CNA's favorite books in 2019

Books Books. CNA file photo.

Here are a few of the best books we read in 2019, from some of the journalists at Catholic News Agency:

Hannah Brockhaus, Senior Rome Correspondent:

"The Enchanted April," by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

Four unacquainted English women, discontented with their very different lives, spend a month's holiday together in Italy. In the process, they find joy and come to love each other and themselves better. I enjoyed this novel for its subtle humor, lovely descriptions of place and internal thought, positive story, and overall charm.

Carl Bunderson, Managing Editor:

"Real Presences" by George Steiner.

A refreshing look at language and art that presents their fundamental grounding in the transcendent, and encourages a return to 'the sources'.

"Grace: Commentary on the Summa theologica of St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 109-14," by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

A fascinating study of grace, and an inspiration to pray for the gift of perseverance and efficacious grace.

"Middlemarch," by George Eliot.

A detailed picture of 19th century life in an English village that gives a striking look at the need to discern marriage well, and the disaster of failing to do so; a cautionary tale. Slow to start, perhaps, but well worth continuing.

Ed Condon, DC Editor:

"My Father Left Me Ireland," by Michael Brendan Dougherty.

A deeply personal and thoughtful reflection on identity, nationality, and especially family and parenthood. It reads like a ground-view experience of the themes laid out by JPII in "Memory and Identity."

Christine Rousselle, DC Correspondent:

"Do-It-Yourself Stitch People: 2nd Edition"

After breaking my elbow in Lourdes, I needed a new hobby as my two main ones (Irish dancing and cooking) were unsafe or impossible during the recovery period, and cross-stitching filled this void quite nicely. I fell in love with crafting, and it was so nice to have a creative outlet once again. This book has simple--and adorable--patterns to create individualized portraits of people, pets, and more, and they're so fun to make.

"A Testimonial to Grace," Cardinal Avery Dulles.

This book shook me to my core, and it was one of the best, and brutally honest, conversion stories I've ever read. I fell headfirst into Dulles' writing after this, and he was truly a remarkable man.

Kevin Jones, Senior Staff Writer:

I too would name "My Father Left Me Ireland." Dougherty nails the difficulties of trying to embrace Irish culture and history as an Irish-American in the 90s when so many Irish themselves were running away from their past. and their American cousins were falling into superficial half-remembered fantasy.

Dougherty talks candidly about the struggles and misunderstandings of growing up with an absent father. The sacrifices of his parents are sometimes not clear until decades later.

Matt Hadro, Senior DC Correspondent:

"The passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ,"  Archbishop Alban Goodier.

More in US

Best Lenten reading I've had.

Mary Farrow, features writer:

"Somehow I Manage" by Michael G. Scott. Unpublished working manuscript. Taught me how to manage an office.


My favorites were both classics and novels, so lots of people have probably read them, but:

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. A haunting look at what happens when we let sin rule our lives and pride get in the way of doing anything about it.

Also "Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather. A historical fiction based on real priests/bishops including Colorado's Bishop Machebeuf about the grit and guts and sacrifice it took to found Catholicism in the west.

I would also put in a plug for "The Day the World Came to Town" by Jim DeFede.

DeFede, a journalist, documents what happened to Gander, Newfoundland and the surrounding small communities when 38 planes were rerouted there on 9/11 and passengers were stranded for a week while U.S. airspace remained closed. It's a testament to the goodness of people and a small-town community in dark times and a fascinating, lesser-known part of the story of 9/11.

(Story continues below)

Courtney Mares, Rome Correspondent:

"Three to Get Married," by Fulton Sheen. This book was a blessing to my husband and I as we prepared for the sacrament of marriage this year. Sheen's writing beautifully reveals the mystery of life-giving love and its origin in eternity.

Peter Zelasko, social media manager:

"Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI" by David Grann.

I don't normally read true crime, but this was a fascinating look at the history of both the Osage Nation and the FBI during this strange time period. It's a stark reminder of how sin can corrupt and the struggle against evil is ongoing.

I'm also intrigued by "Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday" by Carrie Gress, Megan Schrieber, and Noelle Mering. "Haven't flipped through this new coffee table book, but I like the idea of finding and bringing joy into our homes and families. It's on my wife's Christmas list this year."

Michelle La Rosa, Deputy Editor-in-Chief:

"The Remains of the Day," by Kazuo Ishiguro.

This novel follows the reflections of a butler looking back over his career during the decline of the British aristocracy. The questions it raises about memory, duty, and loyalty in politics are remarkably pertinent today, 30 years after the novel was written.

"The Moon is Down," by John Steinbeck.

This short propaganda novel is among Steinbeck's lesser-known works, but was influential to the resistance movements of World War II. Depicting the interaction between occupying forces and the citizens of an invaded territory, the book met with poor reception in the U.S., where it was viewed to portray Nazi-like characters as too human. But it resonated strongly with the experience of people in Nazi-occupied Europe, where tens of thousands of copies were clandestinely produced and distributed, despite it being banned.

Alejandro Bermudez, Executive Director, ACI Group:

Chris Arnade's "Dignity" was the best thing I read this year. It was absolutely cathartic to me. Many years ago, on my way to Mount Rushmore during the Thanksgiving weekend, I stopped at a large gas station in middle-of-nowhere South Dakota. Inside, I saw a very large family of white and Indian members celebrating Thanksgiving with burgers and fries. The patriarch of the family led everyone in prayer before the humble feast started. It was very clear to me that this scene was both ignored by American elites and at the same time was essential to understanding American identity. This was the real America.

Arnade portrays that hidden country with contagious respect and sympathy. But most importantly, with no preaching, he brings home a hard truth: if this "second row" America is not integrated into the future of the country, something really, really bad will happen soon. And the elites will be responsible for it.

JD Flynn, editor-in-chief

Many of the books mentioned by others also stand out to me. But here are a few others I read and loved in 2019:

The Sword of Honor Trilogy, by Evelyn Waugh.
"The Blood of the Lamb," by Peter De Vries.
"Wise Blood," by Flannery O'Connor.
"Back to Blood," by Tom Wolfe.

"Storyworthy," by Matthew Dicks.
"The Irony of Modern Catholic History," by George Weigel.
"Primal Screams," by Mary Eberstadt.
"John Henry Newman: A Biography," by Ian Ker.


Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.