2019 Summer Reading Recommendations

I recently listened to a podcast in which the show host offered a provocative description of a public building that is somewhat distinctive to the American landscape and ethos. He said that public libraries are “temples of sharing.” This initially struck me as something typically modern to say. The Enlightenment project involved the glorification of knowledge and reason to the great detriment of many a Christian’s faith; in fact, the era’s thinkers saw faith as something archaic, medieval, and eminently unreasonable. To call a library a “temple” seems to reflect this sentiment. It also occurred to me that the phrase “temples of sharing” could just as well be used to describe another public building—the local church, where the People of God receive the same Word of God and share in the one Bread of God.

In an illiterate society, many Christians would have received a great deal of their knowledge from the pulpit. Preachers proclaimed and explained the Word to the people. The detailed architecture surrounding the assembly, which in itself was a kind of “book” shared by all, would have reinforced every “lesson.” The images in glass told a story, and the statues in plaster recalled a hero. Among these treasures, shared and enjoyed by all, was the greatest treasure of all—the Eucharistic Banquet, the very paradigm of all sharing. “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16b-17). The local church was a true “temple of sharing.”

In today’s literate society, we might perceive the library to be encroaching on the public turf of the local church, crowding it out of the town square and vying for the attention of its citizens. From a Catholic perspective, however, we need not see these two buildings as competitors, but as compliments that have an important place in the public square. And though each serves as a sort of public symbol for faith and reason respectively, “faith” does not belong to the local church alone, and “reason” to the library alone. The Church teaches that faith and reason belong together, whether under the steeple or in the stacks. Indeed, both church and library tend to be neglected these days, and they might find common cause against a TV- and internet-addicted age.

The summer months tend to be an apt time to visit these venerable and public spaces. The brothers who write for Dominicana, whose religious charism places emphasis on both prayer and study, certainly think so, and would like to encourage our readers to consider spending less time in front of a screen this summer and more time in the local church or library. We intend to aid you in two ways. First, from June until the second full week of August, we will limit our online posts to two per week, giving you a little more time away from a screen. Second, every Friday we will offer reading recommendations to encourage the reading of good books throughout the summer. We don’t pray and read enough as a culture; the summer provides an opportunity to remedy these deficiencies. From the Gospel writers and Saint Augustine to Chesterton and other contemporary authors, the Catholic Church offers a wealth of literature, philosophy, theology, memoirs, spiritual writing, and stories that strengthen the heart and illumine the mind. We want to encourage you to dive into such treasures.

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. (God in the Dock, 201)

We might adapt this most excellent rule so that it confronts our more contemporary penchant for internet reading and browsing. It might be stated thus: after reading one article or tweet online, never allow yourself another new one till you have read a few pages of a good book in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read a few pages to every three pieces of internet content.

Summer is upon us. Get away from your computer. Get away to a “temple of sharing”—be it the local church or the library. And read, asking the Holy Spirit for the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.

Image: Robert Campin, Annunciation Triptych from the Mérode Altarpiece

From Dominicana Journal