The A Catholic Misfit Reading List from 2020

Let’s face it – 2020 sucked. But one benefit from the stay-at-home orders and such was having more time to read. I’m not the world’s most prolific reader, but I did manage to complete 24 books in 2020, which had been my goal.

Typically, I have three books going at once: a dead tree version, one on Audible, and something on Kindle. Circumstances dictate which ones get read at any particular time, and I don’t have a preference. The breakdown for this year included 7 physical books, 6 audio books, and 11 e-books.

Looking at my Reading List of 2019, it turns out I only read one of the books on my intended list. Well that’s embarrassing! The best way to solve that problem is not to make a list of Books to Read in 2o21!

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In chronological reading order, here’s the 2020 A Catholic Misfit Reading List:

Beyond The Mist, by Ben Zwycky

An intriguing sci-fi novel exploring what it means to be human, the value placed upon one’s existence, and the inevitable struggle for purpose and identity.

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

[Goodreads review] Sanderson is a master world builder, with incredible attention to detail. Dense, complex, fully developed characters – characters who change, learn, grow as situations around them play out. Way of Kings requires a commitment – looking forward to continuing the series.

The Carter of ‘La Providence’, by Georges Simenon

From the series of Inspector Maigret mystery novels, set in 1950’s Paris and surrounding French countryside. Seeing Rowan Aktinson’s portrayal on TV a couple years ago (highly recommended, by the way!) piqued my interest, and so far, the books have been interesting and engaging.

The Draco Tavern, by Larry Niven

[Goodreads review] Enjoyable collection of actual sci-fi: story driven, unique aliens, interesting concepts, total lack of agenda. Niven had fun writing these stories, which translated to me having fun listening to them. Listened on Audible, and props to the narration.

Racing the Devil, by Charles Todd

I do love Inspector Rutledge mystery novels. Great escapism, and superior to Agatha Christie (better characters, and fewer adverbs!) Not all are 5-stars, yet this one came close.

Still Life, by Louise Penny

[Goodreads review] I wanted to like this, I really did. Mysteries is my second favorite genre, but this didn’t hook me. Not like Charles Todd’s or Georges Simenon’s first novels. Inspector Gamache suffered for lack of a distinguishable personality a la Poirot, Marple, Rutledge, or Maigret. Nary a quirk nor mannerism. Agent Nichol seemed unnecessary, other than a plot device and not as an authentic character. And the townspeople – including the victim – were more caricature than character. Given that this was Penny’s debut novel, perhaps her subsequent ones improved – she wrote plenty, and won numerous awards, so it’s fair to presume that they did – so I may try another one. But I’m in no hurry.

Homeland (Forgotten Realms, The Dark Elf Trilogy #1), by R.A. Salvatore

A fantasy novel to scratch that D&D itch. Intending to read the other two novels this year.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, translated by JRR Tolkien

Nothing like a little medieval English epic poetry for a change of pace. Listened to this on Audible, and the narration by Terry Jones was excellent. Pearl was heart-rending and gorgeous.

The Golden Age (Golden Age #1), by John C Wright

Back to science fiction. Wright has an inexhaustible imagination, and this novel suffers no lack of it, while focusing on the meaning of identity, destiny, and the importance of seeking Truth, wherever it might lead.

The Plague, by Albert Camus

Started and finished early in the Covid pandemic here in the US. Told through the eyes of a physician during the rise of plague in the Algerian city of Oran, Camus unwinds a tale populated with memorable characters, all seeking respite and solace during a time of natural horror. Perseverance, faith, despair, solidarity, selfishness, love – the full range of human emotion and response to crisis on display, without maudlin or exaggeration.

Beowulf, Unknown 

If we don’t read and listen to the classics, then they are bound to disappear. Especially in this burgeoning environment of #DisruptTexts. Listened to a translation by Seamus Heaney (also narrated by him).

The Phoenix Exultant (Golden Age #2), by John C Wright

The second book of a space opera trilogy, comparable to Roger Zelazny – big bold ideas, larger than life characters, and passages of beautiful dialogue. Story telling for story telling’s sake, and not for the sake of ideology. Looking forward to finishing the trilogy in 2021.

Declare, by Tim Powers

My second favorite Powers’ novel (after The Stress of Her Regard), Declare combines supernatural, spies, historical events and individuals – from Noah’s Ark to djinn, from infamous British double agent Kim Philby to Cold War espionage – so seamlessly, that you almost believe it could be true. Listened on Audible, narrated by Simon Prebble. First rate.

