Joseph DeReuil, Editor-in-Chief, Hannah Coulter– Wendell Berry

One of Wendell Berry’s Port William novels, Hannah Coulter tells the story of a girl in rural Kentucky growing up during World War II. It follows her life through the industrialization and post-War reshaping of America in the ensuing decades and tells of her and her husband’s seeking to provide their children with a better life—helping them receive a college education and attain successful careers. But the larger narrative of the story also reveals that in many ways the modern standards of success—the “get big or get out” mentality that percolated from the cities into rural towns and farms in the 50s and 60s—does not measure personal fulfillment. As family and local society are pulled apart by competing goals, salaries, and broken relationships, Berry masterfully calls into question the dream of going off to a distant school and working in a big city. The short, easy-to-read novel is well worth anyone’s time, but it particularly leaves much to consider for college students in the midst of planning their future successes. 

Joshua Gilchrist, Executive Editor, Silence– Shusaku Endo

Written by Japanese Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo, this work of historical fiction tells the story of Portuguese Jesuits’ missionary efforts in 18th-century Japan. Far from a dry historical account, the book enters deeply into the psychology of the missionaries, taking the reader along for the tumultuous journey, both geographical and spiritual, on which the missionaries embarked. The book, translated from its original Japanese by William Johnston, is starkly beautiful but, psychologically speaking, is not an easy read. Prolonged scenes of torture and martyrdom vividly convey the suffering of the missionaries and the Japanese Christians, and, even more difficult, the stream-of-consciousness-esque writing that constitutes much of the book brings readers into the excruciating crises of faith experienced by the characters. The strength of the book lies in its raw portrayal of characters’ psychology and its resistance of the tendency to neatly resolve their struggles.

Nico Schmitz, Managing Editor, Of Gods and Men 

This 2010 French drama directed by Xavier Beauvois depicts a historical account of a small community of French Cistercian monks amidst the dangers of the 1996 Algerian Civil War. Beauvois uses the spirit of monastic life to dramatically explore the brothers’ choice whether to leave Algeria in the face of certain death. Whether it be the use of prolonged silence, sacred music, and overall simplicity, Beauvois’ film offers a chance to meditate on the nature of discernment, especially with respect to one’s community. Unlike many other Catholic films, Of Gods and Men depicts the nature of a lived Christian life while also illuminating the deep spiritual life that upholds the active life of a disciple. While slow at times, Of Gods and Men is a must see for any Catholic adult looking for spiritual nourishment, as it allows for contemplation, which is rare for any modern religious film. 

Elizabeth Hale, Culture Editor, Perelandra– C.S. Lewis

“It is not for nothing that you are named Ransom.” Though Perelandra is the second book in C.S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy, it is incredible in its own right and can be read as a stand-alone novel (though I’m going to cheat and recommend that you read Out of the Silent Planet, too). The story follows Elwin Ransom, newly returned from Mars, as he is called by God—“Maleldil”—back into space and onto the planet Venus (Perelandra) for an unknown mission. Soon after he lands, Ransom encounters a woman-like alien, unfallen and completely vulnerable to the predations of the Devil—“the Un-man”—who landed on Perelandra shortly after Ransom. It is in encountering these creatures that he discovers his purpose on that Edenic planet. Perelandra is a striking reflection on the implications of the Fall and how grace acts in our lives. Lewis reimagines human encounters with the divine, and he bestows on the reader a sense of all that we lost in Eden. Reading Perelandra made me long for goodness and detest evil to a degree that I have not experienced in any other book, and it deepened my understanding of sin, corruption, and redemption. So, if you ever desire to feel a little more deeply the weightiness of the cosmic battle being waged over your soul, I highly recommend that you read C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra.

Paul Howard, Religion Editor, The Glory of Polyphony

In this six-part podcast series for the BBC, famed director and founder of the Tallis Scholars Peter Phillips gives a thorough crash course on the most important choral composers of the Renaissance period. In addition to presenting insights about great compositions of the past, Phillips presents the contexts in which the pieces were written. From William Byrd’s recusancy and subsequent persecution in Elizabethan England to the crimes of Carlo Gesualdo in Italy, listeners will learn about the varied lives of some of history’s most creative musicians. Beyond the lessons it teaches, The Glory of Polyphony is also sure to help listeners relax. The calming timbre of Phillips’ speaking voice and soothing sounds of the world’s best choirs are perfect for winding down after a long day. If you would like an introduction to the transcendent serenity or devastating grief that the sacred music of the past can elicit even today, then set aside half an hour of your day, plug in your headphones, and press play!

William Smith, Campus Co-Editor, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold– C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces retells the myth of Cupid and Psyche through a Christian lens. The story centers around the royal family of the fantastical kingdom of Glome: King Trom and the three princesses—Orual, Redival, and Istra. Orual narrates her experiences as the ugly daughter of a cruel King, the caretaker of a beautiful younger half-sister, and the heir of a struggling kingdom. The interplay of jealousy and love, wisdom and ignorance, gods and humanity complicate and enrich the already adventuresome storyline. In many ways, each encounter between characters becomes an embodiment of some of the most puzzling and pressing questions of life: What does it mean to love others? How do humans find happiness? Why does God remain silent and hidden? There are few works that so brilliantly and creatively address some of the deepest questions of the human heart. This book is worth reading for the pure enjoyment of exploring the stories of a Greek-inspired land and the profound layers of meaning that continue to be retold in our daily lives and the lives of those around us.  

