Father Ezaki’s Favorite Literature

Seek out good books and hate the bad.

–Pope Pius XII–

Books

  • 1917: Red Banner, White Mantle by Warren Hasty Carroll (history) – This riveting little book chronicles the rise of Soviet Communism against the backdrop of the miraculous apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima.
  • The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis (nonfiction) – Here is a closely argued defense of Natural Law. Rare is the mind that, in only one reading, can grasp all the implications of what Lewis has to say.
  • Adam and Eve after the Pill by Mary Eberstadt (nonfiction) – The author documents the widespread and altogether woeful legacy of contraception. This is not a fun book, but it is, to say the least, a real eye opener.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (fiction) – The most poignant memory I have of this book is Jim’s description of how he discovered his daughter’s deafness. Huck concludes:  “…I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n.  It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.”
  • The Adventures of King Midas by Lynne Reid Banks (children’s fantasy) – The author puts her own spin on this ancient fable. There’s a happy ending as King Midas learns what he really ought to value.
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (Fiction) – Not to have read this novel is positively un-American. The image of Tom whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence has all but passed into our collective unconscious.
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll (fantasy) – Carroll’s writing is far more surreal than anything written by Dr. Seuss. His poetry (e.g. The Walrus and the Carpenter) is far better too.  In addition, I shall always remember the White Queen’s wise advice to a melancholy Alice in Chapter 5 of Through the Looking Glass:  “Oh, don’t go on like that!” cried the poor Queen, wringing her hands in despair. “Consider what a great girl you are. Consider what a long way you’ve come to-day. Consider what o’clock it is. Consider anything, only don’t cry!” Alice could not help laughing at this, even in the midst of her tears. “Can you keep from crying by considering things?” she asked. “That’s the way it’s done,” the Queen said with great decision: “nobody can do two things at once, you know.”  Incidentally there is an audio version of both these books magnificently performed by Christopher Plummer.
  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (semi-autobiographical) – This is the first in a whole series of books about a young veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s. You will get to know all the inhabitants of the small village of Darrowby as well as their farm animals and pets.  This book and its sequels are not dirty, but they are earthy.  Animal lovers will love them.  Those overly fastidious will wince.
  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery (children’s fiction) – This gem is, as Mark Twain put it, “the sweetest creation of child life yet written.” The book and its sequels are usually classified as literature for young girls, but I love Montgomery’s work because of its vivid descriptions of Mother Nature and human nature.  In addition, I like to imagine that the indomitable Anne Shirley is the female counterpart of Dickens’ David Copperfield.  By the way, if you like the Anne stories, don’t miss Montgomery’s Chronicles of Avonlea and Further Chronicles of Avonlea.  You’ll find the redhead here too.
  • Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman (Beginner readers) – I still like this book, because, I suppose, there is still a part of me always searching for the security of Mother and home.
  • Autobiography of a Hunted Priest by Father John Gerard, S.J. (autobiography) – Father Gerard describes his life and ministry as a priest in Elizabethan England, where all Catholic priests were officially regarded as enemies of the Crown. After betrayal, arrest, and torture, he actually escaped his captors!  An inspiring story of courage and faith!
  • Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss (beginner readers) – When an angry king almost destroys his kingdom, the young page Bartholomew Cubbins teaches him how to admit responsibility.  A great lesson for us grown-ups as well.
  • Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal by Rita A. Scotti (nonfiction) – This is an enthralling account of the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by someone who loves the Church. I am not exactly sure if everything contained in this volume is strictly true, but, if not, it ought to be!  The author loves Michelangelo.  After reading this, you will want to watch the old classic movie The Agony and the Ecstasy.  Scotti’s account makes the old film come alive.
  • The Book of Virtues edited by William J. Bennett (anthology) – This collection of stories and poems is what one priest has called “the book of a thousand homilies.” It contains lessons for the whole family on ten virtues (including self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, and work).  You won’t want to miss Bennett’s other anthology, viz. The Moral Compass.
  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (history) – Imagine. The sons of loggers and dock workers from the state of Washington beat Ivy League scholars and English aristocrats at Crew!  What they did to the Germans at the 1936 Olympics is even more inspiring.  Crew requires cooperation to the nth degree.  Would that our own country could “pull together” and learn from this story!
  • The Broken Soldier and the Maid of France by Henry van Dyke (fiction) – Van Dyke is perhaps best known for his The Other Wise Man, but his beautiful story of a discouraged soldier and St. Joan of Arc is a gem! After reading it, my copy bore the marks of not a few tears.
  • The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (children’s historical fiction) – Good books for young boys are hard to find. This one has the added bonus of introducing the reader to the world in which Jesus lived.  It is a great depiction of the slavery of hate and the freedom of forgiveness.
  • Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling (children’s adventure) – Harvey Cheyne is a spoiled brat who finds himself forced to live among men of the sea. He learns lessons of honesty and friendship.  Above all, he learns how to be a man.
  • The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop (children’s fantasy) – Young William discovers that there is more to his toy castle than meets the eye and learns life lessons of integrity when he is magically transported back to the Middle Ages.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (children’s fantasy) – This book is, in one sense, far better than the 1971 Gene Wilder movie that most of us know: The poems of the Oompa Loompas are unforgettable.  The rhyme on the evils of television is particularly wonderful.
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (children’s fantasy) – O what a web this spider spins! A pig’s life and honor she thus wins.
