Worth Reading: 15 Works of Literature Under 200 Pages

Listers, there are few things as pleasurable as a good book. The following list is a collection of short classic literary works that generally fall under two hundred pages – sometimes depending on the publication.

Listers, there are few things as pleasurable as a good book. The following list is a collection of short classic literary works that generally fall under two hundred pages – sometimes depending on the publication. Each description is taken directly from the publisher’s online description.1

Literary Works on SPL

 

15 Short Literary Works Worth Reading

 

1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies CoverLord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was first published in 1954, igniting passionate debate with its startling, brutal portrait of human nature. Though critically acclaimed, it was largely ignored upon its initial publication. Yet soon it became a cult favorite among both students and literary critics who compared it to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in its influence on modern thought and literature. William Golding’s compelling story about a group of very ordinary small boys marooned on a coral island has become a modern classic. At first it seems as though it is all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious and life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic and death. As ordinary standards of behaviour collapse, the whole world the boys know collapses with them—the world of cricket and homework and adventure stories—and another world is revealed beneath, primitive and terrible.Labeled a parable, an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, even a vision of the apocalypse, Lord of the Flies has established itself as a true classic.

 

2. Utopia by St. Thomas More

Utopia More CoverFirst published in Latin in 1516, Utopia was the work of Sir Thomas More (1477–1535), the brilliant humanist, scholar, and churchman executed by Henry VIII for his refusal to accept the king as the supreme head of the Church of England. In this work, which gave its name to the whole genre of books and movements hypothesizing an ideal society, More envisioned a patriarchal island kingdom that practiced religious tolerance, in which everybody worked, no one has more than his fellows, all goods were community-owned, and violence, bloodshed, and vice nonexistent. Based to some extent on the writings of Plato and other earlier authors, Utopia nevertheless contained much that was original with More. In the nearly 500 years since the book’s publication, there have been many attempts at establishing “Utopias” both in theory and in practice. All of them, however, seem to embody ideas already present in More’s classic treatise: optimistic faith in human nature, emphasis on the environment and proper education, nostalgia for a lost innocence, and other positive elements. In this new, inexpensive edition, readers can study for themselves the essentials of More’s utopian vision and how, although the ideal society he envisioned is still unrealized, at least some of his proposals have come to pass in today’s world.

 

3. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm is the most famous by far of all twentieth-century political allegories. Its account of a group of barnyard animals who revolt against their vicious human master, only to submit to a tyranny erected by their own kind, can fairly be said to have become a universal drama. Orwell is one of the very few modern satirists comparable to Jonathan Swift in power, artistry, and moral authority; in animal farm his spare prose and the logic of his dark comedy brilliantly highlight his stark message. Taking as his starting point the betrayed promise of the Russian Revolution, Orwell lays out a vision that, in its bitter wisdom, gives us the clearest understanding we possess of the possible consequences of our social and political acts.

 

4. Of Mice & Men by John Steinbeck

They are an unlikely pair: George is “small and quick and dark of face”; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a “family,” clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation.Laborers in California’s dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.

 

5. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hide by Robert Louis Stevenson

In September of 1884, Robert Louis Stevenson, then in his mid-thirties, moved with his family to Bournemouth, a resort on the southern coast of England, where in the brief span of 23 months he revised A Child’s Garden of Verses and wrote the novels Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. An intriguing combination of fantasy thriller and moral allegory, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depicts the gripping struggle of two opposing personalities — one essentially good, the other evil — for the soul of one man. Its tingling suspense and intelligent and sensitive portrayal of man’s dual nature reveals Stevenson as a writer of great skill and originality, whose power to terrify and move us remains, over a century later, undiminished.

 

6. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness CoverHeart of Darkness (1899) is a short novel by Polish novelist Joseph Conrad, written as a frame narrative, about Charles Marlow’s experience as an ivory transporter down the Congo River in Central Africa. The river is “a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land”. In the course of his travel in central Africa, Marlow becomes obsessed with Mr. Kurtz. The story is a complex exploration of the attitudes people hold on what constitutes a barbarian versus a civilized society and the attitudes on colonialism and racism that were part and parcel of European imperialism. Originally published as a three-part serial story, in Blackwood’s Magazine, the novella Heart of Darkness has been variously published and translated into many languages. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Heart of Darkness as the sixty-seventh of the hundred best novels in English of the twentieth century.

 

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 CoverRay Bradbury’s internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of twentieth-century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television. When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.

 

8. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal — a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.

 

9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.

 

10. The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Like his father and grandfather before him, Kino is a poor diver, gathering pearls from the gulf beds that once brought great wealth to the Kings of Spain and now provide Kino, Juana, and their infant son with meager subsistence. Then, on a day like any other, Kino emerges from the sea with a pearl as large as a sea gull’s egg, as “perfect as the moon.” With the pearl comes hope, the promise of comfort and of security…. A story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale, The Pearl explores the secrets of man’s nature, the darkest depths of evil, and the luminous possibilities of love.

 

11. The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger CoverThe Stranger is not merely one of the most widely read novels of the 20th century, but one of the books likely to outlive it. Written in 1946, Camus’s compelling and troubling tale of a disaffected, apparently amoral young man has earned a durable popularity (and remains a staple of U.S. high school literature courses) in part because it reveals so vividly the anxieties of its time. Alienation, the fear of anonymity, spiritual doubt–all could have been given a purely modern inflection in the hands of a lesser talent than Camus, who won the Nobel Prize in 1957 and was noted for his existentialist aesthetic. The remarkable trick of The Stranger, however, is that it’s not mired in period philosophy. The plot is simple. A young Algerian, Meursault, afflicted with a sort of aimless inertia, becomes embroiled in the petty intrigues of a local pimp and, somewhat inexplicably, ends up killing a man. Once he’s imprisoned and eventually brought to trial, his crime, it becomes apparent, is not so much the arguably defensible murder he has committed as it is his deficient character. The trial’s proceedings are absurd, a parsing of incidental trivialities–that Meursault, for instance, seemed unmoved by his own mother’s death and then attended a comic movie the evening after her funeral are two ostensibly damning facts–so that the eventual sentence the jury issues is both ridiculous and inevitable. Meursault remains a cipher nearly to the story’s end–dispassionate, clinical, disengaged from his own emotions. “She wanted to know if I loved her,” he says of his girlfriend. “I answered the same way I had the last time, that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t.” There’s a latent ominousness in such observations, a sense that devotion is nothing more than self-delusion. It’s undoubtedly true that Meursault exhibits an extreme of resignation; however, his confrontation with “the gentle indifference of the world” remains as compelling as it was when Camus first recounted it.2

 

12. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein CoverFew creatures of horror have seized readers’ imaginations and held them for so long as the anguished monster of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The story of Victor Frankenstein’s terrible creation and the havoc it caused has enthralled generations of readers and inspired countless writers of horror and suspense. Considering the novel’s enduring success, it is remarkable that it began merely as a whim of Lord Byron’s. “We will each write a story,” Byron announced to his next-door neighbors, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley. The friends were summering on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland in 1816, Shelley still unknown as a poet and Byron writing the third canto of Childe Harold. When continued rains kept them confined indoors, all agreed to Byron’s proposal. The illustrious poets failed to complete their ghost stories, but Mary Shelley rose supremely to the challenge. With Frankenstein, she succeeded admirably in the task she set for herself: to create a story that, in her own words, “would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror — one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.”

 

13. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

“The Metamorphosis” (original German title: “Die Verwandlung”) is a short novel by Franz Kafka, first published in 1915. It is often cited as one of the seminal works of fiction of the 20th century and is widely studied in colleges and universities across the western world. The story begins with a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed into an insect.

 

14. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Celebrated as a leading figure of the German literary movement known as Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”), Goethe made his reputation with this short novel, originally published in 1774. Its tale of a sensitive young man’s self-destructive passion for a lover who ultimately rejects him was based in part on the author’s own experiences, and the story’s tragic resolution inspired a wave of suicides among young romantics throughout Europe. Goethe’s portrayal of Zerrissenheit, “the state of being torn apart,” in which a character struggles to reconcile his artistic sensibilities with the demands of the objective world, proved tremendously influential to subsequent writers, and The Sorrows of Young Werther continues to speak to modern readers.

 

15. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

War of the Worlds CoverThe War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells. It first appeared in serialized form in 1897, published simultaneously in Pearson’s Magazine in the UK and Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. The first appearance in book form was published by William Heinemann of London in 1898. It is the first-person narrative of an unnamed protagonist in Surrey and that of his younger brother in London as Earth is invaded by Martians. Written between 1895 and 1897, it is one of the earliest stories that detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. The novel is one of the most commented-on works in the science fiction canon. The War of the Worlds has two parts, Book One: The Coming of the Martians and Book Two: The Earth under the Martians. The narrator, a philosophically inclined author, struggles to return to his wife while seeing the Martians lay waste to the southern country outside London. Book One also imparts the experience of his brother, also unnamed, who describes events as they deteriorate in the capital, forcing him to escape the Martian onslaught by boarding a paddle steamer near Tillingham, on the Essex coast.

  1. Descriptions taken from Amazon.com – please see title links to visit the page. []
  2. Ben Guterson. []

“Who is the Catholic Writer in America?” and 10 Other Questions with Tuscany Press

In a world where the Catholic perspective of life is seen as illegitimate or wrong, Tuscany Press is providing a means in which the Catholic writer who is “anonymously toiling” to have an opportunity to be read and seen.

Listers, recently I have discovered a new outlet of Catholic media that is fighting against the current crisis of Catholic authorship. In a world where the Catholic perspective of life is seen as illegitimate or wrong, Tuscany Press is providing a means in which the Catholic writer who is “anonymously toiling” to have an opportunity to be read and seen. When I received word that Tuscany Press existed I immediately scrambled to their website and discovered that they have great potential to help Catholic writers produce quality and faith-filled or “Christ-haunted” stories that share their perspective to the world. I have recently had the pleasure of having a conversation with Peter Mongeau who is the founder and publisher of Tuscany Press and Christus Publishing. He shared with me some of his insights about the real state of Catholic authorship. He shared with me the amazing opportunity they are now giving Catholic writers, as well the major project they working on right now called the Tuscany Literary Prize. Now on to the interview:

1. Tell us about Tuscany Press.

I was a coordinator in Catholic book club in our parish, and we were always looking to read Catholic fiction. But, we really couldn’t find contemporary Catholic fiction. We could find Catholic fiction, but we had to go back to the mid-twentieth century with Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy or even further back to the early twentieth century with Tolkien and Chesterton. I have a Catholic spirituality publishing house called Christus Publishing, and I was looking to expand it. I knew there had to be some good Catholic fiction out there and we were looking for it, but we couldn’t find any stories that were contemporary. I talked to publishing executives. I talked to literary agents. I talked to writers and other small publishing houses. Basically anybody in and out of the Catholic publishing world. When I did the analysis of the publishing world, I realized that there was no publishing house that was dedicated solely to Catholic fiction. And so, we decided in the springtime to start Tuscany Press. We also noticed that there wasn’t a prize for Catholic fiction. I said “Well, we should create one. Because there needs to be some sort of recognition for great Catholic writers.” So that’s when the Tuscany prize started as well

2. Why Contemporary Catholic Fiction?

When we started Tuscany Press, we want to reaffirm our perspective of the world, but we also want to help evangelize our culture. Tuscany press is devoted to great Catholic writers. We have a great responsibility to encourage them and help them write fiction that is infused with our Catholic worldview. As Catholics we know we live in a world with a living God. Our stories should reflect that reality, that fact, that we live in a world with the living God and that his grace breaks into this reality in which we live. Our stories should reflect these facts. That is how we came about creating Tuscany Press and the Tuscany Prize. I don’t think the fiction publishing world appreciates the Catholic perspective. It once did, but I don’t think it appreciates it today […] There are some good to great Catholic writers out there waiting and wanting to be published, and they have not been able to be published. So Tuscany Press is there for them and for all of us to find these stories.

3. You said that you were seeking out good quality Catholic literature. What makes Catholic literature “good”?

There are three things, generally speaking, that make literature good: 1. Is it well written? How much editing does this need? Has the author spent time and energy looking over how they have written the story? Have they taken care to create strong structure, character development, and themes? 2. Is the story interesting? There are some well written bus schedules, but they aren’t going to get published. There are also good stories that aren’t well written. Another question to consider is: Does it capture the imagination of the reader? 3. Is it filled with the presence of God? The Catholic writer knows that world is filled with the presence of God. It is not a truncated view of the world, but an expanded view of the world. It is a view that encompasses everything including the transcending God. That is what makes Catholic fiction so special. It’s not a narrow focus, it includes God, the presence of grace and how it operates in nature […] This can happen either subtly, symbolically or deliberately.

4. Who is the Catholic writer?

There seems to be three different types of Catholic writers out there in general: 1. There is a group of writers who are over the age of 60. They have a totally different experience than most Catholics in America. 2. Then, there is this lost generation in their early 30s to 60s. These Catholic writers were lost in lieu of their culture. 3. Then, there are the young 30s and younger. These Catholic writers feel the most under-siege culturally. They live in a younger culture that does not espouse many Catholic ideals. The literature coming from these people are sharp-edged and jagged, which reflects what it’s like to be a young Catholic trying to live in this world. The Catholic Church has such a various mix of writers, which has been such a fantastic surprise for us.

5. Is there a chance that the Catholic writer can effect the contemporary world of literature right now?

Absolutely! The Catholic writer can definitely effect the contemporary world around them. The experience of most Catholics today in the world is so different. They know that there is a living God, but the state of current fiction is devoid of this fact. These themes hardly ever show up in contemporary fiction. The Catholic writer can bring these themes back to the world of literature. We know as Catholics that we have restless hearts, so it will speak to the restless hearts. Today’s secular world is a world that is fragmented and meaningless to most Catholics. It’s a world that looks upon the people around and doesn’t see the workings of God. The Catholic fiction writer can tell stories and show where grace appears.

6. Catholic writers have this great gift to give the world, but it seems that it is almost impossible for the Catholic writer to break through into the secular arena. What kind of difficulty does the Catholic writer have then?

The publishing world does not appreciate the Catholic perspective. I hope that Catholic fiction writer can find a home at Tuscany Press. That is my goal. However, I also believe that Catholic writer should go to any and all publishers. I don’t believe that they should limit themselves, but I do want them to know that they have home at Tuscany Press. We hope that we can provide a home for them. It will be difficult to break into the secular publishing houses, but if we can prove (and I think Tusacany Press will) that Catholic fiction has a place not only in the marketplace but in the world of culture, then the secular publishers will turn back to the Catholic writers.

7. What happens if a person claims that a book is too Catholic?

My personal response is that no book is ever “too Catholic.” These books are not going to be about good Catholics doing good things, because that is not necessarily good literature. It’s unrealistic, and people cannot relate to them. We are are fallible creatures, and our stories contain fallible creatures.

8. So, some of the content of the books will be gritty?

I don’t know. We have recieved some gritty manuscripts. We have received some not-so gritty manuscripts. We have received fantasy manuscripts. We have received some murder-mystery manuscripts. We have received manuscripts across all genres. We will choose the best though. I will tell you the short stories are great. I am excited about the short stories. The book that wins the prize will be what we consider be the best manuscript, but it might be from a genre that some people might not expect. It could be historical fiction or contemporary fiction. It could be a murder mystery or it could be a fantasy. We have received all types. We won’t know what will be published specifically until we get all the manuscripts in. We had some submissions from some very rural areas in America. Also some of our submissions are from some big cities. East coast. West coast. Mid-America. It is coming from all over.

9. Do you have a date set for your next novel to be printed? Or are you still looking for more manuscripts?

Well, we have the Tuscany prize. The Tuscany prize will end September 30. Our goal will be that we publish the Tuscany prize winners by the Christmas season. We hope to launch some in the spring who are not Tuscany prize winners but who are worthy of being published. Then we plan on launching the Tuscany prize again in 2013 and to have that deadline set around May 31st.

10. What are the future plans for Tuscany Press?

Not only are people looking for contemporary Catholic fiction, but we have discovered that parents are desperate for good Catholic young adult fiction. They are desperate for it. They want their children to read, and they want their children to read good Catholic books. The young adult fiction out there is so desperate, its so awful, and we have discovered that Catholic world, actually the entire Christian world, is looking for good young adult Catholic fiction. We are going to be doing Catholic young adult fiction and we will probably expand the Tuscany prize to include a young adult fiction in 2013. We trying to satisfy the need for contemporary Catholic but also the need for contemporary young adult Catholic fiction.

11. What would encourage the our Listers do?

I want to encourage people to send in their short stories, their novels, and novellas.

The Tuscany Prize, which is Tuscany Press’s first major project, is still going on. Peter Mongeau asked St. Peter’s List to encourage all Catholic writers who perhaps have a short story, novella, or novel sitting on their desks to submit it to the Tuscany Prize by September 30th. However, if you are still working on something that is not finished, you can participate in their next prize next year as well. For more information you can check out the Tuscany Press website at www.tuscanypress.com. All I can say is I am extremely anxious and excited to see what will come from Tuscany Press. I am thankful Tuscany’s mission, and I pray that they get lots of success in their endeavor to assist the real starving artists in the world, Catholic writers.

Saint Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of all writers, pray for us!

Beyond Here Be Dragons: 17 Questions with Catholic Author David Athey

Seeing books as a means of entertainment or escape is the common misconception of many people because they fail to acknowledge that a book can be very dangerous (sometimes they are dangerous in a good way and other times dangerous in a bad way).

Listers, seeing books as a means of entertainment or escape is the common misconception of many people because they fail to acknowledge that a book can be very dangerous (sometimes they are dangerous in a good way and other times dangerous in a bad way). All books, no matter if it is either light bubblegum fiction or some great masterpiece, have the potential to leave a lasting impression on the minds and hearts of its readers. For example, I realized this the first time I read the The Silver Chair when I was young girl. I ended up bursting into tears because I began to doubt my own existence, thinking that it was a possible that I was part of someone else’s dream (Clearly I was a gullible child). Having the power to leave such ideas, sensations, fears, and passions on their audience, authors, therefore, have a lot of power.

 It follows, then, that it is the audience’s responsibility for their own sake to know who they are allowing to make a mark on their minds. Discernment is essential. I am not saying that they should boycott every single book that has the potential of leading them astray because then they wouldn’t read anything at all. I believe, however, it is necessary to be vigilant in knowing at least in some part what they are getting into and whether they can handle it or not. A great way to do that is by acquainting themselves with who the author is of any particular book they are reading.

As I have recommended to you all, Listers, the book Christopher (a very dangerous book in all the right ways), I feel that it is incumbent upon me to give a little information about the author, David Athey. He graciously has allowed us to interview him.

David teaches creative writing at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He also happens to be an unabashed Catholic poet and author. He has written and published loads of poems including “Celestialness“, which can be found in my favorite literary journal, Dappled Things. He has also written  two novels, Danny Gospel and Christopher. He has a cool website (davidathey.com) that offers daily writing tips, reasons to love the Church, and mystical quotes. You can also view his writing resume on the website as well.

Now on to the interview:

 

#1 How would you describe yourself?

A quirky writer and professor who drives a black pickup that smells like dark-roast coffee.

 

#2 What inspires your work?

As far as I can tell, a combination of God, nature (including human nature) and coffee.

 

#3 Your novel, Christopher, shows the impact great literature makes on a person’s soul. What is your opinion of the state of modern literature, Catholic, secular, or otherwise?

We have a treasure chest of great works (The Canon of Western Literature) that we can enjoy for the rest of our lives. And many great books were written in the 20th century that should end up in that treasure chest. One thinks of the stories of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, J.F. Powers, Walker Percy, etc…. There may be some writers today that will rise to that level—I’ve had a few genius students in my classroom—and so I am hopeful about the state of contemporary literature. However, while we wait for the next Flannery O’Connor to arise (it might take a thousand years) we need to support the writers of today who are crafting excellent stories.

 

#4 How do you think Catholic literature can be improved?

Catholic writers have their metaphysics right, and that is crucial to the making of the highest art. Along with that, the trick is to master the various techniques of fiction so that our stories are enlightening, unique, and entertaining.

 

#5 What do you mean by “mastering the various techniques of fiction”?

Christian writers need to spend less time feeling inspired and more time sweating over the details of setting, character development, plot, dialogue, and overall creativity. There are dozens of good books about the craft of fiction writing. My favorite is The Art of Fiction by John Gardner.

 

#6 Can you give us an example of how modern literature has frequent bouts of flawed metaphysics? How do they get it wrong?

They seem to get it wrong in every way. Look at the New York Times list of bestselling novels. It is rare to find anything that reflects the fact that God has visited this earth, founded a Church, and is with us until the end. Again, we’re not asking for sermons, but merely a sense of reality as taught by the Incarnation.

 

#7 What other reasons are there to supporting good Catholic writers? 

I don’t think there are many patrons out there, willing to donate money to writers because they believe in a certain vision. However, if we can write stories that enlighten and entertain, I believe the audience for that is enormous. The best thing a person can do for a writer, after buying and enjoying a book, is to shout it from the rooftops. And I think rooftops today are blogs. God bless the bloggers. They have the power to change the culture.

 

#8 Do you think it is necessary or even possible for an author to separate himself from work? In other words, can and should he separate his religious inclinations from his work?

I don’t understand how a person can be a Christian in every area of his life, but not when it comes to writing. That doesn’t mean every story needs to be a catechism, but there should be a sense in every story of correct metaphysics. I live in sunny Florida, one of the darkest places on earth when it comes to sin and crime. Authors are free to write about those sins and crimes, and yet I think we are obligated to include, somehow, the fact that God is here, the Church is here, and millions of people are trying to love God and neighbor. Some artists seem to think that holding up a mirror to the world means showing only the shadows. That is not the whole picture. A mirror to the world will include beauty, grace, and glory.

 

#9 The chapters in Christopher are very short compared to the average book. Why did you choose this approach to writing Christopher?

The short chapters are like snapshots, or stepping stones, or perhaps poems that all add up to a partial interpretation of a spiritual journey. We live in a fragmented time, and yet, with eyes to see, we can visualize connections along the path.

 

#10 What specifically inspired you to write Christopher?

The landscape was the first character in the story. The area around Duluth, Minnesota, always inspires me to write. And so my wife and I went on adventures one summer, including going on a harbor cruise, climbing rocky trails, washing clothes in a laundromat that doubled as a bird sanctuary, etc… and I simply gave many of my experiences to Christopher, yet in a way that became his own. I must say, however, that Christopher was not his original name. Through the many drafts, he went from David to Augustine to Dylan to Christopher.

 

#11 You also write poetry. What do you think of the present state of poetry?

As in any form of the arts, there is good and bad in contemporary poetry. I still enjoy reading through various literary journals, seeing what people are doing with syllables and images. Many of the poems should have been merely confessed (to an actual priest) instead of confessed and written. Like the rest of modern society, the shocking is taking precedence over the sublime. And yet I am always impressed by the work of my students. They’ve read the Bible, and I show them Hopkins and the other masters, and so they have a real passion for the sublime. We publish a literary journal at Palm Beach Atlantic University (Living Waters Review) that is as good, I believe, as any campus journal in the country.

