A Catholic Reader

Reading Literature in the Light of Faith

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More Free Catholic Books, from CatholiCity.com

These days, with the proliferation of ebooks, many of us are figuratively wading through heaps of free books. Twenty years ago, however, when the Mary Foundation and Saint Jude Media began giving away books, people thought they were crazy. Of course, Saint Jude Media was giving away actual, physical books, so there was considerable cost involved: typsetting, printing, binding, shipping and handling. Nonetheless, their books (also CDs) were available for free, although they did ask for a donation. I was heartened to see recently that they are still at it, on their CatholiCity web site.

CatholiCity.com is an apostolate dedicated to feeding the minds and edifying the souls of ordinary Catholics. On the website, there is a wealth of resources that serve this end: a number of talks on the Sacraments and the rosary, which can be ordered on CD, downloaded as podcasts, or listened to online; links to the latest Catholic news and commentary, prayers, devotions, the Baltimore Catechism, the new Catechism in “simplified” form, and lots more. If you are Catholic, or just interested in what the Catholic Church teaches and believes, you should take a look at this web site, and take advantage of the free information available there.

I haven’t yet mentioned my favorite things from Saint Jude Media, three free Catholic novels (paperbacks, not ebooks) by Bud Macfarlane Jr.:

  • Pierced by a Sword, recommended by Michael O’Brien, author of Father Elijah, who says: 

Get ready for a journey of epic proportions–rather, cosmic proportions.
This book is a little treasure, a marvel. This is an adventure, a
comedy, a tragedy, a turbulent odyssey and a peaceful stroll. Most of
all, this is a love story like no other I have ever read. A new kind of
love story.

  • Conceived without Sin, recommended by Thomas W. Case, author of Moonie Buddhist Catholic, who says:

One strange and wonderful thing about Bud Macfarlane’s storytelling is
that his people are so loved by the author that they grab you and hold
you. This novel is plainly a story of love and marriage and friendship
and conversion. Supernatural forces weave in and out, as they must do in
real stories of the faith.

  • House of Gold, recommended by John D. O’Brien, editor of Conceived Without Sin and Father Elijah, who says:
You won’t read a more timeless novel than House of Gold — even
if you are reading it one hundred years after it was first published. It
offers suffering. I know that sounds strange, but you will love the
suffering inside its pages. It’s honest, authentic, gut-wrenching. It’s
real. I believe this is Bud Macfarlane’s best work. It offers the Cross.
Can you take it?

 I read all of these years ago (late 1990s) when they first came out, and enjoyed them all. They have “sold” well (someone is paying for them, because Bud Macfarlane couldn’t have afforded to get more than 700,000 copies into print on his own), and reader reviews on sites like Amazon
and Goodreads are very positive. I’m glad to see that they are available in Kindle editions for just $2.00. I wish I’d known that a couple of weeks ago (it is not mentioned on the CatholicCity.com website), because I recently acquired new copies of the paperbacks. I love having my books in the Amazon cloud, and these are big, fat novels (more than 550 pages each) that take up a lot of space. Still, I know I won’t have any trouble finding friends to pass them on to; I might even recommend them to my book club for our 2013 line-up.

I won’t say too much about these novels now, because it’s been years since I read them and I don’t remember them well, except to say that I enjoyed them. However, I will review them here as I read them. Meanwhile, if you have read them and want to offer your thoughts, please click the comment link below!

Waking the Dead: A Blogger’s Return

It's Monday, what are you reading?

I see it’s been a year since my last post — but not because I’ve quit reading, or thinking about what I read. I simply got busy and lost the habit of writing, and have been reading too many things to keep up with, thanks largely to my Kindle eReader, which makes it perhaps too easy to be reading several different books at once. For instance, right now the “Current Reading” category on my Kindle (which I have come to prefer for reading, over physical books) contains 34 titles — not all of which I’m actually reading at the moment — spanning a range of categories from spiritual reading (St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and St Therese of Lisieux’s The Story of a Soul), through some agrarian essays of Wendell Berry and historical novels of Louis de Wohl, to Stephen King’s Dark Tower novel series. It’s interesting that these 34 title represent almost exactly 5% of the 678 titles currently residing on my Kindle. If I’m stranded on a desert island with my Kindle in tow, I’ll be at no loss for reading material — at least until the battery runs down!

