My Reading Challenge Pick for…”a novel by a Catholic author”

I’m down to the last four categories of my 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge. How about you? I am continuing to share what I am reading for the challenge with you. This was a repeat author for me…and a beloved one!

Category: “a novel by a Catholic author”

My Pick: Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset

I fell in love with Norwegian and Nobel Prize-winning author Sigrid Undset last year when I read her epic Kristin Lavransdatter and, about the same time, her biography of my confirmation saint, Catherine of Siena.

Undset is a writer with a profound gift for communicating universal themes of the human experience. Kristin Lavransdatter (both the book and the masterfully-written heroine) still pervades my spiritual imagination; and Catherine of Siena set a new standard for biographies of saints. I’ve written about both books here and here, for last year’s Reading Challenge.

Gunnar’s Daughter, written 10 years before Kristin Lavransdatter and a fraction of its length, is a really quick read…really quick. In fact, it’s a real page-turner. If you have a rainy day and a comfy chair, you might rip right through it. I read it over a couple of days. Here’s the crazy thing though: when I finished, it felt like I had just read an epic! The story and the characters make you feel that way. Though it had none of the intricate layers and extensive plot lines of one of Undset’s 1,000-page novels, the character sketches were none the less thick, real, and lasting in your memory.

If you are sensitive about certain content, read a summary of the plot that doesn’t give the story away. Though rape and childhood death are elements in the story, they are not explicit. (She’s not that kind of writer.) Her characters are such real people — ones that could live during any point in history. I’m just impressed at how much of them she could give me in so few words.

Another interesting element of the novel is that it is set in eleventh century Norway and Iceland, about 300 years before Kristin Lavransdatter’s time period. This is Norway’s pre-Christian era. So you get a sense of how different the religious culture was from a few centuries later during Kristin’s era. In fact, famed king and saint Olav, referenced many times in Kristin, is a character in this novel. Good historic fiction is my favorite way to absorb the history of a time, place, and people.

If you haven’t read Sigrid Undset, this might be a great entry point.

 


What did you read for “a novel by a Catholic author”?

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

My Reading Challenge Pick for…”a book recommended by a priest or spiritual director”

Summer is speeding by! So is the time left to get through some picks for the 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge. I am continuing to share what I am reading for the challenge with you. Do you love conversion stories? Me too!

Category: “A book recommended by a priest or spiritual director”

My Pick: An Immoveable Feast: How I Gave Up Spirituality for a Life of Religious Abundance by Tyler Blanski

Our dear friend (and godfather to our son Sam), Fr. Matt, is often sending us books or records in the mail. I know, awesome, right? When this one arrived on our doorstep a couple of months, I was really excited. Not only had I heard good things about it already, but I also LOVE conversion stories of how people discovered God’s call to come into the Catholic Church. I can’t put them down once I start. This was the case with both Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home and Jennifer Fulwiler’s Something Other Than God.

Every conversion story is unique and quite shaped by the author’s own personal narrative and spiritual journey. What is particularly compelling about Blanski’s story is that he was in seminary to become an Anglican priest when he came into the Catholic Church. In fact, he was only a few months away from ordination when he finally conceded that Catholicism was the truth, and must therefore be his and his family’s home. It was not at all a convenient conclusion or easy decision. He and his wife were about to welcome their first child and in the process of planting an Anglican Church, for which they had been fundraising. They had major skin in the game. His livelihood was literally on the line. Obeying the Holy Spirit and walking out what he had come to realize was true meant surrendering the life he had planned to live.

But his account demonstrates how, despite the difficulties, he really had no other choice. He found himself at a critical crossroad, after living a type of faith that he ultimately found to be short of the fullness of the Gospel. As a millennial, growing up in a baptist church and youth group, he had an emotive early faith experience that developed into a fairly consumeristic, personal spirituality. As he describes it, he had Jesus — he didn’t think he needed religion or the church to facilitate that relationship. He was actually drawn mostly to the aesthetic of Anglicanism originally, finding it comfortable to take the tradition and liturgy and still rely mostly on his own personal interpretations of all but the most basic theological tenets. He puts it this way:

“Growing up, I thought the good news was that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus–without religion. I wanted the King but not the Kingdom, the head but not the body, the vine but not the branches, a culture but not the cult. But like the Incarnation of Christ himself, the Church is a historic fact. She is the social continuity of the Incarnation” (p. 262).

This is a conversion story with a lot of theological meat on it’s bones, as Blanski shares Scripture passages and insights from  his personal study to illustrate the progression of his spiritual journey. I think that he also gives an poignantly accurate description of the spiritual experience common to most millennials in general, and those who were raised in the Evangelical tradition in particular. From that perspective, the book contributes to the greater body literature on a particular religious landscape.

Why do I love reading these conversion stories? They super-charge my faith in the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. It’s a shot in the spiritual arm. It is so easy for us to forget that God speaks to everyone. We tend to want to be His voice or take control — whether it be with a family member, a friend, or our children. But the Father calls to us all; he is radically chasing after each one of us. In every story like this, that is what comes through (in such beautifully unique ways) — He’s chasing after each one of us with his merciful, endless love.


What did you read for “a book recommended by a priest or spiritual director”?

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

My Reading Challenge Pick for… “A book by a non-American Catholic author”

I hope your summer reading life is off to a great start! And I hope it includes some picks from the 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge? I am continuing to share what I am reading for the challenge with you. Do you love the witty writing and memorable phrases of Chesterton? Do you love mystery stories? Read on!

Category: “A book by a non-American Catholic author”

My Pick: Father Brown: The Essential Tales by G. K. Chesterton

Who doesn’t love G. K. Chesterton?? He is certainly one of the most quotable modern Catholic writers, and his most well-know book is probably his classic apologetic work Orthodoxy. But I would say that fewer people are as familiar with his non-fiction, particularly his Father Brown short stories. I was in this boat until recently, and I’m so happy to now be acquainted with them. Chesterton wrote many, many Fr. Brown stories with various repeating characters. To my knowledge, though many volumes claim to be the “complete Fr. Brown stories,” there is actually not a book in print currently that contains every last published one. (Feel free to fact-check me, readers!)

I chose the particular collection linked to above because of it’s claim to have the most “essential” ones, and I did find that the order of the stories helped provided back stories on the reoccurring characters. I’m sure there are other great collections out there; so please do share in the comments if you have found one that you love and would recommend. The Fr. Brown series debuted in 1911 with The Innocence of Father Brown (In the public domain and free on Kindle). I think the order in which you read the stories is important, because Fr. Brown — the British sleuthing priest — has a significant history with some of the reoccurring characters.

These stories are a great length to read leisurely, one at a sitting. You will find yourself entertained by the mysterious plot, humored by Chesterton’s wit infused in the character of Fr. Brown, and uplifted by various aphorisms that are woven nicely here and there. These are stories that simply bring delight to a reader by offering so many literary treasures at once. Continue reading “My Reading Challenge Pick for… “A book by a non-American Catholic author””