 

#12 Do you have any favorite journals besides Living Waters Review? Can you give us a couple examples?

Image has earned its due respect through the years, but I think Dappled Things is just as strong. I like how Dappled Things is overtly Christian while maintaining the highest artistic standards. The poems and stories are theological without being preachy.

 

#13 What role does or should the Catholic Church have in the improvement of secular and Catholic art, literature, and music?

The Church should spend less time condemning bad books and more time promoting good books. Who is that guy on TV who is always yelling at people about anti-Catholic art? He needs to show as much enthusiasm for good art. I really believe that is how the culture can be transformed: by simply putting your money where your heart is. Do you love the True, the Good, and the Beautiful? Then buy books that promote those ideals. And shout your positive reviews from the housetops. That way, the books will get made into TV shows and movies, and we all know the power of TV and film, especially on the minds and souls of young people. I think we need about ten thousand Christian writers, making great poems, songs, novels, scripts, internet content, everything. And then the culture will have more light. I don’t think we can take over the arts and the media, but we can certainly infuse a good amount of truth and beauty.

 

#14 What are your top five favorite books?

What a great and terrible question. I think my answer would change every day of the week, but here is my answer today. And to make it easier, I’m going with five novels, and not in any order.1

Don Quixote by Cervantes
The Second Coming by Walker Percy
All Hallows’ Eve by Charles Williams
Staggerford by Jon Hassler
The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky

 

#15 Is there another novel coming?

I have two more finished, and a third that is nearly complete. I’m looking for a literary agent who is willing to work with a quirky writer and professor who drives a black pickup that smells like dark-roast coffee.

 

#16 Who is your favorite theologian of all time? Why?

One of the things I love about Catholicism is that we can have someone as logical as St. Thomas Aquinas and someone as creative as St. Hildegard of Bingen both considered Doctors of the Church. Some days I love the rational theologians, and some days I love the mystics. St. Augustine is perhaps my favorite theologian, but ask me again tomorrow.

 

#17 Who is your favorite Saint? Why?

Today it’s St. Philip Neri. I love how he took God so seriously that he played the fool and won people over with creative charm.

St. Philip Neri, pray for us

  1. Favorite Books: Links to David Athey’s top favorite books are provided by St. Peter’s List and may not reflect Athey’s choice of translation or edition. []

Et Vidit Deus Quod Esset Bonum: 5 Reasons to Read the New Novel “Christopher”

Listers, the crisis of contemporary literature can only be alleviated by the united effort of the Catholic community. One of my proposed remedies to this grievous situation is by encouraging (nay, beseeching) Catholic media outlets like blogs, television, and radio to give Catholic writers and artists the exposure they deserve. Today I am going to put my money where my mouth is. I am going to review a novel I recently finished called Christopher by Catholic writer, David Athey. This is book is an example of the artistic and literary potential that Catholic Church has within its pews. I hope that SPL will become a place where authors like David Athey have an opportunity to exhibit their work. Now on to my analysis of his most recent book Christopher.

#1 Realistic Plot

Christopher follows the life of a boy named Christopher Lagorio who lives in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior. Through his spiritually tumultuous journey from prepubescence to adulthood, he encounters three different young ladies who somehow impact his fledgling spiritual formation. With each girl he discovers some new and different aspect about God that sets him on mission for self-discovery and fulfillment. Although this may sound like the typical coming-of-age novel, the plot is bent on maintaining the gritty realism of prepubescence while attempting not to coddle or rationalize poor decisions and bad behavior. Christopher weaves a genuinely realistic tale of faith mixed with lifelike characters, worshipful imagery, glimpses of the Devil, and visions of the Divine without sacrificing the honesty of the hard truths and lessons of life.

#2 Lifelike Characters

One the main elements that makes a story real is if the characters develop in natural way, which is what annoys me about much of contemporary literature, secular or otherwise. Why should we care about a character if there is either nothing much to change or if the character hasn’t a bit of redeeming qualities whatsoever? There are many books in which I honestly hoped that such-and-such character would just be swallowed up by the earth because they were either too good or too bad (I fully acknowledge the wickedness of this thought). In Christopher, many of characters are likable and yet mysteriously flawed. As you read, you desire to understand what motivated them to do a particular set of actions. Just when you think you got one character pegged they do something subtly and yet naturally unexpected. In other words, the characters are wonderfully human, which is refreshingly odd for contemporary Christian fiction.

#3 Worshipful Imagery

In addition to excellent character development, the exquisite and intricate descriptions of Christopher‘s world is certainly a delight to read. The setting is particularly breathtaking. It is centered around the northeast corner of Minnesota near Duluth, which is on the shore of Lake Superior. David Athey’s familiarity of the native landscape is certainly brought to the forefront. The idyllic imagery brings forth the whimsy and wonder of God’s creation in full detail. Christopher is a celebration of God’s creation with all the emphasis on beauty, glory, and grace.

#4 Glimpses of the Devil

Unlike the many modern Judeo-Christian novels, Christopher is a honest portrayal of a teenager who has questions in which answers are hard to find and even harder to accept. The story starts around the age when Christopher can branch out from the beliefs of his upbringing and begin forming his own conclusions about life, love, and faith. None of these three main issues are in my opinion really well depicted in most contemporary Christian literature; however, David Athey manages to describe the contest between God and the Devil for the attention of our young people rather well. He manages not to gloss over the struggles of teenage development for the sake of propriety but addresses the issue directly and in no uncertain terms. The realism may make the more squeamish readers a little hot around the collar with the outright honesty of the hormonal battle between chastity and instant gratification; however, I do not believe that this is a fault, rather I firmly believe that the explicit acknowledgement of the main peril that teens grapple with is what sets this book apart from the rest. Quite simply its acknowledgement of the devil using God’s great gift of sexuality against creation is something that Christian readers need to hear. Sometimes glimpses of the devil is all we need to flee to comforting arms of the Divine. With its heartbreaking realism, Christopher certainly will challenge you with its stark honesty that is uncharacteristic to the average contemporary Catholic novel (I recommend that only high school aged persons or older should read this book).

#5 Visions of the Divine

David Athey has managed to depict the twisted handiwork of the devil; however, that isn’t what makes my favorite part of the book (fortunately for my soul). What makes this story so outrageously beautiful is the constant presence of God in His Creation, His people, and His Sacraments. Throughout this book, God’s presence is certainly evident on every page. While at first this may sound like it would be a bit preachy to a non-Catholic, it is in truth not. God is presented in a different way than the average Christian novel. Instead of having the main character constantly talking about their certainty in “Buddy Jesus” without having an ounce of doubt, in Christopher God is present in spite of overwhelming trials. His presence is subtle and yet deeply moving. The book reminded me time again of what an amazing God we have who makes himself available to us in different ways throughout the stages in our lives. It reminded me of our Catholic belief that God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Christopher captivated my imagination with the visions of the Divine. Obviously, I highly recommend this book and encourage you all to check it out when you get the chance.

Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum!!

*Athey, David. Christopher. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2011 **If you don’t recall or if you haven’t read my thoughts on this Catholic community’s role, you can read my recent list entitled “The Crisis of Contemporary Catholic Culture: 4 Reasons Why You Should Care.

The Crisis of Contemporary Catholic Art and Literature: 4 Reasons Why You Should Care

Think of all your favorite Catholic authors (Chesterton, Tolkien, O’Connor, Percy, Greene, Powers). Besides being Catholic, what other common similarity do they all share?

