Best Books of 2005

January 12, 2006 § 6 Comments

Okay, here goes…(in answer to a post on contramundum.org)

Silence by Shusaku Endo – this was a provocative and gripping book about a young priest who travels to Japan to find out the truth about his mentor’s death. But it is not a story for those who don’t want their previously secure Catholic faith turned upside down for a couple days. One of my dear professors and mentors, Fr. Shanley, recommended this one to me because I “could handle it”. It is very thoughtful, and not only asks too many moral questions to count, but also gives rise to questions about Catholicism in the East. If you haven’t read it, be sure to…but take Fr. Joe’s advice and make sure that you don’t leave it out around the house.

The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature by Leon Kass, M.D. – I’m sure this will raise a few eyebrows, but I read this one for Dr. White’s philosophy class last semester on Human Nature. It really is a beautiful book, and both introduces the core philosophical concepts of form, matter, and cause, and shows in a readable fashion how philosophy plays out in such mundane daily activities as eating. You will also get a brief run through the history of Western thought without knowing it. Many of you may have seen me reading this over Thanksgiving – I know there were some jokes about it among the younger ones. To be quite honest, this book raises the meal to a whole new level and you will never eat in the same way again.

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis – This is the second book in the trilogy, but my personal favorite. In it, Lewis muses on the question of whether the Garden of Eden could exist on another planet. Our unlikely hero, Professor Ransom, travels to Perelandra, where he must defend the “beautiful lady” from the too-intellectual wiles of the “snake” (Ransom’s arch-enemy of the first book). Some of the conversations between Ransom and the snake, fighting over the lady, literally took my breath away.

The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanoux – Tragic story of a young priest who only wants to do the right thing for his flock. It is definitely not an easy read; it is spiritually dense enough for Adoration reading if you wished to bring it along.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – My mother recommended this one – it is sad but I enjoyed it very much.

Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott – It took me a while to get into this book (as with all of Scott’s novels) but once I did I enjoyed it immensely. The quality of Sir Walter Scott’s books lies in his remarkable talent for telling a colorful and exciting story about a man (here Rob Roy) without including the main character in the book (except for roughly four pages)!

Triumph and Trauma by Bernard Giesen – Okay, so I have a soft spot for sociological studies. This one was particularly fascinating: the first part deals with the concept of “hero” and how it plays out in the community, while the second part turns its attention to a similar examination of the Third Reich. The second part was interesting, but if you don’t have much time to spend on it, read the first part. I used this book a lot for the paper I consider one of the two “crowning achievements” of my college career.

The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin – Another through-provoking religious book. But this time it doesn’t deal with priests traveling to Asia or priests tragically beaten down by their communities. Instead the story focuses on the work and life of one Scottish priest, who has some “different” ways of bringing others to God. When I get the time I would love to re-read this one.

Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark – A quick and easy read, but fun. I have always thought of George Washington as a stuffy, cardboard-cutout character of history, but this really puts a human side on him.

On the Unity of the Intellect Against the Averriosts by St. Thomas Aquinas – Okay, so here is the part that is most likely boring for most, but I voraciously read this book last semester to prepare for a paper. If you prefer the very organized style of the Summa, the book On Human Nature contains most of the questions relevant to the subject of the unity of the intellect. Have you ever wondered whether the intellect is one for all (and we all have a piece of it) or if we each have separate intellects? This is definitely one of my favorite parts of Aquinas. And :::haha::: it just so happens that I wrote a paper on this one too, for Dr. White. So, if you don’t feel like reading Aquinas right now but still want to know his answer to question, read mine.

Distant Waters: The Fate of the North Atlantic Fishermen by William Warner – The end of this book left me feeling cold, windswept, and rather salty. William Warner once again masterfully takes the reader to another walk of life entirely (this time the life of North Atlantic fishermen). It is really too bad that Warner has written very few books. There are three others that I know of: Beautiful Swimmers (on those who make a living crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay), Into the Porcupine Cave (Warner’s own memoirs), and a book on the history of the Catholic Church in America.

James Herriot books and the Chronicles of Narnia – These deserve a mention, though I think everyone here has read them. I fear I must admit that I hadn’t touched them until the last few months, but now I have joined the ranks of those who love them.