Orthodoxy, by GK Chesterton

My continuation of reading Chesterton, started in 2019. This may become an annual read for me. Enjoyable, challenging, witty, and practical in equal measures. While written nearly a century ago, his wisdom and insights are as applicable today than they were when written – because human nature doesn’t change, despite the desperate attempts of so many to change it.

God Is Love: Deus Caritas Est, by Pope Benedict XVI

Perhaps the greatest Catholic theological mind in the early 21st century. What else is there to say?

A Severe Mercy: A Story of Faith, Tragedy, and Triumph, by Sheldon Vanauken

[Goodreads review] An autobiography of love, not merely of the lovers. Tough, tender, and true. This quote will always stand out, from one of Lewis’ letters to the author:

“I sometimes wonder whether bereavement is not, at bottom, the easiest and least perilous ways in which men lose the happiness of youthful love. For I believe it must always be lost in some way: every merely natural love has to be crucified before it can achieve resurrection and the happy old couples have come through a difficult death and re-birth. But far more have missed the re-birth.”

The Endless Knot, by William Biersach

I’m somewhat embarrassed including this one, a novel so bad it’s almost good. Not even a guilty-pleasure good. A mystery novel in which the auxiliary bishops of LA are being murdered one by one, and a priest-former-cop is asked to investigate. No shortages of clichés, tropes, overt jabs at modernism in society and the Catholic church, and the author uses every opportunity to pontificate on traditionalism. Take it with a huge grain of salt. The ending is almost worth the journey, if not for the sheer inanity of it all. Thanks to Rebecca for recommending it – I owe you.

American Antigone, by Matthew Archbold

A solid debut novel tackling the most prominent issue of our time: abortion. My review can be read here.

The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene

[Goodreads review] There’s a little bit of Maurice Bendix and Sarah Miles in all of us.
Greene’s novel reminds me that God’s grace works like a chisel – it only hurts when we remain like stone.

Saved in Hope: Spe Salvi, by Pope Benedict XVI

Second of PBXVI’s encyclicals. [Goodreads review] A must read in these current times. Hope is what all men desire – our true hope lies in Christ and His mercy.

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, by Robert Dugoni

An atypical read for me, but recommended. The life of Sam Hill, born with the genetic disorder of ocular albinism: red pupils (hence the nickname ‘Sam Hell’). I wanted to like it more than I did, but something about it didn’t resonate with me. Perhaps a certain predictability, or the at most two-dimensional characters, not really sure. The ending was a bit too “tied up into a bow” for my liking. And a potential confrontation with a childhood bully seemed avoided, rather than dealt with.

The Odyssey, by Homer 

Like with Beowulf, I chose this to reacquaint myself with classic literature. I finished this shortly before the foofaraw over various school districts removing The Odyssey from their literature curricula – which is part of the current #DisruptTexts silliness. Morons.

Unstable Felicity: A Christmas Novella, by Cat Hodge

[Goodreads review] A well written novella combining the better elements of a Hallmark Christmas movie and Shakespeare’s King Lear. Fun, funny, and fulfilling.

Don’t wait until next Christmas to read this – it’s good!

News of the World, by Paulette Jiles

I didn’t know what to expect with this book. I was more than pleasantly surprised. [Goodreads review] The prose is pure poetry. Jiles’ ability to describe and show so much with so few words is brilliant. One of the most captivating books I’ve read in a long, long time. The landscape of late 19th century Texas is as much a character as Captain Kidd and Johanna. I didn’t want the story to end, but like all good tales, it lives on in the imagination. It deserves six stars.

So there you have it – if you’ve read any of these books this past year, or in years’ past, leave me a comment or thoughts. And if you have any recommendations for 2021, please make them! Based on past experience, I probably won’t read them even if I have every intention to! lol

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Book Review: American Antigone

American Antigone Catholic Abortion Fiction

Matt Archbold, of Creative Minority Report fame, recently published his first novel American Antigone, and it’s a humdinger (Do people still use that word? No? They oughta be).

Matt’s book tackles the defining cultural issue in present-day America: abortion. Loosely based on Sophocles’ tragedy “Antigone”, he updates the tale, telling the story of a young pro-life woman with strong convictions, and how her actions impact every possible sphere: the Church, politics, the media, and society at large.

Per the book’s blurb:

“The actions of a young woman to honor her aborted brother ignite a national firestorm that changes the lives of everyone involved. American Antigone is a roller coaster ride of life-and-death encounters, a media firestorm, and a tale of grace and conversion.”

