Not a week goes by that I don’t come across (at least) a couple gems that I immediately want to recommend to friends and family, whether they be related to faith, culture, the good life, or all of the above. From time to time, on social media especially, I have done just this. And I have noticed just how much people love recommendations, be they books, films, or whatever. So now I want to make this a regular thing.
Starting today I will be sending out a regular email in which I will share some of the things that have most impressed me in the days previous: books, quotes, gadgets, hacks, music, blog pieces, movies—anything that I see as a potential aid to faith, intelligence and, ultimately, happiness. Heck, since for Catholics “the pipe, pint, and the cross can all fit together,” I may even go so far as to recommend a new scotch or pipe tobacco if I stumble across a real beauty. Anything that has the potential to assist you and I on the path of the true, good, and beautiful will be fair game.
I’ll see ya out there. Until then – keep fighting the good fight!
RC Recommends 001
Hey folks! Thanks for following me this far. Here’s a roundup of some of the things I’ve been most enjoying and contemplating over the recent days:
I have been thoroughly impressed by the clarity, eloquence and readability of Daniel J. Sullivan’s An Introduction to Philosophy I first heard this book recommended by the esteemed Jesuit priest and scholar, Father James Schall—and whenever Father Schall recommends a book (something he has been known to do a time or two), I make sure to take note. Since finding this gem in a box of dusty books a few months ago, I’ve been using Sullivan’s work as a sort of companion to my bigger project of reading Copleston’s History of Philosophy with Brandon Vogt and the Philosophy Reading Club we (but mostly he) started. An Introduction to Philosophy is a masterful introduction to Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy, and while serving as an introductory, it still contains enough substance to be of interest even to graduate level philosophy students and professors. I’ll also add that one of its best features is its “Recommended Reading” section at the back of the book!
I’ve also been loving Anthony Esolen’s translation of Dante’s Purgatorio. A friend and I have been reading the Divine Comedy together for the past few weeks, working our way from the frozen depths of the Inferno where Satan beats his frozen wings hopelessly and eternally, to the mountain of Purgatory where the slow climb towards Paradise becomes less heavy-laden the farther you ascend. In the beginning, we were reading only one canto per day, but were enjoying it so much we are now committed to three per day. I can’t recommend Esolen’s version enough, not only because of the beautiful and often rhythmic quality of his translation, but also because his commentaries and footnotes are phenomenal—which are key for any amateur who desires to mine the historical, theological, and philosophical depths of La Divina Commedia.
At the recommendations of my pals Matt Becklo and Jared Zimmerer, I watched Gran Torino and Warrior recently. Both were unreal. Gran Torino especially is rich in Christian, even specifically Catholic, undertones—and Clint Eastwood is unforgettable. I had seen this one years ago, but the second time was ten times better. My wife loved it too. If you’re going to watch GT, make sure you do what we did and watch Bishop Robert Barron’s commentary on it afterwards. Warrior, although not the same calibre, was still a fun ride and offered real philosophical substance behind the drama. The acting was really good, including the supporting roles, and the intense MMA action steadily rises to what I thought was a gripping (and satisfying) climax at the end. Deacon Steven Greydanus reviews it at Decent Films here.
I’ve become obsessed with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, especially the 2nd movement. Last year, wanting my ear to become better steeped in classical music, I began to seek out recommendations with where to start. After learning that the late, great University of Kansas professor John Senior recommended beginning with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, I decided I would listen to it, and listen to it again, and again, in an effort to really try hear it. I have been listening to it on repeat for well beyond a year, and the concerto has only become more pleasing with time. The key to experiencing the enchantment of classical music, I think, is to actually listen—and by this I do not mean listen while you work. When Pope Emeritus Benedict was asked in Last Testament whether he listens to music while writing he said, “I would find it a disturbance. Either music or writing.” Something to ponder. Also, I recommend finding time to watch Itzhak Perlman’s performance of Beethoven’s violin concerto—just watching him play is something to behold. You’ll find Senior’s suggestions for getting started with classical music, among other recommendations, in the appendix of his The Death of Christian Culture.
“Live as much as possible in the open air. It is a recognized fact that attention—the nerve of study—is closely related to breathing, and for general health we know that plenty of oxygen is a first condition.”
This advice is so simple on the surface that it could easily be missed by well-meaning readers. But it is no coincidence that great thinkers, from Soren Kierkegaard to Charles Dickens to Pyotr Tchaikovsky to C.S. Lewis to Winston Churchill, have been known to almost invariably include a walk within their busy schedule. The exercise is important, yes—indeed, it is critical—but so is the intake of oxygen and the output of CO2. Living within such a busy, noisy culture we ought to do all we can to foster calmness, attention, and focus in our hectic lives. Among the strategies we can employ to open up brain space and decompress our minds is, as Sertillanges so wisely suggests, to spend time in open air. Breathe. Don’t underestimate the importance of attention and the consequences of an inflated, pressurized intellect: for as Georgetown professor of computer science Cal Newport (whose work I am a big fan of) suggests in his indispensable book Deep Work, “focus is the new IQ.” If you want to live the intelligently, then, you have to foster focus. And as Fr. Sertillanges put it, “plenty of oxygen is a first condition.”
That’s it for now. Let me know what you think – and I’ll see you in a couple weeks!
Also, be sure to check out my new book Just Whatever: How To Help the Spiritually Indifferent Find Beliefs That Really Matter, published by Catholic Answers Press.
This book is jam-packed with passages of wit and wisdom from many of my spiritual mentors, including Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Frank Sheed, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Blessed John Henry Newman, St. JP II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Bishop Robert Barron.
Here’s what people are saying about my new release:
“I’ve engaged lots of atheists over the years but in my experience, the spiritually indifferent outnumber them at least five to one. And that latter group is much harder to evangelize. Most atheists at least care about the God question. But how do you make inroads with someone who isn’t at all interested in religious matters? It’s a vexing question, but now we have our desperately needed guide. Matt Nelson’s book shows how to awaken interest in even the most spiritually lethargic person and guide them to the Big Questions of life. This is Pascal’s Pensées for the twenty-first century!” – Brandon Vogt, founder of ClaritasU and author of Why I Am Catholic (And You Should Be Too)
“In today’s highly secularized society where religion does not seem to matter, it is easy for Christians to feel overwhelmed and be led into thinking they do not have answers to the countless objections people have toward the Church. Matt’s clear and simple explanation of the good reasons for our faith will provide readers with well thought out responses.” – Andre Regnier, Founder of Catholic Christian Outreach Canada
“Many of us have converted to the Catholic Church; others were born into the Catholic faith and accepted it without question. But as time passes and the world entangles us the fervor can wane for the convert and the certainty can dissipate for the cradle Catholic. What is the spiritual medicine for these ailments? Matt Nelson’s new book Just Whatever is the doctor’s prescription. Read this book, learn from an experienced fellow pilgrim and get back on track, fervent for the Truth.”
– Steve Ray, Catholic apologist and author of Crossing the Tiber