Here, dear reader, are eight excellent books for your enjoyment during the Christmas Octave, and probably longer—unless you’ve got absolutely nothing to do for eight days, in which case, by all means, enjoy!
1. A Window on the Door — James Watson’s first book hopefully won’t be his last. Watson self-published the first edition of A Window on the Door and it is beautiful to behold. Beyond the aesthetics and start-up appeal, the story itself grips the reader from the first page. Chief among Watson’s accomplishments is his ability to incorporate reverence for religion into the narrative without producing a piece of second-rate sentimental nonsense. In fact, this book is quite the opposite. It confronts questions of forgiveness and redemption in a profound way.
2. Letters of Fire — Fr. Esposito is a Cistercian monk whose charming letters to fictional, historical, biblical, and mythical persons are an absolute must read. Each letter offers deep insights into the human things, but you’ll find yourself laughing just as often as you are taken aback by the wisdom of this young monk.
3. The Reckless Mind — Mark Lilla profiles six intellectuals (Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Alexandre Kojeve, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida) and how their philosophical ideas influenced (or didn’t) their political activism. Central to the book is the question of how political philosophy influences practical politics. For the six men highlighted in The Reckless Mind there isn’t always a connection, but when there is one it is on the side of tyranny — the very thing philosophers are supposed to be best at guarding against, according to classical philosophy. An altogether fascinating read.
4. East of Eden — Steinbeck weaves together a biblically inspired medley of characters into a masterful narrative which takes seriously God’s warning to Cain: If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is surely lurking at your door. Its desire is for you, but you may master it.
5. Ovid’s Metamorphoses — For reasons I do not understand, this book is not required reading even in the more rigorous college curriculums (Wyoming Catholic College seems to be the exception). Ovid’s influence on Dante alone should make him as widely read as Homer and Vergil. Yet, here we are. Admittedly, I’m only partway through the book myself, but it’s more fun to read than Vergil and the myths come in nice, bite-sized segments.
6. The Road — In Cormac McCarthy’s typical style, The Road can indeed be a depressing read. But if that’s all you get out of it, then you are missing the point. Set during a dystopian winter, Father and Son travel together through the horrors of starvation, murder, and illness. Nevertheless, this story is fundamentally concerned with the inextinguishable character of human hope.
7. To Heal A Fractured World — This book on Jewish ethics by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was one of the most compelling reads of the year. Rabbi Sacks often slips into poetry as he ties each ethical principle together with stories of people embodying the commands of the Torah. Fundamentally, To Heal A Fractured World is a guide for anyone interested in living a harmonious life. Rabbi Sacks puts it like this, “For six days, so the first chapter of Genesis tells us, God created a universe and pronounced it good. On the seventh day he made a stillness in the turning world and declared it holy. Unless we reconnect the holy and the good we do less than justice to the unity that is the hallmark of the monotheistic imagination.”
8. The Four Quartets — Eliot’s poetic reflections on the nature of human salvation, the Word being made flesh in time, are worth revisiting this Christmas season.