Matt draws upon his experience and knowledge in journalism, local politics, the Catholic Church, and the pro-life community to craft believable, sympathetic, flawed characters on both sides of the issue – not an easy thing to do. The story rushes towards its inevitable conclusion that is both satisfying and frustrating – a true reflection of what those who work to end this pernicious scourge see every day.

This is a great debut novel, and I hope he has more stories to write – he has always been a great storyteller, as evidenced by the many amusing tales of family life he’s chronicled at CMR. If you’re not reading his blog or this book, you should be.

NOTE: I’ve known Matt for many years through our respective blogs. I have great respect for him. I purchased American Antigone, and I wasn’t paid or compensated in any way for this review.

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Sin Is a Seed Trap

I have a rampant chipmunk infestation in the backyard. It’s a veritable country club. Cute critters, but critters nonetheless, constantly raiding the bird feeders, being destructive, and making a nuisance of themselves. Once a year, I set out a seed trap: bucket or pail mostly filled with water, and a layer of bird seed spread across the surface. Curious chipmunks look at it as a free meal, yet if they fall in, the millet seed becomes their millstone. It’s better than poisoning them, given the number of roaming cats and foxes in the area.

While setting the trap the other day, I got to thinking. Sin is a seed trap. Tempt tests in a teacup. Sin can appear desirable, disguised as a good thing, a thin veneer of virtue obscuring vice, but ultimately deadly. Spiritually, emotionally, physically. Giving into a temptation now and then doesn’t seem bad, right? Small sins – like small seeds – seem so harmless. But go to that well once too often, and we will soon find ourselves over our heads and out of our depths. Drowning, suffering, floundering – seemingly hopeless beyond hope.

Those are the lies Satan whispers to us: Give up. Give in. You’re beyond redemption. Yet we do have hope, and we are redeemed, in the person of Jesus Christ, and in His Church. God sent Jesus to save us from our sins, not to watch us drown in them. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” If we desire to be saved, we call out His name, and He grabs us by the scruff of the neck, and yanks us out. Like the lost sheep, or the missing coin. That’s what happens when we go the Sacrament of Confession – we’re made fresh, we’re dried off, and we’re emboldened to kick the bucket…of sin. We are given grace and strength to resist temptations that will surely come, in every imaginable form. Through prayer, the sacraments, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are better equipped to avoid the seed traps that seem so appetizing.

My seed trap caught one chipmunk yesterday, while a second one managed to clamber out, wet and exhausted, grateful for his freedom. Maybe I’ll leave him be. I know how he feels.

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How To Behave When Someone You Really Really Very Really Dislike Gets COVID

I’m gonna remind y’all what Jesus has already taught:

Mt 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of the Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

You’re opposed to everything President Trump stands for, and you believe with the burning hot passion of a thousand suns that he is the embodiment of all that is wrong with America, and that his mere existence offends you, and is an affront to all that’s good and holy in the world? Fine. He’s not a nice person, maybe not even a good person. But if you proclaim to be Christian, and you’re expressing joy and satisfaction that he’s tested positive for Covid, you’re participating in evil. Doesn’t matter what he’s done, or what you think he’s done, or what you fear he is about to do. Finding enjoyment in the suffering of others is evil. Full stop.

Don’t be afraid to remind people when you hear such talk. And pray for them, too.

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PARISH REPORT: Diocese Says EMHC Unemployment Rate May Hit 100%

(ACMPress) WALLA WALLA – A spokeswoman from the Diocese of Walla Walla announced that, as parishes resume public Masses, the unemployment rate for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion may likely hit 100%.

“It’s a sad situation,” spokeswoman Kno Mo Whyyn told ACMPress. “As public Masses restart, at reduced capacity and Holy Communion being offered only under one species, it’s quite possible most, if not all, of those jobs will never come back. There won’t be the need.”

Ms. Whyyn said the diocese will offer job training to those left unemployed. “The bishop is committed to helping those devastated by the effects from coronavirus. New jobs being discussed are church sanitization and social distance monitoring. Counseling will be made available as well. These are extremely difficult times for our friends in the EMHC community.”

Making things even more burdensome, unemployed EMHC’s aren’t eligible for additional stimulus funds, or state unemployment benefits. In addtion, choirs, music groups, and coffee hour employees are expected to suffer record-high unemployment rates. Even as the economy reopens, these jobs may be some of the last to return, if at all.

“These are unprecedented times,” Ms Whyyn said. “Maybe the silver lining is, they will finally have the opportunity to experience a greater focus on Christ and His sacrifice during Mass, which is the whole point. It’s a lot to ask for, but only God can bring good out of such trying times.”

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