Rolheiser: The best 10 books that found me in 2019

30 December 2019

Appears in: Columnists

There’s a Latin axiom which argues that there’s no accounting for taste, de gustibus non est disputandum. I reference it as to preamble to my annual list of the ten books I most enjoyed this past year because, admittedly, taste is somewhat subjective.

I chose these particular books because they’re the ones that spoke most deeply to me. Perhaps they won’t speak to you in the same way. Fair enough. There’s no accounting for taste.

So, here are the authors and the books that spoke to me most deeply during this past year…

  1. Bernardo Olivera, How Far to Follow? The Martyrs of Atlas. This book helps tell the inside story of the Trappist monks who were martyred by Islamic extremists in Algeria in 1996. Similar to the movie, Of Gods and Men, it focuses on the deep struggles these men underwent in making the decision not to leave their monastery and, instead, face martyrdom.
  2. Donald SeniorRaymond E. Brown and the Catholic Biblical Renewal. Well-researched and well-written, this is a biography of the renowned scripture scholar, Raymond E. Brown, who stood out both for his scholarship and for his exemplary discipleship and priesthood. The book is more of an intellectual history of Brown than a chronicle of his life. It’s interesting too because, by sharing Brown’s intellectual history, Senior also highlights the particular theological and ecclesial struggles of Brown’s generation. For many of us this will be hauntingly familiar.
  3. Rachel Held Evans: This past year, scanning book reviews, I discovered the writings of Rachel Held Evans. I cite three of her works here that spoke to me very deeply: Searching for Sunday, Loving, Leaving, and Finding Church; Inspired, Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Againand A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Rachel grew up a cradle Evangelical with a deep and solid faith, but adulthood brought its own challenges, particularly for someone of her courage and honesty. These books chronicle Rachel’s struggle with her religious mother-tongue, her falling out of her faith story, and her particular way of finding her way back in. Her story articulates the struggle of millions. It’s an invaluable read, irrespective of one’s religious mother-tongue. She’s also an exceptionally gifted writer. Sadly, she died in May at the age of 37. We lost a needed religious voice, but what she left us can help many a person sort through his or her religious struggles.
  4. Jean Bosco Rutagengwa, Love Prevails, One Couple’s Story of Faith and Survival in the Rwandan Genocide.  Someone once said that if you want to understand the tragedy of the Second World War you can read a thousand books about it and watch a thousand hours of film – or you can read the Diary of Anne Frank. This is such a “diary”, written inside the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide.
  5. Robert Ellsberg, A Living Gospel, Reading God’s Story in Holy LivesThe lives of the saints are our living gospel and Robert Ellsberg is the foremost hagiographer in the English language today. This, wonderfully readable, book teaches us both what hagiography is and why it’s important.
  6. Margaret Renkl, Late Migrations, A Natural History of Love and Loss. This is a unique kind of book, a poetics of sorts on love, nature, adoration, family life, death, dying, and human resiliency. This is a piece of art.
  7. Richard Rohr, The Universal ChristThis book will challenge you and will, with a sound scriptural theology, challenge mainline theology in its popular conception of both the intent and the scope of the incarnation. An important read.
  8. Ruth Burrows, Before the Living God. This is Ruth Burrows’ autobiography. I first read it thirty-two years ago. It moved me then and it moved me even more thirty-two years later. In her story, you will better understand your own story and the movement of God in your life.
  9. David Brooks, The Second Mountain, The Quest for a Moral LifeBrooks’ Second Mountain very much corresponds to what spiritual writers like Richard Rohr call the Second-Half of Life. Drawing upon his own story and creatively mixing secular and religious perspectives, Brooks lays out a challenging vision of what it means to mature, to move from being the hungry child to becoming the blessing adult. An excellent read.
  10. Mary Jo Leddy, Why Are We Here, A Meditation on Canada. Not least, a book from a Canadian. Mary Jo Leddy, the Founder and Director of Romero House for refugees in Toronto has always been a prophetic voice. In this book, she submits that every country has its “original sin”, some primal fault in its origins that now taints its present. For Canada, she argues, it was how it treated its indigenous peoples as it formed itself into a nation. Canada is not unique in having such an “original sin”. Every country has it.  Everyone should read this book.

I apologize that this year’s list, again, does not include any novels.