Christina's Disclaimer: I could no sooner pick my Official Five Favorite Books than I could pick five favorite stars in the heavens. These are the five that came most immediately to mind that I thought would be accessible and interesting to the largest number of people.
What It Means to Be a Christian by Joseph Ratzinger
I don’t often refer to books as “life changing” because it sounds trite, and I already use too much hyperbole as it is. But this book is life changing. I read it a few yearsago per the recommendation of a colleague of mine and could NOT believe that I, Pope Benedict XVI’s self-proclaimed Biggest Fan hadn’t even heard of it before. What It Means to Be a Christian a series of homilies on the basics of the Christian life which Ratzinger gave to a group of priests in 1964, but it will speak to you personally--and powerfully--regardless of where you are in your relationship with Christ. Bonus:it’s perfect reading for Advent.
Song for Nagasaki by Fr. Paul Glynn
A Song for Nagasaki is the gripping and heartbreakingly beautiful story of Takashi Nagai, a Japanese radiologist and convert living in the early 20th century, as told by Fr. Paul Glynn, S.M. Nagai, whose cause for canonization is underway, literally gives his life so that his countrymen can benefit from radiology research and works tirelessly to aid the victims of the atomic bomb, despite suffering from advanced leukemia. The story of his journey to the Church, the loveliness of his relationship with his wife Midori (herself a saint), his miraculous encounter with St. Maximilian Kolbe, and his deathbed letters to the sick and suffering will increase your faith in the power of Grace to bring good out of the most horrendous evil. More than anything, you will be challenged and convicted by the whole-hearted devotion Nagai has to Christ and to doing everything he can to serve Him, even when he is bedridden with a 7.5 lb spleen.
This book, and Nagai’s story in general, lit a fire inside of me in a way that is difficult to explain. I was 28 when I read it, and had been teaching high school theology for five years, but after I finished it, I was able to truly say that I wanted to be a saint.
My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell
Colleen Carroll Campbell’s memoir will probably appeal more to women than to men, but the spiritual lessons she learns, particularly through her suffering--her father’s slow deterioration due to Alzheimer’s and her years-long struggle with infertility--are universally applicable.
I read this book about a month ago and it resonated with me so much that I finished it in less than 36 hours. It was if the Lord was speaking directly to me through Colleen, even though my personal trials are of a different kind and degree than hers. After finishing the book, I felt encouraged and hopeful about what the Lord is doing in my life and am able now to look at my own suffering in a different way.
The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander
I first read this spiritual classic, which is basically a series of reflections on the life of the Blessed Mother, in my early 20s, before I had a serious Marian devotion. In fact, other than Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn (which I also recommend), I hadn’t read any books about Mary. I’m a bit embarrassed about that now, but God writes straight with crooked lines, so he packed everything I needed to read about Mary at that point in my life into this little volume. Houselander’s insights into Mary’s role in the life of every Christian are unique and soul-stirring. After I finished reading it (the first time), I remember feeling as if I finally felt a personal connection to Our Lady and a desire to be in relationship with her. It took me a few years yet to really let go of my quasi-Protestant discomfort with Marian devotion, but the seeds had been planted. I’m so thankful to Houselander for being Mary’s instrument in my life.
The World of Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
And now for something completely different. The World of Jeeves is a collection of short stories about the misadventures of dim-witted Bertie Wooster, an idle English gentleman living in the early 20th century, and his preternaturally brilliant valet, Jeeves. If you like British comedy, appreciate hilariously brilliant similes and metaphors, and/or enjoy laughing out loud while you read, you will love anything by Wodehouse. A word of warning: a little bit of Wodehouse goes a long way, so I recommend reading only one or two stories at a time, and spreading them out.
I love Wodehouse’s stuff because it gets me out of my head for a little while, makes me laugh, and is just plain fun. It’s like candy for your brain, but unlike contemporary brain candy ( Twilight, The Hunger Games, anything by John Greene, etc), Wodehouse’s books are actually well written and each of them is really a tribute to the wonderful things you can do with the English language.