Here are the reading recommendations for Fall 2006 from the staff of Crisis Magazine.
Margaret Cabaniss, managing editor:
An Infinity of Little Hours: The Trial of Faith of Five Young Men in the Western World's Most Austere Monastic Order
By Nancy Klein Maguire
You wouldn't expect a book about contemplative monks to be a real page-turner, but Maguire's in-depth portrait of five Carthusian novices in the early 1960s, and the order they join, was impossible to put down. Carthusians have always been known for their severely ascetic lifestyle — one that has remained unchanged since the order's founding in 1084 — but little else. Maguire's astonishing book changes all that. Granted unprecedented access to the Parkminster Abbey in England, and drawing on years of correspondence with current and former monks, she brings to life the intimate details of the monks' daily lives and their struggles to find God — and themselves — in profound silence.
Clouds of Witness
By Dorothy Sayers
Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries probably need little introduction to Crisis readers, but they make a perfect addition to any late-summer reading list. Sayers once described her most popular creation, an aristocrat-turned-amateur detective in 1920s England, as part-Fred Astaire and part-Bertie Wooster, and the description is apt. In this second installment in the series, Wimsey's own siblings are suspects in his investigation — his brother is accused of murdering their sister's fiancé, and the sister herself seems to be hiding something, or someone. Great fun; an ideal read.
The Sword of Honour Trilogy
By Evelyn Waugh
Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy — comprising Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and The End of the Battle — has often been called one of the most important treatments of World War II. Written late in Waugh's career, the books center around the experiences of Guy Crouchback, a divorced 30-something Englishman and a member of a fallen Catholic family looking to do something meaningful with his life, who signs up for military service at the start of the war with grand illusions of brave service to his country. Instead, he is introduced to crushing boredom, mindless bureaucracy, pointless maneuvers, and chaos everywhere. The series follows Guy as he muddles through both hilarious and horrifying encounters, struggling to find nobility of purpose in a world that seems to be losing all sense of it.
Brian Saint-Paul, editor:
Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic
By Tom Holland
Well-written history will trump a novel any day of the week (at least in my book). Rubicon is a perfect example of why that is. The story — the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Empire — has everything a reader could want. Treachery, war, romance, heroism…it's all here. And it has the virtue of being true. If you could use a brush-up on ancient history, or if you just want to pick up a good book that you'll have trouble putting down, Rubicon is for you.
Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
By Matthew Scully
The subject of humanity's treatment of animals is generally dominated by the left. Enter conservative Matthew Scully. By turning the popular claim for “animal rights” on its head, he constructs a near-irrefutable argument for the care and protection of animals. His work takes you to specialized hunting clubs where animals are chained down to be shot, and to slaughter houses where livestock suffer in their own decay. In the end, you may think Scully has gone a bit far, but you will never see the issue the same way again. A very important, well-written book.
Mary McPherson, development assistant:
Wieland (or The Transformation)
By Charles Brockden Brown
An exciting and somewhat dark novel set in post-revolution Pennsylvania. Clara — witness to a bizarre series of family tragedies — narrates the story, one filled with mysterious voices, mistaken identities, and inexplicable murders and disappearances. A tremendous exploration of the function and dangers of both rationality and religion in the Enlightenment era.
Joan of Arc
By Mark Twain
Mark Twain valued this book above all his other works. He spent 12 years in Europe researching the woman who ended the Hundred Years' War by leading France to victory. A fictionalized biography, Twain does an amazing job of portraying the very human side of Joan and her companions as they set out on their mission for God.
Christina Snook, assistant editor:
Autobiography of a Face
By Lucy Grealy
In this poignant memoir, Lucy Grealy, diagnosed with cancer at the age of nine, undergoes painful therapy and disfiguring surgery that scars her physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She suffers silently as a child, but her initial courage turns to self-pity, which eventually leads her to reject the love and acceptance she yearned for. Lucy can never relive the carefree innocence of her youth, but through her example shows the harm of allowing what you look like to determine who you are.
Collected Stories of Willa Cather
By Willa Cather
A variety of Cather's best short stories, full of unique but recognizable characters and picturesque descriptions (both signatures of Cather's writing). My favorite short story is “Neighbor Rosicky,” a loving portrayal of an immigrant farmer on the Great Plains who lives a simple but meaningful life. Rosicky embodies the American dream, instilling in his children a respect for honest work and determination. Each story in this collection is memorable.
Agnes Bunagan, development associate:
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
By Nelson Mandela
This is a compelling autobiography by one of the great political heroes of our time. In exquisite prose, Mandela chronicles how a country boy went on to become the colossal force that brought down apartheid. He chose the life of a freedom fighter with no illusions that it would be an easy one. A gem.
The Ghost Soldiers
By Hampton Sides
A skillfully written non-fiction account of Filipinos and Americans carrying out the greatest rescue mission of World War II. Filipino guerillas and American Rangers raided a Japanese POW camp in the town of Cabanatuan in the Philippines at the tail-end of the war to rescue hundreds of POWs slated for execution. The story —all of it true —reads like an action novel. You will find this book very difficult to put down, so be warned.
By Raymond Arroyo
A child from a troubled family who suffers from an inexplicable ailment becomes the gutsy nun who built the “Cathedral in the Sky” — the Eternal Word Television Network. Just how that happens is the subject of this wonderful book by Raymond Arroyo. It's alternately touching, surprising and, at times, uproariously funny. An easy read that delights and inspires.
Elena Cardenas, office director:
The House of the Dead
By Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A fictionalized account of Dostoyevsky's incarceration in a Siberian prison camp on charges of political conspiracy. It's not really a page-turner — more a collection of anecdotes than an actual novel. Nevertheless, if you're a Dostoyevsky fan, this book is well worth the read.
By Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy recounts the surrender of the Chechen rebel Hadji Murad to the Russians, and what later came of it. Interestingly enough, Tolstoy was actually enlisted in the Russian army at the time and was witness to many of the events leading to Murad's surrender. While it is a brief 150 pages, the story compares well with his other work.
Zoe Romanowsky, development consultant:
The Omnivore's Dilemma
By Michael Pollan
What should we eat? And why should we care? In this shocking, interesting, and entertaining book, investigative journalist and best-selling author Michael Pollan seeks to answer these questions by exploring the contemporary food industry and culture. His inquiry takes him across the country as he discovers the ethical, social, and environmental impact of how we eat today. A compelling look at how our food choices dramatically affect our culture and a must-read for any food shopper.
The Sea Within: Waves and the Meaning of All Things
By Peter Kreeft
I suspect this brand new and lovely little book will be a surprise for many fans of philosopher Peter Kreeft. It's a kind of love letter — an ode to the sea, which has romanced Kreeft for years. His short reflections on why we love the water give form to an experience that's often difficult to articulate. Happily, he has a way of expressing the mysterious and profound without ever being trite or sentimental. This is a perfect gift; a treasure at the bedside of any sea lover.
By Ron Hansen
There's no way around it: Ron Hansen has a gift. His prose and way of telling a story are worthy of any reader's time. In this novel, Hansen delivers a murder mystery, cloaked in the real-life drama of broken relationships and familial love. The book takes you from Colorado to Mexico as a stoic but grieving father travels to bring his son home for burial. There are some surprising twists along the way, as Hansen weaves together a compelling and suspenseful story.