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (fiction) – Some have argued that this well-known classic is really a masterful critique of Thomas Malthus. It is, in any case, very good psychology.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (children’s fantasy) – These seven stories relate wonderful adventures in the land of Narnia, a magical kingdom where animals talk and good always triumphs over evil. Aslan the Lion is Lewis’s allegorical Christ figure.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in fact is a very creative articulation of the Church’s classical doctrine of atonement.  By the way, Focus on the Family has produced a masterful audio dramatization of all seven chronicles (nineteen CDs in all).  You will want to listen to these over and over again.
  • The Clambake Mutiny: An Undersea Story by Jerome Beatty, Jr. (children’s fantasy) – This was one of the first books I ever took out of the Allentown Public Library. One lesson it taught me is that parental warnings are best heeded.
  • Come Wrack! Come Rope! by Robert Hugh Benson (historical novel) – This story is set against the backdrop of Elizabethan England and the brutal persecution of English Catholics. It’s beautiful prose and its drama will make any lax Catholic appreciate the Mass.
  • The Curé of Ars: The Priest Who Outtalked the Devil by Milton Lomaks (young readers’ biography) – One in the long series of Vision Books, this delightful volume paints a very human picture of the patron of parish priests. In so doing, it brings real sanctity within the reach of us all.
  • Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint by Raymond Abrashkin (children’s science fiction) – Any boy who likes math and science will enjoy this book. It is the first in a great series.
  • Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson (nonfiction) – The author is neither a scientist nor a biblical fundamentalist. He is, in fact a trial lawyer, and he argues that the case for evolution is week indeed.  Yet Johnson is confident that science itself, faced with mounting evidence to the contrary, will eventually jettison Darwin’s theory in favor of a better one.
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (fiction) – Dickens called this his favorite book. It is almost autobiographical.  David Copperfield grows up in difficult circumstances only to discover that the girl for whom his restless and undisciplined heart longs is really the girl who has stood by him all his life.  The cast of characters alone is memorable.  It is no doubt, for example, that from this book we get the expression “Dumb Dora.”
  • The Day Boy and the Night Girl by George MacDonald (fairy tale)—A witch named Watho raises a boy in a world bathed in sunlight and a girl in a dungeon shrouded in gloom. Find out what happens when the two unfortunates meet.
  • Dialogue by St. Catharine of Siena (spirituality) – This is a dialogue between St. Catharine and God the father. It contains many secrets about prayer, the Eucharist, on loving God, etc.  It is one of the easiest spiritual masterpieces to understand, yet it requires a lifetime to assimilate.
  • The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain (fiction) – This is, on the surface, an entertaining account of Adam and Eve’s days on earth (not strictly according to Genesis). It is, in reality, a comical love story reflecting the author’s own courtship and marriage with his beloved wife Olivia.  The audio version with Mandy Patinkin is a must.
  • A Dog for Joey by Man Gilbert (children’s fiction) – Socially backward Joey raises a seeing-eye puppy and, in so doing, finds real fulfillment. Why don’t more people raise service puppies?
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (science fiction) – This remarkable piece of science fiction is about an English girl in the future who travels back in time to 14th-century England. The village priest whom she encounters is wonderful, and their totally innocent relationship is touching and instructive.  The book begins slow but takes off at a certain point, and you will not want to put it down.  The difficult slogging in the beginning is worth it!
  • The Dragon’s Pearl by Julie Lawson and Paul Morin (fairy tale) – The Chinese regard dragons, not as fire-breathing monsters, but as god-like bringers of rain. This book is remarkable, both for its beautiful story and for its lavish illustrations.
  • Early Thunder by Jean Fritz (children’s historical fiction) – Daniel West lives in the Salem, Massachusetts, of 1774. We watch as he, his friends, and neighbors are caught up in the tensions that would soon spark the American Revolution.  This book reminded me, at times, of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  I put it down, proud to be an American!
  • The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe (science) – Michael Behe, professor of biology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, discusses the limitations of Darwinism in the light of the latest scientific research in biochemistry and microbiology. His masterful use of analogies makes his closely reasoned arguments easy to follow.  Above all, Behe never wields the argumentum ad hominem against those who might disagree with him.
  • Edmund Campion by Evelyn Waugh (biography)—A vivid account of a very winning saint, this classic left me with the conviction that earthly power, however great, is only temporary.
  • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander (nonfiction) – This book makes all my complaints seem very petty indeed! Shackleton’s ship was aptly named.
  • Everybody Needs to Forgive Somebody by Allen R. Hunt (spirituality) – Moved to embrace Roman Catholicism by Pope John Paul II’s own willingness to forgive, the author relates real-life stories of forgiveness along with practical suggestions. This little gem might make provocative reading for a parish Catholic book club.  It really hits home.
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (dystopia) – This book describes a society in which reading is forbidden in favor of mind-numbing diversions. Alas!  The message grows less futuristic and increasingly relevant!
  • The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks (children’s fantasy) – Childless Jan longs to have a baby, and through the intervention of a kind-hearted fairy, she gives birth to a little girl. Such interference in human affairs, however, has been expressly forbidden by the Fairy Queen.  There is trouble ahead.
  • The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen – How impoverished my childhood would have been were it not for The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Tinderbox, and The Little Match Girl!
  • The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde – C.S. Lewis once wrote: “I now enjoy the fairy tales better than I did in childhood: being now able to put more in, of course, I get more out.”  Wilde’s fairy tales, including The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince are painfully beautiful.
