Part Two of "The Best Books I Read in 2010..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Friends | Part One | Part Three | Ignatius Insight
Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Asian History at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington.
He completed his doctoral studies at the University of Oregon, where he studied Chinese history, literature, philosophy, and religion. His current research centers on the history of the Church in China, and he has recently finished a book on the Catholic martyrs saints in China. His other interests include East/West religious dialogue, especially between Catholic and Buddhist ideas of faith and salvation. Dr. Clark has written several academic books and articles on the topic of Chinese history and has been a guest on "EWTN Live," "Catholic Answers Live," and Relevant Radio to talk about Catholicism in China. He is also a contributing editor for This Rock magazine.
I have had an active year of reading, despite the rigors of an unusually hectic academic year. In fact, much of my reading was done on the go or in bed before slipping off into blissful reminiscences of worthy reading. But there were some rare harmonious afternoons when I was free to read in a warm circle of light—as Longfellow commented, "The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books."
Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis. It was about time I made time digest Lewis' candid autobiography. This book is a penetrating confession of a brilliant intellect as it moves from uncertainty and suspicion into peace and faith. There are some passages that resonate with the trained academic, who is taught that skepticism should reign over any conclusions. Lewis has overcome this nonsense.
Miracles, by C. S. Lewis. All right, I admit it—this was not my favorite Lewis book, but out of respect for the master I've put it on my list. Lewis's vermicular prose unnecessarily obscures a good point, namely, that God's hand does in fact unexplainably interrupt the explainable processes of the material world. At best, this book challenges the most convinced materialists to rethink their stubborn insistence that all phenomena are "scientifically explainable"; at worst, it merely recapitulates old Scholastic arguments. But since more people read C. S. Lewis than St. Thomas Aquinas, Lewis' redundancies are forgivable.
Generation of Giants, by George Dunne, S.J. For those wishing to read about my favorite subject, the history of the Church in China, Father Dunne's classic study is both a shinning example of scholarly rigor and eminently readable prose. He writes about the history of great Jesuit pioneers in China as a Jesuit worthily following in their footsteps. This book is the best work I know of that offers a concise survey of the earliest missionaries into China, such as Matteo Ricci, SJ, Adam Schall, SJ, and Ferdinand Verbiest, SJ.
The Heroine of Pe-Tang, by Henry Mazeau. This hard-to-find biography of Sister Helene de Taurias, of the Daughters of Charity, is has consuming narrative. Mazeau's book recounts experiences of Sister Taurias while she and 3,000 other Catholics were trapped inside of Beijing's North Cathedral as an army of Qing troops, Boxers, and Tibetan monks besieged the church. Few people have read about the harrowing attacks on the Catholics in 1900, and this book tells the story with exceptional clarity.
Imagined Communities, by Benedict Anderson. Okay, yes, I did read several books shunned by some—critical theory, or postmodernism—but Anderson's study of how the notion of "nation" and nationalism arise in the wake of print culture is an outstanding example of scholarly effort. Overlooking his belief that Christianity is an "imagined community" (Anderson should read Pascal!), this book offers cogent insights into some of the problems that result from nationalist pride.
Xiaoshuo xuan (Selected Short Stories), by Lu Xun. I finally finished a long-term project to get through Lu Xun's (China's greatest modern writer) small vignettes. Lu's Chinese prose is an incisive critique of human apathy and selfishness. His "Kuangren riji" (Diary of a Madman) is one of the most skillfully written short-stories I have ever read—through the diary of a "madman," Lu questions who is truly mad, the story's protagonist who suffers from apparently paranoid delusions, or the society he fears.
Silence, By Shusaku Endo. This may be one of the best books I've ever read! It is about an apostate priest in Japan, Christian martyrdom, and questions that every Christian should ask him or herself. I'll say no more—read this book.
Deep River, by Shusaku Endo. This also may be one of the best books I've ever read! Endo, a Japanese Catholic, conjures questions that any Christian who is Asian, or has lived extensively in Asia, inevitably asks—can Christianity really be grafted onto Asian society, or does it become something entirely different. Indeed, Endo asks an ever more powerful question—what is Christianity?
The Catholic Church and the Bible, by Peter Stravinskas. This is a small book, and most of what is considers appears in other works. But, as a primer on the historical foundations of the Bible and the Biblical foundations of the Mass, this is an excellent book. I've read several other studies on scripture and liturgy, and this is the best introduction today.
Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI. I know, I'm a little behind; it seems like everyone else has already read Jesus of Nazareth. As ever, B16 is brilliant, insightful, informative, and transformative. This book is the Holy Father at his best – pointing the way to God, to his son, and to life. Now I have to admit something – I'm not quite finished with the book, but 2010 is not quite over as I write this list. But, it's on my nightstand, and if you haven't started it yet yourself, it should be on yours as soon as possible.
Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P. is a Dominican friar of the Priory of St. Michael the Archangel, Cambridge. He was educated at Oxford University and took a licence in theology at the Toulouse, with the Dominicans there. He is the author of the widely praised book God Is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins and, most recently, of The Mass and the Saints.
Smith and Hall's English-Latin dictionary. This could seem a strange choice, but it is an invaluable aid for any Anglophone wishing to write Latin. It was written in the 19th Century, and contains 754 pages in small type, three columns per page, of translations into Latin of English words, phrases and idioms. All that it lacks are words for things invented since 1870!
The Greatest Hoax on Earth?, by Jonathan Sarfati. A reply to Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth.
Catherine Harmon is the managing editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review and Catholic World Report.
I am a chronic re-reader – there are more than a couple books that I re-read at least every few years, and several that I enjoy reading every year. But my New Year's resolution for 2010 was to only read books I'd never read before. I was pretty faithful to this resolution – I finally got to several books that had been in my mental "To Read" queue for years.
I mean to continue my new-reads streak into 2011 – but a couple old favorites will likely get read as well (how long can I really be expected to go without Brideshead Revisited or Kristin Lavransdatter, after all?)
Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis I've been meaning to read this since college at least – and I'm so glad I finally did! The earlier chapters of the book, in which Lewis details his education, were particularly interesting to me – how very different his notion of a well-rounded education is from what passes for a good education today.
Catherine of Siena, by Sigrid Undset Catherine of Siena is my favorite saint, and Undset is one of my favorite authors, so how could I not love this book? Undset conveys Catherine's incredible sanctity and searing insight, but you never feel like you're reading the back of a holy card. Undset also introduces the reader to several of the more colorful figures in the 14th-century Church – Bridget of Sweden is one stand-out.
A Postcard from the Volcano, by Lucy Beckett This may be my favorite of the year, really. The story is engrossing and the characters very compelling – this book had me in tears at multiple points. While I was reading it, and a good two weeks later. Not that it is a gloomy read – but Beckett's characters are so real you can't help but care about them.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark A good friend has been urging me to read this for years. I finally did, and loved this dark, quirky, hilarious book just as much as she thought I would. I also watched the classic 1969 movie, and enjoyed it as well, although it glossed over several of the key themes of the book and watered down many of the most interesting characters. But I won't be able to read the book again without picturing Maggie Smith in the title role!
My Life in France, by Julia Child Like about a bazillion other 20-something women, I saw the movie Julie & Julia, and loved Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child so much I was inspired to read the great chef's memoir. A fun read, but not on an empty stomach.
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy I probably started this classic half a dozen times over the last ten years, but never managed to get through it. I was determined to finish it this time, even though it meant schlepping all 1,000 pages of it across the country this summer. It was absolutely worth it!
Home-Alone America, by Mary Eberstadt The always-interesting Mary Eberstadt plunged head-first into the mommy wars with this 2004 book, subtitled "The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes." Eberstadt challenges for mothers, fathers, and policymakers on all sides of the political spectrum to put aside self-interest and take a hard look at the effects cultural trends in parenting and family life are having on the most vulnerable in our society – the kids.
Light of the World, by Pope Benedict XVI and Peter Seewald Another close contender for the single best book I read this year. Thought-provoking, insightful, at times almost poetic, Pope Benedict discusses with great candor many of the most critical issues and events affecting the Church today. He also offers moving reflections on the Christian life and how it can be lived in the 21st century. Oh yeah – in one passage, about 200 words in length, he mentions condoms. But there's so much more there.
Rev. Mr. James Keating, Ph.D., is Director of Theological Formation at the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University, Omaha. Before joining the staff of the IPF Deacon Keating taught moral and spiritual theology for 13 years in the School of Theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. He has given over 400 workshops, retreats and days of reflection on the Catholic spiritual/moral life. In the field of his professional research, the interpenetration of the spiritual and moral life, Deacon Keating has authored or edited ten books and dozens of essays for theological journals.
1. Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire
2. Hans Boersma, Nouvelle Theologie and Sacramental Ontology
3. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible
4. Ruth Burrows, The Essence of Prayer
5. Marie-Dominique Phillipe, O.P., The Mystery of Joseph
6. Raymond Studzinski, O.S.B., Reading to Live: The Evolving Practice of Lectio Divina
7 Peter John Cameron, O.P., Why Preach
8. Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Heart
9. Scott Hahn, Covenant and Communion
10. And my perennial favorite which I return to every year: Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer
I cant help but mention Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini; it will change the way we study scripture, at least for those who have ears to hear!
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College.
His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, God and Ronald Reagan, and the newly released Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, among others.
In truth, I mostly read old reports and declassified documents from Soviet archives, KGB files, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and several fascinating declassified FBI files, especially on Frank Marshall Davis (Barack Obama's mentor), Howard Zinn, and even Lucille Ball. That's my (unique) life. That said, I did have time to read, or reread, or partially read, or continue to read from the year before, a few more conventional books. Here you go:
George Weigel, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—the Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy. This is George's sequel to Witness to Hope. It's a gem of primary-source material that only George Weigel can provide. Who else could cite "Interview with John Paul II" in their footnotes?
George Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral. I finally read it cover to cover, using it in my Major European Governments course at Grove City College. A very important book on the rot in Europe. Demography is destiny.
Scott Hahn, Signs of Life. An indispensable survey of forty things—from sacraments to sacramentals, and more—that every thinking Catholic should know about the faith.
Donald Calloway, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy. I just started this book this week. It won't take long to finish. A real page-turner, breathtakingly honest, shocking but ultimately redeeming. This could be one of the most significant conversion books by a layman-turned-religious since Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain.
Donald DeMarco and Benjamin Wiker, Architects of the Culture of Death. I dipped into this remarkable work again this year, specifically for the chapters on Ayn Rand and Margaret Sanger, which every American ought to read.
Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness. A brief 1962 book, which I found tucked away at the church library. Profound insights. Merton at his best. It's often said by many conservative Catholics that Merton beginning going off the deep-end by the 1960s. Quite the contrary—read this book.
Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle. A classic, with nothing more that needs to be said. You read it a page at a time, a day or week at a time. Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life. Likewise, a classic. I'm ashamed to admit I'm only reading it now. Then again, I only came into the church in 2005. (That's my excuse.)
George W. Bush, Decision Points. Better than a typical presidential memoir. It's structured around 14 decision points that occurred during Bush's presidency. It reminds me of Richard Nixon's first memoir, Six Crises. If you want the inside story as to why George Bush did what he did or responded as he did, from Iraq to Katrina to the financial meltdown, read this book.
Thomas Paine, Common Sense. This book helped set in motion the American Revolution. It's a gem on the American Founding, and very much worth reading right now as the "progressives" advance their agenda in Washington.
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson. A brilliant explication of free-market thinking. It ought to be read aside the Church's economic teachings, especially subsidiarity, or while consulting the website of the Acton Institute, particularly the writings of Robert Sirico and Sam Gregg.
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom. A book that many decades ago foresaw the communist collapse. Click here for my recent review.
Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto. A short, awful, incredibly (and tragically) influential book that every American should read and understand. All one needs to do is actual read the Manifesto to see how and why communism killed so many people. For my recent review, click here.
Laurence Rees, World War II Behind Closed Doors. A superb expose of the horrors perpetrated by Stalin and the Soviets (especially in Poland) while they were "allies" of the United States. I strongly encourage the video documentary series that accompanies the book. It's chilling.
Peter Robinson, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. This was written over a decade ago. I re-read it this year for an event I did with Peter Robinson. It's a moving, entertaining, uplifting book. The wise Catholic will discern in the narrative Peter's instruction and ultimate conversion into the Catholic Church, an underlying current in his presentation.
Lee Edwards, William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement and Jeremy Lott, William F. Buckley, are books I reviewed for Catholic World Report and National Catholic Register; each addresses the neglected and misunderstood (but deep) Catholic faith of William F. Buckley, Jr., conservative icon. The Catholic World Report review has not been published yet. Click here for The Register article.
Fr. David V. Meconi, S.J., is Professor of Patristic Theology at St. Louis University and Editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.
Here are the books, reads and re-reads, I most enjoyed in 2010:
The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century, by Alan Brinkley
The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni (trans., Bruce Penman)
Kristin Lavransdatter (The Trilogy), by Sigrid Undset (trans., Tiina Nunnally)
The Comforters, by Muriel Spark
P.G. Wodehouse: A Life, by Robert McCrum
The Diary of a Country Priest, by Georges Bernanos (trans., Remy Rougeau)
Till We Have Faces, A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis
Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World, by Norman Lebrecht
Sandra Miesel is a Catholic journalist, medieval historian, and co-author of The Pied Piper of Atheism and the best-selling The Da Vinci Hoax. She holds masters degrees in biochemistry and medieval history from the University of Illinois. Since 1983, she has written hundreds of articles for the Catholic press, chiefly on history, art, and hagiography. Sandra has spoken at religious and academic conferences, appeared on EWTN, and given numerous radio interviews. Outside the Catholic sphere, she has also written, analyzed, and edited fiction. Sandra and her late husband John raised three children.
Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe. Ed. Martina Bagnoli, et al. Yale UP, 2010. Beautiful catalog of an exhibit about to open at the Walters Art Museum which gives extensive background on the Catholic cult of saints and relics.
Benedict XVI, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times. Ignatius, 2010. How does a former German academic manage to communicate Truth so clearly and gracefully?
John L. Brooke, The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844. Cambridge UP, 1994. A survey of the mystical/magical roots of Mormonism, showing that that they are far, far odder than one might have supposed.
Ronald Hutton, Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain. Yale UP, 2009. Historian Ronald Hutton demolishes fanciful ideas, establishing that almost all information is wrong despite the neo-Druids' best efforts at revival.
____.The Druids. Hambledon Continuum, 2007. A shorter, simplified version of the above.
Douglas Charles Kane, Arda Reconstructed: The Creation of the Published Silmarillion. Lehigh UP, 2009. Forensic investigation of J.R.R. Tolkien's posthumous book, analyzing the impact of Christopher Tolkien's editorial choices and additions.
The Ring and the Cross, ed. Paul E. Kerry. Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2010. Anthology of scholarly articles about Tolkien and religion.
Donald Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis. Harvard UP, 2009. A quantum leap in Narnia studies, proposing that medieval planetary lore frames each novel in the series.
___.The Narnia Code. Tyndale, 2010. Simplified version of the above for a popular audience.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Secret of Kells
Toy Story 3
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Bad Day at Black Rock
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Quiet Man
Metropolis (the newly restored version)
Sherlock Holmes (Masterpiece Mystery series)
Lorraine V. Murray, Ph.D., Lorraine V. Murray's latest mystery is Death of a Liturgist, a wild romp through a traditional parish that is hijacked by a liturgist who wants to get everyone grooving on Sunday. Her other (more staid) books include The Abbess of Andalusia, a biography of Flannery O'Connor, and Confessions of an Ex-Feminist. Murray is a religion columnist with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Georgia Bulletin. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband, Jef, and a hamster named Ignatius. Her web site is www.lorrainevmurray.com.
I know this sounds strange, but there are some books I wish were made of chocolate, so I could devour them—and then truly digest their wisdom. Search for Inner Peace by Jacques Philippe is one of these. No matter how often I read about worrying and its tendency to wreak havoc with the soul, this habit stalks me mercilessly and tends to get the upper hand. Philippe puts fretting in spiritual perspective, and suggests down-home ways to conquer it. The book serves as an appealing appetizer for another wonderful work by the same author, Interior Freedom.
Another of my favorite books is tattered and torn from so many readings. It is Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, which always amuses and astonishes me. This is a truly Catholic novel, although many readers might miss the Christ-centered message, as they did with Flannery O'Connor's works. Binx and Kate, each wounded in their own way, seem to be an unlikely couple until it becomes clear that their love for each other ultimately will redeem them. There is also the unforgettable, albeit minor, character of Lonnie Smith, a severely handicapped boy who possesses a fierce and beautiful faith in the power of the Eucharist.
A dear friend, a priest, gave me Confidence in God, a rather unobtrusive, bright yellow pamphlet bearing the subtitle "Words of Encouragement." The book weaves together quotes from the letters and retreat notes of Father John Considine, an English Jesuit who died in 1928. These moving meditations provide a sumptuous feast for readers who battle melancholia, which sometimes results from a childhood image of God as an angry, dart-throwing giant in the sky. "If God has ever shown me any love, he must love me still" is one quote I've underlined. And here's another delectable morsel of wisdom: "Don't waste time being discouraged. Get up and go to God."
The last book on my list, The Hidden Power of Kindness, truly satisfies my soul's hunger. Although most folks, myself included, cherish an image of themselves as inherently kind, let's face facts: It can be all too easy to fall prey to horrible habits, which may include acting cruelly to people we claim to love. If you've ever suspected that you might be falling short in the "love your neighbor as yourself" department – and who hasn't? – I highly recommend this book, which explores in delicious detail every aspect of kindness, including the ways it shapes our attitudes, our words, and our actions.
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