Four friends (and authors) offer nice Christmas gifts


Catholic Register, 12 December 2018

An alumna of our Newman House chaplaincy at Queen’s University offers an inspiring model of reading — of actual books.

A few years back, Claire Brown realized that she was spending too much of her free time watching TV or scrolling the Internet, so she made a resolution to devote time to the proper reading of proper books. She read 45 books in 2016, 75 books in 2017 and over 80 books this year. She wrote of her experience on her blog Saltwater and Stories (she grew up in Nova Scotia).

It’s been three years since I last recommended books for Christmas gifts, so it’s time again. Permit me to recommend four books this year, all involving friends of mine. It’s a blessing not only to have friends who read books, like Claire, but who write them, too.

Randy Boyagoda is the principal of the University of St. Michael’s College and acclaimed novelist. His latest, Original Prin (Biblioasis), is about a Catholic immigrant from Sri Lanka who is a professor at a small Catholic university in downtown Toronto. He and his wife — from Milwaukee — are devout Catholics with four daughters. All that is autobiographical, but Randy insists that the novel is NOT about St. Mike’s, any more than he has prostate cancer or gets mixed up with terrorists. That’s just fictional Prin, not the real Randy.

The book is highly entertaining, cracking jokes about the erosion of Catholic mission at our universities — Holy Family University becomes UFU, University of the Family Universal — or about whether filial piety trumps liturgical piety. Can one go to a steakhouse on Good Friday if your father insists upon it?

Catholic readers will enjoy it for the sheer amount of Catholic culture in the novel. As a review in Quill & Quire noted: “It is fabulously rare, in our secular age, to find a novel that focuses so insistently and un-ironically on a character whose religion is not an ancillary aspect of his persona but absolutely central.”

Natalie Morill is another alumna of our chaplaincy, and her first novel, The Ghostkeeper (HarperCollins), won the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction. That such a young writer should be so gifted is remarkable and makes me very proud. Her beautifully written, heart-breaking story also deals with faith.

In Vienna of the Second World War, Josef Tobak’s closest friend is a Catholic who joins the Nazi party, yet helps Josef’s family to safety during the Anschluss. The Tobaks endure great suffering through illness, separation and loss during the wars.

The human drama here is vast, with displays of great courage and conviction in the face of overwhelming suffering, in contrast to the weakness and betrayal of others. It is a tale of family, enduring friendship, and forgiveness. Claire read this book twice, so that is a high recommendation!

Continue reading on the Catholic Register: