Staff Bookshelf June 2024

In this blog post, we are taking a look at what CUA Press is reading this summery (and so far, quite rainy) June! Featured in this staff bookshelf we have a lovely array of genres, some of which include fantasy, memoir, mythological retellings, gothic fiction, and more. Take a look, and perhaps you can chase away the early June rain with a good book!


I’m currently reading The Year of Magical Thinking  by Joan Didion. It’s a heart wrenching memoir that follows Didion throughout the year after the loss of her husband. It’s incredibly insightful and honest about grief. On a completely different note, on audio I’m listening to the first book in the Twilight saga. I was hesitant about starting it as I am a huge fan of the movies (like still-have-my-souvenir-popcorn-bucket-from-2011 huge) and I didn’t want the actual books to ruin them, but I’m enjoying it so far! (And, in case you were wondering: Team Edward all the way)


I’m trying to force myself to finish The Latinist, by Mark Prins. The premise is that a graduate student in classics has to escape the clutches of her advisor, who has become obsessed with her and is sabotaging her career in order to keep her at Oxford with him. It is supposed to be a modern retelling of the Apollo and Daphne story, it’s by an Iowa grad, and it was billed to me as a page-turner comparable to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. However, I would say that the writing is nowhere near the quality of Tartt’s, the Apollo and Daphne trope is way too heavy-handed, and if you’re a graduate student like I am, it’s not exactly escapism. I’d say leave this one on the shelf.

Trevor C

Continuing the theme of vampire romance, I’m reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula a text which I had read in middle school but then had not revisited while I consumed all the other vampire literature the culture has created since. It is a decent book (Frankenstein is much better) but I’m mostly amused at little touches that get left out of adaptations of the story. Dracula is described as having a long white mustache, something that is comical to imagine a vampire having. And then when Stoker is writing letters between two female characters and trying to represent how women talk to each other, he settles on, “Oh I know, one will include a ‘PS- Is it true you have a boyfriend???’ with three question marks.”


I’m hooked on Holly Ordway’s Tolkien’s Faith: A Spiritual Biography. I’ve been a Tolkien fan for decades but never read a biography; this one is myopically focused on his faith life, which considering its length, is probably a good thing. The reason it’s so long is that it takes time to explain every element of Catholicism or turn-of-the-20th-century Anglicanism in detail, no matter how basic. As someone familiar with the Our Father, and also the Oxford Movement, it can be tedious at times, but as I said, overall I am hooked, so no complaints. Speaking of books that assume no prior knowledge of familiar subjects, my new audiobook is The Desperate Hours—a blow-by-blow account of the pandemic in a New York hospital. I guess unlike some, I am ready to rehash those events now that it’s been a couple of years. However, the first few chapters were so detailed with every step along the path that I couldn’t stay interested; I jumped to chapter 6 when things really started to deteriorate, and it’s much more engaging. I would be remiss not to mention my most recently completed audiobook, The Many Assassinations of Samir, The Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri, an Iranian-American author who has become one of my wife’s new favorites. It takes place on the Silk Road in the 11th (?) century as an excommunicated orphan monk becomes the servant of a tale-telling merchant, Samir. (It’s advertised as a “tale for all ages,” but I can imagine some Catholic parents would be cautious about the endorsement of lying, however comical.) Can the scrawny 12-year-old save his master from six hired killers and win his freedom (and perhaps the hand of the beautiful Mara), or will he kill Samir himself? Who is the legendary and deadly “Cid”? Are there only life and death in the universe, or is there also love? 


I am reading a popular novel by John Green, entitled Turtles All the Way Down. I chose it after watching a CNN interview with the author, who has been afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder all his life and deplores the inaccurate way in which OCD is depicted in popular movies and television shows. The novel takes us inside the mind of the narrator, a teenager who functions well in school and in personal relationships, but with much effort because of the impediment caused by her mental illness. The story line is entertaining, and I think that I’m gaining insights–for example, an understanding of what the phrase “thought spiral” means.


I’m reading ‘Tremor’ by Teju Cole, who’s also the author of a really good book called ‘Open City’ that I read some time ago. It’s about a West African man named Tunde, who teaches photography at Harvard. I can’t do better than the jacket copy to describe it: 

“He is a reader, a listener, a traveler, drawn to many different kinds of stories from history and epic; stories of friends, family, and strangers, stories found in books and films. Together these stories make up his days. In aggregate these days comprise his life. Tremor is a startling work of realism and invention that engages brilliantly with literature, music, race, and history as it examines the passage of time and how we mark it.” 

The writing is very evocative and beautiful. There isn’t much of a plot per se, in keeping with the description above, but I’m really, really enjoying it!


I’m currently reading Iron Flame, the second book in Rebecca Yarros’ Empyrean series. I read the first book last summer and am kicking myself for not picking up this one sooner–both because it’s great and I’m having trouble remembering certain characters and events that have been referenced. 

I’ve also been pulled into a mini book club for the summer by my mom. We’ll be reading The Risk of Education: Discovering Our Ultimate Destiny by Luigi Giussani. I cracked it open last night when I was very tired, which was a big mistake. In my mom’s words: “The book is amazing and also a little like reading a text in a foreign language at first.”

Trevor L

I dabble, albeit dilettantishly, in Bhutanese history. Belatedly, then, I am reading David Field Rennie’s “Bhotan and the story of the Dooar war, including sketches of three months’ residence in the Himalayas, and narrative of a visit to Bhotan in May, 1865.”  Rennie was a much-traveled Scottish surgeon of the East India Company, who wrote a goodly number of travelogues. Along the way, he picked up some odd theories about the causes of illnesses, writing rather tart letters to medical journals expounding them. In addition, there is at least one document hinting that he was court martialed for insubordination. As for the Duar War, well, it helped ensure the tea supply for the London gentry. 

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