10 Book Recommendations from Former Editor-in-Chief
“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them,” warned Mark Twain.
In the spirit of Twain’s quip, I propose ten books every Notre Dame student should read before graduation.
1) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: This novel explores providence and conversion in the lives of artist Charles Ryder and an aristocratic English Catholic family, the Flytes, in England from the 1920s onward. Follow with George Weigel’s essay “Brideshead Revisited and the Ladder of Love” and the terrific 11-episode 1981 miniseries (NOT the abysmal 2008 film!).
2) Something by P.G. Wodehouse: Bumbling Bertie, suave Jeeves, formidable aunts, hijinks and love triangles galore — what more could you ask for? I recommend starting with any of the Jeeves and Wooster stories or Leave it to Psmith (“the ‘p’ is silent, as in pshrimp”).
3) Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: Beautiful, strong-willed Kristen rejects the suitor her father Lavrans has selected for her for the handsome but weak Erland. This trilogy follows the whole of Kristen’s life as she grapples with the consequences of this decision, her sins, and what it means to be a wife, a mother, and a Christian. Set in fourteenth-century Norway, this is an incredibly rich and moving portrayal of one woman, her family, and the medieval church.
4) Emma or Persuasion by Jane Austen: If you were lucky enough to read Alasdair McIntyre with David Solomon, you know that Austen is Aristotelian moral philosophy distilled. While country dances and afternoon calls are no longer in vogue, human nature hasn’t changed. These are some of the most enjoyable, well-written, and subtly humorous novels ever written.
5) The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni: Two peasants, Lucia and Renzo, are to be married the next day when their parish priest receives a visit from two thugs forbidding the marriage. Long but very absorbing, it’s a sweeping historical novel with villains, saints, intrigue, plague, famine, and war set during the seventeenth-century Spanish occupation of Italy. Think Les Miserables but with more interesting digressions and more richly developed characters.
6) In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden: A highly successful businesswoman, Phillipa Talbot, leaves her career for a cloistered Benedictine monastery. Phillipa’s past comes to the forefront in unexpected ways as the community faces challenges to its future and a changing church. A fascinating portrayal of religious life that will prompt reflection for all ages and vocations.
7) Death Comes for the Archbishop or My Antonia by Willa Cather: My Antonia depicts a Bohemian family’s struggle for survival in Black Hawk, Nebraska. This beautifully written book is a testament both to a young girl’s endurance in the face of physical and moral trials and, ultimately, the virtue of hope. A deeply Catholic novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop is an unforgettable retelling of the life of a Catholic bishop, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, and his brother priest Joseph Machebuef as they work to establish a diocese in New Mexico territory.
8) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: You’ve seen the movies, but don’t miss the high adventure and moral depth of the books. Tolkien transcends the modern “fantasy” categorization, but if you eschew stories with elves and dwarfs on principle (hi, mom!), check out Tolkien’s thought-provoking short story “Leaf by Niggle” or the whimsical “Farmer Giles of Ham.”
9) All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot: This heartwarming book, and its sequels, follow the experiences of veterinarian surgeon James Herriot in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Herriot has a keen eye for humor and pathos, and his stories of animals and their owners are woven in with his own as he begins his career working alongside his eccentric boss Siegfried Farnon and Farnon’s wild younger brother Tristan, and continues as he marries and serves in the RAF during World War II.
10) Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Philippe: There are many spiritual classics and more comprehensive overviews of the spiritual life. But this book describes simply and beautifully a foundational truth that is often missed in our anxious age: that to allow God to work in us and through us we must cultivate peace of heart.
Claire Cousino served as editor-in-chief of the Rover from 2011-2012. Her eleventh recommendation is American Priest: The Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh by Fr. Bill Miscamble, C.S.C. Send her book recommendations at firstname.lastname@example.org.