Listers, think of all your favorite Catholic authors (Chesterton, Tolkien, O’Connor, Percy, Greene, Powers). Besides being Catholic, what other common similarity do they all share? The answer is: They’re all dead! (God rest them). Now try to think of just one famous Catholic fiction writer who you absolutely love, who you know will make an indelible mark on the history of literature in the 21st century, and who is still alive today. If you are like me, you really have strain to name one off the top of your head. I am sure there are several famous authors who happen to be Catholic, but their personal religious ideals and perceptions are not entirely made known in their writings. However, there are other writers who try to write beautiful stories but can’t get published, promoted, or recognized by the secular or many Catholic media outlets because they are too “religious” and are, therefore, too “unrealistic.” Somehow “religious” has become a synonym for “unrealistic,” but as Catholics we know that is certainly not the case. Our religion is our reality. So, when a Catholic writer wants to write what they know and they want to write about the reality of being a Catholic, they are then told by everyone else that their reality is not “real” enough. If that is not discouraging, then I don’t know what is.

Flannery O’Connor acknowledges the plight of the contemporary Catholic author. She says:

But I don’t believe that we shall have great religious fiction until we have again that happy combination of believing artist and believing society. Until that time, the novelist will have to do the best he can in travail with the world he has. He may find in the end that instead of reflecting the image at the heart of things, he has only reflected our broken condition and, through it, the face of the devil we are possessed by. This is a modest achievement, but perhaps a necessary one. — “Novelist and Believer,” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000. 168.

I agree with O’Connor that this difference in ideology between author and reader is one of the reasons for the faithful Catholic artist’s plight. I believe, however, that the struggle of the contemporary faithful Catholic writer or artist can be lightened somewhat if the Catholic community and media rallies around them more. Therefore, I have composed a list of reasons why the Catholic community needs to take action against this crisis.

#1 The World Shouldn’t Define What It Means to Be Catholic

For some reason, in the 20th and 21st century, we have allowed the media to define what it means to be Catholic for the rest of the world. It is impossible to watch any sort of movie or television show portray the Catholic Church in the right way. I will never forget watching an episode of Sex in the City (Yes, I do think less of myself, and, yes, I went to Confession over this) where Carrie Bradshaw describes the Catholic Church “as a desperate 36-year-old single woman willing to settle for anyone she could get.” I savagely wanted to lodge my remote control in the middle of my television screen. Every time I read a book where there is a scene of someone in the Confessional, they have some pervy, plump, and puerile character who is suppose to resemble a priest give some trite, borderline heretical piece of advice while wringing his hands and using the phrase “my son” more than is natural for any human being. This misconception must stop or we will have a harder time being taken seriously by the rest of the world.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” So how can we fix this? I believe that faithful Catholic artists and writers must create pieces of art and write works of literature that not only define properly what we are to the rest of world in terms of the universal language of beauty but spread the message of hope in an apathetic world. If our creative members shy away from creating because they are afraid of being ridiculed for the work being overtly religious, then we have no one describing to the world in universal terms what we are all about. However, the creative types in our community are not the only ones responsible for clearing up the the world’s misunderstanding of the Church. The Catholic media outlets need to promote and exhibit zealously the works by these marginalized people, and the Catholic community as an audience needs to seek out these artists and writers by giving them a chance and by supporting their work financially. It is by these means we can show the world what it really means to be Catholic.

#2 The Catholic Church Was Once the Main Source of Art and Literature in the Western World

Any art history aficionado knows that from the very beginning Christians began to express their love of God through the arts. Early on Christians started filling the world with images of the gospel from everything to the carvings of poems on crypts in the catacombs to the music they played and the stories they told. When Rome fell, the Church was left with the responsibility of preserving and protecting the creativity of the past all the while nurturing and developing the art of the future. Lovers of culture must acknowledge that the Church continued and advanced the skill and overall craftsmanship of art. Quite simply without  Christianity art might have not been the same.

When the age of modernity came, the Church began to lose art to secularism. By the time the 20th century came and gone, art produced by the Church or its members became more and more marginalized because somehow hinting or speaking positively about one’s faith became a mark of poor creativity. The world has taken the art that the Church so lovingly cultivated and preserved for everyone and has refused to allow to the Church to continue to participate in its development. Nowadays in literature when Christian lives and practices are depicted in any positive way, somehow that perception although true to the author is deemed less genuine and less beautiful by the rest of the world.

Fortunately Pope Benedict XVI addresses this issue in his 2009 speech to the artistic community:

Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them, it encourages them to cross the threshold and to contemplate with fascination and emotion the ultimate and definitive goal, the sun that does not set, the sun that illumines this present moment and makes it beautiful. — Pope Benedict XVI, “Meeting with Artists: Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI” (November 21, 2009).

Authors and artists must learn once again not to be afraid of creating an image or a story about their deep love and search for the infinite. The members of the Church must make a conscious effort of seeking out these creative, gifted, and faithful individuals. Once they find one such laudable Catholic artist members of the Catholic media should exhibit them, so that the rest of the world might have a slight chance of recognizing once again that the Church has still something valuable to contribute to the cultivation of art and literature.

#3 Catholic Writers Need an Outlet to Share Their Catholic Experience

In the infancy of Christendom, the main way for the Gospel to spread throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world was by word of mouth. Then as the primary witnesses of the Resurrected Christ began to die off, the Church resorted to writing these histories for the sake of future generations. The writing of the New Testament was the beginning of the narrative history of the Catholic Church, but it didn’t just stop with Scriptures. The Church continued to record its history of those who served Christ in each generation. With each new era, histories and legends cropped up about courageous men and women who loved and served Jesus Christ. These histories and legends were beautiful written and were told again and again in different ways creating a tradition of beautiful storytelling.

However, what story is going to be told about our generation of Catholicism? How will future Catholics perceive the state of the Church in the 21st century? I fear that they will see this as the true dark ages or rather the silent ages of Catholicism. The lack of emphasis and development of Catholic culture through the marginalization of faithful Catholic authors and artists has forced many to bite their tongues and say little to nothing about their perception of their Catholic existence. Many writers feel that if they share their experience that they will be accused of “Bible-thumping” or “Rosary Rattling.”

Despite this, I pray that Catholic writers continue to write about the “authentic beauty” that is the reality of the Catholic experience. I suggest that Catholic writers should continue to be bold despite the rules of present day literary fashion and tell it like it is. Pope Benedict XVI writes:

Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence, the Mystery of which we are part; from this Mystery we can draw fullness, happiness, the passion to engage with it every day. — Pope Benedict XVI. “Meeting with Artists: Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI,” 2009.

I hope that artists and writers will once again create stories and paint pictures depicting this interaction of the profoundest mystery of all, God, mingling with the common occurrences of human existence. Writers and authors must capture or at least sketch for the benefit of humanity the reality of the sacramental gift of every day life.

#4 Art and Literature Is an Outlet of Worship

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila

Many people, including a great many Catholics, claim that if writers write with the specific intent of worshiping God in their work then they cease making a piece of art. I find this division between art and worship a misunderstanding of both what worship and art actually is. This separation creates a rift between the inspiration of Catholic artists from their actual creations. What if all artists were told that they were no longer allowed to use their muse to inspire them? We would find ourselves with a solemn “Mona Lisa” and not so terrifying “Scream.” For Catholic artists and writers their muse is the movement of the Holy Spirit in the every day moments of existence. To begrudge them from acknowledging the presence of God in their perception of the world around them is downright criminal.

To illustrate my point, I shall summarize The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, which illustrates my point exactly. (N. B. I highly recommend reading this book) (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) The story is about a boy name Giovanni who grows up to be famous juggler. On his way to a city, he shares his meal with two Franciscan brothers, who say to him “Our founder, Brother Francis, says that everything sings of the glory of God. Why even your juggling.” Giovanni doesn’t understand this concept until one Christmas night when he was no longer a famous juggler but a poor beggar seeking shelter in a nearby Cathedral. He stands before the statue of the Mary and a very solemn Christ child. He decides to attempt to make the Christ Child smile and juggles the best performance in his entire career. He, then, falls dead at the foot of the statue. When the Francisican brothers find the dead juggler at the foot of statue, they at first believe that he committed an act of blasphemy, but they discover that the once solemn statue of the Christ-Child was now smiling and holding one of the Giovanni’s juggling balls (called the Sun in the Heavens). Giovanni who was a master juggler sought the approval of men in his work, but only reached the apex of his career when he performed for God. I believe that like Giovanni Catholic writers and artists must no longer seek the approval of the world but the approval of God in order to achieve true height of their career.

