Dean's List

Dean's List

Fr. Neenan issues annual list of recommended reading

By William B. Neenan, SJ

There are five new additions and consequently five subtractions for the final Dean's List of the millennium: two novels describing experiences at once ethnic and universal, two accounts dealing with pivotal moments in America's history and an incisive yet sympathetic history of the Catholic Church in America .

Sarah's Psalm, Florence Ladd's first novel, recounts Sarah's nostalgic return to an ancestral Africa which is in the first flush of throwing off the yoke of colonialism. In the course of this geographic journey with Sarah we experience a rich mixture of literary allusions combined with a fascinating tale recalling the civil rights movement of the 1960s combined with a personal journey of self-discovery.

Being a Boston College honorary degree recipient and winner of a National Book Award should be enough to place Alice McDermott's Charming Billy on the Dean's List. But that alone doesn't do it. What does tip the scales is the richly woven story of Billy Lynch, the charmer, his wife, friends and daughter. Intertwined with charm is the memory of events that occurred years before when the world was young.

I agree with Tom Brokaw. It is the greatest generation in America's history: weaned and raised in the Great Depression, having waged a war on two fronts, and then moving on to the Levittowns, they were determined that their children would never have to face what they had seen and experienced. Considered "plaid" and "white bread" by boomer offspring, these elders grow in stature with each passing year. Brokaw's The Greatest Generation is indeed a bit repetitive but then "exciting" is not an essential ingredient of "greatest."

Fr. Neenan

Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, the high-water mark of the Confederacy, was also a major turning point in the political, social and economic history of the United States. Michael Shaara's Killer Angels , a 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel but only recently evaluated by the Dean's List Selection Committee, is a page-turning account of the Battle of Gettysburg viewed through the eyes of major participants representing the Blue and Gray on the field of battle.

Institutional Church history does not usually recommend itself to aficionados of something as sprightly as books on the Dean's List. But the Selection Committee has not lowered the bar this year in selecting Charles Morris' American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church . For a reader interested both in the Catholic Church as an instrument of salvation, as well as a powerful institution in American life, this may well be the best account we will have at hand for the foreseeable future.

Click here for the full "Dean's List"

-Fr. Neenan is vice president and special assistant to the president. He has issued his annual Dean's List of recommended reading annually since he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in the early 1980s.

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