A couple times a year, the CRISIS magazine staff puts together a short list of reading suggestions. The books are not overtly religious or political, but are simply books the editors have recently read and enjoyed. Pack a bag for the beach and enjoy this summer reading selection.
Following is a short description of the book, written by the person recommending it.
Deal Hudson, publisher, recommends:
Hamlet's Dresser: A Memoir
by Bob Smith
Hamlet's Dresser is one of the most enjoyable and enthralling reading experiences of my life. Its dust-jacket description fails to do justice to the poignancy of this memoir that highlights the summer the author spent dressing the actors at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Connecticut. This book contains much — about family and friends, the theatre and the Bard — that will stay with you. I passed along the audiobook, read beautifully by the author, to my wife who finished the six cassettes in three short days. Hamlet's Dresser is special treat, for Smith especially illumines the challenge of growing up Catholic in the 1950s.
The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated by Lucia Graves
Trust me — this is the perfect book to take on vacation. So great is the enjoyment of it that the book seems to read itself. The story unfolds in the streets of post-war Barcelona, where ten-year-old Daniel discovers an unusual book in a forgotten library that instantly intrigues him. In the years of searching for the author, the boy Daniel meets a variety of characters that would have made Dickens proud — a roguish sidekick, a bloodthirsty detective, and a group of film-noir beauties that provoke Daniel into growing up more quickly than he should. Part fantasy, mystery, and thriller, it was impossible for me to put down. Note: There's some sexual content, so this is a recommendation for adults only.
*** Brian Saint-Paul, editor, recommends:
More than just a book about a famous fight, Mark Kram offers a haunting look at two ferocious warriors and the empty shells they have become. They went to Manila kings, Ali once said, and returned old men. Indeed, Ali and Frazier were never the same after this final confrontation. Kram has captured well the chaotic spirit of the mid-1970s — with all of its attendant tensions over politics and race. No boxing fan or devotee of the era should miss this beautifully written book.
By Nick Tosches
I don't particularly care for Jerry Lee Lewis, and I've never considered picking up anything that could be described as a “rock biography.” But with Nick Tosches, I made an exception. It was a good decision. If you've never read any of his biographies (The Devil and Sonny Liston, Dino, etc.), you're missing out on one of the most interesting non-fiction writers in America. Tosches has an astounding ability to convey place and time through his prose style. And in Hellfire, his writing has the earthy rhythm of the dusty, Pentecostal South from which his subject emerged. This is a dark tale, told very, very well.
*** Margaret Cabaniss, features editor, recommends:
Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington
by Daniel Mark Epstein
Civil War histories are in superabundance, but Epstein manages to bring little-known details to life by focusing on the lives of a literary-minded president (Lincoln) and a politically-minded writer (Whitman). While the two never met, Whitman felt a deep affinity for Lincoln, expressed in two of his most famous poems: “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd” and “O Captain, My Captain.” Anyone familiar with Washington, D.C., will be fascinated by Epstein's vivid description of the city during the height of the Civil War — in many ways, still much the same today. Along the way, Epstein offers some interesting new insights on these towering historical figures.
by Willa Cather
Probably Cather's most famous work, it's easy to see why it has endured. Cather is a master of detail and brings the 19th-century American frontier to life in a way in which few writers are capable. The story of Bohemian immigrant Antonia Shimerda and her family is told without sentimentality or cliché, and the impression left by the characters is greater because of it. It's a book you can share with the family — accessible to younger readers, but equally moving for adults. A classic.
*** Zoe Romanowsky, development director, recommends:
Pasquale's Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town
by Michael Rips
For a weekend at the beach, or simply to escape the ho-hum, here's a gem. Michael Rips, a fifth-generation Nebraskan turned sometimes New York City attorney, relates the tale of his hiatus to a small Etruscan village with his artist wife and child. Rips' search for meaning and wonder is woven into the story of his adjustment to Italian life. His charming, witty, and sometimes philosophical prose reveals a town full of quirky characters and ancient traditions.
*** Agnes Bunagan, development associate, recommends:
Characters of the Passion: Lessons on Faith and Trust
by Fulton J. Sheen
Fulton Sheen prepares the way for reflection as he draws on the lives of Peter, Herod, Pilate, Herodias, Claudia, and Judas — some of the main players in the Passion story. Through this cast of characters, Sheen challenges us to respond to Christ's example in the battle between the worldly and the divine. Life is a battle, he says, but one with a pledge of reward if we remain faithful. An easy read — no more than a hundred pages — this trim book contains words you will return to again and again.
The Making of Europe
by Christopher Dawson
Like a beautifully narrated and well-organized tour, Dawson recounts the complex interplay of myriad influences that has made Europe what it is today. This material traces the historical evolution and spiritual development of a group of distinct nations bound together by the rise and fall of empires, the emergence of Christianity and Islam, and the commingling of barbarism and classical tradition — all leading up to the establishment of a new order. A fascinating book that improves one's appreciation and understanding of the Old World.
*** Mary Hundt, development assistant, recommends:
Joan of Arc
by Mark Twain
Twain spent over a decade of his last years writing this historical novel on the life of Joan. Though scrupulously researched, it remains personal throughout the story of Joan's own powerful spirit and colorful friendships.
Weigel manages to condense in less than 250 pages a thoroughly honest and balanced review of all that transpired before and during the sex-abuse scandals. Likewise honest and balanced are his suggestions for reform.
*** Elena Cardenas, publishing assistant, recommends:
The Night of the Barbarians: Memoirs of the Communist Persecution of the Slovak Cardinal
by Jan Chryzostom Cardinal Korec, S.J.
Night of the Barbarians is an eyewitness account of the events which began the night of April 13, 1950 and ended December 8, 1968, when the totalitarian Czechoslovak state government shut down convents and monasteries and arrested religious leaders as “enemies of the state.” Cardinal Korec tells the story of his secret ordination to the priesthood, consecration as bishop, and his work in the underground Church, which would lead to his eventual arrest and imprisonment. The book not only describes events in the cardinal's life, but also provides a miniature history of the Slovak people. It's an excellent memoir of a true hero of the Faith.
How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life
by Peter Robinson
This book isn't just a biography of Reagan, but rather an engrossing story of how Peter Robinson, a Reagan speechwriter, was forever changed by his association with the president. The book, full of anecdotes, is both an enjoyable read and a nice primer on the simple life lessons that Reagan exemplified.
*** Trang Lam, graphic designer, recommends:
by Jack Higgins
Higgins is known for his fun page-turners, and Thunder Point certainly delivers. The story of IRA terrorist Sean Dillon takes an ironic twist when he's hired by England's Secret Service to track down missing Nazi documents that could have huge repercussions for the British government. An exciting, fast read that's perfect for vacation travel.
*** Ann Guppy, publishing associate, recommends:
The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce
by Judith Wallerstein, Sandra Blakeslee, and Julia M. Lewis
Wallerstein revisits a group of children 25 years after their parents divorce and compares them with children of the same age and background from intact families. Their personal stories are compelling, and the results of the study are disturbing. Wallerstein concludes that divorce is never better for the children, despite what experts have been telling us. Children from intact families — even those in difficult marriages — are always better off.
(This review courtesy of the CRISIS magazine.)