I could have been better about sharing some of my favorites throughout the last year, but better late than never! Most of these are books I read for pleasure, but there is a bonus “Jesuit History” section at the end from my studies this year, for those of you who are into that sort of thing.
Refugee – Alan Gratz
This was our all-school read for the summer and fall, and I read it in a blitz at the last minute (it was hard to get from the library!) Compelling and exciting, it really left an impact on my students. I would recommend it to readers of any age.
Saints for All Occasions – J. Courtney Sullivan
Saints for All Occasions was set in my neighborhood, with a precision that was at times disconcerting. I quickly cared a lot about these characters who felt like neighbors, though I find the “Irish people ruining their lives by not communicating’ trope a little tired. (We know there is some truth to it, though, because people keep writing about it.)
This is Pleasure – Mary Gaitskill
Originally published in New Yorker , this novella probes the Me Too movement, but what I found most interesting were its portrayals of what happens when you don’t bother with a conscience until someone calls you out, and of the urban lifestyle in which people go for lunches and shopping trips with companions they don’t really like.
A friend lent me The Beautiful Mystery this spring because it was set in a monastery and had to do with liturgical music (it’s great to have friends who get me!). Thought I was distracted by the protagonists’ frequent references to “the Gregorian chants” which is not a phrase anyone would use, I fell hard for the Chief Inspector Gamache series and spent most of the summer devouring almost all of these novels by Louise Penny.
Save Me the Plums – Ruth Reichl
Reichl was the editor in chief at Gourmet. I have never read Gourmet. I didn’t know anything about the politics or drama of food magazines. I enjoyed the book anyway.
Bella Figura – Kamin Mohammadi
Mohammadi’s memoir of finding herself in Italy brought back delightful memories of travel during a summer when I didn’t take any big trips. Her international adventures were a tad more dramatic than any I’ve ever had, making this a fun escape. Plus there are recipes!
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake – Anna Quindlen
This is one of those books I remember thinking I should read when it came out. It must have popped on the library shelf to get my attention. Some of the lessons I was ready for, some are still a few years in front of me. There was one line that made me – a character actress to my bones – smile. I took a picture of it that’s been on my phone ever since: “Being the ingenue is risky business, short-lived and undependable. A character actress has a much longer shelf life”
Called out of Darkness – Anne Rice
I didn’t know enough about Anne Rice to be gobsmacked by her religious history or conversion. The book dragged indulgently at times, but there were enough transcendently lovely passages that convinced me to stick with it.
River of Fire – Helen Prejean
I really admire Sister Helen for her activism, clearheadedness, and clarity of speech. This memoir covers her early life before the events that she recounts in Dead Man Walking, looking particularly at her friendships and relationships. I was moved by the gentleness with which she dealt with her previous self, and the honesty that gentleness allowed.
Flipping through gardening books is one of my favorite pasttimes, so this is just a sample of a few that caught my eye at the library.
Best Perennials for Sun and Shade
Pretty pictures! That’s all.
The Foodscape Revolution – Brie Arthur
A practical and attractive guide to maximizing space for edible plants in one’s yard, this emphasizes design that won’t garner complaints from your neighbors.
The Quarter Acre Farm – Spring Warren
Don’t let the reading list fool you, I am not hung up on turning our lawn into an urban farm, but I do like reading about other people’s successes that I might adjust to scale. Spring Warren wanted to grow everything she ate for a year. Not my objective, but I learned plenty nonetheless.
I took two Jesuit Studies courses this year and had a hefty reading list. Here are a few highlights.
The First Jesuits and The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present – John O’Malley
You really can’t go wrong with John O’Malley for easily readable history.
Faith Beyond Justice: Widening the Perspective– Martin Tripole
I ended up having to read this for both classes, perhaps because it is one of the few books that challenges the 20th century commitment of the Society of Jesus toward “a faith that does justice”. The core of the author’s argument that the language used to describe the relationship of faith and justice is confusingly imprecise. I’m not as bothered by the vagueness of the commitment as he is and don’t find his concern terribly convincing, but it’s an important snapshot of an opposing viewpoint that may vanish as “faith doing justice” becomes an unquestioned component of Jesuit Spirituality.
Harvest of Souls – Marsha Blackburn
If you are interested in the actions and attitudes of the North American Jesuit Missionaries, this is the book for you. Not much else I need to say about that.
Beginning to Be a Jesuit – Patricia Ranum
This translation and commentary on the instructions for the Paris Novitiate in 1685 was one of my favorites in this category. I was smiling throughout at how little has changed in dealing with young men – the pages are full of practical advice like “don’t form cliques” and “go to the bathroom before chapel so you don’t have to leave in the middle”.
A History of the Society of Jesus– William Bangert
This is probably the most comprehensive single-volume Jesuit history out there. I’m glad I read it for class because I doubt I ever would have read it on my own.
And of course, I spent 2019 reading 2019: A Book of Grace-Filled Days and being reminded of what I wrote when I finished that manuscript more than two years ago. I’ve also been using the reflections in Give Us This Day for daily prayer. I tend to read more when I am working on a writing project of my own (the literary equivalent of “calories in, calories out”); these books have helped with the two teen spirituality booklets I’m working on right now.
This semester I’m taking a break from coursework, and I only have one more book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, so I’m looking for book recommendations – preferably those I can easily snag from the library. Let me know what you suggest – and happy new year!