"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, April 10, 2016

2016 Reads, Update #1

We are now passed our first quarter of the year and I’m roughly on track having completed three books, four short stories, and started a couple of others and made progress in books that are long term projects.  

You can view my reading plans for 2016 here.  

Of the books read, the one novel was the excellent To Kill a Mockingbird by the recently deceased Harper Lee.  I know there are people who disparage this work—it doesn’t have a broad scope and it does rely on some stereotypical characterizations.  Well, Jane Austen never had a broad scope; perhaps women in general don’t write with a broad vision.  That doesn’t make them any less artistic.  As to the stereotypical characterizations such as the southern white trash, the sexually repressed woman, and sexually vibrant black man, they ring true in the novel.  Perhaps they have become overused for a reason.  I came away from To Kill a Mockingbird as having read a great American novel.  I provided one post on it and hopefully I’ll have a second in the near future.

The other two books were Lenten reads.  The first is the classic work on devotion and meditation, St. Teresa of Avila’s, Interior Castle.  This was a more difficult read than I anticipated.  Interior Castle was a late work by the saint and doctor of the church, and so there were a number of references to previous writings she had published which it assumed the reader had read.  It’s probably not the ideal work of hers to read first.  Nonetheless there is great wisdom in it and some beautiful passages.  This was a work that had been selected and discussed in my Goodreads Catholic Thoughts Book Club.  I’ve been posting on the blog my comments from the book club discussion, and you can read Part 1 and Part 2 I anticipate a few more posted parts since I contributed quite a bit in the discussion.

The other Lenten read was Peter Kreeft’s Prayer for Beginners.  Someone in the Amazon Reviews for this book stated that the book was incorrectly titled.  It should have been titled Why We Pray instead of the implied How We Pray.  That strikes me as half correct.  Peter Kreeft is a philosopher, and this book spends about the half its length toward the reasons for prayer and half on building a prayer life.  Nonetheless, there were many insightful thoughts throughout the book and well worth a read.  If I may summarize the book, since I don’t intend to post on it, the overarching purpose of prayer is to reach a point where one experiences the immediate and constant presence of God. 

The four short stories were all interesting.  I posted an analysis of Wharton’s “A Cup of Cold Water”   and Tolstoy’s “Master and Man” is a true classic.  I intend to post an analysis of that as well.  Tobias Wolff is one of the leading living American short story writers, and I had never read one before.  “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs” is an admirably well written story about college professors and needing to be politically correct.  It was an early story of Wolff’s, so I may try another from his collection, Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories.  The “Saint Dymphna” story is by Mary O’Connell, a writer I had never heard of before, but I bought her collection Living with Saints based on its premise.  Each story has in some way a connection to a female saint.  This story deals with Dymphna Malone, Catholic high schooler, who struggles with a decision to have an abortion, has the abortion, and is revealed to her entire school to her great shame.  Her shame is supposed to endow her with a sort of martyrdom, in line with that of her namesake, which, in my opinion, falls flat given the death of the unborn child who really was martyred.

I’ve already added an extra work that I didn't plan.  The Catholic Thoughts Book Club has selected what strikes me as an obscure book by a Benedictine abbot, Dom Jean-Charles Nault, The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times.  The book description says, “The noonday devil is the demon of acedia, the vice also known as sloth. The word “sloth”, however, can be misleading, for acedia is not laziness; in fact it can manifest as busyness or activism. Rather, acedia is a gloomy combination of weariness, sadness, and a lack of purposefulness. It robs a person of his capacity for joy and leaves him feeling empty, or void of meaning.”  That weariness and lack of purpose is “the unnamed evil of our times” sounds fascinating and perhaps insightful.  If you’re interested in reading along with us, come join the Bookreads Catholic Thoughts Book Club.  

I’ve also started one of my poetry reads for the year, a book on the famous poets of World War I, Max Egremount’s Some Desperate Glory.  This book combines the historical background, the poet’s biography, and a sampling of their poems. 

Upcoming reading plans includes the German novel Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, the novella White Fang by Jack London, and “Marius,” the third part of Victor Hugo’s classic work which I’ve been reading one volume at a time.  I’ll be reading the middle 50 psalms for my Biblical read, both in the KJV and a modern translations.  I’ll also be reading the next few Hemingway short stories as I continue my sequential read through them, four or five per year.  Last year I started the same type of sequential read through Vladimir Nabakov’s short stories, and I’ll be reading a few of them.  And then I’ll just randomly pick other stories as occasion and impulse dictate. 


“Master and Man,” a short story by Leo Tolstoy.
Interior Castle, a non-fiction book on spirituality by St. Theresa of Avila.
“A Cup of Cold Water,” a short story by Edith Wharton.
“In the Garden of the North American Martyrs,” a short story by Tobias Wolff.
To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel by Harper Lee.
Prayer for Beginners, a non-fiction book of devotion by Peter Kreeft.
“Saint Dymphna,” a short story by Mary O’Connell.

Currently Reading:

Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
The Book of Psalms, a book of the Old Testament, KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, a non-fiction book on writing by Virginia Tufte.
“A House of Gentlefolks,” a short story by Evelyn
The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times, a non-fiction book on Acedia by Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B.
Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew, a book of history and collected poetry by Max Egremont.

Upcoming Plans:

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, a novel by Thomas Mann.
White Fang, a novella by Jack London.
 “Gods,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
“Wingstroke,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
“After the Storm,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Light of the World,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Marius,” Volume III of Les Misérables, a novel by Victor Hugo.

If there is anything in this list you particularly want me to write a post on, please ask, and I’ll see if I can accommodate.  


  1. Amazing ... how much you read. Where do you find the time? I haven't even read the books which I wrote.

    God bless.

  2. Bathroom, in bed, lunchtime at work, when everyone else is asleep, when I travel for work. You'd be amazed how much one can read if one could find an hour a day. I'm not even a fast reader. I have to admit, ever since my son came around, it's a little harder to find the time. Thank you as always.