  • A Fish out of Water by Helen Palmer (beginner readers) – In caring for his pet goldfish, a little boy soon learns lessons about the danger of false compassion and the importance of obedience. I loved this book as a child.  I still love it today.
  • Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley (history)—The events surrounding the raising of the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima remind us that no victory is without its costs. Fame, too, has its price.
  • Flap Your Wings by P.D. Eastman (beginner readers) – Finding a strange egg in their nest, Mr. and Mrs. Bird resolutely care for the ravenous hatchling, which turns out to be nothing less than a baby alligator! This is a great story to be read aloud to little children.  They will learn the names of all sorts of insects and crawly critters.
  • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis (spirituality) – In this insightful little book, Professor Lewis examines four kinds of love, viz. affection, friendship, eros, and agape. Each of the first three, he argues, if left to itself goes bad.  Each must be redeemed by agape.
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Children’s fiction) – Find out what happens when twelve-year-old Claudia and her nine-year-old brother Jamie spend the night hiding out in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. A fun introduction to Michelangelo and the world of art!
  • Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel (biography) – This is a most balanced account of the career of one of history’s most controversial figures. The author enlivens her narrative with recently discovered letters written by Galileo’s illegitimate daughter, whom he had sent to a convent.  I like how the young nun addresses her sire as “Most Illustrious Lord Father.”
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (young adult fiction) – This dystopian novel depicts a society whose attempt to eliminate war leads to the systematic killing of the newborn and the elderly. The theme is surprisingly Pro-Life.
  • The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (fantasy/theology) – Lewis takes an imaginary bus ride from hell to the boarders of heaven. One is left with the conviction that all who choose heaven will get there.  Some, however, choose otherwise.
  • Hannah Is a Palindrome by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky (young reader’s fiction) – Hanna is a wise child who lives with her father and mother in a world of uncomplicated innocence. She takes simple delight in her parents’ love and in her surroundings.  This book is devoid of “drama,” but Hannah will win your heart.
  • Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book by Harvey Penick (golf) – I know nothing about golf, but I found this book full of insight. Harvey Penick was the professional golf instructor at the Austin (Texas) Country Club for more than forty years.  His writing reveals a wise, good-natured man who regards golf as a game of honor.  If you play golf or simply enjoy people, this is the book for you.
  • Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom (autobiography) – The author is surprised and intimidated when he is asked to write his elderly rabbi’s eulogy. But Alllbom learns a lot about his rabbi, himself, and faith in general.
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (autobiography) – Corrie tells how she and her family risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis. This is a wonderful story of faith and courage.  It is hard to put down.  The same can be said for its sequel, viz. Tramp for the Lord.
  • Homer Price by Robert McCloskey (children’s fiction) – Homer Price is a very likable lad whose common sense often saves the day. In addition, McCloskey’s own illustrations are wonderful.  If you like this book, be sure to read Centerburg Tales by the same author.
  • Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss (beginner readers) – Large-eared Horton the elephant detects intelligent life on a speck of dust. Those around him fail to hear what he hears, and he must endure ridicule and hardships in order to save his tiny friends.  This story teaches two vital lessons: (1) “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”  (2) One voice can make a difference.
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (fiction) – Just prior to World War II, a Chinese American boy and a Japanese American girl in Seattle begin an innocent relationship that is interrupted by the internment of Japanese Americans and the intervention of a zealous Chinese father. After finishing this book, I felt glad that such works of fiction are still being written.  Ford’s novel has significance for me because many in my own family were interned during the War.
  • How Children Succeed by Paul Tough (nonfiction) – Drawing on fascinating psychological research and the real-life experiences of some remarkable individuals, the author argues that the number one predictor of success is, not wealth or even intelligence, but character. This is a must read for every teacher and parent!
  • How Could You Do That?! The Abdication of Character, Courage, and Conscience by Dr. Laura Schlessinger (nonfiction) – The author is fond of repeating a definition she once heard:  “Character is who you are when no one else is looking.”  She further insists that we take responsibility for our behavior.  Our actions must be guided, not by our emotions or by a victim mentality, but by strict ethical standards.
  • How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (nonfiction) – The title says it all! Every Catholic high school student should be familiar with this book.  Chapter Five on science is particularly compelling.
  • How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie (nonfiction) – The title is self-explanatory. This book needs to be read slowly and digested gradually as one puts its principles into practice.  It contains many inspiring stories and anecdotes.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (nonfiction) – I learned a lot from this book! One of its most important lessons is: Apologize quickly and enthusiastically.
  • In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke (biography) – A contemporary of Pope John Paul II, Irene tells how she helped save Jews from the Nazis. This book is really hard to put down!
  • It’s Dangerous to Believe by Mary Eberstadt (nonfiction) – The author chronicles how today’s secular activists are persecuting Christians and Christian institutions (schools, hospitals, and charities) with a zeal reminiscent of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red scare or the Salem witch trials. Why such hostility?  Eberstadt argues that the culture war, sparked by the advent of the birth control pill and the subsequent sexual revolution, is really a struggle between two competing faiths.  Secularists are championing, not the absence of religion, but a creed, catechism, and set of dogmas all their own.   Despite a bleak beginning, It’s Dangerous to Believe ends on a note of hope.  It ought to be read, not only by believers, but especially by all decent, rational Americans.
