The Need to Read: Christian authors who inspire and entertain
There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. —John 21:25
The last verse of Saint John’s Gospel is rather curious. Surely the events of the life of one man—even the God-Man Jesus—could be contained in a couple of thick volumes. Unless…the story continues?
And, of course, it does. Revelation unfolds and is illuminated and nuanced with each generation. Christian writers have a mission: to reveal the Gospel message in a particular time and place, to edify and inspire (and even entertain!) the modern disciple of Jesus.
Whether you’re lying in a hammock or at the pool or holed up in the air conditioning on a sweltering afternoon, summer is a time for reading. Here’s a list of my favorite Christian authors whose writing is clearly informed by their faith and whose faith, in turn, informed mine.
Novels for adults Morris West’s series that begins with The Shoes of the Fisherman, Jon Hassler’s Staggerford series, and Jan Karon’s Mitford series are great summer reads, as are Elizabeth Goudge’s The Dean’s Watch, Rumer Godden’s Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy (the title refers to the rosary), and Mark Salzman’s Lying Awake. Anne Rice honed her skills on vampire stories and then began writing her Christ the Lord series, a multivolume fictionalized biography of Jesus.
Novels for children Madeleine L’Engle’s series that begins with A Wrinkle in Time and C. S. Lewis’s seven Chronicles of Narnia books are good for younger readers. For teenagers and adults, his Space Trilogy, which begins with Out of the Silent Planet, is a gem.
Mysteries G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries are about a humble English priest who solves crimes because he understands the heart of a sinner. Ralph McInerny’s Father Dowling mysteries are entertaining, as are the great Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey stories. I’ve also enjoyed the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters—splendid, if you like things medieval.
Essays A three-way tie: Kathleen Norris, who became fascinated with the Benedictine life—her Acedia & Me is amazing; Nancy Mairs, a Catholic convert who has lived with depression and multiple sclerosis; and Anne Lamott—irreverent, very funny, and gut-wrenchingly honest. Note: Mairs and Lamott don’t mince words.
Biographies I was a very new Catholic when I read The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton and The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day. Both are a bit heavy but inspiring accounts of God’s work in these modern disciples. Easier but also insightful are Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis and The Gift of Peace, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s story of his last days with cancer. An unusual and very engaging autobiography is My Life With the Saints by James Martin, SJ.
Catechetical I credit C.?S. Lewis with much of my early formation. See Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters (insightful and funny) and a lovely little book for anyone mourning the loss of a loved one, A Grief Observed. And between dips in the pool, you might also dip into the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Self-help Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer is so good I buy used copies to give away. Also look at Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times by Catholic therapist Robert J. Wicks.
Let me know of any gems I’ve missed. My hammock is beckoning, and I need something to read.