Wednesday, October 6, 2021

An Open Book: September 2021 Reads

 Another month is here, so it's time to link up with Carolyn Astfalk and chat about books! Without intending to, I wound up reading books that mostly aligned with the theme "the culture has some big problems." So, if you want upbeat lighthearted reading, move along. For those who want to stick around, let's dive in! 

The Unbroken Thread, by Sohrab Ahmari

Wanting to leave a legacy of wisdom to his son in an age where tradition is being rejected, Ahmari tackles a dozen big questions like "can you  be spiritual but not religious?" His philosophical exploration of these dips into history and cultures worldwide, and it's fascinating. He talks about Christians like C.S. Lewis and St. Thomas Aquinas, but he also dives into other religions and cultures to unpack how many practices aren't just for a small segment of traditionally-minded Christians, but are important for everyone (for example: in his chapter on family, he looks to Confucianism). I am curious as to why Ahmari didn't talk about Karol Wojtyla's Love and Responsibility in the chapter on sex (he discussed Andrea Dworkin and St. Augustine) but overall, I really enjoyed this book a lot, and I recommend it!

The Great Heresies, by Hilaire Belloc 

Belloc always seems to pop up on lists of "books every Catholic should read," so when I saw this at my parish library--and noticed that it was short!--I decided to give it a try. Belloc is a historian, and in this book he walks through five heresies of history: Arianism, Islam, Albigensian, the Protestant Reformation, and the Modern Phase. What I found particularly fascinating is that he makes an argument for Islam starting as a heresy. I also appreciated the way he approached the Reformation and discussed the way that it was a long time in formation and continued to be a lengthy process. I think this book was really interesting, and even if it wasn't the easiest read (while small, it is a somewhat dry history text) it is well worth reading. 

Irreversible Damage, by Abigail Shrier

A journalist who began noticing the alarming rate at which teenage girls are claiming gender confusion, Shrier dives deep into the topic of the transgender craze and the dangers it poses-from a progressive, liberal standpoint. Shrier is very thorough in her research and I can't even imagine how many people she must have interviewed-not to mention all of the Youtube videos of trans-identifying young adults and teens. She leaves no stone unturned in her secular arguments against this teen transgender movement, and I have to confess, I did skim the section on "bottom surgery" because I couldn't stomach all of the details. Even if people are well-read on topics of sexuality from a conservative and/or religious standpoint, I highly recommend that they read this book. It not only gives good secular arguments against transgenderism and transitioning (let's be honest, religious arguments will get us nowhere with most young people in our culture right now), but it also provides awesome common ground for people of different political backgrounds to work with. Plus, the book ends on a fantastic note of hope. Y'all, every adult needs to read this book. It was excellent and well worth reading. 

We have always lived in the castle, by Shirley Jackson

Mary Katherine (Merricat), an eighteen-year-old girl, narrates this story about her life with Constance, her older sister, and her Uncle Julian. Merricat explains in the book's opening: "I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead." This sentence basically encapsulates the mood and theme of the story: a creepy, unsettling, yet fascinating tale that follows the misanthropic Merricat and her remaining family as they live in their mysterious house at the edge of the village. This story felt a little bit like Arsenic and Old Lace, and even though the narrator is pretty disturbing, I enjoyed it (maybe because I had already been reading some heavy and depressing books, it worked for me-I'm not sure). I would have liked it if a couple more bits of the plot have been developed slightly more, though the sparse style works. And the mysterious parts of the plot are a little unsurprising, but at the same time, I don't think you necessarily need to read this story as a mystery. It's a rather strange coming-of-age tale that felt oddly appropriate to read in the age of Covid home quarantines.   

Awake, Not Woke, by Noelle Mering

Unsettled by the "woke ideology" that is spreading across the culture at a rapid pace, Mering walks through the history behind this ideology and its shortcomings. I really appreciated her dive into the history, and there is a lot of worthwhile and important information in here. However, I have pretty conflicted feelings about this book, mainly because of how the topic of "wokeness" is addressed. Mering rightly speaks out against the way that people place others into camps of "woke" and "not woke," and how they create division and condemn those who do not seem "woke enough." However, for the first several chapters, it seemed as if this divisive tone was also coming into this book, as Mering repeatedly referred to "the woke," pushing anything that resembled a hint of social justice or progressivism into the pit of "woke." It was not until the very last section of the book that I could grasp a compassionate tone as the author discussed how people often unconsciously adopt aspects of woke ideology, and how we all sin and struggle in different ways, and I honestly wish that she would have taken that very last section and put it in the very initial chunk of the book-because some people could be very turned-off before  they reach the end. I had been very excited to read this book, because I was hoping that it would provide a beautiful path for greater unity in the Church as we reach out to the "woke" with the Church's teachings on social justice, life, and dignity, but I was disappointed as I read it--I could easily see the tone in the first several chapters of the book driving some young Catholics (who are passionate about a consistent-life-ethic and social justice) further into anger and frustration. I was also surprised that there was no mention of Catholic Social Teaching, because that seems like a pretty relevant topic for this type of book. Overall, I think this book has a lot of good things to offer, but I'd be cautious about who I'd recommend it to, since it may do more harm than good for some faithful Catholics out there. 

Thanks so much for joining me this month! If you have any book recommendations, please drop them in the comments! (since I had a month of fairly heavy reading, non-depressing-but-meaty/deep-titles would especially be great haha!)


  1. I've read "Irreversible Damage" and wow, it was a tough one. It's so tragic, what is happening to kids caught in that world. It's been decades since I read Shirley Jackson, but now I want to reread that one. And "Awake, Not Woke" is sitting here in my "to be reviewed" pile, but if it's coming from a divisive and (it sounds like) disparaging place, I might not hurry too hard to get to it. I don't think you convince someone of anything when you're putting them down in the process.

    1. It's great that you have read "Irreversible Damage"! It was hard, but so good. And I'll be interested to hear what you think of "Awake, Not Woke"-I think it's a tough topic to tackle, so perhaps I had just my expectations too high. (our church is actually having a lecture in January about the Church, politics, and Catholic Social Teaching, and I'll be interested to see the way in which the speaker presents these topics)

  2. Thanks for linking to An Open Book! I want to read "Irreversible Damage" and I don't, if you know what I mean. Sounds like an important book.

    1. I do know what you mean! Reading about the hugely tragic transgender craze is not fun, but it is so important. For parents of teens (who will, at some point, be hit with these messages or have friends who are impacted by them), but also for any adult, I think-so we know what young people are facing and be able to respond to it.