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10 Catholic novels to take to the beach this summer


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Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP - published on 06/07/19

These great reads are perfect for taking along on vacation.

While sitting around a campfire recently with parishioners and friends, we assembled the following list of recommendations for some Catholic beach reading. There are many extraordinary Catholic novels, but sometimes people recommend 1,000-page volumes that are impossible to carry anywhere, and that don’t really fit the spirit of summer vacation. These novels are truly beach reading. Take your bag, a cold drink, and lounge in the sun with one of the following great Catholic novels!

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

Why not lead a list with the best thing on it? All cards on the table: this is one of my very favorite Catholic novels. Waugh is a master of the human condition and seamlessly traces the threads of grace sewn through the life of Mr. Charles Ryder. The throes of religion and romance, family drama and haute culture drive the story of Ryder’s love for the Flyte family. Nostalgia for Oxford university days, strawberries, Venice and steamships punctuate this extraordinary account of friendship and divine grace.

Back Bay Books. 432 pages. $16.99.

In this House of Brede
– Rumer Godden

Being myself a professed religious, I can be fiercely critical of depictions of religious life, finding many of them saccharine, or worse, boring. In this House of Brede is one novel of monastic life that does not disappoint. Attentive to the details of religious observance, Rumor Godden has bottled life in a monastery and poured it out on these pages. Her protagonist Philippa Talbot abandons her successful London-based career to join the nuns of the fictional Benedictine Brede Abbey. Capturing the conflicts and tension of community life, this story of Brede leaves readers longing for a share of the monastery’s charity and peace.

Loyola Classics. 368. $13.95.

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Mariette in Ecstasy
– Ron Hansen

Part saintly legend, part detective story, Ron Hansen’s novel invites his readers to ask a question as pious as it is horrific: is Mariette Baptiste a stigmatic? Mariette, a postulant, has longed to enter the monastery her whole life. When she does, she begins to receive ecstasies, including the stigmata. The nuns of the monastery must deduce, however, if Mariette’s pieties are real. But be warned: bold and fleshy writing make this novel not for the faint of heart.

Harper Perennial. 192 pages, $13.00.

The Violent Bear It Away
– Flannery O’Connor

Many readers come to know Flannery O’Connor through her short stories. Don’t miss the opportunity during the dog days of summer to spend more time with her, by reading her novels. Of the two, I prefer The Violent Bear It Away. Satirical, ironic, and compassionate, O’Connor tells the story of a young boy who refuses his call to mission, promoting the reader to meditate on religious authenticity, faith, and fate.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pages, $15.00.


Under the Sun of Satan
– George Bernanos

Hans Urs Von Balthasar dubbed Bernanos, “The minstrel of grace.” Bernanos’ debut novel trumpets his theme. The parish priest of a French village (a man fervent but not especially bright) detects the Evil One at work among his flock. Through Fr. Donissan and his ministry, Bernanos fearlessly  leads his readers straight into the mystery of redemption.

Cluny Media, 344 pages. $18.95.

The Innocence of Father Brown
– G.K. Chesterton

The first collection of Chesterton’s legendary short stories offers the first twelve mystery stories of the innocent but perceptive Father Brown. An amusing, ingenious, and unconventional detective, Father Brown challenges the legacy of every sleuth before or since. These light-hearted stories reveal keen psychological insight the reader rarely suspects.

Createspace; Centennial edition. 174 pages. $9.99.

Death Comes for the Archbishop
– Willa Cather

Okay, okay. I know Willa Cather is not a Catholic. But she gets a pass and makes this list anyhow, because this novel is so profoundly Catholic. Set in the emerging American Southwest, Cather’s novel narrates the arrival of New Mexico’s first Catholic bishop. Cather tells the lucid and spiritual tale of saintly and vicious clergy, based on two historical figures, Jean-Baptiste Lamy and Joseph Projectus Machebeuf, animated by the region’s tradition and lore.

Vintage. 297 pages. $15.00.

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A Printer’s Choice – W.L. Patenaude

A morality tale worthy of the name, Patenaude’s debut sci-fi novel explores the contest of religious faith and free will as outer space is rocked by its first homicide. Set in 2088, boasting ecological and technological themes dear to the author, Patenaude’s novel can’t resist asking the biggest questions about the nature and meaning of life in the engaging context of his murder mystery.

Izzard Ink. 334 pages. $22.95.

The Moviegoer
– Walker Percy

Even though the action of this novel unfolds during the week leading to Ash Wednesday, Percy’s Moviegoer is an excellent summer read. Absurd and humorous, Binx Bolling’s search for an authentic experience is enough to fend off the malaise of any summer day. More philosopher than stockbroker, Bolling experiences a New Orleans-based adventure that ends in a triumphant finale, with an homage worthy of Percy’s beloved Dostoevsky.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 272 pages. $16.00.

Mr. Blue – Myles Connolly

A modern day Francis of Assisi, J. Blue passes from rags to riches, only to divest himself of his wealth in pursuit of Lady Poverty. Set in the Roaring Twenties, Mr. Blue is the antithesis of The Great Gatsby. Any open-minded reader will find that Blue’s discovery of joy in self-giving is as rare as it is courageous.

Cluny Media. 246 pages. $17.95

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