  • Joan of Arc by Mark Twain (historical fiction)—Twain himself call this his best book, and it surely is! It required several drafts and many years to write.  In Part I, you will love Joan as a child.  In Part II, you will thrill to her victories against the English.  In Part III, you will suffer with her through her trial and execution.  If Samuel Clemens is in heaven, it is no doubt owing to the love and gratitude of good St. Joan, whom he surely loved.  And he wasn’t even Catholic!
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (fiction)—This is good reading for any boy, even if some of the political references are beyond his ken.
  • Left to tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza (autobiography) – The author describes how she and other women hid in a bathroom for some three months in 1990 while their fellow Tutsi tribesmen were ruthlessly hunted and slain. This is a book of incredible faith and forgiveness.
  • The Lemonade Trick by Scott Corbett (children’s fiction)—After being given a magic chemistry set, Kerby Maxwell discovers an unidentifiable liquid which brings about astonishing alterations in personality. Rehearsal for the Sunday school pageant, needless to say, is thereby rendered quite hilarious.
  • Letters to a Young Catholic by George Weigel (nonfiction) – Weigel writes letters to his readers from various places around the world, and with each epistle, he introduces a Catholic personality or concept. Visit the bones of the first Pope beneath the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, and come face to face with the recent church scandals that have shocked the world.  Travel to England and learn about G.K. Chesterton, to Germany and encounter Edith Stein, to America’s South and discover the work of Flannery O’Connor, to the Sistine Chapel and appreciate Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body.  This book is a perfect gift for a college student who is willing to delve deeply into the Catholic Faith.
  • Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum by Karen Garver Santorum (nonfiction)—A mother’s touching letters to her unborn son are an eloquent testimony to the inestimable value of human life.
  • The Light Princess by George MacDonald (fairy tale) – In this marvelous Christian allegory, the selfless sacrifice of a noble prince frees his beloved from a terrible curse and brings happiness to everyone—everyone except the evil witch who caused all the trouble in the first place! Full-Cast Audio (Syracuse, NY) does a wonderful rendition of this masterpiece, supplying haunting melodies to the prince’s love songs.
  • Little Daylight by George MacDonald (fairy tale) – Princess Daylight is lovely indeed, but she is doubly cursed: She must sleep while it is day, and her beauty must wax and wane with the moon.  This story is a lesson in perseverance and compassion and should be read by all who are contemplating marriage.
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (fantasy)—My favorite characters are the steadfast lamplighter, the melancholy sunset-watching Prince, and the wise fox. The last assures us that “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
  • Lives of Social Insects by Peggy Larson (nonfiction)—This book served only to intensify my boyish fascination with bugs.
  • The Loser Letters by Mary Eberstadt (fiction) – The author exposes the critical flaws in modern-day atheism in a way that is both creative and humorous. If you want a book to give to a college student, this is it!
  • The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (fiction) – Anyone who loves music will enjoy this skillful weaving of fact and fiction. The audio version (available from iTunes) is a work of art in and of itself.  This is a book that will touch your heart.
  • Many Dimensions by Charles Williams (fiction) – Roman Catholic author Charles Williams (a friend of C.S. Lewis) describes what happens when an ancient stone bearing the Tetragrammaton falls into the wrong hands. I am glad I discovered this book prior to my entering seminary.  It taught me never to misuse the sacred!
  • Marley and Me by John Grogan (autobiography) – Before Marley arrived on the scene, journalist John Grogan and his wife practiced birth control. The couple soon realized, however, that life with their unruly yellow Labrador retriever awoke in them an urge to become parents, and they stopped using contraception.  Thus Marley proved to be, not a substitute for children, but a preparation for them.  Bravo, Marley!
  • The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers (theology) – A great mystery writer explains deep theological mysteries (e.g. the Trinity, free will and divine foreknowledge) by likening God to an author.
  • Pine’s Mixed-up Signs by Leonard Kessler (beginner readers) – Whatever you do, don’t go to work without your glasses!
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville (fiction) – Vengeance is an all-consuming passion. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Melville’s classic.  As a priest, I am especially convicted by Father Mapple’s stirring sermon in Chapter 9.
  • The Moffats by Eleanor Estes (children’s fiction)—It’s a simple time when the sight of an airplane in the sky is quite a novelty, when kids can run free and unsupervised in perfect safety. Momma and her four children know it is not easy to make ends meet in their little town of Cranberry.  Yet the yellow house in which they live on New Dollar Street radiates homespun warmth, love and pure joy.
  • The Monster that Grew Small by Joan Marshall Grant (Egyptian folktale) – This is a great book for any small child (or adult) who worries.
  • A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (historical fiction) – This is the first in a series of murder mysteries set in twelfth-century England and featuring a Welsh Benedictine monk and sleuth by the name of Brother Cadfael. Each book ends happily and is flavored with a touch of wholesome romance.  Through all the vicissitudes of war and murder, the orderly life of prayer and work in the Shrewsbury Abbey remains a constant.  I underwent a bit of Cadfael withdrawal when I finally put down the last volume.
  • Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall (historical fiction) – Meet the unyielding Captain Bligh, and experience the 1789 mutiny that has become the stuff of legend. I read this book while in high school and can still recall some of the vivid details.
  • Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms by Holly Ordway (biography) – Professor Ordway was certain that the fortress of atheism she had built for herself was utterly impregnable. Yet her love of poetry and fantasy, her passion for fencing, and even her insistence on reason brought the walls crashing down.  When Holly finally became a Catholic, she discovered the Church to be all embracing, much larger on the inside than it had appeared from without.
