One of my 21 goals for 2021 was to read at least 5 books classified as “classic literature” (whatever does that mean though?). So here are the books that I put in to that category.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (had to finish as an audiobook)
I hated this book the entire way through. It took me ages to work through it (bribery included!) but I am very glad I read it. a) because it’s a common expression, b) it is a monumental work of American literature, & c) it uniquely captures the angst post-WWII in American culture which questions the purpose of warfare in an absurd way.
Long story short, it’s about an American army group stationed in an island of of Italy who constantly get the number of missions they need to complete before they can leave raised every time. There is a “main” character, Yossarian, but it’s not really about him or the war or the army. It’s about the futility and absurdity of the whole war effort from the lens of a soldier. It’s got some “graphic,” adult language and prostitution but I mean what classic literature doesn’t? Get over it.
Time Machine by H.G. Wells (audiobook)
I saw the film as a kid & loved it! I was looking for a short, non-maternity, audiobook to pass the time & this answered my hopes. Just a wonderful, wonderful book. Written at the height of the Victorian age, a time of new machines thanks to the second-wave industrial revolution and when the “sun never set on the British Empire. The book reflects a European (British) sense of superiority but then questions the ideas of human “progress.” I loved the writing and the questions a seemingly simple book about the possible future asks about social inequalities, the role of technology and society, and literally the point of technological “advancement”?
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius – NEVER FINISHED AFTER BABY WAS BORN
This book is essentially written as random ideas jotted down and numbered. Some of Marcus Aurelius’ little thoughts were incredibly profound and I found them moving, stirring up ideas on how the people of the past are really not that different from us. Others felt like they needed more than a sentence. I brought this book to doctors appointments for lobby waiting time, but once the baby was born it just fell off and I never picked it up again. I probably won’t.
Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography (Books that Changed the World) by Alberto Manguel (audiobook)
One of my 2022 goals is going to be a college-level academic dive into The Iliad so found this audiobook as a primer for that year-long adventure. Each chapter is a different short essay on Homer, his impact, and characters. So it is an easy book to chunk, but the guy who reads it is soooo boring!
Note: See the category “Just for Fun” & “Religion” for the other two books I considered “Classic Literature: The Bible: A Biography & Dune.
“Just for Fun”
Ship of Theseus by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst (started in 2020 & finished early January 2021)
Award for weirdest/coolest/most intriguing book I have ever read (& probably will ever read!). It’s hard to describe & I really don’t want to spoil it so I’ll keep it short. The book is a story about this man with amnesia, written by a fictional, but mysterious author, and in the margins are two people having a conversation with each other about the book and their lives. So there are two (three maybe?) stories intertwined. On top of that there is paper, photographs, & media slipped in the pages of the book that makes you feel like you found this book at the back of the library left by two college kids. Did that explanation confuse you? Sorry – READ THIS BOOK!!!! Savor it.
How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays by Umberto Eco – NEVER FINISHED
Umberto Eco is my favorite favorite favorite contemporary author & I have loved everything of his I have read with the exception of two things: Foucault’s Pendulum, which I am convinced I need to reread to appreciate, and this book. I desperately hated this collection of essays. I would never recommend this book on anyone and that makes me so sad. That is not to say every essay was bad, some were hilarious, but it was a chore to pick up and read a section or two each night. I just wanted to finish. Case in point: I was in the hospital for 27 hours and I chose to stare out the window at a parking lot rather then read this book.
The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu by Katja Pantzar
I picked this book up from the library because I admire the Finnish (& in general European) outlook on family life. This book was a super quick read (like I finished one weekend) and easy. I mean the book is common sense: American obsession with excesses and consumption is terrible & Europeans have a much calmer, more balanced look at life. Luckily, Will & I live a little in tune with our “continental cousins” but I liked to book to remind me that simplicity is key to a happy life.
Dune by Frank Herbert (audiobook)
Yes, I read this because the movie was come out. No, I still haven’t seen it. lol The book is Star Wars-esque with such an interesting thread of religion through it. The book Dune is split into three sub-books, I didn’t get really into it until book 3 so be patient & it is rewarding.
The Beak of the Finch: The Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner
This is my annual summer book swap assignment that I am sadly still trudging through. Ironically enough, Will & I both do not love the books we assigned each other this year. Ya win some, ya lose some! The topic is fascinating, it’s the level of numerical minutia I think I could do without. Give this book to anyone who *cannot* seem to understand evolution, and it should help them.
