Here is my August column that appears in this weekend's The Catholic Post. I invite your feedback.
Some years back, I wrote an opinion piece for The Catholic Post about the then red-hot Twilight books, comparing them to junk food; not going to kill you, but not the bedrock of a healthy imagination. I even offered some fun and soul-nourishing alternatives.
“You are what you read” still is my main media consumption rule, for individuals and especially for families.
But to extend the food analogy, I’m not a paleo/vegan/low-carb/raw foods/gluten-free /this-month’s-hot-diet-fad absolutist. You won’t hear me advocating for the non-existent Jane Austen “immersion diets” or St. Francis de Sales “detoxes.”. Book-wise, I’m a flexitarian.
Let me explain by way of a great Latin expression, “de gustibus non disputandum est,” translating roughly as “there’s no arguing personal taste.” Your favorite ice cream is strawberry, and mine is mint chocolate chip? De gustibus. You’re a Bronte fan and I’m really, really not? De gustibus. When it comes to books or food, there’s a lot of variety, and one person’s favorite might be another’s strong aversion.
I don’t mean that anything goes—some books (and movies, etc.) really are poison, and need to be avoided by everyone. And some people have particular sensitivities to books (like some do with certain foods) that might be especially harmful or helpful.
Being mindful of what keeps you healthy, media-wise, is a great idea at any age.
That still leaves tons of great reading of all kinds for enjoyment and edification. Consider fiction to be in the “nourishing treats” category—more chocolate than broccoli (not that there’s anything wrong with broccoli). Here’s hoping some of these excellent recent releases will agree with your “gustibus.”
For adults and young adults:
Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Debut by Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Regina Doman is a smart new read. It would be best for college-age and young adults, but this middle-aged mom thoroughly enjoyed racing through this fun, fashion-y, and yes, philosophical novel.
The characters in Catholic Philosopher Chick are lovably annoying and well-drawn. The healthy but “real” friendships between the young women feel especially true, and the plot moves along quickly. My only dislike of this book is that a few characters smoke (occasionally). For someone who hates smoking as I do, it seems unnecessary.
Shadows and Images: A Novel by Meriol Trevor is available in a handsome new edition by Ignatius Press. Trevor was a prolific British author of novels for adults and children. She’s also known for her careful biography of Blessed John Cardinal Newman, and this novel covers Newman’s time and new Catholics during that era.
I’m the kind of person who learns more about history through stories, so historical fiction is a favorite for me. This novel brings Newman, the Catholic Church, and the Britain of that time, alive through the story of a young couple.
Before Shadows and Images, I knew Trevor mostly as a Newman biographer and as a children’s book author, as youth publisher Bethlehem books has re-published a few of her excellent children’s novels. Now I want to discover more of her grown-up fiction.
For the younger crowd:
*The Tripods Attack! By John McNichol, is first in the Young Chesterton Chronicles series. This novel imagines G.K. Chesterton as a down-on-his-luck teenager, with friends fending off a Martian attack in a science fiction/Edwardian England.
That description might sound pretty wild to those not familiar with steampunk, the fiction sub-genre that mashes Jules Verne-style fashion and “technology” with fantasy and science fiction, but it’s truly a refreshing summer read. I know some Chesteron purists would scoff, but if GK himself wrote his The Man Who Was Thursday as a steampunk novel for teenagers, The Tripods Attack! just might be the result.
*The Kindgom of Patria series by Daniel McInerny (available only as e-books, from the usual outlets like Amazon and the excellent "Kingdom of Patria" website). You’ll notice that I didn’t use the word “quirky” in reviewing The Tripods Attack! That’s because I was waiting to use this adjective more perfectly to describe McInerny’s, yes, “quirky” and loveable Patria kingdom, and the children and stories that inhabit it.
I asked my 11-year-old daughter to pre-read first in the series for me. She loved it, so I asked her to give me a mini-review. She wrote: “Stout Hearts and Whizzing Biscuits is a fantastical tale about a small kingdom named Patria in the middle of the USA. Warning: If you do not like absolute silliness and utter fun, this book is not for you!”
It’s obvious that she does enjoy “utter fun” in a book, and if you have a middle-grade child who likes it as well, The Kingdom of Patria would be a great choice.