  • On Loving God by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (spirituality) – St. Bernard explainss how we grow in the love of God: First we love self for self-s sake.  Then we love God for self’s sake.  Next we love God for God’s sake.  Finally (in heaven) we will love self for God’s sake.  This is a short book requiring a lifetime to put into practice.
  • Orthodoxy by G.k. Chesterton (theology) – In attempting to enumerate the elements of an ideal religion, Chesterton was shocked to realize that they were all included in the Christian faith. He likened his experience to that of an explorer who, after a long voyage, makes landfall, only to discover that he has unwittingly arrived back home.
  • People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil by M. Scott Peck (nonfiction) – Evil does not usually come on the scene with pitchfork, horns, cloven feet, and tail. Its guises can be far more commonplace and thus far more horrifying.
  • Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone (beginner readers) – Peppe longs for a job. Above all, he longs for his father’s approval.  This book is an inspiration for young and old alike.  The illustrations by Ted Lewin are magnificent.
  • Perelandra by C.S. Lewis (theological science fiction) – This is the second book in Lewis’s “scientifiction” trilogy. Could there be an extraterrestrial Adam and Eve?
  • Phantastes by George MacDonald (fairy tale) – C.S. Lewis first read Phantastes when he was sixteen years old. He described the experience thus:  “That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me[,] not unnaturally, took longer.  I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.”
  • Piccoli by Philippe Halsman (fairy tale) – A tiny girl befriends a cockroach after having stabbed it with a pin; she stops a robber by climbing down his throat and hanging onto his uvula; and at last she sails away in a toy balloon with an acorn shell basket. These are the vivid images that have stayed with me from my childhood.  If you find this rare book, you’ve found a gem.
  • The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks by Nancy R. McArthur (children’s fantasy) – No blood-sucking vegetation here! Just two brothers, two weird potted wonders, and a whole lot of fun.
  • Plunging Pornography: A Catholic Bathroom Book by D.J. Hueneman (nonfiction) – This book is designed to be read by parents and then left in the bathroom for their teenage kids to read.  The author, a paramedic, starts out somewhat earthy, then discusses the dangers of porn, and concludes by recommending the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and fasting.  Wow!
  • The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization by Anthony Esolen (history) – Esolen tells it like it is and does not care how many people he offends. Refreshing!
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (spirituality) – In this Christian classic, a seventeenth-century French Carmelite monk describes how we can find intimacy with God even in, or especially in, our routine daily activity.
  • The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (fiction) – Never impressed by regal titles, the author has some royal fun driving home his point.
  • The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (fairy tale) – The mysterious, wise great-great-grandmother in this story makes me think of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The same character appears in the book’s sequel, The Princess and Curdie.
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman (fairy tale) – Could anyone possibly not like this book? Inconceivable!
  • The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis (theology) – The philosopher Rabbi Abraham Heschel (d. 1972) is supposed to have said something to this effect: “If you believe in God, you have to explain the existence of suffering.  If you don’t believe in God, you have to explain the existence of everything else.”  In The Problem of Pain, Professor Lewis provides a most thorough treatment of the subject of suffering—theology’s perennial difficulty.  Chapter 9 even contains some interesting speculations on animal immortality.
  • The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander (spirituality) – This is a fascinating set of meditations on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary written by a twentieth-century English Catholic, mystic, and poet. Houselander has a way of juxtaposing Scripture passages that is utterly startling and at the same time enlightening.  Who would have thought, for example, to lay Our Lady’s “Why have you done this to us?” (Luke 2:48) alongside Our Lord’s “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)?  Here is a book that demands to be pondered slowly.
  • Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis (spirituality) – If you find the Psalter daunting or boring, then this is the book for you!
  • Relationship Rescue: A Seven-Step Strategy for Reconnecting with Your Partner by Phillip C. McGraw (nonfiction) – This book is designed for a husband and wife whose marriage is on the rocks, but I wish every engaged couple could read it.
  • Rose from Brier by Amy Carmichael (spirituality)— Amy Carmichael (d. 1951) was a Protestant missionary in India for fifty-five years, and she ran an orphanage that served, in part, as a refuge for countless young girls who would otherwise be condemned to a life of prostitution in the Hindu temples. She suffered an accidental fall in 1932, which left her an invalid for most of her final twenty years.  Rose from Brier is a series of letters “from the ill to the ill.”  The work is full of empathy and insight, and it contains some wonderful poetry.
  • Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: Oracle of the Twelfth Century by Abbe Theodore Ratisbonne (biography)—When Saint Bernard spoke, people listened. Yet even he was not spared the Dark Night of the Soul.
  • Saint Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton (biography) – Chesterton is full of insight. He argues, for example, that Francis was able to baptize Mother Nature only because the early Middle Ages had thoroughly exorcised her of pagan eroticism.
  • Saint Joan: The Girl Soldier by Louis de Wohl (young readers’ biography) – This book paints a charming portrait of the French Maid who, with the help of God and in spite of human opposition, crowned a King and saved France.  We learn the valuable lesson that sanctity and patriotism can go hand in hand.
  • Saint Philip of the Joyous Heart by Francis X. Connolly (young readers’ biography) – Divine fervor literally expanded Father Philip Neri’s heart so that he eventually became known as “the Second Apostle of Rome.” This holy priest stands as a shining witness that love overcomes all things.
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G.K. Chesterton (biography) – Chesterton, who has a wonderful talent for saying much in few words, describes this book as “a popular sketch of a great historical character.”
  • Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worshippers Who Became Saints by Thomas J. Craughwell (biography)—The title says it all. Tired of saccharin-sweet sanctity?  This book is for you!
