Tag Archives: book club


We came to the March meeting of our group all fired up, with questions and comments prepared.  Our discussion leader was Doru, ready in his usual manner to take us through this very profound book. He informed us that the format of the book was based on a series of homilies that had been given by Guardini, and then gave us some notes on the purpose of the book. He pointed out that the author went to considerable trouble to provide an analysis of Jesus that emphasized his divine nature as well as considering his human nature.

We agreed together that the book goes very deep, that it requires considerable thought for just about every page. Guardini also posits some ideas that seem startling, that had never before occurred to this life-long Catholic.  I will not go into detail here, since that would, I think, require a spoiler alert! But I would say to the reader, be prepared to have your assumptions challenged, to have to re-think some of your entrenched habits. At one point, I paged back to the front to check for the Nihil Obstat, and there it was, so I felt satisfied.

We agreed that this is a very important book and were amazed that it had not come to our attention before, since it has been in print since 1954. We also agreed that it was a work that could be very profitably read again, all 600-some pages of it.

For our future reading, we looked at a variety of recommendations and chose for our next book The Land of Spices by Kate O’Brien. That will be our reading for April; for May, we chose Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden; and then we found ourselves very much drawn to a new book titled The Catholics: The Church and its People in Britain and Ireland, from the Reformation to the Present Day by Roy Hattersley. Since this is a long book, we’ll take the first half for June and the second for July. These should keep us busy reading for a while!


March and April Meetings

I’m happy to say that we have found a friendly coffee shop with a private room for our meetings, and it seems to meet our needs very nicely.  We’ve met there two times and are now feeling quite at home.

Also working out well for us is the suggestion of having members volunteer to lead the discussion of the monthly book.  It has given us an improved structure which is a real help.

Our two books, Left to Tell and Father Brown: Essential Tales provoked interesting discussion of the authors as well as their works. We also devoted some time to putting together a list of possible books for our longer-term future reading, as well as choosing our books for May and June.

May’s book will be Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel,  with Fr. Lawrence leading, and for June we will read Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson. (Any volunteers for that one?)



The Blog is Back!

This blog hasn’t kept up, but the book club has enthusiastically continued to read, meet, and enjoy discussing books. We are adding new members and expanding our horizons as we have moved into some serious reading in church history.  We’re not getting bogged down, though, as we have included related historical fiction!

At our August meeting we had a wonderful time at our first-ever summer potluck dinner (thank you, M.R.), and sketched out some plans for our reading over the next few months.  Check out the Our Next Book link above to see the details.  At our September 10th meeting, we will need to set a different date for the October meeting, since our usual second Monday will fall on the Thanksgiving holiday, so please give some thought to what date would work with your calendar.

So, for September 10, be prepared to discuss Count Belisarius.  We’ll be meeting at Father Lawrence’s, 7:30 as usual.  See you there!

Jan. and Feb Meetings; Anniversary Play Reading!

 A variety of health issues have kept me from being faithful to this blog, but I am determined to update before our March meeting, so here goes:

At our January meeting we discussed The Song at the Scaffold, talking about conditions in the Church in France at the time of the Revolution.  We also looked briefly at the differences between the novel and the opera that was based on it, Dialogues of the Carmelites by Poulenc.  The horrors of the Reign of Terror are certainly brought out forcefully by the novel, slight though it is.

We were pleased to welcome a new member!  No doubt she will keep us on our toes in the coming months.

It is customary for us in January to vote on our favourite book of the past year, and we had some difficulty with that because there had been several books not read by all the members.  We narrowed our choices down to two–In This House of Brede and Becoming Human.  Each book was argued for strongly, and after debate we decided to make them dual favourites for 2011.

Our February meeting followed our custom of getting together on a Saturday night for dinner and a reading of a play.  The catering of the dinner, which was Italian-themed, was coordinated by Father Lawrence and was deemed a great success.  We all enjoyed the chance to spend much more time than we  have at our regular meetings, getting to know one another better and to catch up on our latest news.

Then it was time to pull out our scripts and set to business.  The play chosen, “A Certain Nobleman”,  is from a series of radio plays based on the Gospels, so we had the fun of providing our own sound effects when necessary, such as crowd noises and trotting horses.  But the subject was a serious one, taking Jesus and the Apostles from the wedding at Cana to the cleansing of the Temple, and then on to the healing of the nobleman’s son.  The effect on us was powerful, as though we were ourselves immersed in the scenes.  We thought it possible that we may want to perform other of the short plays in the series in the future.

