In Search of Catholic “To Kill a Mockingbird”

I met my wife three years ago in northern Quebec, and at the time she could barely speak English and I could barely speak French. Now that we are both proficient in each other’s language, one of the great joys of our married life has been to introduce each other to the literature of our respective languages. I will never forget the day she finished “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She fell in love that day with the English language and has explored dozens of authors since, from C.S. Lewis to J.D. Salinger to Margaret Atwood.

Now my wife is thinking of becoming Roman Catholic (she was one of the few Evangelical Baptists in Quebec when I met her). She has asked me for books to read that will give her sense of what the RC religion is all about. This has got me asking myself: what is the “To Kill a Mockingbird” of modern Catholic literature–by which I mean the most gripping, readable book that should be every newcomer’s first introduction to the RC faith? She is presently reading Ste-Therese of Lisieux’s “Story of a Soul,” which, though excellent, is not exactly Catholic 101. She is already a well-read Christian, and has basically exhausted C.S. Lewis.

Any suggestions?

Comments 9

  1. Emily wrote:

    Are you seeking nonfiction or fiction books?

    I can think of a whole raft of nonfiction books on Catholic theology that might be suitable, depending on your wife’s particular interests or concerns regarding Catholic theology. (E.g. some non-Catholics have no problem accepting the communion of saints and the Virgin Mary, but for others this is the largest roadblock to entering the Catholic Church.)

    As far as fiction goes, I’ve always found Flannery O’Connor to be one of the most thoroughly Catholic writers in the English language. All of her work is steeped in very Catholic notions of sin and grace. (O’Connor herself said: “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.” She also described all of the South as Christ-haunted, not Christ-centered, and her stories depict such.) Now, whether Flannery O’Connor’s writing would convince a reader to become Catholic, that’s another question altogether. Her work is infused with Catholicism, but it’s not often very explicit in evangelizing.

    I suspect you’re seeking primarily nonfiction books, and if you can give me a little more direction on what precisely you are looking for, I could give you more recommendations. I myself am a convert and read a lot before entering the Church.

    Posted 06 Aug 2008 at 11:58 am
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    The fiction and non-fiction of G.K. Chesterton might be a good start if she liked C.S. Lewis.

    Posted 06 Aug 2008 at 1:55 pm
  3. http://wonderingzygoteemeritus.blogspot.com/ wrote:

    It\’s great that your wife\’s Quebecqoise. My wife and I had our miel de lune in la ville de Quebec and visited Ile-aux-Coudre up the river.

    As far as books and authors, Scott Hahn is good. Rome Sweet Home [ http://www.amazon.com/Rome-Sweet-Home-Journey-Catholicism/dp/0898704782 ] is a very popular book about the journey from protestantism to the RCC of himself and his wife at Grove City College, I believe (I did I read the book a long time ago).

    Also, as far as Theology of the Body (the \”new evangalization\”), Catholic Exchange articles are good. http://tob.catholicexchange.com/ Esp. of Christopher West. ( http://www.christopherwest.com/ )

    Posted 06 Aug 2008 at 9:54 pm
  4. Nathan Hutchinson wrote:

    Great suggestions, everybody! Thanks a lot. I am especially intrigued by Scott Hahn’s “Rome Sweet Home” and the fiction of Flannery O’Connor, neither of which I have encountered before. My wife has already read Chesterton’s life of St. Francis of Assissi, and she found his English very hard on the brain (I assured her that it is not just because she is French! One hour of Chesterton’s prose requires 2 extra strength tylenol–it’s great, but it stampedes forward like an angry bull).

    Posted 06 Aug 2008 at 10:51 pm
  5. Emily wrote:

    Like I said, I’m not sure that Flannery O’Connor’s fiction would convince anyone to become Catholic, but I’ve always found it good. As a warning, though, you might want to check out a few of O’Connor’s stories first before recommending them to your wife — they aren’t to everyone’s liking, and your wife (and you) may not care for them! Her stories are often brutal, because she so harshly and realistically depicts the fallenness of human nature and the brutality of the South. I kind of put O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Harper Lee in the same category. Their writing styles are very different, but they are all writing about a decaying and dying South. The difference in O’Connor’s works, I think, is that her work is simultaneously more brutal and full of grace. O’Connor’s characters in many cases show how depraved man can be, but they are also always haunted by Something or Someone and are being pursued by grace in very strange ways….

    I think O’Connor came to mind when I first read this post because I lump her together with Harper Lee and associate her work in some way with “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

    Scott Hahn’s books are also a good suggestion. I myself was not as fond of Rome Sweet Home as his other books, but he has plenty of books on Catholic theology. I would suggest as a starting point The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. It is, as the title suggests, about the Mass and is a good introduction to liturgy, the Eucharist, and the like.

    There is also an adult catechism, I think put out by the US bishops, that tries to give an explanation of all the Church’s teachings… It is a bit more readable than the CCC, but I’d recommend starting with something by Scott Hahn or the like before heading to the more cut-and-dry catechism styles.

    Posted 09 Aug 2008 at 11:29 am
  6. TBL wrote:

    All this talk of Southern authors compels me to put in a plug for my favorite, Walker Percy (I often feel like the only Catholic reader who prefers him to O’Connor, lol). His life, not his work, was what was originally recommended to me (similar events marked our childhoods), but later I spent a summer in Pittsburgh reading most of his books, and I think they stand up on their own. Family tragedy completely unnecessary :-). The same caveat that Emily mentions for Flannery O’Connor probably goes for Walker Percy, though… Actually, for the C.S. Lewis readers, Peter Kreeft has a lecture on his website about one of Percy’s books, Lost in the Cosmos: the last self-help book, comparing it with Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. It’s not bad.

    For a more outwardly/obviously Catholic novel, I recommend In This House of Brede. The author, Rumer Godden, spent 3 years living outside Stanbrook Abbey in England while doing research for the book, and converted to the Church in the process. You might think a fictional account of the life and times of cloistered Benedictine nuns during the mid 20th Century would be boring, but you’d be wrong.

    Posted 10 Aug 2008 at 2:35 pm
  7. http://desperateirishhousewife.blogspot.com/ wrote:

    Some of the best writing in English, subtle hilarity, great story and a beautiful, profound portrayal of faith:

    You can’t any get better than “Brideshead Revisited,” by Evelyn Waugh.

    Read it (it’s short), then watch the 11-part 1981 British made-for-TV series starring Jeremy Itons. But whatever you do skip the current movie version in theaters now- it’s bad on too many levels to count.

    Posted 11 Aug 2008 at 2:27 pm
  8. Jerry wrote:

    I’d second Walker Percy. He may be an easier person to start with than O’Connor. I’ve read Evelyn Waugh’s “Helen” and can recommend that. I’ve heard his other work is good as well.

    Let’s see here. “Death Comes For The Archbishop”, by Willa Cather, is a beautiful novel about a missionary in the Southwest. It doesn’t whitewash what the priest encountered, but it’s suffused by Christ’s light through all of it. Here is a link to a blog entry that reminded me of this fine book: http://www.firstthings.com/blog/2008/08/20/desert-flowers/

    I’d also recommend Walter Miller’s “A Canticle for Liebowitz”, a science fiction classic that is considered up there with Dune but with a very strong Catholic identity. It was published in 1959, and has done an eerie job of anticipating much of what happened in the next four or five decades.

    Posted 27 Aug 2008 at 9:31 pm
  9. Emily wrote:

    I’ve never read Walker Percy, but now y’all have inspired me to go find some of his books!

    Another Catholic novel that came to my mind last night — and I can’t believe I forgot it the first time around — is Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory.” It’s a story about an alcoholic priest in Mexico during the era when the Church was outlawed there, and he is being pursued throughout the book by a police lieutenant. The main character is deeply flawed, and very aware of how much he fails his vocation daily. And yet, somehow, there is atonement. The Eucharist is still present. The Church marches on, in spite of everything.

    Again, though, it’s not for everyone. I read the book and thought it was great; a friend read it and thought it was depressing.

    Posted 28 Aug 2008 at 2:20 pm

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