  • A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (nature) – The conservationist author provides twelve meditations gleaned from life on his Wisconsin farm. Written in 1948, this book is a classic to be read and reread.
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (fiction) – This is a collection of letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape to a junior demon named Wormwood. The various missives contain instructions on the fine art of temptation.  Lewis cleverly unveils the tactics of Satan from the devil’s own perspective.  Great reading!  By the way, you won’t want to miss Focus on the Family’s fabulous audio dramatization of Lewis’s masterpiece (starring Andy Serkis as Screwtape).
  • The Seductive Image: A Christian Critique of the World of Film by K. L. Billingsley (nonfiction) – The author explains why it is so much easier to make a movie about evil than about virtue. Fascinating!
  • A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller (spirituality) – We all know the familiar words, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want,” but here is a book that will explain the psalm verse by verse.  The author is an Australian shepherd, and once you have read what he has to say, you will never look at Psalm 23 the same way again.  If you purchase the large-print edition, you will find some beautiful pen-and-ink drawings.
  • Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children by John Rosemond (nonfiction) – This book is brim full of insights for parents. Here are four I shall always remember:  (1) One’s role as a spouse takes precedence over one’s role as a parent.  (2) Too much television is harmful to kids.  (3) Children need healthy doses of Vitamin N, viz. the word NO.  (4) The best toys for stimulating a child’s imagination are those that are simple and relatively unspecified.
  • The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel (nonfiction) – While fleeing the Nazis, the Jewish author found himself in Lourdes and vowed that, if Our Lady got him safely to America, he would tell the story of St. Bernadette for all the world to hear. The Song of Bernadette represents Werfel’s fulfillment of his end of the bargain.  It is remarkable in that it comes from a non-Catholic.  It is far better than the movie!!
  • Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef (autobiography) – This is the gripping story of an operative for one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations who eventually becomes an agent for the Israelis and then a Christian.  Amazing!
  • Stuart Little by E.B. White (children’s fantasy)—It is not hard to discover the romantic longing beneath the surface of this childhood classic.
  • Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed (theology) – As its title indicates, this book is a wonderful introduction to the way the Catholic Church thinks about God.
  • The Three Ways of the Spiritual Life by Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (spirituality) – For those who take spiritual growth seriously, this little volume is an eye-opener. The author thoroughly explains the Purgative, Illuminative, and Unitive Ways in a manner that will drive you to your knees!
  • The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (fiction) – A wealthy old man wants to cling to his life beyond his allotted years and a young teenage girl wants to throw hers away before her time. Their interaction brings mutual healing and redemption.  This is a book for anyone who underestimates the value of time.
  • Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr. (autobiography) –A young college graduate learns to respect “those who go down to the sea in ships.”
  • Under the Influence by James R. Milam and Katherine Ketcham (nonfiction) – Recommended to me by a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, this book examines alcoholism from a physiological, rather than a moral, perspective. The authors discuss, among other topics, the three stages of alcoholism and racial predispositions to alcoholism.  This is a fascinating read and a must for anyone coping with alcoholism in any way.
  • A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (fiction) – I am not a big fan of Nicholas Sparks’ books, but this one is good. It tells the story of how a young girl’s terminal illness makes everyone around her better.
  • Watch Honeybees with Me by Judy Hawes (children’s science) – I recall borrowing this book from the library when I was a little boy. I have been fascinated with honeybees ever since.
  • When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan T. Anderson (nonfiction) – This is a thorough, reasoned analysis, free from invective, of a very controversial subject. Anderson, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, covers all the bases—psychology, politics, biology, sociology, philosophy, and law.  Every parent, educator, and therapist should read this book!
  • Where Angels Walk: True Stories of Heavenly Visitors by Joan Wester Anderson (nonfiction) – After an encounter that had all the earmarks of the angelic, the author began collecting stories of happy divine intervention. Each chapter stands on its own and makes great bedtime reading.  If you are married read these stories to your spouse before going to bed.  You will have sweet dreams!
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (young readers’ fiction)—Old Dan and Little Ann, two redbone coonhounds, enlarge young Billy Colman’s heart even as they spur his maturation. This touching story may make you cry.
  • Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (mystery) – With this novel, the aristocratic sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey makes an unforgettable debut.  Sayers is my favorite mystery writer.  She plays fair and gives you all the clues.
  • Who Stole Feminism by Christina Hoff Sommers (nonfiction) – The author, who calls herself an “equity feminist” chronicles how the feminist movement has been deflected from its original well-intentioned course and co-opted by women who simply hate men (gender feminists).  Sommers’ book The War on Boys is also very enlightening.
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (young children’s fantasy) – These classic children’s tales of the adventures of Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad can also be enjoyed by adults who are young at heart. Discerning grownups will see in Toad, the classic behavior of an addict.  The author’s father was, after all, an alcoholic.
  • Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss (beginner readers) – Some claim that the story of Yertle is really an allegory about Adolf Hitler.
  • Young Joan by Barbara Dana (children’s historical fiction) – After portraying St. Joan of Arc on stage, the author was moved to write this charming account of the saint’s early years in the French village of Domremy. This book is appropriate for girls from about age eleven on up, but it paints a lovely picture of St. Joan that any young-at-heart adult will relish.

