Christmas Break Reading List

Whenever I’ve got a couple of weeks off from classes, I like to find a few things to read that take me away from the field of theology, since that’s what I’m reading during the school year. I typically pick up novels but I recently came across a great book of history. Here is the list of books that I have started to read. As always, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and will read some or all of the following:

1. “Postwar” by Tony Judt (Penguin 2005). Begun as a response to the events of 1989, this book chronicles events in Europe after 1945. Judt takes advantage of the newly opened archives in Eastern Europe and Russia to tell a version of history that more adequately accounts for where we find ourselves now. I’m a chapter into it and have already been blown away by some of his insights.

2. “Wanting” by Richard Flanagan (Atlantic Monthly Press 2008). This novel, set in mid-19th century England and Tasmania, is a fictionalized account of Charles Dickens involvement with the defense of Sir John Franklin (the explorer accused of cannibalizing his dying and dead crew after being trapped in the Arctic ice flows). The first few chapters alternate between Tasmania in the 1830’s and London in the 1850’s. The characterization of Dickens is fascinating.

3. “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes” by Angus Wilson (New York Review of Books 2005). This comic novel follows the failing career of an archaeologist in early-twentieth century England. I love comic novels set in academia, and so far this one is not disappointing.

4. “Beyond Black” by Hilary Mantel (Picador 2005) Mantel won this year’s Man Booker Prize for fiction with her novel “Wolf Hall.” I saw this book, “Beyond Black,” on the Staff Recommendation shelf at a bookstore in Cambridge, MA and couldn’t resist the staffer’s description. It promises to be “darkly comic.” I’ve only read page one.

5.  “In Hazard” by Richard Hughes (New York Review of Books 2005). Written in 1938 and reprinted in 2005 by the NYRB, “In Hazard” tells the story of a merchant ship caught in a hurricane off the eastern coast of the United States. I haven’t read a word of it, but look forward to it. The blurb on the back calls it “a small masterpiece of lyric terror.”

Feedback will be appreciated, especially if you include interesting books you’ve recently stumbled upon.

4 Responses to Christmas Break Reading List

  1. Qualis Rex says:

    Hello, Father Jeff. This is a very interesting pick, and I’ll see if I can get my hands on it. For me, the quintescential book on post-war Europe will always be “The Deliverance of Sister Cecilia”, which recounts the plight and flight of the church in then communist Slovakia through the accounts of Sister Cecilia. It was the epitome of the “frog in the pot” story; changes were made so subtly that the people were lulled into accepting them until there was no way to turn back. Unfortunately, as my saintly grandmother (buon’anima) pointed out to me years ago, the same tactics were also deployed on us in the West, which eventually led to the crisis in the church and civilization in which we find ourselves today.

  2. Dorothy Parker says:

    While “Stoner” by John Williams is not really a *comic* novel set in academia, it is one of the better books on academic life that I’ve ever read (better than Amis, better than Jarrell).

    As it’s published by NYRB Classics (as are two of your above recommendations), you’ve probably already read it — but I thought I’d pass it along anyway.

    • Jeff Johnson SJ says:

      Thanks for the comment. I have read “Stoner,” and it’s one of my favorites. I also enjoyed John Williams’ other books: “Augustus” and “Butcher’s Crossing.” Another great comic academic novel is “The Lecturer’s Tale” by James Hynes. It’s about a lowly assistant professor of English in a cut-throat department who discovers he has magical powers after a bicycle accident. The powers allow him to control other people. Needless to say, he rises quickly through the ranks of academia. It’s a hoot.

  3. Separate from your great comments, any suggestions
    for “our” over-information Age for time-allocation
    discernment due to too many books to read? (!)

    Maybe a new “service” or “mission” is needed
    precisely for this situation -or is it a predicament?-
    we’re in? A reading suggestion listing by both
    categories and areas of reader interest, or other
    demographic breakdowns? (Not to mention psychographic
    nor cognographic?!)

    Anyway, of interest to me remains first the Father
    of Existentialism, and today, the re-classified
    predecessor to Derrida:

    C. Steven Evans: “Kierkegaard on Faith and the Self”

    Then just a smattering of others as time allows me:
    1- James Houston: “Joyful Exiles: Life in Christ
    on the Dangerous Edge of Things”
    (Broad, richer reading of Christian heritage with
    several prophetic challenges to think counterculturally….by the founder of Regent College,
    following a noble career at Oxford. He would/could be
    considered one of the founding fathers of Evangelical
    “Tradition” in order to emulate our Catholic one.)

    2- Loise Cowen & Os Guiness:
    “Invitation to the Classics”
    3- Alister McGrath: “A Scientific Theology:
    Nature, Reality, Theory” (3 vols.)

    A trinity of books is all my brain, and time,
    can handle…lol! More Grace in our New Years!!!

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