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Summer Reading for Sanity’s Sake

Summer Reading

CC Andy Beals Photography

John Zmirak - published on 07/15/13 - updated on 06/07/17

A list of books guaranteed to keep your mental gears in motion

In the past few weeks here I’ve addressed some of the grimmer issues facing believers today, including the likely onset of government-sponsored repression designed to goad us into “tolerance.” Tracking bleak current events and offering strategies of resistance has driven me to the brink of burnout, which tells me it’s time to step back and cool my engines, to apply to the fevered mind the healing oil pressed from other’s pens: time for a program of summer reading.

Even if you don’t have the summer off, there’s something about these months that invites a dive into print – long days that end in vast, amber sunsets; a slower pace of life; the fact that many clients and customers are simply “away” and blessedly unreachable; with any luck, your kids are off at camp. Or maybe you just feel you should have something to show for the season – some new insights, or consolations recalled, or acquaintance with some worthy author you’d never “met” before. To that end, let me make a few recommendations that span a wide array of topics, any one of which would make your summer more meaningful. Some of these authors are people I’ve known for years; one is a new discovery; in two cases I helped to edit the books, so I know them more intimately than most. But there are no losers on this list:

Faith:Catholicism, Pure and Simple, by Fr. Dwight Longenecker. This is a luminous book that tracks the main sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, aimed at the honest seeker of truth. With Chestertonian logic but a much less ornate style, it makes a frank and appealing case for the plausibility of Christian faith, showing how the silent yearnings of each human heart each find their answer in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s a fine book to remind you why you believe in the first place, and makes an excellent gift for a non-believer whom you treasure as a friend. When I read it, I wrote Fr. Longenecker and contrasted it with my own Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism – their tables of contents are almost identical. He replied: “My book is for pure and simple people. Yours is for corrupt and complicated people.” So if you need a stretch of simplicity and purity in your summer, pick his book up. You’ll often find yourself putting it down (to pause and pray).

Literature:The Virtues We Need Again, by Mitchell Kalpakgian. This book, which promises “21 life lessons from the Great Books of the West,” is a lively and perceptive attempt to revive values that have largely fallen away in everyday life – a heartbreaking phenomenon, since as the author shows, they are the very principles that make human interaction bearable, even joyful. The author is a longtime college literature professor, and so he uses the materials he knows: works like Macbeth, King Lear, The Æneid, Huckleberry Finn, the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the sermons of John Henry Newman – with a special emphasis on classic works for children. Chapters are titled by the virtues they’re meant to evoke, such as “Kindness,” “Hospitality,” and “Grace.”  It’s a fine book to share with high school or even college students, who are unlikely to be hearing about such qualities in most other places. 

Biography:The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, by Rod Dreher. This is a book I’m just picking up to read, but I’m already completely hooked by the author’s style and his premise. It’s the true story of conservative columnist Dreher and his quest for a more “connected,” rooted life in our frantic times. As a refugee from a small town in Louisiana that he experienced as stifling while growing up, Dreher looked for meaning and community amongst his fellow-pointy heads – commentators and pundits, NPR addicts, and would-be trendsetters – only to find the fulfillment he’d sought in the most unexpected place: in the life of his stay-at-home sister, Ruthie, who practiced her “little way” of family love and everyday kindness in their hometown. When Ruthie comes down with deadly cancer, Rod pulls up stakes and returns to spend her last months with her to find out that indeed, you can come home again.

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