Katie Warner interviews Catholic readers and writers about their reading habits and asks for their book recommendations in various categories.
First, who are you?
Sam Guzman, Founder and Editor of the Catholic Gentleman. My day job is Product Marketer at Covenant Eyes.
When and how do you read?
I read most often in the evenings after the kids are in bed. It's really the only time I have to read and reflect! I almost always prefer physical books, but considering my bookcases are overflowing, I do buy Kindle books, especially if I want to read something quickly or I am on a trip.
Share a reading tip or hack that you’ve found helpful in your own reading life.
There are a lot of people who seem to prefer quantity over quality, attempting to read as many books as possible as quickly as possible. I tried to learn speed reading at one time, but the it struck me that reading more slowly and digesting what the author is saying can often be more helpful, especially in our distracted age where we scan and don't read with deep concentration very often. So I've come to embrace reading more slowly and recommend a slower, more meditative pace. Seek to read with concentration and understand and truly assimilate what the author is saying. If it's a book of substance and worth, it will be worth reading slowly and maybe even more than once.
Recommend one of your favorite books in the following categories and include a brief description of why you chose it:
A spiritual classic: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
Not only does it make a brilliant case for belief in orthodox faith, but the writing is electrifying. I remember being bowled over when I first read it. I had no idea who Chesterton was, but I quickly came to realize that he was a man who saw to the very roots of reality and exulted in what he saw, and yet who could communicate himself in delightful, even playful word pictures that leave you laughing and awestruck at the same time. It's an amazing book that I have reread many times and will continue to do so.
I also can't help but mention True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. It had a tremendous influence on me spiritually when I was first converting to the Catholic faith. St. Louis was an intense saint, and you can feel the fire and zeal of his words, and yet you can also sense his deep, childlike love of our blessed Mother in every page. I learned that Marian devotion is not optional for Catholics but strikes at the very heart of our faith and the life of grace.
Modern Catholic book: The Power of Silence by Cardinal Sarah.
Cardinal Sarah is a truly holy man of prayer who writes from experience, not just theories. In our noise-addled world, he calls us back to a prayer of interior silence in which we can find a real encounter with God. The way he describes is not easy since we modern people love to chatter, design programs and share opinions about everything, but a rediscovery and deepening of the interior life is absolutely necessary for the renewal of the Church.
Another contemporary book that comes to mind is A Song for Nagasaki. It's the story of Takashi Nagai, a Japanese convert who survived the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki (yes, there were survivors). A scientist and atheist, he was eventually consumed by a quest to find meaning in life. Through a series of amazing circumstances, he found the Catholic faith and converted. He served the suffering survivors of the atom bomb but ended up succumbing to radiation poisoning. For the rest of his life, he was debilitated, but he retired to a hut where he ended up writing and teaching and giving hope to the Japanese people who were crushed after the war. He eventually was venerated as a holy man and was visited by thousands who sought his counsel, including presidents and other people of power. It's a beautifully written book that reads like a novel, and Nagai's amazing witness of love amid the ruins of World War II is truly inspiring. You can't read it without being deeply moved . (I also must recommend the "sister" book by the same author, The Smile of a Ragpicker, which is equally powerful.)
Can I mention one more? The Gentle Traditionalist by Roger Buck is quite unlike any other book I've read. It's a fantastic Irish fairytale that combines humor and romance but that also has a serious point. It traces how the modern world came to be and shares aspects of philosophy, religion, and Catholic history that many Catholics don't even know about. It's a quick, fun read that will leave you thinking about and ultimately more in love with the Catholic faith.
Non-Catholic book: The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry
Berry isn't Catholic, but he has a deeply sacramental way of seeing the world. He’s helped me see that the world is a gift from God. As such, we must receive it with gratitude and treat it with love and care. Creation is not dead, inert matter for us to use and abuse as we like; nor are we really separate from or distinct from nature in any meaningful sense, though we often like to think so. As embodied souls, we are made from the dust and we live from the earth. Sadly, in the modern world we are alienated from creation. We have no sense of our dependence on it, and we see it in strictly utilitarian terms; we see only what we can take from it. Moreover, we no longer value things like physical work or the art of creative contentment within limits. Now, Berry is a farmer, and he writes as a farmer. We can't all be farmers, but we still must rediscover our connectedness to the rest of creation and regain our appreciation for the miracle that is the natural world. We must learn again the simple virtues of working for our daily bread, the joy of being together, and the fact that food doesn't come from a store. Berry helps us do all this and more with beautiful, poetic prose and deep wisdom.
One more is Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher. It's the best, most common sense book on economics that I've read.
An author you love: Chesterton.
He’s so popular it almost is cliché to mention him, but more than any other he's shaped my thinking and way of seeing the world. And we share the same birthday!
Stratford Caldecott is a contemporary Catholic author that I appreciate deeply, and his books are wonderfully rich and compelling. He is a master and showing the depth of the Catholic faith and in tying together many disparate threads and showing their inner connectedness.
An article or short-form piece: Various poetry.
When it comes to short form content, I think poetry is highly underrated. In our fast-paced world, we often lack the concentration or patience for poetry. We also assume it's "artsy" and inaccessible to average people. But that isn't true--for most of human history everyone shared poetry and read it or recited it, even common, uneducated people. If we give it time, poetry can lead us to a place of meditation and even prayer that prose can't always do. I recommend that everyone at least give poetry a try. Explore different styles and different poets old and new. You'll probably find you like at least some of it. There are many wonderful Catholic poets, and Gerard Manley Hopkins is always a delight to read. If you're feeling ambitious, Dante is one of the greatest poets who ever lived and his Divine Comedy is one of the most magnificent poems ever written. As far as non-Catholic poets, Wendell Berry, whom I mentioned earlier, has some wonderful poetry that is very accessible. I also love Mary Oliver's poems for their deep gratitude for and wonder at the created world.
Church document: Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi
Pope Benedict's encyclicals are magnificent. They are beautiful because they combine deep theological and spiritual insight with practical applications to economics and other aspects of modern life. And while they are quite deep, they are not overly intimidating to read.
Something for the kids: Prince Martin series by Brandon Hale and Jason Zimdars.
There are four books in the series now, and they combine virtue, adventure, sword fights, dragons, bad guys, and pretty much everything else little boys love. I highly recommend them.
Something you’ve written: My book, The Catholic Gentleman: Living Authentic Manhood Today is out now and available everywhere. I like to call it the official book of every Catholic man since I wrote it for every Catholic man, young or old! Get a copy and let me know what you think!
Summer listening (a podcast episode, talk, etc.): Pints with Aquinas or The Catholic Man Show. Both are fun listening and will leave you better and wiser!