Since I first started getting interested in ereaders (just a few blog posts past, but now more than 18 months ago), devices for reading electronic books have gone quickly from being esoteric hi-tech to ubiquitous mainstream (or so it seems). Certainly, they are now available for half the price that a bottom-rung Kindle was fetching just one year since ($139 for what is now known as the “keyboard Kindle, which has been replaced as Amazon’s entry-level ebook device by the bargain basement Kindle Wi-Fi with “special offers” for just $79), and now that public libraries lend many popular titles in both Epub and Kindle formats, it is possible to read a lot of books without paying another dime after buying a reader device.
Of course, the ease of acquiring, and toting around, many books has its concomitant dangers. In my early months of Kindle ownership, I fell for awhile under the thrall of “Kindle freebies,” ebooks in Kindle-reader format available at no cost, through Amazon, in public-domain repositories such as the Gutenberg Project, or “e-publishing” sites, such as SmashWords.com. Who can resist free books? Well, I can, after months of snapping up every freebie that came my way and finding that many of these books (not all, by any means) were not worth the price. The wonderful world of e-publishing has made it possible for everyone & anyone to become a “published” author, without the pesky intervention of a discriminating literary agent or editor (or even a proofreader). So, for awhile I was like the proverbial kid turned loose in a candy store, and wound up with a bad case of literary bellyache. (Remind me, sometime, to address the ethics of reading bad books.)

Still, even after learning to restrain my impulse reading somewhat, I still found that, even after avoiding the more awful free offerings, I would be left with a disproportionate number of books that I would never have chosen if they were not being given away free. So, probably a high portion of the nearly 700 titles residing on my ereader device are books that I won’t be reading soon or, perhaps, ever; still, it’s very nice indeed to have my pick of free versions of books that I would otherwise could ill afford or might not even to find in print (the novels of Robert Hugh Benson, for instance.)

I’ve already got several of these classics in free Kindle format.

Anyway, the “new” has worn off my fascination with digital books and their devices, so in future posts I’ll go back to concentrating on the works being read, rather than the physical or digital forms in which I find them.

Catholic fiction on the Internet: CatholicFiction.net

This morning I discovered a website called CatholicFiction.net, which offers, “news, views, and reviews” on fiction by Catholic writers. The site is sponsored and maintained by Idylls Press, a Catholic publishing concern with an interest in promoting a “new Catholic literary renaissance.” The Catholic Fiction site looks like a good place for anyone interested in finding books written from a Catholic perspective (they cover “fiction in every genre, both classic and contemporary .. [as well as] literary biography and criticism) or reading reviews that give a Catholic “take” on fictional works that may or may not have been written by Catholic authors. They also have a Catholic Fiction Reading List, where you may find authors you may not have read before, or may not have realized were Catholic.

Mary Flannery O'Connor
One of my all-time favorite
writers, Flannery O’Connor

What makes a “Catholic writer” is a more complicated question than you might think. A number of years ago, I bought a book from Ignatius Press called The Catholic Writer, containing a variety of papers from an academic literary conference sponsored by the Wethersfield Institute. After I got it home, I flipped through to look for a discussion of one of my favorite Catholic writers, Flannery O’Connor — but there was none! In the introduction to the volume, the editor explained that they only included writers who wrote on Catholic subjects — i.e., stories about Catholics doing Catholic stuff (presumably attending Mass, praying the rosary, burying statues of St Joseph upside down in their front yards to help sell a house). I thought this was an insane definition of the term “Catholic writer,” particularly as it necessarily excluded writers like O’Connor, whose stories are positively incandescent with the light of her Catholic faith.

Fortunately, the Catholic Fiction web site does not embrace this narrow definition — in fact, they cite Flannery O’Connor’s definition that Catholic writing is “a Catholic mind looking at anything.” (This is precisely the idea I had in mind when I called this blog “A Catholic Reader.”) You can read more about their criteria for what constitutes “Catholic fiction” here. They also have a section devoted to “the conversation about Catholic fiction,” with links to articles that discuss this topic — “what it is (or isn’t), its history, its current state, its usefulness as a literary category.”

Flannery O’Connor
by John Murphy

It looks interesting. When I’ve had a chance to peruse it more thoroughly, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, cruise around, check out the Catholic Fiction site, and check back in here to let me know what you think.

UPDATE Sept 2012: The Catholic Literature website has been updated, and is now called CatholicNovel.com. They’ve got a cleaner, better-organized website, which should make browsing easier. Also, the sponsoring publisher, Idylls Press, is about to debut a new website, too. Give ’em a look, and maybe buy some of their merchandise sporting illustrations of famous authors by John Murphy.