Rover masthead highlights favorites from Winter break.

W. Joseph DeReuil, Editor-in-Chief, My Antonia by Willa Cather

My Antonia by Willa Cather is a beautifully written novel about an immigrant family growing up in the American West. Cather, herself a native of Nebraska, clearly writes through a lens of personal experience, portraying the joys and troubles of this simple yet difficult life. The melancholic story arc communicates great depth of character through clear, inornate prose. It is a tale of reminiscence: Jim Burden serves as Cather’s narrator voice, recounting his experiences with Antonia of many years, recalling the failure, growth, and ultimate maturity of a close friend. Having read three novels by Cather in the last year, I recommend My Antonia as a launching point into her picturesque early-American world—she is one of the most brilliant American fiction writers I have had the pleasure to read. 

Joshua Gilchrist, Executive Editor, New Polity Podcast, “The Invention of Capitalism” in the Good Money series

In a conversation about my plans for next year—discerning between teaching, farming, and delving into the (to me, still utterly incomprehensible) corporate world—a friend recommended the Good Money series on the podcast from New Polity, the prominent postliberal project run out of Steubenville, Ohio. As a relative newcomer to the conversation about liberalism, postliberalism, integralism, etc., I found Marc Barnes and Jacob Imam’s discussions of the roots of capitalism, early capitalists’ intentional cultural deracination of working peoples, rise of a money economy, and more to be helpful in thinking about what it means to be a Christian in today’s economic environment. I was inspired by their praise of sustenance lifestyles and found their critical evaluation of America’s economic attitudes to be refreshing. 

Elizabeth Hale, Culture Editor, Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler 

First published in 1940 and set in 1938 during the Moscow trials, Darkness at Noon is the stunning story of Nikolai Salmanovich Rubashov, a fictional character based off of real men that author Arthur Koestler knew. The novel follows Rubashov through imprisonment, torture, and, eventually, death at the hands of the Party which he served so faithfully. Imprisoned in solitary confinement, the reader is given a window into Rubashov’s mind as he reflects on his time as an elite officer for the Party. Over the course of these reflections, his conscience begins to torment him more than the sleep deprivation and physical torture he endures at the hands of his old friends, now his “examiners.” The juxtaposition between the brutality of the Stalinists with the gentleness of Christian tradition leads Rubashov to realize the hopelessness of the socialist utopia and repent of his ruthless ways, despite a lingering fealty to the Party. If Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is not one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, it is (unfortunately) its best kept secret.

Madeline Murphy, Campus Co-editor, Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc

Francis Poulenc’s opera the Dialogues des Carmélites (Dialogues of the Carmelites) is a striking dramatization of the life and death of the Martyrs of Carmel in Compiègne, France. The show depicts life in a convent while mounding anti-clericalism during the Reign of Terror encroaches on their peaceful life of prayer and fasting. Poulenc’s Catholic faith is evident throughout as characters frequently sing beautiful theological truths to each other in their agony. The score contains marvelous a cappella renditions of “Ave Maria” and “Ave Verum Corpus,” but nothing is as astonishing as the glorious “Salve Regina” that the sisters sing as they slowly walk one by one to the guillotine to uphold their vow of martyrdom and offer their suffering for the people of France. It is commonly held among Catholics and the French that their sacrifice helped end the Reign of Terror, as ten days after their martyrdom, the leader, Maximilien Robespierre, was executed. On February 22, 2022 (executive editor Joshua Gilchrist’s Birthday!), Pope Francis accepted equipollent canonization for the sisters. Notre Dame students can access Dialogues des Carmélites and many other great operas through the Hesburgh Library Online Access to Met Opera on Demand.

Mary Rice, Co-Campus Editor, A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

“Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent–non-existent. But then why does He seem to be so present when, to put it frankly, we don’t ask for Him?”

This brief work by C.S. Lewis was composed after the death of his wife and overflows with the emotion of a man whose pen was skilled enough to pour his grief between pages. It’s a unique side to human life that’s thoroughly explored in this book, and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to step away from novels or fiction and immerse themselves in a work whose subject is the complexities of human experience. Particularly for nostalgic seniors who are soon graduating, this book is a great tool for understanding how the mind and heart grapple with loss and change and reconcile them with the answers of faith. The entire work is written in Lewis’ quick-witted and conversational style, so it’s as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. 

Paul Howard, Religion Section Editor, The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

A perfect introduction to the world of Russian literature, The Death of Ivan Ilych, a short work of approximately 60 pages, showcases Tolstoy’s brilliance as a storyteller. As with other great works of 19th century Russian fiction such as Brothers Karamazov or War and Peace, narrative details serve as the backdrop to the true work of the story, a work unmistakably philosophical in character. Ivan Ilych is Tolstoy’s exemplar of the unexamined life. Though he may have sported a medallion bearing the inscription “respice finem” (consider the end) on his watch chain (as was fashionable in high society of the time), Ivan’s life bore few traces of teleological ordering. Tolstoy presents this life as a series of events unconnected by any intention or substantive principle. Seeking maximal freedom and pleasure, Ivan spent his days at an intentional distance from others, including his wife and children. Yet this pseudo-freedom left Ivan discontent, isolated, and incapable of considering any alternatives, even as he lay on his deathbed. But at the last moment, Ivan finds his conscience accusing him: “All you have lived for and still live for is falsehood and deception, hiding life and death from you.” Ivan Ilych was not a remarkable man in any regard; he can be found in each one of us. In this short work, Tolstoy challenges his readers to consider Ivan Ilych’s life and death, and turn in a decisively different direction, embracing the timeless dictum: memento mori.

Mia Tiwana, Layout Manager, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas G. Carr

Walking across the University of Notre Dame’s campus, a visitor may soak in the sunset across St. Joseph lake, feel the warmth of the grotto’s prayer candles, or squint at the glitter of the Golden Dome. Meanwhile, students walk in the midst of this beauty, craning their necks to view little black boxes. In The Shallows, a science-backed book that reads like a novel, Garr brings to light how the Internet changes the human mind. Garr argues that even though the Internet provides vast swaths of information, the human mind will never process this information fast enough. The Internet slowly erodes our capacity for learning, focus, and even contemplation. This book will literally make you rethink everything.

Catalina Scheider Galiñanes, Social Media Coordinator, Soylent Green (1973, directed by Richard Fleischer)

“Soylent Green is people!”

 The 1973 science-fiction film Soylent Green follows Charlton Heston as Detective Thorn, in the apocalyptic year 2022. While investigating the murder of one of the heads of the Soylent organization, Detective Thorn uncovers a diabolical, cannibalistic plot. The population of New York City is at an estimated eighty million, and all but the most elite have never tasted beef, fruits, or vegetables. Instead, the populace survives on Soylent Red, Yellow, and Green. These soy-lentil chips offer basic nutrition, and Soylent Green is promoted for its superior taste. The elderly eagerly line up to die by lethal injection after being promised a “full twenty minutes” of the music of their choice and a television display of beautiful nature scenes. “Scoopers,” or trash-trucks made for humans are used for crowd control during riots, and the general population is encouraged to die. But where do the bodies go? Burials are impossible, and there is no space even for ashes. Together with the dehumanizing existence of “furniture,” women who are bought and sold as sex-objects together with apartment space, Soylent Green offers a timely commentary on human dignity, euthanasia, and the objectification of women. The current push away from animal products and towards vegetable substitutes echoes the concerns of Soylent Green. Combined with the recent buzz surrounding Canada’s assisted suicide MAID act and New York’s new law permitting the composting of human bodies, Soylent Green is a relevant, exciting must-watch.

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice