In this blog post, we are taking a look at what CUA Press is reading this December— tis’ the holiday season! Featured in this staff bookshelf we have bookish holiday traditions and many different genres, some of which include wintry poetry, philosophy, adventure, and even fantasy. Like an assortment of Christmas cookies, we have all different kinds of bookish flavors to enjoy!
Every Christmas season, I reread Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This is no ordinary reading, nay, this reading tradition comes with consuming copious amounts of tea, warm bread, and being surrounded by blankets for hours on end to simulate the finest of Victorian living, minus the dying from disease, part. Suffice to say, it’s a classic.
Currently, however, I am reading (or rather, attempting to read) the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. A good friend of mine has been hounding me to read this high fantasy series, featuring a witty and rather snarky heroine, chosen to compete in a deadly competition held by the King’s request, against thieves and assassins alike, to gain her freedom from the colonialist kingdom that enslaved her. I must admit, I am quite judgmental about YA high fantasy, but the plot is gripping and you can’t help but root for Celaena, the protagonist, as she grows and uncovers corruption from within the belly of the beast.
Around Christmas each year I reread Paul Glynn’s biography of servant of God Takashi Nagai, A Song for Nagasaki. Beautifully written and perfect for advent, Song for Nagasaki details the conversion story and life of Dr. Takashi Nagai, an ordinary man whose journey towards heroic holiness led him from a dissolute university life through the horrors of the Sino-Japanese War, his struggles as a civilian physician during World War II, and ultimately the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Catholic neighborhood of Urakami in Nagasaki.
Though the subject matter is dark, the book is lightened by scenes of family life in twentieth-century Japan, the touching romance between Nagai and his saintly wife Midori, and Nagai’s reflections on faith’s relationship to reason—even when the world seems at its most unreasonable.
I share Kayla’s tradition, minus the tea, bread and blankets. But I do try to read at least a good chunk of The Christmas Carol each December.
As far as my normal reading, I’m in the midst of Sun House by David James Duncan. It’s a 770-page behemoth about a collection of folks in the Pacific Northwest who ultimately start a new community in Montana. It’s brilliant, but it’s heavy lifting. Every few pages an ancient Catholic saint, or an Indian philosopher, or a contemporary poet, is name dropped, but you kind of have to hit Wikipedia because whomever these people were are important to what the characters are saying to each other. And one of the most important characters was only introduced about 500 pages in! It’s definitely too long (I’m not sure where this guy’s editor was but clearly he or she didn’t win a lot of battles about condensing anything) but it’s a pretty amazing book. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it, it’s a lot to dig into, but if you’re willing to do the work there’s a lot of reward!
I’m currently finishing up Ice by David Keplinger. It’s a book of poetry that is inspired heavily by the images of Ice Age creatures that are being thawed from ice due to climate change. It’s really beautiful and moving poetry that also touches on coming of age and relationship dynamics. In order to balance out the depressing subject of climate change, I am going to be heavily decorating my apartment for Christmas and drinking lots of peppermint hot chocolate while reading!
I read the 2022 Booker Prize winner The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. The story follows recently-murdered Sri Lankan freelance photographer Maali Almeida as he navigates the afterlife. The dead have seven days to decide whether to make peace with their life and enter The Light or be left as a wandering spirit. Maali is more concerned with setting his affairs in order and looking after his loved ones, but ends up getting entangled with the world of the dead, visited by the spirits of Ranee, a university professor killed by the Tamil Tigers, and Sena, a communist revolutionary who was disappeared by the government.
There is a lot of discussion of the Sri Lankan civil war of 1989 (of which I was completely ignorant) and who was responsible for all the bloodshed and consequently the ghosts that roam the island, while Maali navigates between the philosophical positions of Ranee, who advocates letting go of earthly attachments and escaping the cycle of death/rebirth and Sena who argues that personal enlightenment does nothing to help conditions on earth and urges Maali to use what limited force he can exert on the physical world to get revenge. It is an interesting counterpoint to The Good Place as the cynicism and nihilism of a war-torn country colors the discussion a bit more than the perspectives of people from Arizona and Duval County.
I’ve been indulging in re-reading some favorite short stories. These range from the ever-delightful “Great Sermon Handicap” by PG Wodehouse, which humorously wages war against lengthy homilies (“I might, for example, delete the exhaustive excursus into the family life of the early Assyrians”) In a far different tenor is H H Munro’s brilliant, yet chilling, “Sredni Vashtar” — “his thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white” And Graham Greene’s marvelous “A Shocking Accident” — “whatever happened to the poor pig?” All are ideal train reading on the evening commute home.
I am still reading (listening to) the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Unset; in book 2, Kristin is a married woman now with a bevy of healthy children and a relatively faithful and successful husband. This cannot last long, as good fortune never does in medieval Norway. I’ve also been making my way through World War I in Germany with philosopher-turned-nurse Edith Stein, in her partial autobiography, which is volume 1 of her collected works. She has just recounted the divorce, unnecessary in Edith’s view, of two of her friends due to the wife Nelly’s excessive nervousness. Finally, on a recent road trip, we introduced our daughter to the first book in the Artemis Fowl series, about a criminal mastermind tween after fairy gold. Do yourself a favor and skip the awful Disney movie in favor of the excellent voices of the audiobook.
We just pulled our Christmas picture books out from storage. St. Nicholas comes to our house every year on Dec. 6th and he very generously leaves a new book for each of our three kids. We love anything by Jan Brett, but another recent favorite has been The Night the Saints Saved Christmas by Gracie Jagla. St. Nick wakes up sick one Christmas Eve, so all of the other saints work together to distribute gifts.
I’ve personally been listening to the audiobook of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Childhood friends Sadie and Sam work together to make a video game in late 1990s Boston. I’m no gamer, but it’s been great so far!