What have you read lately that’s interesting?

Ronald Rolheiser
Reproduced with Permission

“What have you read lately that’s interesting?” Since readers of this column sometimes ask me this question, I want to highlight some of the more interesting novels I have read this past year. I will focus on novels (with one exception, a book of essays by a novelist) because most of us look for guidance in the area of contemporary literature which, like contemporary music, is a rich mine-field, full of golden nuggets, but mixed too with a lot of dirt.

Since my undergraduate years, I have always had a good novel within reach and this has been an important complement to my reading in theology and spirituality. There are certain insights into the soul that you only get from good literature. When I was doing my doctoral studies, I was lucky enough to sit in on some classes by Antoine Vergote, the renowned psychologist. Not infrequently, especially when we were examining particularly complex issues to do with obsessions, jealousy, and emotional depression, he would refer us to various novelists and their insights into these issues.

Through the years, I’ve developed a list of contemporary novelists whose books I buy on sight. I try to read a select number of classic and modern-classic writers too, but, as you know, the classics require a bit more concentration, sometimes more than one can muster on an airplane.

My list of favorites is heavily weighted by British women: Iris Murdock, Anne Byatt, Doris Lessing, Anita Brookner, Susan Howatch, to name a few. American and Canadian women feature highly too: Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Dillard, Jane Urquhart, Marilynne Robinson, Barbara Kingsolver, Mary Gordon, Margaret Atwood. The men? Michael Ondaatje, Milan Kundera, John Irving, John Updike, Khaled Hosseini, John MaGahern, Guy Vanderhaeghe, James Carroll, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Chaim Potok, and (yes) Andrew Greeley for his ability to tell a story.

What were my favorite novels this past year? Whether great literature or not, these are the novels that touched me:

There is of course always a subjective element in assessing literature and your tastes might not agree with mine. Moreover, and I say this upfront, I tend to read more for essence than for detail so sometimes I don’t pick up on certain details the rub sensitive nerves in other people. So I can’t guarantee you’ll like these books, I can only say that I did.