20 top Catholic writers answer the an age-old question. Can you guess which writers chose which books?
There are times in life when the world presents so many hard headlines, and so many complex issues, that it feels good to ask an easy question, and get an easy answer. Sometimes, though, even the easy questions become a little knotty, because multi-faceted human beings like to play with simple things. We asked an age-old question of a number of Catholic writers (and one monastic “jack-of-all-trades” who sometimes writes):
If you were stuck on a desert island, what book (besides the Bible) would you want to have with you, and why?
Below are their answers. And because humans do like to make things more complicated than they need to be, we’ve turned this into a quiz. See if you can determine which writer answered with what book—the brief bios besides their names may or may not be clues.
1) I’d take The Sign of Jonah by Thomas Merton. I’m not sure why I like it so much. Maybe it’s because it was written a few years after The Seven Storey Mountain, when some of his starry-eyed idealism about religious life has worn off. Maybe it’s because he’s so good at capturing the ups and downs of the spiritual life. Or maybe it’s because he’s such a great writer. In any event, it’s my favorite of all of his (many) books.
A) Peggy Noonan, author, The Time of Our Lives
B) Deacon Greg Kandra, Homilist
C) Fr. James Martin, SJ, author, The Abbey
2) Are you asking for desert island reading because it’s getting cold? I’d probably read something by Fr. Timothy Gallagher or Fr. Thomas Dubay, to coach me in discerning the spirits even if the sun gets to my head.
A) Kathryn Jean Lopez, author, How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice
B) Sheila Liaugminas, radio show host and author, Non-Negotiable: Essential Principles of a Just Society and Humane Culture
C) Lisa Hendey, author, The Secret of the Shamrock (Chime Travelers)
3) I guess How to Survive on a Desert Island would be a cliché answer? How about Athanasius’ Life of St. Antony the Great (would seem an appropriate resource; if I can’t be a desert father, I might as well be a desert-island father).
A) Father Steve Grunow, CEO, Word on Fire Ministries
B) John Thavis, author, The Vatican Prophecies: Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions, and Miracles in the Modern Age
C) Sr. Judith Miryam Boneski, OP, of soap making nuns, Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary
4) Contemplating this question seemingly as early as adolescence or teenage years, I first and always thought I’d want a pen and paper and lots of books. I think the Summa Theologica would be most valuable. For starters. But that implies I’d have a lot of time. Given the possibility of shortened time, I’d want Dr. Peter Kreeft’s Summa of the Summa, or A Shorter Summa if a shorter time. Augustine’s Confessions is a must. So is Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. And each of these because the time would best be spent striving to understand human and divine will, what I had done wrong and repent of it, and to know, love and serve God, and hopefully prepare for union with Him. If the provisions also allowed for Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man (given longer time there) or Orthodoxy (if shorter duration), that would be much appreciated.
A) Austen Ivereigh, author, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope
B) Sheila Liaugminas, radio show host and author, A Closer Look
D) Matthew Schmitz, deputy editor, First Things
5) I do feel a bit hesitant in revealing my choice since it is not a spiritual classic or theological tome but a collection of mysteries, none other than G. K. Chesterton’s The Complete Father Brown Stories. Through his humble priest detective, Chesterton offers insights into human nature, which are both theologically profound and homey. And, all this is presented in lush language, with rich cinematic descriptions, which draw one into the story. Behind the mystery to be solved, Fr. Brown is always conscious and respectful of the more important mystery of the human person in all his/her complexity. In fact, in one of the stories when he is pressed to share his “method of detection,” he calls his method of detection a “religious exercise.” Come to think of it, there have been times when my reading of the book feels exactly like that!
A) Mary DeTurris Poust, author, Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship
B) Bishop Christopher Coyne, Bishop of Burlington, Vermont
C) Sr. Judith Miryam Boneski, OP, Infirmarian, Summit Dominicans Monastery
6)The Brothers Karamazov is the one book I would have alongside the Bible, because it is the one book other than the Bible through which the breath of God most seems to blow.
A) Simcha Fisher, author, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning
B) Matthew Schmitz, First Things
C) Fr. Steve Grunow, Homilist
7) Easy—no question: The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson. It’s a swashbuckling Norse epic that is jam-packed with one great story after another. It’s the kind of book that reminds you what a joy it is to be alive.
A) Lisa Hendey, The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living
B) Jennifer Fulwiler, radio show host, SiriusXM
C) Fr. Stever Grunow, weight trainer.
8)Charlotte’s Web. It is about life and death, loyalty and hope, friendship and perseverance. And in its clear prose and careful precision, it stands as a model of simplicity and elegance. Its themes (and clarion style) continue to teach me even now, nearly 50 years after I first read it.
A) Deacon Greg Kandra, Blogger
B) Peggy Noonan, author, On Speaking Well: How to Give a Speech with Style, Substance, and Clarity
C) Sherry Weddell, author, Forming Intentional Disciples:The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus
9) Without a doubt it would be the official four-volume set of Butler’s Lives of the Saints. Even though this version of Rev. Alban’s original was written in 1956, it’s still one of my favorite go-to resources at the library when I’m researching saints. It contains more than 2,500 biographies of men and women who lived lives of great valor and faith. When you read the stories of the saints, it’s so easy to become caught up in the history, the richness of their experiences and also the sort of often very bizarre things that happened that surely the time on that island would pass quickly! I’d also receive plenty of insight for how to face the challenges I would encounter with trust and love.
A) Kathryn Jean Lopez, blogger
B) Calah Alexander, mother and blogger
C) Lisa Hendey, Catholic innovator and author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms
10) My first response (I’m sure I’m not the only one) is Chesterton’s very Chesterton-y answer, that he’d like A Guide to Practical Boat Building. But that would do me no good, because I can’t even put together a paper boat that floats. I vote for Norton’s Anthology of Poetry, which covers English language verse from medieval times to the present. I haven’t been able (or willing) to sit down and wallow around in poetry since I left college, but I sure miss it. If it’s good, true, or beautiful, it’s Catholic, so a broad collection of poetry would feed me spiritually as well as mentally and emotionally, and would remind me of everything I miss about humanity (and everything I don’t miss, too). Also, the pages are thin enough that I could use the Sylvia Plath section to roll cigarettes. There must be something to smoke on this island, right?
A) Mark Shea, author, Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did
B) Tod Worner, blogger
C) Simcha Fisher, blogger