For a variety of reasons, we decided to break our reading of our next book, Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina, into two parts for our March and April meetings.  First we will concentrate on Chapters 1 – 3.

December Meeting 2011

Our December meeting was a joyful event.  We had had to miss November, since most people were unable to attend, so we were glad to be together again and had much to share with one another.

Becoming Human sparked quite a lot of conversation and discussion of personal experiences with some of the topics on which Vanier focused in this series of talks.  His insights were judged to be of considerable value, especially as we grow in maturity and begin to think about the aging process.  Since there were some who had not yet finished the book, we thought we might revisit it later.

We looked at some recommendations and handouts, and decided on the following reads: 

For January, The Song at the Scaffold by Gertrude von le Fort (an Ignatius Press reprint).

For February, our third anniversary, one of the plays from Dorothy Sayers‘ play cycle on the life of Christ, The Man Born to be King.  These were radio plays produced on the BBC during World War II.  Scripts will be provided at the January club meeting.  We would like to have another potluck dinner, since last year’s dinner and playreading made for such a great evening.

For March, Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by Michael Casey.

Stay tuned for our report on our meeting in January, when we will vote on our favourite book of 2011!

June Meeting, 2011

(We’ve been meeting regularly this year, except for May, but for various reasons I have not kept up with reporting.  I plan to resume regular posting.  JF)

At our June meeting, we discussed the novel In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.  We were enthusiastic about the book,  feeling that Godden had very capably told a tale that pulls the reader right into the midst of the story.  We particularly liked the way she gives a strong sense of the changing seasons, and of the liturgical year.  Our discussion involved favourite characters and plotlines, and then “bookgetaway” provided some background information on Rumer Godden, mostly gathered from Wikipedia.

We talked about books for the near future, and decided that since the book for July, Catholics by Brian Moore, was a short one, we could take on something more lengthy for August, and chose Dear and Glorious Physician, a novel centered on St. Luke, by Taylor Caldwell.   Father Lawrence mentioned that at the time of the August meeting he will be in Spain for World Youth Day, so “bookgetaway” proposed that we meet at her condo for August.  We talked about the possibility of reading Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two, for September, but deferred a decision until later.

Some Info on A. J. Cronin

I thought that bringing forward some facts about the author of The Keys of the Kingdom might add to our discussion at our next meeting, March 14.  Here’s what I have gleaned.

                                                          A.J. Cronin, c. 1930. [Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

A.J. Cronin, in full Archibald Joseph Cronin   (born July 19, 1896, Cardross, Dumbartonshire, Scot.—died Jan. 6, 1981, Montreux, Switz.), Scottish novelist and physician whose works combining realism with social criticism won a large Anglo-American readership.

Early life

Cronin was born at Rosebank Cottage in Cardross, Dunbartonshire, the only child of a Protestant mother, Jessie Cronin (née Montgomerie), and a Catholic father of Irish extraction, Patrick Cronin, and would later write of young men from similarly mixed backgrounds. His paternal grandparents were the proprietors of a public house in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire. His maternal grandfather, Archibald Montgomerie, was a hatter who owned a shop in Dumbarton. After their marriage, Cronin’s parents moved to Helensburgh, where he attended Grant Street School. When he was seven years old, his father, an insurance agent and commercial traveller, died from tuberculosis. He and his mother moved to her parents’ home in Dumbarton, and she soon became the first female public health inspector in Scotland.

Cronin was educated at the University of Glasgow and served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy during World War I. He practiced in South Wales (1921–24) and then, as medical inspector of mines, investigated occupational diseases in the coal industry. He opened a medical practice in London in 1926 but quit because of ill health, using his leisure to write his first novel, Hatter’s Castle (1931; filmed 1941), the story of a Scottish hatmaker obsessed with the idea of the possibility of his noble birth. This book was an immediate success in Britain.  

 Cronin’s strengths were his narrative skill and his powers of acute observation and graphic description.

February Meeting, 2011

For the celebration of our second anniversary, we met on a Saturday evening so that we would have enough time to do a complete read-through of a play.  We also had our first potluck supper for a festive start to the evening, gathered at the refectory table.

After a delicious supper, we settled down to a dramatic reading of Robert  Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons.  Seven members plus a friend of the book club were sufficient, with doubling, to cover all the roles in the play.

Everyone read with conviction, and the play moved swiftly from scene to scene.  We took a short break between Acts, and got right back into the thick of it.

Sir Thomas More

 The tension of the confrontational scenes kept us pushing on as Cromwell plotted and Richard Rich schemed.