Read more: 2021 Summer Book Swap
History & Art
The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett (Kingsbridge Series; audiobook)
I have read all the books in the Kingsbridge Series & loved every single moment of every single book. This book is a disant prequel to the later books & takes place in the decades surrounding the year 1000. If you like English and/or medieval history, hell even if you don’t & you just like a compelling life-long stories then these are the books for you! Like all of his historical fiction, Ken Follett seriously does his research, so, without noticing it, you are truly learning history too!
Notre-Dame: A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals by Ken Follett (audiobook)
Ken Follett wrote this super short book (I think the audiobook is less than an hour) in the wake of the cathedral’s burning a few years ago because he became sort of a mainstream medieval cathedral scholar while researching the material for the Kingsbridge series. Even as an art historian & a medievalist, I learned stuff! He doesn’t just talk about Notre-Dame, although that is certainly the focus; the book in general is about what these great gothic cathedrals meant to the medieval town, builders, church, and people in general. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the medieval understanding of their place in the cosmos.
Read more: Student Series! Chartres Cathedral
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong (audiobook)
This is the second book of hers I have read, the first was The Lost Art of Scripture, and I cannot wait to read the rest of her scholarly research. This book was a really great historical/political/religious look at how we misunderstand the role of religion throughout time and civilizations. I also loved that she tossed into question the word “religion:” the ancients and even people until the modern age did not separate, nor define “religion.” Instead, everything in their lives was touched by the sacred, therefore we cannot look at their societies in the same way we define our own.
Read more: Why I hate the word Pagan & other musings about the religious words we use
Seasons of Celebration: Meditations on the Cycle of Liturgical Feasts by Thomas Merton (still working on it)
I am reading this book in spurts (currently a three-year span). Each chapter is a seperate essay by the monk Thomas Merton and the mood would sometimes come over me to pick up the book and turn to a new chapter. This book was not about what I thought it was going to be about but it was deeper and more spiritual. Honestly, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it but it met me where I was these past few years.
*Note: I got this book from Feastday.co.
Every Sacred Sunday Mass Journey 2020-2021
These books have really elevated my mass attendance. The book takes the Catholic readings for the mass and adds journaling space. I love being able to read along (especially now that missals are not in the pews due to COVID) and write notes to myself and make connections in the margins. This has literally been my most transformative weekly religious practice because a) I love researching and breaking down Bible passages and b) if I cannot make it to mass for some unforeseen reason I can still *get* part of the experience. These books have really elevated my mass attendance. If you are struggling to find any purpose in going to mass, I highly highly recommend gifting yourself this book!
The Catholic Journaling Bible (still working on it)
I am not about to rate the Bible lol but this is the one I’ve been using this year (I got it for Christmas one year, thanks mom!). I had the brilliant idea to go through all the readings for the Catholic Mass (Years A, B, & C) and highlight in this Bible, according to the liturgical colors, no less, where our readings come from. Why in the world would I bother to do this you might ask? Well, I got sick and tired of hearing Protestants say that Catholics don’t read the Bible. In case y’all didn’t know, ALL the readings at Mass come from all parts of the Old Testament, New Testament letters, and the Gospels. I figured this Bible would colorfully show how much of the Bible Catholics actually read if they only go to mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. And let me tell you: it’s a lot.
The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong (audiobook)
I did not like this book nearly as much as the others, I think because I felt it was trying to cover too much ground. However, it did a great job show the slow SLOW development of “religion” as we know it today. Many people have the historical misunderstanding that to be “Christian” or whatever has meant the same thing at all time and all places. It has not.
Read more: Religion on the Upper West Side: Connect, Conflict & Coexist
The Catholic All Year Prayer Companion: The Liturgical Year in Practice by Kendra Tierney*
I love everything this woman puts out. I started subscribing to her blog when we got married, interested in moving our Catholicism up from occasional Sunday mass people & I have been sucked in since. She is balanced, not preachy, has honest advice, and cuts to the core of raising a family with a culture of faith. I now have a monthly membership, I am a liturgical box subscriber, an owner of a few of her books, & I follow her blog, her social media, and newsletter. 🙂
Read more: Catholic Culture: Liturgical Living
*Note: this book is a collection of prayers that goes along with her other book, The Catholic All Year Compendium, so it is not meant to be read cover to cover like a “regular” book.