There you go, my opinion for as much as it is worth! :-)

§ 6 Responses to Best Books of 2005

  • SILENCE by Endo is a fascinating but troubling book, largely because it is a real historical fiction that speaks about faith and the price we pay for it. It is all too easy for any of us to assert that we would remain faithful in the face of martyrdom; but the truth be said, we do not know. It may be that the missionary would be willing to endure personal torture and death; but what about the persecution of colleagues and the people we loved and served? Transplanted into our own settings, given that a martyr dies forgiving his murderers, could you forgive the person who raped and murdered your sister or daughter? We might not renounce Christ if a gun were put to our own heads, but what would we say and do if another’s life was at stake? The knife is at your mother’s throat. The villain says, curse Christ, and I will spare her. What would you do? These missionaries in the book had to face such a prospect for whole communities. Their coming to Japan often spelled the death for any or all who helped them. The main priest character looks with disdain upon a fair-weather rice-Christian who betrays them again and again. Nevertheless, he keeps returning with a repentance that is not completely feigned. I guess in many ways he symbolized Japanese Catholicism which survived, not simply because of the quality of martyrs, but because a significant number renounced their faith, even if as a lie, so as to survive and provide a nucleus for future faith. A couple of the priests become what they hated. They take wives and renounce the faith they came to proclaim. It is hard not to hate them, but then we would also have to take ownership of something we hate and hide in ourselves. We are all hypocrites. Every sin has made a unwarranted compromise. We say that God will provide and that he cares. But, push come to shove, do we really believe this? Where is God? The life to come seems so far away and we want happiness and joy now– for ourselves and for those about whom we care.

    SILENCE is as good an exploration of evil as one will ever read. As for the message of redemption, it is hidden in the cries of the most foul traitor begging for absolution.

  • PERELANDRA is your favorite in C. S. Lewis’ Science Fiction trilogy? I thought you did not like the books, or was it the third one only? PERELANDRA is quite a book but I doubt that Disney and any Christian groups will put out a movie version any time soon. The principals run around naked, and the emphasis is placed more upon the Venusian Eve than the new Adam. Again, there is an exploration of evil and the demands of faith. Ransom is a good man, but he is fallen, and in that sense shares more with his nemesis than with the innocent inhabitants. It is almost as if only one who has been touched by evil can adequately combat it.

    What would we say to the serpent had the encounter been ours?

    Lewis was the first to take the themes speculated by certain theologians and to put them into a fictional narrative. It was in the last century that the notion of intelligent life on other planets was explored at length. If such life exists, what does this say to people of faith. Lewis gives us one world, Mars, where the inhabitants passed the test and they live in union with the creator and with their fellows who have left corporeal form. Venus is offered as a world where the test is happening now. But the earth remains the “Silent Planet” because of our fall from grace and original sin.

    There have been many more voices since that have spurned the Christian view entirely. A shocking example of this would be the aliens and their message in CHILDHOOD’S END by Arthur C. Clarke.

  • A DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST is indeed NOT an easy read. George Bernanos gives us a good but flawed priest. Some guys today argue that the fictional charactor is too whimpish for modern tastes. Admittedly, I had a hard time liking him, so intense was his personal malaise and misery. Nevertheless, it is one of the books I recommend for men thinking about a vocation.

    Bernanos wrote a number of books about priests, this being the most important work.

    It may be embarassing to say, but I found Graham Greene’s “whiskey priest” an easier character to read about.

    You mention here one of my favorite books, and another one I recommend to prospective vocations, THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM. I first experienced the story as an old movie with Gregory Peck– still well worth watching! The book adds lots of details and incidents. Some elements are changed, for instance the Protestant minister friend (who waves goodbye to him at the end of the film) gets killed earlier in the novel. The priest is a composite of many courageous men known to Cronin, the author. Peck’s character is a simple priest, who lives entirely for the flock he serves, and he even gives food and medical aid to those who reject his faith. He is committed to peace, but there is a pivotal scene where his bag filled with explosives is thrown into a fire. Those who would kill his people are then turned away by other forces and he is commended. But he grieves because he knows as a priest it was a compromise that should never have been made by him.

    You should encourage your brother to read this one, and maybe he will lend you his WITH GOD IN RUSSIA.

    We have to find some NUN books for you!

  • Peanut says:

    This post has been removed by the author.

  • Peanut says:

    I have “A Right to Be Merry” (Though I have not read it yet) – does that count as a NUN book?

  • Yes, A RIGHT TO MERRY does count as a NUN book. Note that the convent in question is still going strong. But, could you handle the cloistered life?

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