Friday, December 27, 2019

My Favorite Books and Movies of 2019

I don't normally do this, but this year I actually feel like I read enough this year to offer some suggestions for others.  I came across some books, films and TV shows this year.  Here's the best I encountered.

1) "Sacrilege" by Leon Podles.  This is a 500+ page deep dive on the sex and rape crisis in the Catholic Church.  Podles wrote this book in 2008, and almost all of his observations are still relevant amidst the latest round of revelations of awful crimes.  Podles pulls no punches, and it does not curry favor with "trads" nor "liberals" which is perhaps why I had not heard of it; no one who has picked a side will like this book, but only those wanting to address the issues in the Church. 

2) "Primal Screams" by Mary Eberstadt.  A quick and engrossing but thoroughly researched book on the identity crisis that is front and center in our society.  Eberstadt powerfully and convincingly traces this 2019 moment of gender and identity confusion to the sexual revolution.  Charitable towards all caught up in these issues, it provides key insights, and her writing style, as always, does not waste one word.

3) "The Priests We Need to Save the Church" by Kevin Wells.  A former sportswriter, Kevin, for reasons that become apparent in the first VERY POWERFUL chapter, decided to try to interview as many priests and laity to look at how the Church could possibly move forward into the 2020's, and his prescriptions seem to be spot on.  We said, in 2018, that the laity in some ways will have to lead the Church through this moment - and this is a VERY solid offering of precisely that.

4) "The Priest in Union with Christ" by Father Garrigou-LaGrange O.P. - written in 1952 by one of the great English scholars of St. Thomas Aquinas, I wanted to take some time to reflect and pray over advice on how to be a priest of Jesus Christ from sources not tainted by our current moment.  Fr. LaGrange is such a treasure of the Church.  It has very theological reflections followed up by super practical chapters like "how to give a parish mission"

5) "The Night is Far Spent" by my favorite author, Thomas Howard.  This is a collection of essays from a wonderfully charitable and insightful convert to the Catholic Faith.  Each essay is fairly short, and covers all sorts of topics.  I found each essay to be very helpful to me while also being an engaging read that I did not want to put down. 

6) "Catholic Republic" by Timothy Gordon.  The premise is a unique and important contribution to the debate over America's founding and our country's relationship with Christianity.  Gordon makes the convincing case that the country was founded using Catholic ideas, but the fathers were mostly protestant, so the Catholic roots of our country are not acknowledged, even up through our own day. 

7) "Island of the World" by Michael O'Brien.  I also read Father Elijah, which was good, but I really enjoyed Island of the World more.  O'Brien tells a story based on the real life experience of a young man who spends most of his life torn by war and violence in the Balkans and, in the latter stages of his life, makes his way to the United States. 

8) "The Silver Chalice" by Thomas Costain.  I searched some lists for "best Catholic novels" about two years ago, and this was at the top of some lists, although I had never heard of it.  I purchased it, but just got around to reading it this year.  It was written in 1952, and is a wonderful novel based on the Holy Grail and the early Church, and Her enemies.

9) "Windswept House" - I know all the criticisms of Malachi Martin, former priest...exorcist who kept doing exorcisms after he left the priesthood...opportunist...etc...but "Windswept House" is a novel written in 1996, but so much of what is in that novel has actually come to pass in various ways.  I had originally tried to read it several years ago, but there is a violent crime perpetrated on a child by church men that I put it down.  I picked it back up again, though, when the summer of shame broke in 2018.  I finished the novel in 2019 and, although the writing is not as engrossing as the great works of literature, it is worth reading just to try to grapple with how Martin could have seen all of this coming in such exact detail. 

10) "The Master of Hestviken" - by Sigrid Undset.  A set of 4 short books that make up 1 novel by one of the more fascinating literary Catholics of the 20th century.  A convert from atheism, Undset's novel "Kristin Lavransdatter" (also at the top of many "best Catholic novels" lists) was a book I read in 2018, and one that I also HUGELY recommend.  "Kristin" follows the life of a 1500's Norwegian Catholic girl all the way through her elderly years and is a beautiful insight into motherhood and Faith.  "Master of Hestviken" takes the same approach by following a young Catholic man all the way through his elder years.  Just as "Kristin Lavransdatter" makes you feel like you can begin to know motherhood, so "Master of Hestviken" sheds much light on the mysteriousness of what it means to try (and both fail and succeed) to be a father.

11) "The End of the Present World" by Father Charles Arminjon.  Sophia Press got me to buy this book simply by sharing a quote from St. Therese: "Reading this book was one of the greatest graces of my life."


1) "Richard Jewell" - a powerful portrayal of the ability of today's media and civil authorities to absolutely crush and destroy people, much like Alduous Huxley saw coming in is fictional "Brave New World" decades ago. 

2) "I, Tonya" - this movie based on the true story of Tonya Harding, is a real window into life in rural America.  This film puts real-life context to Hillary Clinton's "bunch of deplorables" comment and the much-discussed "Hillbilly Elegy".  The movie is riddled with profanity, but that's life in rural America.  Ministering as a priest in some areas that are more economically depressed and still awaiting the benefits of globalism to trickle down to us, "I, Tonya" is a true portrayal of what life is like for countless Americans, and could help soften people's criticism and help those who aren't familiar with life in rural America to perhaps be more sympathetic and proactive in working to help those who live in EVERY part of America.

3) "Unplanned" the real-life story of Abby Johnson.  One of Planned Parenthood's leaders defects after seeing an actual abortion in the room. 

4) I also saw several TV series that were really well done: "The People vs. OJ Simpson", and "Manhunt: The Unabomber".  I don't think either were made in 2019, but I saw both of them then.  A product of being a dinosaur who still sees most of my movies and TV shows by renting them from "Family Video"!


  1. Movie I'd recommend?
    Ford V Ferrari.
    Watched it with a brother priest and, at several points, we looked at each other, surprised at the "toxic masculinity" that made it past the censors and Matt Damon's politics. Men were men, women were women. Capitalists were human but not monsters. Surprising and good for it.

  2. Thank you Father Hollowell, praying for your health and ministry. I'm so grateful for your priesthood & voice.