Summer Reading Series: Scott Powell

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?

Dr. Scott Powell, Director of the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought at the University of Colorado, Boulder (, and Co-Founder of Camp Wojtyla (


When and how do you read? 

Since a good amount of my professional life involves reading (academic journals, books for class preparation, etc.), I try to read some sort of fiction for at least for a few minutes before I go to bed at night. It helps keep me sane, and it's better for my brain than Netflix! I also really enjoy a good-old, genuine, physical book. I love the idea of e-books, but I’m much more comfortable holding a real-deal book in my hands. 


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

A spiritual classicThe Bible

One of my goals in life is trying to make Catholics fall in love with the Bible—something many of us cradle Catholics have historically had a bit of a strained relationship with! That said, I feel like so much of my time is spent reading books ABOUT the Bible, rather than actually reading the Bible itself. Every time I do though, I end up getting far more/deeper/more profound insights out of the actual text than any commentary. I fall back in love with Scripture every time I spend time there. 


Modern Catholic bookIsland of the World by Michael O’Brien

One of my favorite Catholic authors is the great Michael O’Brien. Not long ago, he wrote what I consider his masterpiece, “Island of the World,” which follows the life of a young boy dealing with the horrors of life in Eastern Europe post-World War II. The book traces almost his entire life (including more suffering than I think I’ve ever seen in a book—along with some amazing plot-twists) into the present-day. This is not a book for the faint of heart, but I think it captures the value of suffering and the ethos of Catholicism better than almost any other book I’ve read.  


Non-Catholic book: The Fragrance of God by Vigen Guroian.

One of my absolute favorite non-Catholic books is by an Armenian Orthodox professor/gardener named Vigen Guroian. His short little series of essays, “The Fragrance of God” which talks about the connections between theology and gardening is a constant go-to for me when I need a little beauty or inspiration in my day. 


An article or short-form piece: “The Best Year of Our Lives” by Ross Douthat

I recently read a fascinating piece in the New York Times, by the insightful Catholic commentator, Ross Douthat explaining why folks (like me) who came of age in the late 90s actually came of age in one of the greatest times in recent history. Everybody thinks their generation is the best, but this proves that mine actually is! :) Interesting social commentary and a fun trip down memory lane.


Church document: Laudato Si by Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si—which focused its attention on the care of the natural world, was greeted by mixed reactions when it was released. Some tried to pigeonhole the pope’s words to fit a political agenda, while others more or less wrote it off. Neither side really got the point. Although it’s a long document, and although the Pope posits some environmental opinions that some may disagree with, the document was ultimately about holiness, and the need for holiness to permeate every part of our personal and public lives. Seen in that light, the call for greater attention to how Catholics interact with ourselves, with others, and even with the world of nature, seems to be something that everyone can agree on. 


Something for the kids: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

For years, we have spent our summers and family vacations reading C.S. Lewis’ classic "Chronicles of Narnia" series out loud to our kids. Even though my wife and I have heard/read them many times, they never get old, and the kids are always enamored with these timeless adventures. We often even read the books to our college-aged staff at Camp Wojtyla! 


Something you’ve written or are currently writing: A revised version of my doctoral dissertation, entitled, “An Environmental Ethic for the End of the World; An Ecological Midrash on Romans 8:19-22" is being published by Cambridge Scholars Press later this summer. In it, I try to explore the connections between the writings of St. Paul, the world of nature, and its place in Jewish expectations about the Messianic age, and the end of the world. In other words, according to the Catholic tradition, does the material world itself have a role to play in the saving work of Jesus? (Spoiler alert: it does!)


Summer listening (a podcast episode, talk, etc.): “The Word on the Hill” with the Lanky Guys.

Every week, my good friend (and boss!) Fr. Peter Mussett and I explore the four biblical readings for the upcoming Sunday liturgy in an attempt to find the common thread that ties them all together, and what it has to do with our lives. In our 45-ish minute podcast, The Word on the Hill with the Lanky Guys, we’re a little bit goofy, make a few too many 80s references, make fun of each other a lot, but usually find a way to blow one another’s minds with the spiritual and biblical connections embedded in each Sunday Mass. ( or (