 

 

Plays

  • Life with Father by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse—My ninth-grade English class read this play together. Each of us was assigned a part.  I took the part of the minister.
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare – Professor Elliot Engel has observed that this play teaches us never to trust the prophecies of witches. Amen to that!
  • A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt – This marvelous play depicts the death of St. Thomas More under King Henry VIII and the events leading up to it. More dies “His Majesty’s good servant, but God’s first.”  You will also want to see the 1988 film version of the play starring Charlton Heston and the 1966 movie starring Paul Scofield.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare – This is my favorite Shakespeare play, and here are my favorite lines: “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
  • The Miracle Worker by William Gibson – Helen Keller’s story reminds us that there is sometimes real value in “going through the motions.”
  • Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot—The temptation of Saint Thomas Becket as depicted by Eliot is both subtle and agonizing.
  • Now the Servant’s Name Was Malchus by Thornton Wilder—After you have read or seen this play, Holy Week will never be the same.
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw – Here is the inspiration for one of my favorite musicals, viz. My Fair Lady.
  • Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose—Jury duty is not to be taken lightly.

 

 

Poetry

  • Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God (Holy Sonnet XIV) by John Donne – I often find myself praying, “Dear Lord, save me from myself.” This is but a feeble whimper when compared to Donne’s passionate plea.
  • Before I Got My Eye Put Out by Emily Dickinson – There is real danger in the gift of eyesight.
  • The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus by Ogden Nash – Mrs. Lillian Hassler, my fifth-grade teacher, told our class that “Whenever you laugh at someone, you show your ignorance.” It is a perilous business to make fun of others, but even more dangerous is the wicked wit of Ogden Nash!
  • But Not with Wine by Jessica Powers – Philosopher Simone Weil wrote that “real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” American poet and Carmelite nun Jessica Powers provides collaborative testimony.
  • Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer – This poem’s meter and descriptive power are simply marvelous.
  • Cats Sleep Anywhere by Eleanor Farjeon – Princess Grace of Monaco took all of twenty seconds to recite this charming piece. You will fall in love with it in only half that time, especially if you are fond of cats.
  • Christmas by John Betjeman – Beautiful images of an English yuletide culminate in sudden Eucharistic wonder.
  • Citizen of the World by Joyce Kilmer – This is the author’s grateful tribute to Our Lord’s Eucharistic Presence in all the Tabernacles of the world.
  • Death, Be Not Proud (Sonnet X) by John Donne – The sonnet, I believe, is an eloquent extension of 1 Corinthians 15:55. Both the Apostle and the English cleric clearly take delight in poking fun at a defeated foe.
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri – Travel with Dante through the realms of hell, purgatory, and paradise. You will encounter many unforgettable images, e.g. a three-headed Satan, a seven-story mountain, and the Mystic Rose.  I have always wondered why each of the poem’s three major divisions ends with the word “stars.”
  • Holy Sonnets V (Batter my heart, three-personed God) by John Donne – The author puts into poetic language a prayer I often say: “God, save me from myself.”
  • The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson – The author vainly tries to flee from Christ, Who is depicted as a relentless mastiff. This poem is one every Catholic should know.
  • In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti—What is the best Christmas gift we can offer the infant Jesus? Rossetti has the answer.
  • Lead, Kindly Light by John Henry Newman—How horrible it would be if we could know our entire future! It is best to trust God for only one step at a time.
  • The Legend Beautiful by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—The lesson here is that charity and duty always trump mysticism.
  • Lepanto by G.K. Chesterton – This is a stirring account of what has rightly been called “the battle that saved the West.”
  • Limbo by Sister Mary Ada – Few people today give much thought to Our Lord’s descent into hell and limbo. After you have read this gem, Good Friday and Holy Saturday will never be the same.
  • The Odyssey of Homer –The Iliad is fine, but give me a good sea story with a happy ending. I love how the blind bard sings of “saffron-mantled Dawn” who “touched earth’s rim with fingertips of rose.”
