Today is World Book Day, as designated by UNESCO. When John Paul II addressed the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1980, he said:
Education consists in fact in enabling man to become more man, to “be” more and not just to “have” more and consequently, through everything he “has”, everything he “possesses”, to “be” man more fully. For this purpose man must be able to “be more” not only “with others”, but also “for others”. Education is of fundamental importance for the formation of inter-human and social relations.
In honour of World Book Day, here’s a list of the eleven ten books I’ve read in 2020 in the order that I would recommend them:
1. Table for One: Under the Light of Jerusalem by Aharon Appelfeld
“These reflections,” Appelfeld concludes his memoir, “have been a kind of confession about specific places and people: in other words, a religious attitude to life. When I say ‘religious’, I mean seriousness and a sense of obligation to art.” Read more.
2. For Every Sin by Aharon Appelfeld
With subtlety, character development, and lots of evocative metaphors, Appelfeld shows that home isn’t so much a place to which we ought to return as it is a receptivity of the soul to the generosity of others who pour themselves out for us, warming our once-hardened hearts. Read more.
3. A Time to Die: Monks on the Threshold of Eternal Life by Nicolas Diat
“Why reflect on the last things just at the moment of departure? It is rather unreasonable to think we are going to meditate on death when we are sick and tired. […] ‘I am never so much aware of the presence of God as at the moment of death of my brothers.’” Read more.
4. Beauty in the Light of the Redemption by Dietrich von Hildebrand
I took this little book with me on a retreat and reading it was the highlight of the experience. Hildebrand has a way of elevating the human spirit to its proper dignity by reminding us of the truths we’ve either forgotten or to which we’ve not yet been able to give proper expression.
In this little work, Hildebrand makes the case that “the right stance toward the world of beauty and art does not lie between the philistine and the aesthete; rather, it is essentially different from both.”
How so? And why does art matter? In its quality, Hildebrand explains, true beauty makes God known, announces God, and evens contains within it the summons to lift up our hearts by awakening within us awe and longing for God Himself.
It’s amazing how freeing and ennobling it was to read this little work by one of the most accessible and deep thinkers of the twentieth century.
5. Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld
I am remembering standing in a forest surrounding the Nazi extermination camp called Treblinka. Why? Because I just finished reading Aharon Appelfeld’s novel Blooms of Darkness and, upon finishing it, am feeling somewhat like I did after going to Treblinka. Read more.
6. The Plague by Albert Camus
“Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything still was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.” Read more.
7. How to Fight Antisemitism by Bari Weiss
8. The Desert and the Rose: The Spirituality of Jeanne Jugan by Éloi Leclerc
9. Submission by Michel Houllebeq
10. The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success by Ross Douthat
11. River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey by Sister Helen Prejean