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Catholic Novels: Winter Reading List

By Cecilia Pigg 

Want some wholesome and fun reading during the cold, snowy winter nights? Okay, fine, you live in Florida. But, I imagine that it still gets chilly on your nightly beach stroll.

There is a tradition in Iceland that on Christmas Eve everyone receives one present that they open that night. The present is a book, and the rest of the night is spend cozily reading your new Christmas treasure. Being a book-lover, this is a tradition I would love to start in my own family one day.

Whether you have a whole evening set aside for reading this winter, or if you have a few minutes every night before bed, here are a few enriching novels that will leave you entertained and edified.

1. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

Source: https://www.amazon.com/This-House-Brede-Rumer-Godden/dp/0829421289At the outset, it seems that this is the story of Philippa Talbot, a successful businesswomen who suddenly feels a call from God to join a Benedictine community.

However, as this beautiful, simple, and engrossing story winds it way page after page, it becomes the story of many unique characters—from the story of the different sisters in the community (who are refreshingly human), to the story of the people Philippa “left behind” in the corporate world.

I had never understood religious life as well as I did while reading this book. The characters were so engaging, and the twists that the story took so surprising, that I struggled putting it down.

I even brought it to work to read over lunch breaks.

2. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4805261A suspenseful story that keeps you on the edge of your seat, Odd Thomas is not explicitly Catholic, but the themes running throughout, and the character of Thomas himself, are rich in Catholic symbolism and Christian virtue.

At times funny and charming, at other times terrifying and heartbreaking, this quickly-moving story and its protagonists will definitely stick with you.

Fair warning, after a few of the chapters on a couple of nights, I definitely slept with a light on.

And I may have laughed out loud at Stormy and Thomas’s conversations and also cried at different points.

Does that say more about me or about the book? Guess you’ll have to read it to find out.

3. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Kristin-Lavransdatter-Wreath-Penguin-Classics/dp/0141180412Are you a fan of Catholic historical fiction set in fourteenth century Norway? Don’t worry, I didn’t think I was either. Until I read this book.

Don’t be intimidated by its size, or by the fact that it is a trilogy that covers one woman’s entire life throughout the three books, or by the dry, hard-to-get-through first few pages. Once you are a few chapters in, you will never look back.

Kristin’s story is beautiful, but very real. Her trials and frustrations will be quite familiar to you, even though her environment and culture will be quite unfamiliar. Sigrid’s characters slowly develop and unfold as we get to see Kristin grow up, and then have our perspectives of her family and friends change and develop with her.

Also, an interesting side note, Sigrid Undset won the Noble Prize for this series in 1928.

4. The Father Brown Mysteries by G.K. Chesterton

Source: https://penguin.com.au/books/the-complete-father-brown-stories-9780141193854So we have a sampling above from the horror/suspense and historical fiction genres, but what about the who-dun-it genre?

Father Brown, the quirky, loveable, and extremely intelligent detective shows up out of nowhere to solves cases. Not only are the stories clever and entertaining, but they are just that—short stories!

So, if you don’t have time or energy to invest in a longer novel, these stories can help fill your “good fiction” quota quickly.

G.K. Chesterton is a great, classic Catholic author who has written many incredible books. However, he has a writing style that can be difficult to get into or comprehend. I have found that the Fr. Brown stories are his most universally accessible pieces.

Ok, let me rephrase those last two sentences more honestly: I struggle comprehending Chesterton’s other works, but I love these stories. There. That’s the truth.

 5. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Brideshead-Revisited-Evelyn-Waugh/dp/0316216453This story of two best friends, a dysfunctional family, and love followed by loss, with Catholicism laced through its core, is set in World War I England.

Waugh’s writing style is captivating, and his characters are not perfect. In fact, they are sometimes frustratingly imperfect. The story follows Charles Ryder, and his encounters and friendship with a rich Catholic family.

I did not know exactly what to expect going into this book, and will therefore leave you in the dark as well.

I read it first in high school, and my character analysis notes read something like this: “Ew. Julia is so condescending and superficial. I would never hang out with her. Sebastian, stop running away from your problems. Just because your dad did doesn’t make it right. Cordelia was a holy terror before becoming the family rock. Don’t people realize that?!”

 Upon reading it after high school, my observations are a bit more nuanced! But that’s what makes the book so memorable. The layers present in the story, particularly in the images Waugh paints, withstand the re-read test and age with you—allowing you to grapple with the story again and again.

Okay, there you go—five classic Catholic novels with the Cecilia Pigg stamp of approval. What great reads did I miss?

Cecilia Pigg, who graduated from Benedictine College in 2015 as a Gregorian Fellow, is editor at Catholic Match Institute. This article was originally published by the CatholicMatch Institute (the media division of CatholicMatch.com) which provides resources to help single Catholics develop a strong foundation for marriage. Used with permission.

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Cecilia Pigg

Cecilia Pigg, who graduated from Benedictine College in 2015 as a Gregorian Fellow, is editor at Catholic Match Institute. She lives in Denver, Colorado.