Summer Reading Series: Patrick Callahan

Get ready to add these books to your own to-read list!

(photo: Register Files)

Katie Warner interviews Catholic readers and writers about their reading habits and asks for their book recommendations in various categories.


First, who are you?

Patrick Callahan, director of the Humanitas Institute and director of formation at the Didde Catholic Campus Center at Emporia State University


When and how do you read? 

While I appreciate the ability of an e-book to access some free great literature, I prefer the sacramental nature of the physical book. I do my uninterrupted reading before the kids wake up or after they have gone to bed. In my work, I read a lot, but this is more mercenary. I do break up the day by having either spiritual books or nonfiction to read over lunch, between meetings, or just walking to the office. I frequently use receipts for bookmarks and unless the book is particularly precious, I am merciless with colored pencils to mark up books for future use in scholarship or for later reference.


Share a reading tip or hack that you’ve found helpful in your own reading life.

As a Classicist and scholar in the history of book production and scholarship, I am very conscious of reading as being a medium to contain the spoken word. While Evelyn Waugh jokes in Brideshead Revisited about reading aloud as an American fad, it can be argued that in the history of the written word the majority of readers were in the habit of reading aloud. Whenever I am going through particularly dense prose or reading anything exceptionally beautiful (Shakespeare, Keats, Auden), I read aloud. I find a lot of Catholics often cite St. Augustine's episode in the Confessions of discovering St. Ambrose as the first instance of silent reading, but even earlier instances are attested. And they have co-existed for centuries, though the impossibility of oral reading in today's classroom structure has precluded it from our lived experience. It's not an either/or proposition. Silent reading is a like an electric drill, excellent for all-purpose work. Reading aloud like a screwdriver, necessary for precision work and detail.


Recommend one of your favorite books in the following categories and include a brief description of why you chose it:

A spiritual classicThe Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena.

If you had caught me a few years earlier it would have been St. Josemaría Escrivá’s The Way or St. Thérèse of Lisieux, but a couple of years ago I read The Dialogue as part of a Fides et Ratio seminar up at Thomas More College. It struck me as the zenith in a long and beautiful tradition of female spirituality in the Church. Its absence as a living tradition in the Church today, I believe, is a great tragedy and something I hope we can recover.


Modern Catholic bookIn Soft Garments by Msgr. Ronald Knox.

We named our newborn after Msgr. Knox. His spiritual insights are remarkably similar to the soon-to-be-canonized Cardinal Newman, and his prose is much more accessible to a 21st century reader. The chapters of this book originally started as talks given to students at Oxford where he was Catholic chaplain (1926-1938). As someone who works with university students, his approach to apologetics I find to be far superior to much on the market today.


Non-Catholic book: Jayber Crowe by Wendell Berry.

As a Catholic Xennial (born too late to be Gen-X and too early to be Millennial), I find this book to speak to so many of the issues and concerns of my generation. We are concerned about technology and yet have been born after certain decisions about its use have taken place. We long for community and a sense of place but live in an economic order that thrives on mobility.


An author you love: Sigrid Undset.

I find a lot of Catholics have been talking on Twitter recently about the need to read Kristin Lavrandatter, her epic 3-book masterpiece, which could occupy your whole summer reading, but she also has an excellent biography of Catherine of Siena and Undset's Ida Elisabeth is, for me, one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking novels of the 20th century.


An article or short-form piece: Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power by Josef Pieper.

While everyone today seems to be quite familiar with Pieper's Leisure: the Basis of Culture, I find this work equally prescient and timely. In an age of fake news, we would do well to consider Pieper's thoughts on the relationship between words and truth. And, to be frank, the Church is not immune to the siren song of sophists who, as Pieper observes, by setting their words against the Truth who is the Word can be a kind of Anti-Christ.


Church document: The Code of Canon Law.

I know that sounds super nerdy. And where would you even find it? Well, the 1983 Code of Canon Law is free online, though I first found my copy, a dual Latin-English text, in a used bookstore. Obviously, one shouldn't fall into the sin of scrupulosity through familiarity with the codes, but I have found that the codes often reveal how merciful and loving the Church is.


Something for the kids: Mr. Mehan's Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals.

This came out just last year. The illustrations are entrancing and Matt Mehan's poetry is something worth supporting. I hope it is part of what it itself advocates in its poetry: a renaissance of Christian humanism.


Something you’ve written or are currently writing: I am currently working on an edition and translation of André de Freux, S.J.'s Epigrammata ad Haereticos (Epigrams against the Heretics) a collection of over 250 Latin poems composed in the 1540s against various Reformers. Hopefully, we'll see it accepted and typeset in the coming year.


Summer listening (a podcast episode, talk, etc.): Anything by Neil Gaiman, read by the author. Your local library likely has a free audio application (e.g., Libby, Hoopla, etc.) where you can check out countless books and I bet one of Gaiman's many titles is available there.