance of the artist's singular achievement.
Dr. Jose Yulo teaches courses on philosophy, western civilization, United States history, and public speaking at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has a Doctorate in Education from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on the philosophy of education. He also holds a Master's degree in political communication from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a Bachelor's degree in the classical liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. Originally from Manila in the Philippines, his research interests lie in Greek philosophy, the histories of Greek and Roman politics and warfare, and the literature of J.R.R. Tolkien. He is a regular contributor to IgnatiusInsight.com.
Search for IgnatiusInsight.com articles by Dr. Jose Yulo
What's So Great About Christianity, by Dinesh D'Souza
Soldier Boy, by Ray Dennehy
On the Mind that is Catholic, by Fr. James Schall, S.J.
10 Books That Screwed Up the World, by Benjamin Wiker
A Man for Others: Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, by Patricia Treece
Liberal Fascism, by Jonah Goldberg
The Well and the Shallows, by G.K. Chesterton
Also, a shout out to 1966's A Man for all Seasons. What a movie!
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