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Rev. William B. Neenan, SJ (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)

What to Read? Check Out the Dean's List

Fr. Neenan's annual Dean’s List of recommended reading -- a list he has issued annually since 1982
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By Rev. William B. Neenan, SJ | Vice President and Special Assistant to the President
Published: Oct. 7, 2010
The Dean’s List first appeared in 1982. Some years later Oprah Winfrey also began recommending books.  But not until 2010 has there been an overlap between a Dean’s List selection and a book recommended by Ms. Winfrey.  The book?  Say You’re One of Them by the Nigerian Jesuit Uwem Akpan.  Fr. Akpan’s five stories powerfully portray the harsh reality of life for children in modern day Africa.  They are all the more poignant because these young folk caught up in unspeakable horrors are in so many ways just like children we see playing in neighborhood parks in the United States.

Have a Little Faith is Mitch Albom’s moving account of how two believers, a rabbi and a Baptist pastor, face central issues of life: redemption, forgiveness, doubt in God, the afterlife.  Two very different individuals from very different backgrounds and yet they both respond in remarkably similar ways to the same core life issues that are found both in Fr. Akpan’s Africa and in Mitch Albom’s middle America.

Jesuits have long been noted for their lack of modesty.  This virtue is in full display in the title of the masterful introduction to Ignatian spirituality, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ.  I suggest you buy this book and, whether devout or a doubter, settle down, establish a regimen and reflect on brief sections of this book over a period of time.  If you do so, you will be practicing Ignatian spirituality and will soon find yourself responding to St. Ignatius of Loyola’s injunction to “find God in all things.” 
And if you do what I am suggesting, you may indeed come across the Guide to Absolutely Everything.

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls is a good read.  The author’s grandmother is the central character in her book and she was a character indeed — born in a dirt dugout in New Mexico, experienced Prohibition in Chicago, was a school marm, flew biplanes a la Amelia Earhart, and rounded up horses with a pinch of grain, not a lasso.  Probably won’t make Oprah’s list, but this would be a good page-turner while working on your Ignatian spirituality assignment.

I suspect Ms. Winfrey may well be pleased to find one of her selections on the Dean’s List. Wouldn’t you be pleased?  If she is pleased, I too am pleased.  And who knows?  This might happen again.

The Dean’s List

(New titles in bold)

James Agee, A Death in the Family

Uwem Akpan, SJ, Say You’re One of Them

Mitch Albom, Have a Little Faith

Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim

George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest   

Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons

Albert Camus, The Fall

Clare Dunsford, Spelling Love with an X: a Mother, a Son, and the Gene that Binds Them

Joseph Ellis, His Excellency:  George Washington

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

Patricia Hampl, The Florist’s Daughter

James Martin, SJ, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

David McCullough, Truman

Alice McDermott, After This

J. Donald Monan, SJ, Echoes of a University Presidency

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

John O’Malley, SJ, The First Jesuits

Marilynne Robinson, Home

Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels

Wallace Stegner, Collected Stories

Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter   

Jeannette Walls, Half Broke Horses

Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men

Garry Wills, Saint Augustine

Simon Winchester, River at the Center of the World

Jay Winik, April 1865, The Month that Saved America 

-Fr. Neenan is vice president and special assistant to the president. He has issued his annual Dean’s List of recommended reading annually since 1982.