The Common Man considers his options

When we finished, we had plenty of comments and questions, along with jokes about how we were ready to take the production on the road.  The fact that no one wanted to leave for some time showed how involved we had all become.  We praised the play and its author, commented on the staging and effects, and talked a bit about the movie which had been made from the play.  The evening was declared a definite success, and suggestions were made for other plays which might be read.  It was a great anniversary celebration!

The Cast of Characters

Another View - don't miss Thomas More's dog!

A Possible Book For Us – Things As They Are

This is an article that recently appeared in Dappled Things, a quarterly of ideas, art & faith.  This novel by Paul Horgan is one we may want to consider for future reading; I’ll put it on our Suggested Books page.

On Things as They Are

Amy Welborn

You’d think that when it came to the coming-of-age novel, Catholics would be the masters. It’s the story of redemption after loss—isn’t that the basic Catholic story? Loss of innocence, exposure to the real world, hints of redemption, recollections glimmering like small jewels worked into an antique tapestry… you’d think.

In reality, though, there few instances of the genre in the Catholic literary pantheon. After Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the landscape of novel-length literary treatments is arid. Oh, pop culture is replete with them, crowded with Catholic school youths bumping and grinding against the constraints of frigid nuns and hypocritical priests. Short literary fiction boasts fine examples: Flannery O’Connor’s “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” and Bernard MacLaverty’s “The Beginnings of a Sin” come immediately to mind. These stories are funny and wrenching, just like the human experience they reflect. But is there a Catholic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Catcher in the Rye, a novel that’s an honest literary rendering of the moments when the veil is lifted on the adult world, when pedestals shatter and idols fall?

Things As They Are was written by Paul Horgan and published in 1951. It is not a rollicking or picaresque novel. It’s quiet, episodic, and subtle. But it’s also powerful, lucid, and authentic—a hidden gem of English-language Catholic literature and of the coming-of-age novel.

I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of it myself before a couple of years ago, when, as the editor of the Loyola Classics series of mid-century Catholic novels, I was talking with George Weigel, who had written the introduction to our edition of Evelyn Waugh’s Helena. Had we given any thought to Things as They Are, he wondered. I confessed I had no idea what he was talking about. Get it, he said. Read it. He was sure we’d want to include it in the series.

He was right. We read the novel. We were completely taken with it, and astonished that it had slipped out of almost everyone’s consciousness in the half-century since its publication.

Paul Horgan was an intriguing figure, the product of a period of freedom in American intellectual life, before specialization and professionalism, when a man without a college degree might write a history—or two—that might win him a Pulitzer Prize—or two.

Horgan was born in 1903 in Rochester, New York. The family moved to New Mexico in 1914 for the sake of his father’s health. Horgan attended the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, then returned to Rochester to attend college at the Eastman Music Institute. He didn’t stay long at Eastman. After a couple of years studying music and dabbling in theater, he left in 1923 without finishing his degree. He returned to his old school in Roswell, where served as the librarian until 1942.

Horgan had begun writing in the 1920s, primarily novels and short stories. He worked in Washington, D.C. during the war, at which point he began writing histories. His primary interest was, not surprisingly, the Southwest. His two Pulitzers were awarded in 1955 for a history of the Rio Grande River called The Great River (which was also awarded the Bancroft Prize) and in 1975 for Lamy of Santa Fe, his biography of Archbishop John Baptist Lamy, the first bishop of Santa Fe, and the inspiration for Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. Horgan moved to Middletown, Connecticut in 1959 where he wrote, worked at Wesleyan University, and died in 1995.

Horgan may not be included on most lists of American Catholic writers, but all of his writing is infused with a sacramental sensibility. In 1976, he was awarded Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, given to one �whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity.�

Things as They Are is the first novel of a trilogy called The Richard Trilogy. Richard, the title character, is a young boy growing up in upstate New York in the early twentieth century, the much-loved only child of kind, prosperous middle-class Catholic parents. The book is episodic: Each chapter describes a different incident in the boy’s life within a clear chronology, but not, at first look, in the context of a clear narrative sequence. Though isn’t that the way all of us, particularly children, experience life? As a series of episodes, of moments that only later do we see linked by a common thread, purpose, or direction?

The episodes in Things As They Are are linked, and their tie is made explicit in the novel’s title, and in the opening lines of the book:

“Richard, Richard,” they said to me in my childhood, “when will you begin to see things as they are?”

