That Book You Wish You'd Read Earlier

A faithful reader has written me and recommended a good question for readers that connects well with the examen we've been pursuing in recent weeks. The question he offers: What book or two have you read as an adult that you wish you would have read as a high school or college student?

I would add: And why? What's the reason for your selection?


If you cannot think of a particular book, what about part of a book (a chapter, a paragraph), or perhaps a poem or film? Is there another intellectual encounter that, for you, better answers the question?

This is a challenging inquiry for a few reasons, one of which is that much of what we enjoy as adults has the effect it does because we're adults. We tend to need a certain life experience and mental readiness to truly appreciate what an author or text is offering. 

With that qualification (and others) in mind, I'll start. One work that answers the question for me is the prologue to Eamon Duffy's Faith of our Fathers. It's titled, "When Belief Fails," and I've returned to it repeatedly in my writing and in my own quest to refine my Catholic faith. I think I first encountered Duffy's essay during my mid-twenties, but I wish I would have read it earlier. Its insights on the limits of knowledge, the nature of faith, the meaning of the Mass, the fragility of the human condition -- and more -- continue to edify me even though I've read it dozens of times. 

What about you?

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
3 years 6 months ago
A while back, I read 'Tatoos on the Heart' by and about Fr Boyle and 'Camerado, I Give You My Hand' about Fr. David Link, almost back to back. Certainly wished I had encountered the stories of both of these men much earlier in life. In general I wish had developed my "Catholic Imagination" a little more through the help of some of the great writers, and that I had read a little more classical philosophy.
James Hynes
3 years 6 months ago
My book would be "Befriending Our Desires" by Philip Sheldrake. I knew him a little in person at Heythrop College, London. His book examines the place of desire in Ignatian spirituality, demonstrating that Ignatius believed people could find God's will be entering deeply into their desires. I had been brought up to believe that one's own desires led you away from God's will, and therefore they are always to be denied. So it was very liberating to discover that there was goodness in one's own desires, and not just temptation. Had I known that earlier, I would have made some very different choices in life! For example, I became a priest because it was the very opposite of what I wanted, therefore I thought it was what God wanted.
Richard Woolery
3 years 6 months ago
Fr. James Martin's "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything" is so rich with spiritual insights that are also practical. All people of good will - secular and religious - will find it enlightening, challenging, and supportive. I was so moved by it that I gave a copy of the book to my high school students. I then proceeded to read all of Fr. Martin's books. They are all excellent, but that one was the first and a book I keep going back to.
Jack Rakosky
3 years 6 months ago
I was fortunate to read in high school the book that I wished I had read in high school. It was Merton's Seeds of Contemplation. It was lent to me by a high school math teacher. From time to time in my 20s and 30s I bought and read some of Merton's other books. It wasn't until I was about forty that I noticed the original hard bound edition on sale and bought it because I remembered how much I had liked it. I was amazed on rereading how much it had influenced my life even though I had not reread it for 20 years.


The latest from america

Native American protestors hold hands with parishioner Nathanial Hall, right, during a group prayer outside the Catholic Diocese of Covington on Jan. 22, 2019, in Covington, Ky. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The furor over a chance meeting between Catholic high school students and Native American protesters underscores the need to listen and learn from indigenous voices.
Marlene LangJanuary 23, 2019
The staggering parliamentary defeat for Prime Minister Theresa May, seen here leaving 10 Downing Street on Jan. 23, pushed the country even further from safe dry land. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
After the stunning defeat of Theresa May's exit deal, Scotland is looking anew at independence, and the U.K. government fears economic disaster.
David StewartJanuary 23, 2019
Michael Osborne, a film director, documents the damage from a mud slide next to his home in Los Angeles on Jan. 18, after three days of heavy rain. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
The conceit of California-as-disaster-movie is ridiculous. But maybe watching our fires and mudslides helps other states consider both their own fragility and their underlying strength.
Jim McDermottJanuary 23, 2019
A commitment to religious liberty demands that effort be devoted to resolving, rather than exacerbating, any real or apparent tension between religious obligation and civil duty.
The EditorsJanuary 23, 2019