Around this time I am trying to decide which books I have read during the year that still reverberate in my memory in a special way. It is always hard to choose between so many fine publications, but here goes:
The 21: A Journey in the Land of Coptic Martyrs by Martin Mosebach (Plough Publishing). This extraordinary story of the 21 Egyptian Coptic labourers, beheaded on a Libyan beach by ISIS terrorists on 15 February 2015, deserves reading and rereading. In it we enter the world of the early Christian Church when martyrdom is a joyful event, Heaven is palpably present and religious faith is deeply embedded within ordinary life.
The Missionary of Wall Street. By Stephen Auth (Sophia Institute Press). A book that reminds lay Catholics that we are all meant to evangelise according to our circumstances. Auth, a Wall Street financier for many years, shows how this can be done in the heart of New York’s business sector – and how passers-by often long for someone to tell them about the real meaning of life and eternal salvation, behind the demands of daily life.
Before and After. By Alison Wilson (Constable). This very moving true story was made into a successful TV series. Wilson’s autobiography describes her marriage to a (multiple) bigamist, her conversion and the divine graces she received when she entered the Church; probably the most unusual personal book I read all year.
Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century. By Alexandra Popoff (Yale University Press). Thanks to the heroic translating endeavours of Robert Chandler and his wife Elizabeth, most of Grossman’s writings are now available in English. Popoff’s biography describes the life of the great 20TH century Russian writer who wrote Stalingrad and Life and Fate, as well as short stories, essays and a graphic account of the Russian liberation of Treblinka death camp. Grossman’s literary reputation continues to grow, thanks to recent BBC radio adaptations.
50 Books for Life. By Roy Peachey (Angelico Press/Second Spring). In this short book Peachey achieves with greater erudition and elegance what I am trying to do here: viz. point readers in the direction of literature that should have a permanent place on their bookshelves. What is stimulating about his list is that it is not at all predictable and includes writers outside the mainstream, such as Wu Li, von Grimmelhausen, Snorri Sturluson and St Ephrem the Syrian.
Annunciation: A Call to Faith in a Broken World. By Sally Read (Ignatius Press). Convert and poet Sally Read has written a readable yet reflective account of helping her young daughter, Flo, to understand and grow in her faith. All Catholic parents in this situation should read it for its honesty as well as Read’s original approach, interweaving her own youthful experience into her story as a way of making sense of it to herself and to her daughter.
Elizabeth Jennings: The Inward War. By Dana Greene (OUP). Although not a Catholic herself, Greene has written a sympathetic and scholarly study of this formidable and eccentric poet, consumed by religious faith, loneliness and devotion to her gift to produce poems of lasting worth and beauty. It is a necessary introduction to all those drawn to Jennings’ austere and exacting voice.
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