CCTC Board Favorite Books

(updated May 11, 2020)

Emily Reimer-Barry, Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Novels are my escape from reality but a good one will plunge me right back into my everyday life with a deeper appreciation for what I treasure most. Two books I've read recently have moved me in different but interconnected ways. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor provides a startling and heartbreaking look, from a child's perspective, on race relations in the rural South. It is a story about love and justice, family and society, social sin and the courage to be yourself in the face of enormous obstacles. Cassie Logan will stick with you. Another book that provided a welcome escape was The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, which follows a group of strong-willed women who run a rural library in southern Appalachia, bringing books to families by horseback. Themes of class, gender roles, and the beauty of the natural world surface but the heart of the story is the drama of discernment as the main characters have to figure out their own places in the world. Happy reading...

Darleen Pryds, Professor, Franciscan School of Theology

Somerset Maugham's novel, The Razor's Edge, has been my favorite novel since my college years. The book explores the spiritual odyssey of the protagonist, Larry Darrell, who returns from WWI, shaken and devastated by his experiences. He leaves behind the affluent life to which he had once aspired, and takes up a journey that features encounters with various people, work, and spiritual traditions all of which feed his hunger to understand life and the Divine. He moves from one experience to the next, not so much rejecting anything, as much as wanting to know more about the Divine and the meaning of life. The ending still moves me deeply. There have been two film versions of it (1946 and 1984), but neither is quite as good as the novel itself. 

Maura Giles Watson, Professor, Department of English

I recently reread Dorothy Day: Selected Writings, edited by Robert Ellsberg. These are mostly short pieces about living an engaged and active faith -- excellent readings for daily meditations.

Stephen Conroy, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs, Professor of Economics

A book that inspired me to take a four-month monastic retreat is the Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen.  https://www.amazon.com/Genesee-Diary-Report-Trappist-Monastery/dp/0385174462   

I'm also a fan of Thomas Merton's autobiography The Seven Story Mountain.  

Steve Staninger, Professor, Reference Librarian

Native Stranger (1992) by Eddy Harris is a fascinating account of an African-American man who tours Africa, north to south.  His insights about how he is really western and American and what that means, and how he is seen as yet another American by Africans from Cairo to Cape Town are both interesting and thought-provoking.  It is a lesson on how we are all the same in God's eyes, and our perceived differences are not really there.

Martha Adkins, Associate Professor, Reference Librarian

I have always found it necessary to read before I sleep, and in particular to read fiction. I need an alternative to endlessly running over the day’s events (and tomorrow’s and last week’s), another life to live for a little while each night to ease me into rest. I look for novels that are incredibly long, so I can live them for more than a few days or a week, and can pick up a bit of the story each night. I want stories with myriad characters, their stories separate but intertwined; and if the story lasts through generations, all the better. I love stories where the good guys and gals win, where evil is punished, and where tears and anguish are subsequently rewarded with commensurate joy. In recent years, Charles Dickens has been my go-to for this epic craving (with a side note to all my Dickens and 19th-century literature scholar colleagues that I am simply a connoisseur). It started with the serendipitous pull of Martin Chuzzlewit from the library shelf, my recommendation for an absolutely wonderful escape. This novel is one of the funniest pieces of writing I’ve ever read; it reads like a modern satirical novel. Dickens’ physical descriptions of people are intricate down to the hairs in their ears, and his descriptions of their emotions, motives, fears, are no less detailed. This novel has everything: the intertwining storylines, generational saga, good wins out, bad is sharply criticized and brought low. The story rides high with Dickens’ humorous language, and then takes a sharp left to America, where things get dark, very dark, and it adds incredible weight to the continued lightness of the story. I love it and I hope others do.

Joseph Chinnici, OFM, President Emeritus, Franciscan School of Theology

Markings, by Dag Hammarskjold, published after his death was a surprise to his friends, demonstrating how a public person was driven by a hidden Christian faith to create reconciliation and peace in the world.  It is a model for the engagement of secularity in our times. 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, tells the remarkable story of a connection between a blind young French girl and a German radio operator during the devastation of World War II. 

Kristopher Hall, Assistant Professor, SOLES, recommends

The Collected Essays of James Baldwin

Michelle Camacho Walter, Professor, Department of Sociology

In Introduction to Sociology, I teach the concept of “the backstage,” from the 1956 book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, by Erving Goffman. In it, Goffman describes theatre as a metaphor for the social relations of life. In the film, The Two Popes we enter the set of the Vatican and witness the Popes’ “backstage” behaviors and their humanity, presented through intimate storytelling among the two.  As Catholics, the Pope and the Vatican are sacrosanct, and the film is very respectful. What makes the film riveting is the humor with which the Popes engage each other.  We witness the serious and light-hearted banter between the two Popes, which of course is invented, but very convincing.  Pope Francis (played by Jonathan Pryce) and Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) share a friendship and take the audience along a very personal journey as they reflect on their callings, their sins and regrets, and their common interests --particularly their passion for soccer.  The visual scenery is exquisite, and it is hard to believe the filmmakers did not film onsite, in Rome.  And though there are some heavy scenes, my favorite ones are of Pope Francis’s character, whistling "Dancing Queen" and dancing tango with sheer joy.  The track list is pretty good too (find it on Spotify).

Esteban Del Rio, Chair, Department of Sociology; Professor of Communication Studies

Our family has been settling into episodes of the British Baking Show, which our 10-year-old especially enjoys, and something we can watch together on weekends after dinner while jazz and KCRW music provides much of the soundtrack to weeknight reading, homework, and lounging. 

My grandfather passed away in January. He was a cook in the Navy during WWII - a role he carried on in family rituals through much of my life. After he passed, I found myself cooking and baking like never before. It was a way to connect with him. I have cooked nearly every meal for the last 8 weeks since the Stay at Home orders went into effect, with breaks on Taco Tuesdays when my wife, Alicia takes over. 

I have found cooking and baking to be a grounding experience; preparing and serving food represents continuity in the human experience that stretches back to before the pandemic, but also back to my grandfather’s life and his own upbringing in an immigrant neighborhood in Newark, NJ, and, of course, much further than that. 

The British Baking show is silly in its attentiveness to the detailed poetics of pastry during these weighty times, and neither the gendered politics of the kitchen nor backdrop of Brexit during some of these episodes cannot be ignored. But the diversity of people who attempt the recipes - their stories as immigrants and grandmothers and medical students - convey a simple truth in life: we all come together to prepare, serve, and share food. Some of the most vivid moments and parables in the Gospels involved something we do at least a couple of times a day: preparation, handwork, gather, eat, share. 

Jeffrey M. Burns, Director, Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture

Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence is ostensibly a novel about martyrdom of Japanese Christians during the 16th and 17th centuries, but more importantly it captures the protagonist Jesuit priest Rodrigues’s growing understanding of Jesus as “one who suffers with us.”

And do your soul a favor this summer and read Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness.