Many people ask me for book recommendations. Here are several with short descriptions:
By Wendell Berry:
- Jayber Crow (book review here)
- Hannah Coulter
By C.S. Lewis:
- The Chronicles of Narnia: If you haven't read them before, I recommend reading them in the chronological order rather than the written order, therefore reading The Magician's Nephew first. I add that if you tried reading them as a child and found you did not like them, you really should try again as an adult. They are completely wonderful books. My personal favorites are The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle.
- The Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). This series is perhaps my all-time favorite (not least of all because the protagonist is a philologist!). I find CSL's exploration of the different effects of the fall (or lack thereof) to be worth taking to prayer in addition to being an enjoyable read.
- Till We Have Faces: It took me two reads to like this book, but something was there that made me read it the second time. The effect of this book is perhaps deeply personal and spiritual, although the story is good also. Lewis' retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche is fascinating.
- The Great Divorce: John Cavadini, one of my theology professors from the University of Notre Dame, once said that this was the greatest explanation of purgatory ever written. I tend to agree. A short novel that could be easily finished in an afternoon, The Great Divorce doubles as an examination of conscience and perhaps an aid in confession. Lewis, as always, knows how to get to the heart of the issue.
By J.R.R. Tolkien (It is worth noting to the reader who doesn't know me well that while Lewis is one of my favorite writers and has more books mentioned, Tolkien is the favorite and his books are the love of my life. I wrote my thesis on him and perhaps, one day, I will write a whole book.)
- The Silmarillion: If you never read this book, at least pick it up and read the first chapter. Tolkien's creation story is my very favorite of all creation myths. It is perhaps more Christian than the Christian creation myth-- and explains angels quite well.
- The Hobbit: What can I say that has not been said? A lovely story and a good introduction to his writing.
- The Lord of the Rings: Again, what can I say? You should read it. Please, do.
- The Iliad (and only cowards skip book 2)
- The Odyssey (be courageous: read the first five books as well as the rest)
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I wish someone had read this to me as a little girl. For the little girl (or boy) in all of us, give it a read. And, if you're a parent of a little girl, read it to them. So much wisdom and beauty to be learned (and a great deal of humility).
- The Georgics by Virgil: Known as the best poem by the best poet, the Georgics is filled with beauty. The Latin, if you are blessed to be able to read it, is very calming and lovely. With a good English translation (I would kill for a copy of my dear mentor, Karl Maurer's, translation), even the non-Latinists among us can fall in love.
- The Curdie books by George MacDonald-- George MacDonald was a childhood favorite of Lewis and Tolkien. Read these lovely little books and find out why.
- Jane Austen, I do love her.
- Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: You MUST read this book. And DO NOT watch the new movie-- it completely misses the point. It's all about Redemption and Resurrection. Beautiful. Just Beautiful.
Modern (but quite good) novels and series:
- The Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: This classic in the making is a great story about finding your voice and realizing the dignity within each of us. The story is set in Nigeria and tells about both the beauty and the dangers of Conservative Catholicism. I highly recommend this book to anyone who needs to be reminded of the miracle that they are.
- Harry Potter: Perhaps some will judge me for adding this here, but I think there is something to be said for a series that presents strong young characters who do not give into fear and choose what is right even when it is dangerous. I definitely believe that everyone should read this series, it is VERY easy to read (and not at all well-written, at least in the first three, but the characters make up for it). It is also extraordinary to see how Rowling grows as a writer. (Note: There is really nothing anti-Christian in this series, despite some comments made by the Church. Read it before judging it!)
- The Ethiopian Tattoo Shop by Edward Hays: This set of new parables in the style of Jesus' parables makes good reflection material. Filled with nice, short reads that make you think.
- The Flower in the Skull by Kathleen Alcala
- So Far From God by Ana Castillo
Non-Fiction, Memoirs, and Literary Criticism
- Borderlands/La Frontera and any other texts by Gloria Anzaldua: I recently read this book and fell in love. I feel like Anzaldua is speaking the words of my soul. Also, read her book Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Obscuro, it is the posthumous publication of her dissertation and is absolutely marvelous.
- Sharp Knives, Boiling Oil: My Year of Dangerous Cooking with Four-Year-Olds by Kim Foster: This book is written by a food blogger who, in spite of all common sense, decided to teach her daughter's preschool class how to cook. Many calamities ensued, but in the end it seems to have been quite a success. Her account is hilarious, yet inspiring. She also includes some of the recipes that sound the best. This book was recommended by Shauna Ahern, my favorite blogger. Definitely a good read.
- Gluten Free Girl by Shauna Ahern: This book was the first I read about gluten free life after finding out I was gluten intolerant/potentially celiac. Insightful and informational, this is a good read for anyone-- no matter what their nutritional needs might be.
My Guilty Pleasures:
- Article 5 by Kristen Simmons: This series was introduced to me by my best friend and I have come to enjoy it. It's not well written and is really a sappy love story, but it also belongs to the popular set of dystopian novels (The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.). I think it is a good reminder of how good intentions can have very bad consequences.