Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Recommended Reading for Catholic Book Clubs

This week's Top Ten Tuesday challenge is to suggest titles for a book club based on its interests in a specific book, subject, author, etc. In keeping with the focus of this blog, I've decided to share fictional books I think would be great for a Catholic book club. Though some of the books mentioned are written by Catholic authors, and have specifically Catholic references, there are also plenty of books by non-Catholics mentioned here. These are books which espouse a Christian worldview consistent with the Church's teachings about sin and redemption, love and sacrifice, belief and faith. (Links throughout the body of this post will take you to my reviews.)

The first two authors I want to mention are so obvious, I almost feel silly including them, but I'd feel just as strange leaving them out. They are, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. While plenty of non-Catholics enjoy these writers (and C.S. Lewis himself was not Catholic), there is something about Middle Earth and Narnia that is especially appealing to the Catholic mind. I am not a big fantasy reader, as a rule, and I think that is partly because I have a hard time connecting fantasy worlds to my real life. I have not had this problem with The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or with any of the Narnia books I have read so far. They are not true to my life, but they are true to my faith, and I believe reading these books has bolstered my beliefs in a way that purely secular books simply do not.

Also in the fantasy realm are George MacDonald, author of The Princess and the Goblin and Elizabeth Goudge, author of The Little White Horse. I found the religious references were a little harder to pinpoint in The Princess and the Goblin, though a Christian sensibility pervades the entire text. Little White Horse is not a Catholic book per se, but it talks a lot about repentance and making things right with God, and again, there is a feeling of religiousness about the book which comes across even without explicit statements about a specific faith.

Next is Flannery O'Connor. I first discovered her work in high school, when "Good Country People" was assigned to me in my senior year English elective, "Short Stories." I was blown away by how darkly comical the ending of that story is, and I was pleased to have an author with such a sharp wit on "my" team. Years later, when it came time to write my English thesis, I discovered that certain academics were arguing for a reading of O'Connor that ignores the religious interpretations of her work. Knowing that O'Connor always intended her stories to be of a religious nature, I used my thesis as an opportunity to trace those threads through her novel, Wise Blood, as well as many of her short stories. If you can't get into her stories, try her letters, collected in The Habit of Being. I found that I loved her writing that much more once I got to know her a little bit better.

Another wonderful author, whose books I only discovered last year, is Meriol Trevor. Like O'Connor, she writes explicitly religious novels, generally about conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism. Trevor is British, so her style is quite different from O'Connor's, but her novel, The Rose Round, is the closest thing to a perfect book that I have ever read. (My review explains why.) A close second is Trevor's Sun Slower, Sun Faster, which involves time travel to various points in the history of the Catholic church in England. It also includes the following beautiful passage about the Eucharist:

Then a movement began among the people. They creaked to their feet, shuffled and fumbled up to the front, kneeling on the floor, and she saw little Thomas at the beginning of the row. The priest turned and made the sign of the cross and all signed themselves; then he came forward and moved along the line, placing the Hosts in the mouths of the people. 

Cecil had a very strange feeling; she felt that this was at the same time the most natural and the most unnatural thing she had ever seen. They were like little birds being fed by their mother, and yet it was grown people who knelt to receive what looked like a paper penny of bread on their tongues. She knew at once why the Mass provoked such love and such hate. Either what they believe is true, or else it is a dreadful delusion, she thought.

These two books are written for teens, but they had great significance for me as an adult as well. Trevor's adult novel, Shadows and Images, which is about a fictional woman's friendship with the real John Henry Cardinal Newman, is also a compelling read that I really enjoyed.

Finally, there are two Newbery-winning books that are must-reads for Catholic kids and adults alike: I Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino and The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare.  In  I, Juan de Pareja, title character Juan is a devout Catholic who seeks out the sacrament of Reconciliation after committing an act of wrongdoing. This is a matter-of-fact part of the story, and the sacrament is given its due respect and reverence. The book as a whole is also beautifully written and unexpectedly brought me to tears. The Bronze Bow is set during the time of Jesus and it explores the social and political climate in which Jesus lived and follows a blacksmith's slave on his journey toward Christian belief. Though these books are intended for children, neither is a childish book, and both have much to offer teen and adult readers as well.

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