I love to read. When I’m not with my family or at work, and when I’m not organizing my library, you will probably find me behind a book.
By the close of the year I will have read over 100 books–over 20,000 pages–a feat I can now cross off my bucket list. From that many titles, choosing the cream of the crop is not easy.
Listed below are my top fifteen books from 2010. To be clear, these are my favorite fifteen books–not the most renowned, most timeless, or best-written books, simply the ones that I liked the most. As a subjective measuring stick, these are the books from 2010 that I kept thinking about well after finishing them, the titles that most continue to affect me.
Not all of these books were published in 2010. In fact, the majority weren’t. But as C.S. Lewis would say, a book’s newness doesn’t give it an advantage. In many cases, novelty is a disadvantage; newer books haven’t been measured against the ages. In any case, some of the older books may be new to you so just apply Einstein’s theory of relativity to literature and you’re set (just don’t apply it to truth or morals.)
In descending order, here they are:
This book features a collection of some of the best Catholic writers out there, each tackling one of the “ism”s popular on college campuses (and evident everywhere else). Consumerism, Relativism, Scientisim, and Utilitarianism each make cameos along with a handful of others. Full of wit, logic, and wisdom, this is one of the most enjoyable philosophy books you’ll read.
Written in the same style as C.S. Lewis’ famous Screwtape Letters, Fr. Longenecker’s version has some twists. His book includes modern temptations and distinctly Catholic subjects who catch demonic disdain. Whether encouraging sloth through 24/7 ESPN, or vanity through media, Fr. Longenecker’s tempters use seemingly innocent ploys to lure their subjects toward darkness.
If you are a fan of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, or any of the other Inklings you need to read this book–period. This fictional adventure features a young man questing to find the legendary spear of destiny who receives guidance from these literary and spiritual giants. Downing uses quotes from the Inkling’s writings and letters to bring these figures to life like never before. When you finish this book, you feel like you are old friends with these beloved writers.
12. Three to Get Married
Sheen combines philosophy and theology to illustrate how the best marriages are centered on God. The words get a little heady at times, but outside of modern books exploring the ‘theology of the body’, this is one of the most complete books on Catholic sexuality and marriage. If you are looking for some pre-‘theology of the body’ reflections on marriage, this is your book.
Mother Teresa was one of the holiest people of the twentieth century. If you want to grow in holiness, let her show you the way. If you want more humility, more simplicity, more compassion, more contemplation, this book will lay out a simple spiritual path to get you there. These prayers, writings, and conversations walk you toward saintliness.
10. How To Read A Book
Peter Kreeft said that every student entering any college should be required to read this book before enrolling. I would agree, but add to that group every reading adult (I think that covers just about everyone). Disregard the unattractive cover: if you want to read better–not necessarily faster, but better–this is a must read. This book has illuminated every other book I’ve read since.
09. The Soul of Pier-Giorgio Frassati
Though this particular text is difficult to find–I snagged it through inter-library loan–any book on the life of Pier Giorgio Frassati will stay with you well after finishing. Beatified by Pope John Paul II, who described him as a “man of the beatitudes”, Pier-Giorgio was an ‘ordinary saint’, an encouragement to those seeking holiness amidst everyday experiences. Before Pier-Giorgio died at age 24 (my age), he lived an imitable life as a layman. He studied mining enginering to be in solidarity with blue-collar workers, he gave away almost all of his inherited riches to poor friends, and he was intense in his devotion to prayer and the Eucharist. He has quickly become one of my favorite saints and closest spiritual friends.
08. The Complete Stories
Many of my heroes have suggested Flannery’s works, so I eventually decided to dive in and read this complete collection of short stories. Flannery is hailed by many as the greatest short story writer of the twentieth century. Her tales are often dark and macabre, yet always feature an entrance of grace in the most surprising ways. Beyond that, I experience kinship with her as a fellow Catholic living in the Protestant-dominated South (Southern Protestantism themes most of her stories.)
07. Friends of God
St. Josemaria Escriva
I read small chunks of this book throughout the year as preparation before Mass, and was blown away by its reflections. This book is different than Escriva’s other writings, which can often be blunt and harsh. This title instead uses transcribed sermons to reflect on prayer, the holiness of the ordinary, and the full spiritual life, all combining to produce solid spiritual-direction. Escriva makes you feel like you can be a saint.
As I’m putting together a new book on the Church and New Media, I was excited to read Hipps’ recent work. His premise is that mediums themselves have greater effects on our thinking than the content they convey. For better or worse, each New Media tool shapes our spirituality and culture by its own nature. After reading this book, you will never look at blogs, Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter the same way.
If you want to taste true Catholic scripture study, the kind that uses all the tools of our rich tradition, then this is your book. Eric gazes on Jesus through the titles given to him in the Gospel of Matthew. Besides Eric’s own reflections, the book is full of insights from the Church Fathers, liturgical prayers, and commentary from the saints. I’m usually a fast reader, but this book was so good that I was forced to read just one chapter per sitting.
This recent book-length interview with Pope Benedict has received more public attention than any other Catholic book this year, and therefore has been the one I have thought about, wrote about, and talked about most often. Beyond the controversial section on condoms, the book presents an unprecedented glimpse into the Pope’s mind. Through this interview we see an intellect as sharp as a sword, yet a pastoral heart as soft as a feather. When I closed this book, my final thought was, “the Holy Spirit knew what he was doing when he chose this man to shepherd his Church.”
03. The Future Church
John Allen, Jr.
As a long-time Vatican correspondent, John Allen has his finger on the pulse of global Catholicism. He tastes the whole Christian pie, not just the small slices we sample in our own localities. In this monumental book, John explores ten trends revolutionizing the Church, each shaping 21st century Christianity. From the biotech revolution to expanding lay roles, from globalization to Islam, from Pentecostalism to the new demography, this book is a fascinating whirl from cover to cover. John’s writing is breezy yet informative, making this thick book a fairly quick read. If you are interested in the Church’s path over the coming decades–or if you are a younger Catholic–this book is a must-read.
02. Lord of the Rings
Tolkien’s masterwork is the best novel written in the twentieth century, maybe ever–and plenty of people agree with me. If you’ve never seen the movies, read the book first. If you have seen the movies, read the book now. It contains, in their fullness, all the great elements of story: an epic battle between good and evil, enduring friendships, a massive imaginary world, and some of the best examples of the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. The masterpiece is also drenched in Tolkien’s Catholicism (if you don’t believe me, check this out). Don’t begin another book of fiction until you’ve read this.
01. The Story of A Soul
St. Therese of Lisieux
In the eyes of the world, this quiet, cloistered nun never did anything significant during her life. She didn’t start a religious order, she didn’t build any hospitals, she didn’t produce many writings, and she spent most of her life in a tiny, unknown part of France before dying young at age 24 (like Pier-Giorgio, above). Yet, her profound spirituality has had a huge impact on the world. Despite living as a relative unknown, Therese has since become one of the Church’s most popular saints and has been declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II. This book, her autobiography, was the bestselling spiritual book of the twentieth century. Since finishing it, hardly a day has passed that I haven’t recalled her simple faith, a spirituality built on small daily sacrifices, child-like intimacy with God, and a firm confidence in prayer. It won’t be too long until I re-read this gem.
– Adventures In Daily Prayer (Bert Ghezzi) – (My Review)
– Before I Go (Peter Kreeft)
– Epic (John Eldredge)
– Favorite Fr. Brown Stories (G.K. Chesterton)
– Making Senses Out of Scripture (Mark Shea)
– Set Free to Love (Marcel LeJeune) – (My Review)
What were the best books you read in 2010?