The Catholic Catalogue: A field guide to the daily acts that make up a Catholic life
I thought this was going to be just another Catholic ligirtual book to enjoy and add to my bursting collection, and in many ways it was, but it shared a different perspective. To start off with, it did not stick to the liturgical year but also dove into seasons of life, spiritual dryness, and vocations. One of the most refreshing & down to earth parts of this book was about mass and the sabbath. It did not, like many Catholic authors, make you feel shame for not planning the perfect holy Sunday. Instead it was frank that yeah, sometimes people have to work on Sunday in the modern age and to not beat yourself up if your spiritual life does not reflect the “models.” I really liked that reminder.
*Note: I got this book from Feastday.co.
The Bible: A Biography (Books that Changed the World) by Karen Armstrong (audiobook)
I found this series, Books that Changed the World, casually looking for something to help me start my 2022 goal of reading The Iliad. I have read a few books by Karen Armstrong & love her style so I picked this up along with a biography of The Iliad & Odyssey. I am only about halfway through so I will have to report more at next year’s book review but so far I only have one negative about the book: the audiobook reader is super dull. Otherwise it’s a short (only 7 hours) primer into the development of the Bible.
Pregnancy & Parenting
Mayo Clinic: Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy (Second Edition) by Myra J. Wick, M.D., Ph.D.
This was my go-to reference book for anything with my pregnancy. I still googled weird symptoms but always started off here. I think every pregnancy needs a research-based, no nonsense, book on the shelf that you can open at any time to find guidance on stages of pregnancy, tests, and future events. There are plenty out there! Pick the style that works for you.
Read more: Journey through Pregnancy: Month 5
Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster
I borrowed this book from a coworker. I thought, based on the title, I would hate this book as some hippy-trippy anti-medicine book. BUT IT WAS NOT THAT! This book was written by an economist who went through each chapter discussing how to weigh decision making. She does not tell you want decision to make, but how to feel comfortable weighing your options. It also discusses how the studies out there sometimes do not support the general list of “do’s and don’ts” said by doctors. By all means, listen to your doctor (especially someone high risk like me!) but feel empowered to ask about statistics, risk, costs and benefits.
Birth Without Fear: The Judgment-Free Guide to Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum by January Harshe
Just like the last book review, I got this from a coworker & thought I was going to HATE it! However, it was fantastic & really helped me process through things I hadn’t really given time to process. The chapter on creating a Birth Philosophy, rather than a Birth Plan, was so helpful to me (a serious recovering over planner!). Similarly to Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth*, this book helped me feel empowered to feel like an equal partner to my medical team, family & husband through this process (not that anyone was putting me down!). Especially as my high risk pregnancy tumbles into a possibly high risk delivery, this book is helping me feel the calm in a situation that is largely out of my control.
*Note: since the COVID pandemic, the author of this book has said some stupid anti-mask nonsense that is not supported by science in any way. So I personally, don’t want to financially support her. If you want to borrow the book, please ask. It’s great but I unfollowed her ass so fast on social media.
Burning Bright, Not Burning Out: Notes from a Decade of Surviving Motherhood by Haley Stewart (ebook; I re-read this book)
It’s a quick read (only took me like 45 minutes) but it made me feel at peace & empowered with the crazy journey of parenthood we embarked on this year. Haley also has an amazing Catholic blog at Carrots for Michaelmas & her Instagram @haleycarrots has been so on point with social justice messaging this year! Definitely give her a follow to support responsible & religious social justice voices!
Strong As a Mother: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood: the Only Guide to Taking Care of You! by Kate Rope (audiobook)
I love this book & format. I would recommend to any expecting mother. This book (thankfully) does not provide *the way* of doing anything, not does it pretend to preach any ideology to you. Each chapter is a different facet/issue and presents research mixed with personal annectores and ends with suggestions for you to try. I found myself each chapter saying to myself “Oh! I didn’t even think of that!” or “Ah! I like that idea, let’s see if I can make it work.” This book made me feel empowered and more confident that I can do this, that we can do this. My favorite chapter was on incorporating your partner into your pregnancy and early maternity journey – such an important thing for all couples preparing for family life!