Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
One of my favorite projects of each New Year is to review my bookstore wish list and decide what I want to read over the next 12 months. This year I wanted to make sure my list was better than ever, so I emailed a few of my blogging friends and asked:
If you could recommend just one book for people to read in 2012, what would it be?
Here were their answers:
It’s one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in years and it takes faith and grace very seriously. It’s the story of an aging pastor facing his own mortality and looking back at his life and worrying about his wife and child. I’ve read it three times. A gorgeous book.
Because Walker Percy is the man and perhaps the most undervalued Catholic writer of our time. Because everyone needs a little existential crisis. Because Catholics need to balance every book on a Saint with a book on wonderfully pathetic sinner. Because this book will make you laugh.
It’s not often I pick up a book knowing nothing about it but I picked this up on the recommendation of a friend. I didn’t know what to expect at all but was very pleasantly surprised, although it was a rather stark book, there was something haunting in its simplicity. I guess if I had to sum it up, I’d say it was a novel about second chances.
This is a book for people who enjoy literary novels about thought provoking subjects. Definitely not fluff. Written while Keilson, a Jewish author, was in hiding from the Third Reich during World War II, the book explores one young man’s myriad and complicated feelings toward his unnamed enemy, whom readers will recognize as Hitler. The novel is a quadruple layer cake of meaning, excellent writing, and historical information that will compel the favorable reader to delve into his own soul to examine his most deeply held convictions. A year later, I still can’t get it out of my mind, and that’s a good thing.
[I recommend] the timeless spiritual classic, Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. I turn and return to my underlined, dog-eared copy of this book (I recommend the John Beevers translation) on a regular basis. It’s especially helpful and encouraging when I need reminders to embrace or accept “the sacrament of the present moment.”
I wish more people would give The Brothers Karamazov by Doestoevsky a chance. It’s intimidating because it’s so long and it’s A Classic, but it’s surprisingly modern, and has everything you could wish for in a novel: unforgettable characters, crazy stories, laughter, blood, tears, sex, God, monks, prostitutes, puppies, etc. This book will change you for the better, if it doesn’t kill you first.
I believe this book is the best modern overview of the Catholic Church’s truth, beauty, and goodness I have ever read. More than just another book about Catholicism, Fr. Barron takes us on a journey through space and time, to visit the great thinkers, artists, writers, and Saints of the Catholic Church. He doesn’t just tell us about the Catholic Church, but helps us love her.
With stunning insight into the differing—though complementary—natures of men and women, Christ in the Home guides married couples in creating a home that has Christ at its center. He wisely recognizes that a healthy union between husband and wife is essential to achieving this and so focuses primarily on their union. It is entertainingly politically incorrect, chock-full of delightful anecdotes and wise advice, and a must-read for anyone seeking to infuse their home with the peace of the Holy Spirit.
A difficult question for a serious bibliophile, but this year I can easily point out Spiritual Theology by Fr. Jordan Aumann. O.P. This is an in-depth look at spiritual theology where Fr. Aumann combines the areas of aesthetic and mystical theology. it is also very accessible to people of all levels and can be used as a reference for the spiritual life.
Professor B. is a former atheist (now Catholic) and an expert on the natural law—i.e., the universal moral law that applies to everyone and that can be known through the light of human reason. If you’ve ever debated secularists or atheists and thought, “But she knows that isn’t right!” or “He can’t not know that!” then this book is for you. It rocked my little world and made a whole lotta things clear.
On the surface, it’s a good story. Underneath, a compelling challenge to each of us. One thing I find, as I have reflected on it since putting it down, is that it is so multi-layered that it could be different things to different people and even at different points.
This biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who played a part in the so-called Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler, reads like a novel and is expertly crafted. I also think Metaxas himself, one of the writers of the popular Veggie Tales series for children, is someone to know, which is why this work rises to the top of my list of recommendations. In addition, I’m one who sees the connection between the World War II Holocaust and abortion, and I think it behooves those of us in the pro-life arena to learn from a martyr who died for his belief in the dignity of every person…Metaxas’ work is transforming.
I would recommend Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week (and Jesus of Nazareth, Volume 1 if you haven’t read that yet). If you want to understand Benedict’s pontificate, you must view it Christologically: everything our Holy Father is doing is intended to bring the Church into a deeper encounter with Christ. But who is this Christ that Benedict wants us to encounter? Find out by reading his Jesus of Nazareth series.
Elizabeth Scalia on Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit by Paula Huston:
Paula is a Benedictine Oblate who has clearly internalized St. Benedict’s exhortations to balance and simplicity. Drawing on the gospels, the Desert Fathers and Mothers and more, she has put together what is is literally a 40-day guide to a life-less-complicated—one more focused on prayer, mercy and a fullness of joy through knowledge of Christ. It’s superb.
My recommendation is “epic,” as the kids say, because it’s an actual epic: Sigrid Unset’s Kristin Lavransdatter. It’s a poignant and thought-provoking examination of femininity, sexuality, and family—interwoven into the life of the main character, a Catholic noblewoman in medieval Norway.
It was most unexpected that a Catholic priest of the Benedictine Order and renowned physicist who wrote a little book about evolution would so emotionally move me (and I wasn’t even pregnant), but by the end of the 32 pages of this $3 booklet I not only had the fuzzy debate about science and religion aligned neatly in my mind, I also realized why science has limits and faith is absolutely necessary for real understanding of our place in the world. My coffee-stained copy stays by my computer because it is a powerful tool bag of one-liners for any thoughtful discussion, with a believer or a nonbeliever, about what evolutionary science really means to mankind—and, more importantly, what it doesn’t.
How can I do this book justice? It’s not just my favorite book from 2011; it’s simply the best book I’ve ever read on Catholicism. I can’t think of anyone more capable of writing it than Fr. Robert Barron. He’s brilliant and articulate, to be sure, but he’s also one of today’s most-cultured theologians…Barron uses his mastery of art and architecture, story and song, philosophy and theology to show that Catholicism isn’t just true and good—it’s also profoundly beautiful.
Matthew Warner on Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life by Archbishop Chaput:
In 2012, we’ll have one of the most important elections of our lifetime. An election where Americans must decide between two very different paths for our country and people. Catholics and our faith must play a role in that decision. As Archbishop Chaput says, “Christian faith is always personal but never private.”
If you’re looking for a good Catholic classic, you can’t go wrong with Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. Few saints have had as much of an influence on my spiritual life as The Little Flower, whose example of humility and abandonment shows us the strength that can be found when we embrace the limits of our human nature and place all our hope and trust in God who is “more tender than a Mother.”
My recommendation is Memorize the Faith by Dr. Kevin Vost. Everyone should read this book. Not only will you be able to memorize your favorite prayers in no time at all, but you’ll be able to apply these techniques to every area of life.
Now, as if my wish list isn’t already long enough, I want to hear from you: If you could only recommend one book for people to read this year, what would it be?