There’s a Latin axiom which argues that there’s no accounting for taste, “de gustibus non est disputandum.” I reference it as a preamble to my annual list of the 10 books I most enjoyed this past year because, admittedly, taste is somewhat subjective. I chose these books because they’re the ones that spoke most deeply to me.
Perhaps they won’t speak to you in the same way. Fair enough. There’s no accounting for taste. So, here are the authors and the books that spoke to me.
Dom Bernardo Olivera, OCSO — “How Far to Follow? The Martyrs of Atlas” (Cistercian Publications, $12.95). This book helps tell the inside story of the Trappist monks who were martyred by Islamic extremists in Algeria in 1996. It focuses on the deep struggles these men underwent in making the decision not to leave their monastery and face martyrdom.
Father Donald Senior, CP — “Raymond E. Brown and the Catholic Biblical Renewal” (Paulist Press, $29.95). Well-researched and well-written, this is a biography of the renowned Scripture scholar, Father Brown, who stood out for his scholarship and for his exemplary discipleship and priesthood.
The book is more of an intellectual history of Father Brown than a chronicle of his life. By sharing Father Brown’s intellectual history, Father Senior also highlights the theological and ecclesial struggles of Brown’s generation.
Rachel Held Evans — This past year I discovered the writings of Rachel Held Evans. I cite three of her works here: “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church” (Thomas Nelson, $9.49); “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” (Nelson Books, $11.49); and “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” (Thomas Nelson, $11.59).
Evans grew up a cradle evangelical with a deep and solid faith, but adulthood brought its own challenges, particularly for someone of her courage and honesty. These books chronicle Evan’s struggle with her religious mother tongue, her falling out of her faith story, and her particular way of finding her way back in.
Her story articulates the struggle of millions. It’s an invaluable read, irrespective of one’s religious mother tongue. She’s also an exceptionally gifted writer. Sadly, she died in May 2019 at the age of 37. We lost a needed religious voice, but what she left us can help many a person sort through his or her religious struggles.
Jean Bosco Rutagengwa — “Love Prevails: One Couple’s Story of Faith and Survival in the Rwandan Genocide” (Orbis Books, $19.39). Someone once said that if you want to understand the tragedy of World War II, you can read a thousand books about it and watch a thousand hours of film, or you can read “The Diary of a Young Girl.” This is such a “diary,” written inside the horrors of the Rwandan genocide.
Robert Ellsberg — “A Living Gospel: Reading God’s Story in Holy Lives” (Orbis Books, $15.76). The lives of the saints are our living gospel and Robert Ellsberg is the foremost hagiographer in the English language today. This wonderfully readable book teaches us both what hagiography is and why it’s important.
Margaret Renkl — “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss” (Milkweed Editions, $24). This is a unique kind of book, a poetics of sorts on love, nature, adoration, family life, death, dying, and human resiliency.
Father Richard Rohr, OFM — “The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe” (Convergent Books, $16.22). This book will challenge you and will, with a sound scriptural theology, challenge mainline theology in its popular conception of both the intent and the scope of the Incarnation. An important read.
Sister Ruth Burrows, OCD — “Before the Living God” (Ambassador Books Inc., $10.42). This is Sister Burrows’ autobiography. I first read it 32 years ago. It moved me then and it moved me even more 32 years later. In her story, you will better understand your own story and the movement of God in your life.
David Brooks — “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life” (Random House, $13.99). Brooks’ “Second Mountain” very much corresponds to what spiritual writers like Father Rohr call the second-half of life.
Drawing upon his own story and creatively mixing secular and religious perspectives, Brooks lays out a challenging vision of what it means to mature, to move from being the hungry child to becoming the blessing adult. An excellent read.
Mary Jo Leddy — “Why Are We Here? A Meditation on Canada” (Novalis, $14.95). Leddy, the founder of Romero House for refugees in Toronto has always been a prophetic voice.
In this book, she submits that every country has its “original sin,” some primal fault in its origins that now taints its present. For Canada, she argues, it was how it treated its indigenous peoples.