Time to check your book list

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | August 11, 2021

We’re two months into summer, with school starting in just a few weeks. Did you finish your summer reading list? Or is there still time for one or two more books?

Did you know Pope Francis loves reading? Long before he became pope, Francis taught literature and psychology at Immaculate Conception College in Santa Fé, Argentina, and the Colegio del Salvatore in Buenos Aires.

While he does not watch TV, Pope Francis reads. Not just spiritual books. In June, America Magazine published three of the pope’s favorites on a summer reading list. The list corresponded with another from the Italian paper Corriere della Sera published a few years ago. Along with St. Ignatius of Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises” and “The Lord” by Fr. Romano Guardini, the list cites poetry of Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins and the 18th-century German philosopher Frederick Holderlin. The pope also loves Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and the dark-toned, futuristic “The Lord of the World,” by Robert Hugh Benson.

In “Pope Francis, His Life in His Own Words” by Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin (2010), Francis is quoted on the importance of reading: “Together with a culture of work, there must be a culture of leisure as gratification. To put it another way: people who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport.”

Which books would you read for “gratification?” Which would you recommend to the pope? Or your friends, children or grandchildren? In the same June article, America readers made recommendations for Pope Francis. Answers ranged from “Learning to Pray” by fellow Jesuit Fr. James Martin to John Steinbeck’s “Tortilla Flats.”

Many recall Charlie Brown’s Christmas assignment to read “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy. Most of us wouldn’t tackle this 1,225-page book, but many other books often top our lists. Here are a few you might have read or want to pick up:

Children’s picture books

  • “Good Night Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown, #4 on the top 100 picture books of all-time list of the School Library Journal (2012).
  • “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, in the top 10 most checked-out books at the New York Public Library (NYPL) in 2020.
  • “The Tale of the Three Trees,” a Christian folktale, by Angela Ewell Hunt.

For middle readers and young adults

  • “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, which was #6 on the NYPL list.
  • “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech, winner of the 1995 Newbery Medal from the American Library Association (ALA).
  • “Elijah of Buxton” by Paul Curtis, a 2008 Newbery Honor Book.

For adults:

  • “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, a Pulitzer Prize winner.
  • “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.

What would you add and why? Or what did you read this summer? As Kathleen Norris, a Benedictine Oblate and author wrote: “Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.”

We all need happier days. Whichever books you chose for summer or look forward to now, remember that time spent with books is never wasted. As Christian apologist C.S. Lewis noted (“An Experiment in Criticism”), “(I)n reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

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