Best Books of 2021

Reading may be something we often do alone, but it is intensely communal—we always read to relate more deeply to something outside ourselves (even when it seems to be about ourselves). At the beginning of 2022, these favorite or “best books” we read during 2021, like all good books, are also endings and beginnings in themselves. Happy Holy Name and Happy New Year!


The Body Keeps the Score  Bessel Van der Kolk MD

A mind-opening book. It is a commonplace that human beings are not merely individual points of consciousness carried about in a more-or-less indifferent suitcase of a body, but are integrated, complicated, organisms, at the same time deeply and mysteriously connected to others. Van der Kolk relates how (especially traumatic) experiences of the body profoundly affect human development and emotional life both in children and adults, and how working with the body, from the body, can also facilitate healing.


The Hermits of Big Sur   Paula Huston

A history of New Camaldoli Hermitage, a Camaldolese Benedictine monastery established in 1958 on the Big Sur coast of California, and the only North American daughter house of the Camoldoli reform founded in Tuscany in 1054 by St. Romuald. Camaldolese Oblate Paula Huston’s account weaves the stories of the Italian founders, the new brothers, and the cultural and political forces at play in WWII-era Italy and later, as an ancient monastic movement takes root in a new and very different land.


The Master and His Emissary      Iain Gilchrist

This long and detailed study of the brain’s two hemispheres left this reader awe-fully exhausted and yet stimulated. McGilchrist realizes that many people don’t know quite how the brain goes about its work. So he provides the results of his own investigation, particularly of the brain’s right hemisphere, which he claims has been neglected and needs to be encouraged. The left hemisphere accomplishes useful tasks, which have allowed us to make many improvements in our daily living, but at the same time keeping us from seeing what larger consequences could arise from this particularity.


Original Sisters: Portraits of Tenacity & Courage     Anita Kunz                

Over a hundred miniature biographies of women and girls who have made a difference—of whatever “size”—to the world we know, spread over several centuries and across the globe. These “portraits” of tenacity and courage are accompanied not by photographs but by painted portraits which often show the luminosity of these women more powerfully than the brief record of their lives. These double portraits arose out of a need to tell their stories, and serve as a reminder that regarding a face may tell us far more about someone—and about ourselves—than simply reading about their lives.


The Testing of Hearts: A Pilgrim’s Journal      Donald Nicholl

In the early 1980s Donald Nicholl spent some years as the rector of the Ecumenical Institute at Tantur near Jerusalem; this book is his abridged journal of that time. His reflections on the incidents and events of the people there both underlines the common humanity and frequently points up “how the web of human relationships may well be more determined by … ‘small deeds’, accomplished each day by millions of unknown people, rather than by the decisions and acts of those who imagine themselves to be the controllers of human destiny.”


Thérèse de Lisieux et la Miséricorde      Claude Langlois

French historian Claude Langlois made Thérèse of Lisieux his retirement project and has overturned numerous idle fictions about her simply by examining all the sources with a rigorous, nonsexist, and unprejudiced eye. You will need to read French to appreciate this masterful examination of Thérèse’s successive encounters with mercy and how they led to the formation of her doctrine in the last year of her life—not in 1895. There is nothing pretentious or deprecating about Langlois’s exhaustive and very readable studies which surpass by light years anything in English about this most acclaimed and disdained of female saints.


Honorable Mentions:

The Awakened Brain: The Psychology of Spirituality and our Search for Meaning      Lisa Miller

The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty    Martin Schleske

Desert Daughters, Desert Sons   Rachel Wheeler

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