Odds are if a artist or writer actually ceased to care about what the world thought of their work then they would certainly become the typical “starving artist,” but I think this is where we Catholics must start caring once again for the survival of Catholic arts. If only we really supported these artists more with our attention, with our admiration, and (yes) our financial means, then Catholic artists wouldn’t feel the need to separate their inspiration from their creation. Quite simply we would save them from selling out their faith for worldly recognition. I am not suggesting that they should grind their axes or preach Hell and brimstone (although that would be fun to read and would prove to be unique in this day and age). All I am suggesting is that they shouldn’t be afraid to truly express their deep love of God in their work. Catholic writers, artists, and their audience must be like Abel give the first fruits of their labor and their attention to God.

Pope Benedict XVI writes:

Saint Augustine, who fell in love with beauty and sang its praises, wrote these words as he reflected on man’s ultimate destiny, commenting almost ante litteram on the Judgement scene before your eyes today: “Therefore we are to see a certain vision, my brethren, that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived: a vision surpassing all earthly beauty, whether it be that of gold and silver, woods and fields, sea and sky, sun and moon, or stars and angels. The reason is this: it is the source of all other beauty” (In 1 Ioannis, 4:5). My wish for all of you, dear artists, is that you may carry this vision in your eyes, in your hands, and in your heart, that it may bring you joy and continue to inspire your fine works.– Pope Benedict XVI “Meeting with Artists: Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI,” 2009.

It is in describing their experience with this other beauty that artists and writers are able to at the same time create a great piece of artwork and express in no uncertain terms the greatness of the God of all beauty and truth. The audience of this great artwork and devout act of faith also get to participate in this sacrifice of praise called art by studying it, rejoicing in it, and proclaiming in uplifted voices “Amen!”

3 Literary Journals to Feed Your Soul

Catholic authors have to toe a very thin line when trying to write works that will testify to the Catholic experience in art and literature. However, this is difficult when trying to appeal to a secular audience.

Listers, contemporary Catholic authors are becoming more and more of an endangered species in the world of literature. Catholic authors have to toe a very thin line when trying to write works that will testify to the Catholic experience in art and literature. However, this is difficult when trying to appeal to a secular audience. The avenues of the exposure and promotion are becoming less and less available to authors who even hint in a belief in Jesus Christ. And, as anti-Catholicism increasingly grows the plight of Catholic expression in the arts becomes more perilous. The Catholic authors who we still cling to like Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and G. K. Chesterton are all dead, but there is seemingly no one left to pick up their standard and carry on the tradition of good literature that still sings (or in some cases, hums) about the grace of God. Or is there?

Blessed Pope John Paul II acknowledges the crisis of contemporary Catholic literature:

It is true nevertheless that, in the modern era, alongside this Christian humanism which has continued to produce important works of culture and art, another kind of humanism, marked by the absence of God and often by opposition to God, has gradually asserted itself. Such an atmosphere has sometimes led to a separation of the world of art and the world of faith, at least in the sense that many artists have a diminished interest in religious themes.–“Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

Although the Pope acknowledges the present crisis he calls for authors and artists to continue speaking of the beauty and wonder of creation and of God in their world. He says:

On the threshold of the Third Millennium, my hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude– “Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

These struggling and rare artists must be supported, but finding efficient and reputable outlets are perhaps even more rare than finding the authors themselves. Therefore, listers, I have compiled a list of a couple of journals that I found helpful in sating my hunger for contemporary Catholic literature. (N.B. I encourage you all to check them out, and if you have the finances to support these or other Catholic publications that support and encourage Catholic expression through the arts please do so.)

1. Dappled Things

Dappled Things is pure Catholic joy. From the moment you open the journal, you will be inspired. Dappled Things includes short stories, poems, essays, and visual art by faith-filled authors, scholars, and artists. The artwork is uniquely exquisite with a wide range of styles from artists you may or may not heard of. My personal favorite of the artwork is the icon Our Lady of Merrimack by David Clayton in Fifth anniversary issue. The essays are edifying, interesting, and, at times, provoking in the good kind of way. However, my favorite aspect about Dappled Things is the editorial board is unafraid of exhibiting authors and poets who have a profound and deep love for Jesus Christ. In a world where it is taboo for an author to share the realities of Catholicism, Dappled Things is a voice crying out in the wilderness. One of my favorite short stories from Dappled Things is “Dirty Little Coward” by Gerald C. Matics in the 2009 Mary, Queen of Angels Issue. Here is a quote from Dappled Things about who they are:

The Psalmist invites us, “Come, let us sing to the Lord, and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us!” We the editors of Dappled Things invite you, our Catholic brothers and sisters, to sing and shout in our pages about our dappled world. Write about spotted trout and brinded cows, or write about the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We ask only that your work be inspired by your love for Him and His Church in the fullness of her Scripture and Tradition, her sacraments, and her communion of saints. –Dappled Things

2. Image


Although not strictly a Catholic journal (it is ecumenical including pieces from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic authors and artists), Image is unafraid of exhibiting and promoting many Catholic authors and artists. Each issue is filled with beautiful images of contemporary artwork. What makes Image really unique is the interviews they have with many of the featured artists in their publications. I have learned so much about modern religious art just by reading these amazing and stimulating articles. As a lover of classical art, Image helped me understand a little about the modern spirit of the contemporary religious artist (I love the interview they did with Marc Quinn in 69th issue). Their ecumenical listing of various authors and poets have helped me understand different cultures, but also led me to some wonderful authors who have been touched by the Christian tradition (especially the illustrious Thomas Lynch, undertaker and poet). They, like Dappled Things, are unafraid of allowing authors to speak about their religious experience, especially Catholics.

Few Christians have applied the concept of “stewardship” to culture itself. While it has been natural for Christians to see themselves as stewards of natural resources, or wealth, or the institutional church, there has been little sense of stewardship over our national culture.

Image speaks with equal force and relevance to the secular culture and to the church. By finding fresh ways for the imagination to embody religious truth and religious experience, Image challenges believers and nonbelievers alike. –Image

3. Pilgrim

Pilgrim is an online Catholic Journal. All of its content is free. But just because it is free, doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. In fact, the content is fantastic and exciting. The website consists of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, paintings, and photography. It not only includes and promotes contemporary literature and art from a Catholic perspective, but it looks back to older pieces of work and analyzes it from a contemporary standpoint. If you need something that will feed your soul, Pilgrim is the perfect journal for you.

How does Christianity, lived in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, affect the way men and women experience life in the world? What would an integrated, Catholic approach to life look like today? In what ways should it draw and depart from historical expressions of Christianity? How should it engage ideas and ways of living traditionally unassociated with the Church? Considering such questions, Pilgrim is committed to helping Catholics grapple intelligently and humanely with challenges posed to them both by the Church and by contemporary society. We explore what it means to sustain a Catholic identity and live Christianity holistically in today’s world. We also provide a forum for Catholics, and those sympathetic to Catholic ideas and approaches to life, to develop their capacities for criticial thought, creativity, and concern for one another and for all God’s creation.

5 More Short Stories That Every Catholic Should Read

Fiction has a savage appeal to authors and readers because they get entertainment out of some character’s suffering or unhappiness.