Catalina Scheider Galiñanes, Social Media Co-Coordinator, Gilead– Marilynne Robinson

This novel follows Congregationalist minister John Ames’s telling of his life to his son. An aged man with a young wife and child, John faces his own mortality and the deep spiritual battles which define every human life. Set in the fictitious town of Gilead, Iowa, from the 1880s to the mid 1950s, the work delves into theological themes of rejection and redemption while also engaging the reader with stories of John’s grandfather, father, and upbringing. In its telling of John’s many solitary years and trials, Gilead grapples with human loneliness and the sense of loss that comes with the passage of time. Marilynne Robinson’s portrayal of fatherhood and community life offers both comedic and tragic insights into the importance of family bonds and place. Ames’s deep internal life brought me to tears, and the novel shares a beautiful American story of family, forgiveness, and death.

William White, Webmaster, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson– S. C. Gwynne

S. C. Gwynne’s well written and engaging biography catalogs the career of one of the Civil War’s most enduring and puzzling characters: Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The man was both a living puzzle and a genius for war. How did a failed, strange, and eccentric  college professor become one of the most successful and brilliant leaders and generals of the Civil War? How did a deeply devout Christian and loving husband become one of the war’s most ruthless warriors? How did a man who started a Sunday school for African Americans, much to the derision of his neighbors, own slaves and fight for the Confederacy? How did a loyal officer turn against his country and even his birthplace? S.C. Gwynne masterfully interweaves the tale of Jackson’s personal life into the wider story of the bloodiest conflict in American History. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and very fairly written biography of one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of the Civil War.

Lauren Douglas, Social Media Co-Coordinator, Emma– Jane Austen

Jane Austen is, by all accounts, one of the greatest female writers to have ever lived. Contrary to popular opinion, though, I would say that Emma, Austen’s fourth published novel, is not only brilliantly written, but also one of the most profound works of fiction I have had the pleasure of reading. Emma centers on the happenings of the small town of Highbury and the titular character’s efforts to “make matches” for all of her dearest friends. Still, despite Emma Woodhouse’s best intentions, her efforts are thwarted by her sheltered upbringing and frivolous inattention to the feelings of others. Austen crafts the character of Emma so that she is entirely unlikeable yet perfectly human. Austen goes to great lengths to explain the intricacies of British Society, and she helps the reader understand and love her character.. Indeed, Austen’s true genius in Emma is not the plot but the characters. Austen introduces a massive cast of characters that could easily fall into either monotony or caricature, but neither happens. Emma is truly a masterclass in nuanced writing of a large cast of characters that transports the reader to the beauty and chaos of everyday life. 

Mia Tiwana, Layout Manager, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power– Daniel Yergin

Energy politics is at the forefront of American political discourse, and everyone seems to claim a stake in expertise. But anyone who claims to know something about the politics of energy must begin with Daniel Yergin’s book. Yergin tells a history of  that world-changing, murderous, slick source of wealth: oil. The age-old resource only dominated the economy at the turn of the 20th century. This book will make any reader exclaim, “Oil causes everything!” From war to democratization, oil fundamentally shapes our lives in a mode almost completely unknown by the general public. The book reads like a novel you can’t put down, but contains significant scientific theories on how oil has blessed—and plagued—our world.

Mary Rice, Campus Co-Editor, Mere Christianity– C.S. Lewis

“What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole of creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him.” C.S. Lewis offers a simple, colloquial defense of Christianity in this short work. Originally delivered as radio broadcasts during the World War II, his published book begins with a lighthearted philosophical discussion of what it means to be human and how to understand the world through the lens of a Christian. Lewis argues for the rationality of the Christian position and for its increased necessity in a world losing its grasp on faith. 

Luke Thompson, Politics Editor, Belfast 

This very loosely autobiographical film written and directed by seasoned filmmaker Kenneth Branagh tells the story of a young boy growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the midst of one of the most violent early episodes of The Troubles. While the film does not attempt to present a complete picture of the deep cultural and religious conflict that frames the story, it does nonetheless present a beautiful story about the worth of deeply historic, organic communities and the ways that they can deteriorate. Accented by a wonderful original soundtrack from Belfast native Van Morrison, the narrative of the film centers around a creeping decision facing the young boy’s family about whether to stay in their ancestral home of Belfast—where they have lived among the same families for generations—or to move away to escape the increasing violence plaguing their streets. The film does a fantastic job of exploring the tension between protecting one’s family from clear threats of harm and losing out on the deep benefits of growing up embedded in a tightly knit and historically thick community. 

Picture Credit: Matthew Rice, Wikimedia Commons