  • The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear – Where else in literature will you find the word “runcible”?
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton – I revisit this poem from time to time just so I can re-appreciate the beauty of the English language. Milton’s ode to light at the beginning of Book III is particularly poignant.
  • A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Written after the tragic death of Longfellow’s wife, this poem expresses its author’s stubborn resolve to make a positive difference in the world despite all temptations to self-pity.
  • The Robe of Christ by Joyce Kilmer – Beauty is often deceptive.
  • The Sicilian’s Tale; King Robert of Sicily by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – In this wonderfully “Catholic” poem, a fictitious monarch learns a real lesson in humility.
  • The Song of Roland – This epic poem teaches a vita lesson: When we need help, we should never be too proud to ask for it.
  • Song to Be Sung by the Father of Infant Female Children by Ogden Nash – This humorous piece was one of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s favorites. You will like it too.
  • Tell All the Truth by Emily Dickinson – A good teacher always tailors the lesson to the pupil’s ability.
  • This Little Babe by Robert Southwell – Saint Robert Southwell (d. 1595) was a Jesuit priest who was drawn and quartered during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. His poem teaches us that there is nothing as strong as apparent weakness.
  • To a Snowflake by Francis Thompson – The author engages a snowflake in a whimsical conversation and learns something about the unfathomable mind of God.
  • ‘Twas the Night before Christmas or Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas by Major Henry Livingston Jr. (previously believed to be by Clement Clarke Moore) – Whenever I hear this poem, I can’t help visualizing the marionettes from the Bell Telephone Company’s television special The Spirit of Christmas.

 

 

Short Stories

  • The Artificial Nigger by Flannery O’Connor—Why did this Catholic author write such dark stories? She herself has given us the answer: “I have found, in short, from reading my own writing, that my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil.”  The Artificial Nigger is an obvious case in point.
  • The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne – People who are horrified by human imperfection make terrible spouses!
  • The Blast of the Book by G.K. Chesterton – Of all the Father Brown detective stories, this is my favorite.
  • The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain – This was the story that launched Twain’s career. If read aloud, the proper regional accent most definitely needs to be supplied.
  • The Dying Detective by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—This is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. The author gives his readers all the clues, and yet I was still caught off guard.
  • Gaston by William Saroyan—Children who have suffered the trauma of their parents’ divorce may find that this story really hits home.
  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry – As the old Exhortation before Marriage says, “We are willing to give in proportion as we love.”
  • The Hint of an Explanation by Graham Greene—The Evil One always tries to accomplish some nefarious work behind the scenes but must inevitably face the fact that only God existed before the theater was built! Satan attempts to use tools but cannot help being wielded by a mightier Hand.
  • The Lady or the Tiger by Frank Stockton – Saint Paul asks (Romans 11:34), “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” Yet who has known the mind of a woman?  Even Stockton’s sequel, The Discourager of Hesitancy, sheds no light.
  • A Letter to God (Una Carta a Dios) by Gregorio López y Fuentes – I read this story in high school Spanish class and am still laughing!
  • The Lottery by Shirley Jackson – Why is it that we never seem to protest injustice until it comes knocking on our door? Jackson’s piece, I think, shows us what the world would be like were it not for Christianity’s triumph over paganism.
  • Master and Man by Leo Tolstoy – Like Dickens’ Scrooge, Vasili learns a great spiritual truth: Real blessedness comes, not through greed, but through generosity.
  • The Open Window by Saki – Note the name the author gives to the little girl.
  • The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry – Two kidnappers get more than they bargained for.
  • A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury – I read this well-known science fiction story in high school, and its message has stayed with me ever since:  A seemingly insignificant action can have far-reaching consequences.