What is that, “things as they are”? It’s life: beauty, pain, and the discovery of the human capacity for evil, particularly in our own selves. The young Richard discovers frightening things about himself in the opening chapter of the novel when he encounters, not a pear tree, but a kitten, and chooses to do wrong, for what reason he cannot tell—for no reason, for any reason. As the novel unfolds, evil continues to reveal itself in the consequences of judging a misfit; in the sad, pathetic deception of a beloved uncle; in the harshness of family; in adults who use Richard’s affection as a means to sin with each other; in the strange attraction of those who would exploit the young; and most powerfully and heartbreakingly, in the story of a mentally disabled neighbor boy who is victimized by other boys to the point of grave illness, and, Richard perceives, allowed to die by his outwardly upright and loving parents.

But this is by no means a dark book. It authentically renders a child’s-eye view, that mix of inherent egoism and deep and barely understood love, of boldness and dread, all dwelling in the same soul. And it depicts the way grace always waits for us, not above the confusion, but in the midst of it, patiently. Weigel wrote in his introduction:

Paul Horgan knew that there is nothing less sentimental than Catholicism, because Catholicism is realism. And he knew the reason why Catholicism is realism: because it is through the Incarnation, a real event at a real time in a real place, that God’s unsentimental, cleansing, and all-powerful love is decisively revealed—the divine mercy that is, according to the parable of the Prodigal Son, the defining characteristic of God’s interaction with the world. Catholic realism doesn’t deny “things as they are.” Catholic realism doesn’t deny the temptations of what an older generation called “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Catholic realism confronts the world, the flesh, and the devil in the confidence that, as Christ has conquered, so, by the divine mercy and grace, may the people who are Christ’s Body in history.

The novel is filled with moments of clarity in which Richard begins to understand that mystery, none more memorable than the evening his mother takes him out to confront a thunderstorm. The family is at their summer cottage on a lake. The father has just experienced the terrible, wrenching dissolution of a friendship and business relationship. Richard, who has seen his father as he has never seen him before—weak, wounded, and dependent on others—is terrified, as always, when a thunderstorm strikes. Defying his father’s command, he rushes to the closet to hide.

His mother opens the closet, dressed to brave the storm. He refuses to go outside. She, uncharacteristically, strikes him, and he follows her:

“Richard, look!” She shook me and pointed to the wild sky, the sweeps of rain on the lake, and then at the tearing strikes of lightening amidst the clouds. “Richard! Look! Why be afraid? It is so beautiful!” She put her arm about my shoulders and when the lightening struck I could feel how she too trembled before the power of God. But how new was her idea that this power was beautiful! I stared at the new idea as I stared at a world I had never been able to see before…

Over the past three years, as part of the editing the Loyola Classics series, I read a great deal of mid-century Catholic-themed fiction, the vast majority of it decidedly mediocre. It was exhausting. The stories about idealized priests and nuns and tragic, repentant heroines are mired in their time, imprisoned by their authors’ determination that what readers needed and wanted were piety and neat conversions-on-the-precipice. Those books are relics, of little interest or value today.

Things as They Are, however, still resonates. Richard is us. The world he sees with wonder and even sadness is our world. The fallen idols he mourns are our idols. But in loss, grace shimmers, faint but unmistakable. For if we are to recognize the voice of God in the midst of things as they are, the idols must fall.

Amy Welborn writes Open Book, a highly-respected blog on culture, theology, Church news, current events, devotion, and a host of other topics. She is the author of many works of catechesis and apologetics, including A Catholic Guide to the Good Life, The Words We Pray, and The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. She is also a popular speaker and the editor emeritus of Loyola Classics.

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January Meeting, 2011

The  January meeting was our opportunity to discuss Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI’s bestseller.  Some people joined us specifically because they were interested to hear our discussion on the featured book, and we also welcomed a new member, Father John.  Two of our regular members were away travelling.

We spent some time at the beginning on planning for our second anniversary celebration in February, working out the menu for the potluck and planning the dramatic reading. 

Then we got down to our discussion.  Everyone had high praise for the book.  The general consensus was that, because it is so deep, reading small sections and then letting those thoughts and explanations sink in is the best approach.  Weaving together so many elements of the Scriptures to build his images of Christ, explicating parables, clarifying Jewish thought, referencing the works of other scholars of Scripture–these were some of the instances mentioned as people praised the pope’s efforts.  People agreed that it was a book which could be read over again with much benefit, and several expressed enthusiasm for the following volume due to be published this spring.

We finished with a vote on our favourite book of 2010, and Silence by Shusaku Endo was the winner, with second place going to John Henry Newman: His Inner Life.