Listers, fiction has a savage appeal to authors and readers because they get entertainment out of some character’s suffering or unhappiness. However, to the credit of all fans of the written word, they also derive entertainment in a resolution, but that always means that something must first be resolved. Why are we, members of humanity, so obsessed with this tension between conflict and resolution? I was discussing this very topic with a group of friends recently, and we concluded that the story is not good if it does not capture some aspect of our conflict with sin. Fiction is one way humanity proclaims its utter brokenness. As Catholics we always struggle with concupiscence. Even though Christ died for our sins, we still feel we are unworthy of his redeeming grace. Even some of the words we say at Mass reflect this:

“Lord, I am unworthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Fiction, I think, is a reflection of this struggle between concupiscence and grace. We struggle with sin, which is our conflict, yet we fly to the Lord in the Sacraments and find our resolution. So, our obsession with suffering in fiction exists because we are ever looking for a hope for our redemption. I often wonder about the day when there will no longer be a conflict with sin (i.e. the completion of the Kingdom of God). The conclusion I came to is that fiction will no longer be necessary. The only thing that will exist is the poetry of praise, the great Gloria. However, as we all are still alive in this corrupted world, we still need fiction. We need that brief glimpse of redemption through suffering. Fiction points to this ideal of justice and resolution that people, Catholic or not, perpetually seek.

Therefore, I submit to you all, listers, my promised part 2 of short stories that every Catholic should read (if you haven’t read part 1 of this posting you can view it here ). Please do not presume that all of these authors are Catholic or remotely Christian. However, each of the following stories testify to the human’s struggle with concupiscence and our desire for eternal freedom from sin. Please note that these books are listed in no particular order. Now on to the stories…

#6 “The Hint of an Explanation”

by Graham Greene


Known for his intense writing style and thrilling historical mysteries, Graham Greene is one of the best authors to describe the epic struggle of man against his lesser angels. Many of Graham Greene’s writings are particular provocative, which is probably why Hollywood turned many of his stories into film (so if you read something by him other than this story, reader beware). However, “The Hint of an Explanation” is not so much provocative as it is particularly terrifying for those who love the Eucharist (and probably why Hollywood decided not to make this particular story into a feature film). The story takes place on a train where the main character, an agnostic, starts a conversation with a Roman Catholic stranger about what God allows. The Roman Catholic says that it is impossible to understand why somethings happen, especially occasions of corruption, but he says there are moments in life when there are hints as to why God allows them to occur. He then describes his own personal story of one of these hints. The gripping story the Roman Catholic stranger weaves takes you to a heart-wrenching moment when his younger self  is offered a terrifying and yet tempting bargain.

#7 “Lions, Harts, Leaping Does”

by J. F. Powers

As a married Catholic, I often forget about the struggles of parish priests, monks, and others who live the consecrated life. I mistakenly think of them effortlessly following  the rules of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Sometimes when I read The Imitation or The Interior Castles, I envy their access to God and their relationship with the Almighty. However, when I find myself slipping into this envious mindset, I look to J. F. Powers to set the record straight. Known for his realistic portrayal of priests, J. F. Powers discusses the often ignored topic of the struggles of the clergy. Often addressing the misnomers of clergy life, he describes the issues, the annoyances, the struggles, and the uncertainties that often might plague priests and monks. “Lions, Harts, Leaping Does” is one such story. Brother Didymus, a Franciscan monk, struggles with the issue of false humility when he refuses to go see perhaps for the last time his aging brother. This story is a beautiful tale of the internal struggles of elderly monk. It certainly made me appreciate the precarious line that those of the consecrated life often have to toe. This story has helped me appreciate more fully the sacrifice that our priests, monks, and nuns for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

#8 “The Last Ugly Person”

by Roger B. Thomas


Although not as well known as the rest of the authors in this list, Roger B. Thomas holds his own. His writing style is poignant and emotive, not to mention the fact that the late Dr. Ralph McInerny put his stamp of approval on him. In a country that is so confoundedly image obsessed, “The Last Ugly Person” perhaps is one way to keep yourself inoculated from the temptation of vanity and pride. “The Last Ugly Person” is about a dystopian society where beauty, or rather a certain perception of beauty, is law. Those who don’t fall under the rules of beauty and acceptability, the Uglies, start to mysteriously disappear. As their numbers tick away, the struggling vagabonds are forced to rely on strangers to help them survive their wickedly and deceptively beautiful surroundings.

#9 “The Story of the Bad Little Boy”

by Mark Twain


Like most of Mark Twain’s stories, “The Story of the Bad Little Boy” is written in a laughing, sarcastic, and lyrical manner that upon further reflection will lead you to see a striking and disturbing reality. The story is based on those little Sunday school instructional tracts that churches used to hand out to children about proper behavior. This story refutes the premise of those pamphlets that good little boys are always rewarded and bad little boys are always punished. Upon first reading you will find yourself bursting with laughter at the fiendish misdeeds of naughty little Jim, and afterwards you will marvel that what appears to be exaggeration is really the awful truth: “Nice guys finish last.” I suggest you pair this story with “The Story of the Good Little Boy” because they are both extremely short and the meanings of both are enhanced when read consecutively. My recommendation is to read these stories during the election season.

#10 “The Passing of the Third Floor Back”

by Jerome K. Jerome

This last selection could be described as a situation in which grace collides with human folly. Also written as a widely popular play, “The Passing of the Third Floor Back” is a tale about a stranger who rents a room at a boarding house in London. He discovers that his fellow inhabitants are egregiously twisted in their own personal failures. However, as he meets with each individually, his presence and kind words create a curious effect on them. This beautifully written story testifies to the hope and the promise of grace to the worn and gnarled souls of all who are crippled by sin. I recommend this story to be read a couple hours before Confession.

 

 

 

Listers, please click the title of the short story to view the work on Amazon. Thank you.

The Authors and Catholicism: Although the majority of the authors in this list are Roman Catholic, there are a couple who are not Catholic. Regardless, all of the selected stories’ subject matter fall into line with the Catholic teaching.

Other Lists by JE Foyer
5 Short Stores that Every Catholic Should Read
6 Children’s Picture Books Perfect for a Catholic Family Bookshelf
8 Quotes from Christian Authors about the Importance of Good Fiction

8 Quotes from Christian Authors about the Importance of Good Fiction

Many people undervalue the genre of fiction because fiction is often misconstrued as purely a method of entertainment.

Listers, many people undervalue the genre of fiction because fiction is often misconstrued as purely a method of entertainment. Although this common use is by no means wrong, the exclusive reason why someone chooses to read a book should not be because they want to escape the doldrums of human existence. Fiction, however, should be another way of gaining a new perception on reality without the abstractions of philosophical debate (although fiction may perhaps precipitate philosophical discussion). The following list contains quotes from authors, some Catholic and some not, about the importance and value of the genre of fiction:

1. Flannery O’Connor on the Reality in Fiction

“People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.” –“The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1969), 77-78.

2. Blessed John Paul II on the Gospel’s Ability to Inspire Art

“Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning. That is why the Gospel fullness of truth was bound from the beginning to stir the interest of artists, who by their very nature are alert to every “epiphany” of the inner beauty of things” –-“Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

3. G.K. Chesterton on the Underlying Morality in Fiction

“This great idea, then, is the backbone of all folk-lore — the idea that all happiness hangs on one thin veto; all positive joy depends on one negative. Now, it is obvious that there are many philosophical and religious ideas akin to or symbolised by this; but it is not with them I wish to deal here. It is surely obvious that all ethics ought to be taught to this fairy-tale tune; that, if one does the thing forbidden, one imperils all the things provided[…]This is the profound morality of fairy-tales; which, so far from the being lawless, go to the root of all law. Instead of finding (like common books of ethics) a rationalistic basis for each Commandment, they find the great mystical basis for all Commandments.” –“Fairy Tales”, All Things Considered, (New York, Feather Trail Press, 2009), 87.

4. C.S. Lewis on What Makes Good Fiction

“I never wrote down to anyone; and whether the opinion condemns or acquits my own work, it certainly in my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” — C.S. Lewis, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” The New York Times November 18, 1956.

5. G.K. Chesterton on Teaching Children Fairy Tales

“We all know the people who think it is wicked to tell children fairy tales which they are not required to believe, though of course not wicked to teach them false doctrines or false news why they are required to believe. They hold that the child must be guarded from the danger of supposing that all frogs turn into princesses or that any pumpkin will at any minute turn into a coach and six and that he must rather reserve his faith for the sober truth told in newspapers, which will tell him that all Socialists are Satanists or that the Act of Parliament will mean work and wealth for all. We ourselves have generally found that children were quite sufficiently intelligent to question the first and that grown-up people were quite sufficiently stupid to swallow the second.” –“Dragooning the Dragon” As I was Saying (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1985)

6. Flannery O’Connor on the Levels of Meaning in Fiction

“We all write at our own level of understanding, but it is the peculiar characteristic of fiction that its literal surface can be made to yield entertainment on an obvious physical place to one sort of reader while the selfsame surface can be made to yield meaning to the person equipped to experience it there.” — Flannery O’Connor “Writing Short Stories,” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1969), 95.

7. Blessed Pope John Paul II on the Necessity of Fiction Conveying the Message of the Gospel

“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.” — “Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

8. Flannery O’Connor on the Necessity of the Supernatural in the Heart of the Author

“Where there is no belief in the soul there is very little drama. The Christian novelist is distinguished from his pagan colleagues by recognizing sin as sin. According to his heritage he sees it not as sickness or an accident of environment, but as a responsible choice of offense against God which involves his eternal future.” –Flannery O’Connor, “Novelist and Believer” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1969), 167.

5 Short Stories that Every Catholic should Read

The genre of the short story is a particularly extraordinary human invention.

Listers, the genre of the short story is a particularly extraordinary human invention. In a matter of two hours or less, the short story can illustrate some complexities of life without taxing the mind with deep philosophical terms or concepts. As some of us don’t have the proclivity to have intense philosophical and theological discussions on the various nuances of life and faith, the short story provides us with a brief vision on the robust nature of the Christian existence. Many people would suggest that short stories are just for children. However, I would argue that adults need short stories as well. It is one of the few welcome outlets in which adults can hold up a mirror to themselves and observe what they see, warts and all.

In this spirit, I submit to you all, Listers, a modest list of 5 short stories that testify to the beauty and the blemishes of our humanity. I, by no means, believe that this list is a complete one (hence the “part 1” in the title of the posting). I hope to do more postings on great short stories, so please suggest any if you feel a particular piece is appropriate to this list. Now on to the stories:

#1 “Leaf by Niggle” by J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien is one of the more recognized and widely read modern authors in the English language. However, due to the vast and well-deserved popularity of The Lord of the Rings, many of his other works like his short stories are not given the attention that some of them deserve. Originally published in a book called Tree and Leaf in 1964, “Leaf by Niggle” is a short story about an artist named Niggle who procrastinates making plans for a necessary journey. However, when his journey abruptly begins without warning he finds himself ill-prepared and thinks of the people and unfinished projects that he has now left behind. My recommendation for this story is to have tissues or a handkerchief close by, not because it is sad, but, because it elucidates a beautiful reality of humanity’s participation in the Kingdom of God.

#2 “The Light Princess” by George MacDonald

It is truly shocking how a lot of people don’t know and haven’t read George MacDonald’s works even though his influence has left an indelible mark on the world of literature. C. S. Lewis honors MacDonald in The Great Divorce by making MacDonald into a character who guides the narrator on a bus ride from hell to heaven. He may not have been a Roman Catholic, but MacDonald’s influence has certainly made a massive impact on Catholic literature. Both J. R. R. Tolkien and G. K. Chesterton admit that MacDonald’s writing made a enormous impact on their lives, their method of writing, and their way of re-imagining the world. “The Light Princess” is, in my humble opinion, the most romantic fairy tale that I have ever read. It is about a princess, obviously, who has had a curse put upon her by an evil witch. I won’t tell you what the curse is because that would rob the story of its whimsy. However, she meets a handsome prince who falls madly in love with her. When the witch takes away something terribly dear to her, a hard decision has to be made. I realize that some of you all might object that I suggest reading a fairy tale, but I assure this is no watered-down Disney production. You’ll find this story not only wildly entertaining, but extremely edifying as MacDonald weaves this tale of true love.

#3 “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde might perhaps be one of the more controversial authors in the history of Catholic literature due to certain predilections he had in his personal life. However he lived his life, it is certain the Gospel inspired him in some way as many of works reflect a distinct fascination to certain aspects of Christianity. One great example of his deep attraction to Christianity is in Wilde’s collection of short stories entitled The Happy Prince and Other Tales. This book is filled with wonderful stories, including my personal favorite, “The Selfish Giant.” This story is about a giant who had a beautiful garden, and while he was away on extended trip to visit an Ogre, the town children played in his garden happily. But, when he returns and discovers the children, he banishes them from his garden and builds up a wall to prevent their entry, which in turn causes a dreadful consequence. This whimsical fairy tale of “The Selfish Giant” is a lighthearted story of how God’s grace can soften the hardest of hearts.

#4 “The Blue Cross” By G. K. Chesterton

It won’t take you too long when exploring the various posts on St. Peter’s List to notice that many of our contributors greatly esteem the “Prophet of Orthodoxy,” G. K. Chesterton. His wit, his ideas, his stories, and his unabashed passion for reason have inspired many Christians, Catholic or not, to delve deeper into what it means to be truly Christian. His decided use of reason perhaps becomes incarnate in the beloved character of Father Brown, a crime fighting Roman Catholic priest whose only weapons are faith and reason. Father Brown first appears in “The Blue Cross” a story first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1910. In the story, the head of the Parisian police is trying to apprehend the famous and wicked criminal, Flambeau. Amidst his search for the criminal, he encounters a mild-mannered priest, Father Brown, who at first seems like a easy target for theft as he is carrying a jewel encrusted cross. However, Valentin soon discovers that Father Brown is not your average cleric, but a man who has the happy knack of finding clues to the hardest of mysteries using the most unusual methods.

#5 “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor”

Flannery O’Connor is one of my literary idols, because she shook the American literary scene with her dark and yet realistically sinister characters. “Revelation” is one such story that frightens me to my very core with its gruesome realistic portrayal of a rather stuck-up, white, middle-class, and “Christian” lady from the South named Mrs. Turpin. Throughout the story she constantly is looking down her nose at the people she is sharing a waiting room with. However, with an abrupt and sudden run-in with an angry young girl, Mrs. Turpin’s elite perception of her life is called into question. WARNING! Flannery O’Connor’s stories are not for the faint in heart. These stories are deliciously gritty. She frequently, yet rightly, uses strong and shocking language to capture entirely the reality of the darkness of human failure and the glorious beauty of the sudden emergence of unmerited grace.

Enjoy!

 

Listers, please click the title of the short story to view the work on Amazon. Thank you.

 

Part II: 5 More Short Stories That Every Catholic Should Read.

13 GK Chesterton Quotes

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

Listers, SPL presents a small snapshot of the extraordinary intellect and wit of Gilbert Keith Chesterton. His works brim with antidotes, parables, paradoxes, and witticisms. Even over the most mundane of subjects, he is a joy to read.

On Fairy Tales:

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

On Living the Life:

“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”

On a Poetic Lacuna:

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

On Literature:

“Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”

On Soldiers of Charity:

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

On Love:

“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.”

On the Occasion of Being Absentminded:

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.”

On the Occasion of a Dinner Party:

“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”

Our Neighbors:

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

On Christianity:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

On Education:

“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

An Antidote to Materialism:

“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”

On Literary Critique:

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”