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December 1, 2006

I Like Julie's List So Much. . .

(and she had already done the excruciating work of typing it) that I thought I'd repeat it here with a twist. (Just as Disputations has already done.) My twist? The books in bold are ones that I have read and recommend to all. The books in ital are ones I have read and DON'T recommend, usually with a substitute suggested. The ones with no type treatment are ones that I haven't read.

The Book of Genesis

The Book of Job: Where were you when I made the universe?!

The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel by Robert Alter

The Gospel of Luke: "For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord."

The Gospel of John:The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

The Confession by St. Augustine:Difficult to read but worth it at last.

Inferno by Dante Alighieri: Don't stop there. Read the other two parts of the poem--Purgatorio is strong, Paradiso, is well. . . I hope it turns out better than Dante describes it.
Butler's Lives of the Saints by Michael Walsh: I have the four volume set and read the saints for the day each day. Worthwhile for some of the strange lore you'll be likely to come up with.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis: Not just a "book to read" but rather a book to continue reading. More than a devotional, it is a handy and simple guide.

The Idea of a University by Ven. John Henry Newman Yawn! Probably important ideas at the time, probably even important now, but I think Apologia pro vita sua is more personally interesting and captivating.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau: Yawn, self-important twaddle with a few bits here and there of unmitigated arrogance and misanthropy.

The Second Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln: . . . oh, don't get me started.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Even though I'm recommending it, it suffers from the temporal lobe epileptic syndrome--way, way, way too long for where it finally arrives. On the other hand, some gems, some brilliant moments, and some of the best theological writing in fiction you're likely ever to see.

The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux: Avoid every translation Beevers, Knox, whoever and stick with the Institute of Carmelite Studies Fr. John Clarke translation or possibly the new study edition that features Fr. Clarke's translations. I found a few places where I would have translated a line or two somewhat differently, but overall, excellent and more importantly COMPLETE with an explanation of the composition and the history of bowdlerization and saccharinization that occurred over time. Although there are still moments that are nearly emetic.

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams: Then try the superb novel, Democracy, still strong even today.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton: ho-hum, and the same for Heretics and The Everlasting Man. A journalist spelling out lay thoughts in prose that rise above the level of Robert Schuller, but still aphoristic to the point of disjointedness. I like Chesterton's nonfiction best in the small doses that other people quote on their blogsites. My choice, The Man Who Was Thursday.

Dubliners by James Joyce: Every piece of fiction by Joyce was a masterpiece, and this is his most accessible. Memorable points: "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," "Araby," "Clay," and , of course, "The Dead."

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: Brilliantly done--make certain to read the entire trilogy. But beware, there are older, heavy-handed, extremely difficult to bear translations out there. Undset deserves better.

Therese by Francois Mauriac: This gets both marks because I read it and it took me twenty years to get back to Mauriac. I suspect a reread is in order. However because of my initial experience I always recommend either Tangle of Vipers or Woman of the Pharisees.

Death Comes for the Archbishop: My very favorite book of the earlier Twentieth Century--but very quiet, very sedate. In a word, lovely.

Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly

Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography by Albert Schweitzer: Haven't read it, but I think I'll give a pass to "Mr. Historical Jesus."

The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos: Tried half a dozen times to get through it. Thought the movie was better.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene: Can't recommend it highly enough. Part of the "problematic series with Heart of the Matter and A Burnt Out Case

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West:

Brideshead Revisisted by Evelyn Waugh: While I enjoyed this, it is atypical Waugh. For a better, stronger, bitter brew try Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Black Mischief, or The Loved One. For a completely uncharacteristic view try Helena supposedly Waugh's own favorite of his works.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alex Paton: Brilliant, beautifully told. Also Too Late, the Phalarope.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton: Ho-hum. I love Merton's work, but I couldn't get through this. I suspect that it may be because of the rather heavy censoring it took just after composition, I don't know. But I would suggest Sign of Jonas or Waters of Siloe if you are interested in Merton, or New Seeds of Contemplation if you are interested in his thoughts.

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Read after I became a Catholic and I tired of the sidelong slams of The Cost of Discipleship. Perhaps I should give this one another try?

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

The Family of Man by Edward Steichen:

Divine Milieu by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.: Erik said it best at Julie's place. Although I will note that de Chardin was probably only a dupe in the Piltdown scandal thing, not a conspirator. What overblown folderol. Think Loren Eisley with Jesuit training so a really dull and tedious vocabulary.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.: One of my very favorite SF books--the first one I read more than once.

Morte D'Urban by J. F. Powers:

The Other America by Michael Harrington: t

The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis: Brilliant, largely literary study of the classic system of looking at Love.

The Historic Reality of Christian Culture: A Way to the Renewal of Human Life by Christopher Dawson

The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor:

Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.: Short enough and frequently enough referred to that I'd say everyone should have a passing acquaintance (Suppose the same might be said of Lincoln's inaugural address. . . but let's not go there.)

Everything That Rises Must Converge, "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor: If I were recommending only one O'Connor story, it probably wouldn't be this one, having a special place in my heart for "Good Country People." But with Flannery there's no way to go wrong.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley:

Silence by Shusaku Endo: Brilliant, frightening, overwhelming. The The Samurai and The Sea and Poison then. . . . His Life of Christ was a rather odd piece of work that is probably the most interesting exposition of a certain variety of Japanese Christianity you're ever likely to run across.

A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation by Gustavo Gutierrez: Have no interest whatsoever.

The Fate of the Earth by Jonathan Schell: If you really want to read about the end of the world, pickup David Raup's The Nemesis Affair: A Story of the Death of Dinosaurs and the Ways of Science

The Love of Jesus and the Love of Neighbor by Karl Rahner, S.J.: Puh-leeze, four germanic syllables into it and I suspect that I'd never wake again. Tried reading a really short, really thin book on prayer by Rahner. May be the most wonderful treatise ever devised, couldn't prove it by me. Nope, won't be reading this one.

In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Chrsitian Origins by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza: (I'll just let Julie speak for me here) the title alone gives me the creeps, much less after reading the description - I don't think so. I'm open to suggestions for substitutions, preferably fiction. (Back again) If you want stuff in this vein just pick up The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Black Robe by Brian Moore: Reviewed below--it wouldn't be my first choice--that would be The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, and Catholics, reviewed on Julie's site sounds very appealing.

Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States by Helen Prejean: Book/movie, both a little too preachy for me.

The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd: The Best thing since More's son-in-law.

All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time by Robert Ellsberg: I'm not great at this kind of book because it invites "devotional reading," which I don't really do. But it is good stuff.

Some things left off the list that I would HIGHLY recommend:

Muriel Spark: Memento Mori, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means or A Far Cry from Kensington

Thomas Kelly: (this one will make Erik sick up)A Testament of Devotion--Brilliant, modern Quaker reflections.

Richard J. Foster: Simplicity, reflections on modern materialism and its discontents.

Dallas Willard: The Divine Conspiracy

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin

Louis de Wohl: Anything--it's all "light reading" but pretty well constructed historical novels mostly about Saints.

C.S. Lewis That Hideous Strength, The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce

Walker Percy Love in the Ruins. The Moviegoer won a Pulitzer prize, but left me largely cold. This one and its sequel The Thanatos Syndrome comprise a very high degree of weirdness in literature.

Rohinton Mistry--Family Matters--everything you could ever possibly want to know about being a Parsee.

Yann Martel--Life of Pi--weird beyond words, but notable for the ambition of the hero to combine the best of Hindu, Islam, Jewish, and Christian worlds in order to have four Holy days a week.

Hermann Hesse--Siddhartha gives you all the reasons a Hindu will tell you that they don't much care for Buddhism.

Pascal--Pensees--worth reading one at a time, slowly and thinking about, a long time.

John Howard Yoder--The Politics of Jesus--love it or hate it, it is a force to be reckoned with in modern thought about Jesus and his teaching.

Gerard Manley Hopkins--Why compose a list with no poetry? (One can't count Dante because that's far beyond mere poetry.) And particularly poetry of this power and caliber? I'm also very partial to the poetry of Sr. Jessica Powers.

And the list could go on forever. Jean Pierre de Caussade, St. Francis de Sales, etc. But let this be enough for now.

And real thanks to Julie and Tom who both inspired me to record some thoughts.

Posted by Steven Riddle at December 1, 2006 8:01 PM

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Dear Steven,

What a fantastic list! So many of my favorite books and authors are included. I'm reading Peter Ackroyd's work on St. Thomas More right now. I never read the Rohinton Mistry book you mentioned, but was floored by _A Fine Balance_.

O'Connor, Joyce, Hesse... where to begin?


Posted by: The Western Confucian at December 1, 2006 9:39 PM

Paradiso, is well. . . I hope it turns out better than Dante describes it.

Wow! I thought Dante's description of Heaven was amazing. It is like Giotto's Arena Chapel depiction, but more musical. Which translations have you read?

Posted by: Erik Keilholtz at December 2, 2006 4:32 AM

Dear Erik,

At this point I've read about 15 translations, from Longellow and Sayers to Mandelbaum (does that sound right--I think it was Mandelbaum). My impression was always one of a lot of vigor and movement in Inferno and Purgatorio and a vast inertness in Paradiso--walking past innumberable stained glass windows or friezes, all of which are lovely, but don't particularly invite you in to participate. I suppose serenity was one of the things he was trying to portray, but inevitably, I get to the climax of the Commedia and I'm left with a sense that the other places we visited were a heckuva a lot more interesting.

Perhaps that was simply age and with a new perspective I might find it different. Lovely poetry, but nothing like "Her changes change her changes constantly," Or "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." Or the description of Francesca and Paoli (??).

Ah well, chacun á son goût.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at December 2, 2006 9:46 AM

Dear Joshua,

Thanks for the comment. I was a little hesitant to post this as it had been posted at a couple of other places already, but I suppose we each speak to a slightly different corner of the blogworld.

And yes, A Fine Balance is certainly one of the books of the decade; one of the finest books I have read in a very long time. Family Matters is more restricted in scope as the title might indicate, and it came out around the same time as Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and supplied a nice corrective to that portrait of Parkinson's. It's another lovely, wonderful, intimate book.

Enjoy--and thanks to Julie who shared it all with us to start with.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at December 2, 2006 9:49 AM

Oh, add Til We Have Faces to your Lewis list, and I think it'd be about perfect!

Posted by: Mama T at December 5, 2006 3:49 PM

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