After years of waiting and wishing for someone to start a book club near me, I decided, sometime last summer, that the task was mine. So I sent an email, inviting a few friends to join me for a discussion of one of my favorite novels, Mr. Blue.
It’s evolved into a few more ladies, and as it turns out, we’re all Catholic (not a prerequisite for joining) and we all love novels (definitely a plus, since I insist that we read fiction).
We take turns picking books, and I’ve had a chance to read some novels that I would have never discovered on my own. I thought I’d share a few of my recent favorites here.
Manalive, by G.K. Chesterton
I keep thinking I need to read more Chesterton, and especially his fiction. And then I read a book like this and I think, “I’m not smart enough to read Chesterton.” The premise behind this book is one that seems normal, and maybe even dull, on the surface. Carried out through the novel, though, it was for me first confusing and then intriguing.
What if we didn’t live as though we were happy? What if we were really happy? What if every day was new and the joy in life was not in finding the new but in appreciating the mundane as though it were new and novel and wonderful?
Here’s one of my favorite passages:
‘I think God has given us the love of special places, of a hearth and of a native land, for a good reason.’
`I dare say,’ I said. `What reason?’
`Because otherwise,’ he said, pointing his pole out at the sky and the abyss, `we might worship that.’
`What do you mean?’ I demanded.
`Eternity,’ he said in his harsh voice, `the largest of the idols— the mightiest of the rivals of God.’
`You mean pantheism and infinity and all that,’ I suggested.
`I mean,’ he said with increasing vehemence, `that if there be a house for me in heaven it will either have a green lamp-post and a hedge, or something quite as positive and personal as a green lamp-post and a hedge. I mean that God bade me love one spot and serve it, and do all things however wild in praise of it, so that this one spot might be a witness against all the infinities and the sophistries, that Paradise is somewhere and not anywhere, is something and not anything. And I would not be so very much surprised if the house in heaven had a real green lamp-post after all.’
Our conversation was interesting, in part because I hadn’t yet finished the book. I had figured out one key part (I was 90%ish done when we met) and told them, straight up, to lay the whole ending out for me.
The thing I loved most about this book was that it could be read just for entertainment, but the enjoyment didn’t stop there. It wasn’t easy reading, necessarily, but it wasn’t imposing, either. I liked it. A lot. And, however unsmart I may be, I will keep trundling through Chesterton here and there. It’s worth it for the delight factor.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
This book was wonderful, though in a “tough topics all around” sort of way. It’s set in Nazi Germany and has the most unexpected point-of-view: Death. Yes, the narrator is Death himself. But that makes it all the more interesting.
It’s billed as YA, I believe, and I wouldn’t mind sharing it with the YA readers in my life. There’s humor in it that still makes me chuckle.
One of the ways Zusak uses Death’s perspective is in making the normal people in Nazi Germany real. We get a glimpse at how harrowing that time was for the ordinary folks and maybe we get a history lesson with a different set of pains and aches. It gave me an appreciation for just how terrible that time really was, and not just for the Jews (though certainly for the Jews!).
The main character is quite a gem, too, and her love of books and reading is something I relate with all too well. The ending is unexpected and quite smile-worthy.
The Covenant (Abram’s Daughters #1), by Beverly Lewis
Here we have my introduction to the Amish romance genre, which, from what I hear, is highly addictive. I found it…well, sort of intriguing but also tiresome. There are like 1000 books after this one, and I just wanted to know what happened. It was well-done and an okay read, though I probably won’t be reading others. If you like romance-ish reading, this has romance without the sundry and such. And it’s NOT bad reading, don’t get me wrong: it’s just not the genre I usually pick. That said, this is part of the value of having a book club with everyone taking turns picking titles!
The Maid: A Novel of Joan of Arc, by Kimberly Cutter
This book was bloody and gruesome and quite awesome. When I was about halfway through, I had this moment of, “You know, the saints must have been really weird and seeming wack-jobs to at least some of the people around them.” I enjoyed it, though I don’t know how much accuracy there is in it (it’s fiction, after all, though in the end comments, the author cited a lot of research she did).
I developed a definite devotion to Joan of Arc as a result of this novel, though. What a hero! What courage! What…audacity!
I wouldn’t recommend this book for young people; it’s definitely adult. All in all, I liked it.
The Secret Cardinal (Nolan Kilkenny Mystery #5), by Tom Grace
This is like Tom Clancy meets Catholic…how have I never read Tom Grace before? The pope dies and the conclave is just kicking off. In the midst of that, the Vatican has a secret rescue underway for an imprisoned cardinal (who no one else knows is a cardinal) in China.
It has suspense and catechesis, good dialogue and nice humor, page-turning plot and tear-jerking reality. I think this was written at about the time John Paul II died, so it was timely…and as we hover on the brink of a new papacy right now, it’s also timely.
As I read it, I couldn’t help but smile a bit at how much technology has changed in under a decade. There was email, but there was not texting or instant anything. The internet was dial-up based (unless you were CIA or something) and not anything like it is now. When they talk of sniffing out the cardinals’ rooms, I had to laugh.
I really enjoyed this book and was glad it was a pick for our group. I’d highly recommend it as both an applicable read as we prepare for another conclave and a good book for the “fun reading” quotient.
How about you?
What fiction’s been keeping you turning the pages?